West Coast Wines
In a city that's famous for endless precipitation, Vancouverites need all the liquid sunshine they can get. Nothing answers that need better than the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, because wine bespeaks heat and glowing rays in the vineyards.
For seven days, beginning Monday, festival-goers can sample and explore wines from more than a dozen countries.
This year the spotlight is on Chile, and its wineries are ready to showcase their second coming after a devastating 2010 earthquake that saw key wine areas badly damaged, with a significant loss of wines. Hundreds of years of seismic activity have been instrumental in creating the country's unique landscape that produces the myriad flavours of Chilean wines.
This string bean of a country stretches 4,700 kilometres and spans many microclimates and types of terrain, which makes its range of wines truly outstanding. (Chile has been growing grapes longer than any country in the Americas.)
While Chile tops the festival playbill, winemakers from 14 other countries, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal and the United States, also showcase their finest wares – and for the first time Japanese sakes will be poured.
The grand buffet of the festival is its international tasting room, held in the Vancouver Convention Centre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, For the $95 price of a ticket, the public can sample 1,700 wines from 180 international producers, all in one spot. (There are bread and petite food samples, too.) And if you taste something you can't go home without, it's all available at the on-site BC Liquor Store. A free bottle-check service allows you to purchase what you want and pick it up when you leave, or you can have it shipped free to your neighbourhood government store for pickup.
If you want to go on the spur of the moment, don't worry about tickets – they're still available for the Thursday festival tasting. For the other two nights, which see bigger crowds, 50 tickets will be released at the box office just before the event begins.
Here are three of Chile's best reds available at the on-site BC Liquor Store and private wine shops:
Clos Apalta Casa Lapostolle 2008, Colchagua $99.99
Casa Lapostolle owns the $10-million Clos Apalta winery in the Colchagua Valley. Their flagship wine, Clos Apalta is produced in limited quantities from fruit grown in the heart of the valley, a region dubbed the "Pomerol" of Chile. Meet winemaker Andrea León and taste this premium blend of carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Carmenère 2008, Cachapoal $34.99
Carmenère, a dark red grape with chocolate, savoury and ripe black fruit flavours, is now emblematic of Chile. It originated in from Bordeaux in the 19th century, but was misidentified by Chilean winegrowers as a late-ripening Merlot until 1994, when DNA analysis confirmed it was carmenère. Concha y Toro offers incredible quality and value in this smoky carmenère that's concentrated and complex.
Emiliana Organic Vineyards Coyam 2007, Colchagua $34.99
Set in the mystical Casablanca Valley, Emiliana is a world leader in organic and biodynamic wines. Be sure to taste this stunning blend of syrah, carmenère, Merlot, petit verdot and mourvèdre — and talk to organic wizard Alvaro Espinoza. Its environment-friendly glass bottles weigh 14-per-cent less than traditional ones. It's one of Chile's best buys.
The big tasting room may be the festival's best known event, but there are scores of other dinners, brunches, tastings, and seminars running until next Sunday's finale. For more information, visit www.playhousewinefest.com.
Kasey Wilson is food editor of Wine Access magazine and editor of Best Places Vancouver