Sunday, November 25, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Only in restaurants you say?

Wine Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2004
From Okanagan, BC
Price $25.90 (MSL)
High hopes for any Blue Mountain product arise at least partly from the difficulty in getting them: Allocations are tight enough to make a retailer asking for more to sell feel like an envoy sent to lobby King Darius of Persia. Also, previous experience with their Pinot Blanc boded well. Unfortunately---perhaps because of over-praise from Darius’s rep, insults here fly thicker and faster than at a little-league baseball game: “Reminds me of a Sauvignon Blanc… or old sneakers” is Fearless Leader’s take. “Sweaty armpit” is another. The floodgates open: “I expected something softer.” “The fruit isn’t showing well.” “No varietal character whatever.” But mostly, the sense is one of irritation towards a ho-hum wine that’s been given a Paris Hilton-sized promo.

Wine Church and State Chardonnay Decleva 2005
From Twilight Zone, BC
Price $23.00 (MSL)
Young Grasshopper floats a theory for the lead taster: Expectation is not merely the source of all misery; expectation is the source of all everything. In tasting a wine, your sense of its quality will depend entirely on how it fits into your expectation of what that type of wine has come to taste like for you. (F'rexample, a Pinot, however terrific it tastes, will seem weird and disconcerting if it doesn’t taste like what you’ve come to expect from a Pinot.) So, after several faceless whites, the reason the group grabs onto this Church & State offering like a drowning submariner is because it actually tastes pretty much the way it is supposed to: New world-style Chard with hefty fruit in balance with big toasty oak. But under different circumstances, we might not have been able to pick it from a dozen others just like it. (History does not record the lead taster's response.)

Wine Orofino Chardonnay 2006
From Similkameen Valley, BC
Price $23.00 (MSL)
Orofino makes in-your-face products, and this one is no exception. We’re told that it’s a mix of 75% barrel-fermented and 25% in stainless steel, and this information leads to some hemming and hawing in the peanut gallery---among mere mortals, the distinction between 50-50 and 75-25 percent barrel/stainless fermentation is justifiably a teeny bit obscure. As a result, most taster's expectations are in limbo, and the comments become tentative: “Well, it tastes fairly sweet.” (And yes, it does.) “It has a sort of rhubarb aftertaste.” “Tastes more like a Pinot Blanc.” It’s left to the Boss to make sense of it all: “That bubble-gummy aspect you're tasting is a preservative.” He pours the rest of his glass out. “Terrifying.”

Wine Larch Hills Mad Angie 2006
From Shuswap Lakes, BC
Price $9.99 (MSL)
“Mad Angie” equals Madeleine Angevine, a cool-climate white varietal. This example has an indistinctly fruity nose and a musky finish on the palate, with nothing particularly memorable (or, to be fair, unbearable) in between. Everybody sips and catches up on their conversation, except Fearless Leader, who grumbles that it “smells like my old aftershave.” And I suppose he ought to know---he’s drunk enough of it.

Wine Summerhill Cabernets 2003
From Okanagan, BC
Price $22.95 (MSL)
A 50-50 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc turns out to be a killer blend: Everybody likes it---even the most dyed-in-his-Aussie-wool Steven-Cipes critic among us is impressed. The Boss, having rinsed the after-shave from his glass, finds himself moved to plain-spun profundity: “Wow, is that ever good!” And it is---swell fruit, nice tannins and a wonderful, lengthy aftertaste. Will it ever come to a BC Liquor store near you? Stay tuned.

Wine Blue Mountain Pinot Noir Reserve 2004
From Okanagan, BC
Price $39.50 (MSL)
For once, the winery rep’s effusive praise doesn’t seem like overkill: This sends everybody’s eyebrows halfway up their foreheads. A very pale colour (almost a rosé) sets the tone for a far more elegant new-world Pinot than anybody felt they had a right to expect, with subtle fruit and a candy-like (but bone-dry), almost mystical finish. Everybody lingers over their glasses, nobody spits, and we all groan when we find out that restaurants have snagged every single bottle.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

Je me ne souviens pas The Quebec government tabled legislation lowering the threshold for impaired driving to .05. The same legislation also outlaws the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, and bans trucks from traveling more than 105 km/hr.

Well, it's better than drinking the stuff
Following the release of this year's crop of Beaujolais Nouveau, a spa opened in Japan that allows patrons to bathe in it.

