Archive for May, 2016

1986 Bordeaux at 30 Years

May 31st, 2016

1986 Bordeaux at 30 Years

Vancouver’s “Group of Eight” events are always well orchestrated by knowledgeable wine collector Ian Mottershead with our latest two being exciting dinner/tastings showing a total of 20 top wines from the controversial 1986 vintage now approaching 30 years of age. A big crop from hot dry drought summer conditions followed by rainy storms in September resulted in a grape harvest of inconsistent quality. Earlier picked merlot fared less well than later ripening in October cabernet sauvignon especially successful in the Left Bank appellations of St. Julien and Pauillac. The wines certainly were not charming or consumer friendly early on due to their harder tannins requiring patience. Which wines have matured best with good fruit still left?

Part I on April 5, 2016:

LA LAGUNE Ludon – Open with green herbs, expected more, simpler, drying out, drink up

TALBOT St. Julien – Palest rim of first 3, full impressive textbook AC fruit, lovely cedar-cigar-tobacco notes

VIEUX CHATEAU CERTAN Pomerol – Dark, quality young ripe plums, balanced, big rich & powerful

LYNCH BAGES Pauillac – Solid, rich, less hard tannins now, coming together, not the charm of 85

MONTROSE St. Estephe – Earthy, full, exciting with more charm than expected, textured mid-palate

DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU St. Julien – Stylish, lighter, breeding, acid balance, clean no brett, elegant

LEOVILLE POYFERRE  St. Julien – Very dark, excellent fruit but spoiled by TCA corky bottle

LEOVILLE BARTON St. Julien – Cab sauv statement with typical iodine note, powerful, still developing

LEOVILLE LAS CASES St. Julien – Classy pure complex bouquet, outstanding, integrated tannins, superb

RAYMOND-LAFON Sauternes – Excellent botrytis with ripe juicy pineapple, beautiful creamy honey

Good first evening with the Leoville Las Cases outclassing a stellar field. All 3 Leovilles are approaching a wonderful drinking plateau with impressive fruit to match those tannins but no rush. Second trio of reds also showed very well with more charm than the first trio. Montrose a surprise with wonderful texture.

Part II on May 17, 2016:

BRANAIRE DUCRU St. Julien – Aged rim, herbal mushrooms, mature, softer, forwardly, delicious taste

GRUAUD LAROSE St. Julien – Cloudy, cedar, harder fruit, more backward, still promising, no rush, age

COS D’ESTOURNEL St. Estephe – Red young look, good intense fruit, coarse tannins, lacks charm

RAUZAN SEGLA Margaux – Less power, elegant, very Margaux perfumes, structure, silky textures, ready

MARGAUX Margaux – Shows that classic cab sauv, stylish, big, atypical, still bit closed but what potential

HAUT BRION Pessac-Leognan – Exquisite, refined, perfect balance, elegant, stylish, charm, fruit purity

MOUTON BARONNE PHILIPPE Pauillac – Really a surprise with complex open stylish cedar bouquet

PICHON BARON Pauillac – Solid & drinking well, Lalande has denser 1986, smooth & supple drinking now

MOUTON ROTHSCHILD Pauillac – So concentrated, cedar, cigar, length, very special success, classic!

CLIMENS Barsac –  Bigger & sweeter than normal, marmalade, excellent botrytis of 86

Last red trio of Pauillacs showed the riper cab sauv contributing to overall quality. First Growths shone through this evening led by Mouton, Margaux & Haut Brion. Lafite can also be outstanding while not the best vintage for Latour. Sweet wines are top class in 1986.

Conclusion: Though some wines show that diluted merlot and others are too tannic nonetheless there are some really outstanding wines from Bordeaux made in 1986. Some are still improving and are true classics.

Have you tried a 1986 Bordeaux recently?

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Caveat Emptor: How an internet sleuth raised serious doubts about a prestigious wine auction

May 27th, 2016

wine auction in geneva burgundy drc

By Joseph Temple

This past Sunday in Geneva, a highly sought-after collection of rare wine bottles including several grand crus from the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estate went up on the auction block. Owned by an anonymous individual and allegedly stored for 15 years at the Geneva Freeports customs-free zone, Michael Ganne of the Baghera Wines auction house told journalists that this particular auction was “the most important one over the past two decades in continental Europe.”

