Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bum Wines – How Scotland and the US Are Dealing With Them

“Bum wines” have always had a market, in the poorer parts of town.  These low cost, fortified wines were considered a problem, even back in the mid-1800’s.  They gained popularity in the U.S. during the 1930’s, as a result of Prohibition and the Great Depression. 

Bum wines are made from a low-end, heavily sweetened wine that is fortified with spirits to increase the alcohol content from 14% to 20%.  The wine is sweet, easy to get, cheap to buy, and popular with those who have little money, are disadvantaged, or homeless.  These wines and beers are drunk more for their effect than their taste.

In the U.S., bum wines include Thunderbird, Night Train, MD 20/20, Cisco, and Wild Irish Rose.

Now, a Scottish “bum wine,” Buckfast Tonic Wine, is in the news.

The Benedictine monks have produced Buckfast Tonic Wine at Buckfast Abbey, since the 1880's.  It was originally sold as a "medicine to be taken in small quantities, three times a day."   A London wine merchant placed Buckfast Tonic Wine into distribution in 1927. 

The cheap, sweet wine remains popular today with students and the working class, but it’s being called an "irresponsible drink" by the Scottish Health Minister, and is blamed for violent and anti-social behaviors. The tonic wine has an alcohol content of 15% and includes 281mg of caffeine - as much as eight cans of cola, in one 750ml bottle.

Last week, J. Chandler & Company, distributors of Buckfast Tonic Wine, accused the Strathclyde Police, Scotland’s largest police force, of “ethnic cleansing” by attempting to disgrace the Buckfast brand.

The Glasgow-based police force have requested that several convenience stores and off-license stores (stores permitted to sell sealed bottles to be taken off premises by the buyer), place a sticker on the Buckfast bottles so that they may be traced.  

According to the Strathclyde Police, Buckfast Tonic Wine was mentioned in over 5,638 crime reports, between 2006 and 2009.  That’s about three crimes per day, with one in ten of those offenses having been violent.  Police believe that by placing the stickers on the bottles, it will be easier to track where a bottle was purchased, if it is found at a crime scene or in the possession of someone underage.

J. Chandler & Company is requesting that a judge in the Court of Sessions find that the wine is being discriminated against since police singled out this brand and encouraged retailers to unlawfully label the bottles with the stickers, or persuaded them to remove it from store shelves. (Buckfast was the UK’s number one selling fortified wine in 2010.)

A spokesperson for J. Chandler & Company equated the discrimination to a form of “ethnic cleansing” of alcohol brands that the police and politicians in Scotland don’t like.

The Scottish Government, known as the Scottish Executive, has stated that the wine contributes to public drunkenness and can lead to antisocial behaviors. Officials say they want to find a way to lessen the impact that Buckfast has on its drinkers.

Scottish police say that neither the distributors of the product, nor the lawyers representing the monks who make it, are willing to take responsibility for the behaviors of those who drink the tonic wine.

The distributors believe that the government is trying to blame the drinks industry, in general, and Buckfast, in particular, for antisocial crimes that occur in impoverished areas, and that the individuals who drink the wine and then participate in a crime should be held responsible for their actions.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., three cities located in Washington State have enacted "Alcohol Impact Areas” (AIA) for similar reasons.  

In 2006, the State Liquor Control Board prohibited the sale of low priced, high-alcohol-beverages in an impoverished neighborhood, designated as an “Alcohol Impact Area,” in Seattle.  Over two-dozen beers and several wines were banned.  The wines included were MD 20/20, Night Train, Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, Cisco, Boone’s Farm, and Gino’s Premium Blend.

In 2008, the Washington Liquor Control Board recognized two locations within the city of Tacoma as AIA’s.  Over forty low cost, high-alcohol-content beers and wines were outlawed for sale. The wines there included MD 20/20, Cisco, Night Train, Wile Irish Rose and Thunderbird. It was announced last week that Tacoma is working to establish its third AIA.

Then, in 2010, the Washington State Liquor Board declared an AIA in downtown Spokane, prohibiting over 30 low-cost, high-alcohol-content beverages from being sold.

