Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Wine tour to Spain – Sep 24-28, 2012

Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rueda

  • Vega Sicilia
  • Roda
  • Marques de Riscal
  • Pesquera
  • Remelluri
  • Lopez de Heredia
  • Jose Pariente
  • Alcazar in Segovia
  • Peñafiel castle
  • 1* Michelin restaurant
  • Pesquera hotel
  • Burgos cathedral

In collaboration with my friend Jeremy, we have put together another ALL STAR trip to the greatest wineries in Rioja and Castile. Soak up the rhythm of the wine harvest, visit stunning architectural wonders both ancient and modern and enjoy a Michelin dinner in a tiny Riojan village, along with a series of winemaker lunches at iconic estates.

Vega Sicilia, Alion, Pesquera in Ribera del Duero, and Jose Pariente in Rueda. Roda, Marques de Riscal, Lopez de Heredia, Remelluri and Lanzaga in Rioja. You’ll visit the best wineries in 3 dynamic wine regions that contrast modern and traditional wine styles side by side.

It will be a great way to learn about Spanish culture and history as well as its finest wines. Jeremy, our local guide, is an expert on Spain and will ensure that we experience the best of each region’s culture as well as their wines. James Cluer MW will also guide the trip.

This is a unique opportunity to experience the passion and the grandeur of ancient and modern Spain and appreciate the subtle shifts in the Spanish winemaker’s soul across the regions.

We’re taking about 15- 20 people. So don’t wait. Not only is it a privilege to have these appointments, we will be visiting at harvest time, appreciating the best wine experiences that Spain has to offer at the optimal time of year.

For more information, and to book your spot go to:

The Subjectiveness of Taste

It can be tricky to pinpoint the exact flavors in some wines, and even amongst the experts there can be some disagreement because of the subjective nature of taste.

In fact, we all taste slightly differently. Some people have very low sensitivities to bitterness, others have a sweeter tooth, and different nationalities can have their own taste preferences. It’s for this reason that some wine producers make the same wine in different styles to suit certain export markets.

My recommendation would be to play blind tasting games with different fruits, spices, and other common aromas found in wine. Blindfold your partner and then ask them to smell different fruits and guess what they are. Then move into the spices. You’d be amazed at how often we get them wrong. Sometimes I look at my dog in envy of his sense of smell.

There are also aromas kits that you can buy from companies like Le Nez du Vin, but these can be very expensive and are not for everyone. Another option is to take a wine course where you are professionally trained to taste and describe wines.

The good news is that practice makes perfect. There are certainly some tasters that have an ability to write beautiful tasting notes and identify a wide range of flavors in wine. But keep in mind that this is a profession for such people and the skills didn’t develop overnight.

The Importance of Vintage

The importance of vintage depends on the region of production and the quality of the wine.

In some regions there is very little vintage variation because the weather is quite consistent from year to year. In hot parts of Australia and California I’m really not too worried about the vintage date, but more concerned about the maturity of the wine. That’s to say that inexpensive wines are usually best drunk young while they are fresh and fruity, whilst top quality red wines often benefit from some age.

On the other hand, the vintage date can be of critical importance in cooler, more marginal climates. If it was a good year then the wines can be dramatically better in quality compared to a year when the heavens opened at harvest time and the crop suffered from dilution and rot. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone, parts of Germany and the classic northern Italian regions are classed as more susceptible to vintage variation. Prices can fluctuate according to the quality of the vintage, so it is important to ask a Product Consultant or check on the internet for the reviews.

On a few wines there are no vintage dates and so it’s not an issue. Non vintage Champagne is a classic example, and so are Ruby Ports and Sherries. This is because several vintages are blended together so the producer can achieve a degree of consistency in the house style.

Yes, it is difficult to keep up on the merits of vintages in dozens of wine regions around the world and few people have the time or inclination to stay up-to-date. But if you are buying some more expensive wine from classic areas it’s definitely worth finding out because it can mean the difference between a great bottle and a disappointment.

