France – an opportunity lost

This weekend the main feature is France, part of the February month-long Joie de Vin celebration at LCBO stores across the province. There is a selection of some 20 wines chosen from the wine-producing regions of France and all price points are represented.

The Joie de Vin celebration is one of the most low-key events in recent history at the LCBO.

I make this comment when I compare the Joie de Vin program to the huge splash which was the first of two California celebrations conducted at the LCBO last year.

That event started with promotional materials inserted in newspapers prior to the launch, billboards, radio slots, tasting events and media kits for critics and writers and an ongoing onslaught from agents who sent wines to professionals when those wines didn’t reach the tastings. The message in the stores was even more full-frontal in its colourful California lifestyle displays everywhere you looked. Consumers and their advisors were in the loop that something was going on with attractively-priced mid-range wines featured in waves throughout the campaign.

The overarching purpose of this blitz was to open widely the California brand to the big and informed value-buyer segment, a category that has historically always considered California wines to be either too cheap to be of acceptable quality or too expensive to be even considered.

The French event has been a sleeper by comparison.  There have been two newspaper inserts over the first two weeks of February and they have been attractive in their packaging and content. Tick that box.  There have been a few wines offered at modestly-discounted prices – tick that box.  The stores have a handful of cardboard Eiffel Towers in the window and some aisle or row-end displays that give the customer a sense that something is going. Ok, maybe we can tick that box. But, the in-store presence is otherwise subdued and appears like just more eye-noise, and there is a lot of this noise in today’s LCBO store.  As well, there have been no special professional tastings related to this campaign and the number of wines featured at the LCBO is less than half the number that were on promotion when the California event was underway.

Consider the relative positioning of France and California at the LCBO (General List): French wine sales in 2012-2103 were $115 million vs $149 million for the USA (primarily California).  Sales dollar volume for France for the same period decreased by 3.3% while the USA saw sales dollar volume grow by 26.4%. France does somewhat better in Vintages where the super-premium wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are offered but in 2012-2013 USA Vintages sales were still higher than those for France ($95 million vs. $82 million), despite rising prices in the Bordeaux futures category.

There is clear evidence that France continues to do a poorer job of positioning itself as a producer of value wines.  It is a country best-known for many of the most expensive wines in the world and this brand image is so firmly established it spills over into lesser categories – where the everyday wines reside – and scares off customers who don’t otherwise know about the values available in regions such as the Loire, Alsace and the Rhône. This is a problem, especially at a time when domestic wine consumption in France continues to decline and at a time when the New World continues to aggressively pursue greater market share with wines of ever -improving quality and value.

In the past California suffered under the reputation as a maker of expensive wines as it is the pricy wines which have traditionally garnered the headlines. Stories abound of long waiting lists for iconic wines that never reach the public.

The message delivered in the California campaign last year was clear: California makes very appealing wines that sell for less than $20.00 and these wines run the gamut of styles from cool-climate to hot continental climate and everything in between: California is not a monolith. The consumer got the message as the G.L. sales growth demonstrates.

If this data did not call the French marketing people into action then there is a problem.  The current campaign indicates the message has not been received in France nor by the Canadian staff of its global food and beverage marketing arm, Sopexa. This is too, bad, not just for French wine makers.  It is even more tragic as there are many consumers who would leap across the aisle to France if they only knew more about the wines and regions of France.  These wines represent exceptional value, diverse variety and are food friendly across a wide array of cuisines.

All of this begs the question: why does France not step up?  Is it arrogance: our wines are so good anybody who needs to know about them already does know about them?  Is it ignorance?  Do the French not know how to market?

I doubt it is either of these.  Rather I think it is a simple matter of culture.  The Joie de Vin has the look of a playful French marketing campaign and while it might work over there it is simply too muted to have any effect in Ontario.  It is not a  campaign that crosses generational lines and it is not a campaign that has enough North American sizzle for consumers to take notice.

The LCBO will work with agencies and industry marketing bodies to promote product.  Each year the LCBO publishes a calendar of themes and campaigns and works with its industry partners and their creative and PR people to bring each campaign to market.  The LCBO has a selfish interest: the more customers learn about the wines and the wine regions of the world, the more they will explore. The more buzz in the stores, the more frequently consumers will visit, explore and buy.

