Thursday, February 19, 2009

Study Suggests Canadians Becoming Major Winos

By Julianna Hayes
Canadians may consume beer and maple syrup by the gallon, but it appears we’ve also got a hearty appetite for wine.

According to research conducted on behalf of VinExpo, France’s huge international wine fair, Canadian consumption of wine increased by almost 27 percent between 2003 and 2007. During that time, we polished off more than 454 million bottles. And we’re apparently unstoppable. The report predicts we’ll have guzzled another 595 million bottles by 2012.

In fact, the Canadian wine market is growing at a rate three times the world-wide average.

Perhaps we’ve been draining the barrels and tanks to see us through the harsh winters. Or maybe it’s an indication of a looming social problem. Whatever it is, our humble native land is now to be reckoned with when it comes to global wine buying power.

It’s the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy – at least for the world’s wine producers, including those at home. They’ve no doubt been sweating the consumer-wide belt-tightening, particularly given that wine – while it might help get you through a tough day – isn’t exactly a necessity.

The study, titled Current Trends in the International Wine and Spirits Market and Outlook to 2012, contained some interesting observations. For example, importers were the big winners when it came to our insatiable thirst. Foreign wine sales soared by almost 30 per percent with consumers soaking up 32 million cases in 2007.

That makes little old Canada the sixth largest importer of wine in the world – and that’s nothing to sniff at. Plus we’re expected to knock have knocked back another 37 million cases by 2012.

France remains the number one supplier Canada-wide, but just narrowly edges out Italy. This isn’t the trend, however, in B.C., where Australian imports lead the sales, but its hold is slipping slightly. Next in line on our soil are U.S. wines, mostly from California, then Italy and Chile. French wines are in a distant fourth place.

While these figures might be discouraging to local enthusiasts, domestic wines are no slouches either. Sales of home-grown products shot up almost 17 per cent and in B.C., our locally made wines have a pretty strong hold on buyers. That’s excellent news for regional producers. And though an official from VinExpo admits the organization doesn’t have a crystal ball given the volatility of the current economy, the forecast is bright.

The condensed version of the study supplied to us media types raises more questions than provides answers, at least for me. It doesn’t say why Canadians are thirsting more for wine and what exactly it is that they crave. It doesn’t provide average price points or outline emerging consumption trends based on wine styles or varietals.

For example, it would be of interest to me to know if a good chunk of those 454 million bottles we recycled were simply [yellow tail] or if consumers were showing more imagination with their buying habits. I’d be curious to see which varietals wine enthusiasts are beginning to embrace and if they are willing to spend more to try them.

I’m also wondering if the slower growth in terms of domestic wine sales is due to lack of availability or if buyers continue to believe anything imported is superior as a rule.

The full report – at almost 300 pages and includes a CD-ROM – could contain some of those questions. But I’m not willing to fork over the 1,000 Euros to find out. One thing is certain though, plenty of market-hungry importers will cough up the cash in hopes of flooding our shelves with product that will find its way into to the Canadian consumer’s selective heart.

Incidentally, VinExpo runs June 21-25 this year in Bordeaux, France. Check out for details.

And speaking of upcoming events, check out the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, which this year celebrates British Columbia as the feature wine region for the first time – in anticipation of 2010. Tickets for signature events sell out fast, so if you intend to go, you’ll want to book early. In the coming weeks, I’ll spotlight some of the go-to events that shouldn’t be missed.

Wine Notes

Mission Hill 2006 Reserve Shiraz
Aromas: Chocolate, black cherry, white peppercorn, smoked meat, herbaceous, flinty chalk, coffee bean
Flavours: Savoury, herbal, black cherry, pepper, chalk, smoked meat, cocoa bean, expresso
Body and Finish: A savoury, racy fresh palate with good mid-palate weight, peppery, slight hot finish
Overall Impression: Elegant for its price point, more European in style. Not a fruit bomb
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drinkable now with food, cellar up to five years
Score: 89
Price: $22
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Sumac Ridge 2007 Pinnacle (White)
Aromas: Honey, butter, spice, orange rind, mineral, grapefruit, tropical fruit, ginger and floral notes
Flavours: Citrus, apple, spice, mineral, ginger, butter, herbal, olive, floral, lemon oil
Body and Finish: Fresh entry with mouthfilling and butter texture on the palate and some zip on the finish
Overall Impression: Quite complex, robust, yet has some zip. Drink well chilled
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 89
Price: $25
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

