Archive for November, 2015

Ask Sid: Blind Tasting Skills

November 18th, 2015
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Ask Sid: Blind Tasting Skills

Question: I am doing more blind tastings of wines and hoping to be asked as a wine competition judge sometime in the future. What in your opinion is the best skill I can learn to become better?

Answer: Many factors are involved including your taste buds but for me the aromatics are the real key. Broad tasting experience combined with a good wine memory are really invaluable in assessing the quality. Get to know the characteristics shown by the different grape varieties. Do you recognize some familiarity of that grape variety or the style of the blend when you first smell it? I find covering the glass with my hand while swirling the glass initially helps concentrate the aromas for that important explosive first impression. At a tasting yesterday with experienced tasters I again noted that most people seem to have quite different tolerances for faults in a wine like corky TCA and sulphur levels. Your eyesight and hearing now can be improved but your sense of smell and taste are less easily corrected. Some tasters just seem to be more sensitive than others.

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Foxtrot Vineyards Pinot Noir – World Class

November 16th, 2015

Foxtrot VineyardsPhoto Credit:

As the vineyards in British Columbia continue to mature with a history of vintages behind them it is educational to check out their performance. Pinot gris followed by chardonnay for whites and merlot chased by pinot noir for reds lead the way in the most planted varieties. I continue to be impressed by the success and progress being made by pinot noir.

Since 1971 the Mavety family (Ian, Jane, Matt & Christie) of Blue Mountain Estate ( overlooking Vaseaux Lake in the Okanagan has led the way now with continuous grape production of over 40 years and consistently producing such elegant outstanding pinot noir (4 clones) vintages with age ability and always of tremendous value for the quality.

Lots of newer producers making their mark too led by the world class Foxtrot Vineyards ( Several recent tastings of their wines has confirmed my opinion. Another small family-owned and operated winery further north in the Okanagan Valley on the upper Naramata Bench in British Columbia. Founders Torsten Allander for quality control management, wife Kicki for meticulous cultivating of the vines and winemakers son Gustav and wife Nadine now have vintages from 2004 onwards (before that the grapes went for a while to Kettle Valley Winery). They are taking advantage of a special vineyard location all with own rooted Dijon clone 115 planted in the mid 1990s uniquely in east-west rows on 2 distinct blocks with the upper one gravelly glacial till providing structure, balance, intensity and some spice while the lower one on alluvial silt loam with sand & clay contributes more aromatics with rich soft texture. So different they could be 2 specific vineyard labels but are presently being combined for a very successful whole. Even their distinctive label of the resident black bear Fred dancing the foxtrot with a harvest picker gives a sense of place. The wines show a sensible balanced 13.7 alcohol most vintages (13.5 in 2009 & 13.6 in 2010) usually with a Naramata Bench reference though confusing export regulation issues have that missing on the 2007, 2008 and 2012 but they assure me it is always all only their own estate fruit. Sustainable farming with low yields from hands-on bunch & canopy management for light and air exposure minimizes mold and rot with a conscientious selection table of the grapes right in the vineyard. Some impressions:

2004: Harvested October 10 at 2 tons per acre (lower 5.55 acid & 3.92 pH) with a 3 day cold soak with 100% new Francois Frere oak barrels of Allier & Nevers medium +medium plus toast for 16 months at highest alcohol of 14 bottled July 2006.  Still alive with an almost DRC enticing oriental spice bouquet. Exquisite.

2005: Also 100% new oak but eliminated the Nevers using 80% Troncais & 20% Allier. Maturing but solid elegant fruit with acidity still there. Pure.

2006: Balance and elegance a trademark. Hahn Vineyards on their helpful Pinot noir clone wheel describes Dijon clone 115 “as adds aromas of black cherry, anise, leather and rose” and you have all those elements there.  Interesting that in the early days respected Swedish wine writer @anders_levander tried the 2006 (90), 2007 (92), and 2008 (93) giving them high marks and very complimentary comments!

2007: Crop level 1.8-2 ton/acre with 33% whole cluster (acid 6.3 & 3.83 pH) and 6 day cold maceration, different yeasts, manual punch down over 14 days with still 100% new Francois Frere 80/20 and bottled unfiltered May 2009.  Cherry raspberry floral spice with good layers of more powerful silky textures with length.

2008: Cooler year with harvest starting October 28. Mix of destemmed and whole cluster at 28 hl/ha cold macerated 5 days. Yeasts, punch down and oak the same as 2007 but acid higher at 6.63 and pH lower at 3.62. Levander in Livets Goda article said ” darker than previous vintages”  and so “elegant and aristocratic” with “complexity and finesse”. Now shows more blackberry plums combining well the power and elegance you admire in a classy pinot noir with a subtle earthiness.

