Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Champagne or sparkling wine the drink of choice on New Years Eve!

"Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, content, and sufficient Champagne.

 - Dorothy Parker

Happy New Year!  It's New Years Eve tonight and you don't yet have your champagne or sparkling wine bought yet?  Worse still, you don't know what to buy?

Have no fear, bubbles information is here!

There are some delicious and even very affordable sparkling wines available in your local BC Liquor store - even one Wine Spectator Top 100 bottle rated 91 points from California for just $22.99!

That Mumm Napa Brut Prestige is ranked #54 in the 2014 Wine Spectator Top 100 list - and it is my top recommendation for an affordable but excellent New Years toast.

Best of all, there are 2,433 bottles available in government Liquor Stores across BC and it is actually on sale - $22.99 is $3 off the regular price through January 3, 2015.  This bubbly and others are also available in some private stores.

Here's a brief description of this non-vintage wine: 

"Mumm Napa Brut Prestige is made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a little Pinot Meunier. It’s a pale peach in colour and creamy with flavours of peach, melon and citrus. 

The wine opens with gorgeous layered white blossom aromas, followed by creamy vanilla, citrus, stone fruit and melon. Yeast aging contributes subtle aged flavours of biscuit, bread dough, white blossoms and mocha, and layers of creamy texture. It is medium-bodied, with elegant acidity, crisp structure, excellent mousse and a rich finish." 

But there are lots of other choices for more money or less.

Starting with cheaper choices that don't bite going down, I recommend from France the Veuve du Vernay - in both Blanc de Blancs Brut and Brut Rose styles for only $13.99 each at government Liquor Stores - also on sale by $1.   

This is always a solid choice for budget bubbly - in fact, we just poured some of the Brut Rose for neighbours this weekend - it's got a nice strawberry nose and is just a delightful easy drinking treat.  So is the Blanc de Blancs Brut.  And with over 10,000 bottles of the two wines available you can't fail to find it!

But what if you are intent on splurging?  You want real Champagne - which only comes from the Champagne region of France, of course.

Here's an easy choice on sale for $5 off the admittedly high price - Lanson Black Label Brut for $59.99.   Rated 89 points by the Wine Spectator, this is always a great Champagne with pear, black cherry, smoke and spice notes. There are 320 bottles in government stores around BC.

And of course, each bottle of Champagne comes with about 1 million bubbles - enough to go around!

Want to spend the maximum?  Try the Louis Roederer 2002 Crystal Brut - a mere $11,500 a bottle!  Maybe after the lottery!

How about a BC sparkling wine alternative?  Sure - try the Sumac Ridge Stellars Jay on sale for $21.99 or the See Ya Later Ranch Syl Brut on sale for $20.99.  

And you really can't go wrong with sparkling wines - any bottle over $12 is likely to do just fine - there are good Spanish cavas, Australian and other sparklers that are tasty treats.

Just be careful opening your sparking wine correctly - don't do it like race car drivers who just won the Formula One - the correct method is to hold the cork firmly and twist the bottle slowly - you get that satisfying "POP" without wasting the precious liquid on the floor!

And to impress your friends and family with your newly-found wine knowledge - there are always, always 7 twists to undo on the wire cage keeping the cork in place because of the high pressure of the bubbly wine in the bottle.  Just count them out loud when you undo the cage.

Lastly - don't aim the cork at anyone - it can travel up to 50 miles an hour and indeed can take out an eye or break the fine china in a second!

Cheers - and a very Happy New Year to all readers!  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A wine and dine Christmas 2014 dinner - French style; and a big Rhone dinner too with 100 point Hermitage La Chapelle wine!

Christmas Dinner - all French fine wines!
We had a fabulous Christmas dinner - French style by Chef Shirley Ross and Bill Tieleman.

We started with French Chaorce cheese from the Champagne regions and pate with crackers with a lovely 2011 Drouhin-Vaudon Vaillon Chablis rated 90 points by Robert Parker; followed by gougeres with smoked Applewood cheddar made Shirley - all with Nicholas FIeullette Brut Reserve Champagne rated 91 points by the Wine Spectator; Bill's seared foie gras with a fig/eau di vie compote and a 2003 Chateau Myrat Sauterne rated 95 pts by the Wine Spectator.

