Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 56, Christmas Dinner Wine Etiquette for the Host– February 6, 2018.

Ah, Christmas Dinner, a family tradition, what a marvelous time. In this blog post I offer some advice to those of you hosting a large dinner of 20+ people, based on my over 30 years of hosting that magical family event. Magical though it may be, as host and cellar master, in this blog I offer you some basic advice on how to survive the event relatively unscathed. Before we get started, let me preface my remarks with a basic disclaimer: the events outlined below represent a collective wisdom, and have not necessarily all transpired in our household. So is this fact or fiction? Maybe a little of both.

  • Protect the Cellar – As host of the Christmas Dinner for a large family with several adult children of legal drinking age in attendance, your number one priority will be to protect the wine cellar from plunder and pillage. Under no circumstances should you allow anyone other than yourself to have access to the cellar. If you do not have an alarm system and/or lock on your cellar door, then get one installed.
  • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 56-8Avoid offering cellar tours, especially after the first couple of glasses of wine have been consumed – nothing good comes from those tours, and if you are unlucky you could get a broken bottle,
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  • or a family member goading you into serving up a bottle of the best. Bad mistake, because one bottle leads to another 2-3, which you cannot control without embarrassing someone, so avoid serving up the best, and make sure what you serve is pre planned, out of the cellar decanting, or in the fridge chilling.
  • Guess who is coming to dinner – the next order of business will be establishing how many will be attending, let the circus begin! This number is never precise, and will usually not be known, even at the last minute. There are several issues that create the confusion, such as:
  1. Bad weather – let it snow, and snow, and snow some more.
  2. Relatives who do not speak to each other – if Uncle Bob is coming I’m not, he is so embarrassing when he parties, but if he is not coming I’m bringing my boyfriend and my best girlfriend. Okay then, Bob it is!
  3. Bringing friends to a large family dinner is always testy – half the time they are no-shows because they got a better offer, or their own loved ones with whom they were fighting, caved in after all and invited them at the last minute.
  4. No dogs please – believe it not, everyone wants to bring their dog. The usual excuse is that the dog cannot stay alone at home longer than 6 – 8 hours. Well isn’t that just perfect, tell them you will be sure to have them on their way in 6 hours or less. Even then, half the time they cancel at the last minute because they feel sorry for the dog, or they do something stupid like bring the dog anyways – big mistake. Try keeping their dog in your garage for 5 hours, it never works.
  5. Flu and cold season – to stay at home or to haul your sorry carcass to dinner and infect everyone, your choice but everyone else wishes it was not. If it were up to them they would have someone drop off a doggy bag of leftovers at your front door. Do not expect advance notice of this cancellation, you may only get the apology call the next day.

So what you say, well are we serving dinner for 15 or 25, it kind of makes a difference. For starters you need a bigger turkey, a bigger or a second dining room table, and more chairs. And then what about the wine?

  • Dinner table logistics – most homes are not equipped for dinner tables that seat 20+ people. So squeezing in a 2nd table plus another dozen chairs becomes a bit of a joke, especially if you set up for 20 and only 15 show, but even worse if you set up for 20 and 25 show. Finding chairs is even more of a joke as every seating device in the house gets pressed into service, ranging from bar stools, footstools, folding chairs, dusty old travel trunks, and some relic you use in the workshop to get to the top storage shelves in the basement.
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  • Then you throw oversized tablecloths on the tables hoping to hide as much as possible. Now for the wineglasses, you will never have enough (glasses always break during the year), and they will not match, they will be of all shapes and sizes. Nothing like using a champagne flute for that red Bordeaux! Best of all logistics problems is what to do with the grandchildren, you know who I mean, those little ones 5 years or younger. Of course they want to be part of the family dinner too, so do you bring a high chair to the already overcrowded table, or just let them sit on their parent’s lap. Most end up on their parent’s lap, so here is what you need to do – make sure everyone within two seats of the kids wears a bib or splash guard, use a purple or red tablecloth (nothing stains worse than cranberry sauce on a white tablecloth), and make sure the parent holding the kid gets cheap wine in a plastic wineglass, because that glass is going to spill!
  • Wine logistics – as host be prepared to supply up to 75% of the wine, so you need to have pre dinner wines, both red and white, dinner wines, both red and white, and a dessert wine or port. At large family dinners such as this, it is customary for everyone to bring a bottle of wine or two, and that always leads to some ridiculous moments which you, the wine host, must manage very carefully, here are just a few:
  1. Guest brings bottle of plonk – if this is one of your kids, send them out or home to bring a better bottle, after all, if you have brought them up right, they should know better. If a guest then you must be more diplomatic, open the wine right away and serve them a glass immediately, a real rim rocker, and try to get rid of that bottle as quick as possible. This does not always work, often your guest will turn up their nose at the plonk they brought and ask you for something better, are we having fun yet?
  2. Family cheapskates bring one bottle for four people – this is really not as bad a problem as you might think. You know what to expect, because they are cheap every year, and you know that if they are coming they will drink their one bottle and 4 of your bottles. So your choice is obvious, always have 4 bottles of cheap house wine standing by, or this is your perfect opportunity to get rid of all the plonk your guests brought. As wine host this is your job to manage properly, so stay alert and get rid of that plonk.
  3. Wineglass shortage – if you have 20 or more for dinner everyone will have to stick with their own wineglass for the entire evening. This is a pain because there are always “snack slobs” who get the hors d’oeuvres smudged all over their fingers and their wine glass, so it needs to be washed. You also need to watch out for the “wine glass bandit”, the guy who puts his glass down somewhere, wanders off, then forgets where he left his wine, so he goes to the kitchen to get another. This guy is a real pain because he can make you short of 4-5 wine glasses before you know it, you have to find his abandoned glasses (check the bathroom, beside the sofa, the door to the wine cellar, etc.) and you have to wash them for your other guests, usually right away. This guy is a pest, he needs to be watched, and he wastes a lot of wine, so make sure he gets the plonk.
  4. Hoarding the good stuff – a good host will have an organized bar, and that can mean having a plan for the order in which you are serving the various wines brought to dinner. We have already established that the plonk goes first, then your cheap house wines, keep the good stuff for dinner. Now here is where some advance planning is necessary, you need to have an organized seating arrangement approved by your spouse (so he or she does not upset your plans for hoarding the best dinner wines). Try to get the younger crowd at one end of the table (or better still on a completely separate table, that worked well for us once or twice), and put the old timers together at your end of the table. Old timers generally bring better wines, they have been to a few rodeos before and know the routine. Make sure the kids have all the cheapest stuff, and that it is all parked on the table in front of them, lots of choice means they are less likely to look towards your end of the table to see what you are drinking. Meanwhile, at your end have no more than 2 bottles on the table, one white and one red, hold everything else out of sight. This plan will not work forever, eventually the kids catch on and then you are done.
  5. The pre drink, when does the host start up – as host this is your decision, subject of course to spousal approval. If you do most of the work (and managing the wine consumption can be a big job), then you should be entitled to a late morning or early afternoon tune up as you get ready to host the event. After all, you do not need to drive, and if you know your crowd and there will be no plonk to manage, and no wine glass bandit to supervise, no wine glass shortage and simple seating logistics, and no hoarding of the good stuff required, then go right ahead. Relax and enjoy the afternoon and take the edge off with a glass or two. However, be advised that this may backfire on you. You may get too relaxed, forget to lock that wine cellar door, be unaware as plonk gets by you unnoticed, and while you are washing dirty wine glasses casually left all over the house by a “wine glass bandit”, guided tours of your cellar are underway and a six pack of good stuff is being uncorked and decanted by a well intentioned, and not so close relative, who figures the host won’t mind. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 56-9No worries though, this is your choice, so you make the call, just remember to get spousal approval.
  6. The Cleanup – not much chance of avoiding this one, this is your baby. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 56-3My best recommendation is to recruit a couple of old timers to clean up the kitchen and dishes while you work on the dining room, getting rid of the extra table and chairs, etc. You recruit your old timers by telling them you have a special bottle of port to share with those who help with the cleanup. That always gets results, and you were going to give them a glass anyways. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 56-2But now you have the added benefit of being able to hoard it between the 3 or 4 of you in the kitchen, which means more for you guys. While you clean out the dining room, you get to review what, if anything, is left of your best wines, and recork the excess for tomorrow. There will usually be 4-5 half empty bottles left on the kid’s table. With a plastic funnel pour them into the best bottle(s) of the bunch. These go back to the bar area for round 2 for the kids, and don’t worry about blending different bottles, the kids will not be able to tell the difference any more, and if they do and they don’t like it, then they will likely leave earlier, and that works too.
  7. The Damage – this gets realized the next morning, when you tally up how many bottles the house went down, how many wine glasses didn’t make it, and whether or not any of your best china dishes got broken. Red wine stains, where to put away all the special Christmas dishes (don’t try to figure this one out, I never could), leftovers everywhere.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 56-1 Hopefully nobody broke a dining room chair or put holes in the gyprock walls. A Dinner for 20 will often require between 20 – 24 bottles of wine, with half coming from your guests. Of the 12 bottles that you supply, only 3 should be good bottles (dinner red and white for the old timers, and after dinner port). Your other 9 bottles should be house wine, or of house wine quality. Your 3 good wines may cost you $100 total, your nine house wines will run you about $15 each or $135 total. Your total wine bill will run about $225 – $250. This of course is just the wine bill.
  8. Passing the Torch – after hosting this event for 5 consecutive years or more, you become the host of choice, this becomes your event, your cross to bear. Words like “but we always have Christmas Dinner at your house, its a family tradition” are hard to get out from under. I have tried everything to move this tradition onto someone else, and nothing seems to work. I tried serving all plonk wines, I tried keeping the house too hot, then too cold. I tried running out of everything, not enough chairs, no gluten free turkey, nothing works!

