Monday, December 8, 2008

True or false?

I would love to hear your opinion on the topics below. Speak up!

True or false #1: "Terroir makes character; people make quality."

True or false #2: "Grape phenolic maturity is independent of sugar levels and should be achieved even if it means (in a warm area) very high sugar accumulation.Too much alcohol? Not a problem. You can remove it from the finished wine with one of the available techniques for alcohol reduction."

True or false #3: "There’s a major disconnection between what’s been done to improve wine quality and what wine writer’s choose to tell consumers, because they feel that if they tell people what is really going on, then the excitement will go away."

True or false #4: ‘I like it’ is not the same as ‘this wine is good’. Personal taste is one thing, standards of quality which refer to more or less accepted criteria, another.In other words: ‘Good wine is the wine that you like’ is not true by any means.

True or false #5: We are in danger of moving toward universal “styles” of wine that obliterate or significantly blur the all-important regional differences between otherwise similar wines.

True or false #6: Sulphur compounds are often misidentified as “terroir characters”. What it means is that the mineral qualities that we describe in some wines are derived in the winery and not in the vineyard.

True or false #7: Great wines are rare because the great terroirs are rare.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sparkling Trento!

Do you like Italian sparkling wines?

In Trento, (North Italy) you have the wonderful occasion to taste the best sparkling wines Trento Doc Metodo Classico (classic method: as Champagne, I mean!) until 14th of December.
The location is an ancient, wonderful palace in the hearth of city: Palazzo Roccabruna.
Built during the second half of the Sixteen century, was bought by the Chamber of Commerce of Trento in 2002. Since December 2004 it has become the headquarters of trentino products promotion, and it goes under the name of "Casa dei prodotti trentini" ("Home of Trentino products")

It is the ideal place for tasting your favourite sparkling: dry, extra dry, brut...from Chardonnay - the most important grape for white wines, in Trentino region - but also from Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
During the event "Bollicine su Trento", you can eat some typical plates pairing with sparkling wines, to partecipate some work shop, tastings, and so on...
The program is here.

Have a fine adventure with these Italian sparkling wines!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


With Wine Blogging Wednesday #51 dealing with Baked Goods (Madeirized Wines), I thought it prudent to explore just exactly what a Madeira really is, how it’s made, where it comes from, etc. So after having posted a review of a particularly unique Madeira – the Blandy’s Alvada 5 Year – on my own site, Under the Grape Tree, I thought I’d use the opportunity of guest posting on the Wine Hub to go into detail about Madeira itself.

My first real experience with Madeira, and what has become a secret fascination with the wine, was deciding to use a 1933 Broadbent Bual Madeira for a vintage wine dinner being hosted by my former employer Chateau Pomije in Cincinnati, Ohio. The memory of that incredible wine still lingers, and the guests who attended, perhaps 20-25, were equally impressed, and shocked, as was I, that Madeira was not only for cooking, but for aging and truly enjoying.

And there is the biggest issue we Americans have with Madeira: our perception that it is merely a cooking wine.

Madeira comes from its island namesake, 400 miles off the coast of Morocco. Part of the sovereign nation of Portugal, it stands to reason that fortified wines would be its focus. The evolution of Madeira began with its use as ballast aboard sailing ships, as well as being a medicine used to prevent scurvy (Arrrgh!). By fortifying the wine with cane spirit, the blend would “maderize” over the course of the voyage, being exposed to long periods of heat and oxidation in the holds of the ships.

Now however, Madeira does not need long voyages at sea to “bake.” Today, Madeira wines are usually heated by storing the casks in sub-baked lofts, spending years slowly being rotated from the upper levels to finally coming to rest on the ground floor, where the wine is then bottled and shipped. There are Madeira wines that see some other forms of heat, yet they are often TOO baked, where they have a burnt sugar quality. Traditionally made Madeira demonstrates a faint caramel tang, a tell-tale sign of a good Madeira.

The major grape varieties used in making Madeira are Malvasia (known there as Malmsey), Sercial, Verdelho and Bual. These wines will usually never be blended and will be labeled as the variety on the bottle. The sweetest of these is Malmsey, which tends to be a very dark brown in color, quite fragrant and soft with a glycerol texture. Bual is lighter and not as sweet as Malmsey, yet still considered most suited for dessert courses. Bual is also in short supply these days. Verdelho is the most widely planted variety on the island, and is much drier and softer than Bual. Sercial, the least planted, is the driest of these 4, yielding a light, fragrant wine requires a lot of aging in order to be drinkable.

Vintage Madeira is out there, and it must come from one single vintage, and from one single variety, and it must be aged in cask for at least 20 years. Only the finest Madeira earns this classification. Madeira is truly one wine that only benefits from age, getting better and better the longer it is cellared.

Hopefully, this little bit of info will entice you to explore this oft-maligned wine more thoroughly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Let's Do Some Debunking

Years ago, when I first started my Geocities website, I wrote a series of articles surrounding some of the common wine myths out there. I don’t think that my Geocities website had a lot of exposure – which is why I shut it down and started my own wine blog – but the articles that were there were good and they provided some background and explanation on some of the “interesting” comments I heard (and still hear) being made about wine in general. What I’m going to do today is look again at some of those wine myths again as well as add in a few new ones I’ve heard recently. So, is screwcap wine cheap, does the price of the bottle determine how good the wine tastes, do you always have to put red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat? These are just a couple of the myths I’m going to debunk here and this will probably turn into a multi-part blog simply because there are so many out there that can be touched on...

Screwcap vs. Cork

This is probably one of the biggest debates currently being discussed in the modern wine industry today. As with most debates, there are pro’s and con’s for both screwcap and cork and, when it comes to cork, there is an added dimension to the debate as the choice between natural and synthetic cork exists. However, let us start with looking at the pro’s and con’s of using screwcap. Although there are not a lot of points against using screwcap, they do exist. First, and foremost in my opinion, is that the actual screwcap closure is not recyclable. All the other forms of closures are recyclable and in this day and age, our planet needs all the help it can get making screwcaps counter productive.

One of the common misconceptions when it comes to a point against using screwcap is the belief that there is no aging potential for a wine using screwcap once it is bottled. This belief ties in with the thought that a bottle sealed with natural cork is interacting with the cork furthering its aging potential. Unfortunately, this is really not the case and, this is the reason why. Think about the size of a cork at its ends – it is roughly the size of a nickel once it is out of the bottle and has expanded slightly. Consequently, inside the bottle, it is somewhere in between the size of a dime and a nickel. What this equates to is the surface of the wine that touches the cork will be an extremely small size and, in reality, there is very little aging potential coming from the cork. The reality is that wine is constantly changing itself meaning that the closure on the bottle has minimal impact. The idea that a wine closed with a screwcap has no aging potential is false but, since it is still a part of people’s perceptions, it is viewed as an argument against using screwcaps.

The next two arguments against using a screwcap closure are closely inter-related so we will discuss them together – loss of romance and the idea that a screwcap looks cheap. Imagine you are in a fancy restaurant and you order a bottle of wine. Now, imagine how you would feel when the waiter brings over the bottle of wine and you discover that your expensive bottle of $100 wine has actually been sealed with a screwcap. It almost feels like the air has been let out of all your tires and it does look cheap.

As a final argument against screwcaps, there is the potential cost of a new bottling line. Now, this is not an expense that every winery who uses screwcaps would incur but if an established winery that was using corks decided to shift even a portion of their product line to screwcap they would incur the cost of a bottling line change and, even possibly, the cost of purchasing a second, separate, line specifically for their screwcap wines.