He didn't want Gore Vidal to have done something he hadn't Pugnacious author, filmmaker, one-time NYC mayoral candidate, and world-class pounder Norman Mailer died this week of non alcohol-related illness.

She was really trying to draw attention to coke-snorting Bengal Tigers A story claiming that Paris Hilton was taking up the case of binge-drinking elephants in India ("The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them. There would have been more casualties if the villagers hadn't chased them away. And four elephants died in a similar way three years ago. It is just so sad....") later proved to be false.

Monday, November 12, 2007

RSVP Tasting: The Jadot Rep Comes to Call

Wine Jadot St. Veran 2005
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 13.0%
It is explained that St. Veran is the Burgundy AC next door to Pouilly-Fuisse, which immediately leads to some skeptical conversation about the Burgundian worship of terroir: somebody insensitively comments that bragging about your neighbor like this is a bit like claiming the player with the locker next door to Sidney Crosby for your fantasy hockey team; fortunately, the rep doesn't really understand the reference and we move on. Biggish Chardonnay nose without the oaky/buttery notes you'd get from a new-world style; the rep helpfully suggests notes of grapefruit, which the rest of us unfortunately can't get out of our minds. Fearless Leader likes its restraint; other comments range from an appreciation of its single-mindedness and lack of winemaker hanky-panky, to finding it a bit anonymous. People look around the table for the oysters that will complete the experience and are chagrined to find that this week, they aren't there.

Wine Jadot Couvet des Jacobins 2004
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Somebody notices that we've tried this wine a few weeks before, but only the Boss can remember chapter and verse about it; and he's not talking. To most of the rest in the peanut gallery, this shares a lot with the first wine, except that you could taste the intervention of the winemaker: you could smell and taste the oak (very nice) and there was more... flexibility; sophistication. You could taste the winemaker---although that may not be the best way to put it. Sprightly acid and fruit aftertaste; some latitudinally-challenged tasters accuse those who think it's worth the extra bucks of cultish behavior.

Wine Domaine Clair-Dau Rosé de Marsanne 2006
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Attempts to bait the rep about rosé in general ("don't you guys make this kind of stuff when there's a crop failure...?") fall on stony ground; although he admits this to be a rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes. Smells like Pinot, too: minty-peppery---almost peppermint. Some shuffling of feet---European restraint in a rosé is a diminutive of a diminutive; this is sort of like going to the Paris Prèt a Porter the day that they're modeling winter raincoats. Underwhelming.

Wine Jadot Cotes de Nuits Villages "Le Vaucrain" 2001
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 13.0%
There is a sense that we're moving up in the world now: this has a nice, slightly gamy nose; light and balanced on the palate; tastes just the way you'd expect a basic Burgundy from a legit producer to taste. No huge depth, but a pleasant, longish aftertaste. The Boss: "It's all downhill from here."

Wine Jadot Combe aux Jacques Beaujolais-Villages
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 12.5%
...Or not. Fruity nose... yup, it's Beaujolais all right. But it also has structure, which pushes some tasters back into their seats in confusion---structure in a Beaujolais is like structure in peanut butter; a sign that something's not quite right. This is a little less fun than you usually hope for; a serious younger brother to the prodigal Beaujolais son---and who tries to score A's in grade 2? Categorical confusion that nevertheless tastes pretty good.

Wine Jadot Couvent des Jacobins Bourgogne 2004
From Burgundy, France
Alcohol Content 12.5%
The nose is very much like the white---shows signs of both the barrel and the winemaker. But the fruit is muted---at this point, uncomfortably so; this wine is stylistically austere and acid to boot---too acid for the hemispherically challenged in the crowd. As is often the case with better wines tasted under these just-opened conditions, it's quite possible that it just needs to open up a bit---and with that optimistic thought, the Boss bundles the bottle up and heads out into the night.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Week in Alcohol

We'll know it's a trend when Conrad Black buys the Don Jail Graeme Alford, a former inmate of Australia's Pentridge Prison, (8 years for armed robbery) has purchased his old jail cell there. A section of the prison, decommissioned in 1997, is being converted into a storage facility for rare wine. Alford no longer drinks alcohol.

