Inside the Vancouver International Wine Festival's International Festival Tasting Room 2014

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      Last week, I attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s International Festival Tasting Room at the Vancouver Convention Centre (1055 Canada Place). It was my first time in the tasting room—although not my first time at a wine festival—and to say that the experience was a little overwhelming would be an understatement.

      In short, it felt like Disneyland: long lines, big crowds, but lots of excitement and smiles—there were more than 780 wines, after all. This year, 14 countries were featured but France had the spotlight, which meant that regions including Rhône, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Champagne, and Alsace were showcased extensively.

      Bottles of Champagne by H. Blin ready to be tasted.

      After interviewing VIWF festival director Harry Hertscheg about a month before the festival, I decided to follow his advice and start the three-hour tasting room session by checking out just one winery from each of the French wine regions. I tasted a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône’s M. Chapoutier winery, several champagne’s from H. Blin, a Chardonnay and Syrah from the South of France’s Domaines Paul Mas, a Sancerre from the Loire region, and a Gewurztraminer from Zinck winery in Alsace as I made my way up and down the long rows of winemakers that lined the ballroom.

      Wines from South Africa were also included in the International Festival Tasting Room.

      About an hour into the experience, I decided to give my palate a short break from all of the French wines and checked out a few other regions, including South Africa, Australia, and Argentina. Australia, by the way, has been named the theme region for VIWF 2015. From what I previewed at this year’s wine festival, I expect that to mean that there will be lots of Syrah (more commonly referred to in Australia as Shiraz), and some unique blends (for instance, I tried a fruity Shiraz-Viognier blend from Barossa’s Yalumba winery).

      With just an hour left, I made my way back to the French section of the tasting room and spent a bit more time at a few of my favourite regions that evening: Rhône, Alsace, and Champagne. I overheard some attendees saying that since the tasting room was open for a total of four sessions (on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, as well as for the first time, on Saturday afternoon), they had reserved one session for tasting bubbly wines, another for white wines, and a third session for reds. This seems like a smart idea (if you have the opportunity to drop in multiple times) since I found that my palate was quite beat after three straight hours of tasting all different styles of wine.

      The cool thing about the tasting room is that attendees have a chance at trying a lot of wines that aren’t usually available at liquor stores in the Lower Mainland, and many of the wines are for sale by the bottle or case at the VIWF wine shop.