Wine Recommendations

Over the past few weeks I have been asked several times for recommendations for wines that can be obtained from the local liquor store.  The truth is I can’t really suggest any particular wine as I don’t tend to favour any particular winery.  Instead I usually select my wines from the Vintages section at the LCBO.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  First the LCBO has a rule whereby in order for a wine to appear on the regular shelves it has to be available on an ongoing basis.  This restricts the suppliers to only the largest producers; those who often purchase grapes from a wide variety of growers thus increasing the risk of producing an inconsistent product.  Also because these wineries have become so well-known, some of them over-charge for the quality of the product produced.

The challenge with the Vintages section is that many of the wines brought in are in limited supply with new releases appearing every 2 weeks.  The wines are often from estate wineries that produce smaller and limited volumes. Thus if you are seeking wine from a specific winery you may go months or even years before it reappears on the shelves.  I have found that I have been very rarely disappointed in any of my Vintage purchases.  What I focus on is the grape varietal or the region the wine comes from rather than who the vintner is.

I find the LCBO’s Vintages magazine, a bi-weekly production that identifies and provides reviewer notes and comments about the various wines being released, to be very informative.  It provides the necessary details I need to assist me with my purchasing decisions.  Helpful information includes the name of the vintner, varietal(s), tasting notes, suitability for cellaring, and of course, the price.  If you have questions or need assistance in making a decision as to which wine to buy, the staff are very informative and helpful.

The price of wine in the Vintages section is no more expensive than those found on the regular shelves but dollar for dollar I find them a better value.  Personally, I am a big fan of Italian Barolo, Valpolicella and Chianti; French wines from the Rhône and Bordeaux regions; Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel region; Spanish wine from Rioja; and a wide variety of wines from Ontario and BC. 

Due to COVID-19 there have been challenges in the liquor stores receiving many of the wines they expected; or if they have received the wines they are sometimes of a lesser quantity than anticipated.  On more than one occasion during recent months have I been unable to acquire many of the wines I was hoping for.  One week the liquor store received only two of the seven wines I was looking for and on another occasion they received none of my desired selections.

These are challenging times.

Sláinte mhaith

Shopping for Wine Online

During these difficult times, and trying to minimize my contact with crowds, I have become a fan of online shopping through the LCBO.  My overall results have been favourable and my selections are not limited to the products available at any particular store.

My closest liquor store is located in a small town about 10 km. from where I live.  For obvious reasons the selection of items available there is rather limited.  However, online shopping provides me with a full range of products that I can order and then pick up at my local store. The online price is the same as the in store price and all orders of $50 or more are shipped free of charge.

Online shopping provides other opportunities as well.  Many Canadian wineries offer websites with online ordering capability. If you have a favourite wine that you can’t purchase locally, you may find that it is available direct from the winery via their website.  There is no price difference whether you pick the wine up at the winery or order it from their website.  Many wineries offer free shipping with a minimum size order.

There are several online companies that also make both Canadian and international wines available online.  These companies work on a different premise than wine clubs (see my post from October 3, 2020).  These companies simply provide a wide selection of wines for sale at varying prices.  In order to get free shipping you may have to buy up to 12 bottles, though they don’t need to be all of the same type of wine.

Although it isn’t common, bottles may arrive broken. However, if it does occur, the provider will replace or refund any portion of your order that was damaged. An extra advantage of dealing with the LCBO is that if goods were damaged on arrival at the store they are replaced before you pick up your order.  No fuss no muss.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Myths and Facts

There are quite a few myths about wine that although often widely believed, are not true.  Below are some of the more common myths.

Only expensive wine is good

Blind tastings consistently disprove this myth. There is virtually no connection between how much a wine costs and how much people like it. In fact, a study of over 6,000 blind wine tasting comparisons found the correlation between price and overall rating to be insignificant.