On the opposite side of this debate, there are just as many points supporting the use of screwcap as an acceptable closure for wine bottles. One of the biggest of these points is that using a screwcap eliminates the possibility of cork taint. There is absolutely nothing worse than investing in an expensive bottle of wine, storing it in a properly designed wine cellar for years, inviting good friends, your boss or an important client to share this “spectacular” wine with and opening it only to discover that the cork had a microscopic fungus growing on it which has now ruined the taste of your wine. There is another problem though – cork taint can affect young wines as well as older wines. Instead of it being the expensive bottle of wine that you have cellared for years, it could be the expensive bottle of wine you picked up at your local wine shop on your way home for the important dinner with your boss. Either way, this is not something you ever want to experience, making a wine with a screwcap closure not as bad as you might imagine.

The next point supporting the use of screwcaps is not one you will encounter everyday but for anyone with a big, or even medium sized, wine collection it is one you should consider. Have you ever noticed when looking at the different bottles of wine in a wine shop just how many different bottle shapes there are available? Some of them are shorter and rounder while others are long and slender. Although all of the bottles look incredibly elegant, some of them – in particular the long, slender ones – are extremely difficult to stored on their sides in a wine cellar when you do not have individual slots for each bottle of wine. Of course, you always have the option of standing the bottle upright but if the bottle is sealed with a cork, you run the risk of the cork drying out if it is store that way for a while which means it will break apart into the wine when you attempt to open it. By using a screwcap, the winery has helped you out by eliminating the need to lay it on its side as well as make it easier to open as there is no chance of a disintegrating cork to deal with.

Following along the same lines is the fact that a screwcap is infinitely easier to open. By sealing a bottle of wine with a screwcap, the winery has eliminated the need to use a cork screw which some people find intimidating to handle and use. They have also removed the need for foil and foil cutters. This step, along with a few others can result in some major savings per bottle for a winery. Given the talk that the reserves of cork trees are said to be depleting, plus the potential for savings in a fiercely competitive market, it is not surprising to understand why a large number of the world’s wineries are making the switch to screwcap.

Now, let us take a look at the arguments for and against the use of corks, whether they are natural or synthetic. With either type of cork, you can always run the risk of either the cork taint problem or the issue of the wine bleeding into the synthetic cork resulting in a diminished colour or flavour. However, when it comes right down to it, using a natural cork closure is the most expensive of the three options. There are two final points for the argument against but it is important to point out that they only apply to synthetic corks. Firstly, the synthetic corks are not recyclable which means they are not environmentally friendly. Secondly, out of all the available options, synthetic corks are the most difficult to remove from the neck of a bottle. It almost feels like the synthetic corks are sticking in the neck of the bottle and, unless you have a lot of upper body strength, it can be an incredible struggle to remove that cork so you can enjoy that glass of wine.

On the pro side of the argument there are just as many points supporting the use of corks. Despite all the arguments against using cork, sealing a bottle of wine with cork still looks the best. There is also the fact that natural cork can be recycled and by using the cork trees that are already planted, cork farmers are encouraged to replant the cork trees allowing for new growth to help our environment. If a winery is established, they will have an existing bottling line eliminating the expense of purchasing a new bottling line to accommodate screwcaps. For a new winery starting up, if they choose to go with cork, chances are they will be able to find a used bottling line for corks that costs less than a new bottling line that works for screwcaps. Since it is commonly a goal of any new business to save costs wherever possible, this would be a step in the right direction. We have discussed the problem of cork taint previously – in both this chapter and others. However, what we have not discussed is the probability of cork taint actually occurring. Essentially, cork taint is a chemical reaction to a fungus present in either the bottle or on the cork. In the province of Ontario, the health and safety requirements for businesses, and particularly in food and beverage related businesses, are such that if a company does not keep their facilities clean and sanitary, they will quickly find themselves out of business. Consequently, the bottles and corks are so well sanitized that there is less than a one percent chance that a wine sealed with a natural cork will develop cork taint. The final argument supporting the use of cork is dependant on how creative the winery wants to be. Some wineries, and this is always an option to any winery choose to be creative with what their cork actually looks like when removed from the bottle. This is not to say that they use different shapes as they are limited by the shape of the neck of the bottle. However, there are wineries that use colored corks – like Vampire Winery of Paso Robles, California who use a cork that is the colour of blood red – and other wineries that have a design or mural applied to the sides of their corks.

So, what is your opinion on the screwcap versus cork debate? Everyone has one and every opinion is valid as long as it can be backed up with reasonable information. Honestly, for me, I can see the reasons to use either and I base my decision on the specific situation. If I was planning to give a bottle of wine as a present to someone who is new to the world of wine, I would certainly not be opposed to it being closed with a screwcap. As a Cellar Master, I could certainly appreciate it when I came across one of those long, slender bottles that was sealed with a screwcap as trying to stack them when laid on their side can be an absolute nightmare. However, nothing would horrify me more if I were to be presented with a bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant that was sealed with anything less than a natural cork. What it comes right down to is winemakers preference and careful market analysis as performed by the winery.

White for White and Red for Red

Wine, no matter what the grape should be matched with the flavour of the food you are going to be eating. You do not want a wine that will overpower the food while you equally do not want to drink a wine that will become lost in the flavours of the food. The goal of any food and wine pairing is to find that perfect balance of flavours between what you are eating and what you are drinking. Typically, with every type of food, you will find both a white wine and a red wine that matches perfectly with it. Occasionally, you will find a rose wine that will also match with your food choice. Now, how many of you immediately thought about that glass of White Zinfandel you like to sip during the summer months on your patio by the pool? Although there are probably a couple of appetizers or a salad that you enjoy eating alongside that glass of White Zinfandel, the world of rose wines is so much bigger than that. Down in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region of Ontario, there is a winery called Smith and Wilson Estate Wines that makes a really great free run Chambourcin Rose which is a little more tart, almost medium bodied, rose wine that pairs perfectly with fresh fish, cream sauce pastas or a plate of Bruschetta.

They say that variety is the spice of life and when it comes to pairing wine with food, it is one of the best practices to follow. Every year, every winery will release a new vintage of their wines and, occasionally, they will release a new wine that they have never made before. With each new vintage the grapes have been exposed to changes in the soil, the amount of sun and rain, the age of the vines and even changes in how the winemaker worked with them. These differences give each wine their variety and your ability to “spice” things up. Another way to “spice” things up is to throw out the white for white and red for red rule. This is one of my favourite ways to experiment with food and wine pairings largely due to the fact that not everyone likes the same tastes in their food. What I like may not be what you like and what you like may not be what your best friend likes. Here is an example to illustrate what I am talking about. Let us take a look at Roast Turkey for just a moment. The natural pairing would be an oaked Chardonnay, preferably in French oak instead of American oak. Now, how would you “spice” things up to make that Roast Turkey dinner even more interesting. Well, here is a combination that I always recommend to friends and family around Thanksgiving time – Baco Noir or Cabernet Franc. There are even a couple of wineries that do a blending of these two grapes - EastDell does their version in every vintage while Willow Springs will do one every now and then.

On the other hand, there is no denying how great a steak tastes with a Bordeaux blend or a nice Chianti. One important thing to keep in mind when matching a Chianti with your next steak is that you do not want a vintage that is too young or too old. The best one to aim for would be anywhere between three and five years as anything under three years old would be weak, under developed and quite possibly tannic. At the other end of the scale, any Chianti much older than five years might be too mellow to pair well with a hearty, robust steak.

As you can see, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to matching a wine with the food that you are serving. It is very much a game of try and see, but if you like to experiment it can be a very exciting game. Each type of grape has certain flavours and aromas that it will typically impart. However, that can vary from country to country, even region to region, and is affected by the weather, the soil and even the winemakers influence.

