Vancouver International Wine Festival picks not to miss

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      The Vancouver International Wine Festival returns at the end of the month. I popped over to its website to comb through this year’s lineup of events and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the multitude of sold-out banners across many, many events on the festival-at-a-glance calendar.

      So we’ve gotta do this now. Here are my picks for the best Vancouver International Wine Festival events on offer this year. Of course, no one should miss the International Festival Tasting Room sessions, where 160 wineries from 16 countries will be on hand, pouring their wares. In coming weeks, I’ll have a preview of highlights in the room, but for now here are the supplemental events worthy of your time.

      Beauty And The Beest

      (February 25, 6:30 p.m., Wildebeest, $145)

      Canadian wine icon Don Triggs heads over to Gastown to fete his Culmina Family Estate wines alongside chef Ian McHale’s terroir-driven country cuisine. They had me at the third course of smoked goose, preserved trailing blackberries, and Colston Bassett cheese with Culmina Family Estate’s 2015 Merlot. The Culmina wines are pristine and charismatic; this is a great opportunity to do a deep dive into them and bounce any queries off the proprietor himself.

      California Crush

      (February 26, 8:30 p.m., Waterview, $75)

      This is a perfect splash into the week, seeing that California is the festival’s theme region this year. I’ve been to California Crush events in past years, and those who are concerned it may be a nose-in-the-air-unless-it’s-in-the-glass kind of event needn’t worry. Think on-stage contortionists literally bending over backwards while premium wines from 18 wineries are poured as the DJ spins into the night. Also, and this is key, canapés float around the room throughout the evening; it’s solid strategy to keep on top of those to maintain the energy of your revelry.

      RMW: A Visionary Journey

      (February 28, 5:15 p.m., Vancouver Convention Centre, $80)

      This seminar brings things full circle. Forty years ago, the inaugural edition of the festival featured one vintner: Robert Mondavi, who had the spotlight to himself. Hey, it was a worthy spotlight. The guy was a beacon of quality wine, particularly as the New World came of age, influencing many up-and-comers on an international scale. This year, California is the festival’s theme region, with 53 participating wineries. Although Mondavi himself is certainly missed (he passed in 2008), his spirit lives on, particularly through chief winemaker Genevieve Janssens and winery-based Master of Wine Mark de Vere. Those two, legends in their own rights, lead this seminar of wines hailing from various Californian appellations, including the (pretty much Grand Cru) To Kalon vineyard in Oakville. Sure, there will be current releases poured, but they’ll be pouring out a few from the archives as well.

      Festive California

      (March 2, noon, Vancouver Convention Centre, $119)

      This daytime event is my absolute favourite, year after year. This is when the theme region has the stage to itself, inviting attendees to wander and graze while enjoying wines poured by winery principals at every table. It’s way calmer than the subsequent Saturday-night hoopla and a chance to get some quality face time with winemakers and proprietors. The food component is damn solid too, far from stale-baguette-and-cheese stations. Bites on offer will include: sautéed calamari with garlic, parsley, and charred tomatoes; oven-roasted duck breast with hazelnuts, grilled-plum jus; and many other fit-for-pairing dishes. There’ll be something for every splash, whether it’s Grgich Hills Estates’ citrusy, gooseberry-laden Fumé Blanc or a broad-shouldered red from Ridge Vineyards. All of this with that stellar view of the North Shore mountains makes for a wonderfully civilized afternoon.

      Do get a jump on tickets, as I mentioned: everything is selling out fast. Also, if you’re getting tickets for one of the big International Festival Tasting nights, may I suggest the Thursday-evening program? At $89, not only is it the least expensive of the three nighttime editions but it’s guaranteed to be a smaller crowd, as sales are capped at 30 percent below capacity. This way you have more time to chat with those behind the tables; you’re not having to elbow and jostle for position to get your pour, and you’ll be able to move around the room that much easier.

      All the necessary information and tickets are at the Vancouver International Wine Festival website. I’ll be there with bells on and look forward to seeing many Straight readers there too!