Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Now you just stay here, and ol' Buckie'll be back before you can say "blast off!"
A NASA investigation found that astronauts were often drunk on takeoff

Maybe if they'd just called it "Ol' Yeller"
Disney Studios backed out of a product tie-in with Costco for their new animated film Ratatouille: Ratatouille Chardonnay.

Extra! Pot smokers drink lousy beer as well
A study published by the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) claimed either that people who abuse malt liquor also tend to abuse pot; or that people who abuse pot tend towards cheap malt liquor as their beverage of choice (coverage is unclear).

We didn't know she was gonna go out Accused carjacker, Courtney Love wannabee and failed actress Lindsay Lohan is back in rehab following her latest arrest for drunk driving and possession of cocaine. Meanwhile, the makers of her infamous alcohol-monitoring anklet admitted that the device effectively monitors alcohol consumption only within 50 feet of it's base station, in this case, at Lohan's home.

90% of them couldn't distinguish Lindsay Lohan from Nicole Ritchie, either According to a test conducted for the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, people who were more likely to pronounce wine from a screwcapped bottle "corked" noticed no such problem when the wine was served to them blind.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Bordeaux on $20 a day

A leisurely car-trip from Calgary to Victoria, with a few stops at liquor stores along the way yielded the following selection of modestly-priced Bordeaux for the group to try:

Wine Chateau de Callac 2001
Appellation Graves, Bordeaux
Price $18.79 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
The slightly higher-priced 2000 vintage proved a bargain when it came out a couple of years back: nice power, with enough finesse that you lingered over your glass. The lower price of the 2001 proves a step down rather than a greater bargain: Not much nose; gentle attack and very mild tannins; hints of earth and gravel. It tastes like it was picked as late as possible in a lesser year---the fruit is there, but it's dull because there's no acid left to set it off. Easy to like, but the conversation's definitely at the high-school level.

Wine Chateau Sainte Marie 2005
Appellation Bordeaux Superieur
Price $13.59 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Even warmer and friendlier than the Callac above, (and with a more tempting price) but with the same basic virtues and vices: A cheap but dull date with a nice guy who has money but no brains. You're left with the same choice, too: stay with the inexpensive and unchallenging; or risk a bit more for some enlightenment and excitement?

Wine Chateau Roc Taillade 2002
Appellation Medoc, Bordeaux
Price $17.99 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
....and sometimes, the enlightenment comes at relatively little extra cost: from a vintage universally regarded as lousy comes this wise little product that had some tasters reaching for their metaphors: notes of cedar and leather littered the conversation about the nose; an astringent attack with tannins still tasting a bit green; (the vintage in question speaking) but nicely in balance with the fruit and even some complexity to the finish. Of the bunch, this one turned the most heads.

Wine Chateau Cote Montpezat 1998
Appellation Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux
Price $11.49 (Co-op Liquor Stores, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
The kind of impulse-buy you can't turn down, even when you know what you're in for: Any ten year-old Bordeaux at this price has to be past it; the only question is, how good was it to start with, and how much can it afford to lose before turning insipid? In this case, the first answer was "pretty good" and the second "not much more". The fruit is starting to fall away from what is still a pretty robust structure; the result on the palate is beginning to feel dried-out. Food helps a lot; in fact, something rich will have the pretense nicely taken out of it by this aging small-college cynic.

Wine Chateau Le Marquisat La Perouse 2003
Appellation Bordeaux
Price $9.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
More than almost anywhere else, Bordeaux is the place where a year can make all the difference in the world---even at the budget level. Chateau Marquisat la Perouse is the perfect example: the 2003 vintage was a fabulous overachiever for a $10 wine, carrying a gamey scent worthy of an adolescent Chateauneuf de Pape. Then in 2004... rien. It was back to a nothing-special, entry-level Bordeaux. We'll see if it amounts to anything in the 2005 version (that is, if the BC Liquor Distribution Branch ever makes its way through the warehouses of 2004 they were bait-and-switched into buying.)

Wine Chateau de Courteillac 2005
Appellation Bordeaux
Price $11.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Something of an instant-replay of the Marquisat above, only two vintages further down the 'pike: The Courtillac from the great 2005 vintage represented a terrific bargain, carrying with it the poise and power of a Bordeaux a class above it. Then, the moment you dared to dream of reasonably-priced Bordeaux on demand... bang! in comes the 2006: watered-down vin ordinaire by contrast. The Buddhists have it right: Expectation is the source of all misery.

