Bill C-311 and wine shipping across Canada: what it does (and doesn’t do)

Yesterday evening, the House of Commons unanimously voted in favor of Bill C-311, a private member’s bill presented to the house by Dan Albas, Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla, a riding located at the heart of British Columbia’s wine country. The bill, which seeks to make it legal for individuals to “import” wines from one province into another, was greeted with enthusiasm by people in the Canadian wine industry, from Coast to Coast, and by Canadian wine lovers everywhere.

Very specifically, the bill makes legal:

the importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings the wine or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for resale or other commercial use.

In other words, it corrects a rather absurd situation caused by the post-Prohibition legal framework that surrounds everything regarding the sale of beer, wine and spirits in Canada. Specifically, it was illegal, through the 1928 law that Bill C-311 amends, for anyone to carry a bottle of wine across provincial boundaries. If you’re from Québec and you visit a vineyard in BC or Ontario or Nova Scotia, it is illegal for you to bring a bottle back home. It is also illegal for a winery to send you bottles back to your home in another province. (By the way, that will remain so until the bill goes through the Senate and then receives Royal Assent, something which should not be an issue, but will take a few weeks yet.)

Without any border patrols between provinces, the law was, of course, impossible to enforce, at least for personal purchases brought back by travelers. In that context, when Bill C-311 becomes law, legislation will simply be in line with reality. And for Canadian wineries, this opens up the possibility of developing a pan-Canadian clientele, something very useful in particular for smaller wineries for whom getting wines to other provinces’ monopolies can be quite difficult, because of the time and effort required and the volumes of wine produced, notably.

The focus of the bill is limited, and that was a smart thing within the complicated rules and regulations, both provincial, federal and international that govern the commerce of alcoholic beverages. For instance, by not restricting the possibilities to 100% Canadian wine, it avoids challenges through NAFTA or the World Trade Organization about preferential treatment given to the national industry, which would open a whole different can of worms. People might like wider-reaching measures (beyond just wine, for instance), but for immediate results, this was a good solution.

Also, by limiting its effects to personal consumption, it only moderately affects the control of provincial monopolies like the LCBO or the SAQ on sales of wine and spirits. A restaurant can’t start ordering its wine from out of province, and a BC winery can’t set up shop in Ontario and sell its own wine privately. But if you really loved that pinot gris from the Okanagan that you tasted on your last trip and you want to get a few bottles, you should be able to get them.

Key word here is “should”. The game’s not fully played yet.

As the bill states, individuals will be able to get wine to their home province “in quantities and as permitted by the laws of the latter province”. And that’s where the next step of the battle to “Free My Grapes”, as this crusade has become known, will play out.

Monopolies could restrict the shipping of wine from outside of their province in various ways. They could ask anyone who wants to ship to register with them. They could ask wineries to collect that province’s taxes and markup on the bottles, so that there is no loss of revenue or “unfair” advantage to sellers from outside the province. If they make it complicated and bureaucratic, then Bill C-311 could be a very limited victory for the Canadian wine industry. The story, at this point, is still to be continued.

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TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia: First Impressions

TasteCamp participants arriving at Boxwood Winery, yesterday

It was almost ironic, for TasteCamp participants who had also visited Virginia for the Wine Bloggers Conference, last year. The weather for the first tasting of this three-day tour of North Virginia wine country was reminiscent of the much-discussed heat of last July, with temperatures reaching into the 90s.

90 degrees is better than 100, however, and tastings were certainly enjoyable, starting with a very fresh rosé from Bordeaux varieties that Boxwood served on arrival. Crisp, balanced, fresh, with nice notes of red fruit, it is also very reasonably priced at 14$ a bottle. In fact, reasonable prices are the norm at Boxwood, with a second label red called Trellis (a very floral, substantial and joyous blend of malbec and merlot, mainly) at 18$, and the solid, classic main Bordeaux blends, Boxwood and Topiary, both selling for 25$. The winery announced yesterday that it would now be open to visitors (previously, it was by appointment only), and it is certainly is a place worth visiting, if only to get a peek at the elegant, circular barrel room.

Winemaker Adam McTaggart (seen from the back) showing TasteCamp participants the barrel room at Boxwood.