Last year, the State of Oregon was set to enact its own AIA ban in the downtown section of Portland when plans were abruptly stopped.  In a letter sent to a Portland City Commissioner it was stated that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission did not have the power to enact such a rule.

Portland residents are divided on the issue of AIA bans; would it really work?  Should the ban be on all low cost, high-alcohol-content (14% or higher) beers and wines in the entire city, or state?  For now, the City of Portland and its residents await a ruling by the State’s Attorney General.

But a general ban also presents problems - What do you do about a Merlot that is 14% alcohol?  This is not the preferred drink of bums and those underage, but the alcohol percentage puts it on the banned list.

And how long is the time between when the banned list is issued and when it is updated?  A wine may be released at 14% alcohol one year, but the next year the alcohol content is only 13%.  Will the wine be monitored?  By whom?  What agency rules to remove it from the list? 

And we must ask ourselves – Are we, as a society, trying to legislate morality? 

Just how much accountability should a person be required by law to accept for their personal actions?

There are no easy answers to this dilemma.  What is your opinion?

~ Joy

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What You Can Learn at an In-Store Wine Tasting

It’s Saturday afternoon at your local supermarket and you discover that there is an in-store wine tasting.  Do you walk on past?  (Too many people lined up for “free drinks.”)  Do you stop and try a couple, just for fun?  Or, do you decide to take a few minutes and see if you can learn something from this serendipitous event?

I’ve poured wine at a lot of in-store tastings, and it’s true, you get a few people just wanting to ‘run the bar.’  But you also get those who really want to learn more about the wines, and even some who want to know what they can pair with it for dinner that night.

Of course, one of the reasons that person is standing behind the sample bar is to convince you to purchase a bottle of the displayed wines.  But it’s also a great chance for you to learn something more about wine in general, and the proffered wines in particular. You might even find one or two to take home.

If you want to increase your knowledge about wine – never pass up an in-store tasting.  With that said, when you ask questions, be prepared for the demonstrator to tell you they don’t have a clue about the wines they are pouring.  It’s sad but true, some presenters have been hired to be a pretty or handsome face behind the sample bar.  If that’s what you encounter, by all means try the wines; just be prepared to do some research on your own if you want to know more.

To start, you can always read the bottle label and see if the wine matches the description given.  Just don’t be too hasty to judge a wine completely based on the label description. Those plastic demo cups are NOT helping you to establish a tasting profile.

If you encounter someone who does know something about the wines, or an actual winery representative, take advantage of the situation and learn what you can. 

If the in-store tasting is featuring one brand of wine, you may find that the person pouring is from that winery.  Here is the person to tell you all about their wines.  They will know some pretty amazing facts, and they can tell you what to serve with it that will make it sing. 

This is also a great opportunity to learn more about the winery.  You'll sample only a few of their wines at an in-store demo.  If you like those, chances are you would like others that they offer.  Maybe its time to plan a trip out to the winery and do a real tasting.

If the in-store tasting offers several wines made from the same grape – get ready for a whirlwind lesson in wine.  Comparing five Merlots crafted by different wineries can be amazing!  In these short few minutes, you can learn how oak affects a wine's taste compared next to one that is not oaked.  You may notice the difference in winemakers’ styles, and discover characteristics you do or do not like when compared to others.  Different regions and terrior can become evident when several of the same types of wines are tasted together.

If you find that you like the wine, but didn’t fall in love with it – give it another try.  At in-store tastings, keep in mind that the reds have not had a chance to breathe and the whites may be inadequately chilled. Take a bottle home, treat it right, and give it a chance to shine.

An in-store tasting is not the place to make a quick and final decision on a wine.  Think of it more like speed dating - its an opportunity to see if you make a connection, if you could spend some time with it, and if you want to take it home and become more involved…

~ Joy

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine Wines with a Heart (on the Label)

Valentine’s Day is here again.  Associated with love and romance, Valentine symbols include a heart with an arrow, which suggests the penetrating deepness of love. Cupid, that cute little cherub with the quiver of arrows, represents the Roman god of love. And the heart came about when centuries ago, it was believed that the heart was the place where love and affection were physically located in the body.

