Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 29, September 22, 2016 – Rebouchage, Recorking, Reconditioning, a discontinued practice.

For years the top Bordeaux estates conducted a service to their clients called Rebouchage, where old bottles were reconditioned and recorked.

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Probably the most devoted service was provided by Chateau Lafite Rothschild who would send their cellar master to various cities in The United States, England and Germany to conduct clinics where owners of vintages over 25-30 years of age could bring in their bottles to the clinic and have them opened, tested, topped up with the same or another similar vintage, recorked, refoiled, and stamped with a certificate of authenticity confirming the date the bottle was reconditioned.

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This service was provided by the Chateau for free, but not without consequences. Yes, you the owner would get to taste the wine yourself, but if the cellar master determined that the wine had spoiled, or was not deemed fit to recondition, you would be left with an open bottle, if indeed they did not pour it down the drain. The cellar master would attend these clinics with many vintages of Lafite for topping up purposes, and in the topping up process the average bottle would have approximately 65 ml of wine added to the bottle. This topping up would take care of any evaporation or seepage from the bottle where your prized bottle of Lafite that originally had a fill in the neck of the bottle now had only a high or mid shoulder fill, a process of measuring the size of the air pocket in the bottle called “ullage”.

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Many other top estates such as Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion, Mouton Rothschild and others offered a less elaborate service where their best customers could bring their wines back to the chateau for reconditioning. However, by far the most convenient to customers was the Lafite touring bandwagon. If you were an American it was obviously much easier to get your wines reconditioned in New York than at the chateau. And nobody will admit to what defines “best customers” in terms of who would or would not qualify to get their bottles reconditioned at the chateau. I am sure if you had regularly bought 10 cases of every vintage of Chateau Latour over the last 20 years, this may have landed you in the “best customer” category and earned you the right to get your bottles reconditioned at the chateau. The rest of us were out of luck.

In the last 4-5 years this practice has effectively been terminated. Now nobody is getting their top Bordeaux wines reconditioned any longer. The producers have ended the practice to prevent fraud. It appears that fraud in the fine wine market has become an increasing concern, particularly in China. In November 2012 in the Chinese province of Wenzhou, 10,000 bottles of counterfeit Chateau Lafite Rothschild with a street value of $16 million were seized by local police. At that time it was estimated that up to 70% of first growth Bordeaux wine in China was fake.

There have been numerous incidents over the last 30 years, that I can recall, of counterfeit or fake wines, but never on this large a scale. Every few years you would hear about some auction scandal where a fake wine was sold, or fake wines were rejected by auctioneers. Then once every 10 years or so there would be some producer’s scandal where wines were not made according to the local wine laws. One of the largest I remember was with producers of Austrian wines in 1985 who had added diethylene glycol (more commonly known as antifreeze) to their wines to act as a sweetener. Some wines had potentially fatal amounts added, but many wines had smaller doses which when consumed over a long term would cause kidney damage and failure. Sales of Austrian wines collapsed after that revelation was announced in the press and it took years for their market to recover.

However, nothing on the scale we are seeing now in China has been seen in the wine world in the last 50 years or longer. If a country the size of China has up to 70% of their premium Bordeaux wines faked or counterfeited, this is a serious problem and one that, if left uncontrolled, will undermine the entire fine wine market worldwide. Clearly something had to be done, and it would appear that wine reconditioning became one of the practices that would have to be stopped. Producers were most concerned that counterfeiters would flood local markets with fake reconditioned bottles that actually contained nothing but plonk, and had been carefully faked as a knockoff, which Chinese entrepreneurs have been good at doing to many different consumer products.

In 2012 Chateau Lafite Rothschild not only discontinued their free reconditioning service to clients, but they also introduced their new “prooftag” system, a new seal overlapping the foil and the bottle with a 13 character alphanumeric code unique to each bottle. All Lafite wines from the 2009 vintage onwards are protected with this new identification system. Ah the measures we must take to thwart the dishonest amongst us!

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The only winemaker today that still offers a bottle reconditioning service (that I am aware of) is the Australian producer Penfolds, mostly for their Grange Hermitage bottles which, like first growth Bordeaux producers, can age and continue to improve for many decades. Penfolds take a more positive approach by saying they prefer to maintain the service because it will help catch and remove counterfeit bottles from the market. It is too bad that this same thinking does not prevail in Bordeaux.

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So what does the customer do with his 50-60 year old bottle of Lafite or Latour, with a tired cork and a high to mid shoulder fill?

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The bottle is clearly in need of reconditioning, but the Chateau will not do it for you anymore. Here are some of your options:

  • You can sell the bottle privately or at auction, but you must be prepared to discount the value due to the less than perfect condition of the bottle.
  • You can recondition the bottle yourself, or have a professional service do this for you. However, be advised if you go this route you cannot resell this wine in future either privately or at auction because if this process is not done by the Chateau itself the wine’s value is reduced to near zero.
  • You can of course do the right thing, and that is to drink the wine and stop hoarding it. You may have heard me say this once or twice before – wine is made to drink! When you buy a case of first growth Bordeaux it is not unusual to end up with one or two bottles with lower fills than the others, and over time the fill level in these bottles will drop faster than the others. These are the bottles you would drink first, to test the wine’s development and maturity. So do not hang onto older wines with lower fills, drink up!

If you have a sentimental reason for wanting to hold onto a very special and very old bottle of wine and it is badly in need of reconditioning, then get it done.

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Just do not expect to be reselling that bottle in future. If you want to bring up the fill level but do not have more of the original wine or even a similar younger vintage of the same wine to add, do not panic. The simple solution often used in this situation is to add glass beads that sink to the bottom of the bottle, this will raise the fill level and thereby reduces the amount of oxygen left in the bottle once it is recorked.

I am sad to say that the days of 100 year old bottles of wine in pristine condition that have been reconditioned and recorked once and maybe even twice, are a thing of the past. The fraudsters and counterfeiters of the emerging wine markets of the world have seen to that.

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If you want proof for yourself that fraud and counterfeit wine is rampant in China, just go to www.winesearcher.com and look at old vintages (pre 1900) of Chateau Lafite Rothschild for sale. From 1812 to 1900 there are a total of 25 vintages of Chateau Lafite Rothschild offered for retail sale. Of the 25 vintages offered for sale, 22 of them are offered for sale in at least one location in Hong Kong, and 16 of those are available only in Hong Kong. Only nine of those vintages are available anywhere else in the world. It is truly amazing that Hong Kong seems to have cornered the market on rare old vintages of Lafite.

Furthermore, equally amazing is the fact that most of the Hong Kong bottles offered for sale are clustered in the $20,000 to $40,000 per bottle price range. The 1874 vintage is available in 4 retail locations, 1 in France at $9,000 and 3 in Hong Kong at prices between $25,000 and $30,000. The 1875 vintage is available in 2 locations, 1 in Switzerland at $4,000 and 1 in Hong Kong at $30,500. The 1869 vintage is available in 2 locations, 1 in the UK at $183,000 and 1 in Hong Kong at $37,000. The Hong Kong price at $37,000 looks like a real bargain, especially since Sotheby’s auctioned off 3 bottles of the 1869 vintage in 2010 in Honk Kong at $230,000 per bottle. One would think that quality of the vintage and rarity of the bottles would produce much more price variation in older vintages, but evidently not so in Hong Kong. I see all kinds of red flags here, does anyone else see what I see?

As we lament the passing of rebouchage, recorking and reconditioning of old wines, another important practice of the wine world that links us to the past, I think it is best that we open a bottle of our oldest and best, and drink a toast to that demise.

If anyone out there in my reading audience has a really old bottle shaped like one of these below and you care to take my advice and open it, then please do not be shy to invite me, I will gladly attend!

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Looking on the bright side, this will encourage you to drink up, and that is what we are meant to do with wine, especially old wine.

Cheers,

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 28, September 15, 2016, recorking half empty wine bottles.

A good friend who asked to remain nameless, gave me the idea for this blog. He wants to remain nameless so that we do not make jokes about his consumption habits, I don’t blame him.

Wine was made to be consumed, and in most cases as quickly as possible. When you look at the number of wine products available in the market today, it is safe to say that 75% or more are made for immediate consumption. Of the remainder another 15% will benefit from short aging, and the remaining 10% will take and benefit from medium to long term aging. So most of what is out there should be consumed quickly.

