Sunday, April 01, 2007

Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

We’ve done it. We’ve survived the 29th Annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. Three delicious days of swirling, sniffing, sipping, and savouring. We’ve made some new friends, re-connected with several old ones, and, as is the tradition of this annual extravaganza, discovered an astonishing number of new wines and wine knowledge. The theme this year was wines from Down Under with the grape varietal focus being Riesling. Here's a brief overview with more detail to follow.

Hands down the best value we found were the selection of sit down, formal tastings – an opportunity to compare as many as 14 wines related by grape varietal, country, or producer. Top of our list was “Aussie Shiraz: Regional Heroes” – an eye-opening comparison of Shiraz wines from every region of Australia. The diversity left us breathless. And good news for Frank, these were a long, long way from the fat, in your face tannic bombs most often associated with Aussie Shiraz.Smooth, delicious, and boasting a long, long finish several he freely admitted would challenge the most sophisticated WSET hopeful to differenciate from a Cote Rotie.

We were far from the only festival-goers who agreed the International Tasting Room, while utterly spectacular in its breadth – 1,550 wines from 17 countries including more than 200 from Australia – was also overwhelming. We usually pick varietal as our method of attack for large venue tastings – typically concentrating on two whites followed by a couple of reds. It took about two minutes for us to recognize this was not going to happen when confronted with thousands of square feet of displays.

Ultimately, we settled on pursuing wines we either hadn’t seen or felt were unlikely to find elsewhere. Skalani from Boutari, a blend of Kotsifali and Syrah that’s coming soon to BC and Visanto, a blend of Assyrtiko and Aidani – both proving the point that this wine producer is about far more than cheap pizza wines.
Naousa has always been the Boutaris’spiritual and commercial center. The dining room at Dining Room at their Naousa Winery is a popular spot to experience this viticultural heritage.
Four Chateau Musar wines from Lebanon – the winemaker, a crusty white haired gent who definitively qualifies as a “character,” was not about to let anyone sample out of the order he felt best. And RPF Tannat from Pisano, the sole representative of Uruguay’s wine industry.

We tried Super Tuscans while people cued up for sparkling wines with a more aggressive marketing campaign behind them, and sipped a Maison M Chapoutier Viognier that was poetry in a glass – we both made a toast to the forward thinking vintners who said “No!” when this grape was nearing extinction.

In all, for any wine lover, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is still one to mark on your calendar. For info on next year’s event, check out

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