7 Wines That Will Make You Look Like an Insider at Winefest

From the heavy hitters to the oddballs, we've got you covered.

Every year it’s the same: I go into the Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF)  with a list of things I want to try, and every year I get sidetracked and end up bopping from one booth to the next having a blast. And there’s nothing wrong with that—but trust us, having a cheat sheet of wines that you don’t want to miss will bring a modicum of scholarly order to the chaos. Here’s 7 touchstones to search out on your journey.

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2018, $50

Sure, it’s wonderful to “discover” a small producer from some far away European country at Wine Fest. But you know what’s also awesome? Being able to drink really great (and really expensive) wine from one of the big boys who have enough swagger to offer up such luxuries. And here’s an insider’s tip—Penfolds is throwing their weight around this year. Their line-up at the festival starts—starts!—at $50 and goes up. There are some impressive blockbusters at the top (ample fruit, endless finishes, grip) but I’m going for the 311 Chardonnay because it’s a great lesson in how far Aussie Chardonnay has come from the days of pineapple, butterscotch and oak of a few decades back. It’s fresh, shows minerality and still gives some of that elegant pineapple payoff.

Da Silva Chenin Blanc 2022, $36

It’s awesome to see Naramata’s Da Silva here, because they have a very cool, very diverse selection of wines that are finally getting the attention they deserve. And while you’ll want to reach for very pricey Legado Nobrezo (at $105 it’s one of the most expensive wines in the Okanagan), before you do, please have a taste of their lovely Chenin Blanc. It channels crisp pear, drizzled with a touch of honey and some really nice acidity keeping it all on track. Why doesn’t everyone grow Chenin in the Okanagan?

CedarCreek Home Block Riesling 2021, $35

Holy hell, I can’t believe how good CedarCreek is these days. If you haven’t tried a bottle in a few years please, please pay a visit to this booth and see what wonders winemaker Taylor Whelan and his team have created from their Kelowna perch. This Riesling is grown right there—the “Home Block”—and it’s just a masterclass on why Riesling can shine in these parts. Sultry aromatics draw you in, and then it’s all citrus zest with some crunchy peach flesh. It truly is a wine that makes you want to have another sip the second you’ve finished the first. Just a rock star bottle.

Ser Lapo Chianti Classico Reserva 2019 $33

Chianti is simultaneously one of the most famous and most underrated wines in the world. I’m not sure there’s another wine out there that—across the board—pairs better with food. It goes as well with Peking duck as it does with amatriciana, and its medium body means it doesn’t blitz your palate with cloying richness. Plus, it ages like a champ, and is frequently less than half the price of other Italian red icons. To prove all of this, you’re going to find the Mazzei table and get some Ser Lapo, because it’s widely available in the province, underscores all the above points with a presentation of dusty dry cherry elegance and…the bottle looks great. And to underscore it, seek out the Felsina table and push all the somms aside for a glass of Rancia, a legendary Chianti that manages to be a smoking deal while still being $103.

The Aquilini's Red Mountain Vineyards

Aquilini 10,000 Hours Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, $50

We’re a weird bunch up here in Vancouver. One of our most prominent families buys up arguably one the greatest tracks of grape growing in America and we’re like, “Oh well.” The funny thing is, the wine seems to be going great guns down south—I recently saw one their wines at Costco positioned next to Silver Oak and Caymus Special Selection. Sadly, they are not pouring anything from that Aquilini line, but their 10,000 hours Cabernet gives a great sense of just how good Red Mountain fruit can be.

Undurraga Terroir Hunter Sauvignon Blanc 2021 $35

Truthfully, it’s been a few years since I’ve had this wine ($35 Sauvignon Blancs from Chile aren’t part of my usual buying program), but I remember being a huge fan. The Terroir Hunter series is wine giant Undurraga giving back to the wine nerds, sourcing cool grapes in less-expected locales. Here it’s the Leyda Valley, and the Sauvignon Blanc that emerges is something akin to a spicy margarita with grapefruit, hot pepper and a bit of salinity. Doesn’t that sound good?

Gloria Ferrer Blanc des Blancs $36

I’m drinking a lot of Sonoma bubbles these days, but mostly in California where a bottle of Domaine Chandon or Piper Sonoma can be had for under $15 if you buy six and use your Ralph’s card. They’re wonderful approximations of Champagne’s finesse and structure at less than half the price. And Gloria Ferrer is a step up in focus from both those labels, so this is a good time to see if this might be your Veuve stand-in going forward.