Sunday, 28 January 2018

Whats the point?

Hey Fellow Wino's

I think it's time to tackle wine point ratings. When you see a wine rated at 88 points, 95 points, or if you are lucky enough 100 points, what does this really mean?

Let's first talk about how the points system work. First, you have winemakers who make wine which is a beverage enjoyed by thousands if not millions if you are a really big winery. Secondly, you have wine critics who like restaurant, music or movie critics, critique the wine and rate it on a point scale out of 100. Thirdly, the winery or wine merchant can then use the hopefully high point review to market the wine to increase sales. There are a few problems though ranging from what makes a wine 100 points to the same wine receiving different points based on who reviews it.

How many points would you rate the Eiffel Tower? How many points would the White House be worth? Would the Statue of Liberty be 100 points or is the green a bit to lime for some? Wine like restaurants or movies or music is a form of art, and therefore subjective to the participants. While some may think the God Father is a famous classic, others may view it as a guys guy, gangster movie.  While some may view Pucci's Opera, La Boheme, a beautifully composed love story, others may view it as a tad dramatic. Do you see where our first problem lies? How can an art form be given a specific number, potentially defining 100% perfection?

I've noticed that some wines I've had have been rated rather high, in the 92+ point range and honestly I didn't really care for them. Take for instance this wine, Athos from Tuscany, rated 99 points by Luca Maroni, an Italian wine critic of sorts. I recommended it in my picks several months ago as it had good reviews, good score and at a great price in comparison to others. I rushed out, bought three before the LCBO sold out, which it did in literally 24 hours.  I made a nice Italian Tuscan meal, cracked the bottle, decanted then poured. While the structure (acid, tannin, oak use etc) and fruit was good, it had residual sugar of around 8Grams/Litre which for a Tuscan wine is rather high considering the average would be well below 4G/L. This tasted more like a new world wine from California or possibly the south of France than beautiful Tuscany. I liked the wine and would recommend it, but would have never given this wine 99 points let alone 95.

Browsing the LCBO and many wine review websites you'll find many different point systems and 8 different reviewers offering a different point rating (interpretation) of the same wine. I have come to see that some wine critics consistently give an above average rating on the points scale compared to others. Think of it this way, if you were a winemaker and someone gave your wine 93 points while others gave you 89, which point would you slap on your bottle to increase sales?  It's the latest drama in the wine world, how many points is too many or too little? If you are a struggling new wine critic, the quickest way to get your name out there would be to review a few wines, give them very high ratings and have your point rating and name plastered everywhere for potential buyers to see. Do you see the potential for, in my opinion, false advertising?

No self-respecting sommelier would design a wine list by points. Wine lists are normally sorted by regions, grapes or the new hot thing, style. The sommelier may refer to a wines point rating if it had a high one, but only between discussing the region, the grape, potentially the brief history of the winemaker etc. In my opinion, art shouldn't have a specific end all and be all number attached, except for the price. Wine, like art, should provide a feeling or an interpretation of the creator's work. We don't go to the movies to increase our happy points for the day nor play our favourite song for the same reason, e do it to feel something different. Each wine has a story from where it's grown, to the grapes used, to the person who created it. When a wine is celebrated by drinking it with friends, family or a loved one, in the end, it's kind of priceless occasion...or pointless. The wine you serve at your wedding, or have with dinner the night you plan to propose, how many points would that wine get?

It's not all bad though because, in my opinion, it does help people venture out of their comfort zone and into a potential new region or grape, based on a good rating. For instance, let's say you are going to the store to purchase your standard go-to Chardonnay from California to crack with friends, but you see a Chablis in the same isle rated 95 points. They are both Chardonnay but this new wine is from Chablis (Northern Burgundy, France) so you say what the heck, let's try it. You may now have a new favourite goto or at least opened your eyes to how a different style of Chardonnay could taste. This, in my opinion, is a great thing because in art we should be moved, not remain stagnant. What would be great if instead of having a customer simply see an eye-catching high point rating, perhaps a skilled person like a Sommelier could guide a newer customer towards a new wine to try. The Sommelier does just that, guiding a customer towards a new great wine by explaining how good it is because they have experienced it for themselves and explain why they too, should experience it as well.

