Last night we had a Balasto!

At the Vancouver International Wine Festival 2023 – a world of wine awaits us,  with a focus on South America.

It started with a launch at Joey’s and it’s not over yet.  A few master classes, the festival tasting itself and about last night…

Up the winding staircase a surprise awaits us
Enologist Mele (l) and Sommelier Jen (r) at Hydra, Vancouver.

If you’re a food/wine lover nothing can beat a wine pairing dinner.

And if you’re the adventurous type,  you’ll travel to the ends of the earth to discover a unique wine in a unique location.  That’s what we did last night – me and my new friends sitting  around a round table at Hydra Estiatorio Mediterranean restaurant downtown Vancouver.  And what a magnificent restaurant (more on this later).

Mele & Craig (a wine writer/critic/judge)

Okay, in truth we didn’t travel very far to discover this new finding.  However, someone else did so that she could offer around 97 guests an exceptional 7 course dining extravaganza along with award winning wines from what was considered the Southern Hemisphere’s best kept secret – until now.  I don’t like to give secrets away but I can’t hold it in any longer: I’m telling you it was the Best of Uruguay: from Bodega Garzón.  Who knew?  I certainly did not realize how excellent these wines from Uruguay are and in general I was not even aware of what kind of wines they produced, if any.  Luckily I’m not alone.

Starter: Seared Diver Scallops with yellow pea puree, picked red onion + capers

Having been to Argentina twice I was familiar with Mendoza wine region and Malbec wine.  What a shame that I didn’t travel a little more distance to Uruguay to check this out for myself.  I certainly wouldn’t bypass it next time.  Not after last night!

Each pairing was thoughtfully curated by Hydra’s Executive Chef Brad Scharien (formerly of Italian Kitchen & Coast) to wow guests.  And that he did. It was amazing.

The Menu
Pistachio Cheesecake with blackberry compote, citrus cream.

Former wine maker and enologist Mele Sosa (born in Uruguay and raised in Uruguay and Chile) was our vivacious, charming, funny and knowledgeable host with the most.  She was great with a mic while darting in and around tables explaining about all the fabulous wines we had the privilege of sampling and answering questions.

One of the wines is called Balasto – a 2017 iconic red wine made from Tannat (the national red grape), Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot grapes.  This big, beautiful bold wine was paired with braised short rib stifado (which was a tasty dish of short rib with caramelized pearl onion, confit garlic potato puree + pickled mustard seed).  As you can guess, it was wonderful.  And the whole evening was like one big food and wine fest of its’ very own.

Nice Jugs

A little more about Mele: Mele’s role entails traveling through the United States and Canada, to champion Tannat (she even sang about it), Albariño and other wines produced by Bodega Garzón through media work, trade and distributor training, winemakers dinners and wine events.

After this evening I can say that my new favourite white is called Albariño and my new favourite reds are called Tannat and Balasto (also I love saying these new to me names).  Also I’m quite picky with rosé but I loved their Estate Pinot Noir Rosé de Corte 2021 which was very elegant and expressive – not too sweet, not overly dry – just perfecto!

Here’s a bonus – they’re all available at Legacy liquor store in Olympic Village, Vancouver (link below).

Below is taken from the brochure

About Bodega Garzón; Uruguay:

When Alejandro Bulgheroni and his wife Bettina discovered Garzón, they had a family dream come true: to have the most emblemetic winery of modern viticulture in Uruguay and premium wines with an intense personality and a deep sense of belonging to the land.  With the advice of international enologist Alberto Antonini, they apply their philosophy focused on producing wines that are a true expression of their origins.  Experts on viticulture, environmental care, gastronomy, hospitality and tourism complete a team committed to this unprecedented project.


Hydra: a dining experience without parallel.


Named after the beautiful culinary Greek Island in the Aegean Sea, World Class Chef-driven Hydra Estiatorio Mediterranean  & Bar is a Greek Seafood restaurant.  Hydra applies Greece’s time-honored ingredients with traditional cooking styles, focusing on quality Mediterranean dishes such as vine-ripened tomato salad with flat parsley and feta, alongside exquisitely-tender grilled octopus garnished with lemon juice and olive oil, or lamb chops served straight from the grill with hints of garlic and oregano.

Where to buy Bodega Garzón wines in Vancouver:

Vancouver International Wine Festival (all weekend long) tickets:

Joey’s VIWF Media Launch



Vancouver International Wine Festival

Wine lovers unite.  The International Wine Festival is back!

Outside JOEY (Bentall One) at launch party.

Enjoy an amazing selection of world class wines from May 16-22, 2022 at the Vancouver Convention Centre and other venues around the city. See link below for tickets and more info.

