Monday, May 28, 2007

Think Pink: Rosé Wine Tasting Aids Breast Cancer Research

It’s not often we get the chance to taste wine and support cancer research at the same time. I’ve lost almost half my family to cancer, Frank’s lost several friends. So when we saw one of Vancouver’s premier restaurants was hosting a four-course, “Think Pink” Rosé wine and food pairing dinner throughout the month of May, there was more than the usual motivation to check it out.

Le Gavroche is located near Stanley Park in a restored, West End heritage home. Owner Manuel Ferreira says the concept for the fundraiser ($5 from every Think Pink dinner is donated to the BC Cancer Foundation in support of breast cancer research and awareness) began when his best friend died of breast cancer. “Most people are aware of issues of breast cancer as it relates to women. But it’s still not well known that one in every hundred men is also afflicted.”

Jurgen Gothe, CBC radio host, wine and food authority, and himself a cancer survivor as well as close friend of Manuel, finally asked the question: why aren’t we going to the people who have been there, the survivors? “Jurgen acknowledges cancer is a private issue,” Manuel says. “But he has told me many times that if people ask, he will go to any length to enhance public awareness.”

The result is the first of what Manuel anticipates will become an annual tradition at Le Gavroche – a pairing of “pink” wines with inspired culinary creations. From an oenophile’s point of view, his decision is not only a bold departure from tradition but a challenge few would be willing to risk. Eliminating both red and white wines effectively removes more than 95% of possible pairings – and virtually all “classic” matches. Add in the unfortunately still lingering public perception of Rosé wines as sweet, cloying, cheap plonk, and it’s astonishing anyone would even attempt it. To pull it off with aplomb is a credit to Manuel’s expertise and tenacity.

We arrived almost a quarter of an hour early with no expectations. I confess, our waiter immediately charmed me when, in response to my question about whether the restaurant was at one time call “Lily le Puce,” replied without hesitation “Well, yes it was – but now I know you’re a little older than the thirty that I thought you were.” Never underestimate the power of flattery.

The regular menu was enticing but we concentrated on the special “Power of Pink” insert – we were, after all, here on a mission of discovery.

Appies was the only course where we made different choices – but hey, appies are meant to be shared in any case. My preference was the fresh Dungeness Crab with grapefruit, watermelon relish, and fennel coulis. Frank picked scallops with carrot ginger flan and truffle vinaigrette. The wine was Chateau Silex Rosé – our waiter was delighted to bring the bottle to our table so we could see for ourselves. Made from Syrah and Grenache with a touch of Cinsault, it was crisp, refreshing, dry, and a comfortable pairing with both dishes. Later, we discovered this Rhone Valley wine is one of four newcomers to the appellation and aptly considered a rising star of amazing value.

For the second course, we chose the Assorted Proscuitto Plate over the Belgium Endive and Stilton with Port dressing. Later we laughed as we admitted to each other that we were both heavily influenced by wanting to try the 2005 Dourthe N1 Rosé it was paired with rather than the Joie Rosé we’ve enjoyed on a number of previous occasions. Made from 100% Cabernet, this wine had the nose of penny candy and strawberries I associate with picnics at the beach in summer. It worked well with the lighter Proscuittos, but we felt it couldn’t quite stand up to the saltier, darker versions. Still, it was once again, a very comfortable match and one it would be hard to find fault with.

It was at this point that I succumbed to my journalistic nature – I needed pen and paper. My request for a copy of the menu and a pen was met with a flicker of almost instantly concealed curiosity. Attempting to be semi-discreet, I jotted a few notes and tucked the paper under the bread basket.

Our main course was wild salmon with cauliflower, asparagus, and pesto vinaigrette. Thankfully, no one seemed to care – or even notice – when I snapped a photograph of the artful presentation. The paired wine was bone dry, had a subtle hint of earthy truffles, and was one of those “Ohhhh, this is so good” matches. It was definitely not the St Hubertus listed on the menu. Frank pegged it as similar to a Chateauneuf-du Pape – meaning it could be a combination of up to 13 different grape varietals. We didn’t bother to speculate on which ones. “Is this really a BC wine?” I asked our waiter the next time he passed by.

