Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 48 – Wine Fraud, Happens More Than You Think, June 23, 2017.

If you subscribe to Netflix then take the time to watch the documentary “Sour Grapes”, it is all about the wine con artist Rudy Kurniawan, originally from Jakarta, who came to America in the early 2000’s and promptly began to execute the largest wine fraud in modern times, for which he was tried and convicted in 2014 to 10 years in jail in a California prison. Rudy is the first person to ever be convicted of “wine fraud” in the US, rest assured lots more wine fraud takes place, but most people get away with it.

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First, let’s focus on Rudy because his case was so bizarre. When Rudy arrived on the wine scene in Los Angeles, he had lots of cash with him, so clearly either someone had bankrolled him, or he had already ripped off lots of people before coming to America. Rudy bought lots of wine at local auctions and began hosting lavish dinners at expensive restaurants serving fabulous wines. He spent millions building his image as a wine expert and collector. One major red flag was completely missed by everyone at the time, he had the restaurants save the corks, foils, and empty bottles for him, and nobody wondered why.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 48-3

 There are several good articles about Rudy’s wine fraud exploits, start with this one if you want to read more about it: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/wine-fraud-rudy-kurniawan-vintage-burgundies.

Rudy operated a counterfeit lab in his basement where he used the empties to rebottle cheaper wine that masqueraded as rare old collectables worth a fortune.

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Rudy had fake labels made, aged to look old and tattered, lead foils, wax seals, all expertly faked to look like the real deal. Then he sold them at auctions across the US. At one auction held by Acker Merrall & Condit in 2006 Rudy sold $24.7 million US in wine, beating the previous record by $10 million, all fakes. When you sell that much fake wine, sooner or later something is going to go wrong, and indeed lots went wrong.

To begin with Rudy was creating fakes from years when the Chateau never produced any wine, and in some instances he sold fakes in large size bottles when the Chateau had never bottled the larger sized bottles. Most major wineries keep thorough records of their total production for the year, particularly in larger sized bottles. Tragically the auction companies were not able to spot the fakes (which shows a dismal attention to detail on their part) and all Rudy’s fakes sold through to buyers and collectors from all over the world.

Two people in particular picked up on some of the irregularities. Bill Koch, a wealthy American wine collector, bought some of Rudy’s fakes. He hired an investigator who discovered large sized bottles in his cellar from years when the Chateau never bottled large bottles. He also discovered through forensic testing that old labels had been glued onto bottles using modern glues. Laurent Ponsot from Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy also noticed that several bottles of his Clos St. Denis from older vintages between 1945 and 1971 were being sold by Rudy at auction. The only problem with this was that Domaine Ponsot only began producing their Clos St. Denis in 1982. Well hello, major red flag here!

So on the surface looking at this case from a distance, you might ask yourself how anyone could get taken so easily, and why were so many supposed experts fooled for so long. Well for starters, it would appear that Rudy made good wine, and his bottling efforts were superb. His labels were given that aged look, a little scuffed up, a little stain here and there, the odd small nick or tear. Corks were labeled, foils were crumpled up to look older.

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Every attention to detail was paid in the faking of the wine and the bottling. The wine itself actually tasted very good, enough to wow everyone at public events he hosted where his fakes were tested on the experts. Rudy mixed his wines, buying something cheap, adding something better, bringing it to the combined taste he was trying to fake. So in some sense he worked very hard at paying attention to detail.

With so much attention to detail in faking the wines, how on earth could he screw up so badly by faking a wine that never existed in the first place. To me this is just basic common sense research, and obviously Rudy was lacking in basic common sense.

But how about those auction houses, when you buy wine from a reputable auction house you pay a buyer’s premium in addition to the hammer (purchase) price, sometimes as much as a 30% premium, and for that handling fee that the auction house charge, you are paying for their expertise in assuring the wine is legitimate, fit for resale (not spoiled, etc.), and that it comes from a reputable source. In that process the auction house must certainly verify that the wine in question comes from a year when it was actually produced. For wines Rudy faked from years when a producer never produced any wine, the auction house has clearly been duped and not done their verification job properly. Ouch, someone is liable for negligence here, and the litigation was in full swing.

Now how about those buyers, those astute collectors with huge cellars, those guys who want a bottle of every Ponsot Clos St. Denis vintage that Ponsot ever produced. You would think that some of these guys would know that Ponsot only started bottling his Clos St. Denis in 1982. Nope, apparently not. You would also think that a collector wanting to buy a bottle of the 1949 Ponsot Clos St. Denis would ask the auction house for any tasting notes available before buying, since nobody had any tasting experience with the wine (because it was a fake wine from a vintage that did not exist). Nope, apparently not. And what about the auction catalogue itself, normally it would include tasting notes and general appearance (high shoulder fill, bin soiled labels, etc.) of the wine included in that lot. Nope, no tasting notes for you, no rating of 95 points from highly regarded wine critics, you just get to fly blind with this mystery wine, and pay thousands of dollars per bottle for the privilege of doing so. Wow, and some big name collectors fell victim to this not so clever fraud.

So it should come as no surprise that Rudy got 10 years in jail for wine fraud, but what does come as a surprise is that he was the largest seller at that Acker Merrall and Condit wine auction in 2006 for $24.7 million US worth of wine (all of it fake), beating the previous maximum by at least $10 million US, and nobody suspected a thing. Amazing, slick, smooth, and a lot of people got taken. Any anti-fraud safeguards that may have been in place at that auction were completely ineffective. Amidst all that fake wine, most reports were that the wine tasted very good, so it would appear that Rudy did have some talent as a blender with a good palate.

Over 10,000 bottles of Rudy’s fake wine went to landfills or was destroyed.

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Another famous “suspected” wine fraud was conducted by Hardy Rodenstock, who sold rare old Bordeaux wines at auction to the likes of Malcolm Forbes and Bill Koch in the mid 1990’s.

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The wine was allegedly from the Thomas Jefferson collection, dating to the late 1790’s, each bottle etched with the letters “Th.J”. Hardy is a German citizen and when Bill Koch finally did get around to suing Hardy in US court, Mr. Rodenstock was a “no show”. Bill had learned from his forensic investigators that the “Th.J” initials etched on each bottle had been done so with modern etching equipment, so it would appear that Hardy too was a fraud artist, but he seems to have evaded conviction for his past exploits.

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When you read the back and forth litigation between Koch and Rodenstock, Koch and The Chicago Wine Company, Michael Broadbent and Random House over the book written on the subject, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar”, and between Koch and Royal Wine Merchants (all nicely summarized in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardy_Rodenstock ), you cannot help but laugh at the horrendously complicated legal quagmire that only lawyers made money on.

It seems only fair that Robert Parker should have the last word on the subject. Parker had attended some of the Rodenstock tastings, including the famous Chateau Y’Quem vertical tasting of 125 vintages in 1998 that lasted for a full week. So Parker had tasted many of Rodenstock’s wines, some of which had turned out to be fakes. Parker attended Rodenstock’s Munich event in 1995 where he had the pleasure of tasting a magnum of 1921 Chateau Petrus which he rated at a perfect 100 points and “out of this universe”. But it turns out that Chateau Petrus never bottled any magnums of the 1921 vintage, so had Parker tasted and rated a fake? When asked about the experience by Patrick Radden Keefe of The New Yorker magazine for his September 2007 article on The Jefferson Bottles (read this article, it is very informative http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/09/03/the-jefferson-bottles ), Parker was quoted as saying:

“If that was a fake, he should be a mixer, it was wonderful.”

So Rudy and Hardy both had talent, their fake wines tasted great, even wine guru Robert Parker was smitten! I wonder if these guys could mix a fake that tasted better than the original? Probably!

The "Jefferson bottles" that Bill Koch paid some half a million dollars for and later discovered were fakes.
The “Jefferson bottles” that Bill Koch paid some half a million dollars for and later discovered were fakes.

We think of wine fraud as something unusual that rarely happens, and when you look at these two examples they are indeed unusual, exotic and very complex frauds. They both seem to have a very basic flaw to the fraud by either poor research (bottling a fake from a property and year that never existed), or poor provenance (no idea what the chain of ownership has been).

When you compare these two cases to modern day wine fraud in China and Hong Kong that we often hear stories about, the same problem is playing out again. A bottle of plonk is dressed up to look like a 1949 Chateau Lafite, the difference being that these more local frauds in China are nowhere near as good, so the actual wine you bought is really not that good at all. This is actually more harmful wine fraud because the local Chinese consumer is left with the impression that old Bordeaux tastes like crap. Experts estimate that 70% of Bordeaux first growth available for purchase in China is fake (for more on this see my previous blog post # 29, dated September 22, 2016). At least Rudy and Hardy made fakes that actually tasted good.

