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Mondavi, Chinese Fakes, Wine of the Year

I recently tasted a range of premium Robert Mondavi wines with Associate Winemaker (red wines) Gustavo Gonzalez during a visit to his Ontario agent Churchill Cellars. I was curious to get a sense of life at Mondavi under the new ownership of wine behemoth Constellation—the New York-based company that recently acquired Canada’s Vincor. Gonzales, who worked at the Napa winery before, during and after the transition, referred to the time before the Constellation takeover—at a time when Robert Mondavi was being publicly traded—as “the dark period” in terms of wine quality and direction (or lack thereof). He recalls that the Mondavi staff were actually petrified of Constellation’s arrival. “Given Mondavi’s long history of wine culture we felt like we were the Romans, and they were the invading Goths from the east, he said. “But, as it turns out, the Goths arrived and wanted to learn from the Romans.”

Gonzales seems happy with the current situation, sensing new life in the attitude and the wines. This was plainly evident in a couple of 2004s shown in advance of their release in Ontario—especially his delicious floral, raspberry-scented Robert Mondavi 2004 Pinot Noir Carneros****. The companion Robert Mondavi 2004 Carneros Chardonnay**** is equally bright, fruit-driven and well balanced. The Robert Mondavi 2004 Fume Blanc**** (which is a few months away from replacing the 2003 currently on Vintages Essentials list) is still quite spicy from 70% barrel ageing, but also shows more fresh fruit presence. A few days later, I tasted the Robert Mondavi 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Private Selection*** ($10.95, LCBO) finding that it too had more fruit and life than previous incarnations, and at a much-improved price. And, by the way, Robert Mondavi 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley**** ($37.95 Vintages Essential) has recently decreased in price, offering ripe, quite plummy fruit with roasted red pepper, thyme and tobacco flavours, set in a full, fleshy style that still has enough tannin and overall structure to age well for another five or more years.

We turn now to wine fraud in China, which may seem of remote interest, until one realizes that China is a big market for Canadian icewine, and that 50% of the icewine sold in China is fake. So says the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, according to Vera Sung, a specialist in international trade and trademarking with the Taiwan-based legal firm of Oldham, Li & Nie. Addressing a Canadian wine industry seminar on trademarking, hosted by Donald Ziraldo of Inniskillin in Niagara, Ms. Sung went on to say that counterfeit “imported” goods are a huge problem in all facets of Chinese commerce, currently raking in $16 billion annually for the fraudsters. “About 30% of all imported wine is fake,” she said, “And about 80% of all brandy.” She presented fake bottles of Canadian wine to attendees including one labeled Changsheng 2001 Ice Wine, product of Canada. Another labeled Micul 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon purported to be from the Fleetwood Brewcastle Winery in British Columbia (no such winery exists). The label sported a red maple leaf with the inscription “Friendship from Canada.” The label also assured that the contents were “selected wine by the owner,” which I guess is some clumsy translation of “Proprietor’s Reserve.” Sure makes me feel better.

Now here’s the real thing! Congratulations to Chateau des Charmes 2002 Paul Bosc Vineyard Riesling Icewine****1/2 ($60.00/375ml, www.winerytohome.com) for winning Wine of the Year at the 2006 Ontario Wine Awards. It is a stunner with classic riesling apricot, honey, petrol and lemon-lime aromas; great weight, thickness and driving acidity. There is definitely something going on with this vineyard, as its predecessors have also won top honours provincially and in the Canadian Wine Awards. Hopefully you get to try it among the over 300 wines being presented at the Ontario Wine Awards Consumer Tasting coming up Tuesday, June 13 at the Distillery District. Contact Sandy Kurbis at 416-398-3335 Ext. 2, or by email at tickets@forefrontcom.com.

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