Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wine Quote of the Day

An ever-expanding collection of our favourite sayings about our favourite drink.

December 26, 2006
What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?
Larson E Whipsnade (WC Fields) in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939)

December 20, 2006
Wine is bottled poetry.
Robert Louis Stevenson

December 15, 2006
A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for, a daunting testimony to that peculiar nation's love of detail and organization.
Kingsley Amis

December 12, 2006
Three be the things I shall never attain: envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Dorothy Parker

December 8, 2006
I only drink Champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not.
Coco Chanel

December 7, 2006
Drink wine and you will sleep well.
Sleep and you will not sin.
Avoid sin and you will be saved.
Ergo, drink wine and be saved.

December 5, 2006
A first class cabernet is like an investment banker - a polished gentlemen in a three piece suit. But Syrah is a cowboy in a tuxedo.
John Alban

December 4, 2006
In victory you deserve champagne, in defeat you need it.

December 3, 2006
Life – that’s to work with wine.

December 2,2006
The wine you drink is the wine you deserve.
Emile Peynaud from The Taste of Wine

December 1, 2006
Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.
Andre Simon

Monday, December 18, 2006

Have a Californian Aussie Wine

Frank’s Rant:

There are now more ways than ever to savour some Australian wine. Just pop the cork on a bottle of wine from California. That’s right. If your bottle of wine has “American” on the label, it could actually contain as much as 25% Aussie grape.

Seems the Aussies are no longer content to fill just the Down Under market with cute and cuddly animal labels. Now they’re attempting – rather successfully – to empty their wine lake by exporting in bulk. Critter wines are breeding like gerbils, much to the horror of California grape growers who are, according to one article, reaching for their shotguns. Having sipped a few of the critter wines, I sympathize with the Californians.

Bulk wine imports into California have increased by six times this year alone, and 80% of those imports are from Australia. Bulk imports from Australia now total the equivalent of 2,300,000 cases of wine – that’s over two million cases, folks. Add another 675,000 cases from Argentinean grapes, and I wonder how much of what’s in my bottle of Californian wine is actually grown in the sunny, surf-loving American state?


Susan’s Note:

I’m not much of a fan of critter wines at the best of times, and this news certainly doesn’t give me much reassurance I’m likely to change my opinion. Seems like just another step toward the homogenization of wines. Echoes of Ursula LeGuin’s classic sci-fi novel, Lathe of Heaven, are already rattling around in my head.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Two Gifts At Christmas

Frank’s Tip

If you’re looking for Christmas gifts for your favorite wine geek and you think they have everything, I just came across a perfect answer from Riedel. The Riedel Pink “O” Champagne Glass.

Not only are this flute’s design and colour eye-catchingly innovative and unique, but this is a glass that gives twice. Part of the sales proceeds from each and every one of these glasses will go to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a non-profit organization that aids woman with this terrible disease.

So when you wrap up a pair of Riedel Pink “O” Champagne Glass to give to your favorite geek, you’ll actually have given two Christmas presents. Your wine geek has a new design and colour to try, and women everywhere will benefit from much-needed funds for ongoing research and support. A winning combination for sure.

Hint to family and friends: I still have a little room in the glass cabinet. I could fit a couple of these in. No honestly, I really can.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BC's Monopoly Madness Continues

Susan’s Rant:

Have our government pundits finally lost their mind completely? According to my calendar, we’re now full on into the Christmas season – one of the busiest times of the year for any retailer who actually wants to make money. Parties, thank you gifts, even just the feeling of “I deserve it,” I don’t know many people who fail to pick up a few extra – or extra special – bottles for the holidays.

Now since wine and liquor sales are traditionally significant contributors to the public coffers – think ever-escalating taxes, duties, and other cash grabs – it seems logical the folks who run our government monopoly would leap at the opportunity to dig even deeper than usual into our pockets.

And yes, I’ll admit, I’m always delighted by the opportunity to expand the wine cellar, but carrying huge amounts of cash around is not part of that agenda. Ka-ching – can you say Credit Card?

