Archive for February, 2014

Minnesota wines

February 27th, 2014

Minnesota wines

By Joseph Temple

Wine and Minnesota.  Two words that few people living outside the North Star State would put in the same sentence.  With temperatures dipping to well below zero during the winter months, the land of ten thousand lakes appears to be an odd place for winemaking.  And yet, the state is one of America’s fastest growing regions for viticulture, with its wineries and vineyards producing over 90,000 gallons in 2009.

So how could a region synonymous with Vikings and frigid weather produce such quality wine usually associated with a lush Mediterranean climate?  The answer: working alongside state vintners, scientists at the University of Minnesota have created a series of grape varieties that are able to withstand harsh winters while producing truly exceptional wines.

Some of these include:

Marquette – descending from pinot noir grapes and offering tannins that most of the region’s grapes cannot, this is a dry red wine with a complex, spicy and fruity finish;

Frontenac Gris – similar to Riesling, this white wine has traces of honey crisp apple and tropical/citrus fruit flavors;

La Crescent – a sweet wine perfect for dessert, its intense apricot, citrus and pineapple aromas make it one of U of M’s best creations.

With two branches in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Rochester, the International Wine & Food Society is proud to be active in the region.  So please share your thoughts and experiences of Minnesota wine in the comments section.

Have you tried wine from Minnesota?

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February 24th, 2014

1989 Bordeaux at 25
By Jamain (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hard to believe the 25th anniversary has already arrived for the 1989 vintage. An excellent year for wines in many parts of the world. Bordeaux flourished with a hot summer resulting in a large early very ripe harvest at lower acidity levels released at high prices. Enjoyed last week two retrospectives on 1989 Bordeaux one in Vancouver by our Commanderie de Bordeaux group and another in Yountville California by Society of Bacchus America. I have some mixed feelings overall on the consistency of this year but there are some great bottles. So if you have any of these stored away it might be a good time to check them out.

In Vancouver the generally well thought of region of Pomerol didn’t sing. Vieux Chateau Certan which started picking their merlot early at the end of August appeared in shades of brown showing its age rather weak thin and drying out – bad storage?; the Fleur de Gay 100% older vines merlot from La Croix de Gay showed deeper reddish colour with a lovely intense ripe sweetness but rather one dimensional; Le Gay with 35 cab franc in the mix had a dark look with floral elements on the bouquet but very soft low acidity for drinking now; and the usually powerful L’Evangile (82, 90, 00) OK with slight iron minerality underneath but light and aging rapidly in colour and taste. The Left Bank faired better with Pichon-Longueville-Baron the clear winner. I have been following this wine even before it won in 1992 the Wine Spectator Wine of the Year Award. Displays now an impressive dark young red colour right to the rim with buckets of round ripe rich complex fruit. A knockout structured Pauillac with the right kind of tannins and fun to compare with their delicious 1990 both vintages drinking well but no rush to consume. Outshone the less rich spicy Latour, the elegant lovely stylish textbook St Julien Leoville Las Cases and a disappointing browner rustic Calon Segur from St. Estephe.

In California my impressions were slightly different. The Clinet showed success of lovely floral herbal ripe Pomerol stylish fruit. Pichon Baron disjointed with a surprisingly acid edge atypical for this vintage while a second bottle showed better balanced fruit but still leaner than expected. Why? Storage? Even Lynch Bages was more together with a better showing of smooth full round sweet fruit. Montrose as expected dark solid powerful extracted (like 1990) but coarser with loads of potential but way too young presently. The two stars for me resulted in a dead heat finish between Haut Brion & Margaux. Fortunate to try this HB 100 pointer RMP several times and always is truly outstanding. Picking here commenced August 31 and again style, elegance and vibrancy impress but seemed harder, more tannins and still almost closed in to me. Last month a bottle of 1989 La Mission Haut Brion (another 100 pointer) was more impressively open with a spectacular bouquet. The 1989 Margaux amazed combining that elusive combo of elegance with power in a rounder classy cab sauv statement of complex perfumes from exotic flowers. So fresh alive and truly delicious. This wine seems to show improvement ever time I try it – but then this one was served in a double magnum three litre format! I am sure it is outstanding in 750 ml as well.

