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 .

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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.



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’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.



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

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo - 29.2 Rebouchage-Sticker

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.7

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.13 ullage

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

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

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

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

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29-1

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.21

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.18

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

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

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.17

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

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.8


Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.9

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

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

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

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

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.20

Reg's Wine Blog - photo 29.19


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





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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So drink up and learn well!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your next BYOB party!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some options to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good hunting,