Friday, February 5, 2016

Vancouver International Wine Festival 2016 events selling out fast - don't delay - get tickets today!

You don't have to be a wine snob to enjoy the VIWF!
Book tickets now or you won't be there to enjoy great wines!

It may be the news you don't want to hear - but tickets for 2016 Vancouver International Wine Festival events are selling out quickly!

Already not available are:

Saturday February 28's evening International Festival Tasting - sold out

Dine Italia at La Terrazza  - sold out

50 Years of Campofiorin at Glowbal  - sold out

Under The Tuscan Sun at Siena  - sold out

California Cruisin' - sold out

And many more events are down to just a few tickets - so get your credit card out, go to your computer and book now - don't be disappointed, because this will be a great Festival and these special tastings are truly unique!

I hope to see you there!


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

It's Vancouver International Wine Festival time again - tickets on sale starting Tuesday January 12 at 9:30 a.m. for the best wine event of the year, featuring Italy in 2016!

Wine Barbarian Bill Tieleman on left with legendary Joel Peterson of Ravenswood at VIWF 2015

It's Vancouver International Wine Festival time again - and tickets for the February 20 to 28, 2016 edition go on sale for all events on Tuesday January 12 at 9:30 a.m.

This year the VIWF is featuring Italy as the focus country - and that means every event will likely sell out - especially the fabulous wine dinners and special seminars.

Tickets for the International Festival Tastings are already on sale - and early bird tickets are sold out - for the big evening tastings on Thursday February 26, Friday February 27 and Saturday February 28.  So don't delay - these extremely popular events are in high demand every year and Saturday will be sold out soon based on previous Festivals.

Friday and Saturday evening tickets are $95 while Thursday is $89 - a slight discount for the weeknight - and one I always attend because it's a bit less crowded.

A welcome recent addition is the Saturday matinee - an afternoon edition of the International Festival tasting from 2:30 to 5 pm for a bargain price of $75.

What events to attend?  As many as possible in the short time available is my best advice. 

Take a look at the full VIWF brochure online to see all the events and much more information. 

But some are clearly exceptional and not to be missed - like Italy and Beyond dinner at Cioppino's with wines from Biondi Santi, Pio Cesari and more matched by acclaimed chef/owner Pino Posteraro's culinary masterpieces or the La Vita Ruffino dinner at CinCin - featuring great Italian foods and wines.

Sell-out seminars will surely include Tuscan Trailblazers on Wednesday Feb 25 with two of the most famous wines of the Antinori family - Tignanello and Guado al Tasso - in a vertical tasting of the two SuperTuscan classics - wow! 

Tignanello - one of Antinori's killer SuperTuscan wines

Also sure to be fully subscribed is 1,000 Years of Tuscany with Barone Francesco Ricasoli of the famous wine family in attendance, featuring Chianti Classico wines and Amaronely: Only Amarone on Thursday Feb. 26 for $85 featuring fabulous Amarone wines from Valpolicelli.

Please be assured that Italy is not the only country with wines at the Festival - in fact, there are over 1450 wines from 14 countries and 155 wineries participating over the eight-day event - France, Spain, Australia, Canada, the U.S., Portugal, Germany, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Greece, Japan and even Croatia are represented in addition to Italy!

There are so many other events to choose from and you simply can't go wrong with any of them - unless you procrastinate on buying your tickets - so remember that they go on sale Tuesday January 12 at 9:30 a.m. and many will sell out that very day!

Rock star wine maker Charles Smith of Walla Walla poses at 2015 VIWF
The VIWF is also a unique opportunity to meet winemakers, owners or principal staff of every winery at the event - it's a requirement - and that means you can meet legendary figures in the wine world, as I did with "Godfather of Zinfandel" Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery last Festival or Charles Smith of Walla Walla's great K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines - one of the wine world's rock stars.

Be sure to follow #VIWF on Twitter for updates from the Festival and wine writers and collectors - lots of good tips there.  

And watch this space closer to the Festival and during it for my recommended wines to taste!

Cheers and see you at the VIWF! 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wonderful Top 100 Wines from 2015 - all available in BC and under $40

In November the Wine Spectator magazine came out with its annual Top 100 Wines of 2015 - it's ranking of great wines that are high scoring but also not ridiculously high priced or completely impossible to find.
Porca de Murca

And several of them are available in BC Liquor Stores and private wine stores, as well as in other Canadian jurisdictions.  

