Cellared In Canada

March 28, 2011

Firstly, your forgiveness for the 8 month absence! Opening a wine bar and finishing up a Sommelier program left me with little time/sanity for blogging. Hello again.

So, a month or so ago I gave a class presentation on the Cellared in Canada controversy. Afterwards, it was clear that few people had heard of the topic, let alone understood it. So, I thought a blog post was in order.


Credit: vinquebec

According to Wikipedia, Cellared in Canada is a term used to designate Canadian wine produced with varying quantities of Canadian and foreign bulk wine.

These varying quantities of foreign bulk wine (grapes, concentrates, juices) can be anywhere from up to 70% foreign-sourced content (in Ontario) to 100% (in BC). These wines are free to carry a label which states (more, or less) “Cellared in Canada from Imported and Domestic Wines”.

You may be starting to get a sense of what the fuss is all about.

The controversy is essentially two-pronged: one argument centers around language and labeling; the second around the winemaking  practice itself. In a nutshell, the general criticisms are as follows:

1. It misleads the consumer (wording, shelving/store-placement)

The argument here is that “Cellared in Canada” (CIC)  is intentionally misleading to consumers by implying that the wine – made largely or entirely with blends of imported wines – is Canadian. To add to the befuddlement, these wines are often placed in the Canadian section of liquor stores. Few attempts are made to educate the consumer by revealing where its imported content really comes from.

Most of this strife comes from within the industry – growers, winemakers, critics, writers etc.  Many consumers (the ones we’re so worried about) are not even aware of CIC’s existence – never mind what it means. A recent Wine Intelligence Poll revealed that  only 36% of Canadian wine drinkers were actually aware of the term, and only half of these people could correctly state its meaning. Once informed, however, over half thought the term was inappropriate and most of them wanted to see country of origin and percentage on the label at least.

2. It misrepresents and/or damages reputation of Canadian wine

Canada is capable of making top drawer wine. We’ve known this at home for some time and are finally gaining some merit and recognition world wide.  Most agree that a wine created in Canada from foreign content is not a true expression of  Canadian wine. But some feel CIC reflects poorly on the Canadian wine industry as a whole.

jancis robinson

Jancis Robinson Credit: gangofpour

One prominent voice on this front is Jancis Robinson. Jancis can probably also be credited with unleashing the CIC debate on a grand scale. It was on a visit to Okanogan back in the Summer of ’09 where she learned of the practice. Disappointed with what she saw – and even more so the following Spring when she tasted, and rather liked, some of the best VQA Chardonnays at a tasting at Canada House in London – she called CIC “a disservice to real Canadian wine”. Many industry experts agreed with her and still do.

The supporters of CIC,  however, say that the practice is necessary. 100% Canadian Wine is expensive and nearly impossible to compete at lower price points (i.e. the sub $10 category) without incorporating cheaper foreign wine.  They also maintain that buying foreign juice supports a “growing wine industry” by supplementing small grape harvest years and stretching crops to produce more wine. Which leads to better financial security for the wineries and supports them through low-crop years.

Beyond these criticisms there are other problems, too. The program is currently monitored by the Canadian Standards Board – a voluntary standards association, rather than a federal regulatory body, with no force of law behind it. Most agree that this type of regulation is too loose and that CIC would benefit with stricter controls and governance.

There is also the issue of unfair competition. Smaller and medium-sized Canadian wine producers making wine from 100% Canadian grapes are unable to compete at the price points offered by big wineries (and it is the big wineries) bottling CIC wines.

copper moon

Copper Moon Credit: bcliquorstores

The debate, though still considered important, has cooled somewhat in recent months and governments and big wineries are doing little to clarify the issues raised. Tighter regulation is still just a notion, but there has been some movement within the Wine Law/Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently around label transparency. Specifically, a proposal requesting that the source of foreign content be indicated: E.g.

“Made in Canada from [country or countries] grapes (or juices)” or “Blended in Canada from [country or countries] wines”

The bigger question of whether we should we be making CIC wines at all still looms. But personally, I think that’s more of a purist’s battle and not a huge worry of mine.  Cheaper, knockoff versions of the real thing plague nearly every industry. There is a market for them, just as there is for the authentic product. The consumer decides which product they want to buy. The problems arise when the consumer is unable to make an informed decision about that product, or worse, they are duped.