Now what happens to your opened and half empty bottle of wine when the evening is over. You have several options available to you, and I have listed some of those below as follows:

  • If you are the host and everyone has left, you can be brave and guzzle down the rest of the bottle. There you go, problem solved! But not so fast, suppose there are 3 or 4 half empty bottles left, do you chug down all of them? Maybe yes, and maybe no.
  • If the wine was cheap and of low quality, do not agonize over this, throw it out! Your head will thank you in the morning.
  • If you find you constantly have a half bottle of wine left at the end of the evening, then it is time to look at your consumption habits. Suppose you and your spouse are enjoying a quiet dinner together and you open a bottle of wine, you drink a couple of glasses but your spouse does not because he or she chooses not to, leaving the bottle half empty. Or even worse, you open a red for yourself and a white for your spouse, you each drink a couple of glasses leaving two half empty bottles to deal with. Quel Horreurs ! You have several solutions available to keep this from happening regularly:
  1. Buy half bottle sizes (375 ml) for him and her.
  2. Communicate with your spouse (I know this can be difficult for some people, and is sometimes why they drink in the first place), and compromise by drinking a red one night and a white the next.
  3. You can send your spouse to bed early and make an evening of it by consuming the rest of both bottles. Remember it is always best to drink the white first and finish with the red. Keep the meds handy for hangover treatment. If this is going to happen regularly, then reread steps 1 and 2 above.
  4. You can recork the bottle and stick it in the fridge. If you are unable to recork the bottle (not because you are inept but rather because of the cheap plastic cork that expands once out of the bottle) then find a rubber stopper, an old port reusable cork, or just leave it uncorked. You can get creative if you want by sealing off the top of your bottle with some plastic wrap and an elastic, but please forget about silly putty, plumbers putty, silicone sealant or any other similar such stupid idea.
  • Sometimes you will have a really good half empty bottle of wine and a really good reason for not finishing it on the spot, so you may wish to recork it and also preserve it from going bad, oxidizing, or changing significantly in taste. You then have available to you several recorking and preservation systems that are available for purchase in the market. But let’s be clear on a couple of issues here, first do not expect your recorked bottle to hang around too long in this condition, plan to drink it within 5 days max. Second, manage your own expectations, do not expect your wine to be the same as it was when you first opened it. It will have oxidized and aged a little since originally opened, so in the case of a young wine it should taste more mature, and in the case of an old wine it may have expired or begun converting into vinegar, or the fruit has diminished and it begins to taste acidic.

Looking at the many different wine preservation systems available to consumers in the market today I would suggest and recommend the Private Preserve Wine Preserver, which comes in a spray can and costs anywhere from $12.00 on Amazon.ca, to $16.00 at LCBO outlets throughout Ontario, to as high as $22.00 in wine accessory stores. You can learn more about the product at their website www.private preserve.com or by emailing them at privatepreserve86@gmail.com .

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One can is good for several uses (50 or more), and be advised the can is very light because it contains an inert gas of equal parts carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon, only slightly heavier than air. The science behind the product is simple, this inert gas is heavier than air so when sprayed into your half empty wine bottle, it will sit on top of your wine and prevent air and the oxygen it contains from being in contact with the wine. This inert gas does not interact with the wine and acts as an insulator to prevent oxidation of the wine. Your wine will technically last indefinitely in this condition, but remember to recork the bottle (a rubber stopper will suffice) and store it standing up. 50 uses on a $12.00 product will cost you about $0.25 per use.

There are several other products to choose from in the marketplace but in my opinion the Private Preserve is simple, cheap, and highly effective. Several other products like the VacuVin system (at $20.00) and the Houdini Wine Preserver Vacuum Pump (at $15.00) operate by sucking the air out of the bottle. The basic problem with that type of system is that it never gets all the air out, and whatever cork or stopper you use will be under pressure to let air back into the bottle, so there will be further oxidation of the wine. Depending on how good and methodical you are with the vacuum pump you may not succeed in properly preserving your wine.

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Other devices like the Air Cork Wine Preserver (at 35.00) may perform the task of keeping air away from the wine, but when you see the apparatus in the bottle it looks more like a chemistry experiment than an elegant and expensive half empty bottle of wine being kept for a future occasion.

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Then you have the Cadillac versions such as the Cuisinart Electric Wine Preserver (at $40.00) or the L’Atelier du Vin Gard’vin Wine Preserver Set (at $75.00), the name is just as intimidating as the price. Both systems operate the same way as the VacuVin or the Houdini by sucking the air out of the bottle, they just do the work for you.

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So there you have it, you either suck the air out manually with a hand held device (or electrically if you are adverse to exercise), you can put an inner tube into your half empty bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothchild, or you can spray in an inert gas that will remove 100% of the air from contact with the wine and seal it off from air perfectly and indefinitely. Seems like a no brainer to me.

A wine preserver system is particularly useful for people living alone who want one or two glasses of wine with dinner, for couples drinking different bottles (for instance one white and one red) who do not want to drink an entire bottle each, and for consuming larger bottles (1,500 ml magnums or larger) where the half empty bottle may still amount to 750 ml or more of wine.

So let’s be realistic here for a moment, most of us will usually be drinking a young and inexpensive bottle of wine when you happen to have a half empty bottle left at the end of the meal or evening. Your best solution there is to recork the bottle and keep it in the fridge, even the cork is optional. Drink this half bottle within 2-3 days and it should be fine. If we are talking about an expensive wine, an old wine, or a wine you want to keep longer than a couple of days, then you need a preservation system, preferably one that is simple, easy to use, and reliable. In my opinion the Private Preserve Wine Preserver is the best and one of the cheapest solutions available.

There is of course the ultimate cheap and reliable solution that beats out the Private Preserve every time, and that is to drink it right away.

Cheers,

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 27, August 18, 2016, How Much is Too Much, Do You Know Your Spending Limits?

If you are a true wine lover you need to realize that you must know your price limits. There is a ton of product out there in the market spanning all price ranges, and you need to filter down the selection to products that meet your price range. Of course there are other filters that you will use to narrow down the different choices that would be suitable to you, such as 1) white, red, or rosé, 2) dry or fruity, 3) for cellaring or immediate drinking, 4) by region, 5) by grape variety, etc. But price is very important, everyone has their own price point just as we all have different other preferences based on our own individual palates. So do you know your price tolerance, and do you know what options are open to you in those various price ranges? Let’s take a look in more detail.

You should expect to have several different price limits depending on the purpose of the wine. You will have a price limit for everyday drinking wine, another higher price limit for wines you save for entertaining when you have guests you want to impress, and yet another higher price limit for those special occasion wines you open at birthdays, anniversaries, etc. But there are other price points to consider as well, such as how much you will spend on a restaurant wine, how much you will spend on a wine you bring to a BYOB party (see my previous blog post # 26 for more details on what happens there), and how much you will spend on a bottle of wine given as a gift. There are sub categories to some of these various price points, for instance when giving wine as a gift your price point will be different if the recipient is your boss, your employee, family, and depends on what the recipient knows about wine to begin with. Giving wine as a gift can be tricky because it is easy to establish how much you paid for the wine, and therefore whether you are being generous or cheap. Also, there is a lot to be said about giving the recipient what he or she likes to drink, but if their favorite wine costs $15.00 then don’t go cheap by buying them one bottle, buy at least 2 or 3, or even a 6 pack.

While I realize that everyone is different, and that many people will have different price tolerance depending on how much wine they drink and how much money they have to spend on that wine, there are certain general principles that will apply to most people:

