In mid-December, the National Post carried an article entitled, “Illegal Tipple”, which described how the Mohawk First Nation in Kahnawake, Quebec has itself embroiled in a legal battle with the Province and its liquor corporation, the Societé des Alcools, over its operation of the First Nations Winery.
The winery actually imports wine in bulk from Italy in gigantic, 24,000 litre bladders and then packages it for sale in bottles and 4-litre bags.
It sells a “Chianti” for $7.50 per bottle, or $26 for a bag.
As with cigarettes, the greater part of the sales are to non-natives.
As a result, the Province claims that it has been deprived of more than $14 million in revenue in the last four years.
The legal questions concerning the First Nation’s right to licence a winery in the first place and then to sell the wine to non-natives will be argued in the courts.
What is also at play, however, are other issues concerning international trade agreements to which Canada is part that have to do with the wine itself.
According to the Post, the lawyer representing the winery explained that the winery employs an Oenologist” certified and graduated with honours in Italy”.
“All he does is put in different tannins or different tastes to make different kinds of wine, like Valpolicella, like Chianti Classico. That’s all he does.”
That’s all. Hmm. Well, wine-producing countries including Canada, are very careful to delineate what constitutes a wine of a particular area, such as Chianti from the Classico district of Tuscany in Italy and even Ice Wine from Ontario.
For example, unless a wine is made in Champagne in France, it cannot carry that word, “champagne” on its label.
It can’t even say that it is made in the “champagne method.”
Other producing areas use such terms as the “Traditional Method” to indicate that the wine underwent secondary fermentation in the bottle, as is the case with Champagne.
At the LCBO, of the more than 80 different Chianti Classico wines, only two are priced under $16.95, and most below the “riserva” level would cost between $18 and $25 per bottle.
As for Amarone, there are just 3 of over 60 that sell for less than $33, while others can easily cost $50 and much, much, more.
In addition, Amarone and Chianti are made from entirely different grapes.
Kahnawake’s $7.50 Chianti and $12.50 Amarone will be a far cry in quality from the real wines bearing those names.
While many people would know just from the price that they can’t be legitimate, it is still misleading and would be a violation of international trade laws.
“Would Be” is the fundamental distinction, because I really don’t know how those laws would apply to North American First Nations.
The other question that got me thinking had to do with the oenologist adding this and that to the wine to make it a “Chianti Classico”, for instance.
I have no idea what this person might be doing to manipulate flavours, but normally wine makers don’t go around throwing in fruit juice etc. to change flavours. I hope.
The fact is, that some manipulation is allowed, depending on where the wine is made, by which characteristics can be adjusted.
Sugar, for example has been added at times prior to fermentation in order to bring up the alcohol levels.
This practice, called “chaptalization”, is legal in some jurisdictions and not allowed in others, especially warmer climate production areas such as Australia.
At times different elements may be added to adjust acidity and other materials are used to clarify the wine by ‘fining’; however, in such cases the material used attracts and gathers naturally suspended particles and then precipitates out.
They aren’t used to bring anything new to the wine.
While traditionally, oak barrels are used to enhance wines as they age, wineries have been known to use oak chips and oak dust instead as cheaper alternatives to very expensive barrels.
All in all, wine is a fairly natural product.
What our Kahnawake oenologist is doing is intriguing and more than a little suspicious, at best.
As we head into the new year, I would like to welcome readers in North Bay, Timmins, and Barrie to my column.
Until now, I have narrowed recommendations down to what has been available in Sault Ste. Marie, but going forward, I will try to identify wines that might come available in the other communities, too.
I post my column a week ahead of the bi-monthly vintages releases, so that, if there is something you think you would like, you have a chance to check with the store by the Monday before the Release and have them order it in if necessary.
The LCBO consultants are quite co-operative and will try to help, depending on the stock remaining in the warehouses.
In addition, I would welcome any questions on wine or suggestions for columns. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I promise to answer as best I can.
January 9 Vintages Release
After the relative extravagance of the pre-Christmas releases when exceptional and pricier wines dominate, the first release of 2016 has many affordable choices.
Two good Rieslings are featured: Featherstone’s Black Sheep 2014, $16.95 from Niagara which Rod Phillips awarded 5 stars and called “vibrant and delicious”, and the always reliable Lingenfelder Bird label 2013, $14.95, from Germany’s Pfalz region which carries stone fruit and citrus notes. Like the Featherstone, it is off dry and would go well with Asian dishes. (P.S. It is $18.50 in B.C.!)
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015, $14.95 gets consistently high reviews in John Platter’s guide to South African Wines. It has just a kiss of oak and presents with suggestions of peach, lemon and mineral.
From Italy’s Campania province comes the Donnachiara Irpinia Coda Di Volpe 2013, $16.95 – it is in the ”full-bodied and rich” category and has citrus and herbal notes at play. jamessuckling.com scored it 92, saying it is “long and intense. Gorgeous wine.”
Other good whites will be Argentina’s aromatic Alamos Torrontès, $14.95, Syn+ White Dot Moschfilero Roditis 2014, $13.95, from Greece, and the Saint-Roch Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc/Roussane 2014, $16.95, from the Cotes du Rousillon in France’s Midi.
Outside the Sault, you may find Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling, $14.95. This winery gives extremely good value and here is an inexpensive bubbly that the Wine Enthusiast called “remarkably elegant with a gentle price tag” – 91.
Two $17 wines will be in plentiful supply. Spain’s Terra D’uro Finca la Rana Toro 2011 and Australia’s Don’t Hesitate Shiraz 2013 have impressive scores. The former is “medium-bodied, very drinkable, Juicy and supple” with an erobertparker.com 92, while the latter is “lush…rich, velvety and intense” with “blackberry spice” according to writer Anthony Dias Blue.
Several significant choices from France include two 2010 Bordeaux, Château Saint-Antoine Réserve du Château, $14.95, and Château Blaignan, $23.95. The former is a good buy from an outstanding vintage, while the latter was #32 in The Wine Enthusiast’s top 100 for 2013 and should be cellared for a few more years.
Aydie L’Origine Madiran 2012, $14.95, is also cellar-worthy –“great character, black plum flavours, a dense structure and generous tannins” - Wine Enthusiast 92.
If you like the IGT Toscana style which blends grapes like Merlot in with the Sangiovese, Bibi Graetz Casamatta, $14.95, is “full-bodied and stylish” – James Suckling – 90.
Other promising reds include Argentina’s Santa Julia Magna 2013, $14.95, Chile’s Indomita Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $15.95, and Spain’s Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013, $15.95.
On sale for $13.95 this month at Wine Rack stores are their new 2014 Longhand Sauvignon Blanc and Longhand Merlot Cabernet. The white has the classic Sauvignon Blanc nose and grapefruit character, while the red, a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc is medium–bodied, smooth, but quite dry. It will be at its best with food. The regular retail price is $15.95.