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10 Bottles at Wine Fest That Will Change Your Life

The Vancouver International Wine Festival is back—here are a few liquid reasons to give thanks.


After what seemed like an eternity, Wine Fest is back and we couldn’t be happier. We’ve missed the seminars, we’ve missed the dinners, but most of all we’ve missed wandering the convention centre, glass in hand, and sampling to our liver’s content at the International Festival tasting. But if, like us, you’re a bit out of practice in the sample-a-thon game, never fear: we’ve combed the offerings and have this handy cheat sheet to 10 pours that will blow your mind.


The Wine Penfolds Bin 600 Cabernet/Shiraz 2018

The Country USA

The Skinny We’re going to lead with our strongest here, because I think the Penfolds booth is the star of this year’s festival. They’re hands down the most expensive offerings across the board (the cheapest wine they’re offering checks in at $81), but beyond price, it’s a chance to get to experience what Shiraz and Cabernet can do when made at the highest level. All the wines are worth lining up for, but we’ll choose this Bin 600 as its part of the company’s new California wine initiative. It’s a stunner of of blend for anyone who likes their reds bold, but nuanced. You can almost pay for your pass at this booth.


The Wine Seven Stars by Township 7

The Country The Fraser Valley!

The Skinny The Fraser Valley is often an afterthought in the B.C. wine world, and while many consumers know Township 7 from their acclaimed Naramata wines, for the past few years they’ve been doing great things with sparkling wine on their Fraser Valley property. And by great things, I mean their slate of bubbles—four of which are being poured here—rivals anything in B.C. for quality. Even more special, many of these wines are either sold out (the word is out on how good they are) or are available exclusively to wine club members, so this is a rare chance to taste through the portfolio. I’m not choosing one (although the rosé Equinox is near and dear) as I want you to hit all of them to see what I’m talking about.


The Wine Sena (Arboleda booth)

The Country Chile

The Skinny One of the great treats of wine fest is being able to try things that are not in your wheelhouse, price-wise. For example, I’m going to beat a path to Sena because, truth be told, I’ve never laid down $200 for a bottle of their acclaimed Cabernet blend. It’s a joint venture between Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick with the goal of making the finest red in Chile and being able to taste it is entry into being able to have a serious discussion with anyone about Chile’s place in the wine world and its massive potential going forward. It’s one of the reasons why large tasting like this are such a Godsend to building up wine knowledge.


The Wine Aquilini Wines 10000 Hours Cabernet

The Country Washington (with an assist from Vancouver)

The Skinny It shocked the wine world when, in 2013, a family from Canada outbid scores of seasoned American wine pros for a huge plot of land (535 acres) in Washington’s Red Mountain AVA that many people considered one of the premier wine growing plots in all of the US. That family turned out to be our own Aquilinis, and their grand project is really starting to bear fruit (both figuratively and literally). This Cabernet should be a good test of where they’re at right now: bold, fruit-forward and rich, but with hopefully some finesse poking through.


The Wine CedarCreek Block 4 Pinot 2019

The Country East Kelowna

The Skinny This wine is usually wine-club-only, and tasting it underscores my long held opinion that winemaker Taylor Whelan is one of the greats in the Okanagan. This pricey-for-the-Okanagan Pinot (it’s around $75 if you could find it) has that balance of lightness, tartness, richness and and savoury dusting that one normally has to go to an elite producer in the Russian River Valley to find (and spoiler alert, it’ll cost more than $75). It’s just a wonderful wine, and underscores just how good CedarCreek has become over the past few years—the Pinots, the Rieslings even the Pinot Gris are all winners here.


The Wine Segura Vidas Brut Rose

The Country Spain

The Skinny For the most part, I’m looking for obscure or pricey bottles to try when I’m wandering, but time should be made for exploring the widely available bottles that just might become your daily drinkers. I can say with confidence that over the last year, I have bought this pink sparkler more than anything other bottle—it’s a tart, slightly crunchy take, with cranberry and strawberry notes. The mousse is way more elegant and controlled than it should be. And it’s $18. This booth is also pouring Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, which is a mini-masterclass on how good California bubbles can be for a relatively low ($36) price point.


The Wine Da Silva Chenin Blanc 2020

The Country Okanagan

The Skinny There’s literally dozens of wineries in B.C. that I’ve heard of but have never had the chance to try, and until a few months ago, Da Silva was part of that group. I had always heard good things about the family-owned winery, but had never tried a bottle or gotten around to visiting them in Naramata. But this was my gateway bottle. My initial thought was that any winemaker who makes Chenin Blanc in the Okanagan already shares my outlook on the wine world and on tasting it my hunch was confirmed. It’s made lean and light and they (wisely in my book) stopped blending in Viognier to the mix a few years back. This turned out to be the wine that lead me to  other treats in their portfolio, like their Fume Blanc. It’s now one of those wineries that I’m hesitant to write about lest the word get out about how good they are… but I suppose that’s sort of the job, isn’t it?


The Wine Fort Berens

The Country Lillooet

The Skinny Sometimes when you just hang out with industry people, you get a skewed idea of most people’s wine knowledge. For example, I just assume that everyone knows that they (and by ‘they,” I mean Fort Berens) grow wine in Lillooet, and that it’s pretty awesome. So if you already know that, then lucky you, If not…they grow wine in Lillooet and it’s pretty awesome. I’d try everything at the booth, but I’d focus on the Dry Riesling (a bit tropical but with some balancing acidity) and the Cabernet Franc (rustic with moody dark cherries and chocolate), as I think all those grapes come from the actual Lilooet estate.


The Wine Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques Moulin a Vent

The Country France, Beaujolais

The Skinny You know how the somm is always trying to steer you towards the Beaujolais section and you keep trying to steer them back to the Pinot Noir section? Try this—a blockbuster from one of the great names in Burgundy—and you’ll realize you should trust the somm. A mix of elegance and subtle power that can stand up (or best) Burgundies at twice the price.


The Wine Mazzei Ser Lapo Chianti Classico Riserva 2018

The Country Tuscany

The Skinny I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t drink Chianti all the time. It remains one of the best deals in the wine world, ages wonderfully and is superlative for food pairing. Bring someone a bottle Brunello and they lose their mind, bring them two bottles of a wonderfully tart cherry wonder like this (it’s $33) and they’re like, meh. So you need to try this excellent, widely available Chianti with an open mind and become part of the club who revers this criminally under-loved region.

Tickets for the International Tasting and seminars are still available here.