The price of wine is not an indication of quality.  It is mainly supply and demand rather than actual quality that determines the price. Demand for a specific wine is influenced by things such as advertising, press coverage, and even association with celebrities. The perception of quality includes tradition, fad, and many other factors. 

For more in depth information see my June 8, 2019 blog entitled “Does Wine Have to be Expensive to be Good?”.

‘Reserve’ wines are superior to other wines

Producers may consider some of their wine to be superior and label it ‘Reserve’ or another term in order to distinguish it from their other wines and to command a higher price.

Blind tastings of regular and ‘reserve’ wines from the same producer and year have failed at being able to distinguish between them.  Of those who correctly identified the ‘reserve’, only about half preferred it over the non-reserve wine.  The reserve labels were generally much more expensive than the non-reserve wines.

Corks are better than screw caps

Long-term research has proven that in fact the opposite is true; screw caps are far superior to corks in protecting wine.

Some experts believe that about one of every ten to twelve corked bottles of wine suffers ‘cork taint’. Cork taint causes the wine to smell like wet newspapers or a damp basement. It is caused by trichloroanisole (TCA) bacterium.

I must admit that my own experience has shown a much lower percentage of tainted wine.  However, I believe the statistic is as high as it is because cork taint is contained within the cork itself.  Thus it is most likely that all of the corks produced from a specific cork tree or section of a tree, will be defective thus potentially ruining many cases of wine all at once.

Some wineries, like Australia’s Peter Lehmann, use screwcaps exclusively, except for wines being exported to the United States. The majority of the world’s notarized wines are bottled with cork, but that has more to do with perception than science.

Only red wine has health benefits

The health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption comes from the alcohol. Some research finds red wine provides greater health benefits. Other research reports that any wine provides benefit. Other studies find that beer is best. Yet other studies indicate that distilled spirits are the most beneficial. However, most research has found that it makes little or no difference. The most beneficial ingredient in alcoholic beverages seems to be the alcohol itself and the health benefits are substantial.

Organic wines have no sulfites

The fact is all wines contain sulfites as they are a natural result of fermentation. Sulfites are also commonly added to prevent oxidation, help preserve and to stabilize the wine. Organic wines have no added sulfites as stated on their labels. 

For additional information see my August 8, 2020 blog “Organic Wine”.

Wine improves with age and aged wine is better than young wine

There’s no reason to age the vast majority of wines. About 90% of wine is produced to be consumed when purchased. Further aging may change the taste, bouquet, and finish of the wine, and not in a good way.

Also, aging with the hope of improving a wine’s defects is impossible. Defective wine will always be defective. Organic wines deteriorate much quicker than other wines as they have no added sulfites to help preserve them.

There is a perfect time to drink any wine worth cellaring.  Most wines, even cellar-worthy ones, are delicious upon release. The better wines will age well for up to a decade. Occasionally some wines will need a decade or more to reach their peak. However, it is always better to drink a wine a year too soon than a day too late.

See “Drink or lay down and how to cellar those you keep” from August 24, 2019 for additional details.

Wine legs are a sign of quality

It’s sometimes said that ‘the thicker the legs, the better the wine’. Wine legs are the “tears” that flow down the inside surface of a wine glass after it has been swirled. Contrary to myth, legs are not an indicator of quality. 

They are created by the alcohol content of the wine and the effects of surface tension, adhesion and evaporation. The alcohol, because it has a lower surface tension, tends to crawl up the glass. At the same time, it evaporates faster than the water in the wine because of its lower boiling point. As more alcohol evaporates, the water concentration increases. The greater surface tension of the water causes the wine to pull together into a teardrop that then runs down the inside of the glass.

Smelling the cork reveals if the wine is bad

Smelling a cork won’t give any information about the quality or condition of the wine. Smelling the wine itself tells whether or not it has spoiled.

