Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
LCBO #: 123166 | 750 mL bottle | $8.35 (Purchased for $0.30 less)
Wine Type: White
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.
LCBO #: 187039 | 750 mL bottle | $8.95
Wine Type: White
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.”
Haycutters Shingleback Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Blend 2014
LCBO #: 207365 | 750 mL bottle | $9.45 (purchased at $8.95)
Wine Type: White
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.”
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- The B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Board is moving to minimum pricing effective May 1, 2016, “to help ensure that liquor with very low wholesale prices is not retailed at prices that may encourage abuse or over consumption.”
- Canada’s plunging loonie is going to make U.S. wine sales more costly. The numbers show that some wines from south of the border have increased by as much as 25 per cent.
- Wine titan Peter Mondavi Sr. passed away this week at the age of 101. A pioneer, Mondavi was “the last of the second generation of an American wine dynasty, a family now in its third and fourth generations producing wine in Napa Valley.”
- Talk about record-breaking! U.S. wine sales, 90 per cent of which come from California, hit an all-time high of $1.61 billion in 2015 (up almost eight per cent from the previous year).
- Georgian wine doesn’t get nearly enough press – thank goodness there’s now a special area in Marseille museum dedicated to it. (After all, a country that’s been making vino for 8,000 years deserves a little attention, n’est-ce pas?)
- Speaking of other exotic wine-producing destinations, the Wines of India program was launched this week to promote the country’s 11 leading wineries and the “culture of domestic wine consumption in India and overseas.” (Hmmm.)
- Languedoc-Roussillon wine-makers threaten to blockade the Tour de France race route after Chile’s Cono Sur has been named official race sponsor.
- Jack Ma, one of China’s wealthiest men, has been buying up Bordeaux wineries. His latest acquisition: Château de Sours, an almost 200-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers. (Price tag: more than $16 million.)
- Think Champagne is the only wine with protected status? Soon English sparkling may go by the name “Sussex,” “a cachet that could one day make it as sought after as its French rival.”
WINE CASK TIME MACHINE
Putting that graduate degree in history to use…looking at wine through the ages.
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).  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. 
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. 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.
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: Ursula Hermacinski, The Wine Lover’s Guide to Auctions: the Art and Science of Buying and Selling Wine (Square One Publishers, 2006, 9).
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 11.