 

So kids take note, when it becomes your time to host Christmas dinner for 20, I hope to be there as an invited guest. I will bring a bottle of plonk, I will ask for a glass of wine from your good stuff, not what I brought, and I will expect an above average dinner wine and a seat at the old timers table. Please make sure that the after dinner wine is a properly aged vintage port, and that you host the dinner before my 80th birthday.

Cheers,

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 55, Some Holiday Tasting Notes, January 24, 2018.

Holidays at my place are usually social gatherings with families and friends, and often provide ideal occasions to break open a special bottle. At my place, you have to pick and choose your time to open a special bottle because there is often too many people to share the bottle with. Let’s face it, a special bottle worth north of $200 does not go very far with 10 people or more. Two ounces is just enough to get a good taste, and that’s it. In fact, inhaling too hard could leave you with nothing but fumes in the glass, gone before you realize what happened!

So finding the right time, the right number of people, the right this and the right that … is just not that easy. Then you have to have the right wine for the occasion, be that red or white, young or old, sweet or dry. Every year I try to come up with two or three tasting experiences that went well enough to write about. This year I have 4 such experiences to share with you as follows:

  • 1990 Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Turckheim Riesling Vendange Tardive – tasted December 10, 2017. Rieslings made from their Herrenweg Turckheim vineyard are excellent when young, so I was a little surprised that at 27 years of age this wine was fabulous, still tasting young and vibrant.

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Orange marmalade on the nose and palate, with lots of caramel, lemon/lime spritzer, and juicy ripe melons. Round, full and chewy on the palate, not weak and not acidic. Just full of life, no rough edges, no sign of any fading. This was an excellent, fully mature late harvest Riesling showing no signs of fatigue or decay. I would rate this wine at 93 points and give it easily another 10 – 15 years of life ahead of it. If you have a bottle of this beauty in your cellar and you are in no hurry to drink it, you can safely sit on it until 2020 and try it on its 30th birthday! We tasted this wine while we decorated our Christmas tree, a fine choice for a suitable family occasion.

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  • 1987 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – tasted December 16, 2017. This is my daughter’s birth year wine, and since her birthday had happened three weeks earlier without much celebration, six of us decided to try a bottle as we had some concerns the wine may be over the hill and in decline.

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This is still a very good California Cabernet Sauvignon, the cork was nice and moist, with lots of cherries, cedar, and light oak on the nose. On the palate the wine was soft and delicate, tasting of smooth dark chocolate leading to a minty, mineral, tangy finish and aftertaste. Once upon a time Robert Parker had rated this wine at 97 points in 1994, and today WineSearcher.com gives this wine a combined current rating of 92 points, which I agree with. Recent tasting notes still rate the wine highly, but fully mature and ready to drink now. There is no doubt that the wine is fully mature, and will only decline from here, but the real question is when. This wine could remain in its current state for another 5-10 years, but a good rule to follow if you have more than one bottle of this wine in your cellar would be to try this wine annually from here on. A great reason to try more frequently!

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  • 2015 Caves de Ribeauville Pinot Gris Vendanges Manuelles – tasted December 29, 2017. I suggested this wine in my blog post # 52 circulated on December 8, 2017. This wine is available at the SAQ in Quebec at $20.30 per bottle, product # 11601670. Just to show you that I do drink wines that I recommend, and that not all my wine suggestions are exotic or pricey, I did try a bottle of this over the holidays.

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This is a lovely Pinot Gris from Alsace, not sweet, not pricey, and not overly complicated. The wine was medium sweet with smoky aromas, dried fruit, fresh apricot and peaches, leading to a spicy finish. The smoke and spice in the wine offset most of the sweetness in the wine itself, leaving you with the overall impression that the wine is only just a little sweet. An Alsace Pinot Gris wine is usually very satisfying to drink because any residual sweetness in the wine is offset by the smoke and spice from the Pinot Gris grape, and this wine does just that. The wine is very nicely balanced, and drinks very well right now for a recent vintage. My impression of this wine is that you get great value for the price, and you can drink it right away. So if you want to buy any of the wines from this post, this would be the one to get.

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  • 1985 Moulin Touchais – tasted December 31, 2017. If you want to know more about Moulin Touchais wines, I urge you to read my earlier blog post # 14, dated April 19, 2016. In that post I cover a lot about the winery, their owners, their production method, why the wine is so incredibly balanced, and how long lived the wines from good vintages can be. There is no doubt that 1985 was a great year for Moulin Touchais, and my post # 14 gives detail of my tasting notes of the 1985 vintage from a tasting previously conducted in November 2013.

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So after 4 years I figured it was time to try the wine again. The wine is a dark golden color, with huge viscosity illustrated by the long legs or tears that flow ever so slowly down the inside of the glass. Aromas of orange marmalade, apricots, caramel, and spices tease your senses and promise more to come on the palate. Once in your mouth you are immediately aware of the sweetness, yet perfectly balanced with an acidity that leaves you refreshed rather than overwhelmed. On the palate you get the same principal taste sensations of orange marmalade, apricots, caramel and spices, but you also get a light smoky taste, and the spices warm your throat. The freshness and purity on the palate is very uplifting, and the spices finish with a tangy aftertaste to them. This wine is well built, well structured, and perfectly balanced. The longer you dwell on this wine by revisiting the aromas with another swirl of the glass, and another taste, the more impressed you get with the wine’s depth, the wine’s power, finesse, and complexity. The taste experience is beguiling, makes you feel as if you are being seduced – yes, that good!

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Comparing my tasting notes from 2013 the only difference that stands out is that the 2013 bottle showed more aromas of orange peels verses the orange marmalade in 2017. This makes sense, the wine is evolving, and the orange aromas are becoming more complex and more integrated into the overall expression on both the nose and palate. There is so much going on in this wine, it really does command your attention. In 2013 I rated this wine at 93 points, today I give it 95 points, and it should continue to improve for the next 5 years. As it improves with more age, different aromas and tastes will emerge and gain prevalence, making it worth the wait.

It is no accident that I tasted this wine on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I spent a nice quiet evening together at home. Another wise choice as there was lots more wine to go around between just the two of us. I recorked the empty bottle and when I uncork it again (as I have a few times since then), the few drops left in the bottle continue to dazzle the senses, reminding me of that great tasting experience.

 

So these were my tastings of note over the holidays. As you can see, what to taste, when to taste, and in the presence of who’s company, are all important components that go into the overall success of the tasting experience. You can also see the importance of having good cellar storage conditions so that you can count on that older bottle being in pristine condition. I was concerned about the Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon before opening it, but not once it was open. I had expected the 1990 Zind Humbrecht to be drying out and losing some fruit, same as I had expected to see the 1985 Moulin Touchais losing momentum, but both were in great shape, and the Moulin Touchais is actually still continuing to improve with age, even at 32 years of age.

Wine tasting can be such good entertainment and so conducive to enhanced and enriched social interaction, in short – good times. So keep buying those bottles, store them properly, and know when to bring them out and enjoy.

Cheers, and here’s to a Happy New Year!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 54, Regenerative Grape Growers and Wine Producers, December 21, 2017

Do you know what a “regenerative farmer” or a ‘regenerative wine producer” is? Think in terms of an organic producer or farmer on steroids. The intent is to put carbon back into depleted soils and in so doing bring them back to life, to levels of health not seen in many, many decades. Healthy soils produce healthy crops, require little if any fertilization, support a healthy community of bacteria, and retain water, requiring little if any irrigation. As far as grape growing and wine making is concerned, healthier soil yields stronger, healthier grape vines that produce higher quality grapes, increased yield, and perhaps most important of all, grapes that express the “terroir” of the land much more than normal. Winemakers pride themselves on how expressive their wines are of the soil, the mineral content, and its various other components. Healthy soil allows all of that to happen.

