California dreaming … in Vancouver

As the 41st Vancouver International Wine Festival’s slogan says: “The Wine World is Here.”

The regional theme this year is “Dream Big: California Style” but there will be 160 wineries from 16 countries pouring their treasures for the enlightenment of wine lovers lucky enough to attend.

RedHeads Studio is a loose conglomeration of Australian winemakers based in McLaren Vale just 40km south of Adelaide. Their intention was to:” …make “real” wines. Tiny batches, hands-on, the way it used to be done.”

Ridiculously affordable with its current $4 markdown until March 2, RedHeads Studio’s Yard Dog Red was 17.99 and is now $13.99. Including 10 per cent of spicy, earthy Petit Verdot adds some ‘Old World’ structure to this clearly Australian 80/10 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend. Smoky oak notes and wisps of liquorice echo in the finish.

Billing itself ‘The Wine of Transylvania’, LILIAC is a Romanian winery in the Lechinta region in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. Winemaking focuses on indigenous varieties in the hands of a synchronized team of local and international winemakers.

Young.LILIAC is the brand of their light-hearted blends. Common across eastern Europe, Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Regala are Romanian specialties and they are combined in young.LILIAC Fruity white $17.99. Not unlike well-made Pinot Blanc, it shows green apple and pear aromas and flavours amped up with peach and apricot by the Feteasca Regala.

Savvy wine lovers appreciate Spanish red wines. Soon, they’ll realize how tasty and food friendly Spanish white wines can be. Sarmentero is a tiny boutique winery in the tiny town of Quintanilla de Arriba, Valladolid that started making Ribera del Duero reds in 2004 from Tempranillo.

Export Director María López Repiso explained that the grapes for Sarmentero Verdejo Rueda $19.49 are grown near Olmedo, in Valladolid “… because we are not allowed to produce a white wine under the appellation of Ribera, it is produced in Rueda, about 45min from Quintanilla de Arriba.” This is a clean, ‘crisp’ white wine full of lemon, lime, green apple and fragrant pear nuances.

East of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s southern Rhone Valley, Ventoux was recognized with Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status in 1973. Most of the region’s wineries consistently produce wines that are as rich, and flavourful as their Châteauneuf neighbours’ very similar cuvees… but for less than half the price.

A blend of 80 per cent Syrah and 20 per cent Grenache, Château Pesquié Quintessence $25.99 is routinely rated 90-95pts vintage after vintage. Lashings of dusky blue and blackberry fruit simmer over layers of liquorice, dark chocolate and white pepper with earthy charcoal undercurrents.

Encore Vineyards is the corporate face of three Okanagan Valley wineries: Evolve Cellars, TIME winery and McWatters Collection. Less than a year after opening their new winery in downtown Penticton, Harry McWatters and his daughter Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond continue to wind up their competitors.

TIME 2016 Meritage Red is 65 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 per cent Cabernet Franc. Even after 18 months in French oak this is a kinder, gentler BC Meritage, ready to enjoy now after a quick splash into a decanter – all ripe plum and black cherry aromas and flavours with spicy sage and fennel notes in the finish.

Not all VanWineFest wines are luxury priced but the Festival presents excellent opportunities to try exotic, unusual and expensive wines. Many of Croatia’s best wines are made from Plavac Mali – a cross between Crlenjak Kaštelanski (… the original Zinfandel) and even less well known Dobricic. The intense plum and earthy cherry aromas and flavours of Korta Katarina’s Reuben’s Private Reserve Plavac Mali $69.99 ride a smoky core of stewed prunes, molasses and soy before sliding into dark chocolate. Under these mature flavours there’s a vein of bright, lively cherry fruit.

Tickets to the International Festival Tasting room – the heart of VanWineFest – are available for Thursday February 28, Friday March 1 and Saturday March 2. Check their website for details.

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