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So, you are on your lunch hour and you pick up the Wine Spectator, it is their value issue.  The mag raves about all of these 90+ point wines that are widely available and all under $20.00 USD!  You can’t believe it, you buy the issue, go to the liq. on the weekend and to your suprise most of the wines are not there.  The ones that are there are either the wrong vintage or cost close to $40 bucks!  Not much of a value anymore….

Even worse, that $20.00 USD gem, can cost close to $80.00 CDN at a restaurant plus 16% tax and a 10% tip?  Your bargain wine is going to cost you $101.00 CDN in a restaurant!

How many of you have run into this scenario?  I do lots and it drives me nuts.

Here is the 1st dilemma for our wine savvy city, our provincial government controls the importation, price setting and taxation of liquor.  That’s right, that $20.00 USD wine bargain you read about gets assessed by a bureaucrat who sets the wholesale price, taxes the daylights out of it and tacks on a profit for good measure.  Somewhere in there, there is also a small profit for the agent who represents the winery.  To make matters worse, private wine shops often tack on an extra 10% on top of the set government price and we all know what restaurants do to the price of wine.

This means you need cash money in this town to have a wine habit.  Yes, local writers scrounge around and try to find bargains but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a significant number of wines out there that are good and under $15.00 CDN.  There are plenty of good bottles in the $15.00 to $25.00 range even more in the $25.00 to $50.00 but the going gets tough under $15 bucks a bottle.

It is difficult to be a top wine town when the government controls everything to do with booze.  As Anthony Gismondi pointed out many small producers give up trying to deal with the government distribution system.  It is not worth it, so they sell their products in markets where it easier to get their wines into consumer’s hands.  Even our own BC wine industry faces the same problems.  The best BC wine IS NOT found at the BC Liquor store, you need to go to the winery or a private wine shop to get the best our province has to offer.  Guess what folks, there is better wine selection in Alberta than BC!  Oh yah, it is cheaper too!

What does this mean for you?  That’s right, lots of mediocre product at an expensive price point.  If you find a hot wine from a hot producer be prepared to pay, it will cost you as you will probably be in a wine shop or in a restaurant.  Or, the wine may be on the liquor store shelf one week and gone the next.  It either gets shipped to another liquor store or sent to god knows where.

The provincial government and our archaic liquor laws have made it impossible for us to be a great wine town.  The market is not controlling what is available or what we can buy, the government is.  We all know how good the government is at doing stuff.  They usually find a way to screw things up.  The problem with this is, is our system will not change.  Not when over a billion dollars a year is generated through the BCLS system.  Not when the City of Vancouver has a by-law on the books that says that a new wine store can only sell wine, no spirits no other kinds of booze.

Not sure what the answer is, but next time we will look at the restaurant industry and not being able to bring your own wine to a restaurant.  A novel concept, but widely done all over the world.

Till next time.. 

The well respected wine writer, Anthony Gismondi, had an interesting tidbit in the paper this weekend. He noted that the government-controlled liquor stores have a rather mundane selection of wines for the consumer to purchase. He was referring to Australia as I guess he went or is currently there. He noted how many wineries products do not get to our shores. I see the same thing with product that comes from California and Oregon.

He referred to many of the options being linked to large wine companies willing to put up with government bureaucracy and the like. i.e: bureaucracy loves bureaucracy so we get stuck with a Yellow Tail, a Yellow Label, a Fat Bastard and a Little Penguin for much of our wine choices. Lets face it, large businesses do lots of things OK, or kind of well, that’s what makes them what they are. Anything run by the government is the same way, but much worse, lets face it do monopolies do anything well?

The wine world is no different. The great wineries of the world, with a few exceptions, come from family-owned or independently-owned wineries where the people are passionate about what they produce and the product is not made in the millions of cases a year.

What does this have to do with Vancouver and its wine scene? Well just about everything. As I will write about in upcoming blogs, we are being deprived of what is interesting in the wine world, whether it be from Australia, Oregon, Washington, California, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa and YES even BC. Because trashing the government is easy, we will initially pick on the “Liq”, but I will also look at the restaurant industry and private wine shops. All contribute to the boring, ho hum wine world that is Vancouver.

