June 12: I’m baaaack!

Faithful Readers,

I know many of you have missed my weekly tasting notes. My intent was to blog sporadically, yet frequently, however, work demands, coupled with the rigors of WSET 2 have made it nearly impossible for me to act on my best intentions. But you, Faithful Readers, are never far from my mind, and I felt moved to write on this lovely (but windy) Sunday evening. With the patio-and-barbecue season upon us, I cannot let you stumble aimlessly through the aisles of the LCBO, purchasing overly confected rosés, and those excessively herbaceous Sauvignon Blancs that make me scrunch my nose.

This week, I offer you notes on five wines I recently tasted (three at my WSET class), and my suggestions around what I’d serve them with. I hope that there’s something for everyone, particularly as one considers stocking up in advance of the quickly approaching long weekend. No corks this week as everything listed immediately below would be something I’d buy without reservation.

J. Lohr, Riverstone, Chardonnay (Vintages #: 258699, $19.95)
Clear, medium, lemon, with a medium-intensity, tropical fruit nose. Prominent flavours of banana, honey, cantaloupe, and citrus are delightfully complimented by a slight vanilla-coconut undernote. This wine is dry, but those of you who prefer the offs to mediums won’t really notice, as the taste of papaya, brioche, mango, and honeysuckle mask it. The LCBO admits that this Chard is “super-popular,” but that doesn’t mean you should snub it. I think chilled to the right temperature, this would be incredible alongside fish tacos, grilled garlic shrimp skewers, pineapple chicken, or any fruit-chutney-topped white fish.

Gundlach Bundchau Estate Pinot Noir 2012 (Vintages #: 397513, $49.00)
OK, I know, you’re reeling from the sticker shock, but for anyone who avoids red Burgundy-style Pinots (like me) for their sometimes off-putting flavours of equine stable, this Sonoma Coast/Sonoma County Pinot is incredible! Aromas of cherry, red licorice, tinned tomato juice, strawberry, tart cherry, vanilla, and seared meat mingle in an astonishingly awesome way. On the palate, the wine is dry, and fruity, with medium tannins and medium acidity. Full-bodied and complex, I picked up plums, cassis, sultanas, peppercorns, tobacco, stewed plums, dates, and mint. The long finish makes this a wine that seems a bit too fancy for barbecue fare, but if you’re upping your game (pun intended) with venison or lamb burgers, I bet this would be a nice match.

Philippe de Rothschild Sauv Blanc Pays d’Oc (LCBO #: 407536, $12.o5)
To make up for the above recommendation, I’m offering up a sale selection. This crisp, fruity white from the south of France is a remarkable pocketbook-friendly find. Pronounced on the nose, aromas of peach, cut grass, bell pepper, lime zest, and honey all hint at the perfect summer patio sipper. Translating to the palate, the high-acid, medium-bodied, dry white is minerally, with a mild herbaceousness that includes green bell pepper, fresh cut grass, and fennel fronds. A respectable finish for something at this price point would make this a great pairing with fresh mesculn, and even a loaded-veggie cold pasta salad. Definitely buy this one up!

Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé 2015 (Vintages #: 234377, $17.95)
What is summer without a pink wine? The Villa Maria is a solid choice (and maybe a little too easily quaffable). Ripe red strawberries, tart raspberries, and bright citrus tickle the nose and the palate. This isn’t an especially complex wine, but the high acidity, and weightier body seem to elevate it, and make it a less-cerebral drinking experience than some of the Provençal pinks I’ve recently tried. Seafood, fish, antipasto – I think this could easily be drunk with a number of fresh, light summer dishes. (Embarrassingly, a girlfriend and I downed this over pizza and a kale caesar salad, but hey, it was a girl’s night in, and all bets are off!)

Guardian Reserva Red Blend 2014 (LCBO#: 392787, $7.95)
You can’t accuse me of not offering a price point for all! This Chilean blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc is a surprise. The purple-ruby wine has a pleasant intensity of aroma on the nose: seared meat, red licorice, cloves, anise, and underripe strawberry are all present. On the palate, the wine is fuller bodied (though not quite full), with medium tannins, and medium acidity. Flavours of cherries, cocoa, bitter coffee, mint, green olives, and smoky-wood are a surprise. This is your grilled steak or chuck burger wine — cheap, cheerful, and tastes above its price point (but don’t think that it’s a substitute for that Sonoma Pinot!).

April 17: A Letter to My Fans + Austrian Wine Fair

An Letter to My Fans

Faithful Readers,

I have been over-extending myself, particularly with respect to Sip It or Skip It, which, I know, for many, has become the definitive source for wine news, and insightful commentary. The fan mail trickling in week after week, the missives about the level of enjoyment derived from reading my blog, and the disappointment expressed when, like last week, I am unable to deliver the quality you so depend on has indeed been touching.

It may come as a surprise to many, but this is not my day job, which does pose certain challenges, especially during busy weeks. In addition to being awesome at an organization that cuts me a bi-weekly paycheque, I am continuing to make headway on my first novel, and trying to fit in the level of blogging I think my readership deserves is just becoming too much!

Before you panic, Faithful Readers, this is not good bye. I do not intend to cease blogging, but I do need to manage expectations, and, unfortunately, scale back on the rigor each week. Alas, being as I am a lone reed in the vast pond of wine criticism, I lack the staff to supplement in weeks that I am stretched too thin (though, as I must gratefully acknowledge, some regular readers, and fellow wine enthusiasts have stepped in to offer solid prose, even if it was lacking in some of Yours Truly’s adorable sparkle). All this to say…

More changes to the blog format. I know, none of us like change, and I respect that there might be a terse note or two sent my way regarding this announcement, but that is merely the price I pay for a passionate, wine-loving audience. I will still be blogging, but sporadically, and when a whimsical mood strikes. If I have something to say, I will write. Gone will be the essay features based on extensive secondary source research. News clippings, too, will likely be dropped, unless there is something, in particular, that I wish to draw your attention to. Instead, I will move to an exclusive essay format in which I share my thoughts and experiences with wine, which, should help moderate the pressure I feel to deliver Sip It or Skip It weekly. Does this mean no more wine reviews? No, not necessarily, but it does mean no more regular wine recommendations. As I gear up to begin WSET 2 in May, I’ll likely be drinking a little less on the weekend to make up for the tasting extravaganza on Tuesday nights. I will still, whenever I feel so inclined, review the wines I drink, just in a slightly less formal format.

