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The Shape of Wine

Issue #42, September 2022

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that “wine is bottled poetry.” I think he pretty much nailed it with that thought. But if wine is poetry, surely the unassuming wine bottle deserves a little credit too. Perhaps then, it is music to the eyes. Or how about, glass with class.

Clearly, I’m no Stevenson. 

However, in this issue we’ll taste some wine (of course) but we’ll also take a good look at the many different shaped bottles that we pour our wine from. Before we even see the label, the shape of the bottle gives us a pretty good idea of the type of wine it holds.    

In 1970, The Band released their famous hit ‘The Shape I’m in’. While it was a song with a less than uplifting lyric, that title could also speak for the wines of the world in their glass houses that for a while at least, they call home.

Welcome back to the cellar.

row of bottles - no labels, various colours

They’re tall, short, wide, thin, high-shouldered, and sloped. You can see them when you peruse the shelves at your local wine dispensary. But the question is, why so many different shapes? History may have the answer. 

The three dominant wine bottle shapes out there are those of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace. Oh, and of course, there’s the Champagne bottle. 

A Burgundy bottle with its gently sloping shoulders was created sometime in the 1800s. There is a theory that it was made that way simply because, at the time, it was easier for glassmakers to make. Burgundy producers, the first winemakers to make wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, began using these bottles and in time their wines and the classic Burgundy bottle spread around the world. 

Today, most reds with a similar flavour profile to Pinot Noir (light, bright and complex) or Syrah, plus Chardonnay and a few other whites can be found in this shaped bottle.

You’ll be happy to hear, that leads us to the first wine we’ll get to know this month.

And yes, it resides in that elegant Burgundian-styled bottle. It’s a Rosé from Pelee Island. (I’m desperately clinging to our last summery days, so a deliciously crisp Rosé seemed like a good idea). A few months back I was quite impressed with a Pinot Noir from Pelee, so I thought this attractive wine deserved a pour. And I’m glad I did.

Bottle shot of Lola Wine - rose - pink colour Pelee Island Lola Cabernet Franc Rosé 2021

Pelee Island Lola Cabernet Franc Rosé 2021
Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada
750 ml bottle | LCBO# 552497
$16.95

Pelee Island Lola Cabernet Franc Rosé is a glowing, pink sunset in a glass. It treats the nose to fresh strawberries and spice. And it’s a welcome wake-up call for your taste buds after a busy day. Or during a busy day. 

It’s tangy, full of citrus flavours and does a very good job of inviting you to have another sip, or another glass full. I could make a mealy of this wine from Pelee.

It’s another gem from Canada’s southernmost point!

Now on to another bottle shape and our next wine.

The Bordeaux bottle is slim with distinctive, high shoulders. Some experts believe these were created to catch sediment in old Bordeaux while it was being decanted. Or maybe Bordeaux producers just wanted to make it look different than the bottle from their rival region of Burgundy.

In today’s world, this style of the bottle contains of course all Bordeaux wines but also, the wines of Tuscany, Portugal, and Spain; for the most part, wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Carménère, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

Here in the cellar, we not only have an example of the Bordeaux bottle but it just so happens to contain a fine example of wine from the esteemed region.

Bottle of red wine Château de la Chapelle 2018

Château de la Chapelle 2018
Bordeaux, France
750 ml bottle | LCBO# 25385
$20.95

Let me just say that this Château de la Chapelle 2018 is pure won-der-ful. 

It’s made primarily with Merlot and just 15 percent of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Dark, brooding purple in colour with wafts of blackcurrants and ripe cherries and plums. It’s a rich, silky taste bomb with soft, elegant tannins. 

I would definitely grab a few of these to put aside. Wait a sec, I already did.

The third shape we need to talk about is that of the slender, Alsatian bottle. It was created for storing Reisling, but now it holds wines such as Gewurztraminer and Muscadet. Way back, the main transportation route for these wines was along the Rhine river in relatively small river ships. So, bottles of wine needed to be slender in order to fit as many as possible. Or, someone just liked the look of a slim bottle.

At any rate, the wine below looks like a good one. I say, ‘looks like’ because I haven’t had the pleasure of trying this one, yet. So many bottles… 

Mainly, I just wanted to illustrate the bottle.

Bottle of white wine Pierre-Luc Bouchaud Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2020

Pierre-Luc Bouchaud Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2020
Loire, France
750 ml bottle | LCBO# 82461
$15.95

With Muscadet, you can expect to taste hints of lemon, lime, and tart apples. It’s typically very dry, very light and extremely refreshing. If you try it before me, let me know what you think.

Okay, so that covers the shapes of things to perhaps come home with you from the wine store. But before we leave the old, oak tasting table for another month, 

I’d like to draw your attention to a beautiful wine we first met back in the June 2020 issue: ‘Marriage Comes to the Cellar’.

Bottle of red wine Bastide Miraflors Syrah/Vieilles Vignes Grenache 2019

Bastide Miraflors Syrah/Vieilles Vignes Grenache 2019
Rousillion, France
750 ml bottle | LCBO# 320499
$19.95 

Well, it’s back at LCBO and well worth the money. Here’s what I had to say two years ago about the 2017 vintage. 

“In the glass, it’s deep, dark and opaque as night in the French county it comes from; Rousillion, just north of Marseille.

One whiff and you’re enveloped with an earthy minerality, black currants, hints of fennel and black licorice. On the tongue, it’s rich, smooth, full-bodied and as cushy as a silk pillow.”

I think I just convinced myself to try it again!

That’s a wrap for this month. But here’s a thought. If you’re at a gathering and everyone is trying to guess the wine that’s been poured, get a peek at the bottle. 

Its shape can help you look like a sommelier. 

See you in the cellar in October. 

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

A Summer Wine Fantasy

Issue #41, August 2022

As we work our way through the lazy days of August, I feel it is time once again to imbed this month’s wine choices in a little wine story. I hope this is good company for you with a glass of something and a lounge somewhere in the shade.

Forgive me for veering from our regular routine as I bring you,

Vintage Edwina

The note was short.

With that, the lawyer executing my Aunt Edwina’s estate handed me the paper he’d been reading from. The words were hand-written with her perfect, cursive penmanship. Then he pushed over a plain white envelope containing the keys. 

I was my Aunt’s only nephew and really, the only family member she ever chose to spend much time with. There was her brother, my Uncle Seymour, whom she barely tolerated and would only visit because of his well-stocked wine cellar, and only if I went along as her guest and driver. 

A few weeks after leaving the lawyer’s office, I visited the cottagey home. It was too early to know if I would give up my rental and move in. But this visit was the first step to figuring that out. Also, I was intrigued by how she had signed off her message, “Drink it in.” 

It was the smallest house on the street. But the most charming. Guarded from the quiet road by decorative shrubs and ornamental trees, the bungalow was clad in wedge-wood blue clapboard with crisp, white trim. 