The moral of this story is to be very fussy about knowing the provenance of the older wines you buy. In fact, you are better off buying older wines from someone you know and trust than from an auction house. If you can buy wine from someone you know who has been the sole owner of the wine for 20-30 years and has kept that wine under proper storage conditions, and you can buy that wine cheaper than new releases, and cheaper than they can be bought at auction (don’t forget to include the auction house markup, foreign exchange if applicable, and delivery and customs if applicable), then you should seriously consider this route. With new releases from Bordeaux coming to the market over the next two years at a combined 60% + price increase (see my previous blog post # 47 for all the details), buying older mature vintages at 25% – 50% less than the price of current releases begins to look very attractive.

Reg

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 47, June 19, 2017, the Bordeaux 2016 Vintage, Priced and Over Priced

The 2016 Bordeaux vintage has been appraised and evaluated by critics as a major success (see my previous blog post # 46 for details). A killer frost did some isolated vineyard damage at the end of April in the region, and clearly influenced most growers to raise their prices. Prior to the frost, about a dozen properties had announced their 2016 pricing, and the emerging trend was “no increase” for 2016 (which was expected since most growers had already raised prices for the 2015 vintage by an average 30%). Since the frost damage, most properties have raised their prices for their 2016 wines by about 25%, even if they themselves suffered no frost damage (which was the case for most of them).

So let’s take a look at the price increases applied to the wines in Reg’s Top 30 Bordeaux wine list for 2016. There are indeed a few surprises, some good and some not so good:

  • Leoville Las Cases – 30%
  • Palmer – 14.3%
  • Eglise Clinet – 25%
  • Pichon Lalande – 25%
  • Pontet Canet – 44%
  • Angelus – not released yet
  • Ducru Beaucaillou – 16%
  • Figeac – 47.1%
  • Haut Bailly – 27%
  • Vieux Chateau Certan – 28%
  • Cos D’Estournel – 0%
  • La Conseillante – 32.7%
  • Pichon Baron – 18.7%
  • Trotanoy – not released yet
  • Smith Haut Lafite – 28%
  • L’Evangile – 20%
  • La Fleur Petrus – not released yet
  • Lynch Bages – 14.2%
  • Montrose – 0%
  • Canon – 20%
  • Calon Segur – 17.7%
  • Leoville Poyferre – 19.5%
  • Pavie Macquin – 11.4%
  • Clos Fourtet – 23.6%
  • Pape Clement – 12.2%
  • Leoville Barton – 17.7%
  • Troplong Mondot – 23.2%
  • Domaine de Chevalier – 18.9%
  • Grand Puy Lacoste – 25%
  • Rausan Segla – 18.8%

Only 3 properties above have yet to announce their 2016 pricing. Of the 27 properties already priced for 2016 releases, only two properties, Cos D’Estournel and Montrose have kept their price the same as 2015. There is a strong message here, focus on buying those two wines for openers. But there is more information to be learned. Remember from my previous blog post # 46, Ducru Beaucaillou lost 40% of their 2017 crop to frost damage, yet they only raised their 2016 price by a very modest 16%, so take a good look at their wine as well. La Conseillante lost about 30% of their 2017 crop to frost, and they raised their 2016 price by 32.7%, and Haut Bailly lost 33% of their 2017 crop and raised their 2016 price by 27%. Both those price increases would be justified. It would appear that none of the other 27 wines on my Top 30 list lost any production to frost damage, so how can these other properties justify large price increase. If I am the owner of Haut Bailly and I have lost 33% of my vines to frost damage, of course I am going to raise prices to help finance replanting. But if I am the owner of Pontet Canet or Figeac and have sustained no frost damage at all, how can I possibly justify increasing prices by 44% and 47.1%, especially when I increased price by 30% the previous year? The answer my friend is “greed”, just pure greed.

In my previous blog post # 46, I highlighted 6 wines that I liked because of the low price at $100 or less per bottle in 2015. Those wines have price increases ranging between 11.5% and 25%, and because their base prices were already low, they still end up being reasonably priced in 2016: Leoville Poyferre at $125, Calon Segur at $123, Leoville Barton at $123, Grand Puy Lacoste at $112, Pavie Macquin at $111, and Domaine de Chevalier at $100. Domaine de Chevalier would be my choice.

So there are some good wines to look for as 2016 futures, including Cos D’Estournel, Montrose, Ducru Beaucaillou, Domaine de Chevalier, Pavie Macquin, and Grand Puy Lacoste.

 

 

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Remember, all these wines score over 95 points by the average of the best 5 wine critics in the business. Some others such as Figeac and Pontet Canet I would avoid on principle alone as they are clearly just price gouging the consumer.

Speaking of overpriced Bordeaux, I noticed that the Bordeaux first growth properties generally applied less of a percentage price increase for their 2016 wines, as follows:

  • Margaux – 9.7%
  • Cheval Blanc – 2.2%
  • Mouton Rothschild – 9.4%
  • Haut Brion – 9.1%
  • La Mission Haut Brion – 12%
  • Lafite Rothschild – 8.3%

Could it be that first growth owners are getting concerned that they may be pricing themselves right out of the market, as I have been suggesting for a while now? Or could it be that a modest 10% increase on these wines now costs between $100 and $150 per bottle, and their prices are just getting totally out of control. Of course there are always some who just do not know the meaning of restraint, so Chateau Ausone, a first growth from St. Emilion, and already one of the more expensive first growths, announced a price increase of 29.6% for their 2016 wine,ouch! This sounds like more greed in action.

There is an excellent interview reported on Liv-ex between Bernard Magrez (owner of Chateau Pape Clement and eleven other Bordeaux properties) and Liv-ex Director Anthony Maxwell conducted June 2, 2017 (to read the entire interview use this link, http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/06/liv-ex-interview-bernard-magrez.html). In that interview Bernard makes several interesting comments:

When asked about Bordeaux price increases in general, Bernard responds saying:

“In my opinion, the error of some in Bordeaux is to believe that prices can keep going up. It happened with very great wines due to demand from China, but it won’t happen again.”

When asked about the speed at which some growers are raising prices, Bernard responds saying:

“It is an issue of ego and greed. They just want to have higher prices than their neighbors.”

When asked about the price a consumer will pay for his wine, Bernard responds by saying they will pay a decent price. When pressed to define what he means by a decent price, Bernard responded as follows:

“It’s the price that the consumer is willing to pay. If he thinks it’s too high, he won’t buy. And that’s life! Our boss is the consumer who puts the bottle on the table to drink it with his friends.”

So indeed it is the consumer who is the boss, and sometimes we have a tendency to forget that. Bernard states elsewhere in the interview that it is a much more competitive wine industry today with so much high quality competition from other maturing wine regions, the implication being that Bordeaux must be careful not to overprice their product, or they stand to lose their traditional markets to the competition.

I also found Bernard’s comments about the influence of wine critics on wine prices since Robert Parker’s retirement to be very interesting:

“I think there will be less speculation. 100-point scores today are not the same as they were from Robert Parker. Currently there are four or five major critics such as Suckling or Galloni. It is clear that the merchants look at the average of the top five as well as the competitiveness of prices.”

In fact what I gave you in my previous blog post # 46 was the combined average score of those top 5 wine critics (Martin, Suckling, Galloni, Molesworth, and Anson). I also gave you Reg’s Top 30 list of the most competitively priced wines rated 95 to 98 points by those 5 top critics in the business, and I quoted current 2015 futures prices on all 30 wines. Now in this post you can see the actual 2016 increases, and you have plenty of information by which to make your own purchasing decisions. You even have the thoughts of Bernard to guide you in terms of fair pricing, greed, and that consumers have the power to say “no”.

Here’s to Bernard for having the courage to tell it like it is, and for having seriously upgraded Chateau Pape Clement since he bought it in the 1980’s.

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You the consumer can see for yourself how producers such as Cos D’Estournel and Montrose are far more consumer friendly by not increasing their 2016 prices at all, verses producers like Figeac and Pontet Canet who are out of control by raising prices over 40% in 2016. You can also see how much the quality standards with properties such as Domaine de Chevalier, Pavie Macquin, and Grand Puy Lacoste have risen to rival the quality of top producers. Now it is up to you to shop for your 2016 futures wisely. I know I will be doing the same, happy hunting!

Reg.

 

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 46, May 13, 2017 Bordeaux 2016 – Reg’s Top 30

In my previous Post # 44 about the 2016 Bordeaux vintage I suggested that collectors should take a good look at buying 2016 Bordeaux futures, and focusing on the cheaper 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth properties because the quality of those wines was looking very good. At that time only some of the best known wine critics had reported on the 2016 vintage so some critical information was still missing.

