Spain's in the spotlight, Tim Pawsey photo

Here at Hired Belly’s lavish corporate headquarters, we’re resting up in preparation for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (March 28-April 3)—one of the longest running and most successful wine events on the continent. If you live in Vancouver and drink wine but have never been (for shame!), there’s no time like the present.

While most special events have all but sold out, you can still get tickets to the International Festival tastings, which this year will see some 760 wines being poured by 176 wineries  from 15 countries.

Yes. It’s a marathon. But if you go with a plan (start with sparkling, then do reds and fortifieds, for example), for the price of a good meal ($95) you can effectively research your wine buying for an entire year!

An added bonus, this year, with Spain in the spotlight, is a slew of sherries (as well as plenty of other fortifieds) on hand—presenting a rare  chance to taste everything from Fino to Amontillado and Pedro Ximénez (PX), paired up with some pretty good food matches.

Sherry: surprisingly versatile, Tim Pawsey

Sherry just happens to be one of the wine world’s most under-appreciated wines, especially when it comes to enjoying a glass with food. From cheese to olives and nuts, ham (of course) and even Oreo cookie ice cream (Think I’m kidding? Try it with PX!),  there really is a sherry for every food and mood. Don’t miss the Caseta tasting bar, where you’ll be able to taste the entire spectrum of sherry style wines.

Spain also gets big props for affordable bubble and there’ll be plenty of Cava on hand, not to mention a couple of aisles worth of serious Rioja, Monastrell, Garnacha, Viura, Albarino and much more …

One reason for the Festival’s enduring success is the requirement that a winery principal be in attendance to pour their wines  and meet the public face-to-face. It’s this truly dynamic opportunity to meet with the people who eat breathe and sleep wine (and drink it too!) that makes the Playhouse Wine Festival so special.  The Wine World—from Spain and everywhere else—really does show up. In droves.

Buy your last minute tasting tix here

If you go …

Don’t wear: After-shave, cologne, perfume, (no, not even the Cabernet Sauvignon scented deodorant you got for Valentine’s), or fancy duds—like your prized white cashmere jacket.

Do wear: comfortable shoes

And please don’t bring your own bigger-than-your-head Burgundy bowl, even if you do think it’s impressive. If you wan’t to upgrade your tasting glass, Pedersen’s has an awesome selection on site from which you may rent.

And one more thing: Spit… (Practise at home if you’re embarrassed—but you won’t be, because everyone else is doing it. At least, they should be.)

Where to eat: If you don’t want to spend critical tasting time (beyond sherry and tapas), grab a bite beforehand.

Oru's 'Bento' is a treat, Tim Pawsey photo

We like: Oru (the ‘Bento’) in the Fairmont Pacific Rim; Steamworks (good cleansing ales and respectable casual fare); and are pretty sure that brand new Hapa Umi (on the plaza, right across from the Pan Pacific and VTCC) will be as good as its sibling joints. And hopping.