The future of Australian wine here at home

I had the pleasure of attending the Toronto sommelier training for Australian wine last week where experts on the Australian wine industry took us through the future and direction that they see their industry heading. I took away some great insight into the next steps for one of the worlds top producing wine countries. However at the conclusion there was one burning question: “What are the challenges and opportunities for selling regional Australian wine in Ontario?”

I thought about this for awhile then realized the answer was actually quite simple because the challenges and opportunities facing the folks at Wine Australia are one and the same. How will they convert the Australian wine perceptions of people like me?

Let me explain.

Australian wine has a stigma attached to it. Even as a WSET trained wine writer I held certain perceptions of Australian wine, which I believe are shared by many of the average everyday consumers. The terms flabby, oaky, over the top, high alcohol, jammy, tannic, mass produced, meddled with, and Yellow Tail all come to mind. You see Australia essentially launched a marketing juggernaut onto the export market over the years selling bulk, low priced wines and getting consumers to buy into their value proposition. For better or worse their export market grew but the perceptions referenced above were slowly formed in the minds of many over time, myself included.

At least I DID feel that way.

After attending the sommelier training session I have a new found appreciation for Australian wine and feel as though we are entering a new age for their wine industry. Folks, we are officially embarking on Australia”PS” (post Shiraz).

We will enter AustraliaPS with an open mind excited to try more unique wines and grape varieties not typically synonymous with Australia. In AustraliaPS Shiraz will still be available but it will be coveted and won’t be the single grape variety consistently associated with the country. The words mentioned above will be replaced with terroir driven, regionality, finesse, elegance, balance, texture, depth, complexity, low oak, soft tannins, and well integrated.

Value bulk wines will be replaced by value from boutique wineries with historical and regional significance, some of which have been producing wine in Australia for over a century. Ontarians will understand that for every bulk Shiraz they’ve had there is a unique expression of Semmillion available from a region called “The Hunter Valley.” Then they can try an excellent cab sauv from a winery called Tahbilk that shows beautifully at a $20 price point.

You see in AustraliaPS we will seek out regions called McLaren Vale, Margaret River, and the Clare and Eden Valleys. We will go to the LCBO in search of premium Chardonnay and will consider Australia alongside California and Burgundy. I know this all sounds like a dream, but I assure you it is not. This is just AustraliaPS.

What I am hearing from the folks at Wine Australia is that they recognize that the stigma which I mentioned off the top does in fact exist. I am here to tell them that they are right. But I am also here to tell them that I am one of the converted and there is huge market opportunity in Ontario to convert the rest of the people who think (thought) like me. Ontarians are a smart and savvy bunch who are beginning to better understand the nuances of the wine world. However they are also still in search of affordable wine. The catch is this doesn’t just mean “cheap” wine, it now means “quality wine in their price range.” AustraliaPS has the potential to hit on all these factors but also appeal to the wine connoisseur amongst us. Lets all raise a glass of Shiraz to that.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Wines from BC – #ONtastesBC

The January 19th Vintages release at the LCBO includes some amazing releases from our friends out west. I have been fortunate over the past 12 months to participate in a number of promotions for Ontario wine and I am a strong supporter. But I have been chomping at the bit to try more wines from BC. They keep so much of their quality product to themselves and ship so little out that it’s often tough to get a read on what’s happening in the West. But on Thursday, January 24th we venture out to British Columbia with a live Twitter discussion under the hashtag #ONtastesBC. To prep for this discussion I pre-tasted 6 wines from BC which are being released by Vintages this Saturday.

I don’t want to give away all my thoughts and notes prior to the Twitter event, but these 6 wines will makeup the bulk of the discussion. My tasting notes on each wine are below.

Gray Monk, 2011, Gewurztraminer Pale lemon and a bit watery in appearance with intense floral aromas that jump out of the glass alongside honeydew, stone and some tropical fruits. On the palate it’s a bit more mellow than I would have expected. Extremely easy drinking with fruit so rich it almost comes off with a bit of sweetness. Pair with Asian or Indian food. LCBO: #321588 Price: $19.95 Recommendation: Consider Trying Score: 88

Quails’ Gate, 2011, Chardonnay Very nice aromas and a big bouquet for a chardonnay. The aroma’s of vanilla, toast, oak, and red apple jump out of the glass. There is really a lot going on. On the palate however it lacks as the vanilla takes over and dominates a bit. The apple comes on, but too little too late. Pair with chicken, pasta and seafood. LCBO: #377770 Price: $21.95 Recommendation: Don’t Bother Score: 85 Mission-Hill--Reserve-Chardonnay-2010 Mission Hill Reserve, 2010, Chardonnay Beautiful lemon/gold colour starts off in the glass. The aroma’s are well integrated with oak, vanilla, peach, and apple and then even some tropical fruits coming through as the wine warms up. On the palate the oak is well integrated with flavours of peach, toast, nuts, vanilla, and butter. Pair with your next Thanksgiving turkey dinner and don’t look back. LCBO: #545004 Price: $19.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 89 Eau-Vivre-Pinot-Noir-2008 Eau Vivre, 2008, Pinot Noir Almost a hint of brown or tauny mixed in with the beautiful ruby colour. On the nose you get some cooked cherry, earth, and violet notes and overall very strong aromatics. On the palate this wine bursts with flavour and shows it’s true colours. Cherry, earth and cigar smoke are all beautifully integrated with soft tannins, nice acidity, and a great lingering finish. An overall beautiful, soft, pinot noir. Excellent value at $22. LCBO: #308353 Price: $21.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 91 Osoyoos-Larose-Grand-Vin-2008 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, 2008 Truth be told I have wanted to try this wine for years and have almost bought it on multiple occasions. I was not disappointed A robust blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot this wine is huge and full of flavour. You’ll find dark fruit and even espresso on the nose. Plus, if you’ve ever smelled pipe smoke you’ll also notice that in the aromatics. On the palate you get a soft mouthfeel which just coats your mouth with velvety tannins that you almost can’t even notice. This is a perfectly balanced wine with the longest finish I have tasted in awhile and although it’s a big red red wine you could easily find yourself sipping this without hesitation. Pair with red meat and game. LCBO: #626325 Price: $45.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 92 Mission-Hill-Quatrain-2008 Mission Hill Quatrain, 2009 A blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cab Sauv, and Cab Franc this one was a surprise to me as I hadn’t heard much about it. It bursts out of the glass with beautiful dark colour then dark fruit, cigar smoke, and the smell of a cellar. On the palate you get a multi layered wine with the fruit jumping out first before the tannins hit your cheeks. Then it closes with the cigar smoke which lingers on your palate for awhile. It is so well integrated I had to taste it about 10 times to make my true assessment. Not that I minded. A perfect pairing with prime rib or really any good red meat. LCBO: #218636 Price: $41.95 Recommendation: Must Try Score: 93

