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

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

George 1

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 39-6

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 39-5

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

 

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

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

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – What Music Does Your Wine Like? – Post # 38, January 4, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I was watching a wine show on the television, appropriately called “The Wine Show”. One segment of the show caught my attention, it was all about sound assisted wine production in Chile. It featured the Montes Winery in Chile that played recorded Gregorian Chants in the barrel room to the wine, claiming that the music helped improve the aging of the wine, and they have been doing this for 12 years since 2004. Well I nearly fell out of my chair, not knowing whether this was a joke or for real.

The next day I decided to investigate further, so I checked into the Montes Winery on the internet, and much to my surprise this appeared to be real. So I researched further into other wineries doing the same or similar music assisted production or aging of wine. Here is a selection of what I learned:

  • Montes Winery in Chile plays Gregorian Chants (choir music) to the aging barrels of wine in their cellar room. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38-1Above photo shows barrels arranged in amphitheater style for best listening. The wine gets to listen to only this choir music 24/7. Of course the wine ages faster, it wants to get the hell out of there fast.
  • At Seven Stones Winery in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, winemaker George Hanson plays classical music to his wine in the barrel room, using surround sound that plays continuously 24/7. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38-2George’s wine prefers Mozart, and George claims that the Mozart sound waves influence the behavior of his wine molecules. When you next have the opportunity to try a bottle of his wine, follow the directions on the label carefully and play Mozart while you drink the wine, otherwise the wine molecules will behave badly and give off strong sulphur fumes.
  • In Austria one winemaker plays music during the fermentation process to stimulate his yeast. He claims there is a vibrational match between Baroque style classical music and wine aging, and that as the music stimulates his yeast, the yeast eats more sugar and the wine ages faster. Well I deliberately left this winemaker’s name out of this article so as not to embarrass the man, because stimulating the yeast during fermentation may eat more sugar and speed up the fermentation process, but not the aging process. Aging the wine is a secondary process and our Austrian winemaker is only playing music to the fermentation vats, not the wine in barrels or bottles. So he is not accelerating the aging process. I was left wondering what chemical changes his Baroque music had made to the quality of his wine, since the overstimulated yeast had voraciously demolished more sugar than it normally would. Will his poor wine fall totally out of balance with a lower sugar count, which results in an alcohol percentage similar to beer?
  • Christian Butz from Hochstadt in southwest Germany plays Brahms and Bizet to his grape juice during fermentation.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38-5 This is interesting, and left me wondering if grapes from different terroirs, soils, regions, and countries respond to certain types of music or different composers better than others. Will German grapes respond poorly to French composers? Will French grapes respond to Vivaldi or Tchaikovsky? Will Bordeaux grapes turn their nose away from the composers used with success in Burgundy and the Rhone?
  • In Chile Juan Ledesma at Vinas Ineditas uses waterproof speakers in his barrels to play music to his wine to make sure that he zaps all those wine molecules. I am not sure of the details to his installation, are the speakers wireless or if they are not wireless then does he have speaker wires protruding from each barrel. Imagine 500 barrels, each with speaker wires connecting to his barrel room stereo. There is a business opportunity here somewhere as “sound technician” to the wine industry!
  • In Piedmont, Italy, Rocche dei Manzoni cellars produce a special Metodo Classico that is aged for 8 years on its lees (with the grape skins, unfiltered) while the wine listens to music 3 hours per day.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38-8 The winemaker claims that playing music 24/7 to his wine would be too much because the wine needs to rest. This winemaker clearly views his wine molecules as living entities, working out 3 hours daily to the sound of music, then resting up for the next 21 hours. This has got to be some pretty lazy wine, it needs to get a job somewhere, or clean the wine cellar, and lying around the house for 8 years must be very expensive to our winemaker. I wonder if the winemaker gets more money for his tenants when he sells them and gets them out of the cellar for good.
  • At the Paradiso di Frassina winery in Montalcino Tuscany, owner Giancarlo Cignozzi organically farms his vineyards and plays Mozart 24/7 to his grape vines, piped through 80 Bose speakers placed throughout the vineyard. The speakers were donated to him by Amar Bose, past Chairman of Bose Corporation.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38.12If you look closely at the above photo you can see just above the grapes a speaker mounted on a pole in the vineyard. Cignozzi notes that pest attacks on his vines have been dramatically reduced since Mozart started playing. However, I wonder if vineyard attacks from disgruntled neighbors, tired of hearing Mozart 24/7, have increased.
  • The DeMorgenzon Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, owned by Hylton Appelbaum, takes the prize for total dedication to music throughout the entire winemaking process. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe has speakers in the vineyard, in the fermentation room, and in the cellar room, playing Baroque music from various artists and composers to his grapes 24/7. Carl claims that the music helps to regulate growth in the vineyard, resulting in later budding, later ripening by about 2 ½ weeks, and sadly, lower alcohol at 12.8% verses 14%. If you want more details, visit their website at demorgenzon.co.za where you will find an entire section dedicated to music. The wine names and labels are musical, see below.Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38.15 You can even review their playlist and listen to the specific works by Mozart, Bach, Handel, Corelli, Biber, Haydn, Telemann, and others on their site. Reg's Wine Blog - photo 38.13As I listened to some of the music I could feel my roots growing deeper, my molecules flexing their muscles, and I wondered what would become of me if I had to listen to Baroque music 24/7 throughout my entire life.

So let’s summarize what these guys are doing. Some wineries play music to the grapes on the vines, some play music during fermentation, some play only to the finished wine in the barrel room and cellar, and some play music everywhere. Some play 24/7, others believe that this is too much because the wine needs to rest. Some play only Mozart, others only Baroque style, and some play choir music. These guys are all over the place, and clearly there is no consensus.

In my opinion, sound travels very well in a liquid, as any scuba diver will know, so the idea of submersible speakers is a good one. On the other hand, playing music to wine in barrel or bottle in the barrel room is going to be a lot less effective because the wood or glass that the sound must pass through acts as a filter (unless you use submersible speakers). Next time you are at a pool, a lake, or the ocean, put your head under the water and have someone on the surface talk to you while you are under water. You will hear them saying something, but it will be muffled and you will not hear it clearly. Now just imagine adding wood or glass as an additional filter, and don’t be surprised if you do not hear much at all.

In the vineyard sound can be transmitted effectively, but it will be subject to periodic disruptions from wind, rain, overhead planes, outdoor machinery, etc. But who knows, grapes do not have ears, so maybe they will be absorbing the sound in some other non human manner that we are not familiar with. What we really need to see to add credibility to what these winemakers are doing is some science, and some experimentation specific to the wine industry.

 

Nevertheless, as a gimmick, there is a business opportunity here for the right entrepreneur. Some enterprising sound engineer will have the opportunity of a lifetime to pioneer an entirely new industry as sound and sensory consultants to the wine sector. I see our sound consultant publishing science articles that summarize the positive effects of baroque classical music on wine in vat and in barrel, probably with small mini submersible wireless speakers. Scientific studies will determine whether the music should be played 24/7, 12 on 12 off, 4 on 4 off, or on some other cycle. Of course our consultant will really earn his pay with the playlist, which will vary to suit the type of grapes, type of soil, drainage, sun exposure, and altitude. The high thin air vineyards of Argentina and Chile will need different tunes compared to the lower altitude vineyards of France and the Mediterranean. A separate system will play customized (and different) music in the vineyard, a system designed to play to both the grapes themselves, and the rootstock, perhaps even designed to emit gentle vibrations that strengthen the vines and deepen the root structure, giving 5 year old vines the maturity equivalent of a fully matured vine at age 20.

Just imagine the benefits:

  • All vineyard insect pests are eliminated, they vacate the area, they cannot stand Baroque classical, the sound vibrations hit them like a truck.
  • With no insects to eat, the birds vacate the area as well, so grape damage from hungry birds is eliminated.
  • All vineyards will be organic as no pesticides and fertilizers will be required.
  • All wines will become better: grown, produced, and aged under harmonious musical conditions. Happy wines will all drink better, causing fewer headaches and hangovers.

Looking into the future I see the following new trends for the wine production industry:

  1. A new international wine classification system, where wines produced with musical assistance will need proper identification and labeling. First growth status will be reserved for wines musically enhanced in the vineyard, in the fermentation process, and in the cellar, with submersible speakers to ensure true sound quality.
  2. First growths will also require music 24/7 (no more lazy wines with music limited to 4 hours daily, those will be relegated to 5th growth status).
  3. First growths will all have to publish their play lists, which must consist of at least 33% Mozart, 33% mixed baroque chamber music, and the rest customized to suit the terroir, soil type, climate, and location of the wine. This is where the musical consultant recommending the playlist becomes an essential part of the wine production team.
  4. For that extra edge, wineries may get an extra category boost from say 2nd growth to 1st growth if they use top quality recording artists and labels. The most sought after performers will be people such as The London Philharmonic, Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony, The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, etc.
  5. Wineries will have to certify that they do not play any of the following: acid rock, disco, country, R+B, hip hop, rap, polkas, and opera.
  6. Artists/Performers may also be deemed either acceptable or not acceptable, and specific application by each winery must be made to the newly formed International Wine Industry Music Academy to get their own unique play lists approved. It will be illegal for any winery to copy or duplicate another winery’s play list, after all this is what will guarantee diversity within the wine world. Performers like The 3 Tenors will be approved, singers like Frank Sinatra will be approved, while others like Elvis Presley and Dean Martin will not make the grade (Elvis because of his suggestive dance moves, this stimulates some grape types the wrong way, Dean Martin because he drank martinis and not wine, so he is deemed to have been a bad influence). The Academy will make their own rules, which will be highly controversial. This is why a whole new job category as “Musical Consultant to the Wine Industry” will become big business for some people.
  7. One must remember that grapes and the wines they produce will now be classified as living entities and therefore subject to stress and mood swings, mostly due to the weather, storage conditions, etc. Think of music as a drug prescribed by our Musical Consultant to either sooth or stimulate our grapes and vines, in recovering from weather shock. In the barrel room our Medical Consultant will prescribe a different play list that is customized to suit each particular vintage’s strengths and weaknesses. Lots of work here for our Musical Consultant.