Inside, the first thing I noticed was a shiny, odd brass key in the bottom of a glass decanter on her dining table. A note was tucked under the decanter with my name on it.


Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Malborough, South Island, New Zealand
VINTAGES#190454
$19.95

After a hurried glass of the very tasty Mud House, with key in hand and very curious, I went to the door that lead downstairs. There was no key-hole and the knob turned freely. Down a short flight, I found myself in a tidy utility space with the usual accessories; washer, dryer, ironing board, some shelves with cleaning supplies, a compact gas furnace and a water heater. It was a small basement for a bungalow but I didn’t think much of it.

Her iron was perched on a wobbly, padded board. Out of habit I placed it securely in the wall mount nearby. As a boy, I nearly brained our cat by knocking an iron off its board.

About to leave I turned back to the iron on the wall. Had I seen something without realizing it? I lifted the iron. Just above the white bracket was a small tarnished brass plate with a circular hole. The key fit. I turned it left, then right.

A mechanized clunk sounded behind me, like it came from behind a wall; the wall with shelves holding various detergents, sponges, buckets and rolls of fresh paper towel. I turned around and moved over towards the shelves just as the wall they were mounted on remarkably swung inward revealing a large, dimly lit room. 

Stepping in, I saw that it wasn’t just a room. It was a wine cellar! 

“Drink it in,” suddenly made sense.

The air was cool. On three walls before me were rustic floor-to-ceiling, open cabinet shelves. Bottles lay neatly in each. There must have been 300 of them resting before me. What an amazing room! An old oak cask stood on end on my right just inside the secret door. On top of it awaited a letter. 


La Chimera d’Albegna Raffaello Sangiovese 2018
Tuscany, Italy
VINTAGES#25797
$14.95

I did as she told me. While sipping the wine, I read on.

I looked over to the shelf he had identified where three bottles lay. Anxiously, I continued reading Aunt Edwina’s letter.

They were covered with a layer of dust. The labels looked stained and smudged by time with faded words in the script. 

The bottles just looked important. Beside them, lay two unsealed envelopes. I took a folded note out of the first. It was another note from my grandfather to my aunt.

Incredulous, I quickly opened the other envelope. Inside, was another note. 

This one is from Edwina.

I stood there in the cool cellar grappling with disbelief and a case of the shivers while reading a final message from my aunt.


HER Shiraz 2020
Western Cape, South Africa
VINTAGES# 24247
$14.95

That day I left 3 Burgundy Lane for the first time knowing it now held not only the indelible memories of a very rare aunt, but also the rarest of treasures in a secret place my grandfather simply called, the office.

The End


I hope you enjoyed that wine-infused detour. While the story was imagined, the price paid for the 1945 Romanée-Conti is fact.

That’s it for now. As ‘The Happenings’ sang in their 1966 hit, See You in September.

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

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A ‘Sparkling’ Issue

Issue #40, July 2022

A little over a year ago, we were joined in the cellar by an expert of all that is wine, my friend, Marcel Bregstein.  This knowledgeable fellow is a sommelier and the Assistant General Manager at one of Toronto’s most beautiful places; The Toronto Hunt Club, perched on the bluffs overlooking our magnificent Lake Ontario.

Well, I’ve invited him back to the cellar. This time to talk with us about his favourite type of wine; the sparkling kind.

Marcel at the Toronto Hunt

As I hinted last time, this is a very special month indeed. My daughter is getting married in just a few days! So, what better reason to pop some corks and get to know more about bubbles with the help of our special guest.

Welcome back to the cellar.

Marcel earned his sommelier certification in 2003. To his great credit, he is one of just five Canadians to be inducted into the L’Ordre De Coteaux de Champagne, a Champagne fraternity that began in 1650. He was given the title of, Chevalier. 

We couldn’t have a better guide to help us sip our way through the effervescent world of wine.


Jim: It’s great to see you, Marcel. Welcome back! I’m thrilled you’re able to join us again for our 40th issue of Jim’s Affordable Cellar. 

Marcel: Thank you so much. It’s an honour to do this.

Jim: I would love for you to tell us about some of the differences between Champagne, Prosecco and Cava.

Marcel: Well, the differences come from the grapes, the processes, the colour and the taste. Champagne is produced using the traditional method called Champenoise, as is Cava. The makers of Prosecco use the Charmat method (after Eugène Charmat) which calls for fermenting their wine in a large steel tank instead of the second fermentation in the bottle, used in the Champenoise method.

Jim: If I placed a glass of each in front of you, how would you identify which is the Champagne, which is the Cava and which is the Prosecco?

Marcel: The first thing I would look at would be the colour of the three wines. Because the Champenoise method would produce a darker juice than the Charmat method. The Prosecco would be a little more green than the darker, yellow colour in the Champagne or Cava. 

Then the bubbles. Definitely, the Champagne and Cava will have smaller bubbles and they will rise more rapidly than the bigger bubbles and slower speed you see in Prosecco.

In terms of comparing Cava to Champagne, I will find that Champagne is more sophisticated, better balanced and has no disrespect to Cava winemakers, but there is more elegance, more finesse and a really complex taste, certainly in a high-level Champagne but even an entry-level Champagne will have some of those components.

Jim: What about the variety of grapes used?

Marcel: Champagne uses one white (Chardonnay) and two red varietals (Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir). Cava is technically made with white varietals. Prosecco is made primarily with a different grape entirely; Glera. 

Jim: If Champagne uses red grapes, why doesn’t it take on a red colour?

Marcel: Because there is no maceration, in other words, no contact with the skins. Unless it’s a rosé Champagne, then there will be contact with the skins.

Jim: Does sparkling wine taste better in a flute?

Marcel: Yes it does. As a matter of fact, most wine will taste better in a flute. The fact is, the opening at the mouth of the glass is small, and we are able to smell more of the juice. And 80 percent of the taste, is smell. So, when we’re putting that small opening up to our noses, we’re really getting to enjoy the nose of the wine more than in a glass that is more open. That is why using a flute is best.

The other factor is that you want to keep the bubbles alive as long as you can and the shape of the flute allows them to do so.

Jim: Has anyone ever tried to count the number of bubbles in a bottle of Champagne?

Marcel: Yes! And I actually knew the number. Let me think about this……It was 49 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. And in a glass, 400 bubbles are released per second.

Jim: On a dollar-per-bubble basis, Champagne is pretty inexpensive then. Joking aside, what would your ultimate food pairing be with Champagne?

Marcel: Okay, to be really honest I think Champagne is probably the best pairing for food overall. The reason is because of the acidity; the freshness and the bubbles also activate your palette. 

I always tell people if you don’t have Champagne, at least drink soda water before you eat so it activates your palette.

Quick story. When I was doing my international sommelier certification, when we had to pair wine with food in that section of the exam, I could have said Champagne, Champagne, Champagne with every one of the dishes and I wouldn’t have been wrong.

