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Wine Review: Ornellaia La Volte 2006

Thursday, September 25, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Wine Review: Ornellaia La Volte 2006 ($23)

The famous Ornellaia – made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot – will set you back about $150. I don’t doubt that it’s amazing. Wine Spectator rated the 2004 vintage the seventh best wine in the world last year.

I don’t have that kind of cash, but I did find a nice bottle from the same producer, for a more affordable $23. This week’s wine pick is La Volte 2006, a heavenly taste of the Tuscan coast. The wine is a well-rounded blend of Sangiovese (the Chianti grape), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Both the aromas and flavour really jump out at you. There’s a lot of plum on the nose, and some forest-floor elements that remind of fall leaves. It’s not a huge, tannic wine, but is chock-full of intriguing flavors, such as campfire smoke, liquorice root and jammy, dark fruit. A first-class effort.

Quaffability Rating: 89

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Product Review: Storing Leftover Wine in the PlatyPreserve

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

How to Store Leftover Wine

I know, I know, it’s rare that you have any wine left over, but there are those times that you might start a bottle and only get halfway through. What are your options? You can pop the cork back in and drink it the next day. It’ll still be palatable, but definitely deteriorated. You can get one of those do-hickeys that sucks the air out of the top of the bottle and seal it with a vacuum. Those work fairly well.

Now there’s another choice for keeping the open bottle of wine fresh for many days. I got my hands on a sample of a PlatyPreserve, made by Platypus, a company known for water storage systems. I must admit that I laughed out loud when I first saw the thing. It’s essentially a plastic bladder that expands when filled with wine. You simply pour your leftover wine into the opening on top, put the cap on partway, squeeze out the air from inside, screw the cap tight, and voila, your wine is fully sealed with oxygen-free environment.

You feel a bit stupid pouring a decent wine into this plastic casing, but who cares. It’s not like you’re going to be serving it to guests the next day (hopefully not, anyway). I tried it out a few times, and it actually works stunningly well. The PlatyPreserve is easy to rinse out with hot water. The wine I tried was three days old and tasted perfectly fresh. It’s not the prettiest product, but I'm addicted to it because it works. At $12 a pop, it’s worth a shot – if you don’t mind pouring your Pinot out of a bag.

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Red Wine and Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, September 18, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

HealthDay News is reporting that resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, may help in the battle against multiple sclerosis. The research is preliminary and has only been carried out on mice, but scientists at the Univeristy of Utah say the results are promising.

In the study, Mice with an MS-like condition showed an initial weight gain after being given resveratrol, and reseachers say weight gain is a good sign because weight loss usually accompanies a deterioration in neurological function.

Several studies on animals have also linked resveratrol to a longer lifespan. Keep the reserach coming.

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Wine Review: Quintus Ripasso Valpolicella 2006

by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Wine Review: Quintus Ripasso Valpolicella 2006 ($17.95)

I love a good ripasso – the bastard cousin of Italy’s towering Amarone wines from the Veneto region. The problem is that it’s often hard to find a good one. Ripasso is made by adding the grape skins used to make Amarone to a Valpolicella, creating a second fermentation and higher concentration of tannins and flavor. Unlike Amarone, the price tag on a good ripasso won’t put a huge dent in your wallet.

This week’s wine pick, I’m happy to report, is a very good ripasso. The Quintus Ripasso Valpolicella 2006 has a nose of dark cherries, rusty nails and chocolate. The palette is silky rich, producing flavors of Glosette raisins. There’s a bit of heat, but the wine it’s not overwhelming. I could see this pairing well with glazed pork roast or roast beer. It’s certainly smooth enough to drink on its own as well.

Quaffability Rating: 91

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Are You Allergic to Wine?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Are You Allergic to Wine?

