Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wine Barbarian top picks for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2010

UPDATE - FRIDAY APRIL 23 - After attending last night's tasting

Wow! I have been Sauvignon Blanc-ed! There are are a lot of great New Zealand SBs at this year's festival - so many that I had to have a Chardonnay occasionally to get a break from the intensity of the grassy, tropical, gooseberry, cat's piss and other pow flavours of those big Sauvignon Blancs.

But what really blows me away from NZ are the Pinot Noirs! Central Otago is an amazing place for PNs - several winemakers told me it's because of the heat there.

If you are used to wimpy, overly sweet Pinot Noirs from California or delicate PNs from France - watch out! These Central Otago bad boys will kick open the door of your palate and party down your throat!

I spent an inordinate time in the New Zealand section - so much that I had to leave Argentina for Saturday night - sorry about that - and a little time in the rest of the international section.

Here are my best choices for wines not to be missed if you are going Friday or Saturday night, based on last night's tasting, plus below this, my original posting about which wineries I'd recommend based on past experience and tasting.

Remember - no one can taste all the wines there, so be judicious!

New Zealand

Astrolabe - great big Sauvignon Blanc and interesting Pinot Gris

Borthwick Vineyard - big smoky Pinot Noir [at table with Ata Rangi]

Chard Farm/Rabbit Ranch - powerful Central Otago Pinot for $25 - and available in BC at LDBs - one of my personal favourites. And at the same table find:

Gibbston Highgate Estate - another smokin' Central Otago PN called "SoulTaker" - intense and $36.

Crossroads - Talisman 2007 - Bordeaux blend beauty from Hawkes Bay

Elephant Hill - Viognier - I like Viognier and this one is both unusual being from NZ and very floral and intense. Good Pinot Noir and SB too!

Giesen Wine Estate - The Brothers Pinot Noir - $29 - and The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc - $25- are their flagships and the sail proudly. Both are big, strong wines from the Marlborough region. The basic wines are good decent values too.

Jackson Estate - Believe it or not, I was most impressed with their 2008 Chardonnay, called Shelter Belt at $27. But try the SBs and PNs too.

Kim Crawford - listed below but try especially their Small Parcel [SP] Sauvignon Blanc! At $27 it's just $5 more than the great regular SB but wow, what a difference. And their $15 Rose called Pansy - isn't one!

Ostler Vineyards - Caroline's Pinot Noir 2006 - another big PN from Waitaki Valley on the south island. And for a very different wine try the Pinot Gris white - with a 2.7 residual sugar content! Sweet!

Sacred Hill - Riflemans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 - told you I was impressed with Kiwi chard - here's another great big one. Loads of tropical fruit and a $50 price.

UPDATE - Sacred Hill's pinot noirs were awesome - missed them on Thursday but tried on Saturday - sadly all their wines were sold out before the event even began - another complaint I have about the Festival - letting Trade Show attendees buy out wines just makes ordinary consumers furious.

Two Paddocks - Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 - a wonderful, powerful Pinot - costing out at $42. The second, basic Pinot - Picnic - is not bad for $26 but pales in comparison. No sign of Sam Neill - the actor/owner - on Thursday.

UPDATE - very pleased to meet Sam Neill on Saturday night at the Festival - he was behind the table chatting amiably and as is often the case in Vancouver, people were respectful of his celebrity. I also have to say that on second tasting the Picnic was better than I felt on Thursday.

And at the same table:

Waitiri Creek 2007 Pinot Noir - also out of Central Otago - a massive wine and I'd hate to pick which is better at the table. NOTE - this wine is not listed in the Playhouse guide for some reason.

INTERNATIONAL WINES - other than New Zealand

Altesino - Italy - all four reds here are great but particularly the $60 Brunello di Montalcino 2004 - smooth and powerful - and the $65 Alte D'ALtesi "Super Tuscan" 2003 - equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - simply killer wine!

[Vina] Haras de Pirque - Chile - a new find for me and a wonderful one! The Haras Character Syrah for $30 is a great value and the massive $65 Albis 2004 is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Carmenere - absolutely tasty.

Hope Family Wines - US - this Paso Robles winery produces two of Canada's favourite wines - Liberty School Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. But be sure to try the $30 Candor Syrah and the $65 Treana Red - great wines!

