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

Just imagine… Ontario with private wine stores

Privatization: “to transfer from public or government control or ownership to private enterprise.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/privatization).  OK I admit I probably didn’t have to publish that definition for you to appreciate what this article is about.  If you have been following the Ontario wine industry, or Ontario politics, over the past few weeks you are well aware that the issue of privatizing the sale of alcohol in Ontario is once again heating up.  Of course this is nothing new as the debate over privatizing the LCBO has been going on for decades.  In fact in 2005 a report titled “Beverage Alcohol System Review” commissioned by Dalton McGuinty himself strongly recommended privatization at that time.  Needless to say it didn’t happen.

The LCBO has been in place since 1927 and few times has it even come close to being abolished or integrated into a joint system with the private sector.  However I have been following the discussions very closely over the past few weeks and I feel as though not only is the discussion once again heating up but it has the structure and backing to potentially succeed this time.  I am all for it.

I had actually been perched on the “privatization” fence for a while before jumping over.  At first I blindly supported privatization but only because I believed many of the “myths” which I’m sure many of you believe.  I had initially assumed that privatization would instantly lead to lower prices, ala our friends to the south.  Then I realized that is likely not true as evidenced by higher prices in many other provinces which have adopted at least some form of privatization.  Many believe that the LCBO – due in part to a relatively low tax rate compared with other provinces – actually helps keep pricing in check.  In fact a private system may lead to higher prices mostly because a store owner would still have to mark up their product considerably; both to cover contributions back to the government and to make a living.  Then for awhile I jumped on the anti-LCBO bandwagon striking them down as a monopolistic Goliath who does nothing but serve the interests of themselves and the government – ignoring consumers all together.  That is also not true.  The LCBO contributes hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to the Ontario government, which many believe helps keep all of our taxes down.  They also have such a massive structure that they can afford to operate what are sometimes unprofitable stores in many outlying areas of the province.  This includes many small towns where a privately owned store would likely struggle.  Plus in my personal opinion the LCBO is actually a wonderful shopping experience.  The stores are well merchandised, easy to shop, and they employ very knowledgeable staff.  The buyers for the LCBO are extremely talented and as such the product we get access to is quite good.  All of which, from a consumer perspective, is very positive.  They are also governed to help curb major societal problems including alcoholism and under-age drinking by keeping the sale of the product so regulated.

What I’m trying to say is that I had previously supported privatization based on limited knowledge of how it would actually unfold and because of an unfounded bias against the LCBO.  I’m sure there are many out there who think the same way.  So why now, based on everything I just outlined with full knowledge of the situation and a better appreciation for the LCBO, do I still support the privatization movement?  Simple, it ultimately benefits consumers with better selection and more choice.  Regardless of the structure a private wine system may take it would put the availability of products in the hands of individuals in the private sector.  These people would be able to stock their shelves with whatever product they wish.  Small wineries from around the world would have more chance of being available at retail stores because they wouldn’t have to meet the massive production requirements of the LCBO.  Shops could cater to an individual market, location, and unique consumer demands.  These are the very fundamentals of a free market.  Then picture Toronto where you have true ethnic diversity.  You would likely find this diversity in the availability of wine.  Just like a descendent from Tuscany can open a truly authentic restaurant, that same person would theoretically be able to open a truly authentic Tuscan wine shop.  How amazing would that be?   Finally what garner’s the most support from me is the rather obvious benefits to our local wine culture and businesses.  Private wine stores would allow for better stocking of Ontario wineries who can’t find their way onto LCBO shelves.  A recent study showed that wine consumption in Ontario has surpassed liquor and now accounts for 30% of Canadians’ total alcohol consumption.  That number rises year over year, while both beer and liquor consumption continues to fall.  Furthermore the study showed that one third of the wine consumed is now domestic wine (see the full article).  It’s no secret that the quality of wine in this province is getting better year after year, so the availability of this wine to the local consumer should be without barriers.  It shouldn’t require you visiting that winery to get the product.  I have personally predicted that Ontario wineries will be a major force on the world wine scene in 5-10 years. For that to happen, and for us to be considered up there with France, Italy, California, Australia, etc. privatization also needs to happen.

