Reif releasing The Fool 2010 Gamay for Beaujolais Nouveau madness

So, we know who picked the first grapes in the amazing Niagara vintage of 2010 (Paul Pender at Tawse, chardonnay for his bubbly wines) and we’re pretty sure who’s picking last (Jean-Laurent Groux at Stratus) but do you know who’s first to put a finished bottle of 2010 on store shelves?

Reif Estates' The Fool

Reif Estates' The Fool

Well, no need to guess. It’s Reif Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake with the Nov. 18 release of its fruity “Gamay Nouveau” wine called The Fool.

It will be unveiled along with other entries from around the world during the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release at more than 400 LCBO stores across the province.

The annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau and other nouveau-style wines on the third Thursday of every November is celebrated around the world. Nouveau wines are traditionally among the fastest-selling products at the LCBO with most of the stock sold out in three to four weeks.

This is Reif’s second vintage of the The Fool, made of 100% gamay from the 2010 vintage.

The clever and modern label portrays the light hearted and fun nature of the wine and is inscribed with the words: “The Fool, with all his worldly possessions in one small pack, is always on his way to a brand new beginning.

Reif Estates' The Fool

Reif Estates' The Fool

Incredible to think that a few weeks before, grapes for the The Fool were just being picked in the vineyard.

I just sampled this wine and I can say it’s as good as any release of Beaujolais Nouveau I’ve tried in recent years. It’s bursting with fresh berry fruit, smooth on the palate, and offers up simple pleasure for $11 a bottle.

It’s a tradition every November for wine drinkers to raise a glass of nouveau to salute the year’s first wines. The Fool joins a big crowd of “nouveau” wines also being released on Nov. 18. Here’s what’s also available:

France

• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau ($14)
• Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau ($9)
• Primeur Catalan Syrah Merlot, ($10)
• Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($15 Vintages)
• Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($15 Vintages)

Italy

• Mezzacorona Novio Vino Novello ($10)
• Negrar Novello del Veneto IGT ($10)

The nouveau wine tradition began in the vineyards of France’s Beaujolais region more than 100 years ago when winemakers developed a quick maturing wine to toast the completion of the harvest with their workers.

The result was a wine that they dubbed Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Primeur.  News of this tradition spread and the annual release of nouveau wines eventually evolved into an international celebration.  In the 1980s, Italy began exporting nouveau-style wines called vino novello and Ontario has, in some years, produced gamay nouveau wines.

The nouveau wines will be available starting at 9:30 or 10 a.m. on Nov. 18, depending on individual store opening hours. While there is more in stock this year, each LCBO store receives a limited quantity of these popular wines, so customers are encouraged to shop early for the best selection.

For more information on the 2010 nouveau wines, go online to www.lcbo.com/service.

Just in time for the holidays, big Niagara reds

Some absolutely stunning wines are being released just in time for the holiday season.

Two new releases from Henry of Pelham

Two new releases from Henry of Pelham

Some are making their way to the LCBO, while others are in such small supply that they are available only at the winery while supplies last.

These new wine releases (in one case, a spectacular re-release) are all from three established wineries in Niagara — Henry of Pelham, Chateau des Charmes and Creekside, all of which have proven track records for making quality wines vintage to vintage.

First, Henry of Pelham has just released its 2007 Cabernet-Merlot Reserve made from estate fruit sourced from the famous Short Hills Bench. The family winery, run by the three Speck brothers, has also decided to re-release the spectacular 1999

Cabernet-Merlot Reserve, a rare treat that Niagara wine lovers should consider snapping up to drink now or to watch how it develops further in the bottle.

A Toronto wine lover, Paolo Berard, was so impressed with 1999 Henry of Pelham Cab-Merlot that he wrote about it in a special feature called The Greatest Wine Story Ever Told for the Toronto wine and food website Spotlight Toronto (spotlightoronto).

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus

A tasting group had placed it third in a blind tasting where only Chateau Latour 1995 and Joseph Phelps Insignia 1997 bested it. Placing behind Henry of Pelham were the likes of Chateau Haut Brion 1995, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1995, Chateau Margaux 1996 (all First Growth Bordeaux) and Beringer Private Reserve 1992. Quite an accomplishment for a wine that retailed at around $25, while the others can cost more than $500 a bottle.

Here’s a review of both the 2007 and 1999:

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot Reserve 2007 ($25, Vintages, 4.5 stars) — This may well prove to be another 1999. It’s so young and tight but still shows the beautiful aromas of the vintage — blackberries, chocolate, spice, oak tones and vanilla. This big red started to open up after it was double decanted and tasted a day after opening. Earth, rich dark fruits, licorice, spice all play a role on the palate with fine oak and structure. It’s a youthful beauty which will integrate into a stunning wine down the road.

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 1999 ($50, winery only, 5 stars) — On the nose, this beautiful Bordeaux-like wine is in perfect harmony and at its peak right now. This wine is exactly why wine lovers collect so much Bordeaux, it just gets better with age. It starts with blackberry, plum, cherry-kirsch, vanilla and lavish spices all in unison. It still has freshness on the palate but it’s totally integrated and spectacular for its depth of flavour. Among the finest aged reds I have tasted in Niagara.

Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay-Musque

Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay-Musque

Chateau des Charmes has released its flagship red, Equuleus 2007, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 25% Merlot, all grown in the estate’s sweet spot, a corner block of the Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard.

Grapes grown there are hand-picked, vinified separately and spend 12 months in French barriques. After the best barrels are chosen, the wine is blended and then spends another year “coming of age” in the bottle before being released. This wine is only made in exceptional vintages. There will be no Equuleus in either 2008 or 2009.

Chateau des Charmes Equuleus 2007 ($40, Vintages Dec. 11, winery, online, 4.5-5 stars) — Wow. That was my first response to the nose on this wine that I sent through my aeration device about four times and decanted for hours. The nose is a nice collage of aromatics from cassis and currants to leather, a wild raspberry note, mocha, top grade oak and swirling spice and smoke. It’s rich and flavourful in the mouth, with chewy dark fruits, gripping tannins, waves of cocoa and spice and a long, long finish. This has the stuffing to go on for another 10 or 15 years.

Also from Chateau des Charmes:

Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay Musque 2008 ($17, Vintages, 4 stars) — A pretty and fragrant nose of fresh peach, pear and apple. A delight in the mouth, it bursts with melon-pear fruit and a touch of citrus zest on the finish of this unoaked white.

Undercurrent from Creekside

Undercurrent from Creekside

Creekside Estate Winery has just released its very limited Undercurrent portfolio of wines it categorizes as misfts. These are wines nicknamed “uber … like the fat, obnoxious uncle at the family reunion who is impossible to ignore, demanding attention and yet oddly lovable all the same.”

Here’s what I liked (wines are only available at the winery):

Creekside Undercurrent Uber Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($37, 4.5 stars) — A wild and crazy nose of tropical fruit, citrus, vanilla, sweet spice, quince and totally over the top in a very good way. The wine gets its unbridled personality from barrel fermentation and aging in oak. It’s sensational on the palate. Rich, ripe tropical fruit with a big wet kiss of spicy oak followed by a long, delicious finish.

Creekside Undercurrent Malbec Shiraz 2007 ($33, 4.5 stars) — The Undercurrent release includes three different Malbecs (two blends and one 100% varietal). They are all special in their own way but I loved this most with the red fruits on the nose lifted by peppery spice. The palate shows lovely raspberry-cherry fruit, vibrancy, balance and wild tannins that need some time to tame and integrate.

Enjoy!

Rare wine auction at Vintages goes on-line

NOTE: The LCBO is allowing live on-line bidding at the Vintages Fine Auction Nov. 12-14. Here’s the press release issued Nov. 8 from the LCBO.
The LCBO and Waddington’s Auctioneers are inviting wine enthusiasts from around the world to bid live over the Internet during this year’s Vintages Finest and Rarest Wines Auction being held November 12-14 at Waddington’s Galleries in Toronto.

“The addition of Internet bidding puts this annual auction on par with the world’s best,” according to Barry O’Brien, LCBO Corporate Affairs Director and a chief organizer of the auction.

The Internet bidding is facilitated through web provider Artfact.com. Collectors can also bid in person at Waddington’s Galleries at 111 Bathurst Street, in writing or by phone, fax or email.

More than 2,300 lots of rare wines valued at $3.1 million will be up for bid at this year’s auction. The selection will feature many first-time offerings, including top Burgundy vintages, such as Domaine Romanée-Conti, in 1,500 mL bottles, and highly-prized vintage Bordeaux in their original wood cases. There are also rare pre-World War II vintages and classic Champagnes.

All wines consigned to auction are stored in temperature and humidity-controlled conditions.

“The popularity of collecting wine as an investment grows every year,“ notes O’Brien. “Most wines offered at auction will appreciate in value, especially rare and acclaimed vintages so auctions are an excellent way to build a wine portfolio. This is also an opportunity to buy wines that aren’t available through any other channels.”

The Vintages auction features three bidding sessions, the first one starting at 6:00 p.m. on November 12 and running until bidding closes.  On November 13 and 14, sessions will start at 10 a.m. and last until bidding closes.

“We are pleased to work with the LCBO to present this world-class auction,” says Waddington’s President Duncan McLean. “Our experience with fine art and our network of international clients provide an excellent basis for this partnership.”

Auction catalogues are available for $20 at the auction itself, or as a download at www.vintages.com/auction.  Previous auction customers will receive complimentary copies.  For questions and registration, contact Vintages Auction Co-ordinator John Yoxall at 416-864-6821 or by e-mail at john.yoxall@lcbo.com .

Waddington’s is a Toronto-based, Canadian-owned and operated company that has been in the auction and appraisal business since 1850, and is considered Canada’s largest purveyor of international calibre fine art.

Here’s a direct link the wines being auctioned:

Auction wines

Group launches campaign for cross-province shipping of VQA wines

NOTE: A grassroots campaign to make it legal for Canadians to buy and move Canadian wines across provincial borders was launched today by the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers. This is the group’s initial press release.

