Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Y'see, freezing the grapes allows the water to disperse, which concentrates the diethylene glycol, melamine, and other toxins in the final product for shipment abroad China's Tonghua Grape Wine Co. announced plans to acquire the Canadian King's Court Winery for $6.6 million. In related news, the Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine Co. of China announced a $20 million initiative to produce ice wine in China with Canadian technology.

They forgot PissinaCan
To compete with such popular imported wine brands as Fat Bastard and Cats Pee on a Goosebery Bush, Megalomaniac Wines of Canada has introduced their Narcissist Riesling and SonofaBitch Pinot Noir.

He claimed he was chasing down a gopher Actor Bill Murray refused to give Swedish police a breath sample after being stopped while driving a golf cart through downtown Stockholm, and smelling of alcohol. Police took a blood sample instead, and charges are pending.

Living in the same province as Gordon Campbell will do that to you A study published by Toronto's Center for Addiction and Mental Health found alcohol abuse in British Columbia to be almost 20% above the national average and 50% above the level observed in Quebec.

There was a run on the unwooded chardonnay Babeland, a New York City sex-toy store owned and run exclusively by women, has started offering winetastings. "The novice feels welcomed by the trendy atmosphere and the down-to-earth demeanour of our Sexy Sommeliers," one host said, "and seasoned oenophiles are intrigued by the unique angles by which we analyse, decipher and present our wines."

California Winemakers claim that recently proposed, stricter Homeland Security regulations will put the state's wine industry at risk, since the vast majority of the state's 50,000 grape pickers are illegal migrants. In other news, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to kick off September as California Wine Month

Saturday, August 25, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Stuff we found in the cellar while the boss was away, Part 2

Wine Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
From Australia
Alcohol Content 14.1%
Color is getting a little brickish. Nice, singular, tannic nose leads you to expect that big fruit's a-comin', but no go: fruit has largely dried out---most of this wine is in the nose, now. (It also turns out to be terrible with any food we throw at it; maybe as a chaser for shot-glasses of olive oil..?) Robert Parker gave this one a lifetime of 10-12 years, but that doesn't seem even close; this is likely about 4-5 years past its due-date. Mind you, the international style is simply not designed to age gracefully---a genuinely age-worthy wine will always have a few years at the beginning of its life when it simply doesn't make sense to drink it. And that's a thought that terrifies most new-world winemakers: They're going after a big (and fickle) market, and the big market never waits to drink. So, their wines have to be drinkable the day they're released, which means sacrificing any middle age the wine might otherwise expect to have. (Actually, it's fascinating to contrast this wine with the Estancia Cabernet a couple of posts back: same price-range; same grape; lighter and more one-dimensional in its ambitions; but it does that middle-age thing beautifully, trading potency for grace. The winemaker cared about that: There's probably a lesson there for all of us.)

Wine Chateau du Pavillion Haut Gros Bonnet 1998
From Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux, France
Price $21.95 (LCBO, Ontario; current release)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Brooding opening on nose and palate. (A small guy can brood, too.) Fascinating: ten years old, and yet it tastes like it could have been made yesterday; fruit seems to have receded a bit, but in no way does it taste dried out. But it also shows no signs of having ever being big to start with: It's more the quiet, older tough guy who sits in the corner of the bar and doesn't say much. You go over and you sit down, and you have to listen hard to hear his tale---you really have to work at it---yet you have a hard time pulling yourself away. This is a tough, wiry wine---sort of a Charles Bronson Bordeaux... civil, experienced; power held under wraps. You think, “how could this have survived ten years in a bottle?” and then it gives you that knowing, nodding, Charles Bronson smile. The Vasse Felix above, you struggle to get through a glass of; this stuff, you finish up the bottle out of pure curiosity. An inscrutable and engrossing $20 philosopher.