I hope you will all continue reading, even as we move to this new format. I have enjoyed the privilege of a weekly priority spot in your inbox (no doubt starred by Google as a Priority Message), and hope you will continue to subscribe and read.

xo


REFLECTIONS ON THE AUSTRIAN WINE FAIR

I am embarrassingly ignorant when it comes to Austrian wine. Aside from the famous Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and St. Laurent (which I knew of, but had never tasted), the Austrian Wine Fair last week at the St. James Cathedral Centre was certainly an exciting introduction beyond my first Grüner purchased last year at the Clearance LCBO that I so often write about.

When I first mentioned that I had purchased tickets for the event to a Faithful Reader and fellow wine enthusiast, he asked if I knew about an antifreeze scandal that that rocked the Austrian wine industry in the 1980s. Naturally, I had not; back then, being knee-high to a mushroom, I had tastes for other things, like pablum, and once my palate was sufficiently trained and sophisticated, Lucky Charms. My first encounter with Swiss fondue at age eight was the start of a lifelong romance with melted sharp cheeses and cubed bread, but this wouldn’t come until the 1990s.

It would appear that my tender age was a useful defence against diethylene glycol poisoning, since, in 1985, it was discovered that several Austrian wineries were upping the sweetness quotient of late-harvest wines with this highly toxic antifreeze ingredient. The 1980s were a simpler time, I suppose, and an era of few(er?) regulations; unfortunately, this led to this lapse in judgment on the part of many an Austrian wine-maker. The scandal was uncovered by German wine laboratories performing quality controls on Austrian wines that would be sold in Germany, and, naturally, this discovery led to some hefty jail time, and the destruction of over 36 million bottles of wine, or the equivalent of seven months’ worth of Austria’s total wine exports at the pre-1985 level. Although this scandal severely and almost irreparably decimated Austrian wine exports, contemporary regulations, coupled with the strictly enforced Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) region-typical quality wine rules made everything I drank on Thursday perfectly safe, and, in fact, quite impressive in some instances.

Today, Austria has approximately 46,000 acres under vine, and is home to 35 grape varieties – 22 white, and 13 red. (This is according to a very lovely small guide to Austria’s grape varieties, which I picked up at the swag table, and have been reading ever since!) Austria has nine DAC regions out of a total of 16 specific wine-growing areas. I can’t quite wrap my tongue around the names yet, but here’s a summary of the regions and the varieties they’re known for:

Weinviertel

Grüner Veltliner

Mittelburgenland

Blaufränkisch

Traisental

Grüner Veltliner, Riesling

Kremstal

Grüner Veltliner, Riesling

Kamptal

Grüner Veltliner, Riesling

Leithaberg

Pinot Blanc/Weißburgunder, Chardonnay,Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger
Blaufränkisch

Eisenberg

Blaufränkisch

Neusiedlersee DAC

Zweigelt

Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC

Gemischter Satz and Gemischter Satz

My tasting approach was far from systematic, but I nevertheless made an impressive dent in the thirty wineries represented. (Salomon Undhof, Kremstal DAC, was the only one I could say I was even remotely familiar with.) My companion and I always made a bee-line for the empty tables, desperate to lap up the knowledge of those not bombarded by outstretched arms and empty glasses, demanding a splash of this wine and that. Our first stop was Weszeli.

According to my tasting book, the vineyards of Weingut Weszeli are situated around the town of Langenlois in the Kamptal DAC. Growing Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the tradition of the estate dates back to the seventeenth century. I had the great pleasure of trying six wines–four Grüners and two Rieslings, each in order of an improving degree of complexity and minerality. The Grüners were what I call “textbook representations”–vegetal, slightly spicy, with notes of white pepper. These were crisp wines, aged in stainless steel, and likely excellent accompaniments to antipasti platters, or even seafood dishes. The Reserve “Purus” Grüner was the standout, with its slight creaminess, and bright minerality on the finish. The Rieslings were more on the drier side (much preferred by Yours Truly), but with a slightly lingering-sweet finish. The charming young lady behind the table informed us that, while Weszeli hadn’t yet found a representative in Ontario, they recently scored an in-road in Quebec, so perhaps entry into our fine province isn’t too far behind?

Since this really was the Grüner-Riesling fest, I think I’ll spare you the run down of every single wine tasted, which probably numbered about half a dozen of each. My untrained palate leads me to make sweeping generalizations, like this one: a Grüner is a Grüner, and the best ones are probably those that have the fruity-vegetal combo down, with as bold a flavour profile as you could get with a light-bodied, unoaked wine. Rieslings don’t typically knock my socks off, so I’ll also skip over those, suffice to say that these are not your too-sweet, low-end German versions in cat-shaped bottles favoured by elderly ladies who enjoy diluting their glass with a few ice cubes; these are respectable, “adult” white wines, some with significant aging potential, that are not to be brought out for imbibing on girl’s night with cheap Chinese food. They are meant to be savoured, respected, and appreciated alongside dishes that compliment the stone-fruit, and honeyed notes, even discernible in the drier expressions of the grape.

Let’s get to the greatest hits and the worst flops of the evening.

Szigeti

This is Austria’s leading sparkling wine producer that bottles its fizzies using the “Méthode Traditionnelle.” This award-winning quality producer offers more than 30 different sparkling and frizzante wines. I tried the only two on offer: the Grüner Sekt “Brut” 2013, and the Sekt “Blanc de Blancs Adele Brut” made from Chardonnay. While my companion was unimpressed by the sparkling Grüner, I rather enjoyed it for its unique flavour. Imagine celery, pepper, and lentils, a light body, and a refreshing bubble-dance on the tongue, and you’d basically have this pleasant little number. It isn’t as bone-dry as a zero-dosage, which should make it perfectly palatable to those who favour sweeter sparkling wines, though it is still dry for the “sec”-lovers.

As for the Chardonnay blanc de blancs, it was the label that lured me. Who doesn’t love Klimt? (I used to walk by Davids every day on the way to work eyeing a coin purse with a picture of his “The Kiss” on it, but it disappeared before the annual sale!) The special addition “Adele” wine, we learned, had been created with Ronald Lauder from the Neue Gallery to commemorate the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which has been bought and housed in New York for the past decade. (By the way, it was sold for the record-breaking price of $135 million US.) The wine was marginally sweeter than the sparkling Grüner, coming in at a residiual sugar count of 6g, and though it was a lovely party bevvie, I can’t say it blew my mind.

