Skip to content
25.4 °Cforecast >
! Mostly Cloudy

Milk, Wine, and Water

They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk…but spilled wine? Perhaps, if someone has just knocked over a glass or bottle of red wine on your expensive Persian carpet or favourite white linen table cloth.

They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk…but spilled wine?  Perhaps, if someone has just knocked over a glass or bottle of red wine on your expensive Persian carpet or favourite white linen table cloth.  Or, how about what happened to Gianfranco Soldera at the beginning of December?

Soldera is a producer of Brunello di Montalcino, a top-class red from the area of Tuscany near Siena.  One night, someone entered the winery and opened the taps on vats containing about 6 years worth of wine.  By the time it was discovered the next morning, most of it was down the drain.  Brunello, by law, must spend 2 years in wood before bottling, but Soldera, a strong tradionalist, keeps his for 5 or 6 years, or more.

There are a few bottles of Brunello available in Vintages here in the mid $40 range.  Soldera’s wines, though, sell for a minimum of $250, and apparently up to $600 and more per bottle. How much was lost?  About 84,000 bottles.  Though it was insured, it was still 6 years work lost.  You do the math.

There were speculations that it might be neighbours who were upset with the outspoken Soldera because of his criticism of less traditional practices – and violations of the regulations governing the production of Brunello.  However, it appears the culprit was a former employee angered because someone else had been given a cottage on the estate instead of him.  Some people just don’t know how to play nice.

If you are interested in getting a glimpse of what Brunello di Montalcino might be about, here’s what’s available.

La Gerla 2006, $47.95   It’s very highly rated, but is not expected to reach its maturity for another 3 years.  If you decide to drink it now, decant it and let it breathe for at least a few hours.

Citille di Sopra 2007, $39.95   Another huge and powerful wine, the Wine Enthusiast magazine says it need 10 years aging. 

Poggio Il Castellare 2006, $47.95  While also a mighty, brooding wine, it may be the most mature at this time, with the best drinking window estimated at 2014-2024.  Again, decant, and serve with robust dishes.

Moving from Wine and Milk, how about Wine and Water?

Some years ago I attended a wine event at Copia, the wine education centre in the town of Napa.  Part of the day included a seminar with a number of prominent winemakers.  They were answering questions and the mood was convivial, until I asked them about wineries adding water to their wine to deal with high alcohol levels.

A sudden, prolonged silence.  Glances from one to another, until one decided to reply.  None of them, of course would ever do something like that and so on and so forth, but they’ve heard that some do.   At the time the only winery which publically acknowledged the practice was Wente. 

15 or 20 years ago, table wines rarely went above 12 -12.5 % in alcohol.  Today, especially in red wines, 14% is common, and some like Australia’s Small Gully Shirazes, clock in around the 16% mark.  Now, more and more wineries are ready to use water judiciously to control that high alcohol.  Some even admit it.

In November, Jon Bonné, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, explained how Paul Draper of the esteemed Ridge winery has begun to include “water” on his list of ingredients.  The very slight addition of 1.4% went into his Paso Robles Zinfandel 2011.  As Bonné wrote, “It is a time-honored way to freshen a wine, combat excessive ripeness and generally balance out flavors — one that has been with us since the beginning of the industry.”  In Draper’s case, he added a small amount of water to 3 of 8 fermenters, and then blended it all together. 

This brought the alcohol content down to 14.5%.  Paso Robles wines made near the central coast of California can be quite high in alcohol.  I’ve just tried a Peachy Canyon Zinfandel – delicious – but 15.3% alcohol, and in the past I’ve seen them over 16%.  Draper knows what he’s doing.

Some might object to paying “wine prices” for water, but on a $40 bottle of wine, how much is that?  50 cents?  I think we pay more for Perrier.

When we consider that at times acids are added to give wines a lift, and in Burgundy, wineries were allowed to add sugar when the fruit didn’t reach desired levels of ripeness, a process called “chapalization”, a little water is probably okay – though I wouldn’t recommend it from our local taps.