All in all a pretty good showing by 1989 Bordeaux at 25 but variable from property to property. Look forward to comparing the twin vintage of 1990 next year.

Please chime in with your comments on a 1989 Bordeaux you have experienced or a 1989 from any other wine region you have enjoyed.

Have you tried 1989 Bordeaux?

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10 facts about the Napa Valley you might not know

February 21st, 2014
By Joseph Temple
As one of America’s most famous wine growing regions, the Napa Valley is world renown for producing some of the best wine across the globe. The International Wine & Food Society is proud to have branches all over the world, including the the Napa Valley Branch, which hosts numerous events throughout the year.
But here are some interesting facts you might not know about this Northern California hotspot. Anything surprise you? Let us know by posting your comments below.
Special thanks to the Napa Valley Vintners website for providing this information.
 Napa Valley Wine Region

1. A mere 4% of all the wine grapes grown in California come from Napa Valley.

 Vineyard in Napa Valley, California

 2. The Napa Valley has a dry Mediterranean climate, covering only 2% of the Earth’s surface.

 Napa Valley Sign

 3. The Napa Valley wine industry represents $50 billion dollars to the American economy.

 Napa Valley Vineyard

 4. There are approximately 430 physical wineries in Napa County producing 815 different wine brands.

 Napa Valley Vineyard

 5. 95% of all Napa Valley
wineries are family owned.

 Statue of a worker at a wine press in Napa Valley, California

 6. The wine industry in Napa Valley generates over 300,000 jobs in the United States.

 Rainbow over Napa Valley

 7. Vineyards range in elevations from sea level to 2,600 feet above sea level.

 Napa Valley Wine Cellar

 8. Of Napa Valley Vintners, 67% produce fewer than 5,000 cases annually.

 Napa Valley sunset

 9. 10% of Napa County is in permanent Conservation Easements.

 The Garnett Creek Bridge

10.  There are more than 300 stone-arch bridges in the Napa Valley.

10 tips for a successful wine tasting party

February 19th, 2014

10 tips for a successful wine tasting

By Joseph Temple
A wine tasting party is one of the most popular event ideas for the branches of the International Wine and Food Society. Whether at a restaurant or a private home, it’s a great way to increase your knowledge of wine while giving our members a chance to interact and engage with each other in a relaxing and friendly environment.
But what if you’ve never held one before?  Don’t worry – in addition to a well ventilated room, white lighting and clear colorless glasses, here are ten helpful tips to guide you through your first wine tasting:
No Perfumes or Colognes for your wine tasting

1.  No Colognes or Perfumes

A vital aspect to any successful tasting is the ability to use your nose.  Smelling the wine’s aromas before you take that first sip enhances the entire experience.  So tell your guests not to put on any strong colognes, after shaves or perfumes which can disguise their sense of smell.

No Smoking at your Wine Tasting

2.  No Smoking

In this day and age, it should be a given.  However, for many smokers, wine and cigarettes are like peanut butter and jelly – they just go together.  But for the sake of other guests, make sure your tasting is done in a non-smoking environment.  Like perfumes and colognes, the smell of smoke will hinder the whole tasting experience.

Use white tablecloths for your wine tasting

3. The color white is your best friend

Another key element for any successful tasting is the ability to judge the color of your wine.  So if the backdrop or tablecloth in the room contains multiple or dark colors, this task is now much more difficult.  Therefore, if possible, choose a room with light colored walls for your tasting and make sure the tablecloths are white.

