Vol. 1 No. 31…Wineries of the Quebecois

One of the first things that strikes you when you get to Canada these days is how expensive things are. That is because like us they use a $ sign for prices. In the investment business, $ is reserved for the Greenback, and Canadian is labelled C$. Otherwise it would be a mess trading currencies.

But the good news is there is a 30% discount on the Canadian Dollar. When TB was a teenager he remembers it at a 6% premium. We stayed at the beautiful Frontenac Hotel in Quebec. Old, charming, and we were put in one of the newly refurbished rooms…it was huge! Quebec feels so French, and it is quaint. Highly recommended and there are some very nice restaurants on the main street of Old Quebec near the Parliament and the hotel.

Driving back, we re-entered the U.S. in New York and then went over to (note ‘to’ not ‘over), Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. We took the Maid-o-the-Mist for an up close and personal view of the falls. Spectacular…and WET! From there we high-tailed it to the Canadian side via the Rainbow Bridge to find our hotel, the Marriott Fallsview, closest to the falls and our 9th floor room was perfect. For about $30 more (Canadian), we could have upgraded but we felt that was the best height to see the falls, and it was. A beautiful light show at night as both of the falls changed color. Leaving our drapes open we could see them from the bed, or we could have chosen the in-room Jacuzzi! Adding to the pleasure is a restaurant right next door to the hotel, The Keg. Don’t let the name fool you, it sure did me, but it was a very nice, not too expensive restaurant on the 5th floor of the hotel next to ours. It had the second best view of the falls…after our room of course!

The next day, we left Niagara and quickly found ourselves surrounded by vineyards…very nice ones too. The area is Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to more than thirty wineries. Our server the day before had recommended the Colaneri Estate Winery and it happened to be our first stop…and what a stop it was. We turned off the highway and a couple hundred yards down the road took a driveway to the left. At the head was what appeared to be an entire Tuscan Villa…beautiful! So now, not only were the wines good, but the estate was impressive…very!!!The Colaneri family came over from Italy (near Rome). There are two sons who now run the business and amazingly they married two sisters.

They make 18 different wines: 11 whites and 7 reds. How do you make red wine when it never gets much above 70 degrees? They pick the grapes at their peak, then move them to a huge building that has wire crates. This provides airflow to the grapes and allows them to ripen further. It is an Italian process known as ‘Rapasso’. I tasted all of them and they are amazing. Colaneri makes three ice wines (Cab Franc, Vidal, and Riesling, all between 9.2-10.8% alcohol, and 200-250 grams residual sugar!). Also amazing is the fact that it took six years to build the Villa so far and it will take another six to complete! Now that’s passion and dedication…and as I said to my tasting room guide, “looks like the old saying, ‘if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune.'” With a straight face he said, “no, start with a huge one!”

From there we drove to the best known winery in the area, Inniskillin, famous for it’s Ice Wine. I tasted them all and they are amazing wines…they are the model to shoot for by the other wineries, and also the most expensive. Actually, though, buying at the winery in Canadian dollars put them way below the price in the U.S., ranging from $42-80. One is a sparkling Cab Franc, one a Riesling, and the make two Vidal’s, one of which (and my favorite) aged in wood for 30 years! By the way, those prices are for 375ml bottles, not the standard 750ml, but they are worth every penny.

While there I heard that Inniskillin was sold and is now owned by Jackson-Triggs, who makes very nice ice wines at a fraction of the cost of Inniskillin. It is easily obtained in the U.S. Researching the comment however, when I returned home, I found that they had operated under the same owner, which explains the common quality, but following a series of mergers both were sold to…drumroll please…one of the largest wine producers in the world, Constellation Wines. Constellation has been hard at work buying up some of the best estates. Who are they? They were nobody until the purchased Robert Mondavi in 2004 (the peak of Mondavi nearly coinciding with the release of the documentary, Mondovino. Constellation’s only wine was Richard’s Wild Irish Rose – most frequently found on skid row. If it was in a liquor store, certainly not a wine shop, it would be on the bottom shelf. So Constellation bought respectability, and to this writer at least, Mondavi – first visited by this writer in 1969, and the only winery I ever assembled a vertical selection of cabs from (1966-2000). I sold one case at auction, and the other donated to the University of Nevada, Reno where it topped their wine auction. Mondovino did no favors for the Mondavi (hmmm was the name translated ‘World of Wine” or Mondavi versus the wine world? Just asking!