This movement is being driven largely by the Wine Council of Ontario which has launched a consumer driven approach called #mywineshop which you can find on www.mywineshop.ca.  This is basically a glorified petition where consumers can create a virtual wine shop and put it on the map.  They can then directly e-mail their local MP with support for the privatization movement.  This consumer involvement is new and is fundamental to the most recent lobby for change.  Check it out and if you can spare even 5 minutes put your very own wine shop on the map.  Their model is one where the LCBO and private wine stores co-exist and more importantly, their model is well laid out and could actually happen.

As I also mentioned there is significant momentum behind this and I am far from the only person writing about it.  Check out the great writers below and their take on the possibility of private wine stores.

John Szabo, Wine Align
David Lawrason, Wine Align
Shawn McCormick, Uncork Ontario
Mike Dicaro, Spotlight City
Rick VanSickle, Wines in Niagara

Just imagine more consumer choice when it comes to purchasing wine.  Just imagine a shop in the middle of Niagara which carried wines from every single winery in Niagara with a store owner who is an expert on the region.  Just imagine being able to open your very own wine store.  Just imagine our wine industry, finally structured the way it needs to be.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

The Real Life Fairy Tale Known as “Champagne”

You’ve likely seen it in liquor stores with the trademarked yellow/orange packaging.  You may have seen people slugging it in music videos or after big sports wins.  If you’re fortunate you may have even tried some of the famous Veuve Clicquot Champagne.  A couple weeks ago I attended an event held by the wonderful folks at iYellow Wine Club where we got to taste 5 different Veuve Champagne’s.  This is a rare treat, but what made it even better was it was hosted at the new Michaels Steakhouse on Simcoe Street, and our guest of honour was none other than the winemaker himself Pierre Casenave.

First let’s clarify that  Clicquot makes Champagne.  True Champagne.  Not simply ‘sparkling wine’.  Blending varying amounts of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, these are complex wines with layers upon layers of flavour and structure making Veuve one of the most famous producers of Champagne in the world.  They were the first to produce a rose Champagne back in the 1800’s and today are one of the most recognizable Champagnes houses around the world.  That rich history alone makes them an impressive producer.  In fact the company actually dates back to the late 1700’s with the original winemaker being the widow (Veuve means window in French) Clicquot.  After her husband passed away she started the winery and though it is corporately owned today, they seem to hold on to that rich history.  In fact as stories go Veuve may have the greatest wine one I have ever heard.

In July 2010 a shipwreck was discovered in the Baltic Sea somewhere between Finland and Sweden.  Divers searching the wreck quite literally discovered treasure, over 100 bottles of Vintage Champagne dating back over 200 years.  After much analysis dozens of the bottles were proven to belong to Veuve Clicquot.  Champagne nearly two centuries old and made by Mrs. Clicquot herself! Buried in the depths of the Baltic Sea the wine didn’t spoil.  It was on it’s side, well sealed, there was no sunlight, the perfect humidity, and the perfect temperature. It was in fact the perfect wine cellar.  Of all the bottles discovered many remained in the hands of the Finnish government and many went up for auction fetching prices in the tens of thousands per bottle.  Two bottles however made it back to Veuve.  Of those two one remains on site in the winery museum and the second one was actually opened for a private tasting just this past June.  The Vintage Champagne dated 1814 was lined up against 4 of Veuves best vintage Champagnes of the past century and tasted by exclusive company.  Can you imagine? It’s a real life wine fairy tale! I’m happy enough just having met someone who was part of that tasting panel.  As for the 1814, Pierre described it as having distinct flavours of yeast, toast, and honey.  However even more surprising, and impressive really, he described it as still being “fresh”. Truly unbelievable.

The Bar at Michaels on Simcoe

Veuve Clicquot Non Vintage Yellow Label Brut

So good story right? But what about the wine we tried. We went through 5 of Veuves Champagnes (unfortunately all dated in the 21st century) including The Brut, The Brut Rose, The Demi Sec (semi sweet), The vintage Brut 2004, and the Vintage Brut 2004 Rose.  For me these are a bit tough to rate because all were fantastic, well balanced and complex wines. All would be over 90 points on a 100 point scale.  My personal favourite was the vintage 2004 Brut, and the non vintage Brut Rose.  Ever so slightly better than the rest, they showed the most depth of flavour and were probably the best food pairing wines of the group.