  • Wines for everyday drinking should be cheaper and of the highest quality you can get for that price. Is your spending limit for cheap drinkers $5.00, $10.00, $20.00, or higher? Some people will have higher price limits for everyday cheap drinkers, maybe $30.00 to $40.00 per bottle, and that may be at that higher limit for several reasons such as A) they can afford it, B) they do not drink wine every day, maybe only once a week, C) they are wine snobs, and D) they entertain a lot and get to write off the wine cost as a business expense. Do you know what your choices are within your price limit for cheap drinkers? I bet you did not know you could get anything in the $5.00 range, well check out my earlier blog on Microvin Inc, post # 24. They offer up a full variety of reds and whites, you can customize your order with various additives, and the result is what I think is the cheapest high quality drinking wines available in the market today. With this discovery I was able to lower my drinkers price point from about $15.00 per bottle to less than $10.00. Needless to say I am thrilled and have more drinkers on hand, and I am spending less on them.
  • The BYOB party wine should probably be under $25.00 in the $20.00 range. You don’t want to be thought of as cheap, but you also don’t want to spend too much because you may not get much of that wine for yourself, and you do not want to come across as being a snob. A $50.00 bottle is too much.
  • Your mid-range house wine for entertaining or family dinners should be more expensive than your cheap drinkers and in the $20.00 – $50.00 range, and you should have several different types on hand to suit various occasions. You will need a bubbly, two or three different whites, I suggest a Chardonnay, something drier like an Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris and at least one dessert wine. With white dessert wines it is also a good idea to have both full and half bottles to cover two people with a half bottle, and 4-8 people with a full bottle. You will also need 2 or 3 different reds, usually including a Bordeaux, an Australian, and a California. Finally you need to have some kind of port for after dinner nightcaps. If you add these all up, your mid-range wines should number no less than 8 different types, also a good idea to have at least two of each, meaning no less than 16 bottles at an average cost of $30.00 per bottle, so you are going to have about $500.00 tied up in inventory just for your mid-range wines.
  • Next comes your real special wines, those keepers that will last forever and that only get opened on the best of occasions. The sky is the limit here, and you can easily spend $1,000 or more on a first growth Bordeaux from a good year. However, for most people you will find some great wines in the $300.00 or less price range. You must be very careful setting your price ceiling for these specialty wines. If you spend too much on a wine and therefore you only get one, and really cannot afford to replace it, then you may never drink it. This means that you will agonize at every special occasion over whether or not to open this bottle, and you never do. Depending on your cellar conditions, you may kill your wine by keeping it too long. So be careful not to set your price limit on this category of wine too high, it must be low enough that you will open it when the right time comes, and something you can afford to replace. I would suggest having at least 4 different special occasion wines on hand, two or three of which should be red.
  • Wines to be gifted to someone generally go in the $50.00 range ($30.00 – $70.00), they cannot be too cheap as mentioned earlier, and if too expensive you can make the recipient feel very awkward.
  • Finally, what is your price point for a restaurant wine? Keep in mind that anything on the restaurant wine list is priced 2 to 3 times higher than what you pay to buy it from the local wine shop. Also keep in mind that if you are 4 people or more you will be opening two or more bottles of whatever you select. You must also be prepared for surprises like vintage substitutes, it is not unusual to start with one bottle of a great Bordeaux wine from the fabulous 2000, 2005, or 2010 vintages, then when it comes time to order a second bottle of the same wine the waiter tells you there are no more bottles from that same year, but you can have the 2011 or the 2013. No thanks, before ordering that wine in the first place always make sure the restaurant has more than just one bottle on hand. If you expect to drink 3 bottles, make sure they have 3 bottles or don’t order that wine.

 

Personally I have a problem paying too much for a restaurant wine, so I try to limit my price to $50.00 or less, knowing I am ordering a wine that costs $15.00 to $25.00 at the liquor store. If you are entertaining a client over a business transaction, in other words “wining and dining”, then you will no doubt be spending more, but be careful here not to go too far above $50.00 or the client might get the wrong impression (like maybe he paid too much for what you just sold him, why else would you be so lavish with the price of the wine!). Maybe I am old fashioned, but you should stay under $100.00 per bottle on an expense account meal. Once I hosted a business dinner for 4 in Toronto at an upscale restaurant and the wine bill alone was over $800.00. My boss was annoyed when it came time to sign off on the expense account (even though there was a legitimate reason for spending so much on wine) and it changed his opinion of me, creating the impression that I was a little reckless with company funds. You want to be careful with wine at expense account meals, too cheap and you don’t look good, too expensive and you may offend your client or guest, your boss, or even the tax auditor.

Price points are important, you must know your own. They will change as your financial circumstances change so they need to be periodically reviewed. If you just retired and now live on a very modest pension, you will naturally be downsizing your budget for wine, which means getting better value for your money. With less money to spend on wine, and more time available to drink it, you will need to find better quality wines for less. The solution to that problem is to drink as wide a variety of wines as you can when you are younger so you know what to drink when you get older and have change forced upon you.

So drink up and learn well!

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 26, August 4, 2016 – The Curse of the BYOB Party

Over several years I have acquired a wealth of knowledge from attending the BYOB (bring your own booze) party. From having attended dozens of parties amongst my circle of friends and family over a 40 year period, ranging in size from 15 to 50 people, I have become a little bit of an expert in the art of surviving the BYOB selection at the bar.

First you need to know, at a BYOB party there are no rules. The host does not inspect every bottle entering the party for quality, nor are bottles counted to verify that you have brought your quota. So it is literally a free for all, you could bring an empty bottle and probably get away with it. The normal sequence of events is you arrive, enter the home, put down your bag containing what you have brought on the floor inside the door while you remove coats, boots, etc. shake hands, hug and kiss those at the door coming to greet you. Now you make your way to the kitchen or bar area with your beer, wine, or liquor, usually in a bag (bottles should not be open and half consumed already). There is usually a collection of red wine bottles on the counter, many already opened and partially consumed.

If you are a trickster or a cheapskate, it is now easy for you to sneak your feeble offering into the lineup, even that half empty bottle that you started at home and did not like. It is best to place your offering in the back of the pack so it is not obvious what you brought. White wine is a little more difficult to lose in the pack because there is usually less of it, and it goes into either the fridge or an ice bucket which requires more shuffling about in the already crowded kitchen. Once your contributions are safely mixed into the pack with the others, you now get to inspect the lineup yourself in more detail.

At this point you will be amazed at what other people have brought. Everyone obviously has different tastes, and clearly quite a few have no taste at all. Just so you don’t have to hold on in suspense, let me make it clear right now that you should not bring your half empty 4 liter box of wine that you got from the grocery store, even if it did cost you $40.00. Boxed wine is too far over the top, and too embarrassing if someone sees you trying to sneak it onto the table.

The first rule you need to remember is that all the good stuff goes first. Good old Andy may prefer beer over wine, and you might think he knows nothing about wine because of that, but at one of these parties Andy zeroes in on the best bottles on the table in the right order, and when all the wine runs out then he will happily switch to beer. There might be 10 open bottles of red on the kitchen counter, and I’m willing to bet that almost every guy at that party has looked at each bottle and has a mental picture of best to worst, and that is the order in which they disappear. The worst thing you can do at this type of party is bring a decent bottle of wine, then have a couple of beers before switching to wine. By the time you have made the switch, the wine you brought is gone, and so are the next best two bottles.

Faced with these challenges here is what I recommend you do if you, the wine lover, want to bring a decent bottle of wine to a BYOB, and actually expect to get more than one half glass of it:

  • Always bring your wine in a bag so nobody can see what you have, you can strategically cover the wine with any food you are bringing as a contribution to the evening, or with flowers for the hostess, etc.
  • Carefully survey the kitchen counter, find the red wine bottles and quickly assess how many there are, how many are open, and how many, if any, are empty. The later you arrive the more likely there are to be a couple of empty bottles already. Take your bottle from the bag, place it at the back, and group all the unfinished reds together. Then pour yourself a small glass of the best bottle that is already opened, this is merely a diversion in case you are being watched.
  • When the coast is clear, open your bottle, make sure you are not being observed closely. This next part is tricky because you need to decide if you are going to leave your bottle at risk at the back of the pack, or if you are going to try hiding it elsewhere in the kitchen. Some of the best hiding places are behind the coffee maker, the kettle, or my favorite – the plant in the bay window. Try to avoid the inside of kitchen cabinets as the hostess may not appreciate you constantly going into her cupboards to get a refill.
  • Hiding your special bottle elsewhere in the house is also not recommended, because if found by anyone else it will almost certainly be returned to the front of the pack on the counter and before you know it has been moved, it will be empty.
  • One of my favorite techniques is to volunteer my services as head barbeque chef. Everyone has lots of respect for the chef, and lots of sympathy for the work he does while everyone else is partying. Of course the chef is captive at his station and cannot leave the dinner unsupervised on the grill while he goes to the bar for a refill, so it is perfectly acceptable to have a bottle on hand at the grill (outside) for the chef. But take care not to have it easily visible because everyone wants to visit the chef and see how the cooking is proceeding, and if they see you have a bottle on hand, they will want to try it themselves. So your bottle must be off to the side out of plain sight. Do not put it on the ground, people will kick it, and the dog will lick it.
  • At larger parties of 50 people or more it is not unusual for the hostess to have a bar set up with a bartender dispensing the wine, which he controls and keeps behind the bar. Don’t panic, all is not lost. This actually works better for you. Deposit your wine with the bartender (often one on the kids that lives at home if he is over 18) and tell him this is a special wine and the only bottle you can drink because it is so low in sulphites, otherwise you will get an instant migraine. This always works because the kid is so anxious to please his parents, and he gets all the free shots he wants for the evening.
  • If you are intent on hiding your bottle somewhere, you must keep your wits about you, otherwise you may lose your bottle by forgetting where you stashed it. That is not cool and is certainly not going to endear you to the hostess, nor your spouse.
  • Watch out for sabotage, that buddy of yours who knows you well enough to slyly watch where you stash your bottle, and then when you are not looking he helps himself to a glass and moves the bottle elsewhere so that he can finish it himself.
  • Since all the good stuff gets consumed first, by the time dinner is served there is often nothing left but Cuvée de Rotgut. There is a simple solution to that problem, couples bring 2 bottles, leaving one in the car to be retrieved before dinner is served. This may sound extreme, but I remember one party years ago when the only wines left by the time dinner was served was Le Cuvée des Patriotes red (a horrid SAQ bottled delight), Blue Nun, Black Tower, Mateus Rosé, and Baby Duck sparkling white. When that happens you never forget it, so you always need to have backup in the car. If 3 or 4 guys do that, the party is saved.