The grand tasting, with eight Virginia wineries attending, showed a lot of good wine, whether Bordeaux blends, viogniers, chardonnays and others. Lots of well-balanced wines, some that showed a good aging capacity (2005 cabernet franc from Barboursville, for instance). As well, it was interesting to note just how different vintages can be: a cool 2009, a cool and sunny 2010 that produced reds at over 15% alcohol, and 2011 where winemakers were chasing maturity like crazy, despite the heat spikes of July.

There is much more to say, of course, but it is almost 8 am and the bus will be leaving for vineyard walks and all the other nice things in the TasteCamp agenda. See you later!

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TasteCamp Virginia Update: Linden, Fabbioli and Tranquility Added to Agenda

So, when is TasteCamp 2012, again?

What do you mean, two weeks?

Wow. Time sure flies by when you’re organizing a visit to a wine region. But the important thing is that the agenda for TasteCamp is essentially complete, except for a couple of knick-knacks and details, and that we’re very happy with the experience that participants are being offered for the fourth edition of this gathering of wine writers and bloggers from all over the US and Canada. I’m very excited to get a more in-depth look at what Virginia has to offer – and to meet the great bunch of people that take part in the event.

For more details, here is today’s press release, fresh off the virtual presses.

* * * * *

TasteCamp 2012 in Virginia is just around the corner

Visits at Fabbioli and Linden added  • Spots still open for grand tastings

The organizers of TasteCamp are gearing up for an exciting weekend of wine discovery that will bring some 40 bloggers and writers from all over the US and Canada to Loudoun County and Northern Virginia, May 4-6, 2012. The program for the weekend has been steadily taking shape in the last few weeks, with some great additions to the three-day experience now confirmed.

A Great Finish at Linden

The weekend’s final vineyard visit, on Sunday morning, will almost be worth the trip in itself: Linden Vineyards. As Jancis Robinson put it in a recent article in the Financial Times: “A key figure in raising standards in Virginia grape growing… and winemaking has been Jim Law of Linden Vineyars, whose wines have been exceptional almost from when he started in the 1980s.” It’s an honor that Jim Law agreed to host the TasteCamp group and provide a true idea of what Virginia is capable of.

Vineyard walks at Fabbioli and Tranquility

Vineyard walks – a great opportunity to understand where the wines of a region are coming from – have always been an essential part of TasteCamp. This year’s program features two walks that will showcase some of the most interesting grape growing spots in Northern Virginia.

On Saturday morning, TasteCamp participants will get to know another solid example of Northern Virginia wine, Fabbioli Cellars. Winemaker Doug Fabbioli will be showing the group around his vineyards and winery, where he produces Bordeaux varieties, but also sangiovese and tannat, as well as a selection of fruit wines.

On Saturday afternoon, the group will visit Tranquility Vineyard, a 7-acre property in Purcellville that provides fruit for several local producers. Ben Renshaw, winemaker/owner of 8 Chains North winery, will lead the group on a vineyard walk and tasting.

Grand tastings at Boxwood and Tarara

TasteCamp will also offer a wider-ranging look at the diversity of Virginia wines, thanks to two grand tastings presented at Boxwood Winery (Friday) and Tarara Winery (Saturday). Some of the best producers in Virginia have confirmed their presence, including Blenheim, Barboursville, Hume, Ankida, Veritas and Corcoran. There are still spots open for the grand tastings: wineries interested in participating should contact Frank Morgan or Lenn Thompson at the coordinates below.

A laid-back Southern-style BYO

The always-fun BYO dinner, a Saturday night tradition at TasteCamp, will benefit from a laid-back, relaxed, Southern-style setting and menu. Organized in collaboration with Visit Loudoun, the dinner will take place at a great location, North Gate Vineyard, with catering by Smokin Willy, a well-known Virginia BBQ provider. All at a very nice price, too!

Essential Virginia partners

TasteCamp is also proud to count on several other great partners, starting with three host wineries : Breaux Vineyards, Boxwood Winery and Tarara Winery. Two key regional organizations are also on board : The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (Virginia Wine) and the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association (Visit Loudoun) who are offering logistical, financial and/or transportation support. TasteCampers will be staying at the National Conference Center, in Leesburg, Virginia, a conveniently-located facility that is offering a special rate for event participants.

