Top 10 situations to have a drink

I haven’t blogged in awhile.  However instead of a long winded personal update on why I have been so absent from the Blog, I figured a simple entry back into it was a far better idea.

So since everyone likes a top 10 list I figured why not a beverage themed top 10.  Plus I heard @fearless_fred talk about this on the radio the other day which resurrected an old idea I had and a post I actually started about 6 months ago.

Some of these come from my own head, some from others, and some from general conversations I have had over the years.  All of which should at the very least generate some insightful discussion.  So here goes, the top 10 situations where your drink of choice just seems mandatory.

10. Bowling
9. On vacation
8. Watching a sporting event – Live or on TV
7. Playing Pool
6. Adult League Softball
5. At the cottage on the dock
4. The first patio day of the summer
3. Friday night
2. Building IKEA furniture
1. While BBQing

Have a situation that’s better suited than those above?  We would love to hear your feedback.  Leave a comment below, email, or reach out on Twitter.  Would love to hear from you.

– Mark


State of wine journalism – A commentary on objectivity

I have read a lot of press lately on the discussion of objectivity in wine writing.  As a blogger this has a direct impact on me so the subject got my complete attention.  It seems there are some mixed views out there.  Some feel as though wineries and wine agencies are effectively buying off the media with free samples and tastings.  This can lead to positive reviews of the product because they are effectively “hired through samples” to promote the wine.  Others (myself included) believe in the objectivity but encourage the consumer to do their homework to be sure they trust the source.  I believe strongly in objectivity and ethics in wine writing and as such wanted to provide my take and some additional context on the subject.

Take a look first at a recent post by Rick VanSickle (@rickwine), speaking to an event I actively participated in.  Though his wrath is directed at Ms. Maclean and he distinctly says (in regards to the other reviewers) “I do not know most of them so I cannot comment on motive. I have to assume they accepted the samples, loved the wine and tweeted about them. Whether they were paid by MacLean, I have no idea, but I suspect not. And after reading the reviews, there were a range of opinions from scores in the mid-80s to low 90s. My concern is not with them.”  So while I was not personally offended or attacked, his overall tone calls into question true objectivity in wine writing, using an event I participated in as his prime example.  This got my attention.

The second was written by Mr. John Szabo, a Master Sommerlier universally recognized as one of Canada’s finest writers and evaluators, as well as a man I have met on numerous occasions and admire greatly.  This one was published in no smaller a forum than the National Post.  Here Mr. Szabo speaks to the overall state of wine reviewing today and how the internet provides a forum for just about anybody to review wines, credible or not and objective or not.  His point is that you need to filter your sources, learn who you can trust, and then trust them.  It’s getting harder and harder to do that in the complicated world of social media, but as a consumer you have to do your homework to trust those that are objective and credible.  I agree with him.  But again as someone who has jumped in with both feet, taking advantage of the low barriers to entry that the internet provides, I am in the centre of the world that Mr. Szabo is referring to, so again I took notice.

So here goes.  A quick monologue on a complicated topic.

Let’s be honest the lack of trustworthiness on the internet is by no means limited to wine.  Bloggers can write about anything from sports to parenting tips and their credibility can be everything from an educated source to a catfish scheme.  I agree wholeheartedly that consumers need to filter their information, find sources they trust, and call into question those they don’t trust.  It’s so easy to publish an opinion on the internet, it’s getting harder and harder for consumers to decipher if that opinion is valid or not.

My general beef on the topic and with wine writers (and most other members of the press) is on the subject of objectivity.  I consider myself to be of the highest moral standards and completely objective when reviewing wines.  However being “objective” should not be confused with being “negative”.  As a writer if you go online to attack someone or attack an organization because you didn’t like their product this does not grant you instant credibility.  It might get you readers because everyone loves gossip and controversy, but it does not create credibility.  As a consumer I advise you not to confuse the two.  It’s far too easy to stand behind a keyboard and attack someone or something.  Be wary of those just trying to make a name for themselves.  Personally I consider myself a positive writer but also completely objective.  And yes… you can do both.  If I don’t like something I will tell you, but I also appreciate this doesn’t mean the product sucks or that everyone else needs to dislike it too.  Take for example this excerpt from a post I wrote about Yellow Tail wines in June of 2012.

