The old-school is still worth tasting at the Vancouver International Wine Festival

The Vancouver International Wine Festival is like an old waspy grandparent. It’s conservative and buttoned up, but still has a few things to teach you, and one or two surprisingly progressive opinions.

Big money wineries and conglomerates from old money regions are heavily represented at the festival. The stated feature of Spain and Portugal should really be a feature of Porto and Rioja, backed up by a few other Iberian wines. Small-scale innovative winemakers won’t be that easy to find on the convention centre floor.

But that shouldn’t turn you away! This is your once-a-year chance to taste through classical styles and regions from the wineries and conglomerates that, like it or not, remain the tastemakers on the global scene. Even the hardcore naturalist can benefit from trying some conventional Bordeaux and Barolo, if only to learn what their chosen bottles are rebelling against. There are even a few glimmers of the odd, innovative, and natural among the more conservative offerings.

Fortified wine should be your last stop on the tasting floor but this year’s Port and Sherry offerings are worth your first thought. Some of the world’s best Port producers will be showing at the fair. Niepoort, Caves Messias, and Symington are not to be missed. Symington’s tawny ports, with a long barrel age oxidizing the wines to nutty glory, will be a special highlight, featured at a separate guided tasting on March 1st. Sherries on offer ought to inspire some curiosity. Delve into the manifold styles of these wines with Bodegas Alvear and Bodegas Lustau. Lustau will be of special interest, they bottle and release wines from different small producers, giving you a chance to taste some variety.

If you did start with Port, you’re going to want to grab a glug of bubbly before getting into lighter bodied stuff. Make note of Laurent Perrier’s table as soon as you walk on the floor. Rose champagne can lift even the most fatigued palate and Laurent Perrier makes some of the best.

Rioja’s heavy presence on the floor means some legendary producers will be showing. CVNE, pronounced ‘cune’ thanks to a 19th century spelling error, is one of the most legendary Rioja houses. If you visit one producer from Spain’s most well-known region, let it be them.

Outside of Rioja, the best represented Spanish wines are coming from its mediterranean coast. Bodegas Juan Gil, from outside Alicante, and Cellers Can Blau from Monstant, just up the coast, will be showing solid examples of monastrell and Carignera/Syrah/Garnaxta wines respectively.

I have to confess that my biggest knowledge gap is in the classic Italian wines of Piedmonte and Tuscany. You can probably find me trying to fix that by tasting Sordo, from Barolo, and Castello di Gabbiano, from Chianti Classico.

My heart broke a little bit when my favourite dessert wine region, Hungary’s Tokaji, was only represented by the state-owned Grand Tokaj. Still, there’ll be a chance to taste at least some offerings from the world’s first wine region to specialize in the ‘noble rot.’

But you’re not just going to the festival for a classical education. You want to taste something a little different. Maybe something properly weird. Look no further than Alpha Box & Dice from Australia. Their whole raison-d’etre is about odd blends and new experiments. I’m hoping to see their Kit & Kaboodle White Blend, a chenin/gewurtz/gruner/riesling melange that ought to be exciting.

B.C. has a few exciting offerings of its own. Narrative and Haywire, both lines produced naturally by Okanagan Crush Pad, are worth battling through the inevitable crush of anti-Alberta fervour for.

You might need to dress up a little, and I don’t expect they’ll be blasting Kendrick on the tasting floor, but the wine festival looks set to offer some classical education. Just remember to pepper in the iconoclasts when you’re starting to get bored.