The point rating system is a bit of a double-edged sword because it's pretty popular with the average consumer who doesn't know much about wine and if a struggling winery receives a high point rating you can bet your butt they will use it to increase sales. I must say though when a person buys a wine based on points alone my insides cringe a little. If you are comparing 5 Cabernets from Napa and you don't know which one to choose it is possibly a safe bet that a 98 point one will taste better than an 88 point but it depends on how is writing the review.  I'd stick with Robert Parker if you like points or our homegrown Canadian talent, Wine Align. My honest suggestion though is to plan a meal and research what type of wine from specific regions or grapes would pair well then start reading some of the reviews of the wine skipping the points. If it mentions that your wine has a small earthy, green note to it, well that may just pair well with the green earthy bay leaf in your stew. You see what I'm saying? Don't worry about the numbers so much, worry about the notes, and pairing them with your meal.

After-all, math can be complicated and wine...well, that can be complicated too.

Happy Sipping,

Ryan Sullivan

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Whats wrong with Yellow Tail? Cars and Wine

Hey Fellow Wino's

I hope you are staying warm this winter as it's been quite chilly across Canada these past few weeks. I thought I would talk a little about my wine evolution from my yellow tail days to what I'm currently sipping. I think we are placed on this earth to explore, to grow, to change and to enjoy the sights sounds, tastes and smells along the way. So where are you on your wine journey?

When I first started sipping wine I think the first wine I loved was Yellow Tail Shiraz from Australia. The wine had a fist full of vanilla, cloves, and chocolate that hit you like a ton of bricks to the face which at the time, I loved. I relate my love of Yellow Tail to the 1990"s souped up Honda civics of the day with white tail lights, sport exhaust and lowered suspension. While this was cool to me in my mid-teens to young 20's it was probably quite hideous to any normal person at the time. #CivicNation

I then moved from the powerhouses of Australia to the powerhouses of California, specifically big Cabernet. I sipped up Knights Valley like a heavy-duty Dodge truck would burn gasoline, way too much. I loved affordable Napa Cab because it was big and powerful wine but with more refinement than entry-level Yellow Tail. I was maybe 23 but wanted to show I had some experience even if it meant faking it until I made it. Sipping affordable Napa cab was like driving an older BMW, fast and fun and made me feel like a cool kid just too bad it was a 15-year-old BMW with a bit of rust on the sides.

I'm trying to remember what I went to next because I stayed in California for a long time and I'm pretty sure I'm an honorary citizen but until Trump is out, no thanks. I then ventured into France and Italy trying to find any wine under $20 I could get my hands on which lead me to affordable Sangiovese from Tuscany and red blends from Bordeaux. I felt like I was now into the middle ground of my wine evolution, much like a newer Volkswagen Jetta, responsible to own and one just like the Johnsons had who lived next door. I was an average Joe wine drinker and no longer a new kid on the block.

After spending my mid 20's in the simple and affordable reds of France and Italy I started to venture into the land of whites. I remember one year my New Years resolution was to not be a nicer person, lose weight or solve the world's problems but to drink more white wine. My stepmother loves this story because she couldn't believe that anyone would actually have such a silly New Years resolution. I'm not kidding either, I really did have that as my resolution. #Mid20'sSayTheDarndestThings

After flirting with Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and a few others I fell in love with the all mighty Chardonnay. I tasted oaked, unoaked, warm climate, cool climate and was fascinated by its many different styles of the same grape. I found this chameleon wine much like a Subaru. The car much like the wine had power, performance and could tackle varied driving conditions from city stop and go to Sahara crossings to mountain snowy roads in February.

It was then in my late 20's that I realized my love of wine was a little more than just the average person. I couldn't read enough, shop for it enough or taste it enough, I was hooked. I enrolled in Wines 1 at George Brown college thinking I would snore my way through because after all, I have been drinking wine for almost 10 years now. It was about 30 minutes into my first class when I realized, I literally knew nothing about wine. We were tasting Bordeaux and comparing right bank to left bank and learning the differences all when I didn't even know Bordeaux had banks. I'm pretty sure I thought the professor worked for TD or BMO because he used the word bank so many times. It was like walking into a Mercedes dealership while driving my Toyota Corolla..."This car has what options again". I didn't even know a seat could move and grove that well. The class was great because my eyes were opened to the wine world from South Africa to South America to Washington & BC.