Blind wine tasting

4. Make it a blind tasting

For your party, you don’t want anyone’s bias towards a particular wine to affect the outcome.  And since many bottles have both good and bad reputations, a blind tasting eliminates any subjective influencing while enhancing the suspense of the entire night when finally, the wines everyone has been judging are  revealed.  To do this, disguise the bottles by placing them in brown paper bags or by wrapping shelf paper around each bottle.  Then use a maker or pencil to identify each wine as either “A, B, C…” or “1, 2, 3 …”

Wine Tasting Score Card

5. Have scorecards and pencils for each guest

In order to see which wines end up on top, provide each guest with a score card or sheet and a pencil so they can assign their ratings.  If you want the scorecard to be geared towards beginners, download and print off one like this.  For more challenging cards, where the people at your tasting are judging a wine’s clarity, color, etc.., try using this or a similar card.

Water and Spittoons for your wine tasting

6. Provide a glass of water
to each guest and spittoons

Tasting so many wines in such a short period of time without rinsing can play games with your palate.  So give your guests a chance to cleanse their mouths with either a glass of water or a spittoon (or something they can spit the wine out into if they choose).

A thematic wine tasting

7. Compare “like with like”

To provide your palate with the best training, find a common link by trying what’s called a thematic tasting.  For example, choose one grape variety from different regions or the same type of wine but from different producers or the same wine across an array of vintages.

Wine Tasting Order 8. If you want to taste many wines,
follow this order:

  • White before Red
  • Dry before sweet
  • Light Body before Full Body
  • Young before Old
Wine Tasting Glassware

9. Choosing the right glassware

In addition to being clear and colorless, a tasting glass should have a generous rounded bowl, a sufficient stem with which to hold the glass and be spotlessly clean.

Don't Drink and Drive

10. Be responsible

As the host, its your job that everyone who attends your wine tasting arrives home safely.  So make sure that nobody who plans on getting behind the wheel has too much to drink.


Did we miss anything?  Comment below if you have any other suggestions or share your wine tasting experiences.


February 17th, 2014

Tawny Ports
By Desi (Flickr: Bottles of tawny Port wine in Lisbon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We are very fortunate indeed to have the IWFS Vancouver Branch under the capable joint leadership of Milena and Jim Robertson. They were also instrumental (along with Dave Felton and others) in organizing our successful IWFS Festival held in Vancouver from September 11-16, 2012. For their stellar efforts they deservedly were recently awarded respectively the BGA Silver & Gold Medals.

They are also port aficionados. On December 9, 2011 they organized a memorable Taylor lunch showing off 15 ports – 10 vintage ports ranging from 1985 back to 1955 including the outstanding 1963 and 5 tawny of 10, 20, 30, 40 years and the incomparable Scion (over 150 years in wood). February 14, 2014 was another of their interesting port profile lunches showing this time 9 tawny ports from Graham’s.

We enjoyed “The Tawny” (7-9 years in seasoned oak”) recommended use as an aperitif or served with almond tart or crème brulee, 10 Year (for apple pie & cinnamon), 20 Year classic style showing the best fruit (for nuts, dried fruits, fruitcake, vanilla ice cream), 30 Year (for dark chocolate), 40 Year (dark chocolate or dessert in its own right), and four Single Harvest (“Colheita”) all showing more green olive tones:

1982:   Bottled 2013  # 3898 Lovely flowery herbal notes

1969:   Bottled 2012 #072 Special bottling of 6 exceptional casks (each cask produces 712 bottles) of the 21 in the cellars shows more caramel/toffee

1961:    No bottling date shown on bottle #607 from Cask 3 but outstanding Bordeaux vintage & special birth year of Barack Obama shows complex coffee notes

1952:   Bottled 2012 # 0847 to honour the Queen on her 60th anniversary Diamond Jubilee Year surprisingly deeper brown colour with drier elegance showing molasses, cloves & dried fruits

The lunch appropriately had some brilliant food pairings Portugal style from sardines in olive oil, dried salted cod (bacalhau), pork & clams (perfect magnum of 1999 Quinta da Leda Casa Ferreirinha from the Douro) and dessert of Portuguese creamy egg custard tarts. That last item was divine with any of the 9 Graham’s tawny ports!

More background detail on “The Tenets of Tawny Port” can be found at

Do you enjoy tawny port? Are you able to share a successful food pairing with them?

Have you tried Tawny Ports?

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