But compared to many I am far from a Champagne loyalist, and many, many, of those do exist.  I have actually been publicly critical of the prices for Champagne.  The range of wine we tried started at $70 and ended at $120 per bottle.  As someone who often writes about value with the perspective of the everyday consumer, that is tough to manage for most.  But I can tell you that I learned something. Unless you are part of the aforementioned Champagne loyalist family, you should keep one bottle of Champagne in your fridge or cellar at all times.  I would highly recommend that one bottle be Veuve as it is truly classic Champagne.  For one you should always have sparkling on hand for the right moment (no that’s not necessarily New Years Eve) and it’s a little known fact that most sparkling wine is actually meant to be consumed young including both Cava (Spain) and Prosseco (Italy).  So you can pay less for those but shouldn’t keep them around too long.  Champagne on the other hand you can keep around for a very long time, in fact good Champagne is some of the most age worthy wine ever produced. Secondly they are excellent food pairing wines so when you make a divine anniversary dinner you can have the double benefit of both serving bubbly and it being Champagne.  Finally let’s be honest, it’s Champagne.  What’s going to impress more than a bottle of the world’s foremost sparkling wine?  If your in the habit of keeping wine around you need to have your “out to impress” bottle on hand… Veuve Clicquot should be that bottle.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club, Michaels on Simcoe, and Veuve Clicquot, I was impressed.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Food and Wine Pairing – An interview with Jerry Comfort of Beringer Vineyards

On Saturday Nov 17th I met the official food and wine pairing expert.  Sure there are many sommeliers out there who can properly pair wine with food.  Sure there are many people out there who can tell you everything you need to know about every wine, then after much deliberation and scientific explanation, could tell you what food to pair with that wine.  But Mr. Jerry Comfort of the famous Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley is the man you want to speak to. Hands down.  Not only is he smart and has studied wine and food for his entire professional life.  He has also spent 20 years at Beringer, first as their chef and following that he’s spent the past 10 years as an ambassador and wine educator.  He has also worked as the head chef at restaurants all over Napa Valley and San Francisco.   These days he teaches a 90 minute seminar on wine and food pairing which takes him all around the world. It’s quite the impressive resume.  However beyond all of that, there was one thing in particular that impressed me most about Jerry’s approach.  He simplifies it.  He takes a complicated subject like wine and food pairing and makes it easy to understand for the everyday drinker.  That is something I can appreciate and relate to.

Jerry was gracious enough to sit down for a one-on-one interview.  I have separated it into three parts which you can see below.  Following that I attended his 90 minute seminar at the Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Show which was fantastic.  If you get the chance to catch his seminars, I would highly recommend it.  After spending this time with Jerry I almost feel as though I could call myself a food and wine pairing expert, but I will leave it to Jerry to tell you in his own words.

Part 1: A nice introduction to Jerry giving you a sense of just how knowledgeable he is.  He then takes you through some initial points behind his wine and food pairing philosophy.  Though not a substitute for his seminar this pretty much covers most of the key points.

Part 2: A little more insight into Jerry’s wine and food pairing philosophy including his answer to a very important question… “So what does one do? You’re going to a party and you’re in charge of bringing the wine, one white and one red, what do you bring?”

Part 3: Jerry takes the time to answer a few questions from our Twitter followers then caps off our discussion with some rapid fire random questions including “So what’s better wine on it’s own, or wine with food” and “The one region in the U.S. we might not know much about now, but need to watch out for.”

*Many thanks to the Hotel Le Germain on Mercer street for accommodating the interview in their lobby bar.  Very much appreciated.

As I mentioned following the interview I was in the audience for Jerry’s full seminar.  I encourage you to attend it the next time Jerry’s in town or if you find yourself in Napa.  I won’t ruin it for you but here are some bullet points, quotes, and key takeaways to help you the next time you look to pair wine with food.