Well enough of this nonsense, the real action is going to take place in the home wine cellar sector. Since your wines have been raised on a steady diet of Mozart and Baroque chamber music, you will be advised to continue playing music to your wines in your own cellar. So for best cellar results you will need your own play list and your own cellar sound system. You will of course need your own wine cellar music consultant to recommend a play list suitable for your own cellar and wine collection (perhaps this is a new expertise that your local wine retailer will provide). If your cellar has more red Bordeaux than anything else, you get one type of play list. With cellars containing mostly California, Australian, or South American you get a different play list. For those collectors with large cellars you will need separate rooms for whites and reds, and for different regions, all with slightly different play lists to ensure happy wines aging peacefully the way they should, based on what music they were born and raised to. Perhaps play lists will be provided on the back label of your top wines for the discriminating consumer.

If this sounds a little fanciful to you, I agree, of course it is. But the wine industry is so large, and so competitive that you can be sure there is a business opportunity here to be developed and exploited. And every large industry needs a new gimmick once in a while to get everyone talking about it and buying the latest accessories. Ah, I think this may be my next career move.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

Reg

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Cheap Red Wines for the Holidays, Post # 37, December 21, 2016.

Three weeks ago we held a simple red wine tasting event for about 25 people, the idea being to taste about 12 different red wines priced $25.00 or less from various countries, and hopefully for everyone to find something new in the lineup that they enjoyed enough and would buy for the holidays. So a big part of the night’s theme was to find wines that most people had never tasted before, and therefore to expand their wine tasting experience.

In selecting the wine list I went with wines priced between $17.50 and $28.00. I selected two wines from Argentina, two from Chile, one from Bordeaux, two from California, and five from Australia. There was no special reason for concentrating on Australia, just that the selection of wines in that price range from Australia was much better, and most people have very little tasting experience with Australian wines beyond Wolf Blass and Penfolds.

I have listed below the wines we tasted, in the order we tasted them, along with the Quebec Liquor Board product number, year, price, my score on 20, and my tasting comments. I will then summarize with additional comments on my own favorite wines and why I liked them best. I will also make some general observations about the performance of our expanded Reg’s Wine Blog tasting panel, all 25 of us at this tasting event.

  • 1) Nieto Sentiner Gran Reserva / Mendoza Argentina / 12176249 / 2013 / $19.35
    • Score: 15.5/20
    • Comments: Malbec, Petit Verdot blend –still young, will soften with age, attractive mint
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-11
  • 2) Matias Riccitelli The Apple Malbec / Mendoza Argentina / 12882549 / 2012 / $24.95
    • Score: 16.5/20
    • Comments: a big Malbec wine full of fruit, needs 2 years to age, huge dry tannins, rich and fat
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-4
  • 3) Michel Rolland Boredeaux / Bordeaux France / 12825894 / 2010 / $21.65
    • Score: 15/20
    • Comments: woody, watery, light, will not improve with age, disappointing for the year and winemaker
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-6
  • 4) Mayu Reserva Syrah / Chile / 12568998 / 2011 / $21.70
    • Score: 14/20
    • Comments: harsh and out of balance, fruit and tannins are at war with your palate and you lost
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-7
  • 5) De Martino Legado Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon / Chile / 642868 / 2013 / $18.15
    • Score: 16/20
    • Comments: young, lots of fruit, quite pleasant, let it age 2 years
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-12
  • 6) Vina Robles Red 4 / California / 11882336 / 2012 / $23.00
    • Score: 16/20
    • Comments: good body, spicy and well balanced, a Rhone blend, solid effort
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-5
  • 7) Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon / California / 12257014 / 2014 / $25.10
    • Score: 17/20
    • Comments: a fruit bomb, fat, fruity, thick and chewy, full throttle California Cab.
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-9
  • 8) The Stump Jump Shiraz d’Arenberg / Australia / 12505815 / 2012 / $17.50
    • Score: 17/20
    • Comments: nicely balanced fruit and tannins, easy to drink now, best value for price
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-10
  • 9) Tahbilk The Tower Shiraz / Australia / 12512450 / 2013 / $18.95
    • Score: 15.5/20
    • Comments: light, not a good Shiraz, dull fruit, not robust, nothing to get excited about
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-1
  • 10) Brother In Arms # 6 / Australia / 10866730 / 2012 / $22.35
    • Score: 17/20
    • Comments: very well balanced fruit and tannins, a Shiraz Cab Sauv blend, lovely
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-8
  • 11) Tait The Ball Buster / Australia / 10768451 / 2013 / $23.50
    • Score: 18/20
    • Comments: the full monty, great fruit (Shiraz Cab Sauv Merlot blend), spice, balance, tannins and will age nicely, a top performer
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-3
  • 12) The Laughing Magpie d’Arenberg / Australia / 10250855 / 2011 / $27.95
    • Score: 18.5/20
    • Comments: Shiraz Viognier blend, good spicy fruit, balanced and refined, smooth aftertaste, will age very well, worth the higher price
    • Reg's Wine Blog - photo 37-2

My top wines in order for the evening were as follows:

  • 1) The Stump Jump, 17/20, $17.50
  • 2) The Laughing Magpie, 18.5/20, $27.95
  • 3) Tait The Ball Buster, 18/20, $23.50
  • 4) Brother in Arms # 6, 17/20, $22.35
  • 5) Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon, 17/20, $25.10

My favorite wine was The Stump Jump as it represented the best value by far, it did not get the highest score but it did score well. This was the cheapest wine by far, ranging anywhere from 30% to 60% cheaper than the other 4 top performing wines above. If you want to bring a solid wine with you to visit over the holidays, this wine will perform very well, and it will appeal to the majority of people you serve it to. It is also fully developed and ready to drink now.

Also of interest is the fact that both The Stump Jump Shiraz and The Laughing Magpie are produced by the Osborn/d’Arenberg family of Australia. D’Arenberg produces a wide range of wines, including D’Arry’s Original (which was previously reviewed by Reg’s Wine Blog in post # 7 earlier this year). The Stump Jump is d’Arenberg’s bottom of the line product, The Laughing Magpie is a mid-priced, mid-range product, and wines like The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon and The Dead Bolt Shiraz, both priced in the $55.00 range, are their top of the line products. D’Arenberg wines will be the topic of a future Reg’s Wine Blog post in 2017.

Tait The Ball Buster is produced by the Tait family, it is a blend of 78% Shiraz, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot. The Ball Buster has the distinction of being rated 90 points plus by Parker every year for the last 11 years, so they are obviously doing something right, and at $23.50 per bottle this wine is reasonably priced given its consistently high Parker ratings for so long.

Both the Brother in Arms # 6 and the Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon are so full of fruit with nice balance, spice and acidity for longer term aging that these wines can be consumed over the holidays, or given as gifts and laid down in the cellar for further development, making them very versatile.

I would buy all these top 5 wines, they can all be consumed over the holidays. The only one of the group I would not bother to cellar is The Stump Jump, that wine is clearly made to consume now.

I was really impressed with my expanded tasting panel of 25 friends and family. I have been encouraging them to be open and forthright with their comments at tastings. At this tasting I found it very interesting to hear the varied opinions from different panel members, it was clear that different palates have vastly different preferences in wines. For example, when we tasted the two Argentinian wines back to back, half our tasters preferred the first wine while the other half preferred the second wine, and there was nobody who said they liked them both. The most important lesson to learn from this is that there is no right or wrong choice – to each his own, meaning all that really matters is that YOU like the wine, not what other people think of the wine.

The purpose of tastings like this one is to give you 12 more wines that you have tasted, and if there are 2 or 3 within that group that you really like, then mission accomplished, you have discovered something new. Conversely, there were 3 or 4 wines in this tasting that nobody liked (#’s 3, 4, and 9), so we now have good information on those that are worth avoiding.

As for my tasting panel, they have by now lost all their inhibitions. They are self confident, vocal, in fact by the 4th wine even boisterous (usually that level of jocularity was reserved for the 8th bottle and after – so they have evolved, or degenerated, depending on your point of view). This bodes well for 2017, because we will be able to set them free on their own tasting journeys where they too, as master of ceremonies for the evening, will be confronted with their own boisterous, and of course, highly opinionated tasters.

Tastings are fun, educational, and entertaining. Try this yourself over the holidays, maybe search out one or more of our panel’s top 5 wines, and see for yourself if you like our recommendations.

Cheers,

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – 1970 Mouton Rothschild and 1995 Grand-Puy-Lacoste tasting, post #36, December 9, 2016.

