When “the French Paradox” first aired on Sixty Minutes twenty years ago, people learned that, in spite of eating fatty foods and smoking regularly, French countrymen surprisingly lived longer than their North American counterparts. Why? In part, it may be because of good things in red wine especially, like anti-oxidants, that can impact positively on our health.
Ever since then, interest in and enjoyment of wine has grown terrifically. Today, it would be commonplace for people to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.
My introduction to wine would have come from my Aunt Rose, who would offer us as children a glass of wine and 7-Up – probably an ounce of wine to 6 or 7 ounces of soda. It was part of the meal and really introduced the concept of moderation.
My interest took off when a friend gave me a copy of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Guide to Wine. Until then, I had enjoyed wine, but didn’t know a whole lot about it. That book really opened my eyes, as I discovered just how vast the world of wine really was, from types of grapes, vintages, regions of production, and levels of calibre with prices from just a couple of dollars to hundreds per bottle.
The more I read, the more I wanted to know. I used to say that I enjoyed wine every day, and that I read more than I drank. It has been fascinating and I hope you’ll enjoy learning more, too.
In turning to wine, many people would have begun with something off-dry and bubbly, such as Mateus, Baby Duck, or Lambrusco. From there, taste would mature to drinking dry white wine, and ultimately red wine. Today, in Ontario, thanks to the positive press, red wine outsells white by about 3 to 1.
There are certainly lots of wines to choose from. The LCBO is currently the single biggest buyer of wine in the world, with almost every country and region making wine represented.
Not only is there a slate of product regularly available, there is also the ”Vintages” program, by which another level of product is put on limited offer twice a month. This tends to be more upscale, though there are always wines in the $13 to $20 range. And higher. Much higher. In addition there’s the Vintages Classics program for even more rarified product.
Distribution varies. According to their size and sales, stores are limited to the number of products they carry. The Vintages program is only available in certain stores, such as the new Northern Road location. Others, like the Station Mall, will have some Vintages Essentials, wines regularly available, but only in specific stores.
If there’s a wine you want that isn’t carried, you can ask for them to bring it in. They should be obliging. In major centres, some complain that we should have private stores, but here in the north, we are well-served by the system. Under private enterprise, there would be far less available to us in smaller communities.
So, what’s worth drinking? First, drink what you like. It’s a matter of personal taste. Is one wine better than another? Of course. Price alone is one indication, but even within every price range, quality can vary. Wine-making skill, reputation, labour costs, vineyard location, and weather are just some of the contributing factors.
There are many good values regularly available. In Chardonnay, the great white grape of Burgundy, look for Lindeman’s Bin 65 from Australia, $9.95 this month. It has been a “best buy” for years in the Wine Spectator magazine. I always enjoy Fazi Battaglia’s Verdicchio from Italy. Also $9.95, it is less tropical and “fruit-forward” than the Lindeman’s, but it has wonderful crispness.
The Familia Zuccardi from Argentina produces great value wines in their Fuzion line. Try the $8.95 Torrontes/Pinot Grigio blend for a wine combining good fruit and acidity.
In reds, the Fuzion Malbec Reserva delivers good structure and depth for $9.95, as does the Passion of Portugal for only $7.65, combining native Portuguese grapes with Pinot Noir.
If you want a blockbuster red, consider the Vintages Essential Porcupine Ridge Syrah, with a whopping 14.5 % alcohol, an almost inky colour, and loads of jammy fruit for $13.95
I hope that this is good for a start, and I look forward to sharing further on Sault Today. If you have any questions, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org