'Icons of Oz', a collage that ran in the North Shore News a couple of years back, Tim Pawsey pics

Around this time of year, wine tastings happen with increasing velocity, as every country-winery-region-producer-importer wants to pour their prized elixir for media—or even for real wine buyers—during the crucial pre-holiday buying period.

Every now and then, one comes along that leaves a lasting impression, such as this past week’s Wine Australia extravaganza in Vancouver.

Once we got over our fit of pique (any reference to ‘this holiday season’ in September, even for heathens, should be outlawed!), we scooted over to Buschlen Mowatt Gallery. It just happens to be one of the most worthwhile art joints in town. And a skookum place to hold a tasting.

There’s something about looking at a painting over a glass of decent wine that just seems so appropriately sensual. Particularly when it’s good art, like this:

After the Toba River by Yehouda Chaki, at Vancouver's Buschlen Mowatt Gallery through October 12

(Can you tell I read Jane Ferrari? Except, she likely says ‘dinkum’ instead of ‘skookum’…)

Yalumba traveling ambassador Jane Ferrari has helped put Viognier on the world map, Tim Pawsey photo

We don’t care how many impressive sounding oeno letters you might have after your name, whether you drink a bottle of Riesling for breakfast (well, a glass maybe), or know how to spit better than a llama, large tastings can be a challenge—not only for the tasters but also for the folks who have to choose which wines to show. i.e. Keep Everybody Happy.

The Aussies have been working hard to get the message out that there’s more to Antipodean wine than Shiraz. And more to that big South Pacific island than Riverina or South East Australia. But it does take a while.

Emblematic Aussie wines and their regions, from WineAustralia.com

The big numbers in the pretty chi-chi catalogue said there were some 70 wines on offer. Now I don’t know about you, but offering up a serious snapshot of Oz in just 70 bottles would seem to be a pretty daunting task.

However, these guys pulled it off.  In fact, this was one of the best wine line-ups we’ve seen from anywhere, in a long time. And what it proved is that Australia offers diversity and value at every level.

Not too many dogs here.  … It didn’t take us long to get over our little Scrooge fit!

An added bonus: well matched tastes from chef Dino Renaerts (of West Van’s Fraîche and Beachside Forno) that could have us ordering a small truckload of fresh Dungeness  crab to nibble on with Evans & Tate peach and nectarine toned Margaret River Chard. ($19.99 BCLS).

Dungeness crab spoon with mango and pineapple with Evans&Tate Margaret River Chardonnay 06, Tim Pawsey photo

Here’s a few (from quite a long list) worth checking out. The line-up kept growing, so we finally had to stop.  But you’lll see, there’s plenty here to ponder.

Mon, Tues, Wed night budget specials…

• Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise White 09. (South Australia) There’s a ton of well made, affordable Aussie whites around but this Sauv. Blanc. / Sem. / Vio. blend works just fine for us, because it has a nice touch of zingy acidity balanced with some luscious limey and tropical notes.  It’s a good seafood wine that can also take some heat. $16.99

• Glimmer of Hope Shiraz 08 (South Australia). A big whack of spice wrapped up in a welcoming, plush red-berried package defines this one. The label’s a fun read too. Think pasta with tomato sauce. $14.99 BCLS

• Hardys Butcher’s Gold Shiraz Sangiovese ’07 (South Australia). A good ‘don’t think, drink’ wine: the Sangiovese brings some added complexity. Nice acidity, juicy with an appealing savoury note. Think braised meats. $15.45, or $13.95 during BCLS Oz promo in October. A deal!

