Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I've learned about wine

It's been just about 14 years since I began to become interested in wine - that is more than simply  having a glass or two with a nice dinner a few times a week. I had recently moved to Toronto, and become a first time homeowner. As a homeowner, I felt it right that I should have some wine on hand.

I have a dark cupboard with shelves under the basement steps - ideal for storing a few bottles. This could store a variety of wines that would match different foods, and be available to serve to guests. I didn't know much about wine. I knew that there were some wineries in Niagara. I knew about Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. I knew of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The only winery I'd ever visited was Poggio Antico in Italy.

As i collected a few bottles, my knowledge grew. One day I read an article about a winery in Niagara called Crown Bench Estates. The article intrigued me enough to escape Toronto one Saturday and have a peak around.

Now, hundreds of winery visits, a few thousand bottles bought and consumed, stacks of Wine Spectator magazines, and a few trips to California, it's interesting to consider the key things I've learned. - and here they are:

1. Your palate is the only one that counts

If your buying wine for yourself, it's useful to listen to recommendations from other - be they friends, family or famous wine critics. However, ultimately, one develops one own preferences. A wine writer may give a wine a '90 point score' - but that doesn't mean that you must like it too.

This isn't a right or wrong thing. People have different tastes - and thankfully so, as this leads to more variety.

2. Avoid fixating on one wine

People generally don't eat the same food everyday, because most of us find that tiring on the third day or so. I believe the same is true for wine. My original goal in having 'wine on hand' was to have a variety - and I've kept to that.

I think this has helped me avoid getting palate burnout on any given wine style.

3. The palate evolves

This having been said, I enjoy some wine styles more, and some less, than I used to. The evolution may be due more to age than training my palate to become more 'educated'.

4. I know what I like

When I first began to collect, I would scour the Vintages monthly catalogue, The Wine Spectator, and anything else I could fine in order to figure out what to acquire - especially in terms of value for money.

Now I have good idea of what I like, and I don't spend much time reading up.

5. Price points

I used to buy wine in price point between $10 and $45 - and occasionally up to $75. These days, I'll by wine in the $13-$17 range for 'everyday' consumption. I'll buy wines $40 and over for special occasions and laying down.

Why is this? Firstly, I know what I like - and I can get a very enjoyable wine for between $13 and $17. The wines between $18 and $39 maybe good, but they are not usually worth the premium.

At and above the $40 price is where I found the that are either especially good and/or will age well.

6. My 'go tos'

Here are some of my 'go tos' - wineries, regions, appelations or what have you.

Rasteau- this Cote du Rhone appellation has never failed me. It's generally good value. This and wine from Vinsobres are worth seeking out. They can be hard to find - and there is a reason for that: many people agree with me.
Gamay - the varietal - it's full glorious name being Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. I enjoy Gamays from Beaujolais - especially Morgon, and many offering from Niagara wineries (Malivoire, Angel's Gate, Eastdell to name a few. Gamay is good value and very food friendly
Sebastiani- this is the winery in Sonoma. Look to Sebastiani for an excellent Cabernet or Merlot at a good price.

7. After a few dozen winery visits...

you stop learning from the winery tour and tasting workshops. These are useful for those starting out - and some wineries are worth a tour to look at the setting or architecture. However, after you seen a few dozen barrel rooms, more large stainless steel tanks - how much more can you learn? Not much.

Now, if you get  a change to speak with the winemaker or owner, then a tour can be interesting.

8. Winter is good

Go to the wineries in winter. There are generally no crowds - unless you're in Niagara during the Ice Wine Festival (which I avoid these days). In Winter, you don't have to worry about your purchase getting cooked in the trunk of your car.

Winemakers release wine year around. This will be when they believe the wine is ready - which is as likely to be in WInter as any other time of year.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Winter tires?

Today I replaced the tires on my car. The Queen's head (on the now defunct Canadian penny) showed clearly when the coin was pressed into the groove.

The tires had lasted about 85,000 km - not bad. The new tires are a different brand - and based on earlier experience, they should last longer.

To be clear, however, I'm referring to all-season radials in all cases. In fact, I've never put 'winter' tires on any of my cars. My first car, a 1980 Honda Accord, I fitted with a new set of CT all seasons in Montreal. I drove this back and forth between Montreal and London a few times. I had a couple of hairy spins on pure ice in that car - but I din't have any problems with snow. (Having to dig it out of a snow bank after the plows have come by doesn't count.)

Since then, I've owned a number of cars. These days, it's a 2006 Acura CSX. This has front wheel drive, a standard transmission, and  ABS brakes. This car divides its time between Toronto and Muskoka. This winter, despite the frequent and substantive snow we've experienced, I have had no issues stopping or starting with my regular OLD all-seasons!