  • Don’t pair to flavour, pair to taste (taste being sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami).
  • “The wine industry seems to have forgotten K-I-S-S, keep it simple stupid.” – Jerry
  • Don’t pair to a grape variety, pair to a wine style
  • There are only really 5 types of wine you need to know when pairing.  Sweet wine, dry white wine with no oak, dry white wine with oak, fruit forward reds with little or no oak, and high tannin, big body red with the use of oak
  • Simple wines are the easiest to pair, hence why table wine and restaurant house wine is simple
  • Wine doesn’t change food… food changes wine.  Try the wine first, then the food.  There is no change.  Go back to the wine and you will understand if you like the pairing or not
  • “So, sweet food makes wine suck?” – Some guy in the audience, though Jerry seemed to agree
  • “Food without salt, needs wine without oak.” – Jerry
  • “Food does not overpower wine when it is balanced.” – Jerry, referring to the proper use of salt in cooking
  • “Sugar in cooking is the devil to dry wine.” – Jerry
  • “When cooking, cook with the worst wine you have.” – Jerry
  • If the food is balanced the wine flavour doesn’t change. This is what you are seeking because if you like the wine and it doesn’t change you can drink any wine you want with your balanced meal
  • Try the Beringer Founders Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – $18.95 at the LCBO.  Made in the domestic Napa Valley style, but available at a fraction of the price of their pure Napa Cab
  • Most impressive fact: Beringer is the only winery in the world to have received a Wine Spectator #1 wine in the world label for both a white and a red wine

At the end of everything I had made my conclusion and it was this… If food is properly salted and has adequate acidity you can pair any wine with it.  Most foods essentially have this.  Think white fish salted with a touch of lemon, steak seasoned and served with a slight reduction, and pasta with parmesan cheese and a tomato sauce.  Jerry gives you many more examples but these represent “balanced foods”.  When you have balanced foods the wine flavour will remain unchanged.  Just try it.  Take a piece of apple, sprinkle it with salt and lemon.  Chances are you won’t like it but believe it or not you now have a balanced food.  Now try the wine, then the food (of course the food doesn’t change), then try the wine again.  Balance.  The wine remains unchanged showing all it’s original flavours.  When you have balanced food and thus wine flavours that remain unchanged you then have the easiest wine pairing job in the world… drink whatever you like or bring whatever it is your hosts like.  Then suddenly we are all wine pairing experts.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Nouveau LCBO release 2012 – What to buy

Did you know that the third Thursday of November each year marks the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau wines?  This is recognized worldwide, often celebrated with parties and festivities. That Thursday is today and the LCBO released 10 Nouveau wines this year  including some classic examples of Beaujolais Nouveau and some interesting Nouveau examples made form non traditional grape varieties.

For those that may not know Beaujolais Nouveau is a very unique style of wine.  Beaujolais is a sub-region in the Burgundy region of France.  Wines coming from this area are made from the Gamay grape variety.  More specifically Nouveau wines coming from Beaujolais are their own unique style made from an extremely short maceration and fermentation process. The goal is to release the wines to the market extremely quickly following the harvest.  Hence on the 3rd Thursday of November we are seeing the 2012 wines.  The result is a light and fruity wine, sometimes with a hint of residual sugar, and no ageing.  The wines are meant to be consumed young… otherwise known as immediately.

Some other regions in the world are now making Nouveau style wines, including a couple releases from right here in Ontario.  This year the LCBO releases 10 nouveau style wines.  Lucky for me (and by association lucky for you) I have tried all 10.  Nouveau style wines are amazingly simple, so I am going to keep this blog post amazingly simple.  Below you will find what wines you should try and which you should not.

The Fool, Reif Estate, Gamay Nouveau, VQA, Niagara Ontario – $9.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? An appealing dessert like nose with some nice fresh strawberry. Nice Cran/Cherry on the palate.

Chateau des Charmes Generation Seven Nouveau, VQA, Niagara Ontario – $11.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? A very impressive palate. Possibly the most full bodied release that the LCBO offers this year.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau, France – $13.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? Some nice acidity and decent length for a Beaujolais.  Even some soft pepper on the palate which was nice.

Catalans Primeur Syrah/Merlot, France – $9.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? Tasted and smelled like Banana medicine. You might like banana medicine, but not in your wine.