“So what?” you might ask, “Why should this concern me”? Good question, this blog will outline some of the reasons why you should be concerned, and will highlight some of the wineries who are doing something about it, with good results.

I am going to assume that pretty much everyone in the modern, well informed world (with the possible exception of Donald Trump), are convinced that global warming has caused extreme climate change. California wildfires consume huge tracks of parched dry land (destroying several vineyards and coating several more with a black soot rendering this year’s crop useless), a killer frost in Bordeaux at the end of April 2017 destroys many grape vines, monster hurricanes lay waste to much of the Caribbean and ravage US coastal regions, and all the while average temperatures around the world continue to climb.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase, while desertification continues to grow as more and more soil converts into worthless dirt, and all of the nutrients are leached out of it. As more and more arable farmland weakens in nutrients and good bacteria, more and more fertilizer is required to grow produce in that increasingly nutrient deficient soil.

This past October, I attended the Living Soils Symposium Montreal, a 3- day conference which discussed regenerative agriculture and its potential to sequester atmospheric carbon while simultaneously restoring our fresh water reserves, preventing desertification and restoring the nutrient density in our food. The event was a huge success, and highly informative. This event spawned the creation of Regeneration Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a national movement aimed at teaching farmers, food manufacturers, governments, and others how to rejuvenate and restore depleted soils by absorbing the excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere back into our soils, through simple basic farming practices. This process will reverse the harmful effects of climate change and restore badly depleted farmlands to their natural healthy state. So this sounds like a great plan of action to me, but how does this tie into this wine blog about regenerative wine producers?

After some research I found 5 wineries engaged in either regenerative wine production or very sustainable practices. Two of them are local Canadian wineries in the Niagara region, RedStone Winery and Southbrook Vineyards. Chateau Maris is located in the Minervois district of the Languedoc in southern France, while Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is found in the Pessac-Leognan region of Bordeaux. But by far the largest, and most recognized for their sustainability efforts, in this group is Fetzer, in California.

RedStone Winery – Redstone is a certified Biodynamic farm, which is a way of farming that treats the soil as a living organism and works to bring balance to the ecosystem. Biodynamic standards are similar to organic in that they prevent the use of artificial chemicals yet they differ in that they treat the crops, animals and soil as a single system. One concept of ‘regenerative’ or biodynamic farming is holistic grazing, and RedStone winery incorporates livestock into their agricultural system; their chickens feed on bugs, their sheep eat the lower vine leaves to expose the grapes to the ripening sun and they use horses instead of tractors whenever possible to help avoid soil compaction. In doing this, RedStone farms is improving the quality of its soils while simultaneously enhancing beneficial microorganisms and sequestering carbon. http://redstonewines.ca/the-philosophy/

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Southbrook Vineyards – Southbrook was Canada’s first vineyard to become certified by Demeter, the international certifying body that oversees biodynamic agriculture. Southbrook believes that the farm should be a self contained unit, where all materials including animal feed and manure are produced within the farm. Southbrook believes in the natural rhythms of nature and observing and responding to the environment in an organic way. They believe that this will create a unique terroir and ecosystem on the vineyard which will also result in vibrant and unique wines.

https://www.southbrook.com/Our-Green-Story/Biodynamics/Biodynamic-Wines

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Chateau Maris- A certified BCorp as well as Demeter certified Biodynamic, Chateau Maris focused on sustainable wine making from the very beginning. Chateau Maris is confronting climate change head on; they constructed their facility out of lightweight, organic hemp straw bricks that continue to capture and sequester carbon over many years as they harden. They converted unhealthy soils that were farmed conventionally into regenerative and organic vineyards. http://www.chateaumaris.com/gb/about/sustainability/

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Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte- The Chateau plants the baby vines that they have grown in their grapevine nursery, which is a protected ecosystem on a separate island. This results in the winery successfully protecting the genetic diversity of their vineyard and nursery. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte undertakes significant efforts to enhance microbial life in the soil such as adding their own organic compost and planting hedges and trees. They introduced beehives on the estate and they even plough their white wine fields with a horse! The Chateau was asked to present their environmental protection initiatives at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, December 2015. Based on the principles of a circular economy, the Chateau recovers rain water, recycles waste water, uses solar panels and transforms vine cuttings into compost or uses them for heating! Everything is regenerated.

https://www.smith-haut-lafitte.com/en/preserving-the-environment/

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Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is currently owned by Daniel and Florence Cathiard. They bought the 78 hectare estate in 1990. They both skied for the French Olympic ski team in 1965, and made their money selling their sports retail store chain “GO Sports” to fund the vineyard purchase. Their bio precision approach to wine making includes low intervention, bio dynamic viticulture, and even satellite technology that tracks grape ripening in their vineyards. Famed wine grower and consultant Michel Rolland also consults for them. For the last 19 years (since 1998) Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte has been rated by wine critics at 90 points plus every year. The wine costs in the range of about $125 – $150 per bottle CDN. In 2009 famous wine critic Robert Parker rated the wine at a perfect 100 points, and the price of their wine doubled almost immediately, and now that vintage costs about $360 per bottle.

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The estate also produces an equally as good Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, pictured above, and 4 second wines named Le Petit Haut Lafitte (red), Le Petit Haut Lafitte Blanc, Les Hauts de Smith (red) and Les Hauts de Smith Blanc. The second wines are not quite as good in quality, but are often rated 90 points plus themselves, and normally cost half the price of their top quality label.

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In Ontario, at the LCBO you can buy the 2014 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte red for $149.85 (495911), this wine is rated at 94 points by the Wine Spectator. In Quebec, at the SAQ you can buy the 2013 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte white for $175.75 (13260080), rated 96 points by the Wine Spectator. You can also buy the 2014 Le Petit Haut Lafitte for $50.25 (13395030), rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator.

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte also have one of the best storage cellars in Bordeaux, housing up to 1,000 barrels in their all underground cellars, see below. Does this give you “cellar envy”?

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Fetzer- Fetzer is certainly the leader in the sustainable wine-making arena, though their commitment is more to sustainability and to becoming carbon positive by 2030 than to regenerative agriculture specifically. Fetzer vineyards was among 19 global enterprises and the only wine company to receive a  “Momentum for Change” Climate Solutions Award for climate action at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany (COP23), which took place in October 2017. The sheer volume of wine they produce makes it difficult to practice 100% regenerative agriculture, the Fetzer group of companies generated sales of $156 million US in 2010 on 3.1 million cases of wine sold.

Fetzer was founded in 1968 by the Fetzer family, who sold the company in 1992 to Brown – Forman (they produce Jack Daniels whisky) for $82 million. Brown – Forman sold the company 19 years later in 2011 to the Chilean wine giants Concha Y Toro for $238 million. The Fetzer group of companies consists of Fetzer itself, Bonterra, Five Rivers, Jekel, Sanctuary, and Little Black Dress. Their combined operation consists of 1,060 acres of vines, annual production capacity of 9.5 million gallons at their Hopland facility and another 1.6 million gallons at their Paso Robles facility. Fetzer itself produces 11 different wines, 4 reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel) and 7 whites (White Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer). All Fetzer products are value priced in the $8.00 – $15.00 US range. Bonterra, Five Rivers, Jekel, Sanctuary, and Little Black Dress each produce their own full line of wines in similar fashion to Fetzer.

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Fetzer is a zero waste facility- they reintroduce the grape’s skins, stems and seeds into the vineyards as compost and thus divert 99.1% of all winery waste from landfill or incineration. If that isn’t already enough, Fetzer was the first US wine company to operate on 100% renewable energy beginning in 1999.

Additionally, Fetzer utilizes the power of worms and microbes to remove 99% of the winery’s wastewater. They are certified carbon neutral, while also being a certified BCorp, and they aim to empower ecosystems and local communities. Fetzer was also asked to present at COP 21 in Paris in 2015 to speak about their climate-smart wine-growing practices and have been implementing ever-improving sustainability efforts for decades. Well done!

https://www.wineindustryadvisor.com/2016/10/28/fetzer-vineyards-navigates-road-regeneration

Fetzer and Bonterra wines are widely available in both Ontario and Quebec. In Ontario at the LCBO you can buy Fetzer Chardonnay (291674), Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon (336974), and Fetzer Merlot (341131) all at $13.85, and Fetzer Gewurztraminer (222778) at $12.95. You can also buy Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon (342428), Bonterra Chardonnay (342436), and Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (86249) all at $19.95, and Bonterra Viognier 2015 (128900) at $21.95.

In Quebec at the SAQ you can buy Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon (00336874) and Fetzer Valley Oaks Fumé Blanc (00255448) at $13.60, and Fetzer Quartz White Blend (12074736) at $14.60. The Bonterra Viognier North Coast 2015 (00898767) and the Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County 2016 (11091905) both cost $20.05. The Bonterra Mendocino County Zinfandel 2015 (00530139) costs $20.10, the Bonterra Merlot Mendocino County 2014 (00897645) costs $20.95, the Bonterra Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon (00342428) costs $18.60, and the Bonterra Mendocino County Chardonnay 2016 (00342436) costs $18.55.

