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.