Here's an update on my recent column about the horrendous typos in the Canadian magazines Wine Access and Wine Tidings. You'll remember that both magazines acknowledge the financial assistance of the Canadian Magazine Fund (CMF) towards their editorial costs?
One of my readers sent me the fund's Web site, and it's amazingly illuminating, because it lists dollar amounts of grants for Canadian publications in 2002. Last year, Wine Access received $36,324 of our tax dollars; Wine Tidings, $21,970. Enough money, don't you think, for both magazines to have hired someone to tell them the difference between "then" and "than," and "flare" for "flair?"
And, as far as content is concerned, my reader points out, granted that the terms of the CMF are to encourage the publication of high-quality Canadian magazines, "it makes me wonder how Wine Access's subsidized wine sampling journey to Chile improves Canadian culture."
(Since I have the feeling that I share the habit of omnivorous reading with many readers of Grape Expectations, you might be interested in pursuing the degree to which our taxes support Canadian magazines. The Web site of the CMF will tell you, for example, that in 2002, Canadian Living received a whopping $467,706, Chatelaine (English) got a hefty $392,521, and that Canadian Yachting, which no doubt needs all the financial bailing it can get, received a meagre $28,452.)
Oh yes. I did e-mail a copy of that column to the CMF, observing that neither magazine seems to be using the grant money as it was intended. Haven't heard back. I'll send them a copy of this column, with a covering note, and will carry on doing so until they respond.
California's Non-Vintage Barefoot Cellars Update...
You'll remember I've always urged the safety of staying away from non-vintage-dated wines. Why? There are plenty of vintage-dated wines to choose from, and non-vintage wines -- by definition -- are usually a blend from more than one year, but they also often make it impossible for the consumer to tell when the wine was bottled. Freshness is the single most important consideration in buying many wines -- it's as important as it is in milk.
These reasons apply equally powerfully to $50 NV Champagnes as they do to an $8 daily plonk.
A cheery e-mail from Barefoot tells me that they use a "Julian date" on the bottle.
For a moment I had visions of having to convert back to the calendar of Julius Caesar, but Barefoot's "Julian" actually means that the day of the year and then the year itself are printed on the bottle. If Barefoot bottled your Sauvignon Blanc on 1 January 2003, the numbers would read 001 03 (the first day of 2003).
On May 15, I bought a Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc from a Winnipeg private store; its bottling date is partly illegible, but what I can read from the imprint is that the wine was bottled in the spring of 2002. The wine is oxidized, undrinkable. I then tasted a Chardonnay, informed by the Julian date that it was bottled on the 234th day of 2002. It was fine.
An informal survey of American and Canadian NV wines reveals a widespread reluctance to inform the consumer about freshness. Thus the four-litre carton of California House Red (a.k.a. "Chateau Cardboard" as the Australians have dubbed these wines) bears no indication of boxing date. Neither does the basic British Columbia Mission Hill Semillon/Chardonnary NV ($7.59), which has a bottle imprint of J23020841. Perhaps that means "bottled on 23 January, or June, or July, 2002, lot # 0841." And perhaps not. Nothing on the bottle tells us.
At the other end of the market, on 16 May 2003, I checked NV champagnes for label codings for when they'd been bottled: Roederer ($50.84): L022723A100124 Piper-Heidsieck ($40.22): NM211-001 Pol Roger ($43.34): N.M. -276-001.
All three of these seem to say that they were bottled in 2001. If that's true, they're probably getting too old -- and, as I've written in a previous column, the consistency of NV champagnes is a myth. Many houses may make an A-plus wine in one year only to be followed by a mere B-minus in the next. But you are charged the same amount of money, whatever the quality of the NV wine you buy.
The tiny lettering, and the lack of any clear indication to the consumer, conspire to make me think that the famous Champagne houses, precisely like purveyors of cheap California and Canadian plonk, are indifferent to consumer interests.
Our skim milk carton reads, unambiguously, "MA-26." I wouldn't buy skim milk unless it had such a "best before" date on it. And any wine, including champagne, that does not include a clear vintage date or a clear indication of bottling date should be avoided.
This week's wines:
Rosemount Traminer Riesling 2002 (Australia; $13.25 plus taxes). Private stores only. Looking for a refreshing springtime white? This spicy, highly fruity and aromatic blend fits the bill. Blessedly lacks the heat produced by the current fashion of making high-alcohol wines; at 10.5 per cent alcohol by volume, the appealing fruit stays in the foreground.
Gray Monk Pinot Gris VQA Okanagan 2001 (B.C.; $13.95). "Full body and strong citrus and apricot flavours" (back label). A charming and distinctive wine, 11.6 per cent alcohol by volume, unmarred by woody or vanilla flavours because it is free of oak treatment.