A delicious week at Vancouver’s Wine Festival

The Savvy Team has just returned from another great week at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. With over 170 participating wineries and almost 800 wines to taste in the International tasting room PLUS a variety of seminars, wine and food pairings and winemaker dinners – this was definitely the most extensive (not to mention delicious) festival that we have been to yet.


This Festival brings the wine world together to:  

– provide informative, educational and entertaining wine experiences for consumers and trade;

– be a premier marketing opportunity for the wine industry;

– be the primary fundraiser for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.  


From humble beginnings in 1978, it has raised millions of dollars for the Playhouse Theatre Company.   During these 32 years, the Festival has grown into one of the world’s most prestigious wine events, offering education, tasting and purchase opportunities of interest to the general public, the trade and wine aficionados of all kinds.  Winemakers return year after year, telling us that they are impressed by the caliber of the event, and the welcome that they receive in Vancouver.  And this year, the event was held in the impressive new Vancouver Convention Centre, designed and built for the 2010 Winter Olympics.


Each year a featured region is the anchor of the Festival. This year, there was a twist…the region was the southern hemisphere showcasing both Argentina and New Zealand. What a delicious great duo – creating countless opportunities for participants like me to discover the breadth of varietals cultivated in both countries.


It was a revelation to learn that Argentina produces wines from cool-climate grapes, such as Pinot Noir, while certain regions of New Zealand are renowned for their Merlot and Bordeaux-style blends.


The signature wines were showcased:  New Zealand’s fresh Sauvignon Blanc and fine Pinot Noir, along with Argentina’s robust Malbec and aromatic Torrontés.


Complementing the theme wine regions, Rosé wine was the featured wine style.  What better way to drift into spring than to enjoy the widely varied styles of rosé wines from every corner of the world. 


From fine pale salmon Champagne to deep cranberry-colored rosé wines made from Malbec grapes, we had the opportunity to experience the unique qualities of saignée versus pressed rosé (different winemaking processes to make rosé wines), the lightness and intensity of rosé, truly a wine for all occasions.  Julie & I experienced that versatility in a number of food and wine pairing events. In What’s Behind Pairing with Rosé?, wines were paired with inspired classic dishes, such as smoked salmon with honeyed roasted pear – a creation by Executive Chef Julian Bond of Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Then there were the unexpected food creations such as sautéed shitake mushrooms with strawberry mastered by Personal Chef and Sommelier Tony Lawrence of A Chef for You. 


In the fun event named Rah Rah Rosé, wine and food writer Tim Pawsey and chef Dana Reinhardt created a tasting feast, with foods featuring such basic flavour characteristics as spicy, smoky, salty and sweet available to be paired with the wide range of styles of rosés. Participants discovered for themselves the versitality of rosé wines as they wandered from station to station.


The opening plenary –  Dare to Compare – presented a wonderful opportunity to taste a range of wines from both Argentina and New Zealand. As we learned, Argentina is a country of great geographical and climatic diversity, with some of the highest vineyards in the world in Salta to some of the driest in the southern Patagonian winegrowing regions. It benefits from natural barriers – the Andes Mountains which shelter the western vineyards – and soil conditions in many areas which mean that vines can grow on their native rootstock without risk of damage from the phylloxera insect. Unique microclimates abound, leading to a wide diversity of varietals and wine styles, ranging from intense Malbec, to the lesser-known aromatic native white varietal Torrontés, on to rich Chardonnay, weighty Cabernet Sauvignon and robust Bonarda, Argentina’s most-planted red grape.


The Argentinian wines we tasted in this session were a testament to the breadth of the industry:

Bodega Vistalba ‘Progenie’ Extra Brut N/V

O. Fournier ‘Urban Uco’ Torrontés 2009

Familia Schroeder ‘Saurus Patagonia Select’ Pinot Noir 2006

Viña Doña Paula ‘Series Alluvia’ Cabernet Franc 2007

Bodega Catena Zapata ‘Adrianna’ Malbec 2006

Bodegas Trapiche ‘Single Vineyard Vina Federico Villafane’ Malbec 2006

Xumek Syrah 2007


Then we learned in the plenary about New Zealand’s southern water-bound land mass that offers a mid-latitude environment particularly suited to the production of unique, quality wines. Not only is there diversity in the varietals cultivated – from the well-known Sauvignon Blanc to Syrah  and Vigoner – but there is great regional diversity – from the established regions of Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay, to the emerging Waitaki Valley. In addition, the New Zealand wine industry has made a firm commitment to innovative and sustainable viticultural and winemaking practices which they expect will reinforce their reputation for “vibrantly stylish wines”. In 2007, the New Zealand wine industry committed to having 100% of the country’s wine produced under approved independently audited sustainability standards by 2012. Currently, it is reported that over 85% of the vineyard areas and 75% of winery production are participating in the sustainability programs. The industry shares best practices in areas such as water usage, energy consumption, waste management and biodiversity.


The New Zealand wines tasted in the opening plenary also reflected the diversity of their wine styles and growing regions:

Babich Family Estate Vineyards ‘Cowslip Valley’ Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 2009

Mud House Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) 2008

Spy Valley Pinot Gris (Marlborough) 2009

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir (Marlborough) 2008

Ngatarawa ‘Alwyn Winemaker’s Reserve’ Merlot Cabernet (Hawke’s Bay) 2007

Crossroads Winery ‘Elms Vineyard Reserve’ Syrah (Hawke’s Bay) 2007

Stoneleigh Riesling (Marlborough) 2008


The winery owners and winemakers at the opening plenary displayed their deep pride and commitment to craft as each presented their winery, their terroir and their wine. The glass of Vistalba Progenie Extra Brut on arrival created a wonderful context for all the wines that followed. Owner Carlos Pulenta produced this fine sparkling wine from the fruit of vines planted by his father. Bottled in 2005, the wine was opened on his father’s 90th birthday in 2008. It was such a success, he has continued to produce it!   


Hard to imagine, but this outstanding start to our visit to this year’s Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. was followed by endless excellent seminars highlighting the featured regions, Argentina and New Zealand, as well as the theme wine style, rosé. The many rosé and food pairings demonstrated the wide range of styles and the versatility of this wine style. More about that later . . .


Now, don’t you want to join us next year at the Festival? The featured region is Spain – olé!


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