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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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At the end of the day, vino is fun. Here is what I tried this weekend that titillated my taste buds:

2005 Qupe Ibarra – Young Viognier – $40.00 CDN from Marquis. This wine is from “Sideways” country. It is beautiful stuff with very little oak, pretty fruit flavours to go with your grilled summer halibut with a pesto crust (my dinner Friday night). This is expensive and it doesn’t have to be. See the previous blog to get a bit of an insight why it goes from around $20.00 USD to $40 bucks by the time it gets to the Great White North…

2005 Caymus Conundrum – $33.99 CDN, mass produced, from a family owned winery and it is yummy. Same folks who make the high end cabs I talked about in a previous blog. Can you guess what is in this blend? Probably some Viognier, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, who knows, but it all works very well.

2006 Township 7 Pinot Gris – $21.99 CDN, at Liberty Wine Merchants. Folks, the bottle says only $155ish cases produced. It is good, worth checking out. As a side note, Township 7 makes a fantastic Merlot for $25.00 and a single vineyard Merlot in the $45.00 range. This is one of the better BC owned properties.

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!

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.