Shipping US wine to Canada: FedEx gets in the game – and raises questions

An article on the Wine Law web site, an extremely interesting source on everything legal about how wine is sold (or not sold) within Canada, caused a bit of excitement among Canadian wine tweeps, today, as it revealed that FedEx has begun shipping wine directly from the United States to Canada – or at least, to Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

I’d heard a vague mention of that initiative, this week, and was glad to get the details today. I’d actually thought that it was interprovincial shipping that had been opened up, which would be even more interesting – and challenging for the monopolies.

Canadians who grumble about the hold that monopolies have on the Canadian wine trade could find reason to rejoice in this now officially approved means of getting wine where you want, when you want. Any opening in the monopoly is generally welcomed by consumers, around here. But if you’re in Canada, and already counting the bottles you’ll be ordering, don’t get too excited: it’s not that simple, and it’s not cheap.

Yes, you sill be able to order wines from your favorite US wineries, and have them sent to Canada. But you’ll pay full retail price in US dollars, to which all applicable taxes, duties and markups will apply – which means over 100% extra in Ontario and BC, though less in Alberta. And on top of paying double the retail price, you’ll have to pay shipping, which can run over 150$ for 6 bottles, judging from shipments I’ve received in Quebec over the last couple of years. So forget about getting any bargains that way. The monopolies are keeping all the revenues they would get otherwise, and they are not allowing actual competition from the US to take place.

With all these constraints, why should US wineries bother with sending cases across the 49th parallel? As the FedEx web site states: “Canada is the second largest U.S. wine export destination and is the only destination with double-digit wine growth in the last six years.” Good reason to try to increase shipments, for US wineries, especially as the Canadian economy is holding up better than the US economy. There’s more inventory to pick from, these days.

However, the process is not exactly simple or direct, as this flowchart from Fedex shows. “All it needs is tokens and dice to play”, chimed in winemaker Bradley Cooper when he checked it out after I tweeted the link. It does have something of snakes and ladders. Hearing the news, I’d originally thought that a sort of fast track process had been worked out between FedEx and the monopolies, but I now see that this direct shipping process is actually the same as the one I’ve worked my way through when getting wine sent to me to Quebec, through FedEx or other courrier services. You still have to ensure custom brokerage (which FedEx providesSo no big deal, as far as that is concerned.

Another interesting fact is that, according to tweets exchanged with Rod Phillips, this announcement came out of nowhere, even for BC wine industry people who are pushing for more open wine sales. Phillips mentioned that a lawsuit brought forth by Gallo may have something to do with it, but I haven’t found all the details on that case – hardly any, in fact. I will try to find out more.

There is, however, another legal challenge in the works regarding the prohibition of interprovincial shipping of wine, something which makes the apparent opening to international shipping seem stranger. While international trade rules forbid giving local products an undue advantage over international products, the reverse should also be true.

It’s a bit galling that you can get wine shipped directly to you from other countries (even though it’s expensive) while you absolutely can’t get it directly – legally, at least – from another Canadian province. If that uneven playing field was to be challenged successfully, it would mean big trouble for the monopolies. Many can’t wait to see that happen.

 

Tasting Note: Robert Mondavi 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Zinfandel is like white wines: it doesn’t age well, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

IMG_4209On Saturday night, I opened a bottle of 14-year-old zin I’d pulled from the cellar a couple of weeks ago, to set it up right and make it ready for drinking on the right occasion. Which, in the end, meant pizza night on a lazy Saturday evening.

The 95 Napa Valley zinfandel from Robert Mondavi – back when it was really a Mondavi winery – opened up on an intense and well-defined aroma of sweet pipe tobacco, with some prune and spice showing up afterwards. All that carried through on the mouthfeel, where a very decent level of acidity kept the wine lively and easy-drinking, despite a solid 15% alcohol level. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was refreshing, but it certainly found its balance, and did not feel heavy at all.

Better yet, as the wine opened up, more fruit came through, as black cherry notes came to the forefront. Eventually, the wine actually smelled like the tanks of fermenting pinot noir I punched down at Closson Chase vineyards, ten days ago. As if that zinfandel still had a touch of fresh picked grapes at its core.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had solid, mature zinfandel that felt like it could keep going and going. About four years ago, I drank a bottle of 1979 Glen Ellen Zinfandel I’d picked up at the tasting room at Ridge, one of my favorite California wineries. Although it felt a bit more like an old port, in some ways, it still had balance and life to it, at a good 25 years of age. Lots of pleasure to be had yet – and it was far from being over the hill.

How’s that for a wine that doesn’t age?

While I’m at it, I could tell you about the 1998 Doisy-Daëne white Bordeaux we had with Thanksgiving dinner,  as another example of graceful aging. But that’s another story.