November 4, 2010, Ottawa, Ontario

Today the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers (ACWC) launched their grassroots FreeMyGrapes.ca campaign aimed at making it legal for Canadians to buy and move Canadian wines across provincial borders.

“It is patently ridiculous that I can bring home two bottles of wine from Argentina but could be fined and given a criminal record for doing the same thing from BC,” says Shirley-Ann George, ACWC’s founder.

The 1928 federal Importations of Intoxicating Liquors Act, and coordinating provincial laws that flow from it, prevent cross border transportation of alcohol. These antiquated laws encourage Canadians to buy foreign wines, chokehold wine tourism in Canada’s beautiful wine districts and handcuff job growth at Canadian wineries. In today’s economic environment, this is just plain foolish.

It’s time for these Prohibition-based laws to be brought into the 21st century by allowing adult Canadians to order, buy, ship and transport wine directly from Canadian wineries.

Federal Agriculture Minster, Gerry Ritz, is to be given kudos for initiating discussions on this issue with the provincial agriculture ministers. Fresh thinking will show there are ways to give consumers more choice without harming government revenues.

“Wine drinkers must speak up or the status-quo voices will prevail,” added George.

FreeMyGrapes.ca provides wine drinkers and free trade supporters a petition and sample letters/emails that can be sent to their federal and provincial elected officials letting them know the time has come for change. Canadians want to buy more Canadian wine and increasing the consumer’s choice offers benefits for wine lovers, the wine industry and government coffer.

For further information, please contact:

Shirley-Ann George, Founder

Canadian Alliance of Wine Consumers

AllianceCdnWineConsumers@gmail.com

C: 613 293-8487

Working toward the same goal, better access to Ont. wine

I’ve had time to reflect on a recent post, the one just before this, on VQA wines stores and a perception that I had about the Niagara wine industry’s largest lobby group, the Ontario Wine Council.

The post drew a lot of response, most of it through DMs (direct messages) on Twitter, email and directly from wine consumers and Ontario wine industry folks who weren’t shy to respond “off the record.” There are an awful lot of opinions out there — most who want better access to local wine, but some worried that a freer system would lead to problems.

Moving toward a more equitable process of getting good Ontario VQA wines into the hands of consumers is not new. But never has interest been so keen. Consumers seem to finally understand that if we fight for change collectively, something can be done to convince those with all the power to get us where we want to go.

I agree with a lot of what the Ontario Wine Council does. It has made incredible in-roads at the LCBO, fought hard to separate good VQA wines from internationally blended wines on LCBO shelves and is a tireless promoter of Ontario wines. Many of the great wine promotions that take place in our province are because of the hard work of the wine council and its energetic, committed staff. The organization has a big job balancing what’s good for the industry and consumers while being effective at Queen’s Park as a lobby group.

Many of the same frustrations we have as consumers are felt equally and more so by the wine council. It’s extremely difficult to move a mountain that doesn’t want to be moved. There is much at stake. Push too hard, too quickly and doors start shutting pretty fast. You become ineffective. I am not a lobbyist and don’t pretend to know how the relationship works from winery to wine council to government.

I do know that change is very slow in coming, in part because we (the consumers) aren’t a loud enough voice to have any meaningful effect on government and, by extension, the LCBO.

We have been close to change in Ontario in the past. The Mike Harris government had a plan it was set to unveil, sources have told me, to privatize the LCBO. But the plan never saw the light of day just as that Tory government was headed into its last days of governing this province during its spectacular collapse.

The Liberals have virtually no stomach for change when it comes to the LCBO. It has said so repeatedly and even the MPP for St. Catharines, Jim Bradley, doesn’t exude a whole lot of optimism that things will move forward any time soon under the Grit regime. There is too much at stake, not the least of which is a backlash from the extremely powerful union that represents LCBO workers. A decent voting block for a party that, if polls are correct, appears to need all the votes it can get.

Which brings us back to the Tories. Tim Hudak — who leads Premier Dalton McGuinty in the polls with an election set for next October — told the Toronto Star recently that, while he is opposed to privatizing the LCBO, he doesn’t like the way things are going now.

“Folks know that I’ve always stood for more choice in the system. A little bit of competition — keeping the LCBO, but allowing other stores, like VQA wine stores, to compete or offer some of our award-winning products that you can’t get at the LCBO,” the Tory leader was quoted in the Star as saying.

Hudak, whose riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook includes some of the Ontario’s top wineries, has said on the record before that he supports Vintners Quality Alliance stores — similar to those in British Columbia. Hudak doesn’t worry about that VQA stores would violate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Opening VQA stores in Ontario is a small step, and maybe all we can hope for in this lifetime, in the right direction. And it certainly looks like, for the very first time that I can remember, we will have choice when we head to the polls next year — the Liberals, pretty much happy with the status quo, or the Tories, who seem willing to shake things up a bit.

A lot of my previous post was directed at the wine council executive and its leader, Hillary Dawson. It was a knee jerk reaction to something that I am passionate about. It was perhaps misguided in that Dawson and the wine council want exactly the same thing we all want — better access to good Ontario wine.

That’s something we can all work together on. Afterall, if we can open up a VQA wine shop in China, certainly we can do it here. Can’t we?