Then all hell broke loose!

Just days before this supposed treasure trove went under the gavel, a lengthy posting by lawyer Don Cornwell was made on titled “AN URGENT WARNING ABOUT THE WINE AUCTION AT BAGHERA WINE AUCTIONS IN GENEVA ON MAY 22, 2016.” Listing many inconsistencies along with photographic comparisons to substantiate his claims, Cornwell declared, “On very rare occasions, we run into problems so overwhelming, or the conduct is so obviously fraudulent, that I’m forced to warn the public about a problem involving counterfeit wines or wine fraud. Sadly, this is one of those occasions.”

The first lots placed under the microscope contained 1978 Romanée Conti, which Cornwell claims are counterfeit because of the embossed glass—a feature that was only used for the 1974 vintage. Other examples include a 1952 DRC Romanée Conti with a wax capsule (it shouldn’t have one) and a 1961 Petrus Magnum with a falsified label that is clear as day. However, two bottles of 1919 Rousseau Grand Chambertin Vieux Plants didn’t require you to be Sherlock Holmes; a simple Google search would suffice. “Rousseau did not own any vines in Chambertin until 1920,” writes Cornwell. “This is directly stated on Rousseau’s website.”

After these charges went viral, Baghera quickly responded by removing six lots while promising to cancel the sales of any bottles that were suspect. And despite this dark cloud hanging over Geneva, the collection was still able to raise £4.3m according to The Independent. But have these revelations tainted future auctions? Are lingering doubts surrounding authenticity the new norm?

Given the history of wine counterfeiting and the windfall profits that criminals stand to gain, it was almost inevitable that something like this would happen—and will continue to happen. One high-profile case over the past few years was the trial of Rudy Kurniawan. In 2013, this infamous counterfeiter was sentenced to ten years in prison for making millions off blends that were all created in his kitchen sink and labeled with print outs from his computer. Then there were the bottles allegedly owned by President Thomas Jefferson that were auctioned off in 1985, only to be discovered later on that the engraving “Th. J.” was the result of an electric power tool. The entire ordeal surrounding the Jefferson fraud became the subject of author Benjamin Wallace’s 2008 book The Billionaire’s Vinegar, which is slated to become a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey.

An important question that remains is what happens to a bottle that is proven to be a forgery? In 2015, the United States Marshals Service created a well-publicized spectacle by destroying over 500 counterfeit bottles belonging to Kurniawan. But is this standard operating procedure for private brokers and retailers? According to Cornwell’s posting, he found one lot containing a 1969 Rousseau Charmes Chambertin that had Rudy’s fingerprints all over it, including an off-center neck label and incorrect numerals. So are plenty of fake vintages still for sale to unsuspecting buyers? Maureen Downey, a fine wine authenticator who responded on Wineberserkers believes so. “Has any vendor ever made a public spectacle of standing up for the good of the consumer, or the market and destroying counterfeits? NO, you haven’t. Because they don’t,” writes Downey. “All these counterfeits are out there, and being sold and resold. And again- it is mostly by brokers, and shady retailers! At least people are monitoring auctions. There is no way to monitor the grey market.”

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Ask Sid: Best Aged Chardonnay from Canada?

May 25th, 2016
Ask your question here

Ask Sid: Best Aged Chardonnay from Canada?

Question: As you enjoy drinking top quality aged chardonnay I would like to know the best older one from Canada that you have tasted so far in 2016?

Answer: Tough question. Generally drink my New World chardonnay younger than Burgundy (though pre-mox issues are now a concern for cellaring). Quite a few candidates on the ballot. However, I will vote for 2008 Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars ( Estate Bottled from Okanagan Falls in British Columbia. The pioneering Mavety family has farmed the fertile bench overlooking Vaseaux Lake there from 1971 and founded the winery in 1991. They also make fantastic pinot noir that ages magnificently! In 2008 they fermented and aged their chardonnay 50% in French oak barrels for 8 months and the other 50% in stainless steel. Magical combination for the fruit as drinking it in 2016 showed the rich complex smooth nutty flavours from the oak yet balanced fresh finishing lift from the stainless. Lovely complexity and no heat at only 13 alcohol. A very well done aged Canadian chardonnay on a beautiful drinking plateau. Congrats!

