Friday, April 23, 2010

2010 Vancouver Playhouse Festival - Yippee!

So, it's the first day of the big public tastings at this year's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival - and I'm both stoked and apprehensive. The Festival Tastings are as awe-inspiring as it gets in this town for sheer opportunity to take in and discover what the world of wine truly encompasses. As the Festival's website states, the "Festival is widely regarded as the best consumer wine show on the continent, and the International Tasting room is the heart of it. The Wine World is Here."

This is the first opportunity for the Festival to be held at the new Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre and it promises to be big. Offering a record number of 196 participating wineries, from 14 countries, pouring 761 different wines, it can all be a bit much to take it in. I've yet to find a way to visit every winery and try every wine that I REALLY WANT TO - let alone try to get to each and every one of them in the room. And, that's when I attend all three days of the festival tasting room. I can't imagine how much I'd have to pass on if I were to only attend one session.

Picking a wine producing nation to take centre stage has been a festival trademark for years now and this year's theme region is actually a double play. The Playhouse went South of the Equator and has decided to spotlight both Argentina and New Zealand - as contrasting, yet similar, wine regions.

Seeing as how Boo and I are scheduled to take a trip to Argentina this Fall, I've been looking forward to the Festival as an opportunity to discover some tips for incorporating some wine adventures into our trip and to unearth some treasures that we don't normally see, hear of or taste up here.

For the New Zealand side of the Festival Room, I'm looking to, once again, try wines that we don't normally see in our market and find out what the Kiwis do beyond the signature Sauvignon Blanc. In particular, I have a bit of jones for the Central Otago region and its Pinot Noirs. A few years back, I'd never heard of Central Otago but we tried a Pinot at a tasting and thought it was the cat's meow. The wines that we see up here in BC from that region tend to be on the pricey side of the wineshop, so I'm always on the lookout for an opportunity to try more wines from the region.

From past experience at the Festival, I know that, at least for me, having a game plan for attacking the room is great in theory, but not so realistic when it comes to implementation. A session of whites? Half reds, half whites? Just New Zealand for a couple of hours? The whole evening talking to the Argentinean wineries to get the vacation scoop? Things generally - and today was no different - end up with a haphazard zig-zag all over the place: looking for some of the big names and a rare chance to try one of the super high-end wines, acting on a tip from a fellow Festival goer or just seeing a booth with a crowd and thinking that there must be something of note that's drawing the crowd.

A bigger challenge than picking a wine to try though is remembering which wines really tickle your palate. Trying a hundred or so wines in an evening doesn't necessarily result in the clearest of recollections come the end of the evening. Taking notes amongst the crowds isn't always the easiest thing to do either, but I do try and find a way of marking up the best finds.

It seems a shame that, after hours of tasting, I don't get to add a single bottle to The List, but I did find more than a couple that I hope to add down the road. It's also hard to believe how I barely scratched the surface of all the wines that were there for the tasting! Today's most noteworthy are:

- Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo (Patagonia) and Bodegas Y Vinedos Renacer SA (Mendoza) from Argentina. They were sharing a table and the two winery reps were a pleasure to chat with. Renacer produces a wine based on the Amarones of Italy - called Enamore Perdriel, but naturally, it's not easily found in our market.

- I found myself leaning towards the whites from New Zealand - particularly the Pinot Gris from Mount Riley, the Riesling from Omaka Springs and a Viognier from Elephant Hill. There were plenty of Sauv Blancs that tweaked my interest as well, but I suppose I expected that.

- Time for the rest of the world was limited, but I did get a chance to try Panther Creek from Oregon for the first time and was especially blown away by their Freedom Hill Pinot Noir.

- Thorn-Clarke Wines, from the Barossa, also served up a wicked line-up - topped off by the Milton Park Shiraz and their flagship Shiraz, William Randall.

One of my favourite aspects of the Festival is the on-site liquor store. Most of the wines being poured in the Tasting Room are available for sale and many of them just aren't available otherwise in the city. The wines that can only be found at the Festival are identified with a big, blue dot and it's amazing how quickly some of them sell out! I find myself in the store at least a couple times a day to see if there are any bottles of a particular find available. It cuts into my tasting time, but sometimes a bit of pain in the present is worth the future pleasures.

I'm also "off" the No Buy Leash for the weekend. I know it's really only loosened a bit and is never far away, but Boo will be a major participant in the bottles to come, so I'm not too worried about a case or two, here or there.

Quite the start, but there's still plenty to go for come tomorrow.

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