On November 13th 2016 we had the opportunity to celebrate my wife’s recent birthday and some of the family gathered for dinner, we were 7 adults. I had taken it upon myself to prepare the dinner and select the wines. I had elected to go with lamb, marinated for 48 hours in a creamy herb marinade of my own creation, and cooked with a honey garlic sauce. I decided that Bordeaux red was the wine of choice, but I wanted to taste the 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild which I had in the half bottle size, so I also needed to have a full bottle of something else as we were 7 people. I wanted to serve the Mouton last, so I went with a younger and fruitier Bordeaux to go with the lamb as the main wine, and the Mouton, being last, could be consumed on its own after the main plate was done.

As a plan this was both logical and sound. I had no recent tasting experience with the 1970 Mouton, and my half bottle had a medium shoulder fill only. I remembered that half bottles age faster than full bottles, and given the evaporation in the bottle there was a good chance that the wine was well past its prime and in full decline. Tasting the Mouton last would therefore be less disruptive to the dinner, and less offensive to the palate if the wine was dried out, because it would not be competing with the sweetness of the honey garlic sauce in which the lamb was to be cooked. I had also done some homework looking at tasting notes of the 1970 Mouton on line, and noticed that some tasters had variable tasting experiences, running into bottle variation and tough tannic bottles of wine.

Some other tasting notes online also indicated the 1970 Mouton was lighter and drier, so I had decided not to decant the wine before pouring it. My thinking was that if the wine was in decline, and if evaporation in the bottle had oxidized the wine, aging it further, then decanting it for an hour or two before serving it might just push it right over the edge, making it sour and lifeless to consume. After all, I thought, the wine is 46 years old and not from an outstanding vintage, even though the 1970 Mouton is arguably the top Bordeaux red of the vintage.

The lamb preparation was perfect, the sauce was just right, and the combined taste was bursting with flavor, not sweet, just the right touch of garlic, which enhanced the flavors of the lamb. Now it would be up to the pairing with the 1995 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste to see if one would complement the other, or if they would clash and engage in open warfare on our palates. I had opened the wine an hour ahead of time allowing it to breathe.

The wine was a rich dark red in color in the glass, showing nice glycerin content as the tears of wine seemed to hang there forever on the side of the glass. On the nose, there was lots of full ripe red fruit, strawberry and raspberry, followed by spices, tobacco, mushrooms and mild earthy tones before the cedar emerged. This was just loaded with young expressive aromas. On the palate the fruit was fuller and more intense, again mixed with spices, cedar and tobacco. There was a fresh acidity, medium tannins, and a full bodied fleshy texture to the fruit flavors as they rolled off the tongue. There was great balance and a long smooth aftertaste to the wine as it left you with a lingering cedar taste in the mouth.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 36-3

A fabulous wine, still young and vibrant, and at only 21 years of age, this wine is easily good for another 20 years and probably will need another 5 years at least to reach full maturity.

This Grand-Puy-Lacoste seemed to pair perfectly with the lamb, the honey garlic sauce was slightly sweet, and the richness of the fruit in the wine only served to enhance the combined taste on the palate. There is no doubt that a drier, less fruity Bordeaux red, like the 1970 Mouton Rothschild to follow, would have been completely overwhelmed by the honey garlic sauce. So the decision on which wine to serve with the lamb appears to have been correct. Our tasting panel certainly agreed, and before long both the wine and the lamb were all gone.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 36-4

Moving on to the Mouton Rothschild, I was well aware that the 1970 vintage was not rated that highly in Bordeaux, that the vintage was generally soft, light in fruit, and most properties did not produce great wine. On the other hand the Mouton Rothschild has consistently performed very well in tastings, continuing to be viewed as the best Bordeaux of the vintage. The Mouton Rothschild is the only Bordeaux that I ever bought from the 1970 vintage, and so I was anxious to try it. As I said earlier we were trying a half bottle with only a mid shoulder fill, so I had a legitimate concern that the wine might be oxidized and spoiled, or just tired and ready to turn quickly in the glass, which is why I did not decant the wine.

The critics have generally rated the wine quite highly, Parker gave it 93 points, but that was in 1996. The Wine Spectator gave it 96 points in 1993, and more recently Stephen Tanzer gave it 94 points in 2011. So I was hopeful that this bottle would perform the same way, in spite of the mid shoulder fill of a half bottle.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 36-5

In the glass the color was significantly lighter, an orange red, but no signs of any browning around the rim of the glass. On the nose the aromas were subtle, light but well knit together. You initially smelled plums, black currant, oak, cocoa and flowers. None of this was full, fat, or forward, instead it was delicate and tightly packed together, but all still there. Was this wine waxing or waning, that was yet to be determined.

On the palate cedar and citrus joined the ensemble, together with mint, minerals, spice, dried herbs and leather. The wine was medium bodied, light and perfectly balanced. There was nothing to indicate this wine was past its peak and in decline.

The wine had a silky smooth texture to it, leading to a long soft and delicate aftertaste. My palate picked up flint, a little saline, and more soft tannins on the aftertaste. Nothing harsh, nothing dried out, just light delicate and tightly woven aromas and flavors – classic Mouton!

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 36-6

As we relished the wine and hung on every sip, the wine improved in the glass over the next 30 minutes, showing more coffee on the palate. The aromas and flavors opened up and became more pronounced. It was immediately apparent that this wine was still in great condition and in need of decanting and aeration for at least an hour before consuming.

There is no doubt that even with a mid shoulder fill in a half bottle size, this wine is still no older than middle aged, and should be a great drink for at least 10 more years. I think the wine is fully mature, but not showing any signs of moving into decline. Color and appearance in the glass, presence of fruit on both the nose and palate, balance and structure, are all still there.

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 36-2

This wine was made in a classic older style Bordeaux manner with more subdued and delicate fruit, not your typical modern style fruit bomb aimed at competing with thick chocolaty California Cabs. And at the time, in 1970, Mouton was in the forefront and perfecting that style. So this is in fact history in a bottle, an excellent example of what Bordeaux used to be. I would score this wine 92 points, to drink now and over the next 10 years.

In my opinion, critics complaining about bottle variation and uneven performance with this wine are probably experiencing one of the following two problems:

  • The wine needs decanting for at least an hour to fully open up and show at its best, and
  • This wine will show best on its own, not within a flight of full, fat, fruity, and younger style Bordeaux wines at a large tasting, where so many of these wines are tasted and judged.

I did the right thing by not serving this wine with the lamb dish because the honey garlic sauce would have destroyed this wine. If I were to pair this wine with food, I would suggest a veal with light herbs seasoning, or something similar of light delicate texture on the palate, in order to allow the wine to demonstrate its full array of aromas and flavors.

I was very pleased with how both wines performed, and I was also just as pleased with the decisions I made on pairing with food. Had I served these wines in the opposite order they both would have been less effective and less enjoyable. A little bit of thought and preparation clearly goes a long way in enhancing the experience.

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Cheers, I can’t wait to do it again soon!

Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 35, December 3, 2016, The Montreal Wine Show, La Grande Dégustation, Part 2

In this post I will cover the remaining wines we tasted from Zuccardi wines in Argentina, Leon Beyer wines from Alscae, and George Vigouroux wines from Cahors. What great wines, not one weak entry was tasted all evening.

La Grande Dégustation de Montréal 2016 took place a month ago, the Reg’s Wine Blog team attended on Friday November 4th. Part one of this report was published earlier this week on November 29th.

Wine critics just love Zuccardi wines. At the wine show Zuccardi had 7 of their wines available for tasting, ranging in price from $21.00 for the Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2014 (rated 89 points by Parker, and 92 points by James Suckling), to $93.50 for the Zuccardi Aluvional La Consulta 2012 (rated 93 points by Parker).

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Sebastien Zuccardi produces 24 different wines, and most of them win awards and very high scores from wine critics on a regular basis. Here is the profile of the seven wines he had available at the show to taste and purchase:

  • Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2014 – $21.00 (in SAQ 12258674) rated 89 by Parker, 92 by James Suckling.
  • Zuccardi Q Malbec 2013 – $22.00 (in SAQ 11218460) rated 91 by Parker.
  • Zuccardi Q Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – $25.35 (not in SAQ) rated 90 by Wine Spectator.
  • Zuccardi Emma Bonarda 2014 – $41.25 (not in SAQ) rated 92 by Parker.
  • Zuccardi Tito Paraje Altamira 2013 – $41.25 (not in SAQ) rated 90 by Wine Spectator, 92 by Wine Enthusiast.
  • Zuccardi Zeta 2012 – $44.50 (not in SAQ) rated 92 by Parker
  • Zuccardi Aluvional La Consulta 2012 – $93.50 (not in SAQ) rated 93 by Parker.

Sebastien’s grapes come mostly from the Uco Valley, where different soil and climate variations produce micro climates and noticeable differences in mineral content. The effect on his mostly Malbec grapes is quite pronounced. To their credit Zuccardi had 4 of their premium wines at this show (the most expensive ones listed above), and it was a real treat and an education to be able to taste them all together. It is only when you get to taste them one after the other that you are able to distinguish the difference between them.

The Zuccardi Aluvional La Consulta 2012 was so good, 100% Malbec grapes, 15.5% alcohol, with a nose of complex fruit including blueberries, prunes, ripe cherries, fresh herbs, violets and rose petals. On the palate the impression was thick and juicy, but perfectly balanced with a lively acidity, ripe tannins adding structure and aging potential, all finishing in a long smooth aftertaste. This wine was every bit as good as the 93 points Parker gave it, and certainly worth the $93.50 sticker price.