Fairview Cellars 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
Aromas: Gooseberry, fresh grass, lemon peel, grapefruit rind, mineral, green apple skin
Flavours: Cut grass, mineral, white grapefruit, lemon, spice, herbal, apple skin and a touch of salt Body and Finish: Racy, lemony, zippy entry that dances on the tongue…finish is fresh and lingering with a hit of saltiness that makes this wine sing
Overall Impression: Quintessential version, loads of racy acidity, all that you want front this variety. And this was just a barrel sample
Would I Buy It? Absolutely
Cellaring Potential: Drink when its released
Score: 91
Price: $TBA
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wine Q&A: Can My Diet Include Wine?

Q: Going on a diet may be clichéd when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, but I am committed to losing 20-30 pounds in 2009. I plan to do it by eating sensibly and exercising, instead of following an expensive program or some fad diet. The trouble is I LOVE wine and would hate to give it up. But everything I have read indicates that clear liquors are ok but wine is a no-no when it comes to dieting. Why is that? Is there such a thing as a low-calorie wine? Do you have any suggestions on how I can include wine in my weight-loss program?
- Jennifer

A: Most dieticians would say that anything in moderation is acceptable, but if you’re like me you probably find that advice hollow and unsatisfactory.

Actually I can totally relate to your dilemma. A broken foot brought my otherwise active lifestyle to an abrupt halt a number of years ago. While it healed I became lazy so even after I was fully on my feet again it took months to shake the lethargy. That resulted in a shocking weight gain. For the record, I managed to shed my extra pounds without giving up wine – more on that later. Let’s address some of your questions first.

Booze in any way, shape or form is a weight watcher's nemesis. They don’t call it “bellying up to the bar” for nothing. While “clear liquors” like vodka or gin may have relatively fewer calories than wine, the minute you add a mixer like cranberry juice or tonic water, all bets are off – unless you choose diet pop or soda water, in which case, why bother at all?

A lot of people who monitor their waistline don't factor alcohol into the equation. Unfortunately, all booze (clear liquors included) contains extra calories that our bodies don't typically use for energy. The calories from alcohol are easily stored as body fat, which then cause weight gain.

When it comes to wine, there are a couple things to consider when dieting: alcohol content and sugar. You might be surprised to know that robust Australian Shiraz may contain as many calories as a luscious Icewine. That’s because all the sugar that was in the grapes grown for the Shiraz was fermented into alcohol which will drive up the calorie count. The Icewine may be far sweeter, but it is typically much lower in alcohol.

Therein lies the real rub.

Another caveat when it comes to wine consumption is using a generic calorie-counting formula. Most basic dietary information pegs an average glass of wine at about 80 calories.

That doesn't sound so bad, right? But it’s time for a rude awakening. “Average” according to this formula is three to five ounces of wine at 10-12 per cent alcohol.

I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who considers three to five ounces a “glass.” Most people will pour about eight ounces. Heck, I own stemware that can hold half a bottle.

And 10 per cent alcohol may have been common when bell bottoms were first in fashion, but today the demand for fuller, richer wines has driven up the average to 14-15 per cent.

The proper formula in the real world for calculating the calories in a glass of dry wine is this: 1.6 multiplied by percentage of alcohol multiplied by number of ounces. So if you drink eight ounces at 14 per cent alcohol, the calorie count is 180.

If you've got a penchant for big reds, which can tip the scales at 16 per cent alcohol, you're sipping 204 calories. Drink a whole bottle -- which a lot of people have been known to do -- and you're in the 610 to 665 calorie range. That, my friends, is more than in a Big Mac.