But of course, people would always look to Champagne to go with appetizers, for lighter style cuisine and especially with seafood.

Jim: What is the rarest Champagne you’ve ever had?

Marcel: I had the opportunity to taste a 30-year-old vintage Charles de Cazanove Champagne, which was terrific. I’ve tasted a Dom Perignon from ’66. I had the honour to sabre a very special bottle for Mr. Taittinger. So, I’ve been really lucky.

1966 Dom Perignon

Jim: Speaking of sabrage, how many bottles have you sabred in a minute?

Marcel: For the benefit of the Michael Garron Hospital, I challenged the sabrage record of 47. I was sponsored for $1,000 a bottle and I did 55 in a minute. An American from New York broke the record after and set the new record of 66 in a minute. If everything goes well, this fall I’ll be doing a benefit for all the frontline workers at Sunnybrook Hospital and hopefully I’ll do 68 in one minute. 


While he was sharpening his sabre I asked Marcel to give some thought to a recommendation for an affordable, good-quality Champagne, Cava and Prosecco. 

Here are his picks. 

Champagne Victoire Brut Prestige
Champagne, France
LCBO#:190025, 750 ml bottle
$41.10

That bottle is a tad over our ‘affordable’ threshold, so Marcel offered this thought.

Marcel: It is also important to mention that “Crémant” is really good value. It is made in other regions in France using the same Champenoise method used in Champagne.

Crémant de Bourgogne is made with two of the varietals in Champagne “Pinot Noir and Chardonnay” So it’s as close as it can get to “Champagne” for less than half of the price.

Veuve Ambal Cremant De Bourgogne Grande Cuvee Brut
Burgundy, France
LCBO# 429688, 750 ml bottle
$21.05

This seems like a must-try to me. Moving to Spain, here’s Marcel’s Cava reco.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava
Spain
LCBO# 216960, 750 ml bottle
$17.00

And finally, here is Marcel’s Prosecco pic. By the way, I have a bottle on the go in the fridge at the moment. It’s soft yellowy green in the flute. Crisp, light and delicious tastes of green apple with hints of lemon zest.  

Villa Sandi Prosecco Il Fresco, DOC Treviso
Veneto, Italy
LCBO# 394387
$16.95


There we go. Four bottles to become more familiar with. Clearly, we have our tasting work cut out for us. 

Release the Bubbles! 

Sadly, I should let Marcel get back to treating the members at The Hunt Club to his deep wine experience and his ‘sparkling’ personality. 

Speaking of entertaining, next month he’s shooting a pilot for a series about wine. I have a feeling there’s a bottle of Champagne in his future.

Jim: Thank you once again Marcel for joining us here in The Cellar.

Marcel: Absolutely. Call me any time James. I’m happy to chat. 


That’s it for this month. What a pleasure it was to learn about Champagne, Cava and Prosecco with the great help of Marcel. 

I’d like to keep this get together going, but I’m a little pre-occupied with something else; becoming a father of the bride. How exciting.

See you in August.

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you, when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

Wine and The Mysteries of Sugar & Sulfites

Issue #39, June 2022

In the last few months, I’ve found myself in a few conversations regarding two controversial ingredients that are in the wine we quaff. Sugar and sulfites. I know you’re probably thinking this guy needs to find more interesting things to talk about. You’re right, but in the mean time I thought we should bring these two rascals to the cellar. I’m no, Bill Nye The Science Guy, but I’ll do my best to make sense of the two S’s. 

So, put on your lab coats and get comfortable around the old, oak tasting table while we fill our beakers with a little viticultural science and of course, three delicious and affordable wines to wash it down with.

Welcome back to the cellar.

I’ve flipped a cork to decide which ‘S’ we’ll tackle first. It’s come up Sulfites. 

Most bottles we pick up at the LCBO have a little poetic disclaimer on the back that goes something like this; ‘Contains sulfites’. 

Of course, this is hardly appealing and many of us wonder why it has to be?  “We don’t need no stinkin’ sulfites.”

Well actually, there is no way around it. Unless heaven forbid, we don’t drink wine. Wine is fermented using yeast, which naturally produces sulfites, so almost all wine contains them. However, most winemakers do add sulfur dioxide (sulfites) in their winemaking process. They do so to protect against oxidation, to prevent the growth of unwanted micro-organisms and to preserve colour. Basically, sulfites are preservatives and antioxidants that keep bacteria from ruining the wine and significantly increasing its shelf life. 

What if you don’t want any added sulfites?  In the United States, wines labeled as organic cannot contain added sulfites. Naturally occurring sulfites must not exceed 10 parts per million (ppm). So, is organic wine the answer? Yes. Well sort of. Because some wines may be labeled, ‘made with organic grapes.’ Which means they may have sulfites added later during processing. And I have yet to see a bottle that states ‘no sulfites added’.  

In Europe and Canada organic wine is defined as wine made from organically grown grapes which also may contain added sulfites. The reality is, they’re as tough to avoid as black flies in May. 

Look for organic wine that clearly states, ‘no sulfites added.’ Or look up the winery that makes the juice you’re interested in and see what they have to say about their process. 

Bonterra Organic Vineyards of Mendocino County, California produces 100% organic and biodynamic wines. I spoke with someone at the winery who told me they do add small amounts of sulfites to their wine but lower amounts than most wineries.  

Bonterra Organic Cabernet Sauvignon
California, USA
VINTAGES# 342428
$21.95

This wine is a blend of grapes, predominantly Cab Sauvignon. It has aromas of fresh cherry, currants and raspberry and vanilla. In the glass, you will find flavours of cherry, mocha and currants. 

It has a fair bit of flavour for sure. So, if you want an organic wine you can bet your Birkenstocks on, this is a good one to spend some time with.

Now it’s on to our other guest ingredient; Sugar. 

The truth is, sugar found in grapes is at the heart of what makes winemaking possible. Without it, we simply would not have wine. Ripe grapes naturally contain sugars but some grapes are naturally higher in sugar than others. For example, the Zinfandel (Primitivo) grape has more natural sugars than Pinot Noir.

When the juice of grapes is turned into wine, most of the sugars are converted into alcohol through fermentation. But some sugars remain after the fermentation process is complete. This is called residual sugar and it’s the primary source of a wine’s sugar content. 

Generally, the residual sugar content after fermentation is inversely proportionate to alcohol level. So, higher alcohol wines have less sugar, and lower alcohol wines have more sugar.

Interesting.

If the winemaker stops the fermentation process early, the wine will have higher amounts of sugar and less alcohol. If they ferment longer, the wine will have lower sugar and more alcohol. C’est ca.

Low-sugar reds to look for are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah/Shiraz. Low sugar whites are Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier.

We took our sweet time about it, but let’s have our second glass of wine; a white featuring one of those aforementioned less sweet grapes; a very nice Pinot Grigio from New Zealand. 

Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
VINTAGES# 326090
$19.95

Sugar Content: 4 g/L,

Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris is of the species Vitis vinifera. (Have I been blinded by science?) I read that Pinot may have been given its name because it grows in small pine cone-shaped clusters.

This Oyster Bay Pinot Grigio is floral with tastes of lush grapefruit, yellow plums and refreshing minerality. Perfect for sipping on a hot summer afternoon while brushing up on the periodic table of the elements. 

Moving on. 

Another bottle has been patiently waiting to catch our attention. This is a delicious red that features another low sugar grape; the temperamental yet classy Pinot Noir. This of course is the great grape of Burgundy. But it also seems to quite like the idea of growing in Oregon.  

Underwood Pinot Noir 2020
Oregon, U.S.A.
VINTAGES# 421198
$22.95

Sugar Content: 2 g/L

Pinot Noir’s thin skins and low phenolic compounds (that’s my inner scientist talking again) produce mostly light-coloured, medium-bodied, low-tannin wines. But they can be the most flavourful wines made. 

The Underwood Pinot Noir before us comes bearing elegant flavour gifts of cherries, currants, mushrooms and forest floor after a rain; an enchanted forest for sure. 

In case you couldn’t tell, I like this wine.

Okay, well there we go. Although the cellar isn’t much of a laboratory, I hope you enjoyed our study of the two S’s. And our discovery of three more wines that feature the third S: scrumptious.

See you in July when for very special reasons, we’ll do a deep dive into Champagne, Prosecco and Cava. If anyone has any faves, let me know.

Until next month, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you, when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

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The Glory of the Cork

Issue #38, May 2022

I hope I’m not just talking about me, but we spend quite a bit of time thinking about and celebrating wine. Right? But more than a little credit is due to that 2½ inch stopper that has quietly and beautifully been doing its job preserving and protecting wine since the 1600s. 

The unassuming cork wine stopper, some say invented by the Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon (he must have had a bubbly personality) is sourced from the bark of cork oak trees in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Algeria.

Cork Oak Plantation

Cork oaks are first harvested when they are 25 years old and every nine years from then on. Only after the third harvest is the bark of sufficient quality to be turned into wine corks.  This process yields high-quality cork while enabling the trees to live healthy lives for more than 300 years.

A Master at Work

Harvesting cork bark requires great skill as the bark is carefully peeled away from the trunk and cut into sheets. The oak trees are not cut down, and only about half of their bark is removed at any time. My wife and I travelled through Portugal by train a few years ago and we wondered at the time what was happening with these semi-naked trees. Little did we know we were seeing a tradition that’s been at work for centuries. 

As you know, more and more we are seeing fewer and fewer corks at work in the wine bottles we buy. It has been suggested this is due to a depletion of the cork forests. However, it is also believed the cork plantations in Europe are sustainable and healthy. And that perhaps the wine industry is moving to twist tops and artificial corks as a cost-cutting measure.

At any rate, the last thing I want is to get caught in the middle of a philosophical cork war. All I know is I look forward to pulling a real cork versus twisting a top. So, this month down here in the cellar we’ll meet three wines that are good, that are affordable and still use that most wonderful of stoppers which adds to the ceremony of opening a bottle and the anticipation of pouring the wine it contains.

Welcome back to the cellar.

Our first bottle comes from the Viña Tarapacá Winery in Chile. 

Here’s the cork, along with one of my ancient corkscrews that resides down here in the cellar. 

Vina Tarapaca is one of Chile’s oldest wineries. It was founded when Canada was just seven years into being a country and lives happily producing excellent wine in the foothills of the Andes.

Tarapacá Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
Maipo Valley, Chile
VINTAGES #18721
$17.95

This tasty Tarapacá is a generous full-bodied offering of black fruits and earthiness. There might even be a hint of mint and chocolate in there. It has a healthy tannic quality giving it depth and character. This wine would be great with meat, like grilled lamb or steak or this traditional Chilean dish; Charquicán. (char–key-can)

This is a flavorful Chilean stew that was originally made with dried and salted llama meat, pumpkin, onions, sweet corn, and potatoes. Modern versions often use ground beef instead of llama meat (due to its strong flavour). The dish is topped with a fried egg. 

Delish I’m sure. 

It’s time to pull another cork.

This one, from a bottle of Gérard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier.

Viognier (Vio-nyay) is primarily grown in the southeastern region of France known as Roussillon. It can range in intensity from light and spritzy with a touch of bitterness to bold and creamy.

Gérard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier 2020
Product of France
750 ml bottle VINTAGES #147975
$14.95

This viognier is mellow yellow in the glass. It’s nicely floral, with tones of peach, orange, honeysuckle and apricot.

Gérard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale Viognier 2020 is rich and dry and vibrantly refreshing. Great with grilled salmon and perfect for a sunny, afternoon sip and kip.  

Oh look, another cork has been pulled from duty.

It’s fresh out of a red from the Rhone.

This Rhone beauty is a melding of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; the quintessential blend of this famed French valley. I love this mix. It’s full and tasty and smooooooth. 

Winemakers create distinctive GSM wines by mixing up the percentages of each of these grapes. While Grenache is the predominant grape in most GSM blends, some winemakers will use more Syrah than Grenache. Generally, Mourvèdre, the boldest of the three grapes, is added in small amounts to the blend.

Whoever said ‘two’s company but three’s a crowd’ clearly hadn’t tried this triumph of winemaking. Here’s the bottle.

Château Le Grand Retour Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2019
Product of France
750 ml bottle VINTAGES #224592
$16.95

This is an elegant and complex wine that comes from 45-year-old vines. It’s rich and smooth with lots of fruitiness, spice, and leather. I have a feeling it will probably get better with age so maybe pop a couple in your cellar for a year or two from now. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to open one today. Actually, we just did.

This style of wine goes with a lot of different dishes. Certainly, red meat choices are good but also cheese plates, pasta with veggies and many different chicken recipes will work nicely too.

But it also goes perfectly in a glass with nothing more than the company of you and yours. 

Well, we’ve put that old corkscrew through its paces. There are so many fancy cork pullers on the market these days. Some look more like microscopes than something needed to remove a cork from a bottle. But I love the simplicity of a cork puller from the past. Yes, a little more muscle may be required but what a great sound we are rewarded with when that cork is freed. 

It is the sound of escape. Maybe to wherever the bottles we open have come from. But perhaps it is also the cork reminding us of the place from where it likely came; 

a forest of marvelous and ancient cork oak trees somewhere in Portugal.

See you in June.

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

We’re Going Cellar Surfing

Issue #37 April, 2022

Needless to say, we’ve all been cooped up inside for a rather long winter. However, we’ve done a pretty good job of making the best of it, by spending some quality time down in ‘The Affordable Cellar’.  