Price determines the quality

Out of all the wine myths I have ever heard, the idea that the more expensive a wine is the better it will taste is the one that will always make me shake my head in bewilderment and laugh all at the same time. The truth is that absolutely nothing could be further from the truth – for a very wide variety of reasons. The first reason behind this is the simple fact that everyone’s tastes are different. While some people’s tastes may run towards the more expensive, high end wines like Cristal Champagne that is close to $500 a bottle, there are just as many people who prefer the simple, uncomplicated tastes of Baby Duck, which currently comes in at under $7.00 a bottle. I remember the first time I had Baby Duck. I was working in Algonquin Park and my friend Cassandra, who thoroughly enjoyed this wine, said that I absolutely had to try it. So I did try it and, at the time, did enjoy it. However, not long after that point, I tried a different wine and enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Baby Duck. Now, although I found a different wine that I enjoyed, my friend Cassandra still enjoys a glass of Baby Duck every now and then. There is nothing wrong with that – it is simply a difference between our taste buds. Since our taste buds are, essentially, unique to each of us, there are always going to be differences between what one person likes and the next person likes. If you were to look at my wine collection over the years, you would see wines ranging from DeSousa Wine Cellars Vidal Blanc, which sells at $9.95 a bottle all the way up to bottles of icewine that sell for more than $100 each.

Another thing to keep in mind is the economics within the country where the wine was made. When it comes to North American wineries, the costs associated to make a bottle of wine are much higher here than in, for example, Georgia, which is one of the former U.S.S.R. countries. We will continue to use Georgia as an example of an international country to illustrate these differences and the first difference – possibly the most visible – is the cost of labour. Here in Canada, we have a minimum wage and, in the province of Ontario, that minimum wage has been steadily increasing over the last five years. However, in Georgia, where more than 30% of the labour force is unemployed, the cost of labour is significantly lower than it would be here in Ontario. When you are a winery that insists on hand picking along with the significant amount of manual labour, the cost of making a bottle of wine can significantly increase when the governments require you to pay your employees at a certain level. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that Ontario, or even Canada, abolishes the minimum wage as we do not want to become a third world country but, with all other factors being equal, the cost of labour could make that bottle of wine that costs under $10 in Georgia even more in Ontario. The wine in the bottle will taste just as good wherever it came from but the cost of doing business has resulted in the difference in prices. Aside from the labour costs, you also need to look at other costs associated with wine production including land costs, taxes, equipment, transportation and many others. In terms of land costs, depending on where a winery decides to plant its grapes in the province of Ontario will greatly influence the price they pay for the land. After a brief analysis of the different agricultural properties listing on various real estate sites, you can see a range of anywhere between $2000 and $150000 per acre. In order to get a winery license, you need a minimum of four acres of planted grapes so, depending on where you decide to grow your grapes you could be looking at anywhere between ten thousand and three quarters of a million dollars just for the land alone. We still have to factor in the cost of the vines we are going to plant plus any equipment we are going to use to plant those vines and the equipment required to make the wine once the grapes are ready. When it comes to the vines, there are plenty of options as to where the winemaker can buy them from but a large portion of the decision is dictated by what is well suited to the land where the grapes will be planted. Just as an example, in the Niagara region of Ontario, which has recently gone through the process of creating sub-appellations, there are a wide variety of soil types and given the fact that a lot of the wineries there have multiple vineyards in a variety of locations within the Niagara Peninsula, the type of vines that will work in one sub-appellation may not necessarily thrive in another sub-appellation. Depending on what vines will work in each soil type, a winemaker may have to buy his or her vines from a variety of nurseries which results in a wide variety of prices he or she will pay for the vines that will be planted.

It would be very easy to assume that a bottle of wine that costs less than $10 will not taste good but depending on the country of origin plus the personal preferences of those who will be drinking that particular bottle of wine, this may just not be the case. As I mentioned earlier in this section, my wine collection ranges from bottles that are $9.95 a bottle all the way up to $150 a bottle. Each wine is in my collection for a reason and, if I did not enjoy it, I would not have bought it. If you enjoy a glass of Baby Duck every now and then, by all means, feel free to buy it and enjoy it. After all, just because a bottle of wine has a $100 price tag on it, that does not necessarily mean you will enjoy it. You may not like the flavours, you may find it bitter or it may be too complicated for whatever occasion you are drinking it with.

Since this blog is getting rather lengthy, those are all the myths we’ll discuss today. If you have a wine myth you want debunked, feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll address it in a future blog. Some of the myths I already plan to explore in the next blog entry are wine diamonds (wine crystals), Tetrapac wines, rose wines – good or bad, white wine does not age, and the one that I find the most funny – the larger the punt the better the wine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Adventures in Wine Writing...Part 3

As some of you know, I am writing a book about the Ontario wine industry. I’ve been working on it since March of 2007 and I’m about 98% done the first draft now. It’s not a tasting guide – because everyone’s palates are different – but rather it discusses the history behind our wine regions, looks at certain key players, big wine families and some of our more notable winemakers. I’m trying to keep it very balanced amongst our three DVA’s giving each of them equal time in the book. Obviously, it can’t include everyone because that would make for an absolutely massive book, but so that I could discuss every winery in the province, I also created a supplemental book which is a guidebook to every winery in the province. Whether they use grapes, other fruits or vegetables, as long as they are in the provincial limits of Ontario, they are included in the guidebook section of the book.

This past week has been a good week – I am just about finished writing (like I already said) but I was struggling a bit with the title of the final chapter. I had one but I really didn’t like it so I asked my aunt for some advice. We came up with something and then it started my brain thinking on the title for the actual book. A little bit of creative thinking and I managed to come up with the title for the entire book. I’m not going to share it here but I’m very happy to have that accomplished. Speaking of accomplished, I finally put one of the big chapters to bed tonight – the Winemakers. The only chapter left to finish is the final chapter and I’m just waiting on some information from two wineries before I can put it to rest as well. Hopefully by the end of next week I will have the first draft completely step, finding a publisher.

So, having gotten this far, I find myself wondering who else has wrote a book out here. How long did it take you to figure out a title? Was it easy to find a publisher or did you go the self publishing route? How long did it take to write the first draft?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Wine Bloggers Conference: Oct 24-26, 2008!

The buzz among our fellow wine bloggers is palpable. Twitter has a host of bloggers chatting about #WBC08 including @juicecowboy, @winemutineer, and perhaps the most excited tweeter, @winebratsf! Tech issues are being ironed out now at the Hilton Flamingo in Santa Rosa, because, "I’m trying to insure that the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Sonoma has good, solid Wi-Fi access." says Joel Vincent, WBC Organizer, Coordinator, Ringmaster. And well he should. The event is completely sold out, Gary Vaynerchuk is the keynote speaker on Friday night at the opening dinner, 40+ wineries are pouring at the event, there are vineyard walks, break out sessions, Alice Feiring speaking on Saturday...and too much more to mention. Suffice it to say, that even if you aren't going, but you LOVE wine, you stand to benefit from this event.

Why, you ask?

Because anytime like-minded professionals get together to talk about their business, they are poised for inspiration, energized conversation and developing superior content and practices. If you love wine as much as we love wine, get ready to be deluged with content about every aspect of wine you can imagine. You, however, have the benefit of technology that will sort and filter for you in any way you like! Looking for great Central Coast reds to pour for Thanksgiving? Great. Interested in Sustainable Practice in Wine Agriculture? We have that too! And if you just want to find out about a great Albarino, or Spanish Wine, we'll have that as well. There will be no stone, or grape, unturned.

