Archive for March, 2014


March 26, 2014

Alright, alright…I know it is a popular topic to beat on, but given we just got back from a short trip to Seattle, I just have to blog on the subject of restaurant wine prices!

I have written about the subject before up here. Restaurants that charge 200% – 300% markup, wine “by the glass” at around $15 a glass that is often oxidized and/or under poured…you know the drill.

But it seemed like everywhere we turned last weekend, a better solution was staring me in the face (or in the mouth, as it turned out)!

It started the moment we got on the Amtrak Cascades out of Vancouver on Friday evening. I knew that they sold wine by the half bottle along with the prepared food, so with a five hour ride in front of us – and no kids to look after – I headed off to the Coach Café to see what the options were. And I couldn’t believe my eyes!

A half bottle of Coppola Merlot (a very nice wine from California, and the famous director of the Godfather movies) was $15! If you could find it in Vancouver, it would sell for about $25 in the government liquor stores. And, as per above, a glass in a restaurant would probably be $15. What a deal! And we didn’t even try the white wine – the regular Chardonnay from Chateau St. Michelle, a Washington winery that also makes great wine. Same price, same story….

Next up, dinner on Saturday night at what turned out to be a fabulous Spanish restaurant called Andaluca. I had checked out the wine list on-line and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! A very nice selection of Spanish wines – from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, etc. – and most of them in the $50 – $65 range! All of them highly rated by wine critics! In Vancouver, with the regular mark ups, there are many restaurants where the introductory wines start at $60…for a wine that sells for $12 retail.

But then I got to the restaurant and, looking at the menu, got an even better (or worse) surprise – all Washington State wines were 15% off! I almost fell out of my chair. A couple of quick searches on my Blackberry found a Rhone Blend called Midnight by Scarborough was rated 91 points by Parker…and $50! After the rebate, that meant it was $42.50! I leave you to guess what I did.

I could go on about the prices of wines in the private wine stores….or the deals on wine (and spirits) at Trader Joe’s…but I think you get the picture.

Our province – and its restaurants – could take a big lesson from what is going on in Washington State. At a minimum, deals on BC wines would be a great step forward.

But who is going to have the guts to take that first step?



March 19, 2014

Okay, I have to get this one off my chest – I have just about had it with all the stupid wine labels these days! It has gotten to the point where I automatically bypass a wine if it has another animal, crude name or dumb comic on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know what is probably driving this phenomenon. Somebody (or, more likely, more than one person) did a bunch of market research and “discovered” that catchy labels attracted more customers to wines. The same marketing principle as is used on all kinds of products everywhere in the world.

And I also know, from over-hearing it more than once, that some people do buy a wine “because it had a pretty label.” Don’t get me started on that one…

Finally, this is also undoubtedly a reaction to those who are intimidated by hard to pronounce wineries and wines, including those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and – especially – Germany (in the latter case, they do have a point. Have you tried pronouncing the way your average Riesling gets named?).

But really, people – come on! Can’t we be creative in this area without resorting to the lowest common denominator?

While wine – and wineries – shouldn’t take themselves too seriously, there has to be some pride in what is in the bottle. A lot of time, effort and money go into making most wine and, ultimately, it is the product that will determine whether someone likes it (and maybe buys another bottle).

Personally, I think it is much more effective to promote what is inside the bottle. Choose a name you are proud of (especially if it is your winery!), pick an image or images that reflect who you are, and then proudly describe what that wine is all about. For me, as well, make sure you have info on grapes, style, etc. on the back of the bottle – I tend to spend more time looking there than anywhere else.

Finally, price your wine fairly – at the end of the day, that is what will really get people to take a chance!



March 12, 2014

The “corkage” law in BC (which allows people to take their own wine into a restaurant and drink it for a fee, called the corkage) is over a year old now, but there was an article in the paper the other day talking about how few people use it.

That got me to thinking – why is that?

Restaurant wine prices in BC – like many other places on the planet – are ridiculous. It seems that 100% – 200% mark-up per bottle is pretty standard, with a number of higher end restaurants going even higher, to 250% or even 300%. That means a wine you can buy in the store for $20 is going to cost you at least $40 (if you are lucky), and up to $60!