That said, I thought we might like to get out of our cool, comfort zone down here, stretch our legs and experience a few other cellars that most of us have probably never had the opportunity to visit.  

These would happen to be some of the more interesting wine cellars in the world. And while they certainly are interesting, they also have a certain ‘you have got to be kidding’ quality to them.  So, off we go to try some wine and see some of the ways serious oenophiles of the world choose to spend serious money to keep their wine. 

It has been said the best way to know a person is to walk a mile in their shoes. Maybe the best way to know a wine lover is to visit their cellar. 

Let’s go. Btw, I packed a few tasty travellers from the cellar to try along the way because well, that’s just what we do. 

Welcome back to the cellar.

Well, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. Actually, we’re in Franklin, Tennessee. Here’s a private cellar that has been referred to as ‘The Gothic Wine Palace’ and ‘The Fine Wine Shrine’. It comes complete with LED lighting and hundreds of translucent, acrylic wine sleeves. Is anyone else hearing a choir of angels? 

The ‘Fine Wine Shrine’: Franklin, Tennessee

This cellar holds 2,000 bottles and is located beneath the owner’s pool house. 

Makes sense, go for a dip, then go for a sip.

As wine cellars go, this one is certainly over the top. And what are those crazy spheres? Are they seats? Alien pods? The owner is leaving that to our imagination. 

No matter what, this certainly is a wine palace but perhaps a more apt name could be The Cathedral Cellar. 

Coincidently, I just happen to have brought along a bottle. 

Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon
South Africa
750 ml bottle VINTAGES# 328567
$18.95

Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Western Cape of South Africa. 

This is an ‘Essentials’ item at the LCBO, which means it’s always on the shelves; and good thing, because it’s one of the better value wines around. 

This is a great burger wine. It gives aromas and flavours of blackcurrant and cedar, with a chocolatey, smokiness.

It would look great resting in one of those translucent, blue, sleeves but it looks good on any table.

Now on to our next wine cellar.

This one has a kind of a Kosta Boda meets Blade Runner feel to it.

Neon Nights: near Istanbul, Turkey

This ultra-modern space not only houses a countless number of bottles, it features slits of neon light that change colour to suit how the owner is feeling at any given time. So, it’s not only a wine cellar, it’s a mood ring! I would imagine one couldn’t help but feel pretty good all the time in these surroundings.  

I’m sure the owner feels good knowing that a vapour barrier and thermal insulation surround and protect the bottles in here keeping them precisely cool enough to ensure optimum life for the wine they contain. 

It’s hard to tell but there is one thing I have a feeling this cellar may not have; this very affordable and delicious bottle I brought along on our cellar tour. 

My corkscrew is poised.

Rendola Rosso Toscano
Sangiovese Blend, Tuscany, Italy
750 ml bottle Vintages #341115
$13.80

I happened upon this tasty Rendola Rosso Toscano hiding in plain sight recently not in Vintages but on the regular listing shelves. Although the picture above shows a 2009 vintage, the bottles I discovered were 2014s. This wine is made in Tuscany primarily using Sangiovese grapes; the Tuscan grape of choice. 

It’s a bit of a rarity to find a bottle with some age on the general listing shelves. But am I ever happy I did. This Tuscan treat is garnet in the glass and medium-bodied on the palate. It tastes of plum, ripe cherries and vanilla with an extra-dry, pleasant tannic punch. 

A glass or three of this wine is great of course with all kinds of tomato-based dishes, but it’s just great as a solo sipper.

Fear not, even if your cellar doesn’t look quite like the ones we’re seeing today, a few resting bottles of Rendola Rosso will make any cellar look impressive.  

Okay, it’s time to leave this futuristic, wine chamber. 

Our next cellar awaits. 

For this one, I hope you brought your ‘Dr. No’ wardrobe and your white Persian 

lap-cat because we’re not just going to any old wine cellar,

we’re going to an underground lair. 

Plush Practicality: Spiral Cellars, UK

How cool is this! 

At the push of a button, a see-through circular floor panel opens to reveal 

the spiral staircase that takes us down into a cellar-in-the-round. Here, we are literally surrounded with upwards of 1800 bottles and feelings of serious envy. 

Down in this cellar with bottles circling you, it would be easy to lose your sense of direction. No matter, what a great place to lose it. And as Dr. No said in the film, about directions, “East, west, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.”

Clearly, I’ve lost my direction.

At any rate, it’s only fitting that we go ‘down under’ for our next wine tasting. Here’s a very nice Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that I’ve never seen before. 

Urlar Sauvignon Blanc 2019
New Zealand
750 ml bottle Vintages #22852
Organic
$19.95

Urlar Sauvignon Blanc is made by Gladstone Vineyards in the Wairarapa region (pronounced ‘Why-ra-rappa’) of New Zealand. The region was given its name (meaning, glistening waters) by the Māori; the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand.

This wine is quite aromatic and intense. It’s a citrus bombshell of grapefruit, lime, tropical fruits and fresh grassiness. So, when anyone asks if you’d like a glass of wine from the Wairarapa, the answer is “why not.”

Well, I think we’ve spent enough time creeping other people’s wine cellars. It’s probably time to get back to the familiar and shall we say, slightly more down-to-earth surroundings of the old, oak tasting table in our quaint, affordable cellar. We don’t have a spiral staircase, or translucent LED-illuminated wine sleeves but we do have, each other. Geez, I’m getting a little teary.

See you in May.

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you, when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

Three Years in the Cellar!

Issue #36 March 2022

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

This issue marks the 36th month we’ve gotten together for the ever-so-important task of broadening our ‘affordable’ wine horizons. We’ve covered a lot of ground, stepping from the clay soils of Rioja to the sandy earth of South Africa to the loam of Napa.

We’ve welcomed wines and visited wineries from the regions of Mendoza and Patagonia in Argentina. We tasted from New Zealand and Bulgaria and from Bairrada and Douro in Portugal. We went to Burgundy, Alsace, Loire, Cahors, Rousillion, Rhone and Languedoc in France. And Puglia, Veneto, Montepulciano, Trentino, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily in Italy. Spain came to our table with wines from Cariñena, Valencia, La Mancha and Rioja. We sipped from Chile’s Casablanca and Maipo Valleys. And there was California, with bottles from Napa and Sonoma. We also visited Swartland in South Africa. And we popped corks from Niagara, Kelowna, Washington, the Barossa Valley in South Australia, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Hungary, Austria, Georgia and Uruguay. 

That’s a heck of a lot of grapes, plenty of corks and more than a couple of Tylenol.  

But while reminding us of the places we’ve been on our wine travels, that well-travelled list serves as inspiration to seek out wines from regions we haven’t yet been. 

So, this month we’ll celebrate the visits we’ve had (there’s some bubbly in our future).  We’ll get to know a wine from an up-and-coming locale that until now has managed to escape our attention. And we’ll pay tribute to one of our best finds from the last three years. 

Welcome back to the cellar.