Concha Y Toro, the current owners of Fetzer, also share the same vision of organic and sustainable wine growing. This is very important when you realize that Concha Y Toro have been in business since 1883 (about 135 years), and they are a huge wine production company with sales over $1 billion USD since 2014. Concha Y Toro is the world’s 4th largest wine company by sales volume, and the world’s 2nd largest wine company by acreage under vine. This means that one of the largest wine companies in the world is fully committed to organic, sustainable grape growing and wine production methods. Hooray for the planet, a big player actually “gets it”!

Regenerative agriculture is the way of the future and needs our support to make it mainstream. This is also an important means by which to fight global warming and climate change by sucking excess carbon out of the atmosphere. There is however a long way to go before all farmers, food producers, and wineries jump on board. Others producers will join the trend once they see the leaders making better product, and making better money doing so. Therefore, what we the consumer can do to support and encourage the growth of regenerative farming and sustainable wine production is to buy and consume the product. So the next time you visit your local wine store, buy a couple of bottles of Fetzer, or Smith Haut Lafitte, or one of the others mentioned above, and take satisfaction from knowing that you are helping to save the planet while you sip on your wine!

Cheers,

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 53, Wines for the Holidays, December 15, 2017, Part 2

In my last blog, Wine for the Holidays, Part 1, I gave you several ideas for cheap party wines, both red and white, in both Quebec and Ontario. I also gave you suggestions for higher quality dinner wines for that holiday family dinner, both red and white, again in both Quebec and Ontario. In this blog I am going to suggest to you some after dinner, high quality dessert wines, both red and white, in both Quebec and Ontario. Lets not forget about one or two suggestions for Champagnes on New Year’s Eve. Then I am going to offer some suggestions for wines as gifts, generally more expensive, both red and white, available in both Quebec and Ontario.

Dessert wines have a tendency to be mostly sweet white wines or red Ports. Desserts at a Christmas dinner can vary from cakes and pies, to shortbread cookies and mincemeat tarts, and even a cheese tray. Generally they are not overly sweet, and this allows for a wide variety of dessert wines to be effective, ranging from late harvest Alsace to Sauternes, to Icewines. A full range of Ports will also work, from Late Bottled Vintage Port, to 10 or 20 year Tawny Ports, to Vintage Ports. Here are some ideas currently on the shelves in Quebec and Ontario:

In Ontario I suggest the following dessert wines:

  • Dark Horse Valegro Special Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine 2015 / $44.95 375 ml. / 522508 – will pair nicely with most desserts, cheese, chocolate, etc.

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  • Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine / $44.95 375 ml. / 430561 – same as above

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  • Chateau Climens 2010 / $75.75 375 ml. / 260109 – an excellent Sauternes (Barsac) from a great year, rated 94 points, not overpowering sweetness, lots of finesse.

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  • Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008 / $17.45 / 404012 – always a well-priced after dinner treat, ready to drink now.

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  • Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port / $69.95 / 149047 – if you want more from your Port than just a Late Bottled Vintage Port, then go either for a 20 Year Old Tawny or a Vintage Port. A 10 Year Old Tawny is not worth the slightly cheaper price, the 20 Year Old will show much more development, a broader range of flavors, and a smoother aftertaste, as does this 20 Year Old Taylor.

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  • Fonseca 2009 Vintage Port / $58.95 / 256875 – this is a fabulous Vintage Port at a fabulous price, rated 94 points by Robert Parker’s Neil Martin, and rated 95 points by Wine Spectator, costing roughly double this price in the US. There is plenty of this wine in the LCBO system, so make sure to pick up at least one bottle to drink for dessert at your holiday dinner, and one more for the cellar. The only drawback is drinking this beauty early (at 8 years of age) as it will only be fully mature in another 12-15 years. Make sure you decant this port for at least 4 hours, but do not be surprised if it still tastes a little young, it is still only an 8 year old!

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In Quebec I suggest the following:

  • Moulin Touchais 1997 / $49.75 / 11177418 – read my previous wine blog # 14 (April 19, 2016) all about Moulin Touchais wines. This is a great dessert wine and guaranteed to get a few people making note of the name and price. Rated 90 points on winesearcher.com, a great balance between acidity and sweetness, and already 20 years of age. I would also not mind receiving a bottle of this as a Christmas present. You also have to like the price, compared to a Sauternes or a Vintage Port, this wine’s price is a bargain.

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  • Chateau Bastor Lamontagne Sauternes 2011 / $52.00 / 11131444 – not a top tier Sauternes, but a good bottle of dessert wine nevertheless, from a good year and at a reasonable price, rated 92 points by the Wine Enthusiast, rich on the palate.

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  • Petit Guiraud Sauternes 2013 / $26.85 375 ml. / 11651642 – the second wine of Chateau Guiraud, considered a major Sauternes producer. Consider this wine in the ½ bottle size if you are only 2-3 people for dinner and dessert, rather than a full bottle size which would be better suited for 6 people or more. The wine is a little young so decant for at least one hour.

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  • Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012 / $20.00 / 191239 – younger and a little more expensive compared to the 2008 Graham’s LBVP in Ontario above, but still the least expensive dessert wine on my list from the SAQ. Depending on which SAQ store you shop at, you may find older LBVP Ports by Graham’s, Taylor’s, Fonseca, Warre’s and others at cheaper prices in the $17.00 – $18.00 range, if so then get that instead. All LBVP’s are ready to drink now.

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  • Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port / $69.75 / 00149047 – the same wine is available in Ontario above, at almost the same price, with an almost identical product number, H’mmm –very strange, never mind, just get a bottle!

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  • Fonseca Vintage Port 2000 / $120.50 / 00708990 – it is difficult to find an older Vintage Port at the SAQ that is not too expensive, you can find cheaper Vintage Port, but only from 2011 and 2013 vintages which are just too young to dink right now. You can also get the Fonseca 2000 in the Magnum size (1,500 ml) priced well at $196.75 (product # 00708842). Robert Parker rates this wine at 96 points, and Wine Spectator gives it 94 points, ready to drink in 2020, so to offset that, decant the wine 5-6 hours before drinking.

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For New Year’s Eve, you must get bubbles, and that should be Champagne. I have three suggestions for you as follows:

  • Taittinger Compte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 2006 / $215.00 / 55277 – Ontario, see my notes from my previous blog # 51 (November 28, 2017) where I tasted several Taittinger Champagnes at the Montreal Wine Show, and this was their best Champagne at that event by a wide margin. This bottle, as you can see from the LCBO photo below, comes in an attractive gift box. Although this is expensive, it is perfect for two and an intimate evening in!

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  • Moet + Chandon Brut Imperial / $67.65 / 453084 – Ontario, a standard dry Champagne from a well known producer, at a reasonable price.

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  • Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut / $70.25 / 563338 – Quebec, again another well known producer at a reasonable price, enjoy!

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Finally, I have below some gift suggestions for the boss, clients, Dad, your favorite wine collector, etc. These suggestions are not meant to be cheap, but they are also meant to be not too expensive either. Anyone can go get a 1st growth Bordeaux like a Chateau Margaux or Chateau Latour for $1,000.00 or more, but I am assuming you want a gift usually in the $200.00 or less category. So the challenge is to find good value in the $50.00 to $200.00 price range, and at the same time get the recipient a quality wine they can enjoy now or keep.

In Ontario I like these selections:

  • Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013 / $72.95 / 291914 – rated 92 points by Robert Parker himself, from a great vintage, drinking well now and will last for another 20 years.

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  • Chateau Pontet Canet 2011 / $159.85 / 297739 – rated 93 points, this 5th growth Bordeaux has been producing at 2nd growth level for the last 10 years now, having produced two stellar 100 point vintages back to back in 2009 and 2010. While the 2011 vintage is not as good, it is ready sooner, a lot cheaper, and still highly rated. This makes a very nice gift and represents excellent value.

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  • Chateau Gloria 2012 / $77.00 / 9829 – a St. Julien Bordeaux red, rated 89 points, will age nicely, still a little young to be drinking now, but well priced from a good vintage.

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From Quebec, these wines caught my attention:

  • Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Reserve 2012 / $47.25 / 12456494 – this Niagara region wine is just superb to drink right now. See my tasting notes in my previous blog # 50 (November 21, 2017) from the Montreal Wine Show in November, where this wine was, in my opinion, the best performing Queylus wine at the show. This is a round, soft, Burgundy style Pinot Noir at its best, fully mature and in full bloom, and very reasonably priced for the quality in the glass. And as an added bonus it can be opened right away, does not require decanting or cellaring, a nice gift idea.

