Winter 2004:

March 21: Centre for Vine Affairs, Toronto, hosts winemakers’ dinner with Rainer Lingenfelder, Fritz Hasselbach, Gunter Thies, Annegret Reh Gartner and Walter Schnur, $110

March 23: German Wine Fair, Thomson Hall, includes 16 wines in the April 1 Vintages release. $55.00, 905/815-1581.

April 2: The 24th annual California Wine Fair Tour of Canada, Westin Ottawa,
and April 6, Fairmont Royal York, Toronto, 905/336-8932 (no general admission at the door).

Wine Express On-Line
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Dry Humor
Gay-owned Rainbow Ridge Wines of California is marketing a red from Alicante Bouschet grapes."a little different, just like we are," says owner Dennis Costa. It’s "fruit forward with a fabulous finish."

* Average lifespan of a vine: 25 years.

Really, Really Grand Cru
A British tourist accidentally ordered a £1,000 wine in a Prague restaurant.

Andy Freegard misread the Chateau Margaux ’87 price as £20 then got worried when waiters flocked to sniff the cork.

When girlfriend Helen Kelly asked the price in sterling, "we were both completely shell-shocked."

"We realized something was not right when the standard of service improved dramatically. And when they brought out the decanter I was very concerned," said Freegard.

"After we learned the truth we knew we couldn't send it back. Taking each sip was heartbreaking, knowing it was £50 worth a gulp. In my defence, I was tired and it was dark in the restaurant."

* Grape varieties in the world: 5,000.

Torontow Icewine! Hardly An Elixir
Knockoffs like Chilliwacko Icewine and Torontow, Elixir of the Gods (with a labels showing Whistler, BC, festooned with maple leaves!) are driving Canadian Icewine exporters crazy.

"People are making this stuff in their garage to sell in China," says Ontario’s Charles Pillitteri, who exports 75% of his own product. Canada, Austria and Germany produce the real thing, which sells for $50-$150 a half-bottle.

Bogus $15 Icewines are in major stores in Taiwan and China alongside real Icewines. They’re made with juice and sugar or grapes frozen in the freezer. "Some contain dyes and some aren’t even wines," says Bill Ross of the Canadian Vintners Association.

"The scam is seriously hurting sales in our biggest export market, damaging the reputation of all Canadian wines and increasing costs to educate consumers about the sham."

Canadian Icewine production peaked last year at nearly 2.5 million bottles and almost 80% is exported.

"If you get buyers overseas who unwittingly drink fake Icewine and they don't like it, they may not buy it again and that hurts our reputation," Ross says.

Vintners are pushing for stricter labeling laws that recognize the Icewine definition set out by Canada, Austria and Germany in May 2000.

Inniskillin, like most Ontario wineries, was fortunate to complete the regular 2003 Icewine harvest by Jan. 9 under ideal conditions for top quality.

* "The first glass is for thirst, the second is for nourishment, the third is for pleasure, and the fourth is for madness." -- Anon.

* Men are like fine wine. They start out like grapes, and a woman's job is to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd like to have dinner with. Women are like fine wine. They start out fresh, fruity, and intoxicating, then turn full-bodied with age, until they go sour and vinegary, and give you headaches. [My wife excepted!]

Wine Shaken...And Stirred
A recent 6.5-scale quake on California's Central Coast left some Paso Robles wineries awash in very free-run Merlot and Cabernet. Turley Cellars lost $1 million worth when 700 barrels toppled. Most don’t have insurance because it’s $2,000 a month with a $100,000 deductible.

* Tastebuds on the tongue: 10,000.

Well Aged Mulled Wine
In the Middle Ages, mulled wines were called Ypocras, Hippocras or Hipocris, after physician Hippocrates. This recipe is from The Accomplisht Cook, written in 1660 by Robert May. It’s called Ipocras with Red Wine.

1 gallon wine; 3 oz cinnamon; 2 oz sliced ginger: 1/4 oz cloves; 1 oz mace; 20 peppercorns; 1 oz nutmeg; 3 lbs sugar; 2 qts cream.

Mix all ingredients and heat slowly in a large pot. Serve warm. You can also let it 'settle' for a few days and serve it cool.

Latour ’29 Anyone...?
A case of Château Latour 1961 made a record US$56,400 at Christie’s in Los Angeles. The 107 lots of Latour, direct from the cellar of owner François Pinault, who also owns Christie's, sold for $365,000.

