Monday, January 15, 2018

To Hell With Burgundy -- Just Kidding!

Etienne Julien

It's pretty hard to not covet Burgundy wines.They're just so irresistibly damn good! 

    Even though the winemakers themselves sell their liquid heritage for a pretty penny, they're always quietly ballistic over the stratospheric prices achieved later by middlemen in the secondary market.That's where you and I come in. Way later. 

    To get the very top Burgundy wines you have to buy each bottle bundled together with ten or eleven distantly related siblings and even then you need to be an industry insider or a plutocrat. 

    Sure you can buy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from around the world, and some of it's pretty fine, if that's good enough for you. Another way is to contact boutique importing agencies like CGU Fine Wines in Ontario. 

    Among their current offerings are an interesting Cremant de Bourgogne sparkler from Meursault made by Domaine Francois Mikulski coming this spring at around $30.Think Blanc de Blancs (i.e. pure Chardonnay) Champagne dry and toasty at half the price.

    In the red Pinot realm, Domaine Gerard Julien & Fils has a superb 2013 Cote de Nuits on offer at CGU for $50. Velvety and earthy with that magical Pinot 4th dimension that only comes from this sliver of limestone-flint terroir.

    Just to the south, in Beaujolais, is Domaine Labruyere, owner of a precious piece of Moulin-a-Vent that yields one of the best Crus Beaujolais anywhere, for under $30. Called Coeur de Terroirs, it's all black berries, violets, licorice, smoke and spice!

    Find out more at

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It's A New Old Year

1943 is my favorite vintage -- even though I was a very small part of it. 

    The fabulous wine grapes of that vintage all the way across Europe were carefully picked by hard-working farm girls and their moms because all the brave and terrified young men that year were far, far away, fighting for freedom/defence/liberation/country/you name it. It was War. 

    That's the vintage when I was born. Along with George Harrison, Janis Joplin, Sharon Stone, Bobby Fischer, Arthur Ashe, Mick Jagger, Catherine Deneuve, Billie Jean King and Keith Richards. 

    It was a a good wine year, one of the best of World War II. I celebrate it every year with a wine of 1943 and a fine dinner with my old friend Alan Gardner, a man of the same vintage and British heritage (and same off the wall humor). 

    This year we enjoyed a palate cleanser of Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne, impeccable as always. Then a precise and thrilling old Chardonnay, a mere 10-year-old Coche-Dury Burgundy 2007 with our lobster. Big guns followed with the roast leg of lamb and Yorkshire pudding: Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1943, opening from tight chalky tannins into ethereal red and black berry fruit in the glass, then a 1943 vintage Port just now coming into its own. 

    It's a birthday tradition around here. May it long continue!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

That Sixties Feeling

Old wines are like old rock stars -- lined, leathery, mysterious and sometimes lacking in taste (Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart) or silky-smooth, mellifluous, harmonious and classy (Paul McCartney, Everley Brothers, Beach Boys). 

    Think of California Cabernets from the Sixties, brooding, tannic and potent then. Where are they now? 

    To find out, I joined some old friends to confront/enjoy a cohort of the best wines of the '68s. 

    Like the great rockers, many of whom were highly experimental in their musical journeys, many of the very early winemakers were pushing the outer limits of enology/viticulture, too. 

    Tannins up the wazoo, toasty new oak barrel-aging to a tongue-splintering fare-thee-well, alcohol levels to the max. Here's what we found: Much more Keef than Macca, for the most part. Good vinous vibrations but fading fast. 

    The Louis Martini Mountain Cab '68, for example, packed a tannic bass note to shake your socks off, grace notes of dried berry fruit and a short heroic gig on the palate.

    Charles Krug Special Selection Cab, a little creaky but hanging in there on the finale. 

    Robert Mondavi Napa Cab '68, in a similar vein, recalling the splendor of its twenties, aren't we all?

    Mondavi Unfined Cab '68, later known as the "Reserve" bottling, living on its past glories with some forest floor, saddle leather accents. 

    And the once proud Inglenook Estate Cab Sauvignon '68, possibly the finest wine in California 1933-64 before changing hands, holding up slightly better than its siblings with an elder statesmanlike elegance, some subtle fruitiness and good length.

   They all did their level best to woo a menu of mustard-braised rabbit and venison pie.

   What's 50 years among friends? It was a blast and now it's back to the future!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Phantom Icewine Crop A Net Gain For Ontario

 Karl Kaiser was all set to leave for England and the London Wine Fair. It was December and he'd told his vineyard crew at Inniskillin Winery under no circumstances touch the rows of late-hanging grapes braving the tumbling temperatures. That was back in 1983 and Canadian Icewine didn't yet exist. 

    On his return from a few days in London, Karl was mortified to find not a single precious grape left on the vines! An excited conversation ensued with the crew and the true perpetrators were revealed. Hordes of hungry starlings had made very short work of the tasty, sweet (unprotected) fruit! 

    And so, it was on to the 1984 harvest and netting was used to protect the delicate fruit, which then yielded delicious Icewine. 

    This groundbreaking Canadian elixir, created by an Austrian wine genius, was destined to be honored at the Oscars of the wine world, at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, winning the Grand Prix d'Honneur as the world's finest example of this stunning dessert wine. 

    It was a turning point for modern Canadian wine, our international signature of wine excellence. And it's all thanks to Karl, who died recently at 76 after a stroke. 

    Dr Kaiser, who received more honors and acknowledgments than you could list, literally brought Canada from its foxy old native grape varieties into the bright light of international acclaim. 

    He had a passion for all wines but his personal grail was great Pinot Noir, the stellar but difficult grape of Burgundy. Apart from launching boutique winery Inniskillin in 1975 with partner Donald Ziraldo, one of Karl's lasting achievements will be helping establish the internationally acclaimed Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, St Catharines. 