Wine Chateau de Parenchere 2004
Appellation Bordeaux Superieur
Price $18.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Catastrophically matched the day it was consumed (green chicken with Jalapenos---some of us Bordeaux fanciers never learn) this nevertheless showed some genuine weaknesses: one taster found it dry to the point of tasting dried-out---what fruit there was had already faded into the background. What remained was basic Bordeaux for the austere-minded: if you found it for ten bucks (and matched it with the right food this time) you'd count yourself lucky. In its favor: It improved a bit in the hour or so it was open.

1) Even at this price level, vintage years can make a huge difference in Bordeaux; and 2) price figures heavily in your evaluation: $12.99 is fine for competent Bordeaux; but for $20 there is so much competition from interesting wines from (at least) Spain and other parts of France that it’s not worth it. And it’s not the Bordelaise that are to blame; these are the people who are going broke at this level of commerce. It’s Canadian, provincial-government wholesalers, who either have an interest if protecting local wine industries (like BC and Ontario) or simply love the revenue (like Alberta). Every wine in this group would be a world-beating deal if Provincial markups were reasonable. As it is, the world-beating budget Bordeaux gets to you mostly by accident.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Week in Alcohol: Special 'Girls Gone Wild' fold-out section

I was just getting it ready for a visit from Pete Doherty Singer and noted rehab munch-card holder Courtney Love recently trashed her 5-star suite in London on drunken rampage

Jeez, Brit, Rockstar comes with the alcohol already in it Songstress and mother-of-the-year finalist Britney Spears has been spotted recently pouring liquor into her energy drinks while out in public

All the washroom mirrors will be laid horizontally Supermodel, coke fancier and Pete Doherty velcro girlfriend is reportedly opening a pub in North London

It was recently tested for six months by Martha Stewart After her recent release from rehab, actress and party-hound Lindsay Lohan has been spotted in bars wearing an alcohol-monitoring anklet. In other news, Lohan is considering an offer to endorse bottled water.

Start with high-calorie beer. Please.
Actress-tycoons Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are now old enough to legally drink in all 50 states.

Wrong Osborne, dudes Persistent stories of American Idol host Paula Abdul's on-set drinking have led to rumors she will be replaced next season by Sharon Osborne

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RSVP Tasting: The Gray Monk comes to call

Wine Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $16.49 (MSL)
Alcohol Content 12.9%
Grapefruit bashes you on the nose, but it’s otherwise balanced and easygoing on the palate, to the point where it would be overpowered by too-assertive food. (Although as a note on just how subjective such things can be, our eminence griese pronounced it heavy, rich, and that it had great viscosity besides.) Its maker claims versatility for it, and the above clash of (universally positive) opinions may just bear him out.

Wine Gray Monk Riesling 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $15.49
Alcohol Content 12.2%
Light Riesling nose. After that, opinion was divided: ranging from “delicious” to “underwhelming”. Good residual sugar skates perilously close to cloying, although that may simply mark taster expectations of a more robust style. Its maker considers it ageworthy, and the naysayers were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Wine Gray Monk Siegerrebbe 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $16.49 (MSL)
Alcohol Content 10.9%
1300 cases were made of this too-little planted variety. Or, too-little planted considering the results here: What its maker describes as “a light desert wine” is far more flexible than that, responding nicely to oysters with a fresh, almost Muscat-like nose and a balanced, refreshing palate. In the June 4th RSVP tasting we complained that if only Cedar Creek could have held the alcohol down, their 2006 Riesling would be “a willowy blonde”. This is that willowy blonde.

Wine Gray Monk Ehrenfelser
From Okanagan, BC
Price $15.49
Alcohol Content 12.2%
White chocolate nose! Very pleasant, late-harvest style---in fact, the winemaker confessed to the group that Gray Monk had removed the late-harvest designation from the label and dried the wine out a bit this year. Nevertheless, still potent, balanced, and makes a great case for a grape that often makes big, goofy wines. Lovely finish as well---bring on the Thai curry.

Wine Gray Monk Late Harvest Kerner 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $16.49
Alcohol Content 13.3%
Fresh nose; sweet on the palate with a hint of residual CO2. Fresh, but after the Ehrenfelser, uncompelling.

Wine Gray Monk Odyssey Merlot Dry Creek Vineyard 2003
From Okanagan, BC
Price $23.99
Alcohol Content 13.4%
Sweet---almost feminine?---nose (“beautiful aromatics” was the way the lead taster put it), with a little toast from one year-old French oak. Tannins still a little stiff on the palate, but will soften with a couple of more years in the bottle. Firm and meaty, this could use food to round out the experience; as is often the case, the tannins went really well with (wait for it) chocolate. Tasty stuff---pretty much exactly the flavor profile you would expect of a red made by people whose soul is really in their whites.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The week in alcohol

President Nicolas Sarkozy was seen building an ark Two months of steady rain has put the 2007 Bordeaux vintage in peril. Many growers have already lost their entire harvest to mildew. Many forecast higher prices for the already overpriced 2006 Bordeaux as a result.

