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Weekend wine What a Crime!

The wine world is no stranger to crime, whether; it be fraud, larceny, or major vandalism.

The wine world is no stranger to crime, whether; it be fraud, larceny, or major vandalism. 

A while back I shared the story of the destruction of thousands of litres – probably two vintages worth – of Brunello di Montalcino in southern Tuscany – a wine that was worth well in excess of $100 a bottle.

Someone had entered the winery in the wee hours and opened the spigots on the vats, letting all that glorious wine wash down the drain.

Eco-terrorism? Jealous competitors? No, just a very disgruntled employee, angry that he had been passed over for a free cottage on the estate.  Nasty.

Greed is a huge motivating factor in wine crimes, with people often trying to pass one wine or another off as something it is not, falsifying labels, adding cheap wines to the production of usually expensive products, and other such schemes.

One of the most notable frauds in California in 2014 saw Rudy Kurniawan sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as being compelled to forfeit $20 million and pay an additional restitution of $28 million to his victims.

Kurniawan was blending bottles of old wine together in his home kitchen and creating fake labels.

Suspicions arose when wines didn’t really fit the expected profiles, and when wines were being offered either from vintage years when the alleged producer actually hadn’t bottled any wine, or when the production was so tiny it was unbelievable that there would be any on offer decades later.

Kurniawan is now appealing his conviction, claiming the search of his home hadn’t been carried out legally. No fair.

Then there was the caper in Bordeaux that was worthy of motion picture attention. 

15 people have been convicted of stealing wine ‘to order’ from some of the top Chateaux of the region. 

A caterer with a Wine Club was discovered to be directing a pair of thieves to steal specific wines.

One of the thieves, obviously very slender, would break into the winery by crawling through the ventilation system.

He and his uncle would then grab the wine requested, such as 2010 Chateau Yquem, and cart it away in a stolen vehicle which they would eventually set on fire, doing everything they could to destroy all evidence.

The thief who broke in would use an aerosol can of bleach to destroy any DNA traces, which worked fine until he accidentally forgot one the cans at the scene, and the police were able to identify him.

Placing him under surveillance, authorities ultimately landed the caterer, some merchants who bought the stolen wine, and a couple of teachers who would buy the wine in a parking lot for cash, and then sell it forward to “customers” including a Paris professor who knew the prices were too good to be true, yet put in orders for even greater “deals”.

At the end of the day, those convicted received sentences varying from a fine of $67,000 to four years in prison. 

It would be interesting to learn just who received what penalty.

Finally, on the local scene, those of us who have depended on the knowledge and assistance of Elaine Mailhot-Montgrain, who was the first person to take up the role of Wine Consultant at the LCBO for Sault Ste. Marie, are going to feel like we have been robbed, in that Elaine, after 30 years, has announced her retirement effective the end of July.

We couldn’t have been better served, and I have been keenly aware of the depths of Elaine’s insight and her dedication to her craft.

She has always been tremendously supportive of my efforts and interests in wine, and there is no question that my work has been easier because of Elaine’s help in getting hold of both information and wines in which I have been interested.

We will miss her warmth and professionalism, and we wish her good health and much happiness as she turns to the next chapter. 

Coming To Vintages July 25

In white wines we find some excellent choices, beginning with Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2013, $19.95, from New Zealand, which made the Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 100 Best Buys” for 2014, with deep flavours of grapefruit predominating.

It is a great release for Rieslings, including the popular D’arenberg The Stump Jump White, 2014, $14.95, a fairly dry Riesling blend with good aromatics and citrus notes.

You could march up the sweetness ladder beginning with The Stump Jump, and moving on to the classic Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014, $19.95 made in the Niagara from the fruit of 35-year-old vines which imparts great complexity and depth with balanced minerality, acidity and sweetness on the finish (24 grams of sugar per litre.

At the top rung of sweetness for this release with 42 grams per litre is Balthasar Ress Hattenheimer Schützenhaus Riesling Kabinett 2013, $17.95, from Germany’s pre-eminent Rheingau district - describes spices on the nose, and “exemplary freshness” on the finish.

For a light, crisp white, Vintages is introducing Tenute Messiere Visioni Offida Pecorino 2012, $16.95, from Italy’s Marche region – it received a 90 from the Wine Enthusiast for having “floral aromas…with whiffs of balsamic herbs.  The palate demonstrates lovely energy and elegance with peach and tropical fruit flavors accented by mineral and almond.”

With Red wines, we have a terrific buy with the Rioja Lôpez de Haro Crianza 2008, $14.95, with traditional “dusty “aromas and dark fruit - gave it a 91 and called it “superb.”

Also lauded by are two $17.95 reds from the south of France: Chateau Pesquié Terrasses 2013 with “gorgeous garrigue, white pepper…sweet berry fruit [and] a forward seamless, elegant style (91); Tessellae Vielles Vignes Carignan 2013, an “off-the-charts value” that is “voluptuous, decadent…and gorgeously pure.” (94!)

Puglia is home to Casato di Melzi Riserva Salice Salentino 2011, $13.95, a delicious red with good fruit and some leather notes and some bitter almond nuances on the finish.  Vintages says “Barbecue!”

On Wednesday, July 29, I will be partnering with Chef Ian Thomlinson at the Island Springs Golf Resort on St. Joseph Island to present a tasting menu of six courses paired with six different wines. 

Cost is $65 per person, including Tax and gratuity. To reserve, please contact Island Springs at 705-246-1400. 

Remembering Norm

On Thursday, August 6, a golf tournament is being held to remember Norm Neilson, who taught at Bawating and Sir James Dunn and was heavily involved with the city’s High School Basketball programme.

Norm passed away last year from complications with a brain tumour, and so the tournament will be a fundraiser, too, for that cause. 

The tournament will be held at Crimson Ridge, with an entry fee of $125 per person. 

The cost includes 18 holes of golf with a cart, a chicken and rib dinner, and a donation to Brain Cancer Research. 

If you would like to be part of this celebration of a terrific man, please call me at 705-949-7403, or email me at

Anyone is welcome, and foursomes would be terrific.