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Vickie’s Vino

This Monday coming is Victoria Day in Canada.  The holiday was celebrated before the formation of Canada and originally marked the day of Queen Victoria’s birthday but now is recognition of the name-day of both Queen past and present, Victoria and Elizabeth II.  For most Canadians, however, it is the unofficial beginning of summer.  Thus, in salute, I shall blog about the appropriate celebratory beverage of Victoria Day…Victoria’s Vino. 

It seems that Victoria was fond of a drink called Vin Mariani wine, “…a popular French tonic…” made from Bordeaux wine treated with coca leaves.  As a tonic, it was known for its medicinal qualities.  Undoubtedly…the ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent to the cocaine in the leaves thereby altering the drink and no doubt, the drinker!  Well, Vickie was in good company as this popular 19th C drink was enjoyed by a few Popes and Thomas Edison alike.

This next one thrills me to bits.  Queen Victoria enjoyed Champagne.  James Bond and Vickie would have gotten along as her preferred Champagne was Bollinger (I know, I know…not all Bonds drank Bollinger).  Indeed, Bollinger received Royal Warrant in 1884 from Queen Victoria as the House Champagne (Castle Champagne?).  I have a fondness for Bollinger as it is the Champagne I first fell in love with oh so many years ago.    Stylistically, the wines are Pinot noir-driven, mostly fermented in oak and undergo malolactic fermentation, giving them a rich and round personality abounding with complexity and classic toasty/brioche notes. 

Although I’m sure the Queen’s list contained more than 3 favourite drinks – she was obviously fond of a tipple or two – I will finish with Riesling.  It is no coincidence that one the top Hochheimer vineyards in the Rheingau region of Germany is named “Konigin Victoriaberg” and she enjoyed Riesling.  Nor is it a coincidence that she is given credit for the term “hock” used to describe the Hocheimer wines, which she tasted through in order to select yet another House Wine.  For those of you embarking upon a typical Canadian long-weekend activity, garage sale shopping, watch out for the classic Hock wine glass as I’m sure there are plenty lurking in the corners of many a household.    

A fair selection I might say.  Bollinger and Rheingau Riesling are not difficult to come by in Calgary, but Vin Mariani???  I leave you with this.  In the late 1800’s, Vin Mariani was copied by a clever American businessman in the U.S. and became known as Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.  Upon the passing of Prohibition, the alcohol was removed along with its potential hallucinogenic qualities and became Coca Cola.  Stick with the Champagne or Riesling!!!

Everything Wine and Fine Vintage Wines Inc. are excited to announce the launch of a new home delivery wine club.

Wine lovers in B.C. will now be able to have wines selected by James Cluer delivered to their door by Everything Wine. James is one of 30 Masters of Wine in North America, considered the highest credential in wine.

A weekly series of videos will also be shown on the website The videos, shot on location, feature the best producers in Champagne, Bordeaux, Napa valley and elsewhere.

Everything Wine is the leading private retailer in B.C. with 3 stores, and has a massive selection of wines that you cannot find in government Liquor Stores. Everything Wine will deliver your order to anywhere in the Province, free of charge.

Members of the wine club will have a mixed 12 bottle case of wine delivered to their door every three months. There are 3 different membership levels to suit your needs – Gold at $199 per quarter, Platinum at $300 and Diamond at $480 per quarter. We will be expanding the selection in future months to include many more choices for members for quick delivery times.

“We created a website that would educate and entertain, and allow wine lovers to experience fantastic wines. Everything Wine is a dynamic retailer with a vast selection and I’m delighted to be working with them”, explains James.

Trent Anderson, GM at Everything Wine, added “we buy large volumes of wines, some of which are exclusive to us, and so we are able to obtain exceptional pricing. James is the most accredited and experienced wine expert in B.C., and now he is able to recommend his favorite wines to you. Everything Wine manages the club, including all the transactions and deliveries from our licensed retail store”.