The reciprocal benefit is for the partner, be it France, California, Italy, Australia or whomever.  The more the consumer knows about its grapes, regions and wines the more likely he or she will add its aisle to their path in the store. Big campaigns are the opportunity to build brand, re-define brand, expand brand… all of the above.  Successful campaigns need investment and properly executed will pay immediate dividends.  Under-designed, under-funded campaigns are a waste of money.

Shame on France.  I hope the Joie de Vin campaign is a success by whatever measure the marketing folks have embraced.  Regardless, it will not move the needle very far.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2014.

General List Mixed Case 2012 (1)

A few weeks ago I promised an update to my General List mixed case.  So, in advance of heading to the cottage for an extended weekend I visited my local LCBO to troll that part of the store I rarely attend and came out with a winemaker’s case (aka 13 bottles) of General List wines for closer examination.

The General List is that part of the typical LCBO store that dominates floor space, that contributes to the bulk of total sales and where most wine shoppers spend their time. This is the section where agents make the money that allows them to conduct a solid business and which facilitates the rest of their business where they carry low-volume wines made by obscure producers who rarely get scores from the big-name wine writers.

This is the LCBO where the brand names reside, that is, the wine labels you see advertised in magazines and on billboards. These are the wines with labels wine snobs look down their noses to read.  General List wines are the wines that generally cost well below $20.00 per bottle and wines that rarely attract wine critic attention.

One notable aspect of the General List is the constant change it undergoes. Wines must perform to remain on the list.  If they don’t meet pre-determined sales and velocity targets incumbent wines will be de-listed to make room for new wines.  Agent must sign up for promotional campaigns to get GL listings and the LCBO buyers watch sales data and impose pressure when volumes lag behind target levels of expected performance.  This dimension of steady change means the General List can be a constant source of discoveries and why I believe the GL should not be ignored by the value shopper.

My comments below, and in the next issue of WVN, suggest it may be time for the Vintages-only LCBO customer to rethink his/her attitude to the General List. The wines I picked showed very well and were priced at average of less than $14.00 per bottle. These wines will not win awards for complexity and ageing potential but for pure, undemanding pleasure they will be hard to beat.

In assembling the mixed case I selected a wine from most of the popular/major wine-producing regions in the world.  The selections were made on a semi-random basis meaning I looked for wines made from grapes that performed well in the region of origin.  Otherwise, I tried to behave as an average consumer would in a similar situation: is the price within my budget and does the label look interesting…? I did show a slight bias in my selections in that three of the wines were made in the Niagara region of Ontario and two wines were made in Portugal.

So, fasten your seat belts dear readers, we are going on a journey…

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Peninsula Cave Spring Riesling 2010

As I have noted in the past I consider Cave Spring to be one of the best proponents in Canada of wines made from the Riesling grape. The colour is a pale lemon and the nose is crisp with aromas of lime, grapefruit and green apple. The attack shows a slight spritz with dry, bright lime notes. The mid-palate is loaded with juicy acid and concentrated flavours of lime and green apple.  There is a firm mineral backbone and a supple, mouth-filling texture. The finish is round and juicy. This wine is an exceptional value and shows fine Riesling character.  It is a straightforward wine which will perform admirably as an aperitif or patio sipper but which will also be a match with grilled chicken or pork loin. Buy a case.

Dry, white wine – $14.95 per bottle (product number 233635)

California, Sonoma County – Chateau St-Jean Chardonnay 2010

Chateau St [Jeen] is named for the wife of the one of the founders of this winery, and is considered a solid performer in the varied region that is Sonoma County. This is the most expensive wine – and the most commercially constructed – in the mixed case selection but delivers good value nonetheless.  It shows a tropical fruit character of medium intensity on the nose – banana, papaya and melon – with some slight leesy notes. The palate is ripe with a rich texture and the same tropical fruit elements displayed on the nose along with flinty minerals and spicy notes. There is some vanilla on the nose and palate but this comes from a partial barrel fermentation, not from oak ageing. The flinty, tropical fruit continues through the reasonably long, ripe finish.  This is a fine, fruit-forward wine which should be served with only a light chill – don’t serve too cold.