Over the last 4 weeks three very important developments have taken place: 1) the rest of the wine critics have reported, 2) the first few Bordeaux Chateau announced their 2016 prices, and 3) there was a major killer frost April 27, 28, and 29 that did serious damage in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.

In Post # 44 I discussed in detail the high scores issued by James Molesworth and James Suckling, and since then Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin have released their own reports and scores, and they too are just as high. So all the critic scores are now released, and those scores are all high, higher than 2015. Early pricing by the first few Chateau to release prices was as expected, prices were the same for 2016 as 2015, which you will recall I had expected because the 2015 increases were much higher than expected at 30% or more.

Then a killer frost struck and did serious damage to several properties in late April while the vines were full of buds. Damage was extensive in St. Emilion and Pomerol, but Pessac, Graves, and the western edge of the Medoc escaped. Some properties report up to 90% of vines have been wiped out, particularly if they were in lower lying vineyards. Early reports have Ducru Beaucaillou losing 40% of their vines, La Conseillante losing 25-30% of their vines, Haut Bailly losing 33% of their vines.

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The immediate effect of that event was to halt any further announcements about 2016 release prices while owners assess the damage and decide whether or not to raise prices immediately to finance replanting. So if you are the owner of Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou where 40% of your vines may have been wiped out, you are now rethinking your pricing strategy for your wonderful 2016 vintage, and instead of pricing 2016 the same as 2015, you are probably now thinking of raising the price by as much as you dare.

So here is what I have done. I have put together my own shopping list of what I consider to be the Top 30 Bordeaux Chateaux of 2016, representing Best Value for Best Quality. I have taken the wine scores of my 5 top wine critics for the 2016 vintage. My top critics are:

  • Neal Martin (The Wine Advocate)
  • James Suckling (James Suckling and ex Wine Spectator)
  • James Molesworth (Wine Spectator)
  • Antonio Galloni (Vinous and ex The Wine Advocate)
  • Jane Anson (Decanter)

I have taken an average score based on the scores given by all five critics. On my Top 30 list I have not included first growths because they will be overpriced, first growth second wines like Les Forts de Latour because they are all rated below my cutoff point, and clearly overpriced wines like Petrus and Le Pin. I have also eliminated anything scoring an average of 95 points or less, and I have eliminated anything that has too wide a variation in scores between the 5 critics (so if one critic rates the wine at 90 points and another rates it at 99, the wine comes out because we are looking for consistency). The result is 30 properties rated between 98.3 points and 95.3. This by itself is an incredible display of quality rarely seen.

Next, I have also listed the average wine critic score for each of these 30 wines in the 2015 vintage so you can assess consistency and improvement in quality in 2016. In all 30 cases, the wine’s score in 2016 is the same or higher than 2015, another indication of improving production standards by these producers and the high quality of the 2016 vintage. Finally I have listed current international prices for the 2015 vintage of each wine (in Canada add an average 30% to these prices due to foreign exchange rates and provincial liquor board taxes). Keep in mind the 2015 vintage is not yet released, so these prices are up to date futures prices. These prices are what you want to see for the 2016 vintage when they eventually do get announced. This becomes your target price to pay per bottle (in Canadian dollars), which you may not see if the Chateau decides to raise prices to finance replanting of frost damaged vines.

The result is a pretty interesting list that I call Reg’s Top 30. I have listed the wines in order of wine scores, top to bottom. But I have also given the wines a best buy number reflecting the cheapest price, keep in mind all these wines range in quality from 98.3 to 95.3 points, so every one of them is an excellent wine and worthy of purchase as a future.

Quality   Property Name        2016 Avg. Score     2015 Price    2015 Avg. Score    Best Buy Rating

1         Leoville Las Cases                 98.3                  $250.00                 96                             23

2         Palmer                                     97.5                  $380.00                 96                             29

2         Eglise Clinet                           97.5                  $340.00                 95                              28

4         Pichon Lalande                     97.3                  $180.00                  95                              16

5         Pontet Canet                         97.25                 $150.00                  95                              12

6         Angelus                                  97.25                $460.00                  95                             30

7        Ducru Beaucaillou                97.1                   $220.00                  95                              21

7        Figeac                                      97.1                   $215.00                   95                              19

9        Haut Bailly                             97                      $135.00                   96                              10

9        Vieux Chateau Certan          97                     $335.00                   97                               27

11      Cos D’Estournel                    96.75                $215.00                   95                               20

12      La Conseillante                     96.7                  $210.00                   94                               18

12     Pichon Baron                         96.7                  $175.00                    95                               15

12     Trotanoy                                 96.7                 $ 290.00                   95                               26

12     Smith Haut Lafite                 96.7                  $115.00                     95                                 7

16     L’Evangile                               96.5                 $280.00                    95                               25

16     La Fleur Petrus                      96.5                 $250.00                    94                                24

16     Lynch Bages                           96.5                 $155.00                     93                                 13

16     Montrose                                96.5                 $185.00                     94                                 17

20      Canon                                    96.3                 $240.00                    96                                 22

20      Calon Segur                         96.3                  $105.00                     93                                   4

22      Leoville Poyferre                95.9                   $105.00                     94                                  5

22      Pavie Macquin                    95.9                   $100.00                     92                                  3

22     Clos Fourtet                          95.9                  $135.00                      94                                 11

25     Pape Clement                       95.5                  $120.00                      93                                   8

25     Leoville Barton                    95.5                  $105.00                       94                                   6

27     Troplong Mondot                95.4                 $155.00                        94                                  14

28     Domaine de Chevalier       95.3                  $  85.00                       94                                    1

28     Grand Puy Lacoste             95.3                  $  90.00                       93                                    2

28     Rausan Segla                       95.3                  $120.00                       95                                    9

 

This “Top 30” list can be very useful to you when 2016 Bordeaux futures finally do get offered. There are several advantages to you that this list will bring, such as:

  • If you want the best quality and highest rated wine you can get without paying 1st growth prices, then select a wine with as high an average 2016 score as you can get from this list, I suggest the top 10 wines rated 97 points or higher.
  • If you want the cheapest wines then select a wine from the best buy column rated 1 to 10. Keep in mind that even though these wines should get priced between $85 and $135 per bottle, the lowest rating on all of them is still a very respectable 95.3 points. Frankly I like the thought of being able to buy a 2016 future of Domaine de Chevalier or Grand Puy Lacoste, both rated at 95.3, for less than $100.00 per bottle, knowing that I can get between a case and 15 bottles of either one for less than the price of a single bottle of first growth. Now that is good value!
  • When the 2016 futures do get priced, use the current 2015 price column as a guide, and look for a wine where the 2016 price is closest to the same wine’s 2015 price. In Canada, you should expect all wines to be about 30% higher than the numbers quoted above, so if you see the 2016 Chateau Rausan Segla offered at $150 per bottle in Canada, then the pricing is pretty good.
  • Watch out for properties that have not suffered any frost damage last month raising the prices of their 2016 futures. They really have no reason for doing so, and are only trying to capitalize on the misfortunes of those Chateaux that did suffer losses. You should expect properties such as Ducru Beaucaillou, La Conseillante, and Haut Bailly to raise prices by maybe 15% for two years to recoup their losses and replanting costs, but others who have no frost loss have no such excuse for raising prices.
  • Finally, note that the 2016 score, IN EVERY CASE, is equal to or higher than the 2015 score. This is both an indication that the 2016 vintage is at least as good if not better than 2015, and that 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth properties are making steadily improving, first growth level quality wines.

When I look at this Top 30 List I am really excited to see some great choices at close to $100.00 per bottle, such as Domaine de Chevalier ($85.00), Grand Puy Lacoste ($90.00), Pavie Macquin ($100.00), Calon Segur ($105.00), Leoville Barton ($105.00), and Leoville Poyferre ($105.00).

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I am also looking very seriously at some very high scoring wines at some very reasonable prices, such as Pontet Canet (97.25 points, $150.00), Haut Bailly (97 points, $135.00), and Smith Haut Lafite (96.7 points, $115.00).

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These would be my top selections for 2016 futures if you can buy them close to these prices quoted above (remember to add 30% in Canada). Do not be surprised if you cannot get Haut Bailly at $135.00 per bottle, they may have no choice but to raise prices as it appears they have lost about 1/3 of their 2017 crop to frost damage.

So which would you rather have, one bottle of 2016 Chateau Lafite, Latour, or Mouton Rothschild at $1,500 per bottle and scoring 98.3, or 10 bottles of Chateau Pontet Canet at $150.00 per bottle and scoring 97.25. I know for me, the decision is obvious, the price for first growth Bordeaux has increased too fast and way out of proportion to the rest of the market, while at the same time, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growths have greatly increased quality levels so as to be almost as good as first growths. Plain and simple, this is a crossroads where consumers now have the ability to buy first growth quality in a 3rd, 4th, or 5th growth Chateau at 10% of the cost.