For more information, please visit:

Pinot Capital of the New World

Ah yes, there is much debate about this one but I’m just going to be out with it: Oregon is the Pinot capital of the New World. And I am certainly not alone on this one. If you have not been, or have yet to stick your nose into a glass (or several) of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, you simply must. Not only are the wines some of the top-rated in the world and the climate and terroir a natural and perfect fit for the likes of Burgundy’s Drouhin family, but the beauty of the place and the people are a strong and charming force that is sure to draw you in.

So how about an exquisite, exclusive trip to Willamette this summer, where everything is taken care of and all you have to do is show up? Yes, this is a pitch blog post – read on! A good friend and colleague Matt Sherlock has been a long-time supporter of Oregon Pinot, from the cult years to the larger stamp they now have on the global scene. Last year, Tracey and I were charmed by and tasted with some of the region’s top winemakers and proprietors. So together we designed a spectacular experience – one you could not waltz into the region and readily arrange on your own. Here’s a little excerpt from our site to wet your appetite:

Join us for an exclusive opportunity to discover and taste the outstanding wines of the Willamette Valley. This premier region produces some of the best Pinot Noir of the New World, with constant comparisons to the grape’s homeland, Burgundy, France. The wines are revered by the most respected experts in the industry, including Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker Jr., and are consistently awarded top scores in major publications.

On this tour we will visit the leading estates and we will be hosted by proprietors and winemakers for an unparalleled intimate experience. We will stay in a luxury inn and spa and dine at the top culinary destinations of the valley.

We will be visiting some amazing wineries, including Domaine Drouhin, Serene, Lemelson and Beaux Frères (co-owned by Robert Parker Jr.), just to name a few. We will enjoy some of the region’s best culinary experiences, winemaker’s dinner and lunch, get to taste some special library wines and get down in the dirt with the region’s top biodynamic viticulturist.

All of the details for the trip and to book can be drooled over and found here on Wine Shed – we have just a few spots remaining!

Blinded by the Wine

As my Calgary WSET Advanced class nears the end, I see a faint look of panic in students’ eyes because for most, if not all, soon will come the time when they will be judged on a blind tasting.  The fun and games go out the window for one night – exam night.

My heart truly goes out to them and everyone that sits through an exam tasting.  It is a nerve-wracking process.  The preparation for blind tasting is pretty much the same, regardless of the educational body.  The wine is assessed by appearance, nose and palate and conclusions of its quality, life expectancy and value are made.  There are a few empirical elements that exist such as sweetness, acid, and tannin.  Although we all have slightly different thresholds for said elements, we usually end up in the same ballpark.  The key to ensuring you land in the same ballpark is concentrating on the taste and feel of them.

I think the part that is most terrifying is describing the flavours.  For example, in a Puligny-Montrachet, I find notes of linden flowers, Meyer lemon, lime zest, star fruit, minerals, toasted almonds and fresh honeycomb.  In the same wine you find notes of summer fresh daisies, key lime, peach, chalk, resin and Werther’s Original.  How can either of us be wrong?  Can’t this particular example of Puligny-Montrachet have so much complexity that it displays a vast array of flavour characteristics?  Of course it can.  That is the beauty of tasting.

It is that beauty, however, that can be muted in an exam tasting.  The challenge is the fact that the taster and judge must both speak the same language and, for the most part, the language is narrow.  It is broad enough to cover the major flavour elements found in all things vinous, but it can be limiting and confusing to many.  It simply can’t cover the realm of most people’s vocabulary and memory bank.  It is the memory bank of taste and vocabulary that we rely on when blind tasting.  Why is red currant on the list but not pomegranate or cranberry…I’ve never had red currant?  To that, I say, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.”  In essence, we ARE talking the same language as the essence of red currant, pomegranate and cranberry is the same – acidic red fruit.  The key is to not get too caught up in the details…and the semantics.

Will these words help any of my students?  I hope so.  My sage wine-selling husband once said, “…by the time you get through tasting the wine, it comes down to one of two choices really…you have to keep it simple.”  True, true, oh so true.  There is immense pressure in any exam, be it math or philosophy or wine…so keep it simple.