So here’s some bureaucratic brilliance that left me speechless – which, as anyone who knows me will tell you, happens somewhat less frequently than a blue moon. Apparently, two weeks before Christmas, some – not all, mind you, just some – liquor stores are refusing to accept a credit card with “Ask for ID” on the signature line. Have the government bureaucrats gone insane? This is an acknowledged safety precaution among many credit card savvy consumers – especially ones who travel frequently.

But the worst of it is the bureaucrats know they have us at – allow me to be polite – a disadvantage. Where else are we going to pick up a bottle of Moet, Remy Martin, Tomasi Valpolicella, and perhaps a six-pack of Heineken all under one roof? Can we just wander down the road to another retail outlet? No. For one-stop shopping it’s LCB or nothing.

Maybe my brain really is getting addled by drinking too many bottles of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc under aluminum screw cap. Could that little slip of metal, actually, be affecting my ability to reason? Or maybe it’s the LCB people who are suffering from aluminum poisoning.

This flagrant display of stupidity does, however, have one good point. It should drive more sales to the gallant entrepreneurs who are fighting to provide us with an alternative. Although independent liquor stores are still limited in BC, their numbers are increasing. Best of all, not only are the staff there typically more helpful and more knowledgeable than their LCB counterparts, but many stores also offer a broad range of tastings and food pairings as well. Let’s hear it for free enterprise.

Thanks to Wine and Dine for sounding the alert and for their ongoing list of great wine events in and around British Columbia.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Screw Caps Rotting Our Brains?

Frank’s Rant:

A few days ago I received a news alert from Decanter Magazine indicating Jacob’s Creek is now going fully screw cap through their entire range. No big surprise there. What was more interesting, though, was a reader comment directly below the article.

Apparently, unknown to me, there is an International Aluminum Conspiracy. That’s right, it appears screw caps will contaminate our brains. And James Halliday, wine writer as well as one of Australia’s most senior wine judges, is supposedly a heartless member of this conspiracy to rot our intellect.

According to the reader, Australia is “one of the last great strongholds of the International Aluminum Industry, an industry with immense lobbying power both within the Australian government and within the Australian wine writers fraternity.” He proposes this is not only a “conflict of interest” for Mr Halliday, but alludes to the general population suffering dire consequences from aluminum poisoning in the brain as a result of screw caps.

Give me a break. The last great aluminum stronghold? Brain poisoning from a tiny bit of aluminum that’s protected by an internal plastic seal?

Having read a few of Mr Halliday’s books and articles – including the Wine Atlas of Australia and the Australian Wine Companion – he doesn’t seem the type to be involved an international conspiracy. In fact, he barely mentions screw caps in the Wine Atlas of Australia – a tome that’s required reading for WSET certification.

Maybe the reader should just pull the cork out of a bottle of wine, chill out, and relax. Or maybe he’s already had a few glasses too many. And if my bottle of Cloudy Bay or Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc contaminates my brain – oh well. Twist off another cap.

Check out the original article for yourself at:


Susan’s Note:

This rant got me more interesting by the minute. Curiosity aroused, I did a bit of Internet digging. No question the reader, apparently a British scientist of some renown by the name of Chris Exley, has an axe to grind with anything aluminum. But why he’s singled out the wine industry escapes me. Has he conveniently overlooked the soft drink industry that surrounds an entire single serving with an aluminum can? What about the tin foil most households consider a standard for cooking and storing food?

Just for fun I googled a bit further. A quick scan of half a dozen other sites revealed some fascinating info.

Six aluminum salts, approved as food additives in the United States, make an appearance in cake mixes, frozen dough, pancake mixes, self-rising flours, processed cheese and cheese foods, and beer (in aluminum cans). Uh oh! The Pillsbury Dough Boy is an Aluminum Terrorist? Sarah Lee and Aunt Jemima are actually perps of the Great Aluminum Conspiracy?