“Mais non, it izz Frrrrancais.” Okay, so I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy about his accent. But he soon produced the bottle of Pere Anselme Vin de Pay DOC (we never could find any information on the web about this wine), along with a second glass each, to prove his point that this was, indeed, a French wine. Yes, it is a Chateauneuf-du Pape wine and yes, he would be more than happy to bring us the correct menu insert – he couldn’t imagine how such an error could have occurred. This time, though, he gave my pen a long, pointed stare.

Now I’ll admit that sometimes my attention span could be improved, but when the second pink sheet appeared beside my wine glass I knew I wasn’t suffering a memory lapse. Our first wine had most definitely not been the Yellow Tail Rosé listed – not only did it not taste like it, but we had already seen the bottle. And the reason neither of us had ordered the Duck Breast and Confit with Pear Madeira Sauce for our main course was because the Yellow Tail Shiraz-Grenache it was paired with just didn’t appeal.

Still, as we sipped our final wine of the evening, Moet & Chandon Brut Rosé Champagne (a seductive, yeasty blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) impeccably paired with Lichi Li Crème Brulee, we agreed the evening had been a stellar example of thinking outside the box – or perhaps more appropriately, outside the bottle. The first two pairings were solid, the second two were exceptional – utterly remarkable after having restricted themselves to something less than 5% of the normal wines to chose from.

Although we’re sure we tried the patience and curiosity of the wait staff with our barrage of wine geek questions, note taking, and requests for clarification about the wine listings, they were unfailingly attentive. We’re also well aware we were probably the only patrons that night who were there specifically to sample the diversity Rosé wines have to offer.

The evening’s greatest strength was having an opportunity to compare four vastly different Rosés, its sole weakness was the confusion surrounding what was on the menu as opposed to what was in the glass. Knowing we contributed in some very small way to improving the hope of a cure for cancer was a bonus.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unusual Wines of South America: Signature Varietals of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay

Yaletown is one of those Vancouver neighbourhoods that actually live up to the term “fun and funky.” Cobblestone streets, chi-chi loft-style condominiums in what were once old warehouses, boutiques, galleries, plus an eclectic mix of what can only be described as “characters.” All in all, a perfect setting for a night sipping some of the more unusual wines from the South World.

The event was the monthly (well, more or less monthly) tasting put on by our eclectic group of South World Wine Society enthusiasts. We met at the LK Dining Lounge, a trendy Latin American restaurant one patron described as “deliciously drool-inducing.” Paul Watson, our illustrious cellar master, had obviously taken great delight in pouring wines that ranged from difficult to impossible to find plus a few varietals almost no one in the room had heard of.

The reception wine was Pascual Toso Brut N/V from Argentina. A crisp, dry blend of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this sparkler is a deal at about $16. Made in the traditional style, it’s got the great yeasty nose we both enjoy. Yes, we’re both thinking oysters – again. What can we say, some things never change.

The two other whites of the evening were a 2006 Bouchon Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) and a 2006 Norton Torrontes (Argentina). All at our table agreed the Sauvignon Blanc had good acidity and went well with the Tomato-Basil and Green Olive Tapenade Bruchetta that was the evening’s first culinary creation from Chef Travis Williams. More in the South African style, there’s no hint of the cat’s pee or gooseberry of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc here.

But it was the Torrontes that seemed to hit everyone’s nose and palate with a delightful “Ahhh.” Floral and perfumey, hints of apricot or for some the whole Okanagan fruit stand, most of us kept coming back to this glass just to inhale the aromas some more. Several said it reminded them of a Viognier, for others it was Gewurztraminer, and there was a brief rumbling about Riesling as well. According to Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes, Torrontes “can be positively heady and beautifully refreshing.” He does caution, however, he’s never found one that ages well beyond two years and suggests it’s better to drink within a year. So this is a problem with a wine this much fun?