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To the younger crowd not well versed in how these BYOB parties work this must all sound ridiculous. Let me reassure you that these techniques listed above have been perfected over decades, and while this may sound very sneaky, this is the best way to ensure that you can bring a good enough bottle that you will enjoy without watching it disappear in front of you in 10 seconds or less.

Enjoy your next BYOB party!

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – post # 25, July 28, 2016 – Are you good enough to taste my wine?

Well the title says it all. This post may sound like it comes from a wine snob, and maybe it does. The point is, fine wine has a tendency to turn otherwise normal people into wine snobs.

At a recent barbeque dinner I found myself in conversation with a family member who had recently purchased a decent older bottle of wine from a reliable source and was now tormenting himself as to who he would invite to share it with him. In fact he was lamenting that having recently broken up with his girlfriend that she was now off the short list of candidates. He was asking me how to deal with the difficult task of appraising who might have sufficient knowledge and appreciation of wine to enjoy the opportunity and be worthy of an invitation.

Well naturally, my first inclination was to think of myself, but I did not need to because he suggested that I was the only suitable candidate he could think of, which saved me the embarrassment of volunteering myself. I graciously accepted and am pleased to have made the list. Just because I am on the list does not however get me a seat at the table. So this got me thinking and I immediately smiled and said that this would make a good topic for my wine blog.

When you look around at your family and circle of close friends trying to decide which ones like and appreciate fine wine you usually end up putting everyone into one of three categories, those who like and appreciate, those who have no clue and don’t care, and those who are in between. And let’s not forget the problem with couples when only one of the two is worthy of your wine. The social ramifications of inviting only the true wine connaisseurs are complicated and usually fatal to you the host, guaranteed to insult somebody.

Imagine if you will the following scenario. You have one 26 ounce bottle of premium red wine to enjoy. It is special, say a 1989 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, it could be opened fairly soon as it is fully developed and at its peak. You have paid several hundred dollars, so you actually thought of drinking the whole bottle yourself. You are not married and have recently broken up with your girlfriend, otherwise you would have had no choice but to split the wine over a romantic dinner with your companion, even if she may not have had as good a nose for wine as you do.

So now your mind wanders through your contact list, “who do I know who likes wine and would appreciate sharing this bottle with me”. Well let’s see, there’s Harry, but Harry never does anything without his wife Jenny, and Jenny has no clue about wine and never shuts up. So Harry is off the list. I could invite Paul, but he drinks like a fish and too fast, meaning either we will finish the bottle much too fast (I will have to drink my wine just as fast to keep up with him and make sure that I get half the bottle), or Paul will get three quarters of my fine bottle. And Paul will just be moving into first gear and will want us to get into at least two more bottles of lower quality wine, no doubt from my cellar, and not do justice to this fine bottle. So Paul is off the list. Sarah likes wine, but her spouse Tom does not, and I cannot invite just Sarah, even though I would like to now that I’m a free agent again. Nope, Sarah is off the list too.

And so on and on it goes. Family is even worse because you cannot invite just one sibling if you have three, you must invite them all or risk insulting the ones left out. You want to pick and choose who is worthy of inviting, but social etiquette says you may not do so without bearing the consequences, and those negatives will outweigh all the good in that special bottle. So what do you do?

Here are some options to consider:

  • Consider drinking the whole bottle yourself. If anyone corners you in future asking what happened to that expensive bottle, you can make up some feeble story like “I noticed the cork was drying out and there was some seepage from the bottle, causing me to think the wine was no longer good, so I tested it myself, and much to my surprise it was excellent, but of course it needed to be drunk right away”.
  • Plan an event around your bottle with three other friends who appreciate wine. Each attendee must bring a wine of similar cost and quality so this becomes a mini tasting. You will have four good wines with people who appreciate it and who have their own high quality wine at the table. Everyone gets a 6.5 ounce glass of wine from each of four wines. There will also be lots of chatter after the event, and this may even blossom into becoming an annual or semi-annual event to be repeated with other good wines.
  • You can throw caution to the wind, damn the torpedoes, and invite whoever you want regardless of consequences or who gets insulted. This works only for special people, those social misfits and miscreants who just don’t care who thinks what. Yes there actually are some of those special types out there, so don’t be shy about it, come out of that closet and proclaim your obnoxious self.
  • Be bold and generous, even if that is completely out of character for you, and pull out the bottle for your next special family celebration. Here you must have nerves of steel and pay no attention to the cheap seat comments from those in attendance who would rather be drinking a beer, or who immediately switch from your fine wine to wine from a box.

Above all else, do not brow beat yourself into a state of neutrality where you think yourself into such a dilemma that you decide to do nothing. Wine is made to be consumed, and the cost of the wine should not be any deterrent from doing so. When you have an expensive bottle to work with you should put more care and planning into the event (plan for success), but you should still hold the event.

Now let’s look into the 1989 Chateau Leoville Las Cases a little more closely for my barbeque friend last weekend. A quick check online reveals that the wine is worth about $300 CDN, rated an average 92 points by 6 critics, peak drinking from 2003 – 2018.

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Recent tasting notes describe a wine rich in tobacco, truffles, spice, red and black fruit, cassis, and very full bodied. A noted taster in 2014 declared that the wine should continue to drink well for another 10 – 20 years. Mouth filling and well balanced, ending on spicy, blackberry and black cherry notes, with a hint of chocolate. Even though 1989 is regarded as an overall very fruity year in Bordeaux, Leoville Las Cases can be a very tough wine until it opens up, so the wine should probably be decanted for one to two hours before tasting.

So this wine can be consumed now, in 2 years, 10 years, or even later. Needless to say, my friend’s options are open. So he has lots of time to find himself a new girlfriend, reconcile with his old girlfriend, save it to celebrate his Dad’s 70th birthday a few years from now, or bring it on over to my place for immediate gratification. When you compare the various options he has available to him, I am not holding my breath waiting for him to show up at my door.

But that’s just the way it goes when you have an expensive bottle of wine, everybody is your friend, wanting to get to know you (and your wine) better. Don’t be surprised if your wine gets invited out more often than you do.

Ah the choices we have and the decisions we must make!

Cheers,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – post # 24, July 22, 2016 – Microvin Inc. takes wine making kits to a whole new level.

One of the biggest challenges facing any serious wine lover is how to find good reliable wine for every day drinking purposes that will not break the bank. While it is great talking and reading about wine tastings and special occasion wines, what will you be drinking with your Saturday night steak, or your mid-week pasta? If you are like everyone else, you probably have 3 or 4 of your favorite types of “drinkers” on hand in the wine fridge or cellar, and this post is all about finding those “drinkers”, the endless quest to find a good wine that is inexpensive and ready to drink now. With 4 adult kids, family dinners at my place often include 10 adults, so good luck getting by with less than 3 or 4 bottles of wine at one of those dinners, and you don’t want to be spending over $100.00 on wine every time you have the family over for dinner.

Over the years I have bought and tried many cheap table wines that were mostly not that interesting. You want something reasonably good, not something that is raw, overly acidic, too young, with a variety of unpleasant odours and tastes that turns everyone away from the wine and has everyone saying “no thanks, I’ll just have a Perrier”. I also dabbled with making my own wine, from wine kits, trying to convince myself that these wines were okay, and constantly trying to figure out what I had done wrong in the production process. I would buy the juice concentrate in a large bucket, add water and produce about 32 bottles in a 5 gallon carboy over a 4-6 week period. I was not terribly impressed with my skills as the finished product tasted watery, too loose and unstructured. I was also unsure if it was my shortcomings or the juice concentrate itself. Aging did improve the wine marginally, but this certainly was not a good long term solution. However, the price at $5.00 per bottle was attractive, so it motivated me to keep searching for that elusive “home brew” solution to provide me with acceptable “drinkers”.

About 2 years ago I found Microvin Inc. when my kids bought me a wine kit for a Father’s Day present.

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Microvin is basically selling wine kits for home brewing but they also offer, for a fee, to allow you the use of their facilities to make the wine. What I liked immediately about the Microvin product was the option to have the ”home brew” part of the process done on their premises, therefore making use of their staff, facilities and equipment. This was a great improvement because I knew right away this would remove the “Reg” factor as the weak link in the finished product. The end result was a much better wine, our first wine was an Italian Pinot Grigio which was quite pleasant, but not yet up to the standard that I wanted for an everyday drinker. So I experimented further with more expensive kits, blends, longer production cycles (6 week products verses 4 week products), etc. Still I thought the wines were good, just not something to get overly excited about, but what more can you expect from a $5.00 bottle of wine.