To Decant or Not to Decant?

There are two main reasons for decanting. The first one is to allow a wine to breathe, or open up, and reveal its finest qualities. And the second reason is to separate a wine from any sediment, or solids, that may have formed in the bottle during the ageing process.

Allowing a wine to breathe can potentially have a positive effect on its smell and taste. The aromas can become more intense and more complex. On the palate, the tannins can soften and the wine can taste even better. The process of aerating a wine can change its composition, although scientists have yet to figure out all the details.

Decanting is almost exclusively done with premium red wines. My advice would be to decant a wine for about 1 hour prior to serving. If it seems to be rapidly improving in the decanter then swirl it around a few times to increase the aeration. I would be concerned about decanting most wines more than 4 hours prior to serving because too much exposure to air can have negative effects. Be cautious with exceptionally old wines because they can fall apart in minutes due to oxidation. Unfortunately, there is no set timeframe for decanting wines because every wine is different.

The second major reason for decanting is to separate a wine from any sediment. Why? Drinking sediment is about as much fun as drinking tea leaves. It can ruin the texture of wine.

Sediment usually takes several years to form in wines, and I’ve rarely seen much in wines that are less than 6 years old. So only start being concerned about sediment with more mature vintages, of if the wine says “Unfiltered” on the label. Also, make sure you stand the bottle upright for at least 24 hours before decanting to let the sediment settle out.

Albeit a rarity, I have seen white wines decanted. Great white Burgundy is occasionally decanted to allow it to breathe. And at the end of dinner at a prestigious Champagne house they decanted a bottle of their finest sparkling. “Why would you decant Champagne?” I asked. And they replied, “To get rid of those pesky little bubbles!”

TIPS on Decanting:

Here are some wines to decant: Italian Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Amarone, both young and old. French wines from the northern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and all red Bordeaux of a higher quality level. Premium Spanish Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat. Serious California and Washington State Cabernet Sauvignons. And Vintage Port.

Personally I never decant white wines and I’m cautious about decanting some Pinot Noirs because they can be too fragile and often the tannins are already quite soft.

How to decant: Make sure the decanter is clean. For wines that may have some sediment, pour them very slowly and gently and watch for the first flecks of sediment to appear. This should generally come as the last part of the bottle is being poured. If you are decanting a young red wine to aerate it then you can pour the wine into the decanter more vigorously. This is called splash decanting, but your guests might think you’ve gone mad.


Body and Tannin, Weight and Texture

Body refers to the weight of the wine in your mouth. Wines are often described as being light, medium or full in body. To judge the body of a wine it helps to think about the weights of other liquids. For example, water is much lighter than cream.

The body of a wine does have a connection with the alcohol percentage. If you feel like something full bodied to sip by the fire then consider a big red wine at around 14.5% alcohol. Perhaps an Australian Shiraz or a California Zinfandel would do the trick. But if you prefer something lighter in body then consider a German Riesling from the Mosel, which are generally below 10% alcohol, and often spectacular quality.

Personally, I like to drink full bodied red wines in the winter because they make me feel warm and toasty. In the summer my preference switches to lighter bodied wines because they can be more refreshing, and they suit the season.

Many people believe that full bodied wines are high in quality just by virtue of being heavier. But this is not true because body has nothing to do with quality. Instead, it just refers to the style of a wine.

What do people mean when they talk about “tannin”?

Tannin is a word that is used to describe the texture of wines. Some red wines can be very high in tannin and this can create a chewy, mouth drying sensation on the palate. Other wines can be low in tannin and have a soft, smooth, and silky mouth feel. Therefore, tannin influences the style of a wine.

Tannins mainly come from the skins and the stems of grapes. They are extracted during the maceration period, when the skins are in contact with the juice.

To feel what tannin tastes like, try a cup of over-steeped black tea and notice the sense of astringency it imparts. Some people like astringent tastes whereas others prefer a smoother mouth feel. We all have our own taste preferences. That’s why some people add milk and sugar to coffee, and others don’t.