Shop carefully, shop wisely, buy quality in quantity, and follow Reg’s Top 30 list!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 45, tasting 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages and 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, April 21, 2017.

In February this year we had the good fortune to taste the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages, and last month at my son’s birthday dinner we opened a bottle of 1991 Graham’s Vintage Port, from the year he was born. Both were great wines, and worth looking at in more detail.

I bought the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in 1992 or 1993 at an LCBO Vintages outlet in Ontario at $43.45 per bottle. This was the last of 3 bottles I had bought. The 1988 vintage at the time was not viewed by critics as outstanding, but it was respectable. It was much better than 1987, which was a complete washout. It was not as tannic or meaty as 1986, but it was more traditional than the softer and fruitier 1985 vintage. And of course it got completely forgotten when the wonderful 1989 and 1990 vintages were harvested. The key adjectives I would attribute to 1988 Bordeaux would be “traditional” and “classic”. I did not buy a lot of wine from 1988, but those that I did buy were meant to mirror or compliment those characteristics, and Chateau Lynch Bages fits well.

The 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages in February 2017 was fully mature and in perfect harmony and balance, showing no signs of advanced age or going downhill. Still a strong rich ruby black in color, long tears ran down the glass after swirling the wine in your glass. On the nose there was wonderful cedar, smoke, black cherry, raspberry and currant aromas. On the palate the wine was in perfect balance, soft, fleshy, round and plump. The classic cedar and cigar box flavors took over, then emerged the fruit, with black berries and currants, figs, and raisins. After the fruit came hints of leather, wet damp earth in a forest, ending with  nice spicy cassis on the finish.

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This was not an overwhelming wine, this was not a blockbuster. This was a mature, rounded, balanced wine, in perfect harmony. The wine improved in the glass, even after having been decanted for over an hour. No sign of being over aged or in decline, but pleasantly parked on a plateau basking in the late afternoon sun. At 29 years of age, I would easily expect this wine to last another 10 years effortlessly, and at least 5 of those years in the current condition. My rating was 93 points, well deserved.

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I was really disappointed when I went to check tasting notes on this wine on www.winesearcher.com while researching what the critics have said about this wine recently. Wine Searcher has 5 critic scores ranging from 93 points to 80 (4 of the 5 over 90 points), the 80 point revue was from La Revue du Vin de France done in June 2000, nothing from Robert Parker (in spite of the fact that he has reviewed this wine 3 times, the latest in June 2000 where he gave it 92 points) and nothing from the Wine Spectator. I don’t know about you, but when I go to check critic reviews I want to see what the best critics are saying, and it is pretty clear to me that when 4 critics appraise the wine at 90 + points and one gives it 80 points, La Revue du Vin de France has clearly goofed, especially when Robert Parker tasted the wine at the same time in June 2000 and gave it 92 points. So what do you think www.winesearcher.com is doing with their sketchy and poor selection of critic reviews? In my opinion they are doing a pretty poor job.

In Parker’s June 2000 review of this wine, where he rated it at 92 points, he expected this wine to keep going strong for another 10-12 years. Well it has been almost 17 years since that date, and this wine is still pristine, and showing all the signs of going another 5-10 years. My reason for going on and on about this is to simply point out that you, as a wine collector and consumer, need to be careful to pay proper attention to the information you get from information websites like www.winesearcher.com or you can be easily misled. Mixed reviews leave doubt, which generally results in one moving on to something else, and in this case you would be really missing out on a classic mature claret in great shape now and for years to come. Too bad that was my last bottle!

The 1991 Graham’s was tasted in late March 2017 on the occasion of my son’s 26th birthday. Eight of us polished off this beauty in record time, so it must have been very good. The 1991 was the first declared vintage port by Graham’s since their 1985, and it was considered to be a small but high quality vintage. This wine has been reviewed in 1993 by Clive Coates for The Vine (magazine) where he rated it 97 points, in 1994 by James Suckling for The Wine Spectator (magazine) where he rated it 93 points, and by Robert Parker for The Wine Advocate (magazine) in 1995 where he rated it 94 points. Parker noted in his comments that the 1991 Graham’s was without a doubt the best port of the vintage. He described the wine as “…explosive nose of black fruits, licorice, spring flowers, and tar. Thick and full bodied, with a satiny texture and a blockbuster, alcoholic finish, this is a top-notch vintage port.”

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When we tasted this port 3 weeks ago, we observed a dark ruby color in the glass, no longer purple/black as it was in its youth. Great glycerin legs in the glass. On the nose this wine was nicely perfumed with aromas of sweet dark berries, grapes, and tar. On the palate any coarse tannins that may have once been present (as noted the last time I tasted this wine 8 years ago) have  faded away, leaving rich fruit flavors of berries, and plums, as well as licorice, tar, tobacco and chocolate. Sweet without being overpowering on the mid palate, giving rise to a long satin smooth chocolate finish. There is still a little sharpness in the alcohol on the finish, but you can tell that this is diminishing as the wine ages. A very pleasant wine that is now only middle aged, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years before it reaches full maturity. This wine will easily last another 20 years, and will only reach its peak in roughly 10 years by 2027. A very fine port that I rated at 94 points. Drink now and hold for further development.

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Unfortunately, once again when I was researching ratings and critic scores for this wine on www.winesearcher.com I ran into bad information. WineSearcher rated the wine at 89 points on the strength of 3 ratings of 80 points from Jancis Robinson (date not mentioned), 92 points from Cellar Tracker, and 93 points from The Wine Spectator. No mention of the Clive Coates rating of 97 points, or the Parker rating of 94 points.

So what is the big deal about ratings and wine scores you might ask? Poor data collating by WineSearcher (not properly compiling critic reviews and scores) causes them to rate the 1991 Graham’s as the second worst Graham’s Vintage Port of the 18 Graham’s Vintage Ports declared since 1990, at 89 points. This is just plain wrong, simply because they included the Jancis Robinson rating and excluded two other much stronger ratings. Bad data leads to an inaccurate rating and a bad rap for a really good wine. The moral of the story, and the message behind this blog is twofold:

  • Old wines properly kept live much longer than the critics expect them to. A wine critic when he/she forecasts a wine’s lifespan will always err on the younger side, they never want to overestimate a wine’s lifespan, and they never want to assume the consumer has state of the art storage conditions. So properly kept, you should expect your wines to last longer than the lifespan predicted by the critics.
  • Do not blindly believe what an information collating site like www.winesearcher.com reports on a wine’s statistics. Do your own homework, use them as just one of several information sources. Their stats are often selective, incomplete, and lead to the wrong conclusions. If you trusted their information to be accurate and complete, your logical conclusion would be to avoid the 1991 Graham’s, and what a mistake that would be. Similarly, you might think the 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages was too old to be bought safely today, and again how wrong you would be.

30 years ago you had no access to online information about critic tasting reports and scores, about latest auction prices, or what wine the Chinese were now buying. Liv-ex and www.winesearcher.com did not exist, and if you wanted tasting reports and scores you subscribed to The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate publications. You also relied more heavily on your own tasting experience, and that was very important because it taught you more about what you yourself like, not what a particular wine critic likes.

So do yourself a favor, do not rely too heavily on what an information and search website like www.winesearcher.com says about a wine, because inaccurate or incomplete information will often lead you to the wrong conclusion. My suggestion is that you use it as only one source of information, and that you do your own analysis of the facts it presents to you. I will write another blog soon to give additional pointers on how to research wines on an information collating website. But above all else, always remember that there is no substitute for trying these wines yourself. So drink wines young, old, and in between. Learn to recognize the difference between young and tannic verses fully mature, soft and rounded, and decide for yourself which you prefer. This is all part of your wine learning and appreciation experience.

Learning what you like can be so much fun!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 44, 2016 Bordeaux – Best Wines and Best Buys

Wine critic reviews of the 2016 Bordeaux wines have started, with James Suckling releasing his thoughts at the end of March, and most recently James Molesworth the first week of April. So far critics are very high on the vintage, especially James Suckling who says this is a strong year for Medoc and Grave wines, especially in Pauillac and St.Estephe. Suckling rates an astonishing 23 wines between 98 and 100 points. Within that group of wines there will be some relative bargains that you should watch closely for.

By contrast James Molesworth is more conservative with his praise and his ratings, rating 15 wines at 95 points or higher. In total, we have seen James Suckling review 92 different Bordeaux wines from the 2016 vintage (both red and white), and he has rated all but one of those wines at 90 points or higher. That is high praise indeed. James Molesworth has released ratings so far on only his top 37 wines which all range from 93 to 100 points. But oddly enough Molesworth has either not included yet or has not sampled yet all the first growth wines and all three of the wines that James Suckling has rated at 100 points.