Jeanjean Syrah Primeur, France – $9.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? A bit too much bubblegum and candied fruit flavour, but a soft palate, nice finish, and easy drinking, which is enough to get a soft recommendation.

Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau, France – $8.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? Might be some value at $8.95, but very, very weak flavour.

Negrar Novello Del Veneto, Italy – $9.95
Recommendation: Don’t bother
Why? The bubblegum and candied flavours are far too strong.

Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti, Italy – $8.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? Easily the best value of the group and one of the best wines.  Nice ruby colour with dark cherry and even some hints of smoke and pepper on the nose. Following that an impressive palate for $9.

Beaujolais Villages Nouveau, Joseph Drouhin, France (Vintages) – $14.95
Recommendation: Must try
Why? The most classic and typical Beaujolais of the group.  Candy and cherry on the nose  which carry through nicely on the palate.

Beaujolais Villages Nouveau, G. Duboeuf, France (Vintages) – $14.95
Recommendation: Consider it
Why? Likely priced a bit high but overall a pretty inviting wine and a fairly classic example of Beaujolais Nouveau.

**Caveat**
Personally Beaujolais Nouveau is not my first choice.  It is a bit too candied and light for me.  However I have reviewed all of these wines objectively leaving personal bias aside.  If you have never tried a Nouveau style I encourage you to do so.  They are very unique and worth at least sampling.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Sommelier training for a wine blogger – what you need to know about the Loire.

What most people know and appreciate is there are some very key regions in France.  In fact some of the most important wine regions in the world are found in France.  You have Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Rhone Valley, and Champagne, just to name a few.  However one region that is hugely popular around the world, but I feel is a bit unappreciated in this market, is the Loire.  In the wine world it ranks up there with the other regions I mentioned, but for some reason it gets a fraction of the attention in this market.  I don’t often see it on wine lists and I visited an LCBO on Friday afternoon and only found a handful of bottles in vintages (to about 30 of each of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone).  It is for these reasons that I found myself fortunate to be at the Toronto Sommelier Training on the Loire last Tuesday, at Loire Restaurant on Harbord St, just west of Spadina.

Make no mistake about it… I am not a sommelier.  I am trained in wine via WSET which is a strand of education differing slightly from the formal Sommelier programs (though in my opinion, equally as complicated) and I am a writer.  However as you are reading this post I think that benefits you, as I try to take a bit of a different approach than a sommelier might.  I try to normalize a complicated subject and help everyone understand and appreciate all wines and regions.  I try to provide key takeaways and recommendations and write as objectively as I can.  My job is not to create wine lists, a complicated role which involves food and wine pairing considering cost and consumer preference.  However last week I found myself in a room with Toronto’s top sommeliers learning about the nuances of the Loire from arguably the top sommelier Toronto has to offer, Mr. John Szabo (more on John in a moment).

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With that as the basis for this post… here is what you need to know about the Loire.

First, they make outstanding white wines.  In the eastern side of the region you get Sauvignon Blanc dominating with bottles that will be labelled Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.  Those are the classic regions of production, but the grape will be Sauvignon Blanc.  It is different Sauvignon Blanc than you’ll find in say New Zealand.  More mineral than perfume and more citrus than tropical.  Moving west you will also find the amazing wines of Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) and Muscadet (Melon Blanc).  The Vouvray’s are rich and vibrant white wines, whereas the Muscadet’s contain strong minerality and stone flavours.

Second, though I consider the white wines to be the biggest focus of the Loire they are also a classic region for red wines made from Cabernet Franc.  Look for bottles labelled from Chinon.  They are much bigger, bolder, and more tannic Cab Franc’s than we find in many other regions in the world.  Personally as a grape variety that not is typically one of my favourites, I prefer the Loire style of Cab Franc to most made elsewhere.

