I never had as much fun at a wine tasting as I did this year at the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival. It seems redundant to say so though: how could you not have fun at a wine event? With Australians (theme region this year)?
It seemed like every time I turned around, there was another big smile behind the table and a hand reaching out to pour a few drams of Syrah/Shiraz (theme varietal this year). And these folks were always making the time to “chew-the-fat” for a bit; sharing the stories about how, when and why their families got bitten by the wine-making bug. They shared their passion as enthusiastically and authentically as they did their bottles and the week seemed to blur past me.
So you mean to say that you hung out for a few days in a room full of Australians and thousands of bottles of wine and you had fun?!”
But then I was taking a break in a local restaurant one afternoon and overheard a couple of guys at a table next to me discussing the @VanWineFest #VIWF and I couldn’t help myself from eavesdropping… the general banter was that the tasting room had gotten a bit “too-big-for-its-britches” and wasn’t worth the money anymore.
I wanted to break into their conversation and set them straight – but it wasn’t my place. And it got me to thinking: is the festival really worth the money for most people?
Well I’m not most people, I know that. I’m a guy who liked wine so much that I switched careers just to be closer to the action; I travel to wine regions, meet with winemakers, walk the vineyard and tour the cellars, do the countless hours of research and then write articles sharing the passionate stories of these people. To me, it’s living the dream!
But for most people wine is just a drink to share with friends and family before, during and after a meal. It’s a patio libation, a beach beverage, picnic ambrosia… but it’s not a career or even an impassioned hobby. So why fork out the cash to come out to an event like this?
The first reason that came to mind is money: everyone knows that we have to spend money to make money, right? In this case it’s spending money to save money. We’ve all been guilty of walking into the liquor/wine store and buying a bottle solely on impulse: not based off of any reviews, any friends recommendation, the clerks preferences or even what we could read on the back of the bottle… we look at the label, we like it, so we buy it. And then we get home and upon opening – that wine with the funky label is just that: funky. Well there was $15 $20 $30 down the drain, right?
After the first afternoon in the Vancouver International Wine Festival Acura Tasting Room I had found literally dozens of treasures that I couldn’t wait to try again and share with my friends. Come to think of it if you and I were friends on Twitter then you would have been reading about them all as I was making my way through the Tasting Room! Anyways – I had found so many stunning wines that it would have taken months to try them all and I realized that this was something everyone can relate to.
Worth the Price of Admission
We all want to save money. We all hate guessing when we’re spending our money and we all hate it when what we bought doesn’t live up to standards. But as I write about in my upcoming VIWF trade article: this is the “Golden Age” of wine and there has never been more choice for you the consumer. It may seem difficult to believe but even the most experienced people in the wine industry are finding it hard to keep up with everything that’s going on! Events like this are where you can set aside a few hours and really understand what wines you like; from what wineries and what regions.
It’s a pretty cool feeling when someone is pouring you a wine to taste and you don’t have to worry about how much it costs – you can just enjoy the way it tastes! Let’s be honest: just because you like Syrah or Shiraz, that doesn’t mean that you are going to like all of them! In one afternoon at the @VanWineFest I must have tried about 50 or 60 of them… some I liked, some I loved and some I passed on. Beautiful!
And just because that’s the theme-varietal, that doesn’t mean that’s it to the story: far from it. That week I tasted CabSauv, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Sangiovese and Carmenere and that was just the red wine! I tried wines that were $15 a bottle and wines that were over $100 a bottle. I tried wines from 14 different countries and each one had delicious gems just waiting to be discovered.
And it was fun!
There’s a marketing guru named Seth Godin who I’ll paraphrase a bit: he talks about how our society today really hasn’t changed that much from when we lived in caves. Seth talks about how everyone is still trying to find their tribe and everything we do, every purchase we make, is to find or fit into our tribe. We’re in the “Mazda-tribe” or the “salesman-tribe” or “baseball-playing-tribe” or “Sting-tribe”. Be the object our car, our profession, our hobby or our music we’re trying to find the group we most associate with. We want to belong.
Even if it weren’t my chosen profession, I would want to belong to the “Wine-Lovers-Tribe”… thousands of people from all different walks of life being pulled together to share their love of wine and the artisans who have dedicated their lives to making it. At events like this there are always a few too many laughs, gregarious smiles, new friends to be made and a long line of cabs waiting at the end of the night to whisk you home safe and sound.
So, to you my tribe, I’ll share a few of my favorite picks from the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival. These are wines that truly spoke to me and, in my opinion, are well worth investing your time and money in:
… this was the most eye-opening experience of the entire festival for me: regular readers will know that I eschew corporate muscle when it comes to wine-making. I believe, and have for some time, that family-owned, family-run wineries will time and time again prove themselves to have a closer tie to the earth and a more personal connection to the wines they produce. It makes sense, right? If your name is on the label then inherently you will want to do a better job because the wine represents you. Well… time for me to eat my hat as they say! I had the privilege of sharing some time with Bill Hardy whose great-grandfather started the company and whose fiercely determined grandmother took the company to new levels.