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Sebastien’s other specialty wines (the Tito named after his grandfather, the Emma named after his grandmother, and the Zita which is a blend of mostly Malbec and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon) were not far behind the Aluvional in both quality and pleasure delivered. Zuccardi wines are clearly full of character and must be experienced if you want to appreciate what Malbec can do at high elevation in unique micro climate environments.

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I spent some time with Marc Beyer of Léon Beyer wines from Eguisheim, Alsace. Marc is 14th generation Beyer family, who have been winemakers and growers since 1580.

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We had a good discussion about the Beyer family trademark and tradition of making dry wines (even though he does make sweet late harvest dessert wines in the best years when the weather permits). When I tasted his late harvest 2000 Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive wine it was indeed drier than most Alsatian late harvest wines, and that allows for more appreciation of all the aromas and flavors in the wine that shine through.

Marc and I tasted the 2013 Muscat Reserve, the 2009 Riesling Les Ecaillers, the 2008 Gewurztraminer Comptes D’Eguisheim, and the 200 Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive in that order. The Muscat was quite delicate and yet bursting with fruit flavors, a good drinking wine.

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The 2009 Riesling Les Ecaillers was dry, refined, and delicately fruity, mineral and floral on the nose, rich glycerine content in the glass, and on the palate citrus rinds, toasted almonds and hazelnuts, and a mouth watering salinity. A great dry Reisling that Parker scored at 91.

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The 2008 Gewurztraminer Comptes D’Eguisheim delivered ginger and cinnamon aromas on the nose, peach and apricot flavors in the mouth, dry without being sweet, intensity without weight, leaving your mouth perfumed and refreshed – wow! The wine finishes in the mouth long and aromatic, with just a touch of sweetness to balance the acidity. A very nice wine.

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The 2000 Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive was rich, full bodied, well balanced, and lightly smoked. In the mouth you tasted dried fruits, peach and apricot, mid sweet but tangy, leading to a long smooth aftertaste. I am a big fan of Alsace Pinot Gris for the smoky, spiced character delivered by the Pinot Gris grape, and so I have tasted several. I must admit I thought Marc did a wonderful job of guiding me through and explaining the refined craftsmanship that went into producing such a good example of a drier late harvest Pinot Gris.

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Most late harvest Alsacian wines have too much fruit, and as a result the fruit overshadows and masks a lot of the aromas and flavors. By contrast, the dryer style favored by Marc at Léon Beyer wines is a complete success. Congratulations Marc, you made a believer out of me.

I saved the best for last. My first stop at the show was Georges Vigouroux Wines which was hosted by Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux, the main man himself, now in charge of Georges Vigouroux Wines, having taken over from his father George several years ago.

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Their tasting booth was perfectly positioned right at the entrance to the show, so it was both my first and last stop of the evening. Bertrand-Gabriel makes both the Chateau de Haute-Serre and the Chateau de Mercues line of wines from Cahors, plus he has expanded into three other districts under different labels. This evening I was primarily interested in tasting his Haute-Serre and Mercues wines (prior to this evening I had never tasted his Mercues wines).

I had visited Haute-Serre and Mercues in September 1986 (read my blog # 12 for details of that visit), and this was before the Mercues vines were planted and before the Mercues cellar was constructed.

I tasted three vintages of the Grand Vin Chateau de Haute-Serre, the 2011, the 2010, and the 2000. It was a good education in tasting different vintages of the same wine. Comparing the differences, I was already familiar with the 2010, which I have described at length in post # 12, so I will use that as my benchmark, rated 92 by Wine Spectator. The 2011 was similar, well structured, obviously young with lots of development potential ahead of it. The fruits were just as intense as in 2010, but the flavors were different, perhaps more cherry and plum in the 2011, less chocolate, mocha and mint. Again the same dryness in the aftertaste.

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The 2000 Haute-Serre was again different, and showed a more mellow wine, perhaps because the wine had softened with age. It is difficult to assess whether the wine had less fruit because of the vintage characteristics, or because some of the robust fruit has softened after 16 years. I think it is probably some of both. The 2000 is clearly more mature, softer, rounder, no real surprise here, and it will continue to age gracefully for another 10-20 years.

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We also tasted the Haute-Serre Albesco Chardonnay, and this was a surprise, a surprise to know that Bertrand-Gabriel had even planted Chardonnay, and also that it tasted so good. The wine was clean, well made, full of Chardonnay flavors without being overoaked, and as a result was both light and refreshing.

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Not available for tasting were two other white wines Vigouroux produces on the Mercues site, the Chenin Blanc Sec and the Chenin Blanc Doux (sweet dessert wine in the half bottle size). I would have loved to taste that dessert wine.

But alas, I was not disappointed because I next got to taste the Chateau de Mercues Grand Vin 2012, which was new to me. The wine was delicious, every bit as good as the Haute-Serre Grand Vin, but again different in taste from Haute-Serre, was it vintage differences, or was it different terroir or soil? Again I would say it was both, but I think the fruits are slightly different. The only real way to compare the two vineyards and the end product is to taste test both the Haute-Serre and the Mercues at the same time from the same year, and we were not able to do that at the show. Subtle differences like maybe more red fruit in the Mercues, and a little more satin smoothness on the palate.

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We next got to taste what I consider the best wine at the show, and certainly the best wine I tasted all evening, the 2011 Chateau de Haut-Serre Icone WOW. It was quite funny when I tasted this wine because my first reaction and response was to say just WOW! And this was before I learned what the wine was named. So I asked Bertrand-Gabriel why he named his top of the line product “Icone WOW”, and he told he had created such a blockbuster Malbec that he wanted people to respond simply by saying “WOW” when they tasted it, just as I did. So the wine is indeed well named. This wine was available for purchase at the show for $161.00, and believe me it was worth every penny of that price.

The Haute-Serre Icone WOW is 16% alcohol, and that is huge for a non fortified red wine. The wine’s color is almost black, and on the nose you smell intense ripe dark fruit, oak, vanilla, dark plums and cassis, just fantastic. On the palate the taste is concentrated, massive juicy dark fruit with well integrated tannins, rich and fat, Malbec at its best. Long and smooth on the aftertaste with lingering notes of spice and leather. I was just stunned by this wine, it was beautiful. The 2011 is rated by Parker at 92, and by the Wine Spectator at 93, and I think those scores may be too low. I also think this wine will get better with a little more time in the cellar, so you can be sure if tasted again in 5 years by the critics, they will raise their scores above 95. WOW, this wine is well named.

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I had a great discussion with Bertrand-Gabriel about the Icone WOW for at least 10 minutes, during which time he told me he decided to make this wine (2009 was the first vintage) to show how great Malbec can be. He produces much less quantity than his Grand Vin Haute-Serre, and he selects only the ripest grapes for his Icone WOW. The wine has scored well with critics in the 3 years that have been released so far, Wine Spectator gave the 2009 – 91 points, the 2010 – 94 points, and the 2011 – 93 points. Parker gave the 2011 – 92 points. Bertrand-Gabriel also produces a Chateau de Mercues Icon WOW that he also started in 2009, that sells for the same price, and is receiving similar high praise from the wine critics. Unfortunately that wine was not available at the show.

At the end of the night, our team finished up at the George Vigouroux Wines booth on our way out the door. I like finishing these shows by going back to the “best in show”, the wines I liked the best, and I always make it a point to tell the hosts that, in my opinion, their wines performed the best at the show. Growers always appreciate the compliment, and it gives me one last chance to sample the best wine of the night, and then leave on that high note.

I think Bertrand-Gabriel is making the best, most intense Malbec wines I have ever tasted. While the Zuccardi Malbecs are certainly right up there, I think Bertrand-Gabriel’s Icone WOW wines are monumental. My last thoughts on his wines as we were leaving the show was to wonder if consumers would find $161.00 too expensive for a wine from Cahors. If you have never tasted the wine, you might think so. Having tasted the wine, it compares in quality with an expensive Bordeaux classified growth at $300 – $500 per bottle, so in reality the wine is well priced. Congratulations Bertrand-Gabriel, you have nailed it with your “first growth” Icone WOW wines.

As I have said before, wine shows are great fun, very educational, and a chance to learn so much from the producers themselves. As an added bonus, you get to taste and buy many wines that are not available for purchase in your local wine shop. I am always impressed when I attend a show and find that a producer that I think I know for one or two wines, shows up with 6 more, many of which are better than the ones you already like. Your local wine shop will normally only stock one or two products from any given producer, and usually a cheaper bottom of the line product available in quantity. We normally end up judging the producer on how this cheap bottom of the line product appeals to us, and so often the rest of their product line is so much better, and often never available to taste.

On this night Coppola, Valdivieso, Emiliana, Zuccardi, Marc Beyer, and Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux were on full display for all to appreciate. Very well done by everyone, and very much appreciated.

Cheers, and let’s do it again soon!

Reg

 

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 34, November 29, 2016, The Montreal Wine Show, La Grande Dégustation

On November 4th the Reg’s Wine Blog editorial staff descended upon the Montreal Wine Show to visit with some of the 160 exhibitors from 19 different countries, and to taste as many of the 1,200 different products as we could. Our focus was naturally on the more than 800 products that were not available for purchase in Quebec. This year’s themes for the show were the Syrah grape, Whiskies, and the wines of Chile and Argentina.