A case of ’59s brought US $32,900 and a dozen bottles of ’29 fetched US$49,350. The 1863 commanded US$11,750 for a single bottle.

Gallo Winery Hit By TCA
Gallo of Sonoma’s Dry Creek winery and cellar, and many of its wines, have been tainted by TCA (2,4,6 trichloranisole), the same compound that causes musty flavors in corky wines.

The second-largest US winery makes 90 labels totaling 2 million cases at Dry Creek, including Gallo of Sonoma, Rancho Zabaco, Frei Brothers, MacMurray Ranch and Marcelina.

TCA poses no health hazards, but the winery is putting “tremendous energy” into eradicating TCA which it says is an industry wide concern. Already, three other wineries in California -- Beaulieu Vineyard, Chalone and Hanzell -- have acknowledged finding TCA in their cellars and wines.

Gallo suspects that chlorine products used to clean the winery may be responsible. “This is a terrible price to pay for being clean,” says the winery.

Gallo of Sonoma’s Estate Bottled Chardonnay ’98 recently won the Mission Hill Trophy for Best Chardonnay Worldwide at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, London. More than 100 experts tasted 4,000 samples from 20 countries.

In 2002, Gallo’s 1996 Estate Bottled Cabernet was “Best Worldwide,” and in 2001, Gallo’s 1997 Stefani Vineyard Chardonnay was “Best Chardonnay Worldwide.”

* A glass of wine is worth more than a hundred pending deals -- Chinese proverb.

It’s Just More Of The Same
Pinot Grigio is the number 1 imported white in the US and Hogue Cellars in Washington is doing it’s bit to help -- just by changing a label.

Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are synonyms for the same grape variety, one is Itallian, the other French. Switching from Gris to Grigio helped the winery sell 2,000 more cases in one-third of the time.

"We sold 10,000 cases in four months, when we had been selling 8,000 cases in 12 months," said Wade Wolfe, Hogue's GM.

Ten-Speed Tour Of Bordeaux
Wine importer Gisèle Trubey is organizing an 8-day wine and bike tour in Bordeaux for a 12-14 people. The wheelers will combine 40-60km of outings with tastings, gastronomy and visits to famous Bordeaux wine estates. Accommodation will be at Chateau Meyre (close to Margaux). Contact 819/827-1929,

Bullish On The Bear
At 6,000% growth in 7 years, things look bullish for the fire-breathing bear on the Toasted Head Chardonnay label from RH Phillips, the one and only winery in California’s Dunnigan Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area), 40 miles NW of Sacramento.

Toasted Head indicates that the barrel heads, as well as the staves, are toasted.) Toasting boosts the volatile phenols that produce vanilla, toast, spice and other aromatics, while softening a barrel’s harsh wood tannins. It takes up to an hour, depending on the type of oak, desired toast level and cooperage style.

The flavor imparted into the wine depends on the oak, the grain, and degree of toast. (Toasted Head’s American oak barrels are "medium to medium plus" toasted).

Barry Bergman, the winemaker, explains: "The character a barrel imparts depends the forest of origin and each cooper’s unique process. We use American and French coopers because each provides a unique element in crafting the Toasted Head Style."

The Toasted Head line includes a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Unwinding With A Glass of Vino
Supermarket giant Tesco says most wine in the UK will be sold under screw-caps within 5 years. Nearly 70 of its 750 lines are already, and it’s encouraging suppliers to follow.

Beaujolais’ Georges Duboeuf has put two high-end wines under screw-cap for Tesco, and a screw-topped Chablis at $32 was just added to the store's range.

Over 1.5m bottles of Tesco's 'Unwind' range of mostly New World wines sold out within ten weeks. Tesco has 27% of the UK supermarket business, 10% ahead of Asda, which recently surpassed Sainsbury's.

The emerging screw-cap etiquette is for sommeliers to present the wine then, holding the cap, twist the bottle quickly to make a loud crack, before pouring the wine to be sniffed/sipped as usual.

A survey by Wine Intelligence, a research consultancy, found that single people are particularly prejudiced towards the screw top, which was patented by a Yorkshireman called Dan Rylands from Barnsley in 1889. For easy re-sealing, duh-uh!

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