Michael Pinkus has some brief items in this week's Ontario Wine Review that are worth passing along:
Hooray for Hudak . . . Niagara West-Glanbrook member of Provincial Parliament, Tim Hudak, took over the reigns of the Progressive Conservative party in late June. What does this mean for Ontario wine lovers? Well as with all things political time will tell, but Tim is a member of the Facebrook group Boycott Cellared in Canada Wine — could we see real change if he takes office . . . something to think about in 2011 when you cast your ballot.
And They Call it Democracy . . . The Cellared in Canada debate is heating up. It started as just a rumble but now it seems that everyone is getting into the act and putting their two cents worth in. Now it’s time for every Tom, Dick and Harry; Molly, Johnny and Billy to lend their voice to the fray . . . and trust me you want in on this topic. Environmental Defense Canada has started a website where you can sign the petition to “Put the ‘O’ Back in LCBO” — read it and put your name down, if we stir the pot enough we might just make some good broth. This is one case where too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the concocted soup would be a good thing.
The Call to Go Local, Now it’s Wines Turn . . . You can’t turn around and sneeze these days without someone throwing the word “local” at you. “Go local”. “Buy Local”. “100-mile diet”. “Eat what’s in your own backyard”. It’s out there and they’re the buzz words of the 2009 (and for the future). Now it’s time for the restaurants to look at their wine lists and do the same thing says Adam Pesce of Taste T.O. in his article “Where’s the Local Wine? ” A very good question indeed Adam. It’s time to step it up Toronto, wine country is an hour to an hour-and-a-half away (depending on traffic on the QEW), how much more local does it get?
I wrote this article on Monday June 22, 2009, in preparation for a strike at the LCBO. I know it sounds funny that I would say 'I was hoping for a strike' (even if it was going to be a short one), but once again our province avoided a golden opportunity to discover the wines of Ontario first hand. While the LCBO reports huge sales on the day before the strike deadline (~$60-million), our wineries are struggling to stay afloat and our industry looks smack dab in the face of another record breaking (and I mean massive) fruit surplus. It would have been nice if the LCBO would have walked off the job and the wineries themselves would have been able to step in to fill that void. Alas, that did not happen. Our wineries will continue to struggle, the LCBO will continue to make record breaking profits while helping to break the collective backs of our wine industry. For all of you who ran out to grab cases of FuZion and Yellow Tail — you missed a special moment in time to try what's right in your own back yard, and wines that go much better with that Ontario raised BBQ'ed fare you had planned for the weekend or your Ontario grown summer salads. The article below might be a little dated now, but there are reasons why the LCBO didn't, or wasn't allowed to go on strike . . . and those points are not dated. One day it would be nice if a strike actually happened and Ontario wine stepped in to be the savior; one day . . . hopefully before it's too late.
Michael Pinkus, "What Could Have Been", Ontario Wine Review, 2009-06-25
Michael Pinkus reports on the latest stealth device for the VQA: hiding the VQA designator, to make it harder to find and (co-incidentally, I'm sure) boost the sales of pretend-Canadian wines:
What, you didn't know about the new guidelines for the VQA symbol on a bottle of wine? The VQA didn't consult with you? Well they sure listened to their membership — the vocal ones anyway — or maybe it was the ones with the deeper pockets. These wineries felt that the big VQA logo on the capsule made the wines look cheap and gaudy, so it’s out with the logo on the capsule (or at least it has become optional), where it's easy to spot, and onto the label, where it can be missed. Some wineries are putting the logo on the "back" label which in truth, should be the front label though you would think it the back label because it has all the info on it but . . . it gets so confusing. The bottom line is that the easy to identify VQA logo, which formally appeared on the capsule of every bottle of 100% Ontario grape wine, and we have been told to look for in countless radio ads, is no longer a pre-requisite. That simple to spot assurance that what you were buying was 100% homegrown is now a thing of the past. In my opinion, this plays right into the hands of those 'Cellared In' makers who don't have to have any large identifier on their bottles at all, and of course the LCBO conveniently mixes these in with the 100% stuff. What, you didn't know that either? Surely you knew that the LCBO is the biggest offender in mixing up the cellared and 100% VQA wines (they’re not alone mind you, both Peller and Jackson-Triggs do it in their private stores, you know the one’s you find in the supermarkets — Wine Racks and Vineyards Estate) — yup soon you’ll be playing the game of "Spot the Difference".
[. . .]
We may never get rid of Cellared in Canada wine, there's just too much money in it for the companies that are allowed to produce it. The least they can do is be honest and truthful about what’s in the bottle — clearly mark it on the label. Tell the consumer where the grapes are really from, give us a breakdown — and not just with those teeny-tiny letters on the back label which makes the small print at the bottom of contract look large. Put it right on the front label in a font and size we can all read: Jackson-Triggs Sauvignon Blanc (30% Chilean, 40% South African, 30% Ontario — stretched with 20% water), French Cross (70% Australian, 30% Ontario — stretched using 10% water) or whatever the breakdown may be. What your shocked that Jackson-Triggs makes Cellared in Canada wine? That French Cross is not from France? Nope . . . Jackson-Triggs white label brand is Cellared in Canada product from Vincor, French Cross is the same kind of wine produced by the folks at Andrew Peller — the only difference, Jackson-Triggs proudly splashes their name cross the front label, so you automatically assume that because they are a Canadian company you are buying a homegrown product. Peller at least has the decency to couch their name in small print on the back label or elsewhere. Ah, foolish consumer, think back to what Laurie MacDonald inferred with her comments: caveat emptor, buyer beware, read your back labels, bring a magnifying glass when you shop in the Ontario section, or visit your eye doctor for a stronger prescription, whatever it takes, but pay attention ‘cuz we don’t have your back.
Richard Best is hoping that common sense will prevail as Ontario's government considers a bill that would (slightly) liberalize Ontario's fruit wineries:
Parliament is now considering a bill (C-132 2008) that would allow farm wineries to sell their fruit wines at farmers markets in Ontario. The main reason given for a "no" vote to this bill is the fear of farm markets becoming drunken orgies. OK, that's overstating the issue, but this is a recurring theme that's brought up whenever there is a suggestion to expand the retail availability of locally-made alcohol products.
Let me say, emphatically, that this seriously outdated yet pervasive attitude shows a profound lack of respect for the citizens of Ontario. When I think of when and where alcohol is a problem, invariably the LCBO is involved, not wineries. Teens get their booze from the LCBO. Bars — often with large parking lots to accommodate their drink-and-drive customers — get their product mainly from the LCBO. Special Event permits do nothing to regulate consumption; they merely glean a few more "tax" dollars from consumers and recruit more sales for the LCBO. This list could go on.
When I think of farmers markets, I think of health-conscious people who are environmentally and socially responsible. To suggest that someone who, on a sunny Saturday morning, might buy a $15 bottle of strawberry wine at a farmers market and then be overcome by the need to consume it in the parking lot or on the way home is an insult to these people, to farmers and to society. It is society who is the watchdog on alcohol consumption, not the AGCO and certainly not the LCBO. The LCBO does little to educate people on the problems associated with misuse. Instead they put "Please drink responsibly" in small print on the expensive, glossy brochures they send out en masse at least monthly, where they boast about the pleasures of this bottle or that.
Ontario's wineries and micro-breweries are also watchdogs for responsibility. Staff are restricted in how much they can pour for any one person, and they are trained to recognize when someone's had too much. Probably more significantly, most winery shops close their doors at 5:00 or 5:30, as do micro-breweries. And farmers markets typically close at 2:00. It's also been shown that, of all beverage alcohol products, wine is the least likely to be abused.
So, to our decision makers, please show some respect and enlightenment when it comes to our wine industry and its customers, and let them show you that wine sold at farmers markets will not trigger the downfall of civilization, just as it hasn't in the many provinces and states that allow it.
Ontario's alcohol control laws are still broadly similar to the immediate post-Prohibition era, and Ontario politicians clearly still think of Ontarians and other Canadians as being too weak to resist the call to over-indulge. This bill's tiny liberalization is a good example of how little the government trusts the common sense and responsible nature of the average citizen.
I'm afraid I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this bill defeated with little or no debate . . .
Richard Best, aka the Frugal Oenophile, has posted the third chapter of his novelistic version of how to impart wine knowledge.
According to this article in Pravda, Russian beer is being regulated:
The content of toxic substances — lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, radioactive nuclides, caesium, pesticides and ergot — must be restricted in the Russian beer. Parasites of bread reserves — insects and ticks — must not appear in the production process. Beer must be made without the use of ethyl alcohol. Labels on the end product must provide full and true information for customers. These are a few of the new technical regulations on beer; the document was submitted to the Russian parliament, the State Duma, on Tuesday, The Vremya Novostei newspaper wrote.
A couple of thoughts on this, first "Yikes! I'm not drinking any Russian beer after reading that!", but second "Wait a second . . . has this gone through a typical media thought filter?"
It's a rare media outlet that ever has second thoughts about regulation — any regulation — being a good thing. As reported, this appears to be a good thing. After all, who wants to drink beer with contaminants like "lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury" in measurable quantities?
But just because it's going to be restricted in future doesn't mean it's already in the product. For instance, you could pass a regulation saying that Australian beer must contain no more than 1 microgram of U-238 per serving or that South African beer was limited to a maximum of 16 millilitres of liquid yak vomit. The media in those jurisdictions could be depended on to jump on the story as "OZ beer no longer radioactive!" or "SAB not allowed to put Yak Vomit in Beer!"
Doesn't mean it ever contained those things, just that it's now legally not allowed to contain 'em. After all, brewing is a pretty simple process involving a relatively small number of ingredients to produce the basic beer — water, hops, and (usually) malted grain. It's possible (even likely) that some Russian beers have included contaminants from improperly treated water, badly maintained brewing equipment, or (especially if rye is the source of the malt) traces of ergot.
Hmmm. On third thought, maybe I'll skip Russian beer, just in case . . .
Bennett Traub had an unusual dinner earlier this month:
The week started off with a bang on Easter Sunday; not normally a holiday I particularly take note of, or celebrate. Usually I just have a quiet dinner at home, no different from any other evening meal. Yet several weeks earlier, at my wife’s urging, we had arranged to get together for dinner with Al Stewart. While perhaps not a household name today, you may remember the name if you were listening to pop or folk music in the 1970’s. Al had a few pretty sizable hits back then, beginning with “Year of the Cat”, to be followed by “Time Passages” and a few others as well. He still records and performs, and in fact will embark on a tour of England later this month. I had met Al at a dinner with one of my wine groups, the X-pensive Winos. An L.A. resident, Al is not a member of the group, but he had been invited by one of our members who is a former Capitol Records executive. Turns out that Al is quite an oenophile and experienced wine geek. He even titled one of his albums “Down in the Cellar”. While his contemporaries in the music world were smoking, snorting or shooting their brains out, Al was getting high the old-fashioned way, by drinking First Growth Claret, Grand Cru Burgundy, and the best wines he could find from France and elsewhere. Affording the best was certainly no problem in his pop-star heyday, and he has drunk wines most of us can only dream of. Beyond that, however, he’s a really down-to-earth, unassuming guy with a great sense of humor, intelligence, and a genuine enthusiasm for the fine art of eating and drinking.
Anyway, my wife Linda and Al had hit it off at a Winos dinner last December, so we decided to arrange to meet for dinner at a West L.A. restaurant, Josie, to enjoy some good conversation, and even better Burgundies. Al said he’d bring some whites; I was to bring the reds. The results were memorable.
Al Stewart is one of my all-time favourite musicians, and I'm a wine fan . . . from my biased point of view, that would have been a great combination of interests. I note from Al's website (linked above) that he'll be in Toronto for two shows in August. I'm adding that to my calendar . . .
If you've read more than one or two posts here, you'll know I'm not a fan of big government, especially when that government moves into areas far better served by private enterprise. Ontario's liquor laws are still just emerging from the Prohibition era, and are strongly tilted in favour of large conglomerates and against smaller producers (it's much easier for the government to oversee a few giants than to actively
interfere with oversee dozens or hundreds of smaller firms).
In an ideal world, I'd prefer to see the government get out of the alcohol business altogether . . . but that's not likely to happen. In the real world, the Ontario government strictly limits how Ontario wineries are allowed to sell and market their wines. The vast majority of Ontario wine sold is through the LCBO/Vintages channel. The LCBO is the only way small wineries are allowed to sell their wines aside from direct sales at the winery itself (even the recent innovation allowing winery-to-home sales is tightly controlled).
Given all of this, you'd expect (if you don't live in Ontario, that is) that the LCBO would be actively assisting small wineries to increase their market share and to increase the LCBO's proportion of domestic sales. But that's not the way things are done. Michael Pinkus explains:
Early last week, a winemaker called me up to say that there was scuttlebutt in Niagara that the government "kickback" program, to help small wineries get their wines into the LCBO, is at risk of being axed. Known as the VQASP (VQA Support Program) it provided a 30% return to the wineries whose wines got into the LCBO and Vintages stores. This encouraged more wineries to submit wines to the LCBO (previously they were reluctant to put their wines into the provincial monopoly shops because there was no profit to be made, wineries realized more money by selling their wines out the cellar door, even if it was a slower process and to a smaller audience). This program subsidized the sale of these wines and allowed more Ontarians to see, and buy, a greater array of VQA Ontario wines from wineries they probably didn’t even know existed. (In the last three years of the program, the number of Ontario wineries in the LCBO rose from 15 to 50). It is because of this program that many small wineries saw light at the end of a long harsh tunnel; some wineries even increased production in the hopes of having enough wine to offer to the LCBO and get the exposure the shelves which they so desperately needed (in order to be listed the LCBO needs a minimum supply so that all their stores can get the required product). With the cancellation of the VQASP, those wineries are now at risk of being overstocked and putting themselves into a deeper financial hole then they were before. At a time when the government is ear-marking millions of dollars to bail out the car manufacturers, who are just trying to maintain the status quo — the government has decided to cancel help to an industry that is growing, creating jobs and brings tourism to this province. I have a colleague that calls Ontario "a have not province" and something we will not have is a wine industry if this continues to be the way wineries are treated. It seems that the current government is prepared to keep them down.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is your government hard at work. Do they not realize that the "O" in LCBO stands for Ontario? How quickly we forget that when we walk into the store and are faced with shelf after shelf of Chilean, Australian and South African wine. I have noticed that when I enter a US liquor store, I have to search high and low for the "foreign" wines, having to wade through row after row of California, Oregon and Washington State wine. In the LCBO it's the exact opposite — I wade through every other country before I find my country's/province's wines and who knows, maybe I'm still buying Chilean, Australian or South African afterall, if you don't examine the label with a magnifying glass, you could get stuck with a Cellared in Canada wine.
Again, I'd prefer the government got the heck out of the liquor retail/wholesale business altogether, but if they won't do that, they should at least try to make it a level playing field for both domestic and foreign products, and for both small wineries and large multinational conglomerates. I've written about this before.
Richard Best, aka the Frugal Oenophile, has posted the second chapter of his novelistic version of how to impart wine knowledge.
Natalie MacLean has posted a useful online food and drink advisor, which you can use to best complement the food you want to serve. You can work it either way: select the food and get recommended wines to match, or select the wine first and see what foods would work with it.
If I'm not drinking wine, my beer preference runs to the heavily-hopped. India Pale Ale (IPA) is traditionally one of the beers that is made with lots and lots of hops. It was also transported thousands of miles (in its most traditional form). In their quest for an authentic IPA, BrewDog is taking their brew to sea:
A Scottish brewery claims to have produced the first authentic India pale ale (IPA) in almost 200 years by ageing the beer aboard a trawler in the North Sea.
BrewDog, a Scottish micro-brewery based in Fraserburgh, has used an original recipe to produce the ale, which was traditionally matured during the 100-day sea journey from Britain to India.
While many brewers still produce IPA on land, BrewDog’s owners James Watt and Martin Dickie decided to make the beer the old-fashioned way.
The pair prepared eight oak barrels which spent seven-and-a-half weeks aboard the Ocean Quest, a mackerel trawler captained by Watt, who is also a fisherman.
In the current issue of OntarioWineReview, Michael Pinkus reports on the Pinot Noir Challenge, a blind tasting of Ontario Pinot Noir conducted over four evenings.
Judging was done on a simple ten-point scale: one being worst, ten being best. Because these tastings were done blind, nobody knew the wines or the prices — all they knew was they were tasting Pinot Noir. Our panels judged the wines based on four criteria: nose and taste — combining these two numbers made up their "do you like it" score; likelihood to buy — this score was based on the question, "if the wine was in your usual price range or budget 'would you buy it'?". The final criterion was based on value. After scoring the first three it was time to reveal the price of the bottle. People would once again go back to their ten-point scale and determine whether that wine delivered for its price. This is the category that can make or break a wine . . . good value wines rose, and perceived a overpriced bottles fell, down the ladder. In the end, it was those wines that delivered right now that took the crown. Some of our more serious judges took age-ability into consideration, but most were looking for immediate satisfaction in their wine; after all 90% of all bottles purchased are consumed within 24 hours and 95% within 48 hours — the shelf life of a bottle of wine, after it leaves the winery or store, is very short.
Back when I started being serious about Ontario wine, Thomas & Vaughan was one of my favourite wineries. Michael Pinkus reports that things went from bad to worse to disastrous:
[T]he most recent chapter in the Thomas and Vaughan story is a long complicated one, full of missteps, misjudging and missed opportunity. Suffice it to say that the new owners had no idea about being in the wine business here in Ontario. They screwed over many growers and suppliers, delayed payments, ordered too much Icewine, and (gasp) pulled out the almost twenty year old Cabernet Franc vines from the estate vineyard, claiming that nobody knows or buys that stuff. I met the now (or soon to be) former owner once, at the Ontario Wine Awards, and it was my impression that he was as arrogant as he was clueless about the wine industry: my brief discussion about his pricing policy fell on deaf ears. Recently, the winery has fallen into receivership by decreed of BDO (according to the note on the now shuttered doors) — there are also rumours about wine being secreted out of cellar just days before the bank came by with their padlocks . . . true or not there seems to be little question as to the fate of the winery. There is a bright spot in all of this. Some of those who were negatively affected by the shenanigans of the owner might have found a way to bring some of the “spectacular” 2007 vintage wines to market; we'll have to all wait and see. As for Thomas & Vaughan, some believe this is the end of the road for this once illustrious winery; others are wondering if financing can be secured so that the winery can resume regular operations. In either case, things look grim at T&V.
One of my earliest blog posts was about Thomas & Vaughan:
Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the winery has been taken over by EastDell, and that therefore the prices on the website are out of date. The Cabernet 2001 blend is now $14.95 per bottle, which makes it rather less of a deal than it used to be. Expect things to be up in the air while the new owners decide what to do with their acquisition.
There was also a post from later in 2004 which included an interesting detail which seems to coroborate what Michael refers to in his article:
Thomas & Vaughan was purchased earlier this year by neighbouring EastDell Estates, so the staff has completely changed over from our last visit. The new owners are running T&V as a separate operation, so the name and brand will continue to be used.
Visiting the winery was rather sad, however, because during the time we were there, a local artist came in and took down all of the art that he'd had hanging on the walls of the tasting room. I didn't get the details, but it sure left the place looking half-abandoned.
For nearly 11 years, the Wall Street Journal has been running a wine column. Here are their top 11 most frequently asked questions:
7. Should I decant? Generally, no — at least, not at first. We enjoy tasting a wine from the first sip to the last and it will get plenty of air in those big glasses while we swirl. If we taste a wine and it's so tight that it needs decanting, we can decant; if we decant first and then find that the wine lost some fruit to the air, there's no going back. (Of course, if a wine needs to be separated from sediment, that's another matter.)
[. . .]
3. Why does wine give me headaches; sulfites, right? Wrong. Sulfites cause very severe allergic reactions in a small number of people, even death in extreme cases, which is why there's a warning on the bottle, but sulfites don't cause headaches. Wine headaches are a serious issue, but the causes are highly personal. Some people get headaches only from red wine and some get them just from, say, German wine. It has to do with histamines and all sorts of other complex science. It really is best to talk with your doctor about this.
3a. But wines in Europe don't have sulfites, right? Wrong. All wines contain sulfites (it's a natural byproduct of the winemaking process) and almost all wines contain added sulfites, all over the world. It's just that the U.S. has required a sulfite warning for many years and Europe started doing that more recently.
Actually, when I'm serving red wine at home, I almost always decant . . . even the cheaper stuff. It certainly allows young wines with harsh tannins to become a bit easier to drink, and an hour of decanting allows some of the tightness to ease off. I've been told by some that decanting is a waste of time, that it's a cargo cult relic from the imagined days of greater refinement in manners, but if it is a placebo . . . I find it works on me.
The lead article in this edition of Ontario Wine Review is Michael Pinkus expressing his deep disgust with the decision to make the "official" Vancouver Olympic wines from imported grapes:
This past fall (2008) it was quietly announced that Jackson-Triggs (Vincor) would be selling their "Esprit" Olympic wine in the newly created "Olympic retail stores" in British Columbia. This raised a red flag just last week, when a colleague of mine found the announcement during a routine web search. He wondered if the wines available in these stores (2 red / 2 white) were to be the VQA or Cellared in Canada Esprit wines. As many of you know back in May 2008 (Newsletter #82) I called Vincor out on the carpet for putting the inferior non-VQA wines into the official Olympic Esprit wines. My comments caused quite some controversy for Vincor and made them into "damage-control" (aka. spin mode). They told us that a VQA wine was indeed on the horizon, and published an explanation on their website as to why they went the non-VQA route. Let's focus on the question at hand: will the wines in the Official Olympic Stores be real Canadian VQA wines, will Vincor honor their pledge of providing 100% VQA wine during the Olympics and for all Olympic events? Additional fuel was added to this controversial fire as Vincor ramped up their advertising for this product. One such ad appeared on the back cover of the latest issue of the LCBO’s popular Food & Drink magazine, touting Esprit (non-VQA) as the Olympic wine.
[. . .] the Olympics is an event on the world stage and has the potential of putting Canadian wine onto that stage. People from all over the world will be coming to the Olympics and will get a chance to try our wines at events, buy it in stores and take it back to their homelands . . . Wouldn't it be shameful if they get home and realize they have a bottle of Cellared in Canada wine. The use of Cellared wine to promote a Canadian event is deplorable, though I am ready to tip my hat to Vincor if by 2010 the Cellared in Canada CRAP is off the shelves and 100% VQA is on the tables at Olympic events and on the shelves of British Columbia wine stores . . . Nothing less would satisfy this writer or any other lover and supporter of the Canadian wine industry. We are competing on the world stage during the Olympics, 100% VQA wine should be given that same opportunity when the world comes to our door. If the Chinese could do it in Beijing (100% Chinese made wine was served at their events), then lord knows we Canadians can do it too. Keep your eyes open, once again, Vincor I remind you, a nation is watching.
Michael Pinkus offers some sage financial advice in these tough times:
If you had purchased $1000.00 of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49.00. With Enron, you would have had $16.50 left of the original $1000.00. With WorldCom, you would have had less than $5.00 left. If you had purchased $1000 of Delta Air Lines stock you would have $49.00 left. On the other hand, if you had purchased $1,000.00 worth of wine one year ago, drank all the wine, then turned in the bottles for the LCBO recycling REFUND, you would have had $214.00. Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.
Amusing, but I suspect that the quality of wine you could buy that would return $214 in bottle deposits would more than counteract any pleasure you might feel in being so economical. (20 cents deposit per bottle, so over a thousand bottles . . . retailing for less than a dollar per bottle! Your liver would never forgive you.) I suspect a decimal place got moved in the original calculation . . . perhaps after a few too many under-a-dollar bottles of wine?
New Scientist looks at a technique for rapidly aging wine:
Pass an undrinkable, raw red wine between a set of high-voltage electrodes and it becomes pleasantly quaffable. "Using an electric field to accelerate ageing is a feasible way to shorten maturation times and improve the quality of young wine," says Hervé Alexandre, professor of oenology at the University of Burgundy, close to some of France's finest vineyards.
No matter how impatient or undiscriminating you may be, fresh wine is undrinkable and can have horrible after-effects. Expect an upset stomach, a raging thirst and the world's nastiest hangover. The youngest a wine can be drunk is six months. Most, especially reds, take longer to achieve the required balance and complexity. The finest can take 20 years to reach their peak.
During ageing, wine becomes less acid as the ethanol reacts with organic acids to produce a plethora of the fragrant compounds known as esters. Unpleasant components precipitate out and the wine becomes clearer and more stable. Red wines mellow as bitter, mouth-puckering tannin molecules combine with each other and with pigment molecules to form larger polymers, at the same time releasing their grip on volatile molecules that contribute to the wine's aroma.
H/T to Nick Packwood.
Michael Pinkus laments the incredibly boneheaded decision back in 2005 that continues to taint the Ontario wine industry:
I still get e-mails about the one-percent rule, which continues to be one of the biggest sticking points for the Canadian wine buying public. I'm not sure how many times I'll have to go through this but here goes again: the 99-1 rule was a one shot deal for the 2005 vintage and affected only "Cellared in Canada" wine. The issue of confusion really hit home when a fellow wine writer asked me if it was still practiced . . . for God’s sake, if my esteemed colleague, who should be informed on this matter, is confused how do we expect the wine buying public to get it straight? This crazy policy was never clearly explained, it was announced and then died as a news topic — sure it was a farcical policy, but then nobody did any follow up for the public. I say again: it was never fully explained that the 99-1 rule only applied to "Cellared in Canada" wines (those that have always used a blend of foreign and domestic grapes) for that single vintage (2005) and this ruling had no effect on VQA wines — which are always 100% Ontario product, period the end. The easiest way to solve this problem would be to get rid of the Cellared wines altogether; however, as it was explained to me during a breakfast meeting with one of our larger wineries (when I got into big trouble during the Olympic wine scandal — see newsletter #82) — this will never happen: too much money is involved and deep pockets create the law — but then again am I telling you something you don't already know?
[. . .]
Yes the LCBO, whose middle name is "control"; and where VQA means nothing. I say this because they can't seem to organize their shelves between "Cellared in" and genuine "VQA" wines. The last time I brought this up, it prompted one of my readers to ask: "when did the "O" in LCBO change from "Ontario" to "only"?" I've been into many stores within the liquor monopoly where the VQA wines (those made from 100% Ontario grapes) are intermingling and fraternizing with the Cellared garbage. Sure we outlawed segregation, but here's an instance where that policy might actually be effective. I say separate these wines out entirely . . . real Ontario wines on one side of the store, cellared stuff goes all the way to the back corner . . . make it a walk of shame to be buying this stuff. Don't make it so accessible at the front of the store, with large displays and bright signage: there’s no pride in this wine, it's all about making cheap plonk. If you will allow me to come right out and say it: these are the bastard children of the Ontario wine industry, and they should be cast out of the system, not be allowed to carry the word Canada anywhere on the label — and there should be truth on the label stating the grapes' country of origin and percentage. Our grape growers struggle while our big wineries flourish by putting money into foreign countries, money that would best be spent here at home making quality VQA products.
Just to show that I'm not totally wine-centric, here's a useful article debunking several common myths about beer.
Myth #1: The Guinness served in Ireland is different to the rest of the world
Actually, the Guinness served in Ireland is most likely the same as that served in Boston or Berlin. However, many people will attest that Guinness simply tastes better in Ireland, which is why the myth spread. There's a certain amount of sentimentality in this myth, but when you dig into it, most of the reasoning is pretty circumstantial.
There are a few reasons why it may taste better in Ireland — most likely freshness and rapid keg turnover (a pub in Dublin will serve the freshest Guinness in the world) — but the actual product is not any different that the black stuff served around the world. Also, a Guinness drinker in Ireland is guaranteed to have their drink poured correctly in Ireland than in some parts of the world, which will have an impact on the quality of the experience.
Myth #2: Lite beers will help you lose weight
On average, a lite beer will have 90-100 calories, while a regular beer might have under 200. In the grand scheme of things, lite beers will contribute very little to your dietary goals, and considering their typical lack of taste, you'd be better off drinking one or two regular beers.
One myth they didn't directly address is that English beers are supposed to be drunk warm. They're supposed to be drunk at cellar temperature, which in the days before refrigeration would have been somewhere in the 50°F range . . . cool, but certainly not chilled. Central heating came much later to Britain than to most of North America . . . few rooms in England would have been kept as warm as North Americans think of as "room temperature".
Wine fans in Ontario should make this an annual purchase: Billy's Best Bottles: Wines for 2009. It's far and away the most convenient guide to what is available in the LCBO. Billy concentrates on the wines that deliver high value for the money, including many wines under $12.
This year's volume is now perfect-bound, rather than having a spiral binding, so it's a bit less easy to use but won't snag on things as easily as the earlier editions could do.
He's changed the organization a bit this year, although he still groups the wines into appropriate categories:
Within the categories, he's now listing the wines by country of origin . . . just as they're located at your local LCBO outlet. This does make it easier for the obsessive-compulsive buyer to locate individual wines . . . and almost everything he lists will be stocked at most stores. The few that are not at your local store can be ordered in (this is a standard, although not well-known service of the LCBO).
For folks in other provinces, most of the wines can be ordered using the CSPC number listed with the wine (or at least they can tell you if the wine is available in your area).
It's not an Ontario version of Robert Parker's tome, but I think it's far more practical. There's a lot of boring wine at the LCBO, and you can avoid a lot of it by following Billy's recommendations.
Clive sent me this information, which I'm passing along as a public service . . . and also because it's rather amusing:
Ontario's Liquor Control Board is recalling an Italian wine, but not for the usual reasons.
Some of the 1,500 ml bottles of 2007 D'Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie are nothing but water.
[. . .]
"The only reason we decided to do the public recall is because we stand behind the quality of our products 100 per cent," Soleas said. "And a lot of these products, because they are Christmas items, they are going to be gifted and I didn't want to have people surprised on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve opening this product and finding water instead of wine."
"It was a human error basically, it wasn't a tampering issue at all," he added.
The problem was at the bottling plant where the bottles are flushed out with water.
"I guess someone was waiting for Jesus to turn it into wine," he joked.
Of course, given that a major American brewery is busy pushing its primary product because of its easy drinkability, this might be an ideal "wine" to serve to that audience . . . very little could be easier drinking than water.
