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From the sea rises something … really different

- June 12th, 2012

cavassubmarinas

To produce a delicious wine one requires a high quality vine, the right soil and climactic conditions, a trained nose and palate and … a diving certification???

There are gimmicks – a cool name, a crazy stunt and even off-the-wall flavouring. Then there are those marketing escapades that require a lot of effort, and that in concept seem completely unnecessary but that make complete sense after execution.

That is the case with an old vineyard that’s making new waves in Chile.

It seems that off the southern coast of Chile, shipwrecks and legends of lost treasures aren’t the only things gathering in the Pacific Ocean floor – there are also casks filled with red wine.

Those wines, sitting in a submerged sea cave near the area ravaged by the massive quake and tsunami of 2010, belong to the folks behind Cavas Submarinas.

In Chile, the Pacific Ocean has always played a big part in the quality and character of the wines. The ocean brings the moisture that allows vines to thrive, often without irrigation, and has a mellowing effect on the weather, allowing a sub- Mediterranean climate to dominate wine-producing areas, making them perfect for the cultivation of delicious wine-yielding grapes. But that wasn’t enough for the folks at Cavas Submarinas.

Nope, they are also using the Pacific to age their wines. That’s right, Cavas Submarinas, which in English means Undersea Caves, gets its name from the place and method they use to age their wine. Although some of the aging of their Pinot Noir takes place in traditional places using traditional methods, such as French oak casks and on shelves in the bottle, three months of the aging process takes place in an undersea cave.

It seems that this top-secret-cave provides the low-light conditions, naturally regulated temperature – and, apparently the peace and quiet – that an adventurous wine requires to mature.

So, is this novel approach – along with the PATI open sea qualification – worth the effort? It’s hard to say.

The wine is good, providing a full body and full spectrum finish. It provides a complex flavour and woody character that lends itself well to accompanying meats. The flavours are also delectable when brought out by strong cheeses. But are all these qualities the result of being cradled in the Pacific’s womb? Can’t really say.

The one sure effect the ocean has on the wine is that it does make the product very rare. The wine is not openly available in North America and it’s nearly impossible to buy in Chile, as Cava Submarinas has chosen instead to target the emerging high end wine market in Asia with these cold and salty bottles.

The quality of the wine is not a game changer but it does provide for pretty cool bragging rights and therein lies the value. If you can get your hands on one of these bottles, grab it. How many people can say they’ve had a good wine made from grapes grown irrigation-free, at the edge of the Andes and aged in undersea caves in the Pacific Ocean?

Gimmicks won’t necessarily make flavoured beers the flavour of the day

- March 9th, 2012

COors
Coors Light Iced Tea — coming soon to a patio near you)

Do Canadian beer drinkers really like flavoured, easy going down beer more than their U.S. counterparts? Molson Coors Brewing Co. seems to think so.

The latest product being unveiled by the once very proud Canadian institution is, ahem, iced tea beer.

The corporation says it’s trying to “spur sales so the company can put less reliance on cost-cutting to drive its profit” in a shrinking beer market.

So, the newly unveiled strategy from the folks who have brewed a Canadian identity – remember I am Canadian – as much as a beer, is to offer Coors Light Iced Tea and Carling Zest, a limited-time-only beer with citrus flavours to the thirsty Canadian masses.

The offerings are exclusively Canadian, although Coors says they haven’t ruled out a U.S. roll-out later.

That’s right, Coors believes notoriously loyal beer drinking Canucks will be more likely to embrace flavoured brews than the country that watered down the beer market in the first place with offerings such as Coors and Bud Light, and the citrus beer. (ed. note – feel free to be offended)

Times are tough and all corporations are doing what they can to remain relevant including, and ironically, forgetting where their strengths lie.

Flavoured beers that go down like Kool-Aid may win a few new customers but it will do nothing to win back beer drinkers who went elsewhere in search of rich, thick flavour or the unique tastes of microbrews and imports.

Thus we have to wonder, rather than stooping down to the cheap gimmick and trying to be something they’re not (a fruity drink maker), why not just concentrate on making really good, interesting beers?

But then again, my fellow Thirsty Drinking Scoundrel is looking forward to the additions.

