Call in the Marketing Police

Call in the Marketing Police

I get my share of grand tasting opportunities, fancy dinners and interviews with wine celebrities. But some days one must work the trenches as well. On Friday, it was the monthly press tasting at the LCBO for new releases on the general list, a smorgasbord of inexpensive, often weird and not too wonderful wines, beers and spirits. Given that the holiday silly season approaches the selection was even more bizarre, with “gift ideas” of oversized bottles that look like bowling pins, undersized French Rabbit tetra-paks and bottles with names like Yellowglen Pink, Igluu (an icewine gift set), Funky Llama, Painted Turtle and Kelly’s Revenge. (Note to the marketing police: please investigate who Kelly is and why he or she is so vengeful as to inflict these sour wines on us). One can see some artistic merit and mirth in these packages, but set against the barren, clinically white walls of the tiny tasting “lab” at LCBO HQ, the collection also presents a grotesque Warholian landscape of our almost infantile North American drinks culture. (And thus the need for marketing police.)

So was there anything good inside? Out of 37 wine products I rated six at three stars, and a couple even better. For those following numerical ratings, three stars equates to scores between 84 and 86 out of 100.

The best was actually not a grape-based wine, but Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider **** ($39.95/375ml LCBO) from Quebec, which leads an ice cider revolution that has the same potential global impact for Canada as ice wine has enjoyed. (Ontario, Nova Scotia and B.C. make ice cider as well.) This is the first Quebec example to find its way to the LCBO, but there many produced in regions south and east of Montreal. Located on the southern slopes of Mount Pinnacle in the Eastern Townships, it is made from six varieties of apples harvested after the first frost and fermented for up to eight months—80 apples produce one half bottle. It’s bright gold-amber in colour with intense, pure apple essence. Quite full bodied, sweet and creamy with an amazing bolt of acidity. The finish is a bit tart and abrasive but the flavours are very powerful. Something new for the holiday dessert sideboard.

I was also pleased by a pair of white and red Greek wines branded as Fresco Averoff. The labels, like the wine inside, reflect a traditional company just crossing into export mode with some tentative modern licks applied to indigenous grape varieties. The red, Fresco Averoff 2004 Agiorgitiko *** ($13.95, LCBO) from the Peloponnese district, is quite complete, with dried red fruit, cigar and slightly gamy character. It may not appeal to all, but it sits well on the palate—mid-weight, smooth and harmonious with a long finish—reminiscent of good Italian barbera. Fresco Averoff 2005 Savatiano Roditis *** ($12.95, LCBO) is a dry and zesty white with strident mineral and grapefruit flavours, delivering the calamari and oyster seafood friendliness of chablis at a much better price.

Among the new tetra-pak offerings, the best is the Out of Africa white and red pair, from guess where? (Note to marketing police. Please check on how long has it been since that movie screened, and how many times the line has since been used on product labels and in headlines. And while you are at it, whatever happened to Meryl Streep?) Lack of name originality aside, the new cubist box looks good, and won’t fall over. Inside, the wine is made from organically grown grapes, and it is soft, full flavoured and clean. Out of Africa Chardonnay *** ($12.95/1L, LCBO) has pleasant, simple fresh apple, floral aromas that fade quickly amid some bitterness on the finish. Out of Africa Shiraz *** ($12.95/1L, LCBO) is similarly simple with typical shiraz cherry and clove set in a mid-weight, easy drinking texture. There may be some organic power of suggestion going on here, but both just seem to have more natural fruit flavours. Very often among the marketing wines the contents seem highly manipulated and stripped.

How many more “yellow” brands from Australia can the world stand? (Marketing police, please check out whether yellow can indeed be the new yellow, and whether you can use the word yellow twice in the same name. I don’t think so, but I’m just a wine taster). So here we have Yellowglen Yellow Sparkling Wine *** ($12.95, LCBO) from the giant Fosters Wine Company, an apparently super-popular bubbly from Down Under, that offers quite fine, clean, again simple flavours of (yellow) apple, lemon and a dusty mineral/cement character like Spanish cava. I like this wine and it’s decent value, especially for big Holiday gatherings. The Yellowglen Pink **1/2 ($12.95, LCBO) is pastel pretty in appearance, its shade reminding me of the first ribbon of dawn. It too is fresh, clean and balanced, with just a touch of sweetness, but flavour presence is somewhere between mild and innocuous.

Speaking of appearances, how about that magnum of Duboeuf 2005 Brouilly ***1/2 ($44. 60/1.5L, LCBO) from Beaujolais? Fans of this good “village” gamay are familiar with the tall, traditional, long-necked 750ml bottle available year round. For Christmas, they have released this mammoth bowling pin-shaped magnum that could act, after the holidays, as a ree-standing floor vase for fern arrangements. But hold that thought for awhile. From the hot 2005 vintage, the wine is very good—with deep colour, ripe cherry fruit and surprising density and weight. It is reserved, dry and not very friendly at the moment, and wines mature more slowly in big bottles. Cellar this for three years, but you may have to build a special rack in your cellar to store it lying down.

One final request for the marketing police. Please investigate the correct technical name for a young rabbit. Boisset of Burgundy, which has launched tetra-pak French Rabbit to great fanfare, has just come out with a half-sized 500ml series that I think should be called French _________, depending on what a baby rabbit is called. And it’s not bunny. Please get back to me, anyone.