And here’s a couple of stats Ronald MacDonald is sure to love. Some estimates say an average sized pickle treated in an alum solution – a form of aluminum sulfate used in the pickling solution to firm up the cucumbers – contains 5 to 10 milligrams. Just one slice of individually wrapped processed cheese can contain up to 50 milligrams of aluminum creating bad news for cheeseburger fans – in fact, these traditional fast meals are believed to contain one of the highest aluminum contents of any food.

Over the counter medications such as buffered aspirin can be, so says the experts, one of the largest sources of aluminum, as are digestive aides such as diarrhea and hemorrhoid medicines. A typical dose of aluminum-containing antacids can contain as much as 200 milligrams. Aluminum is also often added to hygiene aids such as antiperspirants and douches. Guess the pharmaceutical companies also have a few conspiratorial leanings and subversive ties to the aluminum industry – news, I suspect, to the likes of Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, or Pepto-Bismol.

As Frank says, oh well. If I’m suddenly plagued by senility as I’m sipping a glass of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, I suspect I’ll be a lot happier as an idiot with some really good wines in the cellar than poor Chris as a PhD griping about screw caps.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Love by the Glass Book Review

Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage
by Dorothy J Gaiter and John Brecher

ISBN: 0-8129-6686-4
Format: trade paperback
Pages: 317
Pub Date: 2003 by Random House
Suggested Retail Price: $12.95 (US)/$19.95 (Cdn)

Susan’s Take:

This book disappointed me – big time. I’d expected lush descriptions, extensive – or at least detailed – tasting notes, set against a rich backdrop of their careers and wine explorations. These guys are, after all, both apparently prize-winning journalists. What I had in my hands was a book that continually broke all the rules of good writing and didn’t even tell a decent story.

Most often, just as I was starting to get involved in the current tale of travelling or meeting winemakers, they’d simply stop – done, finito, ain’t no more folks. To me, this is the worst form of saying: I have an incredible piece of information but that’s another story so I’m not telling you. In grade school we used to follow such a statement with a singsong “Na na-na na!” Okay, so even as a non-parent I can accept it from a six-year-old. I expected more from Dorothy and John.

They also have major difficulties deciding whose point of view they’re using – not just in a given chapter but often within a paragraph and sometimes within a single sentence. Going from “Dottie bought John bottle of Chateau Latour” to “so we bought a third wine rack” in the same sentence still makes the hair on the back of my neck prickle. I haven’t figured out how to spell the howl of disapproval it evoked from a long-time editor friend of mine, but it was not a pretty sound.

I also found the never ending stories about “Dottie faces” – apparently specially commissioned on their coffee mugs, carpets, paintings, walls, and just everything else in their house – irritating and distracting. I’m sure they get a kick out of in their personal lives and I’ll admit it was kind of cute the first couple of times them mentioned it – a bit sappy but cute. By the twentieth time it was flat out annoying.

This book is definitely one I’d take a pass on. My copy got recycled to the secondhand store within 24 hours.

Frank’s Take:

Well, what I can I say about this one? I did mention the book to Susan as a possible good read. I do, from time to time, read their Wall Street Journal column and usually find it quite good.

Love by the Glass did have one chapter about a column where they encouraged people to open that special bottle of wine they had stashed away and enjoy it on a specific date. The responses were amazing and heartwarming. I wish the rest of the book was as good.

I’m sure my penance for even suggesting, never mind recommending, this book to Susan will involve a good bottle of wine.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Experts in a Changing World

Frank's Rant

This morning I read a blog from Vinography with a link to US News which credited Alder, the blog’s creator, as having a “connoisseur site” for wine information. I found it fascinating that a publication as conservative as US News would now acknowledge a blog as a quality wine resource – showing some wine blogs now have more creditability than the traditional glossy magazines which were, rather conspicuously, not citied at all.

The issue that this article brought home for me was, once again, our provincial (British Columbia) monopoly. Applejack Wine and Spirits, the Colorado store mentioned in the US News article, has 15,000 items in inventory and some 80,000 cases of wine. In our entire, province-wide LCB system we don’t have 15,000 different wines available for purchase. At last count it was 5,386 items (including beer) and 3,649 wines. What’s wrong with this picture?

