Archive for February, 2014

The 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival — What to do, What not to do, and Wineries to Visit!

February 25, 2014

It is that time of the year…the week of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, and I can’t wait for the grand tasting!


But before I go, a bit of advice learned from over 20+ years of going to wine festivals. It applies anywhere, and if you haven’t gone before, it can save you some heartache.


First, a few things to definitely do. And number one is spit, don’t drink!


Many people may find that gross, but with hundreds of wines to taste, it doesn’t take long for even the little two ounce pours to build up. If you drink them all, the alcohol will sneak up on you for sure. And not only will you quickly not be able to distinguish one wine from another, you will just be flat out drunk! Every year I see at least a few of them – stumbling around in their finest suits and dresses, wine all over the front, and silly expressions on their faces.


So spit into the buckets provided. It’s not hard, and you can still enjoy the taste of the wine without the alcohol.


Another is to have a plan in advance. Sparkling/whites/reds/sweet wines works for me, but you might want to stick to all of one colour, or maybe just a few countries or grape varieties. But if you don’t have a plan, the whole thing can be overwhelming, and you waste time figuring out what to do.


What not to do?


Well, don’t stand around at the booth after you get your wine! Yes, the proprietors like to talk to people. But if there is a long line up behind you, people will get mad. Get your glass, say a few words, and move on. You can always come back!


Second, is don’t wear perfume or cologne. Wine is so much about the aroma, and perfume/cologne just blocks that out. Not only will you not be able to smell the wine, those around you won’t either.


Finally, ladies, no high heels – they aren’t worth the risk or the pain. I see lots of women sitting down by the middle of the evening, grimacing in pain. And – worse – there is at least one accident a night that can send you tumbling to the floor, usually with wine all over you.


But what about the wines, you say? What should I taste this year?


Well, France is the focus – the Rhone in particular – and I recommend two wineries for sure. Domaine Perrin is one, the makes of the fabulous Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau de Beaucastel. It is my favourite wine, and one of the great red wines of the world. In terms of northern Rhones, check out Jaboulet, and in particular the Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert. All Syrah, it is lean but ripe, with pepper, black cherries, firm tannins, but no wood.


And don’t forget BC! Two of my favourite wineries are there again this year. Averill Creek from Vancouver Island makes amazing Pinot Noirs. And Blue Mountain from the Okanagan is pouring one of its vintage sparkling wines (the 2009 Rose). Both of these wines can stand up to any others in the room.


So there you go! There are lots of other wineries and wines to choose from, but this should get you started.




February 12, 2014

The Vancouver International Wine Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks, an event which I always look forward to! But this year, it is going to be a particularly special event – because the feature country is France!

For many people, that may seem like a no-brainer, as France is so often associated with wine. And for wine lovers, it may also be no surprise given that two French wine regions – Bordeaux and Burgundy – are arguably the most famous and popular sources of wine in the world.

But it might seem odd to some of you that my excitement over France being the feature country has nothing to do with Bordeaux or Burgundy. Instead, it is about one of their other major wine regions – the Cotes du Rhone. And so the goal of this blog is to convert people to the fabulous wines from both the north and southern Rhone!

Why? Well, aside from the fact they are my favourite wines – and make up a good quarter of my cellar – I think they have way more to offer than their more famous cousins. And they can also be much better values.

The grapes used are part of the reason for this. While there is a mix in the region, for red wines it is mostly Syrah in the north, which accounts for such famous names as Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Cote Rotie. The flavour profile is instantly recognizable to any wine lover – earthy black cherries, black and white pepper, licorice and little or no oak or wood. They are the polar opposites of their Shiraz cousins from Australia, which are jammy and super fruity. And many of these northern Rhones can develop for years and years in the cellar.

In the south, of course, it is mostly Grenache blends. Chateauneuf du Pape is the most famous wine, followed by Gigondas and then a variety of Cotes du Rhone appellations. Flavour wise, there is the unique herbal aroma that the French call garrigue – once you have smelled it, you won’t forget it! In terms of taste, there are more dried red and black cherries, earth and no wood at all. And some of them can age just as long as their northern cousins.

The key attraction from the above descriptions – for me, anyway – is almost no wood flavours, and ripe but not jammy fruit. Unlike most Bordeaux and Burgundy, you don’t have to worry about a mouthful of cedar or oak, or stringent tannins.

Another factor in Rhone’s favour is quality! Many of the producers of the wines listed above make “90 pt wines”, often more regularly than for their more high profile cousins.

Finally, the overwhelming argument for Rhone wines is – value! There are incredible bargains out there in all price ranges, from under $15 to $40 wines that are worth twice that much money (and rated higher than their Bordeaux and Burgundy brethren).

So if you are in Vancouver – or coming here for the Wine Festival – make sure you check out the Rhone offerings. And if you aren’t, do the same thing at your local wine store. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!


Having a cold makes you appreciate what you are missing in wine

February 6, 2014

First blog in a couple of weeks, because I am just coming back from that terrible cold that is going around up here! I tried last week to have a glass of wine but it didn’t work – and made me really appreciate what I get out of wine.


The first is the aroma! With a stuffy nose, your sense of smell is the first to go, and when I stuck my nose in the glass I got nothing at all. At first I thought it was just not a very fruity wine, but my wife said it was wonderful. I tried again, but same result. No black currants or cherries, no vanilla or pepper or garrigue – nothing at all!


Since I had it in my glass, I decided to try it anyway and, once again, couldn’t have been more disappointed. I could taste no fruit at all in the wine; in fact, I could hardly taste anything at all! All I could sense was a vague woodiness, as well as acidity. Not even any tannin.


Again, I checked with my wife, and she confirmed the wine was not only sound, it was actually very nice.


I started to take another sip, but then just shook my head and emptied out the glass. Fortunately it was an “every day” drinking wine, and not one from my cellar.


Interestingly, of all the things I missed, the one that didn’t seem to make a difference was alcohol. I don’t drink wine to “get a buzz” anyway, but it was at least comforting confirmation of that fact.


I tried again last night – as my cold has retreated into a bit of a nagging cough – and was happy to find I could both smell and taste the wine in my glass! Not completely, but enough to generate some satisfaction. So this time I finished the glass…and had a second.


For all of you out there without colds, you probably won’t appreciate this blog very much. But those who have one you might…and take comfort in the fact that when the cold goes away, your wine enjoyment will come back!