2009: 33 hl/ha harvested October 9. Compensated for the extreme heat of the year with more leaf coverage to protect the fruit resulting in a surprising lighter colour than the cooler 2008. Manual punch downs 3 times a day extended between 14-21 days. Like the earthy forest floor with excellent fruit in a restrained elegant complex presentation. No rush.

2010: Cooler year but another success. As the vines are getting older and growing deeper the clone 115 expression is becoming less obvious and the minerals and terroir of the specific Naramata Bench site are more prominent. Impressive.

2011: Again cool with 28hl/ha harvested October 27. Acid 6.78 and pH 3.56 and oak barrel time extended to 18 months. Bottled October 2013. Harmony amazing for such a cool year. More red fruits but classic earthy elegant dry style. Super food wine.

2012: Facing west with more sun and good weather in 2012 the resulting thicker skins delivered a real treasure here. Picked October 26 with higher acid 6.93 & lower pH 3.49 which is promising for the future. Like the balance of darker fruits with lively acidity plus special bold smooth rounder tannins. A winner! Highly recommend cellaring.

2013, 2014 & 2015 are all very encouraging vintages too. Burgundian structure combined with special New World exuberance. What a property to follow and collect. World class!

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A look at the wines of Prince Edward County

November 13th, 2015

Prince Edward County ontario winePhoto Credit: Library and Archives Canada

By Joseph Temple

Mention Ontario’s burgeoning wine industry and many people will think of Niagara—a region that is world renown for its award-winning ice wines. But only two and a half hours east of Toronto is another designated viticultural area that’s just waiting to be discovered by oenophiles across the world. Situated on a picturesque peninsula, Prince Edward County, an appellation known for its distinct minerally wines is also Canada’s fastest growing wine region with nearly 800 acres of vitis vinifera vines planted across its scenic shorelines.

With a host of B&B’s, artisan studios and local antique shops, the county’s unique character is undeniable. First settled by United Empire Loyalists (UEL’s) who fled to Canada after the American Revolution, remnants of its British heritage can still be seen in the architecture of its homes and public buildings—making PEC the Canadian equivalent of colonial Williamsburg. And by the start of the twentieth century, it was estimated that an entire third of all canned fruits and vegetables produced in Canada came from Prince Edward, according to historian John Schreiner. Of course, in addition to all this rich history is a wine industry that really took off in the mid-1990s.

Early start-ups in 1996 and 1997 have slowly evolved into thirty-three wineries by 2011. A key selling point during those early years was the price of land, which was considerably lower than what it cost in Niagara. Attracting a group of eager and spirited winemakers, many of them would compare themselves to those who arrived in California during the 1960s to build their empires from the ground up. The only difference is that PEC requires you to pioneer through some brutal winters. “Most winters can get near -30 degrees Celsius for at least a few hours every season. Good winter survival strategies and field practices are a must,” writes one county vintner.


Aerial view of Prince Edward CountyAerial View of Prince Edward County
By Plismo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being five degrees cooler on average than the Niagara Region, Prince Edward County has a growing season that is just as long. One reason for this is a ‘lake effect’ that comes from both Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, which moderates the harsh winters synonymous with the eastern part of the province. Another great advantage that PEC has is the direction its plantings face: south and east, the same exposure that European vineyards enjoy.

These comparisons to the old-world don’t stop there either. With limestone soils that yield impressive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, many vintners in PEC like to compare their vintages to some of Burgundy’s best. “I persist in believing that Pinot Noir … is probably the variety most suited to Prince Edward County,” says visionary winemaker Geoff Heinricks. “There just isn’t enough good Pinot Noir on earth … If we can get it right (and we’ve been dealt a pretty decent hand), then there is a market, a very lucrative, passionate market.”


Aspler, Tony & Leslie, Barbara. Canadian Wine for Dummies. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2000.
Cattell, Hudson. Wines of Eastern North America: From Prohibition to the Present—A History and Desk Reference. New York: Cornell University Press, 2013.
Gatehouse, Jonathan. (2003, May 12). Cover: Prince Edward County, Ont: Life’s a beach, with history. Maclean’s, 28, Retrieved from
Gordon, Jim. Opus Vino. New York: Penguin Press, 2010.
Harding, Julia. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Schriener, John. The Wines of Canada. London: Octopus Publishing, 2005.
(2003, July 01). Official guide to the wineries of Ontario. Toronto Life, (7), Insert, Retrieved from

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Ask Sid: History of Bordeaux & Burgundy?