I’d love to see how the Anderson Ranch zinfandel from Quivira, a biodynamic winery I visited last year, during the Wine Bloggers Conference, or a Preston Old Vines Zinfandel would taste like in 10, 15 or even 20 years. From what I’ve tasted so far, I think there could be much rejoicing.

Oh, by the way, the old zin went really well with the chicken-mushroom-onion pizza. Just wrapped around it smoothly, and matched nicely with the tomato sauce. Simple food that gave the wine all the room it needed to shine.

Everybody’s talking about natural wines – thanks, Saignée!

How do you celebrate a year of blogging? With a month of blogging, of course.

A special month of blogging, I mean. Like the 31 days of Natural Wine put together by Cory Cartwright of Saignée, one of the most interesting wine blogs around. He asked a number of other voices of the online wine world to contribute their thoughts on natural wine, every day of that feast of a month.

Alice Feiring, Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi, Amy Atwood from My Daily Wine, Brooklyn Guy and a bunch of others have been contributing, and it’s quite an interesting bunch of reads. Everything from a visit to Nicolas Joly, the biodynamic pope himself, to discussions of sulfur in wine, to a very… honest tasting of the latest Bonny Doon wines by Mr Saignée himself.

The series brings forward all sorts of questions about the concept of natural wines – a rather vague category that includes, depending on who you speak to, everything from sustainable winemaking to biodynamics and no-sulfur wines. In French, the moniker “vin naturel” has been more closely defined by the likes of Thierry Puzelat, Marcel Lapierre and such as no-sulfur wines (rather often made with carbonic maceration). In the US, that would be closest to “organic wine”, although the fact that sulfites must be totally absent from certified US organic wines (even the naturally occuring sulfites), making it an even more extreme category. Translating “organic wine” back to “vin bio”, in France, leads to another category altogether. And don’t get me started on the various “sustainable” winegrowing and winemaking programs established in the US and New Zealand, among others. (This Wine Business article will give you an idea of the concepts and regulations involved.)

What’s right or wrong with these categories? I’m certainly in favor of any move towards more careful, ecologically-friendly wine-growing and towards making wines whose ingredient list is limited to grapes, period. But I don’t think adding a little sulfur is a heresy, or that one single approach has all the answers. It does make for a very interesting discussion, though… More than enough for 31 days.

When Robert Parker can’t get his facts (or his ethical guidelines) straight

I was appalled and incensed, Friday evening, when I read a post by Robert Parker himself on the eRobertParker forum. I don’t often agree with Mr Parker’s taste, but I do have respect for what he’s accomplished and for the energy he’s put into advocating wine.

I’ve lost a lot of that respect, now, after an attack he has made on wine bloggers and on the Wine Bloggers Conference and those who organized it. And it’s not a question of opinion. Even as he accuses wine bloggers of spreading falsehoods, Mr Parker has evidently not even bothered to check any facts on what he states in his forum post.

Let me quote him. (more…)

The California Wine Fair is back already

A year can sure go by fast. It’s spring in Canada, and time for the California Wine Fair again. I even missed the Western Canada dates (sorry guys), and barely caught up with it on time for the East Coast part of the tour.

It’s no April Fool joke. Ottawa gets its turn this Wednesday, April 1, at the Westin Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill. Montreal is next on the list on April 2nd, and the event is as a fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, while Quebec City’s Fair, on Friday, April 3rd, will benefit the Fondation Cardinal-Villeneuve, which seeks to help people with physical handicaps.

After that, it’s Toronto on April 6 and Halifax on April 8.

You can get the full details right here. As well as the list of participating wineries for each city. The list varies, but includes the likes of Heitz Cellars, Calera, Seghesio, Ravenswood, Bonny Doon, Bonterra, Kenwood, Hahn Estates, L’Aventure, Hess Collection, Jordan, to name only a few. 

While I’m at it, I should mention that the New Zealand Wine Fair will also come to Canada this spring. A first event took place on March 24 in Edmonton (sorry again), but the others will be in late May in Montreal, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The list of participating producers is not out yet, so we’ll come back to this closer to the event date.

WBW 55 Trial Run: North vs South in Radio-Coteau pinots

Periodically, I’m grabbed by the urge to pull a bottle out of the cellar, unplanned and by itself, not for a meal or special occasion. That’s how I wound up pulling out a 2005 Savoy pinot noir by Radio-Coteau, Eric Sussman‘s winemaking operation in Forestville, California.