As promised, our little anniversary deserves a little bubbly. And look what I found down here in the cellar! This is a very nice sparkler from Trento, Italy.

Ferrari Brut Sparkling
Trento, Italy
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  352153
$24.95

The Brut in this Ferrari Brut means it is the driest classification of Champagne. While not by definition a ‘Champagne’, this is a very tasty sparkling wine indeed. Perfect for an aperitif and a toast. So, cheers and thanks for visiting the cellar every month.


Now, on to that up-and-coming region I mentioned. Pelee Island; is located in the western basin of Lake Erie, 30 km south of Leamington. This 42 square kilometre gem is the southernmost inhabited place in Canada. 

But actually, Pelee Island is one of Canada’s oldest grape-growing and wine-making regions. One of the first wineries in Canada was built on the island in 1866. It would become The Pelee Island Wine and Vineyards Company in 1877.

By 1890 there were 41 wineries in Canada, 23 located in the corridor between Windsor and Pelee Island. Grapes had become one of the major crops on the mainland, as well as on the island.

However, WWI brought an end to the Pelee Island Wine and Vineyard Company. The war and European competition caused a major decline in our wine market. The winery ceased operations in 1916.

Grape growing and winemaking disappeared for over half a century until 1979 when grapes were reintroduced to the island and the Pelee Island Winery was established.

Which brings us to our next bottle.

Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve
Ontario, Canada
750 mL bottle LCBO#:  458521
$16.95

Not only does this bottle of Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve boast a very attractive label, but it also contains a very drinkable wine. It pours with pinot noir trademark transparency; glistening in ruby with aromas of earthy raspberry and a lick of leather. 

As for flavour, we’re treated to tastes of red berries, cherries, pomegranate, and I detect a slight refreshing effervescence.

It has me convinced that everyone should make a Point of going to Pelee. 

I recently got some delicious intel on this next wine from a good friend and loyal Affordable Cellar Dweller.

Finagra Alandra
Portugal
750 mL bottle LCBO#:  89961
$8.45 Portugal

Thanks to Brian for the tip and these thoughts:

“I was looking for an affordable red and often go to Spanish regions – however I have been exploring Portuguese wines and came upon this plonk. I picked it up – then put it down – then picked it up – so I guess it picked me. 

I was not disappointed. This wine is balanced with good tannins and a slight earthiness. This is a great everyday wine that needs a bit of oxygen to bring out the flavour. I tend to high pour this kind of wine to give it air.” 

I guess if Brian likes to ‘high pour’ his wine, he must have a steady hand and good aim. But can he do it with a Champagne flute?


As I mentioned, for this three-year anniversary issue, I’m pulling out a bottle from the archives; one of our best finds. It was good then and it is now. Here’s what we said about it back in January of 2020.  

“I hope you agree that finding this bottle on the LCBO’s regular listing shelves is a little like striking gold. Barone Montalto comes to the cellar from the land of a rather famous family, the Mafia.” 

Barone Montalto 
Sicily, Italy
Nero D’Avola Cabernet Ter Sicilane IGT
750 mL bottle LCBO#:  621151
$9.45

“This Sicilian steal is inky and dark like an alley in Palermo at midnight. But just follow your nose to find its soft essences of berries. It’s a tannic titan with lots of smooth and delicious dark berry flavour. Barone Montalto is no Rothschild but it’s a perfect house wine and great for a relaxed family dinner. Any family.” 

Well, there we have it. Issue #36 is in the books. I hope you enjoyed getting together once again around the old, oak tasting table down here in the Affordable Cellar. 

I certainly did.

Until next time, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.


Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

For the Love of Wine

Issue #35 February 2022

As we turn the page from January, thoughts will soon be turning to love and the many meaningful ways there are to show it. 

Seizing my Cupid moment as a bachelor many years ago, I certainly didn’t ‘stop in the name of love’. I started the car and drove across the city armed with a wedge of warm blueberry pie (Mrs. Smith’s) and a hastily crafted poem, to the doorstep of my unsuspecting Valentine.

The great and sadly, late rock star Meat Loaf did it with song when he belted out the sentiment, ‘I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.’

Okay, so perhaps Meat wasn’t totally committed to love. But many of us are. And often the best way to celebrate it with our partners or partner wannabes is simply with a candle, a twinkle in the eye and a special bottle of wine.

That said, whether it’s a romantic occasion or not, we often turn to the wine we know. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing. But for this month’s get-together, I thought it might be nice to cast affectionate eyes on some bottles from regions that undeservingly don’t attract that many admirers.

So, let’s settle in around the old tasting table and point Cupid’s corkscrew at a few unsung wine regions that deserve some unconditional love.


Welcome back to the cellar. 

The country of Georgia is located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia; bounded to the west by the Black Sea and to the north and east by Russia. 

Georgia’s experience in winemaking goes back about 8,000 years when they began making wine using the technique of burying it underground in clay containers.

I first learned of wine made in the Kakheti region of Georgia, from the wonderful book by Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow. In this terrific story, a bottle of Mukuzani is recommended by Count Rostov to go with a hearty, Latvian stew.

Instead, the Count simply noted, “The Georgians practically grow their grapes in the hope that one day they will accompany such a stew.”

Not that I’m easily influenced but I put down the book and went straight to the LCBO.

United Stars Mukuzani Dry
Kakheti, Georgia
750 mL bottle LCBO#:  460501
$17.00

United Stars Mukuzani is made with a grape indigenous to Georgia called Saperavi. The wine has aromas of black and red berries with a pleasant earthiness.  

It is robust and dry and built on a solid tannic foundation. While Count Rostov was bang on by saying it would be perfect accompanying a stew, I loved it with a grilled skirt steak and roasted root veggies.

When people think of wine from South America, more often than not Argentina and Chile get the attention.  But relatively tiny Uruguay deserves some of the spotlight. Wine grapes have been grown there for more than 250 years. Although commercial wine production didn’t begin until the late 1800s. 

There’s a catch-22 though. Uruguayan wine isn’t always easy to find, but maybe that’s because there isn’t enough demand for it. However, as you might have guessed, I just so happen to have a bottle here in the cellar.


Bodega Garzón Reserva Albariño 2020
Maldonado, Uruguay
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  646802
$23.95

Bodega Garzón Reserva falls somewhere in the medium to full-bodied range. It presents aromas of peach, honeysuckle, melon and lemon. And it’s fruity, tropical and crisp. Albariño is the grape here; another one we haven’t yet encountered. 

So, as we pour and sip, and pour a little more, we’ll get to know its distinctive botanical aroma and citrus undertones. 

It could be the Valentine effect but I’ve got a bit of a crush on this wine.

The next wine that could use a little extra attention isn’t because it comes from an unknown region. It’s because through no fault of its own, the grape that makes it, Merlot, has been suffering from a bit of a perception problem created by the 2004 film, Sideways. While the movie drew attention to the wine of California’s Central Coast, the main character in the film played by Paul Giamatti unabashedly denigrates Merlot.