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Wines From Sicily Making a Quality Move!

May 23rd, 2016

Wines From Sicily Making a Quality Move!
By Michal Osmenda (Flickr: Planeta winery) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My wife Joan and myself last month enjoyed leading @alumniUBC wine and food tour of Sicily well organized by Worldwide Quest. Recommend the inspiring insights you receive on these tours by using local experts like the knowledgeable tourist guide from Palermo, Valeria Carastro of the Etna Wine Lab, and Danilo Cavallaro a PhD Volcanologist & Geologist a world expert on Mt. Etna. I previously posted here on the 6 wine estates of Planeta (April 18) and some memorable food experiences (April 24). However I also feel a need to alert you to some winery updates there and the exciting potential for their wines. Among the many highlights that deserve spotlighting were these 5:

1. Tenuta Regaleali Estate ( – This wine estate is part of the eight generation family Tasca d’Almerita and now is an international brand producing 3 million bottles a year from 421.65 hectares of vineyard diversified over 30 different labels showing 50 grape varieties. They also produce a smaller batch of artisan level Natura in Tasca ( Like how they are tracking the annual weather conditions at their 5 estates around Sicily benefiting all growers. Regaleali always has less rainfall (only 585 mm. in 2012 and less in 2014 of 572 while their other 4 estates are higher and all increased in 2014); lower average temperature around 15.7 in 2012 and 15.8 in 2014 while Capofaro (on island of Salina-heartland of Malvasia) is 17.9/17.8; and most importantly the July/August range of temperature is 17 while less at others including only 10 at Capofaro.

2. Cantine Florio ( – Part of Duca Di Salaparuta group with Corvo. Historic Marsala Florio now exporting to 155 countries and on the comeback trail as it has been under the radar compared with other fortified wines like sherry and port. Though first one produced in 1833 their old stocks were destroyed in World War II bombing and 1939 is the oldest one left. Check out sweet Targa Riserva 1840 Marsala Superiore DOC Riserva Semisecco selling there for 13.90 euros from Grillo grapes aged minimum of 7 years in Slavonian oak. Tasted the “soft as velvet” 2003 bottled in 2014 versatile at cooler 10C for aperitif with gorgonzola cheese or 16-18C with dessert of crunchy nut brittle or dried fruits.

3. Occhipinti ( – Exciting hot winery in Vittoria started by natural wine woman Arianna Occhipinti in 2004 first renting 1 hectare of land and now with about 125,000 bottles of top Frappato & Nero d’Avola. Built a modern gravity flow winery there at 280 metres elevation in 2013 with all cool concrete fermentation and stainless steel only for storage. Soil is red sands for first 30-60 cm then limestone subsoil. Like to use old time tradition of grafting their vines in the field from choice older vines and not from a nursery. They are organic certified but don’t put it on the label and don’t water the vines so they “go deeper and become independent” according to Damiano Buscema. Export market presently shows USA first, Norway second, and Canada third.

Some wines to investigate:

2014 SP 68 Bianco with 60% fragrant Moscato Di Alessandria & floral 40% Albanello expecting sweetness but dry fresh minerals with 12 days on the skin giving structure almost tannin with green notes of thyme and rosemary from Albanello. Used Diam on 2014 but switching to natural cork for 2015. Delightful.

2014 SP 68 Rosso of 70% Frappato & 30% Nero d’Avola from youngest vines spent 6 months in concrete and smells of spicy red fruits with fresh acidity for value drinking during the first 5 years.

2014 Il Frappato shows dramatic herbal earthy complex nose from older 40 year old vines spending 14 months in large oak vats and shows elegant tannins with a capacity to age well.