Wine Chateau les Cabannes 1998
From St. Emillion, Bordeaux, France
Price $23.95 (LCBO, Ontario; current release)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Sweet, tannic, tobacco-leaf nose with hints of game. Low-acid, mature, middle-aged fruit. No huge complexity, but a lovely finish. Lush, reclining, very flexible backbone (one emboldened taster: “I'd stick in some Cabernet”.) Pleasant, one-dimensional, nothing inspiring, although the nose comes close.
Postscript: an hour later, some hangers-on finished the bottle, which by then had opened up wonderfully, and was fuller, richer and more complex: like the Miss Havisham played by Charlotte Rampling in the 1999 Great Expectations---wiry, but unexpectedly seductive. This transformation gave the thoughtful among the group pause to think about typical tasting conditions, where a bottle like this is opened, immediately passed around and the point of it largely missed. With truly age-worthy wines, most tastings are either myopic, on not much more than voodoo forecasting. No wonder fruit-bombs rule.

Wine Chateau Carbieres 1998
From Chateauneuf-de-Pape, France
Alcohol Content 14%
Very brickish colour. On the nose, soil and potatoes baked over a campfire. Lush, rich, balanced (though still not completely open) on the palate. Long finish. Posh stuff, this! Bottle was put aside for the meal to come. 40 minutes later things had opened up considerably: notes of cherries and candy on the nose; alcohol perhaps a bit hot; fruit has possibly dried out a little (was this fabulous enough to keep ten years? Maybe not.) But with lamb it was subtly brilliant: a candy-like attack and finish and a nose that keeps yours in the glass. Rock, paper, scissors competitions for what remained in the bottle. Last glass was thick, unctuous and sweet with a likewise-sweet and gamy nose. Lovely.

Wine Chateau Fourcas Hosten 1996
From Listrac-Medoc, Bordeaux, France
Price $31.95 (LCBO, Ontario, current release)
Alcohol Content 12.5
Nice, rich Bordeaux nose when the bottle's opened; fruit's there, although still pretty Clark Kent-ish---smooth and clean-cut but it hasn't hit the phone booth yet. From there on, everything slips away under our very noses: By the second sip, the tannin is out of balance with what remains of the fruit; by mealtime a little later, everything's dropped out of it. Somebody consults a dog-eared copy of Robert Parker and finds that he rated this particular bottle somewhere between dishwater and turpentine for its potential cellar-life , which leads to much grumbling around the table: “The boss should have given this to us sooner.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Then my date told me she was from Fargo and I couldn't finish my desert, either A study by Cornell University researchers found that restaurant patrons consuming a $24 prix fixee meal, when told that their glass of house wine was from North Dakota, ate 11% less food, rated both their meal and wine as tasting less good, and were less likely to make reservations to come back.

Their audiences, on the other hand, will drink and drug themselves into a nostalgic stupor Spice Girl Mel C. Has asked her bandmates not to drink on their upcoming tour. In related news, two audience members were killed by alcohol at a recent New Jersey concert by reformed drinker Ozzy Osbourne.

Thereby lowering average male life expectancy there from 48 to 43 years A study of 65,000 Chinese men aged 40 or over found that the heaviest drinkers had a 22% higher incidence of strokes, and a 30% higher risk of mortality.

Put down the Brunello with its gobs of soft fruit on the nose and sweet tannins on the attack, and step away from the table with your hands up According to Decanter Magazine, Twenty-five members of the Italian military police have qualified as sommeliers in order to combat fraud in the industry.

Another reason to hate Beaujolais Nouveau The New England Journal of Medicine reports that some peoples' allergic reactions to wine may be a reaction to wasp venom coming from insects crushed along with mechanically harvested grapes in wines consumed too young for the poison to deteriorate.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Stuff we found in the cellar while the boss was away

Wine Chateau Bel Orme Tronquoy de Lalande 1997
From Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France
Price $39.99 (BC Liquor Stores; current release)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Wonderful, outrageous, gamy nose! “Who knew that rotting pheasant could smell so seductive?” was one comment from the peanut gallery. Very smooth follow-up on the palate as well: Soft tannins and mature fruit, with the emphasis being on 'mature'---the appeal is specifically the fruit's aged quality; it's on a journey evolving towards dust and currently halfway between youth and death. The fruit in your typical big, internationally-styled wines seems locked in perpetual adolescence, capable of saying no more than “here I am”; in a wine like this, the fruit says “this is where I've been”.