Red wine should be served at room temperature and white wine should be served ice-cold

You’ve probably heard the idea that red wine should be served room temperature while white wine should be served ice cold. In reality, though, if the wines are good, you’ll achieve the best results if both red and white wines are served in between ice cold and room temperature. If white wine is served too cold, you won’t be able to taste the nuances in its flavor, and if red wine is served too close to room temperature, it could taste flat. When it doubt, chill your wine but be careful not to make it too cold. 

Red wine should be served at about 18 degrees Celsius whereas white wine should be served at a temperature between 10 and 13 degrees Celsius.

Closing thoughts

Wine myths continue to fool us. They are perceptions, not reality.  However, as is often said, perception is reality.

Sláinte mhaith

The Variable Health Benefit in Red Wine

A recent study of 16 wines from Australia and New Zealand has found levels of healthy antioxidants in red grapes decreased significantly over time.  Researchers say the compound called trans-resveratrol that is found in red wine is proven to have cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects.  The more you consume of this compound in your food or beverages it is believed to better improve your health. 

When comparing younger bottled wines to mature red wines as the wine ages the concentration of this important bioactive compound decreases by about 75% over a 16-month period.  This is a significant decrease in the concentration of this health-benefiting compound.

The study published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research found the concentration decreased in some wines by as much as 96%.  Irrespective of which winery the red wine came from or which variety it was, the loss was the same.

The popularity of younger red wines has increased greatly as millennials show a preference for younger wines than their parents do.  The younger generation’s philosophy is buy now, drink now or in a casual situation in a bar or bistro, drink by the glass.

The over 55 age group still consume a lot of full-bodied reds compared to the younger generations who want something that’s vibrant and fresh, not old and with a higher alcohol content.  The increased popularity of younger wine is due to a generational change rather than for health benefits.  The popularity of these wines has grown dramatically in the past 10 years.

However, being a member of the 55 plus crowd, I am a big fan of full-bodied aged wines that have had the opportunity to mellow and become silky smooth in a way that only time can achieve.  I am not saying I don’t like young fresh wines; I just don’t want a steady diet of them.  For example, if I am having food paired with a Pinot Noir, such as salmon or roast chicken, I want to experience the fresh lively taste.

On the other hand, if I am having roast beef, rack of lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, or lasagna, there is nothing better than a well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo.  In certain situations I am willing to sacrifice the health benefits in favour of flavour.

If I am simply having a glass of wine to sip on, I equally enjoy a young fresh red and a mellow aged one. Case in point; we had friends over recently with whom we share an equal appreciation for the Niagara region’s now defunct Coyote’s Run Winery (see my May 26, 2019 post, “The Passing of an Old Friend”). We enjoyed a cherry-red 2015 Cabernet Franc, as well as a smoky dark 2010 vintage of the same varietal. Both were very enjoyable. 

Sláinte mhaith

Organic Wine

Even though organic food seems to be trending and very popular these days, it makes up only 5% of total vineyard space worldwide.  Spain, France and Italy represent 73% of all organic vineyards in the world.

Some common organic symbols

What Determines if a Wine is Organic?

Simply stated, organic wines are produced with organically grown grapes. In order to have organically grown grapes, a vineyard manager must implement an entirely different set of practices to maintain their vines. They generally must exclude the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic wine grapes are said to be much healthier and therefore produce heartier skins and higher concentrations of anthocyanins and antioxidants, including polyphenols and cardio-friendly resveratrol.  Also, organic wines are free of residual traces of vineyard additives such as chemical laced pesticides and herbicides.

Certified organic wines also have less sugar on average and don’t contain potentially harmful cellar additives such as flavoring agents or caramel coloring. These additives, plus higher sugar levels are what can cause wine-related headaches.

It is important to keep in mind that being organic doesn’t mean that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is a list of ingredients, such as  yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes that are permitted in organic wines. Being organic doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is vegan.

