Fifteen minutes before doors opened for the 32nd Annual California Wine Fair, at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the line was already wrapping around the lobby, with people anxious to get inside. Many of those attending were oenophiles, while others were new to wine and eager to explore the different varietals and blends that California has to offer. Wineries from the Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast regions were there to showcase their finest wines and expose Vancouver to the variety the region offers. The price point of the wines ranged from table wines to premium and reserve wines, and so did the quality price ratio, which factors the quality of the wine compared to the cost. It's not necessarily the most expensive wines that are the "best" as every experienced wine drinker knows.
The great thing about the event was the knowledge base from the sommeliers that were representing each vineyard. While sipping on the wine, most offered copious amounts of information to the eager ear, not only on the wines they were pouring but also on historical aspects of either the vineyard or their blends.
The event was prominent in Sauvignon Blancs, Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, with a good portion also Merlot, Moscato and Syrah. When I came across a Fumé Blanc, I had no preconceived notions of how it should taste, because I wasn’t actually sure what a “Smoked White” was. I learned from the representative at Grgich Hills Estate that it is a name created by Robert Mondavi to describe dry, oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was a 2010 from the Napa Valley and was pale blond with aromas of passion fruit, kiwi and gooseberries. It was fairly acidic due to the lemony citrus flavors that emerged on the finish. All in all a fairly easy drinker, and a perfect choice for the patio.
The next table we went to happened to be Heitz Wine Cellars. As we arrived at the table I overheard a woman talk with the sommelier about a specific wine, noting that she drank the it all the time. But the wine she spoke of wasn’t the wine she was after; she wanted the Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Wine Cellars. Apparently a rare (and pricey at $135) wine, the vineyard only brought two bottles to pour at the event.
The wine had a fantastic body, not too overwhelming but not at all meek, and had a smooth and lingering after taste. The combination of dark cherries, and chocolate and a hint of mint made me think I would be astounded by its taste. However, though delicious I felt that for the price point there are others in that caliber that would easily surpass it.
As we sipped on Vineyard 7 & 8's 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, from Spring Mountain, Napa we were told that it was one of a mere 1,200 bottled in Canada. It was a medium bodied wine that held fruity notes and was recommended to me after the sommelier asked me a few questions to gauge my palate, such as how I drink my coffee and if I prefer jam or hazelnut spread. I found it hard to believe that he would be able to select one wine out of the ten that he was pouring that he felt would suit my taste, but I was impressed at his ability, as I enjoyed every sip of the wine. Knowing that it was in limited supply, it was one of the few that I knew I should savor and I didn’t think twice about pouring it out.
While finishing the last sip in my glass I spotted out of the corner of my eye some sparkling wine; a pleasant surprise as the rest of the room was fairly repetitive in varietals. Without hesitation I made my way to the Domain Chandon table. Out of the three choices -- Brut Classic, Blanc de Noirs and Chandon Rosé -- my instinct was to go for the 90 point Brut Classic. They solidified that instinct with the description: "This sparkling wine is full flavored with the chardonnay contributing crisp flavors of limes, while the Pinot Noir brings deeper flavors of cherries." Considering it's price point this was a fantastic bubbly that would be an easy every day drinker.
Like children in a candy store we gazed around the room wondering which vineyard to sample next. Only recognizing a few of the vineyard’s names we were subconsciously drawn to the tables where people were lined up, assuming it must be good, but also being drawn to the tables with no one, so we didn’t waste any time. With only 2.5 hours and over 100 wineries, it’s easy to be overwhelmed at an event like this, especially without a game plan. Just as we did in the International Wine Tasting Festival we attended a few weeks back, we chatted with others, partly to make it a social event, and partly to get recommendations. I couldn't resist but talk to the gentleman wearing the Canucks jersey and walking around the room with a wine glass in hand and an ear bud. Luckily tuning out while drinking wine is not technically an organoleptic and he was still able to distinguish a Chardonnay from a Pinot Grigio while listening to the Canucks win...that game anyway.
We then chatted with a couple who recommended The Spur from Murrieta’s Well. This wine was a 2009 from the Livermore Valley and was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Merlot. Deep red in the glass I was instantly drawn to it. The nose of this wine is fantastic, with notes of chocolate and dark cherry offering an olfactory delight, however I found the wine’s flavour to not be as strong as it’s aroma. Since I was always told to eat (or drink) with my eyes first, nose second and mouth last, this one made it most of the way but just couldn’t bring it home for me.
To pair with the wines, and to slow down the absorption rate of the alcohol, there were four stations of cheese, baguette slices, crackers and grapes.
Cheese types included chevre, brie, cheddar, havarti, swiss, and blue. The difference between this and the International Wine Tasting was that although not Terra Breads and Benton Brothers, the snacks still hit the spot, were easily accessible and didn’t requite 20 minutes of waiting. The staff was diligent in replenishing the trays as they were “vultured” but a few seemed to lack knowledge as to the types of cheese they were serving.
During the event there was also the opportunity to win a wine, food and adventure getaway for two at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma Valley, California. Volunteers from the Art Club circulated the room selling single tickets for $20 and three tickets for $50 until they sold out at 1,100. For those not lucky enough to win the Grand Prize there were some fabulous top prizes that included vacations to Palm Desert, Victoria, Whistler and Revelstoke. Prizes are to be announced on June 15th. There was also a silent auction which boasted many great prizes and left many people walking out of the Convention Centre with a smile, and not just because they had a good buzz going on.
The California Wine Fair, put on by The Arts Club, showcased a variety of wines from the Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast. Many of the wines showcased can be found in BC Liquor stores, while others are only available in select private stores, or across the border.
For a full set of high resolution photos check out my gallery.