Wine Hester Creek 'Selected Barrels' Merlot 2001
From British Columbia
Price $16.99 (BC Liquor stores; current release)
Alcohol Content 14.0%
Widespread suspicion of the way the wine looks in the glass: “That's the most brickish-looking red wine I've seen that wasn't oxidized” was the lead taster's way of putting it. But no, a lovely big nose of fruit and sweet, sweet tannins. (Sweet tannins are always more interesting than sweet fruit---it's akin to the difference between mere high spirits and real wit.) Six years old, this wine is at the perfect age, and went spectacularly well with pork and fried apples. Better new-world wines like this one tend to have the career arc of a Lindsay Lohan: sweet childhood, spectacular adolescence, premature burnout, but still impressive for the one or two great performances you can get if you pick your spots right.

Wine Chateau des Anneraux 1998
From Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Gamy nose. Peppery attack; fruit not very big; tannins OK. Doesn't follow up on the palate what it promises with the nose. Consensus is that it should have been fetched out of the cellar a couple of years ago: while it's now showing that distinguished gray hair around the temples, it didn't really have that much of an intellect to start with. Another case where price is everything: at $12 this is a steal; at $25, move on.

Wine Condado de Haza 1997
From Ribera del Duero, Spain
Price $25.15 (LCBO, Ontario; current release)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
Gamy, sweet tannic nose---quite lovely. But on the palate... something's up. Tastes almost...soapy? Soapy and fizzy, almost---as hard on the tongue, at least. The remainder of the (disappointed) discussion revolves around Alejandro Fernandez, who produces this wine and its more famous older cousin Pesquera---once compared favorably by Robert Parker with the finest chateaus of Bordeaux. Both of these wines are brands now, and sell out as soon as they're released---at least in this country. One of the things that comes with being a brand is that people look to you for reliability, and the maddening thing about both Pesquera and Condado is that in our experience, they've varied alarmingly from bottle to bottle. The nose on this bottle (the taste of which improved a bit with later glasses) says that winemaker's doing something right. But Parker's praise has turned into a curse for the purchaser. Our emminance griese asks: “Anybody feel like investing in this any more?” The sound you hear is that of people sitting on their hands.

Wine Capcanes Costers del Granes Tarrangna 1998
From Spain
Alcohol Content 14.0%
Wow! Rich, ripe, opulent nose! Fruit, tannin and sweet oak on the palate---tannins almost overpoweringly sweet. Fruit has faded a bit, albeit gracefully (when the sweetness all seems to come from the tannins, you feel you're somewhere in the Twilight Zone.) One shaken taster who'd tried this wine 5 years before is humbled by the experience, and is now convinced that forecasting what a wine will taste like in the future is some kind of voodoo: “How could I have seen this coming?” Big humidity the day this was consumed (it even went gracefully with barbecued ribs) gave the wine an almost viscous, rain-forest kind of scent. Memorable---although the rookie taster thinks it “smells like something you'd rub on a cut.” (Although any time something you rub on yourself smells like this, you really are in the twilight zone.)

Wine Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
From California
Price $23.99 (BC Liquor Stores; current release)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
Gorgeous tannins and strong Cabernet character---gloriously one-dimensional, actually; a very enjoyable, pure statement. This wine showed good bloodlines when sampled at a much younger age, and it's just possible it's been in the bottle too long; it's perhaps become too fat; too simple. Or perhaps it would simply have been even more fabulously enjoyable if the winemaker had tinkered a bit with his straight-ahead Cabernet formula. As it is, at this age it's a terrific bottle to split between four people; it's just not quite interesting enough for two.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Depends on what you mean by 'occasion' A new study released by the US Centers for Disease Control shows that two-thirds of adult binge drinkers prefer to go on their benders with beer. On the other hand, teenage binge drinkers prefer hard liquor. The study defined 'binge' as five or more drinks on one occasion.

I guess FC Cardiff has been losing lately Meanwhile in Britain, recent research has shown that sales of beer there are declining. But sales of rosé are up more than 180% since 2005, according to one analyst, because "rosé is an easier drink to drink than white or red wine. It has also become popular to drink it super chilled, over-ice, so that the taste is not so important."

Too bad Brit's gonna be on tour then
Nothing's officially confirmed yet, but it's been announced that VH1 will run a new show next season called Celebrity Rehab.