The Organic Wine Dilemma

The challenge with organic wine is that the definition of organic can vary from one country to another.  The dilemma with organic wines is the importance of sulphur-dioxide (SO2), often referred to as sulfites, in the winemaking process.  Sulfites are used as a preservative.  Without them wine has a very short shelf life.

In both Australia and the United States, by definition organic wine cannot include sulfites.  However, in Europe and Canada, sulfites are permitted on organic wine.  This puts Australia and the US at a disadvantage not just because of the wines reduced shelf life but it can also substantially change the flavour of the wine.  Such wineries find themselves in a quandary because the effort made in growing organic grapes is nullified by the use of sulfites in the bottling process.

This raises the next question; are sulfites bad?

Sulfites have no effect on the majority of wine drinkers.  They are generally not the cause of red wine headaches.  However, there are some exceptions.  5% to 10% of asthma sufferers are sensitive to sulfites.

Sulfites in wine are surprisingly lower than in a lot of processed foods.  Wine ranges from about 5 mg per litre (5 parts per million) to about 200 mg per litre. The maximum legal limit is 350 mg per litre. In comparison, a decent dry red wine typically contains about 50 mg per litre of sulfites.

Wines with lower acidity need more sulfites than higher acidity wines. Also red wines tend to need less sulfites than white wines. A typical dry white wine will often contain around 100 mg per litre of sulfites whereas a typical dry red wine will have 50 to 75 mg per litre.

Wines with higher sugar content tend to need more sulfites to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.

Sulfites help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions which cause wine to spoil. The process of using sulfites in wine has been around as far back as ancient Rome.

Very sensitive tasters have been noted to smell sulfur compounds in wine, although sulfur compounds are somewhat unrelated to sulfites. Sulfur compounds in wine range in flavour from citrus-like smells to cooked egg-like smells.  The warmer the temperature of the wine, the more molecular sulfur it releases. This is why some wines may have a cooked-egg aroma when they are opened. This can be resolved by decanting the wine and chilling for about 15 to 30 minutes.

For individuals who have sensitivity to sulfites in foods such as french fries, cured meats, cheese, and canned soup, they should probably opt for sulfite-free wines. Fortunately, several natural wines do not use sulfites in their processing. These wines can taste a lot different than normal wine but some are very good.  It is good to note as well that organic wines are similarly priced to non-organic wines.

Sláinte mhaith

Choosing a Wine Decanter

While recently cleaning out one of our kitchen cupboards, my wife and I discovered that our wine decanter was cracked and thus needed to be replaced.  The one we had was at least 15 years old and had been nothing special.  It was just the typical flute design and made of simple glass.  However, since it needs to be replaced anyway, now is a good time to investigate and see what options are out there.

However, before striking off on my shopping expedition I reaffirmed what I need the decanter for.   My main purpose is aeration, so the wide neck flute design is still best for me. They allow more oxygen in so the wine aerates faster and more effectively. They’re also easier to clean than thin neck versions. Wide neck decanters are the most popular type and will work well for most wine drinkers.

The size of the decanter bowl, which is the bottom part where the wine sits, determines the amount of available surface area. The more surface area, the more contact between wine and oxygen and the less time you’ll need to decant.

Some wines need longer to decant than others. For full-bodied red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Monastrell and Tempranillo, a decanter with a wide base generally works best.  They will need to be decanted for 1 to 2 hours.

Medium-bodied red wines such as Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera or Dolcetto will benefit from a medium-sized decanter. Light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais decant well in a small to medium-sized decanter that in this case has been chilled.

White and Rosé wines don’t require decanting but serving them in a small chilled decanter is a nice touch.

For myself, being a fan of full-bodied red wines, a wide based decanter is best suited for me.

When it comes down to choosing, it is recommended to get a decanter that we love the look of, but at the same time is practical. The main emphasis should be to find one that’s easy to fill, pour and clean. There are lots of beautiful decanters that are a pain to use and thus spend their life on a shelf or in a cupboard.

