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Weekend Wine: Sipping... and spitting!

This week, Vin Greco takes us inside the world of wine tasting

Normally, when one is tasting a wine, the expectation is a polite sip… and swallow. It makes sense, not just from the perspective of good manners, but also if you want to get a complete sense of a wine’s impact. Of course, if you’re going to taste a lot of wines, eventually you’ll be blitzed. The logical alternative is to sip, swish, and spit.

This was the approach I took a couple of weeks ago at a tasting of Burnello di Montalcino put on by the Italian Trade Commission in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Brunello is a BIG red wine, though its little brother, Rosso di Montalcino is somewhat lighter. ( has just posted its order form for many of these wines.)

In any case, between the two, I had four hours to experience as many as I could. I lasted for three-and-a-half hours before my tongue, by that time almost dyed black, gave up the ghost. I couldn’t taste any more.

One might marvel that I was still standing, never mind tasting, but I was still fairly “compos mentis”, and while l wasn’t intending to drive, it wasn’t going to take too much time before I could do that, competently and legally.  Sip, Swish and Spit.

One might question my assessment of my sobriety. When it comes to drinking and driving, no one should take any chances, period. Nevertheless, The Wine Spectator recently reported a study conducted at Meander Medical Centre in the Netherlands. (What a great name for someone doing a sobriety study…I’m sure a lot of meandering accompanies a lot of drinking!)

Ten subjects were given 10 wines – a total of 150 ml., or about 5 ounces - to sip and spit over the course of an hour, rinsing with water between samples, and then, fifteen minutes later, were administered a test for blood alcohol concentration.

A week later, the experiment was repeated, but this time the subjects swallowed the wines, which in both cases ranged from 11.5 to 13.5% in alcohol. No food was consumed during the tastings.

Though it is a small sample, the researchers discovered that half the participants drinking the wine blew over the Dutch limit of 0.05%, this on basically one glass of wine in an hour. (Here, the limit is 0.08%)

However, when the participants spat instead of swallowing, the average blood alcohol level was only 0.0026%, well under the legal driving limit.

The consumption of food does slow the absorption of alcohol, but it still takes about an hour to metabolize even one glass of wine. All the caveats regarding drinking and driving still apply.

That said, if your goal is to taste, to acquire an impression of a number of wines in a relatively short period of time, then sipping, swishing and spitting is the way to go. And it is still better to give someone else your keys.

A few weeks ago at the White House, when Justin Trudeau was dining with the Obamas, there was, I am sure, an ample amount of sipping, perhaps a little swishing, and definitely no spitting.

Everything served at the dinner was produced in the United States, including the wine. It is no surprise that two of the wines were from California, but the dessert wine, an ice wine, was from Chateau Chantal, located on the Old Mission Peninsula of Michigan outside Traverse City.

The region shares some similarities with Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, as it is the 'lake effect', where warm air rising off the water is pushed inland, that provides some relief to the vines in winter, allowing them to survive the season.

Wines produced can resemble many that we find in Niagara, such as the ice wine served at the White House.

Traverse City has long been a popular holiday spot for people living in Sault Ste. Marie, as long as the exchange rate isn’t prohibitive, and touring the vineyards is one of the attractions.

Currently Chateau Chantal is offering “Wine Boot Camp”, a six-hour experience covering many aspects of making and enjoying wine, and culminates in a multi-course dinner with accompanying wines. The cost is $95 per person, U.S., and reservations can be made by calling 231-223-4110 or e-mailing them at

Wines & Steins

On April 9, the Sault Ste. Marie Chapter of the Canadian Diabetes Association is hosting “Wine & Steins” at Quattro Hotel and Restaurant.

The event runs from 7 p.m. to midnight and features local craft beer and wines from Constellation Brands, which includes the Wine Rack stores. For $45, you receive three sampling tickets and more can be purchased.

