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Outstanding Graham Tawny Ports

March 5th, 2018

5 Graham Tawnies from left to right - under 10, 10, 20, 30, 40!
5 Graham Tawnies from left to right – under 10, 10, 20, 30, 40!

Ports were very prominent (and impressive) at the 40th Vancouver International Wine Festival in 2018. One trade seminar showed the magic of the exciting new 2015 Vintage Ports from 8 producers, another tasted key vintages of Dow as well as 2 single Quinta ports, and The Fladgate Partnership highlighted 5 decades of history by Taylor & Fonseca. This last one was presented by David Guimaraens head winemaker as a true masterclass on Vintage Port starting with 1977 (maturing as the finest in the seventies with 1970) followed by 1985 (outstanding Fonseca best of the decade), 1997 (browning from a hot year but yields were down 30% with Taylor still having that typical firm grip and Fonseca the big deep fruit), 2003 (clean pure spirit now being used so shows fruit better earlier on in Taylor) and 2011 (young well balanced explosive fruit with tannins). Fun to try in the tasting room for comparison the also lovely elegant 1985 Warre Vintage Port.

Founded in 1820 by 2 brothers from Scotland W & J Graham it was one of the first Port companies to invest in Portugal’s Upper Douro acquiring in 1890 the now famous Quinta dos Malvedos. Now owned and managed by the Symington family (producers of premium port for 5 generations) it continues to flourish combining innovation with tradition. On May 2, 2016 your scribe detailed here an educational tasting of 10 vintages of Graham Vintage Port over 30 years from 1955 to 1985. This time the focus was on Tawny Ports and again the wines shown brightly indeed. This tasting was led by Rupert Symington (4th generation) with help from his marketing manager Gustavo Devesas who both spoke on the 3 arts of blending, cooperage, and ageing required with a key emphasis on soil and fermentation. Volcanic activity resulted in porous soil on a bedrock of granite and mud going to schist. This helps when the October & April rains filter through the 1 to 7 metres to collect underground for vine availability in the Summer when there is no rain. Vines are over 50 years old resulting in thick skins with aggressive maceration resulting in that opaque colour “the highest natural concentration in the world”.

First up “The Tawny” is a mature reserve port $35 averaging 8-9 years in wood with consumer value appeal of attractive orange peel. The 10 year old $40 still has some red shading averaging 12 years with “eucalyptus and sweetness”. The 20 year old Tawny $66 is usually the most popular perfection choice now showing more of the artisan craftsman cellar master in a fine balanced elegant benchmark with caramel and hazelnuts but still fresh and complex. The 30 year old $119 is amber showing more maturity and a “bit more edgy and sticky with lovely fresh acidity but concentrated glycerol in the mouth plus notes of spicy cigar-box”. The 40 year old $180 is “pure age with meaty leathery savoury notes and as just a wine is irrelevant because it has become now something different and very special”. Probably 50-53 years in wood. Can be volatile acidity (VA) issues on occasion and a “bit of a good tawny prickle” so recommend serving it chilled a little below room temperature. Also sampled the amazing 1994 Single Harvest Port $170 from their last remaining Cask #9 which will be introduced at this year’s Prowein later this month in Dusseldorf. Finished with 1972 Harvest Tawny Port $242 bottled last year “the ultimate sipping wine” with exotic orange and fragrant citrus bergamot still fresh and vibrant with a “precision of flavours finishing with a salty character.” Evaporation from the casks held at the Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia varies with the humidity and drier years are resulting in increased levels. Generally a Tawny loses 22% of volume after 10 years, 40% after 20, and about 67% after 40. Amazing indeed.  What is left to bottle is a real treat and definitely “history in a bottle”!

