Spring 2004:

May 3: Australian Wine Society of Toronto, 416/944-1597.
May 4: Austrian Tasting, Arcadian Court, Toronto, 416/967-3348, x18.
May 6: De Grazia tasting/dinner, Truffles restaurant, Toronto,
  LCBO Vintages, 416/365-5928.
May 10: Taste the Classics, The Carlu, Toronto, LCBO Vintages, 416/365-5928.
May 11: Tony Aspler, Italian wines, Grano, Toronto, 416/440-1986.
May 11: Taste of the Community, York Event Theatre, Toronto, 416/928-9622.
May 12: Chateau Palmer Master Class, National Club, Toronto,
  Independent Wine Education Guild, 416/534-2570.
May 12-16: Santé: Bloor-Yorkville Wine Festival, Toronto, 519/599-3238.
May 18: Italian cuisine/tutored tasting, Siegfried's, Toronto,
  George Brown Chef’s School, 416/415-2260.
May 25-26: New Zealand Wine Fair, Toronto, 705/444-5255.
June 3: Ontario Wine Awards medal-winning wines, Miller Tavern,
  Yonge Street, 416/410-4630.
June 5: Importing Wine for Pleasure and Profit Seminar, Malibu Club,
  Stephen Trenholme, 416/503-9834.
June 9: Languedoc Tasting, Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Toronto,
  Sopexa, 416/921-8400.

The Wine Essentials
The truly essential things you should know about wine:
     1. If you like it, it's good.
     2. Sharing it brings people together and enriches life.
     3. It’s healthy, tastes great, and complements food.

Pouring In From Oz
Canadians each drank 6 glasses of Australian wine last year – 3 million cases worth $189 million – with Shiraz leading 3:1 over Chardonnay and Cabernet. And Aussie sales here have soared 25%-30% annually for 6 years.

Over the last three years, a new Australian winery has opened every 35 hours. There are now 1,798, says the Wine Industry Directory. The top 20 do 89% of wine sales and 94% of exports. Fewer than 30% make sparkling or fortified, 64% have a website and 88% email.

What’s French For Overload?
Confused by wine labels? So are the French.
A survey by ONIVINS, France's wine bureaucrats, says 77% of consumers find it difficult to choose and 44% say purchasing is an "ordeal".

ONIVINS and French supermarkets trying to find new ways to help people choose from the 600 different wines on display at any one time.

Faced with a steady decline in consumption, French wine-growers are also doing their bit. In the Loire region, Rémy-Pannier has launched a new range of wine, Tastemets, with detachable labels that give food matches and recipes.

Stay-At-Homes Desert UK Pubs
Pubs may be everywhere in Britain but nowadays people are likelier to have a glass of wine or beer at home. Supermarkets are selling more alcohol than pubs and restaurants combined, says Nielsen research.

The pubs are feeling the pinch from a trend towards staying home, plugged into a movie or experimenting with new cooking styles.

"Consumers have more choice about how to spend their leisure time," said Paul Flanagan of Diageo, the world's leading retailer of wines and spirits. British television -- whether about gardening, cooking or interior decoration -- is encouraging people to invest more time and money in their home, he argues.

Outside the home, health and fitness is booming, with a 57% increase in expenditure over 10 years, and gyms are now competing with the pub for people's time. From 80,000 after World War II, Britain now has 60,000 pubs, which employ 90,000 people.

Tapped Out
Coca-Cola has abandoned a launch of Dasani in the UK, France and Germany after it emerged that the bottled water came straight from a mains tap at its Kent factory. Coke also admitted the water contained a carcinogen. The fiasco has cost £70m.

Vintage Dylan!
A Bob Dylan wine hits UK shelves later this year, at £35 a bottle. The ’02 Montepulciano and Merlot blend, signed by Dylan, will be labeled after his ’74 album, Planet Waves. It’s made by Antonio Terni, a Dylan fan and wine producer at Ancona, in the Marche, Italy.

Spain, France Drinking Less
Wine drinkers in Spain are drinking much less than they once did, 40% less than 15 years ago. Spain's Department of Agriculture released figures for 2003 showing the consumption per head as 28.2 litres. Other traditional wine-producing nations are seeing a similar fall. The French currently drink 58 litres per capita, down from 90 litres in 1980.

Le Pin Grillé Very Toasty
Some Bordeaux 2003s are better than the spectacular 2000s, according to UK merchants. The consensus Médoc wines are superb because their main grape, the slow-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, was able to ripen fully in the heat wave.

"There was a lot of hype in the French press, but burned fruit and burned skins do affect the style of the wine," said Berry Bros & Rudd’s Paul Milroy. "But there are some real surprises. Château Montrose is a blockbuster."

Steven Browett at London-based merchants, Farr Vintners, agreed. "The vintage is more up and down than 2000 but it is an amazing year with some greater wines than 2000," he says. Not the case in Pomerol and St Emilion, where the early-ripening Merlot grapes had a hard time. Château Le Pin is not releasing a 2003 after producing only 8 barrels of what Fiona Morrison MW of Le Pin called ‘Le Pin grillé’ – punning on the French for toast: pain grillé.