Louis Latour - France - one of Burgundy's best with one of the world's greatest Chardonnay's - Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2006 - and for only $194!! One of the best wines in the room.

Merryvale Vineyards - US - Napa makes great Chardonnay too - try the Carneros 2007 - big, big, big but without the Burgundy price at $50.

Villa Rinaldi - Italy - Amarone! Big and sweet - the 2001 is a treat. Sadly at $124 a bottle it is a rare treat.

And there's much, much more at the Festival to taste but so little time and liver to go around!

Have fun - let me know what you like - or dislike - from this list or your own!


Let's face it - someone has to do the tough slogging of wine research - and that takes a real barbarian - a Wine Barbarian.

As you can see from this picture - it's nasty work. Here I am in Chateauneuf-du-Pape country refreshing my palate in the 30 degree heat with an excellent Rose from nearby Tavel.

It's that kind of devotion to duty that allows me to guide you through the difficult task of choosing which wines to taste at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.

And little did you know that Rose is the "global focus" of this year's festival - hence the reason for my trip to France!

But with 197 wineries partipating and two regional themes - with 41 wineries from New Zealand and 36 from Argentina - you gotta have a program to tell the players.

Here's my first blush - not Rose - look at what wineries you simply can't miss - even if you have to do it all in one tasting night!

I will add more info in the days ahead and after Thursday night's tasting - which surprisingly is still not sold out.

I should also note that the always excellent Tony Gismondi of the Vancouver Sun and more has already put out his Top 50 Wines of the Festival - an impressive guide to the event.

My list is neither as exhaustive or complete - but it may serve you well.

Catena Zapata - Argentina - top notch Malbecs

O. Fournier - Argentina - fascinatingly powerful Malbecs

Familia Zuccardi - Argentina - Italian heritage, Argentinian wines of distinction

Two Paddocks / Waitiri Creek Wines - New Zealand - if you see a fellow who looks like that guy from Jurassic Park and The Piano at the festival - it would indeed by actor Sam Neill of Two Paddocks - try the Central Otago Pinot Noir - a region that is blowing me away with powerful pinots.

Kim Crawford - New Zealand - simply the best value Sauvignon Blanc going - consistently a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine and less than $23, plus great Pinot Noir.

Staete Landt - New Zealand - German name but classic NZ wines - love their Pinot Noir.

Averill Creek Vineyard - Canada - from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island - and harder to find than some of the Kiwi wineries - try the Pinot Noir

Osoyoos Larose - Canada - joint venture between fabled Bordeaux winery Gruaud LaRose and BC's VinCor - one of BC's best reds and a great second wine - Petales Osoyoos.

Poplar Grove Winery - If you haven't tried this Naramata winery's lineup you are in for a treat - very powerful reds - try their merlot.

M. Chapoutier - France - Excellent wines up and down the price list but try their Tavel Rose - at $25 it's not cheap but it will blow you away if you think Rose is Mateus or White Zinfandel.

Lanson Champagne - France - always great to start the tasting night with champagne - this is one of the best!

Perrin et Fils - France - owners of Chateau Beaucastel, one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's finest wineries and makers of other great wines

Pfaffenheim / Dopff & Irion - France - some of Alsace's best wines come from these producers - my favourite place for Gewurztraminer.

Estates of Antinori - Italy - a great winery with a full range from everyday to never can afford - but can taste here!

Rocca Delle Macìe - Italy - under the Tuscan sun they grow great Chianti Classicos and super Tuscans - Sangiovese plus Cabernet Sauvignon and more.

Signorello Vineyards / Edge Wines - US - Napa Valley winery with BC connection - Ray Signorello Jr. spends a fair bit of time here when not making great wines down south.

Panther Creek - US - this Oregon winery makes killer Pinot Noirs and is hard to find here.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates - US - a great Washington state winery with a full range of wines - love their Indian Wells vineyard wines.

So there's the first pressing - stay tuned here for more info as the wine gets poured on Thursday - and feel free to post any of your own tips on great wines at the Festival!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival starts this week!

The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival starts this week, with the major public tastings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and scores of other events all over town.

I will be attending the tastings on Thursday and Saturday and will endeavor to post what I think are the top picks of the wineries here as soon as possible, plus an update after Thursday's first round of the room.

The regional theme this year is New Zealand and Argentina - expect great sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs from the former and malbecs from the latter.