Extra dry, white wine – $18.95 per bottle (product number 269738)

France, Southern Rhône –  AOC Côtes du Ventoux Ogier Rosé 2011

Ogier is a negoçiant best known for its Côtes du Rhône reds and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, wines that sit in the middle of their categories for quality and value.  It is evident from this wine that they have a niche at the low end of the price spectrum. The appearance is bright, strawberry/pink in the glass. The nose is full of assertive berry aromas with a youthful, fresh character. The palate is rich with intense red berry flavours, firm, grippy tannins that are well-integrated and  stony minerals. The finish is crisp and clean with lingering berry flavours. Serve on its own or with a spinach salad starter or with grilled salmon.  This is a run don’t walk wine that punches well above its weight (my wife tasted this wine blind and thought it was a super-premium rosé from our favourite Ontario maker).

Extra dry, rosé wine – $10.95 per bottle (product number 134916)

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Peninsula Henry of Pelham Sibling Rivalry Red 2010

Don’t take this comment the wrong way, but this wine reminds me of the good old days –aka the 1970’s – when SAQ old wine by the gallon jug.  I had many friends in Quebec when I was starting out as an adult and we would spend weekends eating fondue, pizza and barbecue with wines to match – all for less than $10.00 per jug. Those wines of yore were wonderful: bulk wines imported from the Old World, bottled in Quebec.  They showed great fruit, enough tannins for structure and a bottomless bottle.  Enter, the brothers Speck of Henry of Pelham and their family of Sibling Rivalry wines will take us back a generation to those quaffable wines of the Saturday Night Fever era…This is a blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon and is a ripe, youthful wine that will be perfect for family gatherings in the backyard, open houses at Christmas – and every event in between – where you want your guests to feel happy and at home.  The nose is ripe and youthful with aromas of stewed plum, herbs and wet earth. The palate has plenty of ripe berry fruit with herbs and spice, grainy tannins and enough juicy acid to make for a reasonable structure. The finish is medium long with firm spice and ripe fruit.  Serve with anything… or nothing. This wine puts all the made-in-Ontario International Blends to shame.  Buy lots for your next wedding/barbecue/reception/open house/…your guests will want to know more about the wine (also available in white and rosé).

Dry, red wine – $13.95 per bottle (product number 126151)

Spain, Rioja – DOCa Rioja Beronia 2009

This is a very fine value wine with the classic fresh vibrancy and soft texture of the Tempranillo grape –think oodles of red berry and black cherry fruit – with only the slightest amount of oak for complexity. This is an entry-level Rioja meaning it has had only a modest amount of time in wood and bottle before release, thus showing wonderful fruit expression. The nose is youthful with black cherry fruit, loam, smoke and mocha aromas.  The palate is bright on the attack with sleek, grainy tannins on the mid palate, along with cherry, mocha, green spice and chocolate flavours. The finish is clean with juicy cherry flavours that linger. This is a beautiful wine that will go well with light fare- quinoa salads, grilled shrimp, pizza marhgerita.

Extra dry, red wine – $11.70 per bottle (product number 243055)

Portugal, Alentejano – Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto da Anfora 2009

This is a perfect example of why Portuguese wines deserve more attention than they receive – from critics and consumers alike. It is full of ripe black cherry aromas and flavours, has juicy acid on the mid-palate and finish and shows sleek tannins which give structure. The overall impression is of a wonderfully balanced wine that will delight the novice and critic, both.  There is good complexity with smoke and green-leaf tobacco aromas followed by a fruit-driven palate with spice and more green herbal and leaf elements. This is a blend of indigenous Portuguese grapes – Aragonez, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira – along with a small portion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Serve with grilled spicy Mediterranean sausage and grilled vegetables. Exquisite!

Dry, red wine – $11.95 per bottle (product number 227256)

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2013.

LCBO Vintages release – February 5, 2011

Tuscan wines from the 2007 vintage are featured in this weekend’s Vintages release along with some prize winners from the State of Washington and some romantic wines for Valentine’s Day celebrations.

What is a romantic wine, you might ask?  Any wine your lover wants it to be.

In this case the LCBO has covered some obvious bases with sparklers across many price ranges, value-priced Icewines and an attractive Rosé from Bordeaux.

The selection of Tuscan wines is very appealing with a number of excellent values included in a reasonably large cross section of new producers and well-known and popular DOC’s.  Some 7 wines are classified as IGT – Indicazione geografica tipica – meaning they are made from grapes/blends that are not permitted by the more restrictive DOCG/DOC categories.  Some of the best new wines from Italy are classified IGT and wines in this feature bear out that fact of life in Tuscany.