Extra! New drug for alcoholic rats! An anti-smoking drug, varenicline, has been suggested effective in combating alcoholism. But “ research on the drug as a treatment for alcoholism has been done yet on humans. But one study on rats shows varenicline cuts desire for alcohol by 50 percent. The rats do not exhibit excessive drinking even after they are no longer given the drug.”

We're all about dignity in the Hamptons Virtually all Long Island wineries have stopped offering free tastings, because busloads of visitors were getting drunk and damaging property. '“All of a sudden it’s five deep at the bar with people knocking into each other and pushing each other out of the way to get to the tasting,” said Kristen Venasky, 27, who has been pouring for two years at Palmer. “Saturdays,” she said, “are for people who want to get sloshed.”'

I guess Courtney Love couldn't make it that day
Nicole Ritchie's DUI trial was postponed a month because a drug expert to be called as a defense witness was going to be out of the country.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Picnic at Rocky Creek (with a side-trip to Church and State)

Wine Rocky Creek Pinot Noir 2005
From Vancouver Island
Price $19.90 (MSL)
Alcohol Content 11.9%
Seductive (rather than aggressive) peppery, new-world style Pinot scent makes you want to keep your nose in the glass. On the palate, there’s an acid-forward, candy-like opening leading to some nice, tasty oak---too much of it, but tasty nonetheless. The oak unfortunately gets more emphatic and unbalanced the longer the wine stays in the glass. (Later explained by the winemaker as a problem with the wine being aged in Hungarian, instead of the expected French, oak---chalk up another one for Central-European belligerence….)

Wine Rocky Creek Pinot Gris 2006
From Vancouver Island
Price $14.90 (MSL)
Alcohol Content 11.9%
Peach-like colour and peachy, soft-fruit nose. Palate is Chablis-steely, with acid nicely in balance and fruit a bit recessive---certainly true to itself with no attempts to be all things to all people.This is for serious eaters; not a patio wine. Mature winemaking.

Wine Rocky Creek Blackberry Port
From Vancouver Island
Alcohol Content 16%
Gosh, smells like blackberries! Some tannin, but mostly a big, sweet explosion of fruit---jammy to say the least. No port-like complexity, just big fruit and alcohol to show it off, which means you may appreciate it even more over ice-cream than in a glass.

Wine Rocky Creek Ortega 2006
From Vancouver Island
Price $14.90
Alcohol Content 11.9%
Made from grapes harvested at just over one ton per acre to produce 150 cases---a Romani-Conti-like yield which at these prices may just yield bankruptcy for its producers. But the care shows: Emphatic nose with good aromatics; grapefruit notes on the palate; good, almost Muscadet-like weight. Fearless Leader: “I think this is a heck of an Ortega!”

Wine Church and State Church Mouse Chardonnay 2005
From BC
Price $16.90 (BC Liquor stores)
Alcohol Content 14.3
Soft fruit presented in a big (and these days, generic) international style; finish still a bit green and alcohol a bit hot. Nothing unique, but that’s not what’s being attempted, which is ‘we can do this here, too.’ Still, at this price, nobody goes home unhappy.

Wine Church and State Church Mouse Pinot Noir 2005
From BC
Price Stay tuned
Alcohol Content 13.6%
This divided tasters, though not to the point of fisticuffs: Fearless Leader gave it a thumb held reasonably high; others found it mismanaged with an over-oaky nose and palate, and too-green tannins in the aftertaste. In the words of one harsher critic, “When the sweetness comes from the oak instead of the fruit, you’re in trouble.”

Wine Church and State Church Mouse Merlot 2005
From BC
Price Stay tuned
Alcohol Content 14.98%
Fun nose! (Not dull, that’s for sure.) Good fruit lingers on palate; soft tannins and sweet, well-balanced oak---this handles the oaky intervention much better than the Pinot above. Claimed alcohol content more a measure of winemaker ambitions than reality; a bit like James Cameron’s claim that Titanic had a running time of ‘two hours and 76 minutes’.

Wine Church and State Saddle Ridge Vinyard Syrah 2005
From BC
Price $26.- (MSL)
Alcohol Content 14.4%
In a word, aggressive. Rough, persistent tannins make it almost impossible to read, except through the crystal ball. Come back to this space in a couple of years.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

E. U. moon-shot: We want to make Yellow Tail by 2010 European Union Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel outlined a plan for member countries to rip out half-a-million acres of grape vines, end quotas and export subsidies, and promote sales of European wines outside Europe. Currently, the equivalent of 1.7 billion bottles of European-made wine are estimated as surplus and unsellable.