There are different types of glass used to make decanters. Crystal is more durable and thus it’s often used to create large artistic decanters, whereas glass decanters tend to be made with thicker walls and simpler shapes. Either is a good choice but if you plan to put your decanter in the dishwasher, then standard glass is probably a better idea.

Some decanters can be very expensive.  However, the increase in cost has nothing to do with functionality. Decanter prices go up either with special design or material.  Some decanters are entirely about design, in which the shape only matters for the shape.

There are also wine aerators which introduce a superabundance of oxygen to wine as it is poured from the bottle into the glass.  The wine is decanted by the time the wine reaches your glass.  I have always considered these to be a gimmick for the wine enthusiast who has everything.  However, apparently these things actually work, though some better than others.

You can even successfully decant your wine by simply pouring it into mason jars, coffee mugs or even a blender.  However, if you select one of these methods I recommend returning the wine to the original bottle before serving in a wine glass, unless you had a very bad day and would benefit from the vast quantity of wine.

Personally I have always used a standard glass decanter for a few reasons. They are easy to use and clean and they are inexpensive.  I do also have 2 crystal decanters, a wine decanter that was a hand-me-down from my parents, and a whisky decanter that I received as a gift.  The wine decanter is hidden away in a cupboard and the whisky decanter has a place of honour on my bar.  Neither gets used.

Sláinte mhaith

Enjoying the Wines You Love

This week I am going to examine how best to showcase your favourite wines.  To do this I will look at the various types of wine and identify when they are best served and which foods are best paired with them.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine can be dry or sweet, light or full-bodied.  Any high quality dry sparkling wine makes an excellent aperitif.  However, if appetizers are not being served along with the wine then it is best to serve one containing a lower level of acidity in order to prevent guests from having stomach irritation.

The most renowned sparkling wine is Champagne.  The amount of sweetness and acidity determine whether Champagne is well suited to be served with food.  Dry (Brut) Champagne can contain a significant amount of sugar which does not bode well with an appetizer such as caviar.  When accompanying foods such as this, extra dry (extra brut) Champagne is recommended.

Sparkling wines are seen as a good fit for festivities and celebrations though their use need not be limited to such occasions.  The only word of caution is that when opting to serve a sparkling wine as part of an event, ensure any appetizers and subsequent menu are appropriately matched.

Acidic sparkling wines can be a good choice to serve along with the main course when serving fish or seafood.  Moderately spiced Asian cuisine can also be paired well with an acidic sparkling wine.

A medium dry sparkling wine can be a good choice to serve with a dessert such as a fruit tart. 

Light Acidic White Wines

Light acidic white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Alsace, Mosel, Muscadet and Grüner Veltliner.

Wines in this category have a sharpness that is fresh and fruity but a light taste and aroma.  The alcohol level is generally 12% or less.

Since these wines have a relatively high level of acidity, they go very well with fish, both heavy and oily fish, such as salmon, as well as light delicate fish such as sole.  Any white meat and poultry, and creamy soups and most salads pair well with these wines.

Sauvignon Blanc goes well with sushi and fresh herbs such as mint, basil, tarragon, and cilantro.  Riesling, on the other hand is best suited with fruity side dishes. 

Full-Bodied, Wood-Aged Whites

Typical full-bodied, wood-aged whites include Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grenache Blanc.

These white wines that have been aged in oak barrels will generally have an alcohol content of 13% or more, and a complex flavour.  These wines will have a high tannin content generated from being aged in the oak.

The acidity levels in these wines will be at a moderate level.  The wine will be full-bodied, even at a young age and many will have good potential for bottle aging.

Because of the high level of alcohol these wines don’t pair well with fish.  They tend to make fish taste oily.  Salty and spicy foods should be avoided as well.   Shellfish on the other hand can be complimented by these wines.

Dishes containing cream and butter are good choices to serve with a full-bodied, wood-aged white.

