Nothing gives me more satisfaction than pitching and heaving bags and boxes of unused stuff from my home. But when it comes to shrinking my wine cellar – logic gets a swift kick in the pants.
I consistently get asked the same questions about my wine collection. What do you do with all those bottles, and do they ever go bad? I will admit that I do take too much pleasure from looking at row after row of bottles waiting to be uncorked. All arranged neatly, labels up, necks out, foils shining in the light. My own private army of soldiers ready and willing to take on any occasion or menu I may throw at them.
Every “collector” (hoarder) has a different philosophy on purchasing wine. Mine is to drink it. But that doesn’t always go according to plan. The three bottles in the accompanying picture were, at one time, some of my best finds and favorite wines. They have each passed their peak and were unceremoniously poured down the drain. Tragic indeed.
That doesn’t hold true for all wines, some age longer than others. Some can’t age at all. These particular bottles could take a little aging but were really constructed for immediate to near future enjoyment. But I do so hate depleting my army.
So remember, store your wine at around 55 Fahrenheit (12 Celsius, eh), in a low light and low vibration environment. Be kind to your wine and drink it.
I’m in sunny California this week and of course had to check out Trader Jo’s to see what the wine situation is out here. California Merlot for $1.99 – nope that isn’t a typo – one dollar and ninety-nine cents. Of course I purchased a bottle and
rushed back to the hotel, which apparently is some kind of purgatory because I do not have cork screw! The front desk does not have a cork screw! None of the frightened guests on my floor have a cork screw (they get so edgy when you bang on their doors demanding sharp objects)! At this point your wondering how I am without bottle opening implements...the FAA and airport security are so damn picky about these things.
I don’t have high expectations, but I’ll take one for the team. $1.99, WTF.
While on business in Chicago last week I encountered the much talked about "Three Buck Chuck". Living in a highly controlled and highly taxed part of the world where wine is concerned you can imagine I almost fainted at the site of wine at $2.99. After my colleague convinced me that I wouldn't be able to carry the 70 cases I was protecting like a rabid dog on a bone, snarling and growling at passers by I picked up just one bottle.
The wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon from California produced under the brand Charles Shaw. As this wine isn't available in Ontario I had to try a bottle and report back to nosnob.com readers.
I didn't get my hopes up thinking I discovered Chateau Petrus for $3.00. But I was surprised that it wasn't just alcoholic purple water. It had many Cab Sauv characteristics, smelled okay and tasted okay. While nothing really stood out about this wine, it was a novelty at $2.99. If you're having a big party, making Sangria or boiling pasta in wine this will do in a pinch.
In Demystifying Vintages Part I we introduced you to the Vintages concept and what to find there. In Part II we look at the people who work at Vintages and some tips to make your visit quick and painless.
It's ok to walk in to Vintages without any forethought. You could browse around for hours, get lost in the countries and fancy labels. In case you have a job, kids, friends or other silly things taking up your time there is some free help to speed this up. In almost every store with a sizable Vintages section comes your own personal guide, a wine Sherpa. They actually prefer to be called Product Consultants (I like Sherpa better. Them, not so much)
The Product Consultant is a little different from the other LCBO employees roaming the aisles or working the cash. They have received additional training and have the opportunity to sample hundreds of wines every month. In some stores they have access to the wine makers and wine critics. Also, Product Consultants must complete a certification similar to the one from the International Sommelier Guild (which is the same certification I have; seriously I got it framed and everything. Friends call it my license to drink, and it comes with tights and a cape).
If you live in Ontario you are probably familiar with the Food & Drink magazine. If not, here's the low down. Food & Drink is a free magazine produced by the LCBO 5 times a year (1 per season plus a huge Holiday edition). It has loads of recipes and pairings with wine, beer and spirits. It has countless entertaining tips and covers a wide range of food and drink related topics. It's several hundred glossy pages of perfectly photographed, exquisitely laid out, air brushed porn for foodies and drinkers. (Darlene H, a friend of nosnob.com who did a three year jaunt in Europe enjoys it so much she had it air-mailed across the pond. Devotion!)
All that being said, there is another magazine you need to concern yourself with. It's called Vintages (little on the nose, don't ya think). Vintages is published twice per month in connection with the bi-weekly product releases. This is a catalogue of what will be coming to a store near you in the next two weeks. You need to get your hands on one of these books before the release and browse through it. Look for keywords in the descriptions that you are familiar with like "cherry", "blackberry", "crisp".