Wines from the Tuscany feature figures prominently in my best value selections – unusual for a Vintages feature…Two Rhône reds also get the nod this week – another unusual development but the wines I recommend are winners from quality producers

France, Bordeaux – AOC Pessac-Léognan Domaine de Chevalier Rosé de Chevalier 2009 2008

A Bordeaux Rosé this wine, made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.  As you might expect from the blend this Rosé is medium-bodied with excellent structure.  The nose and palate are complex showing spice, red and black fruit and juicy acid. The fruit is intense and very fresh.  The finish is long. This wine is ready now and would be a perfect match with grilled salmon.

Dry, rosé wine – $18.95 per bottle

France, Northern Rhône – AOC  Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Belle les Pierrelles 2007

Domaine Belle is a standard-bearer for this appellation and the 2007 is a fine vintage: all ingredients for a wine to test.  To top it off, this is one of the best quality Crozes we have seen in Vintages for many a year, at an excellent price. There is black pepper, smoked meat, blackberry and some on the nose and palate.  The tannins are firm but well-integrated, the acid is zesty and the finish is long.  This wine will improve over the next 4-6 years.  Serve with a roasted leg of lamb.

Extra-dry, red wine – $22.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Vacqueyras Montirius Garrigues 2009

I haven’t selected a red from the southern Rhône for a very long while.  Why is this?  For the past several years the Vintages team has been spending its Rhône budget on lesser appellations with a particular focus on the wines from small caves cooperatives – where they can best exercise their buyer clout.  Montirius is a very fine producer in the smallish appellation of Vacqueyras and this wine is an excellent example of what we used to get routinely from this part of France in the Vintages program – complex, correct and good value.  This is a blend of Grenache (70%) and Syrah, both from old vines.  Red and black fruit, garrigue, lavender, black pepper and a hint of chocolate are found on the nose and palate.  This wine is still young and I would recommend cellaring for the next 2-3 years.  Excellent wine/excellent value!  Montirius is biodynamic, BTW.

Extra dry, red wine- $23.95 per bottle

Australia, Tasmania – Jansz Premium Sparkling Rosé NV

Tasmania is a cool-climate zone and is rapidly becoming known for exceptional wines.  Unfortunately production volumes are low so there isn’t a lot of wine that gets out of the Antipodes.  Jansz makes only sparkling wines from the traditional grapes of the Champagne appellation: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This wine has been bottle aged for some 2 years so it has a fine biscuit nose.  The palate is rich with strawberry, lees and citrus flavours. The body is medium-weight and the mouth feel is refined and elegant with delicate and precise mousse.  This is a great wine, demonstrating the lean and crisp character of cool-climate fruit.  A beauty!

Dry, sparkling rosé wine – $24.95 per bottle

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Toscana Brancaia Tre 2007

This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, all grown in estates in Tuscany.  This is an intense wine with a complex nose of red fruit, herbs, mocha and spice.  The palate is very dry with rounded tannins, juicy acid and a medium body.  Flavours of red fruit, coffee, spice and chocolate lead up to a long finish.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle

The runners’- up:

Germany, Pfalz – QmP Ungsteiner Herrenberg Pfeffingen Scheurebe Spätlese 2008

Aromatic, intense fruit, honey and some tropical notes characterize this sweet-ish and juicy wine. Balanced, complex, sound value.  (Medium-sweet, whiter wine – $19.85 per bottle)

Italy, Tuscany – DOCG Chianti Classico Isole e Olena 2007

Fruit-forward, balanced and elegant.  Plenty of crisp and bright red fruit.  This is an outstanding Chianti Classico. (Extra-dry, red wine – $26.95 per bottle)

France, Bordeaux – AOC Lalande-de-Pomerol Château des Moines 2008

Right bank, Merlot-dominated, this wine is a balanced, attractively-priced value.  Concentrated fruit, soft tannins, exotic wood, spice and medium acid.  (Extra-dry, red wine – $22.95 per bottle)

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Toscana AIA Vecchia Lagone 2007

Almost super-Tuscan in its provenance and blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc) this wine will age for the next 3 -4 years and deliver complexity and structure way above its weight. (Extra-dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle)

Following the mediocre quality of the last release I take my hat off to the Vintages team for a quality effort in assembling this release…selecting the handful of best values was much tougher this weekend.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

Cross-border barriers

The lead editorial in the Toronto Globe and Mail on Monday December 6, 2010 endorsed a private member’s motion in Canada’s Parliament.  The subject motion, brought by MP Ron Cannan, seeks to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) to provide an exemption allowing individuals to import wine from one province to another without delivery of the imported wine to the local provincial liquor board.