My good friend works for a high flying tech company and his boss is into wine, big time.  Recently, after a success in the company, my friend’s boss opened up a bottle of very expensive wine for the management group.  Each person had a glass of Francis Ford Coppola’s signature red wine:  Rubicon.  In the US, this wine retails for $110.00 USD and is around $170.00 CDN if you can find it in Van City.  The wine is great, but lets face it, who can afford to buy the stuff?

So, there will probably come a time when you will have the boss over for dinner, need to bring a nice bottle to his/her place or order wine at dinner.  Here are some options, that while still pricey, won’t quite break the bank as much as the Rubicon.

Shafer – Across the valley from Rubicon Estate on Silverado Trail, the Shafers have been making fantastic wine for over 20 years.  The 2004 Merlot, Cabernet and “Relentless” (a Syrah blend) are all available in our market and sell for $75.00 CDN for the Merlot and $95.00 CDN for the Cab and Syrah blend.  All 3 wines regularly rate high in all of the trade publications and are worth the stretch.  Put it to you this way, stay home, cook your husband/wife a nice meal and open a bottle of the Merlot.  Same price as the Burrowing Owl in many restaurants, but you get vastly superior wine, better food and you are at home! 

Caymus – This winery makes 2 Cabs: really good Cab and really good Cab that is too expensive.  Look for the “Napa Valley” bottling at $95.00ish CDN.  It always reviews over 90 points, it is blue chip Napa red wine, always ready to drink upon release and will impress the boss, guaranteed!  PS:  The “Special Selection” bottling is double the price but not double as good! 

Cliff Lede – Cliff is living my dream!  He made his money in the real world and went and bought a winery in Napa.  So support a local guy (he is from Vancouver) and try the 2004 “Claret” (Bordeaux Blend) or 2004 “Stags Leap” Cabernet at $60.00 and $85.00 CDN each.  Both are available at the 41st and Cambie liq, but sold out at the winery, so that tells you they are great.  I had the 2003 Cab and it was fantastic even though the vintage was weak overall. 

Banfi & Frescobaldi – We are onto Italy, more specifically Tuscany.  Try the 2001 Brunello’s from either producer.  Both are superb wines, both are under $75.00 CDN.  In fact, 2001 was a dream vintage for Tuscany, so most red wine from this region will be worth trying.  For the new to wine crowd, Brunello is fancy “Chianti” or more specifically a clone of Sangiovese.  PS: if you try either of these wines, you will want to decant them if you drink them now.

Henschke – High end Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot from Australia, no Yellow Tail fruit bombs here.  Instead you get age worthy, hand made, low production reds from one of Australia’s great Family owned wineries. Henschke products are available throughout Vancouver with the reds tipping the scale at close to $100.00 CDN.  If your boss is a wine geek, he will be thoroughly impressed.

Sebastiani – This Sonoma based family got out of the bulk wine business a few years ago and are better off for it.  The 2004 “Secolo” (Cabernet Blend) is fabulous at $40.00 CDN.  I tried the Secolo this past weekend, blind, with friends, against the vaunted Black Hills “Note Bene” from the Okanogan and it blew the socks off of the NB.  The 2004 Sonoma Cabernet is almost as good and sits at $30.00 CDN.  Occasionally, the liq. will get in “Cherryblock” a single vineyard Cab from Sebastiani that sells for $90.00ish.  Well worth the money, but expensive.  Both the Secolo and Sonoma Cabernet drink well above their price point and won’t break the bank.  A good alternative if you just won’t or can’t buy one of the other choices here.

There you have it, good “impress the boss” wines, most at half the price of the “Rubicon” and surely to all be a crowd pleaser.

Who knows, maybe the boss will take you on the next business trip to San Francisco because he thinks he will have a wine savvy employee to help get the next big deal done!

Kim CrawfordI know summer is almost over in Vancouver, but here are some lovely summer whites that I have tried this summer that are great. What is great about these types of wines is they tend to be consistent year in and year out.

D’Arenberg Hermit Crab – A blend of Viognier and Marsanne, you will think you are in the south of France when sipping this on your patio. PS, you have to go to Liberty Wine Merchants for this one.

Jackson-Triggs Proprietors Reserve Viognier – I have been having this by the glass at Earls, of all places. Goes great with Asian Cuisine.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc – A consistent Kiwi producer that the Wine Spectator consistently rates as a top value and top 100 wine. Perfect with salads and chilled seafood.