Third, they make high, high, high, acid wines.  Enough sometimes to make your mouth water for minutes after you taste them.  This has two distinct advantages. First they can be great age worthy wines, including the whites.  The acid will help the wine stand up over time and develop in the bottle.  Second the acid makes these wines outstanding food pairing wines.  Loire Sauvignon Blanc is possibly the most classic pairing with goat cheese and Muscadet is hands down the most classic pairing with Oysters and really most fresh white fish.  But even beyond those two examples there is a tremendous range of pairing flexibility with the Loire wines.  If you don’t have a huge wine cellar and find yourself constantly struggling in the kitchen with your wine and food pairing, the Loire offers some very safe bets.  It’s tough to keep enough of an inventory at home to properly pair with your everyday cooking.  Put at least one Loire white and one Loire red in your wine fridge and you’ll impress your guests and you’ll never be overly stumped again.  They might not always be the best or most classic pairing like some of the examples I gave, but they are versatile which is a key for home cooking.  Here we also uncover the key reason that this was a Sommelier training.

Finally, they converted me.  I knew the basics, but I was not the most knowledgeable of the region.  I have always loved Muscadet, but have been generally critical of Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Franc on multiple occasions.  Knowing those are two of the biggest grapes of this region had led me to obnoxiously avoid the wines.  Now I am converted.  The wines of the Loire are truly unlike any other in the world.  They are the benchmark for these classic grape varieties and everything else is either trying to copy them (many Ontario examples) or purposely differentiate from them (New Zealand) to create their market.  But the Loire is the benchmark.  It didn’t hurt that since they are excellent food pairing wines, the seminar was held over lunch at Loire Restaurant, a quaint little spot at 119 Harbord St owned by two wonderful gentlemen who hail from the Loire.  As you can guess, the food was outstanding and was paired perfectly.  It also didn’t hurt that the tasting and a full one hour PowerPoint training session, was led by Master Sommelier John Szabo who is hands down one of the best in the business.  John has a way of speaking about wine that I personally strive for.  He is one of the smartest wine educators I have come across but speaks about the subject with ease making it easy to understand.  He is also a talented story teller and is well travelled.  So he has stories to back everything he is speaking about which are unique and entertaining.  It was pleasure to finally meet him and take away a thing or two about the way he carries himself in the wine world.

So all Loire all the time?  I’m not sure I would go that far.  But I will keep one or two bottles in my fridge to help with wine pairing at home (which periodically I do struggle with, without reaching into the depths of the cellar).  I will also keep my eyes out for more Loire wines on Toronto restaurant menus, hoping that the sommeliers in the room took as much away from the seminar as I did.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

A review of Rosewood Wines – By. Jennifer Britton

On Tuesday October 23rd Rosewood Wine Estates held a private tasting at George Brown College in Toronto to showcase their portfolio of wines.  Best known for their Mead’s (wine made from a base of honey) Rosewood brought together a group of writers and wine lovers to try their entire portfolio.  Beyond the wines however the goal was also to showcase the ability of their wines to pair well with food.  Hence the selection of George Brown as the venue where the talented chefs created a special menu designed to showcase the wines and their match with a variety of foods.

I have spoken to a few people who were in attendance and it appears this all came across.  TOwineman was well represented by Jennifer Britton who acted as our correspondent and reported back.  Beyond being my sister, Jen is a wine lover in her own right and a veteran in the service industry.  Who better for Rosewood to leave a good impression on?  Well apparently they succeeded, and with that I turn the blog over to Jen to recount the event for you in her own words.

Recently I had the pleasure of representing towineman.com by attending a private tasting with Rosewood Estates Wine at the Chefs House at George Brown College. We were welcomed warmly to the open kitchen restaurant by the Rosewood team. There was a lovely set-up for the tables with a spot to take notes as well as 5 large wine glasses for the tasting. Once everyone got settled, the team started with the tasting. I loved not only that I got to sample the Rosewood portfolio of wine, but also the fact that they were all paired with food.

The wine we started with was their 2011 Harvest Gold, paired with a delicious Chicken Tikka with Mango Chutney. This wine is Rosewood’s signature dry mead, meaning a wine made from a honey base. It had a sweet honey tang and struck the right balance between sweet and savory with the chicken. Paired with the Chicken it brought out a wonderful amount of heat.