Consider this our Stimulus Package. You can order right from the comfort of your home. Many wineries and sites have specials, discounts and "Shipping included" type offers in this challenging economy. And we'll guarantee, even if your purchases don't boost markets, they'll sure make you feel better...and bring you together with other wine lovers. And that, my friends, is the best part of wine, the way it brings people together for a visceral experience of the senses. Personally, wine always brings me into the present moment and reminds me why I'm glad to be alive. So check in with your favorite wine blogger after next weekend and see what we come up with. I think you'll be delighted so much that you'll be eager to share it with all your relatives this holiday season.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Passion of Prince Edward

Photos from harvest can be found at

It’s that time of the year again and we all know it here in Ontario. It’s the time of the year where we all want summer to last one more day, to be able to wear sandals one last time, to not have to wear a jacket when we go out of the house. In the vineyards of this province, winemakers and winery owners all hope for one more day of sun and heat, to get the Brix level of the grapes up one more degree, to not have rain and, in the case of some grapes, to not have any frost when we leave the house in the morning to head to the vineyards.

Another way to describe this time of year in our vineyards is “IT’S HARVEST TIME!” On Facebook, you see the different wineries who have groups and fan pages publicizing events all related to the harvesting of grapes. For those wineries that do not use mechanical harvests, which is a very large percentage of our wineries, this is the time of year when they are looking for as many helpers as they can possibly get their hands on because it is quite literally a race against time to get those grapes off the vines before the first frost arrives. For all of those reality TV show buffs out there, this is the Amazing Race of the wine world. This particular year harvest – for the most part – started the final weekend of September so, for the smaller wineries, they are anywhere from half to two-thirds through their harvesting and, since I was running a wine dinner in Kapuskasing the first weekend of harvest, my first weekend to help harvesting was the first weekend in October – the 4th and the 5th. Normally, I only do one weekend because harvest is a lot of work and it will inevitably cause a lot of aches and pains but there were so many requests being made by so many wineries, I decided to help out multiple wineries over the multiple weekends. My first weekend was spent at Lacey Estates Winery and, originally, it was only going to be just the Saturday but after dinner, and a great after dinner drink, I decided it would be prudent to not drive and stay out in Prince Edward County to help them finish up harvesting the Baco Noir. Boy, am I ever glad I did so because I had the opportunity to help out punching down the cap on a set of wines that had been harvesting for a week and, the next day, needed to go through the press because the wine had finished fermenting a couple of days earlier than expected. Although there is a definite reason why Baco Noir is commonly referred to as “back breaking baco noir”, it was definitely an interesting experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, even with my hands being the colour of royal purple that they were.

If you have never experienced a harvest season first hand, there are several wineries that are still looking for help. Depending on the winery, and the people who own it, some of them have day jobs that keep them busy during the week and that, inevitably, requires them to hold off on actual harvesting until their days off. Both Lacey Estates Winery and the winery I will be helping out at next weekend – Karlo Estates – are in that situation and, as a result, their harvests are spread out over three weekends. Both of these wineries, plus a few others in the area, are going to be doing their final harvest on Thanksgiving weekend. If you are not already doing something else, all of these wineries would love the extra hands. Check out the picture gallery on my blog site to see pictures from last week’s harvest to see what a harvest actually looks like.

Friday, October 3, 2008

So Much Wine...So Little Time

In the last two weeks, I have been to nothing less than six wine tastings – it’s just that time of year. You would think with the amount of wines I have tasted in this time frame that a lot of it would be lost in my memory banks forever but there has been a common thread throughout most of these tastings of one particular wine that has stood out – Shiraz (or Syrah)!

Let’s start with the Languedoc-Roussilon tasting on September 22nd at the Rosewater Supper Club. There were 85-90 wines in the room that day and although several stood out, the real knockouts were the Syrah’s, most especially that $100 bottle of wine tucked away in the one corner that was actually a Syrah blended with Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre. Currently only available by private order through Wine World Importers, the Chateau de Serame L’Icone (AOC Corbieres) was unbelievably amazing. A powerhouse in every sense of the world, the aromas were chocolate, coffee and just the right amount of berry while the palate was silky smooth with a finish that seemed to go on forever. There was incredible structure to this wine and if you want to get your hands on this delectable treat, contact World Wine Importers at Other wines that deserved honourable mentions were Chateau de Gourgazaud (AOC Minervois) which, at $13.00 a bottle, is a great value and is ready to drink now and the Azzaro Syrah from Vins de Pays d’Oc which has this wonderfully complex nose of chocolate, berries, currants that follow through to a taste that has light tannins and the perfect amount of spice. At $14.30 a bottle, it is also another great value find and they are both readily available on the general list (non-Vintages) of the LCBO. By the way, until October 11th, the Chateau de Gourgazaud is also one of the LCBO’s Air Miles Bonus products so if you are a collector, this is a great wine to pick up.

The following night, at the University of Toronto Faculty Club, I attended a tasting dedicated solely to Shiraz’s and Syrah’s from a variety of wine regions around the world. The Ontario Wine Society decided they wanted to compare the best that Ontario had to offer against one wine from the Rhone Valley of France and one wine from Australia. Before I go into details, let me just say that the Ontario wines did not disappoint. The events director of the Ontario Wine Society – Gerry Arbus - is a huge believer in the merits of blind wine tastings and this event was no exception. In an Ontario Wine Society first, I believe, our guest speaker was able to correctly identify each and every one of the eight wines. However, when you consider that our guest speaker was none other than John Szabo, the ONLY Master Sommelier in Canada, it really shows that his education has served him well and will continue to do so for a number of years to come. All that Gerry asked of the rest of us is to try to pick out the French wine, the Australian wine and choose a favourite. Well, picking the favourite was the easy one and some people were able to pick out either the French or the Australian and a small group of us managed to pick out both. For myself, I managed to pick out the Australian and my favourite was the final one of the evening – the Peninsula Ridge 2006 Syrah Reserve. If I had to choose a second favourite, it would have easily gone to the 2004 Reserve Shiraz from Creekside Estate Wines. The great thing is that each and every wine brought something different to the table. With each wine we tasted, we encountered different aromas and flavours when, for me at least, I was expecting some similarities. Just the way I’ve heard the weather described in some regions around this world, “if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes” when it came to these wines, “if you don’t like this one, try the next one.” Chances are that if you didn’t like one wine you liked the next and all around, it was a great selection of wines showing a wide range of styles and diversity. When I asked people after the fact how they felt about this particular tasting, the response was all favourable. The wines were great, the speaker was great, the food definitely seems to be improving and is now at an acceptable level in our eyes. Clear choices on favourites in the wine were the Creekside Estate Wines 2004 Shiraz Reserve and the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Syrah Reserve. John had started out the evening by saying that in the last ten years we have had a real boom in Shiraz or Syrah plantings worldwide. Originally, the largest plantings were in the Rhone Valley of France with the second largest area spreading across the wine regions of Australia but, in Ontario, we now have major plantings ourselves and our wines are starting to show real potential. Craig McDonald, winemaker at Creekside Estate Wines, had these thoughts to express to us, “If you can get your hands on the 2005 and 2007 vintages they will definitely change your context of Ontario wines.” This can be just as easily said about any red wine from the 2005 vintage and any wine that was made in Ontario in 2007.