Prices are even more of an eye opener. Here are a few comparisons. Beringer’s 2002 Knights Valley on sale for $15 US which coverts to $28.61 Cdn: LCB lists it for $49.99. Clos du Marquis Bordeaux costs $46 US ($51.02 Cdn), unless of course you buy it in BC where it will set you back $75. Applejack also lists a Columbia Crest Pinot Grigio for $5 US – that’s $5 in US dollars for a bottle of wine, folks. Unfortunately, of course, it’s not available here in BC at any price let alone at $5, although there are some Columbia Crest Wines at $9.95 – some of the lowest prices I’ve seen at the LCB.

Apparently, American consumers are getting overwhelmed with the variety of wines they have available at good prices. I wish I had their problem. Let me have a choice of 15,000 items and who needs sale prices anyway?

Check out these stories for youself at

Susan’s note:

Coincidentally, a couple of days ago I’d been trying to explain the relevance and credibility of blogs to my (naturalized American) sister who freely admits she “doesn’t get it.” Even though we have the same parents, she grew up in a different era – and yes, I’m proud of the fact that even though we are 23 years apart in age we are still such good friends. What was most interesting for me – aside from the concept of a single store with 80,000 cases of wine – was the concept that here was a tradition publication, one she’s always respected, talking about blogging as a reputable source of information. What was most disappointing was the fact she recently moved away from her home of some 14 years – a home that was only two hours drive away from Applejacks.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wine for Dummies Book review

Wine for Dummies
Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan
ISBN: 0-470-04579-5
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 432 Pages
Pub Date: October 2006 by IDG Books Worldwide
Suggested retail price: $21.99 (US)

Frank’s take:

My copy of Wine for Dummies is looking a little worn and tattered. I have a sentimental soft spot for this book; it was the first wine book that I purchased. My wine library has grown by a couple of hundred volumes since then, but this little volume was my first.

It helped me decode a German wine label, started to lead me through the interstices of the French wine appellations. The pronunciation guide for wine terms was invaluable. The ten excuses to drink Champagne proved the most useful list in the book; I still use them and have added some of my own. The authors also explained the difference between Champagne the region and Champagne the wine and why both should always be spelt with a capital “C.”

When people ask me which book to buy for a wine novice, Wine for Dummies always the first book I suggest. Usually the comment is: no seriously, a Dummies book? It has all the basic information, how to read a wine list, grape types, and the major wine regions of the world. I know quite a few wine geeks who have a copy of this tucked away somewhere. Sure, they have their Oxford Companion to Wine all six pounds of it, but still keep their Dummies book around.

With the Christmas season coming up, it would be a good stocking stuffer for the wine novice in the family, or the young adult you are trying to wean away from Coca Cola. This volume will help take away some of the so-called mystery of wine.

The authors have the qualifications to write a book such as this. Mary Ewing-Mulligan is a Master of Wine, and both Mary and Ed McCarthy are Certified Wine Educators. They know how to present the material factually and with a lot of humor thrown in as well. Thanks for the introduction to wine, guys.

Susan’s take:

Wine for Dummies is a fun read that packs tons of information into a format you look forward to flipping through. For me, this is a “Dipper.” I like to dip into the pages at random, discovering new bits and pieces, ideas and knowledge I can stash away for recall at some unexpected point in the future.

Like all the Dummies books, there’s plenty of humour, and the authors don’t hesitate to poke a little good-natured fun at themselves and each other. I find myself laughing as I learn.

Now in its fourth edition, Mary and Ed have also written four companion books: White Wine for Dummies, French Wine for Dummies, Italian Wine for Dummies, Champagne for Dummies.

PS: For those of you who can’t wait to lay your hands on a copy, here’s a short excerpt to explain why it’s Champagne and not champagne.

