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Day Three: Blind Tasting Challenge

More from the week of the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Wednesday morning I caught a taxi across the street from the Riviera hotel. There were almost always taxi's lined up across the street. Very convenient. With a full day ahead of me, my first destination was the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.

My appointment was for the 9:30 am Blind Tasting Challenge.

photo: Bistro 101 and the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.

The facility for the Blind Tasting Challenge was Bistro 101 at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA). Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts is located on the south shore of False Creek, near the heart of Downtown Vancouver, by the gateway to Granville Island.

photo: Cooking kitchen visible from Bistro 101.

PICA's professional programs include Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts, Bistro 101 cafe, Catering, Private Events and WSET Wine Certification.

photo: Sommelier Tim Ellison at far left in photo.

The Blind Tasting was hosted by Sommelier and Director of Food and Beverage, Tim Ellison. Mr. Ellison has the distinction of being the only Certified Chef de Cuisine and Sommelier, who also holds the prestigious WSET Diploma of Wine and Spirits in Canada. Tim runs a tight ship. He reprimanded anyone who was speaking out of turn – even his staff. And we were expected to keep quite during the Blind Tasting. It was taken very seriously – I like that approach.

photo: Table setting for the Blind Tasting Challenge.

Our challenge for the Blind Tasting Challenge, to correctly identify eight wines according to the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Systematic Approach to Tasting (WSET). We had to identify the variety of each wine, country of origin, sometimes the region too, as well as special characteristics and even the wine making process for some. There were eight questions per wine which had to be answered. This proved to me, to be more challenging than expected. All of us I think, had a quickening of the pulse as we looked over the 64 questions we were to answer over the next hour. I wiped my hands on my pants as I prepared my nose and palate. A sip of water was in order.

One of the difficulties I had was identifying where in the world the wine was made.

The first wine was obviously a Riesling. It tasted unoaked, but a Riesling from where? Not Washington, that was obvious. It reminded me of a Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York. I guessed wrong, it was actually a German Riesling. I don't drink German Riesling; now you understand my difficulty.

photo: Inspecting the wines at the Blind Tasting.

The second wine was obviously a Chardonnay. Since the theme for the Vancouver International Wine Festival was California wine, with an emphasis on Chardonnay, it had to be a California Chardonnay. It was. I also correctly identified “malolactic fermentation” and “aged on lees” as part of the wine making process.

* Note: I should mention that one of the repeated questions was: "What's the appropriate temperature to serve this wine?" The offered answers were in Celsius! I could not match or convert the correct Celsius temperature to Fahrenheit. If I do this again in Canada, I need to bone up on Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions.

On to the next six wines, all of which were red wines.

photo: A world of red wine to choose from.

I was now lost. 

Hopelessly lost in red wine from France, Canada, California, Australia and Italy – knowledge I did not have during the Blind Tasting. The wines were only identified after the Challenge. The Tanat from Madiran, France and the Primitivo from Salento, Italy...I had zero chance at correct identification. My palate is heavily biased to Washington. If this had been a Washington red wine blind tasting I would have had the chance of identifying variety, region and style. Pit me against red wines from around the world, and my inexperience is obvious.

I need to drink more wine!

Many of the people I chatted with at the Blind Tasting had attended this event before. They returned because they enjoyed it so much. It truly was a challenge and an educational tasting.

photo: Trade Tasting was held in one of the classrooms.

After I turned in my best guesses at the wines, I was invited back into the bowls of the PICA to see where the Trade members were tasting. They did not have the opulent setting we did of embroidered curtains, dark wood trim and views of the harbor; they were in a shiny classroom with glass windows and a stern looking monitor.

photo: Trade Tasting away from the public.

Trade was separated from the public and placed in one of the PICA classrooms. Everyone was quiet and quite seriously focused on the unknown wines. Very different from the almost jovial atmosphere I had just left. I did mention that they take things seriously at the PICA.

On to the Reveal!

photo: Export Director Mark Allen reveals the
2010 Louis Latour Borgogne Pinot Noir.

Once all the forms were turned in, we gathered in the back of Bistro 101 for the big reveal. There was a hush and nervous expectation as we waited to learn the correct answers. Surprise, the principle for each of the wines we tasted were present and they personally revealed their wine to us one by one.

photo: International Manager Grant Bellve reveals the
2010 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz.

A perk of attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival is that principles from many of the wineries were present during the week of wine tasting events. There were ample opportunities to sample wine from around the globe, and to meet the people responsible for making the wine you were drinking. That's pretty cool in my book.

photo: Winemaker Fritz Hasselbach of Gunderloch Weingut
visiting with attendees.

After the big reveal was the reception. We drank the wines we had just been challenged to identify and ate food prepared just for us by the students at the PICA. Truly one of the highlights of the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

photo: Winemaker Fabrice Dubosc of Brumont (left)
Export Director Marke Allen of Louis Latour (right).

My personal favorites from the Blind Tasting?

The 2011 Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling from Rheinhessen, Germany was quite good. And I don't drink a lot of Riesling. Reasonably priced too.

The 2010 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz from Heathcote, Australia was certainly my speed. Shiraz/Syrah is almost always my favorite variety. This wine reminded me that I must drink more Australian wine and that Australia should be on my “must visit” list.

The Blind Tasting Challenge was one of my favorite venues. Beautiful setting, professional staff, a serious and educational venue, well attended, on-site prepared food and world-class wines from...well...from around the world. Inspiring. Participating was a delight. Yes, I want to do this again next year.

If only I lived in Vancouver, I could dine at Bistro 101 and take the full WSET courses. If only. 

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
101-1505 West 2nd Ave
Vancouver, BC

Related Posts:

Coming up, Day Three: Wednesday afternoon activities.


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