2012 Siccagno of 100% older vines Nero d’Avola 22 months in older big Slavonian wood with 30 day maceration is dark big bold full ripe and will age a long time. Again lower 13 alcohol with a lovely freshness and acidity tension is here that shows so well in all their wines. Impressive.

2012 Grotte Alte is the special unfiltered Cerasuolo Di Vittoria only DOCG in Sicily so complex integrated and elegant with a 50:50 blend of both the previous grapes almost 4 years in 25 hl Slavonian. This is on the market now with 6,200 bottles and 2010 only 4300 bottles. No 2009 or 2011 were made. 2013 probable. One to watch for and collect!

4. Feudo Maccari ( – This 150 hectare estate with 50 separate plots combining new plantings and some already 60 years old on the southerly hills near Noto was established in 2000 as part of the Antonio Moretti’s Tenuta Sette Ponti stable. All vines are vertical bush “alberello” special trellis system on one stake with no horizontal wires. Leave lots of canopy cover “never enough” and no spraying for bugs who can’t survive the hot over 30C temperatures. Calcium, clay, sandy dry soils retain moisture well and there is a persistent whippy wind.  Refreshing vibrant 2015 grillo with excellent minerality and the easy forward great value 2014 nero d’avola using no wood expressing the easy forwardly fresh fruit. My fav the 2013 Saia (named after irrigation canals built by Arabs to collect rain water) of their older best vines 12 months in wood is exotic spicy cacao and so elegant with quality showing through. 2014 will be very special while 2015 is a hotter year. Special treat tasted was a fantastic 2010 magnum of Saia on a magnificent drinking plateau! Also look for their international grape variety blend in the Maharis label.

5. Frank Cornelissen ( – Mount Etna is a magical region and presently most fashionable – for good reason! This unique terroir from volcanic lava and dust is really amazing. Hard to describe the wines except for a special elegant earthiness from Nerello Mascalese grapes with a Burgundy cru distinctiveness. Frank Cornelissen came to his Northern Valley vineyards at 600-1000 metres on Mt Etna in 2000 with his first harvest 2001 and his latest one 2015 is his 15th. He says he has learned a lot about man and nature working together but modestly states he still has a lot to learn. He strongly believes he has a point of view and a vision in his search for specific vineyard expression in the bottle. Uses no barrels or wood but only neutral containers to showcase the fruit and the terroir. Working hard to improve the quality and reduce the variables. He would like to put the empty wine bottle right over the vine grapes to make the wine but as that is not possible he wants as little intervention as possible. Doesn’t believe in chemicals or spraying. When I asked him about wind blowing same from neighbouring properties he told a story of his accepted offer for free care of 2 adjoining hectares which he later purchased. His wines are so special including a tasty vibrant earthy mineral laden 2014 Feudo Di Mezzo Soltana single vineyard from the lower valley. Can’t help but admire his intense drive to release as small lots all his 2015 at the same price as 10 different Single Cru vineyards a la Burgundy. Some vines are from 1910 and the youngest 1960. When questioned by this scribe whether some were not showing Grand Cru quality and others only Premier Cru he replied he preferred Magma and Barbabecchi but Chiusa Spagnola, Pontale Palino, and others also have merit. Soltana he says may only be 1er cru but there are outstanding underrated ones in Burgundy too like Les Amoureuses. Frank will let the market decide which are his best cru vineyards. Talk about future new vineyard excitement. What a leader he is for both Mt. Etna & for all of Sicily! Congrats.

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Book review: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine

May 20th, 2016

Book review: Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting

By Joseph Temple

This Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris—a blind tasting that proved to be a decisive turning point in the history of wine. Organized by British merchant Steven Spurrier in honor of America’s Bicentennial, it was perceived to be a lopsided contest between France—the undisputed champion of winemaking—and California, considered by many to be a backwater region known mostly for jug wines and the infamous Thunderbird libation. With most experts predicting that the French would easily steamroll over their competition, every single journalist decided to pass on this event—except for one lucky American in Paris!