The second wine grouping we moved onto tasting were the Whites. We paired each wine in this group with a White Fish Ceviche. The first wine was the 2011 Semillon which was sweet and crisp. It also had a lot of pepper notes as well as hints of pineapple and pear. This choice was very fruitful and a great pair with seafood. The second wine was the 2011 Mima’s Block Riesling. This wine has wonderful sage and lemon notes with an aftertaste of fresh apples. This white was crisp and smooth and brought out the lemon in the seafood. Interestingly I am normally not a Riesling fan, but this wine was a great balance of sweetness and actually ended up being my number one pick for the whites. The last of the Whites was the 2010 Sussreserve Riesling. This choice is a 7th harvest and had strong apricot and tree fruit flavors. It was a sweeter wine, but actually had a mild taste and smell.

Stepping away from the wines for a second I must mention the staff.  During the presentation the Hospitality students at The Chefs School, who were very wonderful and attentive, waited us on. They were friendly and very motivated and made the tasting an overall success.  My thanks go out to them.

We then moved on to the Pinot tastings, which were paired with a Fried Mushroom Arancini.  We opened with the 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve. This wine was a natural fermentation wine with notes of pepper.  It was very spicy but had a smooth smell and taste. The second we tried was the 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve. This choice was less spicy with more berry notes. By comparison the 2010 was much smoother than the 2009 and had a slight hint of chocolate in the flavor. It did however have a much more bitter aftertaste. 

From there we moved onto the rest of the reds. This bunch was paired with a delicious Braised Lamb Shank Tortellini, which was fantastic! The first red was the 2010 Cabernet Franc, which was very dark in colour with grainy flavors and hints of jam. It was very fruity with strong berry and a little spice. With that complexity and gorgeous colour it was my pick for best red. The second was the 2010 Merlot, which was a very pure tasting wine. It was the best pairing with the red meat and had smooth and nice subtle flavors. The last of the reds was the 2010 Merlot Reserve, which is fermented for 5-6 days and sits for fermentation for 3 ½ weeks after. This wine had strong oak notes and had a very bitter aftertaste.

Lastly we had the 2008 Mead Royale. I think this wine was probably the most anticipated on the list for a lot of the attendees. The wine is 6-month barrel aged and is a consumer favorite. It is made with pure honey, water and yeast and is much lighter in color than most whites. It had a very strong floral smell as well as the extreme notes of honey and sweetness. It was paired with and aged oak Gouda, which toned down some of the sweetness of the wine. Although a great price and a wonderful honey, sweet wine, this wine was too sweet for this particular taster.

All and all, this was a wonderful tasting that I was more than happy I was able to attend. The food and the wine were both wonderful and I would recommend Rosewood Estates wine to all the readers out there. The wine is not only wonderful but it’s a great value at the LCBO. Happy tasting! 

We would like to thank Jen for her attendance and her thoughtful recap of the event.  Catch up with Jen on Twitter here.  We would also like to thank Rosewood Wine Estates  and George Brown college for their hospitality.

To learn more about Rosewood Wine Estates check out their website http://www.rosewoodwine.com/

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

I’m “Hot to Trot” on the emerging value of Washington Wines

I often get criticized for not writing more about American wines.  It’s a valid complaint, but truth be told I don’t drink a lot of American wine.  There is a lot of high quality wine coming from the US but for the most part California and Oregon, the two most prominent regions, are very expensive.  So for personal consumption I don’t buy a lot of US wine.  But that could change.  Two regions are beginning to emerge where there is quality wine to be discovered and value to be found.  The Finger Lakes region of New York is up and coming and we are likely to see more of their wine in the not so distant future.  Then there is Washington State emerging as a quality region and emerging quickly, with more and more wine from the area available at the LCBO seemingly daily. Last week I got a glimpse into this future with a release party and tasting for Hot to Trot wine from 14 Hands Vineyards in Washington.  As a result I now get to answer those critics and have the pleasure of writing about American Wine.

I was first introduced to Washington State with a syrah from Dunham Cellars which retails for $35 at the LCBO.  If you can find it, that is a steal and you can find my review of that wine here.  I was excited about Washington then, and I was excited for the opportunity to try more of the up and coming product last week.  My thanks to 14 Hands Vineyards for having me at their “release party” for Hot to Trot wine.  “Release Party” really was the appropriate term for the evening and a party it certainly was.  Hot to Trot is available now in the LCBO with a red blend selling for $15.30 and a white blend selling for $14.65.  These two wines were our hosts for the evening and they were flowing.  The beauty of it was that there were only the two wines.  Within 20 minutes of arriving my reviews on the wines and my tasting notes were complete so like the rest of the guests in attendance I got to enjoy the “party” aspect of the evening, which was a pleasure.  I even took home the door prize, a 24 Carat gold plated horseshoe.  The story goes that the horseshoe is going to bring me good luck.  It didn’t seem to help when I placed a bet on the biggest long shot horse I could find, but perhaps in more reasonable settings in the future I will reap its benefits.

