"tis the season…

As we approach Christmas many of us are trying to figure out what to get for others and also making a list of those gifts we might want to receive ourselves.  Helpful hints are always appreciated by both sides of the giving equation and wine lovers usually have no problem with hints.  Let me tell you more…

The Wine Establishment had a booth at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo last weekend and several items caught my eye as prospective list items. The following are highlights:

Reidel “O” Series Wine Decanter – while I am not a big believer in  decanting wines, there is still a lot to be said for the effect an elegant decanter can have at your table.  The Austrian wine glass company, Reidel, is known for its elegant and often very expensive decanters. This model is a reasonably priced, machine-made crystal vessel shaped in a stylish and functional manner and is a very good buy at $185.00 (model 1414/13).  If this price is too steep, try the “O” series 6 + 1 glass and decanter set for $72.00.  This set includes 6 “O” series Cab/Merlot glasses and the “O” Merlot decanter (model 5414/60).

Nuance Aerating Wine Finer – This is a brand new and already very popular accessory which does exactly what its name implies.  It is a wine pourer that aerates and filters the wine as you pour.  The device is inserted in the top of the wine bottle and accomplishes the things a Drop Stop, a filter and a funnel would do – three devices in one.  Note the filter is a fairly large gauge so it will eliminate only larger sediment and cork pieces.  The price: $29.95.  For more details on this novel item, check www.scantrendsusa.com/Wine%20Finer%20Brochure%20ENG%20(2).pdf

Wine Awakenings Aroma Kits – for wine students and consumers who simply want to learn more about wine there is a new kid on the aroma kit block: Wine Awakenings.  Until now the aroma kit market has been the exclusive domain of Le Nez du Vin, a France-based company that manufactures and distributes a number of kits, for red and white wines as well as a kit for learning the aroma character of wine faults. Wine Awakenings offers a reasonably-priced set of red, white and major variety kits (as well as a fault-kit) and all the kits are made in Canada using natural oils for the aromas.  The product is the brain-child of a professor at Brock University, Gary Pickering. The aromatics are stored in small vials, each of which is labelled with the aroma contained therein.  This is a distinct advantage over Le Nez du Vin where the aromas are also stored in small vials, with the identifying aroma number situated on the cap of the vial – it’s easy to get vial and cap mixed up and let me tell you, some of the aromas are hard to identify without help.  If you get them mixed up, matching cap and vial can be a problem. Wine Awakening s believes its aromas will last up to ten years –longer the those of Le Nez, they say,  although only time will tell.  Each kit of 12 aromas costs $159.00.  The Wine Establishment sells both aroma kit brands.  Let them help you select the right kit for your needs and budget.    http://www.wineawakenings.com/

GoVino Shatterproof Wine Glasses – These glasses look like the best stemless crystal but they are made of shatterproof food-safe pharmaceutical-grade polymer (similar to the PET now used for non-glass wine bottles). My wife bought a set of these when we were in BC last month; they are perfect for travelling and as they have a lightweight rim they feel like high-quality glass.  Ideal for patio or picnic use these are lightweight and indestructible when properly used and cared-for. $17.95 for a box of four/ $3.95 each (the box is clearly an expensive one…).

Wine Cruzer 12-pack – If you travel and if you are like me, you have no discipline when it comes to buying wine to take home with you.  Mistake!  It is a royal pain lugging boxes of wine, labelled FRAGILE (which means throw once, drop often) only to find your box leaking red and white wine when you pick up your treasure at the fragile items window at Pearson airport. This is quite separate from your wife’s reminders of your promise never to do it again the last time you travelled. The Wine Cruzer is the partial solution to this widely-experienced problem (it doesn’t deal with the complaints of your spouse).  The Cruzer is a thermally-sealed foam-lined heavy duty composite box which has detachable wheels and which will protect your wine from temperature and breakage-related damage.  The box is approximately 21” x 21” x 19” high so it must be checked with your luggage. Because the Cruzer is strong and foam-lined you will have no worries, other than extra luggage fees and the spectre of the greeting of an unfriendly customs officer when you arrive.  The 12-pack costs $795.00 (also available in an 8-pack format at $425.00).

Champagne Bottle Stopper – The ideal gift for someone’s stocking, this is also a great way to drop the hint that you would be very happy to have more sparkling wine served in you house.  I have one of these and it works with any sparkler for short term storage after the bottle has been opened: Prosecco, Cava, Crémant or Champagne, it doesn’t matter. This one is made by Trudeau and sells for $9.95.

Microfibre Polishing Cloth – If the list above is over your budget, try this very important and practical gift item.  Clean glassware is critical to ensure the effects of detergent don’t affect your wines.  This is especially important for sparkling wines where the mousse can be dramatically diminished by even the slightest soapy film.  I can tell you from recent first-hand experience even the most expensive automatic dishwashers don’t perform at their best because the water is often not hot enough to allow effective rinsing – particularly if you have a time delay feature allowing your machine to operate during low-rate time windows.  This cloth will remove film and also dust for those situations where you are pulling out your best glassware, the same glassware you last used last Christmas…Restaurant staff always dry-clean and polish their glassware before it is placed on the table.  So should you.  Price: $9.95.

