Tiffin Project

California Shines Again at 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival

by Tim Pawsey on January 15, 2013

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When I was looking for an image to run with this post (most of which appears in this weekend’s North Shore News), I input “Mondavi” into my Spotlight and the above is what popped up. In my mind, and I suspect for many others, California wine and Robert Mondavi will forever be inextricably linked.

I wasn’t involved when the VIWF was started in 1979, by the late John Levine. That year there was one exhibitor. You guessed it: Robert Mondavi Winery. There’s no doubt, thanks to Levine’s tireless work in getting the festival going, and his subsequent founding of the Vancouver American Wine Society that both played a huge part in laying the foundation for today’s thriving wine culture in BC.

I’m certain there’ll be more than the odd glass raised in Levine’s memory during this year’s festival—and rightly so.

I was truly lucky to have met the Mondavis on a few occasions. The picture here was taken during a visit to the winery in 2002, when Robert and Margrit Mondavi hosted us for lunch at (now vanished Copia) and, later, dinner at the winery.

When they came to Vancouver during Robert Mondavi’s 90th birthday (and unofficial retirement) tour I was honoured to be invited to join them for an intimate lunch, at Diva at the Met.

When the server arrived to pour water, Robert declined, saying:

“I don’t like water on its own (or milk for that matter). I like wine, especially red wine. And when I’m thirsty I like to drink red wine with ice cubes and water…”

The success of California wines in BC owes much to Robert Mondavi’s legacy. There’ll be more than a few glasses raised in his memory too.

As for Margrit Mondavi, you can meet her at the Mondavi dinner, Celebrate a California Icon, Feb 27 at The Boathouse, Kits Beach. She’s quite remarkable, and will be on hand with the ever entertaining and knowledgeable Mark de Vere MW, to lead guests through an interesting line-up. ($150).


Long before the Okanagan blossomed as BC’s favourite wine country, further from home, it was Napa and Sonoma that lured Vancouverites south to discover the joys of wine touring—and of California wines in general.

That legacy remains firmly intact—and will again be celebrated in style when the Golden State returns as theme region for the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival, Feb 25 to March 3. The choice of California for 2013 turned out to be more than auspicious.

The demise of the Vancouver Playhouse last year might have placed the festival’s future in jeopardy. But the event widely hailed as one of the continent’s stellar consumer and trade tasting weeks has successfully navigated the turbulent waters of transition and emerged with a new (and well matched) arts beneficiary, Bard on the Beach.

It’s auspicious because the very first Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival featured California wines—and from just one winery at that, Robert Mondavi. How fitting that in this watershed year California should be the theme region. And, yes, the name Mondavi will again be on quite a few labels.

If you haven’t yet checked out the range of tastings on offer, no time like the present, as the sell-outs are already starting to roll in.

Here’s a couple of California recommendations worth scooping up—although there’s plenty more:

Move really fast to grab tix to Ridge Revealed, with winemaker CEO Paul Draper, at Market, Feb 28th. If you’re looking to taste iconic Zinfandel, it doesn’t get much better than this, with mini-verticals of Montebello, Geyserville and Lytton Springs, over several decades. ($195)

Another event guaranteed to live up to its name, Regional Superstars of California (March 1, VCC West, with a panel of luminaries led by wine educator extraordinaire (and VanMag head judge) DJ Kearney. Book that one quick too! ($60)

A couple of other things occurred to me as I was reviewing my California wine picks from a wide-ranging preview tasting in the fall. It underscored the remarkable array of varieties produced—and, for the most part, produced very well. In fact, as you’ll see from our picks from the 64 wines poured, there really is something for every taste and budget. Nor is it only about Napa and Sonoma any more….

You can use this partial California list (more to come) as a guide when you get into the International Festival Tasting room, and for a sweep through the on site liquor store—or on your next trip to your local wine shop.

Super sparkling. Always a good place to start.

• Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut.  I love the balance of toast and fruit in this wine, made by a winery that’s owned by the family behind the Freixenet empire. And they know a thing or two about sparkling wine. This is mainly Pinot Noir with about 8 percent Chardonnay On the nose you get pear and nutty notes, followed by a creamy, moussey palate with some nice toast and yeasty notes. It all makes for a great food wine too. 88 points. BCLS $ They’re pouring all sparkling at the festival, including the very pretty and strawberry toned Brut Rosé.

• Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2011 (Clarksburg / Lodi)

This is a nice blend of Chenin Blanc with 21 percent Viognier. Tropical and honeyed notes on the palate, with juicy layers of stonefruit and tropical through the luscious close. Think grilled scallops with fruit compote. $23.90 89 pts. Also of note (at the festival) Pine Ridge Napa Cab 09

• Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2010

From the Michael Mondavi Family Collection, this beautifully balanced Chardonnay sports well balanced oak and creamy pear and apple notes underpinned by good acidity with a touch of minerality. 90 pts. $36.99


^ A trio of kickass Pinots

• Marimar Estate Russian River Pinot Noir 07

You’ll be able to taste a range of contrasting California Pinots in the festival tasting room, and this from Torres Family is quite distinctive, (not your typical California Pinot at all), so much so that it reminds me of some of the delicious, aged Tempranillo you can find in Spain. Light to medium bodied, it has bright cherry notes with a hint of savoury underneath—and makes me think of perfectly barbecued lamb cutlets over open coals. 90 pts. $58.99 (May be different vintage at the festival…)

• Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 2010

From one of the region’s longest established and most consistent producers, this cherry and dark fruit toned drop sports complex layers of spice and silky tannins with a good backbone and lingering finish. Excellent value at BCLS $36.99 92 points

• Meiomi Belle Glos Pinot Noir 2011 (Central Coast). From the makers of Caymus comes this silky smooth California Pinot bursting with red berries and spicy hints in a supple, generous palate before a lengthy close. $24.99 89 pts.

More California wines, plus overall festival picks and event reco’s very shortly …

~ Tim Pawsey

*Article originally published at HiredBelly.com

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