Highly Aromatic Whites

Highly aromatic white wines including Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Viognier  have luxurious, exotic and fragrant aromas.  These wines generally have high alcohol content and low acidity.

The aromatic characteristics of these wines limit the type of food they should accompany.  The delicate flavours of oysters, white fish, veal and subtle sauces should be avoided.  Distinctively sour foods should also be avoided.

To be paired with one of these wines, food needs to have richness and either be a little sweet or have a fairly high fat content.   Foods that are mildly spicy, a little salty, or have a smoky taste, would also pair well.  Ethnic, fusion, Thai, or even Tex-Mex cooking will go well with these wines.  Also strong flavoured cheeses are a good match.  Exotic fruits such as mango, papaya or guava will go particularly well with a Gewürztraminer. 

Young, Light, Fruity Reds

Examples of young, light, fruity reds are Gamay, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Bardolino, and Valpolicella.  Such wines are ideal to serve alongside simple dishes.  Particularly well suited are foods with a relatively high fat content, such as braised meats, sausages, ragouts, stews, and dishes accompanied by butter or cream sauces.  They also pair well with pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.  Fried or grilled seafood is also well complimented with one of these wines.

Rosé wine can be substituted in place of any of the reds in this group.

Spicy, Silky Reds

Wines that are considered as spicy, silky reds include Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, Pinotage, and Chianti.  The tannin content in these wines will be lower than those found in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

Foods that include sauces made with cream, butter or egg yolks should be avoided.  Foods to be paired with these wines include young fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, as well as lean meats.  Pizza can also pair well, especially with Chianti.

A fruity Pinot Noir is well suited to serve with Asian inspired foods.

Luxurious Velvety Reds

Merlot, Zinfandel and St. Laurent wines are included in this category.  These wines are fairly universal and are appropriate for most occasions and time of the year.  The acidity level of these wines tends to be low.  The sweet fruitiness of these wines goes well with similarly structured dishes that are not overly heavy.

Zinfandel wines are often reminiscent of jam and match well to seasoned foods.

Tannic Rich Reds

Tannic rich red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, many Bordeauxs, Northern Rhône wines, Rioja, Australian Shiraz, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  These wines have a high tannin and alcohol content (generally 13% or more).  When pairing with food it is important to avoid those containing milk fats such as butter or cream.  These foods will make the alcohol taste particularly strong.

Salty foods should also be avoided as the high alcohol level will create a bitter taste in the wine.

Tannic rich reds are well suited with burgers, beef burritos, ribs and other red meat dishes.

Mature Wines

Mature wines are generally those wines that have aged beyond what is considered to be the typical age for consumption.  Mature wines will be those that have both a high tannin content and a high alcohol level.

Wines well suited for aging include whites such as oaked Chardonnay and some German Rieslings, as well as reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Syrah.

Generally speaking, aged wines, red or white, are best served on their own without food accompaniment.  Both the bouquet and flavour are too subtle to be lost serving them with food.  The texture, taste, and aroma of the wine become more delicate with each year it is aged.  If you do serve these wines with food be sure to avoid fatty, strong smelling, acidic, sweet, or spicy dishes.

Order is Important

Whenever serving wine there are some general principles that will help ensure you have an enjoyable experience. 

Be sure to serve light, fresh ones ahead of luxurious alcohol-rich ones.  Wines aged in wood barrels are best served after those that have matured in a stainless steel container.  The sweeter the wine the closer it should be served toward the end of the meal.  Finally, bottle-matured wine should be served before an equally good younger wine.

Sláinte mhaith

Christmas Gift Giving

A bottle of wine may be the go-to gift for any wine-loving friend or difficult relative, but choosing a bottle is not always easy. Here are some suggestions that may be of some help when buying wine as a gift.

Do Your Homework

There are lots of web sites, blogs and educators who can help with recommendations so if you’re feeling lost, do some research before you start shopping. Vintage guides, which are often available at your wine seller, will tell you what is currently available for drinking now or what will make a great addition to someone’s cellar.