It's the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. Join old H.L. Mencken in a celebratory quaff:
Michael Pinkus doesn't mind telling us that he'd like to see the end of the LCBO:
Nobody dislikes the LCBO more than a wine writer, it's not being boastful, it's just a fact. I feel that those who shop only at the LiCk-BO and don't go to trade events are the lucky ones. They don't know what they are missing. They don't get to try some mouth-watering wines that make you covet them immediately. They know not of the insanely cheap prices our friends south of the border get, the discounts, mail in rebates, 3-for-$10 specials, or heaven forbid, a $2 bottle of wine. They'll never know that some of the wines you try at these events are only sold through an agent by the case, but many people don't buy by the case, they want 3 or 4 at the most. "Get in with a friend," you'll be told, "our hands are tied." And tied they are, by, you guessed it, the protective liquor board, saving our cities and towns from the wilds of alcohol.
It's those who travel outside the country that get the biggest shock of all. They find out that Mondavi makes a true Bordeaux blend called Vinetta, or that Rosenblum makes about 800 kinds of Zinfandel . . . and yet their Ontario agent can't get it, never heard of it or won't bring it in. If you try on your own, well you'll pay close to, if not more than, double what you paid for it outside the country, thus taking all the fun and value out of your little finds and giving you a headache bigger than if you drank the whole bottle yourself in half-an-hour on an empty stomach. Sure this system we have might work for a case of 2-Buck-Chuck, but "I-can't-believe-it's-only-12-bucks" a wine find gets close to $30 once you get it home where the LCBO puts its grubby little duties and taxes on it . . . then it just doesn't seem like such a deal anymore, does it?
Folks, the LCBO is here to stay, I don't like it, but something tells me we have to work with it. Trust me, there is nothing more that I would like to do than walk into Larry's Liquor-Licious or Bob's Booze Boutique and hunt around looking for his "deal of the day", buy 2-for-1 Lafite, or save 25% on white sticker items. But the boys and girls at the BO have us by the short and curlies, like an ex-lover who has a naked picture of you and decided the world must see it 'cuz you're running for public office.
Well, we're unpacking after our long-anticipated week of vacation time down in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The cottage was well-suited to our needs, being well off the beaten track — in fact the road that led to the cottage was steep, twisty, and (in places) dirt and dust with only a bit of gravel (the Quotemobile was very dusty after every trip in and out of the cottage). If nothing else, it made sure we were not going to be bothered by the coming-and-going of through traffic.
The dogs seemed to enjoy the change of location . . . eventually. The first couple of days were a bit tense for Xander, while Buffy had issues with stairs in unexpected locations (she's partly blind and navigates more by memory, I suspect); by the middle of the week, she'd gotten comfortable with the new configuration of furniture and rooms. Xander loved the idea of a house with so many doors; his favourite routine was to ask to go out one door into the back yard and zoom around the property at top speed and come back in through a different door. He did it so often that Victor got into the habit of opening the second door immediately after closing the first one.
Aside from the whole "get away from it all" urge (or as the SF fans used to say "to GAFIAte"), part of the idea was to do a bit of wine tasting, as the Finger Lakes region hosts dozens of wineries. Things didn't go exactly to plan, as I only managed to get in to visit a small number on this trip, but it largely confirmed the things I'd discovered on our first visit to the region last year. (Which I now notice never got blogged . . . because I started the new job immediately after getting back, and had fewer opportunities to blog for a few weeks.)
Anyway, the area is lovely, the wineries are plentiful, and it's far enough off the interstate that the traffic is rarely a huge problem. It struck me though that even though the wine business has been growing rapidly in that region, they're still several years behind the Niagara region as a whole. There are some very good individual wineries, and what appears to be an increasing determination to use vinifera grapes, but a lot of what is produced is the kind of sweet or semi-sweet wine from hybrid or native grape varieties that Niagara used to produce by the tanker-load in the 1960s and 70s.
We sampled some very good cabernet and pinot noir, some adequate reislings and chardonnays, and some sickly sweet vidal, catawba, and concord. At least one winery in the area is still selling one of their sparkling wines as "Champagne". Of course, if what sells is the sweet wine, they're well advised to produce it . . .
Last year, we'd managed to visit Glenora, Earle Estates Meadery, and Dr. Konstantin Frank (on Keuka Lake), plus a few others whose names I don't recall. This year, we tasted wines from the just-longer-than-walking-distance Silver Thread Vineyard (biodynamic, mostly vinifera), Standing Stone (mostly vinifera, including one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines we tasted), Poplar Ridge "Wine without bull" Vineyards (mostly hybrid and native grape varieties), Shalestone (red vinifera wines exclusively), and Penguin Bay (sparkling wines made from vinifera and non-vinifera grapes). I also visited Lamoreaux Landing, but they were dealing with a couple of large groups and it was so busy that I couldn't get served at the tasting bar, and we arrived at Hermann Wiemer just as they were closing up for the day. I was sorry to have missed getting in to Wiemer, as they specialize in Riesling . . . much of what I'd tasted on this trip was underwhelming. I have heard that the Finger Lakes can produce excellent quality Riesling, but I hadn't found much to back up that hope (but there are still dozens of wineries I've not yet visited). Most of the smaller wineries are only open on weekends, and with us arriving late on Saturday and leaving early the following Saturday, the timing was just off.
Overall, I most enjoyed the visits to Shalestone and Standing Stone, both for the quality of the wine and the conversation. Rob, the winemaker at Shalestone, was a very interesting man to meet, and we'd still have been talking an hour later if more visitors hadn't arrived to save him from being bored to death. I especially enjoyed his 2005 "Synergy", a blend of Syrah, Merlot, and Cab Sauv. At Standing Stone, I enjoyed the 2006 Pinot Noir and their 2005 "Pinnacle", a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Cab Sauv.
Poplar Ridge was, um, unique among the wineries I've ever visited, in that it had the look and feel of a western tavern or wild-west saloon. While I was there, there was what appeared to be a wedding party — the girl wearing the tiara-and-veil was the clue — getting sozzled on sweet wines (fortunately, there was a stretch limo in the parking lot with the driver not partaking). I don't know how many wineries they'd already visited, but the noise level was rising steadily by the time I left.
In spite of the 2005 Supreme Court decision which should have opened up the wine trade, there are still lots of barriers between wineries and wine drinkers. Jacob Sullum looks at the situation in Indiana, for example:
Since then (and before then too), liquor wholesalers have sought to protect their government-granted privileges by portraying direct shipment of boutique wines as the average teenager's favorite way to catch a buzz. In Indiana, for instance, preventing underage alcohol purchases is the rationale for a requirement that any consumer seeking to have wine delivered directly to his home must first have a "face-to-face meeting" with the producer, which is not exactly convenient if you live in Indianapolis and your favorite winery is in California or Oregon. Several Indiana consumers challenged this rule, arguing that it puts out-of-state wineries at a disadvantage.
In a decision (PDF) issued a couple of weeks ago, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit disagreed. Although visiting one California winery might be more difficult for a Hoosier than visiting one Indiana winery, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote, "Many oenophiles vacation in wine country, and on a tour through Napa Valley to sample the vintners' wares a person could sign up for direct shipments from dozens of wineries." By contrast, "Wine tourism in Indiana is less common, and the state's vineyards — which altogether have fewer than 350 acres under cultivation — are scattered around the state, making it hard for anyone to sign up at more than a few of Indiana's wineries."
Michael Pinkus points out how not to market Canadian wine:
Jackson-Triggs has two new wines out to celebrate the spirit of the Olympics called "Esprit" — a Merlot and a Chardonnay. Now, let's forget about what's in the bottle for the moment and focus on the outside — the packaging, more specifically, the label. Yes, it's a standard bottle and sure the label isn't as eye-catching as it could be, but take a good hard look at the label, when you get a chance, and you'll notice something's missing. I'll give you a hint by telling you what the wine is celebrating: The 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia, currently and arguably Canada's hottest wine region. Time's up?
If you guessed that a VQA logo is missing you'd be absolutely correct. Canada's official wine of the Vancouver games is a blended, cellared in Canada bulk wine, from "imported and domestic" wines, all whipped up by our most recognizable "industry leader". This to me is a crime and a slap in the face to B.C. and all of Canada's wineries. This would be the equivalent of the Albertville (France) Olympic games (1992) having Masi as their official wine; the Sydney (Australia) games (2000) with a George DuBoeuf produced product or the Turin (Italy) games (2006) relying on Wolf Blass for their wine. Am I the only one appalled by this action?
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of marketing self-inflicted wounds.
[. . .] chilling red [wine] isn't a crime, it's the way its always been . . . it's just the world around us that has changed; let me explain. Today, room temperature is ~70 degrees (21 Celsius) — but in the days when room temperature for reds was first adopted, room temperature wasn't controlled by central air or ambient heat; it was a drafty old French chateau. Here you were lucky if rooms got into mid-50's, and walking around with shorts and a t-shirt on indoors was more likely to give you hypothermia than any kind of comfort. So when you went down to the basement and pulled a bottle off the wine cellar shelf to serve with dinner, it was already "chilled". The idea that red wine, to be served properly, had to be stored next to the oven, was perpetuated by restaurants — and somehow that's just become [accepted as] the norm.
Wine should not be the same temperature as your soup . . . too warm and you kill off all those great subtle flavours. Same can be said about too cold, but if it's too cold, it can always warm up to produce those flavours — too warm, and you're being even more uncouth by dropping a few ice cubes in to chill it down, diluting the taste with water in the process. The only thing worse is stirring in a packet or two of sugar (I've seen and heard about both courses of action)
Michael "Grape Guy" Pinkus, "Raise your Spirits: A Chilly Response", Ontario Wine Review, 2008-03-12
Michael "Grape Guy" Pinkus has some thoughts on what should be done about Vincor's chain of own-label wine stores, now that the company is foreign-owned:
Since Vincor was sold, April 3rd 2006, there has been no consideration or mention of what to do with those Wine Rack stores (you know the little kiosks you find in grocery stores, malls and on street corners that sell Vincor wines exclusively — and one of the few "competitors" to the LCBO’s centralized liquor dominance). The moment Vincor was sold there should have been, and should have continued to be, an uproar about these stores — not stopping until the problem was fixed. Originally the special license to open up additional locations was given to Vincor to promote and sell Ontario wine, but now — not so much. Although Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin etc. remain Canadian wineries, their profits go south of the border. Have you been in one of these stores (and I don't even have o say lately, because this has always been the case)? Not all the wines on the shelves are VQA, it's that "cellared in Ontario" crap that makes us the laughing stock of the wine world [. . .] Those stores should have been seized from Vincor soon after the sale was made to Constellation and they should have been turned into VQA Wine Stores promoting 100% Ontario wine. Currently, according to the Wine Rack's website, there are 164 in the province of Ontario. If we were to divide those up evenly and geographically among the wineries of Ontario (for argument's sake let's say those that belong to the wine council — 73 in 2007), each winery would have their wines in an additional 2.24 stores. Now say we allow these wineries to have joint control over these locations — buddy-up so to speak with four other wineries (5 in total), these five would have their wines in 11 locations across the province . . . Imagine how many more hands good quality VQA wine would find itself into. These stores would not be allowed to sell "cellared-in-Ontario" wines — only 100% VQA-Ontario product. These stores would serve to educate the public as to what VQA actually is and stands for, because confusion still exists, especially with all those reports about short-crops and lowered percentages. Think about it, the exposure would be amazing and the profits would remain in the hands of our own Ontario-based wineries. Of course the government would get their share, we'd need some kind of governing body over these stores, this is Ontario after all — but let's leave the LCBO out of this one, and create an independent body not beholden to the current monopoly.
Interesting idea, although I'm not normally friendly to proposals to force private companies to disgorge assets at the behest of regulators. In this case, as the stores only exist due to a special dispensation from the regulators, that may not apply with the same force.
At some point, an expensive bottle of wine stops being just wine and starts being primarily a status symbol. Case in point:
Staff were delighted at the sale and the three customers were eager to taste the £18,000 magnum of Pétrus 1961 — one of the greatest vintages of one of the greatest wines in the world — which they had reserved from the cellars several weeks before.
Unfortunately, the guests at Zafferano in Knightsbridge proved to be a little too discerning.
As the magnum was uncorked, they declared it to be a fake, refused to touch the bottle and sent it back.
I enjoy wine, and I'm usually able to appreciate the extra quality that goes with a higher price tag . . . up to a limit. The most expensive wine I've tasted was a $400 Chateau Margaux, which was excellent, but (to my taste anyway) not as good as a $95 bottle I sampled on the same evening (a Gevry-Chambertin). Wine is certainly subjective, so my experiences can't be easily generalized, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of wine drinkers would find that their actual appreciation of the wine tapers off beyond a certain price point.
If you normally drink $15-20 bottles of wine, you'll certainly find that the $30-40 range will taste better and have more depth and complexity of flavour. Jumping up to the $150-200 range will probably have the same relative effect, but you've gone to 10 times the price for perhaps 2-4 times the perceived quality. Perhaps I'm wrong, and the $1,000+ wines have transcendental qualities that peasants like me can't even imagine, but I strongly doubt it. Any wine over $500 has passed the "quality" level and is from that point onwards really a "prestige" thing.
Update: A commenter at Fark.com offered this link as counter-evidence:
"Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating nonintrinsic attributes of goods. For example, knowledge of a beer's ingredients and brand can affect reported taste quality, and the reported enjoyment of a film is influenced by expectations about its quality," the researchers said. "Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an energy drink is purchased can influence the ability to solve puzzles."
This is why wines are generally tasted blind for comparative purposes (that is, with no indication of the wine's identity provided). It's a well-known phenomena that people expect to enjoy more expensive things than cheaper equivalents.
You can try this one for yourself: next time you're pouring a beer or a wine for a guest, hide the container and tell them that what you're pouring is much more rare/expensive/unusual than what it really is. Most people, either from politeness (they don't want to be rude) or fear of being thought ignorant (that they can't actually perceive this wonderful quality) or genuine belief in what you've said, will go along with the host's deception and praise the drink as being so much better than whatever they normally drink.
Human beings are wonderful at rationalizing . . . and self-deception.
A report in this week's Economist on the latest twist in the "do we get what we pay for when we buy expensive wine" issue:
The scanner showed that the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortices of the volunteers increased in line with the stated price of the wine. For example, when one of the wines was said to cost $10 a bottle it was rated less than half as good as when people were told it cost $90 a bottle, its true retail price. Moreover, when the team carried out a follow-up blind tasting without price information they got different results. The volunteers reported differences between the three "real" wines but not between the same wines when served twice.
Nor was the effect confined to everyday drinkers. When Dr Rangel repeated the experiment on members of the Stanford University wine club he got similar results. All of which raises the question of what is going on.
There are at least two possibilities. The point of learning is to improve an individual's chances of surviving and reproducing: if the experience and opinions of others can be harnessed to that end, so much the better. Dr Rangel suspects that what he has found is a mechanism for learning quickly what has helped others in the past, and thus for allowing choices about what is nice and what is nasty to be made speedily and efficiently. In modern society, price is probably a good proxy for such collective wisdom.
Ontario's grape is Cabernet Franc [. . .] and after smelling and tasting my way through over 50 different kinds in a variety of styles, I'm even more convinced than ever before. Franc is the blending grape of Bordeaux — the right bank has Merlot, the left bank has Cab Sauv . . . but the lowly Franc has neither, used mainly to add structure to the blend — basically it's a back up role, it's along for the ride, think of it as the Ringo Starr to Merlot and Sauv's Lennon and McCartney.
Here in Ontario, Franc shines. Sure we blend it into Meritages, sometimes it's at the forefront of the blend and other times it takes a backseat, but we also make straight Cab Franc, Reserve Cab Franc, Late Harvest and Icewine Franc wines; we run the gamut of Franc and we make it well and consistently year after year.
I've been in discussions with winemakers, winery owners and wine people from all aspects of the industry — some hear Franc calling out to them while others dismiss it as the rantings of lunacy . . . but it is my belief that Cabernet Franc should be the grape we focus on as an industry and use it to help turn the world's attention to Ontario. It seems these days that every winemaking country has a calling card — a grape to call their own. I mention Riesling you think Germany, Cabernet Sauvignon = California , Shiraz = Australia, Sauvignon Blanc = New Zealand, Carmenere = Chile, Malbec = Argentina , Zinfandel = California, Chardonnay = anywhere that makes wine, same thing with Merlot, of course blends (Meritage) go to France [Bordeaux ] . . . the list goes on and on but nobody has adopted Cabernet Franc as their mainstay. It's homeless — sure it roams the globe popping up here and there, but it has nowhere to call "home". It's time we heed its calling and bring Franc into our fold, and give it a place to finally call home. We have the world's attention with Icewine. Now it's time to show them that we can make other wines too — not just copies of wines from other places, but a distinctive Ontario wine — Cabernet Franc; as with Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, when people hear Ontario, they should think "great Cab Franc".
Michael "The Grape Guy" Pinkus, "My Two Barrels Worth — Cabernet Franc and Ontario", Ontario Wine Review #73, 2008-01-03
Jacob Sullum looks at the lack of progress in opening up the domestic wine trade after the US Supreme Court decision on the topic:
In a new report, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA) notes that liquor wholesalers have been throwing money at state legislators in a largely successful effort to maintain their government-enforced monopolies on the distribution of alcoholic beverages. Those privileges were threatened by a 2005 Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that prohibited out-of-state vintners from shipping wine directly to consumers while allowing in-state wineries to do so. The Court found that such laws violated the Commerce Clause by erecting discriminatory trade barriers. Since then the wholesalers have been urging state legislatures to comply with the ruling not by opening up their markets but by imposing uniform bans on direct shipping. According to the SWRA (whose members want the freedom to buy directly from wineries), those lobbying efforts have been accompanied by a total of $50 million in donations to state political campaigns, an amount that "dwarfs that of any other sector of the American alcohol industry as well as numerous other groups." In Texas, for example, "alcohol wholesaler political contributions were greater than the political contributions of all gambling and casino interests, retail interests, food interests and all business services . . . combined." This generosity, says the SWRA, "coincides with the enactment of alcohol wholesaler-supported policies in nearly every state that protect the wholesaler."
Yet another proof of the dangers of regulation to a free market. Adam Smith wasn't thinking of the wine trade when he wrote "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." People of the same trade are even more effective in this sort of conspiracy when they can get the government to do their dirty work for them.
The extraordinary inflation of rare-wine prices — of which the Jefferson bottles are the most conspicuous example — has led in recent years to an explosion of counterfeits in the wine trade. In 2000, Italian authorities confiscated twenty thousand bottles of phony Sassicaia, a sought-after Tuscan red; Chinese counterfeiters have begun peddling fake Lafite. So-called "trophy" wines — best-of-the-century vintages of old Bordeaux — that were difficult to find at auction in the nineteen-seventies and eighties have reëmerged on the market in great numbers. Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby's international wine department, jokes that more 1945 Mouton was consumed on the fiftieth anniversary of the vintage, in 1995, than was ever produced to begin with.
Patrick Radden Keefe, "The Jefferson Bottles: How could one collector find so much rare fine wine?", The New Yorker, 2007-09-03
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen tries to get to the bottom of the Islamic prohibition of alcohol (and it's notable lack of success, early on):
So what is it with Islam and alcohol? The ban is actually more about social engineering than theology. It started when Mohammed (his name be praised) couldn't get his party-animal neighbors to shut up and let him sleep. His first decree merely pointed out that harmful effects of liquor sometimes outweigh good ones. Later, he forbid followers from drinking while praying. When none of this made a dent in local keggers, he finally outlawed drinking altogether.
This left some technicalities to quibble over. For example, alcohol is considered an abomination of Satan as well as najs (impure), khamr (mind-fogging) and haram (forbidden). But while all forbidden things are impure, not all impure things are forbidden. For example, Hashish and Qat, two highly intoxicating herbs, are najs, but allowed.
But what about other products containing alcohol? Are Old Spice and Listerine unholy? What about cough syrup? And if alcohol is the devil’s work, how do you explain Paradise, whose delights, along with the infamous virgins, include rivers of wine flowing free for the drinking?
The explanation is that alcohol, itself, isn't really sinful, only the behavior it causes. Since everything is different in Paradise, it follows that wine there is not intoxicating; it just has "pleasing effects." Whatever that means.
This column isn't up at the usual site, but will get posted to her personal site, http://www.corkjester.com/ soon (well, soon-ish).
The most recent issue of Ontario Wine Review is now online, with Michael dissing those who don't want to take part in the wine bottle recycling program:
We'll start at the top, where Kelly is at the beer store on a Saturday morning, and shock of all shocks, it's busy . . . hmmm. Saturday, middle of summer, beer store busy . . . now that’s a novelty (please read with dripping sarcasm). The problem: the line up to return empties is "enormous". Again shocking — going to the beer store equals bringing back empties, be it beer, wine or liquor bottles these days — and again, it's the weekend, go figure.
Here we get a respite from complaints about long lines for a brief overview of the McGuinty government's policy of "slapping a 20 cent tax on bottles". I hasten to point out to Kelly that it is not a "tax" — it's a "deposit", which means if you return the bottle, you get it back. Same thing applies to 18L water bottles, any rental equipment, or security deposits on apartments, just to name a few — do we call those taxes? But because the government does it, some have decided to label it a "tax" (I'm neither pro- nor anti-McGuinty here I'm just saying . . .). Come to think about it, does anyone consider the 10 cents per beer bottle a tax? I didn't think so.
Update: Also on the general topic of wine, Nick Gillespie interviews John V.C. Nye about his interesting new book, War, Wine, and Taxes: The Political Economy of Anglo-French Trade, 1689-1900.
Scraped off the bottom of rec.humor.funny, from August, 1996, and attributed to "PiALaModem@aol.com":
The Down And Dirty on The Fruit of the Vine
I'm going to do you a big favor. I'm going to free you from feelings of inadequacy that have been haunting you since sometime in your teens. I'm going to fill you in on the greatest scam ever perpetrated upon the consuming public. I'm going to tell you what I know about wine.
The bottom line is that wine tastes awful. It's just grape juice gone south (forgive me, dixiewhistlers). All the millions of poor slobs dutifully disguising the revolted pucker behind looks of thoughtful analysis, parroting gibberish of which they've no idea of the meaning, studying for hours so as not to be humiliated by menial restaurant employees once again, have fallen for a complex and insidious canard (see COLD DUCK). An "acquired taste" they call it. Well, you could acquire a taste for Ivory soap.
Herewith is a glossary of selected wine terms and what they really mean:
APPELLATION CONTROLEE: French for "Trust me"
AROMA: A bad smell that comes from the grapes; See BOUQUET
BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU: Wine so awful that it isn't worth aging.
BOUQUET: A bad smell that's added during processing; See NOSE
BRUT: Describes a wine that sneaks up on you and stabs you in the back. Or a wine dealer. From the Latin, "Et tu, Brute"
CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE: The pope's new house was paid for by swindling buyers into paying the price for this wine.
DRY: Hurts your throat while swallowing.
FRUITY: Tastes like children's cough medicine. See ROBUST
NOBLE ROT: What well-born wine snobs talk.
NOSE: The total effect of AROMA and BOUQUET; something you wish you could hold while drinking.
ROBUST: Tastes like cough medicine. See FRUITY
ROSE: Many people mistakenly pronounce this to rhyme with Jose. A term for a pinkish wine, named for what an early commentator said his gorge did when he tasted it.
VARIETAL: Having the worst qualities of a single type of grape, rather than a mixture of sins.
VINTAGE: How many years we've been trying to get rid of this rotgut.
As a child of divorce, I spent twelve years shuttling between two households, two sets of values, two realities. When, during my parents' frequent spats, I was pressured to take sides — I froze. How could I choose when I loved them both?
I face a certain dilemma in the wine world that feels similar: on one side are producers declaring, "We must make wines of place! Of character! Uniquely quirky wines that sing of grape and terroir!"
On the other, you've got a multitude of consumers who want nothing of the kind. They couldn't tell a mountain vineyard from a valley one and the last thing they need is a new grape to learn. They want wines of predictability and simplicity; of style and fun.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Flow: Pay attention! It's fun", The Wine Jester, 2007-09-03 (link goes to her main website . . . this article will be posted there later)
I forgot to link to the latest Ontario Wine Review yesterday. This issue covers a visit to Pillitteri Estate Winery, Featherstone, and the FEWesta Tomato event at Fielding.
The vineyards of Germany are terrorized by Nazi Raccoons. Really. Introduced by Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering in 1934 to enrich Germany's fauna, raccoons have no natural predators. Recently, a delinquent gang of them descended on the Brandenburg region, wiping out the entire grape harvest in days.
France suffers wild boars, but don't think they take it lying down. Always a country of action, they have decided to get the boars out of the vineyards by . . . feeding them in the vineyards. Truckloads of corn. If you think they'd understand that basic economic tenet: what you penalize you get less of and what you reward you get more of, then you haven't seen their welfare system.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Animal Delinquents: There's more to wine fauna than cuddly kangaroos", The Cork Jester, 2007-08-24 (link goes to her main website . . . this article will be posted there later)
The mid-August issue of Ontario Wine Review is now online. This issue talks about something Michael thinks Ontario could learn from New York State, and some Lake Erie North Shore wines he thinks you'll like.
What in the world is a MADD rep doing in an article about free booze on trains?
I believe it was a Hit & Run commenter who wrote a few months ago that MADD is no longer just "mothers" — its current president is a man. Nor is it any longer just about "drunk," they [are] generally opposed to drinking, too. Nor, as this article indicates, are they merely concerned about driving anymore. In the MADD acronym, that leaves only the word "against." Whatever it is, if it's related to alcohol, they're against it. Which sounds about right.
Radley Balko, "Mothers Against Buzzed Trainriding", Hit and Run, 2007-08-02
The early August edition of Ontario Wine Review is now online. This issue talks about some of the smaller Prince Edward County wineries and has a brief review of Natalie MacLean's latest book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A wine-soaked journey from grape to glass.
The late-July edition of the Ontario Wine Review is now online. This issue features a visit to one of my favourite wineries: Flat Rock Cellars.
Flat Rock specializes in two main varieties of wine: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; but they, being on the much lauded Beamsville Bench, have also made a name for themselves with Riesling, producing two kinds: and Estate Bottled — which won Best White Wine in Canada for their 2005 vintage; and Nadja's Vineyard Riesling — a wine named after Ed's mom. They also dabble in a little Gewurztraminer on occasion (2006 being their first solo bottling of this grape) — and a white blend known simply as "Twisted" using their three white varieties. When going through the wine store, you'll also notice something else about Flat Rock: prices range from 15-30 dollars . . . pricing that seems at odds with the newer wineries in Niagara these days. For an explanation I turn once more to the words of Ed Madronich, whose pricing-philosophy is based on gaining lifetime customers: "If I can get each customer to buy at least one bottle of Flat Rock wine each year for the rest of their wine drinking days, then I have a customer for life. And the way to do that is to keep my wines reasonably priced, of good quality and accessible." I guess the only ones he won't get as customers are those totally opposed to his closure . . . and that is a shame, because they truly are missing out.
A few Treo photos taken over the last few weeks:
Someone missed a clue here: the sign extolls the virtues of Ontario VQA wines, but all the wines on the shelves below are not VQA . . . they're not even Canadian wines!
Sunset in Brooklin, late June.
Buffy, after her first bath
Xander, helping Elizabeth dry off Buffy (that is, getting in the way and making a nuisance of himself)
Buffy, on the bank of the Avon River in Stratford
Michael Pinkus has the most recent issue of Ontario Wine Review online. This issue discusses the new higher-end (that is, more expensive, although not necessarily better) wineries that have been opening in the Niagara region lately.
In a recent discussion with a member of the Ontario Wine Society, we found ourselves chatting about the new wineries opening up in the Niagara region. The member lamented, "it seems, with the exception of Calamus, that the newcomers are high end and expensive." This was said to me on the heels of opening day at Niagara's newest winery, Hidden Bench (June 2) where policies for visiting and tasting were set out thusly: "due to the size of the tasting room we do not do groups of more than 8 persons . . . require an appointment for groups larger than 4 . . . tastings are $10.00 for our flight of four estate wines." Prices for wines started at $18 (for a rosé); $22 (for Riesling); $30 (Chardonnay) and $40 (white meritage).
What my OWS friend is referring to are the Tawses, the Hidden Benches, the Strati, the Ice House, the Alventoes, and the soon to be, new Southbrook that all seem to be a opening up with wine prices that seem to be priced out of this world; a world that’s more California-centric then Niagara-based. In a recent interview I read in the North York Mirror, Brian Kroeker, of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, was quoted as saying (jokingly I think), "we're Napa-North, or as we like to say Canapa." It would seem that some are taking this to heart.
I remember meeting the winemaker for one of these new "premium" wineries at a wine tasting about a year before the winery opened its doors to the public, and being treated to a long, ear-bending discussion about the winemaker's goal to produce only $100+ bottles of wine. I thanked him for the samples I'd tasted and quickly moved on . . . I was very much not his target wine-consuming audience!
I mean, good luck to him and his winery, but I have to hope that this isn't the direction all the wineries want to take: I enjoy my wine, but I don't want to have to take on a second job just to support my cellar!
Michael Pinkus has posted the latest issue of Ontario Wine Review. This issue reports on a visit to Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County.
I tried a 'fairtrade' wine. It was Ochre Mountain Sauvignon Blanc FAIRTRADE, Chile 2006, and was utterly appalling. It was nasty, sharp and acidic, with nothing at all behind it. It was filthy stuff, and I was careful not to get any of it on my hands. Whoever made it has achieved the difficult feat of making a bad Chilean wine. I suppose they think the 'fairtrade' tag will sell it anyway. Fortunately I didn't waste £12.95 on a bottle. I had a glass at £3.65. The five friends with me were so intrigued by my description of its awfulness that they all took a taste, and that got rid of it pretty quickly.
Madsen Pirie, "Utterly appalling", Another Food Blog, 2006-09-05
Michael Pinkus has the early June issue of Ontario Wine Review online. This issue talks about his reservations about the term "reserve", and a couple of wine reviews for Prince Edward County wines.
Bored of the same-old, same-old in wine writing? All those tedious reviews that all seem to use some fancy gastronomic thesaurus to describe the smell and taste of wines? Then perhaps you'll find Deacon Dr. Fresh to be more your kind of wine writer:
World's Lurchest Wine Writer - The Gangsta of the Grape - The Sultan of Shiraz - Yellow Tail's Bane - Locus of the Ladies' Focus - Wielder of the trousered Hammer of Thor - I have arrived to rescue the wine world from overly-serious, rigid, deconstructionist, peckerwoods who'd never dream of gettin' a tattoo or crackin' a smile. I am without a doubt, the smartest, funniest and toughest sumbitch in the entire wine industry. And I aint goin' away. All disputes will be settled bare-knuckled in the Octagon. You heard me.
