The Vancouver International Wine Festival is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Now in its 37th year, it’s one of the world’s most notable wine shows that appeals to a wide array of people, whether you’re a casual wine drinker like myself, collector, or a trade professional. France was the theme country in 2014 (check out our coverage of last year’s VIWF here), while Australia was the theme country for 2015. With over 55 participating restaurants and hotels, with tastings, galas, paired lunches and dinners, seminars, and more, there was more than enough happening around town last week to satisfy any wine lover’s palate. Here is my recap of the several VIWF events that I attended.
Acura International Festival Tasting Room – Vancouver Convention Centre
Held at the Vancouver Convention Centre, this showcase event is where you go to sample the over 750 wines that are available. With Australia being the theme country, they had a particularly large presence in the Acura Tasting Room, where they were represented by 55 Australian wineries pouring over 200 wines from 20 distinct regions. And because the global focus was Syrah, there were also over 170 brands of Syrah from around the world represented as well.
With only a few hours to wander around the immense tasting room, it’s not a bad idea to go with a game plan or you might feel completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of booths inside. This year, I was on a mission to find the best value Australian wine. The great thing with Australian wines is that they’re generally quite good, regardless of the price point. In fact, most of the great Australian wines that I’ve tried are in the $15-$25/bottle range. For that reason, whenever a newbie wine drinker asks me for a recommendation for wine, I usually advise them to pick something out from the Australian aisle because they are safe, versatile, and you don’t need to break the bank to find a nice wine.
I tried so many wines that night, but there were a few standouts for me. From Left to Right: Quarisa 30 Mile Shiraz 2012. This wine oozes ripe sweet fruit and offers supple textures. The nose exhibits sarsaparilla, mocha, eucaluptus, raspberry, blueberry, baling spices, and vanilla. Priced at $14.99 at BC government liquor stores, it’s really hard to go wrong with this one; Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($23.99). This is a full-bodied, well-balanced wine of great intensity with a lingering finish. It has distinctive cassis and blackcurrant fruit flavours, with subtle but spicy oak characteristics; Summerhill Pyramid Winery is one of my favourite BC wineries, and their 2010 Syrah ($28.95 at speciality wine stores) has been a favourite of mine for some time. Aged 20 months in American and French oak, it has a very savoury and spicy character, with a s smokey peppery finish; Las Moras Paz Malbec 2012 ($18.99) is a full-bodied Argentinian malbec that stood out to me as a great value buy. It features ripe plums and violets with a touch of smoke, vanilla and chocolate on the nose, and would pair perfectly with grilled red meat.
Down Under With Bill Hardy – Brix Restaurant & Bar
Since 1853, the Hardy family has been making great Australian wines. During the winemaker’s dinner at Brix Restaurant & Bar, brand ambassador Bill Hardy, shared stories about how his great great grandfather, Thomas Hardy, built their successful wine business which has been going strong for over five generations. Their family heritage really shines through across their entire collection, and I really enjoyed hearing about the inspiration and thought that goes into each of their wines. As we arrived, we were greeted with Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2014 ($11.99), and Hardys Nottage Hill Shiraz 2013 ($13.99), named after Thomas Hardy Nottage, who worked for the Hardy family for 66 years. With these wines, they incorporate between 10-30% of cold weather grapes to give them more balance and finesse, making them great everyday drinking wines. I really enjoyed this dinner and I thought all the wine pairings were really well thought out.
First course (above): Sea scallop ceviche, birds eye chili, fresh lime and ginger. This spicy cold appetizer was great especially once paired with the refreshing riesling. Pairing: HRB Riesling 2010. HRB stands for Heritage Reserve Bin, and is a throwback reference to their old paper cataloguing system, which was started by Bill’s grandfather in the 1920s. When they switched over to a computerized record keeping system in 1983, they closed the book at D635. So HRB D644 is simply a continuation of where they left off.
Second course (left): Hand-peeled shrimp & Dungeness crab, mango horseradish vinaigrette, torn lettuce. Pairing: William Hardy Sauvignon Blanc 2013; Third course (right): Confit pork belly, candied sweet potato & yam. This was my favourite dish of the evening, as the belly was perfectly cooked and tender, and then crunchy crust really had a nice bite and texture. Pairing: Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2010
Fourth course (left): Brome Lake duck breast, duck confit & lentil cassoulet, pepper gelée. Pairing: Hardys William Hardy Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Hardys Tintara McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012; Fifth course (right): 48 hour sous vide beef short rib, truffled pomme purée. Pairing: Hardys Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2005
Buona Sera Per Il Vino – Siena Restaurant
This wine pairing dinner featured the wines of Farnese Vini, a wine importer and label based in southern Italy. The wines are mainly produced in the Abruzzo region, with some production taking place in Campania and Puglia as well. The dinner was held at Siena Restaurant, a cozy Italian restaurant located in the South Granville neighbourhood. Being a big fan of Italian cuisine, this was a place that I’d been wanting to dine at for awhile, so I was thrilled to be invited. The atmosphere was inviting, the food was magnificent but not over the top, and all the dishes were well executed.
Left: Crostini with anchovy and parsley tapenade. Pairing: Farnese Fantini Gran Cuvee Rose Brut NV ($22.99); Right: Spinach & Pancetta Raviolo with lemon ricotta. Pairing: Casale Vecchio Cococciola IGT Terre di Chieti 2013 ($24.99)
Above: Pan-Seared Halibut Cheeks with chive beurre blanc. Pairing: Casale Vecchio Pecorino IGT Terre di Chieti 2013 ($24.99); Below: Medallion of Veal with grilled king oyster mushrooms, maderia cream. Pairing: Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG Colline Teramane 2009 ($29.99); Farnese “OPI” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG Colline Teramane Riserva 2008 ($41.99).