From there we drove to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where we had lunch. There are several good restaurants there and if you don’t stop, you will regret it as there is a huge void from there on.

After lunch we stumbled on Stratus a very modern looking industrial type building, with an uber-modern tasting room. Here, as in all the wineries we visited, the staff knew their wines – unlike so many U.S. wineries. It seemed that most of them, if not all, had been working there for years. I should add that I asked at every winery I visited if they used organic (or are organic-certified), sustainable, or biodynamic methods and virtually all practiced sustainable farming (as did most of the ones in New York!), which puts them ahead of California, and sadly, light years ahead of Bordeaux where toxic chemicals are employed, even in the classified wineries and worse, lab testing has shown residual elements in wine tested from every winery!

Every aspect of being environmentally-friendly was employed, and beautifully I might add. Not only were the vines treated with as few natural fertilizers, etc., but the entire building was built with recycled wood and steel products, and even more impressive, even their tractors were run on bio-diesel! Stratus is Leeds-certified as sustainable. Their wines showed this attention to detail. They produce a full range of wines from the usual suspects to their Stratus Red, a blend of the Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec -seldom used in Bordeaux now, plus Tannat from Southwest France). A stunning, well-made wine with very complex flavors and big enough to hold up, and improve, for many years.

In addition, their whites include Stratus White (Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier). If the blend sounds like a ‘mouthful’ that’s because it is, bursting with flavors and nuances. Their ice wine (Viognier/Semillon) was very good, less on the sweet side with just 12 grams residual sugar, 14.3% alcohol (!), but the star of the show for me was their 2012 Botrytis Affected Semillon – wow! If you have never tasted a Botrytis wine you are in for a pleasant surprise. Only in years with the right moisture conditions late in the season does it exist. Amazing fruit bursts forth and this one, aged for more than a year in French Oak (60% new), is a keeper.

Next stop was Cave Spring Winery located in town in Lincoln, Ontario. That is the tasting room with the vineyards and winery a short distance away. They make a full range of white’s and reds, including sparklers and ice wines. I particularly enjoyed their Riesling, bursting with fruit flavors…tutti fruiti, comes to mind but not that cloying sweetness!

The last winery we visited is off the beaten path but Karen MacNeil mentioned it in The Wine Bible. I was there for one thing: their Gamay, which she says is the first really good one made outside Europe…that is a huge comment, pinot lovers as this Burgundian grape is off that style. Not a true Burgundy but soft in the mouth and a good every day wine.

From there, we began to wend our way home again, crossing into the U.S. over the bridge to Detroit from Windsor, Ontario on the Ambassador International Bridge. This aging bridge will soon be replaced by the Gordie Howe International Bridge, named after the hockey great of the Detroit Red Wings.

By the time we reached home we had driven over 4,700 miles in just under three weeks, we stopped along the way in Evanston, Illinois to stay with our friends then up to Wisconsin for the incredible tasting dinner at the Union House restaurant (see Vol. 1, No. 24). We never had to use an umbrella on the entire trip, but when we crossed the Mississipi into Minnesota, we had torrential rains for the final hour and a half home. Lucky, not only that we experienced the full beauty of the changing of the colors to Fall.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

Vol. 1 No. 23 something wine and beer are increasingly having in common (adding mea culpa)

Mea Culpa: TB had details of the SAB/Miller – AB ImBev were wrong and have been corrected. In the same sectionit was Heineken, not Stella Artois that purchased 50% of Lagunitas Brewing. Mea maxima culpa.

Also note that TB welcomes your comments both positive and negative – just make them constructive.

The Management aka TB

First, let me make it clear that TB favors small wineries, especially family wineries. That is not to say that bigger ones are bad but the more people who become involved, the less the passion, and passion is a key element in doing everything to make a remarkable wine. What TB loathes is corporate ownership of wineries. You cannot run a winery like a typical division of a corporation, yet it is done all the time and there are different time horizons: longer term for a family owned winery; short-term for a corporation. In addition to wineries, I find similar comparisons with small wine shops (these focus mainly on wine although they may carry hard liquor too), and the chains which can be as big as Beverages & More, and Total Wines.