Kracher

From Burgenland, the vineyards are proximate to Lake Neusiedl at Ilmitz and, as a result, benefit from the microclimate. Hello, botrytis! Of course, I couldn’t leave without tasting some Beerenauslese, with its 114g in residual sugar. When we asked the gentleman behind the table what varieties were used in its production, we were left mystified; the answer we got was “botrytis,” so this required some Googling on my part when I got home. A combination of Chardonnay and Welschreisling (also known as Riesling Italico for its potential place of origin, Friuli), the winery produces 9-15 Trockenbeerenausleses in two different vinification styles each year. (I tried the one vinified in stainless steel as opposed to new French oak barrels.) The “Fauxternes,” as I’ve taken to calling it, is, as always, an acquired taste for those who shy away from syrupy sweet dessert wines. This one was fine, but lacked a little age to intensify the flavours, and any acidity to help cut through the viscous finish.

I also tried a Pinot Gris, but it was so far from memorable, I shan’t comment beyond, This was obviously a Pinot Gris. Take from that what you will.

Esterházy

I think I’ve saved the best for last here, but why don’t I quickly encapsulate the disappointments before I highlight the excellent reds I tried from this centuries-old winery.

I sometimes think, rightly or wrongly, that cold-climate reds can pose certain challenges. I had a couple of appallingly bad St. Laurents that reminded me of all the reasons I detest Cabernet Franc, a Merlot that was thin and watery, and a Pinot Noir that was trying so hard to emulate a Burgundian classic, I dubbed it the “Little Wine that Couldn’t.” But then there was Table 19, with its wines from Burgenland and Leithaberg, and Blaüfrankisches that were both light and rustic, and robust and flavourful. My companion remarked that he could happily drain a few bottles of the Reserve Föllig Blaüfrankisch. This was a beautiful wine with a dark ruby colour, and a fruity bouquet with hints of peppery-spice. Its more rustic cousin–the 2013 Leithaberg Blaüfrankisch–reminded me a little of a Sangiovese in terms of acidity and tannins. I could see this pairing really well with Mediterranean tomato-based dishes.

Verdict: How to Buy Austrian Wine?

Unfortunately, I recalled too late that I should have given an ice wine a try, but after some twenty wines sampled, even I knew my cut-off.

It’s disappointing that the LCBO carries so few Austrian wines. For anyone wishing to continue their education (like me), there are about twenty wines to choose from right now, overwhelmingly dominated by Grüner. I suppose it’s a good thing that I jumped on this event when I saw it, otherwise I would have missed out on some very exciting wines, and a thoroughly delightful evening. Perhaps this is the beginning of a lifelong journey to learn and appreciate the delightful, and sometimes surprising, wines of Austria?

20160414_220038
Das ist meine kleine oesterreichische Weinbuch!

 

April 3 Roundup: T.O. Restaurant Reviews,Starbucks Beer & Wine Menu, and a Little Gem from the Archives

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Salutations, Faithful Readers. I’m back from a much-needed vacation (hope you missed me!). I’m sure you didn’t handle the lack of a perky, pithy wine blog in your inbox very well, so this week I’m treating you to two restaurant reviews, which include, of course, a thorough commentary on their wine list, and a favourite from the archives. (Sorry – it was a busy weekend!)***

Volos (Financial District)
This isn’t your kitschy Greek resto on the Danforth. Absent are the murals of Zeus and nymphs bathing in front of the Parthenon. This is an upscale, rustically elegant dining spot that classes up standard Greek comfort food dishes, like moussaka, and tries to put an exotic spin on run-of-the-mill favourites, like Caesar salad.

Me and my enchanting dining companion descended on Volos before a performance of The Marriage of Figaro back in February. It was one of the coldest days of winter, and we erroneously decided to Uber to the restaurant (which was a way more circuitous route than we had imagined, forgetting about all the one-way streets that pepper the downtown core). The warm comfort of the Honda Civic was quickly replaced by a chilly dining space, not normally this nippy; on the evening we went the power had been knocked out of much of the city, and it was late to return by restaurant standards. As a result, some of the usual prep work was affected, and getting ovens up to that consistently hot temperature to ensure entrees were warm must have proved challenging since ours were cold.

This little hiccough, though, should not be held against an otherwise impeccable dinner service, from the attentiveness of the waitstaff, to the overall flavourful dishes. My companion had the Avgolemono (traditional chicken soup, lemon, dill, orzo), despite detesting lemon, and the moussaka, with a rich Kefalotyri béchamel. I had the organic baby kale salad with Kefalotyri, anchovies, yoghurt, and Pumpernickel croutons (slightly soggy), and the Exohico, a braised lamb with spinach, leeks, Feta, Kefalotyri, and lamb jus.

The food was respectable, but not out of this world; the dishes are tasty, but lack a certain pizzazz to take them over the top to extraordinary. Dessert, however, was sublime. The chocolate mousse was rich, yet light and velvety. It was incredible. We both raved about it, even during intermission.

The best part of Volos is the exotic wine list, with predominantly Greek choices. A VQA Niagara or two snuck its way in, but for me, it was a Xinomavro-Syrah-Merlot blend (‘Paranga’ Kir-Yianni, Naoussa, $12/gls) that knocked my socks off. Fruity, complex, and relatively light for a red, reminiscent of the weight of a Rhône blend, the wine is a blend of 50% Merlot, with the balance split evenly between the Syrah and the Xinomavro, sourced from Northwestern Greece. Aged in a combination of stainless steel and bottle, the wine is a regular bronze and silver award-winner, including a two-time Decanter World Wine Award recipient.

Wine Rating: 
Restaurant Rating:
 

Chabrol (Yorkville)
Anyone who knows me knows my penchant for French food, so when I read a review of this former clothing store-turned-restaurant in the Toronto Star, I had to go that week. A hidden gem in Yorkville, the establishment seats ten people at tables, and another nine at the bar area, and has been open since the late fall of 2015. According to our server, for approximately three months, the chic French-inspired dining spot was without a liquor license, which made New Year’s Eve particularly challenging. When I went in February, however, wine was very much available, and I selected the perfect day for dinner as I walked in on a tasting of Louis Jadot.

It must have been the longing in my eyes, but, within minutes, one of the restaurant’s partners came over to apologize for not including me. Before long, I had a glass in my hand with a complimentary splash of Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé to tickle my taste buds. The light, creamy Chardonnay was exactly what you’d expect from high-end producers in the appellation: fruity, yeasty, complex, and minerally, the optimal intersection of talent and terroir. 