Mr. Cannan is the MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, the riding which encompasses the city of Kelowna, BC and surrounding lands to the east of Lake Okanagan.  This region encompasses part of BC wine country and thus is an important contributor to the BC economy.

The IILA was enacted as a Federal statute in 1928 when Prohibition was repealed in Canada – clearly a different time and different mindspace related to alcohol when compared to today.

Under the provisions of the IILA it is prohibited for an individual to transfer wine across provincial borders without doing so through the auspices of the provincial liquor board of the importing province. This assures the local provincial liquor authorities will retain full control over all beverage alcohol consumed in the province and they will collect all relevant taxes and markups on that beverage alcohol.

There have been instances where wineries in one province have sold wines to residents of other provinces through on-line ordering facilities.  These wineries have been sanctioned by certain provincial liquor boards for not restricting such out-of-province sales.

The issue of direct shipment of alcohol across state borders in the United States has  restricted trade for many years: since the 1993 repeal of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, at which time the 21st Amendment granted authority to the States to control/restrict cross-border transportation of alcohol.

A US Supreme court decision in 2005 (Granholm v. Heald) overturned the states ability to discriminate between in-state and out-of-state wineries and since that time 37 states have established laws to allow direct shipment from a winery in one state to the home state of the purchaser. Welcome to the 21st century!

I hope the motion by Mr. Cannan sees the light of day in Parliament sometime soon. Presently it is prohibitively expensive to import wine into Ontario from BC (and vice-versa) and even when the LCBO does list a BC wine it chooses to add HST and its own markups to the ex-winery BC price so we end up with wines that are outrageously priced.

Witness the December 11. 2010 listing of Laughing Stock Portfolio 2007 in the LCBO Vintages program.  This wine sells for $39.05 at the winery on the Naramata Bench in BC.  The LCBO has listed the wine for sale at $54.95 per bottle.  In late January 2011 some 60 cases (out of 111 purchased) still sit unsold on LCBO Vintages store shelves. Portfolio is fairly priced at the winery – it is not fairly priced by the LCBO.  The consumer recognizes the unrealistic price of this wine in Ontario  and this hurts both the consumed and the winery’s reputation. – especially when the LCBO discount the wine to get it off the shelves (maybe the discount will take the price to $39.05)

I grant that it will cost the consumer to ship wine from BC to Ontario and that is a cost that the consumer will have to assess when making the decision to directly purchase from the winery. In any case that shipping cost will not likely approach the $15.00 per bottle price differential between the winery price and the LCBO price for Laughing Stock Portfolio.

Speak to your local MP and make sure he/she is aware of your support for this overdue proposed amendment to an out-of-date and unnecessary restriction of trade. Mention the fact that some prominent legal experts have argued that the IILA is a contravention of the Constitution Act of 1867 (section 121) that provides for open access to the goods of one province to all the others.

MPs in the wine regions of Ontario and BC should rally behind their colleague from Kelowna-Lake Country in support of this motion.

In the meantime, the petty thinking of our provincial liquor bureaucrats continues to frustrate wine lovers and wine makers in BC and Ontario and residents in the rest of our provinces.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.



LCBO Vintages Release – January 22, 2011

This Saturday’s Vintages release features wines from Chile and SouthWest France.

Unfortunately the feature wines selected for this release are too simple for my palate and none made the grade on my list for value and quality.  This is too bad as both regions are showing improvements in quality and are known for modestly-priced accessible wines.  I think the Vintages team was seeking to keep its New Year 2011 offerings at accessible prices (i.e. below $15.00 per bottle) and in the process has delivered a list of insipid, below-average wines: wines that don’t do the Vintages brand justice, in my mind.