As I just mentioned, from the Ontario Wine Society tasting, the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Syrah Reserve was my personal favourite and later that week I was able to present that particular wine to a group of fifty people in the northern town of Kapuskasing. TJ Jacobs, aka The Ontario Wine Guy, and myself travelled up to this wonderful little town of less than 10,000 people to have some amazing food and drink some amazing wine all in an effort to help the Animal Rescue of Kapuskasing raise some much needed funds for their cause. While the menu was in the planning stages for this dinner, we decided we were going to challenge the conventional thought that you need to pair white wines with white meat and red wines with red meat. With a wide variety of meat that was donated by Golden Beef, we pushed the limits of conventional thinking by putting both a Pinot Grigio and a Fume Blanc with the beef. Now, when it came to the main entree, we had four different cuts of beef and two wines to pair it with – the 2006 Fume Blanc and the 2006 Syrah Reserve, both from Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery. The interesting thing about this course was that two of the cuts of beef paired well with the Fume Blanc and two of the cuts paired extremely well with the Syrah Reserve. Both from the same winemaker, J-L Groux, they both have a distinctive French style to them which seemed to give them some extra versatility and some added complexity to draw upon when pairing it with the food.

This particular week, I attended two tastings – one showcasing the entire portfolio of the Profile Wine Group and one dedicated to the wines of Chile. At the Profile Wine Group’s portfolio tasting, I found a couple of great tasting Shiraz’s from Australia – the Coriole Vineyard 2006 Estate Shiraz and the Maverick Wines 2005 Trial Hill Eden Valley Shiraz. The Coriole Vineyard Shiraz was made from 40 year old vines and produced a wine that was not overpowering, had great structure and firm tannins. The Maverick Wines Shiraz had a great set of aromas – light berry and earthy notes abounding. The flavours brought interesting twists and turns every few seconds and ended in a medium long finish. It was like this wine was evolving in your mouth – constantly changing – and it made it one of those wines that could quite easily be drunk on its own despite being a heavy red wine. Since both of these wines were at the large portfolio tasting, they are readily available through Profile Wine Group who can be reached through their website: The final tasting of the week was the Chilean Wine Festival on October 1st at the Distillery District. Although there were several wines there that received decent marks in my book – between three and four stars out of five – there was only two wines the entire afternoon that stood out as outstanding. Both were from Vina Valdivieso and, in Ontario, both are available through Carriage Trade Wine & Spirits ( The non Shiraz wine that was absolutely outstanding was the 2006 Single Vineyard Malbec from the Lontue Valley while the Shiraz was their 2006 Single Vineyard Estate Syrah from the Central Valley. Although they were both big, bold red wines, they each brought something different to the table. Both had strong, aromatic noses and great structure and flavours on the palate. The best thing about these two wines is that they were both coming in at around the $20-25 range and they both have the potential to age for a number of years or could easily be drunk now. Like most of the Australian Shiraz’s available on the market, the Syrah had a lot of berry, jammy flavours with intense spices making it a definite fruit bomb that was exploding at every turn. Although I don’t believe this wine could have really gotten any better than it was, it might have been interesting to see it again in ten minutes but, alas, this was the last wine of the day and they were closing the doors for the afternoon.

Although the last four weeks have been filled with a wide variety of wine tastings, and there are still a couple more in the next week, I can definitely say that there have been some mediocre wines, there have been some good wines and then there have been the great wines that I mentioned above. Be sure to take some time to pick up a bottle and try them for yourself – you won’t be disappointed. By the way, for the wines from Ontario, contact the individual wineries directly as they will be happy to ship them to you or entertain you at their wineries.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's a Fascinating Wine World: 2.0

If you're are already participating. You are on the front edge of the Wine World's Social Media Community...and there's so much more. What places like The Wine Hub do...and many others is not just aggregate news, sales, bios, blogs, tech sheets and wine lovers...they work to create community. Technology is no longer about separating the fringe or computer geeks gaming for hours alone. It IS about bringing like minded people together, and not just online.

There are conversations, events, meetings, and change happening within and beyond our circle of wine lovers. And as all good students, we share a passion and curiosity for wine. We're not just thirsty for the exposure, the knowledge and the variety (pardon the apt pun), the community is essential to the lifestyle that is the essence of wine.

Wine brings people together anyway. A good bottle of wine is meant to be shared. Community. And, it is one of those things that we can be passionate about, sometimes even bull-headed..."I love Big Napa Cabs only, NO white wine for me!" ...until we find the context, circumstance, friend, food or right bottle...and then a great viognier opens up our world.

In that sense, wine and community keeps us young. If we're always learning, always sharing, connecting and exchanging ideas, we're engaged in the deepest part of life, in the moment, through our senses, with each other.
And the wealth of brilliant, artistic, engaged, connected community is staggering. You've made it this far. Keep connecting. Discoveries, wine discoveries, human connection are among the most exciting, engaging reasons to live...and have a BLAST doing it!


Here's a few to consider...and of course, you'll always want to come back to the Hub:

Wine Life Today
A blog by a very tech savy Wine Lover, Social Media Networker, Great Human.

Breakthrough tech. for wine lovers looking for ...well...the tech/wine convergence.

Wine 2.0
The nexus company working to bring tech and all wine lovers together with tastings, events, and more.

And for more about me: I'm WineDiverGirl.
Photo Image taken by Lisa Adams Walter at Wine 2.0 Tasting in New York City (9.18.08)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

True or false?

I was just wondering if people are interested in expressing their opinions when it comes to controversial subjects...

My plan is to post some of these divisive issues on a regular basis and check on the feedback.

I would love to hear back from all of you, so please, speak up!

True or false #1: "Terroir makes character; people make quality."

True or false #2: "Grape phenolic maturity is independent of sugar levels and should be achieved even if it means (in a warm area) very high sugar accumulation.Too much alcohol? Not a problem. You can remove it from the finished wine with one of the available techniques for alcohol reduction."
True or false #3: "There’s a major disconnection between what’s been done to improve wine quality and what wine writer’s choose to tell consumers, because they feel that if they tell people what is really going on, then the excitement will go away."
True or false #4: ‘I like it’ is not the same as ‘this wine is good’. Personal taste is one thing, standards of quality which refer to more or less accepted criteria, another.In other words: ‘Good wine is the wine that you like’ is not true by any means.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Calling all Celebrities...You’re Good At What You Do but How Are You At Wine?

Throughout the world, each and every wine producing country has a handful of celebrities that are adding winery owner or wine producer to their name. In Australia we find golfer Greg Norman, in California - Michael Andretti, Francis Ford Coppola and, according to rumours, Victoria and David Beckham can now be added to the list. In France, Gerard Depardieu has been involved in wineries for years. These days, in Canada, the numbers are growing each and every day. Dan Aykroyd became a majority shareholder in Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits years ago and it seems that with each passing week, there is something newsworthy relating to the company coming out. Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits is the company behind EastDell Estates, Lakeview Cellars and Birchwood Estate Wines in the Niagara Peninsula. Plans are underway to build the Dan Aykroyd Estate Winery on the site where Birchwood Estate Wines now stands and they have recently taken over 20 Bees Winery and DeSousa Wine Cellars. Now, aside from Dan Aykroyd’s major investment in our local wine industry, we also have guys like Mike Weir, Wayne Gretzky and Bob Izumi making contributions to the wine industry in the Niagara Peninsula. Now, when you ask a lot of wine professionals what they think of celebrity wines, a lot of them are sceptical – and with good reason. It is great that celebrities are trying to promote an industry, outside of their own, but if they do not take the time to invest in a good winemaker, the results could be disastrous.