Above: Braised Elk Short Rib with tomato jus and crispy kale. Pairing: Fantini Edizione Cinque Autoctoni ($41.99)
Sonoma In The Park – Seasons In The Park
Poised at the peak of Queen Elizabeth Park, with stunning views overlooking the North Shore mountains and downtown Vancouver, Seasons In The Park is one of my favourite restaurants in the city. This dinner was the dining highlight of the week. It featured the culinary creations of Executive Chef Peter Isacu, paired with the fine wines of Sonoma’s Rodney Strong Vineyards. I sat with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld, who has been working with Rodney Strong’s senior winemaker Rick Sayre since 2010. Rodney Strong Vineyards has only been around for around 50 years, as it was just the 13th winery bonded in Sonoma County. Sonoma is the southwestern county and largest producer of California’s Wine Country region, which also includes Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties. With over 250 wineries, it’s a renowned wine tourism destination that’s definitely on our list of places to visit. It’s also just a short drive away from San Francisco.
First course: Trio of fresh oyster, king crab leg, and tomato gazpacho. Pairing: Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2011 ($26.99). This creamy and crisp chardonnay has hints of baked pie spices and a hint of minerality on the long finish; Second course: Seared sea scallop with fried cauliflower, golden raisin, and caper beurre blanc. Pairing: Knotty Vines Zinfandel 2012 ($23.99). I’m not usually a big fan of zinfandel, but this one was really nice, as it was well balanced and didn’t have quite the sharpness that’s usually associated with zins. At a friendly price point, you can guarantee that this wine is going to end up on my shopping list.
Third course: Roasted balsamic glazed quail with quinoa and micro arugula salad. Pairing: Symmetry, Meritage Blend 2012 ($79.99). The wine is rich, harmonious and elegant, with notes of black fruits, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, and baking spices, with a long lingering finish; Fourth course: Filet mignon and wild mushroom risotto with glazed shallots, grilled asparagus, and truffle oil. Pairing: Alexander Crown’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($99.99). This cab sav is almost Bordeaux-like with ripe flavours and balanced acidity. Paired with the medium rare filet mignon, this was my favourite pairing of the evening.
Fifth course: Pistachio crusted lamb rack with honey roasted mushrooms, carrot puree, crispy kale, and potato croquette. Pairing: Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($99.99). A full body, complex wine with concentrated flavours of blackberry and currant, with a lingering elegant finish; Sixth course: Truffled pecorino cheese plate with pear, walnuts, and pecan crisps. Pairing: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012 ($27.99). This medium bodied wine has rose petal and red fruit aromas with a hint of spice. It’s aged entirely in small French oak barrels, giving it a recognizable vanilla character.
Bacchanalia Gala Dinner + Auction Reception – Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
This black tie gala is the centrepiece event of this annual festival. Throughout the evening, guests placed their bids on coveted silent and live auction items including unique and rare wines, culinary excursions and one-of-a-kind experiences. In total, the auctions raised over $117,000 for the festival’s charitable partner Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.
Below: The five-course wine paired dinner began with a sparkling wine reception. Harry Hertscheg, Executive Director of VIWF, poses with gala emcee Fred Lee, who kept the evening moving along smoothly.
New Zealand: Passionate Pairings – The BoatHouse Restaurant
On Saturday February 25th, The BoatHouse Restaurant (Kitsilano) hosted Passionate Pairings, an event dedicated to showcasing the craftsmanship and dedication of 6 New Zealand wineries. Against the stunning backdrop of Kitsilano Beach Park, wine tasters compared the offerings of several esteemed winemakers in concert with a delicious tasting menu that highlighted several New Zealand delicacies, all under the direction of BoatHouse Chef Vincent Wong. The event featured a Passionate Pairings Challenge that asked attendants to vote on their favourite pairing of 12 wines and 6 dishes, as well as 12 wine and cheese pairings. The BoatHouse Kitsilano serviced this culinary undertaking with alacrity. Most food pairings were prepared fresh, or were still warm. The service was fast and efficient; and they even opened the roof-top patio to the sun-drenched, blustery February afternoon, allowing wine-lovers to taste and compare while enjoying a crystal-clear view of English Bay.
After extensive sauvignon blanc-fuelled research, my ultimate cheese pairing came down to a tie between the Coconut Brie and the Paillot de Chevre, each paired with the Giesen Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (2014) ($17.99). The food pairing was even harder, but my heart was stolen by the Harissa lamb chop, a succulent dish with a dark balsamic reduction and saffron quinoa, paired with the Kim Crawford South Island Pinot Noir (2013) ($23.99). The Pinot Noir was robust enough to match the flavours of the perfectly-seasoned lamb; harissa is a pepper sauce common in Algerian and Moroccan cooking, one I hear coming up more and more often in the dialogue of foodie circles. Respect to Chef Wong for keeping a finger on the pulse of the spice world, as it was the perfect response to the mellow but heavy tones of the 2012 vintage.
Like the imported New Zealand Envy apples, lamb chops and beef tenderloin, the wines presented at the event were also created in strict adherence to sustainable environmental and business practices. New Zealand is working hard to make a name for itself as a provider of sustainably-produced quality wines that compete with vintages across the globe. Though strolling along the beach after the event in the bright spring sunshine reminded me of how much I love Vancouver, I couldn’t help but think that I might need to take a trip to New Zealand some time very soon.
The Vancouver International Wine Festival ran from Feb. 20th – March 1st, 2015. Be sure to keep tabs on the festivities for next year at: http://vanwinefest.ca. Did you attend the VIWF this year? If so, what were the highlights for you? Leave a comment below and let us know. Cheers!