You can read the news story here.

The memorable of the 2012 Calgary Winefest

- March 1st, 2012

What is it about wine that forces me to spend an hour walking the wine isles, reading labels and discovering new blends when all I ever planned to do inside the liquor store was grab a six-pack or a bottle of Scotch?
What is it about wine that when a varietal is mentioned at a party, meeting or family gathering, the conversation – on my end, anyway – is hijacked by discussions on origin, vintage or value?
What is it about wine that allows it to seep into most facets of my life – dinner table, social gatherings, bookshelf, trips, Google searches?
I think I may have figured out the answer, which has eluded me for so long, likely because, as it turns out, it is quite obvious.
The reason why I’ve spent so much time reading about, writing about, talking about and, my favourite part, savouring wine is because everything about wine is, well, memorable.
Anticlimactic, undeniably, but the truth is that chats with people who love wine, who make wine, who study wine are always memorable. The pleasant surprise of trying a wine not expecting anything in particular but being overwhelmed by the find is memorable. In return, tasting a wine for the first time, after longing to try it and having it surpass all expectations is also memorable.
So, what better way to mark this year’s Winefest, held at the Big Four building Feb. 24 and 25, then by singling out some memorable entries.
Whether they caught our eye with some clever hook, surpassed all expectations or simply re-enforced their delicious reputations, these wines, in one way or another, made for some memorable moments.

The first is not really a wine in the traditional sense but it is a remarkable beverage based on wine. Holland’s ChocoVine is in reality the anti-wine. If your partner is dying to share with you in your love of wine but simply doesn’t, ahem, like wine, this is the answer. Marketed as a chocolate wine, ChocoVine, which comes in original, raspberry and espresso varieties, is more of a chocolate liquor. In all honesty, at first I saw this product as an affront to wine, a cheap marketing ploy that sacrifices the complexities, mystery and honesty of wine by making it rich, sweet and perfectly palpable to underage drinkers. But the truth is that Choco Vine has managed to maintain the strength of the 14% base wine, given it a rich chocolate flavour and still managed to award with a light palate, which melts on the tongue and leaves little more than a warm feeling going down. No, this is not a serious wine, but it is certainly a talker worth savouring.

 

Have you ever wondered what the wine worthy of the Top Chef – USA table must taste like? You can head down to your liquor store and find out. Quickfire – Top Chef offers a 2008 Chardonnay, a 2009 Pinot Gris, a 2009 Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007 and a Zinfandel from 2006. Apart from the novel factor that comes from being the wine of choice at one of the world’s biggest foody shows, Quickfire does present a decent line of wines for under $20. However, the true memorable component to this line is the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which manages to present the full flavour of a cabernet sauvignon but void of most of the heavy tannins that cabs are known for. I personally love the tannins in my cabs but the experience of tasting a full cabernet sauvignon without the pucker up factor is actually a hard-to-define experience that’s worth seeking out.

Leave it to the Portuguese to make tasting a wine memorable. It was the first time I tried the Vila Real Reserva red. I have the utmost respect for Portuguese wines but I was still pleasantly surprised by the delicious, yet easy going nature of this particular wine. This wine has all the flavour and body of a red wine but was as light as a white. The Vila Reserva does what few reds attempt to do – fill the tongue with flavour but nearly evaporate upon contact … memorable indeed.

No list is complete without a personal favourite – Argentine Malbec. Conquista de Argentina are certainly a good embasador of this varietal which has created the oenological equivalent of a cult following. The Reserva 2009 epitomizes the reasons why people love malbecs – rich, full flavours that make up for its lack of punch with a generous helping of smooth. The 2010 Malbec is also delicious, sports a long, smooth finish and it retails for $14.99 – seriously worth experiencing.

There’s a coming-home-kind of warmth that permeates when one reconnects with an old friend simply to understand anew why you became friends in the first place. Thus, my memorable reacquainting with the Errazuriz Carmenere – this time around it was the Single Vineyard 2009. Chilean Carmeneres are a beautiful thing and, normally, an amazing bargain – this is one is particularly so.

