Archive for March, 2015

Benjamin Bridge Sparkling Wines

March 30th, 2015

Sparkling wines in the Gaspereau Valley

Impressed by the increasing quality of sparkling wines available from around the globe. Champagne still remains the benchmark but lots of delightful different styles out there to try. One region the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia Canada and one producer Benjamin Bridge ( have made amazing strides in the last decade.  I have been an enthusiastic supporter of them since my visit there on August 22, 2011 when I was blown away with this project and thought I would now alert you. I appreciated the passion, optimism and individual attention to cuvees shown by Winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and his team on that occasion. Couldn’t believe that such low Brix (18+), high acidity (14+), and low pH (around 3) aged some time on the lees would actually work so successfully. Tried the recently disgorged samples from the 2004 vintage which were eye openers. Blanc de Blancs 100% Chardonnay (only 200 bottles) with no malo & no dosage showed crisp citrusy verve and “lemon juice at the beginning but you have to wait for it” potential and now really coming into its own. 100% Blanc de Noirs with full malo was more open yeasty brioche from the lees and showing creamy softness warranting their optimism. Even a 2008 blend of 65 Chardonnay & 35 Pinot Noir showed the benefits of very late harvesting producing clean expanding mouth coating fruit.

Last week in Vancouver provided an update with the visiting Jean-Benoit showing his new releases including fun aromatic coastal Tidal Bay appellation 2014 whites and floral fresh big seller Nova 7 with the ever changing 11-12 grape varieties. The star among the current sparklers was his 2008 Brut Reserve (61% Chardonnay & 39% Pinot Noir disgorged June 2014) the favourite of now deceased (2013) oenologist consultant Raphael Brisbois (ex Piper-Heidsieck) showing incredible richness combined with freshness. There was structure, full volume and aromatic honey intensity from low yields & phenolic ripeness being the key. Already great but can age and still develop further nuances of complexity.  World class bubbles! Check it out.

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Movie Review: Blood Into Wine (2010)

March 27th, 2015

Movie review: Blood into Wine (2010)

By Joseph Temple


Back in the carefree 90s, if you were a fan of metal, then you definitely listened to Tool.  Formed in 1990, the band’s thundering guitar riffs combined with an avant-garde stage presence made its members into rock royalty with hit songs such as “Sober,” “Stinkfist” and “Schism.” So when I saw that a documentary had been produced about Tool’s eccentric front man, Maynard James Keenan and his second career as an amateur winemaker in northern Arizona, the subject matter definitely peaked my curiosity.

The 2010 film Blood Into Wine, directed by Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke sets out to show that Keenan is definitely not your typical celebrity vintner.  Today with everyone from Brangelina to Drew Barrymore buying up lavish vineyards, it has almost become a cliché in Hollywood to own one.  But Tool’s lead singer is clearly different from the rest in that he is no prima donna.  On the contrary, throughout the film, he is very eager to get down on his knees and plant grape vines in the blistering sun.  After all, as his business partner Eric Glomski tells us, the wine business is 90% labor.

Setting up Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards in the town of Jerome, Arizona, it’s easy to see that Keenan and Glomski are both passionate about being in what they describe as the “frontier of viticulture.”  While many associate the Grand Canyon State with cactus trees and cement that you could fry an egg on, much to my surprise, the situation north of Phoenix is very different.  In fact, during one wine tasting, Keenan tells us that the Verde Valley gets snow in the winter and that he has more problems dealing with the cold frost than he does with the summer heat.

Although a good portion of the film is dedicated to Tool’s front man and trying to figure out what got him so interested in wine, the real star of this film is Glomski. Being an ardent ecologist, he has a gift for telling great stories like how drinking wine furthered his sense of smell and comparing the fermentation process to making tea. Without question, his interviews are what takes the movie to the next level, making it much more than a celebrity-becomes-winemaker narrative.

However, during a tour to promote their latest vintage, we see that the biggest asset for Caduceus Cellars is clearly the star power of its co-owner.  Filming those waiting in line to get their bottles autographed, there appears to be no shortage of Gothic apparel and tattoos bearing the Tool name and logo–not the type of folks you usually associate with wine culture. Obviously with fans more excited to see their rock hero rather than his wine, Glomski jokingly refers to himself as “the guy sitting next to Maynard” during one autograph session at a local grocery store.

But that is what makes Blood Into Wine such a great documentary.  Maynard Keenan’s celebrity status acts as the hook to get people who may have little to no interest in wine to understand more about the subject.  During the film, Keenan willingly shares the spotlight, allowing us to hear from numerous Arizona winemakers about their trials and tribulations in getting the state noticed on the wine map.  And as the viewer gets to see the entire process from the first harvest to when James Suckling of the Wine Spectator judges the final product, you’ll learn a lot more about the industry through this film than a Wine for Dummies DVD.

With a hip soundtrack, colorful characters, excellent camera work and some surprise cameos from Patton Oswalt, Milla Jovovich and Bob Odenkirk, Blood Into Wine serves a great vehicle for getting a crossover audience interested in wine appreciation.

