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Posts tagged ‘vancouver wine festival’

ya wanna try them all? ;)

I am finally not working every minute so hope to post a little more often

I have spent this week in a haze of nostalgia hankering for the land of Oz.  It’s the Vancouver Wine Festival, one of the world’s best.  I have been going for a very long time – since the Aussies taught me about wine and I came back to Canada with all this wine knowledge and a sophisticated palate.  Back in those days, wine was mostly the province of men over 50.  I searched the yellow pages and found a wine society I could join only to discover there was only one other person in the room who looked about my age – she was there with her mother.  Vanessa became a great friend and I owe a lot of my social life in my 30s to that chance encounter.


But this is about Australian wine!  I was especially moved because it was the birthday of my best friend from my Sydney days just last week so Australia was already on my mind.  Each year the Vancouver International Wine Festival has a feature country and this year it is Australia.  So I had lots of opportunities to taste wine and chat with people with genuine Aussie accents.  The first winery I hit last night was Longview.  Mark was going to explain where Adelaide Hills was but I said, “I’ve been there.  That’s why I am here”.


For those who don’t know Adelaide Hills, it is a coolish climate region in South Australia near Adelaide.  Australia is the land of sunshine so getting the evening temperature to 9 degrees is not easy.  It’s what makes the wines of Adelaide Hills a little more special.  They taste less “Australian” and more “European”.  I discovered Adelaide Hills as a by-product of my friendship with Elizabeth.  I always promised I would come back for her wedding but appreciated that is not the ideal time to spend time with friends so I came early and told her I would disappear for 5 days a little ahead of the wedding so she wouldn’t feel responsible for entertaining me and take myself on a wine tour of South Australia.

I hired some lovely gentleman off the internet (before doing this was common) who had grown up in the Barossa.  Trevor squired me around South Australia and treated me like I was his daughter.  I have the mindset of an engineer so naturally I arrived with a gigantic list of all the wineries I wanted to visit.  He is very gracious so did not tell me I was crazy… We devised a plan.  I would learn to spit and we would try to do seven or eight wineries a day.  Some would be from my list and some would be his suggestions.


We would spend two days in the Barossa Valley, one day in the Clare Valley, a day in Adelaide Hills and a day in McLaren Vale.  Five of the best days of my life.  Drinking the different regions side by side allowed me to really see the differences and decide what I wanted to buy from which region.  Since I live in Canada where wine has a sin tax that exceeds gasoline (seriously, these are plants – they are GOOD for the planet 😉 it was challenging to drink and not buy.  I had already quizzed Elizabeth and her soon to be husband in Sydney so decided their wedding present would be a case of wine – different types so they could be opened at different times in their marriage.  Trevor had lots of contacts at the wineries so it was organized it could be a mixed case and would be shipped from the winery where bottle 12 was purchased.

That was Peter Lehmann.  I have quite a few wonderful Australian winery experiences but I have a special place in my heart for Peter Lehmann – and Trevor.  When we arrived, not only did I try a bunch of different wines but each was paired with a snack.  I really wished I could have shared it with someone.  I was so wowed by the experience that I bought more than one wine there and finished the case.


If you would like to learn more about wine, there is no better place to go than Australia.  As I was informed last night, you don’t talk about “terroir” 🙂  You will taste it but keep that word to yourself.  I have spent a lot of time this week gushing to Australian winemakers or marketing reps and recounting some of my winery experiences.

a great place to drink aussie wine :)

a great place to drink aussie wine 🙂

Not all aspects of aging are welcome but sometimes being old works in your favour.  I was extremely fortunate to meet an Aussie in Toronto who was determined to teach me about wine.  Then I moved to Sydney with him.  I went to people’s houses where they had BOXES of wine!  They went to the Hunter Valley and stocked up as they tasted the wines at the actual wineries.  In the early 90s it was like being Alice in wine Wonderland.