Missing in action so far are some important wine critics such as Neal Martin, Jancis Robinson, and Antonio Galloni, so it is a little early yet to form any final opinions.

In my earlier blog # 41 on February 28th I noted that Gavin Quinny, Bordeaux grower/winemaker and frequent writer for Liv-ex, has described the 2016 Bordeaux vintage as an especially good year for Merlot, therefore favoring Pomerol and St. Emilion. Now we have James Suckling describing 2016 as a Left Bank Year, meaning the best wines are from the Medoc and Graves regions, particularly in Pauillac and St. Estephe, where Merlot is not as prevalent. So we clearly have differing opinions, and therein lies opportunity for consumers and investors.

I have also been talking in Blog # 41 and earlier blogs about how Bordeaux first growths have been pricing themselves right out of the market for the average Bordeaux collector, and therefore the need to migrate to other less expensive alternatives where the quality is almost as good as first growth at 10% to 20% of the cost. First growth Bordeaux from 2015 and 2016 is going to hit retail shelves at an estimated $1,000 to $1,200 CDN per bottle. So with Bordeaux 2016 futures soon to be offered, where will the smart money get the best quality for the lowest price?

I looked at the ratings from both James Suckling and James Molesworth for the 2016 Bordeaux vintage, specifically looking for the cheapest wines with the highest ratings by comparing the 2016 ratings against today’s prices for the not yet released 2015 vintage on www.winesearcher.com. I think this is a fair comparison because I expect the 2015 and 2016 vintages to be similarly priced. I came up with my top ten suggestions for 2016 Bordeaux futures, check out my list below:

  • Chateau Leoville Barton – rated 95-96 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $100 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 10% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Calon Segur – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 94-97 by Molesworth at $100 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 93 points. This price is only 10% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Clos Fourtet – rated 95-96 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $130 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 13% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Haut Bailly – rated 98-99 by Suckling and not yet rated by Molesworth at $130 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 96 points. This price is only 13% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Pontet Canet – rated 98-99 by Suckling and not yet rated by Molesworth at $145 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 14.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Lynch Bages – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $150 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 93 points. This price is only 15% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Pichon Baron – rated 98-99 by Suckling and 96-99 by Molesworth at $170 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 17% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau La Conseillante – rated 99-100 by Suckling and 93-96 by Molesworth at $205 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 94 points. This price is only 20.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Figeac – rated 96-97 by Suckling and 95-98 by Molesworth at $210 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 21% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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  • Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou – rated 97-98 points by Suckling and 97-100 points by Molesworth at $215 per bottle. The 2015 is rated at 95 points. This price is only 21.5% of the price of first growths at similar scores.
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Well I don’t know which you prefer, snob appeal or value for your money, but I would much prefer getting 10 bottles of Chateau Leoville Barton or Chateau Calon Segur for the price of one bottle of Lafite or Latour, especially if the critics view them to be of similar quality. So while first growth estates have raised their prices relentlessly, lesser chateaux have been busy focusing on raising the quality of their wines to the point where today they are very similar in quality to the big names. We as consumers therefore have a tremendous opportunity here to send a clear message by switching to much cheaper 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth wines without sacrificing much in quality. Hopefully, if enough people switch to better value the first growth producers will stop raising prices as much as they have been doing over the last 5 years.

30 years ago the 1982 vintage was on store shelves, Chateau Lafite, along with Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, and Haut Brion were all selling retail for $40 US per bottle, and all rated 95 points plus by Parker. At $25 you could get all the super 2nd growths like Leoville Las Cases, Pichon Lalande, and Palmer. At $15 to $20 you could get everything else like Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos D’Estournel, Figeac, L’Evangile, etc. Super seconds were rated at 92-95 points, just one rung down the ladder and frankly for the additional $15 per bottle it was much easier to just buy the best.

By contrast, today the difference between second growths and first growths is completely different. In terms of price the first growths are going to hit store shelves at over $1,000 per bottle, while second growths will cost about $400 per bottle. So that price differential is going to be $600 per bottle, that is very significant. But, as this article clearly demonstrates, there will be many high quality 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth wines in the $100 to $150 range. Perhaps the biggest and best surprise is that several of those have upgraded their quality so much that some of them are equal to or better than the 1st growth wines. My how times have changed!

My personal favorites among my top ten suggestions above are Calon Segur, Leoville Barton, Pontet Canet, Pichon Baron, and Ducru Beaucaillou. In great years these are all fabulous wines.

Watch for these names when the 2016 futures become available, I expect these will sell out quickly. Happy hunting.

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 43, the wines of d’Arenberg, Australian wines worth knowing, March 23, 2017.

I love the d’Arenberg lineup of wines offered by the Osborn family. When I researched this blog before writing it I was amazed to learn that d’Arenberg makes 63 different wines, of which I had tasted only 14 prior to writing this blog. That means they make 49 more different wines that I had not yet tasted, wow.

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The Osborne family, led by Chester Osborne, 4th generation winemaker, have been making wine at the d’Arenberg estate in the McClaren Vale area of South East Australia (just south of Adelaide) since 1912. Chester took over from his father d’Arry in 1984. The estate took its name from d’Arry’s mother Helena d’Arenberg in 1959.

D’Arenberg produces both single grape varietal wines, and blends. They produce whites and reds, they produce sparkling wines, sweet dessert wines, ports, and they produce a lot of single vineyard Shiraz reds. The single vineyard reds are meant to showcase the different flavors brought out by different soils (terroir). The estate produces all organic wines, with little or no use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation. To control weed growth in the vineyards they use sheep, which also do double duty as a natural fertilizer source. The winery uses traditional production methods, including foot trodding (see photo at end of this blog) to crush the grapes, basket pressing, no fining or filtration prior to bottling, and very minimal use of oak so as not to mask or artificially enhance the natural grape flavors.

This all sounds delicious and very healthy, but there is more. The estate produces grapes from up to 33 different grape varieties, and includes in the whites Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and in the reds Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mourvedre, Merlot, and others in various blends.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of this estate is the very unique names given to the various wines they produce. Names such as “The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne”, “The Footbolt Shiraz”, and “The Custodian Grenache” are all unique enough, but many of the others are hilarious. Take for instance “The Noble Mud Pie Viognier Arneis” or “The Noble Botryotinea Fuckeliana Semillon Sauvignon Blanc” in their sweet dessert wines, or “The Feral Fox Pinot Noir”, “The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc”, “The Witches Brew Chardonnay”, or how about some of their many single vineyard Shiraz wines such as “The Fruit Bat”, “The Swinging Malaysian”, or “Shipster’s Rapture”. All these names have a specific meaning, which the estate explains on their website in a one page summary about each wine. I particularly enjoyed the explanations behind some of their more colorful wine names such as “The Daddy Long Legs Extremely Rare NV” and “The Old Bloke and The Three Young Blondes Shiraz, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne”. Check them out for yourself by visiting their website at www.darenberg.com.au .

D’Arenberg does not publish any breakdown of production levels for each their 63 different wines produced, so it is difficult to know how much they produce and sell of each different wine. They do buy a lot of fruit from other growers in the region (from 120 other growers covering 700 hectares of vineyards) to supplement the 200 hectares of their own under cultivation. Their total annual production is about 4,500 tons of grapes.

In two of my previous blogs I have tasted and rated three d’Arenberg wines. In my blog # 7 February 23, 2016 I rated the 2012 d’Arry’s Original, a 50/50 Shiraz/Grenache blend, and one of their flagship products. A steady performer year after year, I rated the wine at 17/20. In my blog # 37 December 21, 2016 I rated the 2012 Stump Jump Shiraz at 17/20, and the 2011 Laughing Magpie, a Shiraz/Viognier blend at 18.5/20. In fact I judged them to be the top two wines of the tasting, giving the edge to The Stump Jump for being the best price/quality wine of the evening at $17.50 per bottle.

So I decided it would be a good idea to host a tasting totally dedicated to tasting the wines of d’Arenberg, which was held recently on March 10th. We tasted 10 wines, 4 white and 6 red, with dinner. The only repeat wine tasted on this evening was The Laughing Magpie, all the others were new to me. The wines were all priced between $20.00 and $31.50 CDN, and the idea was to give our tasters a wider appreciation of the many different styles of wine made by Chester Osborne under the d’Arenberg label.