Update: He provides a secret decoder ring should you be a bit fuzzy on the exact meaning of the terms he uses.
Yeah, that's the ticket! You produce more wine than the market can absorb, and much of it is poor quality. You fix this by: A) reducing output B) improving quality C) both, or D) threaten to resort to terrorism.
In France, apparently D is the correct answer:
A shadowy group of wine activists has issued a one-month ultimatum to Nicolas Sarkozy threatening "action" if the new French President fails to help the industry.
The Regional Committee for Viticultural Action (CRAV) has been known to hijack tankers of foreign wine and dynamite government buildings or supermarkets.
In a pre-recorded message delivered to France 3, a regional television channel, from "somewhere in the Languedoc hinterland", five balaclava-clad men read out a statement addressed to Sarkozy.
Looking more like Corsican nationalists or masked Islamic fundamentalists than winemakers, the "wine terrorists" vowed that if nothing changed and the price they received for their wine had not gone up, they would go "into action".
Samizdata has more.
Michael Pinkus posted the new issue of OntarioWineReview last week. This issue talks about the Henry of Pelham winery, the Terroir wine event in Prince Edward County, and a report from the New Zealand Wine Fair.
This edition of OntarioWineReview is now online, with a theme of "Spring Fever in Wine Country".
Perry de Havilland takes a strong position against nanny state would-be meddling by a group called Alcohol Concern:
Parents who give alcohol to children under the age of 15 — even with a meal at home — should face prosecution, a charity says today. Parents who let children drink should face prosecution, says Alcohol Concern. [...] A charity spokesman said: "It is legal to provide children as young as five with alcohol in a private home. Raising the age limit to 15 would send a stronger message to parents of the risks associated with letting very young people consume alcohol." It is illegal to buy a drink in a pub under 18, but a 16- or 17-year-old can drink wine or beer if having a meal with parents.
You know what I would like to see? Whenever someone threatens me with force if I do not modify my social behaviour more to their liking in my own damn home, I would like them get arrested and thrown in jail. And I would like to see them beaten with truncheons if they do not comply with the cops just like they want for others who do not comply with their wishes. Such people are addicted to using force to impose their will on others and so why not "send a stronger message" that threatening people via the political system is really no different to threatening them with violence via some other institution, like the Mafia, for example.
Michael Pinkus is branching out, launching two new wine-oriented blogs: Ontario Wine Reviews and On the Road with the Grape Guy. This is in addition to the bi-weekly OntarioWineReview, of course. This issue of the OWR includes a visit to one of my favourite wineries, Angels Gate, and a report from the Greek Wines Road Show.
A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table wines. This is a pity as many fine Australian wines appeal not only to the Australian palate but also to the cognoscenti of Great Britain.
Black Stump Bordeaux is rightly praised as a peppermint flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good Sydney Syrup can rank with any of the world's best sugary wines.
Château Blue, too, has won many prizes; not least for its taste, and its lingering afterburn.
Old Smokey 1968 has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian Wino Society thoroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: eight bottles of this and you're really finished. At the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.
Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is Perth Pink. This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is 'beware'. This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.
Another good fighting wine is Melbourne Old-and-Yellow, which is particularly heavy and should be used only for hand-to-hand combat.
Quite the reverse is true of Château Chunder, which is an appellation contrôlée, specially grown for those keen on regurgitation; a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends.
Real emetic fans will also go for a Hobart Muddy, and a prize winning Cuivre Reserve Château Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga, which has a bouquet like an aborigine's armpit.
Wine Expert (played by Eric Idle), "Australian Table Wines", Monty Python's Previous Record, 1972
This week's edition of the OntarioWineReview is now online. Michael talks about the "cork problem": when contamination from TCA has impaired (or even ruined) the wine:
Simply put, "corked wine" is wine that has been tainted or contaminated by TCA, more specifically 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole. How it gets into your wine is an interesting story. You see, for aesthetic purposes, cork, once it has been taken off the tree, is given a bath in a bleaching mixture. Within said mixture is the real culprit, chlorine, which when it comes in contact with some molds, that occur naturally and harmlessly in cork, causes a chemical reaction. If natural corks aren’t properly and thoroughly rinsed and dried after their bath, the mold lives on and they are considered contaminated, and when said cork comes in contact with the wine, you get the dreaded TCA . . . and that equals yucky wine. I have over-simplified the science and chemistry, but I'm sure you get the point. TCA manifests itself as smells that have been described as wet, musty and moldy, as in wet cardboard, wet newspaper, musty basement, old dirty socks — need I go on? The taste isn't much better than the smell — musty, muted and hollow flavours — subdued is one of the best ways to describe TCA tainted wine. Your wine does not have to be swimming in it either, as little as 5 parts per trillion can be detected. It's not just old wines that can be affected; young wines can get it too. Once the wine comes into contact with tainted/contaminated cork you have yourself some TCA-wine. However, have no fear, it can’t hurt you to drink it . . . it's just not very pleasant and you won't want to, as I found out from my bottle of 2000 Casillero del Diablo (which smelled like the devil’s gym socks).
The added brandy contributes to port's incredible longevity — good ports from major years can easily improve for fifty years and last for a hundred. [. . .] On the downside, the brandy and the residual sugar contribute mightily to your hangover. Not to mention the fact that you have inevitably thrown back a few glasses of the dry red stuff and perhaps the odd cocktail before you get to the port. The alcohol level of most ports is around 20 percent — as opposed to a rough average of 12 percent for dry red wines — but the next day you may have a hard time believing that it's not even higher. This may be the place to say that it's never a good idea to pour a third glass of port, no matter how excellent the plan seems at the time. And even the second should not be undertaken lightly, particularly by those who hope to get lucky, or to drive home, like patriotic Americans, on the right-hand side of the road.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002-03
Michael Pinkus has posted the latest edition of the OntarioWineReview. This issue includes a visit to the Lake Erie North Shore DVA.
Richard Best has posted the first chapter of his forthcoming wine book, The Oenophile Next Door. He's trying a different approach to wine education:
The current wine book market is overcrowded and highly competitive, with new books appearing almost weekly. Unfortunately for the consumer, most wine books are written to one of just a few formulas: expensive coffee table picture books, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-wine books, wine buyers' guides, and focuses on certain wines or certain regions.
A new approach to teaching about wine is long overdue.
The Oenophile Next Door is unlike any wine book that has gone before. It is a novelized story that takes the reader on a wine adventure that is rich with education and discovery. Unlike "do all" wine books that tend to recycle established truisms, this book and its characters question much of what has been passed off as wine education.
He's basing his publication plan, at least in part, on the reaction to the first chapter he's posted.
Scumble [in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels] is obviously a reference to West Country "scrumpy" or "scumpy" homebrew cider. Wunnerful stuff. Sweet, smooth, deceptive. I didn't think it was affecting me at all until I tried to stand up and apparently somebody had stolen my knees.
Susan Fox-Davies, posting to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 2004-04-17
One of the things I didn't expect, when I started getting more interested in wine, was that it would end up ruining some restaurant experiences for me. I've been paying closer attention to the wine business for the past couple of years, with the result that I'm now much more likely to find something acceptable on a wine list or visiting the LCBO or a liquor store when I'm away from home. This is a good thing.
Most of my wine-buying has been down in the wine equivalent of the penny stock market: I still consider anything over $20 to be "expensive". Given that I like to have a glass of wine with dinner most evenings, I'd have to have a much bigger income to support a wine-drinking habit of $500 a month or more . . .
The bad part of accumulating this knowledge is when we go out for dinner. I often know, almost to the penny, just how much a particular bottle of wine cost the restaurant to buy and therefore just how scandalous the mark-up on that bottle is. In short, expect a moderately priced bottle of wine — domestic or imported — to cost at least twice what you'd pay for it retail. Much more than that, and the restaurant is ripping you off. When you see an $18 bottle of wine billed at $50 or more in the restaurant, it's time to find a different place to eat. In general, the cheaper the wine at retail, the more likely you are to find a 250% markup (or more). A more expensive bottle may actually carry a lower markup.
We were in a new restaurant a few weeks back, and not only did I know every wine on the wine list (okay, to be fair, it wasn't a huge list . . . about 20 wines in total), I also knew the current retail prices on them all at the LCBO. Once, I'd have thought this was a good thing . . . except that I found myself feeling oddly resentful at paying the markup for a wine list that pretty clearly was assembled by someone driving down the street to the local LCBO outlet and filling a shopping cart with vin extremely ordinaire. Don't get me wrong: they weren't bad wines, but they were not the sort of thing I'd expected to find in a place that advertised itself as a "bistro". At least, if they had them, they'd be supplemented by a selection of more exotic or unusual bottles.
Part of the attraction of going to a wine bar rather than an ordinary restaurant is the chance to taste uncommon wines . . . the downside to that is that you rarely have an idea what the retail cost of those unfamiliar wines might be, so you're running the risk of over-paying for what you select.
On the general topic of wines, here were the wine books I've read over the past few weeks:
Of the four, I'd rate Billy Munnelly's book the most valuable for beginning wine fans: it's tailored to folks who'd like to know more about the wines that are available in Canada (BC and Ontario in particular), what to expect from them, and (perhaps most importantly) when to serve them. I have a few quibbles with his selections . . . his local winery choices aren't what I'd have recommended in some cases . . . but over all, it's a bargain for anyone who doesn't already have a multi-thousand bottle cellar and specialist wine importers on your speed dial.
Jennifer Rosen is probably the funniest writer in the wine trade. "Irreverant" doesn't even come close to it. I think she's the only writer who should be required to put a "Danger: Laugh out loud humour within. Approach with caution" sticker on her books.
Jay McInerney is far better known for his novels, but I've only read his wine writing. His style is less belly-laugh funny than Jennifer Rosen's, but he does have a deft touch with wine humour . . . I've quoted him more than once on the blog. This book, along with the first collection of his wine writing, Bacchus & Me, is more for the person who's already interested in wine and wants more background on the people than on the brix measurement or the vintage chart.
Natalie MacLean's book is based on her free wine newsletter, Nat Decants, and most of the material in the book is expanded from articles that have already appeared in the newsletter. Not that this should discourage you from buying the book: it's still a very good read.
Jon sent me a heads-up that local fast food delivery joint Pizza Pizza now has a wine matching brochure:
Click the image to see the original on the Pizza Pizza site. It's actually not too bad a set of wine choices, although you'd think they'd have managed to select something other than just French wines to match Italian-ish food. Perhaps a few local wines?
They didn't . . . and the reason is clear if you scroll to the bottom of that page. It's sponsored by someone like the "Wines of Bordeaux" (I'm not certain, as that image isn't linked to a website and the image name isn't conclusive. A quick Google search points to this site.)
Also, on a slightly different topic, Michael Pinkus has the latest OntarioWineReview newsletter online. This issue includes a visit to a new winery in the Lake Erie North Shore region: Muscedere Vineyards.
One of my favourite local wineries has a few new wines being released this week:
2004 CHARONNAY - $22
One half of this lightly-oaked Chardonnay was fermented in new French, American and Hungarian oak barrels and then blended with unoaked Chardonnay. Tropical and citrus flavours along with caramel and toffee, finish with a hint of toast. This full bodied Chardonnay will compliment creamy pasta, vanilla bean risotto, rich poultry dishes, and aged cheddars.
2003 MERITAGE - $35
Dark and concentrated with ripe and rich tannins. A youthful nose of chocolate, coffee and spicy toasted oak. Dense mocha, currant and blackberry-laced flavours tease the palate finishing with a touch of cedar box. A blend of Merlot (50 %) and Cabernet Franc (25%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (25%).
I probably won't have a chance to sample these for a few weeks yet, but Kacaba rarely disappoints. Unfortunately, my budget doesn't stretch to having $35 bottles of wine on a daily basis, but I'd be willing to give it a shot.
Burgundy is a wine for chronic romantics — those for whom hope perenially triumphs over experience. If you are a sensible person with a family, a full-time job, and a sound belief in cause and effect, you might want to avoid the Côte d'Or. Once you've experienced the transport of a great bottle of Burgundy, you may end your days broke, drooling on Burgundy Wine Company catalogs, offering sexual favours to sommeliers — all in the vain hope of re-creating that rapture.
Jay McInerney, "Baby Jesus in Velvet Pants", A Hedonist in the Cellar, 2006
"The aroma is laden with red currant, plum, chocolate and sweet herbaceous mint character with spicy biscuity oak to compliment the lifted perfume"And that's just the beef. Wait until you taste the wine.
Brian Reid sent me a link to some cartoon wine labels. It's a significantly different approach to presenting the wine, but I'd have to say that the cartooning style doesn't do a lot for me.
But what do I know? I generally avoid new wines with cutesy animals on the labels, so I'm hardly Mr. Mainstream Wine Drinker, am I?
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.
The first 2007 edition of the OntarioWineReview is now available. In this issue, Michael has a good rant about the abomination that is wine in Tetra-Pak containers:
Just like Peter Finch in the movie Network, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore". The LCBO seems to be forcing its will on the people and in typical Canadian-sheep-like fashion we are going to put up with it . . . again. Well it's time to take a stand. What am I so hopping mad about? Tetra-Paks, and the more I learn, the more incensed I get, and I'm thinking you should be too. Sure Tetra-Paks have their place in society for juice boxes, soups and soy milk — but keep your cotton-pickin' Tetra-Paks off of my wine. You've probably noticed that the LCBO is shifting into high gear promoting this "alternative packaging" as the great saviour in wine packaging — lighter, more versatile, more consumer friendly, and recyclable.
[. . .] Terence Corcoran tells us in his article "Monopoly Wine to Come in a Box" dated December 9th, 2006 in the National Post. "The idea that this is a waste-reduction plan is a trick concept. Glass is heavier than Tetra Pak, so replacing one with the other will reduce waste by weight. But glass, properly sorted and processed, is recyclable. Tetra Pak is not." That's because of Tetra-Pak's make up which is 75% paperboard, 20% food grade polyethylene plastic and 5% aluminum — which makes it light and unbreakable, but for recycling purposes it's a cost nightmare to separate out the materials. Even the new recycling program announced in September and touted by the Premier of the province as dragging Ontario "out of the dark ages" is actually, according to Corcoran, part of the sham to get you to buy Tetra-Paked wines: "This new 20-cent deposit system is actually the product of the LCBO's plan to make a major shift away from bottled products and towards boxes . . . [the LCBO] is mounting a major international effort to get vintners to repackage wines in boxes." The LCBO is also hoping you will see the new deposit-system as another form of taxation on booze and will refuse to pay it, opting instead for the lower cost of Tetra-Wine.
Corcoran puts forth another reason for the LCBO's love of Tetra-Paks, which has nothing to do with environmental concerns. Profits are the main reason for these wine-drink-in-boxes, at the expense of consumers tastebuds. "the LCBO now has business relationships with two box plants." Thus a vested interest in you and I buying and consuming Tetra-Paked wines.
There is another down-side to having a monopoly supplier of wines and spirits here in Ontario: if they get a massive brain-fart (like, for example, wine in Tetra Paks), there's no alternative for most consumers . . . you just go along with whatever the LCBO has decided will be good for you. Or, more accurately, what's good for the LCBO.
"Americans need to start viewing wine as an everyday beverage," claim producers. Then, on the back label they write, "Pairs well with truffled oxen snout in finnberry reduction on a bed of flaked Andalusian taro." Sure. Every Thursday.
The front label is even worse. But winemakers refuse to see the problem. "Reading a Moravian label is easy!" they say. "Just three quality levels, ten regions and four grapes. Anyone can learn that!" Yeah, anyone who plans to spend the rest of his life in Moravia.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, from the Introduction, The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine, 2006.
. . . whoever's responsible — be it Ma Nature, or a consortium of evil, greedy, gas-guzzling Western corporations — vineyards are heating up. German whites are improbably lush, Napa and Australia are turning out reds with enough alcohol to be considered breakfast food in Russia, and, for the first time since the Magna Charta, English wine is drinkable.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Russian Roulette", Cork Jester, 2007-01-02
Note that this column is not yet on the website.
Michael Pinkus' latest issue of the OntarioWineReview is now available at his website.
Michael Pinkus has posted the most recent issue of OntarioWineReview.
I dropped into the bottle shop to see what they were selling; a nice young lady was handing out samples of two reds, one of which I'm regretting at this very moment. Starts sweet and ends dry, and while it's suitable, the bouquet might be described as Mummy's Underwear. It was better than the South African brand proffered; I swear you can taste the burning tires. It had a toady top note and finished not just with one note but a dozen, all taken from a 12-tone row by Schoenberg. Sometimes I think they pair a craptacular wine with an average one so you'll congratulate yourself for buying the better one.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-12-04
A belated note that the latest issue of Michael Pinkus' OntarioWineReview is now available. The feature article in this issue is a review of the Long Dog Winery in Prince Edward County.
Michael Pinkus has posted the new issue of OntarioWineReview. This issue talks about:
. . . issues, which is why I call it "The Issues Issue". First, there's the announcement about the upcoming bottle recycling program in A Call is Answered, then we look at screwcap closures and their swelling popularity in Are You Getting Screwed?, and finally, we learn the difference between Pinot Noir clones, thanks to Flat Rock Cellars, in the Pick of the Bunch.
I got an email yesterday from Vintages, the LCBO's specialty arm, offering a great deal on some Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage:
This beautifully boxed set contains one bottle each from nine of Bordeaux’s best producers. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to acquire these legendary wines. Included is Château Pétrus which, during our first wave en primeur (Futures) offer, sold out in record time. This may be your last chance to acquire this wine.
The box contains one bottle each of:
- 2005 Château Margaux
- 2005 Château Haut-Brion
- 2005 Château Mouton Rothschild
- 2005 Château Lafite Rothschild
- 2005 Château Latour
- 2005 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
- 2005 Château Pétrus
- 2005 Château Cheval-Blanc
- 2005 Château d’Yquem
Sounds like a pretty good line-up, wouldn't you say? I'd definitely be interested in trying all of these wines, but there's a minor stumbling block in my way . . . the $8,995 price tag for the selection.
The latest issue of the OntarioWineReview is now available. The feature article this time is a visit to the Mountain Road Wine Company in Beamsville:
As you climb Mountain Road, which starts in the middle of Beamsville, you begin to wonder if you're actually on the right path. But soon, as you crest the hill, you see a sign that says "Mountain Road Wine Company" and you breathe a sigh of relief; but as you turn right into their driveway, the doubt in your mind is renewed. An old steel barn-like building to your right, a large rusty tractor straight ahead, to your left a house — all looking innocuous enough but unlike any other winery you've ever seen. As you make the turn into the parking area, you'll notice a short brick wall that acts as a barrier between the lot and the tree-shaded pond beyond it. From the vantage of your newly acquired parking spot, you are probably under the impression that you are in the midst of some junkyard oasis. Is this really the right place? As you step out of your car and turn to face the building, you notice a small path to the left, leading into an alcove, this is the main entrance to the tasting room of the Mountain Road Wine Company. This is a cottage winery. This is how the big guys got their start, selling wine out of their basement, one bottle at a time. This winery boasts no fancy building; no monstrosity of a production facility; no gravity-flow, high tech machinery; just good, small batch, artisan winemaking.
By the description, the place hasn't changed at all since Brendan and I last visited the winery. We were both absolutely sure we'd turned into the wrong driveway (and starting to hear the distant strumming of banjo music . . .).
If you read the post earlier today, you may have missed the rather extended comment Jon left to clarify the original message:
Duh! I should have tried hunting down the original report. Here it is at the StatsCan weebsite.
This note from the report is interesting, and probably invalidates all of the second-guessing I did the other day:
Note to readers
Statistics on sales of alcoholic beverages by volume should not be equated with data on consumption. Sales volumes include only sales by liquor authorities and their agents, and sales by wineries and breweries and outlets that operate under license from the liquor authorities.
Consumption of alcoholic beverages would include all these sales, plus homemade wine and beer, wine and beer manufactured through brew-on-premises operations, all sales in duty-free shops and any unrecorded transactions.
Similarly, statistics on sales of alcoholic beverages by dollar value of sales should not be equated with consumer expenditures on alcoholic beverages. The sales data refer to the revenues received by liquor authorities, wineries and breweries and these revenues include sales to licensed establishments such as bars and restaurants.
The sales data, therefore, do not reflect the total amount spent by consumers on alcoholic beverages since the prices paid in licensed establishments are greater than the price paid by those establishments to the liquor authorities.
Per capita data are based on the population aged 15 and over.
"The sales data, therefore, do not reflect the total amount spent by consumers on alcoholic beverages." Hmm. You sure don't get that impression from the way the Toronto Daily Socialist reported it.
And, to add even more information to the mix, here is some information from the Reason Foundation, on some surprising correlations between drinking and money:
Numerous studies have shown moderate alcohol use can have important health benefits and now a new report finds drinking can help your wallet too.
Drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more money at their jobs than nondrinkers and men who drink socially, visiting a bar at least once a month, bring home an additional 7 percent in pay, according to a new Reason Foundation report by economists Bethany Peters, Ph.D., and Edward Stringham, Ph.D.
"Social drinking builds social capital," said Stringham, an economics professor at San Jose State University. "Social drinkers are networking, building relationships, and adding contacts to their Blackberries that result in bigger paychecks."
The study finds that men who drink earn 10 percent more than abstainers and women drinkers earn 14 percent more than nondrinkers. However, unlike men, who get an additional income boost from drinking in bars, women who frequent bars at least once per month do not show higher earnings than women who do not visit bars.
Well, I'll drink to that!
Jon — who really should be blogging — passed along this Toronto Star article on the relative proportions of wine, beer, and spirits sold in Canada. It's pretty unremarkable news, but I thought that Jon's comments were worth posting:
"Canadians spent $638.60 per capita on alcoholic beverages in 2004-05"
Yikes! I bet it's higher than that when you consider the number of people who actually buy and consume the stuff, rather than using the whole population for the "per capita" amount.
If you divide the $16.8 billion reported in the Star article by $638.60, you get a "population" of 26,307,548.
Looking at the StatsCan population numbers, if you add in the 15-19 group, you get a population of 26,585,000 — which is close to the number above, for estimate purposes.
That puts the potential alcohol buying population at 24,439,200.
How many of those folks are actually buying the stuff? Let's look at the number of people who report that they consume alcohol, and assume that these are the same people buying the stuff.
Average the years 1990-2003 from here and you get a figure of 62.3%. Which puts the alcohol purchasing population at about 15,225,622 (rounded up one to get rid of the decimal).
I work out the actual amount spent by each drinker to $1353.50.
I could be wrong, though. Probably am.
In another email, he also mentioned "The percentage of people who report consumption is probably off, too - those are US numbers. We might be higher here because of cold weather and bone crushing socialism."
Cross-posted to Ontario Wine Blog.
The Ontario government is now talking about having the private consortium called "The Beer Store" (formerly Brewers Retail) run a wine bottle recycling program in tandem with their existing beer bottle recycling program:
Ontarians will soon be charged a deposit on bottles purchased at the LCBO and will be able to return their booze empties to The Beer Store.
No details were available on how much deposits will be or how quickly the system will be up and running for consumers.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty advised his cabinet yesterday about the ambitious new deposit-return program, sources said. It's a public-private partnership with Brewers' Retail, owned by Labatt, Molson and Sleeman.
This is certainly an overdue measure, especially when you realize that the LCBO sells an incredible amount of wine:
While the Beer Store, which will receive an undisclosed fee for handling LCBO empties, has been successfully collecting bottles for deposit for generations, the liquor stores have resisted implementing a return system.
Instead, the LCBO has been paying $5 million a year into the blue box program, which handles bottles of all colours, shapes and sizes from liquor stores. Liquor stores sell more than $3 billion worth of wine and about $1.4 billion in spirits annually.
Cross-posted to Ontario Wine Blog. Hat tip to Jon, who wrote "Nothing says 'class' like having a 25-cent bottle deposit on your $100 bottle o' chug."
Not so long ago, the phrase California wine belonged in the same book of oxymorons as, say living poet and Dutch cuisine. You knew, on some level, that such things existed, but you didn't necessarily want any of them on your dinner table.
Jay McInerney, "Mondavi on Mondavi", Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002
But Lucy is no longer the reigning queen of slap-stomp. That honor belongs to a lady from Fox News. In a video making the rounds, she stomps grapes in a rubber tub set on a high wooden platform. Partway through she falls off and out of camera range, and for the rest of the video you just hear her horrific screams of pain. People can't stop watching this, which maybe explains why they love Lucy.
But it doesn't explain grape stomping. Or the fact that it's still done in this age of hygiene and motors. It's often just a harmless publicity stunt, quite effective when performed at ground level. But some wineries, in Portugal for instance, still press their best wine this way. Drunk men in dirty shirts with unclipped toenails and lit cigarettes dangling from their lips still climb into cement troughs, or lagars, filled with grapes. Then, whooped-up by a local band, they clasp arms and march back and forth in the muck, occasionally falling face down in it.
Fortunately, the alcohol level in Port is high enough to kill both toe jam and jock itch, though some feel those are part of the ineffable bouquet of Old World wine.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "I Hate Lucy", Cork Jester, 2006-08-22
In 1855 the wine brokers of Bordeaux created the famous classification, which ranked sixty-one wines from first to fifth growth, and the prices for these wines have been rising ever since. I can already hear myself someday trying to explain to my daughter as we sit in the twilight sharing a bottle of Romanian Cabernet Franc how classed Bordeaux — the stuff ranked first through fifth growth — was a beverage that was once bought and consumed by ordinary mortals.
Jay McInerney, "Bordeaux on a Budget", Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002.
Vermouth is one definition of "aromatic wine." But what I had planned to write about was what wine schools and books refer to as "The Aromatic Grapes," namely . . . um . . .
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(Note: this error pops up when wine professionals from India to Singapore to Sweden use some term like it meant something, yet nobody agrees on what. )
Some use "aromatic" as merely an adjective to describe any wine that leaps up out of the glass and grabs you by the beard (I've been meaning to shave that thing), proclaiming its presence and lineage.
Yet not all that wafts from your glass is aroma. The word is supposed to refer only to smells that come from grapes. Nuances from winemaking, like toasty yeast, vanilla-coconut oak, or buttery malolactic fermentation, are known as bouquet. By that definition, a beefed up chardonnay might wave semaphores in your face, but it ain't aromatic.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "A Dab Behind the Ear: Just what IS an "aromatic" grape?", Cork Jester, 2006-08-11
One of the fellows I can't understand is the man with violent likes and dislikes in his drams — the man who dotes on highballs but can't abide malt liquor, or who drinks white wine but not red or who holds that Scotch whisky benefits his kidneys whereas rye whiskey corrodes his liver. As for me, I am prepared to admit some merit in every alcoholic beverage ever devised by the incomparable brain of man, and drink them all when the occasions are suitable — wine with meat, the hard liquors when my so-called soul languishes, beer to let me down gently of an evening. In other words, I am omnibibulous, or more simply, ombibulous.
H.L. Mencken, "Reminiscence in the Present Tense", Minority Report, 1956.
An article by Karen De Coster and Eric Englund is quite worth reading, although there are some questionable assertions, like this one:
Not all wine is noteworthy. In fact, mass production and the use of low-quality grapes have brought forth a new class of wine known as "plonk." Plonk is a low-quality wine, usually made for the non-discriminating masses. Stores everywhere are loaded with tasteless wines — both domestic and foreign — that offer no distinction in taste between grapes or brands.
I don't know what idyllic oeneological paradise Ms. De Coster and Mr. Englund have been privileged to inhabit, but plonk is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, the vast majority of wine throughout history would be highly complimented to be compared to today's "plonk". Good wine has always been a rarity . . . our modern world — without a doubt — has far greater proportions of "good" wine than ever before (even as quantities of wine produced are growing at a breakneck pace).
Still, I can't fault them for this rather outspoken opinion:
Nothing is more dreadful than a glass of White Zin — yet people rip it off the store shelves like it is penny candy. It’s the most popular wine in America — yikes!! As the old joke goes: "If she drinks White Zinfandel she is easy, thinks she is classy and sophisticated, and actually has no clue. If he drinks White Zinfandel, he is gay." All White Zinfandel should be taken out behind the barn to be shot.
White Zinfandel is to modern wine as Baby Duck used to be to the Canadian wine scene.
Cross-posted to Ontario Wine Blog.
Zinfandel has taken a firm hold in the California wine industry because of its ability to produce huge yields. It is the most common black grape variety and can thrive in even the hottest vineyard sites. Zinfandel is the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield (No Respect!) grape because of its association with that awful tasting (sorry ladies) yet highly profitable wine known as White Zinfandel. White Zin is a "pink" wine made from Zinfandel grapes left in contact with the grape's skin for just a short time. Bob Trinchero from Sutter Home Winery started this fad in the early 1970's and made this wine into a HUGE commercial success. Many wineries make the lion's share of their profits from their White Zin sales. The winning formula? Simple: cheap grapes + huge yields + broad California designation (ever heard of a single vineyard White Zin?!) = gigantic money. Too bad you didn't think of that first — you'd have enough cash to fill an Olympic size swimming pool. I'm willing to bet that the majority of White Zinfandel consumers have no idea that Zinfandel is a red grape and capable of making monster wines that can knock your socks off. Don't believe me? Go to a Zinfandel tasting, and see for yourself!
Scott Gunerman, "Zinfandel is American: Get used to it!", Wine Lovers' Page/Brat in the Cellar, 2000
"All wine would be red," said the late Leon Adams, "if it could." While I'm not convinced that the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's '95 Montrachet feels socially inferior when it bumps into a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau on the streets of Beaune, I can sympathize with Adams's sentiment. Many drinkers think of a white wine as foreplay and feel somehow unsatisfied with a meal that doesn't lead eventually to red. Which is why, though summer undoubtedly has many features to recommend it — hot weather, tiny bathing suits, long days — some of us can't help dreading it as the doldrums of the red-wine drinker's year. It's hard to think about opening that big old bottle of Beaucastel or Beychevelle when you're sweating like a . . . I was about to say pig, but in fact, as my animal-mad wife has reminded me, pigs don't sweat. Sweating like a horse, maybe. Whatever. Anyway, I'm happy to report that some read wines go well with suntan lotion.
Jay McInerney, "Summer Reds", Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002
A French court has fined the firm of Georges Duboeuf for diluting their Beaujolais with non-Gamay grapes:
A French court on Tuesday convicted respected wine exporter Georges Duboeuf Wines of fraud after one of its wineries mixed a variety of grapes in its Beaujolais.