Off to Vintages! Wait, hold on. Warning: You will be asked by the Product Consultant "What food will you be serving with this wine?" The Product Consultants are trained to approach your dilemma from a food perspective. That way they can help you find something that will compliment your meal, is in your price range and you'll hopefully buy again. So, to help them, help you, be honest. Whether it's macaroni and cheese with hot dogs or a standing rib roast let them know.
You know what you're going to eat, you've circled some things that interested you in Vintages or printed off some nosnob.com reviews (we prefer you do the second one, I'm just sayin) and are ready to work with the Product Consultant. Chances are you will come home with something you're impressed with and didn't break the bank.
In the third and final installment of this feature we look at some highlights of Vintages including The Wine of the Month, In Store Discoveries, and Essentials.
This three part special feature will take you on a journey inside the LCBO’s Vintages section. We will look at what exactly is in Vintages, who works there and how to navigate it easily. The Vintages section is probably one of the most exciting and literally to some, terrifying, aspects of the LCBO experience. We will prove that Vintages is a great area of the store to shop for bottles under $20.00 which will impress the heck out of your friends. We will explain what to look for and some secrets to making Vintages work for you.
While this feature is tailored to our Ontario audience, anyone will enjoy the experience and might learn a tip or trick for their own store wherever you might be.
Demystifying Vintages – Part I
So austere, so formal, so mysterious.
The automatic doors slide open as you approach the store with a sturdy mechanical whoosh. You press on confidently marching towards old faithful. That bottle of wine with a playful name you can never remember, something about a penguin or duck, always pleases but never wows. Always in stock, and at least fifty bottles are lined up neatly on the shelf waiting for you. You were probably first introduced to it one night your friends were over for dinner and someone proudly burst in to the kitchen announcing "the wine has arrived" with bottle in tow. Since then you’ve memorized the location of that bottle at your local liquor store, moving past row after of row of beige steel shelving. Like a carefully choreographed ballet you grab the non-descript red or white by the neck, turn on your heel toward the cashier. Air miles card and a twenty dollar bill in hand of course. But each time you turn toward the cash you catch a glimpse of a cave like area at the back of the store, big letters staring down at you from overhead…VINTAGES.
Almost museum like, with dark stained wood, soft lighting, and carefully designed shelves presenting the labels at optimal angles. Wine bottles meticulously arranged in groups by country. The floor dotted with wicker baskets overflowing with bottles of Chateau Pont Allerieux du Whatever, and other names you dare not pronounce for fear of showing your lack of wine knowledge or because you’ve already forgotten basic French from elementary school.
Relax. Not all Vintages look like the one described earlier, but if they did who cares. Some LCBO stores only feature a shelf or small wall of product, some none at all. Stores like Summerhill, Bayview or Laird’s (which spills out in to the aisles in every direction) are very impressive beasts indeed. You’ve probably visited Vintages in the past. Most likely around the holiday season looking for that impressive bottle with an equally impressive price tag for your boss or that friend who’s “in to” wine.
There is no dispute that Vintages contains some seriously pricey offerings, look a little deeper you will find bottles exceeding a thousand dollars. But, if you’re anything like us, you prefer a mini vacation or new LCD TV over a bottle of wine. So what exactly qualifies as a Vintages product and what does it cost. We're sure if you posed the same question to someone in the marketing department at the LCBO you would get a rather lengthy answer, but here is what it boils down to.
To be considered for Vintages there has to be something unique about the wine. That’s it. This could mean it was a small production from a particular producer or classic Bordeaux, maybe an unusual grape. It could be a special series from a winery or the LCBO just managed to get their hands on a limited quantity of something tasty. There are certainly some staples that are constant or make a regular appearance. One example of these is the 2005 Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, it’s a featured product always available.
The most important thing, if you take nothing away from reading this, the most important thing to remember is that there are literally hundreds of bottles under $20.00 and some of them are simply outstanding. The weekend this part of the special feature was written, nosnob.com picked up 15 bottles of wine under $20.00 at Vintages (for research purposes of course, cough cough).
Your assignment should you choose to accept it. Cross the imaginary line on the floor and take a quick tour of your local Vintages. Take note of the wide range of prices and grab a copy of the free Vintages magazine. We will be talking about it a little later on.
In Demystifying Vintages – Part II you’ll meet the Product Consultant, your new best wine buddy. Who are they, and what makes them qualified to give you advice. Also, a few tricks to getting the good affordable stuff.