Wine by the glass is, arguably, worse. It is hard to find a decent wine for less than $10 a glass, with many in the $15 a glass range. On top of that, you have to deal with variable pour levels (is that really 4 ounces?) and too many wines that have been left open and are in some kind of state of oxidation.

Yet – despite these problems – not many people go the corkage route!

One reason may be that they don’t know about it, as few restaurants up here advertise it. Another might be intimidation. Wine, by its nature, is scary to many people, and the thought of having a waiter give you that “look” when you hand him or her the wine may just be too much! Finally, some restaurants make their corkage policy either complicated (“the wine can’t be on our wine list”) or expensive ($35 a bottle or more), that the disincentive just becomes too high.

But I say – fight it!

If you have a cellar, what a great way to share a great old bottle (or two if you are with friends). There are too few restaurants with older vintages on their wine lists, and those that do charge an arm and a leg for them.

Even if you just have a few bottles sitting around at home, why not bring one? It is a probably a wine you like, so that avoids the risk of ordering something you don’t like, and having to pay for it.

But the biggest reason to go the corkage route is one that should appeal to the “shopper” in everyone – it can save you money!

Let’s say there are two of you having dinner, and you usually have two glasses each. By the glass, that is going to probably cost you north of $60. A bottle may well be more than that (unless you go for the cheapest selection on the list).

So why not just bring a bottle from home or go to a wine store and buy a bottle on your way to the restaurant? Grab your favourite bottle, or tell an expert how much money you want to spend, what style you like, and let him or her pick one out for you.,

I can just about guaranteed that you will enjoy the result.

My last experience is a perfect example. It was a “boy’s night out” and there were six of us at a fairly high end restaurant. While I like the restaurant, I also know that the wines start at $60 for the low end. So I brought two reds from my cellar for our dinner, neither of which was on their wine list. Given that they were very good wines with some age to them, comparable versions on the list would have been $100 each. Instead, we paid $70 – total. Not only did we enjoy them, but the bill was a lot smaller than it could have been!



March 5, 2014

Well, it is over for another year…and what a festival it was once again! While it is fresh in my mind, here are my key observations of the 2014 Vancouver International Wine Festival.

1. Chateau de Beaucastel Dinner

My festival started with the Beaucastel dinner at Pastis restaurant, and it was a very good – but not great – start. Very good because the food was excellent, the guest – Monsieur Perrin from Chateau de Beaucastel – wonderful, and most of the wines very nice.

But it stopped short of being great because of the showcase wine – the 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape. First of all, it wasn’t decanted (much to the chagrin of many patrons, some of whom ended up with a lot of sediment in their glasses). More importantly, however, there was significant bottle variation – my glass was completely oxidized! And with no extra wine, that left me with – literally – an empty glass (I can’t drink oxidized wine) and a less than satisfactory experience.

2. Chapoutier Tasting

Interestingly, it was kind of the same experience at the Chapoutier tasting. I went because it featured a number of great wines (including two red Hermitages, which are among my favourite wines). And the fact that Monsieur Chapoutier was there was a bonus!

Again, most of the wines were very good. White Hermitage is not my style, but there was nothing wrong with the version they poured. And the 2010 Hermitage Monier La Sizeranne was amazing! But the showcase wine of the night – the 2010 Ermitage le Meal – was again a disappointment. It wasn’t “off” this time, but just didn’t have the concentration of fruit I would expect from a 98+ wine.

3. International Tastings

As always, however, the international tasting event was outstanding! France was the featured country and some of the 2011 Chateauneufs really surprised me. While lighter than the 2010s or the 2012s, they are still nicely ripe – I tasted no greenness! If there was a criticism, it was that they were a little tannic, but they were also young.

A small contingent of BC wines also had a couple of stellar showings. Blue Mountain poured their 2009 Brut Rose, which would blow away most Rose Champagnes. Tantalus’s Old Vine Riesling was also very good, showing a classic Alsace style. And Averill Creek’s Pinot Noirs – both the regular bottling and the reserve – were outstanding!

Other highlights were a couple of 2009 Barolos from Damilano, the 2011 Cotes du Roussilon Bila Haut Lapidem by Chapoutier, 2009 Cote Roties from Delas Freres and Durvernay, the 2010 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert by Jaboulet and a 2011 Vintage Port by Warres.

All in all, then, another great festival, and kudos to the organizers! I can hardly wait for next year.