Monday, September 29, 2008

Report from ... The French Wine Study – September 27, 2008

The French spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct a study to confirm every single stereotype about French wine you can think of: it is perceived as snobby, elitist and expensive; except in Quebec, where it is seen as exhibiting traditional French values and is priced fairly. What the French really spent that money on was to show that we Canadians are a divided lot: what goes for Quebec does not go for Ontario and it certainly isn’t true in Western Canada … and nobody drinks wine East of Quebec. At least that is the perception I took away from the French wine study conducted by Sopexa and Wines of France and revealed this morning in what seems to be a condemned building turned into an art studio (The Burroughs Building on Queen Street).

Now maybe I’m being a little bit facetious about the whole thing … certainly not all Canadians see French wine as elitist and expensive, but they sure do in B.C. I have met plenty to French winemakers and I find them to be congenial and forthright and passionate about their land, their wine and their country. But what does the rest of the world think of them – more importantly, what do Canadians believe about French wine? In an effort to find out and see where their market is, Wines of France set out to find out.

First, a little general knowledge about us as a nation: The 18-34 age group is looking for convenience in their wine, price is most important and wine is used as social lubricant. 35-54 are the most sophisticated and curious about wine, they are also more educated about wine and want new horizons opened to them. If you are 55+ you are more structured, conventional and health conscious.

Appreciation of French wines is diverse across the country, although we all seem to like and know them. Appreciation is highest in Quebec, which scored at 8 out of 10, the national average was 7.4; but they are also perceived as expensive throughout the country (66% in Ontario, 78% in B.C.) except in Quebec (47%) where French wine seems to go on “promotion” or sale more; this is not surprising considering that 60+% of the SAQ’s (Quebec liquor stores) inventory is French wine.

Availability of French wine is perceived highest in Quebec (77%) as oppose to Ontario (61%) and B.C. (50%) and the widest variety is, you guessed it, Quebec (84%).

Funny statistic, the study says we as a nation drink more “Canadian” wine, but they did not differentiate between the VQA (100% Canadian) and the Cellared in Canada (blended with foreign wines) crap … thus this number is skewed and can’t be taken as valid. Though, having just visited British Columbia I can tell you their number is probably closer to VQA than ours in Ontario; and quality numbers they throew at us were also quite funny: 66% of Ontarians see French wine as quality wine while only 55% thought Canadian wine was; in B.C. the numbers are much higher, 69% see the French as having wines of quality, while their own homemade brew (wine) ranked a whopping 67%. Not surprising if you see the jingoist view they have of their own wines … and good for them – we should have that here in Ontario. But I digress.

Bottom line, the French want to know what they can do to make us all drink more French wine … while I agree that French wine is a good choice, what I would really like to know is how do we get more Ontarians to drink Ontario wine, do you think the Wine Council of Ontario will fund that study – I doubt it, but it would be nice if they did; even with a little help from the government (but that would mean the LCBO) and I don’t see that coming very soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Report from ... The Torley Dinner - September 17, 2008

Two of the principles from Torley joined us here in Toronto for a dinner at the Courtyard restaurant in Yorkville and to let us try some old favourites, recently released and hopefully, soon to be released wines, from this Hungarian wine making giant.

Haven't heard of Torley? Well maybe you've tried their Hungaria Grande Cuvee Brut ($11.10 - #619288), most people have, it is very popular here and abroad. In fact, it seems that's what Torley started out as in 1882 when Jozsef Torley left Roedere's Champagne house in France to start his own company in his native Hungary. Today Torley makes 10 different kinds of sparkling wine (6 in the charmat method, 2 transfer method and 2 traditional) to the tune of 6.1 million bottles annually, and growing. They sell most of their sparkling at home (76%) by far the king of the Hungarian market, but their still wine is mostly for import (57% gets sent out of country). So for those of you who know them for their bubbly here are a few more choices in Torley wines you might enjoy.

Hungaria 2006 Pinot Noir ($14.95) ... about 200 cases were released, very quietly through Vintages stores earlier this year, and they seem to have sold out pretty quickly; a few bottles still remain in about 17 stores across Ontario. There was no wonder why this wine sold well - it has all the characteristics you expect from Pinot (raspberry and strawberry smells; red currant, sour cherry and a touch earthy on the palate) at a price that doesn't prohibit you from trying a bottle on a whim and going back for more the next day.

Those looking for an affordable white with some character all its own, would do well to try the Hungarovin 2007 Debroi Cuvee ($7.95 - #536268). This wine, made from the local Harslevelu grape, is spicy on the nose with an over-ripe peach smell, in the mouth it has honey nuances and a very good spiciness. Interesting and worth a try are good descriptors and fo under eight bucks, why not.

