Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Spittoon List - Part 1: Regions

The Spittoon List... Part 1: Regions

The idea of The Spittoon List is to write down the wines and wine regions that you want to drink and visit before you die. It's a challenge to yourself to fulfill the items on your list... anyway you can. Maybe you can't purchase a bottle of 2005 CH Mouton Rothschild, but you can purchase a ticket to Bordeaux tasting at your local fine wine shop. Any way you can...

Here's our list: The Regions

  • France - Bordeaux

  • France - Burgundy

  • Italy - Tuscany

  • Italy - Piedmont

  • Chile - Central Coast

  • Australia - McLaren Valley

  • Australia - Barossa Valley

  • Argentina - Mendoza

  • USA - Santa Barbara

  • Canada - Nova Scotia

Regions that we have already been able to visit:

  • France - Alsace

  • USA - Napa Valley

  • USA - Sonoma Valley

  • Canada - Okanagan Valley

  • Canada - Niagara Peninsula

What's on your list?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trip to Alsace - Part 5

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Colmar By Night

Colmar was founded in the 9th century but its physical allure is rooted in its well-preserved 17th century architecture, a preservation due to the town’s remarkable ability to have avoided major damage during the French Revolution and other wars through the centuries. This has made Colmar’s old town a Mecca for tourists. Be sure to try out your French (or German) to begin a conversation with the locals who mange the town’s many shops, as this will unlock the natural charisma the French possess. You’ll get brownie points for the effort, even if they respond to you in English. In one such exchange with a friendly French-only speaking wine shop owner, my wife and I were introduced to a small producer we’d never heard of whose grapes nonetheless came from a Grand Cru level vineyard near Riquewihr. We might never have found this vintner had we not approached the shopkeeper with our broken French. Courage! Toujours Courage!

There are beautiful canals that circle the old town area and form districts within; all are worth exploring. The very centre of the old town is where you will find the greatest concentration of restaurants and shops that feature wines, cheeses and various regional charcuteries. There was even a mini “super-store” grocer that had an impressive selection of wines at very approachable prices. I picked up a Grand Vin du Sauternes for next to nothing.

Should you not have the time or resources to visit each producer’s tasting room or village then ordering wine by-the-glass in a Colmar pub or restaurant is a great way to sample the best the region has to offer. Each establishment that we visited had an impressive wine list that was not limited to Alsace or even French wines. However, there is something very satisfying about drinking a famous region’s wines in that region!

As our evening turned into night, the lights of the city came alive, allowing us to appreciate the effort the city has made to highlight their well-preserved buildings. The prominent steeple of Église Saint-Martin can be seen pointing to the sky, and the canals are treated to a light show worthy of a theme park without the kitsch (or animatronics figures). The old town has a bustling nightlife that never feels primitive or immature; it has a sense of sophisticated inebriation. That is not to say the town doesn’t have a few pubs that cater to the younger, louder, non-traditional crowd, but these are fun to visit as well, only adding to the balance of nightlife that keeps the town from being pompous and boring.

Our weekend trip in Alsace ended the following day with a swift drive north and back over the Rhine to Germany where I was to return to work in Heidelberg and my wife to Vancouver. Our trunk, while not full, was definitely enhanced with Alsace wine, ready to bring back home to our cellar. There the bottles now sit, perhaps waiting to be introduced to an unsuspecting wine novice invited over for dinner, convinced that they just don’t have the palate for wine….If they only knew what was waiting for them! - LC

(Photos by Liam Carrier - Copyright 2008)

Trip to Alsace - Part 4

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum


Using our rental car’s GPS unit, we programmed in our next destination, Colmar, using the device’s “direct route” setting. This is the best option to avoid getting lost but to also have a bit of an adventure driving through a series of gorgeous small towns as the setting avoids the faster route of the highways.

As an aside, I do highly recommend a GPS unit if your Alsace trip involves a rental car. Although not perfect, it does help navigate the narrow, twisty roads of the country villages. Occasionally it will lead you astray - in one case our GPS’s pleasant voice cheerfully recommended a route through a restaurant. Apparently there was a road on the other side of it that we needed to get to. However, despite the occasional satellite confusion on our exact location I’m sure we’d still be in Alsace if it weren’t for our GPS companion.