A new concern is online wine sellers. Why? Because they may be clearing out someones stale inventory and thus able to sell it at a low price, yet because they bought it at a distress price, make a very large profit…and don’t forget shipping costs! But the important thing is they sell either on a rating (with so many out there far too many are getting 90 ratings and even if it is deserved you might not like it). Remember, you are your own best wine critic! What Robert Parker or Trader Bill thinks is irrelevant…unless you are speculating in wine, something else TB loathes as it drives the cost up to you, the consumer.

Now I will give you three examples of family-owned contrasted to corporate-owned:

Taylor Wine Company, one of the oldest in the U.S. and located in Hammondsport, New York. Originally it used native American grapes such as Catawba and Concord. When other growers had success by bringing in the vinifera grapes from Europe, eventually they decided to do likewise. Then they were bought out by Coca-Cola, who apparently didn’t understand the lead time between planting new vines and getting the production from them to be profitable. In the end, Coke filed bankruptcy for the winery, one with a very long tradition even if you didn’t care for the style.

Robert Mondavi Winery, founded in 1966, became the benchmark for large producer California wines until it was surpassed by…yep…smaller family-owned vineyards. In addition to the joint venture on Opus with Baron Phillipe Rothschild, they began partnering and buying out old family owned wineries in Italy with great reputations for quality. Ironically, the film Mondovino showed them in a bad light, having deviated from their roots. Produced in 2004, it was about the time the Mondavi empire peaked and eventually was bought out by a corporation, Constellation Brands, now a powerhouse but before that famous for one wine My Wild Irish Rose…need TB say more?

TB is not gloating about what happened to Mondavi since it was the first winery he visited the year he and his wife were married, 1969. TB had a vertical collection of their Cabernet Sauvignon from inception, 1966, with at least two bottles from each year (the 1966 was purchased for $4.50!). After the sale, interest was lost and one vertical case was donated to the University of Nevada for an auction, and later the other sold at a Butterfield auction. Because of the corporate ownership, TB has not purchased a bottle from the winery since.

Lastly, what the title of the blog is about. How many of you remember the original Samuel Adams? A true craft beer, but IT grew until it and Yuengling became the two biggest selling craft beers in America…if you can still call them that…TB can’t, not at 4 million barrels a year each! Same goes for Stella Artois one of TB’s favorite’s and now available on tap in most restaurants and bars in America. Is that what a true beer drinker wants to see? By the way, if you want to read what one bar owner has to say about them go to Open letter to Sam Adams

Now to the point: do you recall when Miller Brewing was sold to SAB (Stella Artois), and later Anheuser-Busch was bought by the Dutch company AmBev? Frankly, I never cared much for either Miller or Bud, but they were very popular among the masses and that is what counts, right? Well, if you own the company it is.

A couple of months ago it was announced that Heineken bought a 50% interest in Lagunitas brewery, a beer TB thoroughly enjoyed and still likes, however, several people have said, and TB felt, that it doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Furthermore. both Heineken and Beck’s suffered when they began bottling in the U.S. and thus increased production. Big production will do that. But the big issue now is the AB ImBev – SAB/Miller buyout for $106 billion, yes, billion! In addition, the breakup premium is $3 billion, meaning if, for any reason, the deal doesn’t go through, AB ImBev is out that much! This smells to me like there is something assuring them that it will go through despite them being the #1 and #2 beer producers in the world. Some legislators here have voiced concerns or even dissent, but it is the EU that will decide. What this means for consumers should it happen, and TB will bet it does, is control over beer prices globally, something the Sherman-Antitrust Act was supposed to prevent and the EU has fined some of the large U.S. tech companies for their practices, yet here are two in their own backyard and hardly a peep.

This is what TB does not want to see in the wine industry, Gallo, and Franzia Wines (two-buck Chuck), have a huge monopoly on wines but not on premium wines. Fred Franzia says “never pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.” Are we to take it that the price may go to somewhere above the $5 it is already at?