“Champagne is a specific sparkling wine (made from certain grape varieties and produced in a certain way) that comes from a region in France called Champagne. Unfortunately for the people of Champagne, France, their wine is so famous that the name champagne has been borrowed again and again by producers elsewhere, until the word has become synonymous with practically the whole category of sparkling wines. For the French, limiting the use of the name champagne to the wines of the Champagne region has become a cause célèbre. European Union regulations not only prevent any other member country from calling its sparkling wines champagne, but also prohibit the use of terms that even suggest the word champagne, such as fine print on the label saying that a wine was made using the “champagne method.” What’s more, bottles of sparkling wine from countries outside the European Union – such as the US and Australia – that use the word champagne on the label are banned from sale in Europe. The French are that serious.”

So now you know. If you want more, check out the latest edition of Wine for Dummies for yourself.


Free the vines!

Susan’s Warning:

Okay, so I have to admit sometimes – just once in a while mind you – Frank becomes a little bit, shall we say “focused.” Sure some might call it “obsessive,” the more diplomatic suggest “tunnel vision,” but I’d argue there is a fine, although distinct line between soapbox oratory and a good, get it off your chest rant.

Truth be known, I love them both but the latter are usually way more fun. Today’s missive, judging by the length of Frank’s run-on sentences and total lack of paragraphing (at least in the original draft he showed me) are the clearest indications this is a soapbox rant par excellence.

So here’s a bit of history for our more civilized neighbours who can actually purchase their favourite vintages through a variety of suppliers including – imagine that – the local grocery store. Here in BC, we have long suffered a stifling monopoly known as the LCB (Liquor Control Board). One supplier? You read it right – one supplier.

It’s changing, but not quickly enough for either one of us. Still we take heart in the fact some truly outstanding wines now grace the shelves of stores like Marquis Wines (www.marquis-wines.com) and the Kitsilano Wine Cellar (no website yet but an interesting hot sheet by signing up at info@kitswine.com info@kitswine.com).

Frank’s Rant:

I have just spent the morning reading wine reviews. The good news: I found over a dozen wines that look interesting. The bad news: it took less than 15 minutes with the LCB listing book before it became apparent our government monopoly imports not a single one of them.

Time for a little more research. Do you know those evil bastards only list 115 wines from Burgundy? One hundred and fifteen wines, total – including all the reds and all the whites. Most are from the general appellations, basic everyday table wines.

Burgundy has over 400 AOCs and thousands of producers. We get 115 wines to choose from? Four bottom end Meursaults? Four out of 29 premier crus and over a hundred domaine bottlers in Meursault alone? Just thinking of other examples where we only get the bottom one or two out of a rich range of products available could absolutely send me over the edge.

Now here’s where it gets even more entertaining. Why don’t I import some of these wines myself? They’ve already thought of that. By the time I add duties, taxes, and miscellaneous other charges from our provincial monopoly and some extra assistance from the Canadian government, the price doubles.

I also have to buy a full case of each wine. No mixing and matching – it’s a full case of each wine or nothing. Adding insult to injury, I have to pay half up front, and it’s going to take up to three months with no guarantee the wine will even still be available by the time the peons process their masses of paperwork – we are, after all, talking about vineyards that sometimes produce as little as a couple of hundred cases in a given vintage. Somehow I doubt these winemakers are going to wait around while our Canadian government processes the requisite forms, files, and registries.

The Australians will not even ship to a private address in Canada. I talked to two distributors – Victoria Wine Cellar and Vintage Direct – both firmly established, well-respected producers of Australian collectable wines. Neither one will even think about shipping to Canada. So much for that bottle of Penfold’s Grange.

I did an online search for American wine distributors. As soon as I entered “Canada” into the address alarms bells go off, red lights flash, and it’s basically an instantaneous “No Go.” I even called one of these companies and talked to a very nice young man about buying some wine – a limited production Amarone.

We were trucking right along until the word “Canada” came up. No way. Too much trouble, too much time filling out forms, not worth the cost. In short, no wine. He did suggest he had some Canadian customers who had a box number somewhere in the US, and, as he put it, “made their own arrangements for bringing it home.”