The court in Villefranche-sur-Saone in southeast France fined the vintner the equivalent of about $42,500 Cdn, well below the $212,500 the prosecutor had requested.
While the small quantity of impure Beaujolais wine never made it to market, prosecutors were pushing for big fines to ensure that such practices don't spread in the struggling French wine industry.
Rumours about wine makers in Beaujolais adding grapes or even partly vinified wines from other regions have been common for years. Tony Aspler even used the idea in one of his mystery novels. It's surprising that Georges Duboeuf got off with such a light fine, under the circumstances.
Hat tip to Jon for the URL.
Come Prohibition, most vineyards were pulled up. Except when owners negotiated good contracts with the church, since the amendment coincided with an enormous rise in communion-taking church goers.
A few vineyards survived selling grapes for juice or the newly popular "flavorings," often sold in casks suitable for fermentation. Grapes were shipped around the country fresh as well as in dehydrated "bricks," labeled with the stern warning: "Do NOT add this to five gallons of warm water, and do NOT add ten pounds of sugar, and yeast, or it will become wine, which would be ILLEGAL!"
Traveling for weeks in un-refrigerated boxcars meant many grapes WERE wine by the time they arrived.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "The Color Purple", Cork Jester, 2006-06-28
Shiraz (known as Syrah elsewhere) is a warm-weather grape well-suited to the temperate zones of southern Australia. Though it may seem absurd to generalize, the typical Australian Shiraz bounds up and introduces itself with a slap on your back, sticks a pot of jam in your nose, then offers to put you up for the night and lend you money. As opposed to the standoffish Rhône Valley Syrah, which usually takes years to open up and address you by your given name.
Jay McInerney, "Big Red Monster From Down Under", Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002
Jon sent me an interesting email, which I liked so much I decided to use it as a post:
Classical 96.3 is running a series of ads for VQA. The voice asks if you "VQA" and goes on to say that "lots of people do. Behind closed doors. At night. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As long as it happens between consenting adults." And so on. Essentially, it's a refined version of the Monty Python "I bet you do" skit — in fact, one of the commercials ends with "I bet you do."
The point is to get you to hit this weebsite: http://www.doyouvqa.ca.
Way to cheapen the brand, guys.
To me, VQA now stands for "Lowest Common Denominator"
And if that wasn't bad enough, he added the following to the original email:
Found a form! Sent the following!
Heard your radio commercial this morning and thought "Crickey, what a way to cheapen the brand." How about taking a page from Mercedes Benz and referring to VQA wines as "nasty?" To me, VQA is now just an acronym for "lowest common denominator." Way to go.
Ah, but you're saying "But the ad worked! You visited the website!" But am I going to buy a VQA wine? No. Does the VQA marque mean to me now what you want it to mean to the consumer? No. Do I expect to see ads for a VQA box o'wine at Wal-Mart? With an advertising campaign like this, yes — I figure that you're heading in that direction. Good luck with that.
Cross-posted to Ontario Wine Blog.
Merlot is the secret weapon of Bordeaux's Pomerol region, the grape that makes Château Pétrus among the most powerful, expensive, and sought-after red wines in the world. It's also the grape responsible for the most insipid red wines of the New World — the white zinfandel of the 1990s, Muzak for your palate. The average Merlot is so wimpy it's hard to believe it even contains alcohol.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me, 2002
Yesterday, as Victor buckled down to a tough day of Guild Wars, Elizabeth and I headed up to Uxbridge for a quiet lunch. Our favourite restaurant in town is Sixty-Six on Brock located, conveniently enough, on Brock.
Aside from the great food, friendly staff, and pleasant surroundings, one of the attractions for me is their wine list. It's not a huge restaurant, so they don't have a 20-page wine list or a full-time wine steward. What they do have, however is a good selection of both domestic and imported wines — with more than a few available by the glass:
Even better, as the fuzzy photo above indicates, the wines that are available by the glass are also available as 6oz or 3oz servings . . . which is great for giving you a chance to sample more of the available wines without either breaking your budget, or needing to call a taxi to get home safely.
I wish more restaurants would adopt such a consumer-friendly wine policy!
Cross posted to Ontario Wine Blog.
[Aging wine was] a necessity back when young wine had the softness of Brillo and the finish of Drano. Nowadays, most wine comes ready to drink and doesn't get any better. A few can still go the distance, but they're not for everyone. The bottle giveth complexity, but it taketh away fruit. As winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff put it, "Appreciating old wine is like making love to a very old lady. It is possible. It can even be enjoyable. But it requires a bit of imagination."
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Encyclopedia of Wine Hokum, Vol A-F, or New Studies on Old Hogwash", Rocky Mountain News, 2004-04-10
Somewhat to my surprise, the Constellation Brands bid to get control of Canada's largest vintner has succeeded:
Vincor CEO Donald Triggs told shareholders attending the firm's special meeting on Thursday the integration process would involve an unspecified number of layoffs.
"It's a new chapter in the company. I have every confidence that Vincor is going to be the brightest star in Constellation's galaxy," Triggs said.
"That said, the consolidation of the two companies is going to result in some lost jobs. That's very clear. And I must say, particularly in the finance area and in the international divisions, and I'm very sad about that."
Crossposted to Ontario Wine Blog.
While reading Parker can help increase your knowledge about wine, reading bad wine writing doesn't teach you much. Here's Robert Draper in the February 2002 issue of GQ, writing about the 1999 Bacio Divino: "The '99's fruit attack soars like a meteor shower, then seethes in the palate like a cosmic bath of nearly unplumable depths . . . like an unforgettable encounter with a raven-haired ingenue, one is left feeling exhilarated, intrigued, and ultimately covetous." Pfui! That's purple prose all right, and not because it's stained with wine. Besides saying nothing, the paragraph ought to be used in writing schools as an example of mistakes to avoid. Meteor showers don't soar, they fall to earth. Things may seethe on the palate, but not in the palate. The word is unplumbable, not unplumable. And while I may have been exhilarated and intrigued by my encounters with raven-haired ingenues, I've never been covetous. But I thank Mr. Draper for such a magnificent example of bad writing.
Jeff Cox, Cellaring Wine, 2003
Off on another quick wine-tasting tour today. I may post something later tonight when I get back . . . but the smart money is betting against that outcome.
That would be the only answer I could come up with for the question "Why would you want to make wine out of seaweed?"
A German marine biologist is carving out a new sideline by developing wine made from seaweed.
Dr Inez Linke says the 16% proof wine, made from the brown laminaria saccharina seaweed, tastes like a fine sherry and is extremely healthy.
"Marine algae contains many minerals, salts, vitamins and proteins that makes this particular wine extremely healthy and boosts the immune system," said Dr Linke.
Of course, last year someone was talking up Chinese fish wine, so who am I to criticize?
Reprinted with permission from Nat Decants Wine E-Newsletter at www.nataliemaclean.com:
According to a 2005 study by U.S.-based Constellation Wines, one of the largest wine conglomerates in the world, buyers of wine worth $5 or more tend to fall into six distinct categories. They describe these as "satisfied sippers," "enthusiasts," "image seekers," "savvy shoppers," "traditionalists" and "overwhelmed." The enthusiasts, for example, are "passionate about the entire wine experience from researching what they buy to sharing their discoveries with friends and family." But the largest group (23 percent, comprising mostly women), are the overwhelmed. They say shopping for wine is complex and stressful, and they worry about making mistakes. They rely heavily on shelf slip tasting notes and staff suggestions.
A typical wine writer was once described as someone with a typewriter who was looking for his name in print, a free lunch, and a way to write off his wine cellar. It's a dated view. Wine writers now use computers.
Frank J. Prial, "A Writer Many French Chateau Owners Rely Upon", Decantations, 2001
[. . .] I lack the knowledge of which glass goes with the proper wine. As I understand it, the long-stemmed glasses prevent the palm from changing the temperature of the wine — something I could understand if you had a fever of 104; otherwise, it seems a bit much. Tall stems make the glasses good for two things: tipping over when the table's bumped, and snapping off in the dishwasher. Me, I drink wine from a tumbler. (Hark! Hear the sound of heads striking hardwood floors all across the city, as wine connoisseurs swoon in horror. Sounds like popping corks, no?)
James Lileks, "Is the wine glass ironic or iconic?", Star Tribune, 2006-04-05
[. . .] the Sommelier: a glass version of the ubiquitous kegger cup, mounted on an elegant stem. It's aimed straight at those people who fret that their party's drinkware isn't sarcastic enough. Granted, they're only hip if you know they're a joke, which means you have to hand them out with the assurance that you are reveling in their amusing reinterpretation of an iconic shape. Or you could make an announcement: Folks, I know the glasses are ugly; they're elevating a pedestrian object to a class status it does not inherently possess. Enjoy! Then everyone can drink without wondering what happened to your taste.
ENTRY REMOVED AT REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN
Natalie Maclean, "Seductive Wines", Nat Decants Wine Newsletter, 2006-02-02
The Quarterly Review of Wines, in a recent piece discussing Beaulieu Vineyard's famous Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, writes of "green olive and bell pepper" as the signature of Napa Valley Cabernet. Others have spoken of green bean and even broccoli scents and flavours. Personally, I think that vegetables have their place, but I don't want them throwing a party in my red-wine glass. I prefer the red and purple flavours, like currant and blackberry, and the secondary brown ones — coffee, chocolate, tobacco — that I find in a bottle of Bryant. (Mint and eucalyptus are also welcome.)
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2000
Just a reminder that my Ontario wine postings are now appearing (sporadically) at the Ontario Wine Blog.
[. . .] once during a magnificent five-day Bacchanal in the Burgundy and Beaujolais region which included visits to Lameloise, Troisgros and Bocuse, I stumbled (not literally) into the great market or whatever they call it in the center of Beaune. There in this great museum-like, minimalist grotto there were bottles for the tasting displayed in grand array.
"When in Rome . . . er, Beaune . . ." they sip and spit. So, for once in my disgusting life, I sipped and spat. I even rinsed with water and "cleansed" my palate with cheese niblets and crackers and tiny squares of baguette.
What did I learn? I learned that for me, I achieve sensory overload and taste-bud burn-out in about five wines. Sip, slosh, snort, gargle, and spit. Sure, there's some flavor there. And, yep, this one seems pretty good, but that last one was better, I think. Ooopss, my tongue is numb, my teeth are furry and the insides of my cheeks are on fire. Can I taste much? Nope. Screw it, let's go to lunch and sit down with a bottle of something . . .
Ed Rasimus, posting to alt.food.wine, 2005-02-25
I don't like the rug pulled out from under me, and wine is a master of this trick. I fight back by taking detailed tasting notes so I can accurately recall a wine whether I tasted it in moonlight with the winemaker holding it to my lips and whispering sweet sales pitches in my ear, or in the neon light of a physics lab with a nerd whispering sweet chemical formulas.
But even the best notes can be foiled by your own, personal chemistry. In sickness and in health, medicated or stone cold sober, sweating or shivering, sleepy or buzzed — all of these states and more can totally change your perception. Immune to my obsessive note-taking, a white might scour like Brillo one week, and go down like lemonade on a hot summer's day the next. Velvety, generous reds can go tarry and bitter, only to resume the seduction a few weeks, months, or flu seasons later.
When it happens in your own mouth, it's easy to grasp how profoundly different wine might taste to someone else. Debating "red" with your spouse might be as relevant as arguing "green" with the color-blind.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "And You Can't Make Me!", Rocky Mountain News, 2005-12-27
Why are we hung up on single-grape wines? Marketing, again. After a few American decades of "Chablis" and "Burgundy," about as authentic as Cheez with a Z and Krab with a K, we asked ourselves "What Would Mondavi Do?" and ended up tagging wine with the name of the grape — a practice known as varietal labeling. (n.b.: Grapes come in varieties. Only wine is varietal. If you confuse the two, you're liable to draw derisive laughs from the three people who actually care about this distinction.)
Europe, meanwhile, has always blended. Some of the world's most famous wines — the likes of Hermitage, Bordeaux and the Turbo-Tuscans — are mergers. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a stew of up to thirteen varieties, including white grapes Bourboulenc and Marsanne as well as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Dopey, Sneezy, and Pluto.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "E Pluribus Vinum", Rocky Mountain News, 2003-06-13
I followed my parents and siblings into the word business. We read each other's stuff and even choke out a few compliments when forced to. But the few attempts any of us have made to write together resulted in sustained air strikes followed by significant combat action.
That's why the dynastic nature of the wine world has always intrigued me. So many families working together and so few murders! How do they do it?
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Family Affair", Rocky Mountain News, 2003-04-19
Jacob Sullum links to a New York Times article on the state's most recent attempt to avoid complying with the spirit of the law:
"No one has ever come up with as convoluted a signature gathering and reporting requirement as the State of New York originally proposed," said Steve Gross, director of state relations for the Wine Institute, a trade group of several hundred wine growers that has been involved in the talks with New York officials over the issue...
The form requires the delivery person to fill out by hand the name and address of the shipping company, a license number of the shipping company and a number assigned for the particular delivery, as well as the name of the winery, a shipping number for the winery, the winery's license number and the winery's address. Then the deliverer must fill out the name and address of the person receiving the shipment as well as information describing the kind of identification presented, and the time and date of delivery. The signature of the recipient is also required.
Cross-posted to OntarioWineBlog.
After some pointed suggestions from Alan (A Good Beer Blog and Gen X at 40), I've started a new blog just for my wine-imbibing and note-taking: Ontario Wine Blog. It's not going to be too regularly updated, but it does have the virtue of gathering all of my wine-related posts into one place.
Sorry about the current look-and-feel . . . I have no talent at all for graphic design.
Canada's largest winemaker, Vincor, has fought off an unwelcome bid by Constellation Brands:
"It is unfortunate for Vincor shareholders that the Vincor board chose not to pursue the alternative that would maximize value for its shareholders, despite the board's failure to identify any other alternatives," Richard Sands, Constellation's chairman-CEO, said in a release.
"The Vincor board refused to engage in any dialogue with us regarding our $35 Cdn per share cash proposal."
Vincor, meanwhile, said it will begin paying a 15-cent quarterly dividend, beginning with the quarter ending next March, and plans to buy back up to three million shares, about 10 per cent of its public float.
I drink Yellow Tail. It's from Australia, the current hip continent for wine. I had an Aussie pal over for Thanksgiving, and he told me a secret: The winery was founded by expat Italians. It's really Italian wine pretending to be hip Aussie wobble-juice. That's your how-to tip: If served Yellow Tail, note how much you love the Italian wine-making tradition. Actually, it's Australian, your host says. Actually, it's grounded in Italian traditions, you say as you swirl it around in your mouth (dribbling on your shirt in the process). There. You are now a wine connoisseur.
Or "jerk," as the vernacular has it.
James Lileks, "A fine whine about connoisseurs of the vine", Star Tribune, 2005-12-02
The last visit of the day was at Featherstone, a very small estate winery just off the road back to Brooklin (okay, about eight kilometres off the road, but psychologically it was just a short side-trip). They had just released three new wines, but unfortunately they were not available for tasting yet:
A bus tour arrived not longer after we did, so we didn't get a chance to do much more than pick up some samples of the new releases and make our way back home.
We were running out of time, having to be back to Brooklin for 7:30, so our last two stops were necessarily a bit rushed. Strewn was a bit anti-climactic after visiting Chateau des Charmes . . . there weren't any new releases available since my last visit, so I ended up with no new tasting notes for this visit.
I did stock up on some of their very good 2001 Terroir Cabernet Franc, and a few of their less expensive Two Vines wines, but I'll have to hold off until our next trip to try some new releases.
Are beer drinkers really stupider than wine-drinkers? According to a Danish study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, August, 2001, wine drinkers are psychologically healthier, better educated, and have a loftier socio-economic status. Beer aficionados are more likely to smoke and abuse drugs and alcohol. What's more, the average IQ of beer drinkers is 95.2, compared with 113.2 for wine drinkers.
Does drinking wine make you smarter, saner, better educated and more successful? No, but if you are, you probably drink wine.
Now that I've tossed that grenade onto the battlefield, me and Denis are going back and have a beer.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Intelligent Life After Beer", Rocky Mountain News, 2003-02-15
Nearly a week later, I finally get around to the third stop on our last wine tour. Chateau des Charmes has always been what I think of as my "home" winery . . . not because I live nearby, but because it was the first Canadian winery I visited. Elizabeth and I were on our very brief honeymoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in mid-December, and discovered that after the Shaw Festival ended, almost nothing was open in the town. We went for a drive in the surrounding area, and happened on this odd little building near St Davids, called Chateau des Charmes. We were far from being wine-fans in those days (consider the state of Ontario wine in the early 1980s and you'll understand why).
Madame Bosc was the only person in the winery that day, so she entertained us for well over an hour, allowing us to tour the facility and taste various wines. We left with a mixed case of wine (which, for penniless newlyweds, was a major investment). Unfortunately, I didn't think to keep tasting notes, and no longer remember what those wines were like. I do remember that we kept an eye out for Chateau des Charmes wines in the LCBO from that point onwards (but the LCBO was still in their late Dark Age period, so Canadian wine was still heavy on the dreck and very light on the vinifera).
Since that long-ago day, of course, the Bosc family have moved to a stunning new building closer to the centre of the village, which is well worth the visit even if you're not a budding wine snob.
Brendan and I arrived at what first seemed to be a bad time: the staff were very busy and the private tasting room was not available. The previous day, the Chateau had been host to a huge party to celebrate the appointment of M. Paul Bosc, Sr. to the Order of Canada.
Some of the staff on duty on Monday had not been able to attend the main celebrations, so we were able to share in their own echo-celebration with tastings of a 1995 Paul Bosc Vineyard Chardonnay and a 1995 Paul Bosc Vineyard Pinot Noir. Sadly, of course, these bottles were among only a tiny selection from that vintage and are not for sale.
We started off with a sample of the 2001 St. Davids Bench Cabernet Franc. This had the typical violet flower nose with some leather. The body was very full, with plenty of fruit and tobacco on the palate, with a long finish. A very good wine indeed.
Next was a 2001 Paul Bosc Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm personally less taken with Ontario Cab Sauv. in general, as I find them somewhat green on the nose (they generally work better in Cab/Merlot or Meritage blends in my opinion). This was an exception to my general case: while it still had a bit more greenery on the nose than I like, the flavours were unimpaired. It had plenty of tannic structure, and loads of spices in the mouth, with a very long finish.
We then violated the usual tasting progression, as the two 1995 wines were brought out of the cellar. The Chardonnay was just breathtaking, very pale in colour, and showing almost a flowery nose. The flavours were all so well integrated that it was very challenging trying to tease out what the component flavours might be (and probably a waste of time . . . this wine was meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed). It had one of the longest finishes I've experienced with a Chardonnay.
The other 1995 wine, the Pinot Noir, was still very, very good, but not quite as wonderful as the Chardonnay had been. The colour was still good and there were no obvious signs of over-aging . . . this wine hadn't passed its peak yet. As with the Chardonnay, the flavours were supremely well-integrated. These two wines were a textbook example of why we allow certain wines to age: they can continue to improve over extended periods of time.
To round out the tasting, we tried the 2002 Paul Bosc Estate Equuleus, the Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Chateau des Charmes only produces their Equuleus in exceptional years, so there have been only a few vintages that qualified (I believe this is the third time in the last seven or eight years, but I could be mistaken there). This wine could still benefit from more aging — as you'd expect from this blend of varietals. It's drinking well now, but would probably improve even further in 2-3 years.
There's evidence to suggest that the transition from spear to John Deere owed more to the lure of the grape harvest than the thrill of the pigsty.
The move to agriculture brought food surpluses which begat cities and cuneiform and . . . sewage. So many people, so little water. Given the difficulties of delivering virgin spring water to a megalopolis, and since any running water around doubled as a bathroom, wine, for millennia, was the only safe thing to drink.
What would your life be like if your first cup in the morning were not a double low-fat latté, but a Cabernet? It would be a drunken fog, that's what. Virtually every invention of Western society, up until the 1600s, when coffee, tea, and hot chocolate got people boiling water, was made by someone half-crocked. Now, it's not as bad as it sounds. Wine, at that point, had about a quarter the alcohol of your average California Zinfandel. It was also sweet, sour, and pretty awful. You can imagine how bad, if they added seawater, lead and tree sap to make it taste better.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Western Civ 101: How wine saved history", Waiter, There's a Horse in my Wine, 2005
Jon has had enough of my blathering about wine . . . he's now doing his own version of my wine tour blogging:
Our first stop was Hillebille, which has made great strides in improving the atmosphere of their tasting house; they've taken the wheels off and have leveled the trailer with some bottle jacks, and we saw evidence of some new cinder blocks being prepared for the new foundation. Inside, they've taken down the old water-damaged paneling and have put up some new chipboard, which gives the whole tasting room a warm and woody desconstructivist look.
The still was still ( ha ha! ) cooling down when we arrived, so all that was on hand for us to taste today was HilleBille Blue, which the winery touts as being good down to -40° C. Blue provides the palate-cleansing sensation of, say, turpentine, but without the overt sweetness of Canadian Tire Winter-X Heavy Duty Antifreeze (although it much resembles the latter in the glass). Blue will go well with bad piercings, belly shirts, drinking in the garage, and yelling "Whooooooooo!" whenever the Leafs score.
Bren was having trouble seeing when we left, so rather than risk travelling very far, we staggered down the hill to Spottswoode Estates. Mr. Spottswoode himself seems to have trust issues, and he required us to perform various acts upon his person to prove that we could be trusted. This totally confused my palate for the rest of the day, and as a result, all I can say is that Spottswoode is indeed round and full in the mouth.
Jon also wrote, "When I came up with that, I was thinking of Spottswoode from Team America. Unfortunately, there really is a Spottswoode: http://www.spottswoode.com/.
Sorry for the delay . . . my home internet connection has been wonky for the last little while, so I'm having to dial up via another account. This should have been posted yesterday.
We'd spent more time at Angels Gate than we'd originally intended, so we kept our tasting down to a minimum (never a good plan when you're on a tasting tour, I assure you). The tasting area at Malivoire has been revamped since the last time I visited, with a couple of stainless steel tanks moved out of the way to allow a larger area for visitors. It certainly made the area seem much less cramped than it used to.
The 2004 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer had a nose I can only describe as being "Turkish Delight": rose and lemon. Very unusual. The wine had some of the oily mouth-feel that true Alsace Gewürztraminers often have — this is a good thing — but there was a slight bitterness on the finish that didn't seem to belong.
The 2003 Courtney Single Block Gamay was quite good: this has been a consistently big wine each vintage I've tried. The nose had some black pepper and earth with something resembling fresh-cut paper (yeah, I know, but I'm just reporting what I smelled). The body had good fruitiness up front and a long finish. Very nice, but I'm afraid it's a little over my budget for Gamays at $25 per bottle.
The 2003 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc is a wine that can be cellared for a few years. It's drinking well now, but there's lots of tannic structure to allow it to continue developing for a while. The predominant aromas on the nose are violet flowers and redcurrant jam. The wine has good body, and a long finish.
The last wine I tried was the Limited Edition 2003 Old Vines Foch. I'm not much of a fan of hybrids like Foch and Baco, but this is certainly a big, burly red wine. The most noticeable thing coming out of the glass was an aroma similar to chocolate malt! On the palate, there's plenty of black pepper and black cherry flavour, with (to me) a bit of unwelcome green pepper flavour. A medium-long finish. This is, as the name says, a limited edition, so if you'd like to get some, you'll need to act quickly . . . they're selling out fast.
Just a brief summary of yesterday's tour. According to the news this morning, I had a narrow escape on my way down to wine country: someone scattered sharp metal shards along highway 407 in the westbound lanes about an hour before I got to that stretch of road. Dozens of cars had to pull off the road with slashed tires as a result. We saw no sign of it by the time we passed through that section — kudos to the maintenance crews on the ETR.
The weather looked briefly promising, as the sun came out just as we turned around the west end of Lake Ontario, but it was a promise unfulfilled: the rain started up about an hour later and continued pretty much the entire day from that point onwards.
Bren's choice for our first stop was Angels Gate. We've always enjoyed our visits here, but today was particularly good: aside from a couple of gentlemen trying to meet with the winemaker, we were uninterrupted for over an hour of visiting time. Between the two of us, we sampled a broad selection of very nice wines, without being jostled by other visitors, or (much, much worse) shoehorned out of the way by arriving bus tourists.
We started off looking at some chardonnays: the 2002 and 2003 (only available as futures right now) and the 2003 and 2004 Old Vines. While each of them was worth some attention, it was the 2003 Old Vines which captured my full attention. The initial aroma rising from the glass was buttered asparagus . . . not something I've encountered with many chardonnays before. The body was very fresh (the winemaker doesn't believe in over-oaking chardonnay), with only a bit of vanilla. A very nice wine for the price ($23.95).
The 2004 Pinot Noir was fruity and bright . . . pleasant, refreshing even, but not yet a challenge to the great Burgundy wines. At a tiny fraction of their prices, that's not a problem. I'm no expert (as reading my past reviews would tell you), but this doesn't seem to be a wine that will benefit from a lot of cellaring: a year or two would probably be fine, but it's not a 10- or 20-year cellar prospect.
The bargain of the visit was the 2003 Cabernet-Merlot. At $15.95, this was a very good (not overly fruity) Bordeaux-style wine. I was amazed at how much aroma developed after the wine had been put through a decanting funnel (something that until yesterday I'd considered pretty much just a showy toy for tasting bars). This wine has plenty of tannins, so it could be aged for a while, but it's drinking well right now. Decant this one for an hour or so, and then pair it with some steak . . . wonderful stuff.
The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon had some serious tannins . . . aging would be a good thing . . . but they're pretty much sold out now. The 2003 Cabernet Franc also benefitted from decanting/aerating. It showed violet flowers and saddle leather on the nose, with a good, mouth-filling body. Not quite as good a bargain as the Cabernet-Merlot blend, but still a good buy at $18.95.
We can detect over 10,000 different components in vinifera wines, which is a lucky break for wine critics who would get pretty bored writing, "tastes like wine," over and over again. Many of these chemicals have lock-and-key connections in our brain which work something like this: imagine the smell of Sunkist as a key that fits into a lock in your brain, causing you to think, "Orange!" Now, Vinifera takes a counterfeit key and sticks it in the same slot, causing you to say, "Hints of pungent orange peel tiptoe bracingly across the midpalate," while your brain thinks, "Orange!" It also has the key to sauerkraut, filter pad and diesel, according to the official Wine Aroma Wheel.
Jennifer Chotzi Rosen, "After the Fox", Rocky Mountain News, 2002-07-27
Today I'll be off wine-tasting in the Beamsville Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake areas, so there'll be no posting until much later today.
Though it's fashionable to pretend otherwise, there are indeed such things as cool and dorky wines. I took the question to an assorted in-crowd of master sommeliers, opinion-making wine press and early-adaptors. What wines, I asked, are hotter than hot? What do sommeliers drink and discuss in breathless whispers when they're alone with their own kind?
Here's what I learned. What's not cool is money. Forking over wads of cash to have giant, manly, trophy wines decanted is so over.
The concept of the moment is terroir-wine. Wine from, say, a single, half-acre vineyard on a precipitous mountainside in East Fraxistan. Weeded, harvested, stomped and vinted by one old guy with callused hands and the artistic sensibilities of a concert violinist; so in-tune with life's cycles that the grapes talk to him. He has to be into some sustainable-earth cult involving ancient amphorae, lunar cycles, rune-casting and babbling in tongues. The wine should be quirky, perhaps with a putrid smell you have to get past before you suck it in, gurgle loudly, and proclaim it: "pretty funky stuff." Funky is good. It speaks of earth and of the fine line between disgusting and delicious. A line the general public, with its bland, corporate taste, is too cowardly to approach.
Jennifer Chotzi Rosen, "Chasing Cool", vinchotzi.com, 2005-11-23
They can say that in France because to the average Frenchman "wine" means "French wine." And in a country where truckers buy splits of Bordeaux at highway rest-stops, golfers chug burgundy, not Bud, and a glass of red costs less than a medium coke, face it, they drink a lot more and know what they like.
But Americans, the kind who don't collect vintage-chart flash-cards, are faced with a paralyzing array of choices. They can resolve never to venture beyond the few, usually well-advertised, brands they know. Or they can check the ratings. Not just Parker's. Numbers from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits all appear on the shelf-talkers. And what's wrong with that? Doesn't knowing that SOMEONE considered it a Best Buy make you feel a little less in-the-dark when coughing up $15-$20 for an unfamiliar bottle?
Perhaps your local movie critic weeps over female bonding, while your tastes run more to female bondage. At least you can read his opinion, even as you take it through a filter. You won't agree with all wine critics, either, but that's no reason to knock the whole concept.
In the best of worlds, you would always have a trusted no-professional or wine-geek friend help you. Otherwise, letting someone else plough through the business of comparing hundreds of wines for you makes sense, even if the result is rating an artistic creation with a number. Not perfect, but certainly helpful.
Jennifer Rosen, "The Rating Game", Rocky Mountain News, 2002-07-02
It's currently 9:38pm on Wednesday in Toronto*. There are 38 places you can get booze right now. (* More cities coming soon!)
Along with the acknowledged benefits of drinking red wine, beer may now be joining in as a healthy indulgence:
It turns out that beer hops contain a unique micronutrient that inhibits cancer-causing enzymes. Hops are plants used in beer to give it aroma, flavor and bitterness.
The compound, xanthohumol, was first isolated by researchers with Oregon State University 10 years ago. Initial testing was promising, and now an increasing number of laboratories across the world have begun studying the compound, said Fred Stevens, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State's College of Pharmacy.
Earlier this year, a German research journal even devoted an entire issue to xanthohumol, he said.
What Stevens and others are discovering is that xanthohumol has several unique effects. Along with inhibiting tumor growth and other enzymes that activate cancer cells, it also helps the body make unhealthy compounds more water-soluble, so they can be excreted.
Most beers made today are low on hops, however, and so don't contain much xanthohumol. But beers known for being "hoppy" — usually porter, stout and ale types — have much higher levels of the compound. Oregon's microbrews ranked particularly high, Stevens said, which is not surprising: U.S. hops are grown almost entirely in the Northwest.
Oddly enough, in addition to my well-known wine habit, I'm also a fan of heavily-hopped ales. Vindication! A-ha!
Hat tip to Hit and Run.