November 11th, 2015
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

different history of bordeaux and burgundy

Question: When you read the history of Burgundy, inevitably it is brought up that, due to the Napoleonic Code and the change in French inheritance laws, many vineyards were broken up to the point that there are over 50 owners of, say,  Clos de Vougeot.  Sometimes owners just have two rows of vines.  My question is, why did Bordeaux escape this fate?  There are larger vineyards there, and I don’t recall ever reading about how Bordeaux estates were divided to absurdly tiny pieces of property like Burgundy.

Answer: As you indicate in your question it is really the different history of the two regions. The church and monasteries had a really big influence on the Burgundy vineyards way back to the 6th century. They later sold off their large holdings from time to time to “farmers” as smaller land parcels. However inheritance laws that were passed later divided this property between all the owner’s heirs resulting in even smaller fragmented parcels. No large investor. Bordeaux evolved quite differently with initially more wealthy owners of very large properties. More corporate orientated rather than individual owners. Rather than the property having to be split there was cash flow by selling it to their neighbours. Note that Chateau Gruaud-Larose was split into Sarget and Faure for a time but later was reunited by the Cordier family. An alternative example is Pichon was originally one estate in Pauillac but was large enough to divide into both Baron & Lalande and just carry on as two substantial properties. Also there was fresh investment by new owners (like the Chinese are doing presently) setting up large estates. A good example is Chateau Gloria not a presence in 1855 but formed during the 1940s buying up whatever available smaller parcels became available in St. Julien now resulting in a large vineyard estate of over 100 acres. Different culture and history!   

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Whistler Cornucopia 2015 – A Celebration of Food & Drink

November 9th, 2015

Whistler Cornucopia food and drink festivalPhoto Credit:

With the largest vertical drop for skiing in North America and their successful 2010 Olympic exposure Whistler Blackcomb is already world famous. Lots happening there now year round with lots of activities including trail walks, biking, hiking, mountain climbing, golf, fishing, and even more adventurous bear viewing, zip lining & bungee jumping. A great vacation destination for everyone. Also getting more attention is their annual Cornucopia celebration of food & drink the first 2 weeks of November (in 2015 from the 5th to the 15th) with details at

Presently participating in all the fun and some of my brief highlights so far include:

Araxi Restaurant ( legendary “Big Guns” dinner organized by Neil Henderson and prepared by Chef James Walt and his talented brigade with excellent wine pairings by wine director Samantha Rahn. A typical memorable course with super matching wines: Shaved Italian Truffles + White Grace Cheese Ravioli (white & black truffles over Saltspring Island cheese pasta herb and truffle fonduto) elegant Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2010 & concentrated Barone Ricasoli “Castello di Brolio” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010. Watch for their exciting tapas new cellar Bar Oso opening soon. Great items such as local octopus + potato + chorizo Iberico!

BC VQA Wine Education Level 1 Seminar: A great discussion and tasting by DJ Kearney on the history (from first plantings at the Oblate Mission in Kelowna by Father Charles Pandosy in 1859 to the present expansion of over 200 wineries), the unique style of the wines, the regions, and the major grape varieties. See more at

Black Hills Estate Winery ( Nota Bene Library Vertical Tasting back to their first vintage in 1999 (all Estate grapes planted in 1996) to the impressive balanced 18th leaf 2013 vintage (Blend 49%CS, 40Merlot, 11CF with 13.7 alcohol the lowest yet for 3200 cases) with lunch in the cellar of including wild pine mushroom soup porcini streusel and braised short rib. Price is $52.90 per bottle but a few special double magnums of 2013 still available for $318.80

WOW Wines seminar where we profiled many of the top wines at Cornucopia from bubbles of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs & 2007 Blue Mountain Reserve Brut RD to big cabs Signorello Estate 2012 “Padrone” (91%CS + 9CF $175 winery price) that just received a super updated Parker score of “fabulous” 97+ with “Drink it over the next 30 years”.

Crush Grand Tasting with many wineries to try from Painted Rock ( 2013 Red Icon to Rocca delle Macie ( 2009 Roccato Toscana IDT.

Conducted with winemaker Gustav Allander a vertical Foxtrot tasting ( of 10 pinot noir wines including from Henricsson Vineyard (formerly Erickson) described in Burgundian terms as a lighter “Clos des Lamprays” and the Foxtrot Vineyard (own-rooted Dijon Clone 115 planted 1994-1995) as a bigger “Clos de la Roche”. These wines indeed are sensational terroir-driven, structured, so balanced and stand up to this bold comparison.

Are 60 BC owned and operated craft breweries and brewpubs across BC represented by BC Craft Brewers Guild in grand tastings, Night Markets, Cocktail Master Mixology Classes, Culinary Stage Series featuring local and national chefs, Workshops, Lunches & Dinners, Parties, and so much more! Have you attended? Think about it for a possible November 2016 destination.

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