My Recommendations to Attend the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

Have you had a chance to check out the wine events coming up at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival?  Did you know that tickets for the events go on sale this Tuesday, January 10?  I’ve checked through the events, and I’d like to give you a few recommendations.  Maybe you will see me at one of these events too.

Theme Country – Chile

Two years ago I travelled down to Chile and visited wineries from the Aconcagua, Maipo, Casablanca, and Colchagua Valleys.  Some of the wineries were Casa Lapostolle, Montgras, Montes, Errazuriz, and Casas del Bosque.   I was impressed with how much the wineries cared for their vineyards and the production of their wines.  One of the nice thing with Chile, is that it is dry due to it’s location on the west coast of South America, and the Andes Mountains on it’s eastern border.  The dry climate, plus topography, and soil factors have made the area a great place to grow grapes.  There is very little, or no, phylloxera louse to attack the grape vines, plus the dryness keeps fungus and mold at bay.  So less pesticides and/or herbicides are needed here.  Many of the wineries in Chile indicate that they are organic or follow organic principles.

Chile’s Natural Advantage

Chile is a wine maker’s paradise.  They get 3 weeks more ripening time than in Bordeaux and 300 + days of sunshine each year.   The cool air from the Andes cools the grapes in the evening so that the grapes mature slowly so that they reach full phenolic ripeness; lots of ripe fruit and a good backbone of acidity. The adjacency to the coast, and the cool Humbolt Current helps produce coastal fog which cools the grapes near the coast, such as from the Casablanca Valley and San Antonio Valley.

Chilean Grapes

Wide range of Chilean red wines

Cabernet is King is Chile.  With the 300+ days of sunshine, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce very full-bodied, ripe, supple wines.  Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor is one of the top quality wines for this grape.  Merlot and Carmenere come in, in 2nd and 3rd place.  Yet they were thought of both being Merlot for many years.  The grapes were planted together in the same vineyard and the grapes and leaves of both vines look very similar.  It was only fairly recently that the Carmenere grape was identified (it’s a Bordeaux grape btw), and has become a signature grape for Chile. A second signature red grape is coming through the ranks, and that is the Syrah grape.  I think people started to recognize Syrah’s potential in Chile, with Aurelio Montes‘ plantings in the Apalta Region of the Colchagua Valley.  There he produces an ultra premium Montes Folly wine from Syrah.

Most people probably think of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay when they think of white wines from Chile.  Probably also the Casablanca Valley, where a lot of very good Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are produced. An upcoming region for Sauvignon Blanc is slightly south of the Casablanca Valley and much closer to the coast is the Leyda Valley.  While the Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Casablanca Valley can be more tropical fruit, from the Leyda Valley, expect more citrus and herbal aromas and flavours.  Have you ever heard of Moscatel of Alexandria?  You might not have, but you probably have tried some Chilean Pisco.  Pisco is produced from the Moscatel grape.  Riesling and Viognier and two grapes with great potential.  I don’t think a particular region is well-known enough for these grapes, but I would hazard to guess that the Riesling grape would be very good in the Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys while Viognier would shine in the more inland, warmer regions, like Aconcagua, Maipo and Colchagua Valleys.

Theme Grape – Cabernet

Montes Apalta vineyard

Cabernet is more than just one grape.  Most people know of Cabernet Sauvignon, the highly revered grape from Bordeaux, but there is also another Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, which can also be found in Bordeaux, but is better known in the Loire Valley in France. Cabernet Sauvignon can be found around the world.  California’s Napa Valley produces some famous Cabernet Sauvignon, such as Stag’s Leap, and don’t forget Chile!  Cabernet Sauvignon tends to have quite high tannins giving it great longevity potential in the bottle. The flavour profile is Cabernet Sauvignon according to Wikipedia, “When Cabernet Sauvignon is young, the wines typically exhibit strong fruit flavors of black cherries and plum. The aroma of black currants is one of the most distinctive and characteristic element of Cabernet Sauvignon that is present in virtually every style of the wine across the globe. Styles from various regions and producers may also have aromas of eucalyptus, mint and tobacco. As the wines age they can sometimes develop aromas associated with cedar, cigar boxes and pencil shavings. In general New World examples have more pronounced fruity notes while Old World wines can be more austere with heightened earthy notes“.

Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux is used as a blending grape, offering cedar, tobacco, raspberry, cassis and violets aromas and flavours. It is lower in tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, and also can have a green pepper or leafy character. You can also find Cabernet Franc grown around the world.  Here in BC we have single varietal bottles of Cabernet Franc, such as from Tinhorn Creek.

As an aside, in my Wikipedia check, I see that there are 3 other Cabernets, formed through a hybrid of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape with another grape variety.  They are:

  • Cabernet Dorsa, a 1971 hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder, created in Germany
  • Cabernet Gernischt, a Chinese variety similar or perhaps identical to Cabernet Savignon
  • Cabernet Mitos, a 1970 hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and Blaufränkisch, created in Germany

I have not had time to check on these other Cabs but will do some further research in the future.

My Recommended Events

  • New World Expressions. This is all about New World Cabernets.  Try Penfolds Bin 707 and other Bins against sought after New World regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley.
  • Celebrate Casa Real. Casa Real is one of Chilean winery, Casa Santa Rita‘s ulta-premium Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Andres Ilabaca will guide you through a vertical of 8 vintages of this wine.  It is always very interesting to try successive vintages of a wine and see how it is aging over time.
  • Kings of Cabernet Sauvignon. Join Barbara Philip Master of Wine and a panel of leading experts for a comparative tasting of top notch
    Cabernets from around the world.  One of the best ways to tell what style of wine you prefer for a particular grape.
  • Don Melchor: Behind the Blend.  If you know anything about Chilean wine, you would know about Concha y Toro‘s premium Don Melchor. Don Melchor has been regarded as Chile’s first growth of Cabernet Sauvignon and is accredited with bringing the premium wines of Chile to the attention of the world.
  • Any of the 8 sit down or grazing lunches on the weekend of March 3 and 4. I’d personally select the Chilean, New Zealand, or Spanish events.
  • Flavours of the Festival.  If you have the money but not the time to try many of the wines from around the world during the Festival. This sit down brunch at the The Fairmont Waterfront ballroom showcases foods from top BC restaurants paired with Festival wines from around the world.
  • Catena High Altitude at Hy’s. This is a Argentinean delight.  Wonderful wines from premium producer Bodega Catena Zapata from Mendoza, with expertly cooked steak from Hy’s.  Malbec and more!
  • A Star Rises in South Africa! Lammershoek is one of the rising stars of the dynamic South African wine scene. I’ve tried their wines for the first time last year and they are excellent.  Try their Pinotage, the signature red grape from South Africa.
  • West Coast Montes.  Enjoy a dinner with Chilean wine pioneer Aurelio Montes.  I’ve had dinner with him in the past.  He is very interesting and will tell you many stories about his wines.
  • Discover Piedmont at CRUCRU is one of my favourite restaurants in Vancouver.  The food creations will be expertly matched with the wines of one of the most dynamic Barolo producers in Piedmont Italy, Damilano.
  • Classe Italiana. Another choice if you like Italian wine. Wines from Antinori, one of Italy’s most historic and prestigious Tuscan wineries, will be paired with Vancouver’s highly acclaimed and awarded Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill.
  • Excellence of Nature. CinCin Restaurant and Emiliana winery from Chile will showcase a pairing of organic and biodynamic
    wines with local producers of biodynamic products. This five-course meal integrates the best fresh, sustainable ingredients with the magic
    of Alvaro Espinoza’s wines in a harmonious and innovative union.
  • Sandhill Small Lots Dinner. Come celebrate a BC winery.  You will get to try the very limited wines from Sandhill’s Small Lots program. Indulge in the partnership of BC’s iconic winemaker Howard Soon and Gotham Steakhouse Executive Chef Jean-Claude Douguet

All events are available through the Playhouse Box Office
By phone: 604.873.3311
Toll free 1.877.321.3121
Monday to Friday 9:30 am-8:00 pm
Saturday 12:00-4:00 pm

In person at:
Vancouver Playhouse Box Office
601 Hamilton Street (at Dunsmuir)
Vancouver, BC
Monday to Friday 9:00 am-5:00 pm

Online at PlayhouseWinefest.com (excluding brunches, ticket packages and group rates)
Public Events:  Tickets to all public events go on sale Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 9:30 am.

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