A local fellow blogger doesn’t believe you should pay more than $20 for a wine, and despite his self-admission that he has never taken a wine class, he rates them and then deducts for every dollar above ten. By that test, wouldn’t everyone buy a Chevy rather than a Porsche? TB’s just sayin’…

So here is what TB thinks: the aforementioned blogger is correct that people can not drink a $25, $30, or more every night of the week. So buy something cheap to drink during the week that you like. But be adventuresome on weekends and try some better wines…preferably with the help of a small wine shop that is knowledgeable and listens to what you like in a wine.

There is very little bad wine being sold today as good wine is forcing it out and people are becoming more aware of what they like. France, converted something like three million gallons of wine into ethanol last year. Why? Because they couldn’t sell it, obviously. There is a message there. TB’s message to you is if everyone tried to consume $10 wine, or even up to $20 and would never pay more, there would still be plenty of wine around, but the wines of character would be gone. At least you could just go and pick up any bottle as they would all taste the same. Fine…that is, if you don’t want a really good bottle of wine.

Perhaps it is like the younger generation: they have recording artists they love but they don’t pay for the music. See the similarity?

Off to have a glass of good wine…

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 2 …do I care what Parker/Rolland think?

I’ve looked at wine from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s wine’s illusions I recall.
I really don’t know wine at all.

– with just a tad of literary license from Both Sides Now, by Joni Mitchell

If the above causes you to ask if he doesn’t know wine, why write a blog? TB would answer, “I know something about wine but I don’t know what you, dear reader, like. Neither do the guru’s: Robert Parker, who gave us the 100 point grading system back in 1978, and which is now copied by at least half a dozen other wine writers/critics; or Michel Rolland, who consults for over two hundred wineries, and whose goal is to bring the same attributes to all of them. Rolland was immortalized in Mondovino, as a Tiparillo-smoking, jovial fellow being chauffeured all over France…and elsewhere in the world, along with the Mondavis (not to be confused with the MonDAVIES – Bob’s estranged brother). Interestingly, Mondavi was at its zenith when the documentary came out in 2004, but then was sold to Constellation, and has lost its aura…and when you lose your aura in wine, the fall from grace – Can be a long plunge.

Let’s get this straight: if you like Two Buck Chuck (now $3.89 by the way), or Gallo Hearty Burgundy, who is Parker, or Rolland, or Trader Bill, or anyone to set you ‘straight’? What a boring world it would be if everyone liked exactly the same wines…oops, the wine snobs already do which has escalated the price of those 90-100 point wines as speculators, not consumers, buy them and trade them among one another further driving up the price. Some people have never even seen the wines they own and never will.

In Red Obsession, it was said that the Chinese could become the buyers of all the Bordeaux in the world. Flash back to about 1988 and the same was being said about: the Japanese! Arigato! If you don’t believe this, go to this link, just published today: Lower wine prices, less Chinese demand

The above is as negative as you will see in this blog and it is not intended to harm anyone named, but when TB saw this cartoon (sorry, unable to find it so will just have to quote it), at his 50th birthday on the Napa Valley Wine Train, it became indelibly printed in his brain:

Customer tasting at wine shop: “This wine is terrible!”

Clerk: “Really? Parker gave it a 90…

Customer: “I’ll take two cases!!!”

That epitomizes the wine snob who knows little about it but thinks he can look smart by serving and pointing out, “this is a 90-point wine.” It brings about the question: when is the last time you saw a wine displaying a rating below 87 in any store?

In Sideways, Miles was the epitome a wine snob (by the way, it was more disgusting than funny in the book). He loathed Merlot – as if there were no good Merlots, only plonk. He had obviously never tried a Duckhorn, especially the Three Palms, or any of the other wines not produced for the ‘cocktail’ crowd. Instead, he loved Pinot Noir, especially Burgundies. Yet his favorite wine was Cheval Blanc, a beautiful St. Emilion, which is…100% Merlot (in the book he only mentions Chateau Petrus, also 100% Merlot)! For all you France haters, how do you think they feel about us for all those ‘burgundies’, and ‘chablis’ we sold for a couple of bucks a bottle?…not to mention Champagne!

One of TB’s favorite wine writers in San Francisco…sadly, he can’t recall the name…once spent a column on wine writers. He posed: how can you use someone’s wine recommendations without knowing if what they like in a wine is the same as what you look for? Good question…any takers?

Also in Sideways: it was amazing how Miles always brought out the best and most expensive wine when he was trashed! By the way, TB has had this happen after several glasses of wine at a dinner and had that urge to (and satisfied it), bring out some of his best bottles…with little or no recollection of how they tasted with the palate numbed. There’s a lesson here!

TB observed ‘the Sideways effect’ almost immediately when in wine shops the Merlot came down from the eye level shelf to the bottom, changing places with the Pinot Noir…and TB has had some not-so-well -made Pinots. Note that Robert Veseth, now professor emeritus at Puget Sound University, observed the same thing and wrote a paper on it from an economics point of view, the impetus for his blog The Wine Economist and a new career.

Let’s go back to the Parker/Rolland paradox: for all the good they did in improving the quality of wine – globally – they have homogenized it…like buying one brand of milk over another…ok, maybe buying Coke (the drink) over Pepsi. What is missing is something found in the best wines: terroir (tere-wahr).

Terroir is the summation of all that goes into a wine from the soils and climate, to the way the vines are planted. It is what distinguishes a Heitz Martha’s Vineyard from other Cabernets, or a fine Chablis with its flintiness, from any other Chardonnay.

Now for the consequences: imagine a farmer growing corn, and some ‘expert’ comes along and says he is rating your corn an 87? What would he do? Escort the guy off his farm…and probably not in a pleasant way. But take away all the romanticism and wine is just that: farming, and farming means you can do everything right and still have a bad crop…you hope, (pray ?), for the best. But the farmer doesn’t see the price of his wine double or more with a 100 point score, instead the independent wine buyer who does his own research pays for it. Relief may be in sight as this 2015 prediction states: 2015 wine predictions

On this you don’t need to take TB’s word. He was told this by none other than Joe (Joseph) Heitz. TB, with a group of friends, which included Joe’s nephew from Reno, Nevada, was invited to lunch on the Heitz’ deck and enjoyed some of their Riesling and wonderful sausages on a beautiful Napa morning. This was followed by a tour, in which, Joe said that vineyard land could not go any higher and still allow the buyer to make money. I bought a case that day of the 1974 Martha’s Vineyard Anniversary Cabernet…$40 a bottle, I believe. Remember, Heitz was the most sought-after Cabernet Sauvignon in America. At that time Mondavi Cab was about $7.50 a bottle (don’t laugh, TB bought the 1972 with $4.95 price tags). In 2000, TB put some of his older wines up for auction, including his last bottle of the Heitz: it sold for $400 – is any wine worth that much? It’s WINE, not art, and meant to be consumed…and don’t forget old wines don’t taste anything like they did when young.

If you want proof of just how much impact Parker and Rolland have had consider this article published on Aug. 6th 2014 – my 45th wedding anniversary by the way – remember 1976 was pre-Parker AND Rolland, then came the conversion (capture?); are we about to go round trip? You decide…1976 Wine Judgement: then and now

Maybe you should just trust your own taste buds. If you like a wine, buy a case of it and drink it over the next 3-5 years…be able to serve it a dinner when it might be worth 2-3 times what you paid for it. That is the fun of wine…not ‘hoarding’ it, right?

If you can find it, Jancis Robinson wrote a book, Vintage TimeCharts, which graphs how wines she tasted lasted over the years…it is extremely valuable in knowing just how long most wines will keep, and how long the best can keep. It tracks wines from as far back as 1989 to 2000…some of the best! Highly recommended, and here’s the good news if you are interested: you can buy it online for $4.95 or less! A wonderful addition to any wine library. TB would add that Jancis is one of the great wine writers, long on fact, short on ego.

Well, dear reader, hope you found this as interesting as the trip down memory lane was for TB. Ah, but there are a million wine stories in the Naked City…this is just one of them (anyone remember?).

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.