Inside the 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival tasting room

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      The 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival comes to a close Sunday (March 1), but before then, there are still thousands of bottles to be poured.

      The most popular event of the festival, the International Festival Tasting, kicked off last night (February 26) and continues on tonight (February 27), and Saturday (February 28) afternoon and evening. While both nighttime events are sold out, tickets are still available for the 3 to 5 p.m. event tomorrow.

      The afternoon event will give attendees two hours to taste their way through over 1,000 wines from 170 wineries. A reduced ticket price of $68 (compared to $89 evening tickets) doesn’t hurt either. There will also likely be spectacular views of the glistening harbour and snow-less North Shore mountains at sunset.

      I attended the opening of the International Festival Tasting last night as a media guest. Believe me when I say that even for seasoned imbibers and wine-festival goers, the sheer volume of wineries at this event is overwhelming.

      Last year, I compared the event to Disneyland—“long lines, big crowds, but lots of excitement and smiles”. This year, I still stand by that statement. I used the same tactic that VIWF festival director Harry Hertscheg once suggested, and attempted to try at least one wine from each region before going back to a few that I enjoyed the most.

      Large banners help guide attendees around all of the wine-growing regions in Australia.
      Michelle da Silva

      This year’s VIWF featured country is Australia, with an international spotlight on Syrah/Shiraz. About a third of the Vancouver Convention Centre ballroom is devoted to Australian wine. Big banners help guide guests from one geographical region to another—Margaret River, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Hunter Valley, Coonawarra, and so on.

      The other two-thirds of the room feature wines from around the world: Argentina, Chile, Croatia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and South Africa all had booths. Canada, with many of the wines from B.C., and the U.S. are also showcased. A handful of bottles of Port from Portugal and Sake from Japan are also on hand.

      Besides trying to sample as many regions as possible, my other wine-festival tactic is always to taste white wines first before moving onto reds. This not only saves you from having to wash out your glass in between pours (or mistaking wines for rosé), but for many people, it will help you more easily compare wines on the palate (After a few peppery Cab Sauvs, you might not pick up on that subtle honeysuckle note when you go back to swishing Riesling).

      Bottles of Chardonnay from Austrlia's Evans & Tate Wines.
      Michelle da Silva

      So off I went and tried a selection of delicious Chardonnays from Australia, many of them crisp and acidic, with apple and pear notes. Australia is also well known for its Riesling, and I tried two very good examples from Wakefield Estate in the Clare Valley and Bethany in the Eden Valley.

      I then wandered over the international section via the cheese table (yes, the great thing about this festival is that there are lots of food options that don’t run out) and promptly fell in love with several German Rieslings. Two stood out: the Schloss Johannisberg Rotlack Riesling Kabinett from Rheingau and Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Brockstein Riesling Spatlese from Mosel. If you’re headed to the tasting room this weekend, I suggest that you to seek out these delightful wines.

      In terms of red wines, just about every winery from Australia is pouring at least one Shiraz. Try a few and then compare them to other black grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Of these varietals, I enjoyed Coonawarra-based Hollick’s 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Yarra Valley’s Yering Station Village 2011 Pinot Noir.

      A festival attendee tastes a Pinot Noir from Australia's Margaret River.
      Michelle da Silva

      Shiraz, also known as Syrah, can be found among the international regions as well. France’s Louis Bernard had both their 2012 Crozes Hermitage (100 percent Syrah) and Châteauneuf du Pape (a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre) at the festival.

      The nice thing about the VIWF tasting room as that many of the bottles are for sale at the event, so if you find something you like, you don’t need to wait to pick it up at a liquor store. The other things I suggest you take advantage of are the coat check benefiting the Bard of the Beach Shakespeare Festival ($2 and you don’t have to choose between clutching your bulky winter coat or a cheese plate) and the Get Home Safe free transit ticket (and leave your car at home).

      Tickets to the International Festival Tasting on Saturday afternoon are available for purchase online. There also are still a few spots left at other events: Geological Gems, McLaren Vale: Scarce Earth, and Mod Oz.