Why is that? First, my car has a standard transmission with front wheel drive, and I know how to use the gears to avoid getting stuck. Second, the car has the best ABS system I've had on a car. On those odd occasions I've had to brake hard on snow, I've had no issues stopping and keeping in control. Thirdly, I drive defensively - managing the space between my car and others. I do this year round, be it dry, wet or snowy.

I considered purchasing 'winter' tires back in December. This would have set me back approximately $1,000 including spare rims.

It's true that the wear on the winter tires would have saved the wear on my all seasons. However, the winter tires do not have nearly the tread life of the all seasons - due to the softer rubber. With the higher cost and poorer wear of the winter tires, I would easily be doubling my tire costs on a pro rated basis.

I would have to pay for the mounting and dismounting each Autumn and Sprit too!

So why all the hype about winter tires that we've been deluged with the past couple of years? Has it been orchestrated by the tire companies? I don't know. More likely overzealous automotive journalists!

If I drove an automatic, I might consider winter tires With automatics, drivers become sloppy and inattentive - as they do not need manage the cars motion as continually as on a standard.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A path for trucks

With today's  slightly improved weather, I ventured out for a walk around the neighbourhood. As I walked West along the Boardwalk at Lee Ave, noticed the city had been busy with a small construction project. The city now posts signs indicating how the project is 'building a great city'.

This propaganda is somewhat annoying - but one learns to ignore it. What caught my eye was the documentation on the sign. This indicated that the project was to build a '3 metre wide path' from the foot of Lee Ave to the lake. This seemed odd, since there is already a path from Lee to the Boardwalk. From the Boardwalk to the lake is beach - so sand or snow depending on the season.

Out of curiosity, I stepped around a muddy puddle to be able to read the fine print. To my amusement, the 'path' is for trucks to be able to access the lake in case of heavy rains. (There is an outflow from the storm sewer at that point of the shoreline.)

The purpose of the project became clear - it was to build a access road! Only in Toronto would official purposely obfuscate in calling a 'road' a 'path'.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movies from the past while

I make a habit of seeing a movie every other week or so. By that, I mean going to the theatre.

Withe Academy Awards fast approaching, I'd thought I'd write up by two cents.

Movies I really enjoyed:

(1) Celebration Day

This films presents the Led Zeppelin (*) concert from the O-2 Area a few years back. All in all, it's a better concert films than The Song Remains the Same from the 70's. In part that's because the band had more material to work from - especially tracks from Physical Graffiti. Kashmir brought the house down! In My time of Dying was great.

The band was tight, and Jason Bonham filled in admirably for his father. Film and sound quality is better than TSRTS.

This having been said, the performance of Stairway to Heaven and Since I've been Loving You were better in the TSRTS.

The biggest issue was that the theatre did not play the soundtrack at anywhere close to the proper volume. I guess that why people install home theatres.

(2) Life of Pi

A gripping story portrayed in an excellent film. I don't read many novels, but I'm tempted to read this one. I've never heard anyway say 'the movie of x, y or z is better than the book'. If that holds true for Life of Pi, then it must be every bit the book people say it is.

(3) Silver Linings Playbook

Great acting and a though-provoking yet touching story. I saw this one twice.

(4) Argo

Gripping movie.

Some idiot in the Globe and Mail wrote that he felt that the movie didn't present the Iranian side of things. This proves - as I've long suspected - that people write about movies without actually having watched them.

Ben Affleck may well have been overlooked in terms of the Best Director nomination. I'm never quite sure what a director is responsible for in the finished product.

(5) Lincoln

This was an excellent film. I had a problem with the sound quality - which made some of the quieter scenes hard to follow.

Movies to skip:

Actually, only one film from the past year deserves a complete skip, and that film is The Master. This films was BORING with a capital B. The film revolves around a cult - perhaps intended to be Scientology. Some people love to hate the Scientologists - and probably got there jollies on that account. (These people are usually leftists worried about competition!)

For people like me - who have other things to worry about - the movie had no real plot: no build, no climax, no ending of any note.

Get real Warren!

I'm starting a new blog. This effort will be for whatever comes to mind - be it on food, wine, politics, movies, Scrabble... - you name it!

We'll begin with politics. This Saturday I learned something. I learn something most days. However, on Saturday, I learned never to be imbibing milk (or any other liquid for that matter), when reading one of Warren Kinsella's columns in The Toronto Sun.

Warren was dutifully criticizing Thomas (Tom) Mulcair. I'm ok with criticizing Mulcair. Mulcair is angry. Leftists are generally angry and self-hating. (Jack Layton hid it well.) However, near the end of the column, Kinsella asserts that the Conservatives and NDP are guilty of trying the claim Canadian values to themselves.

This is when the milk started to spurt through my nose. Warren, I guess it's OK for the Liberals to do that - but not for other parties?!

Get real man!