Good thing Parker didn't call him a New Zealander Documentary filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter (2004's Mondovino) has released his first book, Le Gout et le Pouvoir (roughly, "Taste and Power"). Not unexpectedly, Robert Parker has thrown a fit, calling Nossiter a "narrow-minded zealot" a bigot, and a member of the "scary wine Gestapo". (This may be no more than simple tit-for-tat; two years ago Nossiter accused Parker's partner Pierre-Antoine Rovani of being "a Mussolini apologist, indirectly fascist and anti-semitic, 'monolithic and unscrupulously self-serving.' ")

In a related story, the Museum of Modern art responded to the demand for more Warhols by purchasing a bigger photocopier France has responded to the worldwide growth in demand for Champagne (consumption in India alone grew 126% last year) by expanding the growing area that may market its grapes as Champagne grapes. 40 new villages are to be added to the Champagne AC, an increase of roughly 15%

And that was just in class A study undertaken by the American Public Health Association found that university students who mixed alcohol with energy drinks like Red Bull drank more (and more often), were twice as likely to get injured, ride with a drunk driver, sexually take advantage of another, or themselves be sexually taken advantage of.

On the plus side, sales of Red Bull are down Alcohol consumption in Ireland rose 17% in the last 10 years, according to a recent study by the Ireland Health Research Board. During the same period, hospital admissions for alcohol-related problems nearly doubled, with liver disease rising 147%

My brain hurts With 50% of young New Zealanders admitting to regular binge drinking, the Alcohol Related Brain Injury Australian Services ( ARBIAS ) recently claimed that one in five New Zealanders will eventually suffer serious brain damage from alcohol abuse. "Claims of brain pain will now be taken to top New Zealand health officials as experts, who are meeting in Auckland on Monday to discuss the call for action on the looming crisis." In other news though, New Zealand's abuse of illegal drugs is waning

Friday, November 2, 2007

RSVP Tasting: A nice meaty red with your carcinogens?

Wine Le Paradou Cotes du Luberon 2005
From France
Price $16.23 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 14.0%
When France meets the new world half-way, the results are usually better than the other way around---here we've got a shooting guard adding a little muscle rather than a crash-dieting boxer trying to make his weight. It's pretty well balanced (if unsubtle) on both nose and palate: Pepper and backbone from the Syrah; fruit and body from the Grenache. The Philosophical taster wipes his fevered brow in relief: there's no goofy fruit---"no steroids" is his way of putting it.

Wine Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2004
From Okanagan, BC
Price $42.52 (Spinakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 14.4%
This spent 18 months in French oak, and 403 cases of it were made. A gaggle of noses in glasses detect a potent Cab Franc scent; somebody sips... and a cry of disbelief erupts: "This tastes like dill!" Well, maybe. Over the next couple of minutes, people discover hints of a lot of things, actually---all of them good and most of them a combination of tannin and oak. A meditative state envelops everyone, broken by the boss: "This is quite lovely." And it is: Universal acclaim; only the price is an issue.

Wine Chinon Remy Pannier 2005
From France
Price $17.34
Alcohol Content 13.5%
The Boss: "A picnic red!" The Philosopher: "Yum---tastes European." The Southern-Hemisphere taster: "Akk! it's thin, and it's weedy---and it's bitter on the finish, and it's too tannic... grumble, grumble, grumble." Much controversy---the young 'uns hate it; the Eurocentric palates like it. Conversation dies out when the Boss wonders aloud which wine "you could afford two of". Nobody quite understands the reference, and thus intimidated, everybody moves on.

Wine Sommerhill Solus Foch
From Okanagan, BC
Price $22.95 (MSL)
Alcohol Content 14.9%
No nose to speak of. "Try it with chocolate", offers the eager-young-space-cadet taster, with memories of a trick that worked once with this wine. But not this time---the alcohol's so overpowering that even the tannins are smothered; going by the Philosophical Taster's favorite steroid metaphor, this isn't even Arnold Schwarzenegger---it's Sylvester Stallone. Other, representative comments from the peanut gallery: "Dim"; "dodgy"; "forget it". Even our server, who has never met a wine he hasn't tried to sell us, doesn't like it. (So of course, the rest of the crowd harasses him.)

Wine Yalumba Shiraz-Vigonier 2005
From Australia
Price $19.48 (Spinnakers, BC)
Alcohol Content 13.5%
As you might expect from the source continent, this is big and fruity, but arouses mostly indifference from the crowd. Even the normally chauvinistic hemispherically-challenged taster feels it's less than the sum of its parts: "This tastes like two wines that haven't come together." The lead taster is less sympathetic: "Yum! Cherry-raspberry cordial!" The consensus around the table is that even a Cotes du Rhone does a better job with these types of grapes at a fairer price.