But it you want them, move fast - there is limited availability and wine guys like me have already taken some of them off the shelves days after the Top 100 was announced.

Top of the list for great value is the Porca de Murca 2013 - a red from Real Companhia Velha in Douro, Portugal - rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator  and ranked #39 of the Top 100.  It is priced in BC Liquor Stores for just $12.99 plus taxes!  And there are over 1,000 bottles across BC - and the winery bottled an astonishing 250,000 - so more may become available here.

This is just an amazing value for a medium weight, delicious wine with red berry, plum, pepper and slate notes, made from classic Portuguese grapes like touriga nacional and tinta roriz but no oak aging.   

This should be your house wine for many months to come.

Next up - a really great wine for your steak, lamb or grilled meat - or hearty vegetarian  alternatives - the Viña Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Alto Gran Reserva 2012 from Chile - #32 on the Top 100 with a score of 91 points and priced at just $19.79 plus taxes at BC Liquor Stores.
Vina Carmen Gran Reserva

This is a classic Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, with lots of blackberry, currants, leather and cedar notes.  The wine is 94% Cab Sauv with 3% Carmenere and 3% Petit Verdot to round it out.  

Simply delicious now and it will drink well through 2019.

White wines are a bit harder to come by on the Top 100 and this next one is always a great bottle - but it may be difficult to track down this vintage.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2014 from New Zealand is ranked at #21 of the Top 100 and scored at an impressive 93 points - it sells for $31.99 at BC Liquor Stores, where some of the 2014 bottles are still around but quickly being replaced by the 2015.

Having tasted this wine, I would definitely urge you to hurry and try several stores, because it is remarkable!

Cloudy Bay 2014
Cloudy Bay put New Zealand and its Marlborough region on the world wine map many years ago and you can see why with just one sip - an explosive, beautiful grapefruit, lemon, lime, ginger combination that is a revelation to the tongue!

The only good news about the short supply is that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is rarely not scored 90 or higher, so the 2015 vintage will almost surely be another winner.

One more from the Top 100 not to be missed is the Arcanum Toscano Il Fauno 2010 from Italy - scored at 92 points and ranked #55.

This is an interesting wine because it's a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot - none of which is native to Tuscany - but man does it grow well there!

The Il Fauno 2010 is a little higher priced at $37.99 a bottle at BC Liquor Stores but I highly recommend trying it - and there are hundreds in stock.

Loads of cherry fruit with some tobacco and cedar - a really wonderful wine that can be enjoyed now or aged up to another 10 years.  
Il Fauno
It would be interesting to blind taste it up against some similar priced 2010 Bordeaux wines from France for a comparison - don't bet against it!

There are a few other Top 100 wines on BC Liquor Stores' shelves and I believe others will appear there in the months ahead, as we are sometimes behind the distribution curve compared to the United States - so keep your eyes open and check back here for more tips!


Fantastic Faustino! 97-point rated Spanish Rioja available in BC at bargain price!

It's not everyday you can taste what esteemed experts believe is a near perfect wine - one with a 97 point score out of a possible 100.

And it's almost never that you can do that in British Columbia for less than hundreds or thousands of dollars for that bottle of liquid luxury.  Or buy a wine on the shelf in 2016 that is 15 years old!
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001 Rioja

So when Britain's The Decanter wine magazine scored the 2001 Faustino I Gran Reserva from Spain's Rioja wine region at 97 points, lauded it as the best of its Top 50 Wines of 2013 and had Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros give it a perfect score - this wine became one of the most sought after in the world.

And lucky us - BC Liquor Stores have over 100 bottles still available in 23 stores across the province, including three in Vancouver - for the amazing price of $35.99 plus taxes!

Needless to say, I already bought and tasted some of this great wine - it deserves all the accolades.

Leather, game, tobacco, dark cherry - you will taste them all in this wine, which is drinking beautifully now but also could last several more years to come - if you can hold out.

That said, not everyone ranked the Faustino I as highly as The Decanter.  The Wine Spectator gave it a surprisingly low 89 points and Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate 88 points - but that's the way wine works.

I'm with The Decanter on this and its three experts who rated the Faustino I as so impressive.

But one thing is clear - you can afford to find out for yourself if you hurry - and at that price you will not be disappointed in the least!  