Photo: John Moe

Feeling worldly? Not only will you be able to sample wines from all over the world, you can buy your favourite wines at the onsite BC Liquor Store and bottle check them throughout the tasting session.  Then pick them up when you’re ready to leave or have your purchases sent to your nearest store.  How very convenient of them.

Of course remember never to wine and drive. The festival is providing a free Compass ticket on the way out to take local transport or have someone pick you up.  Because let’s face it, even if you taste and spit you’re probably going to be sipping enough to affect you.  I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking wine and tend to get lightheaded very easily.  But I enjoy a lovely glass of wine and a bottle (or two) with friends on occasion so at an event like this you can sample several varietals you might otherwise never get to try.

our greeter upon entry
She was pouring this really nice bubbly

The festival kicked off with a VanWineFest media launch party at JOEY on Burrard.  I met some very nice people.

With Christine Blanchette.

Christine is the Host + Producer of  “The Closing Act” (conducting in-depth interviews with musicians, songwriters, producers and CEOS in the industry) on Arts + Entertainment Channel and “Run with It” (a monthly show on running, fitness and nutrition interviewing experts and celebrities who work out or follow a healthy lifestyle) on Healthy Living Network.  We have a few things in common being that she’s half Irish, is from Quebec and she’s also a runner. But I’m not in the same running league because she runs Marathons including the elite Boston Marathon. I’ve run 3 half Marathons and said that’s enough. I admire anyone who runs full marathons as it’s hard on your body and well; a longer run than I have the stamina for.  But getting back to our mutual friend JOEY

Not only was there a selection of delicious participating festival wines, also yummy globally-inspired snacks from executive chef Matthew Stowe.  The sliders (both meat + vegetarian) were excellent, along with surprisingly delicious sushi (I say that because I never expected them to serve sushi) and the tastiest dips like hummus and even guacamole – something for everyone.JOEY restaurants are a premium casual family-owned chain created by Jeff Fuller and looking to expand throughout North America.  I cannot believe that this was my first time here even though they’ve been around for quite some time. I was impressed by the quality of food and the extensive cocktail list looks tempting – for another time.

2022 countdown presented by VIWF Executive Director Harry Hertscheg (L),  Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze (R) and Group Sommelier Jason Yamasaki (middle).

It’s exciting that events like this are opening up again.  It’s also a bit overwhelming because there’s all of a sudden so much going on other than wine tasting…in dining, music, art shows, theatre…

After a long hiatus it’s enjoyable to be able to get out there even if we have to ease ourselves into the social scene. Although I must admit as much as I like going to these social events I’m also pretty comfortable being a homebody.  How about you?

taken at Vancouver Convention Centre – International Wine Festival


How to Buy Tickets

JOEY Espresso Martini – for another time





Wines of Portugal

Good Wine Makes a World of Difference

The next best thing to physically being in Portugal is discovering the wines of Portugal.  Lucky me; I was able to attend a grand tasting the other day at the Coast Plaza hotel in Vancouver.  Always a pleasure to discover unfamiliar and delicious tasting wines and meet nice new people.

I’ve tried wines from Portugal before but most of the ones at the “Wines of Portugal” tasting are not yet available for purchase in Canada (or elsewhere in North America for that matter).

I didn’t realize their scope of native grape varieties are so plentiful – 250 different kinds to be exact! 

The prized and distinct grapes are considered a national treasure and have been savoured by generations of Portuguese wine lovers.  Wine drinkers elsewhere in the world will discover fresh new flavours when they sample.

Here are some fun facts:

Portugal is home of the first Demarcated and Regulated wine region in the world – The Douro Valley, now a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Portuguese were the first to bring European wines to the Americas and to Asia.

Love these labels

Portugal has the highest density of native grape varieties in the world.

*Jancis Robinson, in a 13 year tasting, ranked Portuguese red wines the highest.

*(British wine critic, journalist and wine writer. Jancis currently writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, and writes for her website, updated daily. She also provides advice for the wine cellar of Queen Elizabeth II).

Portugal was elected for the 3rd consecutive year as “Best Destination in the World” by the World Travel Awards and in total won 39 awards.

The wine region of Lisbon was considered by Wine Enthusiast one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2019.

Forbes magazine elected the best wines of 2019 and in its list there are 3 Portuguese wines in the first 12 places.

And of course there’s the PORT:

In Portugal you can even buy Port in convenient size cans.

It’s important to not drink too much on an empty stomach. 

Don’t ask me how I know this

 Luckily the room had plenty of tasty appies to choose from.

For wine enthusiasts this was an excellent event.


Photos: d. king

personally speaking – can I buy an Inexpensive Luxury Wine?