There was no Yellow Tail.  Monty Python was still making fun of Australian wine.  Mostly it was just drunk by the locals.  And the locals drank wine out of 2L boxes from Riverina (which was very drinkable).  I caught a lot of grief for my extravagance.  I was willing to pay $10 for 750 ml of wine when I could get 2L for $6 – what was I thinking? 😉

As a novice, it was a transcendental experience.  The Aussies are the most unpretentious people I have met so you just rocked up to the winery and they said, “ya wanna try them all”?  In those days, there was no marketing.  It’s a wonderful place to grow grapes so most wineries did a bunch of different varietals.  There was a Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer, a Sauvignon (no blanc), a Semillon, a Chardonnay, a Merlot, a CabSav, a Shiraz and possibly even a Port.  You learned the difference between varietals by trying them all!

The Chardonnays were really oaky and I couldn’t drink the Shiraz – I felt like I was chewing wood instead of drinking wine.  I was a newbie wine drinker.  Riesling and Gewurtztraminer were just my speed.  It was how I discovered Gewurtztraminer – it took me ages to be able to pronounce it like a German instead of an Australian 🙂  I have so many memories of hanging out in bottle shops, drinking wine I purchased in restaurants and finding hidden gems in obscure wine shops (buying a ten year old Cabernet in a bottle shop at Circular Quay and hoping it was still OK – it was magnificent!)

My interest in Australian wine scored points with my boss who was a connoisseur.  And the Aussies like to drink 😉  It was a very freewheeling place back then at least.  I didn’t go back to the office to try to work after the News Corp audit completion LUNCH but it was incredible.  Wonderful Aussie produce paired with (I think) five different wines… I still remember the Petaluma white, one of his personal favourites.

I also remember when Grange was $64 a bottle.  I never got to drink it!  I bought it for my Australian boyfriend for his birthday.  When Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc costs $12, $64 is an astonishing amount.  Of course, it needs to be aged and our relationship didn’t last that long.  In 2000, Elizabeth and I searched Sydney trying to find a bottle of Grange so I could try it… without success, even though it cost over $300 a bottle by then.  I finally scored some by random accident in Canada where I think I paid just over $200.  I know it was a bargain!  I drank it with my friend Iain who has spent time in Australia for work and could appreciate the significance of drinking a bottle of aged Grange… we decided it wasn’t that great.  I mean, it was great… but not $200 great… so I would encourage you to try something else.

There is a cornucopia of wonderful wine from the land of Oz.  DO try to go there and drink it with the locals.  I’m not even sure if I would be drinking wine if it wasn’t for the Aussies.  They certainly made my virgin wine drinking experiences an absolute delight.  And they taught me how to introduce others to wine.  Start with Riesling, not Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, a shout out to Aussie winemakers and all the people with whom I have shared the pleasures of Aussie wines 😉



random encounters with strangers…

I know children are taught NOT to talk to strangers.  And talking to creepy strangers offering you candy when you are 7 not advisable… but eventually we all have to talk to strangers.  And learn how to figure out if they are creepy 🙂

At some point in this dialogue we will discuss how painfully shy I was as a child but at present we are just going to focus on how I overcame it – and became a pro at stranger talk… I talk to strangers all the time, more frequently when I travel.  I will provide my tips for hanging out in bars at some later point – and not in the way you might envision 😉

My three days at the wine festival offered countless opportunities to talk to strangers and we will continue to explore this theme for a little while.   But first I want to note a specific encounter, which really highlighted the delights of stranger talk…

On Friday night I was busy buying wine and got to the tasting lounge quite late so there was a gigantic line, which I joined.  I didn’t know anyone and am so exhausted from work right now not talking to strangers was OK too…

But I was surprised and impressed when the guy behind me reached for a plate and instead of just taking it, he handed it to me – and then handed me a fork.  Real manners.  Such a lost art in the age of twitter.  He got my attention so I checked him out.  He was also really well dressed.  It went with the manners.  I live in a city where manners and dressing up are pretty rare so I was intrigued.  I ended up sitting with his friends to eat my dinner and exchanging some interesting words.

But he was just a random stranger so I didn’t expect to see him again.  I was back on Saturday and he wasn’t there but shortly before I was due in the proper tasting room, he and one of his friends from the night before arrived.  And waved at me.  So I chatted with them a little.

