Ask Sid: What are shamps and champers?

October 6th, 2021
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Question: What are shamps and champers?

Answer: A couple of the many words developed as sort of a slang to call white sparkling wine – especially for Champagne – just like the more commonly used “bubbles” or “fizz”.

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October 4th, 2021

Pleased to be allowed to attend more restaurant dinners recently under strict safety protocols. Boulevard among others in Vancouver are doing a superb job of culinary excellence in difficult circumstances. Another memorable one was held on September 28, 2021 featuring older Bordeaux from the eighties all approaching 40 years of age. The bookends were outstanding too starting with a Krug Grande Cuvee Brut without more information provided on the menu. However, your investigator found ID 115013 on the Krug bottle which led to a most helpful informative full description on their website: Edition 163 of 120 individual wines from 10 different years (mainly 2007) of 37%
Pinot Noir, 32 Chardonnay & 31 Pinot Meunier with 8 years on the lees bottled 2014-2015. Mature and drinking beautifully. The finishing 1986 Chateau Climens Sauternes-Barsac perfectly paired with the passion fruit tart displayed botrytis plus concentration from a small crop resulting in lush delicious creme brulee pineapple-orange marmalade. The feature event was 9 top red Bordeaux from 4 vintages in 3 flights:

First Flight:
1986 Chateau Duhart-Milon, Pauillac
1986 Chateau Talbot, Saint-Julien
1986 Chateau Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien

Second Flight:
1983 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion
1982 Chateau Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien
1982 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
1982 Chateau COS D’Estournel, Saint-Estephe

Third Flight:
1981 Chateau Cheval Blanc, St. Emilion
1981 Chateau Margaux, Margaux

The characteristics of the four vintages tasted are now well established:
1986 a harder Cab Sauv year favouring Northern Medoc is a slow developer with long cellaring potential. 1983 following in the shadow of 1982 now are fully mature, favouring particularly the better micro-climate of Margaux & Pessac-Leognan. 1982 is a historic fairly consistent vintage of complex concentration with surprising longevity. 1981 had rain at harvest diluting the crop resulting in variability yet some properties like Pichon-Lalnde & especially Chateau Margaux excelled.

First flight showed paler DM, mid depth T & deep dark GL. Some bottles of DM showed TCA but herbaceous style and not the quality intensity of this property from 2003 (very good!) onwards. Both T & GL were great in 1986 (and 1982) but quite different now as T is forwardly drinking stylish lovely “touch of mint” plus charming cedar of St. Julien. GL is firmer, powerful, with a reluctant impressive concentration of amazing buckets of fruit still waiting to explode. Patience needed even at 35 years old. Group fav Talbot. Your scribe admired the Gruaud Larose potential. Clever food course for red wines of Lobster, Beets & Almonds.

Second flight open herbal dill green olives unique Right Bank blend of popular styled Figeac, BD lovely delightful tobacco but softer lighter ready to drink up, GPL almost as deep and dark as GL with classy very Pauillac tight cabernet fruit slightly closed in but so balanced and impressive. No rush. Cos developing well from previous coarser ripe porty style now come together into a smooth rich intense beauty. Surprisingly Figeac was the Group fav followed by Cos. Your scribe preferred GPL followed by Cos. What a culinary gem those handmade “light as air” tender gnocchi + porcini singing for the wines. Congrats.

Third Flight provided added excitement as revealed First Growths (as all flights not served blind). Both had their supporters but Cheval had a lighter paling rim well developed to enjoy presently while Chateau Margaux vying for wine of the vintage so outstandingly fragrant, classy, elegant, with purity balance. Success.

Reflecting back on this wonderful tasting-dinner your scribe was thinking how he was out of sync with the group wine consensus and how difficult it is to choose your favourite wine of the flight. There are many factors that go into that personal subjective decision. Perhaps IMHO five of the most important factors would include:

  1. Young & Fresh. Some tasters just prefer the wines that are showing the most fresh younger fruit and are less impressed with those that seem older and drier – though perhaps more complex.
  2. Accessible & Open. A wine that is forwardly open and easily accessible is easier to understand on first blush regardless of the nuances that often require searching deeper from the closed more reluctant wine that has not yet reached the best mature plateau. This factor contributed to the Figeac support.
  3. Decanting & Airing. Wines that show well at first smell and taste usually win out over wines that need more airing in the decanter or that improve later in the glass. Be patient before making your final decision and see how your wine is developing or changing in the glass.
  4. Personal Bias. Many of us carry excess baggage to the tasting knowing the property or having tasted the vintage previously. This can affect your judgment. Your scribe has been fortunate to taste the outstanding 1982 Grand Puy Lacoste on so many occasions and even though at this event it was more closed and less exuberant it may have influenced my preference.
  5. Bottle Variation. This is a big factor for older wines. Several bottles of the same wine served to a group resulted here in bottle variation (some Duhart Milon had TCA) and split opinions. Always remember with old vintage wines it is that specific bottle you are assessing and not generally all bottles of that wine produced in that vintage.

