Let Someone Else Push the Plunger

This link will take you to a column I wrote for the January 24, 2016 Sunday Sun.  I discuss my objection to assuming that doctors will be the ones to actually end patients’ lives in exercising their right to die.  Our role should be accurate careful diagnosis.  Others should carry out the ending of life.


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Paleolithic Wine and Food Matching

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Iran Bans the word “WINE”

The Iranian government has banned the use of the word “wine,” calling it a part of invasive westernism.  Does this mean we’ll now see “w**e” in writing from that country?

Iran bans printing of the word ‘wine’

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Viagra in your Glass?

This link will take you to an article in Decanter reporting that red wine could be effective in treating erectile dysfunction.  (Some of us already knew that…)



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Omissions on Armagnac

Two readers have kindly commented on my Armagnac post with information about differences between the production of Armagnac and that of Cognac.  My wine writing colleague Rick van Sickle noted that unlike Armagnac, Cognac is double distilled.    Bruce Heinmiller wrote “Cognac is almost exclusively made from ugni blanc, whereas armagnac includes folle blanche, bacco, and columbard. Indeed, many armagnacs are made exclusively from one of these other grapes. Perhaps they prefer the sandy soils of bas Armagnac (Armagnac’s best region) as opposed to the chalky soils of cognac. The distillation methods between the two brandies are also, in general, quite different. Cognac is double distilled in a pot still (similar to the distillation method used in calvados), whereas almost all armagnac is single distilled in a column still, and to a lower degree alcohol (perhaps up to 55%, rather than over 70% in the case of cognac). Cognac is then generally reduced with water to 40%, as is much of the industrial armagnac production; however, traditional armagnac is often not reduced, other than by the natural losses through the oak barrels with extended aging, and often is released in the range 43% to 48%. I think the column distillation (and distillation to a lower degree) has one of the more pronounced effects in differentiating armagnac from cognac.”

Thanks, fellows.  Hey, I think I’m starting to like this “blogosphere” thing!

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Fifty-Plus-Year-Old Armagnac

Armagnac is the unsung hero of French brown spirits.  The brandy is named for its region of production adjacent to big brother Cognac in southwestern France.  Both products are made from roughly the same grape mix, harvested early to preserve acidity, distilled in pot stills and aged in wide-grained Limousin oak.  The differences between them reflect the slightly different soils and climatic variations of the zones and, perhaps most of all, the philosophy of those who make and age these products.

Armagnac tends to look a little different than Cognac with black notes to the colour.  On the nose its telltale characteristics are prune fruit, glove leather and violets.  It creates a “dancing fire” effect on the palate, striking and sometimes rustic but always pleasant.  The finish is proportional in length to the age of the Armagnac.  Most bottlings are blends but, unlike Cognac, vintage Armagnac is produced and sold by many producers.

My wife, the Queen of Cuisine, recently returned from a visit to Florida with two wonderful gifts:  an Armagnac Sempe 1963 and a Bas Armagnac Laubade 1964 (bottled in July, 2014).  We spent a delirious half-hour scoping, sniffing and tasting these beauties and teasing out the differences between the two.

The Laubade 1964 (US $300, score 91+) was amber mahogany with deep copper glints and a faint green edge (reflecting age).  The powerful rich nose was smoky with sweet spicy vanilla notes and hints of sweet leather, burnt orange peel, violets and raw spirit.  It’s a supple, rich smoky mouthful with dried fruits and a long creamy finish with a late celery salt note.

The Sempe 1963 (US$300, score 94) was paler than the Laubade ’64 medium mahogany-tinged amber colour and that watery apple-green edge.  The bouquet was attractive, complex and deep with smoky and dark toffee notes, dried date and fig fruit, sweet leather and a burnt tangerine peel note.  On the palate it’s sweetly spicy and vanillary with a Madeira note, a creamy grippy mouthfeel, overall intimations of sweetness, fresh acidity, dried date and fig flavours, that smoke, and an incredibly long powerful “dancing fire” finish.

[The Armagnacs reviewed here were purchased at Total Wines in Sarasota.]