The exhibition hall is huge, and it quickly becomes readily apparent that there is no way of covering more than 10-20% of what you want to see and taste. In fact if you taste 30 wines at the show (as we did) over a 3-4 hour period you have tasted only 2.5% of the wines available for tasting. So you have to be very selective, and knowing what you really want to taste ahead of time becomes very important.

I started by selecting 4 or 5 producers that I knew well, and another 4 or 5 who had recently won awards at the show the day before as one of the top ten Syrah wines. We rounded out the other producers by selecting another 4 or 5 that we wanted to taste because we had heard good things about their wines and wanted some good first hand confirmation of what we had heard.

We had short visits with Sterling Vineyards from the Napa Valley, Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington, and Osoyoos Larose from the Okanagan Valley in B.C. I have always been impressed with Osoyoos Larose who make the best Bordeaux red style wine in Canada. I visited their winery many years ago on a wine tasting tour of the Okanagan Valley and their red was a standout then, so I am pleased to say that 25 years later their Osoyoos Larose red is just as good, if not better, than I remember.

 

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We spent more time with, and sampled many more wines at Coppola from California, Leon Beyer from Alsace, Zuccardi from Argentina, Vina Valdivieso and Emiliana Organic Vineyard from Chile, and my favorite George Vigouroux Wines from the Cahors region of France. We tasted no less than 5 wines with each of these six producers, and they were all excellent wines, in fact there were no weak or poor wines tasted all evening.

At Coppola’s tasting booth we focused on their Director’s Cut wines. The Director’s Cut 2014 Chardonnay was a great example of California Chardonnay, full, chewy fruit with just enough oak to please most people. On the palate you were treated to the taste of pears, peaches, pineapple, and tangerine coated in toasted caramel, that finished like a crème brulée that lingered on your tongue, delicious. The Director’s Cut 2013 Zinfandel was nice and fruity on the nose with aromas of rum and raison, black currants and ripe cherries, delivering on the palate flavours of sweet raspberry jam, vanilla and exotic spices.

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The Director’s Cut 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon was still very young, but showed a lot of class. The wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc, and at 14.5% alcohol this wine was packed full of black cherries, raspberries, currants and dark chocolate, leaving you with a smooth polished finish that evolves into a mocha and coffee aftertaste. A great young wine that will be fun to follow as it evolves in the cellar. The best of the bunch was the Director’s Cut 2013 Cinema, a blend of 52% Zinfandel, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Syrah, and 4% Merlot. On the nose this wine delivered very concentrated berries, spices, cinnamon, cocoa, and black pepper. On the palate we found cherries, plums, vanilla and toasted oak, all seamlessly woven together into a silky lingering aftertaste. This wine is young, and with a 14.4% alcohol content there are years of evolution ahead of it in the bottle. Try these wines, they are very satisfying and very solid efforts from Coppola.

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Our next stop was in the Chilean wine section, where we visited the Valdivieso winery and were hosted by Luciano Fioro, their North American Sales Director.

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They had 7 wines available for tasting and we tasted 4 of them. Their 2013 Chardonnay from the Leydo Valley was fresh, medium oak, lots of fruit on the palate without being overwhelming, and well priced at $24.70.

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We then tasted their Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limari 2013 made of 100% Syrah, which as advertised delivered a very distinctive mineral flavor characteristic of the terroir of the Limari Valley.

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We followed that with the Caballo Loco Grand Cru Sagrada Familia 2013 which is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Carmenere, and 20% Malbec.

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The grapes are sourced from the Curico Valley, and it is there that the Malbec grapes thrive and contribute intense and vibrant flavors and aromas to the final blend.

Both these Grand Cru wines retailed at the show for $42.50 per bottle. But to be honest, while they are both very good wines, they were dwarfed by the last wine we tasted, the Caballo Loco Number Sixteen which was priced at $73.25 per bottle. This wine is marketed and sold as a non vintage wine, but this is really a solera type of wine, a solera being a blend of more than one year. Soleras were common in Madeira where you could either buy old Madeira wines from a specific vintage year or from a solera, which typically was a large vat that held wine from several previous years, allowed to mature over many years. In Madeira it was normal to continue a solera for up to 100 years, and every year you would typically drain off 10% of the solera contents for bottling, and replenish the vat by 10% from the latest harvest. So the Madeira wine from this solera vat was never more than 10% of any given vintage, and some could argue the solera contained some small percentage of wine as old as 100 years. The idea was to add complexity, balance, consistency, and maturity to the finished product.

With Valdivieso this product was started in 1994 when vintage Number One was created from a collection of wines from previous vintages, and eventually released for sale into the market in 2001. Today Number Sixteen has been released for sale, and it consists of 50% wine from the 2011 vintage and 50% from Number Fifteen. Next year Valdivieso will release Number Seventeen which will be composed of 50% of the 2012 vintage and 50% of Number Sixteen, and so on. Does this sound complicated? Maybe to some of you, and if so you can take comfort in knowing that Caballo Loco translates into “Crazy Horse”.

So how does the wine taste? The short answer is “great”. The wine is silky smooth, sophisticated, evolved and without the harsh edges associated with a younger vintage, so the solera style is clearly evident. The wine is a blend of several grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere, the same grape types are not used in every vintage, and the grapes are sourced from several different locations throughout Chile, often not the same locations.

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On the palate there is a wide range of tastes, solid fruit, strength, body, and a lengthy aftertaste. This wine offers up a lot of power and character, but since this is my first tasting of this wine I have no idea if the next release Number Seventeen will taste similar, completely different, or mildly different. If Valdivieso wants to duplicate this style and taste on an annual basis, that would be just fine with me. This wine was offered for sale at the show for $73.25 per bottle. This may seem like a lot for a Chilean red, but this is their top of the line product, expensive to produce, and will age nicely for over 20 years. This wine has been rated by most critics in the 90 point range, and tastes on a par with several Bordeaux 4th and 5th growth wines that typically retail for double the price or more, and those Bordeaux will require many years of cellar time to reach their prime while this Caballo Loco Number Sixteen can be ready to drink in 2-3 years and hold for 15-20 more. A solid, serious wine.

We next tasted across the isle at Emiliana Organic Vineyards, still in Chile. I was completely blown away by the staggering array of wines they produce, 29 different wines to be precise. Their top of the line product is a wine they call Ge which we did not taste, followed by the Emiliana Coyam 2012 which we did taste.

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Coyam is a red blend consisting of 38% Syrah, 31% Carmenere, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Mourvedre, and 1% Malbec. A lovely nose of nuts and dark fruits, followed by cherries, strawberries, tobacco, cedar, spices, smoke and vanilla on the palate, finishing smooth, balanced and long. James Suckling (ex Wine Spectator critic) rated this wine 95 points in 2015, and this wine gets re released for sale in Ontario December 10th where it will retail for $29.95. This wine is well worth purchasing at that price.

Next in their lineup, Emiliana has their Signos de Origen series of wines from exceptional terroirs which consists of a Pinot Noir, a Syrah, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Carmenere, a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend, and for those who like whites a Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne blend. They also have an Emiliana Late Harvest dessert wine that is largely Sauvignon Blanc blended with some Gewurztraminer. Forgetting nothing, they have a sparkling white, and then eight more wines in their Novas series, three of which are whites and five reds, three of those reds are blends and two are individual varietals. The Novas series is valley or regional in focus, as the terroir and climate of each can be so different. Their final series of wines is their Adobe series consisting of eleven more wines, four whites, one rosé, and six reds. These are their base line products, they are all single varietal wines designed to display the purest form of each single grape variety grown on their estates.

We tasted several of these in rapid succession, they were all good, clean expressions of individual grape varieties, and the blends were all balanced and silky smooth. What impressed me the most was the different effect of terroir in the Signos series where a more rocky soil in one valley or more sun in another valley leads to quite different tasting wines. The Emiliana lineup of 29 different wines is really quite amazing, all organic, all different, and so much variety from one producer. This was an education all by itself.

As you can see, there was so much to see, to taste, to learn, that I need two separate blogs to cover that small portion of the show that we were able to visit. Thank goodness for my Reg associates who were generous with their tasting comments, and encouraged me to move along in a timely manner, otherwise I might still be there at that Emiliana booth tasting their lineup of wines.

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In my next blog I will cover Part 2 of the show.

Cheers,

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 33, Wine Cellars Part 2, Nov 16, 2016, More Personal Than You Might Think

In Wine Cellars Part 1, Post # 31, I dealt with the decision, although somewhat humorously, to add your own wine cellar. You progressed from simple 12 bottle wine racks on the kitchen counter to temperature controlled wine coolers or wine fridges in the kitchen or any other room in the house. But once you outgrow that stage, or you have over 200 bottles that need proper storage, you make that fateful decision to create your own wine cellar.