My first exposure to celebrity wines had actually been on a trip to California years ago where I had a chance to try red wines from both Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Andretti. The red wine from Coppola was good with the meal we enjoyed that night and the Merlot from Andretti Winery was so intriguing that I bought a bottle which returned home to Canada with me and was served with Christmas dinner the following year. Knowing that my first exposure to celebrity wines was a pleasant one, I decided it was time to give the celebrity wines from Ontario a try. So, on a recent trip to the Niagara Peninsula, I stopped in at each of the four celebrity wineries to try their portfolio of wines to see if I was going to find good wine, bad wine or mediocre wine. Here are the results:

Dan Aykroyd Wines

These wines are currently available for sampling and purchase at Lakeview Cellars in Vineland, Ontario. Dan has plans to build his own winery, alongside the Queen Elizabeth Way, which will eventually be built to showcase these wines that, I have to admit, surprised me.

2006 Discovery Series Sauvignon Blanc 4 ½ stars out of 5
$14.75 + bottle deposit

Great tropical fruit nose with hints of stone fruit and gooseberry; Pear & gooseberry palate. Medium finish. Out of the white wines from Dan Aykroyd, this particular one was my favourite. Everything about this wine flowed nicely and makes it a perfect wine to pair with seafood, chicken dishes or your favourite Thai food.

2006 Discovery Series Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
$14.95 + bottle deposit

Great aromas - apple, peach. Palate is different than expected - slight mineral quality. This wine just did not have the same “flow” that the Sauvignon Blanc had. Although the apple and peach flavours did continue through, the surprising mineral quality of the wine was too much of a shock for my palate and left me feeling odd after trying it. Chances are, what it needed was a good food pairing - maybe a great herb crusted chicken dish?

2006 Discovery Series Cab Merlot 4 ½ stars out of 5
$16.75 + bottle deposit

Predominantly berry fruit and spice nose. Berry fruit, bell pepper palate with a slight smoky finish.
Good structure to this wine making it a great wine to pair with a wide variety of foods. Try pizza, sausages, veal scaloppini or a wide variety of pastas with this extremely food friendly wine.

2005 Signature Series Vidal icewine 5 stars out of 5
$79.95 + bottle deposit
Gold at Ontario Wine Awards 2008 & Wine of the Year

There is a reason why this wine is a multiple award winner. Every aspect of this wine had some unique characteristic to contribute that just made it – overall – a truly elegant wine. The colour in the glass was this amazing amber colour which I do not believe I have found in any icewine ever. The nose – well, this took a while to pin down – due to the sheer number of complexities going on here. Right at the beginning of your sniffing the glass, there is this almost unidentifiable, intriguing scent which took quite a while to identify. After ten minutes, we eventually realized that what we smelt was a roast turkey – or more specifically, the herbs within the stuffing of that turkey. It was very faint, it was only there briefly but there was no denying the hint of sage in the aromas. After the sage aroma disappeared, a powerful tropical fruit nose joined in and carried through to the palate where it was joined with a slight hint of citrus. There was great structure and great balance to this wine and it felt like it could continue on forever.

My next stop this particular day was at Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines. Now, I had previously visited this winery – for the Niagara Icewine Festival in January 2008 – and, I have to admit that a lot of the wines did not impress me. There was definitely a certain degree of scepticism on my part concerning these wines but I think I have managed to find the secret to making Wayne’s wines truly great – time! Take a look at my tasting notes from his variety of wines and you’ll see why I am saying this.

Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines

2007 Unoaked Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
A lot of the white wines I am noticing this year are coming across almost completely clear to the point where most people looking at a glass of wine are questioning whether it is wine, water or vodka they are looking at. This particular wine is bearing that same characteristic but from certain angles you do see a faint peach hue in the glass.
The aromas on this wine are incredibly muted. I asked the staff behind the tasting bar when this particular wine was bottled since it is the 2007 vintage which is fairly new on the shelves but it had been bottled a few months before so I was able to rule out any possible bottle shock. This particular wine just has a very subdued aroma making it hard to detect but the palate makes up for this diminished bouquet.
The palate is definitely what surprised me the most. There was a good balance of acidity and sweetness and it has great structure which means it will age well in the next 3-4 years. The main flavours were citrus and mineral making it a perfect wine to match up with Pork dishes, Cream sauce pastas or, for the more adventurous, Paella.

2007 Merlot 4 stars out of 5
This wine was a lot of fun – it is a typical Merlot in that it shares the same flavours and aromas as many of the Merlot’s from the neighbouring wineries but the great thing about this is that it is a ready to drink now wine. The aromas were mostly berry fruit – blackberry & raspberry – but there was just a very slight hint of vanilla which also translated into the flavours.
The wine has great structure and the tannins are just right so that your face doesn’t pucker up like you’ve swallowed a lemon when you drink it. The flavours are more berry, some oak, and a great hit of chocolate to make it really complex and give it a great finish. It would be interesting to see how this wine is doing in 2-3 years but you are definitely able to drink it now if you’re dying to try some of the “Great One’s” wines.
Pair this wine up with mild curry dishes, souvlaki, chilli, stew or even pork tenderloin.

2006 Meritage 4 stars out of 5
This wine is the total package – but instead of drinking it right now, I would put this one away for 4-5 years. It is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot and the best of each of these grapes are fully displayed in this wine.
There is so much complexity to this wine that it is difficult to distinguish all the flavours and aromas but the major components are cocoa and berry fruit.
In the palate, those aromas continue and are added in with oaky spice and cassis. Medium tannins and great structure make this a wine that will age well and will also pair up well with the big meats when you are ready to serve open it up.

2005 Vidal Icewine 3 ½ stars out of 5
I had previously tasted this wine in January of 2008 at the Niagara Icewine Festival and, to be honest, I was not impressed at that point. I am very glad that I decided to revisit this wine when I visited the winery because I was rewarded with my patience. I’m a firm believer in aging Icewines – when I buy a bottle of icewine, I put it away for a minimum of six years and, in some cases, more than ten years, before I open it.
It has been almost eight months since I tried the 2005 Vidal Icewine and in that time frame, the aromas have developed more, the palate is no longer falling flat and the citrus and apricot aromas are developing nicely. I would suggest that if you buy a bottle of this you wait until 2010-2012 before you open it because you will definitely be rewarded for your patience.

2006 Shiraz Icewine 3 ½ out of 5
The colour on this wine is something else – it looks like the colour of oranges on the tree after a rainfall. I do not believe I have ever seen such an intense, vibrant shade of orange in a glass of wine ever. Now, this icewine is a year younger than the Vidal Icewine I just mentioned and, like it’s counterpart, it does need time. My suggestion is to wait until 2012 as a minimum to see how the apple, apricot and cherry flavours develop. Since it was made from Shiraz grapes, I would expect to see a little bit of spice in the palate after that time frame as well.

The next story I have to tell you is about Mike Weir Estate Winery and this is possibly one of the saddest stories I have to tell but it shows just how difficult a time new wineries have when trying to open a winery in our province. Back in the early years of this decade, Mike Weir joined forces with the owners of Creekside Estate Winery. With the help of their winemakers, they set about to create a line of wines that would bear Mike’s name where the proceeds would be donated to the Mike Weir Foundation. Mike had the immense good fortune of having two of Ontario’s most talented winemakers behind his dream – Rob Power and Craig MacDonald, who were recently awarded for their talent by being named Winemakers of the Year at the 2008 Ontario Wine Awards. The plan had always been that in the beginning, Mike’s wines would be available for sale at Creekside Estate Winery and, eventually, he would open his own showcase winery in the Niagara Peninsula with a retail space where his wine could be purchased. Well, the land was found, purchased and there were some production facilities put on the property but the members of the city council in the area made it increasingly difficult for this aspect of the dream to be realized. With the increasing frustrations and the opportunity to purchase land in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia presenting itself, the decision was made to move the winery to the west coast which is what the winery is in the process of doing. However, until December of 2008, the people of Ontario have the good fortune to be able to buy some of Mike’s wines at Creekside Estate Winery and, I have to tell you, it is absolutely imperative that you pick yourself up some of these delectable wines before they are no longer available in our province. Check out Mike’s wines and see what I found when I visited Creekside Estate Winery.