Château Pétrus, however, whose vines are only metres from Le Pin in Pomerol, has produced a wine that Decanter's James Lawther gives an easy five stars. "Except for the producers who picked early, the Merlots were over-ripe," says Browett.

Some St Emilion and Pomerol châteaux produced New World-style wines because of the high temperatures and sunshine – in August, rainfall was half and sunshine was up 30 hours on the 50-year average.

The critics are as inconsistent as the wines. Jancis Robinson gives St Emilion’s Château Pavie 12/20, calling it a "ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux". Wine Spectator’s James Suckling gives the Pavie 95-100/100 and says, "Superripe and almost jammy. Very New World on the nose? Bordeaux-like on the palate. Got to like this." Château d’Angludet caused heated discussion, some reckoning it great, with richness and finesse, others calling it "overripe" and "densely tannic".

But American critic Robert Parker will have the last word as usual. Browett says the châteaux will not announce prices until Parker’s notes have been released.

The best of the vintage? The consensus is Montrose, with Margaux, Lafite and the other first growths, Pétrus and Le Gay all marked highly.

Billion $$$ Wine Biz
US wine sales hit $21.6 billion last year, up from $21.1B in 2002, $19.8B in ’01 and $19B in 2000, says the Wine Institute of California. And since ’01, the market has grown by 6 million new wine drinkers.

Half of the wine is sold in six states, led by California, New York and Texas, and the typical buyer is 35 to 54, making over $75,000 a year.

Yet, in a recent survey, only 10% felt comfortable talking about wine with friends, 3% with co-workers and 1% with waiters.

"It's amazing that we sell as much wine as we do," says Steve Boone, founder of spirits retailer Beverages & More. Boone says the next few years will mirror the boom of the ’70s and ’80s, but be much more competitive, with more domestic labels on the shelves, better-quality wines at lower prices and more imports from Australia and Chile.

He expects sales to grow 5%-8% for three to five years.

Charity Begins At Home
Burgundy prices jumped an amazing 25% at the Hospices de Nuits auction. The sale, for charity, is a pointer for prices throughout the Cote d’Or for the 2003 vintage.

The November Hospices de Beaune auction is better publicized, but buyers find it more difficult to assess the wines presented there within weeks of the harvest. For the Hospices de Nuits event, in March, the wines have completed alcoholic and malolactic fermentations and are starting to show their true character.

The wines come from 11.3ha bequeathed to the Hospices, an 800 year-old institution, which makes them and sells them by the barrel, or pièce.

Meanwhile, producers in Bordeaux are trying to halt a plunge in sales. Growers and sellers are considering tearing up some vineyards, changing their ways to adapt to markets and consumer tastes and improving the quality.

Sales of Bordeaux are down to about 5.7m hectolitres (150.6m U.S. gallons) last year from 6.4m in 1998 and still falling. Some 5-10% of the 9,000 producers are facing serious difficulties.

The French, who buy 60% of Bordeaux's wine, are drinking less, for health reasons. Exports are suffering from the euro's strength and foreign competition.

Tut! Tut! Vin Rouge...
Ancient Egyptians believed in proper planning for the afterlife. A new study reveals that King Tutankhamun eased his journey with a stash of red wine. Spanish scientists analyzed residues from a jar in Tut’s tomb and it contained wine from red grapes.

One sample came from the tomb discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter in Western Thebes. The inscription reads: "Year 5. Wine of the House-of-Tutankhamun Ruler-of-the-Southern-On, in the Western River. By the chief vintner, Khaa."

Earliest evidence of grapes is from 60-million-year-old fossil vines, while the first record of wine making is in the Bible, which says Noah planted a vineyard after exiting the ark. Scientists have detected wine in a jar from 5,400 B.C. at Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of Iran and in Egypt wine making was depicted on tomb walls in 2,600 B.C.

Budding Tasters in ‘Cot’ du Rhône
Tesco has a new tasting team -- ‘super-sensitive’ pregnant women.

Under Operation Cot du Rhône, the UK supermarket wants expectant moms to come in and sample wines in its tasting rooms. The idea was hatched when the wine department experienced a flood of pregnancies. Wine boss Helen McGinn, six months pregnant, believes taste/smell are enhanced heightened during pregnancy. "Every pregnant woman will tell you her sense of taste heightens. This is a chance to recruit super-sensitive taste buds," she says.

Still in the embryonic stage, the operation gets under way in September and delivers feedback on the Tesco wine range.

VQA Gives Nod To Screw Caps
The Vintners Quality Alliance says producers can seal bottles with a twist. New technology mean a cork isn't necessary and many international wineries are shifting to screw caps on quality wines.

The VQA says switching from corks is up to the individual winery. Screw caps are seen as a way to ensure freshness and avoid cork taint.

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