Decanting the Playhouse Wine Festival

The Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival kicked off Monday night at Earls restaurant. Sponsoring the event was Inniskillin winery, pouring five wines from their experimental “Discovery Series.”

The room was packed with wine journalists, and by the time I arrived, Jurgen Goethe had already taken the microphone and was introducing the principals from Inniskillen and Earls. Looping around the back, I found an empty booth near the kitchen door with wine place settings for two. So, I just sat down. Like an accidental queen, I found myself in the middle of the action with an expansive view of the whole place.

Babes wearing beauty queen sashes, bearing the name of each wine, served the wine and food. Miss Chenin Blanc handed me a glass, and as I sipped it and listened to the speakers, wine critic Anthony Gismondi sat down opposite me. Then, he invited columnist Bruce Stephen to join us and before long we were talking wine and noshing on the food pairings.

The sharpness of the 2007 Chenin Blanc was nicely mellowed by the scallop and grapefruit ceviche, and the ripe 2007 Marsanne Rousanne paired well with sake-brined salmon and watermelon cilantro salad. Shortrib crostini with mushroom duxelle and horseradish cream stood up to the strong tannins of the 2006 Malbec. My favorite combo was the 2006 Zinfandel, shown here, with its rich black cherries and forest floor notes that glommed onto the smokiness of the duck breast and blueberry quinoa. Finally, the Tempranillo Icewine, about which I wondered, is there really such a thing? Yes, and it is sweet and juicy, but almost too much for the pear and gouda tarte tatin, which I thought tasted better with the Marsanne Roussane.

His officiating finished, Inniskillan winemaker Sandor Meyer sat down in our booth and we began talking about his wines. Being a zinhead from Sonoma County and frustrated by the indifference of Canadians to the California grape, I asked him why people and publications here aren’t more keen on zin. I was shocked- shocked! – by his answer.

“It’s because they still think zinfandel is white.”

White zin? Is that what they think of? Still? Bruce nodded and affirmed that yes, the perception of white still beats out red in the minds of Canadians. And all this time I thought it was the high alcohol turning them off.

Indeed, when you surf to Inniskillin’s Discovery Series page, the 2004 vintage is titled “Red Zinfandel,” for those who might have been confused.

So, when I related this bit of information to Cathy Seghesio of Seghesio Family Vineyards, at the Divas at the Met event Tuesday night, she was equally shocked. “Really? We stopped making white zin in 1987.”

The Divas event was like old home night for me, talking with three women from Sonoma County. During the seminar portion, Cathy regaled us with how she met Peter Seghesio in New Orleans and once she moved with him to Healdsburg, she became the first woman in the family to be put on the winery payroll.

She and I agreed that Heidi Noble of Joiefarm, seen here in the black dress, bears a spooky resemblance to Carrie Brown, left, owner of the Jimtown store in Alexander Valley. Separated at birth, perhaps?

Tinhorn Creek’s Sandra Oldfield grew up in Santa Rosa and she talked about coming from a non-drinking family living in the heart of California wine country only to become a winemaker in BC. She told me later that the economic downturn has worked well for her as she can now find all the winery help she needs. “There are just so many more qualified people available now.”

Due to a flight delay, Eva Bertran of Gloria Ferrar was not able to speak at the seminar, but she arrived in time for the grazing portion. We got to talking about the price of wine in BC and she asked me, “How can you afford to drink here?” She had seen the web site of “Free the Wine” Mark Hicken and his liquor store markup calculator and was stunned at what British Columbians were paying for wine.

Cathy expressed similar surprise about our wine prices. She called the wine fest to make a correction on the $49 price of her wine and was blown away to learn that a twenty something wine in California sells for almost fifty Canadian dollars.

Talk about bottle shock.

More about the wine fest later this weekend. Cheers!

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.