JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2007

~A brief essay on the Vintages Burgundy Tasting: an exercise in excellence and embarrassment~

     Several weeks ago, on Tuesday 17 February 2007, my father and I attended a wine tasting put on by 'Vintages' (a subsidiary of the L.C.B.O.) at the Fairmont Hotel. Lasting for two-and-a-half hours, from 6:30PM to 9:00PM (the L.C.B.O. never holds an event open to the public for longer durations --- "Thanks, Dad!"), the event featured around one hundred different Burgundian wines, most of which were of higher-end quality.

     On the whole, the evening was a delightful affair, enjoyed at a full capacity by about four hundred persons. Generally speaking, it was not what I expected. Ordinarily, at premium Toronto wine tastings, most people are obnoxiously pushy and insatiably arrogant, pressing against one another to have their glasses filled at the wine-serving tables and cutting in line to collect plates of h'orderves at the 'food stations.'

     Astonishingly, on this particular night and at this particular tasting, such was generally not the case. Not only were people (mostly Torontonians) unusually polite, they also did not behave nearly as haughty as they usually do. Granted, there was the occasional 'stuck up' individual (or couple) here and there - and one could, quite literally, smell them at a distance - but they were noticeably outshone by more decent persons, such as my father and his fellow South African friend, both the former and latter of whom seemed to simply adore this evening's wine tasting not for the purpose of conspicuous consumption of high-grade wines, but for the sincere adoration of wine as a multifarious beverage.

    To what explanation is this occurrence owed? Hard to say, but I have the distinct feeling that it had to do with the snow storm that began to fall on downtown Toronto around the same time as the tasting at the Royal York had begun. As I walked around to the different tables throughout the course of the evening, it seemed rather apparent that many people were just happy to have actually made it to the tasting. Perhaps this made people forget about their arrogant state of being for the evening, and simply taste wines for the sake of tasting wines.

     And what a tasting it was! With dozens of Burgundian producers and agents on hand to display their wares - along the usual assortment of 'Vintages' personnel - wine enthusiasts like me were in for a special treat. In the course of just a few hours, we (that is, people in attendance) were able to sample a delectable range of higher-end Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, most of which were indisputably admirable in quality. At the same time, we were also privy to meeting a handful of delightful Burgundian producers, some of whose well-defined personalities and commitment to quality - particularly the various producers and owners of Chablis who were at the tasting - were even able to make people like me forget that the L.C.B.O., as an institution, is as repulsive as the office building/warehouse they occupy down at Queen's Quay --- "Thanks, Dad!").

     In what way was this so? Allow me to explain, via the use of a rather poignant example.

     At practically all Vintages tastings, all wines featured must have attached on them a 'controlled pourer' (or stopper) that only gives only one miniscule ounce (maybe a little more) per pour. What a ridiculous device! Granted, they are quite useful at sit-down tastings, where expensive items (limited in quantity) ought to be apportioned equally to all participants; but at a public consumer tasting it is arguably one of the most ridiculous contraptions utilized by our ever-archaic government-run Liquor Control Board of Ontario. And this is where the title of my article - particular the latter portion - gets its meaning, so please do read on.

    At most of the tables in the room where the tasting was held, there was an L.C.B.O. product consultant present. For the record, I feel it necessary to make it abundantly clear that I harbor no ill-feelings toward these individuals. Absolutely none! Not only are they exceptionally knowledgeable about virtually all things related to wine, most of them are noticeably kind and extremely helpful. Nonetheless, serving as representatives of an organization as abhorrent as the L.C.B.O. to the basic freedoms of individuals to procure and consume alcohol, there presence was, concurrently, a source of both embarrassment and blushful amusement for the Burgundian producers and agents and Torontonian tasters, particularly when it came to the use of 'controlled pourers.'

     How so? Well, throughout the evening, I cannot recall the exact number of times that, while L.C.B.O. product consultants looked on embarrassingly, Burgundian producers would take the 'controlled pourers' off of the bottles in frustration to give tasters a reasonable sample of their wines. For people like me, it was difficult not to remark out loud, that the L.C.B.O. - though the hosts of this evening's wonderful tasting (that is, via Vintages) - were making fools out of us Torontonians with their more-than-questionable policies and practices --- "Thanks, Dad!"

    

     With this said, it ought to now seem clear why I would distinguish this particular Burgundian tasting as one characterized by both excellence and embarrassment. With so many excellent wines to try in such a beautiful setting - along with so many knowledgeable and friendly Burgundian producers on hand to display their wares - why does the L.C.B.O. have to taint the evening with their vile enforcement of idiotics? Personally, I do not have an answer to this question; and I must say that I am glad that I do not, for if my answer was measured in alcoholic form, I would be limited to around an ounce of writing.



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