There are a lot of personal decisions involved in taking this next step, some of the more important decisions you will be faced with include the following:

  • How much space will you need, how many bottles will you be keeping in your cellar? Everyone new to wine collecting always underestimates their storage requirements.
  • Do you want something practical or do you want something to show off?
  • How long do you expect to keep your house? No point to building a state of the art wine cellar if you anticipate moving in a couple of years. Wine cellars do not usually add value to a house, unless the buyer is a wine collector.
  • Do you have a solid marriage? If the marriage is shaky then consider an off site wine cellar to keep it safe. Better still, stick with a wine fridge, something portable to go if you go.
  • How simple or complicated do you want your wine cellar to be? Do you want temperature and humidity control, properly insulated walls including vapor barrier, display lights, vibration free, backup generator, and how about a tasting bench, table, or seating area?

Everyone has a different concept of how simple or complicated you want your wine cellar to be. Some people are perfectly satisfied with a closet in the basement, light and vibration free, not temperature controlled but noticeably cooler than the rest of the house.

My good buddy George lived in an apartment building and had to be satisfied with a shoe box in his closet.

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The closet was too warm, and the aroma of used shoes and socks had a tendency to fill the room, so George usually kept the closet door closed. One day he complained that a wine he had just opened from his “cellar” had a nose to it that reminded him of his socks, and this motivated him it to clean out the cupboard and do a load of laundry. George really needed to get himself a mini wine fridge good for 10-15 bottles.

Most people will never need a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar, they won’t need display lights, they won’t need tasting space, and they won’t need custom built wine racks. You can build your own cellar by taking over a basement closet or storage area. Just remember that you need to reverse your insulation tactics, insulate the inside walls from the rest of the house, leave the concrete outside wall exposed, tear up any raised floor to let the concrete floor cool the room. If you have a finished ceiling then insulate that as well to keep the cool air in the closet/cellar.

When it comes to installing racks in your closet, consider bin style or some shelf style that will allow access to the bottles on the bottom. Many people make the mistake of just piling up the bottles row on row, and if you do not have some type of shelving two things will happen: 1) The day will come when you need a bottle from the bottom, and 2) If you pull the bottle out from the bottom, you risk the whole pile falling over and several bottles breaking. So be sure to install bins or shelves.

How warm is too warm? And what about seasonal temperature variation in my basement closet, will that hurt my wine? Well in order to answer that question properly we need to know how expensive the wine is, how old the wine is, and how long you expect to keep it stored in the cellar. If you have expensive first growth Bordeaux costing $1,000 per bottle and it is already 20 years old and you want to store it for another 20 years, you should consider a proper temperature and humidity controlled cellar. 100 bottles at $1,000 each is worth $100,000, so why would you put that at risk by second rate storage conditions? If this is the profile of the wines in your cellar, do the right thing and put some money into the cellar itself.

However, if you have 200 bottles worth an average of $50 per bottle that are all quite young and you only plan to cellar them for 10 years or less, then you will normally be fine without the fancy cellar. Make sure the closet is reverse insulated, dark, vibration free (in other words not beside an oil furnace), and put a lock on the door to keep the kids out. In terms of temperature you are okay up to 60 degrees  (17 celsius), and in summer up to 65 degrees (20 celsius). A seasonal increase in temperature is gradual and will not harm the wine. A warmer temperature than recommended will age your wine faster, which is fine if you plan to drink your wines younger and not at the end of their life span. Every wine critic who gives an estimate of how long a wine will age always gives a range, such as “this wine will reach maturity in 5 years, and will last another 20 years”. Under your less than ideal storage conditions, you should expect this to mean that your wine will reach maturity in 3.5 years and last another 14 years. If this works for you (and often it will), then you are good to go.

Below are some pictures of nice but not very practical wine cellars:

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In the first photo note the seating area which takes up a huge amount of space, and let us not forget that in order to sit there and taste a wine, you will need to be wearing your winter coat because it will be too cold to be pleasant. Also, please note the arched display booth built into the rack. Do not display a full bottle standing up, that is not good for your wine. Neither is lying the bottle down, then standing it up every time you have guests over and want to impress them. And displaying an empty bottle just does not have the same effect.

In the second photo we have an entire dining table set up in the cellar and ready to go. So I guess everyone will be wearing their winter coats at dinner. If the cellar was wider the dining area could be glassed in and kept at normal room temperature, otherwise this is a very impractical layout.

In the third photo the bottles are mounted sideways on the wall which is a much less efficient use of space, and the wine at the top is not easily accessible. That entire wall is holding less than 200 bottles, not recommended.

The fourth photo shows well but is not a great system. Problems with this design include too many bright lights on the wine, individual closed glass cases that will heat up quickly or will need to be individually cooled, cases go from floor to ceiling making it difficult to reach bottles at the top, and there will be temperature variation from floor to ceiling within the casing, especially if there are display lights inside the glass casing.

More practical designs and more efficient use of space can be seen in the following photos:

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The first photo shows a very plain, simple, do it yourself design that makes good use of limited space, including the bin style boxes that each hold a 12 bottle case. That small wall of bin boxes can hold close to 180 bottles, a much more efficient use of space.

In the second photo you see the bin system used once again, but the bins are too large as they each hold 16 bottles. Since wine is mostly bought by the case, design your bin size to fit 12 bottles, not 16. Also note the box racks underneath the display row, this allows storage for up to 24 bottles per box, or for wooden cases to be put on display. Those box racks  in this photo will hold 300 bottles.

In the final photo above you have my impression of the best and most practical design. Note in particular the island in the middle of the cellar. Islands are great if you have the space. You can design your island with or without a counter top. If you opt for the counter top, you now have a tasting station where a wine can be opened and tasted. Without the counter top you will have wines (usually your best wines) on display. Note the “X” style bins, they each hold 12 bottles. You also have a display shelf on the back wall for all your wine gear, and you have shelves that are meant to house wooden cases. The only criticism I have of this cellar layout is that the shelves are not the proper width, the dividers are installed to wide for one case, and not wide enough for two cases, so there is a lot of wasted space. I like this cellar layout the most.

Finally, for the high tech oriented wine collector, we have the spiral staircase accessed through a trap door in your floor:

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This kind of cellar can house between 600 and 800 bottles of wine easily on multiple circular racks. It can also function as a cold room for vegetables, fruits, and other food groups. You can install the access in your kitchen floor for close proximity to both your kitchen and dining room. To conceal the trap door entry an area rug will do the trick.

Wine cellars come in all shapes and sizes but please remember this is something that should be customized to suit both your available space and your individual taste and design preferences. A wine cellar can be very simple or very showy, just make sure that a designer wine cellar that is all for show does not compromise on the quality of the storage conditions. If you are going to have a state of the art wine cellar then you had better have lots of great wine to cellar in it, and you should also have state of the art cooling and humidity control conditions.

Finally, if in doubt, give me a call, I would be glad to drop by, sample a bottle, and give you further advice.

Cheers, Reg.

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 32, October 28, 2016 – Learn More About Wine, Attend A Wine Show

Wine trade shows are a fabulous way to learn a lot more about wine in a very short period of time, so if you have a chance to attend one, then by all means go. There are a few common features to look for, and a few things you can do to maximize the value of this experience to you.

Wine trade shows are all about various wine producers demonstrating their products by letting you taste their wines. The show will usually have a featured region or theme for this particular show. There will be anywhere up to 200 or more producers each with their own display booth, each producer having anywhere from 3 to 12 products available for tasting.

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Many trade shows have over 1,000 products available for tasting so you will have to carefully select which ones you absolutely must taste, and then have a secondary list of wines that would be nice to get into.

The show costs money to attend, $10 – $15 per person entrance fee and anywhere from $2.00 – $5.00 or more per 2 ounce tasting.

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So you can rapidly end up spending a lot of money per person. At some shows you can buy direct from the producer on the spot at the show, and often this means you can buy that producer’s other products that are not locally available in your local wine shop. A huge benefit to attending these trade shows is the opportunity to meet the producers themselves. Many wine shows are attended by the winery’s top people, not always the owner, but often the marketing director or the winemaker himself.

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Being able to have a 5 minute conversation, one on one, with the winemaker of your favorite wine without having to travel to Australia, France, or Italy is an opportunity to get more insight into your favorite beverage, and will usually enhance your appreciation for the wine itself.

When attending a wine show here are my suggestions for maximizing value to you:

  1. Do not attend alone, go as a small group of 4-10 people. Everyone does not need to taste every product, in fact when tasting an unknown product it is best to take turns buying the 2 ounce taste, and if the unknown product is great then others can purchase their own tasting. This will save you both time and money, and saves your palates for the best wines, those that you will want to spend more time tasting, and those that you may eventually wish to purchase.
  2. Buy tickets in advance, they are often sold at an advance purchase discount of up to 20% off the ticket price at the gate. Use the money saved to buy addition tasting tickets.
  3. Review on line the list of producers exhibiting before going to the event, and make a list of those you “must” visit. While at the show, consult a floor plan of exhibition booths to make sure you know where to find those exhibitors that you must visit.
  4. Always plan your attendance timing to be able to stay until closing. These trade shows do not stay open late, they often close between 7 PM and 10 PM, they are not late night events. As the evening draws to a close, the opened and partially filled bottles will often be thrown out, so the host is much more likely to pour larger glasses, and charge less and in some cases nothing at all, just wanting to get rid of the opened bottles.
  5. Make sure to end the evening at your favorite booth, and make sure that you have been there earlier in the evening and that you tell your host you are back again because his wines were the best. This is often enough to ensure free drinks for the remaining 15 minutes of the evening, and enjoying that at your favorite producer’s booth is going to leave a good lasting impression of the event as a memory.
  6. If you are tempted to buy an otherwise unavailable product from an exhibitor, do not make that decision on the spot, instead think about it while you taste other products. You just might find something else that you like better, and you cannot undo that earlier impulse purchase, so save your purchase decisions for the last half hour of the show. Make a written note of any wines good enough to buy that are not locally available, and go back to the top 2 or 3 to taste them once again, and buy maybe the best one or two after your second tasting of them. You will often find that the wine you loved at the start of the show is only so-so near the end of the show. This usually means you have broadened your tasting experience and there are others you like better, and this is a good thing, and what you came here for.
  7. Keep business cards and brochures from your favorite exhibitors for future use. You may end up visiting that winery in future and you certainly want to remember who you met at the trade show. This may help you get special treatment at the winery in both the vineyard tour and the on site tasting.
  8. Do not drink and drive, arriving safe at home after the show is important, otherwise the entire purpose of the evening is lost.

