Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival - Day 1

OK. It's time. The 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival has arrived - and for Vancouver wine geeks, trades folk and curious newbies to wine, it's like a week of Stanley Cup Finals, Top Chef Canada and a grand wine touring vacation all rolled into one. This year is the 34th annual presentation of the Vancouver's Playhouse's primary fundraiser and, over those 30-plus years, it has become one of the biggest and widely acclaimed consumer tasting events in the world.

Although the Festival encompasses over 60 different tasting events, wine dinners and seminars, the centrepiece events are the International Festival Tasting Room evenings that run Thursday, Friday and Saturday - and for those three days, Boo basically becomes a "wine widow" as I do my best to taste my way through the over 800 wines (when you count the "under the table" special pours) offered by the 180 wineries from 15 countries. He's partially to blame for his loneliness, however, since he's the one that gives me the tickets for Christmas.

This year's theme region is Chile and there are 35 Chilean wineries visiting the festival - many of whom do not currently sell their wines in the Vancouver market. In addition to trying some brand new wineries, I'm excited about seeing a side of Chilean wines that we don't always get to see here - the more premium wines that lift Chile's wines out of the bang for your buck, entry level category that they are largely pigeon-holed into by our liquor board - and even by consumers. I know there are premium bottles out there and this is the perfect opportunity to actually try some.

There's no doubt that the International Tasting Room is overwhelming but I thought I'd try and focus on a couple of topics after each day's tastings - especially since I didn't write a word about last year's Festival.

One of the most unique aspects of the Playhouse Festival is that wineries are only accepted for participation if they send a winery principal - owner, winemaker or senior marketing and sales manager - to actually man the tasting booth and interact with the attendees. It's a rare occasion for Joe and Jane Public to talk to some of the biggest names in the wine industry. As you can imagine, the winery principals can be tugged in every which direction, but, if your timing is right, you can capture a bit of quality time with some of them.

I'm going to name Matt Bindel of Giesen Wine Estate, from New Zealand's Marlborough region, as my pick for today's Most Engaging Winery Principal. Matt is Giesen's Business Development Manager for North America and I thoroughly enjoyed a somewhat extended chance to talk about some new directions being taken with Kiwi Sauv Blanc and about how he sees Marlborough Pinot Noirs starting to challenge those of Central Otago (considered by many to be New Zealand's premium region for Pinot) at considerably lower prices. Being one of those stricken with Central Otago, I look forward to watching how the Marlborough Pinots develop.

I figured I'd try and pick a wine as a Best New Find each day and today's was a bit of surprise. I'm going for Pasqua's Villa Borghetti Rosso Veneto Passimento (IGT Verona - Italy). At $15, this wine took Valpolicella to an exciting level, with an abundance of flavour and body. Pasqua was serving a Ripasso and Amarone as well, but it was the value of the Passimento that just jumped out and grabbed me. I was glad to hear that this is apparently a general listing at provincial stores - meaning it should be easy to find.

It's inevitable that I'm going to run into other wine-loving friends and acquaintances at the Festival Tasting Room and it's pretty much a given that we ask each other for favourites and suggestions. I guess it's a no-brainer for me to post five or so Favourites of the Day - these wines all excited me enough to recommend them and to search them out in the on-site store:

- 2001 Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Cuvée Barberini (Rhone - France)
- 2009 Sandhill Small Lots Single Block Merlot (Okanagan Valley)
- 2008 Haras de Pirque - Character Cab/Carmenère (Maipo Valley - Chile)
- 2009 Wirra Wirra - Deadringer Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale - Australia)
- 2008 Viña Errazuriz - La Cumbre Syrah (Aconcagua Valley - Chile)(which I was mightily relieved to find out that it tasted as good as it did because this was the one bottle that Boo and I brought back from Chile when we passed through Santiago on our way to Argentina a couple years back)

I figured I'd end today's post with my pick for the Most Intriguing Wine that I ran across in the tasting room - 2009 Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines (Douro - Portugal). Quinta do Crasto is a long time participant at the Playhouse Festival and proprietor, Miguel Roquette, always attracts plenty of attention. The Reserva Old Vines particularly struck my fancy in that not even Miguel can tell what varietals go into making this wine. It is a field blend - meaning that the wine is made from an assortment of different varietals that are interplanted in the same vineyard.

In this case, Miguel figures that there are between 25 and 35 different varietals - indigenous to Portugal and the Douro - that make up wine. He recounted that growers of old simply planted a great assortment of grapes that were all traditional for making port and they never really cared about keeping track of which varietals were planted where. Quinta do Crasto is systematically trying to identify each of the varietals though. As an old vine dies, the winery is using DNA testing to identify the varietal in order that they can replace it with the same varietal and keep the balance of the vineyard and the wine's profile the same for the future.

I surely wish that I could get a breakdown of even a good percentage of the varietals going into the Reserva because I know there are going to be some varietals that I can add to my Wine Century Club collection and application as I try to hit 200.

Despite all this wine and tasting, it pains me that I don't actually get to immediately add a bottle to The List on the blog. Boo does loosen the "No buy Leash" during the Festival though. So, a number of my favourites will make it to The List in due course. For the time being, I just have to make it through the next two days.

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