Unbelievably, a 2022 study in the Journal of Wine Economics found that Sideways actually caused a reduction in demand for Merlot and an increase in demand for Pinot noir. How crazy is that?

Perceptions aside, Merlot did not deserve to be jilted. In fact, the grape remains the foundation of many a great Bordeaux and is worthy of getting to know.


The Velvet Devil 2019
Washington, USA
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  394742
$16.95

The Velvet Devil Merlot comes to us from Washington state. Charles Smith Wines created it specifically to counter the negative press Merlot had been saddled with thanks to the film.

Standing before you in the glass, it is a deep garnet colour. Give it a couple of encouraging swirls and subtle aromas of raspberry, cranberry and new leather greet you. It’s rich and smooth with tannic substance supporting flavours of red berries and spice.

This well-made wine proves that while perception does tend to be reality, it isn’t always based in fact.

Well, we’ve done our part to send some positive vibes in the direction of a few wines that might otherwise remain in the shadows. Some other time we’ll talk about very good wines also being made in Moldova, Austria, Mexico and Greece. 

So much wine. So little time.

At the beginning of this get-together, I mentioned the time I delivered blueberry pie and a poem to my valentine. To finish the story, thankfully she was home. Not only did she appreciate what I brought to her doorstep, I guess she saw what was in my heart. She became my bride and my partner for life.

Oh jeez, I guess too much wine makes me sappy.

Until next time, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim


Jim’s Valentine’s Day Blueberry Pie

Directions:

Keep frozen until ready to enjoy. Bake before serving. For food safety and quality, cook before eating to an internal temperature of 160F.

1. Remove pie from the freezer. Place oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Remove frozen pie from the box, and remove plastic overwrap from a pie. Do not remove pie from original pan. Open center hole of pie and cut 4 to 6 slits in top crust.

3. Center frozen pie on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, and place in preheated oven.

4. Bake pie for 55 to 65 minutes until crust is golden brown.

5. Remove pie on cookie sheet from oven using oven mitts. Never handle by edge of pie pan.

6. Serve warm in 30 minutes or cooled after 2 hours. Pies are best when freshly baked.

Poem optional.

J.

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsaffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

Featured

A Wine Murder Mystery

Issue #34 January, 2022

Last year at this time, you may recall (or you’re trying to forget) we paid tribute to Agatha Christie, the great mystery writer, who died in January of 1976. Our tribute came in the form of a silly, little wine murder mystery. While Dame Agatha likely wouldn’t have thought much of it, incredibly many of you did.

So, here we are a year later and what the heck, let’s head down a murderous path once more with this month’s wines imbedded in another short, old-fashioned murder mystery. 

Get comfortable around the old oak tasting table as last year’s characters Uncle Seymour, Aunt Edwina and their sleuth-by-chance nephew Douglas return in…


Murder in Languedoc. 

I had never been to France. Of course, I’d read plenty about the country. But when my elderly Aunt Edwina said to me, “Douglas, you must come with me to Languedoc.”, I had no idea where that was.

Each day of the year I am her only nephew but every second Saturday I’m her driver, getting her to wherever she needs to go. Usually, one of her required stops is the wine store. She loves a good Sancerre. She often says to me, “I loved my dear husband Alfred, but a good part of my heart has always belonged to Sancerre.”

It was on one of those Saturday errands, that she announced her (I should say, our) plans.

“My dear Douglas. Your Uncle or rather, my reclusive and sometimes repulsive brother Seymour has invited me for a visit to his Chateau in the south of France.

While I could do without spending more than a meal with him, I do love that part of the world. I think we should go.”

And that was that. Her suggestion was charmingly as always, a decision made.

So, off we went to the region of Languedoc for our visit with Uncle Seymour.  

My uncle stood before us swirling his wine glass. “It was built in the 1700s; a damn drafty old place actually. I’m not sure it was a good idea to buy it but my arguably-wise accountant told me this pile of stones was too good to pass on. Isn’t that right, Barth?”

The accountant Uncle Seymour was disparaging happened to be standing beside me in the great hall of his Chateau. Mr. Bartholomew had been managing my uncle’s affairs and putting up with him for years.

Aunt Edwina bristled. “Seymour. For heaven sakes, I dare say without Barth you would be as short of means as you are of magnanimity. Try to be nice, just once.” 

“Dear sister, how did you get all that moral high ground in your carry-on?”

Uncle Seymour had greeted us as expected with his somewhat grim disposition, but he sweetened our arrival with a glass of delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine in the Loire Valley.  Touraine sits just west of Sancerre in the valley and produces a delicious and more affordable alternative.  

Domaine Bellevue Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Loire Valley, France
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  82305
$15.95

A few paces away, a smallish man stood gazing up to the massive tapestries hanging in the grand gallery that circled above us. Oddly, he was the only one of us without a glass of wine. 

Uncle Seymour led the rest of us through the library to the rear of the castle. “If you can tear yourself away from whatever has captured your attention, Monsieur Boucher, we’ll be out on the terrace for supper.”

As we walked, my uncle filled the air.  “Boucher is our local wine merchant. He comes by often, more than I’d like actually. But he usually bears gifts of wine. I think he secretly brings hopes of finagling this place from me one day.” He chortled at his little joke. “Today he brought along quite a nice red from a neighbouring Chateau.”

Fortant Grands Terroirs 2018
Languedoc, France
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  20713
$15.95

We sat on the flagstone terrace under a large ivy-covered pergola overlooking moonlit rows of vines stretching into the darkness. 

Partway through our mussels and that tasty, elegant blend of Syrah and Grenache, my uncle looked up and exclaimed, “Where on earth is Boucher?”

Edwina sarcastically added, “Perhaps loading all your earthly possessions into his car.” 

Ignoring the comment, my uncle looked to his accountant. “Barth. Have a look for him, will you? And while you’re at it, grab my specs from my room above the great hall.” 

On a mission, like he was looking for a tax shelter, the accountant went off to find Monsieur Boucher and Uncle Seymour’s glasses. 

I’m certainly not a suspicious person. I can chalk that up to having had a lot more good than bad cross my path. But I can usually sense when something isn’t what it seems. Aunt Edwina said to me one time, “Douglas, you seem to know what’s on my mind before it’s wormed its way in there.” 

I was halfway through my frites when I felt I too should have a look for Monsieur Boucher. It was so strange that a wine merchant didn’t seem interested in a glass of wine. Giving my Aunt a look, I rose from the table. Her instincts were good too. She knew to make something up. 

“Oh, you must pardon Douglas. He’s gets leg cramps. They come on so suddenly. He simply must walk them out. Started getting them as a teen. Growing spurts likely. Bless his heart. Now Seymour, are you going to offer me some of that wonderful-looking Shiraz from South Africa that I see you’ve brought out, or shall we arm wrestle for it?”

