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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 26 (March 14, 2005)

Monday, March 7: Let me introduce you to Pinot. She's a wheaten terrier, 8 weeks old when I took this photo. Approach her with caution. She has the teeth of an alligator and can leap to crotch level and hang on...

I was meant to have a meeting this morning with Douglas Ajram on a wine project, but snow in Montreal has played havoc with airline schedules. I'm meant to fly to Montreal tomorrow for a wine selection tasting for Air Canada, so I cancelled the flight and booked a seat on Via Rail. In the afternoon Peter Janzen, Paul Unrau and Don Morrison came to the house to show me their wine concept. They had driven from Deep River. Peter had sent me an email last month: "A few years ago, a group of three of us banded together to pursue the realization of an idea, that of creating a wine product with accentuated levels of the qualities that are the essence of wine, including aroma/bouquet, taste and alcohol." They arrived with a box of samples of wines that had been concentrated by freezing out water to alcohol strengths of 17% and 35% by volume. They call their enterprise Vinesse (essence of wine), and their products "wine liqueurs." The process, says Paul, works better with white wines. They have worked with Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc as well as Cabernet and Merlot. They make the original wine from juice fermented to 11% alcohol, freezing the wine and reducing it by 40%. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc made from French Collection juice. The colour was a dull straw with a nose of alcohol, vanilla; the palate was viscous with an off-dry banana flavour and a nutty finish. Rather like Pineau de Charentes. A second sample, more complex and interesting, was a Sauvignon Blanc made from a blend of French Collection juice and New Zealand juice. Banana, orange flavours, off-dry and full-bodied, with a nutty finish. The third sample was the New Zealand juice, which was rather heavy. Then I tried a Sauvignon Blanc that was over two years old. It had a mature taste with a spicy dried fig flavour, not unlike a Madeira (Verdelho style). The Sauvignon Blanc concentrated up to 34% alcohol tasted fruity and nutty, but the alcohol predominated. I then tasted the water that had been extracted by freezing from a Brunello made from purchased juice. The water was pale ruby in colour and very tannic. The base wine before freezing was charming, black cherry with a floral note. The concentrated version (35% alcohol) was hot and edgy. They wanted to know if they had a commercial proposition with these products. I suggested that pricing would be the main factor. If they could produce them at prices significantly lower than Pineau des Charentes and Madeira, they had a shot, but the higher alcohol products didn't really work.

Tuesday, March 8: I'm booked First Class on the train to Montreal. Actually, I'm getting off at Dorval because I'm staying at the Airport Hilton. Managed to write a section of the atlas on Niagara and on the need for wind machines in the vineyards to protect against frost. I'm sitting next to a man who works in shipping. His company transports goods to Newfoundland. He tells me they have commissioned the building of a $58 million tanker in Hamburg that can carry 1000 containers and they take delivery of it once it has finished its sea trials in the Baltic... The meal on board is not bad (a chicken tikkah curry) with a red wine from Mission Hill – Sonora Ranch Merlot. The hotel is full and the receptionist on the desk apologizes for the fact that my room is a three-minute walk from the elevator.

Wednesday, March 9: Breakfast with Tony Gismondi in the hotel dining room. Michel Phaneuf picks us up and drives us to Cara Foods, where the tasting of wines for Air Canada is to take place. It's minus 30 degrees outside and Tony, from Vancouver, has arrived without a coat. He used to live in Hamilton. How quickly they forget. The tasting has been arranged as a competition – between the selection panel (Tony, Michel and myself) and various Air Canada staffers (we're told Robert Milton will be there) and a Super Elite member. As it turns out, Robert Milton is a no-show (which is probably a good thing, since he has an airline to run) and so is the Super Elite member. Ken Chase, who has been consulting to airlines around the world for 25 years, has selected the wines. We have 40 Old World whites, 34 New World whites, 65 Old World Reds, 35 New World reds, 15 Canadian whites and 15 Canadian reds. The wines we are to select are for Business Class. Ken says that in his experience passengers need wines with more body, more alcohol, rounder, fruit-driven wines in the air. Ten of the top international carriers have wines from the Languedoc on their lists, he says. Which means we'll probably be tasting a lot of Languedoc wines. He tells us that wine is number 25 on the list of what business passengers want from an airline. After safety, wine would be number 2 for me. It's a long day tasting and when I get to the airport I miss my flight because I don't have the paper ticket. Bummer.

Thursday, March 10: Waded through emails and wrote my Wines of the Week column for this site. I had an email from Rob Kerr, an amateur vintner and student of Interactive Content Production at Centennial College. He holds a competition on his website ( for his fellow students to design the label for his newly bottled wine. To mark his third competition he asked me to be a guest judge and make comments on the labels. You can see them on his site. It's pretty cool... In the afternoon, Doug Tower and David Lawrason are coming to the house for a tasting of wines for The two best wines were:

Magnotta Meritage 2002
Price: $19.95
Colour: dense ruby
Nose: sappy, cedar, red currant,
Taste: elegant, well balanced fruit and oak flavours, firm structure; good length; lovely red berry flavour. Great value.
Style: red, dry, medium-bodied
Drinkability: now–2008


Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet-Merlot 2002
Price: $50
Colour: dense purple-ruby
Nose: claret-like nose; cedar, cigar box
Taste: elegant, sweet currant fruit, well balanced, firmly structured; good length
Style: red, dry, medium-bodied
Drinkability: 2006–2009

Friday, March 11: Another Vintages April release tasting day. There must have been 90 wines set out in the lab. Thank heavens Karen Rossi was there to share the burden of tasting them all. It's much fairer to the wines to have the two of us tasting. Palate fatigue sets in at the 50-wine mark. For dinner, a bottle of Noemie Vernaux Pisse-Dru Beaujolais Blanc 2003 with tilapia. A delicious wine for the price ($11.95) – lemony, caramel flavours, clean and lengthy.




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