These bottles are displayed sideways, but they’re still evocative…

Armagnacs Sempe 1963 and Laubade 1964




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Rioja Bordon: Delicious, Inexpensive and Crafted to Last for Decades

It’s no accident that the Rioja region in northern Spain is home to some of the world’s greatest red wines.  For starters, the zone is snugged up against mountains that offer protection from wind and rain.  Next, the wines are based on the Tempranillo grape.  This varietal yields medium-weight reds with unique raspberry, cherry and other characters.  The wines get longevity and structure from other varieties like Mazuelo and Graciano, with early fruit from Garnacha.  Icing the cake, the region has three zones (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja), each with a distinct climate, topographical features and soil types.  The diversity makes a wide variety of styles possible.

Riojan reds are almost always aged in small new American oak casks which impart strong plank, vanilla and spice characters that get delightfully dusty with age–and age is one thing red Riojas do extremely well.  Wines classified as Gran Reserva are required to spend at least three years in oak and a further two in bottle.  Reservas require two years in oak and one in bottle.  These limits are often exceeded.

Bodegas Franco-Españolas, one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Spain, was founded in Logrono, Rioja in 1890 in the aftermath of the devastating epidemic of Phylloxera in France.  Immigrants from Bordeaux brought their know-how with them, establishing a firm that has survived the tumult of the twentieth century and a series of owners.  Today, one of their principal brands is Rioja Bordón.

In October, Bordón’s export director Juan Carlos Llopart and Barry Brown, Canada’s foremost authority on Spanish wine, presented a tasting of Bordón gran reserva and reserva wines at Toronto’s National Club.  They validated the house’s reputation for delicious good-value wines.  Two of them are currently in the market and are worth buying to go with your autumnal roast meats.

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2005 ($22.95, score 90+) is a limpid black cherry-coloured wine with sweet spicy dusty notes.  The American oak is youthfully intense.  On the palate the sweetly ripe black cherry huckleberry fruit is polished with fine tannins and fresh acidity for structure.  The finish is mouth-watering, well-fruited and long.

Rioja Bordón Reserva 2008 ($18.95, score 90) sports a harmonious dusty nose with black fruit and an oak note.  It has grippy velvet tannins, mouth-watering black berry fruit, fresh acidity and a long intensely fruited finish.

We also tasted some older vintages of Bordon Gran Reserva to see how the wine ages.  In short, it matures beautifully.  Here are my notes on some doozies:

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1982 (score 91) has faded to a medium pale with a bewitching nose of fresh and dried blackberries and cherries married to complex sweet spicy oak, dust, ancient plank, acacia, cumin, leather and raisings.  In the mouth it offers fine ripe grippy tannin, good ripe fruit, fresh acidity, all those grace notes from the aroma, and a very long drying finish.  To be consumed by midnight and enjoyed.

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1985 (score 91+) was medium deep dark garnet ruby.  The nose was intense and dusty (the evolved version of American oak) with fresh and dried black cherry and blackberry fruit with acacia, fig, sweet spice, leather, blueberry, mineral and cocoa notes (the evolved version of red Rioja.)  The tannins are velvety and the acidity fresh with aromas repeated on the palate.  It’s less enchanting but fruitier than the ’82.

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1994 (score 92) is brightly fruity with black berry, cherry and huckleberry aromas dancing divinely with sweet spice, leather, dust and sandalwood notes.  It has dense velvet grip and deep spice-nuanced fruit through a grippy finish.  It’s perfect now but will age and improve over five to ten years.

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 1995 (score 90+) had a nose of sweet ripe fresh and dried blackberry and black raspberry fruit, pungent coffee beans, dust and sweet spicy oak.  It’s elegant and lighter than the ’94 with good fruit, firm ripe tannins, fresh acidity and good length.

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2001 (score 92) features intense rich ripe black fruit with sweet spicy vanilla and sandalwood aromas.  In the mouth it’s ultra-rich and ripely fruity, mouthwatering, with nuanced spice.  The finish is sweetly ripe and long, deeply fruited with gentle grip and an oak note.Rioja Bordon #1

Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2005 (score 90+) is still a black cherry ruby colour.  The powerful nose sports with slightly awkward sweet spicy dusty youthful oak.  Sweetly ripe black cherry and huckleberry fruit are polished and well-presented.  It’s grippy velvet in the mouth with deep sweet fruit and spice notes through a mouthwatering long well-fruited finish.


[For more information about Franco-Españolas wines go to www.francoespanolas.com.  For any information about Spanish wine email Barry Brown at info@spanvino.com.]




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