Mike Weir Estate Winery

2007 Sauvignon Blanc 4 stars out of 5
This is another wine that is almost clear in colour which is surprising because it has spent some time in oak which generally adds some colour to it. The aromas are intense – grass and gooseberry with a slight hint of tropical fruit. The flavours are crisp and clean like a good Sauvignon Blanc should be. There is a slight lemon quality to the wine and it has good structure and a nice finish.
If you are looking for a good value, easy drinking every day kind of wine, this is definitely a good candidate for the job.

2006 Pinot Gris 4 ½ stars out of 5
This is possibly the most vibrant colour, in terms of white wines, that I have had from the 2007 vintage in Ontario – it is a bright lemon yellow colour. The aromas seem a little muted but you can detect peaches, apricots, oranges and grapefruit coming out of the glass. The flavours are very alluring, have an underlying richness which is not common for Pinot Gris, which develops into a mostly citrus wine with a slight smoky character.

2007 Chardonnay 4 stars out of 5
Another almost clear coloured wine, the aromas are mostly floral and citrus in nature while the palate has a lovely cream base with some hidden minerality. The wine is not overpowering; it is very easy drinking and there are some spice components to the finish.

2005 Pinot Noir 4 ½ stars out of 5
Given that Pinot Noir, while on the vine, has some extremely dark grapes, it is not surprising that the colour of this wine is just as dark. The aromas can only be described as intense, dark and brooding – mostly beetroot and toasted spices – while the flavours are very deep and complex with violets and berry fruit being its main components. This wine is definitely silky smooth in the mouth and there is a nice hit of spice on the finish.

2006 Cab Merlot 3 ½ stars out of 5
This is quite possibly the only wine out of Mike’s that needs some aging to reach an optimum point. The colour is even darker than the Pinot Noir, the aromas and flavours are intense and the tannins are firm. All in all, this is a great candidate for aging and would be great to revisit in 3-4 years.

Before we go any further, I need to make mention to the fact that the following two wines – Mike’s two Icewines – are the reason why I am so sad that he is in the process of moving the operation to British Columbia. These wines will be EXTREMELY difficult to get our hands on once December has passed and there is just something so unique about these two Icewines that no one else in the province seems to be able to capture which makes Mike’s move to British Columbia a real shame.

2005 Vidal Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Everything about this wine is INTENSE! From the bright yellow colour to the apricot and honey aromas to the crisp and lively palate of citrus and tropical fruit, everything about this wine screams WOW! The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and, although I do not normally ask this question, the stainless steel tanks are all several years old. The reason behind asking this is because what I was tasting was not a typical icewine. A typical icewine is supposed to showcase a good balance of sweetness and acidity the entire way through the taste but this wine took a different path. The kick of sweetness lasted for the first third of the taste but then it quickly diminished leaving you tasting something as clean and crisp as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling.
I am a big believer in aging Icewines but, in the case of these particular wines, I do not believe that extended aging would benefit this wine. I would not give it much more than three years of aging if any at all because it is drinking so incredibly well right now that extended aging may diminish its greatness.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Just as the 2005 Vidal Icewine was intense in every way; the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine was interesting in every way. The colour was a slightly darker orange than Gretzky Estate Wines 2006 Shiraz Icewine – almost a rusty orange shade. The aromas were mostly toffee and raisins which translated into the flavours and was finished with a slight hint of citrus.
Like the 2005 Vidal Icewine, this particular wine took the same pattern where the first third was a great level of sweetness, followed by a that same crisp and clean feeling that the Vidal Icewine gave.

The final stop of the day was at Coyotes Run Estate Winery, where Bob Izumi has paired up with winemaker David Sheppard, Jeff Aubry and Patti Aubry to make a Bob Izumi White and a Bob Izumi Red. It would be easy to assume that since it has a generic name that it is a blend and may or may not be good but that was not the case with these wines.

Bob Izumi Wines

2006 Bob Izumi White 4 stars out of 5
I had originally thought that since the aromas were citrus fruits with a slight hint of honey that this was a blend of Semillon and Riesling. It turns out that in this particular vintage it was strictly a Riesling. The flavours were the truly interesting component to this wine. Initially, there was a slight sweetness but then the tastes changed to a point where they were almost tart. The major taste was lemon but it had some other citrus components to give it a slight complexity. It would be interesting to see if this wine would benefit from a slight amount of aging but it is perfectly ready to drink now too.

2005 Bob Izumi Red 3 ½ stars out of 5
Coyotes Run Estate Winery is known for their Pinot Noir and it is the major component in the Bob Izumi Red blending of grapes. The other grape in this blending is Cabernet Franc and by the aromas you can tell that both of these grapes are standouts. The Pinot Noir brings along smells of barnyard and forest while the Cabernet Franc brings the berry component out. The berry fruit continues on to the palate where there is good structure and firm tannins. This is a decidedly bold wine that would benefit from some aging in a wine cellar before it is ready to drink.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ten Buck Chuck- The 2008 California Harvest

Its harvest time around my neighborhood on the California central coast. My wine maker friends, so far are happy with the results, and my grape growing friends are griping about the small crop.

It looks like there are less clusters on the vines this year, and the clusters and grapes themselves are smaller than prior harvests. After a wild spring with frosts and an odd summer of hot and cold weather plus wildfires, winemakers are glad to start crushing.

Yields in some of our favorite vineyards are down some 10% to 30% from last year. Carneros Chardonnay is off about a third due to those April frosts. In
Chiles Valley in Napa a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard was at 10% of their 2007 levels!

Mendocino is having low yields as well with some of those tricky cool weather Pinot Noir vineyards coming in 40% less than last year. Thunder was heard this week and there is up to a 50% chance of rain over the next couple of days.

On the central coast our recent cool weather has slowed the harvest, which makes the winemakers jobs almost leisurely. In southern California there are also low yields, good quality and plenty of demand.

Of course these small vineyard yields can make some great wines. With more skins and less grape meat I expect some rich, long lived reds to be made. Just be ready to pay for them.

Demand for quality fruit will exceed supply and we know what that means for prices. Even the Central Valley Thompson Seedless grapes are getting prices 50% higher than last year. That means my boxed Chablis is going to cost me another dollar. And what about Two Buck Chuck?

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (the new varietal darling) are in high demand. Even Merlot, that was once left rotting on the vine due to some bad Hollywood press, is fetching good prices again.

Speaking of movies making or breaking wines and wineries,
Bottle Shock, the movie about the famous “Judgment in Paris” tasting is supposedly driving more tourist to that little known wine region north of San Francisco.

Yes it seems Calistoga, in the northern part of Napa Valley, is getting an increase in tourists looking for that famous Chateau (the one the French will soon own). Don’t tell anybody that most of the movie was shot in Sonoma and that the fruit for that famous
Mike Grgich, I mean Chateau Montelena wine, also came from Sonoma.

One more thing. With all the fires this year in the wine country some are worrying about smoke tainted grapes. Seems some winemakers have detected some odd odors in their musts (smoke salmon and fishy smells). I can predict some interesting labels for the 2008 vintages- Fishy Fume, Smoky the Barbera, Le Smoky Cigare Volant, Hot Coals Cabernet Franc, Fireside Charbono, Singed Cinsault, and Burnt Leaf Chardonnay.