About TasteCamp

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much wine as possible and speak to as many winemakers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most smaller, lesser-known wine regions in the world would love to get their wines in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals.  Through generous sponsors, some meals may be deeply discounted.

Follow the Latest updates on TasteCamp 2012:

• On Twitter: #TasteCamp

To participate as an attendee, contact Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com

To participate as a sponsor, contact Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

For more information, contact co-organizers Remy Charest (remycharest (at) mac.com) and John Witherspoon (vcuspoon1 (at) comcast.net)

Media and interview requests:

Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com or

Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

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Enjoying older wine the way it is

Tonight, at a family dinner, with my parents and my sister’s family, we drank a 2000 Dame de Montrose, the second wine from Château Montrose. It was delicious and  well-rounded, tannins nicely softened up, still a lovely amount of fruit, and that pleasant dustiness that comes to Bordeaux wines, especially those with a good dose of cabernet sauvignon. It was a great time to drink it, did perfect with the pork dish we had, and everyone loved it.

Now, was it better than it would have been two or three years ago? Probably not. But not worse, either. It was just in a different phase, with more mature characteristics than a few years before.

I’ve had several older wines, in the last couple of months. Some because of holiday meals when it seems especially appropriate to pull old and/or rare bottles, others just because I looked around the cellar and figured it was probably time to drink them. All of the wines I’m thinking of were over 10 years of age, some even over 20. Notably, there was a 1996 Château Ramage La Bâtisse from the Médoc, lovely and still in very nice shape. A 1995 Riesling Les Écaillers from Léon Beyer, all confit lemon and salty caramel, that lasted for days and days after opening. A 1989 Chinon from the Lenoir family (merci, Philippe, at The Ten Bells) and a 1989 Bourgueil from Domaine de la Chevalerie (merci, Pascaline, from Rouge Tomate) that proved without a doubt how cabernet franc can age remarkably well. There was also a 2000 Château Bouscassé, a Madiran that didn’t feel as overly oaky as I feared – though there was a fair bit of barrel toastiness in the profile.  And a 1997 Château Chasse Spleen Blanc, which proved to me, once again, that good white bordeaux (and good sauvignon, in general), seems to improve constantly over a couple of decades, with terrific, elegant floral and exotic notes building up in the wine.

With the exception of the Chasse-Spleen, none of these wines showed as definitely, irrefutably better than they would have a few years younger. In a couple of cases, they probably would have been just as good several more years down the line.

What I mean, here, is that none of those wines gave me the impression that I had missed the perfect moment to drink them, nor that I was having them too early for them to show their best. It didn’t feel to me as if there was a mythical peak, a perfect moment when they should have been tasted. But they were all good and interesting to drink. And in general, they were purchased at very reasonable prices.

There are some great wines that can take a long time to come into their own, and do seem to reach for a peak as they age. Having had a sip of Hermitage La Chapelle 1978, thanks to a rather fantastic New York sommelier who really likes to open bottles, I can tell you that was an example, right there. It had youth and maturity, all at once, openness and structure, the whole range of aromatics: a great, great wine. I’m grateful to have had even just a sip, in my life.

Other wines, like the moelleux chenins from the Loire, also come to mind. A good dozen years ago, I had a vertical of Moulin Touchais, a Coteaux du Layon that I’ve developed quite a liking for. The wines went back all the way to 1949, and reaching that vintage, it felt like you were still climbing up the stairs to get to higher ground. I sometimes think that the last sip of wine I should have in my life, on my deathbed, should be some 1969 Touchais, from my birth year.

In general however, wines that are able to age will mostly evolve, more than they will improve. I’ve seen that written and heard it said a number of times, generally with a sort of regret – as if it was kind of sad to have kept the wines for a long time, if nothing hyper-magical was going to happen to them. To me, it’s as silly as saying that women are only beautiful when young. A ridiculous idea. Bright youthfulness is not everything good about life, thankfully.