• Little Yering Pinot Noir ’08 (Yarra Valley). Arguably the best Pinot deal on the shelves today. Not complex but quite mouth-filling, with bright cherry and strawberry over a savoury background with a touch of oak. $14.99 BCLS

Fun by a half

We’ve just had Canada’s toughest drinking & driving laws dropped on us here out on the wet coast, which presents a challenge for restaurateurs, to say the least. What it will do is propel the sales of half bottles, even more so fun little sparklers such as this…

• Innocent Bystander Moscato 09 (Yarra Valley) First time we’ve ever seen ‘Hubba Bubba’ used in tasting notes but it sounds fine to us. More strawberries and cream, though, are what makes this a sure-fire, off dry crowd pleaser. Great bubbles in a smart package, with a crown cap too.  Really fun and good value too at $13.99 BCLS.  Think ‘st*ck*ng st*ff*r’…

More value

• Coralook Chardonnay ’08 (Mornington Peninsular). Well made cool climate Chard with tropical, citrus and stonefruit notes to a lengthy, slightly spicy end. ($17.99 BCLS)

• Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne ’08 (Nagambie Lakes). If you like luscious Chards or Viognier, give this old-timer a try. Lovely citrus and stonefruit, with a splash of honey and mineral tones wrapped up in some juicy acidity. From a unique, cool climate region north of Melbourne. Think rich seafoods. ($17.99 BCLS)

• Yalumba Y Series Viognier 08 (Barossa). While they actually make four styles (including a dessert wine), it’s the screw cap ‘Y Series’ that can be credited for making affordable Viognier synonymous with Yalumba. Taste it and you’ll see why. Honeysuckle, floral and peach aromas on top with a deliciously floral palate and juicy acidity before a lingering, slightly spicy end. At BCLS $17.99 it’s the deal.

Up a notch

• d’Arenburg Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne ’08 (McLaren Vale) Still in that Marsanne vein, bump it up with this aromatic, citrus, spicy and mineral wine, focused, mouth filling, complex and long finishing. Seared scallops. ($25 BCLS)

• Brokenwood Semillon 08 (Hunter Valley) Classic Oz Semillon of the kind we don’t see enough of. Keen, lean but by no ways mean. Citrus on the nose, bursting with juicy acidity and lingering zest. They suggest oysters ‘au naturel’, and we say ‘Bring us a dozen” At least. ($23.99 BCLS)

• Skillogalee Basket Pressed Shiraz ’06 (Clare Valley). From one of our favourite Riesling producers comes this beguiling Shiraz, with intense mulberry, plummy and leather notes, almost silky tannins with quiet spice, acidity and underlying elegance. They say you could cellar it for 10. But we might have a problem waiting. ($27.99 BCLS)

Pinot on the rise

• Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 06 (Yarra Valley) Earthy and strawberry notes, plus definite toasty oak on the nose, followed by classic cherry and more dark fruit on the palate but with an appealing savoury streak that has you thinking lamb or venison maybe. The oak persists through the close, so we’d be inclined to hide it away for a while yet. ($29.99 BCLS)

• Frogmore Creek Estate Pinot Noir 07 (Tasmania). Hopefully somebody in BC will grab this one quick (as well as the Chard.), as it’s not here yet. We don’t see many, if any, wines from Tasmania but my hunch is that this earthy, mineral and very focused drop, with layers of cherry and oak notes is a pretty good indicator. These wines would be great paired with BC cuisine styles.  Maybe I just get excited at the suggested price point of $25 too.  We can hope …

A couple to tuck away …

• Plunkett-Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 08 (Strathbogie Ranges). This cooler climate treat from Strathbogie (north east of Melbourne) delivers vibrant, spicy and peppery notes on the nose with a definite grip on its very focused, quite youthful palate. Expected in this market soon. est. $40. Included here because—gasp!—we like the label as well as the wine.

Plunkett-Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 08

• Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 07 (South Australia). With fruit sourced primarily from Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills,   Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago calls it ‘a varietally expressive Cab Sauv.’ With 33 percent new (French and American) oak, there’s a fair bit of tannin here that suggests you could tuck it away for a while yet. Right now it definitely needs food. Gago says the 1990 could even use some more time. So this one’s definitely a cellar candidate. “These wines last effortlessly for 15 years” … “old world styles with a new world flavour,” Gago adds. ($40.99 BCLS.)

• Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mouvèdre 05 (Barossa Valley) Barossa’s salute to Southern Rhone has become a bit of a cult wine. Brick red in the glass, the bottle we tasted yielded more raisin notes than we expected but it’s still a great combo of spicy, cedar and vibrant, plummy flavours wrapped in layers of oak spice and easy tannins. You could cellar it, by all means, but we’d be inclined to drink it soonish.  ($39.99 BCLS)