On February 27, 2018 at Bodega on Main this Vancouver restaurant featured Spanish cuisine by Chef Maritza Orellana well paired with Graham’s diverse Port portfolio. 10 year Tawny was served with Iberian pork cooked pink and deglazed with port while 20 year Tawny matched well with Crème Brulee (Crema Catalana) a Rupert favourite of caramel pairings. He also likes it with Reblochon or Munster cheese. I prefer my Tawnies with roasted pistachio nuts which Rupert approves of and says is superb. Find your own Tawny Port matches or enjoy it by itself.

Some useful social media port connections: Graham’s Websites:;;; Blog:; Vintage Port Site:; Roy Hersh:

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Ask Sid: Names of Wood Barrels Used in Winemaking?

February 28th, 2018
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different types of wine barrels

Question: Quite confused by the names used for different sizes of wooden barrels used in the cellars. Please help.

Answer: Yes it is confusing and there are so many different names and unique sizes used that I can’t deal definitively with all of them here. Important because smaller barrels usually impart more oak or other wood elements plus oxygen into the wine but the age of the barrels and racking are also important factors. However these are a rough guide of some key sizes that are often used that are good to be aware of:

225 Litre: Barrique Bordeaux

228 Litre: Barrique Burgundy

300 Litre: Hogshead – Often found in Cognac but also use bigger Tanks & Vats

600 Litre: Demi-Muid – Bigger French oak size used in the past for boat transport

650 Litre: Pipe of Port – Longer narrower shape

700 Litre: Large Rhone use

1000+ Litre: Very large sizes becoming more popular often called Botte, Botti, Foudres or Butt used in more wineries – like Piedmont. May be referred to in hectoliters (100 litres equal I hectoliter)

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40th Vancouver International Wine Festival Opens with 30th Bacchanalia Gala Dinner+ Auction

February 26th, 2018

Vancouver International Wine Festival 40th anniversary

Canada’s premier wine show The Vancouver International Wine Festival celebrating 40 years has just successfully launched. This year for 8 days 173 wineries from 16 countries spotlight wine & food over more than 50 events. The feature this year is on Spain & Portugal with 58 Iberian Peninsula wineries participating. The opening event 2018 Bacchanalia Gala Dinner + Auction on Saturday February 24 was the 30th and funds raised (this year $225,000) now benefit Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival (previously Vancouver Playhouse Theatre). An amazing growth pattern for this excellent Wine Festival with so much credit over the years going to so many enthusiastic supportive “wine lover” volunteers, the distinguished patronage of Consulate Generals from various wine countries, and our helpful sponsors.

This Gala event has a long history of remarkable cuisine at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver pioneered by Executive Chef Robert LeCrom (assisted by Alan Ferris Director of Catering & Special Events) and now is in the capable hands of Executive Chef Cameron Ballendine and his talented brigade. The Menu had again this year innovative dishes highlighted by a colourful Harvest of the Fisherman and The Hunt in the Air delicious roasted partridge. Diverse matching of quality wines from 10 different regions emphasized the international emphasis. My favourite among several treats was the outstanding 2013 Malbec of Catena Zapata from Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae (“luck of the land”) at almost 5000 feet elevation in Mendoza Argentina. What a combination of freshness with ripe fruit balanced by acidity yet delicate and complex. Well done! The Auction had many treasures change hands including these: 1990 Chateau Latour magnum $6500, 1964 Musigny Comte de Vogue $4500, 1983 La Tache DRC $5500, Vertical of Chateau Gruaud Larose (75, 78, 82, 83, 85, and 95) & Osoyoos Larose (2001-2005) for $4500, and Vertical of Harlan Estate (1996-2000) for $8500. Superb opening !

Will be reporting more on some of the interesting educational wine seminars and dinners to be held all this week in future posts on this Blog.

Your scribe fortunately has attended each and every one of these 40 Vancouver Wine Festivals. Have you attended one? Encourage you to plan a trip to Vancouver in the future to enjoy these always exciting festivities full of worthy events always held at the end of February each year.


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Ask Sid: Is it proper to invert an empty Champagne bottle into the Ice Bucket?