Next up was our only Pinot Noir of the night, the 2005 EQ from Matetic (Chile). Organically grown (vineyards shown below) and with a typical nose, this was the evening’s overall winner in the popularity contest but evoked more than a couple of gasps around our table when we learned the price was $45. The consensus was “overall nice wine – but not at the price.”

For many years mistaken to be Merlot, our 2003 Vina Leydo Carmenere Reserve (Chile) had the classic green pepper taste of this varietal – in spades. Definitely a food wine, it was still surprisingly smooth. Oz Clarke notes the grape “dislikes irrigation or rain between winter and harvest time, and water at this time exacerbates the green pepper flavour” which he adds needs to “be kept under control.”

Making a debut as the first Uruguayan wine the society has ever poured, the 2004 Pisano Tannat got mixed reviews. We agreed it was a wine that cried out to be served with red meats, although the comment was also made “I keep waiting for it to do something definitive and it just isn’t.” Tannat represents a third of Uruguay’s wine production.

Our final three wine were all Malbecs – one blended with Bonarda, two 100%. The winner at our table, and overall the second most popular wine of the evening, was the 2005 Vinas de Balbo Malbec/Bonarda, a 30/70 blend unfortunately not available locally. We agreed that, just like a good Beaujolais, this is an almost quintessential picnic wine – bring on the cold cuts, finger food, and a red checkered blanket. Not surprisingly, the particularly excellent Cordero Costrada a la Hierba (grilled, herb-crusted lamb chop, cilantro chimichurri) simply packed too much flavour punch to balance this wine, but the Camaron (coconut-crusted prawn, sweet red chile dip) worked admirably.

To end the evening, we sampled a Dona Paula 2002 Malbec Seleccion de Bodega (Argentina) and a Morande 1999 Malbec (Chile). Both were full and delicious on the nose, both were quite yummy with Chef Travis’ Brocheta di Lomo Adobado (beef tenderloin skewer, three-chile salsa) and the lamb. And here’s some cool stuff we discovered later. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson, while Argentina has more than 27,000 acres of Malbec under vine, the Australians “have no great respect for their Malbec and have been uprooting it systematically until the early 1990s.”

Although we had trouble locating a few of these wines on the web, we did find a good resource for listings of Argentinean vineyards at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

British Columbia’s Gulf Islands Make VQA News

There’s a new appellation in British Columbia. Well, okay, it’s not really that new – two years old actually. But it arrived with so little fanfare, many people are still not aware of its existence. Even Appellations America only recently learned of the new designation that it says currently encompasses just over 100 acres.

The Gulf Islands now officially join the Okanagan Valley, Fraser Valley, Similkameem Valley, and Vancouver Island to become British Columbia’s fifth VQA Appellation of Origin. According to Harry McWatter, founder of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in the Okanagan and an acknowledged BC wine industry leader, one reason for the designation was a response to the fact some Gulf Island wineries did not want to be simply lumped in with Vancouver Island.

Keith Watt, owner of Morning Bay Vineyard on Pender Island is reported to be delighted with the new appellation. “I believe the wines of the Gulf Islands have their own unique character, different from Vancouver Island wines and Fraser Valley wines. The ocean breezes, the soils, and the long, cool Mediterranean climate interact to create wines I believe will meet with great customer interest,” he said in an interview with Appellations America.

First to incorporate the new designation on their bottles was Saturna Island Family Estate Winery with their 2005 Pinot Noir. Since then, Salt Spring Vineyard (shown above left during harvest)have followed suit. For now, these remain the only two out of a growing number of wineries located on the Gulf Islands to be members of this appellation, but it will definitely be interesting to watch how many additional wineries come on board over the coming months.

According to the BC Wine Institute, the body that oversees the VQA program in British Columbia (Ontario also has a VQA designation):

The mild climate of the Strait of Georgia is very conducive to grape growing although scarcity of water and extreme aridity in summer present challenges. Like the Okanagan and Fraser Valleys, the Gulf Islands region had a well-established fruit-growing and market gardening tradition in the late 1800s.