Then one day about 8 months ago it happened, when ordering my next batch of Cabernet Sauvignon I was asked if I wanted to add in a Merlot “kicker”. What was that I wondered, and I was told the shop could add Merlot juice to create a blend that would end up being about 7% merlot, for an extra $10.00. Knowing that many great Bordeaux wines are a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Merlot or Cabernet Franc, I jumped on this as fast as I could. The result was fabulous, that Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend was miles above the straight Cabernet Sauvignon. There was more pepper and spice in the aroma as well as on the palate. There was also more fruit, a smoother aftertaste and an overall much improved tasting experience. I was so impressed I have reordered the same product and blend several times since then. I have found my Holy Grail, that elusive ultimate cheap “drinker” at about $5.00 per bottle.

I recently interviewed Pascal Drapeau, the owner of Microvin Inc. to learn more from him about his passion for wine and what sets Microvin Inc. head and shoulders above the competition for home brew wine kits. Here is some of what I learned from that interview:

Pascal’s father started the business in 1978, Pascal joined the business in 1989. Microvin Inc. is currently located in the Pointe Claire Shopping Center in Pointe Claire Quebec (a suburb of Montreal). They have about 2,500 active clients. From 1978 to 2002 they just sold you the wine kit and you brought it home to make yourself. In 2002 they began offering on site production as an added service, for a flat fee of $50.00, and their business took off. Today about 90% of sales come from wine kits, 5% from the sale of beer making kits, and 5% from the sale of accessories. 80% of the customers buying wine kits opt to have the kit made on site, only 20% make the wine themselves at home. Customers are buying 80% red wine kits, and only 20% white wine kits.

Pascal has about 4,000 square feet of store space, half of which is dedicated to the onsite production process.

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As you can see in the above photos, from kit on the shelf to carboys in the back all in a one stop shop.

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Pictured above is the primary fermentation room on the top and the bottling stations on the bottom, fully occupied.

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Above photos of numerous racks of carboys verifies that business is in fact booming!

Pascal has maximum production capacity of about 1,500 five gallon carboys at any given time, and he is currently running at between 75% and 90% capacity depending on the season.

Microvin Inc. is affiliated with the RJS Academy of RJ Spagnols, and to learn more about what they offer you should go to www.rjscraftmwinemaking.com . RJS affiliates number over 120 stores across Canada, and Pascal tells me that his store is the second largest in sales in the country. As an RJS Academy store, he is only allowed to carry RJS product, but that product range is quite extensive, consisting of over 160 different types of wine kits, over 8 different product lines that range from 4 to 8 weeks production cycles.

The home brew craft winemaking business is particularly popular in Canada since most of the wine sales in Canada are controlled through provincial liquor control boards, all of whom apply substantial markups and taxes on wine. This means that the average table wine that you can buy in Europe or the United States for $5.00 – $10.00 is going to cost you $15.00 – $20.00 in Canada. So high provincial tax rates on wine is what drives the growth in the craft winemaking business in Canada. In fact, Pascal confirms that every time a Quebec provincial budget applies a tax increase on wine and spirits, his sales immediately go up. This is pretty good economics if you ask me because we all know taxes always go up, never down.

Within the various product lines themselves, you will find almost all the standard single grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Carmeniere, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel in the reds, and Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat in the whites. They also have a variety of blends resulting in products like an Australian Cabernet Shiraz Merlot or a Chilean Cabernet Malbec Carmeniere. New products are added all the time, and older ones are dropped. They also offer specialty products such as port and icewine. Grapes are sourced and imported in bulk to the RJS production and packaging facility in Toronto, where the grape concentration and packaging takes place, and from there the wine kits are distributed to their store affiliates. Sometimes a product gets dropped because suitable grape supply is no longer available.

When it comes to the onsite winemaking process itself, the first priority ingredient to consider is the water source. At Microvin, Pascal has equipped himself with both his own distilling system that includes ultra violet light exposure (which cost him $25,000 years ago and is now worth considerably more today), plus an reverse osmosis system costing about $5,000.

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His water source is better, cleaner, free of contaminants and certainly better than the tap water you may use at home, and probably better than the bottled water you may want to use. Your water source is crucial to the finished product, and I am pleased to report that Pascal probably has the best water of any store in the RJS Academy chain with the equipment he is using.

Additives, and in particular sulphites, are another interesting feature in the home brew process. As everyone knows, sulphites are added to wines primarily to preserve the wine as it ages. In theory the faster you drink your wine the less sulphite needs to be added in the wine making process. The Quebec Liquor Board imports their own low end wine in bulk and they bottle it themselves, in the process they add sulphites normally in the range of 200 – 300 parts per million. Many people are quite sensitive to sulphites and often complain that wines heavy in sulphites give them severe headaches (some get migraine headaches). Microvin typically limits sulphites to 50 parts per million, and for sulphite sensitive people this can be reduced to 25 parts per million. This ranges anywhere from 75% to 90% less sulphites, so for sulphite sensitive people the ability to control the amount of this additive is a huge plus. The only thing you lose with less sulphites in the wine is storage and aging time, so you need to drink your 30 bottle batch within one year, which is good for Pascal’s business. This should also be good for you because this is an everyday type of wine, not a specialty product that you want or need to store for 5-10 years.

And I have saved the best for last, about a year ago Pascal and his team began experimenting with and offering his clients the ability to add customizing features into the wine production process. So for your California Cabernet Sauvignon it is now possible to add a merlot “kicker”, for your Italian Pinot Grigio you can now add a splash of Chardonnay, and so on. You can reduce sulphites. You can also add colour by adding extra berries, or add peppercorns to boost that peppery taste, or more oak to boost the oak and tannin level. Pascal can also easily accommodate further blending by mixing two different kits together to produce a blend of both kits. So instead of just adding the Merlot “kicker” to your California Cabernet Sauvignon, with the resulting 7% – 10% Merlot content, a blend of two kits together (one Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Merlot) would get you a 50/50 blend.

So far as we know, Pascal and his team are the only ones in the RJS chain in Canada who do any customization, and when you taste the difference these customized products make you will never be satisfied with just a regular wine kit again. Not only will his team manage and supervise the production process for you, but they will advise you what you can and cannot do in the way of customization because they have already done the experimentation for you. Their customized features, using their production facilities, benefitting from their experience, and having them manage the process for you are all huge benefits to you and go a long way towards ensuring you will have a very positive wine making experience.

And in the finished product, I found that the straight forward Cabernet Sauvignon was okay, but dry, tart, short on the palate, not special in any way, acceptable but not really enjoyable (which I would rate 6 on 10). That same Cabernet Sauvignon kit with a Merlot “kicker” was now more aromatic on the nose, full and vibrant in fruit on the palate, richer with a more satin feel on the tongue, smooth, fruity, and robust (which I would rate 8.5 on 10). Wow, what a great improvement, and a product I am very satisfied with as an everyday drinker. The price is also hard to beat, coming in at about $5.00 per bottle.

So in summary, for your everyday wine consumption consider craft wine making. Find a shop that offers the wine making service on site (most RJS Academy stores do offer this service), be careful to verify the water source they use, and verify what experience (if any) they have with customized blending and additives. Unless you are at Microvin your craft wine making shop will probably not have any experience with customized features, so you should tell them to contact Pascal for more information. Pascal and Microvin would appear to be leading the industry, and the results speak for themselves. Once you have checked out your local craft wine making shop, if all looks good, go for it and try it out, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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If you are fortunate enough to live in the greater Montreal area, you should check out Microvin. You can reach Pascal and his team at 514-695-4467, by email at microvin@videotron.ca , their website address is www.microvin.com and they are located at 245-0 St. John’s Blvd. Pointe Claire, Quebec in the Pointe Claire Shopping Plaza. Tell them Reg sent you!

Good hunting,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – post # 23, more on the Bordeaux 2015 vintage as the top estates announce release prices.

Last week most of the remaining top estates announced release prices for their 2015 wines. The trend continues with huge increases ranging from 40% to 70%, not a happy trend for the consumer and wine collector. Liv-ex released an extensive blog post Monday June 27th (which you can read in detail using the following link: http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/category/releases/bordeaux-2015-en-primeur?mc_cid=66d7916d9a&mc_eid=d9373685f8 ). In their post you can read how Chateau Lafite Rothschild has released their 2015 vintage at a 50% increase, Chateau Ausone at a 63.3% increase, and Chateau Cheval Blanc at a 53% increase.

Ironically in the case of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, both the 2014 and 2015 vintage have been rated at 95 points by The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin, and the 2014 vintage (which will not hit retail shelves for another full year) will be about 25% cheaper than the 2015 vintage when it hits the store shelves two years from now. So high price increases for the 2015 vintage are creating some interesting opportunities for buyers if you look at older vintages such as 2012, 2013, and 2014. Watch out for the 2013 vintage, there are some poor wines in that vintage, but 2012 and 2014 in particular will have some much better bargains.