It’s not a bad thing for a wine to be high in tannin. In fact, tannins can help a wine age and many of the world’s greatest wines are quite high in tannin, especially from the Cabernet Sauvignon variety. In the same way, a wine with soft and silky tannins is not necessarily better quality, or worse. Some Pinot Noirs tend to be very light in tannin. It’s just their style.

When you are sipping a glass of red wine the important thing is that it tastes balanced. If it is too rough, hard and astringent, that’s not usually a good sign. At that stage I bring out some Cheddar because cheese and red meats can soften the effects of tannin.

My favorite wines that are high in tannin are Barolos, Barbarescos, and young Medoc wines from Bordeaux. With age the high tannin can soften out. My favorite soft and silky wines are Pinot Noirs from New Zealand and California, and Cru Beaujolais.


Old World Wines at Affordable Prices?

There seems to be an impression that the Old World countries/wine makers rely too heavily on their history for reputation and not enough on substance. Certainly the quality is there at the absurdly high end but can we expect that younger generations of winemakers will begin to produce drinkable wines that the rest of us can afford without making a serious sacrifice to our beverage budget?

I do expect that the quality and value for money will continue to improve in many Old World wine regions. The new young winemakers in Europe have usually been trained at the best wine schools and traveled extensively around the world. As a result, there have been significant improvements in quality. Portugal, Spain, southern France and southern Italy all offer wines that are great value for money.

There is no question that some of the classic European wine regions rely heavily on their history and reputation as a marketing tool. The reputations of these areas, notably Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, have been established over hundreds of years. The implication is that if you started your winery back in 1634 then you must have got the wines right by now…

Although there is plenty of substance in the top wines from the classic areas, many would argue that the lesser wines from these areas are sometimes over-priced, or lack substance. The argument is that they take advantage of the reputations of the leading estates in the area. But you could level this critique at some wineries and regions in the New World as well.

That said, Europe is not just about the classic wine regions. There are dozens of wine regions in Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, and even southern France that would sooner forget their winemaking history. Instead, they would rather promote the rapid improvements they have made in recent years and emphasize the excellent value for money that you can find in such areas.

But it’s not always that easy for winemakers in the Old World. In some parts of Europe they have to contend with difficult climatic conditions. There is legislation that can hamper their techniques and their ability to experiment. They often have to struggle with high prices of land and labor, especially compared to producers in Argentina and Chile.

I predict that some European wine regions will experience huge growth. It seems that the international palate is shifting to drier, crisper whites and reds that have more structure and lower alcohol levels. Taste preferences are cyclical and consumers are always looking to discover interesting new regions, which could be in Europe’s favor.


Recent WSET Advanced Grad: Tannis Hopkins

James’ WSET students come from all walks of life with different purposes for studying with him. For recent advanced level graduate Tannis Hopkins, it is due to her passion for food and wine culture and a craving to know and experience as much as possible.

Tannis is an artist with years of training in both fine and applied arts.  Having worked in advertising and design for years, she is now making time to embrace her fine art roots once again.” I realized for years, my creative outlet has been cooking.” Tannis says,” I love to explore different cuisines and have thrown many multi-course culturally themed dinner parties with friends.  Much of my travel has also been focused around food and wine experiences too. I’m always photographing markets, restaurant dishes and glasses of wine and how the light dances on them. It just dawned on me one day – this is what I want to paint. What a joy to be able to combine both of my passions!”

Tannis is now working out of her studio at 108 -1000 Parker Street and will be participating in the upcoming Eastside Culture Crawl. You can stop by to see her work and that of many other artists in their open studios during the three-day event, November 18,19 & 20. or visit Tannis’ web site


Press Release: The Fine Vintage Wine Club at Everything Wine

November 3rd 2011

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.

“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”.