Driving into Colmar for the first time is an alarming experience as the town’s outer sprawl has not maintained the charm of its original centre. However, once you get past all of the near ghetto-looking low apartments and budget shops you arrive at the most charming of city centres. Colmar’s old town is truly a diamond in the rough.

Bypassing the more expensive executive hotels near the old town centre we stayed at an agreeable Holiday Inn near the train station. This left us more money to spend on food and wine, which was the point of our trip. Arriving at 6 pm we quickly checked into our room, changed, and hurried out to explore the beautiful old town while we still had daylight. Little did we know that Colmar’s charm increases dramatically as the sun sets. - LC

Part Five

(Photos by Liam Carrier - Copyright 2008)

Trip to Alsace - Part 3

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier

Hugel et Fils

One of the top Alsace producers is Hugel et Fils (www.hugel.com/) whose store front is right in the centre of town on the main street. Hugel has been making wine in the Alsace region since 1639 and have a reputation of quality over quantity. They have skipped vintages of lesser quality to preserve this reputation and sold-off the grapes to other producers.

Hugel’s wine shop is very plain with no frills; the wines take centre stage. To accentuate this truth, the main decoration on the small tasting room is that of wine bottles of vintages past, bejeweled with the famous yellow Hugel label.

When we visited, the shop was manned by a very modern and hip twenty-something young man who explained to my wife and me that he was a university student from Strasbourg (the region’s capital city) working his way through school and unrelated to the Hugel family. I found him to be an interesting contrast to the rich history of the Hugel brand that has had continuous family participation for nearly 400 years. However, the more we spoke to him about the wines and Hugel’s process, the more I realized he reflected the company’s harmonious approach to blending traditional values with modern ingenuity.

Next door to the wine shop are the cellars where the wine is produced. Hugel produces four lines of wines Classic, Traditional, Jubilee and their premium brands; Selection de Grain Nobles (select reserve) & Vendage Tardive (late harvest). Each line is made from estate-grown grapes except the Classic line, which is made from grapes grown by local farmers on long-term contracts and sold to Hugel. Their wines are available in 100 countries worldwide including the United States and Canada. The Classic line will be the easiest to find; however for the true Grand Cru experience see if your local fine wine shop or liquor board can order from the Traditional or Jubilee lines.

My personal favorites are the Traditional Muscat, Jubilee Riesling and the Vendage Tardive Gerverstraminer. In my repeat trips to the region I’ve managed to stock my cellar with these much-loved wines. The finest Alsace wines will age much longer than traditional white wines, especially the late harvest wines. The star of my Hugel collection is a bottle of 1998 VT Gerverstraminer which I plan on cellaring until 2018. - LC

Part Four

(Photos by Liam Carrier - Copyright 2008)

Trip to Alsace - Part 2

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum


Our first stop in Alsace was the little town of Riquewihr; resting comfortably in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, watched intensely from above by a medieval castle. The beautiful mountain range lining the valley acts as the backflow of a crowning wave pulling you up from the valley floor below to explore its many treasures. The crown jewel is Riqewihr which, with its three Michelin-starred restaurants and famous wine train, should be explored with an empty stomach and at a leisurely pace.

The town’s narrow cobble-stoned streets are lined with buildings dated from the mid-16th century to mid-17th century. As with many old towns the buildings seem to lean towards the street below in a way that feels as if they are trying to shield you from the sky. It reminds you that anything that humans construct is, in part, as alive as the beings who constructed it. Of course, the same can be said for wine, and Riquewihr has plenty of wine.

Being a prime tourist destination with a large tour-bus-only parking area, Riquewihr could be expected to have lost its once authentic charm, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, most small French villages can’t boast three Michelin-starred restaurants but the town has absorbed these tourist attractions so well that it seems as though they have always there.

Many wine and wine-friendly-comestibles shops line the main street smack in the middle of the medieval fortified walled village. The shops have an extensive list of Alsace wines available along with wines from the other major French regions. The prices can vary from shop to shop so you are encouraged to visit many and compare. However, for the true wine enthusiast experience I suggest visiting one of the producers who have set up shop in the village. - LC

Part Three

(Photos by Liam Carrier - Copyright 2008)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trip to Alsace - Part 1

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

My love affair with wine began 8 years ago much like my first foray into the world of dating; out of curiosity. What was all the fuss about? Well, after your first great kiss, you’re hooked.