This same Liv-ex blog also relates how a poll they conducted of their top 440 wine merchant members (some of the largest wine merchants in the world) showed that 98.4% of those merchants underestimated how much the 2015 vintage prices would be increased. The group collectively anticipated increases from growers of roughly 18%, and what we got were increases averaging 46% higher, which is more than double what the trade had expected. Are growers getting greedy? Maybe. Is demand from China and other developing countries putting upward pressure on prices? Maybe. Are speculators who want to grab up all the top rated wines to flip back into the market for a quick buck, taking advantage of high scores from wine critics? Probably.

Human nature being what it is, growers will charge what the market will bear, arguing that weather, economic cycles, and other factors all conspire against them and can create very difficult and widely fluctuating costs and revenues, ergo the need to make as much money as they can when times are ripe (no pun intended).

Liv-ex also released another blog post on Bordeaux 2015 release prices on June 16th with more sticker shock (which you can read through the following link: http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/category/releases/bordeaux-2015-en-primeur/page/2?mc_cid=30dad2140a&mc_eid=d9373685f8 . Here you will note that Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou is up 70%, Chateau Mouton Rothschild is up 60%, Chateau Haut Brion is up 60%, and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion is up a staggering 107%.

And among all this stunning price activity, Chateau Pontet Canet sold out its first tranche release at 75 euros and announced a second tranche release at 88 euros. Readers of my last blog post # 22 will note that I flagged Chateau Pontet Canet as a great alternative with a great wine score (95) at an attractive price. The price for their 2014 vintage was 66 euros ex-negotiant, and as you can see the first tranche release at 75 euros represented a modest 13.6% increase, and their second tranche release at 88 euros is still only 33% higher than their 2014 price. Relative to what many of the other growers are doing, Chateau Pontet Canet remains my top choice for those looking to buy 2015 Bordeaux futures.

In Canada, this week the LCBO starts selling their 2015 Bordeaux futures offering to the public. Clicking on the link below will take you to their offering:  http://www.vintages.com/futures/bordeaux-futures-2015/2015bordeaux_list.shtml?utm_source=June24&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Bordeaux2015 .

I have gone through the offering in detail, and here are my thoughts:

  • Among the big names, Chateau Ausone (96) at $1,250 and Chateau Cheval Blanc (98) at $1,200, both from St. Emilion, appear to be overpriced compared to their counterparts elsewhere. Chateau Margaux (99), Chateau Haut Brion (99) and Chateau Mouton Rothschild (98) are all priced at $950, and this will look like a good price in 2018 when these same bottles hit the retail shelves at 30% higher in price. Since these are near perfect wines, they are interesting, and one advantage of buying through the LCBO in Ontario is that they can be bought by the bottle.
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  • Chateau Lafite Rothschild (95) at $999 appears to be a lesser quality choice for more money, but then again you are paying for the name. If you prefer a top wine for less money, take a look at Chateau La Mission Haut Brion (98) at $699, rated just as high as Chateau Mouton Rothschild but $256 per bottle cheaper.
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  • In Pauillac, besides the big names, you can find good value with Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron (97) at $249, Chateau Pontet-Canet (95) at $185, and Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste (95) at $115.
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  • In the Margaux region, take a look at Chateau Rausan-Segla (97) at $139, and in St. Julien I think Chateau Leoville Barton (95) at $129 also looks worthwhile.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 23-3
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  • In the Graves region, you should also be looking at Chateau Pape Clement (96) at $139, Domaine de Chevalier (96) at $109, and Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere (95) at $79.
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  • In the St. Emilion region I really like Chateau Canon (99) at $175, and also worth noting are Chateau Figeac (98) at $249, and Clos Fourtet (96) at $175.
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  • In Pomerol take a closer look at Chateau Le Gay (95) at $179, Chateau Clinet (96) at $149, and Chateau Clos L’Eglise (95) at $139.
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  • Second wines from the big estates seem to me to be overpriced, with Le Petit Mouton (second wine of Chateau Mouton Rothschild at 92 points) and Pavillon Rouge (second wine of Chateau Margaux at 93 points) both going for $249 per bottle.

So if you shop carefully and quickly, there are some good values to be had. The sale starts Wednesday June 29th, the best deals will be gone within 3 hours, that is why I have highlighted at least a dozen selections above worth considering. My favorites from the above list are Pontet-Canet, Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Malartic-Lagraviere.

So there you have it, the 2015 Bordeaux vintage will be very good, and very expensive when it hits retail shelves in 2018. If you feel you should buy futures to lock in a 30% discount to retail prices, there are some good deals available through the LCBO in Ontario, but you will have to move fast, as in right now.

Good hunting and good luck.

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 22, Bordeaux Wine Prices and the 2015 vintage – up, up and away!

You may or may not have heard, the 2015 Bordeaux vintage for classified growths is being priced now, and various properties are releasing their opening prices. The good news: a very good year for Bordeaux classified growths if you go by what Neal Martin of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate has to say. The bad news: wine prices are headed up, in some cases way up.

The Liv-Ex wine blog out of the UK does an excellent job of tracking wine prices, and they also track how responsive wine prices are to wine critic scores, and Robert Parker’s scores in particular. The most recent Liv-Ex blog on opening wine prices ex-negociant can be read by using the following link, http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/category/releases/bordeaux-2015-en-primeur. The dramatic price increases being described are averaging 30% higher, and in some cases (like Chateau Margaux), they are much higher (by 83.6%). Will the 2015 Chateau Margaux be too expensive for most people?

Let’s look at Chateau Margaux for a moment, with an opening price to the trade up a staggering 83.6% from last year. The Chateau is selling to the negociant at 384 euro per bottle, the negociant is applying his 17% markup and selling futures at 4,260 pounds sterling per case of 12. That futures price equates to $6,050.00 US or $7,750.00 CDN per case, but that is not the price you will pay, that is the price that your wine importer will pay, companies like Chateau and Estate Wines in the US or the LCBO or SAQ in Ontario and Quebec. These companies will apply their own markup, and those markups vary widely. Let’s assume you get lucky and the local markup is only 25% on the futures offering, so you will be paying $7,562.50 US or $9,687.50 CDN per case. On a per bottle basis that works out to $630 US or $807 CDN per bottle. Those are for Bordeaux futures, which means pay now and wait 18 months for your wines to be delivered, ouch!

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But there is more, if you choose to wait for the wine to be released on the store shelves before buying, the price you will pay will be higher, usually another 25% higher because the retailer will be paying more to buy the wine than the futures price, and applying his own markup accordingly. That means you can expect to find 2015 Chateau Margaux hitting retail store shelves in September 2018 at about $800 US or over $1,000 CDN. Wow, over $1,000 per bottle for wine that you will have to store no less than 10 years before you dare try to enjoy it. Are you in price shock yet? I know I certainly am.

So how good is the wine? For this price it had better be really good. Neal Martin has recently replaced Robert Parker as The Wine Advocate’s Bordeaux critic, and according to Neal the wine is rated 98-100 points from barrel samples. It is normal for the wine to be initially given a range (in this case from 98-100 points) until the wine itself is bottled a year from now. According to Neal you should “Beg for a bottle and worry about the cost later.” Clearly Neal expects the wine to fly off the order shelves and be impossible to get. It also appears that Chateau Margaux may be the top Bordeaux wine of the vintage. And if all this were not convincing enough, Margaux’s winemaker and head of operations Paul Pontallier passed away on March 27th 2016 at 60 years of age after running Chateau Margaux for 33 years. Paul will be sorely missed and 2015 will therefore be his last vintage as winemaker and head of operations, again adding to the importance and sentimental value of the 2015 Chateau Margaux.

Okay, this wine sounds pretty good, however we now have another problem. The more Neal talks about how good this wine is, the higher the price will go and the more difficult it will become to find any, especially if Chateau Margaux turns out to be the best Bordeaux wine of 2015. Neal will also be tasting and rating this wine again once it is bottled and before it is released on store shelves, so do not be surprised if the retail prices I have mentioned above turn out to be lower than the actual retail prices once the hype has moved into top gear. I would not be surprised to see 2015 Chateau Margaux at $1,000 US and $1,250 CDN on the store shelves just in time for Christmas 2018. Indeed when Neal says “beg for a bottle”, a bottle may be all you can ever hope to get, and it may also be all you can afford.

So have Bordeaux prices gone too high? How high is too high? I remember 30 years ago often being in New York City, Washington, and Buffalo on business and buying the 1982 vintage of Chateau Margaux, Lafite Rothchild, Mouton Rothchild, Latour, Haut Brion and Cheval Blanc at $40 US per bottle. That’s right, $40 US per bottle, and at the time Robert Parker was calling the 1982 vintage “the vintage of the century” and had rated all the top wines at 95 points or more.

