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Reif Wines Ripe for the Picking

Thursday, February 25, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

On a recent trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the epicenter of Ontario’s Niagara wine region, I tried a couple of standouts from the nearby Reif Estate Winery (pronounced "rife"). Owner Klaus Reif moved to Canada from Germany in 1987 and bought the Reif estate from his uncle. Seeing the area’s great potential, he began crafting high-quality wines at a time when the region was barely a blip in the wine atlas. That year, the winery produced Niagara's first-ever late harvest wine, icewine’s younger and less-sweet cousin.

The winery continues to innovate and improve. I tasted the Reif Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve VQA 2006 (about $25 Cdn) and was impressed by its depth and structure. Strong aromas of cocoa powder and tobacco leaves wafted up from the glass and flavors of dried cranberry, blackberry and raisins dominated the palette. The oak was prevalent, but not overpowering. There was a good kick of acidity and tannin that would mellow nicely over the next few years in the cellar.

Quaffability Rating: 91

The winery scores another winner with the Reif Estate Icewine Reisling 2008 ($25 Cdn for 200 ml bottle). An absolutely delectable icewine, brimming with honey, stone fruit and vanilla flavors. And much more affordable than many other icewines.

Quaffability Rating: 93

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Pinot Noir Scam Turns Wine World Sideways

Friday, February 19, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

I’m sure you know the wine: Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, made by American wine giant Gallo, with a cutesy label depicting, of course, a red bicycle. The orginal label had a French guy sporting a beret and carrying a panier full of baguettes on his red as a dog runs behind holding one of the baguettes in its mouth. Well, it turns out some of that Pinot Noir was probably not, in fact, Pinot Noir. In a French court, 12 people were found guilty of selling falsely labeled wine to Gallo, which was then used to make Red Bicylette.

The defendants received suspended sentences of one month to six months and minimal fines – very light punishment for a fraud that earned each of them up to $750,000. The interesting thing about the story is that there were no complaints from either Gallo or the many, many drinkers of the mass-market Red Bicyclette. The blended wine sold as Pinot Noir was obviously a pretty good fake. In addition, the wine doesn’t claim to be 100% Pinot Noir, although to be considered a Pinot, EU regulations state that it does have to be at least 85%.

This article in the London Telegraph finds some irony in the whole situation since Red Bicyclette was released at the time of the movie Sideways, which had sparked a massive demand for Pinot Noir in the American market. The problem was that there apparently was just not enough cheap Pinot Noir available in the south of the France, where the Bicyclette’s other varietal wines originated.

All in all, quite an impressive feat of blending, I’d say. The scam involved some 13.5 million liters, or 3.6 million gallons, of fraudulent wine, also sold to wine giant Constellation Brands. The “Sideways” effect goes on. Maybe it’s time we cut down on our Pinot Noir and started drinking more f-ing Merlot?


What Is It About Malbec?

Thursday, February 18, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Wine Review: Luigi Bosca Malbec 2006 (about $21 US, $25 Cdn)

Argentina has recently surged ahead of Germany, Spain and Chile to become the fourth-biggest exporter of wine to the U.S., trailing only Italy, Australia and France – and all thanks to its bold and beautiful signature grape varietal: Malbec. In France, Malbec is a Bordeaux blending grape and planted mainly in Cahors. It's inky dark and produces intense wines with strong tannins. Argentina has taken the grape as its own and planted it with gusto. It was first brought to South America in the mid-1800s, but only gained worldwide fame in the late 20th century.

What’s driving the popularity of Argentine Malbec? Simple: they’re high on assertive flavor and generally low on price.

Today’s featured wine, the Luigi Bosca Malbec 2006 (about $21 US, $25 Cdn) is a little on the high side of the average price point for Argentine Malbecs, as many good ones come in at $12-15, so I was expecting something really delicious. Did it deliver? Sort of. I took an immediate liking to the perfumy bouquet of fresh-ground spices and oak. Flavors of concentrated blackberry, coffee and herbs played off each other to create a pleasing overall richness. It left me slightly underwhelmed at this price, but it’s nevertheless a delicious expression of the region.

Quaffabilty Rating: 90


Wine Review: A Wynns-Wins Situation

Friday, February 12, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (about $20 US, $25 Cdn)

Wynns Estate is a pioneer in the now-famous Coonawarra region in southern Australia’s Limestone Coast. John Riddoch established the first winery there in 1896. For today’s wine review, the Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (about $20 US, $25 Cdn) shows just how much winemaking has evolved in this area. This cab is a great value for the cellar. It’s a bit heavy on the oak, but the incredible tannins and acidity come together to balance the wine out nicely. Blackcurrent flavors dominate, but with many other interesting notes chiming in on the sides. At this price, grab a case and put it down for a good five to 15 years – I don’t think there could be any regret as this label is well known for being age-worthy, and the 2006 vintage is looking like one of the best.

Quaffability Rating: 91



Thursday, February 11, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

If you’re looking for something a bit different in a white and don’t mind off-dry wines, try some of the Chenin Blanc-based Vouvray wines from the Loire Valley in France. There are many different styles of Vouvrays that range from dry to sweet to sparkling, but the off-dry version is probably the most exported and best known.