Julie Duggan sent along a link to a New York Times article on the so-called "Rhône Rangers":
It's too simple, of course, to lump all Rhone wines together. Among Rhone reds, the wines of the northern Rhone, like Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, are made almost entirely of the syrah grape. On the other hand, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from the southern Rhone, and Côtes-du-Rhônes are blended wines. More than a dozen grapes can legally be included in the Châteauneuf mix, but the most important are grenache, mourvèdre and syrah.
The American producers were drawn to both Rhone styles, but perhaps inevitably syrah has become the big hit among Rhone-style wines, and not necessarily because the grape makes better wines. As John Alban of Alban Vineyards, now probably the most influential of the American Rhone producers, told me in August, Americans understand single-grape wines better than blends, given their recent history of buying cabernet, merlot and chardonnay. So Mr. Alban, for one, chooses not to make a Châteauneuf-style blend. His syrahs, incidentally, are superb.
As always, the selection of California wine in my local LCBO outlets is heavily weighted towards the White Zinfandel, so I haven't seen many Rhône Ranger wines, and those I have seen were priced a bit higher than I'd be comfortable with for experimentation.
Alan Kerr recounts a recent Penfolds event in Toronto:
G'day mates (good day friends and acquaintances). A few Aussie blokes (Australian gentlemen) rocked up (arrived) in Toronto, direct from the lucky land (Australia) recently to do a little bizo (business) and skite (brag) about their solid (very good) wines. This Pommy Bastard (Englishman) was lucky enough to attend this splendid affair.
During the arvo (afternoon), those tall poppies (lucky people) who's cellars contain Penfolds wines fifteen years and older, were invited to bring them along, have them examined and re-corked, if deemed necessary, free of charge. Well, the whole beano (festival or celebration) was bonza (exciting) and well teed up (organized).
I don't get many chances to try French wines (aside from the usual assortment of Vin du Pays and a few AOC wines in the LCBO's main catalogue), so this New York Times review (reg. req'd.) of wines from the Loire was only of academic interest to me. If you live in an area with wider choices of French wines (and deeper pockets), you may find this more helpful.
The early indication is that the reds are faring much better than the whites. The 2003 Beaujolais vintage was excellent, rife with wines of unusual intensity. And, as the Dining section's wine panel found out in a tasting of 25 red wines from the Chinon and Bourgueil regions of the Loire Valley, the 2003 vintage was superb there as well.
Perhaps this should not be surprising. Chinon and Bourgueil benefit from hot weather more than most regions. The reds are made from the cabernet franc grape, which in the Loire Valley produces wines that offer a fragile teeter-totter balance of fruit, mineral and herbal flavors. If the grapes do not ripen fully, either because of the weather or because they are picked too early, those herbal flavors can become vegetal, resulting in wines that are nastily reminiscent of green bell peppers and canned peas and corn.
The Cabernet Franc is one of the vinifera grapes that grows very well in the Niagara DVA, so I'm quite familiar with the flavours, and the weakest examples do indeed taste strongly of green pepper. I quite like real green peppers, but I consider it an unwelcome addition to the glass of wine I'm drinking.
Hat tip to Julie Duggan for the link.
In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.
Because it is usually higher in acid than Chardonnay (or Sémillon, with which it is blended in Bordeaux), Sauvignon Blanc accompanies a far greater range of food. Almost any kind of fish does well with SB — which provides roughly the same flavor-enhancing service as lemon juice. [. . .] To me, a good Sauvignon Blanc should conjure up a picnic in a meadow, with scruffy wildflowers sprinkled amid the grasses and the faintest funky scent of a distant farm on the breeze. Kissing would definitely be part of these bucolic festivities, a little light petting perhaps, but nothing heavier than that. Hey — it's not that kind of wine, if you know what I mean.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
The Toronto Star (reg. req'd) has an article about some of the newer owners of wineries in the Niagara DVA:
Tawse, 48, who opened his winery this spring, estimates he spends about 35 per cent of his time amid the vines and away from his downtown office.
Others with similarly un-yeomanlike resumés include Gerry Schwartz, head of Onex Corp. and Vincor's biggest shareholder with 1.25 million shares. On Vincor's board sits former Second Cup chief executive Michael Bregman.
There's also Norm Beal, owner of Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery in Beamsville, who finally gave up oil trading this year to pursue wine-making full-time. And David Feldberg, CEO of office furniture manufacturer Teknion Corp., opened Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake in June.
They're all involved in an industry that province-wide generated $450 million in sales last year on volume of 44 million litres and employed more than 5,000, according to the Wine Council of Ontario.
I'm agnostic on the question of whether this is a good thing or not: that successful businessmen are moving into the industry shows that there is definite chances for profits. But some of the very best wine is produced by tiny micro-wineries, where the profit margins are very, very thin. The big wineries are still trying to be all things to all drinkers: provide tony, high-quality wines for the premium market, and still produce mega-lots of cheap plonk. Calfornia seems to be moving away from that model, so it will be interesting to see if Niagara will emulate them.
Hat tip to Jon for the link.
Vincor, Canada's largest wine company, has been targeted in a hostile takeover bid today:
U.S.-based Constellation Brands, Inc. has made a hostile bid to buy Canadian wine producer Vincor International Inc. for $1.4 billion.
The U.S. company announced late Tuesday it had offered to pay $31 a share in cash for Vincor, Canada's biggest wine producer based in Mississauga, Ont.
Constellation said its proposal represents a premium of about 39 per cent over Vincor's closing share price of Sept. 8, the day before Constellation first submitted its proposal to acquire Vincor. [. . .]
"This transaction is a unique opportunity for Vincor and its shareholders to receive a significant cash premium for their shares despite the very difficult operating conditions Vincor faces in markets such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia where it lacks scale."
Fascinating times in the Canadian wine business.
Almost anyone who aspires to sophistication claims to like dry wine; Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé will put the claim to the test; up against these wines, the average American Chardonnay tastes like Sauternes.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
Anxiety about the dangers of alcohol and the directions of social change galvanized the anti-drink campaign: by the last decades of the 1900s it was the largest sector of the broad-based movement for social reform that was active in every western country. Within the campaign were two broad streams. One was the teetotal or prohibitionist wing, which campaigned for a total ban on the production, sale and consumption of alcohol. For prohibitionists, all forms of alcohol were an unmitigated evil that was responsible for most of the ills that faced individuals and society. Among their more extravagant allegations were that alcohol made people more vulnerable to cholera and that particularly heavy drinkers were at risk of spontaneous combustion. Temperance literature recorded many eye-witness accounts of drinkers who had died from internal conflagration. Reports described blue flames and smoke bursting from the mouth and nostrils, and in some cases, it was said, no more than the charred remains of these drinkers were found.
Rod Phillips, A Short History of Wine
Tom Wark is a fan of critics, but not of the amateur kind:
And one thing we don't need, in my opinion, is one more person with only a modicum of experience, telling others what is good or bad, what is worthy or unworthy to drink, what is well made or poorly made.
If you've been drinking wine for only five years, I really don't want to read your review of ANY wine.
If you don't have a history tasting and studying the wines from every wine region of the world, I just don't care what your critical opinion is of that Zinfandel you had the other night.
Hmmmm. I can see his point, that informed criticism is more useful as guidance to the reader, but taken to an extreme, this leads to only the Olympian Gods doing criticism. When I review a wine (and I don't presume to do full reviews, as you have probably noticed), I'm just recording my own experience . . . I'd be flabbergasted to find that anyone was taking my brief notes and 1-10 rating seriously.
I've always thought that there was a useful distinction between reviewers and critics: that a critic is trying to tell you what you should like, while a reviewer just tells you what he or she likes. I think Spider Robinson summed it up very nicely: "a critic tells you whether or not it's Art; a reviewer tells you whether or not it's any damn good to read."
I think one of the reasons I have never been seriously tempted by the vegetarian option is that, in my experience, most wines seem to become surly and depressed when they are forced to associate exclusively with legumes, grains, and chlorophyll-based life-forms. Like girls and boys locked away in same-sex prep schools, most wines yearn for a bit of flesh.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
According to a report in The Grauniad, the European Union and the US government have agreed on new rules for wine names:
America's wine producers have finally been rumbled, thanks to a lack of castles in the US. From 2008 US vineyards will no longer be able to boast that a wine hails from a château unless they can prove its grapes are grown within sight of a castle. Other European "traditional expressions", such as vintage, noble and classic, will also be banned unless they are true. The new rules are part of an EU/US deal to police the transatlantic wine trade. Existing US wines can still be given European names, such as burgundy, champagne and claret, but new wines will have to be given a US name.
A few thoughts: "claret", being an English word, should not be restricted in the same way as purely geographical names like the other two examples mentioned. I've gotten quite comfortable referring to "Pinot Noir" instead of "Burgundy" or "Meritage" (rhymes with "heritage") rather than "Bordeaux". Also, many Bordeaux wineries use the term "Chateau", even though castles are relatively rare there, too. I suspect that the Europeans would have preferred banning American wineries from using any French, German, Spanish, or Italian words or phrases if they could have gotten away with it . . .
European winemakers have long been resentful that prestigious names that took their forebears centuries to build up, such as California champagne, are used generically in the US. American winemakers have been equally frustrated by the quality and labelling restrictions that limit their access to the lucrative European market, which they have claimed is little more than protectionism.
Two decades of faltering negotiations often teetered on the brink of a transatlantic wine war, with Washington repeatedly threatening legal action against Brussels at the World Trade Organisation.
But now the American Government has promised to impose restrictions on its winemakers' use of 17 European wine names as a prelude to an eventual ban. In return, Europe will recognise every winemaking technique allowed in the US and reduce the bureaucracy that American vintners face when trying to export their products.
Elizabeth and I got out to a couple of our local-ish wineries again last weekend, but I only just finished transcribing my notes from the visits. We went back to Willow Springs, but our timing was off: they're releasing some new wines this coming weekend, but we tried a couple of wines that have been available for a while:
Cabernet Sauvignon VQA
Has plenty of blackberry on the nose. Body has enough tannins, but is not too astringent. Medium-short finish.
Very tart, for an off-dry wine. Elizabeth enjoyed this one.
We also got what might have been the last bottle of their Cabernet Franc, which has not been available for tasting at any of our visits. Their Meritage blend has sold out, which is too bad: it was a great deal on a very flavourful wine.
Our second stop was well-worth the time: Applewood Farm Winery.
Black Forrest Cherry
About to be released: sampled at the winery.
A brilliant dessert wine or a dessert in itself. Chocolate, fruit, and just enough sweetness to carry the flavours through a long, long finish. Excellent.
Cherry Dinner Wine
Off dry (2) with good balancing acidity. A must for all cherry lovers. A fantastic social wine, or a beautiful match to a spicy curry.
Lush, juicy fruit aromas and matching flavours. Better than most cherry wines I've tried, with a medium-long finish.
Evan's Wild Blueberry Port
A gold medal winner at the Canadian Wine Championship.
Although called a "Port", it's not peppery as most port-style wines are. Rich flavours and a long finish are excuse enough for the name, however.
Just in case Robin Hood and Little John come to dinner. Sweet, thick wine made entirely of honey. 20% alc./vol.
Not as spicy as some commercial meads we've tasted, but an excellent bargain (if you like mead). Very long finish.
Wild Blueberry Dessert Wine
Another good sweet wine from Applewood. Very long finish.
We'd tried to visit Applewood Farms a few times in the past couple of months, but we'd always chosen the wrong days to drop in. The third time was the charm . . . and we'll certainly be back for more visits in the future.
Jacob Sullum examines the reputation of La Fée Verte, Absinthe:
Like many liqueurs, absinthe, first produced commercially in 1798, was originally a tonic, building on millennia of wormwood's use as a medicine. Like marijuana in the 1960s, absinthe became an emblem of avant-garde creativity. Like marijuana in the 1930s, it was said to drive people mad. Adams reports that "it became popular to order absinthe under the nickname 'un train direct' or 'une correspondance,' from the phrase 'train direct á Charenton' or 'correspondance á Charenton': a fast route to the madhouse."
Now as then, absinthe's appeal is based largely on its notoriety. And just as pot would lose its countercultural cachet if it were sold by Philip Morris, absinthe is not the same when it is no longer prohibited. This year, a century after a Swiss vineyard worker triggered absinthe bans across Europe by murdering his wife and children while under the influence of the Green Fairy (along with copious amounts of wine and brandy), absinthe containing up to 35 milligrams of thujone per liter became legal again in Switzerland, where the drink was invented. Some connoisseurs are dismayed to see absinthe go legit. "I want to preserve the myth that comes with keeping absinthe forbidden," one told The New York Times last fall. "The myth is the thrill of breaking the law and not getting caught."
I've tried one of the modern incarnations of Absinthe, and while it's a very pleasant anise-flavoured drink, it's not quite liquid LSD.
A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble. A bottle produces the contrary effect. Excess causes a comatose insensibility.
The day's quotation at Jamie Kennedy's Wine Bar, Toronto, 16 July
The answer may well be "all the time" if a proposed temporary change to the Ontario government's labelling requirements for the 2005 vintage, according to a Toronto Star report (reg. req'd.):
The goal is to prop up the VQA-approved, 100-per-cent-made-in-Ontario brands. To do that, wineries propose that they should be allowed to devote more of their scarce grapes to those higher-profile, pricier brands and less to their blended varieties.
The plan is to lower the amount of Ontariograpes required for blended brands from 30 per cent to zero. That means that a bottle of wine from an Ontario vintner could be made entirely of foreign grapes.
"We want to try and keep as much high-quality VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines on the shelf as possible. It's certainly going to help us in terms of brand perception," said Norm Beal, chair of the Wine Council of Ontario, which represents dozens of wineries.
But the vintners and growers only want the change to last one year, to apply to the 2005 vintage bottles that will hit shelves early in 2006. After that, the minimum blend requirements would return to 30 per cent Ontario grapes.
As you probably know from reading the blog, I'm generally a fan of the VQA system, in so far as it promotes higher quality Canadian wines. This is less a quality issue than a regulatory one: the Ontario wineries want to retain more of the locally grown crop — which will be down significantly from previous years — for their premium VQA wines, but that means that the Ministry of Government Services must allow them to sell wines from totally foreign grapes to be sold as "Ontario" wines.
I rarely buy non-VQA wines, so it's not going to directly effect me . . . but if they don't allow the change, it will probably drive up the price of VQA wines. Colour me prejudiced in favour of the change!
A related move by the Wine Council is to ask the LCBO to make the distinction between VQA and non-VQA wines more obvious to consumers:
Currently, both VQA and blended wines sit in the "Ontario" aisle, though in separate sections.Though Beal noted that blended wines say "Cellared in Canada" on the label so as not to completely hide foreign content, he said, "It sometimes can be a little bit confusing. A lot of people don't look at the label until they get their wine home."
And the addition of local-made but entirely foreign-content wines could increase the confusion.
So the groups want a distinct "Cellared in Canada" area — which would be home to the zero-per-cent local content wines next year and the 30-per-cent wines once the proposed stopgap blend change returns to normal.
This is a good move regardless of whether the other proposal is allowed. I hope the LCBO follows through on it.
Hat tip to Jon for the link to the Toronto Star article.
What seemed to me to make white Burgundies worth the effort was the fact that they tended to have more character, to be better balanced, more elegant . . . more, how you say in English . . . more Catherine Deneuve. More Jules and Jim than Die Hard; less top-heavy and more food-friendly than New World wines. On the other hand, it was and is quite possible to spend forty bucks on a bottle that tastes like it has been barrel-fermented with a big clump of terroir, or with Pierre's old socks, or possibly his former cat. Yikes! Rather too much character, mon cher.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
I only drink champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it — unless I'm thirsty.
When my editor told me that I could write about anything I wanted in my first column so long as it was Chardonnay, I thought briefly about killing her. In the years since Chardonnay has become a virtual brand name I've grown sick to death of hearing my waiter say, "We have a nice Chardonnay." The "house" chard in most restaurants usually tastes like some laboratory synthesis of lemon and sugar. If on the other hand, you order off the top of the list, you may get something that tastes like five pounds of melted butter churned in fresh-cut oak.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
ENTRY REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN
Natalie MacLean, Nat Decants newsletter, 2005-08-04
Anyone who starts analyzing the taste of a rosé in public should be thrown into the pool immediately. Since I am safe in a locked office at this moment, though, let me propose a few guidelines. A good rosé should be drier than Kool-Aid and sweeter than Amstel Light. I should be enlivened by a thin wire of acidity, to zap the taste buds, and it should have a middle core of fruit that is just pronounced enough to suggest the grape varietal (or varietals) from which it was made. Pinot Noir, being delicate to begin with, tends to make delicate rosés. Cabernet, with its astringency, does not. Some pleasingly hearty pink wines are made from the red grapes indigenous to the Rhône and southern France, such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Regardless of the varietal, rosé is best drunk within a couple of years of vintage.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
We got off to a later start than we'd planned, so we only managed to get a visit in to Fielding Estates before lunch, but the visit was very worthwhile. Jake, our host, was very enthusiastic and happy to share his knowledge with us. We sampled several wines and then toured the facility, which is very impressive. As you drive in from the road, the building is very reminiscent of the huge Jackson-Triggs facility in Niagara-on-the-Lake — Fielding used the same architects.
Tasting notes for Fielding Estates wines:
2002 Cabernet Merlot Reserve VQA
50/50 blend of Cab. Sauv. and Merlot. 18 months in French oak. 420 cases produced. Gold medal at 2005 All-Canadian Wine Championships, Silver at 2005 Ontario Wine Awards.
Heavy mushroom aroma on the nose. Green pepper and rubber on the palate. A bit bitter on the finish. Overall, very good indeed.
2004 Chardonnay Musque Wismer Vineyards VQA
350 cases produced. Gold medal winner at 2005 Ontario wine awards.
Clove and peach aromas on the nose. Sweet honey on the tongue with a long finish. Very pleasant sipping wine.
2004 Gewürztraminer VQA
Rose petals and ripe melons on the nose. 270 cases produced.
Lighter and less powerful nose than the semi-dry Riesling. Some lychee on the palate, but a fairly short finish.
2004 Riesling Reserve Rosomel Vineyards VQA
27 year old vines. 270 cases produced.
Candied rose petal on the nose. Body very sweet with a very long finish. Another white wine that tasted far sweeter than its nominal (2) rating.
2004 Riesling Semi-dry VQA
Recommended by Michael Pinkus.
Rose petals on the nose. Medium-sweet flowers and orange on the palate. Long finish. Tastes much sweeter than a (2)!
From Fielding, we drove in to Jordan to have lunch at Zooma-Zooma Café. They were quite busy, so we didn't make up much time, especially as we then had to backtrack to get to our next planned winery: Crown Bench Estates.
Crown Bench is just far enough off the main wine route that they don't appear to have to cope with mass crowding in their tasting room (we've been driven out of some rooms as busloads of tourists arrived). Their speciality is flavoured icewines, although you can only taste one complimentary icewine sample (if you buy an icewine glass, you get two more free icewine samples). Unfortunately, Brendan and one of the staff members at Crown Bench didn't hit it off well at all, and Victor was made to feel very unwelcome so we left under less than ideal conditions.
Tasting notes for Crown Bench wines:
2001 Cabernet Franc VQA
Rubber and stable straw on the nose. Slightly bitter body with primarily fig flavours. Long finish.
2000 Meritage VQA
60 Cabernet Franc/25 Merlot/15 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Strong green pepper on the nose, but the flavours on the palate are more raisiny than green vegetal. Medium-length finish.
2001 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay
Aged 24 months in oak barrels.
Has an interesting vanilla nose, with good acid balance on the palate. Buttery, in spite of the long oak aging. Medium-long finish.
2000 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay
Barrel aged for 18 months.
Green asparagus on the nose. Buttery body with a medium length finish.
Wild Ginger Root Ice
Made with barrel fermented and aged Vidal Icewine and organic wild ginger root.
Not as powerfully ginger-flavoured as I expected, but very pleasant sipping. Very long finish, and relatively low alcohol (10%).
Leaving Crown Bench, we stopped at De Sousa Wine Cellars, who distinguish themselves from other area wineries by emphasizing their Portuguese heritage. One of the ways they do this is by serving some of their wine in clay cups (although on our visit, they were using disposable plastic wineglasses).
Tasting notes for De Sousa wines:
2002 Cabernet-Merlot VQA
Stable straw on the nose. Good mouthfeel, with just enough tannins to show some aging potential. Will probably improve over the next year or two.
2002 Chardonnay Reserve VQA
Just a bit of oakiness to take the edge off the grapes. Nice acid balance and medium long finish.
2002 Merlot VQA
Floral notes on the nose(!) Red fruit and spice on the palate with a medium finish.
2002 Sauvignon Blanc VQA
Gooseberry on the nose. Body shows good acidity and a bit of residual sweetness. Medium-length finish.
From De Sousa, the next planned winery was Ridgepoint, but they (and nearby Tawse) are not open on Tuesdays, so we carried on to Birchwood. Birchwood's facility is visible to traffic hurtling by on the Q.E.W., but this was the first time we'd been able to stop. It turned out to be a great visit, as the wines were interesting and the server at the tasting bar (who is also the winery assistant manager) did a wonderful job of informing and entertaining us (and other visitors).
Tasting notes for Birchwood wines:
2003 Cabernet Franc Icewine VQA
One of the few red grape icewines available in Ontario.
Floral nose with strawberry most prominent on the palate. Very long finish.
2002 Cabernet Franc VQA
Violets and red fruit on the nose. Good mouth-filling tannins and a medium-long finish.
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon VQA
Toasted bread and figs on the nose. Bite of alcohol on the tongue, but a very fast fade. Very short finish.
Oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignon, fortified with grape spirits.
Black pepper on the nose. Lots of raisins and other dried fruit on the palate and a long finish.
Floral nose with typical Gewürztraminer aromas. Medium long finish.
2002 Riesling VQA
Petrol on the nose. A bit sweeter than I expected, but a good acid balance and medium finish.
2004 Salmon River Riesling VQA
Not as acidic as the Birchwood Riesling, but quite refreshing. A good summer wine.
The wine-tasting day was rapidly drawing to a close (most wineries close by 5, a few by 6), so we were fortunate that Flat Rock Cellars was our final planned stop in the Beamsville area. Flat Rock has a wonderful site, overlooking part of their vineyard and looking north towards Lake Ontario. The winery is one of only three gravity-flow wineries in Ontario (that I'm aware of, anyway), so the grapes enter the winery at the top level and are processed at each level before flowing naturally down to the next level (minimizing or eliminating pumping).
Tasting notes for Flat Rock wines:
2004 Chardonnay VQA
Blended from half oaked and half unoaked batches.
Very faint vanilla and oatmeal on the nose. Good balance on the palate and a medium-long finish.
2004 Nadja's Vineyard Riesling VQA
Highly perfumed nose. Mineral notes on the palate and lemon on the finish.
2004 Pinot Noir Rosé VQA
Delightful onionskin colour. Lovely fruit and balanced acids. Medium length finish.
2003 Pinot Noir VQA
India Ink and cedar shavings on the nose. Violets and more cedar on the body. Long finish.
2004 Riesling VQA
Not as complex as the Nadja's Vineyard Riesling. Perhaps a bit more minerals in the body and a slight bitterness on the finish.
At the end of the tour, Brendan and I had each accumulated over a dozen bottles from the various wineries and could easily have brought home many, many more. Aside from our experiences at Crown Bench, we could declare the tour a resounding success.
Jon passed along a link to a posting at Free Will blog, talking about the state of the Illinois wineries:
[Quoting from a Chicago Tribune article]: "That hasn't stopped the state from pouring $500,000 a year to promote and assist the blossoming wine industry and to encourage residents that trips to wineries and vineyards make great getaways to enjoy local tastes. To help the cause, Blagojevich has even declared September 'Illinois Wine Month'."
Despite fueling a $20,000,000 tourism industry, the money hardly "pours": We only get that because when the Governor tried to cut us off (after lying to our faces about his intentions to preserve it), we basically threatened to declare Jihad. Otherwise, they would've used it to move a Jesuit museum from one part of Chicago to the other or powerwash somebody's office or some such nonsense.
Illinois, like other central states, does not have a climate particularly well-suited to the vinifera grapes from which many of the great wines of the world are made. They have too severe a winter to allow Merlot, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir to grow, for example. Concentrating on the hardier hybrids makes a lot of sense, although there's always a snob factor that many consumers hold against wines made from hybrids (I'm guilty of this myself).
I'd hoped to get both Monday's and Tuesday's notes written up and posted by now, but to top off everything else, we've had three separate bands of thunderstorms roll through here this afternoon, requiring all computers to be shut down until the sturm und drang was over.
On Monday, Brendan and I tried to visit a few wineries in the wider GTA: Archibald Orchards, Ocala, Willow Springs, Applewood Farm Winery, and Southbrook. Unfortunately, Willow Springs and Applewood were both closed on Mondays, so they were not included in the tour after all.
We started with the furthest east (Archibald) and worked generally west (Ocala, then Southbrook). We did have a time limit to the tour, because Victor had a soccer game at 6:30 in Whitby, so we couldn't go too far afield.
|Archibald Orchards||Canadian Maple QC||N/V||$16.95||Pleasant, but not as impressive as the other fruit wines tasted. If you like maple, however, this is probably for you.||6|
|Archibald Orchards||Macintosh Oak Aged QC||N/V||9.95||Good fruity nose. Good acid balance with just enough vanilla oakiness. Short finish.||7|
|Archibald Orchards||Royal Raspberry QC||N/V||$14.95||Excellent sweet raspberry nose. Slightly acidic with a very long finish. Not the amazing raspberry experience of the Framboise d'Or below, but very nice.||8|
|Ocala||Cabernet Franc VQA||2004||$12.95||Has plenty of pepper on the nose. Body a bit light with a short finish.||6|
|Ocala||Chardonnay||2002||$9.95||Artificial banana on the nose. Odd caramel notes on the palate. Medium-short finish. In a word, weird.||5|
|Ocala||Iced Apple||N/V||$14.95||Very good balance, but overly sweet on the finish for my taste.||7|
|Ocala||Pinot Gris||2002||$9.95||Peach on the nose. Body very acidic. It might work well with food, but by itself was too acidic for me.||6|
|Southbrook||Framboise d'Or||N/V||$29.95||Only produced in alternate years, due to extremely low yield of fruit.||Amazing nose, with perfect fresh raspberry aromas. Very full, saturated raspberry flavours without cloying sweetness. Long finish.||8|
|Southbrook||Southbrook Red||2002||$9.95||Mainly Marechal Foch. Try with grilled lamb chops, portobello mushrooms, or hamburgers off the BBQ. Drink up to 4 years after vintage date.||Like smelling a new shoe. Shoe leather and dark cherry on the palate, but a bitter finish.||5|
|Southbrook||Triomphe Chardonnay VQA||1999||$19.95||Try with lobster (and as much melted butter as you can find) or with spicy Asian dishes. Drink up to 11 years after vintage date.||Oatmeal on the nose. Vanilla and shoe polish on the back palate. Medium finish.||6|
|Southbrook||Triomphe Ice Wine VQA||2002||$39.95||Very floral nose. Body is honeyed, with peach and more floral notes. Very long finish.||8|
|Southbrook||Triomphe Sauvignon Blanc VQA||2002||$17.95||Try with scallops in a white wine and cream sauce or with oysters on the half shell. Drink up to four years after vintage date.||Good nose, with peach notes. Medium-bodied wine with medium-short finish.||7|
We met Michael Pinkus, aka "Grape Guy", at Southbrook. He runs the Ontario Wine Review newsletter. I'd say go look at his site, but I think his ISP had a bad case of the backup blues yesterday: it looked like they'd overwritten his current site with an old backup or partly modified template files. Hopefully he'll be able to get them to fix the problem by the time you read this.
At one of the wineries we visited yesterday (full report later as work and time allow), I overheard part of a discussion between a winery employee and a visitor:
Winery employee: " . . . oh, we can usually tell the difference between local [Canadian] visitors and Americans right away.
Visitor: "How is that?"
Winery employee: "Canadians almost always ask about dry table wines. Americans almost always ask about sweet or Ice wines."
I have seen several Americans arrive at a winery, purchase one or more bottles of Ice wine, and then say that they were buying it to have with steak, or burgers, or whatever. Ice wine as table wine? Urgh!
One cannot fail to notice the contemporary marketing of wines by means of fun-and-funky labels, with their fractal curves, tropical fruit juice colors, and animals designed to appeal to the inner child, that cretinous monster who lurks inside us all. There is an undeniable increase in animals, for example, on wine labels, a trend which is bound to grow. All one can do to protest this development is to point out that the quality of a wine is probably in inverse proportion to the ferocity of the animal on its label. Beware, therefore, of labels with eagles, tigers, or bears (though I have not yet seen sharks, leopard seals, or velociraptors, it is only a matter of time).
Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur
There's a survey of wines from the South African winery "Goats Do Roam" at the Gang of Pour group blog. I've been very happy with all the GDR wines I've tried (so far, the original GDR, GDR-in-Villages, GDR Rosé, with a bottle of Goat-Rôti currently in the cellar).
The joke (in case you haven't encountered it yet) is the pun on the French appellation "Côtes du Rhône", "Côtes du Rhône-Villages", and "Côte-Rôti"). They're remarkably good versions of the French originals, and at quite competitive prices (in the LCBO, anyway).
I'm toying with the idea of making my current "wine cellar" — really just a quiet area of my basement — into something more traditionally cellar-like. Something with proper insulated walls, more formal storage for the wines, and (if I really go overboard) some proper temperature and humidity controls for the cellar. While I was googling for ideas on designing and constructing a wine cellar, I found a pretty good slideshow presentation on the topic on the Rosehill Wine Cellars website. The slideshow link is about halfway down the linked page. Ignore the fact that it's pushing their particular brand of cooling unit.
Of course, there is another reason why Californians so eagerly turned to science and machinery when they finally decided to make serious wine: American wineries were in horrific condition. Andrew Barr, in his social history Drink, tells us that even in the late 1930s there were rats swimming happily in the vats of Sauvignon Blanc at Beaulieu and vinegar flies in the other wines. "The wine is so excellent," the resident wine maker cooed, "that all the flies go to it. It doesn't do any damage." Open fermentation tanks let off clouds of carbon dioxide which got birds flying overhead drunk; stunned, they would fall into the vats and stay there.
Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur
From the late 1920s forward, the LCBO developed an elaborate head office bureaucracy with up-to-the-minute, proto-computer systems employing sophisticated administrative surveillance of point-of-purchase consumption of alcohol that makes today's computerized gathering of personal information from consumers look amateurish.
