This week’s wine news: The history of wine may be older than we think, plus Alaska Airlines offers free wine shipping and Canadians enjoy bootlegged wine
• Very, very old: Scientists have discovered wine residue in clay pots more than 5,000 years old. If it is wine, will force archaeologists to reconsider how long we’ve been making and drinking wine. This discovery, in caves under the Monte Kronio volcano in Sicily (along with a similar find in the republic of Georgia), means wine use may be a couple of thousand years older than believed. Even more amazing, the wine in the caves may have been part of a complex system of international trade, bringing copper goods to Sicily in exchange for wine. And without the three-tier system, too.
• Free shipping: Who knew airline free wine shipping would be a draw? But Alaska Airlines thinks it is, part of their “Wine Flies Free” program. Those of us who travel to wine regions served by Alaska, which includes parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, can check a case of wine without paying the fee. You have to belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program, but that’s about the only condition save whether your state allows it.
• Not in my province: Canadians, who usually seem more sensible about these things, are embroiled in a trade war over wine and oil. The province of Alberta, which has the oil, wants to build a pipeline through neighboring British Columbia, which has the wine but doesn’t want the pipeline. The premier of Alberta has imposed an embargo on B.C. wine until the latter allows the pipeline. In other words, much U.S.-style foolishness – and even someone trying to make money off the embargo. The Calgary Herald reports that a luxury wine tour company, Butiq Escapes, is offering a “B.C. Wine Smuggling Escape for Albertans,” complete with private jet to fly you to B.C. wine country.
• Even in Nova Scotia: The government in the Canadian province will spend C$3.5 (about US$2.7) to help vineyards and wineries, an almost unprecedented investment in a part of the world where one doesn’t think of wine. But the provincial government sees wine as a way to create create jobs and boost economic development, which is something progressive and far-sighted governments do (right, Texas?). In fact, there are 11 wineries in the province, and the modern Nova Scotia wine industry is 25 years old.
• More than just a bottle: Will wine drinkers ever accept anything other than wine in a 750-ml bottle? Can the wine industry meet that demand? This is a chicken and egg question, and particularly since experts and consultants insist wine drinkers want something else and consumers keep buying wine in the traditional bottle. The Wine Intelligence consultancy parses the issue, and realizes that “part of the issue remains one of cost. One [750-ml] bottle incurs less dry goods cost than four mini [187.5-ml] bottles, and price sensitive consumers have historically been reluctant to pay more (relatively) for less.” In other words, wine drinkers don’t want to pay more for convenience, and this doesn’t take into account that smaller sized bottles (as well as cans, boxes, and what have you) have usually been used for inferior wine.
• Total Wine changes: The man who runs the country’s biggest liquor chain is stepping down to go into politics. David Trone, who started Total Wine with his brother Robert and led it to almost $2 billion in sales and some 120 stores, is leaving to go into politics. He was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in Maryland this spring, and says he wants pursue a career in public service, which may include another congressional run or a presidential appointment. This is intriguing news, and not just because of politics. Trone, whom I have interviewed, is one of the smartest retailers I have met, and Total’s success owes much to he and his brother’s vision. If he isn’t there, can Total continue to grow?
This is one of the most expensive wines ever reviewed on the blog — $50 for a half bottle, assuming you can find it. Icewine requires bitterly cold winter temperatures, and the past couple of winters have been so mild that not much has been made. Hence, this is the current vintage, and there isn't a lot of it left.
Icewine is made from grapes that are left to hang on the vine and only picked on the coldest day of the year. Leaving the grapes on the vine concentrates the sugars, just like a raisin. Picking the grapes after they freeze concentrates the sugars even more. The result is a dessert wine of amazing qualities, somehow very sweet and yet also balanced. The residual sugar is 24.2 percent, about eight times that of white zinfandel.
So the equivalent of $100 a bottle for the Inniskillin (sample), one of the world's top producers, is not as ridiculous as it sounds. This vintage, made with the vidal grape from Canada's Niagara region, is a stunning wine, sweet and luscious and rich and overwhelming. A couple or three sips are almost enough; swish the wine slowly around in your mouth before you swallow, and savor the way the apple, pineapple, and honey flavors blend together.
Some people claim they can pair icewine with food — cheeses and berry desserts. But, frankly, there's no need. If you're lucky enough to find some, drink it slightly chilled as dessert, and make the bottle last as long as you can. It will be worth it.