Piekenierskloof Six Hats Shiraz 2019
Swartland, South Africa
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  21193
$13.95

The great hall was still. The quiet seemed to accentuate the damp air. Lanterns on the stone walls cast shadows throughout the cavernous space. There was no sign of Barth nor the mysterious Monsieur Boucher. I stood quietly and listened for sounds of footsteps coming from any of the adjacent rooms off the hall; a parlour to my right and what looked like a study on my left.

A door closed 30 feet above me. I looked up to the gallery. It was Barth. I assumed he was coming out of Uncle Seymour’s room and was about to call up when the large tapestry adorning the wall behind him suddenly lurched forward and forcefully pushed Barth to the railing. The unsuspecting accountant frantically flailed and grabbed at the tapestry, pulling it and the human shape behind it with him.  The two of them, along with the woven wall-hanging cartwheeled over the intricately carved, mahogany rail. 

Frozen, all I could do was watch as Barth landed with a horrible thud at my feet. He was instantly dead. But his last act was that of a break-fall for Monsieur Boucher, who along with the tapestry had landed directly on top of him. 

Uncle Seymour and my aunt heard the thuds of Barth and Boucher along with my involuntary outburst of shock. They entered the hall to see the poor number cruncher and the pitiful, dazed wine merchant.

True to form, my uncle, blurted before he thought. “Good God! Barth said that tapestry was damned valuable!” 

“Seymour!! Now Douglas, what on earth happened?”

The answer came from the bent wine merchant lying at our feet. He twisted his head to look up at menacingly at my uncle and spat out, “This chateau had been in my family for generations. It was to be mine! Until you! You marched in with your bags of money and made an offer my greedy mother wouldn’t refuse.” 

“Perhaps Boucher, but why would you kill Barth?” queried my uncle.

I answered. “He wasn’t planning to. Boucher waited upstairs for you Uncle, hiding behind the tapestry outside your room. He didn’t account for the possibility that it might not be you he was blindly pushing over the railing.”

“He should have stuck to pushing wine,” said Aunt Edwina.

So, it seems that Uncle Seymour had an instinct too. He somehow knew his wine merchant wanted his Chateau. He just didn’t realize Monsieur Boucher would kill for it.

I never would have thought that in one of the great wine regions of the world we would discover such a deadly case of sour grapes. And witness the moment when a dedicated but unfortunate accountant’s final number would come up. 

The End


I hope you didn’t mind beginning the year with a rather nasty ending for poor Barth. But most of all I hope you do get a chance to enjoy the wines we met this time in the cellar. 

See you in February when we’ll get back in earnest to our usual search for and discovery of great, affordable wine. Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsafffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there. Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

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A Christmas (Wine) Carol

Part One – Marley is Dead. 

Those, of course, are the famous first words of Charles Dickens’ enduring classic, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Dickens wrote it during a six-week period in late 1843. He built much of the story in his head while taking nightly walks around London.

“A merry Christmas, Bob! Said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken…I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!…”

While we get to enjoy the many film versions of the story each year at this time (Alastair Sim as Scrooge is my fave), I thought a little Dickens would be a nice addition to the mix for this month’s get together.

So, at the top of the hour (that’s about now by my clock) the Affordable Cellar will be visited by three spirits, (bottles of wine actually). One from a vintage past, one from a vintage present, and one from a vintage yet to come. Hold on to your nightcaps. The clock is striking one.  

Welcome back to the cellar.


Part Two – The First of the Three Bottles

The old grandfather clock down here in the cellar just tolled with its deep, reverberating tone. And not a second later, hear that? …… yes, that dull, dragging sound…

Actually, it’s just me pulling a cool and dusty bottle from the wine rack. 

Our first visitor is here. It’s the red from a vintage past; 2015 to be exact. 

Colinas de Ançã Baga Reserva 2015
Bairrada, Portugal
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  11195
$17.95

This bottle comes from the Bairrada region of Portugal. Barraida runs narrowly down the east coast, south of Porto. Baga is the dominant grape variety there, producing wines full of colour, rich in acids but well-balanced and with great longevity.

Colinas de Ançã Baga Reserva is described as medium-bodied. But I’d say there’s a full-bodied soul living in there as well. 

It comes bearing gifts of black fruits, cocoa and smoke. In the glass, it’s brooding and dark. These are the delicious shadows of grapes that have been. 


Part Three – The Second of the Three Bottles

The clock has struck again and over on the far side of the tasting table, another vision has appeared; the wine of vintage present. And a beautiful present this would be. This visitor to our table is no apparition though. It stands before us as real as the knocker on Scrooge’s front door.

Bodega Piedra Negra Gran Lurton Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Mendoza, Argentina
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  980334
$24.95

Bodega Piedra Negra Gran Lurton comes to us from Argentina. It’s a delicious cabernet sauvignon that could just be this year’s ultimate stocking stuffer. Imagine that special someone’s face when they discover it tucked alongside those funny fling-flangers and delicious doo-dinglers. (Oops, I just took a sharp left from Dickens to Seuss.)

Back to the Lurton. It’s as dark as the deep, set eyes of the ghost of Jacob Marley. 

Aromas of raspberry, black cherry and plum rise from the glass. And this visitor has taste; of rich red berries, wood, leather and a bit of Christmas spice. Plus, it has some tannic pucker-power. 

But if I had just one thing to say about this elegant Gran Lurton, it’s as soft and velvety as the lapels on my smoking jacket. (Note to self; must get one of those).

Part Four – The Last of the Three Bottles

Again, the chimes have spoken and announced the arrival of our third guest. Of course, it is quite impossible to entertain a wine from a vintage yet to come. But how about a wine that says ‘it’s ahead by a century’.  

The Tragically Hip Ahead by a Century Chardonnay 2020
Stony Ridge Winery, Niagara, Ontario
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  483875
$21.95

This chardonnay is a tribute to one of the wonderful spirits of our recent past; the great Canadian poet/musician, Gord Downie. The Tragically Hip Ahead by a Century 2020 Chardonnay was created to honour the 20th anniversary of The Hip’s fifth album, Trouble at the Henhouse. 

The Stony Ridge Winery had no trouble creating this full and buttery wine. It tastes of lemony citrus, apples, toast and creamy vanilla.

As Dickens told it, upon discovering he hadn’t missed Christmas nor his chance to be a better person, Scrooge learned from his three spirit visitors. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.”

It is entirely possible that we here in the cellar have gained also from the three visitors who have just appeared before us. And that perhaps it can be said of us, that we know how to keep a tasty glass of wine in our hands. Dickens would say, “May that be truly said of us, and all of us.”

So, we’ll close not with the words of Tiny Tim, but with those of Winy Jim. Keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

 Jim

Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsafffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. They’ll be notified each month, as will you when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader-friendly there.

Please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com