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Ask Sid: Arsenic in cheap wine?

March 25th, 2015
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Should I be worried about arsenic in wine?
Question: I just read a news article about cheap California wines containing arsenic levels that are 500% above what’s considered safe.  Should I be worried about buying a bottle that’s less than $10?  Please let me know what you think?

Answer: Yes I was intrigued by this article and video too that can be viewed here referring to the complaint filed against 26 California wineries in LA Superior Court seeking class-action status because of alleged high levels of arsenic in 83 of the 1306 bottles of wine tested. The report indicates that “nearly all the wines sell for between $5-$10 …and if you’re spending $20 on a bottle of wine you’re not going to have concerns most likely.” However despite the odds I still feel there are concerns at any price level about what is actually in that bottle of wine and therefore I support some form of simple ingredient labeling to be adopted by the wine industry itself to help the wine consumer decide. Read a good detailed article on this subject by John Tilson titled “Caution! What’s In Your Wine?”. They support the innovations in ingredient labeling by Ridge Vineyards & Bonny Doon Vineyards. Caveat emptor “let the buyer beware” still applies.

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2005 Bordeaux: A Vintage of Natural Balance 10 Years On

March 23rd, 2015

2005 Bordeaux wine vintage

The Vancouver Branch of the International Wine & Food Society this month in the classy Chartwell Room of the Four Seasons Hotel held a sit down tasting featuring a horizontal of 2005 Bordeaux at nearly 10 years of age. The event was well organized with wines served at perfect cool temperatures in appropriate glassware by Vancouver President James Robertson & Milena with help from Cellar Master Jim Esplen & Karen. Your scribe together with Joan Cross led an in-the-round lively discussion among the members for this sold out four tables of eight seminar with the consensus reached that 2005 Bordeaux now show a wonderful natural balance of youthful fresh acidity and impressive fruit concentration at all price levels. The perfect weather helped with a warm August & September but cooler nights and nearly half the normal rainfall resulted in ripe smaller berries contributing to higher solids to juice ratio. We reflected on other dry and hot years including 45, 47, 49, and 59 all from another era.  82s are great (but usually higher yields with lower concentrations), 89 and 90 (both with less freshness of acidity), 03 (extremely hot), and the current twin favourites 09 & 10 (sunny less hot than 09 and later picked). Vintages ending in 5 have tended to be overrated on release coming after a run of inconsistent years: Check out 75 after 72, 73, and 74; 95 after 91, 92, 93 and 94; and 05 after 01, 02, unique 03, and 04. Please be advised that in my opinion the 2005 is definitely not over hyped. Even Jancis Robinson states after tasting 70 properties in a recent article mid February in weekend The Financial Times Food & Drink section  “The most impressive thing about the 2005 Bordeaux vintage is how consistently exciting it is”. See

2005 CABANNIEUX Graves 50 Merlot 45 Cab Sauv 5 Cab Franc Underrated property on hilly slope at Portets (near Chateau Rahoul) of Dudignac/Barriere family shows lovely strawberry jam fruit and underbrush with easy current drinkability

2005 ROZIER St. Emilion South of village 80M (on clay limestone) 2CS/18CF (on warmer sandy gravel) Saby family since 1796 has softer concentrated merlot statement on plateau for enjoyment but no rush from this first of 3 Right Bank chateaux

2005 MARSAU Cotes de Francs (AC since 1976 but growing grapes there since 11th century)) East facing hill for extra sun 85M (clay) 15CF by Jean-Marie Chadronnier of Dourthe delivers solid big round more earthy styling from a developing region to watch

2005 LA FLEUR DE BOUARD Lalande de Pomerol 80M 15CF 5CS by Hubert de Bouard de Laforest of L’Angelus St Emilion fame is rich classy powerful cherries using dense plantings, lower yields and mocha vanilla from more new oak

2005 POTENSAC Medoc 60CS 25M 15CF Delon family of Leoville Las Cases magic touch since the 70s shows impressive Left Bank structure and touted as a current Best Value by Jancis Robinson

2005 PETIT BOSQ St Estephe (close to Calon Segur) 55M (high) 43CS 2CF (now have planted some Petit Verdot) started first in 1972 shows impressive tobacco notes on the nose and full thick fruit ending a bit rustic

2005 LANESSAN Haut Medoc (Cussac – South of Gruaud Larose) 75CS (high) 20M 5CF/PV Boutellier family always produced wine to age showing balanced intensity here but might be more complex by adding some more newer oak for lift with their older wood

2005 LA TOUR DU HAUT-MOULIN Haut Medoc (also Cussac but more gravel closer to the Gironde) Poitou family densely planted 50M 45CS 5PV results in a lush full ripe and concentrated blend that will continue to develop

2005 BATAILLEY Pauillac (5th Growth Haut Batailley to South & Grand Puy Lacoste to North) 70CS 26M 3CF 1 PV Borie Manoux/Casteja property now with Denis Dubourdieu consulting shows good young potential with ripe silky tannins not austere or aggressive

1982 BATAILLEY (Magnum) Highlight of the night in this format well stored with patient 33 years of bottle age has improved it dramatically as has put on weight to a stunning open cedar cigar box distinctive Pauillac terroir – so delicious! Lesson: Be patient with 2005.