I didn’t know where to begin with the menu, so I ordered a bit of everything: Puy lentils with smoked parsnip purée, beets, and Grenache vinaigrette; the gratin of potato, cantal, and thyme; an assortment of cheeses; and, of course, Crème Brûlée. Perhaps we should get the low-point of dinner out of the way first: dessert. The Crème Brûlée was runny under its burnt sugar crust, likely the result of too shallow a dish, but the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($14/gls), which accompanied it (because they were out of Sautneres), was bright, sweet, crisply acidic, and chock full of tropical fruit flavours. The rest of the meal, though, was heavenly.

Lentils are not my favourite, yet the review I’d read recommended the salad, so I had to order it. The parsnip purée, obviously pressed through a fine mesh sieve, was the star of the dish, well-seasoned, and a perfect consistency with the other textures on the plate. Though it was very good, I probably wouldn’t order it again when I return. Now, the potato gratin is a whole different story; I will be ordering this every time. Layers of thinly sliced potatoes interspersed with carmelized onion, and topped with melted cheese so hot that the entire dish was still bubbling as it arrived at the table in its cast iron pan…this was the unquestionable superstar of the evening. Despite being very full half-way through my selections, I still polished off the entire side gratin. My dining companion ordered the ragoût of wild mushrooms with braised artichokes, which I sampled as well. Very tasty; this was my first up-close encounter with a hedgehog mushroom.

Let’s get down to the wine. The list is small and all French. Some Bordeaux made it on, a little Burgundy, and the South of France, mostly. By-the-glass offerings were virtually non-existent, particularly if you cared to try anything interesting, so my dining companion and I split a bottle of Lirac Domaine de la Mordorée ($80, I think…I forgot). Dark ruby, dense, and intensely fruity with notes of plums and berries, the mildly tannic wine was a solid accompaniment to the fare, a blend of 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah. The hand-harvested grapes are grown in a sandy soils, mixed with clay, and topped with the ubiquitous galets roulés. The wine could’ve done with a bit of aging, but overall, an exquisite little number from the Languedoc-Roussillon, one of my favourite French regions for finding budget finds that taste way above their price point.
Wine Rating: 
Restaurant Rating:
 


WINE LINES

Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

International


FROM THE ARCHIVES
THIS WEEK: WINE REGION

Casablanca: Spotlight on Chile’s first cold-climate wine region

I pulled myself back from a dangerous precipice: providing an overview of all Chile’s viticulture areas from north to south. I’m reminded that this is not only a weekly blog (so, I need to conserve material), but also one that I wanted to ensure achieved a level of pithiness in the entries that allowed readers to breeze through while still acquiring some new knowledge about wine. So, for this week, one region.

Why Casablanca? In an informal poll which included a sample size of one, I asked, “Do you think of Chile as having a warm or cool climate?” Those polled said “warm,” adding that they didn’t expect to see penguin (a subject, no doubt, handled by a different blog). For that reason, I think Casablanca is pretty neat, because summers can be as nippy as 15-18°C.

Casablanca Valley’s climate is strongly influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current which carries chilly sea breezes inland, contributing to colder night temperatures and to morning fogs that help minimize frost in the winter and spring. The temperate climate — which allows for a longer ripening season for white varieties and warmer, frost-free zones for red varieties — has led to comparisons being drawn with the U.S.’ Los Carneros AVA (which includes parts of Napa and Sonoma County) and Bordeaux, though these are both further from the equator than Casablanca Valley. Noting the latter, in particular, it’s probably little wonder that many of the varietals grown in the region include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, among others. Many Burgundy and Southern Rhône varieties also make an appearance, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Chile’s Casablanca Valley also grows a number of those fun aromatic grapes we so adore, like Gewürtztraminer, Muscat of Alexandria, Riesling and Viognier.

Serious winemaking in this region is relatively recent. During the gradual influx of domestic and international investment in Chilean winemaking in the late 1970s and 1980s, the country also saw the pioneering efforts of viticulturalists and vignerons, like Pablo Morandé (note the Morandé wine reviewed in this week’s “Tasting Notes”), who planted the first vines around the industrial city of Casablanca in the 1980s, defying skeptics and naysayers who doubted the region’s potential for making quality wine. According to wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd, today the wines from the Casablanca Valley now enjoy an “internationally established reputation…for [their] arresting, vibrant, mouth-watering white wines.”

 

 

March 20 Roundup: Que Syrah, Syrah; London to Bordeaux Direct; and a Treat from the Archives

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Vacation Alert: Faithful Readers, next week I’ll be taking a much-deserved break to celebrate Easter. So, expect some content from the archives (we’ve also had to pull something out of our files for this week’s essay – sorry). We’ll be back to regular posting in April.***

Sip It!

Les Montgolfiers Reserve Syrah 2012

LCBO #: 341479 | 750 mL bottle | $11.50 (purchased for $6.95)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

Deep ruby-purple and bursting with ripe red fruit flavours of tart cherry and raspberry, this medium-bodied wine is richly textured for a low-end table wine. On the palate, it exudes oak, mushrooms, smokiness, and touches of herbaceous greenery. A brightening acidity lifts this wine on the finish, which lingers on the tongue. Notes of cloves and tobacco help round out this surprising buy for under $10.

About the Wine: Made by Thierry Boudinaud, this Syrah comes from the south of France. The wine’s name is a tribute to Boudinaud’s anscetors, Etienne and Joseph–the famous pair behind the hot-air balloon.

Skip It!

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2014

Vintages #: 595280   | 750 mL bottle | $14.95
Alcohol: 13.5%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Rating: 

This is one of those deceptive wines that sets you up for profound disappointment. An inky, opaque purple, this wine boasts an intense bouquet of stewed plums, dark cherries, seared meat, licorice, and forest floor, which suggested to me a wine that would be deliciously fruit-forward, full-bodied, and complex. One sip, and I knew this wasn’t for me. The assertive tannins and mouth-puckering acidity were mildly off-putting. Flavours of mint, tobacco, and oak were offset by a sweeter vanilla, but I would definitely pass this by again because of the lack of balance. Upside: cute label.

About the Wine: According to the producer, “the Syrah is solely sourced from Swartland, renowned for its small berries and un-irrigated vineyards.” The wine is matured in older French oak barriques, and “reflects the sunny climate and warm shale soils of the Swartland region.”