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why BC Will Pay More for Less Liquor Choice - And The Double Price BC Charges For One California Wine

BC Liquor Stores - $42.90 + TAX = $49.44 CDN price

San Francisco corner store - $17.99 US or $24.06 CDN price
Local wineries could face supermarket squeeze while consumers swallow the cost.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday December 1, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"I've seen the future, I can't afford it." 

ABC, "How to Be a Millionaire," 1985

The future is indeed unaffordable for wine, beer and spirits drinkers in British Columbia, because what are already the highest prices in North America are doomed to rise even more while B.C. wines get squeezed off the shelves.

Why? Government policy of course.

The BC Liberals are creating a brave new world of increasingly pricey alcoholic beverages under the guise of "convenience."

But B.C. liquor prices are already far too expensive -- take the example of just one bottle of wine that costs double here what you can buy it for in California.

In San Francisco in August in a nondescript corner store on Haight Street, I bought a bottle of excellent Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for US$17.99. In Canadian dollars that's $24.06.

In BC Liquor Stores, the regular price is $42.90 -- plus 10 cent deposit, 10 per cent PST and five per cent GST adding $6.44 for a final price of $49.44!

The B.C. price is $25.38 more -- over twice the San Francisco price -- for the same wine.

And while that Beringer wine costs more in Quebec than San Francisco, at $37.25 including taxes -- it's still $12.19 cheaper than in B.C. And in Ontario it's $39.95 or $9.49 cheaper.

And it's not just because Beringer make their wine in California. Across the country there's Allendale Wine Shoppe in New Jersey, where you get a bottle of the exact same wine for US$18.90 plus taxes of US$1.32 for a total of just US$20.22 -- or CDN$27.04.

To add insult to injury, the BC Liquor Stores website notes that it has sold Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon since 1989, when the price was CDN$21.70.

That means the San Francisco wine price in August 2015 was only CDN$2.36 a bottle more than in B.C. a stunning 26 years ago in 1989.

Small winery squeeze?

The Beringer price isn't necessarily the model for all B.C. wine pricing over the past two and a half decades -- but it isn't unique either.

And as bad as that is, things will soon get far worse.

That's because B.C. is starting to sell wine in supermarkets and in every jurisdiction in the world, once that starts, those stores dominate the market and crush smaller competitors.

The only ones to benefit will be supermarket owners -- not cold beer and wine stores, not independent wine outlets, not government liquor stores, not corner groceries and most of all, definitely not consumers -- who will pay more and have less choices.

In Australia, a new report says just two supermarket chains account for 70 per cent of all wine sales.

New Zealand grocery giants similarly went from no share of the wine market in the 1980s to nearly 70 per cent in a very short period of time, according to one B.C. lawyer.

And despite B.C.'s stated intention to only allow provincial wines to be sold in supermarkets, California, Chile and the European Union have all said the rules violate international trade agreements -- in other words, the world's wines, not just those from B.C., will no doubt end up in supermarkets.

That will mean small B.C. wineries with higher production costs than giant corporate brands like Yellow Tail or Gallo will get squeezed out of both sales and shelf space.

"Go down a grocery aisle to the ketchup section. What do you see there? Heinz, dominating the shelves," said Kim Pullan of Church and State winery in August. "I see the same thing happening to B.C. wine."

The bad, ugly and 'on sale'

Consumers might potentially benefit from free enterprise competition driving prices down but not here -- because the BC Liberals aren't opening the market up -- they're instead managing it to help bigger businesses take more market share without competing on price.

And the government will maintain it's huge revenue stream from overtaxing alcohol.

It's a bleak situation for those who drink wine, beer and spirits and those brave souls who produce it here in B.C.

But not according to Premier Christy Clark's deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario.

"You can bet that this government will fight very strongly for this industry and we would never do anything that would unnecessarily jeopardize it," Cadario told a gathering of winery and liquor store owners in Penticton in October without a hint of irony.

"For the premier and this government, the B.C. wine industry is hugely important," Cadario told an event organized by the BC Alliance for Smart Liquor Retail Choices. "We know how jobs are tied to this and we know how passionately the wine industry really feel."

It is tempting to see how the government really feels about B.C. wineries by filing a freedom-of-information request for all Cadario's communications on the subject -- but that would be a waste of time -- because Cadario has been cited by the Information and Privacy Commissioner for deleting virtually all her emails.