There's something else to consider -- booze gives us the munchies. Alcohol increases your appetite and the more you drink, the more your resolve will dissolve. That's OK if you reach for the carrot sticks, but most people tend to snack on foods higher in fat. The truth is, it's not just a beer gut you're packing, it's a nacho chips and cheese gut.

If you're a wine weenie like me, the danger zone is with those wine receptions, themed dinners and festivals where platters of triple cream brie, crustinis and fois gras are the norm.

So how did I do it? Since sampling wine is part of my work, avoiding it altogether simply wasn’t practical. So anything I tried for review purposes I spit out. I restricted actual consumption to two days a week and factored it into my diet plan as an actual food. On days I indulged in a glass or two of wine, I gave up a high-calorie carb to compensate such as potatoes, rice or pasta. And I assumed each glass was the equivalent to 250 calories to err on the side of caution. Another thing that worked for me was matching each sip of wine with a healthy gulp of water. It helped me drink my wine slower and filled me up so I craved less. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to pull it off with monumental self-control.

One final tip: read the label and stick to dry wines with moderate levels of alcohol such as Riesling, Chasselas, Chenin Blanc in the case of whites, and Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir in the case of reds.

Good luck!

In Focus: Midpalate

I am often asked to explain this tasting term used by critics. The “entry” is that initial impression you get when you first sip the wine, while the “finish” is the aftertaste and length when you swallow or spit. The “midpalate” is in between those two elements and simply refers a sense of the wine “unfolding” in your mouth. Typically, this is when you notice secondary, more complex or understated flavours that should form the most lasting impression on you as the drinker. Unfortunately, a high percentage of wine consumers skip this important step by drinking their wine too quickly. It’s crucial to savour the wine at the midpalate in order to fully appreciate it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Wines from the Heart

By Julianna Hayes
There’s little dispute that among the people I know wine plays a supporting role when it comes to romance and seduction.

In fact, I’m willing to bet a good number of them hooked up after a glass or four of wine. It sets the mood and lowers inhibitions in a way other romantic task masters – such as roses, candlelight and chocolate – never could.

Even the language of wine is sensual with words like body and legs, soft and silky, racy and spicy, robust and voluptuous often peppering in its descriptions.

Thus it stands to reason that wine would be a key component when it comes to wooing a significant other or potential one on Valentine’s Day.

By virtue of its colour, people are typically drawn to red wine. Indeed that hue is Valentine’s Day’s signature shade. In the weeks leading up February 14th, one can’t walk into a shopping mall without being bombarded visually by red heart-shaped boxes, ribbons and bows.

Sales (and prices) of red roses go through the roof – in fact, they make up more than 50 per cent of floral purchases by star-struck lovers. I suspect that percentage would be higher if the supply of healthy, full crimson blooms was plentiful. But last-minute courters are typically greeted by sickly, spent petals at $100 a dozen.

Statistics bear out that red wine – of which there is an endless supply – is also preferred by more than half of V-Day imbibers. And why not? Its luscious aromas and warm, rich flavours and mouth-filling texture are practically x-rated. Plus it’s likely to be a good match with those rich, dark chocolates you also purchased or received. But should you and your honey share a whole bottle of Cabernet, you’ll both be sporting ghastly purple teeth and breath to match, which might bring the whole seduction to a screeching halt.

My advice? Keep it light. That doesn’t mean you have to forgo red entirely, but consider brighter, fresher options with less tannin to avoid the “Dracula Effect.”

Depending on who you’re courting, and the mood you want to invoke, here are some options for romancing with wine this Valentine’s.

If your date is curvy, vibrant, sensual with a spicy personality:

Inniskillin 2007 Discovery Series Marsanne Roussanne $17
Apple sauce and baked pear, orange marmalade, butter, cardamom, baking spice, mineral. Slightly sweet palate of pear, apple sauce, spice and some nice acidity on the finish. 86/100

Quinta Ferreira 2007 Viognier $20
Butterscotch candy, baked apple, nutmeg, candied lemon peel, ginger, coconut. Fleshy palate with some buttery oak, lemon rind, ginger, apple. 86/100

