April 20, 2009

Broad, but not Deep

After meditating on the subject for several weeks (okay, not meditating per se), I thought I would pass on these three jems I picked up from the 2009 Vancouver International Wine Festival:

  • Avoid people who ask to “try the chardy”, they just want to drink.

  • Pregnant women, even if you are a rep, and its your job to be there, should not be at wine festivals. We will still judge you.

  • Bring your own spit cup. You will be so much better off.

"Broad, but not deep" pretty much sums up how I feel about the event. It's certainly a conflicting set of emotions I come away with. On the one hand, my personality and interest in wine desired the geeky discussions about specific subjects, asking the hard questions, and bringing forth worthy answers. But, I am still, in a big picture sense, a novice taster, and thus the opportunity this wine festival afforded me was invaluable.

By volunteering, I was able to get a free ticket to the International Tasting Room, and sit in on two seminars. Thursday (March 26th) I toured the tasting hall, with over 175 booths, pouring some 8800+ wines. I chose to limit my tour to French producers with a handful of Californian wines thrown in for good measure. Clearly, I have a slanted perspective, and I know I missed out on opening my horizons more to Italian and Spanish wines.

Even with the opportunity to try some fantastic 1er Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy and Alsace wines, I was frustrated by the distracting environment, which was noisy, poorly lit (yes, they dimmed the room) and crowded (which made getting to the spittoons difficult.)Crowded!

Another frustration was the lack of meaningful organization. The hall was divided into two man areas; BC wines and everybody else. These two groups were then organized alphabetically. This made the tasting hall very schizophrenic, with big reds next to elegant whites, and silky reds next to flabby whites. Although I had drafted out a rough plan for the evening, and highlighted several producers I wanted to see, I could have used another 2 hours to plan the attack. There were some excellent whites (Monrachets and Corton-Charlemange) which were dulled, if not lost to me due to tannin fatigue. The flip side of this is the joy of finding something unexpected that stands out. This happened to me with a Morgan from Domaine Piron. The wine was fragrant and compelling, and stood out because of its unassuming but well composed harmony.

The interesting thing is that the lack of organization made no difference to the BC section. The seminar on Saturday, Icons of B.C, demonstrated this well. Aside from the lack of cohession to the group the wines poured, it felt self congratulatory, especially with the winemakers present. And besides the moderators and winemakers, no one else choose to speak about these wines or even ask questions. The Okanagan Valley is one of the youngest wine producing areas in the world. It does produce a handful of quality and interesting wines (generally aromatic whites), but on the whole, the region is too untested, too small, too inconsistent and too overpriced to take itself as seriously as it does. On a positive note, by highlighting B.C. wines as one of the themes this year, the Wine Festival may have exposed the faults and strenghts of the this wine region. Hopefully this will encourage people in the region to focus on the strenghts, and it will encourage to demand better results from their local producers, especially when offered so much choice from the international market.

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