The government does have its defenders. The BC Wine Institute says the move to place only B.C. wines in grocery shelves is "dramatically changing the business outlook for the better" and claims it will not negatively impact public or private stores.

That's highly unlikely. Both the Alliance and the BC Government and Service Employees Union called in late September for a six-month moratorium on issuing new supermarket wine licenses -- to no avail.

The only tiny bit of good news? If you really still want that Beringer, it's on sale for $4 off in B.C. till Jan. 2 -- for "just" $38.90 plus tax.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Red, red Spanish wine picks to warm up the cold wet weather of fall - Wine Barbarian recommendations for vino tinto!

Viva Espana when it comes to warming up the cold wet weather of fall!  Excellent and affordable Spanish red wines to take the chill off November. 

It's wet, it's cold and it's definitely not summer anymore!  Baseball's World Series has ended, days are way too short and nights too long - so what to do?

Drink Spanish wine!  Bottled sunshine is the cure for the autumnal awfulness.

And fortunately for us, there are many high value yet relatively low cost wines from Spain to warm up your evening and cheer up your chilliness.

I've long been a big fan of Spanish wines - perhaps my first bottled love.
And here in BC and beyond, Spain rules as the country that produces the wines that provide the best value for money, not to mention pure, unadulterated joy.

So please let me recommend a few personal favourites - and also advise you to try other Spanish specialties - always enjoyable whether in the $10 or $100 plus range.

Bierzo is one of the hottest wine regions in Spain - and not for their weather - it's the high quality bottles that they export. 

The 2011 Losada Vinos de Finca in Bierzo is a fantastic example.  Rated 92 points out of 100 by the Wine Spectator, this is a pure finesse wine with dark chocolate, black cherry, smoke and herb notes.  

Made from the Mencia grape - as opposed to Spain's well known Tempranillo - this medium-bodied wine is simply outstanding - and remarkable for $22.99 a bottle in BC plus tax.  

But don't delay - there are only a few hundred bottles left in BC Liquor Stores.  

2011 Losada from Bierzo

Bierzo is in the north west of Spain - and several other great wines from the region are available in BC and Canada.  

Another great wine is the 2011 Eternum Viti from Bodegas Albanico in the Toro region of Spain.  This is a big, bold Tempranillo - called "Tinta de Toro" locally - that will warm your heart and soul.  And not just with its sun-quenched 14.5% alcohol, though that helps!

2011 Eternum Viti from Toro

Dark berry fruit, smoke and coffee among other complex bouquet tastes gives it a wonderful nose.  Stephen Tanzer rates it 90 points and previous vintages have all rated 90 or 91 by Robert Parker.  I concur and especially for $21.99 plus tax in BC Liquor Stores.

There's amazingly still some bottles of a wine I've previously recommended - the fantastic 2008 Besslum from Monsant region in Spain.  
At just $17.99 a bottle plus tax in BC Liquor Stores, this may be the best bargain in the province.  Rated 93 points by Robert Parker, it is a powerhouse wine with years in the bottle - try even finding a 2008 vintage from California, BC or France - let along at this amazing low price.  

There are still hundreds of bottles left - don't miss out on this high value dynamic wine.  Here's how the winemakers describe this one:
"Besllum has a deep dark color with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, exotic spices, lavender, mineral, and pain grille. Concentrated with a full body and flavors reminiscent of sweet fruit. There is just enough acidity to carry the flavor through the long, supple finish."

It is made up of three grapes: Carinena 45%, Garnacha 45%, Syrah 10%" Lastly, sorry for the long layoff on posts by the Wine Barbarian - rest assured I was doing a lot of research but not enough writing on wine!  

I won't promise to do better....but I will do my best to post more and more often - cheers!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Supermarkets Win Big in BC's New Liquor Landscape - Higher Wine, Beer and Spirits Prices, Lower Service, Less Selection Ahead

Supermarkets will end up running BC's liquor business in the long run
'Machiavellian' plan could harm union and non-union liquor workers.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 24, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker."

Rounders poker movie, 1998.

Forget about alleged BC Liberal government "incompetence" handling impending April 1 liquor price increases, Sunday openings for government stores or anything else. It's all a red herring.

There is only one fundamental shift coming in B.C liquor policy and it is enormous, replacing the existing system of public and private beer, wine and spirits stores with a near-monopoly for supermarkets.