If you’re going to visit the California wine country anytime soon be sure to visit for all kinds of tasting room and touring information. You can search for wineries by ambiance (dog friendly), amenities (food available), tasting fees, wine types and more. You can also create your own custom wine trail maps.

Here's the actual link-

Join Us For Twitter Taste Live 3!
by Judd on September 9, 2008
We are pleased to be participating in Twitter Taste Live 3 next Thursday, September 18 at 7pm EDT / 4pm PDT. Our friends at Bin Ends Wine selected us as the first American winery to participate after two very successful tastings of European wines this summer.
It’s easy for you to participate along with co-host and wine blogger Sonadora of Wannabe Wino. Just pick up one or more of the wines to be tasted before the event. Bin Ends Wine has a special pack on sale or look for the wines at your local wine store. Join the conversation on Twitter on September 18th at 7pm EDT / 4pm PDT and share your tasting notes. You’ll also want to follow several participants from the list on the Twitter Taste Live website.
The wines to be tasted are our 2006 La Brume Chardonnay, the 2005 Estate Syrah, our 2004 Estate Merlot and the 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. For those in the Dry Creek Valley area, join us at the winery and taste along with me in our salon. I’ll also be Twittering along with the rest of the participants from across America.
Hope to see you in person or virtually next week and tell all your friends to join us, too!

Live twitter wine tasting today!

Wineries twittering? We are now in an era where blogging, twittering, and IMing are as common as phonecalls and emails. I was skeptical when I heard that my own winery was going to be the 3rd only (and 1st domestic!) winery to host a twitter tasting but as I did more research into the many different brands and wineries out there who are using these tools to reach out to a broader base of consumers, I suddenly thought, "How smart!" After all, our goal is to pursue every possible opportunity of reaching an interested audience for our wines/winery, and thereby possibly a new customer. We collect emails, we have tons of events in order to get people out to our remote location, we spend as much time as possible with every customer who enters our doors..............
Then why not a blog or a twitter tasting? We're doing both. Check out Michel-Schlumberger's benchland blog at: or join us all in a twitter tasting this evening (check out the above link!)

It's new but it's exciting.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Check out that label...

Have you ever noticed walking through a wine shop looking at the shelves that there are some very plain labels and there are invariably some labels that catch your eye? Every wine region has wineries who like to push the limits of the image they present to the people who will be buying their wines. The way some people will purposely shop for clothes that catch their eyes, there is a large group of people who choose their bottles of wine based on the outward appearance of the bottle.

Although it is possible to create appeal for a particular bottle of wine by choosing an unique bottle design, it is just as easy, sometime a little more practical and more cost efficient to become creative with the label design. This is especially the case when a winery chooses to create the label design themselves rather than have an outside company create their labels for them. With the emergence of a number of user-friendly computer programs that allow you to manipulate images, it is becoming infinitely more easy for a winery to create their labels which means that the creation of interesting label designs will see an upswing. In fact, the Ontario Wine Awards has a category in their competition that is exclusively about the label design of the submitted wines. In recent years, winners in this category have been Megalomaniac Wines, The Organized Crime Winery, Wayne Gretzky Estates, Flat Rock Cellars, Lailey Vineyard, Thirty Bench Winemakers, Norman Hardie Wines, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery and Pillitteri Estates Winery.So, what are the wineries looking for when they create their unique labels? It first needs to start with answering the question, “what image is the winery trying to present to the wine consuming public?” Well, the answers are as varied as the wineries behind these labels. Some of them are trying to position themselves as ultra-premium, over the top, powerhouse wines. Others are wineries that are made up of young winemakers who have a creative streak they want to express. One winery is trying to create as much buzz and excitement about their winery and their wines that they decided the best way to go is to create a series of unique labels that highlight certain aspects of the story behind the winery’s name. Here are just a couple of examples:

Just looking at these particular labels, we have one from Flat Rock Cellars, four from Ontario’s newest winery – Foreign Affair Winery, one from Wayne Gretzky Estates and three from the international line of wines available at Pillitteri Estates Winery. Flat Rock Cellars is widely known to be a maker of excellent wines, especially Pinot Noir and the quality of what is inside the bottle would definitely be consistent with the style of the label if someone were to pick up a bottle of this in a wine shop or local LCBO (if you are in Ontario). The wines from Foreign Affair Winery still have a to be determined feel to them. Their first vintage is released and it has been receiving critical acclaim but the vines are relatively young and there are a lot of factors that could affect the outcome of their wines. Just as an example which will affect all wineries, the 2008 growing season has been plagued by excessive amounts of rain whereas the 2007 vintage is being touted as the vintage of, in some cases, the decade and in some cases the millennium for Ontario – it kind of depends on who you are talking to. Our next label is from one of our recent celebrity wineries in Ontario – Wayne Gretzky Estates. They have chosen to play along with Wayne’s number 99 from his hockey playing years and have created a series of sleek, polished looking labels that compliment the signage at the winery and the bottles they are using. The silver of the labels gives me the feel of the ice that Wayne skates on when he hits the ice. Our final wines are i baci which are the international line of wines produced by Pillitteri Estates Winery. These wines are not 100% Ontario grapes and the labels give an international feel to what people see when perusing the shelves of their wine shop.

Since one person’s tastes in wine are different from another person’s tastes in wine, it is not easy to say which is better. From a personal standpoint, there is a time and place for just about every wine from every winery and where I may choose to use something from i baci or Wayne Gretzky Estates for a big party, I may lean towards an ultra premium winery like Flat Rock Cellars or Foreign Affair Winery for VIP guests or a special dinner. So, what are your thoughts? Is there a wine that you have gravitated towards in the past simply based on the label? What was the wine like inside that intriguing packaging? Would you buy it again?

Friday, September 12, 2008

'Crush' Status in Dry Creek Valley

There is about a 6 week period each year during which the bulk of all winery's harvest occurs. Most people think that Fall in general is 'harvest', but really most of us (wineries I mean) are done by early or mid-October with all crushing duties and have moved on to pressing, barreling, and other such sort of cellar tasks.
Here in Dry Creek Valley-we're midway through our harvest at Michel-Schlumberger. We have a little different timespan for harvest than some of our neighboring wineries, since we have everything from Pinot Blanc (one of lightest and thinnest skinned grapes) to petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc (some of the most complex, tannic, and thick skinned grapes). We finished harvesting our Pinot Blanc at the end of August. Then we did our chard, followed soon after by Pinot Noir and we've just this last week picked/crushed our zin and syrah. Now with this amazing cool-down in weather in the Valley all of our big guys (heavy reds) are getting a chance to hang out there on the vines and get some all around ripening done. What do the winemaking crew do when they are waiting for grapes to ripen? a LOT. Have you seen a punchdown or a pump over? How about a guy with a metal rake, pulling out all green matter from a load of grapes before it reaches the de-stemmer? Then we've got our cellar crew inside moving wine into barrels, taking juice glutted skins back out to press, and 'toppping off' to make sure our barrels aren't getting oxidized. The winemaker's out there testing the sugars, making sure his vineyard crew are all well-informed and ready and well...................the rest of us at the winery are making Sonoma County Wine lovers out of every person who steps through our door. Harvest events (we started our series of harvest luncheons today..........), friday music, and just our general daily tastings and tours are all packed to the brim once September hits 'the valley'. This is the time of year that seems to go by in a second-blink and it's gone.............

How Hungarian Cabernet Franc Changed My Life by Philip S. Kampe

My Dad was known to his friends as ‘Cab Franc.’ You see, his name was really Joseph and all of his social time with visiting frien...