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Vancouver International Wine Festival Tasting Room Quest: Find Five Alternative to Pinot Grigio

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In the darkness and gloom of February in Vancouver there is one bright spot to look forward to: the Vancouver International Wine Festival. One of North America’s biggest wine fests, VIWF brings a head-spinning variety of wines from around the world –and from right here in B.C.– to sample along with seminars, winery dinners and plenty of fun events.

I was inspired this year to try something new after talking to David Smyth at the Fešta Croatian Dinner Party, at YEW, a fantastic multi-course feast from one of my favourite chefs in the city, Ned Bell, paired with wines from Stina of Dalmatia and Coronica of Istria. I’d never heard of any of the wines that we drank– Croatia has 64 indigenous grape varieties – and David told me that Italy has hundreds more. Over dinner I began to fall for Croatia’s wines, especially Stina’s 2013 Posip Majstor, a fresh white wine with a deliciously sea salt-y minerality with a creamy finish, which Ned served with a roasted sablefish, and and their 2011 Plavac Mali Barrique, a gloriously dry red which somehow managed to be juicy and fresh at the same time. 

pinot.-minI’ll admit it: usually I attack the wine fest’s tasting room with all the elegance of a puppy let off the leash. But this time, things would be different. David helped me hatch a plot to attack the Tasting Room this year with a little more of a plan than: Oh Look! Lovely Wine!  This time I would learn something about the guest country.  And I would stay totally focussed on what they had to offer, no, not even if Laurent Perrier were there at Stand 109, pouring my very favourite Cuvée Rosé Champagne…

The Task:  Find five alternative to everyone’s favourite ‘I don’t know anything about Italian white wine’ Pinot Grigiot.

The rules: Must feature indigenous Italian grapes. Preferably under or around $20.  Must be an easy drinking ‘patio sipper’ –just like Pino Grigio. Must be a totally new wine to me, that I’d never heard of.

Gavi del Commune de Gavi

 

Tenuta Olim Bauda: Gavi delCommune de Gavi from Piedmont 

Tenuta Olim Bauda: Gavi del Commune de Gavi from Piedmont

This was the start of my quest, I’d mentioned my mission to a few people who are far more knowledgeable than I, and they suggested Gavi would be a good place to start. I spoke with Tenuta Olim Bauda’s proprietor, Gianni Bertolino, and learned that Gavi is grown in a restricted area in Alessandria, Piedmont from Cortese grapes. For a wine to be labelled ‘Gavi’ it must be made from 100% Cortese vines from within the Gavi area  Gavi wine was awarded DOCG status ( an Italian food/drink quality assurance) in 1998. Gianni’s Gavi had wonderfully citrus, mineral and light floral notes, with a mouth watering finish. It’s aged in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation (a process in which the tart-tasting malic acid in grapes is soften to lactic acid)  to maintain its acidity. I could imagine happily drinking this in the sunshine, Gianni told me it paired perfectly with risotto, asparagus and rabbit.

Lugana San Benedetto

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Zenato  Lugana San Benedetto from Veneto

I met winemaker and owner, Alberto Zenato, who told me about his Lugana San Bernadettto, a tasty light white with plenty of grapefruit, melon and peach aromas and flavours with a juicy crisp finish. The grapes (100% trebbiano di Lugana) are grown on the southern shores of Lake Garda in what Alberto called a ‘thermal basin’– this micro climate means that the grapes soak up plenty of sun and are harvested later in the season. Great with fresh water fish and asparagus.

Poggio ai Ginepri Bianco

My only Tuscan selection comes from Tenuta Argentiera and I met with their sales and marketing manager, Jeanette Servidio, who told me about their fantastic Poggio ai Ginepri. The ground that these grapes is grown on was once covered by the sea, and what’s left there now in these coastal vineyards, is a mix of seashells and sediment which you can taste in the wine– there’s a thrilling aftertaste of saltiness– a fresh minerality which I loved. A blend of Vermentino, Viogner and Sauvignon Blanc, Jeanette told me that this would be perfect served with vegetable dishes and, indeed, just by itself.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio

Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Verdicchio from Marche 

Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Verdicchio from Marche

Owner Michele Bernetti told me that Verdicchio grapes are very traditional in the Marche region, and create a wine with an approachable ‘very Italian’ taste. I found it slightly creamy with a bright citrus-y acidic finish. Intense on the palate with a salty minerality, Michele said that this wine was considered one of the best to age – and at just $16 a bottle, it’s a fantastic price to try out with by itself in the sunshine, or paired with soft cheeses and fish.

Vespaiolo Breganze Doc “Sulla Rotta del Bacalà”

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Beato Bartolomeo Breganze Vespaiolo Breganze from Veneto

I loved this wonderfully fresh white, which had a delicate almost honeysuckle-like sweetness to the finish. I met with their export manager Roberto Dellai who told me a fantastic story about a ship from the region which somehow got lost and then found its way to Norway, and now a connection exists between two villages and they exchange wine for fish  –which I think is the ‘bacala’ in the wine name, bacalo is Spanish for cod, at least! Roberto told me that monks recommend this wine, and after a few sips, so do I! It’s grown in the area just before the Alps, in volcanic soil where the grapes ripen and get so concentrated with sugar that they attract wasps – hence the name ‘Vespaiolo’ which, like that great Italian icon, the Vespa, means ‘wasp’!

Conclusion: That’s it for me and Pinot Grigio! I’ve found five excellent alternatives and it’s opened up a world of new flavours for me. My biggest take away is that I’ve discovered that I really love the slight saltiness that you get from coastal vineyards. I may not have had my beloved Lauren Perrier, but I did get to learn a lot and it was a great way to attack a tasting room which was spilling over with hundreds of wines. This is definitely how I’ll approach it next time, with a new challenge.

More Info: Thanks to the Vancouver International Wine Festival for hosting me this year. Next year’s festival will be 11-19 February 2017, with Canada as the theme country. 

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