Vineyards and wineries now are found on many Gulf Islands including Salt Spring, Pender, Saturna, Quadra, and Bowen with varietals planted included Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Protect Your Brain: Drink More Champagne

If you’re looking for an excuse to drink more bubbly – like we really need one? – here’s some great news from the good folks at University of Reading in England and the Università Degli Studi di Cagliari in Monserrato, Italy. Seems if you’re a regular sipper, you’re actually helping your brain protect itself against injuries and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. You may even be reducing the effects of aging.

According to a recent collaborative study that was published in the April 18th issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (and reported by Wine Spectator Online), it’s all thanks to a preponderance of plant-derived antioxidants – polyphenols if you want to be technically accurate. And Champagne is packed with them. In fact, mice that were “pretreated with Champagne wine extracts” showed a “significant protection against neurotoxicity” commonly found in stroke victims.

Although the authors of the study discovered the actual amounts of polyphenols found in Champagne vary greatly from “variety, vintage, and a wide range of environmental factors,” they did note these compounds all possess anti-inflammatory properties that help regulate brain cells’ reaction when injured and can also act as cellular-level mops ready to whisk away certain harmful chemicals found in the body. Terroir with attitude!

Now least you think Champagne is only about enhancing the performance of your little grey cells, check out Les Vertus Therapeutiques du Champagne (Therapeutic Virtues of Champagne) by Francois Bonal, Dr Tran Ky, and Dr Francois Drouard. This trio of experts suggest champagne aids digestion, its acidity cuts through fatty foods making it good for the stomach, it is easy digestibility and an ideal post-surgery foodstuff, it doesn’t give you a hangover or headache, it reduces fever and morning sickness, and Champagne is even claimed to have cured cholera in China in 1909. All this and Champagne gases are good for the respiratory system but don’t contribute to other socially unacceptable gases. Now does life get very much better than this?

PS: We tried and tried to locate the actual report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. So far we’re in an auto-responder loop with their customer service desk. If we find it, we’ll pass along the link. If anyone out there gets it before we do, please let us know.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bloom: The BC VQA Spring Releases

The sun shone, the mood was festive, the setting a combination of traditional elegance and West Coast eclectic. All in all, a perfect way to celebrate Bloom, the annual release of BC VQA wines.

And so, on May 15th, we found ourselves at the Fish House restaurant in Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park sampling the newest vintages of old favourites and checking out some new releases from more than 30 of BC’s wineries.

Not surprisingly, whites dominated the tasting – this has, after all, always been BC’s greatest strength. Less common varietals included Ehrenfesler, Kerner, Pinot Auxerrois, Siegerrebe, and Sovereign Opal. An unexpected treat was Peller Estates’ Trinity Private Reserve Icewine – a silky, amber blend of Vidal, Riesling, and Ehrenfelser that was subtly reminiscent of the Noble One Botrytis Semillon from De Bortoli we enjoyed for last month’s Great Grape Days tasting.

However, we were both surprised by the number of Pinot Gris wines that made an appearance here. From the “crisp lime in a glass” flavour of Red Rooster Winery on the Naramata Bench to the smooth minerality and richness of Burrowing Owl’s very limited edition (I tried to purchase two bottles the next day only to discover both stores I visited had a strict one bottle limit), this was the grape we courted most – almost to the exclusion of other offerings. And while we both agreed it lacked depth, for sheer fun and whimsy we had to laugh as we sampled Freudian Sip, a blend of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer (one day, I really will remember how to spell it without double checking) plus 20% Kerner from Therapy Vineyards. Although we didn't have time to sample, some of their other wines carry equally enchanting names: Pink Freud, Super Ego. This is one winery with a saucy sense of humour for sure.

Somehow, we still can’t quite figure out how, we missed the Stellar’s Jay Brut sparkling wine from Sumac Ridge – a wine we often serve with fresh oysters after a day spent wandering Granville Island – although we did make sure to snag a glass of the crisp but less yeasty Cipes Brut (shown )from Summerhill Pyramid Winery that was the reception wine. Guess we’ll just have to make up for our by a weekend visit to our nearest VQA wine store. Life should always be so tough.


VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, a designation that ensures grapes are 100% BC grown.

According to the BC Wine Institute, tourist visits to BC wineries more than tripled between 2002 and 2004.

More than 60 different grape varieties are grown in BC.

BC has more than 6,000 acres under vine and generates almost $150 million in annual sales.

There are five official wine growing regions in the province: Okanagan, Similkameen, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Keeping the Faith of Terroir

I have the faith. I believe in terroir.

What prompted this public assertion? A couple of days ago I was reading a posting by Alder Yarrow from Vinography commenting on an recent article about terroir that had been published in T Style magazine (New York Times. The premise: does terroir exist? And can it be proven, or do we just have to accept it does not till the scientists say it does?

I have tasted enough dirt to know that the soil on one side of a field is not the same as on the opposite side. It feels different, often does not even smell the same. Plants that grow in different parts of a field or vineyard don’t look the same or grow to a similar size. If you don’t believe me, just watch horses in a meadow – they will always pick one area for grazing first – only when that is used up will they move to another. They know the difference – even if they can’t define it as terroir.

Travel down a country road or hike along a trail and you will see terrior: cottonwood and willow by marshy areas, mountain pine and hemlock at higher altitudes replacing the cedar trees of the Pacific Northwest. Watch a farmer baling hay – if you smell the grass as it is being cut, one end will be different than the other. Try picking some sweet corn fresh off the plant. Some will simply taste better – same seed, same field, same weather, different flavour. This is terrior.

I have tasted wines made from a single crop and then fermented in identical barrels using the same yeasts. The only difference is that one barrel uses grapes from one row and a second from another row. They taste different. Terroir. A field worker can tell you the difference between vines growing only a few feet apart. Burgundy has been doing this for hundreds of years, so who am I to argue?

Terrior is everywhere. Some wine growing regions simply haven’t been in existence long enough to discover their unique terrior, the essential “someplace” that they are. It will come with time. Like me, Alder is a firm believer in terroir although he suggests he does not know where the meeting hall for the Church of Terrior is. I believe this particular church has no meeting hall, just many generations of vignerons working the vineyard and wine lovers looking for the unique “someplace” found in their glass.

I will maintain my faith in terrior because I have seen it, felt it, tasted it. For me, it exists every time I open a bottle.

Susan’s note:

Although we’ve talked about terroir before, I couldn’t help checking into this particular discussion a little further.

The original NY Times article by Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson notes: “if you ask a hundred people about the meaning of terroir, they’ll give you a hundred definitions, which can be as literal as tasting limestone or as metaphorical as a feeling.” After reading only a little further, I was left with the uncomfortable impression they feel this is negative, a quality that somehow belittles wines in general.

Think about it. If you were asked to describe your favourite vacation spot, would you be likely to include metaphor and a touch of whimsy? Of course. I defy anyone to say they wouldn’t.

When I describe my recent Caribbean holiday with my sister, I don’t discuss the average temperature in January versus May nor the percentage of salt in the water nor the statistical probability of encountering a hurricane on a given day. I talk of the feel of the ocean breeze ruffling my hair, our delight at discovering the Southern Cross twinkling in the night sky above our sail boat, the camaraderie Anita and I shared with Captain David (an old friend) and Claudia, his new lady love. This too is terroir.

Yes, I am also, and always will be, a believer.

PS: Here are a couple of other terroir sites worth checking out: (yet another take on the whole issue of terroir by Eric Asimov of NY Times)
(interesting info on French wines in general as well)

And yes, that's my sis jumping overboard with our fearless captain in pursuit of viewing the beauty of topic fish and even the occasional shark - no kidding.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tropical Wait Staff: Adventures in Caribbean Wine Drinking

My sister and I are just back from our annual Girls Only Vacation. Hot Caribbean sunshine, long sandy beaches, and – shall we say – a few challenges when it comes to wines and spirits. Tonight is our last night before heading home, and we are at a St Thomas hotel adjacent to the airport.

