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Duct Tape Wines (March 2, 2006)

Everything I needed to know about life I learned in the Boy Scouts. Except how to get a date. The Boy Scouts taught me how tie a knot that would not slip, how to bake potatoes in mud and how to survive in the woods with only a piece of string, two toothpicks and a roll of toilet paper. Back then we didn't have duct tape, which was a pity, since duct tape is as indispensable to a sane and orderly lifestyle as extra virgin olive oil. It's all about the Boy Scouts' motto, "Be Prepared."

This column is about just that – preparing for the worst. Or, more particularly, how to survive in the urban jungle if the LCBO goes on strike again. (Incidentally, one thing the Boy Scouts did not teach me is that you can't use Canadian Tire money at the LCBO. And why, if the LCBO gives Air Miles, can we not redeem our Air Miles for bottles of wine?)

But get back to your theme, I hear you say. Survival means having on hand batteries, candles, matches, bottled water, cans of soup, flares, and a cache of wine that goes with SPAM and hard tack biscuits. Survival for the wine lovers means never having to say you're sorry, you're out of wine.

There are certain wines you should always have in your cellar against all of life's contingencies – atomic warfare, bird flu, cartoon riots or a visit from the in-laws. Imagine being out of white wine if your boss arrives for dinner with a salmon he caught on a fishing trip in BC? Or your daughter announces at the Sunday dinner table she's getting married and there isn't a drop of sparkling wine in the house? Or your best friend announces he's separating from the partner you both can't stand? How could you face yourself without the appropriate wine to toast the moment?

The question is, what are the wines that are most versatile and will cover all manifestations of the human experience.

White wines: Sauvignon Blanc is, to my mind, the most versatile white wine when it comes to matching food. You could lay down Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley – these wines are very crisp and dry with grassy, gooseberry flavours that match a whole range of fish, seafood and runny cheeses. The New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc tends to fleshier wines with more passion fruit and nettle nuances, still very dry. Either will be appreciated. Store them in the coolest part of your cellar. If you cannot live without Chardonnay then make sure it's an unoaked Chardonnay, a Chablis, for example. A California Chardonnay or one from Australia will generally have a whack of oak that will overpower delicate dishes. After some, you have to sandpaper your tongue.

Red wines: You can't beat a single-village Beaujolais for matching a range of foods from fish to poultry to red meat. There are three basic levels of Beaujolais – the simple Beaujolais from the south of the region (grown on flat limestone soil), Beaujolais-Villages from the northern hilly area where the soil is granitic and the top echelon, the village-named wines from the north that are the most flavourful. There are ten of them: Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié and Saint Amour. If you serve these village-named wines at room temperature you can put them up against red meat; chilled, you bring out the acidity and they match most fish dishes except smoked fish. Since God created claret the same day He created lamb, you have to have a red Bordeaux in the house. Because it tastes good and will last a long time. You don't have to go mad and invest in First Growths, but make sure it's a good vintage. Bordeaux has been blessed with four very good vintages in a row – 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 (especially 2000 and 2003).

Dessert wine: It's always good to have two or three half bottles of dessert wine handy. I would recommend Ontario Riesling Icewine, but this can get costly at $50–65 a half bottle. The Special Select Late Harvest Riesling, a tad less sweet than Icewine, is less than half the price.

Sparkling wine: Champagne, of course, is the most versatile wine of all. Champagne goes with everything and nothing. I once asked the Chairman of Veuve Clicquot when was the best time to drink champagne. His reply: "Before, during and after." But don't store your champagne in the fridge for weeks on end. The air in the fridge is too dry; the compressor's vibrations will massage it into old age and the frequent light will affect the colour. (Something you can store in your freezer, though, is a bottle of vodka for when your neighbour drops around with a can of caviar. Alcohol freezes at –80º Celsius, so you don't have to worry about having a vodka slushy.)

Fortified wines: Stock fortified wines that will not be affected by air once they have been opened. Tawny ports are already oxidized, having been aged in wood, as opposed to vintage port, so they will last in a decanter much longer. And so will sherry.

A word of caution: keep checking on your survival cellar against depredations by home-coming university students masquerading as your offspring.




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