I worked at a wine shop for a couple of years, and I can’t tell you the number of times customers told me they couldn’t drink red wine because they were allergic to sulfites. While I never doubted that they had a reaction to something in the red wine, I was skeptical about the sulfites claim, so I did a little digging in the library (this was pre-Google) and discovered that a true sulfite allergy is quite rare. So, how to explain the adverse reactions to red wine?

Almost 20 years after my initial research on the subject, there are still many unanswered questions. This recent article on ABC News cites a study in Northern Europe in which 8 percent of those surveyed said wine causes them to have an allergic reaction. Complaints range from headaches to a flushed face to a runny nose. Since there are only a tiny number of documented cases of people being allergic to the actual wine grapes, the oft-cited target for blame is sulfites, which occur naturally in wine, but are also added to prevent early spoilage.

Poor sulfites always get the blame, since winemakers are required by law to list them on the label, but the wine labels don’t tell the whole story. Researchers found that only 1 percent of people react to sulfites, and even then, the sulfite levels in red wine are much lower than in dried fruit. So if you can eat dried apricots without a reaction, but get a headache from wine, you are probably in the other 7 percent of people who react to something else in the wine other than sulfites.

There several other compounds found in wine that could lead to reactions, including histamines, which are in higher concentrations in red wines, and could cause allergy-like symptoms. Egg whites are another potential allergen used in the winemaking process, sometimes dropped into wine barrels in very small amounts to remove cloudiness.

In an inflammatory article in the U.K. Telegraph, the reporter quotes Malcolm Gluck, author of the book The Great Wine Swindle, as saying that “Many, many wines are no better than alcoholic cola. You get artificial yeasts, enzymes, sugar, extracts, tannins, all sorts of things added.” It’s not surprising to learn that a lot of plonk contains bogus ingredients, but I’m willing to bet than most of the bottles sold in North America in the $10-30 range, are legit, which is not to say that people won’t still have adverse reactions to them.

Wines are complex – that’s why we love them. Unfortunately, that complexity comes with a price for some people – headaches (and I’m talking about the non-hangover variety) and itchy eyes. Until there’s more conclusive research about what’s causing those reactions, your best bet is to try a little bit of the wine to see if you react, rather than simply shunning all reds because you had a bad reaction of one of them. And unless you’ve been diagnosed with a bona-fide allergy to sulfites, don’t immediately jump on them as the culprit.

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Wine Review: Bellingham Dragon’s Lair 2005 ($20)

Friday, September 12, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Bellingham Dragon’s Lair 2005 ($20)

14.5 percent alcohol
Blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Vionier
Aged for 18 months in the barrel

This South African wine crafted near the mountains in the valley of Franschoek, where the legend of St. George and the dragon was born. In a gimmicky bit of marketing, the producer says Dragon’s Lair captures the mystery and enchantment of the famous era. I hate wines that stick cute animals on their labels (hello, Yellow Tail), but I’m always game for a good story behind a wine that gives it a sense of place. If a local legend inspired Bellingham to make a good wine, all the power to them.

Dragon’s Lair is a blend of 88 percent Shiraz, 10 percent Mourvedre and 2 percent Viongier. Tasting this wine, I had the distinct impression that the winemaker took considerable care to come up with the perfect mix of grape varieties. The nose is concentrated and complex, but not too harsh. I get some wild blueberries and chocolate on the palette. It has a surprisingly acidic zing to it, with some quite a bit of red grapefruit, which is in very interesting for a Shiraz-dominated wine. Despite its threatening-sounding name, Dragon’s Lair is very approachable.

Quaffability Rating 88

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Wine Critic Robert Parker Faces Defamation Charges

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Could this be the Judgment of Paris II?

The Associated Press reported that renowned American wine critic Robert Parker is facing preliminary charges in Paris for alleged defamation against his former assistant, Hanna Agostini. French officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the charges stem from Parker’s comments on his website that Agostini “could end up stagnating in prison” for alleged forgery charges she faces in a wine-trafficking case revolving around the Belgian wine trader, Geens.