Writing for Time magazine, George Taber ended up getting the scoop of a lifetime when two American wineries, Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, won for best Chardonnay and red wine respectively. By defeating France and its iconic terroir, the historic tasting marked a seismic shift for wine drinkers. By putting the Golden State on the map, suddenly all the lesser-known regions were given a fighting chance against the French juggernaut. “If the soils of the Napa Valley could produce wines that bested the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux, what could be done in Australia, South Africa, or Chile?” writes the author.

Documenting this Cinderella story in rich detail, Taber proves to be the ultimate primary source when learning all about this game-changing event. In his 2005 book, Judgment of Paris: California Vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, readers will not only learn about what happened that day at the InterContinental Hotel, but also the unique history surrounding the region that knocked France off its pedestal.

Nearly wiped out after the end of Prohibition, California vintners had faced hard times in the decades leading up the Paris tasting. With lackluster grapes like Alicante Bouschet and fortified wines dominating the marketplace, a complete and total overhaul was necessary in order to compete for global recognition. Like a last-place team rebuilding in hopes of someday becoming a dynasty, California benefitted greatly by drafting a group of eager and determined winemakers. One such individual was Mike Grgich, a Croatian immigrant who battled tooth and nail in getting to America; he eventually became the brains behind Chateau Montelena’s award-winning 1973 vintage. Another was Warren Winiarksi, a Polish-American from Chicago who set up shop in Napa and risked his financial livelihood to create Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Backing up these winemakers was the groundbreaking research being done at the University of California, Davis. Studying the terroir at length, UC Davis decided to divide the state into five climate zones with recommendations for the best grapes to grow in each zone. “They determined, for example, that the Yountville area in the Napa Valley was similar in temperature to the Bordeaux region of France and would be a good area for growing Cabernet Sauvignon,” writes Taber. “While the cooler Russian River Valley region of Sonoma County was more like the Cote d’Or section of Burgundy and would be well suited for cultivating Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”

Using this information to their advantage, California experienced a colossal transformation in the decade leading up to the Judgment of Paris. For example, according to Taber, from 1961 to 1973, the amount of acres dedicated to growing Cabernet Sauvignon went from 387 to 2,432 and Chardonnay during the same time went from 60 to 785 acres. Reading through the book, you can’t help but root for the underdog while taking in all of these facts, complimented by several uplifting stories of competing winemakers working together for the greater good of the region. Realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats, the author quotes Robert Mondavi who sums it up by stating, “We all understood that the more the whole valley succeeded, the better it would be for each of us in it.”

Leading up to the tasting, readers are given a detailed look at each wine scored by an assortment of mostly French judges. Unlike the film Bottle Shock, which uses a healthy dose of artistic license and focuses exclusively on Chateau Montelena and its owner Jim Barrett, this book takes the time to walk us through all the marvelous wineries featured in this contest, from Château Mouton Rothschild to Freemark Abbey. This is followed up with a brief biographical sketch of the eleven judges, which included Aubert de Villaine and Odette Kahn—who demanded her scorecard back after finding out that California had won.

But arguably the most important chapter of Judgment of Paris comes from the insight Taber offers us in the aftermath of the “buzz heard round the world.” With a readership of 20 million, his Time article was the spark that caused other newspapers to cover this fascinating story, causing wine drinkers across America to rush over to their local shop in search of these hidden California gems. However, if he didn’t show up or the magazine declined to run his piece, could the red-faced French have manipulated the narrative? Taber certainly believes so, writing, “If no one from the press had been present, it would have also been much easier for the French and others simply to deny or distort what had happened.”

Above: The first event of  the IW&FS Austin, Texas Branch –
“A comparison of French & California red wines” – 05/05/1977

Backing up this claim are many in France who, four decades later, still continue to downplay the results, citing numerous inconsistencies that are discussed and debated in the book. While some point to the fact that California had six wines in each category as opposed to only four French wines, others believe that the vintages from France were too young or that Spurrier didn’t select the best ones. Clearly, it is still a sore spot for many French citizens who take enormous pride in being the number one winemaking country in the world.

By interviewing key players along with his firsthand knowledge, Taber has undoubtedly written the definitive account on this legendary tasting. With a narrative that appeals to both seasoned oenophiles and casual wine drinkers, readers are given an important history lesson that impacts the way they purchase and drink wine to this day.

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