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris Yes, it costs $30 bucks at Liberty and BC whites should not cost this much, but it is so good and BC does Pinot Gris so well. See also Kettle Valley as a good alternative. Does anyone know why the Kettle Valley version is a faint shade of Pink? Halibut, tuna, crab cakes, scallops all come to mind.

No chardonnays this go around. I love em’ but sometimes variety is the spice of life!

Before I get into the wines I liked from the festival, a couple of overall comments on this year’s event:

It was too crowded, especially on Saturday night. At points, my wife, who is not very tall, was elbowed, pushed out of the way and cut in front of by unruly wine drinkers. The festival committee would do well to sell a few less tickets.

Australia proved to be a popular host, but many of the wines all tasted the same. While I liked many Aussie wines, far too many, at different price points, have that same jammy, fruit forward taste that is not “wine” in my opinion. It is tough to market and sell a $20.00 bottle of Shiraz when it tastes the same as the $13.00 Yellow Tail.

Nevertheless, here are my favourites, Aussie and otherwise. Prices noted all in Canadian Dollars. Some are available at the BCLS, some at private wine shops and well, some in just Australia. And… there were close to 200 wineries, so I did not hit every one.

Non-Aussie wines:

  • 2002 Bonterra McNab Biodynamic – $46.95 – I love organic wines
  • 2005 Concha Y Toro Trio Sauv Blanc – $14.00 – Summer Sipper
  • 2004 Michael David Earthquake Cab – $45.00 – BBQ Wine
  • 2004 Perrin et Fills “Les Christins – $24.95 – This is great stuff!

Aussie wines:

  • 2003 BVE E&E Black Pepper – $95.00 – It is worth $95 a bottle
  • 2002 BVE Ebenezer – $40.00 – the little brother of E&E
  • 2004 Bleasdale Frank Potts – $34.99 – A lovely Aussie Red Blend
  • 2003 Bleasdale Generations Shiraz – $41.99 – As Shiraz should taste
  • 2005 Vasse Felix Adams Road Chard – $24.99 – Lovely fruit

There were lots of others, but maybe keeping a few secrets is a good thing!

I see through my blog stats that someone made it to my blog looking for food to pair with Zinfandel.  While that is an easy one:  Pasta with red sauce, barbecue anything, stews, steak, lamb and, yes, Ahi Tuna and Salmon.

Here are some other things to think about:

White wines with lots of oak are tough to pair with food (see Chardonnay’s from Napa and Australia).  Try Pinot Gris, Sauv Blanc or Reisling instead.  Save your Chards for summer sipping or rich dishes with cream and butter sauces.

Red and fish go together, see salmon and pinot noir.

Champagne or sparkling wine matches with lots of foods, especially salads, light appy’s and fish dishes. 

Do not use bad wine to cook with.  All the awful things about the wine will be brought out in the cooking process.  Use a wine that you would actually drink.  That does not mean the expensive bottle of Burgundy you got for Xmas one year, but a pleasurable easy drinking wine, you would serve to guests.

Last, but not least, experiment, there are no rules and at the end of the day, pour the wines you like with the food you like, you will certainly be happy.

Vancouver Wine Festival Vancouver Wine Festival

There are many things that make Vancouver one of the best cities in the world: The people, the beauty, the food, the Canucks, and the WINE FESTIVAL! For those of us who are lucky enough to live in this beautiful city, we get a special treat every March after it has rained every day since Christmas.

This year the festival is very exciting as the “host” country is Australia. While I do not know the exact stats, I can tell you that Australian wine is very popular in these parts. Everything from “critter” wine (see that crap Yellow Tail) to high end Penfolds Grange sells well in this market. While one could argue that Aussie Shiraz and Chardonnay’s are all starting to taste the same and if you stick to the big producers, you might encounter this. There are plenty of Aussie wineries producing unique and fabulous wines.

I encourage you to check out some of the smaller wineries or wineries that may have corporate money backing them, but are left alone to their own devices. Try different varietals and blends. Things like Grenache, Reisling, GSM’s, Sauv Blancs, “Sticky’s” and Cab’s. There is more to Australia than Shiraz with Yellow Labels and Penguins on the bottle. Some of my favourite Aussie wineries that will be at the festival are:

So enjoy the festival, try some old favourites and something different and I look forward to hearing about your hits and misses.