Fresh gougeres

Then our main course: Shirley's lapin a la moutarde - two rabbits cooked in Dijon mustard sauce with white wine and heavy cream, accompanied by a 2009 Saint Prefert August Favier Reserve Chateauneuf-du-Pape rated 94 points by the Wine Spectator.  The lapin was served with roasted garlic mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and - what else - French green beans, along with bourbon-maple syrup roasted mashed yams.
Lapin a la moutarde

After a reasonable break to digest, we went on to a selection of Thomas Haas desserts along with the 2003 Chateau Myrat Sauterne.  For the non-French ending, and then after another period of digestion, a flight of bourbons with a super smooth Evan Williams Single Barrel, put in oak in 2004; a Col. E.H. Taylor Small Batch and a Stagg Jr Straight Cut with 60% alcohol! 

Bourbons after dinner - mmmm!
For those who worry about the amount of alcohol - fear not - small portions and vacuum sealed bottles mean overindulgence was avoided - mostly - though the amount of fat from the cream, butter, foie gras, chocolate and more was significant!  But it's Christmas dinner. 

I was also fortunate enough to have a Rhone wine dinner earlier in December - what an amazing selection of wines!

It was capped with the first 100 point wine I've ever tasted - a 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chapelle" - simply marvellous.  Robert Parker raved about it and rated it at 100 - a perfect score!  

Parker: "Spectacular aromatics offer up aromas of incense, smoke, blackberry fruit, cassis, barbecue spice, coffee, and a touch of chocolate. As it sits in the glass, additional nuances of pepper and grilled steak emerge. There is extraordinary freshness for such a mammoth wine in addition to abundant tannin, an amazing 60-second finish, and a level of glycerin and thick, fleshy texture that have to be tasted to be believed." 

Amazing wine!

We started with the sole white - a Barville Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Brotte - 100% Rousanne Blanc - rated 91 by Robert Parker - if you have never tried white CNP, do yourself a favour - I hadn't until a five years ago and it's now one of my favourites!  This one was outstanding - apples, pears, almonds and more in a glass.
Our Rhone wines of the evening

We also tasted a 2006 Vieux Telegraphe "La Crau" rated 93 points by Parker; a 2005 Cote Rotie "Les Essartailles" from Le Vins de Vienne rated 86 by Parker but higher by me; a 2004 CNP from Les Closiers rated 90 by the Wine Spectator; a beautiful 2000 Chateau Beaucastel CNP rated 94 by Parker; another 2000 CNP from Domaine Grand Veneur rated 90 by Parker; and the 1990 Hermitage!  You can see them below.

The dinner was also excellent - rack of lamb as the main preceded by arancini, cheeses and crackers, and accompanied by great salads and sides.  

And then a surprise - our gracious host Jim opened a 1999 Turley Petite Syrah from Napa Valley - non-Rhone indeed - that Parker scored 97 points.  That ended the evening with a bang!   

The 100 point Hermitage!

Big Turley 1999 Petite Syrah 


Sunday, December 7, 2014

BC Liberals' Liquor 'Modernization' Will Cost You - Single Wholesale Price Plan Will Boost Retail Wine Prices