If you want more information or want to give your own thoughts join the discussion next Thursday, January 24th and follow the hashtag #ONtastesBC. Many wine writers and experienced critics from around Ontario will be joining the discussion. Talk to you then.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Unusual Cocktails & Drinks

Did the title of this post spark your interest? I hope so because it’s a vast and fascinating subject when you begin looking at the interesting concoctions being crafted by bartenders around the world. This topic is virtually endless and I’m sure many of you could add your own experiences to this post. Please do. Add your suggestions or thoughts on some “unusual cocktails and drinks” in the comments section. I’m sure some interesting dialogue will be triggered here.

I came across this post http://www.casinotop10.net/Unusual-Cocktails-and-Drinks and it provided the inspiration for today’s topic. However I am taking a different perspective on “unusual”. The following four drinks are insanely popular in their respective countries of origin. In fact they may be the most popular drinks in those countries. However like many things internationally they are relatively unknown to most in North America if you haven’t had the chance to visit these places you likely haven’t had any of the following.

1. Ouzo – Greece

Ouzo

Ouzo

Ouzo is an Anise flavoured liquor which is insanely popular in Greece. If you haven’t been there then you likely have not had it. It is usually served on it’s own as an aperitif or is often served with appetizers in restaurants. It usually sipped slowly (or in shots by tourists) sometimes mixed with water or on ice. The closest comparison we are going to find in North America would be Sambuca. Yes, that black licorice flavour is prominent in Ouzo.
I also decided to take to Twitter to find out what the public had to say about Ouzo and was interested to find some mixed results.
“Easy Sipping Liquor.” (@bsaunders33)
“Tastes like black licorice to me.” (@paproconsulting)
“Gasoline #highoctane…sorry that’s grappa.” (@mortgageblogger)
“Gross” (@brettvdb)

2. Pisco – Chile/Peru

Pisco Sour - Peru

Pisco Sour – Peru

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to visit Chile on my honeymoon and there I experienced plenty of Pisco Sours. Peru claims exclusive right to use the name Pisco (according to Wikipedia that is) but if it’s coming from Chile don’t let the confusing label get the better of you as they have to call it “Chilean Pisco”. Though rarely aged in oak, where it will gain some amber colouring, it is most often colourless. At the core it is a grape based brandy made in much the same way as the more typical brandy’s we would find in North America. However it is a harsher flavour and thus is most often used in the cocktail “Pisco Sour.” The Pisco Sour is actually the Peruvian National Cocktail prepared with egg white, ice shavings, lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters. The Chilean version by comparison usually omits the bitters. It’s actually quite an enjoyable cocktail, especially when your consuming it in the home country.

3. Caipirinha – Brazil

Caipirinha

Caipirinha

This one I must admit that I have never had, but I have read about it many times before so it was top of mind when I decided to write this post. Caipirinha has been proclaimed the national cocktail of Brazil. It is usually made with Cachaca, sugar, and lime and very much resembles a Mojito without the mint. Cachaca is an alcohol that is almost identical to rum with the big difference being that rum is made with Molasses and Cachaca is made with pure sugar cane juice. Just like rum you can get aged and dark versions which have seen time in oak, but most at the lower price point which is used in the cocktail would be colourless. Of course you could theoretically make this cocktail with rum and it would be virtually identical… but it would not be Caipirinha.

4. Snow Beer – China

SnowBeer_China

Snow Beer

So here is your next pub stumper when you’re at the bar with your friends. “Do you know what the #1 beer brand in the world is by sales volume?” Yes folks that’s right… SNOW BEER! Apparently the Chinese like their beer. It is commonly known as a pale ale, most closely resembling Bud Light and at 3.0%-3.9% alcohol you could probably have a ton of them. Well it appears that the Chinese do. Snow Beer brands sold 50.8 Million barrels in 2011, dwarfing sales by the worlds second most popular brand… Bud Light (45.4 Million barrels). To put that into context the Chinese drank 16.5 Billion pints of Snow in 2011. As the mass beer market shrinks year over year in North America, this continues to be the flagship moneymaker for beer powerhouse SABMiller, the makers of Peroni, Grolsch, and Miller Light. **All stats from The Drinks Business I’m sure you have more to add. What have you tried that could be considered an “unusual cocktail or drink?” Please share it with us in the comments section below.

- Mark

Follow me on Twitter: @towineman