A year passed and I thought now that I was sipping the world of wine I would try my hand at Wines 2 and improve my knowledge and tasting ability of the world. Tasting similar regions to Wines 1 but much more expensive wines opened my eyes yet again, to just how delicious a well-made wine could taste. I remember sipping about 5 different wines from Bordeaux, all over $100 and I couldn't have been happier. This was like having a friend who tossed you the keys to their newer BMW M5 saying, have fun. I was a kid in a candy shop and cavities be damned. While I only got maybe a 70% in Wines 1 I think I received 85% or higher in Wines 2 so clearly, some progress was being made.

I took another year to hone my wine tasting before I realized I needed to find a way to incorporate wine into my life somehow in a serious way. I was sipping a glass of wine one day while wondering what side business I could have, real estate, finance then it hit me that I love wine more than anything. I enrolled in the George Brown Sommelier program and now I'm about halfway done this one year program. People often ask me my favourite wine but it's a hard question to answer because a musician doesn't have one song, a chef one meal or a car collector one car. I love different wines for different reasons and at different times. I love sparkling wine at Brunch with friends, Chardonnay on a hot summers day in the afternoon and a nice Barolo with a mean steak at night.

I'm currently really falling in love with Northern Italy, specifically wines from Barolo. I think a 10-year-old or more Barolo is one of the most rustic and powerful yet sensual wine's I've had. I'm also into Beaujolais, but Cru Beaujolais not that simple drink as soon as possible nouveau stuff. My current favourite wine for sipping with dinner, in the bath or by the fireplace channel on my TV is a Beaujolais from Moulin a Vent by Stephane Aviron. It's pleasant, light yet fuller bodied and could pair with almost anything. Much like my love affair with souped up, sport-tuned exhaust civics I've grown up and now drive an older Porsche Cayman S that is 11 years old. I love its stylish lines, it's performance and it's timeless look. I couldn't possibly afford a new Porsche or a new Mercedes but by shopping around carefully I bought a piece of the rich life for the price of a new, run of the mill Toyota Camry. I love to sip affordable Barolo, Cru Beaujolais and would like to get more into Burgundy but I'm just not there yet as a wine drinker...but maybe one day.

My wine journey can be summed up going from loud to quiet, raging to smooth, smack in the face to an enticing caress, and as big as I could buy to what fits better. The idea of driving a souped up civic with sport exhaust annoying everyone I drive past horrifies me, muck like sipping Yellow Tail again.

There is nothing wrong with the yellow tail but when I see those loud cars zoom by and I peak in the window to see who is driving it, my two cents are you should be under 30 because at mid 40's that's just sad. Go ahead and sip all the Apothic red you want but again you should be younger, drive a Saturn and live with your parents. Test drive different wines and don't be afraid to spend a few more bucks from time to time because you can't take money to the grave.....besides no one wants to go out driving a Saturn.

"Life is to short to drink bad wine"

Happy Sipping,


Monday, 1 January 2018

January Blues - 10 Wines for under $10

Hey Fellow Wino's 

I hope everyone had a nice holiday, a great NYE and are managing to stay warm as temperatures across the country have plummeted into the netherworld. 

So it is January and you are most likely a little broke, a little tired and rightfully so, a little cold. Now that I have gotten those spirits up with my motivational speech, have no fear, Ryans wine picks is here to help you sip like a pro on a tight January budget. I thought I would share a few truly affordable wines that are actually not too bad. I don't suggest you purchase these wines as gifts for that someone special in your life or over analyze these wines too much in the glass because these are what I like to call "Tuesday Comfort Wines". Good honest wine at a good honest price!  

What differentiates these wines from more expensive wines is these wines are simple while more expensive wines are more complex. Some of the wines below have been produced in larger yields, seen little to no oak and shipped out of the winery as quickly as possible so the cost to the winemaker is much less. In comparison to say a producer of a Gran Reserva which would have much less yield and spend years in oak before release which means a higher cost. Land price, labour all factor in but essentially lower price equals lower complexity...which isn't a bad thing, honestly.

Let's begin 

Dragani Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Doc, Italy at $6.95
This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape in Abruzzo Italy, hence the name Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. This wine is perfect for a walk-in special pizza or a simple pasta on a weekday because at the price you really can't afford to not sip it. Ruby & purple hints, ripe fruit aroma, black cherry with a touch of coffee; full fruity, soft tannin in medium length finish. Enjoy! 