There will be appetiizers provided, and music for dancing will feature the Paul Della Vedova Band. This Saturday, at the Mill Market, you can get tickets “buy one, get the second for half-price.”  For further ticket information, contact the Diabetes Association at 705-759-1233

At the LCBO

I don't usually buy 2-litre bottles of wine, but when I noticed that the Due Palme Brindisi Rosso, usually $18.90, is going to be just $15.90 for the month of April,

I was intrigued, and not just because of the price. Due Palme in Puglia makes some very good wines, and a couple of them are in this price range in Vintages – for a regular 750 ml. bottle. At $15.90, the Brindisi Rosso works out to $6 for that same amount. 

We gave it a try last week, and it is a sound and flavourful blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia with bright fruit and fuzzy tannins. Save a couple of empty 750 ml. bottles so that you can decant the remainder, if need be, to preserve the flavours.

April 2 Vintages Release


Featherstone Four Feathers 2015, $14.95, will exemplify once more Niagara’s success with aromatic blended whites. There’s citrus from the Riesling, spice from the Gewurztraminer, tropical flavours from the Sauvignon Blanc, and apple notes from Chardonnay all getting along very nicely together in easy sipping harmony.

Chateau Haut Philippon 2014, $14.95, a gold medal winner from the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux is said to have “tangy fruit flavours backed by refreshing acidity and minerality”, according to the vintages panel, which recommends it with creamy sauces and seafood.

Clos du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2013, $29.95, impresses with a deceptive restraint, such that the impact of the wine grows and blossoms with stylish, integrated flavours of spice and citrus, resulting finally in an experience that is sophisticated and satisfying.  Clos du Bois aspires to the traditions of Burgundy with this wine, and the many gold medals earned in the last two years suggests strongly that they have succeeded.


Kim Crawford Pansy! Rosé 2015, $17.95, is Merlot-based with 4 percent Syrah, and greets one from the outset with a distinctly floral nose – with a name like Pansy!, what could be more appropriate. Rosés can be almost as pale as water, or neon pink, and everywhere in between. This has a slightly orange or coppery hue to it in the glass, and the taste carries a slight, refreshing mineral note to accompany a pleasing strawberry impression. It has decent weight, and could be an enjoyable match for salmon or ham.


Don Cristóbal 1492 Bonarda, $13.95, from Argentina, should be pretty easy drinking with dark plum flavours along with a touch of oak for complexity – a simple but satisfying wine for simple but satisfying food, such as pizza or wings.

Viña Tarapaca Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $17.95, is a quality wine at a bargain price.  James Suckling calls it a “modern and polished red” with “hints of ripe currants, chocolate, and spices”, and anointed it with a 93

Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2013, $17.95, from a top producer in the Veneto is a ‘wine of the month’, and so will have good availability. Ripasso lovers should give it a try, just to remember what a fine Valpolicella without any ‘dried grape’ enhancement tastes like.

Hogue Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $18.95 is all Washington State, but the fruit is sourced from different areas such as the Horse Heaven Hills, where dry warm conditions allow the grapes to develop deep flavours, and the Yakima Valley where slightly cooler conditions promote slower ripening and an acidic verve.  Subsequently, the wine made is nicely proportioned, smooth and seamless with ample fruit suggestive of dark berry with a dark chocolate note on the finish. Give it a little time to breathe to show its best.

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 2014, $19.95 is a wine that the winery suggests has been “rounded and fattened” by the judicious use of new and old French oak, and that might be a very good way to describe the soft, lush mouthfeel that carries this wine, with its harmonious, sweet cherry notes and even a dash, you could believe, of cherry liqueur. There is a pleasant earthy note on the nose, and some acidity at the end that balances the fruit nicely.

Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT 2012, $29.95, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, has some of that “tar and roses” bouquet often associated with good Sangiovese wines, along with a hint of vanilla.  The soft tannins contribute to an impression of density and depth, and initial dark fruit morphs into a brighter, red berry sensation on the finish.  This will drink nicely now with food, but will continue to evolve with patience.  The 2011 was released in October, and may still be found in some stores- it could give you a peek at what is to come.