Archive for March, 2011

Wineries — and Wines — to Look for at the VIWF

March 25, 2011

The Vancouver International Wine Festival begins next week and — with 177 wineries and over 1600 wines — it can be a little overwhelming deciding what to taste. So here is a “cheat sheet”of 10 wineries for you to go to, and their best wines.


Vina Cobos

    This winery is owned by the famous California winemaker Paul Hobbs, who has been making “cult Cabs” for years. He has brought his touch to Argentina, so make sure to check out both the Cabs and the Malbecs. They are incredibly ripe and concentrated, and some of the $40 versions taste like $100 wines!


      Henry’s Drive

    Great Aussie Shirazes in all price ranges, that’s what you get from Henry’s Drive. Really ripe, not too jammy and great concentration of fruit!


      Averill Creek

    Andy Johnson makes unbelievable, Burgundy-like Pinot Noirs…on Vancouver Island! A master craftsman, just taste what he did with the 2008 in a rainy year. Nothing woody or diluted here, just pure, ripe Pinot fruit.

      Tantalus Vineyards

    While this Kelowna area winery also makes an interesting Pinot Noir, it is increasingly famous for its Riesling, which is second only to La Frenz’s in quality. Try the regular bottling and also the reserve if they have it; both are classic, German style Rieslings.



    This Rhone wine maker makes a range of wines from the ultra expensive to good values. Not sure what they will have, but any of the northern Cotes du Rhones (Crozes Hermitage, probably) and southern Cotes du Rhones (Gigondas, Chateauneuf du Papes) are worth a taste.

      Delas Freres

    This Rhone negotiant has really stepped up in recent years, particularly with northern Cotes du Rhone wines like Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and St. Joseph. While not cheap, they are classic expressions of French Syrah – peppery, meaty, and full of black fruit.

      Perrin & Fils

    One of my favourite producers in the world, they are responsible for Chateau de Beaucastel, arguably one of the best Chateaneuf’s made in the Rhone. But they also make great Gigondas, Vacqueras and even their regular Cotes du Rhones are great values.



    If you go to one Italian wine booth, check out Antinori. While their prices have gone up a lot over the years, this is a chance to taste some beautiful wines from this leading Tuscan producer, including their Tignanello, one of the first “super-Tuscans” that was every made.



    Spain is the “host” country this year and one of the leaders is this winery, which makes the legendary Vega Sicilia. Not sure if this will be available to taste in the tasting room, but worth a look — at $200 – $300 a bottle, it is supposed to be one of the great wines of the world.


      Ridge Vineyards

    Last, but certainly not least, if you can only go to one US winery, drop by Ridge. They were one of the first producers of truly great Zinfandels, and still make two of the best — the Lytton Springs and Geyserville. Paul Draper, the winemaker/owner, might even be there, so a chance to meet one of the legendary figures in California wine.

    So there is a start — ten wineries and a selection of their wines to try. Next week I will report back on my tasting experience.

    Good luck!


Preview of the 2011 Vancouver International Wine Festival – Spain!

March 6, 2011

With the 2011 Wine Festival coming up the last week of the month, I thought I would focus the next few blogs on the wines from this year’s “host” country — Spain! Today, a quick review of some of the more popular red grapes, the styles of wine they make, and examples you can purchase in government liquor stores.

For many people, Rioja is the wine that first comes to mind when you mention “Spanish wine” — and for good reason, as wine has been made there for hundreds of years. Red Rioja is made mainly from the Tempranillo grape, supported by Garnacha and a number of other grapes as well. In terms of style, it really depends on how long it is aged before release and how much of that time is spent in oak. Spain classifies its red wines as Crianza (2 years old/6 months in oak), Reserva (3 years/1 year in oak) or Gran Reserva (5 years/18 months in oak).

You can probably guess the difference in style…the longer the time in oak, the woodier the wines are. Crianzas tend to have a lot of fresh cherry flavours, usually lightly dusted with vanilla (from the oak), herbs and earth. I tend to like Reservas the best, as the best ones have enough fruit to balance the extra time in wood. And they age over 5 – 10 years in the bottle, they develop wonderful complexity of flavours. Gran Reservas — the few I have tasted — are not really my style; too much oak, not enough fruit and they can get pretty dried out. For a great example of a Rioja from a good vintage, try the 2005 Rioja Reserva from Marques de Riscal. At $28 it isn’t cheap, but is a full-bodied example of Rioja that will easily age for 8 – 10 years.

Tempranillo is also the main grape in the Ribera del Duero  and Penedes regions where it can make quite different style wines. A great example out of the former is Pesquera which is often a dead ringer for a California Cabernet Sauvignon, with lovely vanilla coated black currants and just a touch of herbs. Try the 2006 Pesquera Crianza  for about $33…another candidate for the cellar or great with a steak today.

The second major grape you see is Garnacha, and it can offer great values. Unfortunately, for me, the oaked style it is made in just doesn’t work. The wonderful dried cherry fruit you see from Chateauneuf du Papes or Cotes du Rhones (where it is called Grenache) gets quite woody in Spain. But if you like that style, try the 2007 Las Rocas for $18…Parker loves it and perennially gives it 90 points.

Finally, a less well known grape — but one that often offers the best value — is Monastrell. From the up and coming Levant region, you can often find them for under $15…and they are really fruity, with just a touch of earth and little or no wood. The best example is the one by Castano, which at under $10 is a steal; it tastes like a $20 wine!

That gives you a good start on the reds. Next week, a look at the whites and some of the fortified wines!