Last wine of the night was a Chapel Hill 2007 Pinot Grigio ... they are hoping to have this one in the market by next summer. Light, refreshing, medium sweet on the palate but with a nice pleasant dry finish with a touch of citrus and apple; very fruity and at well under $10 this should be another winner from the Torley.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Report from ... Chilean Preview – September 10, 2008

The Chilean preview kicked off what is going to be another busy wine tasting season … once again, as they did last year, organizers did a blind preview broken down into 8 flights – with an extra 9th served with lunch – that being the 2 sparkling wines. So without further ado here are my wine picks from this year’s preview tasting:

Flight A – Sauvignon Blancs and Various (8 wines)
1 – Vina Maipo 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial ($16.95 - #81216 – Vintages Nov. 22) – apple, grapefruit, crisp and lively, very nice.
2 – Vina Montgras 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($11.95 - #58632) – crisp citrus with gooseberry and grapefruit.
3 – Vina Amayna 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($20.95 - #77693) – gooseberry and grapefruit with good bite from the acidity; maybe a touch on the sweet side.

Flight B – Chardonnay (5 wines)
1 – Vina Santa Alicia 2006 Chardonnay Reserve ($10.95 - #414475) – soft and fruity, tasty and balanced, nice apple nuances mixed in with soft woody tones.
2 – Vina Carmen 2007 Chardonnay Classic ($970 - #235663) – buttery, leesy, vanilla and caramel.

Flight C + D – Carmenere (10 wines)
1 – Vina Santa Carolina 2006 Carmenere Barrica Selection ($15.95 - #57133) – minty black fruit with good smoothness on the palate – some tannins and oak flow smoothly across the tongue.
2 – Vina Perez Cruz 2006 Carmenere Reserve ($24.95 - #670539 – Vintages) – sweet blackberries, nice tannins, good mouth presence with a dusting of chocolate and black cherries.
3 – Vina Cono Sur 2007 Vision Carmenere ($15.95 - #59360 – Vintages) – big cherry and black fruit, good nose, a little rough on the flavour side but still nice, good finish.

Flight E – Syrah / Shiraz / Malbec / Merlot / Pinot Noir (7 wines)
1 – Vina Santa Rita 2007 Pinot Noir Reserva ($14.95 - #65458 – Vintages) – sweet and fruity with cherry, mint, milk chocolate and a smell that’s a dead ringer for freshly baked strawberry-rhubarb pie … like no Pinot you’ve ever tried before.
2 – Vina Terra Andina 2005 Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon Altos ($18.95 - #693895 – Vintages) – black fruit, blackberry, simple and easy sipper driven by its silky tannins.

Flight F – Cabernet Sauvignon Blends (4 wines)
1 – Vina Haras de Pirque 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere Albis ($55.00 - #579813 – Vintages) – peppery, black fruit and berry with big alcohol and tannins apparent on both the nose and palate – good ageability potential.

Flight G + H – Cabernet Sauvignon (14 wines)
1 – Vina Santa Carolina 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva de Familia ($19.95 - #684597 – Vintages) – blackberry, chocolate, black cherry, good structure with silky smooth tannins.
2 – Vina Porta 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Boldo Reserva Organic ($18.95 - #86587 – Vintages) – minty and chocolaty, tasty and thoroughly enjoyable.
3 – Vina Requingua 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Toro de Piedra Reserva ($14.95 - #39362 – Vintages) – nice black fruit with a port-like palate, cherries and raspberries, good finish – big alcohol taste.

Bubbling under Cabernet Sauvignons – with 14 to choose from you just knew a few would be close to making the top three:
Vina Miguel Torres 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Digna reserve ($14.95 - #177451 – Vintages) – black fruit, woody, nice tannins.
Vina Perez Cruz 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($14.95 - #694208 – Vintages) – sweet fruit both on the nose and in the mouth.

Flight I - Sparkling (2 wines)
This was a no brainer to me, Fresita ($13.85 - #56697), the sparkler made with Patagonian strawberries, always a favourite, perfect for any time of year; a party favourite.

There were some great wines in this preview tasting which bodes well for the real deal on October 1st at the Fermentation Cellar in Toronto’s distillery district. Info can be found here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Report from ... Shores of Erie International Wine Festival – September 6, 2008

I am happy to report that the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival has expanded. This year they took over new areas of Fort Malden, kinda like an invasion (to use the war vernacular which seems appropriate for the venue): a second stage was added, they expanded the food choices, and some of the wineries opened a second booths to allow themselves more and better access to and for their customers. Saturday night was the usual hoping time and the double-booth experiment proved to be a boon to those wineries that took advantage of it. And while the second stage gave attendees more access to entertainment and the freedom to move around and see more of what they wanted to see, it proved to be a drawback when it came time for those who gave seminars in the tent directly across from it. Seminar organizers were told this stage would be an acoustic or “place for those who want a more relaxed quieter time” – but it proved to be just as loud as the main stage. Last year guest speakers competed with a main stage 100 yards away and around the corner, this year they competed directly with a stage less than 100 feet away and directly in front of them, blasting music right into the tent ... this gave new meaning to the word miscommunication: people weren’t sure whether I was talking about ros├ęs (pink wine) of roses (the flower); and I know other speakers had similar issues. Hopefully in their second year of having this stage they can vet the bands a little better – a guy with an acoustic guitar is good, smooth jazz ensemble also good, five piece rock band … probably not the best choice for this stage; or maybe reserve the music on this stage till after the seminars.