So, the first step, I believe is to tackle transparency. Remove the tricky “Cellared In Canada” wording, clarify origin on labels and display these products accordingly on shop shelves. This would at least educate consumers so that they’re able to make an informed purchase.

    1. labMisrepresents and/or damages reputation of Canadian wine
    2. Unfair competition for small/medium sized Canadian wine producers, making wine from 100% Canadian grapes
    3. Too loosely regulated. Canadian Standards Board is a voluntary standards association, not a federal regulatory body, no force of law behind it
    4. Causes confusion for the consumer (wording, shelving/store-placement)

The Art of the Spit

April 5, 2010

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

There is no real way around it – becoming a Sommelier and learning about wine requires tasting a lot of wine… which, as it turns out, is actually not as glamourous as it sounds. Per class, it’s not uncommon to taste upwards of 10 wines, with each pour being roughly 3 oz. This may not sound like much, but having swallowed the full flight once or twice I am always surprised to learn how quickly inebriation sets in. By about  wine #6 you stop smelling or tasting much in your glass, and by the end of it – you’re likely pretty drunk. (Actually, worse than drunk. Out-of-context drunk. Like, public-transportation drunk, or dinner-at-your-grandparents’ drunk.) There you are: pen in hand, an alarming sense of confusion fused with shame blurs your thoughts… there’s a sudden desire text your ex… Except you’re at a tasting, and you’re supposed to be taking notes about the wine. Tsk. You just try writing something down that makes sense in this state. Not possible.

So, to avoid disaster you must spit. And like everything else worth doing, there is a way to do it properly. I have not yet perfected “the art of the spit” – which is why I’ve not posted a video – but here are the steps as I’ve learned them:

  1. Take a gulp of wine as you normally would, leaving some extra space in your mouth.
  2. Make an “o”shape with your mouth (as if about to whistle) and take some air into your mouth.
  3. Do the tasting/swishing thing.
  4. Position the spittoon about 5-6” away from your face.
  5. Make the “o” shape again with your mouth, but instead of taking air in, push the air out – along with 3/4 of the wine – in a steady, narrow stream into the spittoon.
  6. Swallow the remaining wine.

The idea is to form a neat, quick, trajectory into the bucket while minimizing splash and dribble. Do not place your face on, or near the bucket. (This position not only looks bad, but puts you in danger of getting either splash-back or germies.)

This takes a huge amount of practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t master it straight away. (I am still working on it, and imagine I will be for some time.)

Happy spitting!

Insalata Tricolore

Insalata Tricolore

I once asked an Italian colleague of mine to teach me a phrase in Italian. “What is it you want to say?” She asked. “Oh, I don’t know…” I said, absent-mindedly collecting a fax from the fax machine, skimming its cover page.  “What about: One page, including cover sheet?” I asked. She peered at me peculiarly. “Una pagina includa la presente” was the reply. I repeated the phrase to myself daily until I perfected it. The opportunity to use it in a conversation never arose, sadly, but no matter. My interest in Italy had been sparked. Soon I’d go there, meet the people, taste that FOOD, and most importantly, the wine.

One of the first glasses of Italian wine I ever had was at a wedding in Tuscany. It was red, light-weight, tannic and fruity. I didn’t like it. My dining companion pointed to my glass and said “That, doesn’t matter so much. This,” he said pointing to my plate “is more important”. I would come to learn that this is the attitude most Italians have toward their wine (and toward wine in general perhaps) – that it is an accompaniment to food. And for the most part, Italian Wines appear to be made with that in mind. As the food differs from region to region, so too does the style of wines produced there.