February 21st, 2018
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Ask Sid: Is it proper to invert an empty Champagne bottle into the Ice Bucket?

Question: When dining recently at a highly regarded Paris restaurant the waiter poured out the last of my Champagne order and then inverted the bottle into the ice bucket neck down. Is this proper wine service?

Answer: Yes this question is an interesting one. I have had several times the same experience as you did. Personally I don’t like it and feel it is a rather lazy way by the sommelier in a busy restaurant to easily see you have finished your wine. Also it almost seems like they are giving you a sign of encouragement to order another. It also deprives you sometimes of the last pour of a few precious delicious drops after the remaining liquid settles at the bottom. Etiquette questions such as this can be quite subjective and therefore are difficult to give you an unanimous answer. Your thoughts or those of others?

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Ever Evolving Versatile Style of Riesling

February 19th, 2018

riesling vancouver top drop

We all admire the versatility in wine styles that result from that amazing Riesling grape. From austere no residual sugar very dry (trocken) to sweet icewine or TBA and everything in between this varietal always seems to excel. This was brought home vividly at a Riesling Summit for sommeliers held last week by @TopDropVancouver (as a preview to their annual Terroir + Craft event scheduled May 17 & 18) led by wine educator Kurtis Kolt at leading Thai restaurant Maenam of Chef Angus An. The seminar featured Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster from the Mosel Germany and David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley of BC Canada each showing 6 different Riesling wines:

1  Selbach-Oster 2014 Riesling Brut Sparkling has only 15 months on lees (usually 18-24) but 6% auslese dosage results in classy graceful fresh fizz

2  Tantalus Vineyards 2014 Old Vines Riesling Brut produced only 200 cases of these bubbles with 24 months lees in this drier citrus apple vibrant acidity style

3   Selbach-Oster 2015 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett picked earlier in the hotter 2015 vintage producing this delightful only 9.5 alcohol treat

4  Tantalus Vineyards 2015 Riesling picked starting 21.5 Brix to 23 shows lemon zest with ginger aromatics plus lively texture at good value under $20

5  Selbach-Oster 2015 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken is cooler loamy area that ferment at lower temp but spicy quince has versatile use

6  Tantalus Vineyards 2015 Old Vines Riesling from 4 blocks planted in 1978 with Clone 21 (“Weiss” clone – also used by Cave Springs in Ontario) maintaining original Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Australia dry standard (but their more recent Alea is less dry) shows pure intense elegance with minerals

7  Selbach-Oster 2011 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese Feinherb “Alte Reben”  exotic creamy nutty first time “old vines” designated beauty will last well

8  Tantalus Vineyards 2011 Old Vines Riesling has 4 more years bottle age than 2015 and now developing mature complex textures with petrol marmalade

9  Selbach-Oster 2013 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese shows quality vineyard mineral slate with salty lime from a different cooler year

10 Tantalus Vineyards 2016 Den’s Block Riesling not released for another year using same vineyard as Brut but encouraging “spatlese” top fruit in old oak

11 Selbach-Oster 2012 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Auslese from old vines with ripe fruit makes a brilliant delicious statement (pleased not turned into a Trocken)

12 Tantalus Vineyards 2012 Riesling Icewine only 60 cases picked January 13, 2013 at 39 Brix for 50 day ferment all honey pineapple & peach + acidity

Liked how each Riesling wine showed so distinctively different. Johannes says Riesling variety is so outstanding at expressing “place plus microclimate”. Both these regions obviously are doing an excellent job in finding their unique terroir. Your scribe brought along an older bottle of 2001 Pinot Reach Cellars Old Vines Riesling at 12. 1 alcohol that was made using the original vines planted May 24, 1978 (now used in Tantalus Old Vines) which showed remarkable mature quality. The winemaking and corks were not at the same high level now reached by Tantalus Vineyards but beckons very well for the long age ability of their Old Vines Riesling!

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