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.