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

United States

  • President Obama slams Donald Trump’s wine this week, saying, “Has anybody bought that wine? I want to know what that wine tastes like. I mean, come on. You know that’s like some $5 wine. They slap a label on it. They charge you $50 and say it’s the greatest wine ever.”

International


FROM THE ARCHIVES
THIS WEEK: WINEMAKING TECHNIQUE

Let’s get “toasty”…with wood, of course!

I’m a history nut. What attracts me to wine isn’t just the tasting and appreciation of the grapes, the wine-making processes and the terroir — it’s also the evolution of wine-making over centuries, and how vintners arrived at the processes they’re using today.

One of the most ubiquitous images associated with wine production is the barrel. Most Google image searches will at least pull up a dozen photographs of cellars lined with the pride and joy of talented coopers practicing a craft honed over millenia. But how far back does the use of barrels in fermentation and aging of wine actually go?

I assume it’s quite well known that most Old World wine-making and the vitis vinifera that enables it owes its thanks to the Romans, who not only consumed wine in excess, but as an alternative to water, which was often unsafe, particularly for travelling armies. Unlike the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians who used palm wood barrels to store and ferment wine, despite it being notoriously difficult to bend, the Romans favoured storage in clay amphorae (bet that didn’t impart those luscious flavours of vanilla and spice!). It wasn’t until the Romans encountered the Gauls, with their use of wooden barrels in the storage and transport of beer, that the vessel we all know and associate with wine production was adopted.

Barrels can be used in wine-making to impart flavour and colour, as well as help mellow tannins and vary texture, and the type of wood use matters immensely to the end product. Whether it’s proper barrels or wood chips floating in stainless steel tanks, wood has its own phenolic compounds and characteristics that can encourage evaporation and oxygenation, as well as alter the taste profile of a wine.

The length of time spent in a barrel depends on several factors, including the varietal, the winemaker’s preference, and rules surrounding a region or country’s wine-making. Take for instance Spanish wine laws that dictate barrel time: for example, a Crianza, depending on where it is made, can spend as little as 12 months in the barrel, while a Gran Reserva can spend upwards of three years. (I kind of love this animated video explaining wine aging. The cartoon barrel cracks me up!)

Depending on the species of oak, flavour intensity imparted can also vary tremendously. French oak has long been the preferred wood for barrel aging as it imparts flavours of spice and textures of satin and silk (like Pouilly-Fuisse), whereas American oak can produce more intense wines with creamier textures (think oaked California Chardonnay). Italian winemakers often use Slavonian oak, which lends subtler flavours and softer tannins, while lower-end French and Hungarian winemakers source oak from a region proximate to the Black Sea, which is known for its “more elegant and sweeter aromas.”

What else can I possibly say on barrels, except that sizes vary, too, with Bordeaux barrique and Burgundy styles leading the charge with holding 225 L (59 gallons) and 228 L (60 gallons) respectively.

So, the next time you taste a wine, look for the hints of oak and how the wine’s tannins, flavours and texture might be coming through based on the time it spent inside this venerated vessel.

March 13 Roundup: Two “Skip-Its,” What Wine Was Served at the White House, and Our First Guest Blog

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Faithful Readers, this week’s wines reviewed are a tip of the hat to our first guest blogger, who singles out both Australian and Chilean wines as two go-to buys. I’ve thumbed through my tasting book for two fairly recent wines from both countries tasted and recorded; unfortunately, they were both…well, you’ll see…***

Skip It!

Mitolo Jester Shiraz 2013

Vintages #: 659607 | 750 mL bottle | $22.95
Alcohol: 15.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

The Mitolo Shiraz was tough for me to love–it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t spectacular either. Regardless of the reviews (some of which put this in the 90+ range), I wasn’t bowled over.  The trouble with this wine was that the incredible bouquet didn’t translate to the palate. Bright, luscious, bursting aromas of blackberry, black cherry, mint, and roasted coffee made me salivate. The muscular tannins, toasty notes, and prominent tobacco flavours competed with the fruitiness, and flavours of bitter chocolate, and for some reason, the balance was just off for me. The wine had a good, full-bodied mouth-feel, with a decent acidity to round out the finish which ended on a slightly sweet note. Try it, for sure, since many seem to really like this wine (except your resident blogger).

About the Wine: According to Mitolo Wines, the 2013 vintage was outstanding, producing bright, fresh wines with “excellent tannin structure.” The Shiraz vineyards are in the Willunga district, in the south of McLaren Vale. Grapes are grown in a loamy-sandstone-clay soil, and in a maritime climate. Mitolo Wines recommends pairing this with a “Bistecca alla Fiorentina cooked over charcoal.”

Skip It!

Maycas del Limarí, Quebada Seca 2013

LCBO #: Special Order | 750 mL bottle | $30 (but purchased for $21 on Black Friday)
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Rating: 

This is a 90-95-point wine that Decanter describes as “a complex, unique Chardonnay,” but oh man, did I have a hard time getting into this wine. On the nose, the aroma of oak was overpowering for me, cloaking some of the other scents I managed to pick up (but not without a struggle!), including brioche and blanched asparagus and butane (but I think the professionals use the more sophisticated descriptor, “flinty”). On the palate, heavy oak dominated, but an upstart citrusy-acidity vied for attention. The buttery mouth-feel, matched by a spritely minerality, was not at all unpleasant, but overall, not to be repeated (and I still have two more bottles!).

About the Wine: Located 400 km north of Santiago in the Limarí Valley, the Maycas winery produces typical Burgundian varieties, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay, grown at the Quebrada Seca Vinyard 190 m above sea level in calcareous and clay soils, is exposed to optimal growing conditions: sunny days, close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and a cool- to moderate-climate.


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

Canada

  • Oy! It’s not all good news about supermarket wine sales in Ontario – from $10.95 minimum prices, to all-Ontario wines, it could be more of a curse than a blessing. (Wine so close to everything you would need to make a cheese board, yet limited by geography. *Tear.*)

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THROUGH THE WINE GLASS
This week we have a special guest blog from a Faithful Reader, who reflects on his favourite wines and wine adventures. [Editorial comments sparingly added by Yours Truly. xo]

As the inaugural guest contributor, may I say how honoured I am for this invitation. I hope I can do justice to you, the loyal readers, and introduce you to what may perhaps be new perspectives. Unlike your regular columnist, I have a far less refined palate, and lack her descriptive powers and her fluency with wine terminology. I take a more Trumpian approach to these matters – I know what I like, and I tell it how it is. Even if I’m wrong.

