Sips Happen column: Tasting Room, the big draw of international wine fest

Next week, the Vancouver International Wine Festival kicks off a week of tastings, seminars, lunches, brunches, and dinners. It’s Canada’s biggest wine fest, and this year it features the Wines of Canada.

The big drawing card, the Festival Tasting Room, opens Thursday evening, Feb. 16 and continues Friday and Saturday nights, plus a Saturday matinee, at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. 

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To help you get started at the Tasting Room, I have four destinations for you to stop, swirl and taste. First there’s Poplar Grove, from Naramata in the Okanagan. Stop by and chat with Winemaker Stefan Arnason as you sip his 2015 Poplar Grove Pinot Gris ($16.99 on sale until March 4). 

Savour the Okanagan fruit salad in a glass, with an appealing ripe pear and apricot bouquet. And there’s the well-balanced nectarine flavour with the tangy acidity and minerality, ending with a lovely dry citrus finish. 

Next, we go to South America to let export manager Juan Pablo Gonzalez explain the Chilean wine scene, and enjoy the 2013 Montes Twins Red Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.49 on sale until March 4).

There’s a burst of blackcurrant in the nose along with hints of sweet oak and vanilla. The Montes blend is rich and smooth, thanks to the Malbec, with cassis and blackberry throughout thanks to the Cabernet, along with whiffs of cigar smoke to add complexity.

Then, we cross the Andes and sip some Catena Zapata 2014 High Mountain Malbec ($23.99) from Argentina’s famous Mendoza Region. Sommelier and Wine Ambassador Andrea Nunez will explain how the four mountain vineyards add layers of flavour and complexity. 

The deep, dark red colour indicated this is a wine to pay attention to! It reminded me of French Bordeaux, with the generous bouquet of ripe plums and black cherries with the scent of kirsch and almond extract.

And there is an amazing depth of flavour with rich fruit, mocha, cassis, plus savoury and earthy flavours from the terroir, and smooth tannins. A prestigious British wine magazine rates this red 90 points, a first class choice. 

Finally, time to visit Verona, Italy and allow export director Edoardo Montresor to pour his Montresor 2013 Amarone della Valpolicella ($38.99 on sale until March 4). This is definitely Italy in a glass! First, there is an intoxicating perfume of violets and truffles to seduce your senses. Next, there is the taste of dried cherries, together with truffles, balsamic, sandalwood and cloves. All these attributes are wrapped up in a velvety body. And, after you swallow this elixir, the finish will go on, and on, and on. It is easy to fall in love with this wine that comes from Romeo and Juliet’s hometown.  

Check out the Vancouver Wine Festival’s website for events that still have tickets left: VanWineFest.ca. Any wine you fall in love with is available at the Festival Wine Store. And don’t forget to pick up your free transit pass for a safe ride home.

Eric Hanson is a local wine expert and retire Richmond teacher

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