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If the 2015 Chateau Margaux hits store shelves in the US at $1,000 US per bottle, the price will be 25 times higher than the 1982 vintage was selling for in 1986. That is crazy, and that is also too high for most people.

So is it time to say goodbye to your favorite classified Bordeaux estates? Maybe, and for those devotees reluctant to jump ship, you can resort to buying the Chateau’s second wine. In the case of Chateau Margaux that would be Pavillon Rouge, which is much cheaper, but will still end up hitting the retail shelves in 2018 at a minimum of $200 US or $260 CDN per bottle. That will be a 45% increase (certainly much more reasonable than the 83.6% increase for Chateau Margaux), and the wine itself is rated by Neal at 93 points, certainly a respectable score but not a potential 100 point wine. Still, you get five bottles for the price of one, something worth considering.

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In terms of volume of production and therefore availability, there are 200,000 bottles of Pavillon Rouge produced annually (16,667 cases) verses only 150,000 bottles (or 12,500 cases) of Chateau Margaux produced. So you will have an easier time getting Pavillon Rouge with 33% higher production, and less demand because all the action is going to focus on the “grand vin”.

What other options are available for the price conscious consumer without straying too far from Bordeaux classified growths?My first suggestion is to look for a chateau with higher annual production, this generally means staying away from most Pomerols. Look for less than perfection, so avoid 100 Parker point wines, and look for underrated value, such as a 5th growth wine producing at 2nd growth or better quality level. A good example of this is Chateau Pontet-Canet, a 5th growth from Pauillac, with annual production of 240,000 bottles or 20,000 cases.

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It is also worth keeping an eye on the estate’s 2nd wine, Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, which also produces 240,000 bottles or 20,000 cases annually.

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Neal Martin rates the 2015 Chateau Pontet-Canet at 94-96 points, pretty high quality, in fact a perfect place to be, any higher a rating would be having a much more pronounced impact on price. The estate also has an excellent quality track record, having delivered 100 point wines in both 2009 and 2010, so they are right now at the top of their game. Initial futures pricing is at 795 pounds sterling per case, which according to my calculations above for Chateau Margaux, would lead to retail prices at about $150 US and $200 CDN per bottle. So for the value oriented consumer, the 2015 Chateau Pontet-Canet is going to hit retail shelves at least 20% cheaper than Pavillon Rouge, and it is higher rated by Neal Martin (94-96 verses 93). In terms of comparison with Chateau Margaux itself, you will be able to buy at least 6 bottles of Chateau Pontet-Canet for the same price as one bottle of Chateau Margaux, at what amounts to a slightly lower score (94-96 verses 98-100).

Are Bordeaux prices out of control? Yes, for now they are, but they operate in cycles and 3 or 4 poor growing years from now prices could be a lot lower again, so don’t despair. There are lots of bargains to be found if you have a mind, and the will, to shop carefully. With lots of second wines available today for most of the major estates, there are many more ways today to find value with classified growth Bordeaux than there were 20 or 30 years ago.

So good hunting,

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 21, June 7, 2015 – Hugel Gewurztraminer 2013 rated best wine at a recent white wine tasting.

With summertime fast approaching, friends and family decided it would be smart to have a white wine tasting to give everyone some new wine ideas to enjoy in their summer leisure time.

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I was asked to put a list of wines together, available locally, priced in the $15.00 to $25.00 range (CDN) for 15 people. I also wanted to cover several different grape types, and yet give our guests good information on different expressions of the same grape from different wine regions. Not an easy task given that you would also be heavily restricted simply by what was available at the local wine shop.

There was no dinner planned with the tasting, but there were plenty of munchies and entrées, some of which were deliberately put together to compliment a specific wine. See below the wines in the order in which they were tasted along with my tasting notes and comments:

  • McWilliam’s Hanwood Riesling – 2014 / $16.10 / product number 10754607 / Australian Riesling / medium fruit, not dry, light, tart and short on the aftertaste, an honest uncomplicated new world Riesling at a reasonable price, liked by most tasters / my rating 7.5 on 10.

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  • Trimbach Riesling – 2012 / $22.80 / product number 11305547 / dry Alsace Riesling from a highly regarded producer / steely dry and mouth puckering Riesling, a very good example of classic dry Alsatian Riesling from a great year, this wine goes great with most seafood, balanced and pleasant aftertaste / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Umberto Cesari Liano Rubicone – 2012 / $23.75 / product number 1161761 / Italian Chardonnay and Sauvignon blend / lovely full glycerine legs down the inside of the glass advertised the rich full bodied nature of the wine, a great mix and balance of the power of the Chardonnay grape with the softer more acidic Sauvignon Blanc, showed good balance, finesse, and elegance, would be delicious with chicken in a mushroom sauce / my rating 8.5 on 10.

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  • Conundrum California – 2013 / $25.05 / product number 10921073 / California blend of 25% each of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Voignier / this wine works very well with each grape contributing to the finished product in a noticeable way, the wine is full fruit and nicely balanced with the Chardonnay delivering the fruit, the Muscat and Voignier delivering the smoke, spice and body, with the Sauvignon Blanc delivering the crispness and acidity needed to balance the fruit, overall a very pleasant blend, perfect for summertime tasting by the lake or pool / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Sonoma – 2014 / $20.05 / product number 897215 / medium Chardonnay fruit, refined, no overkill, shows finesse and balance, not a fruit bomb or an over achiever, an established producer making a predictable, agreeable lighter and stylist Chardonnay / my rating 8.25 on 10.

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  • Coppola Diamond Chardonnay – 2014 / $23.25 / product number 10312382 / great legs indicating high viscosity and glycerine content, good medium Chardonnay nose, not over oaked, a little off balance on the aftertaste, I was expecting more fruit than we got / my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson – 2015 / $19.75 / product number 11662018 / New Zealand Pinot Gris / the wine is very young and only recently bottled and it showed, but there is very good fruit on the palate, good smoky spice flavours, nicely balanced, worked very well with a shrimp cocktail sauce, lots of potential but needs more time in the bottle / my rating 8.5 on 10.

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  • Bolla Retro Pinot Grigio – 2015 / $16.95 / product number 12494714 / this wine was loose and watery and that cannot be blamed on the very young vintage, we also tasted this in the wrong order as we should have tasted it before the New Zealand Pinot Gris above, there was not much nose, disappointing on the palate and sharp on the aftertaste, my rating 6.5 on 10.

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  • Preiss-Zimmer Pinot Gris Reserve – 2013 / $23.50 / product number 967414 / Alsace Pinot Gris / this was softer and fruitier than expected, very good smoke and spice on the nose that is lost and not present on the palate as there is too much sweetness on the palate, if this had been vinified a little drier it would have been more of a success, my rating 8 on 10.

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  • Hugel Gewurztraminer – 2013 / $21.00 / product number 00329235 / great legs in the glass indicating high glycerine content, very pure expressive fruit showing lychees and rose petals on the nose and palate, crisp and lasting aftertaste, by far the most expressive wine of the evening, goes great with any spicy or curry dish / my rating 9 on 10.

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  • Langlois Vieilles Vignes – 2009 / $27.55 / product number 856674 / Loire Valley Chenin Blanc / a dry chenin blanc, good pure fruit expression, very fragrant nose, thick viscous legs indicating a high glycerine content, beguiling, old vine quality shines through, wished it was sweeter / my rating 8.75 on 10.

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As you can see from the list and my notes I wanted to get several different grapes in front of our tasters, so we got Riesling (in 2 wines), Chardonnay (in 2 wines), Pinot Gris or Grigio (in 3 wines), Gewurztraminer (in 1 wine), Chenin Blanc (in 1 wine), and two blends that also gave us exposure to Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and Viognier. I also wanted to show different styles from different regions, allowing the tasters to compare Australian Riesling with Alsatian Riesling, New Zealand Pinot Gris to Alsace and Italian, etc.

Overall the Hugel Gewurztraminer was the best wine of the evening as everyone agreed, rated 9 on 10, followed by the Langlois Chenin Blanc, rated at 8.75 on 10, then two wines at 8.5 on 10 each, the Umberto Cesari Liano Rubicone and the Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson.

The overall quality of the wines tasted was very good, the blends were great, very pleasant crowd pleasers. Everyone remarked that they enjoyed almost every wine in the lineup. There were some obvious food matches, such as the Gewurztraminer with curry and spicy dishes, or the Pinot Gris Waimea Nelson with shrimps and cocktail sauce. The blends (the Conundrum and the Liano) were also very smooth, well balanced, showing great versatility with several different food types.

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A very successful summer tasting of mid priced white wines, capped off by the birthday of one of our tasters, allowing us to throw a chocolate cake into the mix for good measure.