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  • Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 2010 / $142.00 / 11520781 – rated at 96 points by Robert Parker, this 5th growth Bordeaux, like Chateau Pontet Canet above, is performing at a higher level than their current 5th growth status. Lovely cedar, plums and cassis on the palate from a great vintage. A gift for the cellar, to be enjoyed in 5 years.

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  • Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2010 / $125.00 / 12293031 – one of the top Sauternes in a very good year, rated 93 points by several critics, orange, pineapple, honey, great depth and length, will get better with age but easily enjoyed now.

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  • Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2013 / $71.00 / 11328175 – rated 18/20 by Jancis Robinson, this full blown Napa Valley Chardonnay is buttery smooth with thick chewy Chardonnay flavors, with some crafty smoky oak on the palate to balance the effect. Good for the next 5 years, a classy wine to pull out when you want a really good California white.

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  • Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 / $172.25 / 12400141 – rated 92 points by Antonio Galloni, right up there in quality with other California Cabs like Opus 1 but at $100 less per bottle, any collector will welcome this bottle into his/her cellar with open arms.

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  • Taylor Fladgate 2000 Vintage Port / $260.50 Magnum, 1,500 ml. / 852483 – now this bottle is worth getting excited about, rated 95 points by Wine Spectator and 98 points by Robert Parker, in a magnum size, perfect for entertaining, ready to drink now but only getting better for the next 30 years, display with pride in your cellar or open for dessert with your next dinner for 10.

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There is lots of good wine to be found in both the LCBO and the SAQ, hopefully these ideas will help you discover new wines to match up with those good times that family and friends bring to us over the holidays. Shop now, then relax and enjoy! Wishing you all the best over the holidays.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 52, Wines for the Holidays, December 8, 2017, Part 1

The holiday season is upon us again, and it is time to consider which wines you will want to buy for the many different occasions, events, and gifts you may want to give at this busy time of the year. You may need suggestions for wine as a gift, ranging in price from $20.00 to $200.00 or more. You may be going to a Christmas dinner with the family and want to bring a nice wine for the meal. You may be going to a friend’s Christmas or New Year’s Eve party and want to bring an inexpensive bottle, yet something that will not embarrass you. Buying wine for any of these occasions can be difficult for many reasons: lack of time, I have no idea what they like, should I bring a white or a red, my favorite wine is sold out – now what do I get, etc.

So what I have done is put together a fairly extensive list of wines in both Quebec and Ontario to give you some ideas as to what works, and why. I took several selections in Ontario from the latest Vintages release scheduled for December 9th, and I shopped for ideas for you from the SAQ Sélection stores. The selection is great, so read through these ideas.

You are going to a Christmas or New Years party, and you need to bring a decent bottle of wine, what should you get? There is plenty of selection in the $20.00 price range, but first you need to decide on a white or a red. When selecting a white, do not get an overly dry, coarse, young wine, instead try to pick up a wine with some character, and as old as possible (many selections will be 2 years or less in age and in many cases that is just too young). In reds, avoid a wine that is nowhere near ready to drink, get a bottle that is older, but if younger is your only choice then opt for a full, fruity vintage that drinks well even though ultra young.

In Ontario, I like the following inexpensive red wines for parties:

  • Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $24.95 / 444059 – a full bodied fat California Cab, cherries and chocolate, decant 1-2 hours if possible.

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  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $21.95 / 269357 – Washington State, softer and silky smooth, no decanting required.

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  • Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2014 / $19.95 / 588731 – an Argentine Malbec, a little older, rated 92 points by James Suckling.

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  • The Black Chook Shiraz/Viognier 2016 / $18.95 / 066738 – an Australian full bodied Shiraz, rated 90 points plus every year for the last 12 years, decant 2 hours.

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  • Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 / $19.95 / 451336 – a California Cab, drink now, rich, ripe and fruity.

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  • Primus Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 / $19.95 / 486043 – from Chile’s Maipo Valley, smooth, currants, berries, mint, rated 92 points by James Suckling, older wine, more mature.

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  • Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 / $22.95 / 138818 – gold medal 2016 Australia wine show, rated 94 points by winecompanion.com.au, decant 3 hours as the wine is still young.

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  • Chateau Hauchat 2015 Fronsac / $16.95 / 123489 – medium body, fruity, Merlot blend, earthy and spicy, will age 3-5 years, but why wait, drink it now.

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In Quebec, I like the following inexpensive red wines for parties:

  • Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $23.70 / 12257014 – same wine as above in Ontario, just $1.25 cheaper, (wow how is that for a switch, always used to be the other way around!)

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  • The Seven Deadly Zins 2015 / $23.30 / 11383473 – a California Zinfandel, refreshing and nice fruit, reliable, decant 1 hour.

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  • Monasterio de Las Vinas Reserva 2012 / $15.10 / 854422 – Spanish, full and fruity, aged and ready to drink.

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  • Monasterio de Las Vinas Gran Reserva Carinena 2010 / $19.35 / 10359156 – Spanish, 2 years older and slightly better quality wine, full bodied and ready to drink now, decant 1 hour.

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  • Michel Rolland Bordeaux 2010 / $21.65 / 12825894 – a Bordeaux blend from a good winemaker in a good year, at a good price. Decant 1-2 hours.

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  • D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Shiraz 2014 / $15.55 / 12505815 – full blown fruit, simple pleasure, refreshing and flavourful on the palate, great value for the price, ready to drink.

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  • D’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 2013 / $21.95 / 10346371 – a regular favorite, full chewy berry/ chocolate, round and soft, mature and ready to drink.

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  • D’Arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 / $22.00 / 10968146 – bring this only if you can decant it for 3 hours before drinking it at the party, it needs that time to soften up and let the fruit open up.

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  • Liano Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Umberto Cesari  $26.60 / 12042603 – for those who love Italian wines this wine will do the trick, a full bodied fruity blend, decant one hour.

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In Ontario, the following white wines would be my suggestions for inexpensive party wines:

  • Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2016 / $19.95 / 232702 – from Mendoza Argentina, a crisp lightly oaked wine, still very young, decant one hour.

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  • Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio 2016 / $19.95 / 326090 – light, crisp, dry, lemon-lime flavors from New Zealand, still young, very versatile, something most people will enjoy.

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  • Trimbach Riesling 2015 / $22.95 / 734517 – rated 91 points by vinous.com, a great Alsace white, crisp, clean, dry Riesling from a great Alsace producer in a great year, try a bottle.

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  • Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2016 / $22.95 / 160846 – a great German producer, off dry Riesling with peach, lime, mineral and floral tones and flavors, an easy sipping wine that will pair nicely with cheese and party munchies.

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In Quebec, the following white wines got my attention as inexpensive party wines:

  • Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio 2016 / $18.60 / 12565789 – same wine as above in Ontario, but oh my goodness $1.35 cheaper in Quebec, pinch me I must be dreaming. Buy this by the case before thirsty Ontario wine drinkers clean us out.

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  • Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017 / $18.60 / 316570 – lighter than the Pinot Grigio, but so very young, try one, for those who want something not Chardonnay.

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  • Caves de Ribeauville Pinot Gris 2015 Vendanges Manuelles / $20.30 / 11601670 – try this Alsace Pinot Gris, will be full bodied and smoky, will go great with smoked salmon, robust pronounced flavours, my personal favorite on this list of whites.

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  • Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2016 / $18.65 / 10754084 – a California Chardonnay, I love the name, morning fog is the way I start most days, not an over-oaked Chardonnay so give it a try, still a little young.

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  • Zuccardi Serie A Chardonnay Viognier 2015 / $14.60 / 516443 – an Argentine Chardonnay blend, not too young and very well priced, try this wine, you should be pleasantly surprised.

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  • D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2016 / $20.00 / 10829269 – I have tasted and rated this wine before in my blog post # 43, this is a great wine, a little young still, but a fun party wine because it has body, flavor, depth, and is not a Chardonnay, get one.

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The next category of wines you will need for the holiday season will be what I call dinner wines. I am thinking here about a Christmas dinner, or a family gathering where a special meal is enjoyed with family and/or close friends. This is not a party, so you need to honour the occasion with a better quality wine. You will also need to determine red or white or both, and you will need to make some adjustments in terms of wine selected depending on what is being served, and which family members drink only white or only red. For example, if 3 of 8 guests only drink white and the main course is roast beef, then you have to find a white wine that goes properly with roast beef. Fortunately turkey goes with both red and white wines.

In Ontario I like the following, both red and white, as dinner wines:

  • Conundrum White 2015 / $24.95 / 342824 – a lovely California Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend, full of fat fruit flavours and floral scents, lychees, the body and fragrance of this wine will go great with turkey.