It’s a soap opera. Parker, the former Baltimore lawyer who has his nose insured for a million dollars and is now known as the “Emperor of Wine,” fired Agostini in 2003 amid allegations of false accounting. Last year, Agostini released a scathing biography on Parker in French, entitled, Robert Parker: Anatomie d’un Mythe (Robert Parker: Anatomy of a Myth). In it, she accuses the wine guru of several indiscretions, including discrepancies in his ratings, recycled wine reviews, and cozying up to Bordeaux producers.

Obviously incensed by Agostini’s thrashing of his integrity, Parker allegedly wrote some comments about her on his website (I didn’t see them), and now faces defamation charges. I have some opinions on the subject, but I’ll keep them to myself for fear of French lawsuits. But I will say that this story sounds much more appealing than the schlocky plot of Bottle Shock, and I can see Alan Rickman doing a mean Robert Parker impersonation.

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Wine Review: Terra Andina Altos 2005 Syrah Cabernet ($19)

Friday, September 5, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

With a distinctive nose of roast lamb and sauerkraut, I know right away that the Terra Andina Altos 2005 Syrah Cabernet is going to be an interesting wine. Something about the aroma reminds me of a hearty meal. On the palette, I detect blueberries, spicy sausage, green pepper and the distant hint of cow manure, but in a good way. It’s a crazy mix of flavors, but it works. The Terra Andina would pair well with spiced lamb, sausage or meatballs.

The offbeat, concentrated flavors of this 75-25 blend of Syrah and Cab would be off-putting were it not for a well-rounded structure and backbone of fruit. If you want a standard Chilean Cab, don't buy this wine, but if you're ready to jump off the cliff and embrace something thrilling, grab a bottle of Terra Andina.

Quaffability Rating: 88

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How Long to Age Wine?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

My dad, who has a nice collection of age-worthy wines, often opens up a bottle and says, “This one needs a few more years,” or, “This one’s over the hill.” Managing a wine cellar, even a small one, is not an easy task. Every bottle has its own optimal date range for consumption. Drink it too soon and you might get harsh tannins and unripe fruit; wait too long and the flavor is lost forever.

WineEducation.com has a good rundown on wine aging. The last line of the article is probably the most important point: the only way to know if the wine is ready to drink is to taste it. If you buy your wine by the case or half-case, this allows some room for trial and error. Open a bottle and if it needs more time (tannins still a bit rough, fruit to powerful), let the rest of the case sit for another year and try again. That way you get to taste the evolution of the same wine as it ages – a fantastic experience that really highlight the fact that you’re drinking something that’s still alive and ever-changing.

If you don’t have cases of wine to experiment with, check out WineAging.com’s searchable guide, which lists the optimal year to pop the cork out (or unscrew the top). CellarNotes.net also has a chart to use as a general guide.

Personally, I’ve found the over-the-hill wines much more disappointing than under-ripe bottles. When you’re expecting something great from a wine that’s been lying down for decades, and all you get is a bland experience, it’s a real letdown. Drink a wine too young, on the other hand, and it’s still bursting with flavor – it might make your cheeks pucker, and it won't be as complex as it could be, but it still has potential for greatness. So when in doubt, just drink it, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hit the wine aging sweet spot.

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Michal Kapral has been enjoying wine at home since way before he was of legal age. The editor-in-chief of Canadian Running magazine runs marathons to burn off all the calories he consumes on wine and cheese. Kapral spent some time living in Italy as a teenager, solidifying his appreciation for all things wine-related. In his days as a journalism student, he was likely one of the youngest – and poorest – subscribers to Wine Spectator magazine. In 1999, Kapral turned down a job at a winery to work at Captivate, where he spent 11 years as a news editor.


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The Quaffer

Highlighting the best new wines from around the world, in the price range of $10-40, Michal "The Quaffer" Kapral reminds viewers some of the finer things in life are most definitely within their reach. This feature focuses on North American wines and includes reviews, food pairings and news from the world of wine.