When my Sommelier course moved onto Italy this week I was keen to get to the tasting portion. We covered only the North East this class and tasted 10 in all. Here are the first 5. (The next 5 I’ll list in a separate post: Tasting the “Top of the Boot” – North East Italy Part 2)

North East Italy - First 5

North East Italy - First 5

I must say, I prefered the whites over the reds here. But that could be down to style preference. Here are the notes (order is as pictured, not as tasted):

  1. 2007 La Spinetta Moscato D’Asti Bricco Quaglia DOCG – Pale straw colour w/ slight green tint, course bubbles. Floral and honeyed-fruit nose. Light-bodied, slightly sweet, pear fruit on palate. Bubbles dissipated pretty quickly, but very refreshing. I liked it (despite the low alcohol – 5.5%) $22 (SAQ)
  2. 2008 Bolla Soave Classico DOC – We sampled this along with the following Soave to note differences between bulk vs quality producers. Idea being that lesser quality Soave (i.e. this one) would have more detectable Trebbiano in blend. Colour was a pale gold. Fairly intense nose of nutty, ripe tropical fruit, citrus and some weird sulphur/smoke. Light and simple structure, melon with some bitterness and moderate acidity. Finish was pretty short and thin. $13 (NSLC)
  3. 2007 Inama Soave Classico DOC – Bright gold in colour. Same intensity to the nose as the Bolla but with more integrated nuttiness, tropical fruit and butter. Weightier than the Bolla, with a creamy texture, and tiny bit of petulance. Fruit and acid more subdued but balanced. $30 (NSLC)
  4. 2001 Pieropan Passito della Rocca, Passito del Veneto IGT Dark gold colour, and slightly viscous. Pronounced dried fruit/apricot on the nose with honey and nut. On the palate was (not surprisingly) sweet and full-bodied with more ripe/raisiny fruit and almonds. Fairly low in acid and a little “hot”, but I liked it anyway. (However, I think you can get better dessert wines for this price) $50 (SAQ)
  5. 2006 Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG – Deep, dark ruby-red with very slight browning at edge. Lively, mature/ripe red fruit, smoke, vanilla, wood on the nose. On the palate, full-bodied, soft tannins, good acid with hefty spice/bite, raisiny fruit, a bit sweet & heady. Long finish. $43 (NSLC)

Bricco Quaglia

In the Land of the Blind

February 10, 2010

I should preface this post with a disclaimer. There’s something about tasting wine in a classroom that leaves me feeling a bit cold. Like seeing Hugh Jackman in the Broadway musical, The Boy From Oz…Yes, still the lovely Hugh Jackman, but contextually, it’s not how I prefer to experience him. *

Hugh as Boy From Oz vs Hugh as Wolverine

Experiencing wine for educational purposes – analysing it, dissecting it, staring at it, spitting it out – has a kind of numbing effect on the enjoying it aspect for me. And while I appreciate the knowledge acquired, I have a hard time determining whether I actually liked what was in my glass. End disclaimer.

Tasting lineup

So, last Monday we blind-tasted 6 Red Burgundies. The flight was as follows:

  1. 2007 Chateau de Javernand Chiroubles (George Duboeuf)
  2. 2005 Domaine Louis Jardot Marsannay
  3. 2005 Domaine Michel Mallard & Fils Ladoix ‘Le Clos Royer’
  4. 2005 Olivier Leflaive Volnay
  5. 2006 Domiane Amiot Guy et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet ‘Les Chaumes’
  6. 2007 P. Ferraud & fils Morgon ‘Les Charmes’

The goal was to pick out the 2 Beaujolais from the 4 Pinots and indicate which AC they might be from.

The Burgundies

Pinot Noir and Gamay (Beaujolais) are pretty similar. In colour and in weight they are a lot alike so I tried looking for subtle, yet telltale, differences to help pinpoint the Beaujolais. Primarily, evidence of Carbonic Maceration which would be tellable on the nose (banana and bubblegum). Anything that whiffed of fresh berries or floral things might indicate Pinot. In the mouth, I scanned for thinness, cherry, crispness, maybe a candy-like component. A Pinot, conversely, might feel slightly more complex, with a tad more structure and tannin, and maybe berries – instead of cherries.

Once the Beajolais were nailed down, choosing the ACs could be based on perceived weight – heavier might be Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon (notably sturdy Bojos); lighter might be a Chiroubles (cooler village, higher altitude). Same logic could be applied for the Pinots – Marssanay being lighter (most northern); Pommard being brute (iron rich soil).

I ended up scoring poorly but I should think that with more practice and a bit more palate-refining I’ll be well on my way to aceing one of these one day.

* For those of you wondering how I prefer to experience Hugh Jackman: Scowling with claw hands (as opposed to grinning with jazz-hands).