And ended up spending my evening in the tasting room with them and some of their friends.  What really impressed me was how gracious they all were.  They had made friends with the people at the Riedel booth so we wandered the tasting room with gigantic glasses, which we carefully returned at the end of the night.  The two guys I had met in the Gold Pass Lounge ran wine samples to the staff trapped in the booth demonstrating to people the difference a glass made to the taste of a wine.  And the most fantastic unexpected pleasure for me was that one of their friends has Japanese parents and an impressive knowledge of sake.  I had always thought I wasn’t sure about sake but you just need the right guide.

These are the wonderful unexpected adventures you embark on by talking to cute strangers 😉  Talking to strangers can change your life.  Try to do it at least every couple of months.  It will add a spark to your everyday life – and once you get good at it, some of these strangers will become friends…

the wonderful world of vintage port

I have been busy drinking over the past few days so am behind on my public commentary.   It hasn’t been a “lost weekend” type of drinking adventure but rather a snotty wine connoisseur experience.  One of the local theatre companies decided decades ago to organize a wine festival as a fundraiser.  It has become possibly the best wine festival in the world for regular folk.

I started drinking wine at a relatively young age so have been attending for a few decades now.  The fact that I own a number of vintages of port attests to the fact that I am a pretty serious wine collector.  I was drinking a few wonderful ports at the festival and had some memorable conversations about port.

Lots of people will die never even knowing that vintage port exists.  It is definitely not the beverage of white trash.  In my twenties I vaguely heard that people bought vintage port when their children were born to drink on their 21st birthdays.

But the first time vintage port became real for me was in 1993 when my ‘born in 1963’ boyfriend started explaining to me what a great vintage 1963 was.  I still knew nothing but I really loved him so I went to Marquis Wine Cellars and spent an insane amount on a bottle of wine that might be corked.  It was 30 years old at the time and there was no guarantee on it.  We broke up before I even got to try it.  Buying great wine for men that I never get to drink a bit of a theme in my life 🙂

It did mean though that vintage port remained merely a concept for me.  I had never actually tasted any!  In more or less the same time frame one of my friends started dating this older Frenchman who was a wine expert.  So when she told me Francis said we should buy some 1994 vintage port I just did it!

It ended up being one of the best-uninformed decisions of my life.  I knew Francis knew wine.  It wasn’t very expensive.  I knew it wouldn’t be ready to drink for decades.  So I just stuck it under my bed waiting to figure out what I had done.

In 1998 I moved to Germany and acquired a European family, with a basement in which I could store my wine!  The new in-laws were very impressed with my vintage port but concerned it wouldn’t be ready to drink for 30 years!

I realized I better start buying more while I was young 🙂  So I started paying attention, which led me to salivate outside a wine shop in Lisbon in 2001 where I could see a Niepoort vintage port Wine Spectator had rated almost 100 points – but they were doing inventory and it was Europe so no one was willing to just sell it to me and reduce the inventory.  It was my last day in Lisbon so I just had to stare at it fondly.

A short time later I was at a wine dinner showcasing the young Turks of the Douro producing red table wine in addition to port.  Dirk van der Niepoort was at our table.  My friend said I should tell him my port story.  So I did… he told me the new vintage was even better!  And then he produced two glasses with a flourish and set them in front of us – “1863 – don’t tell anyone!”

I also made friends with the Portuguese trade ambassador by talking about my trip to Lisbon and my love of port… so he gave me his ticket and I got to attend a sold-out vintage port event that included a taste of the most expensive vintage port in the world.  It was delicious.

So it is only good karma that I did something nice of my own with a bottle of vintage port.  I saw this guy on Friday night in the Gold Pass tasting lounge – and wondered why he looked so familiar.  Luckily he remembered why he knew me.  His brother lives in northern BC so when he is in town he makes the most of it.  That was the year I was learning about Burgundy so I took them to meet some of the winemakers I had befriended in the afternoon.  We kept going after the festival ended and when the final bar closed I invited them to my house to drink a bottle of vintage port.  It’s so much more fun to share.  And you can end up with a story you can also share – and use to inspire others…

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