I guess they didn't go for the idea The French terrorist/ winemaker support group CRAV (see earlier reports here and here) bombed a union building in the Languedoc. CRAV has been attempting to pressure the French government to resist calls to end subsidies to grape growers in the south of France, and has previously bombed supermarkets.

Let's see now, how long has W. been in power...?
According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, more than 30% of Americans have abused alcohol for a mean duration of four years at least once in their lives.

But I swear, I'm not an American Israeli businessman Simon Charvator, after guzzling half a liter of duty-free Scotch Whiskey on his transatlantic flight, assaulted two flight attendants, repeatedly banged his head on the seat in front of him, and exposed himself to passers-by. The plane had to be diverted at a cost of $70,000. Charvator is currently being held without bail.

On the other hand, France now makes the better action movies
According to a new report, the United States is on the verge of replacing France as the world's largest wine consumer. America remains only the fourth largest producer, after France, Italy and Spain.

Monday, July 2, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Sauvignon Blanc

Wine Chateau Des Charmes St David’s Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2006
From Ontario
Price $16.15 (LCBO, Ontario)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
Opening wine of the tasting unfortunately took a shellacking, as wines in that position often do: Fairly rich but indistinct nose; clean with a bit of grass on the palate… but unmoving. One taster called it ‘unbalanced’; the rest merely wanted to move on without comment. Curiously, not a good match with the accompanying oysters, either.

Wine Dourthe #1 Bordeaux Blanc 2004
From France
Price $19.77 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 12%
Distinguished, mild-mannered, light---ingratiating but past seduction. Sweet, pleasant aftertaste with notes of grass well under control. This played like an old pal at dinner, and sent people off in search of metaphor: “Towering Inferno-period Fred Astaire or Dark Eyes-era Marcello Mastroianni”, suggested one cinematic soul. Or in the words of one blushing young taster, “dating a guy that’s super nice but doesn’t have that edge.”

Wine Henri Bourgeois MD Sancerre 2004
From Loire, France
Price $21.95 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 12%
Clean nose and an attack that the eminence grise described as ‘steely’. (Roughly translated, that means a wine that’s not out to seduce you, but that has confidence that you will eventually come around to its way of thinking---having a plate of oysters nearby helps.) Balanced and leaning towards the minerally end of the spectrum.

Wine Chateau de Sancerre 2004
From Loire, France
Price $27.99
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Still the French rationalist, but with a bit more Pepe le Pew to its attitude: fruit more forward and a bit more residual sweetness than the Bourgeois above. Stampeded somewhat in the rush to the next wine, unfortunately.

Wine Domaine Fouassier Sancerre “les Romaines” 2005
From Loire, France
Price $25.28 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Big, fruity nose; persuasive without being aggressive; acid nicely balanced and under control. This is the closest of the three old-world SBs to new-world-style bigness; also the most complex in presentation. A complete wine and a nice statement.

Wine ‘Zed’ Sauvignon Blanc 2005
From New Zealand
Price $13.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Wild flavors! Aromatic, herbaceous; all sorts of nutty stuff. Lead taster was moved almost to poetry, or at least paused a long time before giving out with “a herbaceous canned asparagus finish.” Aside from winemaker assurances that this was indeed made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, no one is sure whether this belongs in the same category as all the other wines. Still, lots of personality, and the most modest price so far. Everybody likes.

Wine Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006
From New Zealand
Price $18.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Categorical confusion over the Zed above notwithstanding, the nose of the Oyster Bay plays like a near relative, or at least from the same tradition and style---either a more sober older brother of the Zed, or a wilder, younger cousin of the Dourthe. Classic grassy SB nose; acid taking over on the palate demanding food---salmon works. For the table rather than the patio, which for most tasters was a good sign.

Wine Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2006
From BC
Price n/a
Assertive nose, though not so weird as Zed. Big and… faceless on the palate---a distillation of the international style. Generic and nice enough, until the next bottle comes along. “Not much to it---but it’s got a great label” was the way one unkind taster put it, and there was no real disagreement from the rest of the peanut gallery.

Wine Sandhill Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2005
From BC
Price $16.29 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
Subtle nose, but then…. Silence. From the end of the table: “If I was looking for a glass of apple juice, I’d buy a cheap chard.”

Wine Jackson Triggs Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2004
From BC
Price $13.99
Alcohol Content 13.7%
The nose is distinct from the other BC SB’s… what is it? Mint leaves, freshly bruised. Big, soft fruit follows, together with the kind of creaminess that usually comes from being barrel-fermented. The winemaker claims that nothing but steel went into the mix, so where did it come from? Unnerving, if you’re after something reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc; bland in the face of the Zed challenge if you’re not.