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Good wine, good friends and family, equals a great time and lots of good memories.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 20, May 31, 2016, Birthyear and Anniversary Wines

One of the main reasons to have a wine collection is to have a bottle of something special to celebrate special occasions, such as wedding anniversaries and birthdays. When I first became interested in collecting fine wine in the early 1980’s the first thing I did was start purchasing 1979 first growth Bordeaux to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Because 1979 was not recognized as a resounding success in Bordeaux, I decided it would make sense to purchase several different wines including Chateau Margaux, Latour, Lafite Rothchild, and Haut Brion. That way, I would have a good variety and could hold onto Latour longer if it showed better aging potential than the others (which indeed turned out to be the case).

 

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The Lafite is rated at 90 points and currently priced at $860, the Latour is rated at 91 points and priced at $560, the Haut Brion is rated at 92 points and priced at $510, and the Margaux is rated at 94 points and priced at $585. I have tasted all four more than once and in my opinion the best wine of the four is the Haut Brion, while the weakest is the Lafite. The last time I tasted the Margaux a couple of years ago I thought it was tiring fast and a mere shadow of what it used to be. The Latour looks to be the longest aging of the bunch (and Latour is noted for this characteristic) and looks capable of surviving nicely for another 10 years. The Lafite, which I described in detail recently in my blog post #18, is also losing steam and fading away, although it is still a very nice wine. Only the Haut Brion appears to be holding onto most of its fruit flavors and aromas while the other three all show signs of decline. It is also interesting to note that the weakest wine of the four (the Lafite) is also currently the most expensive, and by a wide margin. At $860 the Lafite is 55% more expensive than the average price of the other three, no doubt this is the “Chinese effect” in action, which will be the subject of a future Reg’s Wine Blog post.

I was born in 1954 and my wife in 1955. 1954 was a disaster for wine throughout Europe so literally nothing survives today, except for one or two vintage Madeira wines that are rare, expensive, and hard to find. So I am out of luck finding anything from my birth year. 1955 was a much better year, and we still have a couple of bottles left from that year, one Lafite and one Latour.

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Those wines are long since past their prime and may no longer be suitable for opening to celebrate anything. Opening them may be more of a gamble and experiment than anything else. (take note: an old wine to celebrate an event can kill the event if it has turned to vinegar, so be prepared with a backup plan). In any event the wines are both rated 94 points on www.winesearcher.com and valued at roughly $2,000 per bottle, both are still drinkable, but soft and fading, so plan to drink them soon.

We have four children born in the years 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1991. My wife and I decided we would buy a case of fine wine for each child from their birth year and give it to them on their 18th birthday to keep for birthday celebrations as long as the wine would last. Naturally the wine would need to be purchased early (for best prices and availability), cellared for many years, and opened once or twice over its first 20 years of life to ensure it was maturing properly.

1983 was an above average year in Bordeaux, and an excellent year for dessert wines in Alsace and Germany. For my eldest I opted for the 1983 Chateau Margaux, which at the time was rated the top wine of the year in Bordeaux. Chateau Margaux had also undergone a change of ownership in 1976 when it was bought by the Felix Potin company, headed by Greek industrialist Andre Mentzelopoulos, and had been upgraded and improved in quality under this new management to the point that both the 1978 and 1979 vintages of Chateau Margaux were considered a major success and major improvement over a string of bad efforts over the previous 20 years. Today Chateau Margaux remains the best Bordeaux wine of the vintage and a good choice. Rated at 95 points and valued at $780 per bottle CDN the wine displays cocoa, chocolate mint, truffles, cassis, tobacco and cedar on both the nose and the palate, and is easily good for another 10 years.

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1985 was considered a very forward, fruity, and somewhat lighter vintage in Bordeaux, and good for Vintage Port. The challenge here was to select a wine that would not lose its fruit in 20 years. After considerable research I opted for the 1985 Chateau Mouton Rothchild, viewed by most of the critics as the top first growth Bordeaux of the vintage. I also picked up a few Vintage Ports as a hedge for the future in case the Bordeaux wine dried out and lost its fruit. So far so good, the fruit remains intact and the wine, like my son, is 31 years of age and aging gracefully. The wine is rated at 93 points and valued at $565 CDN per bottle, and described as fully mature, displaying tobacco, cigar box, cedar, cherry and cassis aromas with a medium body and an elegant classy feel to it, drinking perfectly now and will continue to do so for another 10 years.

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1987 was not a good year for wine in Europe. There are some Vintage Ports, which I picked up, but otherwise my search led me to California where 1987 was actually a pretty good vintage. After careful consideration I opted for the 1987 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The main concern anyone would have is trying to determine if the wine would still be worth cellaring beyond 25 years of age. At the time California reds were known for their “fruit bomb” robust fruit forward flavors, great to drink immediately, but not much experience was in the public domain as to how well they would age. Even the world’s foremost wine critic on California wines, Robert Parker, was not projecting great long lifespans beyond 15-20 years, so selecting a California red at that time was considered risky. But there was not much choice with Europe being a write off. We have kept an eye on this wine over the last 10 years as it is now 29 years of age, and even though the wine is tired and showing its age, it is still in fine shape, a little less fruit today than 10 years ago, but still a classy wine. Rated at 92 points and worth $200 CDN per bottle, the wine displays black cherry fruit, some tar, and is both elegant and balanced, with a slight tannic edge to it that disappears after about 2 hours of decanting. In time the tannins will disappear and this wine should survive another 10 years as well.

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1991 was again a poor year in Bordeaux, so once again I found myself opting for a California red, this time opting for the 1991 Dominus. Fortunately, 1991 is also a very good year for Vintage Ports, so I added a few of those as insurance in case the Dominus dried out. The 1991 Dominus is rated at 94 points and worth $420 CDN per bottle, the wine displays lots of fruit and power. Perhaps the best tasting description I have read on line about this wine comes from Natalie Maclean, click on the following link to read her full article from November 26, 2014: www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/dominus-wine-napa-tasting-napanook. Natalie describes the wine as mind blowing, stunning, sensational, with great length, and aromas of leather, mushrooms and spices.

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The kids all wanted us to continue to store their wine for them, which is fine but it does take up cellar space. Being the custodian of their birthyear wines also brings the responsibility of storing it, checking them periodically to ensure no leakage or seepage, and discouraging them from wanting to sell the wine to pay for a car or a credit card bill. Spouses also have little or no attachment to the sentimental family value the birthyear wine represents, so this is another reason to want to cellar the wine out of sight and out of mind with Mum and Dad.

I have often wondered if I were doing this all over again today what would I do differently in terms of selection strategy. First of all, price for first growth Bordeaux is now a major problem, putting that option out of reach for most young families. I still maintain that early purchase of the wines is better than later when prices have already started to climb. But buying a case of 2015 Chateau Margaux or Chateau Mouton Rothchild will not come cheaply, certainly not less than about $700 per bottle or $8,400 CDN per case. If the critics rate the wine highly in a good year, that price could be 30-40% higher. So my best recommendation would be to gravitate to a Vintage Port or Madeira where the price range is going to be much less, in the $150 per bottle range.  An added advantage is that the Vintage Port should probably outlive the first growth Bordeaux in most cases. In our case, good Vintage Port was made in all four years, 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1991.

Another point to bear in mind besides purchase price is price appreciation. If you buy a wine at $100 per bottle for long term storage and 30 years later it is worth $400, you and your family are more likely to open and drink a bottle than if that same wine has appreciated to $1,500. At $1,500 you have a tendency to want to save it, or sell it, but not drink it. It becomes too tempting to your young son of 30 years of age to want to sell his $18,000 worth of wine to buy that new car, or put a down payment on his first house purchase.

So if you are ever in the market to purchase special occasion wines for birthyears or anniversaries, think carefully about your objectives and consider the following questions:

  • How long do I intend to store this wine. The longer you intend to keep the wine the more you should gravitate to fortified wines like Vintage Port.
  • Do I have adequate reliable long term cellar capability. If you expect to be downsizing and selling the family home then storage that is not a problem today may become a problem in future. 30 year old wine that is starting to dry out and lose its fruit needs to be stored under the best of cellar conditions to maximize the years of life it has left.
  • Be prepared to try the wine, certainly from age 20 onwards. There is nothing wrong with your son or daughter having only 9 or 10 bottles of their birthyear wine left by the time they reach 30, as long as those first 2 or 3 bottles have been consumed at birthday celebrations. If your child waits until 40 years of age to try the wine and it turns out to be disappointing, then all the good intentions and careful cellaring will have been for nothing.

Once again, as I have said before, special occasion wines are meant to be consumed, so make a point of planning a suitable event where you and those special people in your life can all enjoy the wine and the cherished company of loved ones. Good wine plus good company equals good memories, and those cannot be taken away from you, those memories will stay with you always, wherever you may be.

Cheers,

Reg.