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  • Domaine de Chevalier Clos des Lunes Lune D’Argent Blanc 2014 / $34.00 / 530642 – from the LCBO Classics selection so you may need to shop for this one, a great Bordeaux white from the Domaine de Chevalier estate who are highly respected for their white wines, dry, crisp, both delicate and structured at the same time, has enough age on it so any rough edges have already rounded out, this will go with turkey, any seafood, ham and pork. For red meats I would go with the Conundrum above. May be already sold out at the LCBO.

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  • Chateau de Beaucastel Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc 2015 / $34.95 / 048892 – a white wine Marsanne/Viognier blend, rated 90 points by winealign.com, a rich and smooth, full bodied white, decant one hour to let the wine open up and warm up a little.

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  • Cannonball Merlot 2014 / $24.95 / 342824 – a great California red reasonably priced, full fruit, spice, and chocolate, ready to drink now, pairs with all meats, turkey, chicken, duck, etc.

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  • Don Christobal Triana 2011 / $29.95 / 512863 – from Mendoza Argentina, a Malbec/Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, rated 95 points by Decanter Magazine and Best in Show, full bodied, smooth, lots of fruit, smoke, and spice, nicely aged and rounded out, decant for 1-2 hours, works well with turkey and all meats.

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  • Elderton Barossa Shiraz 2014 / $24.95 / 713024 – an Australian Shiraz showing lots of plums, cloves, and smoky oak, smooth and full bodied, a wine to pair with red meats, works with the gravy and stuffing of turkey if they are cooked with herbs and spices.

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  • Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2014 / $24.95 / 973453 – a Cote Du Rhone red showing rich dark fruit, perfumed, pepper, licorice and chocolate, but this wine needs 3 hours decanting to get those flavors out and on display. Works well with all red meats, works with turkey also when the wine has opened up, so decanting is important.

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In Quebec there are several reds that work, and only a couple of whites that I could find that I liked:

  • Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Chardonnay 2015 / $29.05 / 12535512 – a full bodied, full throttle California Chardonnay, will match with turkey and most meats, guaranteed your guests will write down the name and buy some for New Years.

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  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2015 / $21.85 / 13426094 – a new release at the SAQ, this wine is bourbon barrel aged which adds a whole new taste dimension to this California Chardonnay. I am going to try a bottle paired with turkey this season. Sometimes if you have a gluten free gravy or stuffing it can be very bland, this wine will add such a new bourbon taste to the mix you will forget all about the blandness of the gluten free parts of the meal.

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  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 / $22.85 / 13426043 – like the Chardonnay above, this wine is also a new release at the SAQ, and it too is bourbon barrel aged. I was initially concerned that this wine might be too young for a dinner wine, but when I tasted it recently I was no longer concerned, the bourbon flavor gives it a nice spicy port-like kick that gives you that warmth and softness on the palate that one normally associates with a more mature wine. This wine will pair very well with turkey.

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  • Jean Pierre Moueix Pomerol 2014 / $32.60 / 739623 – this is essentially a Bordeaux Merlot blend from one of the most famous producers in Pomerol (Petrus). 2014 was a very good year, this Merlot should work well with turkey, I would suggest decanting for 1 hour or more.

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  • Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 / $30.60 / 11383545 – this is a full bodied California Cabernet which I would decant for at least 2 hours to let the wine open up. You can expect lots of berry fruit, chocolate, and a full long smooth aftertaste. A little more on the punchy side for turkey (so you are forgiven if you opt for a Bordeaux instead), but this works well with all other meats so it is quite versatile.

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  • D’Arenberg The Galvo Garage Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2012 / $28.95 / 11155876 – a great Australian producer, a nice Cab/Merlot blend, and not too young either. This you must decant 3 hours to get the flavors all opened up, but when you do you will find this works with just about everything, turkey included.

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  • Dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Toscana 2015 / $28.60 / 10938684 – for my Italian friends who absolutely must have an Italian red on the dinner table, needs 2 hours decanting, and as a backup have a bottle of the Liano Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon Umberto Cesari at $26.60 per bottle described above as a red party wine (decant this one 2 hours as well).

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  • Bachelder Cote de Nuits Villages 2012 / $40.00 / 12089461 – made by winemaker Thomas Bachelder of Domaine Queylus in the Niagara region, Thomas makes very good wine and here is a chance to put a good quality Burgundy from a good year on the table for a reasonable price. This wine will pair nicely with turkey, decant for 2 hours.

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  • Chateau Lalande-Borie St. Julien 2014 / $45.25 / 12929589 – the second wines of the 2014 vintage from several classified Bordeaux chateau are on SAQ shelves now, and I think this wine shows good promise. Owner Bruno Borie also owns Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou, and he brings that pedigree to this relatively new label. This wine is smooth, rated 89 points and ready to drink now, also comes from a good year. It will match well with turkey and almost everything else, decant 1 hour.

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  • Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Cru Bourgeois 2010 / $25.90 / 11835388 – Stephen Spurrier gives this wine 88 points, great fruit, fleshy, well balanced, not overly acidic. From a great vintage, decant 2 hours to let the wine soften up and the fruit show. Turkey and red meats will pair nicely with this wine.

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These selections should give you plenty to choose from for the party circuit and the dinner table over the holidays. My next blog will follow shortly, where I will have some dessert wine suggestions, my suggestions for New Year’s Eve Champagnes, and most importantly, mid and upper end wine gift suggestions.

I hope you get some ideas from the suggestions above, try a few and broaden your wine knowledge base.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 51, La Grande Dégustation, Montreal Wine Show 2017, Part 2, Nov 28, 2017.

Having tasted a lot of red wine during the first part of the show, I was glad to move into white wines with the Champagnes and Rieslings, so here is Part 2 of my tasting experience at La Grande Dégustation, The Montreal Wine Show, which we attended November 3, 2017.

Many Champagne houses were represented at the show including well known names such Moet and Chandon, Laurent-Perrier, Pol Roger, Pommery and Taittinger. We chose to spend most of our time in Champagne at Taittinger, where Carlos De Ipanema guided us through a tasting of six of their products, which was very impressive. Taittinger makes over 35 different Champagne products and ages them a minimum of 3 years in their cellars before they are released for sale. With annual production of over 6 million bottles, Taittinger has over 3 kilometers of underground cellars in Reims, clearly a large scale operation.

At $59.75 per bottle, the Taittinger Brut Réserve is their baseline non vintage product, a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier, fine bubbles, low foam, peach, vanilla and floral scents on the nose, fresh and zesty on the palate.

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The Taittinger Prélude Brut Grands Crus, at $79.50 per bottle is a step up from the Brut Réserve, a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, rated 92 points by The Wine Spectator and 90 points by The Wine Advocate, and worth every point of those ratings.

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My personal favorite of the bunch was the 2006 Comptes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs which retails at $174.50 per bottle, 100% Chardonnay, fine bubbles, delicate froth, fresh nose with plenty of citrus, vanilla, lemons, almonds, and lime. Very refined with lots of class, a Champagne made to last 30-40 years, buy a couple to lay away and celebrate your retirement.

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The Taittinger Prestige Rosé at $81.50 per bottle is 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier, rated 92 points by The Wine Spectator and 90 points by The Wine Advocate. The bubbles are small and delicate, the nose detects aromas of raspberry, cherry and currant, with more red fruits on the palate and a touch of spice in the aftertaste, very pleasant, a perfect warm weather refreshment.

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The Taittinger Nocturne City Lights at $72.00 per bottle is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, and 25% Pinot Meunier, and was my second favorite Champagne of the group. Again well rated at 90 points by The Wine Spectator, you taste peach and apricots on the palate with a fresh zesty aftertaste.

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Finally, we tasted the Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Rosé, a blend of 30% Chardonnay, and 70% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, rated 89 points by The Wine Spectator and retailing at $79.50 per bottle. My third favorite Champagne from Taittinger, full bodied and fleshy on the nose and the palate, yet dry and fresh on the aftertaste, a very versatile Champagne that would perform well on its own, with a light meal or even with a dessert.

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Six different Champagnes, one for every occasion or different type of meal, a very thoughtful, versatile and comprehensive offering of Champagnes from Taittinger, congratulations Carlos (shown below with some of our tasting team), very well done.

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Next we moved on to the Riesling section and of course I was drawn like a magnet to the Hugel booth where Jean Frédéric Hugel guided us through a tasting of five outstanding Riesling wines. If you want to get a full appreciation of Riesling wines at their best, the best place to look is at the Famille Hugel wines from Alsace – heaven, and often perfection in a bottle.

I have written about Hugel wines before in my previous blog posts 21 (June 7, 2016), 17 (May 10, 2016), and 6 (February 19, 2016), so by now you must realize that I am a big fan of Hugel wines. One of the reasons why it is so important to attend wine shows such as this one is because the owner, winemaker, or one of their team is usually there at the show pouring their wine for you. You also get a chance to taste and buy their best wines, wines that you may never see imported by your local provincial liquor board or your local wine shop. This time was no exception.