Last year, to the consternation of a beaming Trinidadian bartender at this same hotel, I attempted to order a pre-dinner Scotch neat. Simple enough I thought. However, our jovial Uncle Jemima simply could comprehend the idea of Scotch without something to go with it. Anything – water, ice, soda, just something. Eventually, to the amusement of two fellow Canadians who had evidently gone through the same ritual several times before, I did manage to convince him that Scotch can be savoured all on its own.

This year, there is a smiling young man with the whisper of a French accent who tells me the white wine is Chardonnay, then looks at me blankly when I inquire where it is from and whether it is heavily oaked. He thinks – perhaps – it is Chilean, from the Walnut Crescent vineyard? It is more question than statement. He shifts uncomfortable from one leg to the other, pen hovering, embarrassment obvious. Yes, yes, it is actually Walnut Crest… he thinks.

A fleeting look of panic flashes across his face when I ask, as gently as possible, what the red wine might be. It is a Mare-Low. Somehow he manages to make the word into three syllables. He hurries to assure me it is from the same vineyard clearly hoping this information will be sufficient to quell further interrogation. The thought flashes through my mind that in a beret and army fatigues he could be a poster boy for freedom fighters anywhere in the world – lean, trim, with a clean-shaven innocence, he is bordering on handsome but missing that je ne sais quoi mystic to be a runway model.

I order the Chardonnay, not so much because I prefer it to the red, but because it seems to fit the mood of a tropical afternoon. The "Caesar Salads" we both order are Virgin Island originals – slightly limp butter lettuce, Mozzarella cheese, and a dressing that tastes more closely related to blue cheese than garlic. The croutons are soggy. But the wine works better than the Mare-Low would have – whether it was two or three syllables. Like Frank, I could write a tasting note on the wine but why? It was pleasant enough in this place, at this time. And it is a vintage now imprinted on my memory more permanently than any ink on paper.

(Photo taken on the beach at St John, US Virgin Islands)

Monday, May 07, 2007

BC Wines are Blooming

Good news for BC wine drinkers – according to the latest BC Wine Institute crop survey, the 2006 grape harvest is up 40% over the short crop year of 2005 and 22% over 2004 which is deemed to be a more typical year.

Even better, industry experts say the 2006 vintages taste better too. “I’ve been making wines since 1972, and both the quality and quantity of the 2006 crop were fantastic,” says George Heiss, proprietor Gray Monk Estate Winery in the northern Okanagan. “The flavours of our whites are much more pronounced than either the 2004 or 2005 vintages.”

Kim Pullen, proprietor of Church & State Winery on Vancouver Island notes their 2006 Pinot Noir did particularly well despite early than normal rains. And in the Similkameen Valley, Ann Heinecke, winemaker for Crowsnest Vineyards (winery store shown below) adds that while their grape output remained relatively unchanged from 2004, the quality of the Crowsnest crop was “perfect with whites exhibiting intense flavours.”

Senka Tennant, winemaker for Black Hills Winery on the Black Sage Bench in the Southern Okanagan, however, believes 2006 was “a red year. The late grapes – like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – really benefited from last year’s growing season.” He adds that 2006 was the best Cab year Black Hills Winery has enjoyed to date.

FYI for all you trivia buffs. According the Wine Institute’s crop survey increases in yield, quality, and evolving consumer tastes have produced some shuffling in the pecking order of the 2006 Top Ten grape varieties. Merlot and Chardonnay grapes continue to hold the Number One and Two spots respectively for tons harvested since 1999. However, since 2005 Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir have moved into 3rd, 4th and 5th place from their original 4th, 7th and 6th spots. The rising popularity of the Pinots has displaced Cabernet Sauvignon to 6th place, leaving Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc to round out list of top ten varietals for 2006.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ode To Terrior and Tasting Notes

I hate tasting notes. Okay, maybe that’s too harsh. I dislike tasting notes – intensely.