Never mind the alcoholism, get somebody to work on the eyebrows Singer Amy Winehouse checked into The Priory rehab center in England, which also serves as a home away-from-home to Kate Moss and Pete Doherty

Don't drink and execute
Police in New Jersey arrested a suspect in an execution-style triple slaying on the evidence of a fingerprint left on a bottle of malt liquor found at the crime scene

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

RSVP Tasting: L'Affaire petit-dejeuner du chien

Wine Red Rooster Pinot Gris 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $18.36
Alcohol Content 13.5%
Initially light and sweet, but too-hot alcohol punches in on the finish. Some hardness as well (perhaps the high alcohol is there to conceal it, though at some cost), but it would certainly have benefited by being conceived more completely in a lighter style. Pleasant if you're constantly being distracted by the conversation; unbalanced the moment you pause for contemplation.

Wine Apollonio Squinzano Rosso 2001
From Italy
Price $19.17 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 14.0%
Big fruit and the kind of nose you want to keep dipping your own into. Lead taster noted notes of licorice and dustiness; others gave him the benefit of the doubt. Very Southern Italy, this, with persistent fruit and dry-your-mouth-out, yet sweet tannins. Big, friendly, earthy and unfiltered---like the winemaker...?

Wine Geherenger Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2006
From Okanagan, BC
Price $16.90 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 13%
Peppery nose; softer attack than, say, Church and State's competing offering (one theory, proposed to the shocked silence of the group, was that the milder tannins let the fruit escape more completely). More acid would better focus the fruit, and it's still a bit green on the finish, but nobody spit it out on the lawn, either.

Wine Chateau Haut Perthus 2004
From Bergerac, France
Price $13.95 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Bergerac used to be regarded as Bordeaux for bargain-hunters; in the current era, where provincial liquor boards decree that there shall be no bargain wines, Bergerac has to make it’s case going head-to-head with its southern neighbor. This example does a pretty decent job: gamy nose hints at some depth; good fruit backs it up. Low acid and friendly tannins carry through to a (slightly herbaceous) finish that goes on and on. A deal: punches above its weight class.
Update: A new batch appears to be percolating its way through the system---same vintage, but a higher (13.8%) alcohol content. Fearless Leader, acting on a tip, tasted and was unimpressed. Beware.

Wine Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
From China
Alcohol Content 12%
You read that right: China has about a hundred wineries attempting to make modern-style wines from vinifera varieties. This offering, courtesy of a particularly zealous distributor’s agent, proved more-or-less in line with expectations: drinkable (and actually identifiable as Cabernet Sauvignon) but awfully rough going. If they produced tens of millions of bottles of this at virtually no cost to the proletariat, there might be a place for it; but in this country it’s going to retail for more than ten bucks, making it more of a novelty for the anti-Sino set.

Wine Chateau Coucheroy 2003
From Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Price $18.15 (LCBO, Ontario)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Serge Gainsbourg nose---assertive and seductive. Is this the scent of Graves? Or the winemaker? Who cares---good fruit is held together with gentle tannins and a nice dollop of finesse with a lingering finish. Fearless Leader: "I would have actually bought this."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Flash! Big brother has increased the bread ration from 200 grams to 50 grams! A British Columbia Provincial order in council of July 18th has created the BC Wine Authority, one of whose mandates is to slacken current VQA regulations for BC Wine producers. A new category, the "BC Wine of distinction" has even less stringent requirements, and can include wine made from non-BC grapes.

Yellow Tail just ordered up a few tons of the stuff Australian researchers have recently isolated the chemical which gives many finer examples of Australian shiraz their so-called "peppery" aroma.

I'm waiting for the version where Daniel Craig plays Steven Spurrier Two separate large-ticket feature films are currently being produced about the infamous "Judgment of Paris" winetasting from 1976, where California wines were picked by a French panel as being superior to the finest French examples. The two productions are not unsurprisingly feuding, with original J of P organizer Steven Spurier referring to the movie competing with his 'authorized' film as "false, defamatory and disparaging."

Anybody ask whether it had a
nything to do with spending your life in Cardiff? Cardif University in Wales published the results of a survey involving random breathalyzer tests in the city center, showing, among other things, that 40% of the men who'd been drinking at all were drinking at a level that was harmful to their health.