La Grande Dégustation de Montreal 2016 takes place November 4th and 5th at Place Bonaventure in downtown Montreal. This is the largest wine trade show in eastern Canada. The Reg’s Wine Blog editorial staff will all be there enjoying the show on Friday evening.

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This year’s event will have about 160 exhibitors from 19 countries serving over 1,200 wines and spirits, and 800 of those are products not available locally in Quebec. This year’s themes are the Syrah grape and Whiskeys, and both the Chile and Argentina wine regions. Tickets are $12.00 purchased in advance, or $15.00 at the door, tasting coupons cost $1.00 each. For more information visit their website at www.lagrandedegustation.com .

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Aside from the great selection of wines from Argentina (such as Trapiche) and Chile (such as Concha Y Toro and Carmen), and the Whiskeys from the US (such as Jack Daniels and Jim Beam) and Scotland (such as Balvenie, Glen Moray, and Glenfiddich), there is something there for everyone. You will find Beaulieu Vineyard, Coppola, Sterling Vineyard, and Ste. Michelle Wines from the US, Baronne Philippe de Rothschild and Paul Jaboulet Ainé from France, Quinta do Noval and Ramos Pinto from Portugal, Osoyoos Larose from Canada, and perhaps my favorite, Georges Vigouroux of Chateau de Haute-Serre, who was the subject of an earlier blog of mine, blog # 12. For those who like Italian wines, Italy is well represented, same for Spain and Australia.

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I never get tired of wine shows, they are always fun, and I always learn a lot about wine in the process. Whether you go there to learn, to party, to buy wines you do not have access to locally, or to just enjoy a different evening out, everyone seems to enjoy themselves, especially those who close the place.

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If you are a local reader here in Montreal we hope to see you at the show Friday, if not stay tuned for my full report on the show in a late November blog.

Cheers,

Reg.

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 31 – So You Think You Need A Wine Cellar, October 21, 2016 Part 1 – The Decision Process

Most of us start off innocent enough, we have a few bottles of everyday drinking wine sitting in a 12 bottle wine rack in the dining room or on the kitchen counter.

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If you are lucky enough to have a cold room in the basement you might have a small rack in there. So far in your wine collecting experience you have never had more than 12 bottles of wine in the house at any time, and at best these are just inexpensive everyday drinking wines.

Then BANG! Something happens to change all that. It might be a really great bottle of wine that you inherit from your Grandfather, or you were out to dinner and had this fabulous Vintage Port that left a strong impression on you. Or you went to a wine tasting party featuring mid-priced red Bordeaux that everyone agreed would improve with age and you fell in love with one or two specific wines that you wanted to buy. Or, or, or … .

Within 3 months of getting the collecting bug, you have grown from 12 bottles to 30 plus, and you now have 3 or more small wine racks and are keeping them in the coldest spot in the house, maybe even in the beer fridge in the basement.

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Of course you used to keep the beer fridge ice cold, but you have set the temperature higher for the benefit of your red wines, and now you have to get used to drinking warmer beer. Soon the beer fridge is full of wine and you barely have room for a six pack of beer. One day while pulling a bottle of wine from the beer fridge something slips and a $50 bottle of wine falls out and breaks on the floor. Of course the wine seeps under the fridge and now you have a mess to clean, and a fridge full of wine to move in order to clean up the mess.

While you are cleaning and cursing, you come up with a brilliant idea: I need a wine cooler, something specifically designed to hold wine. Something large enough to take maybe 60 bottles, which is 30 more than I have in the beer fridge now, so that should be plenty, plus I get my beer fridge back for cold beer. You are proud of yourself, and you begin your search for a 60 bottle wine fridge.

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You recoil in horror at the price for a new unit ($500 or more), and you find a used one on an internet site for only $100. This you can justify spending to your spouse because you are protecting your wine investment, something like buying insurance (more about wine insurance later).

You pick up the unit, get it home, plug it in and adjust the temperature, and it does not work. You kick it once or twice, rock it back and forth, check the plug, check the socket, turn the fridge upside down, kick it again, then you discover the on/off switch on the back of the unit. With a flick of the switch, you finally get it working, only to find that the unit is not holding a steady temperature. Upon further investigation you discover that the glass door on the unit does not seal properly, and you hope that this problem was not a result of you kicking the unit 20 minutes earlier.  After realizing that the hinge on the glass door is bent, you come to the conclusion that some repairs are required. “No problem” you say, you are handy with tools, so you remove the glass door, then remove the hinge from the door, and bend it back into shape on your work bench. There you go, good as new, and you reassemble the unit by attaching the hinge and glass door. However, the glass door fails to close properly, the rubber seal between the glass door and the unit no longer seems to fit snugly, one side has a huge air gap.

After a 5 minute cursing break, you decide you need to calm down, so you uncork a bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass to relax, while you contemplate what to do next. Eureka, it is really quite simple, by straightening out the hinge you have changed the way the door hangs and have changed the contact points with the rest of the unit when the glass door closes. You decide you must reverse the rubber seal to get better contact, so you remove the rubber seal, reverse it, and reinstall it. The whole process takes another 30 minutes and two more glasses of wine, but even as the time marches on, you are at least more relaxed about it. Well, sadly the rubber seal still gaps badly on one side, so much so that the unit will not cool because the cool air just seeps right out where the door will not close tightly.

As you pour yourself the last glass of wine from your bottle you call the guy who sold you this lousy, broken wine fridge and in a slurred fit of rage you demand your “monkey” back. The guy laughs and tells you he does not have your “monkey”, and that you must have damaged the unit yourself because it worked fine at his house. It is then that you remember you have kicked the stupid thing at least 3 times,  disassembled the door, banged out the hinge, and reversed the rubber seal, so you are not going to return it or get your “monkey” back. So you do the only smart thing left to do, you hang up the phone and open another bottle of wine. As you sip on your 5th glass of wine, you realize you will probably have to buy a new unit, and take the loss on this one. You go upstairs and your spouse asks how the new wine fridge is working, and all of a sudden you don’t feel like such a genius any more.

The next day you and your hangover go shopping for a new unit, and $500 later you get the new unit home and sneak the used one into the garbage without telling your spouse that you got taken buying used instead of new. The new unit works fine, but within 6 weeks you have it full of 60 bottles, with 10 more in a small rack sitting on top of the wine fridge. Two months later, you are entertaining friends at home and you head to the basement to get more wine from your wine fridge. Your buddy comes downstairs with you and sees the two extra wine racks full of bottles, and the small stack of extra bottles piling up in the corner, and promptly tells you that you need a larger wine fridge. You discuss it while pouring yourselves another glass of wine, and he tells you he has a unit that takes 120 bottles and he is very pleased with it. So you make a mental note to look into a larger unit.

The next day you start the search for a larger unit, 150 bottle capacity is going to cost you $2,000, but you only have about 90 bottles now, so you have the capacity to add up to 60 bottles more, and you should have no need for more than 150 bottles.

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Besides, you can hang onto the smaller unit, and the two together will give you storage capacity of 210 bottles, plenty of room. And as an added bonus, you can use the 60 bottle fridge for your white wines, and the 150 bottle fridge for your red wines, and have the two units set at different temperatures. You love that idea, and you cannot help but be impressed with your logic and such a smart solution, you will even have a better setup than your buddy who gave you the idea in the first place. Perfect!

Oops, red light! Your spouse thinks you are crazy, and there is no way she is going to let you spend $2,000 on another wine cooler. No, you will have to buy her $5,000 worth of new kitchen appliances before she lets you spend $2,000 on a larger wine fridge. So, this is going to require more thought, a lot more thought, and you always seem to do your best thinking with, you guessed it, a glass of wine. So off you go to make a little more room in your wine fridge by opening a bottle.

As you near the end of the bottle by pouring the last glass, a thought begins to take shape in that clouded mind of yours. You need a wine cellar, and if you can take over the cedar closet in the basement, with some minor renovations you can convert that closet into a cellar that has about a 350 bottle capacity. Marvelous you think, in fact this is such a good idea you decide to open another bottle to celebrate and make plans. Half way through your second bottle of wine you have convinced yourself you can do the renovations yourself, and materials will not cost you more than $400. The only obstacle is convincing your wife to let you have the cedar closet to convert into a wine cellar. Since you are an expert negotiator you have devised yet another devious plan of attack. By taking over the cedar closet, you have figured that you will be saving $1,600 ($2,000 less $400), and you will be getting 350 bottles storage capacity instead of 210, an increase of 66.6% more than you were going to get with the added fridge, and you will save on electricity (because your cellar will be naturally cooled without the need for a refrigeration unit).