    Karl was one of the great pioneers of Canadian winemaking. We'll all miss him.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hunkering Down For The Winter

It's time -- to seasonally adjust your body with some tasty and pleasantly substantial wines: such as Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2016 from Chateau des Charmes in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

    Nine months in French oak casks add complexity without overpowering the fruit, leaving you with a lightly buttery, melon-apple, and citrus-crisp charmer. It’s a satisfying13.4% alcohol and you can get one for $14.95.

    In the red wine world, the Chateau’s entry-level Pinot Noir 2015 is sourced from all four of the estate’s farms, 13% alcohol, $16.95. 
Elegant notes of cassis, vanilla, cranberry, raspberry and warm earth recall the summer when it was picked. 
    Venturing offshore for sustenance, you could happily go gaucho in Mendoza, Argentina with the lovely Dona Paula. 

    The Estate Malbec and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, both $16.95, are big, 14.4%, and beautiful. 

    Grown at high altitude, over 1,000 metres, they’re complex and layered with flavors of black fruit, red peppers and spices to match the savoury stews, roasts and steaks we’re now favoring.

    We all know that wines is as old as the hills and the latest guess is that it's 8,000 years old. That's the word from researchers scouring the wilds of Georgia where archeologist Patrick McGovern is unearthing more evidence of ancient grapevines.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thinking Inside The Box

Four bottles of versatile red
If people trusted a little more in the quality of box wines -- 3 litres of mystery you haven't tried yet -- they'd be buying shiploads of these practical packs.It's a sip too far for most of us to risk. 
    However, I've just come across a wine that's selling a million boxes a year in the U.S. and is available now in Ontario. Bota Box, $42.65. That's around $10 a bottle and it's California Cabernet Sauvignon of a fairly high order. 
    The profile is black cherry, black raspberry, crushed black peppercorns and a hint of cassis, round, fresh and mouth-filling with silky tannins. Not a wine to furrow your brow, a wine to enjoy with a bbq, stew, pasta or pizza
Original Bota, or wine skin of old
on the patio, on the kitchen counter, at a picnic, or anywhere you happen to be --without worrying about breaking the bottle of the bank. The airtight bladder shrinks as the wine is consumed and it'll last a month with this clever container. 
    Speaking of quality, though, there's three generations worth in the friendly wines from Delicato Family Vineyards, grown mainly in Napa, Lodi and Monterey. 
    Among the top ten grape growers in California with 4,200 of their own acres and oodles of long-term contract growers, Delicato offer brands like the tropical/green apple Irony Chardonnay from Napa, $24.95, the more elegant Black Stallion Chard (a few left at $30.95), Noble Vines Pinot Noir 667, $19.95, grown from the famous Dijon Clone 667 from Burgundy (cherry, raspberry, toasty oak), Z. as in Zac, Alexander Brown Uncaged, a terrific Zin for $21.95, Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black, a full-bodied field blend of Zin/Syrah that looks like ancient Port wine in the dark bottle, $19.95, and a light, suave Irony North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon for $24.95. 
    In each case, the grapes are vinified in separate lots before barrel aging and ultimately blending. Good value since 1924.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

My November 11 Vintages Picks

What's old is new again (again!): Mead, one of the world's most ancient fermented beverages, is BACK, and that's why we have to protect the bumble bees from the nasty neonic pesticides that are wiping them out!

    Rosewood Mead Royale Honey Wine is a divine half litre of sweet stuff, aged in French oak barrels yet, for a mere $16.95. Less than the ancient Romans and Greeks would have shelled out for this ambrosia of peach, white flowers, roasted hazelnut, ginger and caramel pleasure. Historically fermented with water, spices, grains or hops, it makes the perfect medium-sweet sipper or elegant apres-diner closer to a fine meal. Grown in Canadian hives, too. 

    Reminds me of me favorite license plate; BZBZBZ, on a courier van! Also up there as a sweet pleasure is Noble One Botrytis Semillon from De Bortoli in Riverina, New South Wales, Oz. Another one for the Barsac/Sauternes crowd who'd love to afford priceless Chateau Yquem: a quirk of nature from grapes desiccated and intensified by Noble Rot (botrytis, looks hideous, tastes great). $29.95 for 375mL. After dinner, save a mint, literally, and it's not cloying, it's uplifting. Almost worth emigrating to Australia for... 

    Speaking of apres-diner, if something more bracing is your pleasure, there's Glenfarclas 21-year-old Highland Single Malt. It does have a hint of honey and a fino Sherry in its approach although the impression right behind that is that your mouth has been set aflame for a few minutes of BBQ flavors, malt and mocha. And that's OK, although it'll cost you $146.95. There was room and board for quite a while at the distillery. 

    If all that leaves you dry, let's talk Riesling, Henry of Pelham Estate 2013, a star value! This Ontario VQA from Niagara should really have a German passport! The profile is so classic Mosel, petrol, slate, green apple, and lime citrus, just off-dry, that the label should say Heinrich der Pelham. It's great! $17.95, even better.

    Just for the label, The Goatfather, $14.95, is worth trotting out for your next party and the guests will actually like the dry Italian style red. The grapes are grown in South Africa by the guy who makes Goats Do Roam just to tick off the uber-protective French (Cotes du Rhone??) 

    Monterra is a juicy and affordable Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills, $19.95. Has a delicate fruitiness, a touch of sweet beets and truffles. Great with any kind of mushroom dish. 

    Mr Black's Concoction is a Rhone-style GSM grape blend: that's Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (aka Mourvedre) and it's big on raspberry, strawberry, smoke, even a little tar, and savoury earth notes. Delicious $24.95, from Small Gully Wines.