BC Liquor Stores - endangered?
Don't be fooled. This is 'unhappy hour' all over again.
Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 
Tuesday November 25, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"A liquor store is where they collect taxes for the government and also sell liquor."
          - Anonymous
Consumers will pay for the B.C. government's misleading "modernization" of liquor pricing -- and more convenience will come at a hefty price.
That's definitely not the message BC Liberal Attorney General Suzanne Anton wanted you to hear last week, but higher prices for wine, beer and spirits are the inevitable result of the most sweeping liquor changes in the province in decades.
Anton said the changes will introduce a "level playing field" and let a "competitive market" flourish, when -- just like the B.C. government's earlier "happy hour"announcement that increased rather than lowered bar booze prices -- the exact opposite is true.
Consumers will pay dearly for the changes, including supermarkets selling wine, beer and spirits starting next April, while smaller liquor industry players get hurt and the big boys cash in.
Confused? That's because the BC Liberals want you mystified while behind the scenes the cutthroat liquor industry engages in a bloody war to maximize profits and reduce true competition.
And despite the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) issuing a positive news release supporting the changes, its public liquor store members may eventually see their jobs eliminated through gradual privatization, as the new single wholesale price makes government stores less competitive.
Wholesale price change
The biggest change is to the wholesale price of liquor. All liquor stores -- the several categories of private operators, plus government outlets -- will pay one wholesale price next year.
That is a radical departure from the current system, and despite Anton's optimism, the reality is that government liquor stores will have to raise prices and private stores will follow closely behind.
Right now, the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch sets a retail price and makes its profits from a combination of markups on top of actual product costs that amounts to about 117 per cent.
Currently, there are 196 government liquor stores, 670 private liquor stores, 221 rural agency stores and 12 independent wine stores.
The private stores buy their products at three different discounts from the distribution branch: 30 per cent less for independent wine stores (wine only), 16 per cent for licensee retail stores (cold beer, wine and spirits), and 12 per cent for rural agency stores (all products). Those discounts are what allow the stores to cover their costs and make a profit.
But next year, all that goes out the window for a single wholesale price.
Mark Hicken, a lawyer who specializes in liquor issues, has posted an analysis on his website that identifies who wins and loses based on the limited information released by government, and you won't find consumers in the winner column.
Hicken writes that, at least when it comes to wine, licensee retail stores and rural agency stores will be better off with the new wholesale price, while independent wine stores will be much worse off and government stores will face significant challenges -- though they will be allowed to open Sundays and sell cold beer and wine for the first time.
'Taking away our competitive advantage'
John Clerides, owner of Vancouver's independent Marquis Wine Cellars, believes consumers will pay more.
"I think the price goes up," Clerides said in an interview Sunday. "It's going to take some time to sort out."
But Clerides already knows his independent wine store -- one of 12 -- and its customers will be losers because their 30 per cent discount from the government price disappears, while his competitors who can sell beer and spirits will now buy wine at the same price.
"The independent stores are screwed because we don't have any additional products -- beer and spirits -- and we can't sell to restaurants, so we're at a competitive disadvantage," Clerides said.
Independent wine stores had argued if the private licensee retail stores were to get the same wholesale price for wine, the wine stores should in return be allowed to sell beer and spirits as compensation to make up for lost business. But the government did not agree.
The umbrella organization for cold beer and wine licensee retail stores is not happy either, but primarily about allowing government stores to compete on Sundays and with refrigerated products.
"From a business perspective, we're very disappointed in this," Jeff Guignard, executive director with the Alliance of Beverage Licensees B.C., told the Province newspaper.
"A lot of retailers have invested millions of dollars (to install refrigeration). It would cost tens of thousands of government taxpayer funds to give consumers something they already have. They're taking away our competitive advantage... and they're keeping the playing field tilted in their favour," Guignard said.
Public stores need to pump sales
Indeed, the BCGEU is surprisingly upbeat about the announcement, "applauding" the changes and saying unionized government stores now "can compete with private stores."
The union does, however, warn that the single wholesale price will only be in the public interest if the province's $1-billion revenue stream from liquor is protected.
"These are important changes that we have been recommending for many years and are long overdue," BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said.
"These changes will offer increased convenience for shoppers and make the public stores even more competitive. With almost 200 outlets, larger stores, greater selection and knowledgeable staff, public liquor stores can compete with private stores."
I am more skeptical. With a reduced markup and significantly higher labour costs, government stores will need to pump up the volume of sales to compete when private stores pay a lower wholesale price.
Smaller government stores with lower sales will likely be targeted for closure or sale to the private sector in the long term. And the unionized workforce with higher wages, benefits and pensions will be under enormous pressure to reduce costs to the level of the non-union competition.
'Level' playing field?
Anton, of course, is elated with the changes, stating in a news release that: "Underpinning many of our liquor changes -- including our models for liquor in grocery stores and wholesale pricing -- is the concept that government needs to get out of the way and leave more to market forces.
"It is our expectation that, starting April 2015, these changes will create a more competitive market for retailers. The changes we're making to the wholesale price today will enable more competition between retailers to attract British Columbians into their stores and should not force any change in shelf prices."
But Clerides is scathing about how the government controls all aspects of the liquor industry.
"What is ‘level' about what they've done?" Clerides asks. "The regulator, the wholesaler and the retailer -- the Liquor Distribution Branch -- are making the rules under which you're competing!"
Wine, beer and spirits in more stores, and none of it cheaper than today. Welcome to liquor modernization, BC Liberal style.

UPDATE:  Since my column came out, John Clerides and Mark Hicken have been featured in The Vancouver Sun and Global TV BC reports with additional information about the wholesale price forcing wine prices to rise dramatically, particularly on wines currently retailing for $20 or more.

And a depressing new analysis by Just Grapes that recently came out shows 25% to 50% increase in retail prices for $20 and higher wine prices is likely with the BC liquor law changes.