From 1927 to 1962 the LCBO limited those who were legally allowed to drink by requiring a permit to purchase liquor. These permits required an application to the liquor board who would then grant or deny a request based on "fitness" to drink and "character."
The permit book resembled a passport in size and shape and was individually identifiable through a unique six-digit number. The pages inside consisted of a small section related to the individual, including name, address and employment, and another for records of purchases, including the date, liquor type, volume and cost. This tracking of every Ontarian's liquor purchases allowed the LCBO to live up to Ferguson's original mandate of "knowing exactly who is buying and how much."
Between 1929 and 1933 these permits, along with investigations by the LCBO and OPP, allowed the board to generate more than 154,000 detailed files on Ontario residents that included financial, employment and family data that was used to gauge the "fitness" of drinkers. It was also shared with other state and police institutions.
The LCBO even had the controversial right to grant police search warrants and the ability to convert private property such as homes or places of business into public spaces under the Liquor Control Act.
I honestly didn't know that the situation was as bad as that: I thought it was pretty bad in the 1970's!
I guess, in retrospect, we can all be grateful for bureaucratic inertia and the role of common decency that the domestic KGB, er, I mean LCBO didn't use their power to become even more dictatorial than they were.
Hat tip to Jon for the link.
I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I discovered a new (to me) winery yesterday quite close to home. I've been slowly reading the Wines of Canada book I picked up earlier this month, and they had a short review of the Willow Springs Winery in Stouffville.
We were at a bit of a loose end yesterday, so Elizabeth and I abandoned Victor to his latest online game and drove off in search of wineries.
Stouffville is about a 25 minute drive, so it wasn't a long trip. The only exciting parts were nearly running out of gas just short of the Main St. strip of gas stations in Stouffville, and a scary looking single-car accident on the road about 200 metres before the winery parking lot. There was lots of police presence on the roads in that area — I guess something was going on at the Markham fairgrounds — so the police were already on the scene by the time we passed the site.
The winery is relatively small, although they do have enough space in the back for small winemaker's dinners and parties. The wines are made from both local grapes and grapes sourced from Vineland (in the Niagara peninsula). I didn't taste everything in the line-up, but here are some brief tasting notes:
Baco Noir VQA
I'm not a Baco fan, so I had to be persuaded to sample this one . . . and I'm glad I did.
Big, burly tannic wine with smoke and black cherry flavours predominating. Medium-long finish
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc
50/50 blend of CS and CF.
Plenty of red fruit on the nose. Body shows some tannic grip, but has a shorter finish than expected.
Lightly oaked, for some vanilla on the nose. Body was a bit lemony with butteriness on the finish.
Coyote Run Sauvignon Blanc VQA
Name has since been sold to the Niagara on the Lake winery Coyote's Run (apparently they didn't research the name before opening).
Fruit sourced from Vineland.
Good petrol notes on the nose. Body showed rose petals, but was otherwise lighter and thinner than expected.
Testa Limited Reserve Meritage
This was recommended in the "Wines of Canada" book as a great deal on a Meritage. Blended 67% Merlot, 17% CS, 16% CF.
Blackcurrant on the nose. Smoke and cedar flavours on the palate.
Dry table wine style Vidal.
Floral notes on the nose, but body very thin. Short finish.
After purchasing a selection of the wines we'd tasted (plus the two listed above that we haven't tasted yet), we drove west to the Southbrook winery in Richmond Hill. We'd tried their Framboise several years ago, but this was the first time we'd sampled any of their table wines:
Made from the finest blackberries and brandy. Perfect with nutmeg based recipies or cinnamon flavoured desserts.
Very pleasant dessert wine.
Produced from the finest Canadian Blackcurrants. Its pure fresh blackcurrant bouquet and concentrated, rich taste make it a perfect wine to serve with fresh fruit desserts.
Cabernet Merlot VQA
60% CF, 25% Merlot & 15% CS. Ripe raspberry and bacon fat on the nose. Plum and cherry come through loud and clear on the palate. Drink through 2009.
Raspberry on the nose. Smoke and caramel on the palate. Medium-long finish.
Lailey Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon VQA
Sourced from Lailey in NOTL. Dusty plum aromas are complemented by sublime mature characteristics including saddle leather and iodine. Ripe plum and cranberry fruit flavours. Drink now to 2008.
Huge coffee notes on the nose. Palate showed coffee and dates, with some iodine. Tannins were smooth and the finish was medium-long.
Southbrook Blush VQA
Blend of Zweigelt and Vidal.
Good fruity nose (reminiscent of a Cab Franc Rosé) and semi-sweet body. Long finish.
Southbrook Pinot Gris VQA
Expresses aromas of golden delicious apples, candied peach, and ripe pear. A pleasant bitter taste on the finish. Try with asparagus quiche or your favorite paté.
Typical Pinot Gris aromas (peach predominating). Good balance of fruit and acid on the palate, but bitterness (as noted) on the finish.
Blended mainly with Vidal grapes. Nose is dominated by stone fruit and floral aromas. Flavours include peach, apricot and citrus fruit.
Good floral notes on the nose, but body lacking and finish quite short.
Triomphe Cabernet Merlot VQA
55% CF/25% Merlot/20% CS. Aromas include crushed red berries, dried plums and maraschino cherries. The flavour is outstanding with red fruit. Enjoy with grilled beef tenderloin or blue cheese. Drink to 2014.
Very typical Meritage nose, with stable straw and violets predominating. Full fruity body with long finish.
All in all, a well-spent afternoon.
[T]he pleasure in any wine is subjective: we each bring something to what is there in the glass and interpret the result differently.
Gerald Asher, quoted in Lawrence Osborne's The Accidental Connoisseur
The LCBO and its union are down to the wire in contract negotiations. If no new agreement is reached, the union will strike just after midnight on the 27th. The union rep, John Coones, has some strong opinions to offer to the public:
But Coones said the possibility of a strike is very real and whatever plans LCBO management has in the works to ensure continued customer service will fail.
"I would suggest that the biggest majority of (stores) will be shut down, and the other ones, if they aren't shut down immediately, certainly they will be within two to three days," he said.
In the event of a strike, he said, workers will not only stop working at the stores and in warehouses, they will also make sure no one from the outside takes over by physically blocking any vehicles trying to move stock.
"We'll have secondary pickets, and any truck that wants to try crossing that line, well, that's up to them, but I don't think it's in their best interest to do that."
Now, given that secondary pickets have been illegal in Ontario for several years (that is, picketing parties other than the employer), this could turn out to be interesting. Are they thinking of picketing grocery stores (who have Wine Rack outlets in them)? Beer stores? Restaurants and taverns?
If the union is trying to lose the public's sympathy quickly, I can't think of a quicker way to do it, frankly.
The government of Ontario has rejected a call by the Beverage Alcohol System Review panel for selling the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to private owners.
"We are not selling the LCBO," said Sorbara, who called for the report in January.
Nor will the government permit beer and wine to be sold in corner stores nor let the LCBO be turned into an income trust - a type of investment vehicle that gives investors regular dividends for their interests based on sales.
"It is our very strong view that the public interest of Ontarians is best served by the continued public ownership of the LCBO," Sorbara said.
A four-member panel examined how the province can make more money from alcohol sales while remaining socially responsible.
While I'm not at all surprised, I am disappointed that the government has chosen not to follow any of the major recommendations of the panel. I've written about the LCBO monopoly earlier.
Update: The Toronto Sun reacts to the boondoggle:
Cost to the taxpayers for the review panel's work? $600,000.
Here, then, is our calm and considered reaction to these events:
FOR !@@$## SAKE, DOESN'T ANYBODY IN THIS !@@$## LIBERAL GOVERNMENT KNOW WHAT THE !@%$$@ THEY'RE DOING WHEN IT COMES TO !@@#$@ AWAY OUR MONEY!!!!???
Either panel members were out to lunch for recommending something they knew the government wouldn't do, or the Liberals were out to lunch for allowing the review to continue, knowing they weren't going to do what it recommended. You decide.
Hat tip to Jon for the link.
I was amused this week to see to see a sign outside my local Wine Rack store which read "Sawmill Creek Bin End Sale." Bin end usually means the last few bottles or cases of the lot. For a wine that arrives in Canada by the boatload, "bin end" sounds a bit far fetched. Then again, "Tanker End Sale" doesn't sound quite as dignified.
Richard Best, The Frugal Oenophile Newsletter, 2005-07-13
Richard Best's Frugal Oenophile newsletter had a link to a Vineyard Game. I only managed an "average" rating.
The new "label" would consist of a chip implanted in the bottle that could be listened to with a small device about the size of a cigarette package in the wine shop or the restaurant.
"It could tell you how to enjoy the wine, where it came from, everything you'd hear from a sommelier," Barontini said. "You could even have music."
No, it wouldn't tell you "everything you'dhear from a sommelier". It'd tell you everything the winery's marketing manager wants you to know. Or, perhaps even worse, what the importer's marketing manager wants you to hear.
Crikey! Isn't an epidemic of misleading printed descriptions already bad enough?
While Victor and I were wandering around downtown Toronto yesterday, I found a new Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library publication: The Wines of Canada by John Schreiner:
I've had no chance to actually read it yet (and may not for a couple of weeks at present rate), but I'm surprised (and pleased) to find that someone other than a Canadian publisher now finds Canadian wine sufficiently interesting to publish a formal study on the topic.
Elizabeth and I abandoned our parental duties yesterday and headed off to Grimsby to join a private wine tour. There were only five of us (Elizabeth, Pat, Marilyn, Paul, and me), just enough to squeeze into one car. Paul generously offered to be our designated driver — so I got to be a passenger for once. We weren't in a huge rush, so after visiting Peninsula Ridge (just a long walk from Pat's house), we drove in to Jordan to have lunch at Zooma Zooma:
Paul, our noble driver, and Marilyn, who are celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary today.
Pat and Elizabeth
The restaurant was clean, service was fast and friendly, and the food was tasty and quite reasonably priced. Perhaps I shouldn't say all of this, as it's nice to have found somewhere in wine country that's not already overrun with tourists!
After lunch, we crossed the street to the Cave Spring tasting room and the gift shop next door. I managed to escape from both Peninsula Ridge and Cave Spring with only one bottle each time (my budget has barely recovered from the last wine tour I was on). My luck (or, more accurately, my temporary fiscal restraint) didn't hold much longer.
Elizabeth, Marilyn and Pat, on the lawn at Vineland Estates.
A poor picture of a lovely view from the restaurant terrace at Vineland Estates.
I discovered that my Treo 600 doesn't like extremely high light levels. Twice now, I've had to do a hard reset after attempting to take a photo in very bright sunlight. This is part of the reason for the paucity of photos on this trip.
The wines I tasted, with some brief notes:
Rating (1 to 10)
Cabernet Sauvignon VQA
Coffee and red fruit on the nose. Good tannins and well balanced flavours. Long finish.
Not quite my cup of tea: slightly sweet with some candy notes on the palate. Medium finish.
Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard VQA
Odd turkey and sage dressing nose. Body was all pink grapefruit. Medium finish.
Violets and forest floor on the nose. Very fruity body with cedar shavings. Medium-long finish.
Dry Riesling VQA
Petrol on the nose. Floral notes on the palate. Medium finish.
Elizabeth quite liked this one. I'm less a G-wine fan, but it had pleasant lychee and rose aromas.
Riesling Reserve VQA
Honey on the nose. Rose petals and honey on the palate. Oily consistency in the mouth. The trademark petrol or kerosene scent will probably develop in the next year or so.
Sweet on the nose (but not candy-sweet). Medium finish. Excellent patio wine.
Unoaked Chardonnay VQA
Honey and sweet floral notes on the nose. Slight sweetness on the palate. Medium-long finish.
Cabernet Franc Reserve VQA
Somewhat closed nose right now (just released this month). Has very fruity body and a long finish.
Smoky red fruit on the nose. Good tannins and smoke (again) on the palate. Long finish
Pinot Noir VQA
Very earthy nose with some acrid notes. Very short finish. Smokey palate overall.
Cabernet Franc VQA
Very mushroomy nose. Lighter body than expected. Good length on the finish.
Côtes du Rhône
Good melon and floral notes on the nose. Body very light with some residual sweetness. Short finish.
Fruity body with some residual smokiness. Long finish.
Good melon scents on the nose. Body a bit thin and finish quite short.
Mildly oaked with just the right balance of vanilla overtones. Good, buttery body and long finish.
Reserve Pinot Noir
Raspberry on the nose. Very smooth, well-integrated tannins. Long finish.
For any dedicated reader who stuck with the post this far, there's a bin-end sale on at the moment at Lakeview Cellars, including their 2001 Cabernet Franc (not the one mentioned above, but still a very good example of this grape). It's on for 8.95 per bottle (from $14.95), which is an incredible deal for such a good wine. I took a case home with me, so I don't feel too bad in letting the rest of you in on the sale.
I meant to mention this a couple of weeks ago, but it slipped my mind. The LCBO is now carrying a gluten-free beer from Quebec, La Messagere from Les Bieres de la Nouvelle France. It's priced at $16.95 for six . . . and you may have to ask them to dig it out of the back for you: both of the LCBO outlets we've found it at did not have it out on display.
While I wouldn't say it's the best beer I've ever tasted, if you have Celiac disease or other gluten intolerance problems, it may be the only beer you'll be able to safely enjoy. It's actually quite reminiscent of some wheat beers I've tasted, but I'm sure that Alan at A Good Beer Blog will want to mention it (if he hasn't already done so, that is).
Elizabeth used to really enjoy beer tasting, and she's been unable to indulge for years. La Messagere has been a very welcome addition to the LCBO product line.
Update: Oddly enough, Alan had posted something about some other beers from this brewery, and La Messagere was mentioned in the comments to that post. Synchronicity or what?
I know you'll find this amazing, but I was shocked, shocked to discover that French wine stewards in British restaurants are biased in favour of French wine:
It would seem, according to snobbish French sommeliers, that the closest most Australians get to fine wine are the corks that dangle around their hats.
While New World wine has stormed the high street in recent years, concern is growing that when it comes to selecting the best bottles, snooty French experts are deliberately excluding many fine Antipodean vintages from restaurants.
The conspiracy theory is backed up by research which shows that while sales of French wine in off licenses represent only 17% of the market, restaurants still choose to have more than 40% of their stock from just across the Channel.
Imagine that: just because they're born in France, trained in French schools and wineries, and are effectively ambassadors for their native wines, they still brazenly show bias toward French wine! Who'd have ever thought of such a thing?
A quote posted at Wise Wallet Wine to prove that wine review language can be even worse than you think:
The Open Mouth, Insert Rotor Blade Very Painful Quote of the Week: "This dark wine . . . helicopters into the mouth with spinning blades of intense fruit." (Andrew Jefford, Financial Times of London on a Georges Duboeuf 2003 cru Beaujolais.) Enjoy it tonight with novacaine and a transfusion.
I saw Mondovino last week just before I jetted out of town. Those quirky, stubborn Frenchmen just tugged at my heartstrings. What a contrast to the creepy, unabashedly capatalistic (Proustian, even) Mondavis.
But one of the criticisms I kept hearing about the movie, before I saw it, was the way that Lassiter portrayed some of his subjects unfairly. Allow me to disagree. I think everyone is portrayed quite fairly — as in, you can't edit someone into an asshole, without some footage of them being an asshole. I offer you some of the things, straight from the mouths of the following:
Sheri Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyards, talking about how good they are to their immigrant(Mexican) employees, "We know all of their names, and we give them t-shirts..."
This is after she makes sure to tell you that the veranda table is solid marble modeled after a table in The Godfather 2 and points out a sculpture in the garden made by the number one funk ceramic artist(wha?) in the US. Her husband then goes on to compare their property's allignment with Mondavi's and Opus One as very similar to that of the Washington Monument and the Capital building. I shit you not.
Tom Wark writes:
Actor Jason Priestley is filming a new television series entitled "Hollywood & Vines" in which the former 90210 star takes us on a "road trip" to the West Coast's wine regions. The British Columbia native is putting particular stress on his home region where they are producing stellar wines. All this emanates from the success of Sideways.
I've heard word from other very good sources that other wine series are being considered in Hollywood, including one from a Major Producer you all know, but I've been sworn to secrecy on that one. I suspect that advertisers like the demographics associated with wine drinkers as well as the success the subject matter of wine has demonstrated.
<Snark mode=ON>Oh, good. Another way to drive up wine prices by encouraging conspicuous consumption by expense-account boors and trend-obsessed ignoramusi<\Snark>
Actually, given the current market for new world wines, this may be a good or a bad thing: much will depend on where they intend to target in the wine-consuming marketplace. If they spend their airtime doing "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Winery Owners", then it'll have no real effect on the price of quality wines.
The "Comments" field is what various wine writers had published about the wines and Vintages included in the event booklet. The "Tasting Notes" field is where I reveal just how little I actually know about wine. The "Rating" is a simple numeric value (from 1-10) on whether I think the wine was worth the asking price. A "10" is a slam-dunk. A "1" indicates that you'd get better flavour by licking the condensation on the side of the slop bowl.
If anyone remembers, I posted a brief review of a wine-tasting we'd attended at Pepperberries back in January. Last month, the chef who'd prepared the meal for that wine tasting contacted me to let me know that he'd moved to a new restaurant and they were hoping to put on a wine tasting in the near future. Because I'll be busy all next weekend (deadlines at work are starting to tower over the horizon), Elizabeth and Victor took me out for a pre-Father's Day dinner last night, and we decided to try 22 Church Street, the new restaurant.
The outside is a bit unprepossessing, being a converted house just south of Kingston Road in Pickering Village. A really positive thing is that the restaurant has applied for their BYOW license — making them part of a small, elite group of restaurants in Ontario. They have a shaded patio in the back, but the temperature and humidity persuaded us to stay inside for our meal.
The wine list isn't as extensive as I might prefer, but there's some reasonable choices on there (Elizabeth and I both ordered seafood, so we tried the Lou Black Chardonnay). Brian Cassibo (the chef) assures me that they'll be looking to expand their wine selection in the near future. The Chardonnay was actually a pretty good match with my scallops and Elizabeth's lobster, so it was far from a bad selection. Victor ordered the pork tenderloin, but he's not yet able to drink wine, so he cared little for our choice!
Victor, wondering why I'm suddenly messing around with my Treo
Elizabeth, just after Victor realized I was taking some photos (you can tell by the stern expression he's got).
Overall, we had a good time on this visit, and we'll be looking forward to the promised wine tasting sometime later this summer. You can check their current menu here, if you'd like to see what's on offer.
Elizabeth and I had a disagreement recently, after a health professional had told her that having a glass of wine every day had a correlation with weight gain. Conveniently (for my side of the discussion), Natalie Maclean's latest newsletter flatly contradicts that:
QUOTATION REMOVED AT REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN
It still doesn't give you carte blanche to get wasted every night on cheap rotgut, but it's nice to find that not everything that tastes good is bad for you.
Another blogger discovers the interesting apple brandy from Normandy called Calvados. It will never replace wine for me, but it's a very welcome post-prandial drink.
The recent Supreme Court victory for free trade in wine may have a significant downside, according to Tom Wark:
The Supreme Court ruling, at its simplest says states may concoct nearly any rule for wine shipments within its state as long as they don't discriminate against out of state shippers. Reciprocity discriminates against out of state shippers. It would not be a surprise to see a suit brought against one of the reciprocity states by a party in a limited shipping state or a wholesaler challenging the constitutionality of these laws.
States Could Shut Down All Sales to the Public By Wineries.
I was informed by a person very close to the deliberations on the meaning for the Supreme Court Ruling in Michigan that one interpretation of the decision could be that if no shipping is allowed into the state or within the state by wineries, it would follow that wineries can not sell AT ALL direct to the public. This would be an extreme interpretation, but not out of the realm of possibility. Of course it would be the near total demise of small wineries in states like Michigan.
Given the amount of money floating around, it's not at all unlikely that the worst possible result could be engineered for consumers by the wholesalers and bureaucrats of the various states. Just remember: it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
[. . .] I have had to deal with the incessant drone of wine bores commenting on how the wine they just bought scored 90 points or higher without actually connecting with wine on their own terms. My favourite was the one who failed to realize his Rober Parker 94-point Bordeaux was 100 per cent corked. When I mentioned that the wine seemd "a little musty" to me, he scurried off in search of Parker's review. Returning triumphantly, he held the newsletter aloft and proclaimed "Parker doesn't say anything about this wine smelling musty."
Pam Droog, letter to Vines magazine, May/June 2005
"I don't mean to sound cynical," [Antonio Terni] said as he tipped the Conero sideways for a moment and eyed the tint. "But I do hate all this pseudo-intellectual mental masturbation about wine. I make two wines: one for Americans and one for myself. They're both fine."
Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur, 2004
Last night was a "Vintages" wine tasting at the Carlu in downtown Toronto. I was very impressed by both the venue and the wines on selection. I won't bore you with a comprehensive list, partly because it'd take forever to transcribe my notes, and partly because I know it would only interest perhaps 10% of my readers. I will say that the best wine I sampled last night was a Gevry-Chambertin Terre Blanches 2002 followed closely by a Vosne-Romanée 2002 by Robert Arnoux and an Amarone Capitel Monte Olmi 2000 by Tedeschi.
The most disappointing, although still pleasant, was the featured wine of the tasting: the Château Margaux 1999. At $399 per bottle, I'd be far better spending my money on other wines. I found that the flavour didn't begin to match the initial aroma and the body was a bit thin.
Overall, I'd strongly recommend the Vintages tastings . . . I certainly felt that I got my money's worth.
Appellation America is a communications and publications enterprise serving the North American wine industry through promotion of our growing number of distinct winegrowing regions. Our mission is to facilitate the "APPELLATION-IZATION" of the North American wine culture.
In the global wine culture, wines are known first by their specific place of origin (appellation), then by producer or shipper, and by grape variety. In the North American wine culture, appellation identity-cum-consciousness is the great unfinished business. With over 200 officially designated winegrowing regions in North America, scarcely a handful of appellations presently garner any public recognition. Indeed, in many appellations there is not an "image consensus" even amongst the producers.
Wine lovers may buy directly from out-of-state vineyards, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, striking down laws banning a practice that has flourished because of the Internet and the growing popularity of winery tours.
The 5-4 decision strikes down laws in New York and Michigan that make it a crime to buy wine directly from vineyards in another state. In all, 24 states have laws that bar interstate shipments.
The state bans are discriminatory and anti-competitive, the court said.
"States have broad power to regulate liquor," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "This power, however, does not allow states to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers."
While this ruling has no effect on sales from US wineries to Canada, it's still a welcome liberalization of domestic US wine sales.
Hat tip to Reason Hit and Run.
As if the move from traditional corks to twist-off caps wasn't innovation enough for this young century in the wine business (where innovation isn't generally considered a good thing), Australian wineries are going that one better — wine in a can:
"The Japanese have no preconceived ideas about what a can represents as far as wine quality is concerned," says Greg Stokes, CEO of Barokes in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria.
"They're always ready to try something new, whereas Australians are more snobby. Aussies are used to wine being served in a bottle."
But Barokes believes Australians will eventually come around. After all, if suburban Australia can wholeheartedly embrace wine in a cask, why not wine in a can?
Taste is not learned out of books; it is not given from one person to another. Therein lies its profundity. At school, fatuous masters would say of poems they didn't like, using the old Latin saw, De gustibus non disputandem est — there's no accounting for taste. And so there isn't. Taste is like a perverse coral: it grows slowly and inexorably into unpredictable shapes, precisely because it's an offshoot of living iteself. Acquiring taste, then, is not a result of study; it's a talent for living life.
Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur, 2004
I just signed up for a Vintages "Classics Collection" wine tasting for May 17 in Toronto. It certainly sounds interesting, with lots of wines on the tentative list that I've never had a chance to sample. I've never been to an organized tasting of this type, and from the listing, it appears as though you select one wine from each of 14 flights, with a bonus 15th flight consisting only of Château Margaux 1999.
If this is the case, it'll be tricky trying to decide which one of the flight to sample in several cases. Champagne or Meursault? Pauillac or Saint-Émilion? Brunello or Chianti Classico Riserva? Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde or Hillebrand's Trius Grand? (Okay, that one is a slam-dunk, I agree!) Gevry-Chambertin or Vosne-Romanée? Barbera D'Asti or Barolo? Graham's Vintage Port 1983 or Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 1999 2e Cru?
I can hear your sympathy already.
Canadian Press (via Yahoo) reports that a wine cellar and $12,500 worth of wine featured in the Sponsorship scandal:
Boulay told the inquiry Guite approached him in the summer of 2001 with the offer to build a wine cellar for his home.
The ad man couldn't resist the offer, drafting a $25,000 budget for his former benefactor.
Half of the money was used to buy 100 bottles of wine while the other $12,500 paid for materials to build the cellar.
"I decided to make an investment in my home and I decided to have a wine cellar built," Boulay told inquiry counsel Marie Cossette.
"I think he was also moving into a new home and he was making a wine cellar and he knew I wanted one as well."
Boulay said Guite made no profit for his work. Guite built the cellar himself, which seemed to amuse inquiry judge John Gomery.
"I have heard many things said about Mr. Guite but I have never heard that he was involved in the construction of wine cellars," mused the judge.
A hundred bottles at an average price of $125 would be quite the bribe! Not to mention building the wine cellar to store them all in. I'm planning to build a small wine cellar in my basement in the next year or so, but I doubt that I'll be able to budget even 10% of what Boulay's wine cellar materials cost.
I knew I should have skipped all those ethics classes . . .
Hat tip to Angry in the Great White North.
Only in America
Did you know that Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer of wine in America? Rumour has it they are working on a line of inexpensive private label brands to compete with Yellow Tail and Two Buck Chuck. Ideas so far have included:
Billy Munnelly, "What's hot, new & happening", Billy's Best Bottles Volume 21, No. 4, Spring 2005
Natalie MacLean publishes a free email newsletter on wine (you can subscribe here). This is from yesterday's edition:
QUOTATION REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN
While I'd be loath to stock in white zin (or other beverages that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike wine), Natalie makes a good point here. You should be drinking wine to enjoy it: if you happen to enjoy drinking sweeter, less strongly flavoured wines, then that's what you should do — and ignore the Robert Parker-wannabe who sneers at you for your choice. You wouldn't impress someone with that kind of attitude no matter what you chose to drink, so why pretend to bother?
Update, October 2006: I've noticed a number of Google searches coming to this entry looking for "Conrad Edgeback". Clive mentioned this name in the comments. If you're still interested, the gentleman you're looking for is "Konrad Ejbich".
If it's red, French, costs too much, and tastes like the water that's left in the vase after the flowers have died and rotted, it's probably Burgundy.
Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
In a complicated web of state laws and regulations that date to the repeal of Prohibition, Swedenburg can ship wine to New York, for example, only if she establishes an office there, but the state allows its own wineries to ship to customers in state. The District of Columbia allows its residents to have no more than a quart a month shipped in from outside the city. Virginia residents can order two cases per month from any wine producer — in state or not — who has a Virginia shipping license.
Swedenburg has no intention of breaking any laws, especially while she is challenging the rules on interstate transportation of alcoholic beverages before the high court.
The stakes are huge. The case has been described as potentially the most significant test of states' constitutional power to regulate the alcohol trade since Prohibition. Over time, a victory for Swedenburg could revolutionize the way wine is sold. As of November, there were 3,382 bonded grape wineries in the United States, according to the trade publication Wine Business Monthly. "When it comes right down to it, people like to taste different wines from different places. And I consider wine an agricultural product that should be able to pass over state lines," Swedenburg says.
And, linked from the same Hit and Run post, the The Scotsman wins the bad wine pun award for their headline on the French vigneron protests: "French wine rebels employ brut force and dynamite".
Babbling Brooks just called me his "favourite Wine-Swilling, Quote-Spouting, Lazy-Ex-Reservist blogger". This is just a tad too far: you can accuse me of a lot of failings (goodness knows the selections are wide and varied), but I do not swill my wine. Unless it's that sweet crap they used to sell to underaged drinkers in Ontario back in the 70's and 80's . . . and even then only to pigs I didn't like.
Kerry Howley, of Reason magazine, reviews the film Mondovino:
Almost thirty years ago, nine French wine critics gathered in Paris to preside over a face-off of French and American wines. Chardonnays battled with white Burgundies, Cabernets sought to displace Bordeaux. The French had always said fine wine was primarily a function of place — and that place was France. But following the blind tasting, the critics found they had chose a Californian Cabernet as the top red and placed three Napa Valley whites within the top four. As he downed a 1972 Napa Chardonnay, one critic reportedly gushed, "Ah, back to France."
These men ushered an identity crisis into the world of wine, an Americanization and eventual globalization that has yet to abate. That crisis and its fallout are explored at length in Mondovino, a documentary that debuted last year at Cannes and opened last week in New York City. Jonathan Nossiter's film, which spans Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and Monkville, Maryland, among other places, is a sympathetic portrayal of European winemakers struggling to hold their own amongst the avatars of globalization.
The comment thread on the original posting is quite interesting, as strawmen are massacred left and right . . .
Update: I guess it would help if I provided the link to the comments, wouldn't it?
The Wine Commonsewer provides me with a piece of information I didn't previously have:
Carmanere (also called Grand Carmenet) is a rare red grape that once was THE premier grape of Bordeaux. It was obliterated in the 1800's by a nasty disease called phylloxera that ravaged many of the vineyards of Europe. The grape was lost for a century and many assumed it to be extinct. Up until the 1990's this grape was thought to be simply a Chilean adaptation of Merlot but with subsequent advances in technology and science it was learned that it was the long lost Carmanere grape of Europe.
I'd encountered conflicting information about Carmanere, some of which indicated that it was a Bordeaux varietal, and others that mentioned it as being only a New World, specifically South American, grape. This explains how both piece of information could be reconciled. Thanks WC!
Billy Munnelly has recently recommended Concha Y Toro's "Casillero Del Diablo" Cabernet Sauvignon in his most recent newsletter, and today I found another recommendation for the same wine. I've tried their 2002 Merlot, which was a bit of a tannic monster, but the Cab Sauv sounds worth sampling.
Oddly, an email I sent to Billy many months ago is still generating responses. See the excerpts here, under the heading "Readers Write about CITRA". I had a bad bottle of the stuff, and wrote to whine at him about his wine recommendation. Everyone else (with one exception) seems to find my complaint unwarranted.
I read the book Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup, and found it quite entertaining, if a little too steeped in the mysticism of French wine. It describes how several winemakers tried to hide their wine stocks from the incoming Nazi forces after the collapse of the French army in 1940. The company French Wine Explorers is offering a Wine & War tour to visit many of the wineries featured in the book.