South West France – the regions of Cahors, Madiran and the lesser-known regions of Gaillac and Fronton – is showing enormous development in recent years.  Historically the wines from these parts of France were hairy and rustic and required extended bottle-aging to soften and eventually appeal to tender palates.  Cahors is the traditional home of Malbec, the grape now known for its round and juicy Argentinean character. Wines from Madiran are made with the Tannat grape – the grape best-known for its high levels of heart-healthy anthocyanins.  These are grapes that all wine lovers should explore from different regions to see the effect of terroir on their presentation.

There are some inexpensive wines from the South West of France in the release that you may wish to try.  Ask your local product consultant for some suggestions that will fit your palate.

While this release is one of the weakest in a while there are still a handful of good values, headlined by some very classy white wines.

Germany, Mosel – QmP Haus Klosterberg Markus Molitor Riesling Spätlese 2008

Stunning value for a well-made Mosel Riesling, this wine shows intense aromas and flavours with a very long finish.  Honey, spice, stone fruits and orange citrus are accompanied by stony minerals on the palate.  There is a hint of botrytis on the nose and palate adding to the overall complexity of this wine.  The body is light to medium and I suggest you serve this wine with a lightly breaded veal cutlet or a halibut steak.

Medium-dry, white wine – $22.95 per bottle

France, Loire – AOC Pouilly-Fumé Cédrick Bardin 2009

I love the wines of the Loire almost as much as I love the oohs of pleasant surprise when I present one of these wines to a group of skeptics. Made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes there is plenty of grapefruit citrus and mineral character reflecting the cool climate and limestone substrate of the upper Loire valley. The acid is bright and juicy and the finish is long.  This is a perfect wine match for spicy Thai food.

Extra-dry, white wine – $21.95 per bottle

France, Champagne  – AOC Champagne Vandières Delouvin Nowack Carte d’Or Brut NV

Valentine’s Day is on the near horizon and this calls for a celebration sparkler.  Here’s the perfect match for the need at a very fine price. The colour is a deep yellow-gold indicating extended time in bottle.  The nose is resplendent with biscuit, lemon and toast.  The palate shows very good weight and has excellent structure and complexity.  Toast, biscuit, bright and juicy citrus flavours are all present.  The mousse is assertive and creamy. Be forewarned: the LCBO brought in only a small number of cases and this wine will move quickly…great value!

Extra dry, sparkling wine- $39.95 per bottle

Portugal, Dã0 – DOC Dão Casa de Santar Red 2007

I expected 2010 to be a break out year for Portugal at the LCBO and for some reason the Vintages buyers didn’t deliver as I expected.  2011 seems to be off to a good start on the Portuguese front so perhaps I was just a few months ahead of myself.  This wine is an excellent value and has bright red fruit, spice, some hints of chocolate, juicy acid and fine tannins.  It is very fresh and quite refined for the price.  This wine will be a good match with cold chicken or steak salad this summer.

Dry, red wine – $14.95 per bottle

Italy, Tuscany – DOCG Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Nottola 2006

This wine is made by one of the better producers in the town of Montepulciano.  It is a blend, where often Vino Nobile is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes (or Prugnolo Gentile as the grape is known in the area). This wine is rustic with an earthy nose laden with rich aromas of red cherry and toasted oak. The palate is medium to full-bodied with complex cherry, herb spices and smoke.  The acid is zesty and the tannins are grainy and dusty.  The finish is long. This is a fine wine from a great value denominazione.  Match with home-made lasagne.

Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

The runners’- up:

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Beamsville Bench Rosewood Estates Merlot 2008

Another example of the very good value Rosewood Estates is becoming known for, this wine is ready to drink now.  Black fruit, spice, modest tannins and a strong finish. (Extra dry, red wine $20.00 per bottle)

Italy, Veneto – DOC Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Nino Franco Brut

If the Delouvin Nowack Champagne is too rich for your budget this will be an excellent substitute or a great wine to keep in your working supply for sparkling occasions.  From an excellent maker – Extra dry, sparkling wine $18.95 per bottle.

France, Languedoc – AOC Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape Château Camplazens La Garrigue 2007

This wine is a blend of Syrah and Grenache and is approachable now.  It has very fine complexity on the nose and palate and is a great wine for winter comfort food dinners (Dry, red wine $16.95 per bottle).