I have decided to slip in a note before I go off on vacation.  Here is a list of some of my favourite wines, in no particular order.  Some are available in BC, some are not.  Some have specific vintages and may no longer be available (sorry) but you might want to track down a new vintage.  I think all of them cost under $100.00 CDN which is a good thing…..

  • Blue Mountain Pinot Gris – regular and strip label

I know you have to buy the stuff by the case and only from the winery, but can someone out there tell me if there is a better of bottle of BC white wine at under 20 bucks?  If you have never driven up to this winery, the views alone are worth it.  The owners are very nice people as well.

  • Ridge Lytton Springs – Zin field blend

This stuff is a little pricey at $50.00 CDN, but once you try a bottle of Paul Draper’s single vineyard field blend,  you will be converted.  He makes a “Sonoma 3 Valleys” blend as well for $33.00, both aren’t cheap, but a lot of the good things in life aren’t. Plus the winery is made of hay bales, is environmentally friendly and runs on solar power.

  • Meeker Vineyards – Anything!

I have to qualify this by saying you can’t get this winery’s product in BC or even Washington State.  So, go to Mail Boxes Plus in Blaine, pay $10 USD for a mailing address and join the “Meeker Tribe”.  They will send you wine at 20% off their list price, which covers some of the obscene duty at the border.  But will you really mind paying duty when you can buy the “Yellow Cab, Cab Sauv.” for $17 USD a bottle after discount and it is better than anything made in BC even after Mr. border man takes your duty?

  • Hartford Winery – Seascape Vineyard Piniot Noir

Everyone is talking about Pinot, but after drinking a bottle of Hartford Winery Pinot, you will see why.  This one is made in super small quantities from a vineyard that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  The fruit in this wine is unbelievable and was by no means light tasting as some heavy red fans think pinot is.  You can however, buy the Sonoma Coast bottling in Private wine shops for $40.00.  Have it with some of our local salmon and understand why an entire book and movie were made based on this finicky grape.

  • Peter Lehman – Clancy’s blend 

 This Australian winery is in my top 10 as all of their products across every price point are great.  This shiraz blend is available at all BC liqs, costs 20 bucks, consistantly gets great reviews and will be a crowd pleaser at your next party.  I am really excited about the 1997 “Mentor” my brother brought home from his honeymoon in Australia for me.  I will share it with him and his wife the next time they come over for dinner.

The wine snob is out and if I can find a web cafe, I am may send a blog while on holidays. 

Here we go, my first entry in the world of blogging. I need to thank my good friend Raj, who set me up as I am a bit of techno neophyte who thinks buying concert tickets on line means I am Internet savvy. There is a link to his blog on my site. If you are interested in the world of marketing and business, check his blog out.

I decided to start this blog as I speak constantly about the good and the bad of the wine industry and what I like to drink and not to drink. While I will let you know what I am drinking right now and what my favorites are. This blog is also going to delve into wine tourism, food, the BC government monopoly, bringing wine into Canada, the BC wine industry and lots more….. I do not profess to know everything, so I want to hear from you. Let me hear what your opinions, thoughts, likes and dislikes are. If you agree with me, I want to hear about it. If you disagree, I want to hear about it even more!

So to gets things going here are some comments to think about…

  • For you Vancouver locals… I think Burrowing Owl Wines are over rated and will tell you why in a future blog
  • My favourite grape is Zinfandel, followed closely by Pinot Noir
  • I hate the BC Liquor Store and how they control what wines I can purchase
  • I belong to 3 wine clubs in California and pay obscene amounts of duty to bring in wine to BC that I can’t buy here
  • My favourite wineries in no particular order are Ridge, Blue Mountain, Meeker, Gary Farrell, Hartford, Argyle, Provenance & Henschke. Other than Henschke in Australia, I have been fortunate to visit all of these wineries and will write about them in future blogs.
  • My favorite restaurant in Vancouver for fine dining is the Rain City Grill. My favorite hang out place is Stella’s on the Drive.
  • My favorite place to go for a wine trip is to Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley. My favorite west coast city, other than Van City is Portland.

So, you have something to chew on. I am off on vacation for 2 weeks in Hawaii (my 1st time since I was a kid) and will tell you about my wine experiences when I am back. If I have time before I leave, you may see a blog, you may not.

The goal is write something at least once a week.

Thanks for checking me out…

Chris aka the wine snob