By Matt Steeves
I attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF) from February 28 to March 3 and like all media and patrons that attended I was treated to a wide array of tasty Spanish and Portuguese wines, in all styles, from dry whites and reds, sparkling, sweet fortified reds (Porto, Sherry), to dry fortified whites (Fino Sherry), and guaranteed I’m missing a handful of other styles!
With Spain and Portugal as the host countries this year it was a real treat to explore so many different styles of wines from those major wine producing countries. It was excellent to have the opportunity to learn from the winemakers and winery principals during the trade seminars and while touring the tasting floor when interacting with them one-on-one. The knowledge and passion that those people have is unparalleled. For example, during one of the structured tasting seminars I was blown away by the fact that practically the entire expert panel were 5th to 14th generation wine industry professionals. 14 generations in the business, can you imagine the experience! It was great listening to their stories, getting their insight into why certain styles of wine taste a specific way, and what their winemaking philosophies are for different wines. One thing I found particularly interesting was why young Vintage Port often has a scent of Gum Cistus, or Rock Rose…which is a plant typical throughout the Douro Valley in Portugal. See explanation below…
( Explanation of Rock Rose scents in Port is shared from Taylor Fladgate’s website: References to Gum Cistus (Esteva in Portuguese) often appear in tasting notes describing Vintage Ports. Gum Cistus, also known as rock rose and by its Latin name Cistus Ladanifer, is an aromatic shrub which can be found in the wild throughout southern Europe. It is very common in the Douro Valley and its scent can often fill the air on hot still days. The shrub’s name and scent are both derived from the very aromatic gummy resin secreted by its leaves.
This resin is highly valued in the scent industry for its complex aroma. In tasting notes, Gum Cistus describes the complex sweet aromas of resin, leather and musk that can often be found in Vintage Ports, particularly when they are young). There you go, one of many lessons learned from attending the VIWF! The unique aromas of Rock Rose…now you know!
I must say the Port seminars and booths on the tasting floor were incredibly popular. Port tends to be a wine that you either know about and enjoy or it just isn’t in your vocabulary or regular menu of drink options. For VIWF patrons, having the opportunity to taste a variety of styles, including some rare/aged bottles as well as readily available value priced bottles, was a great way for patrons to learn about the differences, and appreciate why Port is so loved and so great as not only a dessert/after meal wine but also with your meal and even before your meal as a base for a cocktail.
The Sandeman 20 and 30 year aged Tawny Ports were very popular, as were virtually every other Port house’s offerings as that section of the tasting floor always seemed to be well populated over the course of the three days.
Walking around the Vancouver Convention Centre throughout the week there was a real buzz about the Ports! Patrons were loving getting to taste some of the old and rare bottles, and thrilled finding the value priced offerings that delivered great taste at a bargain of a price (many under $20-$25). There’s no doubt Vancouver has just created a new cohort of Port fans!
In this video, Sandeman’s representative Anna Budarina speaks about Sandeman’s history, dating back to 1790; the shelf live of Tawny Ports once open; about cocktail trends like Port Cocktails and how Port has become a key ingredient for mixologists that are crafting delicious cocktails; and how simple some Port cocktails are meaning any of us can whip one up quick!
I had the pleasure of speaking with Anna Budarina from Sandeman, a storied Port house that dates back to 1790. Instead of talking about their Tawny, Ruby, or Vintage Ports we actually chatted Port Cocktails, as I’m a huge Porto fan, and I love craft cocktials too, so when I heard her mention Port Cocktails during one of the seminars I had to explore that. Turns out that Anna spends a lot of time in San Fransisco where there’s a serious craft cocktail scene with mixologists creating terrific drinks with all sorts of spirits and ingredients. I invited Anna to share a couple easy to make Port cocktail ideas with us and here’s a clip of what she had to say…
Here are some of the Port Cocktails Anna and I discussed while at the VIWF:
Low effort/instant Port ‘Sangria’.
For those times when you literally have 2 minutes to prepare a drink, why not try a super low effort Port ‘Sangria’.
It’s super easy. Pour some Ruby Port over rocks with some orange slices/cubs, a splash of Grenadine, and mint to garnish. That’s it! If you’ve got some raspberries then go for it, otherwise, enjoy this easy to make, semi sweet refreshing iced cocktail.
Manhattan with Sandeman Ruby Port and Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey
2 ounces of Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey + 1 ounce Sandeman Ruby Port + a couple of dashes of angostura bitters. Stir all ingredients with ice for 15 seconds and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry and a orange twist.
Try a Port Sour, known as the New York Sour.
Add bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters to cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Float port atop.
Port of Call
1 oz gin
1 oz ruby port
¾ oz lemon juice
½ oz cinnamon syrup
tablespoon cranberry preserves
Combine all ingredients in a shaker, add ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over ice, preferably crushed or smaller/cracked cubes. Garnish with a blackberry, raspberry and mint sprig. Or whatever feels festive.
Some Port cocktails get a bit more complex, like this one crafted by Justin Goo of the Bourbon & Branch in San Fransisco…Justin created a very unique Port cocktail using Barsol Pisco & Sandeman Ruby Port.
Pisco and Ruby Port by Justin Goo
1 oz Pisco
0.75 Sandeman Ruby
0.5 lemon juice
0.5 Torani Amer
2 old fashioned bitters
Top with tonic and voila!
Here’s another premium craft cocktail from San Fransisco… the North Beach Sour from mixologist Elmer Mejicanos.
If you haven’t attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival then I highly recommend adding it to your wine tourism plans as it’s a terrific off-season event that hosts many of the best wine personalities, and wineries, in the world in one state of the art location in downtown Vancouver.
I’ll be attending the 2019 Vancouver International Wine Fest where California will be the host region which I can’t wait to see the breadth of fantastic wines they’ll show up with!
This year was fantastic exploring wines of Spain and Portugal, along with virtually every major wine producing country too (including a gem from Uruguay…Bodega Garzon) , where each country showcased some of their finest wine styles from Champagne, Bordeaux, and Burgundy in France, Barolo, Brunello, and Amarone in Italy, Okanagan whites and reds from British Columbia, and of course very impressive wines from every other country and region.
I hope to see you there in 2019, and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy some delicious Port Cocktails!
Matt Steeves – Sommelier, Wine Writer, and Director with the National Capital Sommelier Guild (www.sommelierguild.com) Follow Matt on Twitter @QuercusVino and check out www.mattswinepicks.com for his top wine and spirits picks.