So, where to start? OK. Yes. Whisk(e)y. As a Scot by residence (yes, I know, a very long time ago) I spent my childhood surrounded by shabbily dressed academics who would gaze for hours at a tumbler (alright, several tumblers) of Scotch, prattling on with decreasing coherence about the taste/bouquet (they didn’t call it that) quadrant into which malt whiskies are allocated. Some of them (yes, Laphroiag) really had few redeeming qualities, but it was as fashionable then (c. 1965) as now to worship the briny smell and taste of the Islay malts. Frankly, I find most of them quite vile and an appalling waste of money. My preferences were Singleton (difficult to get in Ontario), some of the older Glenfiddichs, Highland Park (I still remember the 25 year-old I was given as a farewell gift when I departed my last proper job), Oban, The (and it is “The”) Macallan and, usually, the darker, richer malts. Lately, though, I’ve strayed from the historical and snobby purity that scorns any whisky not from Scotland, and have been buying some of the alternatives. There are some excellent Irish whiskies (OK, not many) and an increasing range of offerings from the US, a few from Canada and, you’d never guess…..India! Yes, India. Amrut is one of the leading distillers there, and in blind testings they frequently beat out some of the noblest Scotches. [I’ve tasted this, and it’s not bad.] They’re not cheap – typically in the $70-$90 range – but dark, rich, delicious, with or without a splash of water and never, ever ice, which should be deployed only with the palest Islays. I’m still experimenting with bourbons, so will return to these in a later guest column. If I’m ever invited back.

Veering back on course, let me talk about wine. First off, your regular correspondent and I do not agree on ratings. I get the challenges of the 100 point scale, because, really, it’s finicky, deeply subjective, silly, and ultimately impossible. But nor does this cork system work. [Wow, someone can kiss that invitation back good bye…!] If you reduce the options to a maximum of four or five corks, you are grading wines in bands of 20% to 25%. However, I have to admit that I don’t actually have a better system. Or perhaps I do. The starting point is that wine that tastes horrible shouldn’t be marketed. Period. Once beyond that barrier, it’s a taste/price value proposition. If you spend below $10 a bottle, it’s just…wine, usually for a party, or for people who don’t know good from bad, or don’t care. Between $10 and $20, you need to enjoy it, but not to the point of over-thinking it, especially at the lower end of that range. But more than $20, the flavours must be distinctive, the bouquet powerful. Again, though, what matters is – do you like it? Of course, even if you like it, even if you really, really like it, the question soon becomes: is it worth it?

Having attended a recent wine auction with your regular correspondent (and she was indeed dressed as if she could squander thousands on a single bottle of Petrus, although there was some muttering about the propriety of her distinctive shade of lipstick [it was “classic red,” thank you very much!]) I saw people pay up to $3,000 for a bottle of claret. [Note: I say “saw”, but the high rollers invariably bid through an agent, or by phone, because if you have that sort of money, you aren’t going to spend a Saturday morning in the company of folks who get squeamish about paying more than $20 a bottle [or, as he actually remarked, people who wouldn’t deign to sit in the cheap chairs]]. What went through my mind was this: how can a Petrus be worth 150 times what you’d pay for a perfectly decent bottle of, say, a Chilean Malbec? It might taste a bit better (even a lot better) and the taste sensations will no doubt go on for longer, but that can’t come close to justifying these prices. Which leads to these conclusions: people pay these prices because they are investing, not collecting, and because they can and want others to know that they can.

This blog is of course about what to drink and not drink. I intend to point you in the right direction, but won’t be giving any specific recommendations. I’m not a big fan of French wine [sacrilege!]; and I don’t know much about Italian wine beyond what a friend of mine once told me – stick to those that begin with a B [in a pinch, I guess, but there are some other very exciting wines that don’t begin with a B – the Vs are quite remarkable, for example]. And I find that Californian wine, especially the reds, is just too and in some cases ridiculously expensive. My last such indulgence was a Schafer Merlot, at more than $50. It was…nice. I subsequently saw that it was reviewed with a score of 89, so go figure.

The best values are Chilean [no disagreement here – in fact, you can check out my blog on the wines of Chile from last year]. Nice, crisp whites, And stunning reds. Anything that gets 90+ points in the Vintages catalogue, buy it, and drink it in the next year [disagreeing – see this week’s tasting notes above]. And then of course we have Australian, of which I’ve been an avid fan for decades, when I made my first trip to the Hunter Valley. It started inauspiciously. My host drove me the two hours from Sydney, and as we were about to pull up for lunch at Freds’ Resto, he suddenly swerved back into traffic, declaring that he wasn’t prepared to patronize an establishment whose owner didn’t understand where to place the apostrophe, and was rear-ended by a Holden station wagon. As we waited for the tow truck, we had a glass of Saxonvale Chardonnay  at Freds’, and I was hooked. I returned to Toronto with a case of Rosemount Cab Sauv, and never looked back. You can spend a lot on Aussie reds (D’Arenberg Dead Arm, still available at Vintages, for over $50, is wonderful) but you don’t need to, as there are many selections in the $20-$25 range (Cabs, Shiraz) that are way better than any French nonsense [hey now!] at multiples of that, and which need little if any cellaring.

I must end with a confession. I did make a purchase at a wine auction last year. An Australian Shiraz, from the Mollydooker winery. (There are two meanings of this expression, one harmless, the other stereotypically vulgar). It cost $160, plus buyer’s premium, and HST. I plan to drink it this year, and will send a review for inclusion in this blog.

March 6 Roundup: Crazy About California, Spain Dominates Global Wine Sales, and the Other Grüner

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Sip It!

Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

LCBO #: 996405 | 750 mL bottle | $49.95
Alcohol: 13.9%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

Stags’ Leap comes with a price tag. To drink the iconic California wine that kicked some serious French derrière in ’76, you can’t help but wonder: Is this really better than Bordeaux? Deep red-garnet, semi-opaque, and slightly purple around the edges, this dry, dense Cab is quite full-bodied, youthful, and just a tad too tannic. Black cherry, black current, vanilla, and jammy notes are off-set by pronounced tobacco, and earthy flavours. Pleasantly herbaceous, this wine was solid, not out-of-this-world, but also a classic expression of an Old World Cab. It would do well with a bit of aging, perhaps, and a nice hunk of grass-fed steak.