“I am a wine writer and as such I try to be as objective as possible.  So here’s the deal… I am not a big fan of Yellow Tail Wine.  As I have documented on here before Australian Shiraz (which is their most popular wine) is simply not one of my personal favourites, whether made by Yellow Tail or any other producer.  Even beyond that though, Yellow Tail wines have never appealed to me.  However I realized on Thursday that Yellow Tail must be doing something right.  In fact they do a lot of things right as since their beginning in 2001 they have risen to become the #1 bottled wine exported from Australia.  They are hugely popular in Canada, they are a lock as a general list at the LCBO, and they are inexpensive.  After meeting the folks from Yellow Tail on Thursday I think I know why they have achieved that success.  They make very approachable wines.  Their target market is not the connoisseur segment or the wine critic.  Their segment is the everyday consumer who may be fearful of the big boys from France and Italy and who may not understand what the heck they’re drinking in those bottles anyways.  To that segment Yellow Tail wines make sense.”

Objectivity found in positive wine writing.  That is a concept I believe in.

So listen to Mr. Szabo and find sources you trust, my only tip is to not assume negativity equals honesty or objectivity.  In fact, I think this tip applies to all press out there and well beyond the world of wine writing.  If only some of the writers who cover the Leafs would listen to this advice every now and then (Damien Cox if you’re reading this I’m looking at you) who with every loss on the ice seem to feel the world is crashing down and every win seems to be “lucky” or an outlier.  Taking it a step further every snowstorm nowadays is “snowmageddon” and every TTC or Go Train delay is a flaw in the overall operation of those trains.  Negativity often fuels the public interest and gains viewers and readers.  I don’t see it that way.  My forum has but one purpose… to enhance your experience with wine… in a positive way.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Vino de Coyol

In mid January I was lucky enough to visit Costa Rica and spend an incredible week in the sun at a wonderful all inclusive resort.  It was amazing.  If you’ve never been to Costa Rica I would highly recommend it.  The people are wonderful, the country is stunning, and there is something to do for the adventurous and for those looking to relax as well as everyone in between.

But beyond all that what did I discover about Costa Rica? A drink that I can only assume noone has ever heard of called Vino de Coyol.  I still haven’t quite been able to decipher if this is an urban myth or not, but with some digging there does seem to be some substance behind it.  You see I initially found out about it from a resort shuttle driver who claimed it was “A wine produced in the trunk of a palm tree and if you have two glasses of it you won’t be able to walk.” he then went on “If you go out into the sun the next day, you will feel drunk again.”  Sounds like an urban myth right?  Too good to be true?  Well I knew right away that there was some fault to the story because “Vino” means wine and grapes don’t grow in the trunks of trees so I knew part of this was misleading.  However hearing that two glasses can get you extremely drunk, plus a buzz the next day just from going in the sun, that was enough for me to inquire further.  So I had my shuttle driver friend write it down for me and I have done my homework since.

Most of the sites reporting on it are in Spanish and the information is bleak but it appears this is more than just an urban myth.  The Coyol is a type of palm tree commonly found in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica – where my hotel was.  When the tree is cut down the liquid sap inside the trunk begins to ferment.  This fermented liquid is then collected to produce the beverage.  The name Vino of course is misleading, but it’s a local story and therefore they can call it whatever they want.  Interestingly though according to Costa Rica Wiki (obviously a reliable source) the natural fermentation process doesn’t actually produce a beverage with high alcohol content.  In fact in produces a beverage that contains enzymes and other substances which causes similar effects and feelings as typically associated with alcohol intoxication.

One thing is for sure every single site I checked mentioned the popular story of instant drunkenness and that same feeling resurfacing the next day if you spend some time in the sun.  That may be the myth, but it’s good enough for me.  I’d try it on my next visit… you?

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

Superbowl Post – Version 2013

At this time last year I made my first ever Superbowl post in honour of the yearly celebration of all things snacks and drink. Oh and Football.

Here is my 2012 Super Bowl Post: Superbowl Beverage of Choice.

I just re-read this post and I stand by it.  However I must make one edit to have this applicable to my 2013 Superbowl plans.  I am substituting Rolling Rock with Muskoka Cream Ale. At this point it’s my unofficial everyday beer of 2013.

Enjoy the game!

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

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 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 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



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


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

Happy Holidays!

I’ve decided I’m not going to write a post with recommendations on what to enjoy this holiday season. We could talk Baileys and coffee or the perfect wine for your holiday feast.  Truth be told however there is really no need to over analyze this as the answer is quite simple.  It’s the holidays which is a time to be enjoyed with friends and family.  A time to leave work at the office and take a step back to reflect on the simple pleasures and joys of life.  A time to be thankful for all the wonderful things we have.

So kiss your kids and hug your mom and when you decide to have a drink pour whatever it is that makes you happy.  Indulge in whatever you enjoy most.  Easy isn’t it?

Lastly, and most importantly, above all else… please don’t drink and drive.

Here’s to a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

– 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.” (  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  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
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