The next day you and your hangover discuss your proposal with your spouse. She hates the idea of course, but being the expert negotiator that you are, you convince her to consider the proposal by agreeing to throw in a few extra concessions. In exchange for the cedar closet, you agree to make her a new cedar closet in another section of the basement and add more storage shelving by cutting down on your workshop space. Ouch, much bigger job than you expected, you have to build her concessions first, and the actual renovation cost is higher, but now you will have the ultimate wine storage solution, your own wine cellar.

And this is how one goes about deciding they need their first wine cellar.

Next week, step two, building that first cellar. Cheers!

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 30, October 14, 2016 – Provenance, Why should I care?

A wine’s provenance simply means where and how it has been kept prior to drinking it. So for most people who drink their wine almost immediately, you probably do not care about provenance at all. That may be fine in the short term, but sooner or later you will run into situations where you will want to know something about the provenance of a wine, and if you are totally oblivious and ignorant of the subject you may end up short changing yourself. So pay attention and maybe I can give you enough of the basic information to be comfortable.

At one end of the scale, say you are a collector bidding to buy a wine at a fine wine auction from a reputable firm. The wine you are bidding on is an old Bordeaux from 1945 that you want to buy to celebrate your father’s 75th birthday in 4 years time. You have done your homework, you know what you want, but it is expensive and will cost you $2,000. Before bidding you want to know more about the wine, so you contact the auction house before the event to see what you can learn about the previous owners and how they have kept the wine for the last 65 years. You are looking for information about the wine’s provenance.

Continuing with our storyline the auction house tells you one of the two answers below:

  • The wine has had one owner, a wealthy gentleman with a large 5,000 bottle temperature and humidity controlled cellar, who has recently passed away, and we have been retained to auction off the cellar contents. The wine fill is still in the neck, and the color is a dark red. No evidence of any seepage or cork damage, the foil and label are in perfect condition.
  • We cannot give you much information on previous owners, we sold the wine about a year ago to the current owner, who left it on consignment with us to resell when market conditions improved. The current owner is one of our regular customers, constantly buying and flipping wines, in fact he has several old Bordeaux wines on consignment with us. This wine looks a little tired, the label is bin soiled and tattered, there are a couple of nicks taken out of the foil wrapper, the fill is only mid shoulder, but the wine should still be drinkable, the color of the wine in the neck is mostly red/brown with a little orange at the edge.

If you got the first answer above, you are in 7th heaven because you know this wine is in mint condition and has only had one owner who has properly kept the wine all these years. That proper care reflects itself in the bottle’s condition as well as the wine’s condition. In short, the wine’s provenance is superb, sublime, stupendous. For this you should expect and want to pay top dollar.

If you got the second answer above, you should stay away and keep looking for another bottle. The bottle condition sounds like this bottle has been poorly kept, in fact it may have been bought and sold several times. The wine’s condition demonstrates more evaporation than normal (a high shoulder fill for a 70 year bottle is perfectly acceptable, a mid shoulder fill is cause for concern). The evaporation may have resulted from an overly dry cellar, or no cellar at all. The fading color of the wine in the bottle is consistent with the uncertain past. Having been bought by a wine flipper and left on consignment at the auction house for resale may have happened more than once to this wine. You can be sure that the wine’s storage history has been spotty, and that the wine’s condition is now in advanced aging and decline. And you will need to store this wine yourself for another 4 years until your father turns age 75. The provenance of this wine is poor so you should avoid it.

Let me show you an example of great provenence below with a bottle of 1848 Boal Vintage Madeira from the producers Henriques and Henriques:

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Both front and back labels give you a complete history of the wine, how it stayed in the barrel until it was initially bottled in 1927, and then stayed in their cellars until rebottled 30 years later in 1957. If you ever wanted to buy that bottle, you know for the first 109 years the wine was in good hands under the best of care, so if you can account for the next 59 years you are in great shape.

Most of us are not buying wine at auction so let’s look at another example of provenance closer to home. You and your spouse go out to dinner at a fine restaurant to celebrate your wedding anniversary, the restaurant has a very good wine list and you are ready to buy an expensive bottle to make the evening special. The restaurant specializes in older bottles, which is great for you because you are tired of ordering from a wine list where the oldest bottle is 2 or 3 years old. You are amazed to see the wine list contains old Barolo, old Burgundy, and old Bordeaux. They also have a good selection of Sauterne and Vintage Port. However, the wines are a little pricy, nevertheless you are prepared to take the plunge and order one, but you need more information. So you call the sommelier over and begin to check into the provenance of these wines by interrogating your sommelier. So where do you start and what do you look for?

You start by telling your sommelier that you are tempted to order an expensive old bottle of wine with your dinner, but you need more information on how well the wine has been stored. Ideally you want to visit the cellar, but most restaurants will not permit this. Some of the better ones will allow this, and one of my favorite local restaurants for allowing wine cellar excursions was Le Bistro a Champlain at Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson in the lower Laurentians, Quebec, owned by restauranter and wine collector extraordinaire Champlain Charest. Mr. Charest was proud of his wine cellar and always eager to escort his guests through his extensive cellar. Unfortunately the restaurant closed in late 2014. More restaurants should show the same passion for displaying their wine cellars like Mr. Charest did.

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So getting back to our dinner story, your sommelier tells you that you cannot visit the cellar because it is not permitted. So next you ask him how the wine is stored, he tells you the wine is kept in a large walk in fridge unit at a constant temperature and humidity, you ask if white and red are stored together or separately, he tells you together. You ask him how long the restaurant has had these bottles in the cellar because some of these are old bottles, he assures you they have been in the cellar for many years and were originally purchased by the restaurant when the wines were first released for sale by the local Liquor Board.

This all sounds very good, and you order a cheaper white wine to start off with while you continue to survey the reds for the best deal on the wine list. The white wine arrives, and it is warm, too warm. Clearly it was not being stored in any type of temperature controlled unit. Immediately this red flag warns you that the sommelier may be leading you astray. So you forget about an expensive red, now you focus on anything 10 years or older, and reasonably priced. You can often find a bargain priced old wine on a restaurant wine list because they came into inventory years ago at the price then in effect, and are marked up accordingly from that lower base cost. Some restaurant owners will want to clear out the last couple of bottles and have lots of room to mark them down to sell out. But beware of the storage conditions, they may be bargains just because the last few bottles are no longer showing very well.

So you agonize another awkward 5 minutes until you settle on a 2005 Bordeaux 5th growth, young enough to still be in great shape even in a lousy cellar, but fruity and powerful enough that it will still taste full and vibrant, not dumb, closed, and too young if coming from a pristine cellar. The price is not cheap, but you have steered away from the $500 bottles you were initially looking at ordering, all because of the last minute inconsistencies you picked up between the sommelier’s story and the warm white wine they served you first. You have used your knowledge of this restaurant’s storage conditions to assess and guess the provenance of the wines on this wine list, and it has helped you avoid an unhappy and costly experience on what should be a happy occasion.

When you buy wine at your local wine and liquor store, you should also be assessing the provenance of those wines you are buying. Once again for a cheap bottle there is no issue, but for an expensive bottle you will want to verify that the wine has been racked and kept lying down and not standing up on the store shelf, not under bright display lights, and preferably under some measure of temperature control. You might think this is all common sense but you would be surprised how stupid wine retailers can sometimes be.

Let me give you one example, in the late 1980’s the Quebec Liquor Board held one sale in particular that I remember at their flagship store, the Maison des Vins, which was then located on President Kennedy Ave. in downtown Montreal. They had decided to put all their older vintages of Moulin Touchais dessert wine on sale. Most of the stock had been overpriced so it was not selling. Their store layout consisted of a large central walk in style refrigeration area that occupied about 20% of the square footage. This is where all the good wines were kept, older overpriced vintages that were not selling, etc. The latest Bordeaux releases were due to arrive, so they cut the price on the older Moulin Touchais bottles by 40%, took them out from the temperature controlled cellar and stuck them in the sale bins by the big plate glass windows that were exposed to heavy sunlight about 8 hours per day.

I bought as many bottles as I could as fast as I could afford to buy them. Their wines cooked in the sunlight for about two months, old vintages of Moulin Touchais from 1947, 1949, 1955, and 1959 that days earlier were under temperature and humidity control were now roasting in the hot bright sun. The corks on many bottles dried out quickly, seepage began and the fill levels on many bottles began to fall rapidly. The last time I looked upon the poor remaining dead carcasses that were left, there were about 30 bottles ruined that could no longer be sold. So beware of your local retailer’s store shelf display practices (are bottles displayed for sale standing up or on their sides?). Does your wine retailer keep his best and most expensive wines under temperature control, or under bright display lights or direct sunlight? If your wine retailer is selling an older vintage, ask how long he has been selling the wine in his shop, and where it has been before making it into his store.

Some winemakers cellar their current vintage until a certain maturity level is reached (for example Moulin Touchais will only release a vintage at 10 years of age). This is a good thing for us the consumers because the winemaker is cellaring the wine and ensuring the provenance of that wine in the process.

If you are a wine collector, or if you buy expensive wines or older vintages closer to maturity, take the time to get to know this wine before you buy it. Be prepared to pay more for good provenance, it is usually worth it.

Cheers,

Reg