We tasted with Jean Frédéric the following wines from Famille Hugel: 1) the 2016 Classic Riesling, 2) the 2013 Estate Riesling, 3) the 2011 Riesling Grossi Laue, 4) the 2011 Riesling Vendage Tardives, and finally the 2010 Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles.The Hugel family have been producing wine since 1639, they produce over 1.3 million bottles of wine per year, and Jean Hugel (Jean Frédéric’s grandfather) wrote the rules on Alsace late harvest wines.

The 2016 Classic Riesling was everything you expect from Hugel in the way of an honest, clean Riesling. Well made, the classic steely dry Riesling grape showing plenty of lemon, citrus, and lime flavors with a hint of flint like mineral tones on the aftertaste. This base line product you expect to find locally at about $20.00 per bottle, and will always perform well with any seafood.

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The 2013 Estate Riesling is the next level up at $43.25 per bottle and boasts tastes of apple, pear, almond, and honey. The grapes clearly come from their famous Schoenenbourg vineyards with that unique marley/mineral/chaulky character to the finish on the wine.

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But Jean Frédéric was just getting started with his enthusiasm for the terroir of his wines. It was great to watch the youthful energy with which he described his wines, like they were his children with their own unique behavioral characteristics. This reminded me so much of how his grandfather Jean Hugel guided us through a tasting of Hugel wines in Riquewihr in 1986, with that same Hugel passion that says the family has put their heart and soul into every bottle they make. That is another reason why I strongly recommend attending wine shows such as this one, let the winemaker impress you with their dedication, commitment to detail, knowledge of their terroir, and their passion to make you the best wines they can. Believe me, you will remember that winemaker every time you open a bottle of their wine, and that is an important part of your relationship with wine.

We then continued our tasting with the 2011 Riesling Grossi Laue, which retails at $113.50 per bottle. This wine also displayed the lemon/lime/citrus flavors, but also added in scent of flowers, pistachio nuts, almonds, peach and just a little salt. The combined effect was just a powerhouse Riesling, giving the impression that the wine needed another 5 years before revisiting – it needs time to open further. Great now but to be even better in 5 years time.

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The 2011 Riesling Vendages Tardives is made with 62 grams of residual sugar, and comes from vines averaging 30 years of age. The wine is smooth, sophisticated, elegant, yet full bodied, sweet, and balanced by perfect acidity. Intense floral scents, pears, honey. So much flavor, and such concentrated power, a pleasure to taste.

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The 2010 Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles came to us from a 375 ml. bottle that retails at $185.00 per bottle. The wine is made with 120 grams of residual sugar, but the high sugar content is perfectly balanced with just the right level of acidity so that the finished product is light and lively, not thick and overpowering. The vines average 40 years of age, the wine was bottled in 2011 and according to Jean Frédéric “it has not moved in 5 years”, meaning that it has not evolved or aged in the bottle at all. This is a wine made to last at least 50 years. On the palate you get bombarded by lemon, peach, rhubarb, ginger, honey, and overripe grapes, combining into a smooth and creamy finish with enough acidity to cleanse the palate and leave you wanting more. Just stunning in every way, dare I say “perfection in a bottle”?

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The price tag reflects the high quality of the wine and it’s scarcity, which is exactly why it is so important to attend these wine shows and taste rare gems like this wine. Famille Hugel would love to make their Sélection de Grains Nobles wines every year (they have produced SGN wines from Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris grapes), but weather is often a factor limiting production to maybe 3 years in 10 for Gewurztraminer and even less frequent for Riesling and Pinot Gris. So having an SGN Riesling 2010 at the show available for tasting and purchase is just a wonderful treat. Very well done Jean Frédéric! Your grandfather Jean, and your father Etienne, would be proud of you, 13th generation Hugel ambassador!

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With only 15 minutes left before closing time we scampered over to the Treasury Wines booth where we tasted another 3-4 wines from Penfolds, Lindeman’s, Wolf Blass, and Wynn’s. The one wine among this group that left an impression on me was the 2016 Gentleman’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon made by Lindeman’s. The wine was a full throttle cab, with lots of smoke and spice heaped onto a solid Cabernet Sauvignon base. Our guide told us they even add a small shot of port fortified wine to the final blend, which certainly explains the richness of the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit on the palate and that lingering aftertaste. This wine at under $20.00 per bottle is well worth adding to your buy list if you like a full bodied Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s on my own buy list now.

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In all we tasted over 35 wines in about 2 ½ hours, a full evening’s work, but we had a lot of fun and learned a lot about Washington State wines, Taittinger Champagnes, and I met Jean Frédéric Hugel for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed his presentation and tasting. Whether it be Jean Frédéric Hugel, Mickey Dunne, or Carlos De Ipanema from Taittinger, all three are passionate about wine, especially their wine. That passion shows in their presentation, their hospitality, and their product. This is why you need to attend wine shows, because it is people who make the great wines of the world, and meeting those people goes a long way towards fully appreciating the wines that they make, and the effort and passion that goes into that process. I can’t wait until next year and I hope to meet you there. I will be there, how about you?

Cheers!

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 50, La Grande Dégustation, Montreal Wine Show 2017, Part 1, Nov 21, 2017.

The Reg’s Wine Blog staff and editorial team visited the Montreal Wine Show on Friday November 3rd. I have been attending this show for over 30 years now, I always enjoy myself at this show, and I always learn something. This year was no exception, the themes of the show were the Riesling grape, Washington State wines, and Champagnes. I am pleased to report that I covered all three major themes by visiting with several producers under each theme. Although there never seems to be enough time to visit everyone you want to meet, there is only room in my blog to report on the most interesting of those that we did meet.

I also want to congratulate the organizers of this year’s event for the smooth flowing logistics, the event was very well organized, ran smoothly, was well attended as usual, and well enjoyed by everyone that I bumped into, and if I bumped into you, I am sorry because I was having such a good time, I may have gotten a little carried away. The truth be known, my wife did not attend as she was ill that evening, so I had nobody reminding not to drink all the wine I was tasting. We will save that subject for a future blog.

I started the show by visiting with Thomas Bachelder from Domaine Queylus in the Niagara region. Queylus had five red wines available for tasting and I tasted them all. The best wine by a wide margin was the 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve, showing a rich and full fruit taste, round, mature, a well balanced and smooth aftertaste that kept on going.

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This 5 year old wine shows enough age to be mature and open, fragrant and luscious, and will easily stay together for another 5-10 years. An excellent Burgundian type effort that will be very interesting to taste and follow for years to come, if you can find any.

The Queylus 2014 Pinot Noir Tradition was clearly younger, still a little rough around the edges, and needs more time in the bottle to settle down and soften up.

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The 2014 Cabernet Franc Tradition needs more time to soften up as well, yet it is clearly a wine made for drinking young. A great black fruit fragrance on the nose, just a little too short on the palate, which left me thinking this wine would probably soften up nicely with 3 hours decanting, something impossible to do at a wine show.

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The 2012 Cabernet Franc/Merlot Reserve works very well on the palate, nicely balanced and nicely blended, but still not as good as the 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve.

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The 2013 Merlot Grande Reserve is still young and needs more time in the bottle, but is now already showing great black fruit and chocolate on the nose that carries on over to your palate. A little more age will smoothen out the overall effect and carry the full bodied Merlot fruit further into the aftertaste. A great Merlot in the making here, a wine that will easily last 10-12 years.

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About a week after the show I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 Queylus Chardonnay Tradition. Again I was impressed, the Chardonnay fruit was full, round, plush, and ever so nicely balanced with enough acidity to settle into a very pleasant flint/mineral aftertaste that one associates with a fine white Burgundy at 5 times the price. Wow, pretty good value in my opinion. Queylus is making some outstanding wine for such a young winery, a rising star to keep your eye on!

Moving on I was then introduced by Raymond Nantel of Nantel and Associates (local wine consultants representing several major Washington State wineries) to Mickey Dunne, the owner of Powers Winery in Washington. We tasted 5 Powers wines, starting with the 2016 Powers Viognier Columbia Valley, which I found clean, crisp, balanced with good fruit, and not overpowering.

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The 2016 Monde Eau Riesling was soft, fruity, mature and not green like many new world Rieslings, and it is an organic wine.

 

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The 2015 Powers Syrah Columbia Valley was a huge surprise as the Syrah fruit was soft and sweet, while I had expected something rough, course, and green. So often young Syrah is just unpleasant to taste, but Mickey’s Syrah was full, round, soft, and a very friendly sipping wine. Congratulations Mickey, this was the best young Syrah I have tasted in years, well done.

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The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley was a little light compared to what I had tasted a few minutes earlier at Domaine Queylus, but it was fruity, soft and delicate, so it worked quite well.

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The wonderful thing about all 4 of these wines is that they were priced at $19.95.