Saving the best for last … thus, here is Australia’s 19 Crimes.
This is not to say that this particular brand was the best offering at this year’s Winefest – although it is quite good in its own right – but is its branding that makes this Shiraz Durif the most memorable offering of the show. The front of the bottles sport the mug of three actual criminals who long ago committed one of the 19 crimes that so offended the Crown in jolly old Britain that they were judiciously removed from Her Majesty’s island and sent packing to Australia. The wine bottles remind us how larceny, whether grand or petty, could earn one a one-way ticket to Aussie land. Other offences that transported criminals from the damp, dark, crowded shores of Britain to the sunny, warmer climes of Australia included stealing, whether it be letters, fish or roots – yes roots, being an incorrigible rogue (guilty, your honour) and even, get this, “impersonating an Egyptian.” Can’t speak to the origin or the merit of the original 19 Crimes but will vouch for Shiraz any day, particularly ones with the mug of a real criminal on the label. Can’t beat that for memorable.

19 Crimes

Hockey dreams come true in Bud’s Super Bowl commercial

- February 2nd, 2012

The event is known almost as much for its pricey commercial slots, and the videos that occupy those spots, as it is for the inherent football showdown that is the NFL’s championship – the Super Bowl.

It is also synonymous with great consumption of barley and hops soup. Football is the name of the game and beer the drink of choice.

Budweiser, a constant source of humourous commercials each year, is as much a staple in the periphery of the Super Bowl, as high-profile half-time shows and sideshows that often upstage the main event.

This year, the King of Beers took a slightly different route.

Hockey dreams come true in Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial, which was released Thursday Feb. 2, ahead of this year’s event.

Instead of  stallions or slapstick comedy, Budweiser will showcase a sentimental view of Canada’s favourite pastime.

“Just a few weeks ago, Budweiser made the dreams of two unsuspecting beer league hockey teams come true by giving them the thrill of playing just like professionals,” said the beer maker in statement.

“On December 21, 2011, Les Amigos and The Toronto Generals were ready to play their weekly hockey game when Budweiser transformed a regularly scheduled match into an epic, high-energy spectacle complete with screaming fans, play-by-play announcers, and even a Budweiser-branded Zamboni.

“These awe inspiring two minutes … turned the childhood dreams of 30 men into full blown reality.”

You can watch that hockey homage below.

The two-minute video leaves quite the lump in one’s throat. Some may argue that’s the feeling they get when trying to drink a Bud.

But regardless of what one thinks of Budweiser and its brew, the beer maker must be commended for putting their power to work for good because for one night, the King of Beers made a bunch of never-went-anywhere hockey players feel like kings.

A mountain of bliss with Islay whisky

- November 10th, 2011

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, a lofty affair showcasing and celebrating mountain endeavours and culture, is enough to make anyone a little light-headed with high-altitude dreams.

Add some free tasting of Islay Scotch, and a day at the festival turns into a whole different kind of alpine experience.

The setting was the last Friday of the 2011/2012 festival. The event was a book reading by iconic mountain explorer/dweller/warden/poet Sid Marty in an atrium at the Kinnear Centre with the majesty of the Rocky Mountains protruding effortlessly through the multi-storey windows boxing in the audience on three sides.

And the drink? Well, that was provided by Bowmore Distilleries in the form of 12- and 15-year Islay Whisky.

blog-bowmore

The 12-year-old scotch’s peaty taste was deliciously complemented by a hint of sweetness and smoke, while the 15-year-old, which was aged in American bourbon casks and finished off in Sherry, was all about the dark. This particular whisky was dominated by hints of dark chocolate and dark fruits, finished off with a hint of sherry.

The mix of superb whisky and sublime mountain culture was such that one had to wonder what was the biggest draw – a talented poet with the soul of a true mountain cowboy peddling his words in front of mountainous glory or the never ending supply of the glorious dark amber scotch or its darker 15-year-old sibbling?

I walked out of the festival’s Whisky and Words, and into the late afternoon sun a little lighter on my feet, partly due to a heart lightened by the love of man for the mountains and the favour they return in welcoming magnificence, and partly due to a tingling tongue, caressed by two spirits that are physically and by most accounts identical but elegantly different in aroma, taste and design.

Scotch and mountains … it doesn’t get much better.