Bill’s passion for the company (which is now corporately owned) was infectious and when he started to talk about blending wines from different parts of Australia the way that a chef works with spices – well, chef that I am, I was hooked. And the quality of the wines spoke for themselves:
1) 2012 Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir, Tasmania, $75 CAD, 93 points: stunning! A generosity of fruit like great Oregon Pinot and yet the deliberate/precise minerality of fine Burgundy. Not an inexpensive wine this represents immense value and would still be considered a good deal if it came from either of those places for double the price.
2) 2005 Eileen Hardy Shiraz, $n/a, 95+ points, TOP WINE 2015 #VIWF: the only word that I could muster when I tried this was “beautiful”. This is one of the most complete wines I have ever had; richness of bouquet, finesse of palate, freshness of acidity, integration of tannin, balance and length… this was my choice for Top Wine of the Festival and I would recommend buying any vintage of this wine you come across. It will last for decades and continue to develop with grace, precision and style.
… once again I was given the privilege of sharing some time with one of the most dynamic, and humblest, winemakers in the world: Aurelio Montes (jr). Aurelio led a stunning tasting session that dramatically educated the audience on what is resulting from his families ground-breaking work in dry-farming viticulture in Chile.
With the inimitable David Scholefield moderating, Aurelio presented several vintages of work from the winery with one year being a vintage from regular viticulture methods and the subsequent vintage being from dry-farming. The results were as sensational as they were appreciated by everyone in the room: time and time again the dry-farmed wines presented themselves with fuller bouquet, deeper flavors, stronger structure and a greater sense of region. When it came to this wine I forgot about everyone else for a moment and just enjoyed:
1) 2012 Purple Angel 92% Carmenere 8% Petit Verdot, $65 CAD/$50+ USD, 94+ points: STUNNING VALUE. This has been called the best vintage of Purple Angel yet which is saying a lot as this wine regularly features on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Complex yet finessed aromas of spiced plum chutney, raspberry coulis, Arabic spices and ginger-orange marmalade. Bone-dry with full chalky/chewy tannin, full red currant acid and a craftsman’s symbiosis from palate to bouquet. Easily continues to develop until 2022 and I would surmise drinks beautifully until 2032+
2013 Torrontes, $15 CAD, 91 points, TOP VALUE 2015 #VIWF
** Specialty stores only in BC – not widely available **
… I started off this article by talking about how everyone loves a great value: well this is it! This wine is so amazing for the price that other wineries were coming over to this booth to re-evaluate their own pricing structure. I saw more than one winery CEO/owner taste this, smile, then start shaking their head and ask the person across from them “How the hell do they do it?“.
Well without letting out any trade secrets it really does come, in part, from this wineries willingness to be a “Captain Kirk” in their approach to the vineyard. They went where no one had gone before and planted this vineyard at 10,000 feet above sea-level; something no one even considered feasible much less advisable! But they did it and developed an entirely unique flavor profile: utterly refreshing floral aromatics mixed with bright lemon zest tones and a serious mineral backbone, full citrus acid that wake the palate yet is sinfully enjoyable without any need for food. Rich concentration of flavors that match the aromas are the trademark of craftsman-like quality… this is a wine that over-delivers on the price and puts the competition on their toes!
True enough, this was one of the most educational experiences of my life, but it was more than that: it was one of the most satisfying as well. I gained a deeper respect for how much the Australians love their land and how fully runs their commitment to creating the finest quality wines in the most sustainable manner possible. I saw folks working 18 and 19 hours a day yet their smile never waned, even when the sun had long since set and I knew they were up before dawn. They shared their photos of home as proudly as they did the proof from the vineyards and within moments I felt like I knew them. And I knew that they cared what I thought… not because I was a journalist but because I was a consumer and these people care about their consumers.
That is why I love this tribe of mine, the “Wine-Lovers-Tribe”; consumers yearn to find out where the products are coming from these days be it a pair of sneakers or the hamburger from your local fast-food place. The world of wine, and especially the world of Australian wine, is filled with producers brimming with pride about how they grow their grapes, how they take care with irrigation or have stopped using pesticides, and the minimalist practices they’re using in the cellar now. Rightfully so – they should be proud~! This isn’t a tribe that’s following the curve or ahead of the curve; they created the curve – some of these families having used #sustainable practices in their work for centuries.
All that remains for you is to choose whose work you support by how you spend your consumer dollars. And as I say to the wine-trade in that upcoming article:
That’s quite a responsibility. What are you going to do with it?”
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