Finally, I tasted Mickey’s top of the line wine, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills Champoux Vineyards, listed at $35.00 per bottle. The wine was drier and easily in need of another 3-5 years of aging before opening. Grape vines averaged 41 years old, and this wine will last another 25 years in the bottle. A huge wine with black cherry, berries and caramel on the nose and palate, finishing with aromas of cedar, cigar box, and earthy tones. I had no idea Washington grapes had the capacity to make such full bodied, powerful wines.

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Next we had Ryan Strom from Alexandria Nicole Cellars guide us through a tasting of their 4 wines. We started with a rather standard Rhone styled 2016 Viognier white, with lots of fruit, rich on the palate, and a solid aftertaste.

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The 2015 Shepherds Mark is a Rousanne (62% ) / Marsanne (26%) / Viognier (12%) blend, with a very interesting and unique cinnamon aftertaste to the wine. This is a big wine that will work well with fish and chicken dishes and thick, rich sauces. An exotic blend of floral and fruit fragrances that finishes with a subtle but clearly present cinnamon spice aftertaste. I loved that aftertaste, and I still get hungry thinking about it!

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The 2015 Jet Black Syrah is a great wine in the making, aged in oak, dark purple in color, great legs on the glass, buzzing with rich cherry and plum fruits, offset and balanced by cedar, cloves and other spices. This wine needs another 2-5 years in the bottle to finish coming together, and in the meantime all the components are there to enjoy now if you cannot wait.

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The 2014 A Squared Cabernet Sauvignon was soft, fruity, but not as great a wine as the Jet Black.

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To me the Shepherds Mark and Jet Black were the stars at this tasting booth.

Our last stop in the Washington wine section was with the Seven Hills and Double Canyon producers, where we tasted the Double Canyon 2015 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, which I found to be rather soft and flabby, too light on the finish, and certainly overpriced at $33.00.

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We next tasted their Seven Hills Red Wine 2014 from the Walla Walla Valley. This was a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot, this was also their first release of this wine, so do not look for it on their website, you will not find it. I found the fruit on the palate very ripe, forward and expressive, but I confess I was disappointed with the price of $51.00 per bottle.

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The 2014 Seven Hills Merlot Walla Walla Valley retails at $45 US and was $65 CDN at the show. The Wine Enthusiast rates the wine at 92 points, I found the wine still pretty harsh and green, so even though I am sure it will soften up in time, it is difficult to assess without having an older vintage to compare against, hard to determine if this wine is worth the price.

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We next tasted the 2014 Seven Hills Ciel de Cheval, their top of the line red with a typical Bordeaux blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Marlot, 17% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Once again the wine was rated highly by the Wine Enthusiast at 92 points and retails at $55 US or $78 CDN at the show. So I was expecting more than I got, what I got was a fragrant nose of raspberries, but loose on the palate and not enough follow through on the aftertaste. This was from 27 year old vines and their 14th vintage on this product.

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Perhaps the Seven Hills wines did not travel well, but for whatever reason the whole group failed to impress, and did not convey the impressions one expects from a 92 point wine.

Alas, it was time to move on to Champagne to cleanse our palates. Next week I will post part 2, commencing with our Champagne tasting. In the meantime, as I reflect on the above wines, the most important observation I can make is the need to taste as many wines as possible at a wine show. Finding such delights as the Powers wines at under $20.00, and such disappointments as the Seven Hills wines at $60.00 – $80.00 is all part of the learning experience, and why I continue to find such value in attending this show year after year!

Cheers!

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 49, Ever Had a Bad Bottle of Wine? What You Should Do About It, July 21, 2017.

If you get a bad bottle of wine at a restaurant, you need to advise the sommelier immediately. He/she will taste the wine themselves, and if the wine is not good, they will replace the wine and taste the replacement themselves first, to make sure it is good. See my earlier Post # 4 dated February 3, 2016 for more details about unacceptable restaurant behavior by refusing a good bottle. It is also not acceptable to drink half the bottle and then tell the sommelier that the wine is no good.

When your waiter presents the unopened bottle to you at the table, this is your one opportunity to inspect the unopened bottle before you own it. You have about 15 seconds to conduct your investigation and check the following:

  • Make sure your wine is from the right year, restaurants often substitute a younger vintage without reprinting the wine list.
  • Check the foil wrapper for signs of seepage, and for signs of the cork having been pushed out, this is a good reason to refuse the wine.
  • Check the condition of the cork in the bottle, you want to be sure the bottle has not been stored standing up, so you want to see evidence of a moist cork on the bottom and the sides, especially near the bottom of the cork.
  • Check the wine for a proper fill level in the neck of the bottle. If you are ordering an older bottle aged 20 years or more, some evaporation is acceptable but under no circumstances should you accept a bottle with less than a high shoulder fill. An older bottle from a restaurant wine list is going to cost top dollar, so this is no place to be experimenting with a suspicious bottle.

Most of the time the wine is fine and in excellent condition, sometimes the wine can be spoiled, but that does not happen very often today. It is important to understand that a bad bottle can be the result of poor storage by the restaurant, or it can be the fault of the winery or producer with either a bad cork or poor winemaking. So obviously the restaurant is often not to blame for a bad bottle.

And what happens when you open a bad bottle from your own wine cellar? Who gets the blame for that one? I have been a wine collector for 40 years and in all that time I have only ran into bad bottles once. It was actually a very bizarre experience. I bought 6 bottles of 1988 Chateau Rabaud-Promis as a futures offering from the SAQ in Quebec and took delivery of the wine in 1991. A Sauternes, with 13.5% alcohol level, from a great year made by a property that had recently greatly improved their quality level. The colour of the wine was a deep luscious gold, promising years of improvement ahead of it as it matured further in the bottle.

About 3 years after taking delivery of the wine, in 1994 or 1995, on conducting a routine inspection of bottles in my cellar I noticed much to my surprise that 3 of the 6 bottles had turned a cloudy white in colour, and the corks were being forced out of the bottles. There was some seepage from one bottle and when I tasted it the wine was sour. These 3 bottles had undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, and they were clearly spoiled. However, the other 3 bottles were still in pristine condition. Obviously, with half the wine good and the other half bad, the storage conditions (my cellar) were not to blame. The winery may have been at fault, maybe some yeast spilled on some corks, maybe a few corks had fungus spores embedded in them.

I should have kept my purchase receipt and returned the bottles to the SAQ for refund or replacement, but by then the receipt had long since been thrown out – my mistake. Keep your purchase receipts, most retailers will reimburse or replace a tainted product, repeat business depends on it.

As for the surviving three bottles I am pleased to report that they were great. I tried one in 1995, another one in 2010, and the last bottle about 6 weeks ago. It was excellent. Neil Martin wrote for The Wine Advocate in April 2012 the following tasting notes on the 1988 Chateau Rabaud-Promis:

Tasted at the property in Sauternes. The fantastic Rabaud Promis 1988 has a glorious bouquet with an almost Barsac-like persona: overripe oranges, marmalade and quince, all with great purity and control. It just unfurls with each swirl of the glass. The palate is extremely well balanced with a fresh, pure, life-affirming entry. Again, there is that keen thread of racy acidity that is succinctly entwined with the fruit. It has ample botrytis and is supremely well balanced towards the elegant, refined finish. The persistency is probably just a little longer and delineated than the 1983 or 1986. This is one of the best Sauternes wines of the vintage. Tasted April 2012.

Neil Martin gave this wine a score of 95 points in 2012.

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When I tasted the wine six weeks ago it was fully mature, yet full of fruit, lovely acidity to maintain a perfect balance, with no signs of having past its peak. Aromas on the nose and tastes on the palate were all in line with Neil’s comments: orange, marmalade, quince, mangos, pineapple, and apricots with great balance and a sturdy alcohol backbone. Wonderful aftertaste lasting over a minute leaves you wondering what more one could expect from a Sauternes dessert wine.

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So six bottles of the same wine, same year, all bought at the same time and subject to the same storage conditions. Three go bad and three are magnificent as long as 26 years later. I do not think the winemaker was at fault, I think the corks must have been exposed to a yeast or fungus that caused a second fermentation to take place. In over 40 years of wine collecting that is the only incident of a bad bottle either from my cellar or at a restaurant that I have ever run across.

Screw top caps on many lower end wines eliminates the possibility of bad corks spoiling those wines, so in future corks will be more limited to upper end wines meant to take longer aging.

When a bad wine comes to you at a restaurant, flag it right away and let the sommelier deal with it. When a bad wine comes from your cellar, make sure it is an isolated case and not a result of poor storage conditions. If you have kept your purchase receipt and the purchase was fairly recent, you might get lucky and convince your retailer to reimburse you, but then again you might just as easily be out of luck. Fortunately, this will not happen to you very often, if ever!

So don’t worry, just uncork another bottle, it will probably be fine.

Reg.

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.