We tasted the following wines in order, see my comments below:

  • The Dry Dam Riesling / 2016 / $19.95 / SAQ # 11155788 / citrus and lemon, not too steely and dry, just the right level of sweetness and residual sugar, goes great with shrimp cocktail, very pleasant / 90 pts.
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  • The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne / 2015 / $20.60 / SAQ # 10829269 / citrus without acidity, full fat and round, ginger, nuts, soft delicate fruits with a spicy trailer / 88 pts.
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  • The Olive Grove Chardonnay / 2015 / $20.55 / SAQ # 11950360 / full thick Chardonnay with olive taste and citrus, nice offsets and balance between the citrus and olives on the aftertaste, leaves a light and refreshing aftertaste, not oaky or overpowering / 89 pts.
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  • The Money Spider Roussanne / 2015 / $22.70 / SAQ # 10748397 / rich and loaded with fruits of all kinds, soft fat and rounded, great legs on the glass, the combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual taste components, this was the best white / 92 pts.
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  • The Galvo Garage / 2011 / $29.00 / SAQ # 11155876 / the wine has good legs but was harsh, astringent and thin, this was a major disappointment and most likely a bad bottle / 85 pts.
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  • The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre / 2011 / $31.50 / SAQ # 10250804 / you can taste the iodine on the palate and smell it in the nose, comes up flat on the finish in spite of a rounded fleshy grape feel, very odd and off balanced wine, again could be a bad bottle / 86 pts.
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  • The Custodian Grenache / 2013 / $22.65 / SAQ # 10748389 / thick, chewy, great legs, cherries, spicy on the aftertaste and keeps improving in the glass, definitely a wine to buy, to drink now or hold for improvement / 91 pts.
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  • The Footbolt Shiraz / 2013 / $21.95 / SAQ # 10959717 / spice and smoke covering the rich Shiraz fruit, more supple flavors of mushrooms, leather and tobacco, chewy round tannins, pairs nicely with beef, will take more age, buy to drink now or hold / 90 pts.
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  • The Love Grass Shiraz / 2013 / $24.75 / SAQ # 12882864 / very dry, mouth puckering tannins make it hard to cut through to the underlying fruit flavors, there is evidence of earthen tones, smoke, and sour cherries, but any elegance and balance you might expect in this wine is overshadowed by the oh so very dry tannins, maybe time will improve the balance and tone down the tannins / 89 pts.
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  • The Laughing Magpie / 2012 / $27.95 / SAQ # 10250855 / dark fruit with earth, spice and herbs, sits full and fruity on the palate, balanced and young, will age and open up more to further secondary aromas and tastes in 3-5 years, buy to cellar / 90 pts. (Note that in my blog # 37 from December 21, 2016 that I rated The Laughing Magpie 2011 vintage at 92.5 points, similar but more evolved in the bottle being one year older).
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To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the reds, there were three I did not like at all, being The Galvo Garage, The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre, and The Love Grass Shiraz. That was a surprise given they were all more expensive wines. The wines were all opened 6 hours before the tasting so they had plenty of time to breathe and open up, and given that The Custodian Grenache was still improving in the glass, the weaker reds cited above should have been opening up by the time they were tasted, and they did not.

The best performing wines of the evening were, in order:

  • The Money Spider Roussanne 2015 – $22.70 – 92 pts.
  • The Custodian Grenache 2013 – $22.65 – 91 pts.
  • The Dry Dam Riesling 2016 – $19.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Footbolt Shiraz 2013 – $21.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Laughing Magpie 2012 – $27.95 – 90 pts.
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Buy any of these five wines now to drink or hold, they are all reasonably priced.

Prior to this tasting I have had the pleasure of tasting 14 different d’Arenberg wines, with this tasting I have added another 9 wines to that total (having previously tasted The Laughing Magpie in December). It amazes me that even though I have now tasted 23 different d’Arenberg wines, there are still another 40 of their wines that I have yet to taste. Some critics think that winemaker Chester Osborn is scattered too thin by managing the production of so many different wines, and having tasted three reds above that did disappoint, I can understand how some critics might think that way. However, we cannot blame the winemaker for those poor showings when they could just as easily be caused by poor transportation or storage.

I have tasted some of Chester Osborn’s top of the line products, including The Dead Arm Shiraz, The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, and The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon from various vintages. These retail today at between $50.00 and $55.00 per bottle in the SAQ (Quebec) and the LCBO (Ontario). In fact The Dead Arm Shiraz 2012 vintage, rated by James Suckling at 94 points, is available now at the SAQ for $50.00, and at the LCBO for $54.95. These wines represent great value for the money, easily the equivalent of a $150.00 to $200.00 California Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux classified growth. They also reward medium term aging of 5 – 10 years in the cellar.

 

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So with d’Arenberg’s excellent value in their Stump Jump wines (there are 7 of them: the Sauvignon Blanc, the Riesling, the White, the Lightly Wooded Chardonnay, the Shiraz, the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and the Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre), all priced in the $17.00 – $18.50 price range, along with their very reasonably priced top quality icons, d’Arenberg is producing great wine at eye opening attractive prices.

Personally, I find it very refreshing to find a talented, prolific winemaker and producer like Chester Osborn pumping out a full lineup of high quality and reasonably priced wines.

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Cheers to Chester (that is him on the left raising his glass), keep up the great work!

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 42, Your Wine Glass and What It Says About You, March 14, 2017

All seasoned wine collectors have their favorite stemware or wine glass. Is it possible that your personal favorites say something about you as a wine lover, and as some semi cultured, semi sophisticated connoisseur? Wine glasses are something we go through frequently at our house, so I have experienced both good and bad glasses, large and small, all kinds of shapes and sizes, with and without stems, dishwasher safe and delicate requiring hand washing. So here are my thoughts:

  • I prefer a small wine glass in a Bordeaux style that narrows at the top to enhance the aromas on the nose for every day purposes (that does not mean that I use the glass every day). When you attend the Montreal Wine Show in November you get with the price of admission a perfect SAQ 6 ounce tasting glass, so we replenish our supply of these tasting glasses every year at the show. They are also inexpensive, light, compact, durable and dishwasher safe, functional and simple.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.23
  • You need to have a set of good crystal wine glasses for special occasions. The only problem with that thinking is how many glasses do you need to have – 2, 4, 6, 10 or more? This depends on your family size, but I would suggest at least 8 so you can accommodate guests. Good crystal Riedel glasses will cost between $25 and $50 per glass, but they will come in many different shapes and sizes. There are a few basic types including a champagne flute, white wine, red wine Bordeaux and red wine Burgundy, and a port glass. See the various different types below:
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.3
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.4
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.5
  • If money and space are not issues for you, then by all means get a set of white, red, champagne and dessert or port glasses. However, if you have the budget and space for just one set of crystal glasses, get a red wine Bordeaux style as it is usually quite functional with all wine types. Do not get the white wine glasses even if you are a white wine drinker because they just do not do the same job that a red wine glass will do with the narrower rim at the top of the glass. At $50.00 per glass you want the best taste experience possible, so a narrow rim at the top is vital to enhance the aromas on your nose as an important part of the tasting experience. Can you really smell and taste the difference between an open and narrow rim glass? You bet you can!
  • Do stay away from overly long stemmed glasses, they break easily and require hand washing, which in itself leads to a higher breakage rate. Also avoid crystal that is too thin, it breaks easily.
  • Save the plastic stemware for the cottage down at the dock or around the campfire, it just does not say much about your level of sophistication if you resort to those on a regular basis.
  • Stay away from fancy designs or etched glassware and crystal, this makes it very difficult to visually assess the wine in your glass, which is part of the overall tasting experience.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.24
  • Do not go crazy by overpaying for wine glasses. Many years ago I bought six of the “Les Impitoyables” crystal wine glasses (made by Peugeot) in three designs: the white, the young red, and the mature red (two of each glass). Today only two remain, and at $100 per glass all I can say is that I am glad I did not buy 12 glasses as I was originally intending to do.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.18
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.19
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.17
  • You always end up with orphans, the lonely survivors of a set of 4, 6, or 8. Often they were gifts and not something that you would buy for yourself because the style is not to your liking. Find a way to get rid of them, ship them off with the kids when they move out, after all they probably broke most of the set anyways.
  • Stay away from the latest fads or gimmicks in wine glasses, they are usually not very practical and will not stand the test of time. I came across a good example of that two weeks ago that inspired me to write this blog. The press carried a story about the Wine Glass Mask and how the product designer was conducting a Kickstarter fund raising campaign to raise $76,000 US to commence production of the Wine Glass Mask. So honestly, this has got to be the ugliest wine glass you will ever see, as the following photos will illustrate. There is something not quite right about creating a wine glass that fits not just your entire nose in the glass, but your entire face. The design concept is meant to engulf the entire face. Come on, this looks like you are wearing an oxygen mask. Imagine you are attending an elegant dinner party for 10, and everyone has their face in their wine glass at the same time. It will look like an airline emergency with everyone inhaling oxygen through their oxygen masks, really quite funny, and hopefully an idea that will expire or run out of gas soon.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42-14
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.16
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.15
  • There is nothing wrong with finding your own special and unique wine glass that you use frequently whether alone or entertaining. That special wine glass becomes part of your wine personality, it makes a statement about you the wine connoisseur, and becomes identified as “your glass”. This means that it automatically gets special treatment in the glass rack, washed carefully by hand, and otherwise pampered.