Sussman, who started Radio-Coteau in 2002, learned the trade in Washington State before heading to Bordeaux and especially to Burgundy in the mid-1990s. After four years at Dehlinger, he started collecting 90+ scores from just about every wine writer of influence. Descriptions got me so excited that I even ordered a case for myself all the way out to Quebec. A costly proposition, just counting the import taxes. But it was worth it, especially for the La Neblina, which remains one of the finest, most subtle and well-focused California  pinots I’ve had.

Beyond providing a satisfying drink, the Savoy, sourced from a vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, also provided a clear example of what I’m aiming for with the theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South.

The Neblina and the Savoy I’ve had are two wines from the same vintage, same variety and the same producer, the only difference being vineyard location – and perhaps the farming practices in each vineyard – single vineyard for the Savoy, two different ones for the Neblina, one in Annapolis, and the other one along Gravenstein Highway, west of Sebastopol.

A quick look at a map (more…)

In the California Vineyards: A quick stop at Alpha Omega

I’m finally getting around to blogging about the wineries I visited in California, last fall, after the Wine Bloggers Conference. Maybe I needed to let all that wine tasting and winery visiting steep for a while. Or maybe I just got very busy when I returned from California and never got around to it. Or maybe I’m just a procrastinator, I don’t know.

Anyway, the first winery I’ll tell you about is one I hadn’t originally plan to visit, but am glad I did after all: Alpha Omega. If I went, I have to say that it’s not because of the… ahem… modest name or because Michel Rolland is a consulting winemaker there.

I’d heard about Alpha Omega because (more…)

California wines for Obama’s inauguration – and thoughts about wine at the White House

I have to say that Americans sure know how to throw a big party. Case in point, Barack Obama’s inauguration, which is drawing an incredible line-up of artists over these few days, and millions of people in tow, to witness this historic occasion.

It may be presumed that, at some of these functions, wine will be served.

Actually, it is certain that wine will be served, including three California wines at the Inaugural Luncheon, served for the new president, the vice-president, their wives, and 200 other members of Washington’s who’s who, in the Hall of the Capitol.

In honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, (more…)

Tasting Note: 1996 Carneros Pinot Noir, Saintsbury

The one advantage to having been held at home for the day by today’s snowstorm, instead of flying to join my family in Switzerland for the Christmas holidays, is that I got to eat dinner with my parents. A nice, quiet dinner, where we got to talk and talk, and catch up on a lot of things. Blessings in disguise.

I took the opportunity to pull a bottle out of the cellar, and knowing we were having braised veal, I figured an older wine would do nicely with the delicate flavors of the meat. When I pulled a 1996 Carneros Pinot Noir from Saintsbury out of the rack, I pretty much knew that I had my wine.

Now, if you think that a 12-year old pinot is going to be tired, think again: this wine had an incredible amount of fruit, still dominating the aromas, right after decanting. Very nice, ripe cherry, with a little bit of well-integrated, toasted oak flavors, over a silky smooth mouthfeel. Remarkably fresh, with restrained alcohol and still just enough acidity to give the wine some lift.

It went very well with the veal, and handled the more intense flavors of the parsnip and celeriac extremely well. The mix of flavors of the dish and the wine was very smooth and fine.

I tasted the wine again, at the end of the evening, and the extra hours of decanting had helped the wine develop more complex aromas, with a bit of leather, some floral components (a bit of violet), spicier notes, a touch of tobacco and some mushroomy, woodland flavors. All that with the cherry still showing well too. A bit of caramel, on tasting, and fine, fine tannins. Not incredibly deep, but obviously, a lot of fun and dimension there.

I haven’t bought any Saintsbury pinots, in recent years, but seeing that the alcohol levels are still reasonable (13.5% on the 2006 Carneros pinot noir) and that the use of wood is careful and moderate (9 months in French oak, 30% new, again for the 2006), I’d be enclined to give this wine another go. And to keep it for several years, no doubt.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 12:25 am  Comments (4)  
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Twitter Taste Live: from sake to sherry, with Hahn in the middle

If you think that people who write about wine are all stuck up wine bores, you need to come on board and watch (or take part in) Twitter Taste Live, a live wine tasting event imagined by the folks at Massachussetts wine merchant Bin Ends Wine. A clever use of social media for marketing purposes, the TTL events are also just plain fun. Earlier this fall, I took part in one such event where Etienne Hugel, from the famous Alsace wine producer Hugel et fils, was the guest of honor as we tasted various Hugel wines. The sharing of notes, and opportunity to talk with the producer and fellow online wine lovers… it was just terrific. You can see a summarized recap right here which gives a sense of the event – but not all the grat atmosphere.

For the 5th Twitter Taste Live event, which took place in a lighthearted, football-and-vacuum-pump joke-filled session just a few hours ago, wine bloggers were invited to take the floor and propose wines and themes. And the proposals (more…)