Herder 2007 Chardonnay $20
Barlett pear, apple, bees wax, pineapple, orange peel, luscious with a touch of butter, candied tropical fruit and citrus peel. 87/100

Oliver Twist 2007 Chardonnay $20
Apple skin, peaches, cream, caramel, butter, tropical fruit. Slight sweet entry, mouthcoating balanced by nice acidity. 88/100

Summerhill 2007 Ehrenfelser $20
Mango, spice, honeyed citrus, peaches and cream aromas. On the palate the texture is luscious and tropical accented by pink grapefruit and spice. 89/100

For classy, reserved, well-read, sophisticated lovers

Nk’Mip 2007 Pinot Noir $18
Bright red fruits, some toast, leafy aromas, coffee bean, herbal, fruit leather. Quite silky on the palate with some bright red fruit and a touch of lifted citrus. Finishing clean. 85/100

Mission Hill 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris $22
Nectarine, apricot, floral notes with citrus peel and granny smith apple, plus a hint of spice. Fresh and lively on the palate with lemon oil, bright tree flavours and clean acidity on the finish. 88/100

Sumac Ridge 2001 Pinnacle Sparkling $35
Red berries, peaches, mineral, citrus zest, floral, yeast and lemon in the nose. Lovely effervescence and a nice aged quality plus plenty of citrus, tree fruit and yeasty flavours. 90/100

For fresh-faced, cheeky and outdoorsy dates who have a rebellious spirit

Dunham and Froese 2007 Rose $17
Red berries, earthy, mossy, savoury notes, citrus zest, spice. Lots of racy acidity on the palate with sour cherries, wild strawberries, snappy tart apple, spice. 88/100

Domaine de Chaberton 2007 Canoe North Bluff Pink $14
Bright sour cherries, cranberry, sweet strawberry and lifted citrus character. Zesty red berry flavours, nice acidity, clean finish. 85/100

For dark and brooding types for whom only the richest, heaviest reds will do:

Jackson Triggs 2006 Grand Reserve Shiraz $26
Chocolate, savoury notes, soya sauce, blueberry, black cherry, cassis, peppercorn, leather. Earthy, extracted dark fruit flavours, smoky notes, bittersweet chocolate, soya, pepper and heat on the finish. 91/100

CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40
Plum, blackcherry, blueberry, coffee bean, cedar, spice, mocha, dark vanilla and marmalade. Luscious, mouthfilling and rich on the palate, with lifted acidity and a long finish. 92/100

For sweet-natured, perpetually happy types:

Mission Hill 2005 Late Harvest Riesling $30
Baked apple, spice, honey, apricots, lemon oil, butterscotch. Bright, luscious flavours balanced by good acidity. A dessert wine that’s not so cloying. 88/100

Tinhorn Creek 2007 Kerner Ice Wine $25
Apricots, marmalade, butterscotch, candied citrus peel, and some tropical fruit aromas. Luscious but not overly sticky on the palate. Finger-licking good. 89/100

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Do Wine Judges and Critics Lack Consistency?

By Julianna Hayes
If you’re the kind of wine consumer who relies on critical reviews or gold medals to decide what to drink, consider this: apparently, so-called experts like me can’t always tell when they’re sipping the same wine over and over again.

A four-year study published last week in the Journal of Wine Economics revealed that only 10 per cent of judges were able to consistently give the same rating, or something very close, to the identical wine sampled multiple times in a large blind tasting.

Even more unsettling is the fact that another 10 per cent of judges at the California State Fair gave the very same wine far different ratings, ranging from deserving of a gold medal to meriting no medal at all.

Now you might think that the small percentage who gave consistent scores would be considered “super judges” and would be the “go-to” people for future competitions and ratings, but you’d be wrong. The study also found that these judges didn’t maintain their consistency from year to year.


In the wine-soaked movie, Sideways, the character Maya spoke about wine being a “living thing” that is constantly changing. “I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive.”

Though Maya may have been a fictional person, what she said is, in fact, true. And it accounts for how judges in one competition could assess a wine differently months later in another. But it can’t easily explain away how a wine can be so profoundly different to the same taster on the same day.