So have the courage of your convictions when wine tasting. Don’t be discouraged with your own opinions. It is so subjective and personal that you may be right (for you) even though the majority disagrees with you.

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Ask Sid: What is happening with the St. Emilion classification?

September 29th, 2021
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Question: What is happening with the St. Emilion classification?

Answer: Both Ausone & Cheval Blanc have opted out thereby throwing the present classification in St. Emilion into disarray. Further complications are arising because Domaine Clarence Dillon (Haut-Brion & La MIssion Haut-Brion) just acquired Grand-Pontet to combine with their Quintus (old Tertre Daugay) and L’Arrosee (outstanding 1961)
properties – which regulations do not allow. The result in St. Emilion is that some of the best estates have withdrawn from the classification system yet are producing some of the very highest quality wines. A real dilemma that will have to be resolved.

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September 27th, 2021

On September 21, 2021 in Vancouver BC at Blue Water Cafe we celebrated the seventies and eighties as a wonderful period for old style classic cabernet in California. The focus was a 10 year vertical of historic Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ranging from 1974 to 1989. The event was possible through the generosity of knowledgeable longtime collector Dave Spurrell who had cellared all these bottles for many decades. He also provided a short history of the man Robert Mondavi born in Virginia Minnesota in 1913 and passed away at the age of 94 on May 16, 2008. Your scribe has had the pleasure of trying all these wines several times over the years but they now have become an important part of California wine history. We wondered how they were holding up presently. That 1974 is approaching 50 years of age! Though served as the first of ten this beauty shone so brightly. Lots of deepest dark young red colour exploding with that distinctive eucalyptus mint cedar bouquet and lots of life with elegance left even in standard 750 ml well stored. My last two experiences of this wine was in magnum even more remarkably fresh and age worthy. Remember buying the regular Mondavi cab 1974 (12.6 abv 91% CS, 5 Merlot, and 4 Cab Franc 24 months 3/4 French Nevers & 1/4 American oak) at the Washington State Liquor Board for a bargain price of $4.65. The Reserve was picked at 23.7 Brix for 13.6 abv using 86% CS & 14% Merlot with the same oak treatment for 30 months. Surprised to see the low score of 87 from Wine Spectator (but all scores were lower in those days) and similarly low for all the Reserve wines. Maybe because of bottle variation due to filtering experiments that were being done for 1974. The 1969 Unfined & 1970 Unfiltered both with 15% Cab Franc were forerunners for this style. The other wines were all solid and holding rather well: 75 leaner herbal, 76 100% CS aged rim, 77 drought year baked intense, 80 has 13% Merlot lighter forwardly. Second flight had 85 as group fav elegant under 13 alcohol again, 86 paler stylish with highest Cab Franc in this series at 12%, 87 fuller richer 2nd fav of second flight, 88 solid, 89 has 91 CS 9 Merlot. Volume increased from some 9000 cases back in 1974 to a norm a round 15000 cases in the eighties. Really like the lower alcohol cool fruit so drinkable easy style of those days. Robert Mondavi always commented that the 1974 vintage would have been outstanding if he had used 100% French oak which would have provided the wine with better finishing lift. He would be pleased to know that it is still terrific and is truly outstanding the way he made it. Congrats.

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Ask Sid: How is the Champagne harvest looking for 2021?

September 22nd, 2021
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Question: How is the Champagne harvest looking for 2021?

Answer: Lots of concerns on the drastic drop of crop volumes in Champagne for 2021. Good report of September 10 by here saying the extreme weather caused a 60% drop. The weather was called “challenging” with April frost (30%) and persistent rain leading to mildew (another 30%). However, the latest report from Harpers.Co.UK of September 21 here is more encouraging while quoting Philipponnat for a “classical” vintage “with crisp acidity” though “Pinot Meunier has caused growers the most headaches.” Still early days so for Champagne lovers it will be interesting to follow the progress of a unique 2021 vintage.

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