 

I love my glass, pictured below. Engraved with my name, the glass is large enough that it can easily hold a full bottle of wine without looking full (in the photo below the glass is holding a full bottle of wine), in fact it can hold over two full bottles of wine. However, with more than one bottle of wine in my glass at a time, I find I need two hands to hold the glass steady when taking a sip, which looks a little ridiculous. I could raise guppies in the glass if I wanted. Since the glass narrows at the rim, it concentrates the wine aromas, this is good. In fact, the rim is wide enough I think it will fit my entire head in it, so I won’t be buying the “Wine Glass Mask” anytime soon. This glass is also very useful as a decanter, in fact I do not have to use another glass, I can drink the wine direct from my “decanter”.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.22

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 42.20

Perhaps the most amusing part of my wine glass is the endless one liner jokes and comments it elicits, ranging from “But honey, I only had one glass of wine all evening” to “We’ll have to open a second bottle, there was only one glass left in that bottle”. In fact, this glass solves any guilt I may have about opening a magnum size bottle, half the bottle for me and the other half for the rest of our guests. I never get my glass mixed up with anyone else, so I do not need to label my glass with an ID tag. This keeps life simple, and allows me to focus on more important matters like enjoying my glass of wine.

 

It occurs to me that keeping it simple is what life is all about. So as I watch my dinner party guests lose their wine glass, or drink from the wrong glass, or inspect name tags in search of their own glass, I take comfort from having my own full bottle decanted, and served, in what is easily identifiable as “Reg’s Wine Glass”.

Your wine glass does indeed say something about you, so what does your wine glass say about you?

Reg

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Bordeaux price/quality trends, Post # 41, February 28, 2017

A week ago Liv-ex posted a blog update on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage as well as an updated ratings report from several major wine critics on the 2014 Bordeaux vintage now that it has been bottled. I found the results quite interesting and thought I would share my thoughts with you now.

According to Gavin Quinny, himself a Bordeaux grower and winemaker, as well as the author of the Liv-ex blog post in question, the 2016 Bordeaux harvest was the largest since 2006, producing 577 million litres of wine with 10% less vineyard acreage under cultivation. According to Gavin, this was a Merlot harvest, with the Cabernet Sauvignon not performing as well due to severe heat stress June through August. This usually means that Pomerol and St-Emilion will perform better than Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estephe, and Pessac Leognan. Often we forget that these prestigious Appelations account for only 10% of overall Bordeaux production, and the sweet wine of Sauterne and Barsac accounts for only another 1%. By far the bulk of production is in the Vins de France and Vins de Pays designated wines, and it is in these categories where production has almost doubled in 2016 compared to previous years. In fact, Gavin also states that this is now the 3rd good Bordeaux vintage in a row, see link below to Gavin’s full article:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2016-largest-harvest-since-2006.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

So we appear to be swimming in a sea of high quality Bordeaux wine, and in theory that should mean that prices will go down. Instead, as you know from my previous blog posts 22 and 23 last June 2016, consumers were hit with 20% to 50% plus price increases on their favorite 2015 Bordeaux futures. Ouch, that was cruel, with 1st growth Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage being offered last year as futures for prices ranging from $1,000 CDN to $1,200 CDN per bottle.

Also of interest in the same Liv-ex blog last week was another article reviewing wine critics scores for the 2014 Bordeaux now that the wine is in the bottle. Critics usually rate the wine initially while the young wine is still aging in the barrel, giving it a quality range, such as 91-94 points, allowing for wine scores to either increase or decrease once the wine is finally in the bottle. So this Liv-ex article was interesting because it recapped the critics wine scores for the now bottled 2014 vintage, see link below:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2014-scores-bottle.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

Although Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate has yet to review the 2014 Bordeaux since it has been bottled, Liv-ex did report on the revised ratings of James Molesworth (Wine Spectator), James Suckling (ex Wine Spectator and now on his own), and Antonio Galloni (ex Wine Advocate and now at Vinous). James Suckling was the most bullish at raising his ratings on his top ten 2014 Bordeaux wines in bottle. He has scored eight of his top ten wines higher than his initial range, and the other two wines at the top of his initial range. His biggest surprises are Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou rated at an impressive 99 points,

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.2

and both Chateau Cos D’Estournel and Chateau Leoville Las Cases rated at 98 points.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.3

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.4

Antonio Galloni scored his top ten wines at the top of his initial ratings ranges, while James Molesworth was more conservative by rating his top ten in the middle of his original ratings ranges. Worth noting was that both Molesworth and Galloni gave Vieux Chateau Certan high marks (Molesworth 96 and Galloni 97).

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.8

 

Galloni also gave Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville and Chateau Calon Segur high marks at 97 and 96 points respectively.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.6

 

Reg's Wine blog - photo 41.9

What I particularly like about this Liv-ex article is that we can see the continuing of a trend towards much more choice for the consumer looking for top quality wine at much lower prices. In years gone by you would see the usual first growth wines in the top ten with one or two other Bordeaux wines. By the time the 2009 and 2010 vintages were in the bottle, Parker had rated 19 wines from the 2009 vintage at a perfect 100 points, and 10 more from the 2010 vintage as well. You will recall that 5th growth Chateau Pontet Canet was rated a perfect 100 points in both 2009 and 2010.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.7

So this trend continues today, with Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos D’Estournel, Leoville Las Cases, Vieux Chateau Certan, Pichon Baron Longueville, and Calon Segur all getting high scores at or above the ratings given to 1st growth Bordeaux.

Does that mean it is time to stop buying Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild? No, not necessarily, if you have $1,000 or more to spend per bottle then by all means go right ahead and do so. But honestly, if you can get the same quality of wine out of a bottle costing you $250, would you not rather prefer to have 4 bottles of great wine for the price of one bottle of first growth?

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) just ended their last futures offering of 2014 Bordeaux last week, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were several great values still to be had from their list, including the following, to name but a few:

  • Chateau Canon                                                       95-96               $109.00
  • Chateau D’Armailhac                                            93-94               $ 79.00
  • Chateau Gruard Larose                                        93-94               $112.00
  • Chateau Lynch Bages                                           95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville                   95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Rauzan Segla                                          94-95               $125.00
  • Chateau Talbot                                                      94-95                $ 89.00

 

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.15Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.10Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.11Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.12Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.17Reg's Wine Blog - photo 41.16

The 2014 vintage will start hitting store shelves later this year, and when it does you can expect to see the above prices 30% higher. And that will be the last time that you see the 1st growths at or near $1,000 per bottle. The 2015 1st growths will hit the shelves in late 2018 at $1,300 – $1,500 per bottle. If I had to guess on how the trade will price the 2016 vintage, I would think most owners will price their wines similar to their 2015 prices. They will not lower prices, because that would simply cannibalize and hurt their 2015 sales in 2018. I also do not expect they will raise prices very much because they have a lot of good quality wine in the system, and they do not want to price themselves right out of the market. Besides, I think a lot of retail sticker price shock is yet to come when the major price hike last year on the 2015 vintage finally hits the retail shelves in September 2018.

Smart buyers will be buying high quality cheaper 2014 Bordeaux as the last of the futures offerings close out now (if still available), and snapping up the best 2014 bargains that hit retail shelves later this fall. They will also be watching closely for the odd bargain when the 2015 futures get re offered again this year. There is no doubt that 1st growth prices are going to be driving more and more people to look for the same quality in a cheaper bottle. Fortunately, there is an ample selection of high quality cheaper alternatives, and plenty of critics and advice to guide you towards those alternatives.

Ah, the free enterprise system is alive and well. Happy hunting!

Reg.

 

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – The Wine Collector’s Dilemma, Drink or Hold? Post # 40, February 17, 2017

So when do you drink your best wines? Do you have a plan when it comes to drinking your prized possessions? In case you forgot, you cannot take them with you when you go, so unless you plan to pass them down to your children or have them auctioned off in an estate sale, you need a plan.

I know at least 3 friends of mine who have more wine than they can ever drink, and no plans to drink most of it. As I have said before in earlier blogs about the need to drink the wines from your cellar, if for no other reason than to keep an eye on how well they are aging, many people are collectors without any proper plan to drink it. Are they collectors or hoarders?