The next Vintages Release will feature 2007 reds from Tuscany and prize winners from Washington State.  It will hit the shelves on February 5, 2011.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

Happy 2011!

It is my habit to start the new year with my thoughts on what we should watch for in the coming twelve months.

Last year I wrote about the long-term effects of the recession on wine prices, the emerging quality factor in the wines of Portugal, the efforts underway to re-brand Australian wines, the problem of Cellared in Canada wines and their effect on branding Ontario as a quality region and, the evolution of the wine press from print to digital.

While my forecasts were directionally correct I was surprised at the speed with which the Cellared in Canada (CIC) issue caught fire and was brought to a medium-term resolution.  Signage in LCBO stores was quickly amended to make it clear that the wines made by many Ontario wineries are made from “International Blends”.  There is a four year timeline during which the benefits these wines have provided to the pre-1993 wineries will be phased out and in the meantime the Province of Ontario has defined higher Ontario content requirements for the blended wines and imposed a levy on sales of International Blend wines to support further development of VQA wine branding and sales.

The effect of the actions by the province has been to further splinter the already fragmented industry structure in Ontario with the CIC manufacturers establishing their own industry group, the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario.

All this is to say that we should see growth in VQA wine sales in Ontario over the next few years.  This is positive news for our local industry and with time  I hope we see the splintered industry come together to build a strong brand for Wine Ontario.

The backdrop for this preamble on Wine Ontario is the current state of the global wine market where there continues to be more wine produced than sold.  France and Australia are the best recent examples of  producing nations stepping up to the challenges of the wine glut but there is further need for pull-up schemes to continue on a wide scale if the glut is to be properly addressed.

An indicator of the severity of the situation is the degree of merger and acquisition activity now underway and rumored.  A headline yesterday says it best: Constellation Brands Highlights World Wine Woes (, January 5, 2011).  This story describes the number of potential deals currently in play, including Brown-Forman considering unloading Fetzer; Foster’s possibly selling its Australian wine business for the right price, Remy-Cointreau looking for a buyer for its Piper – and Charles Heidsieck Champagne brands and so on.

Constellation Brands - NYSE-STX (July 2010 - January 2011)

On December 22, 2010 Constellation Brands, then the largest wine company in the world, announced the sale of 80% of its Australian, South African and UK wine business to an Australian private equity firm for less than 1/6 what it paid to buy BRL Hardy in 2003.  The effect of this sale was to carve out ¼ of annual sales and reduce Constellation Brands to the number 3 position in global sales volume rankings. The rationale for the sale was to re-focus Constellation on higher margin businesses in North America and management reported today that the effect of the sale will be to improve the profitability of the firm.

The global wine business is highly fragmented and while many wine operations are held privately it is unclear what levels of profits are generated globally and by whom.  The supply chain for production, distribution and final sale of wine is long and complex.  This means that many players each take a small piece of gross profit as wine passes through their hands.  As the global consumer market shifts to lower-priced wines in this extended – and possibly permanent – period of reduced expectations there is less money available for carving up.  In all cases the margins are much lower than any public company financial wizard would tolerate

Publically-listed firms such as Constellation, Foster’s and Diageo have to answer to their shareholders and since they hold many stages in the supply chain they represent early indicators of the severity of the downward pressure on profits and margins in this highly competitive, fragmented industry which is struggling with over supply.

While these elements are at play there is another aspect of the market that is undergoing further change: the retail end of the chain.  Costco, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Champion, Carrefour are all putting continual pressure on suppliers to reduce wholesale prices, adopt low-carbon footprint packaging and take on more warehouse responsibility   These are the giants of liquor and wine distribution and they have the buying power to call the shots in ways that even monopolies like the LCBO can’t.  This mega-buying phenomenon and the power attached to it is the main reason the Quebec liquor and wine monopoly, Sociétié des alcools du Québec (SAQ), announced in 2010 formation of a buying subsidiary that will contract with buyers in Canada and elsewhere to form a buying entity with the scale to compete with the huge retail buyers in the USA, United Kingdom and France.  This is big stuff and we don’t know where it is leading but it will continue to unfold over the next year

For me this is the story to watch in 2011. In the meantime consumers have much to celebrate:  quality continues to improve, prices are attractive and there is more choice than ever before.

Happy 2011! May it be a vintage year in every way for you and your family.