The tour is in April, which is too early for me to even pretend I could join the tour, but it did sound interesting.
Evan Kirchoff reports on the effects of Sideways on sales of Merlot:
Sideways appears to have singlehandedly crippled sales of Merlot:
Many oenophiles have turned up their noses since the mid-1990s, when "a glass of Merlot" became synonymous, for casual drinkers, with a glass of red wine. But sales never stopped rising, and Merlot passed Cabernet as America's best-selling red wine in 2000, according to the Wine Institute.
Now everything has changed, thanks to just two lines in the movie "Sideways." In a much-quoted scene, the wine snob character Miles tells his easygoing friend Jack before a double-date dinner: "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any f[ucking] Merlot."
An article in Wired talks about how new world wine growers have been capitalizing on technology to catch and surpass the traditional old world wineries:
To the horreur of traditional winemakers in old Europe, the ancient art of making wine is being transformed by science and technology.
New vino-producing countries like Australia and Chile are becoming winemaking forces, thanks to new technology shunned by vintners in France and Spain — to their detriment.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to get a personalized tour of the cellars of the Grange Estate Winery in Prince Edward County. Our host, Jeff Innes, is the winemaker and a fascinating person in his own right (I always consider winemakers to be interesting, based on their skills). This was not a pre-arranged tour, we were just fortunate to arrive at exactly the right moment: Jeff was upstairs in the wine tasting area and nobody else was in at that time.
We rolled in, expecting to taste a few of their current release over 20 minutes or so, then head off to another winery. Instead, we spent more than two hours down in the cellar, talking to Jeff and getting a wonderful education in some of the aspects of winemaking that neither of us had particularly considered before.
As an example, I'd always rather taken oak barrels for granted: they're used to impart certain flavours to wine before it's bottled, and that was all I thought about 'em. French Oak, American Oak, even Canadian Oak: so what? It's just oak, right? Now that I've tasted the differences that the barrels impart, but also the huge differences in the flavours based on where the oak was grown, I'll pay much closer attention when I hear about wine barrels. Even the level of charring — sorry, "toasting" — makes a difference you can taste.
I started off taking my usual notes on the wines we were tasting, including the obvious data (vintage, type of grape(s), formal name, price per bottle, etc.), but soon enough I was far too involved in listening to Jeff to distract myself by writing down the details — I was a terrible student in school for this reason alone — so I have a bare minimum of notes for all the time we spent tasting, talking, and learning.
What was even more tantalizing was that most of what we were tasting was not yet commercially available, so we couldn't even take bottles home with us at the end of our visit. Which, of course, means we need to plan at least another trip when some of those interesting wines are bottled and ready to buy.
So, what can I tell you about the upcoming releases?
In summary, it was a fantastic visit with a great host and I would love to go back later in the year to repeat the experience. Thanks Jeff!
Now that the Ontario government has passed the changes to allow customers to bring their own wine to restaurants, a new website is tracking which restaurants now allow their patrons to take advantage of this: Bring My Wine — all about BYOW in Ontario.
There's only a handful so far, all in Toronto or Ottawa, but the corkage fees seem to be set about right from my viewpoint: the range is $10-$60, with only one restaurant over $30. I think that most restaurants should charge a corkage fee equivalent to their profit margin on a bottle of their standard house wine (not the price of the house wine, mind you). So far, this seems pretty close to what's happening.
Hat tip to Natalie Maclean for bringing it to my attention.
Thursday's New York Times had a brief review of the CellarTracker website:
Some wine lovers lose sleep wondering when they should open the $100 Burgundy they bought five years ago. Now there is online help for them.
A new Web site, cellartracker.com, lets wine drinkers keep a virtual wine cellar online, tracking their purchase and consumption records, while also allowing them to share notes about how certain vintages are drinking.
The site, created by Eric LeVine, a longtime Microsoft program manager, has more than 3,400 registered users who have created a collective wine cellar of nearly 500,000 bottles.
The site is free, although donations are accepted.
I visited the site a month or so ago, and it looks like an interesting project. If I hadn't already started tracking my own wines in an Access database, I'd be tempted to use CellarTracker.
I've written about the LCBO and other state-run liquor monopolies before. I'm not a fan, but I recognize that they're not without some benefits. Colby Cosh gathers up several points (mainly beer-related, but the essential message is the same) in support:
My inbox is swelling with a wave of pro-market comment on liquor retailing. The most urgently relevant missive comes from Matt Bazkur, a hophead who has the goods on the bureaucratic habits of the LCBO (and others). Let's roll the tape:
As an Ontario beer geek, I want a better selection of beer in Ontario. I'm even willing to pay more for the right. As a right-wing nutjob, I want the government out of the booze business. However, my beer-geek desires override my nut job instincts to the extent that I could live with a mix of private and public. Heck, I could live with all-public if they just had a better selection.
...there is a lot of nonsense that goes on because of Ontario government involvement in the liquor distribution process:
1. Exhibitors at wine/liquor/beer festivals must buy their own products from the LCBO and additionally pay a mark-up. From a posting by an importer at The Bar Towel:
"...all products being poured at this festival and any other beer and wine shows like it where consumers pay for samples must be purchased from the LCBO under a Special Occasion Permit For Sale, which means that we pay full retail plus an additional 16% levy on top."
Go read the rest of the article!
Two different photographs of Catherine Gachet about to sip a glass of the wine she produces in south-western France show her looking more like a Hollywood starlet than a winemaker.
But in the eyes of a French law at the centre of a battle between the country's ailing wine industry and health pressure groups, only one of the images is legal.
A court agreed with the health campaigners that the first, with the glass of wine far too close to Mrs Gachet's lips, was "too sexy" to meet the strict requirements of the so-called Evin Law which rules how alcoholic drinks can be promoted.
For the one or two of you who are at all interested in wines, I've exported my wine tasting notes for the last year to an Excel spreadsheet. You can download it here.
Just remember that I'm not a "trained" wine taster (as if reading my occasional postings didn't already let you know that). My notes are kept for my own interest, so there's the odd comment in there that may make no sense at all . . .
Last night, we were looking forward to a nice dinner at home (it's becoming a rare occurrence for all three of us to sit down to a meal at the same time). To go with the tomato pasta we opened a bottle of Remo Farina 2001 Valpolicella Ripasso. This was a Vintages release from late last year (I haven't seen it in any of the local Vintages outlets since then).
Ripasso is the "middleweight" Valpolicella: inbetween the ordinary Valpolicella and the Amarone. The difference between the basic wine and the Ripasso is that the juice for the Ripasso is fermented normally, then put in casks with the lees from the Amarone for a few weeks. This normally means the Ripasso picks up colour and flavours from the richer Amarone, but is not as expensive as the Amarone (typically half to one-third the price of an Amarone from the same winery).
We've been very happy with the Ripassos we'd tried so far, but this one was a real disappointment. The Remo Farina tasted much more rustic and bitter than any Ripasso we've tried before. It had some plummy aroma, but the fruit on the palate was more than masked by the bitterness of the other flavours. The finish was short (which under the circumstances probably helped).
All in all, not a good wine at all: we've had $7 Montepulciano d'Abruzzos that had much more interesting flavours than this. Avoid at all costs!
As in England, Canadian inns sprang up along coaching routes. Horses and passengers needed rest and refreshment, and before long there was no shortage of places offering such services. By the time the traveller up Yonge Street got to Holland Landing, he could be in quite a state. Given that tavern-keepers usually treated coach drivers to free drinks in return for bringing passengers their way, the driver might be in even worse shape.
Nor was the early Canadian drinker certain of what was in his drink. McBurney and Byers offer a few recipies of the day. Wisely they note: "These old recipies are presented for interest only; they should not be used." I'll say. Their recipie for port calls for 28 gallons of cider, 9 gallons of whiskey, 15 pounds of white sugar, as well as cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, ground cochineal, carbonate of potash, and — if necessary — two ounces of ground alum. I don't think that's the way they make it in Portugal. There are no grapes, for starters. I'm trying to imagine how I'd feel the next day. Now I'm trying to stop imagining how I'd feel the next day.
Nicholas Pashley, Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary.
Last night we had the opportunity to attend a wine tasting event at our local restaurant, Pepperberries Bistro (the only place in Brooklin to find a nice wine selection). Because Elizabeth and I both have food allergies, we were very pleased to find that they were willing to make some changes to the menu to accomodate us. We've been to Pepperberries many times, but this is the first time that both of us were free on an evening that co-incided with one of their special occasions.
We were joking with one another that, with our luck, the wines tonight would all be from Andrés Wines (one of the biggest wineries in Canada, and notorious for the 1970's pop-wine Baby Duck). We both laughed at that thought. Less than a minute later, John Byberg (the owner) came in to introduce the wine rep for the tasting . . . from Andrés Wines. [Shudder]
To be fair, our impressions of Andrés products were shaped by the very first organized wine tour we were on, over ten years back, which included visits to Hillebrand, Kittling Ridge, and Andrés (in descending order of both interest and appeal). Andrés was industrial wine . . . it was really a big chemical plant that happened to produce grape-based alcoholic beverages, and made few concessions to the romantic image that wineries are busy cultivating nowadays. Since those dark days, Andrés has spun off a separate winery for their vinifera wines, Peller Estates, and also own Hillebrand which produces some quite acceptable wines (as we discovered during the meal).
Anyway, back to the event last night. . .
The meal opened with an Asian hot and sour soup with a chicken shiitake dumpling, matched with a Fetzer 2002 Gewürztraminer. This was a very good pairing, as the wine was a wonderful complement to the flavours of the soup. Unlike a lot of New World Gewürzes (Gewürzen? Gewürzii?), this had more of an Alsace-style body with more body and a slight oily texture in the mouth (this might not sound too good, but believe me it's excellent).
The second course was a green salad with sautéed wild mushrooms matched with a Trius 2002 VQA Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The salad dressing was the Pepperberries Lemon Myrtle dressing and was just an amazing complement to the wine (we bought a bottle of the dressing on the spot, it was that good). The Chardonnay was lightly oaked and very creamy, with cedar on the finish.
The main course was pork tenderloin medallions (which Elizabeth really enjoyed) in a port wine jus. My main course was a small filet mignon (which I appreciated equally). The wine was a Trius 2002 VQA Red (a Meritage blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, but they choose not to call it a "Meritage" for some reason). Another good choice for both main courses: the nose was dominated by the Cab Franc with strawberry and violets and a body with what is often called "fruit forward" flavours and a good finish.
Dessert was apple strudel with wattleseed ice cream accompanied by a glass of Peller Estates Founders Series Vidal Ice Wine. Elizabeth, being unable to have the strudel, had a gluten-free carrot cake which she enjoyed immensely. I'm not a huge ice wine fan, but this was quite tasty, with peach and honey flavours and a very long finish.
A posting on a woodworking list I subscribe to pointed me to Whit McLeod's website. He advertises his furniture as being created using reclaimed wood from the California wine industry.
I don't know that I'd ever buy any of his products, but I have to admit that I think the whole idea is very cool.
I've enlisted a wine reviewer to provide a slightly more educated viewpoint on wine than I'm able to do. Because I don't have his formal okay to publish his name, I'll just call him Deep Cellar:
a. Good clarity — looks healthy to me
b. Nice rich color — purple, indicating youth and vitality
c. First sniff — nothing unpleasant, some "woody" notes, damp fire-pit perhaps.
d. After a swirl — much more fruit, earthy tones, a little forest floor (lacking the strength in mushrooms you enjoy), rotting softwoods — all of the above after a rain in springtime — highly reminiscent of an overgrown northern Ontario hiking trail (very appealing).
e. Third sip — Very little in the way of tannins, nice typically peppery finish, although it lacks the robust kick the Aussies come across with, lighter in body but pleasant; fresher and cleaner than the standard, really good acid! Nice balance, although the finish falls a bit short, however I'm left with a really sexy kind of vanilla/oak flavor dusted with a little apple peel. There's a little date or fig in here, but other than that the dominant fruit escapes me.
This would be fantastic on a summer evening — especially for people who can't stand white wine. It'd be a great introduction to the bigger, wilder, more "untamed" red wines we know and love. I guess it's kind of half-way between a Beaujolais and a mild Cabernet Franc, or a Cab. Franc/Cab. Sauvignon blend (heavier on the Franc though)
Reason Hit and Run points to a review of the movie Mondovino which apparently is to be released in North America later this year. One of the comments was quite good (reacting to a flippant comment in the posting, not the movie):
Being both a free-marketeer and in the wine industry, I find it odd that someone from Reason would bitch and moan about people who "contribute to the notion that $50 for a dinner bottle is sane". I have a certain disdain for Parker (mainly, his affinity for syrupy aussie shirazes and his snubbing of anything that's not opulent and slutty), but, please...market prices are market prices, set by demand. Econ 101, anybody? As long as people will pay $50 for a dinner bottle, then the people will pay it. As of now, we're seeing a consumer backlash against arrogant producers trying to pawn off their lackluster Napa cabs as world classics, and who have no notion of a price ceiling.
Sadly, when you go deeper than my level (retail), you see that, many times, the tail wags the dog when it comes to pricing. Most consumers won't take a wine too seriously if it costs $12, so producers set the price artificially high in order to garner respect. I suspect that the wine industry is not alone in this trend, but given the highly subjective nature of what constitutes "good" wine, we are especially susceptible to it.
I used to think it was a silly affectation to drink different wines from different style glasses, but I have finally become a convert.
I now definitely prefer drinking hearty, macho reds from my Spiderman glass and lighter, fruity whites from Sponge Bob.
firstname.lastname@example.org, posted at Rec.humor.funny Jokes
A better way to grasp the essence of something is to look at the bigger picture. Over years of tasting, I've been drawn to a direct approach, which consists of jumping into the middle of things. I've found that if you start on the outside you often cannot get to the heart, and this is where you want to be. Some of the best descriptions of wine have come from people who could not analyze a wine to save their lives. They simpley give an honest response to an experience just as someone would give to a Rolling Stones concert. Or, as Matisse said, they "observed . . . and felt the innermost nature of the experience." Many people have difficulty doing this with wine because they believe there is a proper wine language and a correct response to each wine. They fear giving the wrong response.
Billy Munnelly, Billy's Best Wines for 2005
I've been accused of using weird and inappropriate descriptive terms in some of my wine postings, but Natalie MacLean just topped anything I've written in the past month or so:
QUOTATION REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN
I mean, really! If a professional wine writer (one of the best in Canada, mind you) can commit a flagrant description foul like that, then I have to get a pass for my occasional malaprop, yes?
In all seriousness, Ms. MacLean's wine newsletter is quite worth reading. You can visit her website, or subscribe to her newsletter by mailing her at email@example.com.
To my surprise, the Ontario government has passed the "bring your own wine" legislation. I really expected this one to die on the order paper, but I'm delighted to be proven wrong:
The passing of Ontario's bring-your-own-wine legislation puts the province in a club that includes Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick, which already have similar programs.
The changes update the province's liquor laws and give licensed restaurants new choices to entice patrons to visit more often, Consumer and Business Services Minister Jim Watson said when he introduced the bill earlier this summer. But the bring-your-own-wine program won't be in effect during this holiday season.
Wine drinkers will have to wait several weeks until restaurants receive all the necessary approvals from the government.
It will be up to each restaurant to decide if it wants to offer the choice, and how much they will charge.
That last paragraph is going to be the stumbling block. Some restaurant owners will be worried that they'll lose too much business (because of the obscene mark-ups they have on their own wines), so even if they apply for and receive all the necessary "mother may I" permits, they'll probably set their corkage fee astronomically high.
No rational person is going to take a $12 bottle of wine into a restaurant and then willingly pay a $20 or $30 corkage fee, but it would make a good deal of sense to take a $40 or $50 bottle of wine at the same fee levels. A $12 bottle of wine will often be selling in the restaurant for $30-$36, while a $40 bottle will be marked up well over $100.
Of course, the nanny-state advocates will be all over this one as encouraging unlimited drinking (as if underage drinkers are going to suddenly start walking into restaurants because they can bring in a bottle). To some people, any easing of the now-ancient restrictions on alcohol is by definition a bad thing. They're the sort of people who don't really trust anyone to act responsibly unless there's a policeman watching them.
Here's a toast to common sense: a rare and uncommon bird in these parts.
Our last stop on Friday was Featherstone, who are nearly sold out of the current vintage in almost everything. Only a few wines were available for tasting that I hadn't already had the chance to try:
Unfortunately, the highlight for both of us on our last visit was their amazing Gamay, which is sold out. The new vintage won't be released until early Spring, so we're already planning another expedition to the winery for then.
Fifth on our tour of the Beamsville Bench area on Friday was Kacaba Vineyards. I've been a fan of theirs for their 2000 vintage wines (especially their Meritage and Pinot Noir). This was my first opportunity to try some of their 2002 vintages. Here's what we tasted this time around:
Fourth stop, Malivoire. Directly across the road from our first stop (Thomas & Vaughan), and recommended by the staff at T&V. One of my regular stops, but Brendan's first opportunity to visit.
The wines we tasted this time included:
Our third stop on Friday was Thirty Bench, just up the road from Angels Gate. I don't know what the situation was here, but the person on duty seemed to be very distracted by the other customer in the winery at the time we visited, because we got (at best) indifferent service until after the other customer left, at which point we got over-attentive service. Thirty Bench has a reputation for producing good quality high-end wines, but I'm afraid our tasting didn't really live up to that reputation:
Second on our long list of wineries to visit was Angels Gate. The winery is situated with a lovely view north down the slope to Lake Ontario . . . when the weather is clear. We could barely make out the next field in that direction.
This was a return visit for both Brendan and me, so we were able to concentrate on tasting wines that we'd missed the last time around:
I won't have time to do all of the entries today, so I'll just break it down by winery. Thomas & Vaughan was purchased earlier this year by neighbouring EastDell Estates, so the staff has completely changed over from our last visit. The new owners are running T&V as a separate operation, so the name and brand will continue to be used.
Visiting the winery was rather sad, however, because during the time we were there, a local artist came in and took down all of the art that he'd had hanging on the walls of the tasting room. I didn't get the details, but it sure left the place looking half-abandoned.
Matt, the staff member on duty in the tasting room, was very helpful and provided us with plenty of background information on the wines we were tasting. Here are my rough notes:
Just got back from an overnight wine tour in the Beamsville and Niagara region. Among the wineries visited were Angel's Gate, Thirty Bench, Thomas & Vaughan, Malivoire, Kacaba, Featherstone, Strewn, Coyote's Run, Chateau des Charmes, Marynissen, Henry of Pelham, and Creekside.
Detailed report as time allows. Sorry for the teaser.
The downturn in demand for French wines is starting to cause serious worry among French winemakers, according to this report:
PARIS - Wine is less a beverage than an elixir of life in France, but the country's vintners say they're vexed by a problem that threatens their livelihood — too much of a good thing and not enough people drinking it.
Pinched by overproduction, shrinking exports, advertising restrictions, an aggressive campaign against alcohol abuse and changing drinking habits, at least 6,000 growers and winemakers staged spirited demonstrations nationwide Wednesday to press the government for help.
"We are a sector in crisis," said Jean-Michel Lemetayer, the head of France's main farmer union, urging the state to bail out an industry awash in a sea of Chablis and Bordeaux.
Vintners wearing black armbands marched through Bordeaux, Avignon, Angers, Macon, Nantes, Tours and other cities in key winemaking regions to urge the Agriculture Ministry to help offset their financial losses.
While I'm sympathetic to the plight of individual winemakers and their employees, I note that their first instinct is to demand government action. The report lists several reasons for the decline in sales, including worldwide overproduction of wine and domestic anti-alcoholism campaigns (but oddly does not mention the US unofficial boycott of French wines).
The worst-hit winemakers appear to be the higher-priced Bordeaux houses, whose products have suffered a 25% decline in foreign sales. I get the LCBO "Vintages" mailings, which recently included information on the most recent Bordeaux releases. Famous brands like Chateau Margaux and Petrus were selling for a couple of thousand dollars per bottle. I drink a fair bit of wine, but I can't imagine spending a significant portion of my annual drinking budget on just one bottle of wine, no matter how wonderful.
In most industries, when the demand for a product decreases, the logical reaction is to reduce the price per unit. Apparently, some divine law must insulate top-flight winemakers from such mundane economic considerations . . . and the French government is being pressured to make good on that divine ruling.
Hat tip to Jon for the link.
We all have a least one: a bottle of wine that we're saving for a special occasion. The only problem is, the occasion never seems to arrive. And the longer we hold onto the bottle, the more exalted it becomes and the less worthy all occasions seem to be. Keep in mind that it's just wine. No matter how great the wine might be, it will not change the course of your life; it won't make you smarter or more successful or more famous. The best you can hope for is that it makes the occasion more enjoyable.
If you find yourself earmarking a bottle of wine as particularly special, go a step further and decide immediately what you're saving it for. Don't expect a suitable event to materialize later, because our psychology is working against us and as time goes by the exalted wine becomes harder to open.
Richard Best, The Frugal Oenophile
Myrick just got back from a trip during which he had the opportunity to sample some local wines:
Thrice! Three times on my recent vacation I had disposed of
perfectly goodhideous alcohol.
That's a record. In my travels I have imbibed dreaded Mekong whiskey, Cambodian muscle wine, the most wretched of sojus, African moonshine and various Kuwaiti homemade-concoctions that involved no small number of health risks. But never have I found so many undrinkable brews as I did on my most recent trip.
But never fear! Myrick survived the scarifying experiences and discovered a true Oriental wonder:
Still, all in all, black rhizones red was monkey-spanking good.
You couldn't really ask for a better recommendation, could you?
From Reason Hit and Run, some news on the ongoing court cases to overturn various state laws on importing wine:
Judging from yesterday's oral arguments, things are not looking good for bans on direct interstate wine shipments. Several justices were openly skeptical of the position that the 21st Amendment allows protectonism and the claim that the bans in Michigan and New York could be justified on other grounds. In what looks like a sign of desperation, Michigan's solicitor general urged the Supreme Court to overrule its 1984 decision rejecting a Hawaii excise tax that discriminated against alcoholic beverages from other states. "If you can't grant a tax exemption," said Justice John Paul Stevens, "it seems to me a fortiori that you can't prohibit importation."
Free the Grapes
At last, the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on interstate wine sales.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear cases on Tuesday on whether small California wineries, such as the Agua Dulce Vineyards north of Santa Clarita, can sell their products to the national market over the Internet, a practice that is banned in several states.
"California wineries, particularly smaller family-run operations, should be able to ship their product directly to customers in all states," said K. Lloyd Billingsley, editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute and author of the new report "Wine Wars: Defending E-Commerce and Direct Shipment in the National Wine Market."
"Twenty-four states prohibit direct shipments of wine," he said. "The trend is toward direct shipping and the high court should recognize that current reciprocity arrangements could simply be extended to all states."
As with the last report on wineries appealing against archaic and illogical restrictions, I hope that the court sees fit to restore rationality to the market.
At issue legally is a clash between the 21st Amendment, which gives states the right to regulate alcohol distribution, and the Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against out-of-state competitors. Which explains the alignment of forces: small wineries such as Swedenburg's, represented by the free-market Institute for Justice, versus wholesalers fighting to hold onto a highly lucrative monopoly.
A former Foreign Service officer whose mom-and-pop winery handles everything from the grape-growing through the bottling and distribution, Swedenburg reports that about 90 percent of her prize-winning wines are sold to visitors, half of whom live out of state. Technically, if they are from New York, even if they buy a bottle in person and bring it home themselves, they're still committing a crime.
Unfortunately, while the advance of the Internet makes a small, family-run winery economically feasible, just under half the states forbid such sales and five make it a felony.
I wish them all the best in this fight.
I still remember how I felt the first time we brought some US wine back into Canada (declaring the purchase like
idiots good citizens) and having to pay the LCBO mark-up on top of duty and tax. We barely had enough cash to cover it — in those benighted days, the government didn't accept other forms of payment.
Let me say that it suddenly brought into focus just why some folks get into smuggling.
Reflecting on the Greek wisdom of taking no more than three drinks, Hugh Johnson, the esteemed British wine expert, notes that throughout history three drinks have been considered the model for moderation. Johnson even goes on to suggest that from this historic counsel is derived the wine bottle, which just happens to contain 750 millilitres or about three glasses each for two people.
Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible
Three kraters [bowls used for wine] do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to hubris, the fifth to uproar, the sixth to prancing about, the seventh to black eyes, the eighth brings the police, the ninth belongs to vomiting, and the tenth to insanity and the hurling of furniture.
Eubulus, attributing the words to the god Dionysus
A business in Tenafly, NJ, paid $55,812 for a 130 litre bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. And you thought pouring from a magnum bottle was a bit challenging? Try this one
First, the whine: This week has been a real armpit of a week. After all the upheavals at work (which you won't read about here), I took my car in for service on Friday. Expected costs, $400. Actual costs $1500. Today, I lost my cellphone and by the time I got a chance to call Bell Mobility, their customer service lines were closed, so they haven't cut off the phone. I expect that to be a really fascinating phone bill by the time it arrives.
Victor's soccer team dropped a game to a previously winless team, by the score 5-1 (Victor scored the only goal for his team). By the time dinner rolled around, I was really expecting the worst of my wine choice for dinner.
And then the wine: Fortunately, the 2000 Strewn Cabernet Franc was not a disappointment. After an hour to decant, it had a big cedar-y, tobacco-y nose rising from the glass. The wine had jammy red fruit and just enough chewy tannins to make you savour every mouthful. A lovely wine matched with steak. I hope there's still a few bottles of this left at the winery, as I plan to restock this vintage early next month on my next visit to Niagara.
Fun but limp Marsanne. Shows blueberry, acidic monster cigar box and forceful wild berry. Drink now through whenever the cows come home.
Elegant almost plump Gamay. Drops wart ointment, astounding milk chocolate and strong pixie stick. Drink now through April.
Medium-weight and intense Port. Shows baked alaska, limp gasoline and semi-weak ketchup. Drink now through graduation.
Powerful and big and plump Dessert wine. Kicks you with poi, oily cheap gin and total absence of bongwater. Drink now through 2009.
If you've ever wanted to sound as silly and pretentious as the rest of us when we're pretending to know something about wine, this is the site for you!
In many states, the sale of hard liquor is tightly regulated. People who want to sell booze have to jump through all kinds of hoops to run a liquor store, and it's expensive as hell. But not in New Hampshire.
Here, we don't bother with any of that nonsense. Nobody has the time or the resources to properly do all that, so we simply don't let them. The New Hampshire State Liquor Commission runs about 70 liquor stores around the state, and is projected to contribute about 115 million dollars to the state budget. And in a state with as small as us (roughly 1.1 million people), that's hardly chump change.
And that's the usual argument for keeping liquor sales within the government's hands: the huge (some might say obscene) profits to be made in a monopoly situation. And that's on top of the various excise and other tax levies hidden in the price of the alcohol. No wonder at all that the state doesn't want private enterprise horning in on the gravy train, is it?
This was my favourite part of the article:
Aside 2: Every now and then Massachusetts gets fed up with it's subjects — er, residents — sneaking across the border and buying their booze on the cheap in New Hampshire and cracks down. At one point in the 70's, they had undercover state troopers sitting in parking lots and radioing in license plates of customers to be busted when they crossed back into Massachusetts. That tactic was ended after New Hampshire's governor at the time ordered New Hampshire cops to arrest the Mass. troopers for loitering.
The closet anarchist in me loves the image of cops arresting cops, I must admit!
One definition of alcoholism is when a person has reached a point of dependency on alcohol to the point where they suffer when it is withdrawn. Is there a term for a state that is dependent on the revenues of alcohol, and would suffer greatly if it was taken away?
I think this overstates the case, although the government in question would undoubtedly fight as hard as it could to preserve the current arrangement. I've already covered the argument for selling off Ontario's equivalent, the LCBO.
It seems that New Hampshire will cheerfully embrace the benefits of socialism, as long as we can get other people to do the dirty work and pay for it.
It's a lovely racket while it lasts, eh?
It is difficult to write intelligently about wine without sounding snobbish. And it is just as hard to write un-snobbishly about wine without sounding stupid.
I've reduced the number of wine-related postings I do since I started this blog, partly because I've got items of wider interest to discuss, and partly because I didn't want to constantly run through the same general terms to describe the wines. I nearly did post about a recent wine tour of Prince Edward County, where I was served a really awful wine at one of the wineries. It was bad.
How bad was it? you ask. Well, it smelled rather like Rover had just squatted over the glass and pinched off a really smelly turd. Like that, only with slight hints of grapeyness. My wife, who is not usually as diplomatic as I am, was able to describe it as having a "stable straw" aroma. (As in used stable straw.)
Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, Myrick, our man in Singapore, had the opportunity to try a unique wine with impressive powers — at least as claimed by the winemaker.
The wine people are heavily Democratic because Democrats, they seem to think, have panache; Republicans don't. It is hard to imagine John Ashcroft at a wine tasting, not hard to imagine Bill and Hillary at one, the crazed AG is not a likely white wine and brie guy. But a rhetorically liberal upscale couple would be right at home in a setting of the superficial and the silly.
Pumped down into the soil to depths of 12 feet, methyl bromide sterilizes the earth as grape vine site prep. Immigrant Mexicans, dressed in protective moonsuits, apply the lethal stuff, and often die in industry accidents involving ag or industrial wine chemicals, especially nitrogen, because the wine people, thanks to Democrats, are basically exempt from industrial safety standards.
The wine industry, heavy consumers of pesticides and herbicides, is environmentally devastating and socially indifferent; they clearcut large swaths of land with a thoroughness the most demented logger can only dream of doing, then lay on the chemicals year round. Socially, the industry provides little to no worker housing for the immigrant labor upon which depends. The wine industry, which seldom pays better than minimum wages for seasonal work, rises up as one to crush UFW organizing attempts like so many grapes, and fires any worker who complains without so much as promising anything resembling a fair hearing. Congressman Thompson, a Democrat who's interchangeable with Republicans on most votes, is the wine industry's national go-to guy.
I know almost literally nothing about the wine industry in California, but this certainly raises some uncomfortable questions.
These wines should only be tasted under the following circumstances: on their own, outside the context of a meal, with your best wine-loving friends, in a respectful atmosphere and without the slightest reference to their price. In such a way, you will do homage to the skill and honesty of the winegrower and equally to Nature, without whom the production of such jewels would be impossible.