As for my impressions of the festival in general, there are some things I’ll admit and others I keep to myself, as the old saying goes: only my hairdresser knows for sure, but this I will admit to you freely – I did not have a chance to get around and see much of this year’s Shores of Erie Festival. Sure I was at the dinner the previous night, and yes I gave two seminars (to packed houses might I add), but I didn’t get around to many of the food and winery booths. Yes I tried some scrumptious egg rolls and stir-frys, sipped on some delicious wines and spoke to a lot of people, but I didn’t get the full feel of the event like I have in previous years. That’s why I decided to ask a number of folks that approached me after my talks. They seemed to all have very positive things to say, they were either having a “fabulous”, “incredible” and/or “wonderful” time, and that can’t all be attributed to me and my wonderful speaking and showmanship abilities. The Shores of Erie Festival continues to be one of my favourite events of the year – in fact I’m already booked in for next year … so they must like me too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Report from ... Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Winemakers Dinner – September 5, 2008

The anxious looks on organizers faces could be read from across the room … this was the “first annual” winemakers dinner at the festival and guest were arriving, the big night had arrived: the preparation, the hard work all comes down to the next 3 hours. They sold out 15 tables, maxed out seating and the capacity of the tent – they now awaited the big moment, the start of what they had envisioned months ago. I had been asked to host one of the 15 tables – with only 13 wineries in the Lake Erie North Shore and a few winemakers indisposed they had some extra tables that needed their guests attended to. So I had to leave my parents (who came down to hear me speak for the first time) and my foodie (Erica) behind to fend for their own dinner (how am I ever going to get a proper take on mushroom and tomato dishes?) and turned my attention and critical eye to this dinner and info-taining the 9 folks at “my table”.

The reception wine was a sparkler by Colio, the 2006 Lily Sparkling, and as anybody who has thrown a party knows, nothing kicks off a bash like bubbly. By the time I had said all my hellos and talked to those who greeted me at the door and on the floor it was time to begin – no chance for another glass of the bubbles.

First course was a Tartlet of Aromatic Duck Confit with baby Pear and Gorgonzola – each course was being paired with a minimum of two wines, this one saw a Pinot Gris and Riesling, as it’s pairing partners. I had been told that each person had two glasses, one for white and one for red – but I, never one to follow the rules, poured a small sampling of each wine, allowing them to get the effect of each as it paired with the food. After each course I polled the table to find out the favourite. While both wines appealed to everyone’s palate, the winner was the Pinot Gris; it just paired better with the entire ensemble … the Riesling was overwhelmed by the Gorgonzola, but when the cheese was revoked it did pair well with the remaining ingredients; on the other hand, the Pinot Gris cleared the palate and complimented the entire piece. Winning Wine: Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery 2007 Pinot Gris.

The next course was Rabbit Filled Ravioli served in a Butternut Squash Puree with Truffle; the wines were a Cabernet Franc and a Chambourcin. The table seemed relatively split when it came to tasting the wine on its own, but add the food to the mix and the Franc won hands down. Winning Wine: Colio Estate Winery 2005 CEV Cabernet Franc Reserve.

Onto the third round, here we had Baby Arugula, Heirloom Tomato and Parma Ham with Blood Orange Olive Oil; the wines were a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. This was no contest – again two fine wines but the Cabernet Sauvignon overpowered where the Chardonnay complimented … using the red for this course seemed a strange choice though interesting and daring. Winning Wine: Mastronardi Estate Winery 2005 Chardonnay Reserve Oaked.

The last dish was the main course. Charred Leg of Lamb with Fresh Rosemary Roasted Baby Carrot with Star Anise and Wild Honey, Smashed Fingerling Potato with Garlic Confit. This time there were three wines to pair with the main – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc – this threw the table into a tizzy. I was also able to secure a third glass for everyone so they could give each wine equal weight while tasting the food. At a nine-person table one person picked the Merlot, 4 picked the Cabernet Sauvignon and the other 4 the Franc. Finally the Merlot dissenter broke the tie and went with the Cab Sauv crew (it was his “close second” choice). Winning Wine: Pelee Island 2005 Vinedressers Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dessert came paired with two wines, both Vidal, a late harvest and a low sugar icewine (7). Dessert consisted of White Panna di Ciocolata served with Peach Soup. The late harvest was drowned out by the sweetness of the dessert, while the Icewine seemed to hold its own. Winning Wine: Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery 2007 Vidal Icewine.

The organizers breathed their collective sighs of relief as dinner ended without an apparent hitch. Now it was time for lots of conversation and milling about. People compared their wines and table experiences and talked about the food. I would say the first ever “annual” Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Winemakers Dinner was a success; the food was very good, the wines paired well (some better than others – but that is to be expected) and everybody walked away happy and satiated … what more could you want from a dinner, maybe a grab bag, but then maybe I’m just letting my inner child out and harking back to my kids party days.