Vancouver International Wine Festival focuses on California

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Got your Vancouver International Wine Festival tickets yet? Don’t leave it too long. The festival runs February 25 to March 3, with 176 wineries from 15 countries offering tastes of over 1,800 wines. California is the theme region this year—that’s only fair, since it was California that got the ball rolling in 1979. Bard on the Beach will be the beneficiary of the funds that are raised.

As you’d expect, the biggest contingent of wineries is from California: there will be over 60 of them, from Alexander Valley Vineyards to Wente Vineyards. Others, of varying size, will be from Argentina, Australia, B.C. (I don’t see any visitors from Ontario this year), Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the U.S.

The big-ticket centrepiece is the Bacchanalia Gala Dinner and Auction on February 26 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Think you can eat and drink to the tune of $395 per head? Go get ’em; there may well be tickets still available. There are lots of other special events as well, many of them featuring food and wine together, as things should be.

As always, for my money the best event is the wrap-up Vintners Brunch on March 3; unfortunately, tickets have sold out. As has become my custom, after the festival I will report on the best food-and-wine pairings right here.

Still, the main event is the three nights of tastings, on February 28, March 1, and March 2; tickets have crept up to $95 each. Be there when the doors open to get at the winery tables you really want to visit.

Pick up a detailed festival brochure at your favourite wine or liquor store now or see the Playhouse Wine Fest website. If you love the varied and amazing wines of California, this is your best-of-the-year tasting party, all week long; get a group together and plan to be there. There’s an LDB wine store on-site so you can take home your favourites, some of which may not be available in other stores.

Lookin’ for your lost shaker of salt? If tequila is your tipple, here’s an event you’ll want to get to. Relax, it’s a good ways off still—May 24, at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. It’s sponsored, appropriately, by various Mexican marketing, tourism, and government groups. It’s the second annual Vancouver International Tequila Expo, and proceeds will once again benefit the British Columbia Hospitality Foundation, of which I am a proud advisory board member.

There’ll be lots to taste and learn—and love!—about one of the world’s great spirits, plus restaurants on hand preparing tequila-inspired cuisine in the Grand Tasting Hall. A Mexican getaway is only one of the prizes.

Last year’s expo was the inaugural one, and more than 700 people attended. Ticket prices have actually gone down this year: they’re $40 right now, increasing to $50 and $60 as the event gets closer. Details can be found at the Vancouver Tequila Expo website, and tickets are available at the Tickets Tonight website.

I know it’s not happening for a few more months, but if you love tequila in all its many forms, this is definitely a case for some early worming.

Riesling is right If you love Riesling like I love Riesling, here’s where to find lots of it, along with great, cheese-focused food: at Au Petit Chavignol, the all-cheese specialty restaurant on East Hastings Street. Cheese in many forms of preparation is the menu mainstay, and Riesling in abundant forms the biggest part of the wine list: there are about 20 different labels, not counting reserves, ranging from about $40 to $200 per bottle. Speaking of reserves, there’s a substantial list of those, including bubble and Bordeaux and Nota Bene. On Mondays, all wines except for bin ends are priced at 15 percent off.

What to eat with all those treats? Bar snacks and nibbling plates, cheese ’n’ charcuterie, cheeseburgers and state-of-the-art grilled cheese sandwiches. There are daily features with various cheese components, raclette and fondue, curried cashews, multi-cheese tasting boards, and much more.

Cheese is the main deal and they do it better than anyone, coming by it naturally since the proprietors own and operate Les Amis du Fromage on West 2nd Avenue. There’s another Les Amis store right next to Au Petit Chavignol. It’s also a source of duck fat for your next truffled pasta. See the Au Petit Chavignol website for opening hours.

How do you prefer your haggis? Crisp! It’s amazing what curious goodies come your way when you’re browsing at the store. For me, it was—wait for it—haggis crisps. As in chips, potato chips. Yep, Mackie’s of Scotland Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper Potato Crisps have come to us from the home of the haggis—Scotland. Found mine at the Apple Farm Market on West 4th Avenue: two 150-gram bags for $6.50. (They also have a Crispy Bacon version for the same price.)

The package states that these are “lady Rosetta variety potatoes…they’re curiously salty and sweet, simultaneously”. They taste like—well, no haggis I’ve ever eaten: must be the influence of the cracked black pepper. Certainly an oddity, from the land of the oddball “crisps”, as they’re known in Britain.

Check out the producer’s website for the whole story, and be the first on your block. Haggis chips—who’da thunk it?

To drink with them? Granville Island Brewing’s recent limited-release Scottish Ale in the big bottle, usually priced around $6.

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