Avoid Brand Bias

Selecting famous vintner names may be tempting but you will end up paying a premium. Find something more unique from a region with a similar climate using the same grapes. While wines from France may be supreme, you will typically pay  premium prices for them.  You may get an equally good, but lesser known wine for less cost. For example, a Merlot from Chile will be a great alternative to Bordeaux, while a New Zealand Pinot Noir could be chosen in place of a Burgundy.

Accept Advice

Asking the store clerk for assistance can be most helpful.  They will likely be highly educated and have tasted the full range so can give you the best service and tailor their knowledge to your desires. I have a go-to guy at the store I most often frequent, who I rely on for suggestions and answers to my questions.

Consider Food Pairing

Often people will enjoy a glass of wine alongside a nice meal, so take this into consideration when buying a loved one a bottle of wine for a special occasion. If you know their favourite dish, consider selecting a bottle that will pair nicely with that dish.

Selecting by Appearance

While an appealing label can make an attractive gift, it doesn’t say anything about the wine in the bottle. Be sure to read the fine print as this will reveal the most about what to expect from the wine and the story of its production. Anyone can pay for premium design work but it’s the winemaker who makes a product great.

The Price Point

Don’t be sucked into selecting a wine based on a display setting or sales promotion.  Often these will be items that the merchant is trying to get rid of for various reasons.  Such wines are not necessarily right for you. Don’t be distracted by discount tags and take your time to scour the shelves to find the perfect bottle for the right price.

Who doesn’t like a bargain?  However, a bottle on sale does not necessarily mean that it’s a great deal.  Don’t just automatically go for the best deal; be sure to browse the wine offerings fully to find the right bottle for the right price.

Likewise, the best bottle within your allocated budget might not be the one that reaches the upper limit of your price range. Many factors come into the pricing of wine, including production style, bottling processes, taxes and demand for that type of wine.  As a result, there will be some variation between prices of similar wines. Price does not always correlate with quality, and so, if you select a bottle from a unique region or variety, you may be able to find a wine that is a better value for your money.

Gift Packages

Gift packages may not be a good idea.  They are designed to look appealing but looks can be deceiving.  When buying prepackaged gift sets, it is best if you are familiar with at least the winery, if not the wine itself.  That way you have a better understanding of the quality of the gift you are giving.  Case in point, a few years ago I couldn’t resist buying a Bordeaux set that included 2 bottles of wine and an irresistible wooden case that they were contained in.  As it turned out, it was an expensive box as the wine was mediocre at best.

If the idea of providing a wood box is appealing, I suggest selecting the wine of your choice and purchase a gift container separately.  Your local retailer may have suitable containers for sale.

Too Many Choices

If the number of wine varieties is too many to fathom, making the decision too daunting, rather than being overwhelmed and selecting a bottle at random, maybe take a different approach and choose an accessory for your wine-loving friend, such as a corkscrew or wine stopper.

I wish you great success with your Christmas shopping adventures.  Whatever you decide, it will be the right decision for you.

Sláinte mhaith

Restaurant Wine Service

There can be great inconsistencies in the quality of wine service provided by restaurants. There are no regulations regarding the quality or reliability of the information provided to patrons wanting to purchase wine to complement their meal.

In some establishments the wait staff is responsible for answering wine related questions and offering suggestions.  Others will have a wine steward who may or may not be knowledgeable about wine and the selections they offer.  In restaurants only offering a house red or house white, it probably doesn’t matter if staff doesn’t have a good understanding about wine.  However, where there is a reasonably sized wine list, a knowledgeable wine server can be of great benefit.

A good restaurant wine server will not automatically try to upsell you on purchasing a more expensive wine. They should respect your desired price point.  Your server should also not lecture you on what you should select.  A good server will leave you feeling knowledgeable and provide you with options.