Our offer on a mixed case of South American wines is almost sold out after 24 hours of release. If you want to get one of the last cases please visit:

Trent Anderson – GM – Everything Wine –
James Cluer –


The Fine Vintage Wine Club at Everything Wine is Here!


A mixed case of 12 bottles of wine for just $249.00 with free delivery to your home or office – anywhere in B.C.

The Fine Vintage Wine Club at Everything Wine is excited to offer a fantastic selection of South American wines. For just $249 you’ll receive a mixed case of 12 bottles, handpicked by James Cluer, and delivered to your door for free, anywhere in B.C.

Chile and Argentina are the hottest New World wine producing countries, offering great value and increasingly impressive quality. I tasted a whole range and selected 6 different wines that will give you plenty of pleasure, and great insight into what’s going on in South America.

There’s 10 bottles of reds, including a unique Syrah/Nebbiolo blend, a brilliant Carmenere, a benchmark Cabernet made by a famous Napa winemaker (Paul Hobbs), two different styles of Malbec, and a white wine made with the signature varietal called Torrontes.

In the mixed case you’ll have 2 bottles of each wine to enjoy. Almost all the wines cost over $20 on the shelf so these are more premium selections. Stocks are limited. To learn more about the wines, keep on reading.

To order: Click on this link

Everything Wine will deliver your order within 5 days to anywhere in B.C.


The only white wine in the selection is a Torrontes from Elsa Bianchi in Mendoza, Argentina. This is a unique signature white grape that you only really find in Argentina. It makes very aromatic wines that have a gorgeous floral note of honeysuckle combined with a riper peachy quality.  Expect the palate to be very slightly off dry, with the hint of sweetness balancing the crisp acidity and grapefruit flavors, and a spicy zesty note coming through on the finish.  This is light to medium bodied wine that will go well with spring rolls, samosas, crab cakes and sushi.

Next up you’ll have two bottles of Carmenere from the Rapel Valley in Chile.  It’s $20.99 on the shelf and shows classic aromas of bell pepper and green olives combined with a rich, ripe black cherry character.  The palate is dry, full bodied, with notes of black cherry, cedar, chocolate, vanilla, and a pleasant grip to the tannins. The length is good and the balance is well done. Perfect with a steak.

One of my favorites in the case is a totally new discovery from Chile. It’s a Syrah/Nebbiolo blend that retails for $24.99. It’s wild. There’s 65% Syrah and 35% Nebbiolo, and the nose shows tons of complexity with aromas of red roses, grilled meats, and tobacco. Sounds bizarre – but you’ll love it. The palate is nicely dry, big and full of flavor, with an earthy, gamey character, and a chewy texture to the tannins (from the Nebbiolo). Drink with a roast beef or Lasagna.

Then I found an excellent Cabernet from Argentina, made by Paul Hobbs, one of California’s rock star winemakers. It’s very ripe, dense and concentrated, with sweet cassis fruit. The palate is dry, full bodied, with chocolate, toast and smoke and, as Parker would say, gobs of fruit.

Finally, you’ll have two different Malbec’s to enjoy. The first is a Reserva produced from a vineyard at 1,200 meters altitude in Tupungato, a highly regarded sub-region of Mendoza. It’s more complex, with a slight earthy character to the nose. The palate is very impressive with a gorgeous supple texture to the tannins and a nice long smooth finish. It’s $24.99 on the shelf.

The other Malbec is a great easy drinking quaffer, perfect for a casual drink with friends, or a bowl of pasta on a school night. It’s got lovely fresh blueberries on the nose, is fullish in body, and its ripeness will appeal to the New World wine lover.

So order today at Everything Wine for just $249 for a mixed case of 12 bottles, delivered to your door for free, anywhere in B.C. Just click on this link:

And visit our new website to watch videos and read blogs –

Your order will be taken and processed by Everything Wine, a licensed retailer, and all orders will be shipped from Everything Wine’s store in North Vancouver.

Thank you for telling your friends about the new Fine Vintage Wine Club at Everything Wine.