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Bordeaux for beginners: 5 ways to better understand the region

March 20th, 2015

Learning about the Bordeaux wine region
By Joseph Temple

If you’ve started to immerse yourself in the world of wine, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll come across the name Bordeaux.  That’s because with nearly 300,000 vineyard acres, it is France’s largest wine growing region—an area bigger than all of Germany’s vineyards combined and ten times the size of New Zealand’s total acreage.  And matching quantity with quality, it is home to some of the most famous wineries in the world including Château Petrus, Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild.

In addition to centuries of winemaking knowledge, another prime reason for Bordeaux’s continued success is geography.  With its close proximity to both the Atlantic Ocean and several rivers, these bodies of water combined with acres of surrounding pine forests help to temper the region’s climate.  The result is approximately 700 million bottles produced every year from Médoc to Sauternes.

But let’s face it.  If you’re learning about Bordeaux for the first time, things can get quite confusing.  For starters, why aren’t the grapes listed on the bottle like they are for American wines? And what does left bank, right bank and first-growth mean?

Have no fear!  For this week’s entry, we present 5 ways to simplify the Bordeaux region for those who are just starting their journey into the world of wine appreciation. So sit back, relax and learn about one of wine’s most historic and powerful regions.

Is Bordeaux just red wine?
1. When you say Bordeaux, do you mean red wine?

No.  But according to the latest information from the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, nearly 90% of the region’s grapes are red.  So it’s not hard to see why many people associate Bordeaux with red wine.  However here’s an interesting fact: did you know that until 1970, the region produced more white wine than red on a regular basis?

Despite this seismic shift to red over the past four decades, you can still find some of the world’s best white wines in Bordeaux—most notably in the Graves and Sauternes areas—the latter being home to Château d’Yquem which is renown for its sweet dessert wines, usually made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Bordeaux is a region, not a grape
2. On the label, it says Bordeaux but doesn’t show the grapes used to make the wine. 

Does that mean that Bordeaux is the grape?

No.  Wines from France are named after the appellation where it is grown instead of the grape variety used to make the wine.  If you’re used to drinking American bottles, this can be a bit confusing when trying to figure out if the bottle contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or some other grape.  Generally speaking, here is the breakdown according to the March 2015 edition of the Wine Spectator:

Merlot: 65% Sémillon: 49%
Cabernet Sauvignon: 23% Sauvignon Blanc: 43%
Cabernet Franc: 10% Muscadelle: 6%
Petit Verdot: <2% Sauvignon Gris: <2%
Malbec: <2%
Carménère: <2%

Just keep in mind that most Bordeaux wines are a blend of two or more of these grape varieties.

What does left bank and right bank Bordeaux mean?
Domenico-de-ga at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3. My friends that are into wine were talking about the differences between “Left Bank”
and “Right Bank” Bordeaux.  What does that mean?

When you look at a map of the Bordeaux, you’ll notice that it is divided by the Gironde estuary, which is formed when the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet in the heart of this wine region.  All appellations left of these waterways are classified as Left Bank and those to the right are known as Right Bank.  For a map listing all the appellations in Bordeaux, click here.

The rule of thumb is that most Left Bank appellations are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon while the Right Bank is centered around Merlot.  The exceptions are Sauternes and Barsac, which only grow white grapes.

Bordeaux first growth - what does that mean?
4. Another term I heard was “first growth.”  What exactly does that mean?

Back in 1855, France hosted the modern-day equivalent of the World’s Fair.  And in preparation for Exposition Universelle de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III asked industry experts to select the best Bordeaux wines to represent the nation.  The result became known as the Official Classification of 1855 with the wines from the Médoc region dominating the list.  Basing their ranking system on the assumption that price equals quality, five different classifications were created, which became known as “growths” with first growths (or Premiers Crus) being the absolute best.  You can view the entire list by clicking here.  So if you’re friends are referring to “first growth,” then it must be either Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion or Château Mouton Rothschild.

Can I afford to drink Bordeaux?
5. Bordeaux seems quite expensive to drink.

Many articles dealing with Bordeaux are usually illustrated with pictures of opulent Châteaus, leading many to believe that drinking wine from this region is a luxury available only to the very wealthy.  And yes, there are many vintages that can run in the three, four and sometimes five figure range such as Château Petrus and many first growths.  But this is a complete misconception about the region.  In fact, wines priced between $8 and $25 represent approximately 80% of Bordeaux’s total production.  Some of these include Mouton-Cadet, Laurentan, Lacour Pavillon and Baron Philippe.


“FAQ About Bordeaux.” Wine Spectator Mar. 2015: 124.
MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing Company Inc., 2001.
Zraly, Kevin.  Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006.

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