These wines are bursting with unique fruit flavors derived from the clay and flinty limestone and chalk terroir on the right bank of the Loire in the mid-western section of France. The town of Vouvray lies just east of the city of Tours, at the eastern edge of the Loire River. The region has a long history of winemaking,. Monks fashioned wines hundreds of years ago, and the appellation of Vouvray was created back in 1936.

The dry Vouvrays can be cellared for many years, but the semi-sweets should be consumed within a couple of years. I tried the Bougrier Vouvray 2008 (about $12 US, $15 Cdn), a semi-sweet but still light and fruity wine, with some mineral notes. It’s an unassuming wine that would pair well with seafood or soft cheese. The Chenin Blanc grape is worth exploring to wake up your palette to some new fruit flavors over the usual Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Quaffability Rating: 85

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Wine Trends for 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

I have a cold this week and haven’t had a chance to taste much wine – still drinking it, just not tasting it. So instead, I’m taking the opportunity to look at some of the biggest trends in the wine industry this year.

A recent survey by market research firm Mintel reveals that 58% of Americans drink wine with dinner on a regular basis. The survey also says the wine market has grown by 20% between 2004 and 2009, even through the recession. There was a slight decline in 2008 at the peak of the economic turmoil, but Mintel forecasts the industry will grow slightly in 2009, and I’ll take a wild guess and say it will surge ahead even more in 2010.

Americans and Canadians still love their wine drinking, but the recession - and a new breed of younger-generation wine drinkers - may have ushered in some new trends:

Younger Generation Leading Growth

Baby Boomers are no longer driving the wine market – the next generation of young wine drinkers account for 45% of the growth. http://millennialmarketing.com/2009/05/millennial-wave-hits-wine/

Wine Clubs
Younger wine drinkers – those in the 25-34 age group – are twice as likely as Baby Boomers to belong to the wine club. This could partly explain the rapid growth of wine clubs across North America.

Sophisticated Palettes
That same group that’s driving the wine market now are pickier than the average adult when it comes to wine. A Merrill research study found that 40% of younger wine drinkers say expensive wine tastes better, and that same percentage will also spend $40 on a bottle of wine for a special occasion, compared to $24 for all adults.

Whimsical Labelling
If you cringe at the sight of animals on wine labels and groan at ironic names like Cats Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, Hair of Dingo, Ceci n’est pas un Carignan and Utter Bastard, get ready for more of the same. This type of marketing is working and will likely become even more rampant.

In the Box
It hasn’t yet pulled out of the “cheap” status, but more people are buying boxed wine to drink at home, even if they’re too embarrassed to serve it to their guests. Clever marketing could help bring boxed wine out of the closet.

Outside the Box
Wine bars (in my hometown of Toronto, anyway) are now in heavy competition and are serving audacious selections to set themselves apart. The smaller wine bars that only have 10 or 15 options are choosing interesting varietals from lesser-known regions. This can misfire if the oddball wines don’t taste good (as I have discovered), but a good selection of off-the-beaten-path bottles does make a place stand out.

A Little More Sparkle
As more producers outside of Champagne produce sparking wine, people are discovering that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to enjoy the bubbly. I’ve been touting the joys of Prosecco, Cava, Cremant, American and Canadian sparkling wine and others on this blog for years.


Wine, in Moderation

Thursday, February 4, 2010 by Michal The Joggler Kapral

By no means in this list comprehensive, but here's some reseach that supports the moderate consumption of wine:

Red Wine: the Fountain of Youth?

A chemical found in wine can halt the aging process, according to researchers at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden. Before you starting cheering the attention-grabbing headline, the scientists who performed the study say you would need to drink somewhere between 15 and 100 bottles of wine a day for it to have an effect. I’m serious about the steady consumption of red wine, but that’s a little out of my league.

The study is nevertheless interesting. Researchers focused on the chemical resveratrol, which is found in the skins of red grapes, and discovered that some of the cells discarded harmful proteins, effectively halting the effects of aging.

That doesn’t mean that moderate amounts of wine will do nothing. University of Connecticut resveratrol expert Dipak Das says small doses of resveratrol can promote good health. Although it’s not fully understood, Das says there seems to be something about the way wine delivers resveratrol to the body that helps people achieve benefits that can’t yet be proven in controlled experiments.

Wine Could Delay Dementia

Another study in 2008 concluded that drinking small amounts of wine on a regular basis might improve cognitive function among older women. University of Glasgow doctors looked at brain function in more than 5,000 subjects between the ages of 70 and 82, and discovered that those who consumed a moderate amount of alcohol – especially the women – scored higher on a series of memory and language tests.

"This is not an endorsement to drink to excess - large amounts of alcohol will damage your brain - but the occasional tipple may do you some good," said David Stott, professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Glasgow.

Wine and the Heart

According the Mayo Clinic, various studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol can boost your heart health by raising HDL (good) cholesterol, reducing blog-clot formation, and preventing LDL (bad) cholesterol from damaging the arteries.



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.