He wants to invade Pakistan; she wants to go into Darfur Angelina Jolie reportedly soaked down husband Brad Pitt with a glass of red wine during an argument over the current American Presidential election campaign

Drink up the cider, George Singer, poet, and the best friend a bottle of Guinness ever had, Tommy Makem died of lung cancer this week at age 74

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Everything old-world is new-world again

Wine Cousino Macul Sauvignon Gris
From Chile
Price $17.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 12%
You read that right---a clonal relative of Sauvignon Blanc meant to evoke ideas of SB and Pinot Gris. (Given that the international styles of these respective wines are often indistinguishable, you wonder what the point is, though.) Light color; largish, slightly citric nose. Assertive, almost aggressive palate doesn’t do badly with oysters; but the general anonymity of the flavor lead Fearless Leader to note that “every time I taste this, it tastes different.” Given the all-things-to-all-people ambitions of the international style, mission accomplished.

Wine Vina Chocalan Carmenere 2005
From Chile
Price $12.49 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
A toasty nose (smell that oak!) leads eventually to a stemmy finish, detouring past both body and finesse in between. Carmenere is done better elsewhere (starting with two Concha y Toro offerings at competitive price-points), and this example of it seems to have driven our eminence griese to irrationality: “weedy, tomato-leaf herbaceous… but not bad.” Hell, if that’s not bad, what is?

Wine Tribal Pinotage 2004
From South Africa
Price $10.49
Alcohol Content 13.5%
No nose to speak of; rough on the palate and rocky in the old South African style. Notes on the bottle claim “earthiness”; “ugly” more approximated the consensus of the group. (One despairing taster moaned: “is there any such thing as a good pinotage…?”) Our host’s advocacy of the wine fell on deaf ears and dead palates as the group moved on to vines anew.

Wine Bests Great Western Shiraz 2003
From Great Western, Australia
Price $24.87 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content
“Not your typical hot-country Shiraz!” in the words of one taster. Indeed not: an almost minty quality on the nose; the rest medium-bodied with decent balance, a good deal of finesse, and a lingering finish that doesn’t pound your taste-buds into submission. This bottle is actually two or three steps down from what Bests considers their best; as with a lot of new-world producers, the second wine often provides consumers with relief from the ambitions of the first. Consensus was that the modest weight and ambition of this wine was a virtue.

Wine Altos las Hormigas Malbec 2005
From Argentina
Price $15.95 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13%
The sages who composed the wine’s back label call this a “terroir-driven fruit-bomb”; which is sort of like promoting a building as a ten-story bungalow. Big, friendly and generic, it aroused mild interest at best; indifference at worst. Wines not aimed at pleasing everybody tend to arouse passions whether they succeed or fail; but when a wine made in the international style succeeds, you only think “I can sell this.” A lot of us shrugged and thought “I can sell this.”

Wine Yalumba Y-Series Viogner 2004
From Australia
Price $17.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 14.5%
Straw color. Then, one sniff leads to an explosion of scatological comment: “This is stinky!” “Arrgh! This smells like burning skin!” “Bad perm smell!” Some confusion as well: a spoiled bottle doesn’t usually smell anything like this, but can this possibly be what its maker intended? If so, it’s very badly botched. In the kindest words the lead taster could summon up: “very disappointing---peroxide-driven rather than fruit-driven.” Tastes batter than it smells, but somehow that didn’t provide anybody much comfort.

Wine Rio de los Pajaros Tannat 2005
From Uruguay
Price $18.95
Alcohol Content 14%
Sharp something-or-other on the nose had tasters sniffing like a pack of bloodhounds. A borderline-gamey nose leads ultimately to a woody finish; in between it begs for food to complete it. Not bad stuff, but much of the conversation ended up being about Uruguay instead of the wine; a sign that tasters lacked the context into which to put the flavors they found. The overall consensus was that everybody wanted to try more Tannats, so it’s at least that successful.

Wine Colonia las Liebres Bonarda 2005
From Mendoza, Argentina
Price $12.95 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13%
(92 points from Robert Parker and a price of under $13? What can we say here that will possibly make a difference…?) No special nose. Fruit big but not easily recognized; nice tannin on the finish. Fruity but anonymous---it hasn’t developed a language or much of an identity, but it’s introductory words seem pretty friendly.