George Duboeuf is famous in Beaujolais for his fresh take on the Gamay grape and how it should be consumed as fresh as possible. Although this is from George Duboeuf and is Gamay, it is not from the region of Beaujolais, instead, it is from the south of France. This is the reason it is not called Beaujolais, instead, a unique take on labeling Gamay as an attempt to try and pass it off as Beaujolais Nouveau. Bright medium purple colour; fragrant aromas of red fruit, strawberry, plum and herb, with light floral/mineral tones; dry, light and delicate, slight spritz with fresh acidity, lightly herbal, with generous fruit flavours and notes of candied strawberry, banana, cherry pit and red plum linger on the juicy finish. Pair with some simple and affordable roasted pork tenderloin and potatoes. 

This wine is made from a blend of Tannat, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca from Northern Portugal. It has a medium deep ruby; aromas of leather, blueberry, spice, and raisin; dry, medium bodied with soft fruit and moderate tannins. Perfect for roast chicken from either Swiss Chalet or your standard supermarket roast chicken. Honest goodness. 


This is a really great go-to bottle and I won't deny I have had more than just a few of these bottles in my lifetime. Garnet red colour; aromas of black cherry, overripe/roasted red fruits, game, chocolate and mint/herb notes; dry, medium-full bodied with sweet dark fruit flavours and oaky notes in the long finish. Pair with tapas, roast meets or even as simple as takeout hamburgers with maybe some grilled peppers on top from a local burger joint, not Mc Dicks. 

This wine is made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz. It offers a ruby red colour; blackberry, red fruit and vanilla aromas and flavours with earthy, dried fruit and cedar notes; dry and medium-bodied with a long finish. Perfect for any type of meats from roast chicken to pot roasts or for the veggie's perhaps a nice mixed bean casserole. 

Let me be very clear if you want to be frugal yet drink good wine, go Italian. I would rather drink a simple Italian Sangiovese with a nice simple pasta vs a simple French table wine and some stew. Now that I have angered at least 1/4 of my readers, this wine offers a deep ruby colour; leather, cherry, cranberry, tobacco and earth aromas; dry, medium-bodied, with a velvety texture and ripe cherry flavours. Perfect for a simple pasta or a frozen lasagne...that you heat up. 

This wine is made from grapes Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Baga, selected in the best areas of the Bairrada region in Portugal. Ruby red colour; blackberry and spice aromas with a touch of earth; dry, medium body; ripe blackberry flavour and medium length finish. This wine would be great for a winters stew, big bowl of chilli or again, roast chicken. This is a pretty fruit forward big wine for the price, enjoy! 

This wine is a blend from 55% Syrah, 25% Castelão and 20% Aragonez offering medium purple colour; pronounced aromas of raspberry, spice, with notes of earth and pepper; dry, medium acidity and firm but balanced tannin; juicy black and red berry fruit flavours give way to a tangy, grippy tannin, medium-long finish. We are getting a bit big here now for chicken, I would pair with some serious burgers, roasts, stews or anything that would be strong enough to match. This is hardly a simple pasta wine...besides it's not Italian so why would you even think of pasta you witnit. 

This wine is 100% Malbec offering a bright ruby red colour; fresh raspberry, cherry, sweet plum compote and milk chocolate aromas with hints of violets and herbs; dry, medium bodied, with balanced acidity and silky tannins supporting flavours of ripe black fruits. Pair with a typical Argentinian dish such as some empanada's or beef done anyway on a plate...ok maybe not poached. A big wine deserves a big meal! 

This 100% Garnacha offers a deep ruby colour; aromas of ripe black cherry, anise and a touch of chocolate; medium bodied, medium tannins and juicy plum, mint and spice flavours. I would personally say pick up a bottle or two, call a friend or two over and make a big tapas plate with various Spanish chorizo sausages, cheeses, olives and give winter the big middle would be nice to pretend you are in Madrid even if only for an hour or two. 

You really can live a champagne life on a beer budget! 

Happy Sipping, 
Ryan Sullivan 

aka wine left outside in Canada for 5 minutes 

Vintages, Saturday May 25th, 2019

Hey Fellow Wino's I've got some new picks for you to try out from today's vintages release. 1.  Blue Mountain Gold Label Bru...