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I love wine, and I freakin’ love a good, oaky, creamy Chardonnay. So it’s pretty much the perfect coincidence that my first Haus of Hybrid assignment is covering the Vancouver International Wine Festival, where they were featuring California Chardonnays. On top of that, the Festival’s new charitable partner is your favourite local Shakespeare festival (and my former employer), Bard on the Beach. YOU GUYS. It’s like I was born to attend this!
Even though the VIWF is the biggest wine festival on the continent and has a long history with humble beginnings, this is still my first time attending. Naturally, I did some research before hand and learned the basic tips:
- Eat before you get there. Complimentary portion-controlled bread and cheese do not a dinner make. No, not even with ham slices.
- This is a wine tasting, not a fancy pub crawl. Don’t be the drunk woman teetering around the Convention Centre. Look at your life, look at your choices!
- Go visit the vendors at the tables with no crowds. They’re probably really excited to chat with you and answer questions, and less likely to spill wine on your hand because they’re trying to pour 6 tastings at once (looking at you, Signorello).
- If you can snag a ticket for Thursday night, go for it. This is industry and media night, and word is they only sell to 75% capacity to allow more time for collectors and reviewers to chat with owners. Less crowds = less waiting = more tastings all around!
Another tip I read was to bookend your tastings with the feature Region, and try as many different countries in between to make the most out of this international showcase. Obviously, challenge accepted. Here are my highlights:
Last summer, I took a semi-private wine tour through the Napa Valley, and we stopped at a bunch of smaller wineries. While my favourites from that time (Robert Biale, Cuvaison) weren’t at the Wine Festival, California’s feature region status dominated.
1. Cameron Hughes - Atlas Peak Chardonnay 2010 - $22.99
GET IT: If you like crisp yet complex wines, with slightly bitter aftertastes and vineyard names that sound like characters from HBO lawyer dramas.
SKIP IT: If, like me, you are after oaky, well-rounded, creamy Chardonnays.
2. Hess - Select Charonnay 2010 – $19.99
This is such a favourite of mine. I know you’re there to try new and exciting flavours but I could not resist the siren call of Hess.
GET IT: Um, do you love summer and sipping leisurely on a patio? You will love this. It’s my ideal Chardonnay – simultaneously refreshing, citrusy, and oaky. Amazing price point. It took me right back to eating oysters on the Joe Fortes patio last summer.
SKIP IT: If oak makes you want to barf? I seriously have no idea, to me this is perfection. If you are allergic to white wines then I guess you should probably avoid.
3. Signorello Estate - Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2010 - $59.99
Signorello was one of the most popular stations at the festival, and for good reason. They have exceptional wines, they were in the featured Region, AND they have ties in Vancouver (the family lives in Vancouver and divides their time between here and Napa).
The Chardonnay was delicious. Again, creamy with hints of vanilla. The guy spilled some on my hand as he poured it though. It's okay guys, I licked it off. That's like $3 worth of wine there.
GET IT: If you are super serious about Chardonnays and want to spend twice as much as all your friends.
SKIP IT: If you're not super duper picky about your wine. Seriously, the Hess Chardonnay is SO EXCELLENT, and a fraction of the cost.
4. Signorello Estate - Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $97.99
Let's be real, probably the only time I'm going to get to taste wine this expensive. It was GORGEOUS. Dark and plummy, full tannins, so so good. At almost $100 though, it's an investment, though the guy did emphasize that you can drink it young (heh) OR let it age 10-15 years.
GET IT: If you are throwing a dinner party with your new BFF Jennifer Lawrence and you need a little pre-dinner fancy wine with the awesome cheese plate she just picked up from Leo's personal charcuterie guy.
SKIP IT: If you do not hang out with famous people and do not need to throw down $100 for wine that's probably going to be consumed with Indian takeout anyway.
Glen Carlou - Classic Chardonnay - $21.99
Did you know that Hess also owns Glen Carlou? That family, man.
GET IT: To complete your Hess obsession. I mean. If you want to surprise folks with a lovely, French-oaked Chardonnay from an unexpected region. The French oak means the creaminess is not as prominent, which is more balanced for some.
SKIP IT: If you can't find it. It's currently not available in BC liquor stores. Dang.
Amalaya Vino Blanco de Altura - Riesling/Torrontes - $14.99
GET IT: If you want to be pleasantly surprised by a Riesling blend. I normally steer clear of Rieslings, they're usually too sweet for my liking, but this was aromatic with green apple, crisp, and quite dry.
SKIP IT: If dry whites aren't your thing.
J. GARCIA CARRIÓN - Viña Arnáiz Reserva 2007 - $25.99
GET IT: If you love Old World, almost jammy, super drinkable wines. I had it right after a plate of ham and cheese, and it was so tasty. The vineyard is in Ribera del Duero, one of Spain's major wine regions. Remind me to do a wine tour in Spain.
SKIP IT: At $25.99, the price point is a little steep for something that's so drinkable and not super complex. But, it's certainly crowd-pleasing.
There are other vineyards in New Zealand besides Oyster Bay?? Heck yes!
Stoneleigh - Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - $17.99
GET IT: If you love easy summer in a glass. This is super crisp, very citrusy, and all around refreshing. I actually tasted all four of the wines that Stoneleigh was sampling, and the wines increased in both price and complexity. The more expensive wines also sourced their grapes from a much more concentrated region. This one, being the cheapest and having the widest region of grape selection, was actually my favourite.
SKIP IT: If you're looking for something fuller, with more flavour notes.
Santa Margherita - Processo Superior Valdobbiadene - $21.99
GET IT: Do you love feeling like you're drinking the stars? Do you love a bubbly, dry, crisp, refreshing prosecco that's incredibly versatile? In the words of the lovely man representing Santa Margherita, "You can drink it as an apertif, with light food, or at 10 AM with a sandwich. I won't judge you." I tried real champagne later in the night. This was better.
SKIP IT: If bubblies don't do it for you. Or you hate celebrating. You jerk.
At $95 per ticket, the VIWF is not exactly cheap. But, when you think about the average $10-$15 tasting prices at vineyards, plus the diversity of the regions and winemakers you are getting access to, it's not a bad price at all. Check it out when it comes around next year!