Preparation is key before entering Vancouver International Wine Festival's monumental tasting room

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      The 41st annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is in full swing this week. Local and visiting wine enthusiasts are primed to sip the juice from 160 international wineries during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday sessions in the festival tasting room at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

      It’s a daunting room, and it is virtually impossible to taste all 700-plus wines being poured. The best thing to do is have a plan before hitting the floor. A plan should always include eating a hearty meal beforehand, not wearing cologne, perfume, or any strong scents, and perhaps practising your spitting technique with water over the bathroom sink. The big part of the plan, however, should always be your sipping strategy. Do visit the festival’s website and make a list of the wineries you don’t want to miss.

      No time for that? Here’s an abridged version of my list; at one point or another, I’ll be hitting up these personal favourites.

      Benziger Family Winery


      We’ll start with California, since it’s this year’s theme region. Family proprietor Chris Benziger will be on hand, pouring his winery’s biodynamically farmed, site-specific Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons from Sonoma. The sheep, cattle, birds, and gardens on the family ranch provide a diverse ecosystem, ensuring healthy vineyards and the foundation for brilliant wine.

      Grgich Hills Estate


      The Judgment of Paris was a historic 1976 blind tasting of California and French wines where California shocked the world by taking top honours. The winning white was 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, made by Mike Grgich, who went on to found Grgich Hills Estate the following year. It probably goes without saying that the bar for quality is set high. Their Napa Valley Fumé Blanc is the stuff of legend, floral and citrusy, framed by pitch-perfect French oak.

      Ridge Vineyards


      The team at Ridge refer to their winemaking as “pre-industrial”, which means they are authentic wines of place made with minimal intervention in the winery. Sustainable farming practices coupled with natural-yeast fermentation make for single-vineyard wines that are the real deal, with no additives in the process. There are 60 additives permitted in making American wine (Does “Mega Purple” sound like something you want to consume?); Ridge keeps things nice and clear by listing ingredients on their back labels.

      Robert Mondavi Winery


      This pioneering winery’s resident Master of Wine, Mark de Vere, will be pouring some of their best stuff. He’s a charismatic storyteller who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Napa Valley and its coveted To Kalon Vineyard, which has some of the most premium fruit on the continent.

      Familia Zuccardi


      The Zuccardi family’s wines will make many rethink the assumption that all Argentine Malbecs are fruit bombs without any sense of place. Precision planting and farming on their side of the Andes sees various vineyard blocks with unique soil types harvested and vinified separately in order to ensure the best expression of the land. The wines are precise and quite charming.

      Vasse Felix and Yalumba


      This one-two punch of excellent Aussie wineries will be at the same table, so make sure a proper amount of time is allotted here. Vasse Felix is situated in Margaret River on Australia’s west coast, where eucalyptus trees grow in abundance and sporty types enjoy some of the best surf on the planet. Swirl and sniff those stunning Chardonnays and revel in that fresh, salty sea air. Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Yalumba’s Barossa Valley home is a hub for incredible Grenache wines that give quality Pinot Noir a run for its money.

      Bench 1775

      (British Columbia)

      Oh, sure, this Naramata winery makes some lovely aromatic whites and a particularly kick-ass Cabernet Sauvignon–Syrah blend, but it is face time with legendary Okanagan winemaker and viticulturist Valeria Tait that will be the highlight of this stop.

      Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards

      (Nova Scotia)

      The Chardonnays coming out of this East Coast winery are some of the best in the country, full stop.



      An excellent opportunity to chat with François Matton and splash into some of his fresh Provençal rosé. Spring’s just around the corner, right?

      Marchesi di Barolo


      Sixth-generation family proprietor Valentina Abbona is one of the nicest people in the biz. She’s a great ambassador for this lauded Barolo property, and for the entire region as well. Her enthusiasm for her family’s wines is contagious, and it won’t take more than a sip or two to see why.


      (New Zealand)

      Winemaker and proprietor Simon Waghorn’s wines are fresh as can be. Sure, the Sauvignon Blanc is delicious, but don’t ignore his Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and anything else he has on the table.

      Aquilini Red Mountain

      (Washington state)

      Yes, Vancouver’s own Aquilini family has a Washington-state wine project, and its Red Mountain appellation is one of the most sought-after in the state. The wines are quite bold yet sophisticated, limited in production, and destined to become modern classics.