About the Wine: Stags’ Leap is one of California’s earliest wine estates. Founded in 1970, and achieving international recognition at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, this Napa Valley first-growth has a signature style that, according to the winery, has often been described as “‘an iron fist in a velvet glove,’ a reference to the artful balance between ripeness and restraint, softness and structure, that yields wines of exceptional beauty and long life.”

Skip It!

Penfold’s Bin 2 Shiraz-Mataro 2013

LCBO #: 468629 | 750 mL bottle | $24.75
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red
Rating: 

Fans of Australian wine will no doubt be outraged by my assessment of this Penfolds Shiraz blend. Mataro is another name for Mourvèdre, and, according to some sources, this wine is “a brilliant example of Australia’s proficiency with Rhône varieties.” It wasn’t bad, but it was just OK, and those are always the hardest wines to score. What makes it two corks versus three? Generally, for me, is whether I’d drink it again, and sadly, this one’s a no. It reminds me of those young, assertive, and slightly too nippy Côtes du Rhônes. Although chock full of sweet black cherry, cloves, vanilla, cocoa, and jammy notes, the slightly bitter finish is what did this wine in. Where the Stags’ Leap earned four corks (I’d drink it again, it was rich, and flavourful), the finish was the spoiler here. If you do happen across a bottle, or are gifted one, I imagine this would pair well with flavourful lamb stews or with herby beef tenderloin dishes.

About the Wine: Established in 1844, Penfolds has a reputation for quality in many circles (though some vociferous critics claim that it’s overpriced). The vineyards are located primarily in Southern Australia–Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Limestone Cost, and McLaren Vale. Penfolds owns and leases its vineyards, in addition to sourcing grapes from over 220 vineyards and independent grape growers.


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Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

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MEET MR. GRAPE
A monthly focus on a wine grape variety.

THIS WEEK: SYLVANER – THE OTHER GRÜNER

When I hear the word “Grüner,” I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking “Veltliner”–the peculiarly spicy, and excitingly flavorful variety grown predominantly in Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. But, did you know that that Sylvaner (alternatively spelled Silvaner) is often known as “Grüner Silvaner,” which I suspect, in both instances, references the grape’s rich green colour.

I haven’t drunk any Sylvaner, but then I haven’t really looked for it in the wine store. From what I can tell, it’s a boring sort of grape, not predisposed to any exciting aromatic surprizes, like Gewürtztraminer, or any palate-tickling excitement, like a Syrah that exudes the terroir in which it was grown. According to Jancis Robinson, dismissing Silvaner, like I just did, would be evidence of a “very superificial acquaintance with this historic grape variety,” and though it has its enthusiasts, they appear to be far and few between, and limited to the most sophisticated of wine-drinkers and regional growers who praise its versatility.

Though Silvaner is grown in varying quantities in several pockets of Central Europe, its home is really Germany, despite a recent resurgence in Alsace. In total, Silvaner covers just over 12,000 acres, making it the third most-grown white wine grape variety after Riesling and Müller-Thurgau; it’s predominantly grown in Rheinhessen and in Franken, where Robinson points out that Silvaner can produce some of the region’s finest wines.

Although the cultivation of Sylvaner became widespread in the 19th century, it is thought that the variety first came to Germany after the Thirty Years War as there is recorded evidence of it being planted in Franconia in 1659. By the middle of the 20th century, it became the most important grape variety planted in Germany, but, since then, has declined significantly, now standing at around five per cent of overall land under vine. Sylvaner was also planted in Alsace in large quantities after the Second World War, and, more recently, the variety has seen a revival. In 2006, Zotzenburg Sylvaner became the first to be designated Alsace Grand Cru.

For those curious to try this variety out, pickings may be slim. Ontario residents appear to be restricted to two choices: the Alsatian Pierre Sparr Reserve 2013 ($13.95) and the Dopff & Irion Crystal d’Alsace Sylvaner ($13.95, with five bonus AirMiles until March 26…obviously, I’ve made a note). The tasting notes for both wines seem subtle, delicate, and restrained, with light fruit and floral notes–the ideal pairing for seafood dishes that shouldn’t be overpowered–I’m thinking oysters (which I don’t really like), clams (which I’m also not crazy about), and scallops (which I tend to stay away from).

February 28 Roundup: Low-Priced Libations, Tour de France Blockades, and Wine Auction Adventures

TASTING NOTES
Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
***Who doesn’t love a bargain? This week it’s my top picks for wines under ten bucks.***
Sip It!
Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio IGT 2014

LCBO #: 123166 | 750 mL bottle | $8.35 (Purchased for $0.30 less)
Alcohol: 12.0%
Sweetness: Off-Dry
Wine Type: White
Rating: 

My slightly snobbish tendencies often lead me to dismiss Pinot Grigio; after all, on the surface, they’re the most ubiquitous of Italian whites, finding themselves onto almost every wine list at cookie-cutter chain restaurants. In need of a cooking wine, I picked this up moments after a failed attempt to talk me into a dreadfully overpriced Moscato that tasted a little too much like a high-end soft drink. On the palate, this light, lively, fresh little wine tastes much like it smells–like a summer fruit salad of citrus and exotic fruits. The balance between aspiring minerality, and smooth finish makes this an unusual find for under $10, but don’t drive all over town looking for it; I feel like any other run-of-the-mill P.G. will do the trick.

About the Wine: Hailing from Sicily, the Duca di Castelmonte winery in the heart of Marsala boasts “superb table wine,” and produces the Cavallina Grillo label.

Skip It!

Pocketwatch Sauvignon Blanc 2014

LCBO #: 187039 | 750 mL bottle | $8.95
Alcohol: 13.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Rating: 

Fondue weekends are few and far between these days, but I generally buy a budget wine, since a good cup to cup-and-a-half of vino finds its way into the pot of melted cheese. (The obvious price handicap means you’re not exactly in the vicinity of mind-blowing.) Respectable, this water white wine with its pale straw tint did present with a remarkably aromatic bouquet — a combination of Meyer lemon zest, passion fruit, asparagus, and even dew-kissed grass. Disappointingly, though this wine was crisp, but totally lacking in complexity; the short finish was blah. “Textbook flavours” of Sauv Blanc were all discernible, augmented by a perceptible honeyed sweetness, but far from impressive or unique.

About the Wine: The Pocketwatch Sauvignon Blanc label, made by Robert Oatley Vineyards, is a multi-vineyard blend, harvested from across South-Western Australia. The wines are fermented in stainless steel “to create an appealing, fresh, fruit-driven dry white wine.”