"Consumers should have a healthy skepticism about the medals awarded to wines from the various competitions," said Roberts Hodgson, a retired Humboldt State professor, who conducted the study.

He also said he doesn't have any more faith in the 100-point-scale ratings of wines in magazines, newspapers and newsletters, like the ones published in this column.

I have always said consumers shouldn’t be distracted by shiny hardware or allow reviews to dictate their buying patterns. That’s because I want them to have the confidence to trust their own palates and decide for themselves what they like. But I realize the findings of this study are troublesome.

There are, however, some explanations. Despite its glamorous image, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe a wine judging, or better yet, serve as a “ghost judge,” you’d understand how gruelling an ordeal it is. It’s not uncommon for a taster to sample in excess of 100 wines in a sitting. Over time our once fresh palates will become weary and battered, even though we’re spitting and cleansing with water regularly. I leave the judges’ chambers with teeth befitting a ghoul and a tongue that tastes like my gym socks.

I’ve noticed throughout the exercise that my taste buds start to get numb, but my sense of smell gets more heightened. Thus I suspect if a wine I tasted earlier in the competition appeared again before me later in the day, I might notice less on the palate but more in the nose and those differences may or may not do the wine justice.

And like how food will change how a wine tastes, sampling other wines will affect our perspective of a given wine’s characteristics.

Consumers may be alarmed by these factors but they should consider a few things before dismissing the worthiness of all those gold medal wines they’ve invested in over the years. First of all, no wine wins or loses on the say so of a single judge. There has to be a majority consensus of the panel – usually consisting of a half dozen or more judges – for a bottle to score gold.

The second consideration is that most wines aren’t awarded the top prizes based on just one taste. Typically, wines that show well get pushed forward for a second tasting, usually the next day when the judges’ palates will be refreshed and they’ll also be trying a new bottle.

Is the situation ideal? No, but wine, and one’s perspective of it, is subjective – I’ve never pretended otherwise.

The study has prompted California State Fair officials to consider changes in the way they operate future wine competitions.

They plan to reduce the number of wines sampled per day -- currently is 150 or more -- to around 75 to in hopes of avoiding palate fatigue. They also want to start weeding out judges who demonstrate a lack of consistency year after year.

Hodgson, who taught oceanography and statistics at the university, now owns Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County. He designed the study because he didn't understand why "we would have wines that we sent off and would get gold medals in some competitions and in others would get poop. It seemed like a gold medal was just a matter of luck."

But the study’s findings have created a bit of a quandary for Hodgson, who has been using medals to sell his wines.

“And now I have written this paper saying the wine competition system that awards those medals isn't perfect."

Wine Notes

Township 7 2006 Chardonnay
Aromas: Butter, orange rind, vanilla, tropical fruit, peaches, lemon oil, some mineral
Flavours: Fresh tropical fruit, citrus rind, butter, spice, caramel
Body and Finish: Bright ripe fruit entry, soft and round with a layer of butter on the palate, clean finish
Overall Impression: Consistently well made year after year. Definitely for those who like some oak that is not overdone
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 88
Price: $20
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Merlot
Aromas: Chocolate covered cherries, cassis, menthol, earth, pepper, coffee bean
Flavours: Bright, jammy fruit, pepper, spice, black cherry, dusty chocolate, herbaceous notes
Body and Finish: Bold entry with nice weighty texture on the palate, moderate tannins, slightly spicy finish
Overall Impression: Budget-friendly wine is stylish and shows good depth
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drinkable now, cellar up to five years
Score: 88
Price: $19
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers

Zero Balance 2007 Project
Aromas: Quite aromatic with peach, nectarine, marmalade, floral and spicy notes
Flavours: Peach, apricot, nectarine, spice, some mineral
Body and Finish: Racy entry with luscious fruit and good mid-palate acidity
Overall Impression: A bright, easy to drink wine with some residual sugar making it a good choice for Asian fare – Another Holman Lang enterprise on the Naramata Bench
Would I Buy It? Occasionally
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: 86
Price: $18
Availability: BC LDBS, VQA shops, private retailers