11 can’t-miss choices at the 2018 Vancouver International Wine Festival

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      Even though we’re still a few weeks out from the Vancouver International Wine Festival’s international tasting sessions (running March 1 to 3), I’m opting this week to share my top winery tables for a couple of reasons.

      With 173 wineries in the room, it’s good to have a plan when you’re going in so you can cover as much ground as you’d like and taste the widest variety of wines possible. It is wise to plan early, and to purchase tickets well in advance. The Thursday-night edition always sells out fast, as organizers only sell the room to 70-percent capacity in order to allow extra elbow room and face time with visiting principals. It’s best to head to VanWineFest.ca soon to ensure all options are still available.

      Portugal and Spain are this year’s theme countries, so they weigh heavily on my 11 picks of can’t-miss wineries. I’ve also added a recommended wine from each that you can purchase around the city and enjoy in advance—all in the name of research, of course.


      Niepoort, Portugal

      The Nie­poort family has been in the wine biz since 1842, and they craft lovely odes to the Douro region by way of indigenous varieties like Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and Tinta Barroca. Those are the grapes in Niepoort Dialogo 2015 ($21.99, B.C. Liquor Stores), which is not so much about the individual components but a harmonious blend, juicy with dark berry fruit and charm.


      Quinta Vale D. Maria, Portugal

      Family proprietor Cristiano van Zeller recently sold this historic venture, but we needn’t worry about any drop in Vale D. Maria’s quality, as it was his wine-producing cousins from Aveleda in Vinho Verde who took over the reins of the business. Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro 2013 ($55.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) is a field-blend red made from old-vine grapes, generous with Italian plums, currants, dark cherries, and plenty of polish.


      Álvaro Palacios, Spain

      Mr. Palacios is a modern legend, had a major hand in putting regions like Priorat and Bierzo on the map. Álvaro Palacios Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2015 ($36.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) is made from Mencia grown in Bierzo; it’s lively and fresh, with red fruit, anise, and a good crack of mineral character.


      Les Vins Bonhomme, Spain

      It’s rare to see Nathalie Bonhomme, the gregarious winemaker and négociant behind the brand, behind her table at the wine fest. She’s way more likely to be in front of it with the people, eager to share lovely wines like her El Petit Bonhomme Rueda Verdejo 2016 ($13.49, B.C. Liquor Stores), a crisp and refreshing white laden with green apple and fresh lime.


      Gonzáles Byass, Spain

      Do take advantage of all the sherry flowing in the room, like Gonzáles Byass Oloroso Nutty Solera ($16.99, B.C. Liquor Stores), a delectable mouthful of toffee-coated hazelnuts and figs.


      Parés Baltà/Gratavinum, Spain

      These are the folks behind some of my very favourite Spanish sparkling wines. You can’t get much more consistent and dependable than Parés Baltà Cava Brut Organico ($22 to $26, private liquor stores), teeming with citrus, apples, and pears, with a pinch of white pepper.


      Alpha Box & Dice, Australia

      The boys are back in town. Expect crowds around the table of charismatic brothers Dylan and Justin Fairweather, with everyone supping on their unique takes on modern Australian wine. Alpha Box & Dice Dead Winemakers Society Dolcetto 2015 ($32.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) carries plenty of cherries and plums and is fresh as a daisy from start to finish.

      Narrative, Canada

      Those interested in the continuing natural-wine phenomenon will be fascinated by these minimal-intervention wines coming out of Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland. Narrative Cabernet Franc 2016 ($21.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) is more Loire Valley than Napa Valley, zippy and bright with red fruit and herbs.


      Viña Montes, Chile

      This family producer is known for some of the most elegant, site-specific wines coming out of Chile. Montes Alpha Colchagua Syrah 2015 ($25.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) often has a spot on my table, dizzy with purple fruit, baking spices, and an opulent nature.


      Laurent-Perrier, France

      Because Champagne. Need I say more? Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé ($88.99 until March 3, B.C. Liquor Stores) is 100 percent Pinot Noir and 100 percent lovely, effervescent with huckleberries and red currants.


      Michele Chiarlo, Italy

      Michele Chiarlo La Vespa Monferrato Rosso 2013 ($17.99, B.C. Liquor Stores), with its herb-driven red and purple fruit, is a good start to get a feel for the region of Piedmont. Then while you’re in the swing of things, you can step right up and try some of their fancy-pants Barolos, brimming with classic notes of balsam, anise, tar, and roses.