Wine is also associated with hearts in many ways.  Wine is said to be good for the heart, it protects the heart, gladdens the heart, and comes from the heart.  So on Valentine’s Day what could be more appropriate than a wine with a heart…on the label?

Chateau Calon- Segur St. Estephe Bordeaux is a wine producer that features a heart on its label.  Located in the Bordeaux wine region of France, the term Calon describes a small river skiff (boat) that was used to ferry timber across the river during the Middle Ages.

The estate can be traced back to 1147.  At that time, it was owned by Monseigneur de Calon.  The Marquis Nicolas Alexandre de Segur later owned the estate and is quoted as saying, “I make my wine at Lafite and Latour, but my heart is in Calon.”   It is this quote that brought about the heart displayed prominently on the Chateau Calon Segur label. Chateau Calon- Segur was one of the original three vineyards in Saint -Estephe.

In 1894, Georges Gasqueton and Charles Hanappier purchased the estate.  It has been managed by those families until last year when it was sold to the French insurance company, Suravenir Insurance, a subsidiary of the French banking group, Credit Mutuel Arkea.
The regional Bordeaux blend produced here is similar to a US Meritage.  Intense flavors of berries, plums, and black currents are common.  The wine is said to be high in tannins and well structured, with a traditional texture.  A bottle sells for $100 to $120 in the US.

Heart and Hands Winery is located near Cayuga Lake in New York.  Owned by Tom and Susan Higgins, the winery opened in 2008, and highlights several wines crafted from Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes.

The Heart and Hands wine label features a Claddagh ring, the traditional Irish wedding ring, a symbol that dates back to the 17th century.   The hands are said to signify togetherness and friendship, the heart denotes love, and the crown symbolizes fidelity and loyalty.

Heart and Hands wines are crafted from Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes grown by several Finger Lake vineyards, including one on the estate. While it is a small production winery, about 1,500 cases, the wines reveal the unique characteristics of the Finger Lakes region. The wines sell from $18 to $50.  To learn more or purchase wine, visit @

Heart of Gold is a popular name for wine.  In New Zealand, Spade Oak Vineyard has a line of wines by this name, including Heart of Gold Syrah/Tempranillo, Heart of Gold St. Laurent, Heart of Gold Chardonnay/Viognier, and Heart of Gold Gruner Veltliner.  But alas, they do not feature a heart on the label – a pre-requisite for today’s blog.  But you can find out more about them @

The Winery at Marjim Manor is located in Appleton, New York and also touts a Heart of Gold wine.  Located in what began as an 1800’s farmhouse, the building was later used as a summer retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent before being converted into a winery. 
Winemaker Margo Sue Bittner crafts over 30 wines, including a fruit wine called Heart of Gold. Made from apricots, Heart of Gold starts with the enticing aroma of apricots and develops into a rich and buttery, full-bodied wine. The wine sells for $19.

To order wine or learn more about the Winery at Marjim Manor, visit 

If you’re searching for a more edgy heart, then consider the San Valentin line.  These wines were created by Miguel Torres Carbo as a gift for his wife, Margarita Riera, on St. Valentine’s Day. 

The white wine is crafted from the Parellada grapes, native to Catalonia, Spain, where Torres is located.  The red San Valentine Garnacha is made from Granacha Tinta, a Mediterranean grape with soft tannins and an intense, jammy palate.

And with the slogan, “Everyday is Valentine’s Day’” what’s not to love?  Find out more about San Valentin wines @

Terra Valentine Winery is located near St. Helena, California on Spring Mountain.  The name of the winery is in honor of owner Angus Wurtele’s father, Valentine Wurtele.
The two-story stone winery offers over a dozen wines.  And since it is Valentine’s Day, two wines seem to fit the holiday theme.

Amore wine is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine offers a spicy nose with the flavors of strawberries, blueberries and crabapple. Amore sells for $40 a bottle.

Marriage is a Bordeaux blend based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, which offers a rich, berry nose with a fruity balance. Marriage sells for $80 a bottle.

For more information on Terra Valentine, visit

So, if your Valentine plans include wine, consider a heart on the label – a nice touch to show that someone special, s/he has your heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!! (Now, go enjoy that wine already…)

~ Joy