Sometimes it takes a few tries; finding the right partner, because it’s not just any kiss that hooks you for life, but rather it’s that first knock-your-socks-off, time-stands-still kiss when you realize just what the fuss is all about.

The same goes for wine; it was not my first glass of mass-produced California “Chablis” at my uncle’s wedding when I was 20 that got me hooked on wine. That came 5 years later at a quiet dinner party amongst my mother’s friends in the form of a fine Alsace Riesling matched with spicy Thai food that awakened my curiosity. From that point on, I gradually sought out more challenging wines for my late-blooming palate and thus began my life-long love-affair with the noble nectar.

Today, my tastes range from old ports to Nouveau Beaujolais but the “gateway” wine that started my addiction, the white wines of Alsace, remains a sentimental favourite. How fitting then, that my first visit to the wine regions of France would be a weekend trip across the upper Rhine River from southern Germany into Alsace.

Driving into Alsace in the modern EU is far from ceremonial. A small plaque on the bridge we were traversing which spans the Rhine is the only sign that you have left Germany and entered its neighboring country; France. The only difference noted by my wife, the main driver in our relationship, was the existence of speed limits posted on the highway (the pleasures of driving in Germany deserve their own article).

The similarities of Alsace to that of southwestern Germany are due to a long history of the region having passed back and forth between the French and Germans. You will hear both languages spoken in the small villages around the valley, along with English in some of the higher tourist traffic areas. The wines, however, are far from similar despite the use of the same varietals.
On the German side of the Rhine you will easily find sweeter and lower-alcohol content whites. In Alsace the whites are dryer and more complex. For me, this complexity and the abundance of fruit aromas make the drinking of an Alsatian wine a very different experience from that of its German counterpart. - LC

Part Two

(Photos by Liam Carrier - Copyright 2008)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2008 Bordeaux Futures Order

The 2008 en primeur verdict is in, the prices are down… this should be an interesting year!

The 2008 Bordeaux vintage is intriguing to many, alarming to some, but for Icon Wines, this vintage means only one thing: opportunity.

The opportunity to order world famous wines at discount prices for what could turn out to be a great sleeper vintage was too good to pass up. This being said, much research was needed as we weren’t able to get in on the en primeur tasting in Bordeaux.

Our research took the form of reading every wine expert’s opinion that we could get a hold of for their take on the quality of the vintage and of the individual wines. We then tabulated the rankings and created an average score for each wine. This score was then weighed against three things:

1. Which wines were available to our Vancouver, BC distributor.
2. What we could purchase the wine for and,
3. What the previous vintages sell for in Canada. (Ignoring the 2005 prices.)

We targeted wines with high tasting scores, longevity and a good purchase-to-resale price. We purchased:

Château Calon-Segur
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou
Château Leoville-Barton
Château Montrose
Château Pavie Macquin
Château Pontet-Canet
Vieux Château Certan

Unfortunately, we could not secure any First Growths, but we’re very happy with the selection we were able to secure.

Two great resources for determining what the secondary markets are for a particular wine is Wine Searcher (http://www.wine-searcher.com/) and Liv-Ex: The Fine Wine Exchange (http://www.liv-ex.com/ ).

Please keep in touch and let us know about your own 2008 Bordeaux adventures by using the comment option on this post. We look forward to hearing from you. - LC

Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting started with blogging

Hello Wine Drinkers, Cork Dorks and Enthusiasts,

We are IconWines.ca. We are a small Vancouver-based company evaluating the world’s icon wines for our investment portfolio. Along the way we will be blogging about the trials and tribulations of the wine trade and establishing a secondary market for the investments we make.

At heart we are wine lovers who are eager to use our experience from other fields to create a website that is both fun and informative.

We will also be offering weekly wines recommendations, wine reviews/tasting notes and articles on traveling to the great wine regions of the world.

A special focus of the site will be devoted to the amazing wine regions right in our backyard: The Okanagan Valley, The Similkameen Valley, The Gulf Islands and The Fraser Valley.