Category Archives: Events

Broad, but not Deep

After meditating on the subject for several weeks (okay, not meditating per se), I thought I would pass on these three jems I picked up from the 2009 Vancouver International Wine Festival:

  • Avoid people who ask to “try the chardy”, they just want to drink.
  • Pregnant women, even if you are a rep, and its your job to be there, should not be at wine festivals. We will still judge you.
  • Bring your own spit cup. You will be so much better off.

“Broad, but not deep” pretty much sums up how I feel about the event. It’s certainly a conflicting set of emotions I come away with. On the one hand, my personality and interest in wine desired the geeky discussions about specific subjects, asking the hard questions, and bringing forth worthy answers. But, I am still, in a big picture sense, a novice taster, and thus the opportunity this wine festival afforded me was invaluable.

By volunteering, I was able to get a free ticket to the International Tasting Room, and sit in on two seminars. Thursday (March 26th) I toured the tasting hall, with over 175 booths, pouring some 8800+ wines. I chose to limit my tour to French producers with a handful of Californian wines thrown in for good measure. Clearly, I have a slanted perspective, and I know I missed out on opening my horizons more to Italian and Spanish wines.

Even with the opportunity to try some fantastic 1er Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy and Alsace wines, I was frustrated by the distracting environment, which was noisy, poorly lit (yes, they dimmed the room) and crowded (which made getting to the spittoons difficult.)Crowded!

Another frustration was the lack of meaningful organization. The hall was divided into two man areas; BC wines and everybody else. These two groups were then organized alphabetically. This made the tasting hall very schizophrenic, with big reds next to elegant whites, and silky reds next to flabby whites. Although I had drafted out a rough plan for the evening, and highlighted several producers I wanted to see, I could have used another 2 hours to plan the attack. There were some excellent whites (Monrachets and Corton-Charlemange) which were dulled, if not lost to me due to tannin fatigue. The flip side of this is the joy of finding something unexpected that stands out. This happened to me with a Morgan from Domaine Piron. The wine was fragrant and compelling, and stood out because of its unassuming but well composed harmony.

The interesting thing is that the lack of organization made no difference to the BC section. The seminar on Saturday, Icons of B.C, demonstrated this well. Aside from the lack of cohession to the group the wines poured, it felt self congratulatory, especially with the winemakers present. And besides the moderators and winemakers, no one else choose to speak about these wines or even ask questions. The Okanagan Valley is one of the youngest wine producing areas in the world. It does produce a handful of quality and interesting wines (generally aromatic whites), but on the whole, the region is too untested, too small, too inconsistent and too overpriced to take itself as seriously as it does. On a positive note, by highlighting B.C. wines as one of the themes this year, the Wine Festival may have exposed the faults and strenghts of the this wine region. Hopefully this will encourage people in the region to focus on the strenghts, and it will encourage to demand better results from their local producers, especially when offered so much choice from the international market.

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Double Feature

This past week brought two events: a wine tasting club field trip to Salt, and a dinner at Barbra-Jo’s presented by Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines.

The evening at Salt was put together on short notice for our tasting club, with little idea of how it would all work out. Fortunately, all thirteen of us were accommodated nicely at their large table in the main dinning room. On the fly we managed to decide on a format; select two bottles at a time to be poured, let the server take care of the rest. We were served platters of cheese, charcuterie and condiments. The wines were mostly good, with a few surprises. Notably, a 1er cru Chablis (elegant with developing complexity, though lost when paired with most of the food), and a primitivo (known in North America as zinfandel) from Italy. Up until Thursday, I had not found a zinfandel that I really cared for. This primitivo, on the other hand, was perfumed and bold, but still balanced (even at 14.5%). Its given me a reason to keep on looking for a good zinfandel. In all, the evening at Salt was light hearted and filled with good conversation. (For tasting notes please click here.)

In contrast, the dinner at Barbara-Jo’s was much more focused. The wines were more challenging, and correspondingly a more challenging set of ideas were presented. Anthony Nicalo began by talking about the idea of a vigneron. In France, as in many other places in the Old World, the act of growing grapes, and making wine is encompassed in one title. The English bastardization for this term, in use in 17th century England, is vinaroon. This reminded me that, too often the act of thinking and doing are separate. Like any craftsperson, a vinaroons responsibility is to make thoughtfull choices through actions. The wines that Anthony presented to us were all produced by producers that were also growers, people who had complete control over the decisions and execution of their product (and often made choices to grow organically or biodynamically and vinify with minimal intervention).

My descriptive abilities are bound to fail when talking about these wines. However, I will offer that these wines provided me with a new sense of the complexity possible in wine. They all had personalities that stayed with me thoughtout the evining, and complimented the meal beautifully. Although all the wines were outstanding, the Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive was sublime, and probably the best desert wine I have ever tasted.

As a parting thought, Anthony evoked Wendell Berry, saying that we make chocies about how agriculture is practiced, by the food that we buy and consume. It follows, therefore, that if we care deeply about quality food, sustainably raised, we should pay the same attantion to the wine we drink.

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