Jean Hugel, quoted in Wine and War by Don & Petie Kladstrup
This is more a pre-whine, but I was at the LCBO today picking up the weekly "groceries" and I saw a bottle of Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush and I knew I had to pick it up. It's a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (LCBO product number 606384) from Cooper's Creek.
We'll be trying it later tonight and (if I can get to a computer tomorrow in between my son's frantic preparations for his Halloween party) I'll report on whether it lives up to its name.
Update 31 October: Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay, as Rabbie Burns is supposed to have said. We spent much of tonight (uh, I mean last night, glancing at the little clock in the taskbar) at Lakeridge Hospital where we took our son after he had recurrent breathing problems. He's fine now, we hope, but let's just say that our attention was diverted. After all the basic diagnostics were taken (blood pressure, pulse, blood-oxygen levels, chest X-ray), they can't find anything wrong, so we're keeping our fingers crossed right now.
Saturday is the day that Vintages (the exclusive arm of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) releases new products. The competition can, apparently, get quite violent:
Shoving matches have been known to ensue over coveted vintages, and, from time to time, collectors have even been caught stealing prized merchandise from other people's shopping carts. One LCBO customer regularly purchases large quantities of expensive wines to display for guests on Saturday night, only to bring them back for a refund on Monday. "We actually had an employee injured recently when two people too impatient to wait reached over his shoulder and ripped open a wooden box," says Bailey. "They sliced the edge of his face."
On another recent occasion, a Toronto contractor devised an ingenious plan to thwart the LCBO's one-bottle-per-person policy on limited-supply vintages. At 5 a.m. that Saturday, he parked his construction trailer in the wine-store parking lot and paid his crew to line up in one-hour shifts. (They'd return to the trailer for coffee, doughnuts and bathroom breaks.) By the end of the morning, they'd bought up every bottle in the store.
Reason's Michael Young interviews Lebanese wine writer Michael Karam:
Today, Lebanon produces 7 million bottles annually. It's still a cottage industry by global standards (it would need to produce 80 million bottles per year to reach 1 percent of France's output), but the quality is not in doubt and the Lebanese aim is to turn their country into one of the world's boutique wine nations. Meanwhile, domestic consumption has increased in relative terms, though it stands roughly at the still modest figure of a bottle per person per year, or some 3.5 million bottles consumed — though that includes domestic and foreign wines. This is helped in part by visiting or returning Lebanese emigrants, who bring with them the more pronounced taste for wine abroad that has yet to develop inside Lebanon. That said, the Lebanese, always anxious to be seen as getting it right, are gradually eschewing the obligatory bottle of luxury-blend whisky in favor of wine with their meals.
Jacob Sullum sketches in the background to an upcoming case for the US Supreme Court, which ties together marijuana cultivation for personal use with the ability for individuals to buy wines from out-of-state. Although these sound pretty disparate, they're closely linked by the US Federal (or in this case Feral) government's use of the Commerce Clause:
In a case the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear next month, it will decide who should have won that argument. Its decision will hinge on how broadly it reads Congress' authority to "regulate Commerce . . . among the several states," the constitutional basis for the Controlled Substances Act and the main pretext for expanding the federal government since the New Deal.
Last December the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit noted that Monson's marijuana cultivation bore little resemblance to interstate commerce: It wasn't commercial, and it wasn't interstate. Concluding that the Controlled Substances Act "is likely unconstitutional" as applied to people who use cannabis for medical purposes in compliance with state law, the 9th Circuit said a federal judge had erred in refusing to protect Monson and another patient, Angel McClary Raich, against future federal raids.
Appealing that decision, the Justice Department is pushing a view of the Commerce Clause that leaves virtually nothing beyond the federal government's reach. Although growing a few marijuana plants for your own medical use may not be interstate commerce, the government argues, it's still a federal concern because it's part of a class of activities that together have a "substantial effect" on interstate commerce.
Predicting which way the court will rule is a mug's game, but we can hope for a bit more protection of the rights of individuals if the court agrees that the Federal government is over-stepping the bounds of what the Commerce Clause is supposed to allow.
A couple of months ago, the LCBO brought in a 2001 BC Meritage from Jackson-Triggs' Okanagan Valley estate (LCBO #643460). I tracked down a couple of bottles and we opended the first bottle that same day. The wine was, at best, adequate. It lacked much of the complexity we'd have expected from even a Niagara JT Meritage, and were puzzled at the good reviews the wine had received.
Wind the calendar on a couple of months and we had the second bottle last night, along with a prime rib dinner. The wine was excellent. Clearly I'd neglected to allow the first bottle to settle down after all the travelling it'd done: it was murky in both colour and flavour. Last night's bottle was a perfect match to the meal. It had some of the classic Bordeaux style flavours, but in a lighter, fruitier vein, with almost a Shiraz-like spice on the finish.
Now I wish I'd bought a dozen, instead of only a pair!
One of the problems with most wine rating systems, such as Robert Parker's or the Wine Spectator's, is that they don't factor price into the equation. As such, one is often left sorting through a mass of unweildy data trying to find the $20 needle in the 95 point haystack. (Granted, the Spectator provides some help with its "Best Buy" feature.) Vinography has the scoop on a new wine newsletter who rating system explicitly factors price into its rankings:
Each issue of QPRwines groups wines by score, lists them by price and ranks them by value. A wine's QPR (Quality-Price Ratio) is how much more or less it costs compared to the average price of similarly scored wines. For example, the average price for a 93-rated 2000 Bordeaux is $119. But the 2000 Chateau Pontet-Canet from Pauillac costs only $50 — a number that is 42% of the average price for a 93-point wine. Pontet-Canet thus has a QPR of 42%.
Hat tip to The Volokh Conspiracy.
Last Friday was another lightning dash into wine country for sampling and purchasing. It was probably a good thing that I didn't have the time to stay overnight in the area, because I certainly found lots of good wine to take home with me . . . and I probably overspent my budget by a fair margin. My apologies to both of my readers for the lateness of the report. Among the wineries we managed to find time to visit were:
We started off the day in bright, warm sunshine as we departed from Brooklin. We'd gone all of about 30 km before the clouds closed in and the heavens opened up. Traffic was particularly bad once we got over the bridge into Hamilton, as the heavy trucks were throwing quite substantial bow waves along the highway. The rain started to lighten as we got into the Beamsville Bench, and had almost completely disappeared by the time we stopped for lunch.
Our first stop of the day was at Legends Estates Winery. They do both fine quality fruit wines and traditional grape wines (this time around, we concentrated on the grape wines . . . fruit wines may appear in a future wine report). The staff were friendly and helpful, and vastly amused at our attempts to describe the aromas and flavours of the wines we tasted. You'd think nobody had ever described a Riesling as smelling like "Muskol" before! Between my natively poor sense of smell and Bren having put on some aftershave earlier that morning, neither one of us could pretend to be keen analysts. That being said, our consensus favourite was their moderately expensive 2003 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($35). We met, and briefly chatted with, winemaker Andrzej Lipinski, who perhaps fortunately didn't overhear our most outlandish tasting descriptions.
We were chased out of the winery by an incoming bus of wine tourists on their way towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, who had booked a lunch stop at the winery. The main road south from Legends was a moonscape of craters and construction equipment; it took us nearly twenty minutes to travel the five kilometers to the next stop on our tour.
This was the winery we probably disrupted the most by our visit. Between Bren in his suit and me obsessively scribbling things on a clipboard, we had them convinced we were either government inspectors or magazine authors. We managed to get in for lunch at their on-site café, which was notable both for good food and for friendly service. At the end of the meal, the chef came up to say hello and to answer a few questions we had about the food and his plans for the future. They carefully match their food to the wines available at the winery (including some from other wineries: they're not chauvinistic that way). My 2001 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay was a good match for the pasta in cream sauce I selected for lunch.
The flagship wine of this winery has been their Baco Noir-based blend sold under the name "Black Cab". For some time it was their only generally available wine through the LCBO. I tried the 2001 vintage, which was close to a perfect barbeque wine — and that's not meant as a put-down. . .it was ideal as a companion to steaks, burgers, and relatively strong flavoured food. The 2003 vintage is not as aggressive, despite having had Cabernet Sauvignon added to the blend in 2002.
This was a return visit for me, but a first time visit for Bren. They have some interesting wines available, including a Port-like wine called Starboard (heh!), and a Xeres-style wine called Solara-Made Amber. Both are on their way to being good versions of the originals, although I found the Starboard to lack some of the pepper I'd expect from a Portuguese Port. Among their table wines, I really liked their 2001 Cabernet Franc and 2000 Merlot Reserve. Also of note was their 2003 Kerner, which was very nice indeed.
One of our favourite stops on the way, Featherstone is a very small operation, but has perhaps the most charm of any winery we visited on this trip. Among other things, we got to sample their 2003 Gamay, which is about a month or so away from general release . . . and which we'll certainly be purchasing when it's bottled!
Vineland Estates was a first-time visit for both of us, and the drive in from the road certainly bears out their claim to be "Ontario's Most Picturesque Winery". We sampled a number of their wines, the most impressive to me was their 2002 Merlot, which had lots of green pepper and raspberry jam flavours.
For me, this is literally where it all started: on my honeymoon, visiting the original vineyard of a tiny operation called Chateau des Charmes, more than twenty years ago. Highlight of the trip: being recognized by Mme. Bosc after twenty years. Because we've been trying Chateau des Charmes wines for years, I tried to sample wines which were not generally available in the LCBO on this visit. Among the wines sampled were the Savagnin and Viognier, neither of which were to my taste, unfortunately. I bought a bottle of the 2001 Equuleus, a Meritage blend that only appears in exceptional years. Based on the tasting at the winery, I think this will be much improved in a year's time.
This was a pleasant surprise to us, as we'd run out of the normal times for winery hours, so finding them still open on our way into Niagara-on-the-Lake was wonderful. Joseph's Estate is located on the main route in to Niagara-on-the-Lake from the west, and has a fairly wide selection of wines for such a small winery. One of the more unusual offerings is a 2001 Petit Syrah, the first wine from that grape I've ever seen in the Niagara DVA.
Yesterday we took a trip to the new wineries in Prince Edward County (north shore of Lake Ontario, between Kingston and Toronto). I'd heard that there were a few start-up operations in the area, but I had no idea they had come so far, so fast. From only a couple of small operations five years ago, there are at least eight active and more talking about opening to the public within the next year or so.
Our first stop was The Grange of Prince Edward County Estate Winery, near the village of Hillier. They are currently selling their 2003 Riesling, Gamay, Gamay Noir, and Rosé, with some other wines due for release in the September-October timeframe.
The winery is located in a renovated and expanded 1830's barn. Most of the staff onsite during our visit appeared to be members of the owners' family, and some mild levels of disorganization showed that they are still coming to terms with the number of potential customers visiting the winery.
Briefly, we tried both Gamays and the Riesling and Chardonnay on this visit. We were not impressed by the Riesling, but took home a bottle of each of the others, and we plan to come back later in the year to sample their Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay Reserve releases.
Next on the tour was Huff Estates, near Bloomfield. The winery is significantly different in both appearance and attitude to most Ontario wineries we've visited: they are passionately embracing the modern approach to winemaking. The winery is set partially in-ground on a south-facing slope, with the vineyards surrounding the building. Unlike the heritage barn structure at the Grange, Huff Estates more resembles a modern art gallery in concrete and metal. They even have the County's first helipad!
The folks at Huff are promising some Bordeaux style wines later this year (specifically Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Meritage-style blends). Right at the moment, they only have their 2003 Riesling, Gamay, and Chardonnay available for sale.
In spite of the physical differences with the Grange, we again found that the Huff Riesling was less interesting to us, but that their Gamay and Chardonnay were well worth further tasting. We'll also be visiting Huff again later this year to sample their Bordeaux-style wines when they are released.
Third on the trip was the Black Prince Winery. Ironically, I'd heard the most about this winery because they hosted a jousting tournament with the Knights of Valour earlier this year. . .and I subconsciously expected a much larger operation. The winery store is a converted house just off the main street in Picton, and the vineyard is producing some, but not yet all, of their grapes. Some of their wines are produced from Niagara grapes, so they are not able to get VQA designation.
Among the wines currently available are a 2002 Baco Noir and 2003 Auxerois, Chambourcin, Vidal, Chardonnay, and Vidal Icewine.
The fourth stop of the day was the Waupoos Estates winery to the east of Picton along County Road 8.The winery has an on-site restaurant in addition to their wine tasting pavilion. Waupoos is one of the longer-established vineyards in Prince Edward County, with the earliest vines planted over ten years ago. The winery itself opened to the public in 2001.
Waupoos offers a wider range of wines than most of the other wineries we visited, including Gewüaut;rztraminer, Chardonnay, Geisenheim, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Seyval Blanc, Vidal and a white blended wine called Honeysuckle (the winemaker does not disclose the exact blend used for any of his blended wines). Red wines include Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, Cabernet, Cabernet Gamay, and a blend called Pearl Noir. They also offer a Rosé and an Icewine.
Our final stop (before dinner, that is) was the County Cider Company. They have a breathtaking view of the lake from their hillside tasting pavilion. . .it's almost worth the climb up the hill just for the view alone. As the name implies, this has been an established cider producer for some time who have only recently started producing wines. This is such a new development for them that it isn't even mentioned on their website!
The small number of wines on offer included Riesling, Gamay, Gamay Zweigelt, and a Pinot Noir/Baco Noir blend called Prinyer's Cuvee. The tasting pavilion has a small café which serves light refreshment until mid-afternoon on a patio facing the lake. We were there too late to sample the food, but the cider was excellent and the wines certainly showed some promise.
We finished up our wine tour with dinner at Currah's Café in downtown Picton. The food was excellent, and they offer a good, not-too-expensive wine list featuring several VQA wines from around Ontario (the wine list is available on their website). To match our respective dishes (lamb and pork), we selected an excellent Thomas & Vaughan 2000 Meritage: a delightful wine that I hadn't tried before. A very tasty end to a pleasant day's drive.
It is news guaranteed to raise a cheer among those who enjoy a glass or two: drinking half a bottle of wine a day can make your brain work better, especially if you are a woman.
Research to be published tomorrow by academics at University College London has found that those who even drink only one glass of wine a week have significantly sharper thought processes than teetotallers.
The benefits of alcohol, which are thought to be linked to its effect on the flow of blood to the brain, can be detected when a person drinks up to 30 units of alcohol — about four to five bottles of wine — per week.
At risk of sounding repetitive . . . I'll drink to that!
For those of you who don't live in Ontario, the LCBO is the government-run monopoly provider of almost all alcoholic beverages except beer and wine, which are sold through the Brewers Retail, now operating under the name "The Beer Store" and through individual winery-owned wine stores, respectively. Both the LCBO and the Brewers Retail were set up after the repeal of prohibition in Ontario to control the sale and distribution of alcohol in the province. The LCBO is government-owned, while the Brewers Retail is owned by the major breweries (Labatt, Molson, & Sleeman).
A few elections ago, the Ontario government under Premier Mike Harris started talking about getting the government out of the liquor business. The LCBO, which up until that point had operated like a sluggish version of the Post Office, suddenly had plenty of incentive to try appealing to their customers. Until the threat of privatization, the LCBO was notorious for poor service, lousy retail practices, and surly staff. Until the 1980's, many LCBO outlets were run exactly like a warehouse: you didn't actually get to see what was for sale, you only had a grubby list of current stock from which to write down your selections on pick tickets, which were then (eventually) filled by the staff.
If the intent was to make buying a bottle of wine feel grubby, seamy, and uncomfortable, they were masters of the craft. No shopper freshly arrived from behind the Iron Curtain would fail to recognize the atmosphere in an old LCBO outlet.
During the 1980's, most LCBO stores finally became self-service, which required some attempt by the staff to stock shelves, mop the floors, and generally behave a bit more like a normal retail operation. It took quite some time for the atmosphere to become any more congenial or welcoming, as the staff were all unionized and most had worked there for years under the old regime — you might almost say that they had to die off and be replaced by younger employees who didn't remember the "good old days".
To return to the early 1990's, the LCBO had gone through massive changes (from their own point of view), but were still far behind the times. The threat of being sold to the private sector seems to have operated as a massive injection of adrenalin to the corporate heart: the LCBO suddenly became serious about serving the customer, expanding their services, making themselves more customer-friendly and providing their staff with proper training.
In the end, the Tory government decided that they preferred the direct stream of profits from the LCBO monopoly and backed away from their privatization plans. To my amazement (and probably that of most impartial observers), the LCBO did not immediately fall back into their bad old habits: they continued the modernization that had already taken them so far from their roots.
Today, the LCBO is almost unrecognizable as the Stalinist bureaucracy of the 1960s and 70s. Their staff are generally friendly, helpful, and (mirabile dictu) know far more about their products than ever before.
All that being said, I still am happy to hear that the current government is talking about privatization again. The LCBO is better than it used to be, and continues to improve, but they are still a monopoly provider with little real competition. I don't pretend that a badly run sale might well end up (in the short-to-medium term) reducing the variety of alcoholic products for sale in Ontario, but having competing retailing channels would (in the long term) produce a healthier market with the competitors striving to attract more customers by better service, wider selection or even (dare we say it) lower prices.
This article, from last year, discusses the drop in demand for French wines in the US market.
Something was missing from the country's largest wine fair here last week, and it was not just the air conditioning in one of the exhibition halls (where temperatures rose so high, corks popped). The usual contingent of American wine merchants were mostly absent, confirming to many in the trade fair's bottle-filled booths that American ill will over France's opposition to the war in Iraq has bruised more than egos.
French wine exports to the United States, which was once French winemakers' most promising market and is now one of their greatest competitors, are going down the drain.
"It's clear from our American distributors that there is a hesitation to promote French wines for the time being," said Bruno Finance, sales manager for Yvon Mau, one of Bordeaux's largest wine merchants. He said French wine was losing ground in some other markets, "but as of today the only place there is such a big loss is in the U.S."
Interestingly, after a flurry of articles in spring 2003, this topic dropped off the radar. The most recent US article I could find in a quick search was from April, which reported that sales of French wine in the United States were off by nearly 25% over the year. A report from the Bordeaux Wine Council earlier this month claimed that prices have collapsed by "almost half in the past three years. In the past 12 months exports have fallen by 9% and between 10-20% of the region's 9,000 producers are in varying degrees of financial hardship."
I guess, based on this, that the unofficial boycott of French wine continues, even without newspaper or television hype.
Hat tip to James Lileks for the IHT story URL.
Virginia wine, that is. We had spent a week in the Williamsburg area this March, and among the small selection of souvenirs we brought back were a few bottles of wine from the Williamsburg Winery. Last night, we tried their 2000 Arundel Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak dinner. The steaks were marinated in a Jamaican jerk sauce, which is predominantly allspice: not the easiest flavour to match with a wine.
In this case, I guessed right for the wrong reasons. I was thinking that a big, burly Cabernet would be the right match for a strongly flavoured red meat. The Arundel is not at all typical of a Cabernet Sauvignon: it's more like a young Merlot with uncharacteristic spiciness. It is very pale, almost Gamay-like in the glass, and has plenty of fruit on the nose.
The flavours started with a strong grape/berry and then moved into pepper and ended with almost a fig-like flavour. It sounds weird, but it was an excellent match with the steaks.
This BBC article discusses a recent find in wine: lifted from the bottom of the English Channel from a wrecked French cargo ship, sunk in 1955.
This weekend, we finally got around to trying an Italian Amarone, this one being a 2000 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella (link is to the LCBO entry for this wine). Elizabeth had heard lots of good things about Amarone in general, and this was one of the mid-priced bottles on offer at our local LCBO store.
We'd tried a small number of Ripasso wines (which some people had referred to as being similar to Amarone in style), most of which we'd quite enjoyed. This may have led us to expect more from this wine, unfortunately. It was quite pleasant, worked very well with a tomato-based pasta, but didn't knock our socks off. It had a fairly understated bouquet, and the primary flavours in the wine were raisins and berries. It was a nice wine, but it wasn't significantly better (in our view) than Ripassos which sell for half to two-thirds of the price of the Amarone.
Tonight's wine was a British Columbia 2001 Meritage from Jackson-Triggs' Okanagan Estate. We decanted the wine about an hour before dinner, to allow it to breathe. It had a surprisingly muted nose, with only a hint of the powerful bouquet of the winery's Niagara Estate version of this wine.
We matched this wine with our version of a Cajun Jambalaya, which isn't one of the normal foods to have with a wine of this style. It worked fairly well, although the wine was a bit sweeter than we'd expected. Perhaps this is the norm for a BC Meritage, but it took us a bit by surprise. There was plenty of fruit flavour in the wine, berries predominantly, and a definite "jamminess" in the mouth-feel. Another good wine, but I think I prefer the Niagara Estate version over the Okanagan (at least for the 2001 vintages, respectively).
The highlight of this past weekend was an unplanned trip down to the Beamsville Bench and Niagara-on-the-Lake viticultural areas. While I'm always happy to have an excuse to go mooch around the wineries, we'd had a great experience of finding an inexpensive wine that had great qualities (at least, what we could agree on as being great qualities), and we wanted to grab a case while it was still available.
While the proximate cause of our trip was a visit to Thomas & Vaughan, to purchase a case of their 2001 Cabernet blend, we took advantage of being in the area to visit a few other wineries.
First up was the tiny operation of Daniel Lenko, which was perhaps the homiest and most comfortable stop on our trip. We drove past their driveway, which had a sign out front offering "Meritage Counselling", which was enough of a hint that I had to find the next turn-around and come back for a visit. We were greeted by the Lenko's dog, who seems to have adapted well to being the door-warden for a busy family winery. After passing the brave greeting party, we were ushered into the house and sat down at the kitchen table by Daniel and his mother! We had the opportunity to try a couple of 2001 Chardonnays, aged in American oak and in French oak (we preferred the more expensive French oak, typically), along with a 2003 Riesling, a 2002 Rosé, a 2001 Late Harvest Vidal and a 2002 Meritage. While the Chardonnay and the Vidal are ideal for drinking now, the Meritage still has a bit of tannic bite and will probably be better next year.
The next stop on our tour was the original excuse for the trip, Thomas & Vaughan. We were a bit disappointed to learn that they'd been bought by neighbouring EastDell at the beginning of June, so the prices on their website were out of date (and, of course, higher than we'd anticipated). It should be no surprise to find that the most recent "news" on the EastDell site is from October 2003!
Third in the day's visits was just across the road from T&V, to the Malivoire winery. The folks at Malivoire are very friendly and usually manage to talk me into buying more than I plan on when I walk in the door. This time, I was saved from worse financial folly by several other folks rolling in the door right after us, so I escaped with only a few bottles clutched in my sweating hands.
Our fourth stop was at Hernder Estates, which was a bit of a disappointment. While the wines were certainly of interest, the staff members we dealt with were clearly not too interested in answering our questions (or, perhaps less charitably, were not as well trained as they should be). We ended up with a few bottles of less expensive wine, but we left with the definite feeling that they were depending on the wedding trade rather than the individual wine purchaser for their main source of revenue. We have a couple of bottles of Barrel-Aged Chardonnay for later tasting, along with a very pleasing Gewurztraminer and an older (1997) Cabernet Franc.
The last of our winery stops this trip was the massive Jackson-Triggs estate just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake proper. I was only interested in finding out if they had the recently released Okanagan Valley Grand Reserve Meritage available (which they didn't, but were hoping to have in in the near future). We were somewhat disappointed to find that they did not have much on offer that was not already available either through the LCBO or at their own-brand Wine Rack stores in southern Ontario.
After attempting to find parking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we briefly stopped in at Lailey Vineyards, but were driven off by both the crowds and the fact that they were charging for each sample of their wines. . .a significant difference between the wineries in the Beamsville Bench and the Niagara DVA. I paid for a sample of their Gewurztraminer, but was jostled enough while trying to drink it that I decided an off-season visit would be a better idea.
We detoured on the route home to stop at the Rude Native in Oakville for dinner, which was an ideal way to end our brief vacation.
Our brief vacation trip this week took us down to Leamington-Kingsville-Amherstburg to visit the Lake Erie North Shore viticultural area for the first time. Among the wineries we visited were Pelee Island, Colio, D'Angelo and Sanson.
Away from the wineries, we can comfortably recommend the Caldwell's Grant restaurant in Amherstburg, which has a really cool "New Orleans" feel about the place, with several local wineries on their wine list. The food is of very good quality and we can comfortably recommend them to your attention.
Unfortunately, we can't be as positive about the hotel we stayed in, which was quite overpriced for the quality of accommodation offered and the amenities we expected. For nearly C$175, we expect better than mice in the walls! Therefore we can't recommend the Seacliffe Inn in Leamington.
Just a brief eulogy for an excellent bottle of wine: Thomas & Vaughan 2001 Cabernet (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). For $12.50, this wine offers so much flavour that it's difficult to quickly summarize all the positives. This is easily a $25 bottle of wine that's somehow been mislabelled: grab it while you can! I'm planning a fast descent on the T&V winery on Sunday to pick up a case of this amazing wine.
Elizabeth and I rarely agree on wines, so the fact that we both felt this was one of our more expensive wines that had been accidentally mis-labelled spoke volumes. It has a wonderful bouquet and a great blend of flavours on the palate that make this our favourite budget wine for 2004 so far. Go try it yourself, but only after we've had a chance to get a case for our cellar!
Update (July 12): Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the winery has been taken over by EastDell, and that therefore the prices on the website are out of date. The Cabernet 2001 blend is now $14.95 per bottle, which makes it rather less of a deal than it used to be. Expect things to be up in the air while the new owners decide what to do with their acquisition.
Last night's dinner party featured a couple of local wines going if not head-to-head, at least sequentially. EastDell Estates' 2001 VQA Black Cab, a Baco Noir/Cabernet Franc blend was the dinner wine (to accompany barbecued burgers, salmon, prawns, and Portobello mushrooms). It was preceded by a Henry of Pelham 2003 Gamay, which was a good selection to move the guests away from the Gewürztraminer and towards the dinner wine.
The Gamay had a lively, almost effervescent mouth-feel, with lots of black pepper and berry flavour. I was sorry I'd started with a Pinot Grigio rather than the Gamay, personally! Unlike some of your insipid, bland, almost flavourless Gamays, this one had lots of character. It has sufficient body to be a good accompaniment to meals (perhaps a picnic-style meal with meat, cheese, and crusty bread) or to be drunk by itself.
The Black Cab was a perfect match to BBQ foods: it had lots of smoke and pepper on the nose, with an almost gritty texture — almost as if the wine had been on the grill! This sounds unpleasant, and it probably would be a bad match to less robust food, but with the barbecue selection we had, it was an ideal match. The wine was big, burly, and mouth-filling, with plenty of green pepper and smokiness on the palate. This is not a wine to drink by itself, unless you like extra smokiness and lots of tannins by themselves!
This report in the San Francisco Chronicle discusses a new initiative to allow small wineries to ship their product direct to customers outside their home states. In Ontario, you cannot have an out-of-province winery ship directly to you — it has to be handled through the LCBO. Many US states have similarly antiquated laws (although some are even worse, Pennsylvania forbids both in- and out-of-state wineries from shipping to customers). This appeal may open the way to removing those restrictions for American consumers. We may only hope that something similar will happen here in Ontario.
We opened a bottle of Chateau des Charmes' 2002 Riesling yesterday. This is not one of your limp-wristed, weak, or watery Rieslings. It's got a powerful, long-lasting flavour to put some Chardonnays into the shade. An off-dry, rather than a dry wine, but with plenty of acidity to carry the fruit through to the finish. This wine is going on our "restock" list. Highly recommended.
Yesterday's bottle was an Italian Sangiovese Daunia by Farnese. It was adequate, although it definitely needed the half hour of decanting before we had dinner. It was the definition of a cheap bottle of plonk. For $6.95, we got an adequate wine, but we've had better (Cesare's Merlot delle Venezie comes to mind) in the same price range.
I should point out that the majority of visitor comments have been uninterested in the wine reports. Is anyone actually interested in 'em?
Yesterday, I opened a bottle of Stoney Ridge Cellars' 2003 "Bench Cabernet Franc". This is a very young wine, so I didn't have high expectations of it . . . it was an after-work wine. At first, the overwhelming impression was tannins. The second sip didn't matter because the first sip had stomped all over the tastebuds and left little unbruised in its wake. This is a wine that the winery suggests will be drinkable up to 2010. This may be true, but I'm now wishing they'd included a Best After date, too.
I've recently started a small wine cellar, and I've also started keeping records of the wines we drink. Being a bit of a geek, I had to put it all into a database (but I'm only somewhat geeky, so it's not available online). So much, I can hear you thinking, for the romance and mystique of oeneology, eh? Yeah, well, I'd like to spend my wine-drinking budget on good stuff that's worth drinking, and avoid buying poor quality vinegar. My memory is not what it should be for this sort of detail, so putting the information into a database made some sense (if only to me).
As I've been typing information into the database, I'm trying to include information from reviews . . . which means I need to de-jargonize the high-falutin' nonsense that wine reviewers publish. I've also discovered that no matter how many awards a particular wine may have won, I'm often left wondering if the judges were drinking the same thing that I was when I get around to trying it. Even reviewers with whom I seem to have a certain compatibility of taste sometimes leave me scratching my head.
Billy Munnelly, for example, is the opposite of a wine snob. He's a determined wine popularizer and evangelist (oengelist? vinvangelist? vinularizer?), who publishes a bi-monthly newsletter (Billy's Best Bottles) and an annual book on good, inexpensive wines available in Canada. I've found his recommendations to be very helpful, although he's much more fond of "fresh" and "lively" wines than I am (see his site, or his book, for his definitions of those terms).
Vines magazine, I've found, isn't particularly useful to me, in that several wines they've lauded to the skies were pedestrian or worse in my glass. No fault of theirs: my tastes are highly idiosyncratic, but it's good to know how similar a particular reviewer's tastes are to yours in order to give proper weighting to any published review.
In keeping track of the wines, I'm also trying to come up with some sort of simple numerical rating system with an idea of using the price and rating to come up with some rough number indicating the "quality:price ratio" of any given pair of wines. If a wine that I'd rate an 8 out of 10 costs $15.95, is it better (for certain metaphysical meanings of the word "better") than a wine rated as a 9 but costing $24.95? In general, the more expensive the wine, the less chance it'll ever be found in my basement, but I do recognize that a typical $15 bottle of wine will taste better than a typical $8 bottle of wine. The increase in quality isn't linear, by any stretch of the imagination, and (worse) varies from year to year.
Visitors since 17 August, 2004