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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.. 

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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!

After a hiatus that was somewhat out of my control, I have decided to return to the world of blogging. The spring was busy with too much going in the world or work which allows me to pay for my growing wine habit. Since my last blog, I have been taking advantage of our favourable exchange rate and purchasing a fair amount of wine from Oregon and California and having it shipped to my mailing address. Canada Customs still sucks but I have become hooked on Pinot Noir and while Burgundy may be the birth place of pinot, the wines are either too expensive or I get lost in attenpting to decipher the labels and Cru systems used in France.

I have moved my mailing address to Point Roberts as the Blaine border lineups are getting plain stupid and bringing wine across the border is no longer a full day event.

My wine partner and I also spent a memorable week in Oregon, hanging out in Portland and the Willamette Valley. Oregon wine country is closer than you think and the Pinots kick butt on anything made in BC.

In future blogs I am going to chat a little more about the exchange rate, bringing wine into Canada, our trip to Oregon, US wine clubs and explore the topic of whether of Van City is actually a good “wine town”. Here is a hint: because of a variety of reasons, I do not think it is that good of a vino town….Shock, horror, “but what about the wine festival?” “But we have Burrowing Owl?” Blah, Blah, Blah, I say. All smoke and mirrors and not much substance.

I am off for now, but hopefully the continued musings of a wine geek will interest a few of you sitting out in the vast world of the web and bloggers universe.

My tip of the week: Head to Marquis Wine Cellars or Liberty Wine Merchants and ask a clerk to point you in the direction of a nice Oregon Pinot. Yes… they are not cheap by the time they get here, but buck up and spend the $30-$40, throw some Wild BC Salmon on your BBQ, saute some wild BC mushrooms, chill your Pinoit, yes, drink it slightly cold and let me know what you think. In my humble opinion, that is the Pacific Northwest in all its glory and perfection sitting on your table.

My good friend Raj Sodhi sent me a link today to CNN about making your own wine. Now, we are not talking about going to the local U Brew and getting a carton of juice. In the wine mecca of San Francisco a savvy entrepreneur has come up with a great idea.

He has developed a custom crush business, where the curious, serious, wine geek or adventurous can make as little as 1 barrel of wine. They provide everything, crush facilities, wine maker, access to quality grapes, bottling and storage facilities. The great thing about this is if you live in the USA, you do not even need to reside in San Fransisco. You can pay your fee, have the wine made with your assistance and have your finished product shipped to you if your state allows it.

Of course, in Canada we are not as forward and liberal thinking as our friends to south. After experiencing the gong show of what has become the Vancouver Wine Festival, it is clear there are many avid wine drinkers or over indulger’s if you will. Assuming that our archaic liquor laws will allow it, an entrepeneur in these parts could probably stand to start a similar business up in the Okanagan and be very successful with it. With wine prices continuing to go up in BC, this could be an opportunity to make quality wine and avoid the plonk of U Brew Its and escalating prices of BC wine.

Hmmmm, maybe the wine snob is onto something? So nobody steal my idea, ok? You can read more about the virtual vino service here.

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!

Beef Ternderloin

After a few days off, I am back for what will hopefully be some interesting reading.

Dragon Life thanks for the comments, I will track down some of your suggestions on wine.

In my next post I will give you my favourite wines from the recent Vancouver Wine Festival.

After the festival on Saturday, my wife and I went to Yaletown to have a nice meal and carry on with our wine drinking ways. We went to a lovely restaurant that we have been to many time before. I had Ahi Tuna, my wife had pasta. We drank a nice Pinot Noir and everything was going well.

A crowd of ladies came into the restaurant and sat beside us. They ordered the usual assortment of martini’s and other concoctions, as they were dressed to hit the clubs after dinner and wanted to get a little liquored up. I personally do not like to drink hard liquor with food, but I know a lot of people do not like wine, so whatever floats your boat….

What shocked me was the crowd of ladies proceeded to order rib eye steaks and beef tenderloin and insisted on the meat to be cooked WELL DONE! Ie: dry, rock hard, no taste, why bother ordering it and paying $35.00 CDN for the food!

Why should I be excited, why should I care? Well…. for those of you who used to go to granny’s, or still do, for Sunday roast beef dinner, you will understand my comments. Why would one want to eat a piece of beef that was so overcooked, that you would need a lumpy gravy to add any semblance of moisture, yuck!

As we were leaving, I asked the waiter what he thought about this. He rolled his eyes and said “we get all types in here on the weekends, so what can you do”?

I suppose the restaurant could refuse service, but then you wouldn’t make all that money off of the martinis….

Up next wine festival faves.

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.

Vino Wine BarFolks, I am back from my tropical vacation and see I have received some traffic, for which I say Thanks! Raj, thanks for the link from your blog. Yes folks, it is possible to order wine at a restaurant to impress the boss or that new prospect.

So, I went to Hawaii and did very Hawaiian things like, sit on my lanai, take naps, go golfing, watch wales, swim in the ocean and drink wine?

I am not a hard liquor or tropical drink fan except in Vegas, when “G&T’s” are involved, so I was determined to find good wine that I can’t buy in Van City. After discovering that Longs Drugs has better booze than Safeway? Go figure, “Prozac on isle 4, Mr. Wine Snob and a bottle of cheap chianti to wash it down on isle 5,” I started asking around. A bar tender at a wine bar called Vino in Kapalua, said, “Go find Mr. Wine in Lahaina.” Having eerie Homer Simpson “Mr. Plow” flashbacks, I tracked down Mr. Wine.

Situated off of the main drag next to a Radio Shack was a non-descript store, but inside their were treasures abound. Pinot Noirs from Hartford, Flowers, Ancien, Foxen (See the movie Sideways for reference), cult cabs from Napa, if that is your thing and other hard to find treasures from the west coast of the USA. All reasonably priced and get this, only 4% sales tax!

Sigh, my suitcase was full with our clothes and I could not haul any wine back. Homeland Security allows you to bring a Pineapple on the plane, but any liquids on deck are a no-no, so I could not carry any vino on board. I guess this means I will get on some winery waiting lists and see if my name is called.

More importantly, has anyone been to any “non-wine” destinations and discovered a surprise wine find? Would love to hear from you!

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.