After these last few weeks of tasting, I disagree even more strongly than I did with this kind of regret. Maybe those good, but not exceptional wines don’t surpass themselves, with the passage of time, but they are good wines that remain good and are transformed, showing a different side of their personality, over the years. That is plenty, sometimes.

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About that wine and chocolate thing…

Okay, so, apparently, there’s a thing called Valentine’s Day that’s around the corner? Something to do with chocolate?

Red wine and chocolate pairingActually, according to lots of people (in particular, PR persons), Valentine’s has to do with matching wine and chocolate. More specifically, red wine and chocolate. By which people generally mean dry red wine.

I’m not in your mouth, people, so I can’t tell what’s going on in there, but personally, I think dry red wine and chocolate is, generally speaking, one of the worst possible food and wine matches. And it’s not just a matter of personal taste.

The problem has to do with the sweetness in the chocolate vs the dryness of the wine. While it can be perfectly good to have a drink that shows some sweetness with a dish that isn’t sweet (I really like sauternes over a roast chicken, for instance), the reverse is a lot more difficult to do.

Sugar in the wrong place

Why? Well, have you ever had a piece of fruit – say, an orange – after having a really sweet dessert? All you taste is the acid in the fruit, right? Very simply put, that’s because the sugar that coats your mouth masks the more limited amount of sugar present in the fruit, so that only the acid shows up. In the same way, a red wine that seems unctuous and juicy on its own may well feel overly dry, tannic and acidic, if you sip it over something sweet.

So that big chocolate truffle is probably going to kill that Barossa shiraz you were told to match it with, even though the cocoa, roasted flavors from the heavy-toast barrels may find some aromatic harmony with the chocolatey aromas. At the very least, it’s going to make it a lot less expressive and engaging.

Exceptions to every rule

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. But they generally have to do with what is in the chocolate, rather than with the chocolate itself. For instance, I was surprised to enjoy a piece of dark chocolate bark loaded with dried cherries, along with a nebbiolo from the Langhe, a few months ago.

Two things were at work behind that good match. One, the chocolate was a dark one, not very sweet, which minimized that effect of smothering the perceived sweetness of the wine. Two, the dried cherries appealed to one of the central aromatic components of nebbiolo, a grape that is famous for its tart or dried cherry flavors. And on top of that, the dried cherries delivered some acid that balanced the sweetness, allowing a better continuity with the high acid grape.

I’ll bet you the nebbiolo would have tasted even better with plain dried cherries, though…

Another example is a spicy chocolate, infused with pink peppercorns or hot chili. There, it is the spiciness that is at work, reacting to the spicy notes in grenache or syrah, for example. As I’m writing this, I’m having some with an Argentinian cabernet sauvignon with a hot chili chocolate from Lindt, and it’s not bad. The tannins do seem a bit drier, but the spiciness works well on the finish. (With a classic, sweet chocolate truffle, however, the wine feels acidic and bitter – ugh!)

Another possibility that could make the match work is the fact that some supposedly dry red wines are actually quite sweet, with levels of residual sugar that would be defined in, say, a German riesling, as actually off dry. But if that’s the case, why not go straight to dessert wines?

Stickies and spirits

Port wine or the sweet reds of Roussillon (Maury and Banyuls), or even a Greek sweet wine like mavrodaphne from Patras are classic matches with chocolate – with good reason. Sweeter versions of madeira or sherry are also great pairings. Even the caramel tones of an ice wine or a trockenbeerenauslese could do. Certainly better than a big, tannic malbec or cabernet sauvignon.

Yesterday, when I tweeted my exasperation about the return of the wine-and-chocolate-is-awesome noise that comes with the nearing of V-Day as inevitably as the wine-for-the-turkey pieces come back around Thanksgiving, I got some interesting tweets back from a Kansas City bartender and restaurant owner called Ryan Maybee. He pointed to whiskey and cognac as being an even better match, especially with rich chocolates. I could certainly see a great match with a chocolate coated caramel, for instance… And I’d be willing to give his other suggestion – mezcal with spiced chocolates – a go as well.

With so many good options around, why would you want to test the limits and pair your chocolate with something that is not so well-suited, like dry reds?

After all, isn’t Valentine’s Day supposed to be all about perfect matches?

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