Actually, I’ve written hundreds of tasting notes. I’ve written them on restaurant coasters, on the back of business cards, on program guides, and on god only knows what else. I have also spent many evenings in class writing tasting notes and have committed to memory the WSET systematic approach – I’m sure I can now write a note so anyone who has taken the WSET program would be able to pick out the wine I’m describing.

And I read other people’s tasting notes. Books on evaluating wine fill my bookshelves – lots of pages and hundreds, more likely thousands of hours of reading. I peruse glossy wine magazines, newspapers, and the Internet although many of those entries make me want to cry – bad grammar and a total lack of information. I’ve discovered Wine Spectator even has a game: match the wine with the tasting note plus a silly tasting note generator – fun for a while but the novelty wears off soon.

The problem with most tasting notes is that they don’t actually tell you anything. They don’t put the wine in any context. Is it typical of its type or region? Is it a wine for sipping or one that needs food to be enjoyed more fully? And is there something horribly wrong with saying whether you actually liked it or not?

Most tasting notes are all very politically and technically correct. You put the wine in a glass – preferably the same ISO glass every time so you have a benchmark for comparison. You go through the list for whatever system you use, dutifully comparing what’s in your glass against a series of standards. At the end of the exercise, you allocated points or stars or say it is – or isn’t – technically correct.

Sure, what you’ve just written will remind you, at a later date, whether the vintage you just had tastes like black pepper and blackberries, whether it has some sweet vanilla overtones, or perhaps the zing of lime. But when you get right down to it, most of your efforts have basically been useless.

Where in all these notes is the soul of the wine, the “Ahhhh” that is a truly outstanding wine? Where in these notes is the terroir, the art of the winemaker, the joy and pleasure?

Give me some indication of how the wine affected you. Did you love it or hate it? Was it perfect for sitting on the front porch on a sunny afternoon? Would you buy it for your wife or for yourself? Is this a wine you would take to Mom’s for dinner?

The notes I write for myself tend to descriptors and adjectives that aren’t techno or politically correct. They are about the people I had the wine with, the food or the music that went with a particular bottle of wine. My favorite Amarone I describe as “Sophia Loren dressed in silk and eating black cherries.” Another I describe as “Callas hitting a perfect high C in a Rossini opera.”

Emile Peynaud
, writing in his book The Taste of Wine, is able to put techno and art together. He talks of how Bordeaux tasters describe their wines with references to their mistresses, while those from Burgundy use analogies about their wives. Alas, this style of comparison is no longer seen as “correct” although his techno notes still set a benchmark in the wine world.

Most of the wines I drink for pleasure are ones that come from a special “someplace” or are made by small wineries. I guess I am looking for the art of the winemaker. Maybe one day I will find a way to put that in a tasting note.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cooperative Sips? Well, Maybe...

And ranking right up there in the Top Ten of All Time Silliness here come My Other Half Wine Glasses – also know as cooperative wine glasses. As shown, this matched pair is connected via tubing at the bottom – which, by the law of gravity, means liquid always flows down to the lowest glass. Presents a few dilemmas while sipping for sure, but is just so ridiculous we thought we’d pass it on.

Responding to the apparently looming question “And how will this definitely non-Riedel stemware affect the romance of sipping wine on a hot date?” (clearly something the couple shown below are not exactly on just at this moment)from the site we found, among others, these comments:

Camaro02 says: Okay, that means that when I go out on a date with a short girl, she will get hammered. So if I do not want my date getting hammered I have to find a tall girl. If anyone knows of any tall, geek-loving girls in the Chicagoland area please let me know. I will supply the wine and dinner.

BayTraveler responds: If you fill both glasses and someone lifts their glass the other glass over flows. You won't be able to put more into both glasses than one glass would hold unless you both drink at the same time. Tall chicks are over rated. Go short - there's much to be said for micro-dates.

And here are words of wisdom from Watersketch: This is why real geeks always bring binder clips to a date, just in case...

Check it out for yourself at