Finally, with good wine, what’s not to love.  Next Thursday is Valentine’s Day.  If you love someone, then, make sure the wine you give them is good, and make sure it’s something they enjoy.  There’s a tendency to think towards sweetness with Valentine’s Day, and if that’s your preference, there are some options. 

First choice might be the Peller Estate Ice Cuvée, $34.95.  This is a sparkling wine with the slight addition of Vidal and Cabernet Franc ice wines. There is just the touch of sweetness on the finish.

We don’t usually find sweet red wines, but Sweet Symphony from Washington State fills the bill.  It’s $12.50.   I haven’t tried it, though I did taste its companion wine, Chocolate Shop, $15.35.  Unfortunately, its sales are currently suspended because of a problem with secondary fermentation in the bottle pushing out corks in some instances.  Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised, in that it wasn’t at all cloying, with the play of flavours working well together.  Let’s hope it finds its way back before the 14th

For traditionally sweet wines, there are lots of Ontario Ice Wines available in the 200ml and 375 ml. formats – I think “200” would be perfect for a couple at one sitting.  There are also several Port wines – here the fermentation is stopped by the addition of neutral spirits.  This results in wines in the 20% alcohol range, but with significant sweetness.  These work well with dark chocolate, or with fruit and Stilton Cheese.  I won’t point out any of these specifically, but there isn’t a dud in the bunch.

For a slightly different twist, try the Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider, $24.95, (375 ml) from Quebec. This has glowing reviews, and is considered by some to be the best example of the type.  It’s in the Vintages section, as is the Peller Ice Cuvée.

Valentine’s Day aside, some current good buys include the De Bortoli Deen Vat 10 Pinot Noir from Australia, now $2 off at $13.5 until March 3.  As well, the Voga Italia Sparkling Wine is now $14.60, a savings of $3.75, as it is being de-listed.  Notes indicate great bubbles, lots of fruit over-tones, and a refreshing finish.

Three wines in Australia’s Wolf Blass Yellow Label line are currently each $2 off.  The Chardonnay, $14.95, is a mid-weight wine that has seen some oak.  It’s a solid wine with balanced fruit and acidity.  The Shiraz, also $14.95, is noted for rich dark berry flavours and a spicy finish. The Brut sparkling wine is $15.95.  It’s decent and relatively straight forward.   The Cono Sur Brut, currently $11.95, might be a better buy.

February 16 Vintages Release

A few wines to consider:


Zenato Lugana San Benedetto 2011, Italy, $14.95  I have always enjoyed this wine with its clean fruitiness and satisfying crispness.  One of the top producers from the Veneto region.

In Situ Signature Chardonnay/Viognier 2011, Chile, $15.95.  Not a common blend, we are told to expect tropical floral notes on the nose and creamy texture on the palate.


Rutherford Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley, $19.95.  I confess to really liking good zinfandels, and my experience with Rutherford Ranch has been positive.  They indicate a drier claret-like (Bordeaux) style here.

Lamadrid Single Vineyard Bonarda 2010, Argentina, $14.95.    In the 90’s the Argentines had more Bonarda planted than Malbec, but we have rarely seen it here as a separate varietal.  This comes from 37-year-old vines, and has high marks from the Robert Parker group.

Barista Pinotage 2011, South Africa, $14.95.  Here is yet another entry into the ”coffee” wine club, where the barrels have been toasted in such a way as to incorporate the impression of coffee – though there’s nothing of coffee itself  in the wine. It’s appealing with barbeque and meats that are spiced and grilled.

Mas de Bressades  Les Vignes de Mon Père Cabernet/Syrah, Midi, France 2009, $19.95.  Mas de Bressandes has produced consistently good wines at fair prices.   Parker, scoring it 90, acknowledges a Bordeaux-like personality with good body and complexity, and suggests it will drink well over the next 4-5 years.