A visit to the Wine Establishment this Saturday afternoon between noon and 4:00PM will see Mark Bolduc from The Vine serving wines from the Robert Groh portfolio: Cave Spring CSV Riesling (two thumbs’ up), along with wines from California, Washington and Italy.  The Wine Establishment is located off the courtyard at 250 The Esplanade in Toronto (telephone 416 861-1331).

As always I will add my declaration of independence:  The Wine Establishment has not paid me for these comments and I have no economic interest in that firm. They are good people and they operate the best wine accessory store in the GTA.  They also design and build custom cellars.

Feel free to leave this Newsletter lying around the house where someone may get the hint.  Happy shopping!

à bientôt…

Originally published in WVN, November 27, 2010. Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 -2010.

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Australia….really cool!

I travelled recently to the state of Victoria in Australia.  I had one goal in mind: to taste wines made by small makers in the cool districts of Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley. My mission was to see if these winemakers could change my perceptions of Aussie wines from big, over-ripe, monochromatic and ultimately tiresome to something more appealing, whatever that might be.

I remember vividly my first taste of Australian Shiraz many years ago.  It was a modestly-priced wine named Waterwheel Shiraz.  This wine is offered by LCBO Vintages every year and is popular and attractively priced.  I recall enormous ripeness on the palate, dark fruit and chocolate, spice and the appealing power and drinkability of that wine.

Despite these attractive elements, the wine was problematic: it didn’t have much complexity, it seemed to overpower the food and it gave me a headache shortly after dinner: it simply had too much alcohol. Since then I have tasted many more Australian Shiraz wines at various price-points and they have all left me uninspired with their sameness. These wines are typically from the hotter regions of Australia where the fruit ripens to very high sugar levels, and the resulting wine shows high levels of alcohol, enormous flavor concentration and a sweet palate.  Many people love these wines but there are signs that tastes and markets are starting to shift.

There is currently more Australian wine made than there is a market for. In Ontario Australian wine sales in the Vintages program declined in dollar value in 2009 -2010 and the LCBO projects this trend will continue in 2010-2011 with the decline led by red wines.  There have been calls within the Australian wine industry for radical uprooting of vines where economics or quality don’t justify continued cultivation. Some major players, such as Constellation Brands and Fosters Group, have sold Australian properties and  recorded write-downs on their balance sheets to properly value assets that have depreciated due to over–production.

Despite these trends major efforts are underway in Australia to move up market and better exploit the potential of distinctive wines of character and complexity made by craft winemakers throughout the country.

This is where my journey bore fruit, so to speak.  I visited several small properties in Victoria and I was astounded by the wines I tasted.  The wines were made from fruit grown in slow-ripening cooler regions and were delicate and full of fruit, acid and minerals.  Many were Old World in their style, and stand up well against some of the great wines of the world – astounding!

Many of these wines can be found in your local Vintages store.  They come from places like the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills in Southern Australia and  the cooler parts of Western Australia, on the coast of the Southern Ocean.  Look for these wines.  They are notably different – more elegant, more structured, more balanced and complex – than the wines from the hot regions.  Ask your product consultant for cool climate Australians

Selected wines available in LCBO Vintages locations

These wines are excellent examples of the cool climate style I found when I visited Australia.

Tasmania – Josef Chromy Riesling 2008

This wine is a beauty – just off-dry and full of juicy fruit.  It has bright aromas of lime, pear and green apple.  The palate is medium-bodied and luscious with flavours of lime, grapefruit, green apple and spice. It has oodles of juicy acid so it is a perfect food wine to accompany your Christmas turkey. The finish is long and rich with stony minerals. Your guests will love this wine.

Product 162966 – $20.60 per bottle

Victoria – Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2009

This wine is made by a premium producer from a blend of grapes grown in the state of Victoria. It has great structure and is attractively priced.  The nose is assertive and earthy showing black cherry aromas, black loam, smoke and spice. The mouth feel is firm and medium/full-bodied with sleek tannins.  The black cherry flavours are concentrated and accompanied by beet root, intense spice and stony minerals.  This wine is no light weight but it is elegant and refined – another great wine to serve with your turkey.

Product 178897 – $21.95 per bottle

Western Australia, Frankland River – Ferngrove Shiraz 2007

I had to include a cool-climate Shiraz in this tasting and here I found one that reminds me of an elegant Syrah from the Northern Rhône valley in France.  It is lean, structured and full of spicy black fruit. The nose and palate show the classic Shiraz/Syrah character of smoke, savoury meats, forest floor, blackcurrant and black pepper.  There is some chocolate to remind us this is an Aussie Shiraz but there are firm tannins, stony minerals and medium acidity to let us know this is a wine made with slow-ripening fruit from a cooler climate. Decant for an hour before serving.

Product 90282 – $19.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Photograph: Willow Creek in Mornington Peninsula.

This article originally published in Humber Happenings Fall 2010 issue. Copyright© W. John Switzer 2010

To all wine lovers…

Welcome to The Winesights Reader.

Check my LinkedIn link to find out who I am, what I do and what I generally think…when it comes to wine. I hope you enjoy this blog.  If you don’t like what I say please tell me why you don’t.  If you do like what I say, please tell me.

BTW, the photo on the The Winesights Reader masthead  was taken in March 2010 at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia – an early fall day in the misty Yarra.  Harvest was just beginning [note, this site was remodeled in January 2017… the photo is shown above].

à bientôt…