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The red is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In speaking with many of the guests in attendance this was their favourite of the two blends being sampled.  Personally I preferred the white, but the red was approachable and certainly enjoyable.  I found the Merlot shone through most creating a nice overall mouthfeel with ripe flavours of black fruit coming out.  I wouldn’t classify the red as an age worthy, high quality wine, but I would classify it as a wine you could drink a lot of and a great wine to open when hosting company.  As I mentioned the white was my personal preference.  It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.  I found it very refreshing and loaded with fruit.  It showed lots of green apple, lemon, peach, and a hint of residual sugar as the Viognier shines through.  A simple, simple, wine that would be great to host with and again great to drink a lot of.

The “wine you can drink a lot of” designation may sound a bit like a cop out, but it is an honest classification for me.  Some wines may be the best in the world and high quality wines, but you would only want a single glass.  The Hot to Trot wines wouldn’t be my definition of the best in the world, but they are good value, good hosting wines, wines that will go over well in most any crowd, and thus wines you could drink a lot of.  Actually those seemed to be some themes from the evening, and I was happy to oblige.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Do it yourself wine. Should you make it? Should you drink it?

If you’re an active reader of this blog you might know that I do take requests for posts.  “Wine Gimmicks” was by request, as was “The Many Colours of Johnnie Walker.” Similarly so to is today’s post on home made wine.  I’m not talking about the old school Italians who are making wine in their garage because those people likely know a thing or two.  I’m talking about the countless facilities across the province that allow people who know nothing about wine making to put their name to a bottle by doing as little as picking out the grape they want.  The result is typically wine in its simplest form for a fraction of the cost of a bottle at the LCBO.

I mentioned this post was on request.  It comes from a very good friend who last weekend hosted his version of a wine and cheese.  The tasting included various versions of extremely well made Gouda from Mountainoak Cheese in New Hamburg Ontario, which I had the pleasure of visiting the same day. The wine paired with the cheese were 4 bottles of his make-it-yourself wine.  We had a Riesling, a Spatlese Gewürztraminer (I’m serious), a Merlot, and a mixed berry fruit wine.  As you can probably tell this particular friend knows and appreciates his cheese, but lacks the same enthusiasm for wine as say someone like me. But he likes to drink it.  The cheeses were excellent.  If you find yourself in the Kitchener/Waterloo region any time soon pay them a visit, it’s worth it.  They have a little store on premise where you can sample and purchase.  Try the farmstead Gouda, the fiery, or the truffle.  All are very good.

The wine on the other hand is a totally different discussion all together.  Those who know me know that although I write this wine blog and though I understand and appreciate wine, I will still drink anything or at the very least try everything once.  The key to trying home made wine is to go into it with a different mindset.  If you’re invited to a tasting of Bordeaux you’ll likely dress up, focus, drink slowly and methodically, make detailed tasting notes, ask questions, and criticize where necessary.  If you’re invited to taste home brew you do none of those things.  Just drink it.  And here’s the truth.  They’re not high quality wines, but they are not terrible for the most part. These places are in business for the most basic of wine consumer.  They are fruit driven wines in the simplest form.  The are not deep and complex.  They don’t show subtle flavours, and are by no means age worthy. But they are often better than anyone will give them credit for and certainly better than most wine critics will have you believe.  Most importantly to many out there… they are cost effective.

So I am not going to outline detailed tasting notes on these wines, nor am I going to bother comparing them to their counterparts produced by award winning wineries.  I can also tell you that I personally won’t partake in do it yourself wine making.  Overall however this rant is simply to tell you one thing.  Be open minded, you might get surprised every now and then.  At the end of the day even home brew is still wine… and that’s light years better than drinking grape juice.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman