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Geology Meets Wine Geek – John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines

24 Aug

When I was a grade school student, one of the most chilling assignments was the book review. Chilling in that you knew the teacher had read it – so you couldn’t Coles Notes (Cliffs Notes for my US friends) it. And, because in some cases you had to read your work in front of the class. A real knee knocking experience. I swore off book reviews since. Well, I’m throwing away that pledge to give you a little gift.

I’m travelling to Sicily next month to do a bit of a wine wander. So, to better understand the place, among other reads, I asked for John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit, and Power for Christmas. And Santa obliged.

First I need to tell you a little about growing up in my house. It explains why this book might hold some extra allure for me.

My father was a soft rock geologist and worked plotting and trying to understand the earth so that his employer could find and extract oil. He clearly was committed to his discipline. I know this because….

Yup, that’s a wadi!

When we would take a trip to visit grandparents, travel to the cottage, or take a short jaunt to a neighbouring community, my father would pull over on the side of the road and point out features in the landscape. As a type of higher level instruction, he would have us tromp through the field to an area and would ask us what we saw. It didn’t take long before we were identifying wadi (“There’s a wadi, Dad,” from the back seat), hummocks, and homoclinal ridges among other formations. At the cottage, he and I walked on the Canadian Shield and I learned about its age, its origin and the nature of the igneous rock that made up it’s beauty.

So, when I read a review of John Szabo’s work, I had to have it.

Although I am not through the book in it’s entirety, I can tell you how thrilled I am to be learning a bit more about the connection of the history of the earth’s crust to viticulture and great wine.

Mount Etna

Now, if you’ve had a bunch of wine and paid even a little attention, you know that wines that come from certain areas – areas known for harsh, almost un-arable conditions where vines struggle – are staggeringly powerful and distinct. My personal experience includes sipping an Assyrtiko while gazing out over the barren, windy, hot and rocky landscape of Santorini. “How does any wine come from here, let alone something this special?” Nothing quite like it. Or, enjoying a Taurasi near Pompeii almost in the shadow of Vesuvius. There isn’t really anything that compares.

Szabo says of volcanic wines, “The best examples, like all great wines, seem to have another, or at least different, dimension, a common sort of density that can only come from genuine extract in the wine, not alcohol or glycerol, or just tannins and acid, It’s a sort of weightless gravity, intense, heavy as a feather, firm but transparent, like an impenetrable invisible force shield of flavour that comes out of nowhere but doesn’t impose itself……………..It can be gritty, salty, hard, maybe even unpleasant to some, but unmistakeable.”

And, although I thought I knew why they were special, I was kidding myself. It is a lot more complex and technical. But, given my childhood lessons on igneous rock, I should have known that.

Assyrtiko vines of Santorini

Szabo’s book examines wine regions as disparate as Napa/Sonoma, Macaronesia, Pitigliano, Campania, Soave, Sicily and, yes, Santorini, among others. He tells us how the earth’s crust is currently composed, the geological history of that land, the continuing impacts of volcanic activity. Most importantly for wine geeks, he tells us what the wines take from all that, what grapes flourish, who makes the most of it, the people, and the glory of it all. I know. Glory is a pretty absolute and unequivocal word. I meant it as such.

I won’t go into detail or give away the plot (although I think I already have). Suffice it to say, that the book is a master class in the intersection of volcanic geology and wine. It’s a big honking book. It could serve as a coffee table book. It has utterly spectacular photography – vineyard porn. But, don’t leave it sitting. Pick it up and get up to speed on regions of the wine world that will captivate with their story and their wine. Then get thee to the mother ship and get some of these wines to experience what the fuss is all about!

I know all about that last part. This book has already cost me a bit of cash propping up my meagre cellar with more Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici and some Etna Rosso. I’m looking to dig a little ‘weightless gravity’. If you know what I mean.



FYI – Volcanic Wines is available through Amazon. John Szabo’s coordinates are:      @johnszabo

Porcupine Leading to Drinking Alone

25 Jul

A loon captured in front of our cottage by my cousin’s talented photographer wife, Brenda Dickie

Just returned from three full weeks at the lake. No wireless, no television, just sports radio and expensive data through my iPhone. So, haven’t been following the news – wine news or world news. Although I’m guessing that The Donald did something to get Daddy’s attention.

So, how about a story from the wilds of Muskoka?

You can hear the echoes on the lake: the lonesome whippoorwill (homage to Hank Williams); the haunting call of the loon; the laughter of children swimming; and then there’s THE SOUND.

The sound might remind the untrained ear of someone dragging a hammer claw under the floor of your abode. Or, a small jet aircraft revving on the runway prior to takeoff. It occurs only at night while you sleep. It’s loud, the vibration moving up through the floor, through the bed frame, through the mattress and into your bones. The Director lies sleeping. I, on the other hand, leap from the bed a la the man in the Christmas poem to see what is the matter.

Most would wake and yell, “What the hell is that?” I, however, in a matter of seconds, know exactly what ‘that’ is and simply say, “Oh shit, the porcupines are back.” Yes, folks porcupines can plague even a seasoned cottager like yours truly.

A porcupine pre-glue sniffing

What the heck do porcupines do that makes that sound, you ask? Well, they gnaw on the striated beams that support our cottage with their humongous sharp teeth. Striated beams are made by gluing together a zillion strands of wood. They are as hard as steel.

Years ago, the porkies gnawed right through the floor of our cabin (an abode since torn down) and through the hole, you could see their beady little eyes blinking as they tried to extract as much salty glue as they could from the plywood. That’s right folks – porcupines are glue addicts (Editors Note: They love the glue because plywood glue has salt in it – they crave salt). Imagine the strung out porky retired to his little whatever it is he lives in, bending over a small paper bag of hard won glue, taking a big sniff, and saying, “Far out man, that’s good shit,” as wisps of resin float about his little prickly face.

This last time, I got out of bed and proceeded to pound on the floor over the area where I surmised the porky sat. I yelled, I pounded, I stomped, The Director slept. Seriously?

Eventually, the big fellow – I just noticed that I’ve assigned a gender to this creature. Let’s see – the animal’s a pain in the ass, has no ambition, is glue addicted and up drugging at 3 in the morning – of course, it’s a ‘he’. Where was I? Oh yeah, he crawled out from underneath the cottage and waddled up the path and into the woods. Phew, it’s over. Back to bed? Unfortunately I’m not built like that. Once up – I’m up – really up. That’s a surprise?

This brings me to the wine. You knew that I’d get there. My challenge? Pairing wine to three in the morning in your pyjamas and Googling on your phone “how do I get rid of a porcupine?”

What did I do about the wine? Decision tree on pairing: no food – just empty calories at that time of day – unlike the alcohol, wink, wink; palate a little muted by snore breath; heart racing because, although I know the porcupine isn’t going to burst through the door and begin shooting his quills shouting, “Say hello to my lil’ friend,” I’m just a little anxious; and most importantly, I don’t want to upset my whole three weeks of wine planning by taking a bottle out of turn when the mothership is a one hour drive away.

You might say – how about Port? Too nutty and heavy. Or, maybe a cup of tea? Tea? You think I drink tea? Red wine? Naw, too intense.

As it turned out, there was an open bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge. It’s a familiar label in this market – J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay #258699 $19.95 . It’s a great value Chardonnay with some oak but nothing chewy or over-buttery. Ripe, round and medium weight. This night a glass went perfectly with my frantic internet search for creative ways to rid myself of a beast. OK, it was two glasses.

How can an animal survive with a glue sniffer’s approach to life? Well here’s how, the only predators that porkies need to fear up here are Subarus – the official car of Muskoka. They just go about their business without a care in the world. You can shoot them or poison them and I don’t have the heart for either. So, I’m stocking up on the J. Lohr and learning to live with it.

So, if you’re up in the night with a bit of anxiety and some homework to do, I’m suggesting a medium weight Chardonnay. It doesn’t solve your problems because that, as we all know, requires Scotch. But, it sure beats tea.

Or, might you have any suggestions from personal late night experience?



Confession – it was two and a half glasses!

Blogging Peril? – A Friday Night Ramble

10 Mar

I’ve been communicating to my peeps for over 8 years now and I’ve noticed a subtle change in the wine journalism that I read. Before I ramble further, let me expose my biases.

I write because I love to write. I write about wine because I love wine. I’m an amateur. I identify as a blogger and am proud of it. I reach a fraction of the readers that other bloggers or wine writers do. I get it. I only matter to a few. I love those few!

I like the wine blogging community too. I appreciate their contribution to wine education, wine culture, and wine buddyism. Wine buddyism is the camaraderie that wine people experience when discussing, drinking, and appreciating wine together. FYI, it works best while doing the drinking part.

I like that this community, in an effort to make wine more approachable, are generally inclined to communicate with most wine drinkers; instead of just those that have an elevated understanding of wine. However, I notice a troubling trend.

It seems to me that more and more posts have a connection to a gift of sorts. At the extreme, it could be a trip and tour of a wine region or winery. At the low end, it’s simply a sample or samples. And, in fairness and to be transparent, I am not allowed samples in this Victorian jurisdiction unless I am at the cellar door or one of a few professionals paid by the LCBO. I pay for every drop that I review Goddammit. So, I could just be whiney here and, hell yes, I’d take a free trip and samples too. That’s not the point that I’m going to make.

I read The Emperor of Wine many years ago and was fascinated by the origins of Robert Parker’s influence. In the beginning of wine criticism/review, wine critics were flown to Bordeaux, feted, and sampled to death by the wineries so that they could give an opinion on vintage and individual chateaux, wink, wink. Parker argued that this presented either a true conflict of interest or the appearance of one. His Wine Advocate, on the contrary, took no advertising revenue, received no compensation for travel, etc. Ergo, it presented itself as the true uncompromised, objective source of wine reviews. You could trust it. It relied on the revenue of readers. I subscribed to The Wine Advocate for years regardless that my tastes (aside from Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni when he was there) didn’t line up with those expressed in that publication.  I particularly appreciated the lack of advertising.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not impuning the character of those journalists that report positively on their trips and samples. When I’ve been entertained at wineries, I’ve written about it too. And in fairness, most blog posts don’t involve reviewing stuff or experiences that are free or when they do, there are clear declarations of that fact. I guess what I’m saying is that it is a slippery slope. It seems to be the new normal of wineries/distributors for promoting their wines – get a wine writer to talk about your stuff by providing some swag. I’m just wondering if we are getting sucked in.

But here’s where I get truly scared. The Wine Bloggers Conference this upcoming November. A major session is titled: “What Companies Want From Wine Bloggers.” 

Seriously? How much more compromised can we appear if we start from the premise that we want to understand what ‘companies’ want from us and how we can give that to them. Help me understand this. WTF is a company? If I assume that it’s a winery or wine distributor/negotiant, I get that there is symbiosis here. But, it shouldn’t be a servile relationship. I simply don’t understand why we’d give a shit enough to have a session – and I understand it is a “premium full session spot”, promoted as a highlight on this topic?  Bloggers can’t appear any more collusional or compromised than this.

When I read a review of a wine or a winery, I don’t want the writer to serve a commercial interest of a winery or frigging ‘company’. whatever the hell that means. I want to trust that they are expressing ‘their’ truth about the wine. I believe that most of the people I follow are doing just that (People I follow: please read that last sentence before writing in the comments section). But, if bloggers are reporting on their findings while being subsidized either through samples or trips, and the refinement of their craft is schooled in conferences around how to satisfy wine conglomerates and wineries, it just looks bad. I mean it looks really bad. It can all be explained away but so can Trump Tower speed dials set for Russia. Why would we want to create this suspicion or compromise what we do?

Now it is entirely possible that my (now former) blogging friends may see their role differently than I see mine. Maybe being a purist is insufferable. Wait, if you’ve been reading this blog for long you know that I am always insufferable. I may take wine too seriously, you may say. No I don’t. I take fantasy baseball too seriously. Wine is more recreational. But, let me know if you agree that there’s some cause for worry in the Comments section below. Or, you can just just give me shit for my opinions. I don’t get paid either way.



Answers #SundaySips

19 Feb


Well, ask a question and you shall receive answers. On Thursday I posted my usual pre-release recommendations. I started the post with a question about whether people finished off a bottle at the end of the evening or re-corked and savoured it the next day. I confessed to most often finishing it off under the condition that it was an extraordinary wine. Maybe I wasn’t clear that I do sometimes re-cork but that’s the exception.

The verdict is in, people have spoken and I’m thinking I have a problem (“No shit, Sherlock”). Most responders re-corked – red on the counter, white in the fridge – and savoured it the next day. Several felt that the wine changed for the better and that it was instructive and even of benefit to taste it with the extra evolution.

I agree. There is an evolution once oxygen has rattled the wine. It’s like a decant effect – some funk may get blown off, tannins integrate, and the wine opens up and tells us about its aspirations and the previous evening of neglect.

chdmI have listened and I have heard you. I can’t promise anything because tonight I’m opening a 2003 Pauillac (Ch. Duhart-Milon for the geeks out there). That’s VGS quality. And, my level of restraint post-first glass of great wine isn’t the best. Wish me luck.



#WBC16 – Serious Business? #SundaySips

21 Aug

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC16) was held last week. It’s a big deal where wine bloggers get to meet their virtual wine buddies in the flesh, drink wine together and talk wine and the art of the blog. This year it was held in Lodi. So, tastings, tours, etc. were of that region. Did I mention you drink wine together?

This shouldn’t be construed as indicating that wine bloggers have their shit together. Bloggers are a bit troubled and conflicted.

Let me explain. Most people practicing the genre (always wanted to use that word), started by enjoying wine, being interested in learning more about wine, educating themselves and/or taking some formal structured learning, perhaps getting into the trade, and then being encouraged by delusional loved ones and friends (in my case, imaginary) to write a blog.

UmBut, here’s the challenge that we face. Wine bloggers are needy. We mistakenly think that we want to be taken seriously. We really do want a lot of ‘follows’, daily stats, even if we deny it. We might write for ourselves (so, we say) but it’s nice to know that we’re not whistling in the wilderness, isn’t it? Did anyone out there follow my suggestion to buy some 2010 Chateau Obscure? Damn, didn’t think so. We want our opinion heard and weighed. And, yes, followed – at least once in awhile. But, there’s the rub. We want all that but we don’t want to be viewed as ‘them’. You know who I’m talking about.

I took an informal poll and discovered that there are 1 billion wine drinkers on the planet (survey results have a 95% confidence level plus or minus half a billion people). And wine isn’t any more important to most of them than having an aquarium, sorting their sock drawer, and/or Bob Ross’ Still Life with Apple.. Oh, we wine geeks would like to think that most people, if given the chance to experience a vintage DRC or Ch. Haut-Brion, would come over to the dark side and ‘get into wine big time’. They’d be like, “Yes, I love, love, luuuuuve, the finish on that d’Yquem.” They’d argue the benefits of Stelvin closures. I am not shitting you – there is a debate about closures. They’d be more like us. Validate our obsession. But, aah, I’m thinking that they really wouldn’t. They really, really don’t care that much.

So, that leaves bloggers talking to bloggers, casual wine drinkers who, remember, don’t really care, and friends who are too rude to unsubscribe.

awesomBut, how does that compare to serious wine scribes? You know the names: Parker, Molesworth? Well, most bloggers truly don’t care about having that kind of Klout score. And yet, we’d like just a little more than we currently have. What blogger wouldn’t like his/her name on a shelf talker. “Duffs Wines Recommended.” I used to think that I’d love to see that. Even better, a case of wine that I recommended in a friend’s cellar. Bloggers want people to value their experiences and opinions. Who wouldn’t?

But wait a minute my blogger friends. If we did – have that much power, that is. We would be forced to do the unthinkable. Get deadly serious about wine. I mean Sauternes versus Barsac serious. Be held accountable (I’m too old to be held accountable, BTW). We would be more obnoxious than we already are. We would spit more before noon than we drink before noon now. Speaking personally here, that’s a lot of spitting. We would be subjected to full eight hour days of tasting hundreds of wines – enjoying none of them. Plus, think about having to come up with new esoteric aroma and flavour descriptors. How else to explain Maduro tobacco and fig paste?

I’m not sure I could handle it. So, although saying this is totally unnecessary, “You don’t have to take me seriously”. I know that with a few exceptions………actually, without exception, I don’t take the bloggers I follow very seriously either. I just simply really enjoy them, thanks.

That brings us back to WBC 16. I wish I could have been there. I’d love to spend time with some of my social media and wine writing peeps. I’d like to be surprised by who they really are. I might surprise some of them with my substandard singing voice and misplaced sense of self-importance (hence, this self-indulgent ramble). And we would never be serious. Well, with the exception of the closure debate. Wouldn’t that be great?

Like a Leafs’ fan, I will just say, “Maybe next year.”



White Man Privilege Rant – The Red and White Daily Slosh

24 Jun

Love, love, love this song. And, it is so relevant today. You’d think it was written yesterday.

I don’t usually express a non-wine opinion on these pages. Whaaat? Duff always expresses non-wine opinions on these pages. Which means that I have mission permission (as the Organizational Development guy in me would say). That said, may I take a wee bit ‘o’ your time?

I’m heading to a fundraiser for Women’s Community House tonight (tickets still available 519-672-8800). It gave me pause to reflect on the issue of woman abuse and it never ceases to shock me. We have been dealing with this issue head-on seemingly forever yet we still need easily accessible services and supports for women and their children who are subjected to this violence. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. Women still are likely to experience abuse – sexual, emotional……………at a shameful rate. It saddens me. Make me wanna holler.

But luckily, it’s not happening to me. You see, I don’t have to worry about being raped if I had a drink or two at a bar, I’m walking home late at night, I’m asleep in my dorm room, or just ’cause. I was never sexually harassed in the workplace despite my snappy business casual look. My spouse isn’t the most likely person to assault me. Come to think of it…… I will never be carded as part of ‘good’ policing. I won’t be routinely stopped on the basis of my skin colour as I drive to work. I won’t be led to a more intensive Canada or US Customs inspection line for people who simply look like me. My parents and/or grandparents weren’t scooped off to a residential school. I won’t be assaulted, targeted in a terrorist attack, refused service, or excluded from sharing my life with the person I love based on my sexual orientation or gender identity. And, I get to drink wine as a frigging hobby and write about it! Conclusion?    BILL      IS      AWESOME!

So, what did I do to ‘earn’ this life? I mean there must be something that I accomplished that set me apart for special status. Honest answer: I am an older (don’t you dare say ‘old’) heterosexual white male born into an Anglo-Saxon family in a western democracy that just so happens to be the best country in the world IMHO. That means that I, personally, did nothing, squat, zero, nada. I didn’t earn it; I was given it as my birthright. And believe me, I am thankful for my good fortune. But also it’s horribly, horribly wrong. It needs changing on so many levels. It should be everyone’s birthright. Hopefully we are heading in the right direction. But tonight sadly shows me that it’s taking way too long.

Done. Thanks for staying with me. I apologize for the smugness and self-indulgence – wasn’t my intention. It’s just that I am unfortunately a very smug and self-indulgent older white guy. And that’s my friends saying that.

Wine, yes, wine. It is a wine blog after all. Some quick recos.

bacoHave you ever had Baco Noir? Get your binder out and check your tasting notes. Well, Niagara makes good Baco Noir. It ranges from Gamay-styled wannabes to rich, creamy chocolatey age-worthy reds.  The best of the second style that I’ve found is that made by the Speck Brothers of Henry of Pelham. This release (June 25th), there’s a great example in the 2013 Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir #461699 $24.95. This is dark in the glass and in the mouth. Burn barrel and black fruits. But, the main event is really the texture. Soft, full-bodied, moderate alcohol (13.5%) without any heat. Suffice to say, that this is a pleasure to drink on it’s own or with something fresh and soft – perhaps something cheesy. Henry of Pelham does an “Old Vines” Baco (circa $20) and a regular Baco ($15) as well that are usually in the General Listing aisles. Maybe Baco will become you new fave.

medoroSpeaking of smooth, the 2012 Villa Medoro Rosso del Duca Montepulciano d’Abruzzo #357160 $21.95 has a similar vibe but with a nice vein of acidity on the finish and much more complexity. Rich is the first thing to come to mind once it hits your mouth. You might think, “It’s an MdA and $22? I usually can pick those up for $14.” Well, get over that. Seriously. If it doesn’t work out, send me the rest of your bottle(s) and I will give you credit toward a DuffsWines T-Shirt. The Henry of Pelham is an exceptional food wine due to the structure and texture. Great hostess gift if it’s a BBQ (ribs, burgers, grilled portobellos). It’s a night wine, if that makes sense and make sure it isn’t room temperature if your room is 80 degrees plus. In that case pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes. In fact, when it’s unbearably hot, do that with most if not all reds. I have recommended this label in several vintages and look forward to many more.

hogueIn my earliest email broadcasts pre-website, I used to talk about ‘Value Labels”. Labels and therefore wineries that people could usually count on for strong QPR (Quality to Price Ratio). It was designed to present recognizable options you could trust without too much blabbing about the wine. And, when I did, I frequently mentioned Hogue from Washington State. Seldom had a poor one. This week, there’s the 2013 Hogue Chardonnay #402172 $15.95 hitting the shelves. This is exactly what we need by the case this summer. Well-priced, judiciously oaked and balanced without being flabby. Perfect summer sipper for the Chardonnay lover at your place. Look for other Hogue products at the mother ship – Hogue Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon $18.95, Genesis Meritage $18.95.

vouvrayMy niece has relocated to London and she and her husband came over the other night and made me curry. Fabulous family recipe curry. But, what to have with a dish with so much going on? I chilled up one of my Mosels but couldn’t bring myself to pop the cork as I think it’s still developing. So, I went with a Vouvray. No well-thought out pairing paradigm used to connect this sightly off-dry wine with curry but it seemed to make sense. The Vouvray that I bought was 2014 Donatien Bauhaus Les Grands Mortiers Vouvray #140889 $17.95. This wine turned out to be perfect. The curry demanded a bit of sweetness but not too much. The wine was expressive with peaches and enough acid to not get run over by the curry. If you are curious, Vouvray is from the Loire and is made from Chenin Blanc. In my experience Vouvray doesn’t present like the Chenins from South Africa – not as straight forward, not as fruity but maybe that’s just my prejudice showing. I like them a bit off-dry unless it’s bubbly Vouvray where brut is usually the style. About this particular wine, I’m not sure there’s a lot available still. There is another label that seems in higher volumes – 2014 Charles Bove Vouvray #448563 $17.95 – with exceptional reviews, so pick one up and you will shout “Hurray For Vouvray!” A great wine that’s usually overshadowed by Sancerre.

carteressesHey, just as I was finalizing editing this post (Thursday evening), I opened a chilled bottle of 2015 Domaine de Carteresses Tavel #739474 $18.95. I get it. I have a problem with rosés. And that kind of works against my pledge of cutting back on the wine mid-week – tomorrow, I’ll cut back – promise. Wait, it’s Friday tomorrow. Anyway, I’ve raved about this wine before but this vintage seems a bit better then previous. Not quite as crisp as the Côtes de Provence that you may have had. This Tavel really provides a hint at what people are talking about when they say that Tavel is the red wine drinker’s pink. No time to write notes. Suffice to say that it’s fuller-bodied than most rosés – rounder, deeper, almost red winish.  Absolutely love this stuff!



Wine Beliebers – Friday Ramble

7 Apr

Yes, it’s kinda sad really

I read an interesting piece at about Justin Bieber’s new dreadlocks. You can read it here. It was about the non-entitled appropriation of the culture of others. The others, in this case, being the owners of the dreadlock franchise, I guess. Dreadlocks R Us? Marleyville? Reggae-A-Rama?

My first response to any complaint about Justin, a lad from just up the road in Stratford, is that The Biebs is a young, spoiled brat and that whatever he has done is most likely wrong. But on this point, we need to ask, “Do dreadlocks constitute cultural property? If so, who owns the right to that property? Is it proper for others without that particular cultural passport to wear them?”

Now you didn’t think I was going to answer those questions here, did you? It’s a wine blog. Instead I want to discuss the cultural appropriation that has been and is still occurring in wine and whether, just like The Biebs, it might be culturally insensitive and just plain wrong

Here’s the thing:

When I started to appreciate wine in the early 70’s it was all about Europe. European wine had many identities and all were über sophisticated for a young lad. My earliest fine wine memories?

Monsieur Corndog

Monsieur Corndog

A lunch with a former high school teacher and her husband in Ottawa. They introduced me to white Bordeaux – Château SomethingOrOther. Really – Château avec l’accent circumflex? That had to be good shit, right? And then there was my first year room mate – a grad school Vietnam War deserter and Westchester County trust fund baby – providing me instruction on the proper wine to pair with corn dogs from the cafeteria vending machine. The wine was red and from the Dordogne, wherever the hell that was. Corn Dog Pairing Tip: Grainy Dijon mustard, preferably Maille, is the key to pairing this delectable snack with an earthy, rustic red.

Back then, it was all Europe with the rest of the world trying to catch up. But, then something happened. A serious wine culture developed in North America, at first primarily in California. And it was specific to that place. We all know about the Paris thing in the 70’s. That’s where the wine world was gobsmacked by the upstart Yanks………….yada, yada……….vous plaisantez j’espère?

Jump ahead in wine evolution to the 80’s and early 90’s and the proliferation of wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Mendocino, etc. and the style of those wines at that time (and please don’t shoot me on these broad generalizations) – Chardonnays were big, buttery and heavily oaked; red wines were big, hot, fruity, and heavily oaked as well. And, they sold buckets and buckets of these wines – many priced in the relative stratosphere – to critical acclaim from the US wine intelligentsia – read: Parker. The UK wine establishment? Not so enthusiastic about them. But, the world’s biggest economy and the largest opportunity to grow wine sales had voted. It loved these big brawny beasts.

What were Messieurs Arrogant Frog and Fat Bastard to do? Wait, I kind of gave it away there didn’t I? I’ll try again.

arfrogWhat were Messieurs Petit Clos and Domaine de Coûteux to do? Well, they along with their UK wine writing co-conspirators railed against the sacrilege of making such inappropriate wines. They lost market share. They didn’t change. They lost some more market share. And then, they decided that big and fruit forward (high scoring wines) was their thing too. Oh, they didn’t go all in. But, on balance, they did change it up. And, here’s where I connect The Biebs. You were waiting for that weren’t you?

Doesn’t that make them culture appropriators, if that’s a proper noun? They did it publicly and not even begrudgingly. Even the Italians, to a lesser extent, decided to trend towards (and I’m using the Euro euphemism here) an ‘international’ style in their cuvées.

So, is that the end of it? All wine trending toward metaphorical dreadlocks. Screaming Eagles everywhere? Of course not. Nothing is consistent but change.

What’s happened? Well, Washington State, California, Prince Edward County, Niagara, and the rest of the New World over the past decade or so, seem to be looking to a more terroir-driven style. Wait, that sounds like what the Euros were doing before they got knocked off their game – making wines that spoke of place. Even the word ‘terroir’ is French for crying out loud. Now, who’s appropriating who?

To quote The Armchair Sommelier, “Le Sigh.”

So, before the moaning resumes about The Biebs and Kim K. rocking the dreadlocks, let us first support our neighbours to the south and boycott European wines. After all, they stole the equivalent of the wine cultural capital of California. Il sont les imposteurs. And, while we’re at it, since the New World is now seemingly appropriating the cultural property of the European wine establishment – terroir, maybe we need to boycott New World wines too. And what about the new wines coming from China? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge – ya think they might be knock offs? Duh.

banwineWhat did I just say? Boycott all wine? All that tasty yummy wine? ………Well, maaaaaaybe there’s another way to make our point on cultural appropriation that doesn’t cost me so much pain. Boycott The Biebs and other non-wine cultural appropriators! Yes, BOYCOTT THE BIEBS! BOYCOTT THAT WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM! Our point will then be sufficiently made. Right?

Cheers. Have a great weekend!





The Malibu Effect – A Good Friday Ramble

25 Mar

I was walking down to The Morrissey House for my obligatory lunch and two craft beer workout last Friday. As I walked, a car passed me and pulled into a parking spot ahead. “Hyundai has done a great job with that Sonata,” I thought to myself. Then, “No, it’s not a Sonata but maybe a new Chrysler 200?” Then, as I approached the car, I saw “Malibu” on the trunk lid. What? It could have been any of several makes and models of car. Because they all look alike it seems. I’ll call it the Malibu Effect.


It’s not that these cars don’t appeal. I like how the Malibu looks in the picture above. But, why do car makers have to make all their cars look alike? I can’t see creative designers sitting at the drafting table thinking, “How do I get people to mistake our car for another brand?” And, it isn’t just cars. Look at television. I lost interest after CSI: Split Lip Township, Law and Order: Hard Core Truants, and Big Brother Season 62.  I’ve ranted on television before so will drop it now.

So, what does this have to do with wine? I bet you think you know where I’m going. But, “Dude, ya’ll be wrong,” to quote the star of Lefty, the Gator Farmer.

Wine is treated differently and, unfortunately, the same as other products. It’s treated the same, as in it’s a consumer product and many producers use the same business methods to produce and sell the most at the largest margins they can manage. This means that there are a gazillion gallons of wine that taste the same year in year out, look alike, and are priced almost identically. Safe wines to sell to safe consumers for sustainable margins. But, you don’t have to buy them. That’s the point. Wine is special. Why?

1 – There are a zillion kinds of wine made from a zillion wine grapes providing different experiences. Oh yeah, and we can afford it

I read somewhere that there are 1,000 different varieties of grapes. And whoever said that was wrong. Because there are 2,700 different varieties. And if you believed that, you’d be wrong because there are 10,000 varieties. I learned all this from the internet. Hence, the confusion. Rather than quibble over a few thousand grape varieties, let’s agree that there are a shitload of different grapes that can be and are made into wine.

Cariñena still on the Vine - Sao del Coster - Gratallops

Cariñena – Sao del Coster – Gratallops

And, we get to drink wine made from different grapes tasting like what that grape or blend of grapes, the region, the climate for that vintage, and the idiosyncrasies/talents of the winemaker decide for us. We don’t have to partake in the wine equivalent of meat and potatoes every night.

2 – Wine can’t be made to taste the same if it’s made from grapes grown in different regions

With wine, there are no global brands or labels. Think about this. If you walk into a store in the UK, you probably will see Coca-Cola and Budweiser, etc. Those are US brands in my mind. But they are brands brewed under licence in the UK. Same holds for many other countries. And, although there may be subtle differences in flavour profile, these products are many times locally produced and taste the same everywhere. If you were to order a Goose Island IPA here in Canada it would have been brewed in London, Ontario by Labatt’s. Not Chicago? Nope. This is what I mean. Even craft beer is compromised by this globalization.

With wine, you will still see some of the same labels but that product is not made locally – it’s imported. Why? One reason – the food scientists in their white coats and pointy little heads haven’t turned their attention to wine yet, thank God. Right? Wrong, there are scores of ways that those nasty food scientists are already screwing with wine to make it consistent as if that’s a lofty goal. Right now that’s the exception, hopefully, and fodder for another ramble.

Corollary to #2 – Most grape varieties cannot thrive in every climate. This renders global brands, made locally, a tough task

You can’t even grow the same grapes in different climates. Well, you can. It just doesn’t end well. Take for instance how long it’s taken for Niagara wineries to just give up on some major grape varieties as anything other than a blender. When wineries ‘push the envelop’, these experiments become nothing other than an oddity or a quirk of a particular winery. “We are making Blaufränkisch in Virginia great again,” from a Trump winery news release. BTW, I read that right below their pledge to deport any and all Malbecs – “until we find out what the hell is going on.”

3 – Region-specific cultural and commercial history Trumps (last one, promise) group think. Folks don’t want the same things in every country. How else to explain cod cheeks in St. John’s?

Not everyone wants the Coca-Cola of wine, whatever that is. I think much of that has to do with culture, experience, agriculture, and history. Italians prefer Italian wine. Catalonians want their wine. If everyone sticks to this, there will always be loads of variety in wine. We get the benefit of this (and don’t shoot me for supporting the monopoly but) because we have a supplier that provides us with lots of options. Not true choice but options.

So, that leaves us with a spectacular and high classed problem – What To Drink?

OK, I see comments accruing below. They foolishly take issue. They decry the trend in homogenizing wine. “Bill, who can taste the difference between Fuzion Malbec and Skinny Girl Malbec? Or, Naked Cab and Naked Merlot? Wine is starting to all taste the same!” First, I have to say that I’m looking forward to Naked Skinny Girl Malbec – that sounds relish and label might be fun. Second, relax folks. I admit there’s a trend and maybe the big aisles are taken up with some of those clones. But, where was I? Oh yeah, – What To Drink?

boone's farmYou cannot go wrong. If you want to drink the same thing (or something that tastes the same as the same thing) every night, do it. I accept that people should drink what they love; even if they’re completely wrong most of the time. I’m tolerant of the unwashed masses. I’m sure some of them are good people. Definitely last Trump reference.

But, if you want to try real stuff – better stuff, you only have to wander to the mother ship and walk down one of the over merchandised aisles, close your eyes, and pick something out.  Wait, wait, wait I see that you’ve mistakenly picked out a wine that tastes the same every year and exactly like many others in this aisle. I told you there were some of those. So, put it back, step away from the Barefoot Peach Samba/Boone’s Farm Peach Samba section and walk to the Vintages section. It’s pretty safe there. Try again. Now there you go, you’ve got a slim bottle of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sweating in your palm – site specific and completely unlike the Cremant d’Alsace in your other hand. Either way, you win. They won’t be Malibus.

Unfortunately, like Malibus and Sonatas, wine only comes in a few colours. What’s with that? I want a silver wine.





Reality Shows And The Rainbow Daily Slosh

11 Dec

I have been horribly remiss in keeping up with the mother ship’s releases. I have an excuse but won’t bore you with it. There really is no excuse for not writing about wine.

But before I wade in on wine, let me rant for a bit. Totally unrelated.

“Hi, I’m Bill and I’m a recovering insomniac”. I used to get about 4 hours of sleep a night and sleep walk through work (hopefully none of my former paying clients read this). Over the past couple years I’ve been able to get a good night’s sleep. However, the other night, I just couldn’t get to sleep. So, I wandered downstairs and sat in the dark, which is my theory on insomnia – do not do anything that might interest you or keep you awake. The fact that I unsuccessfully applied this theory to a raging case of insomnia for 20 years leads me to believe that it doesn’t work.

weddingringsIt wasn’t working this night either and I turned on the tube with a commitment to not watch anything interesting. I rolled the remote until I got to A&E – nothing ever interesting there. What’s this? I thought the show I landed on was a comedy – a spoof. It’s called “Married at First Sight”. I fully expected Dana Carvey or Will Farrell to show up. But, it wasn’t an SNL parody – it’s a show about a ‘social experiment’ (their term). If you haven’t had the displeasure – here’s the premise:

  1. Relationship experts (who, it appears got their degree through night school from GetADiploma U) choose two people to get married. These people have never met each other. Seriously, never…..met….each other
  2. Then the two have a  full blown wedding with reception, family members, etc. attending.  I am not shitting you. They don’t see each other until they’re on the aisle – staring at each other and wondering, “WTF have I got myself into?”. The pastor actually talks about marriage being a ‘sacred bond’. But he neglected to add, “Brought to you by Ford.”
  3. Then after dancing the night away, the couple go away with a thousand cameras and live together for awhile with the help of marriage counsellors, I assume, as I just saw previews. And, we get to follow their completely dysfunctional life. Only highlight might be suggestive sexual scenes. ‘Cause folks, they kind of luv each other. Then wait, Tom likes his peanut better on top of the jam instead of underneath – and now, no, they don’t luv each other.
  4. They return to meet with the ‘experts’ that put them together and make a decision – with drum roll – what will Marie and Tom decide – commercial break – fingers crossed that they……oh damn, they’re staying married.

Seriously. Who thinks this shit up? I mean a cable channel is selling Palmolive – “Tough on Grease” on the backs of people who are so needy that they volunteer their time to be on a show like this. And, it seems, aren’t evenly mildly embarrassed. Plus, people watch it. Who are those people?

Well, when you wonder how people can be attracted to Donald Trump or line up on Black Friday for hours for the single 60 inch television that’s on for $50 and then stomp on old ladies to get to it, remember that the lowest common denominator is really, really friggin’ low. Unbelievably low. Lower than something that you might think is exceptionally low – think that low to the power of 10. Did I say it’s low? Not to mention the total waste of an hour of one’s finite life to stare at this train wreck.

Enough, Bill, Stop! Point made.

OK, wine. This Saturday, there are a number of good to very good to great wines. Let’s start with the whites:

cavespringI’ve had three Chardonnays from this release that I quite like. They are different from each other but that’s the point in drinking – well, other than the buzz. The first: 2013 Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay #256552 $18.95 I enjoyed at the cellar door in Jordan. Now, if you’ve never been to Jordan and you love (in no particular order) tasting wine, eating great food and tagging along with the woman you love while she shops (I’m two out of three), this is the place for you. The Restaurant, On The Twenty, is nothing short of spectacular in ambience, presentation and, most of all, the food. Back to this Chardonnay. This is what I would call typical Niagara Chardonnay – apples,  citrus, crispness and a very judicious use of oak. I think an afternoon (or morning) Chardonnay – clean, fresh. You should come home from work pop and pour this youthful Chardonnay. Enjoy it with stories of unpopular bosses and unreasonable demands. Skip the nibbles unless it’s salty.

featherstonecochardonnayThe next one is from up the street from Jordan. The 2013 Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay #149302 $21.95. Did I say “Canadian Oak”? Yup. The first time I heard of this was with Lailey and their Pinots. The ‘Canadian’ addition didn’t seem to make a difference to me and I think that they’ve ditched the approach there. This one, however, has something different going on – it’s round, more tropical on the nose – hey, enough with the wine smack. Let me describe this wine in a different way. Say you’ve had the wine above – seductively lean and agile (Tatiana Maslany) and you swirl this in a glass. The first impression – Rachel McAdams – friendly, comfy, soft and…………well, I’ll let you make the connection. Very nice effort! Maybe Canadian oak is a keeper.

whillThe last Chard is the 2013 William Hill #437251 $19.95. This is pure California and is a hit at our house where The Director craves creamy, buttery Chardonnays against the flow of unoaked madness. It’s not sickly buttery – just enough to please those that like the cream. It also allows for some pairing with chicken stuff. If you like Chardonnays like La Crema Sonoma Coast, Charles & Charles, you’ll like this a lot.

santaemaRed wines? Oh yeah, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention. Thank you verrry much Paul Anka. There are a lot of very good reds at a price point that isn’t exactly in line with “Daily”. However, if I were to pick one up that would surprise the big spenders it would be the 2012 Santa Ema Amplus Cabernet Sauvignon #076301 $19.95. This wine comes across as a long, complex wine. Why? Because it is. Long and complex, that is. Love this stuff! If you love wines that kind of blend the Old World funkiness with the New World fruit and power – this is it. I felt not so much relaxed as curious with this wine. Another sip brought another take – that makes  good wine. Buy a case!

franceNow, can I ask you to stretch the “Daily Slosh” budget? Go ahead and check with your significant other, I’ll wait………OK, are we clear now? Let’s wade in. Bordeaux is about the best thing that France has ever created. OK, there’s Brigitte, and “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” but that’s about all that surpasses Bordeaux. I’m not alone in this assertion. Every expert wine lover agrees with me. Note to those that don’t agree: keep it to yourselves.

This weekend theres a very nice Bordeaux from a great vintage – 2010 Château Escot #431767 $25.95. I had this wine a while ago and my notes reflect “BARGAIN”. At least that’s what I said then.. I’m not thinking it’s cellarable for long but that’s the attraction at this price – drink it now – or wait a couple years max! This is bigger and fuller than I expected. This wine brings the a vibe of a much more expensive, experienced Bordeaux – not as big on the funk – not a perfect Bordeaux as you have to pay for that – complete for this price, though. I give it 379 on my scale of 248 to 417. Wow.

bertrandI am going to sound like a broken record here but I take solace from my fellow wine bloggers. We all have our faves. So, I shouldn’t feel creepy recommending the same winery all the time. My faves are Susana Balbo and Gerard Bertrand. This week, there’s Gerard’s (can I call you Gerard?)  2011 Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup #376491 $18.95. I may have recommended this before but am too lazy to go back through my posts. Suffice it to say that there is something about Languedoc that just spells great drinking wine at a great price. Oh, there are some suspect Languedoc reds out there but when they’re done well, they are great. This appellation is one of my faves – so Bill faves times 2. This wine is a candidate for a case for the season. Hard to not appreciate, presents the flavours of the region – a little lavender on the nose – some stoniness on the finish. I have a man crush on Gerard. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you do too. Burn some pork with herbs and enjoy this one.

lucenteOK, let’s talk small splurge. Some time in life we need to feel special. I know that I do, every day actually. As much as I try to affirm myself a la Stuart Smiley, I usually need to open a better-than-daily-slosh bottle of wine to tell myself, “I’m good enough……..” This weekend, pick up a bottle of one of the best second labels that Italy has to offer – 2013 La Vite Lucente #747030 $34.95. This is a classic Toscana – loads of red fruit, smooth but with enough acid and tannins to say, “Let me breathe or put me down and step away from the bottle.” This one would be special with your mother’s spaghetti and meatballs now or decant for a few hours and serve with a simpler pasta – fettuccine con olio d’oliva e aglio. Better yet, cellar this guy for a few years. You won’t be disappointed.

Now, back to reality TV. What kind of reality show could we produce that’s about wine people? How about four wine bloggers live in a house together with four cases of wine? We’ll call it……….Big Blogger? No? OK, we follow a third generation extended family of migrant vineyard workers in California. Called Real Pruners of Napa Valley? Wait, I’ve got a better one –  cameras follow me around in my bathrobe as I sip, type, nap, and sip some more – Real House Wines of London – now, that’s the ticket.



#bantheselfie A Friday Ramble

29 Sep

selfie stick3

Now, don’t take issue with the fact that it’s only Tuesday today, OK? I know that but I usually rant or ramble on Friday. I like consistency – order in my world.

Listen, the thing is the world as we know it has ended. Humankind has been rendered down to a selfish, narcissistic orb. “But Bill, why do you despair? Is it the Western world’s halfhearted response to refugees in need? The plight of Mother Earth as she battles climate change? Your lack of luck securing a lunchtime audience with Penelope Cruz?” No, it’s not that – although the last one is indeed troubling.

It’s the selfie! Yes, the selfie is ruining almost everything. Let me explain.

The Director and I haven’t really traveled much this past year as far as visiting ‘tourist’ type sights. We have usually retired to the cottage, visited the Big Smoke, Providence or nearby wine regions rather than visit TripAdvisor. But, this past month, we were in Spain for almost three weeks with our Lonely Planet in hand. And, I was struck by the………..well, how do I put it? I was struck by the Selfie Stick. Actually struck by it as I tried to look at such inspiring places as the Sagrada Familia and the Alcazar.

Everywhere we went, people of all ages were posing – yes, posing like models – so that the sight they’d come to photograph themselves at was in the background. Yes, it appears they went only to photograph themselves. “Great picture Muffy. What’s that building in the background?” “Not sure but it is indeed cool – the picture of me that is. I was there and I’m damn cute.”

Let me give you the drill:
1. You (or worse, you and your  friends) position yourself in the middle of a busy walkway or stairway. with the sight behind you.
2. You either extend your Selfie Stick so that it crosses the entire walkway or, in the absence of the stick, you completely extend your arm with phone.
3. You pose. It’s almost Madonnaesque. I can’t stress how silly this looks – posing at the exit of the Museu Picasso. Women in particular do the Vogue thing.
4. Click. Done? Oh no.
5. You quickly, like a cat, rotate the phone and check the picture because it’s so cool seeing yourself. “I think that I could look cooler.” No doubt about that.
6. Maybe ask all your buds to take a look? Then…
7. Repeat steps 1 through 5
8. Again and again – endlessly. There are never enough pictures of you to post to your 150 ‘friends’.

In some cases, steps one through eight can take longer than Karsch took with his portraits. Hell, Ansel Adams was quicker with his shutter, if you know what I mean. Michelangelo would be tapping his foot! I feel like Rosanna Danna when I say, “Hey, selfie person. Stop with all the selfies. You’re makin’ me sick!”

I’m not complaining about social media. I’ve already done that here. What it is is that I’m frustrated and a bit worried about Humankind. Why so much ‘me’ and not much ‘everyone else’. Why insert ‘me’ into everything around you? Why can’t people just appreciate what they are seeing, doing, without taking a picture of themselves doing it? No one gives a shit really. You may think that they do (the ‘like’ on your Facebook page is really a courtesy). They are more interested in their own selfies than yours. And we non-selfie people? Seriously? We never gave a shit.

What is the origin of this compulsion to be seen? Is it part of our primal makeup? Did Neanderthals pose for cave drawings over and over – “Hey, Grog did you like get my good side? Let me see. Like do another one with my hand on my club and then like we have to post it on the social cave wall (intonation includes cave person vocal fry)”

Whatever the reason for selfie obsession, it’s disappointing. A bit sad and pathetic.

But I’m not here to understand, explain or feel badly for these obnoxious, selfish people. I’m here to mobilize the rest of us! WE MUST #stoptheselfie EVERYWHERE.

Here’s my suggestion to stop this in it’s tracks. I know, we could photobomb everyone taking a selfie making them un-postable. We could buy all the selfie sticks in the world. We could stop ‘liking’ people’s posts with selfies. We could appeal to Apple and Samsung to include a selfie ban within the incomprehensible Terms or Use. We could shout obscenities at selfie takers. Wait, I think I did that last one already. A non-violent approach might be to simply ask the selfie taker, “Would you like me to take that one singular picture of you?” That always met the need before.

What do you think?

#bantheselfie #bantheselfiestick

selfie stick


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