Generally speaking, your server should be able to assist you with 3 preferences:  colour (red, white, rosé or sparkling), weight (richness), and price.

Some higher end restaurants will have a sommelier on staff.  She or he is a trained and knowledgeable designated wine professional specializing in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing. The role in fine dining today is much more specialized and informed than that of a wine waiter.

A sommelier may be responsible for the development of wine lists, as well as the delivery of wine service and training for the other restaurant staff. Working along with the culinary team, they pair and suggest wines that will best complement each particular food menu item. This entails the need for  knowledge of how food and wine, beer, spirits and other beverages work in harmony. A professional sommelier also works on the floor of the restaurant and is in direct contact with restaurant patrons.

If you get the opportunity to consult with a sommelier it can be a very rewarding and educational experience.

I have had both wonderful and terrible experiences with restaurant wine servers.  However, it is the bad ones I tend to remember.  Oncein a restaurant in Toronto I had selected a wine only to be told by my server that the varietal I selected was unreliable and very inconsistent from one bottle to the next. Instead, he suggested a wine considerably more expensive.  Realizing that what I was being told was a complete fabrication and that he was only interested in upselling me, I was not swayed from my original decision which I did not regret in the least.

A good wine server or sommelier can be a valuable resource in helping you get the most out of your dining experience.  The challenge is being able to identify the bad ones and dismiss them before they convince you to purchase a wine you don’t really want.

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Wine Scoring & Ratings

When searching for new wines to try, scoring/rating systems may provide some insight as to which ones may be worth your while.  However, having said this, it is important to keep in mind that any rating is only the opinion of the reviewer who completed it. 

A score isn’t the be all and end all.  In addition to looking at the number or symbol, it is important to consider the complete tasting notes in order to get a fuller understanding of what the particular wine is about.   Without the tasting notes the rating is of little value as the notes explain what the reviewer considered when completing their assessment.

If you can find the vintners notes those can provide important insight as well.  The vintner’s notes would most likely be located through the winery’s web site.  However, these are not always published.

Ratings can be most useful to you if you can find a critic whose likes and dislikes are similar to your own.   However, keep in mind that all rating systems are very subjective.  There really is no science involved in completing the scorings.  The beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Wines that are scored between 85 and 90 often provide the best value as price can be influenced by ratings and popularity.  Demand tends to be greater for the highest rated wines though the quality is very similar to wines rated in the high 80’s.  The difference may only be that the vines on the higher rated wine are older or of a particular heritage.  Neither of which may provide a difference in taste for the average consumer.

The higher rated wines may contain more tannin and acid, making them good candidates for cellaring.  However, if you are just looking for a good wine to drink over the next few months, a wine rated between 85 and 90 will be well worth the investment

You will find that not all wines will be scored.  This is often because they are not able to be reviewed by the critics before being released for sale to the public.  The fact that there is no rating doesn’t mean that the wine is bad or inferior.

Here is a quick review of the common rating systems that you may come across in your wine exploring adventures.

The 100 Point System

This system was made popular by Robert Parker Jr. and has been commonly used since the early 1980’s.  It is used by the majority of critics today. 

This approach automatically assigns each wine reviewed with 50 points.  Up to an additional 5 points are awarded for colour and appearance; a maximum of 15 additional points for aroma; up to 20 more points for flavour and finish; and up to 10 points for overall quality.

The 5-Star Scale

This scale was derived based on the common hotel-rating system.  5 stars represent outstanding quality; 4.5 stars indicate excellent quality, verging on outstanding; 4 stars represents excellent quality; 3.5 stars indicate very good quality; and finally 3 stars indicate good quality.

3-Glass Scale

3 glasses indicates an excellent wine in its category; 2 glasses is a very good to excellent wine in its category; and finally 1 glass indicates good wine in its category.

Remember the most important wine critic you should pay attention to is you.  You know better than anyone what wines you like.

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