Melee Grenache 2010. Rated 93 points for 24.99. Napa Valley, Ca.  Bought at Costco. 

Let me WINE all I want! This was a long read so I condensed it as much as possible (from an article by Rod Philips ‘Into Wine’) so you get the picture.

Being offered a premium wine for $12 a bottle might sound a bit like being offered some prime swampland at a knock-down price.  Premium has the ring of quality about it, and many people might well think of premium wines as including first-growth Bordeaux and Super Tuscans, wines that often sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle on release, and much more for older vintages.

Reserva 2007 from Spain rated 93 points and a fantastic deal from Costco (in Tucson) for only $9.99.
Reserva 2007 from Spain rated 93 points and a fantastic deal from Costco (in Tucson) for only $9.99.  You just can’t beat that!

Infact, a $12 bottle of premium wine is a common proposition in many wine stores because the world of wine segmentation (the division of wines into categories for marketing purposes) often defies common sense.  Although premium wine sounds like it would be high quality, it is actually the bottom rung of a ladder that has super-premium and ultra-premium above it.  But there are no standard definitions for any of these categories. See guide below.

Categories make these wines sound like the choices you get at the gas station, and they have nothing to do with quality, but all to do with price. Listen to this: a premium wine that over delivers for its price could be of higher quality than some super-premiums.  Now I don’t think that’s the same for gas….just saying so you don’t go filling up your tank with the cheapest quality thinking you’re getting better (but it does make matters confusing).

Luxury  is a word with multiple meanings and connotations, and definitions vary socially and culturally.  Applied to wine, it is no more easily grasped than when applied to other commodities. Still, luxury is gaining currency in the world of wine segmentation, as demonstrated by a panel on “the future of luxury wine” at a recent New York wine exhibition.  Even though it will be deplored by those who resist seeing wine as a commodity akin to other consumer products, luxury seems set to become entrenched as a category within the global wine market.

Tribunal California North Coast Red - bought in Vancouver for $20.00 A delicious tasting wine for great value.
Tribunal California North Coast Red – bought in Vancouver for $20.00 A delicious tasting wine for great value.

General guideline: Lifford wine agency (one major Canadian wine agency), uses $12 to $17 as a guideline for premium; while a study from Australia’s University of Adelaide defines premium as a wine costing $2.50 to $7.50 (U.S.) before tax – between $4 (U.S.) and $12 (U.S.) retail, including tax and markups, in Australia.  Lifford uses $18 – $35 to define super-premium and more than $35 for ultra-premium, while the Australian study sets $12 (U.S.) retail as the starting point for super-premium wines.

I can attest to this because having spent a lot of time in the U.S. (drinking wine of course) I know you can get a damn good bottle for $12 – at Costco or Trader Joe’s no less.

So happy sipping & good CHEERS!

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Photos: Debbie King

Personally speaking – I can’t imagine a world without wine

And I have a good imagination! Have you heard about the prediction – there may be a global wine shortage?  This is ridiculous is it not?  While I’m thinking it can’t be right it does tend to worry me a little bit.

A perfect picnit - russian river valley pinots
A PERFECT picnic – Russian River Valley Pinots – all excellent!

According to Morgan Stanley research there are one million wine producers worldwide but not enough product to keep up with demand.  Are we drinking that much?   According to the CEO of ‘two buck chuck’ we shouldn’t freak out about this apparent wine shortage.

I'd have to take many prisoners & store them somewhere.
I’d have to take many prisoners & store them somewhere.

No day week is complete without a nice relaxing glass of wine…

While I’m no wino I do enjoy a nice glass before making dinner, while cooking, with dinner and sometimes after.   I mean, think about it… in a world without wine:

  • I’d have to cook while drinking martinis – then what would dinner turn out like?
  • Napa Valley would just be hot
  • Cheese would be lonely
  • High school reunions would be unthinkable
  • A night at home watching reruns of Sex and the City would be spent drinking… water
  • Dinner with friends would end as soon as the bill came
  • We’d all realize how totally uninteresting we really are
  • People would have to switch to drinking bourbon and the like (yuck!)  but maybe I should start developing a taste – just in case.

Can you even imagine? Well, until that day let’s all sit back and enjoy a nice glass of pinot.

Taken in part from Christiana’s article for Garance Doré.

**Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw wine — infamously known as “Two-Buck Chuck” — is no longer two dollars after an impressive 11-year run.

The California-based grocery store is officially “upchucking” the cost of its Charles Shaw wine, made largely from California-grown grapes and offered in a wide array of red and white varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. But if you think the days of cheap after-work indulgence are gone, however, don’t rush to drown your sorrows: the price is only going up about 50 cents – retailing at $2.49.

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