There is no real incompetence -- it's simply a distraction to fool the suckers.

What does exist is a Machiavellian plan to eventually wipe out most private and publicly owned liquor stores and move the majority of booze sales to grocery stores.

The BC Liberals are picking winners and losers with its policies, which are far from free enterprise -- since the "competition" is government-controlled.

And the benefits the B.C. government gets are huge: continue to reap windfall profits from North America's highest liquor prices while jettisoning unionized labour costs in government stores and the troublesome patchwork quilt of small private stores.

The strategy is cunning and deceptive, with an allegedly consumer-friendly face promising "convenience" while increasing government profits and making sure the suckers -- the customers paying far too much per bottle already -- even thank you for it!

BC Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton announced the changes in March 2014 as part of the government's "modernization" of liquor laws.

Supermarkets win

After recent talks with a wide range of people from private and government stores, liquor import agents, restaurants and bars and other players, the realization is sinking in that the only true winners are the ones not yet sitting at the table -- supermarkets.

But they are about to be dealt a winning hand by government and the pot is huge -- B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch sales net the province $1.2 billion -- on gross sales of about $3 billion.

And wine sales alone in B.C. passed the $1 billion mark in 2014.

Not all in the industry are ready to speak on the record but Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C., was.

"If supermarkets get a full suite of products, it's private stores and government stores that will suffer -- that will lose sales," Guignard said in an interview with The Tyee in mid-March. "Sixty-five to 70 per cent of wines in open markets get sold in grocery stores."

Guignard predicts that supermarket liquor stores will trigger a clash between remaining private and public outlets.

"Then government stores will fight harder against the private stores," he says. "But private stores employ 10,000 people -- why would you put that at risk?"

The government offers two models for grocery store sales -- buy an existing private or public liquor store and relocate within the supermarket or sell only B.C. wines on existing supermarket shelves.

But that latter plan is already under siege by winemakers in other countries like the United States, who say it violates several trade agreements.

Guignard has no doubt foreign wineries will win.

"There will be huge pressure to open grocery stores to all wines -- not just B.C. wines," he told me. "Ultimately, less B.C. wine will be sold, not more."

Prices to rise

That's because the big wineries and their agents will demand supermarkets give them premium shelf space, promotional deals, advertising and other marketing advantages that a small B.C. winery simply can't offer. And with French, American, Italian, Spanish and other big wine producers enjoying huge economies of scale, B.C. wines will cost more.

The union representing government liquor store workers actually applauded the new BC Liberal policies, including allowing government stores to open on Sundays, have longer hours and sell cold beer and wine -- all of which will hurt private store sales.

But B.C. Government and Service Employees Union members' jobs are not really secure beyond the expiry dateof their current contract in 2019.

And government stores' ability to compete with supermarkets while paying workers considerably more in wages and benefits than grocery store clerks make is questionable at best, given that B.C. is implementing a single wholesale price for all stores as of April 1. 

Previously there were separate discounted wholesale prices for different private liquor store categories but now there's just one -- and public stores are being told to compete or close.

The supermarkets are gearing up -- food giant Loblaws has lobbyists registered on liquor issues and others are likely to follow.

Just like the "incompetence" of BC Liberal government "Happy Hour" changes that actually increased drink prices -- and helped big bar chains compete with small independent pubs, this move reeks of calculated risk.

None of it will happen overnight -- that would be too obvious, too dangerous. It will take place over a few years.

And there is still a chance the BC Liberals will bail out at the last moment, as they did after promising complete privatization in 2002. Back then, the government reneged after many LRS owners and investors spent serious money preparing to see government liquor stores closed and their own stores expand or new ones established.

Then-finance minister Gary Collins and then-premier Gordon Campbell got cold feet when they saw big risks to the government's liquor sales revenue stream after the BC Liberals' vaunted 25 per cent income tax cut blew a giant hole in the budget and forced a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase to compensate. Risking a big dip in liquor income just to keep a political promise was too big a stake then.

This time, the only outside chance of public and small private stores surviving this game is if consumers get wise to being played for suckers -- to protest the coming higher prices, smaller selection from fewer suppliers and reduced service.

But the BC Liberals, just like governments in other jurisdictions, believe that you won't care that you are paying several dollars more for the convenience of buying beer, wine and spirits in your local grocery store.

Or that if you do notice, you'll just sigh and have another drink rather than do anything about it.

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