Vancouver International Wine Festival — No. 37 

Australia reinvents itself for this year's tour de vine

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The Vancouver International Wine Festival turns 37 next week, and having attended all of them I can say it's a special week for all wine drinkers. I have to say I admire the winery people who make the trek to B.C. and, maybe most of all, the unbridled enthusiasm shown by the public along with their thirst — figuratively and literally — for wine.

When you think about it, when it comes to wine in Vancouver, we 've come a long way from 1979. From private wine shops to VQA wine stores to the growth of the wine industry in the Okanagan Valley, there's simply no comparison to those times, except for maybe the cost of wine. Like then, it's still far too expensive, and it doesn't look as if it will ever change.

This year's host country is Australia, and if it's true that timing is everything, the folks from Oz are primed to impress you. There won't be any critter labels this time around and don't expect to see any kangaroos in the room. There's a new mantra Down Under and it has to do with regions or, to be even more specific, place.

You need only pick up a bottle of Australian wine today to see where the country is heading. Australia's new generation of winemakers are doing what they do best — adapt, and in doing so they're headed back to their vineyards. Where once they would not think twice about blending wines from hundreds of kilometres apart the new reality is all about uniqueness and to take what the land will give you.

It's a philosophy that may not be so new to the French or the Italians, who love their appellations, but Down Under it's a radical and much-needed departure for many in the wine business. You can start to see the shift if you examine the various homes of shiraz, a grape variety still at the centre of Australia's red wine identity.

Today the emphasis is on regionality and smaller vineyards, and, as noted earlier, taking what the land will give you. The difference between a Barossa shiraz and a Coonawarra shiraz are day and night and they should be celebrated, not blended away into one big tank. Expect to hear plenty about it this week as you walk the tasting room.

Of course, Australia won't be the only game in town. In fact, two thirds of the people working the tasting room will be from other countries and no one will be laying down in the face of competition.

Perhaps the most interesting booth in the room will be from Croatia. Winery director and export manager Ivica Kovacevic makes Croatia's debut at the festival pouring the wines of Stina Winery from the island of Brac in Dalmatia. With grapes named Plavac Mali, Pošip and Vugava, I'm betting he'll be very busy chatting to the crowds, who will likely be surprised by the high quality of these wines.

This year, microbiologist Joel Peterson will be returning to the Vancouver International Wine Festival to talk zinfandel. The founder of Ravenswood back in 1976 is often referred to as the "Godfather of Zin", and he of the "no wimpy wines" logo is still happy to talk zinfandel. Joel, a founding member of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, will be pouring four zinfandels at the festival. Our favourites include the Ravenswood Single Vineyard Designates from Sonoma County. So if zinfandel is a passion of yours, this is the booth to visit.

Another highlight will be Canadian transplant Nathalie Bonhomme, who returns wearing her export director/winemaker hat for Gil Family Estates — home to eight Spanish wineries owned and operated by the descendants of Juan Gil, the founder.

The company's origins date back to 1916 in Jumilla, but over the decades the family has expanded into Montsant, Almansa, Calatayud, Castilla y Léon, Rueda and Rias Baixas. Nathalie has collaborated with Bodegas Juan Gil to produce a "Cote du Rhone" blend, El Petit Bonhomme, in Spain. Be sure to try everything at this table.

But lets get to some of the best wine picks in the room, some of which you'll find in government or private wine shops near you.

Gerard Bertrand is a rising star in the south of France and the winery will pour its Chateau L'Hospitalet La Clape Reserve 2012 $27. This is a bargain French red you can drink now but will age effortlessly for five to seven years.

It used to be you could wander the tasting room floor and rarely encounter a decent pinot noir. That's all changed in the last decade and this year's selection, although small, is one of the most interesting yet. One of the great pinot bargains is the Mud House Pinot Noir, Central Otago $20. A ripe, round, mouth-filling delicious red you can enjoy with your favourite salmon dish.

Prosecco has been on the fast track for a while and one of the fun bargain bubbles in the room will be the Anna Spinato Prosecco Brut Organic NV, Italy $15. Bright, fresh, fruity and organically grown it pairs well with most appetizer bites.

Cutting edge wines are fun to taste at the show, and two great examples are the Château de Caraguilhes, Corbières, France $22, a delicious, smoky, black fruit, organic red wine that mixes syrah, carignan and grenache noir. In contrast, the Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013, Adelaide Hills $23 is a thoroughly modern statement on this much maligned grape. You will love the mineral, stony, fruity, food-friendly style that makes you want to drink the entire bottle.

Finally, we leave you with some local picks thankfully much easier to do today than it was back in the '80s. One of my favourite white blends is the Black Hills Alibi 2013 $25 — a touch of the Rhone from the Okanagan, and you can add the Road 13 Vineyards Jackpot VRM 2012 $29 to the same category. Both work well with roasted chicken. A final red pick following the Rhone theme is the cool, meaty Painted Rock Syrah 2012 $40.

As the Aussies would say, g'day mate — see you inside the tasting room.

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.

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