to the rescue
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ON THE NAME
It was a challenging week. First, I got stuck in an ugly Lakeshore traffic jam hoping to avoid any chunks of ice tumbling down from the CN Tower. What took five minutes became an hour. This combined with the icy cold temperature and soaring gas prices, brought me to a new level of grumpiness. Walking in the door, exhausted with still a column to write, I looked for a pick-me-up. I searched through my "to taste box" looking for something to sooth my frayed nerves but nothing seemed to appeal.
And then I remember a splendid sweetie I brought back from Vinoble, the world's definitive sweet wine conference in Jerez, Spain. It was here where I was seduced by some delicious dessert wines from the Roussillon region in southwest France near the Spanish border. To be precise, it was a stunningly delicious, vintage-dated, vin doux naturel (aka VDN) from vineyards adjacent to the town of Rivesaltes. I fell in love the first time my lips touched 1930 Cuvée Salamo-Noell. Produced by the venerable house of Domaine Puig-Parahy, I luckily managed to purchase a half-bottle at 100+ euros wholesale.
Finding the bottle was another matter. While searching, I came across something more practical and thankfully still available: Vignerons Catalan 1974 Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age (23549). This golden red amber coloured elixir has a lovely, sweet, complex, caramel-plum nose and delicious, sweet but balanced, caramel driven, plum-cherry purée flavours. It's amazing to think that you can still buy a dessert wine that was produced 33-years-ago for a mere $22.05 per 500 ml bottle. Anybody born in 1974 should track down as many bottles as possible, because it will keep for many years.
Even more incredible is that as of earlier this week, it was still available in 72 LCBO stores. I am not talking about the shelves in Vintages, but the run-of-the-mill outlets as a general list item. And that's why this end-of-January release is still available. Obviously, it isn't the kind of wine that Yellowtail fans are going to jump on without some prompting. Despite excellent in-store presentation at some stores (where seven new VDN wines are presented together), customers need on-site guidance. The absence of any point-of-sale handouts or Vintages-styled product information has hurt sales.
If you look this wine up on the LCBO Web site you see in bold capital red letters PRODUCT DISCONTINUED. You are then informed: "This product has been discontinued. Limited quantities are available for purchase in select stores only and cannot be transferred to other locations."
In fact, to get attention the LCBO placed a "one-time order" for seven different sweet VDN. Bravo! But why not use the correct description "one time order" on the Web site? The word "discontinued" can scare customers, especially licensees, away. Also why not transfer these wines to downtown Toronto stores where they are needed desperately.
Many are surprised to discover that these sweet wines are made by the addition of alcohol to the fermenting must (a process called mutage), which stops the conversion of sugar into alcohol, thereby leaving residual sweetness. For over 800 years Roussillon has been the world center of VDN wines (400 years before the first Port was produced using the similar techniques).
Anyone with a sweet tooth will also enjoy some of the other wines still available. Don't miss the light yellow coloured Bagatelle 2005 Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (29967) at $17.95 (500 ml), a tasty Springtime sipper with 15% alcohol. Based on the fragrant, premium Muscat de Petits Grains, it has a very fragrant, honeyed, rose petal, Anjou pear nose with sweet but well balanced, gently honeyed, ripe, tangerine-lychee flavours with tropical fruit hints. For a guide to the sweet wines of Roussillon click here.
wines to watch out for include Croix-Milhas
Rivesaltes Ambré (27581) a best buy at $10.45
(500 ml). Golden amber colour, it has a gently honeyed, slightly spicy,
sweet, warm caramel nose with fine, well-structured, sweet caramel and
ripe plum purée flavours. Perfect chilled as an aperitif or at room temp
as a dessert wine.
Complete List of all VDN wines currently available:
• Vignerons Catalan 1974 Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age (23549 • $22.05)
• Bagatelle 2005 Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (29967 • $17.95)
• Croix-Milhas Rivesaltes Ambré (27581 • $10.45)
• Jean-Paul Henriques Banyuls (26922 • $14.05)
• Croix-Milhas Banyuls 4 ans d’âge (22814 • $12.55)
• Cornet & Cie 2005 Banyuls Rimage (27599 • $19.55)
• Croix-Milhas Maury Muté sur Grains (22822 • $11.05)
- 2007 Tasting Note Database
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Notes Database: click
Copyright Food & Beverage Testing Institute of Canada