There is no benefit to holding onto a wine in decline until it becomes vinegar, so drink it. There is no glory in hosting a dinner party and serving up that special wine you have been saving and cellaring for the last 30 years, only to find it has lost all the fruit, and it is now thin, dull and very astringent.

Here are some suggestions for managing your cellar, and developing a disciplined approach to your wine acquisitions, sales, and consumption:

  • Based on your age, your wine tasting and cellaring experience, and your cellar capacity, you need to make some basic decisions as to where you are in your own life cycle, and your own collecting objectives. At 30 years of age you are a young collector, so your cellar is growing. At 80 years of age you should no longer be buying young first growth Bordeaux that will take 20 years to reach full maturity, and your cellar should be shrinking in total number of wines.
  • Be very careful to maintain a balance of different wines in your cellar all through your life span. You need both red and white, you need wine for everyday consumption, you also need special wines for special occasions. You need some specialty wines like vintage port or vintage madeira, along with some dessert wines like Sauternes, German, or Alsace late harvest. Even if these are not wines you like or enjoy, there will be times when they are the right wines to serve.
  • You should consider having different sized bottles, in particular the ½ bottle and magnum sizes. Half bottle size is often appropriate for dessert wines, or if a couple want their own wine (for example the husband drinks a red while the wife drinks a white). Magnums are clearly for dinner parties, and wine will age more slowly in larger bottles. Try to stay away from much larger sizes such as double magnums, because they are really only practical for larger dinners. Also, for most collectors a double magnum of Chateau Lafite 2010 at $6,000 is very difficult to justify opening at your average dinner party.Reg's Wine blog - photo 40-6 You do not want to be agonizing over the decision of whether the upcoming dinner party is worthy enough to warrant you opening so expensive a bottle. However, having a double magnum of Chateau Pontet Canet 2010 worth $1,300 Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-7 or Chateau Beaucastel 2010 worth $540 Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-8 will certainly generate the “wow” factor and impress your guests without breaking the bank.
  • As a general rule do not buy wine as an investment with the intention of selling it later for profit. This was much easier to do 30 years ago when you could buy 1982 Chateau Lafite for $40 US per bottle and sell it today for $4,800 and make over 80 times your purchase price in profit (don’t forget the auction house takes 30%). Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-4 But the easy money has been made, if you bought the 2010 Chateau Lafite when it was sold as a future in 2012 at $2,100 per bottle, you are down about 35% today, since it can be bought today at auction now for about $1,400 per bottle. Fine wine prices have increased so much in the last 10 years (the Chinese effect?) that you should abandon any thoughts of buying wine as an investment to resell at auction.
  • Know your own cellar’s aging capacity. Every cellar is different, and even with temperature and humidity controls, you need to know how well wine ages in your cellar, and once you know how well your cellar is performing, you need to constantly be testing the wines in your own cellar. Do not assume just because your temperature and humidity gauges register a constant level that your wines are fine. You need to check your wines for fill levels, for dried out corks and seepage in drier cellars, and for soiled labels from excess humidity. Do not just assume everything is fine. If you have a compressor powering your cellar cooling system, make sure you top up the compressor with freon every few years. You do not want to go away on vacation for 2-3 weeks and return to a cellar at room temperature because your compressor ran out of freon.
  • Taste your wines regularly. If you have a case of fine Bordeaux bought as futures, that is forecast to take 15 years to mature, and last another 15 years after that, do not wait 20 years to open a bottle. Instead, taste one bottle after 7 years (it will now be 10 years old), taste another bottle 5 years later. It should now be fully mature, but if your cellar is state of the art, your wine may still not be fully mature, and you need to know this before serving it prematurely to guests.
  • Read the latest reviews and tasting notes from wine critics on wines that you own and continue to cellar. If that 1986 Mouton Rothschild is still hard and tannic and needs more aging time according to recent tasting notes, then let your bottle keep aging. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-5 Conversely, if a critic says a certain vintage is aging faster than expected and beginning to fade, then take notice and try a bottle of your own. This is especially important if you only have two or three bottles of that special wine, you do not want to open your last bottle and find that it had not yet peaked.
  • Have a consumption plan and stick to it, especially for your special occasion wines. If you bought a double magnum of 2010 Dom Perignon Champagne planning to celebrate your daughter’s wedding engagement at some unknown future date, then tell her and use it for leverage to get them to commit before the bubbly gets too old.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-1
  • Be prepared to make adjustments to your consumption plan should health issues arise. As we age, declining health, medication, changing tastes and lifestyles may seriously alter your ability to drink the wines you had been saving for your retirement. If that happens, then you will have to revisit your consumption plan. If you do not revise your plan, then your wines may kick the bucket before you do.
  • You need a succession plan for your cellar. Leaving your wine for someone else to settle as part of the estate without specifying who gets which bottles is going to be a mistake. If you have three kids and only one enjoys wine, the other two will not appreciate their share of the wines at all. So is a 3 way split the right way to go? Is this what you want to have happen? Then you should decide who gets the wine. In fact, why not progressively gift your excess wines to your children while you are still alive, and enjoy the odd bottle with them, and give them your assessment of when they should be drinking those wines. That can actually be quite a lot of fun, an unregistered transfer of your wine assets to your children, along with your advice, pearls of wisdom, fanciful wine stories, and done slowly and progressively over time, making a special and memorable occasion out of every such event.

There is a lot more care involved in managing your cellar assets as you get older. There are several ways that your consumption habits can be forced to change over time, and you need to assess the impact that changing consumption habits has on your cellar contents. So you need to take charge of the situation, and constantly be prepared to change your wine collecting habits. Above all else, manage your liquid assets carefully.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-3

Know how well your cellar ages wines, taste your wines regularly. You have to know when to hold them, and when to drink them.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 40-2

If this article gets you thinking about your own cellar, why not open a nice bottle now and give it more thought, cheers!

Reg

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 39, 1968 D’Oliveiras Reserva Boal Vintage Madeira to toast a dear departed friend, January 26, 2017.

At Christmas dinner this year, with both sides of the family present, after our meal I opened a bottle of 1968 D’Oliveiras Reserva Boal Vintage Madeira to toast our dear departed friend George, who passed away from cancer some 4 weeks earlier. George was a long term friend to all of us, a good natured and kind soul who loved wine, and loved sharing it with us at Christmas and other special occasions. George was featured in my previous blog # 11 entitled “Do I like this Wine”, and of course again in Blog # 33 about wine cellars with his “shoe box cellar”.

George 1

The 1968 D’Oliveiras Reserva Boal is now 48 years old, but still considered young for a vintage Madeira. A fortified wine from the island of Madeira, this wine was great. A little short on the aftertaste, but that will improve with a little more aging. Parker rated the wine at 93 points, and described it as “rich aromas of roasted nuts, caramel and raisins backed by a strong citrus note. Flavors of almonds, walnuts, orange and vanilla dominate the smooth palate and linger through a long savory finish.” The Wine Spectator rated this wine 96 points in April 2016. WineSearcher.com gives the wine an average price of $280.00 CDN. I bought this wine several years ago at the LCBO at $42.65 per bottle. Obviously an excellent buy that has appreciated nicely in value.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 39-6

This wine had everything you look for in a vintage Madeira, the roasted nuts, caramel, raisins, orange and vanilla. As I said already, the aftertaste was a little sharp and not as smooth and long as I was looking for, and was not as long as other critics have described. This resulted in the orange on the palate tasting a little tangy. The aftertaste will improve with more aging, and I would expect this wine to require at least another 5 years to reach that plateau. From there the wine will easily last another 25 years, and if you have any in your cellar I would recommend you wait until at least 2020 before opening one, it is still young even at 48 years of age.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 39-5

The wine is produced by the Pereira D’Oliveira company that was established in 1850, currently owned and managed by Luis D’Oliveira, the 5th generation of the D’Oliveira family to operate the business. The company is a combination of five old Madeira wine producers who combined together in 1850 under this new company banner. Pereira D’Oliveira has the largest cellar and collection of old Madeira wine on the island. They have over 1.5 million liters of wine in cellar, most of it not bottled. Vintage Madeira wine is usually stored and aged in cask, and it keeps improving with age, so every 20 years or so the company will draw off and bottle another 10% or so of their older wines. The 1968 D’Oliveira Reserva Boal that we drank was bottled in 2009 at 40 years of age, and more of it continues to age gracefully in cask in their cellars, probably to be released again in 2029.

 

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the island of Madeira, you must visit Pereira D’Oliveira to taste and buy some of these older bottles. You will not find any selection of older bottles at the other Madeira producers that can be tasted or purchased.

A great wine for toasting and celebrating the life and memory of a dear old friend, goodbye George, we will miss you! I was very happy to serve such a fine wine at Christmas, I know George would approve.

Reg.