Sip It!
Haycutters Shingleback Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Blend 2014
LCBO #: 207365 | 750 mL bottle | $9.45 (purchased at $8.95)
Alcohol: 13.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: White
Rating: 

The Sémillon (49%) is undoubtedly what tips the scales in this otherwise average wine’s favour, taking it from a “Skip it” to a “Sip it” recommendation. A classic Bordeaux blend made of Sémillon sourced from the Adelaide Hills and of Sauvignon Blanc from McLaren Vale, the Sémillon adds sweetness to this zesty citrus and powerfully herbaceous wine. I detected notes of lemongrass, and perhaps even a faint nutiness. Though this was also a fondue wine, I could see it pairing nicely with a creamy shrimp linguine, or with Thai take-out. If you see it on a shelf, grab it for Friday movie night, or for a weekday evening food delivery accompaniment.

About the Wine: Family owned since 1959, the Davey Estate’s Shingleback wines are “hand-crafted” and “made in a style that expresses the essence of McLaren Vale.” According to the winery’s website, these wines are “lush, fruit-forward and food-friendly, both appealing on release and worthy of cellaring.”


WINE LINES
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

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WINE CASK TIME MACHINE
Putting that graduate degree in history to use…looking at wine through the ages.

Wine Auctions

Dressed like I could afford Petrus (but only bidding on ’05 Beaucastel), I popped into my first-ever fine wine auction this weekend. A long-time “creeper” of Waddington’s online fine art auctions (where I almost bid on an absolutely darling still life), and frequent attendee of their Women of Waddington’s events, I eagerly arrived with no other intention but to observe.Whether it’s art or wine, I am plagued by a chronic indecisiveness: to bit or not to bid, that is the question? Upon arriving, and lingering noncommittally at the registration desk, a sudden and uncharacteristic boldness overtook me, and I exchanged my name and mailing address for a numbered card. (After all, I was reminded of my friend’s advice earlier in the week when I mentioned that I was taking the plunge and Waddington’s fine wine auction: “Of course you need to register,” he said, “You don’t want to look like you’re just there to keep warm!”)

Auctions are almost as old as recorded history, where goods, and sometimes services, are sold to the highest bidder in a competitive market, in a process involving gradually increasing prices (which, is what the Latin word auctio, means). [1] According to Ursula Hermacinski, the earliest auction occurred in Babylonia around 500 B.C., but it was the Romans who relied most heavily upon auctions as a mechanism to sell off their imperial plunder, which included lots of jewelry, artwork, and wine–at this time a most valuable commodity. [2]

The transition of wine from commodity to collectible took centuries, and was a development of early modern European improvements to the storage and cellaring of wine. The more widespread production and application of glass bottles, the replacement of glass stoppers with corks to help stabilize wine, and the eventual use of wine casks for aging were all responsible for the gradual shift. Perhaps one of the most significant changes was in the unit of measurement for wine: where, before, wine’s trade unit was the “cask,” the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the introduction of the term “case,” referring now to the wooden boxes that held a fixed quantity of bottles.[3] In Europe in the eighteenth century, where auctions were already commonplace, and a stylish society event attended by the most affluent strata of society, wine auctions were growing in number. In fact, in London, “by the middle of the 1700s, when wine bottles started taking on modern form, there were at least fifty registered auctioneers” in the city, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, whose auctions today enjoy a global reach.[4]

In North America, the history of wine auctions is far shorter; in New York, they only became legal in 1994, decades after Chicago (1969) and San Francisco, though it took only a few years for the Big Apple to “[bypass] London as the core of the global fine and rare wine market. According to a 2012 Barclay’s survey, about one-quarter of high net-worth individuals around the world have a wine collection which represents approximately two per cent of their wealth. Investment demand remains strong among this segment of the population, which has helped spur the rise of alternative investment portfolios, including the emergence of wine funds. Unfortunately, I’m in a whole other snack bracket: wine funds, and the hoarding of blue-chip Bordeaux is slightly outside my means, but, as an ever-growing wine enthusiast, I was nevertheless delighted by my weekend outing.

A faithful reader of this blog, known for his often wry, but always supportive comments, accompanied me — and hopefully didn’t bid on any Lafite when I went to the restroom! Turnout was moderate — perhaps less than I would have expected — and the gender composition only came to my attention when, removing my snood and coat, a woman seated on the opposite end of the row I had chosen remarked: “Oh, thank goodness! Another woman!”

For those interested, the lots are still available for perusal on the auction’s website. You’ll note the preponderance of French wine, including several small vertical and pseudo-horizontal collections, and mixed lots, with Bordeaux, of course, dominating the catalogue. Before I arrived, I had thumbed through the offerings on my mobile device. I sighed longlingly at the Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertain Clos de Bèze 2010, imagining how incredible it would look in my yet-to-be-purchased dual climate-controlled wine storage unit, and I got positively giddy at the sight of so much Rothschild on a single page!

As the auction got underway, and the flurry of online, telephone, and in-person bids flared, I got wrapped up in the energy–the rapid-fire competition between aggressive bidders, and the sometimes deliberate nonchalance of a seasoned collector, smoothly raising their hand a fraction of an inch to indicate their agreement to the latest price on offer. I mustered the courage to get in the game, and soon, I was positively out of control, whipping my hand up at the “cellar starters” affordable to a neophyte like me: some CdPs, a magnum of 1999 Frescobaldi Brunello (Faithful Readers will no doubt recall my rave review of a ’10 half-bottle last week), and two little darlings from the Côte de Nuits. I came so close to walking away with a La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2009 double magnum, but was outbid–and quite dramatically–by a gentleman seated in front of me. (In fact, this crushing disappointment was preceded by him turning around to glance at me before he raised his placard! The nerve!)

Sadly, I walked away empty-handed, but I am determined to approach future auctions more strategically. Although my last-minute bids, if successful, would have delighted me to no end, a more rigorous approach to building my cellar is in order, especially as my thoughts turn to centralizing my existing collection (currently divided between two different locations in a very complicated baby-sitting arrangement), and providing a more hospitable climate to my ’14 Bordeaux purchases, due to arrive next year, the lovely ’10 Meursault I am aging, two high-end Tuscan wines, and my ’99 d’Yquem. Inspired, I also just registered for WSET 2, beginning this spring.

—–
Notes:[1] Ursula Hermacinski, The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions: the Art and Science of Buying and Selling Wine (Square One Publishers, 2006, 9).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 10.
[4] Ibid., 11.