Off to visit some English websites. I found the same Amarone at a shop in the UK. It was a little cheaper than in the US, but it still carried a hefty price tag of £160. I sat down with the trusty calculator.

By the time I’d added duties, shipping, and currency exchange, I could fly to London on a commercial jet, spend a night at the opera or threatre, pick up two bottles of wine, bring them home, and be completely legal with Canada customs for less money than shipping them to Canada. Am I missing something here?

Susan’s note:

Actually, there is something to be said for flying to London and checking out Agatha Christie’s the Mousetrap. You buy three bottles, drink one in the hotel that night and come back with two that have just cost you less than staying home. You probably don’t even need to pack more than carry on baggage. Seems like there’s an opportunity here, although I will likely need to cultivate the attention of every single shirt-tail relative in the general London area as it also sounds quite deliciously habit forming.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Quirky Champagne Corkers

by Frank

The Australians have taken the alternate stopper gone too far! Crown caps on Champagne? The same crown caps that are on your six pack of Bud or Coors on a bottle of Cristal? Has the world gone mad?

No pop, no ceremony, and – worse yet – one more tool you have to carry: a beer bottle opener. Race car drivers will have to search through their uniform pockets uniforms after checkered flag falls at the 24-Hour Le Mans. Perhaps hockey victors will find what they need rattling around in the bottom of the Stanley Cup.

Imagine executives negotiating the final details of the big merger with a beer bottle opener waiting on the high gloss, oak boardroom table – I hope not. And think about opening the customary bottle of Mumm’s to toast your daughter and new son-in-law – just wait a minute, dear, while I pull out my plastic coated, dime store bottle opener.

I attempt to visualize how this scenario will work. White linens, elegant place setting, chilled Riedel flutes, oysters resting on their bed of salt… and opening the Veuve Clicquot with a bottle opener. This picture just does not work for me.

I admit you can do some damage opening a bottle of Champagne or any other sparkling wine. There is a danger of possibly breaking a fingernail or putting out someone’s eye. I’ve seen people crack windows and chip the chandelier. But, there is a natural thrill in correctly opening a bottle of your favourite bubbly, hearing the familiar pop that inevitably means a party or celebration. I suppose you could still sabre a bottle with a crown cap to create some festive aspect, some sense of “event” to go with your bottle of Taittinger.

We can only hope the Champagne houses do not follow this trend from “Down Under.” There are some bottles of wine that should always come with a cork, with some sense of event and social gathering attached to it. I am sure cork producers can carry on doing their research in avoiding cork taint and still leave our Champagne intact. They should be strongly encouraged to stay the course and save us all from this threat to civilization as I know it.

Susan’s Note:

I didn’t actually think this was the best time to engage in a conversation about Stelvin caps on our favourite bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, so I waited until initial horror of this whole Champagne cork situation wore off. As usual, I confess I’m somewhat more concerned with what the contents of my glass taste like than what kind of closing was used.

About an hour later, we opened a bottle of Veuve Clicquot – thankfully, with a cork that gave a delightful pop – Frank shucked us a few oysters, and we cruised around the web looking for more cork info.

There’s plenty out there, but if you really want to get into this whole question – that is of course risking life, limb, and bottle opener – here’s a site we discovered that you can have a lot of fun with. You’ll even get a certificate to become a Certified Cork Expert.


For example, did you know that cork trees produce up to 20 harvests over the course of their lifetime? Or that the average lifespan of a tree is typically between 170 and 200 years? Portugal leads the way in cork production supplying over half of the world’s supply, followed by Spain, Algeria and Italy.

Let us know what you think of this great little resource. And in the meantime, I think I’ll keep one of those cutesy, artsy fartsy bottle openers – probably the one with the fake lava carving of some obscure Hawaiian god. I’d hate to actually have to go out and buy a dime store beer bottle opener. I’ll just keep this item of sacrilege shall we say “well hidden” – at least for now.