You: The grape life

Written by Diane Peters

At a rooftop restaurant in Bangkok, Peter Boyd recently found a gem on the wine list: a 1997 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon priced well below its value. It was a memorable night of savouring the view (the restaurant was on the 61st floor), tasting amazing Thai food and sipping a delicious steal of a California red.

“The joy of wine for me is that there’s a difference between a Chevrolet and a Ferrari,” says Boyd. “But sometimes you can get the Ferrari for not as much as you think.”

The CEO of Arcis Corp., a provider of oilfield services based in Calgary, is an oenophile (lover of wine). And that suits his business mind and lifestyle. Besides the satisfaction he gets from hounding out great deals, decoding wine impresses clients at dinners out and on his home turf. “My clients at Arcis know that when they visit, they’re going to taste some good wines,” says Boyd. Last Christmas, for example, he turned a party for 350 at the office into a wine tasting.

Developing the necessary knowledge to talk wine or read a wine list confidently may take years, but it’s well worth it. Wine are categorized by grape variety, region or vintage, and there’s a thrill in putting it all together and recognizing — without having to look it up — that 1990 was a fabulous year for Bordeaux, being able to taste oak and leather with a mere sip and not getting confused between a Syrah and a shiraz (the same grape). There’s the potential financial reward, too: some bottles increase in value by as much as 30% in five years.

Businesspeople are not the only ones sipping and sniffing in their off-hours; interest in wine has exploded in North America. “People are drinking less, but drinking better,” says Guénaël Revel, national director of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers in Toronto. New membership in his organization of wine professionals doubled last year, thanks in part to Canada’s expanding wine industry and the rise of gourmet food. “It used to be that you buy a bottle of wine and drink it on its own. Almost like you put it on a pedestal,” says Aldo Parise, editor of Tidings, a Canadian wine magazine. “These days, it’s more about enjoying it with food.”

The positive health benefits of red wine and last year’s hit movie Sideways, about two emotionally confused bachelors on a tour of California’s wine country, further pushed the drink from afterthought to conversation piece.

Boyd began developing a love of wine in 1996, a few years after Alberta deregulated its liquor retailing industry. His interest turned to passion when he became co-owner of Trialto Wine Group Ltd., a Vancouver-based wine importer. Boyd has developed his palate by attending tastings at local wine bars and industry events. “You get a chance to meet famous winemakers, hear them talk, taste the wines,” says Boyd. “It’s a great education.” He also took a few courses to hone his knowledge and tastebuds. Now he has amassed a collection of more than 500 bottles — some of 1980s vintage, others worth $500.

Still, one of Boyd’s favourite wines is priced at less than $30 a bottle. He made the delicious discovery during one of his bi-monthly motorcycle tours of California’s Napa Valley in search of new wines.

So, how can you learn about wine? “You have to taste, taste, taste,” says Tony Aspler, a Canadian wine writer and expert. “You have to taste comparatively — that’s the only way to understand.”

Wine clubs offer one of the best ways to get new wines to your lips. “Part of it is social and expanding your network of friends. The other part is you get to try wines that you’d normally not be able to try,” says Karl Klip, president of the South World Wine Society in Vancouver. Membership fees typically range from $40 to $100, which buy privileges such as newsletters, discounts on monthly tasting events and, in some cases, a line on purchasing hard-to-get wines. Some clubs feature presentations by winemakers or sommeliers. According to Klip, there’s a tasting almost every night of the week in Vancouver, compared with just one or two a month a few years ago.

Further your wine knowledge by sampling bottles at home. If you think you’ll enjoy a bottle, buy two and put the second away for a year to see how it changes. Host parties at which each guest brings a bottle to share, and order by the glass in restaurants so you can sample more varieties. Read wine magazines and follow the tasting notes, which describe a wine’s taste. Klip says it really takes about a year to understand the world of wine, refine your ability to recognize the different tastes and confidently read a restaurant wine list.

Ray Muzyka prefers sipping at home and educating himself. The co-CEO of BioWare Corp., an Edmonton-based video-game producer, frequently hosts formal dinner parties for family and friends; he complements the food with selections from his 1,000-bottle wine cellar. “I enjoy having a glass at home with my wife,” says Muzyka, “and it’s great to meet other businesspeople who enjoy wine and share stories about visiting wineries.” When he does dine out, Muzyka makes well-informed wine decisions by using his PDA to call up a database that rates more than 10,000 wines.

Of course, serious wine drinkers typically become serious wine collectors, too. “You’ve got to build up your cellar so you’re not always drinking your best stuff,” says Boyd. “And when a good year comes along, you can stock up.”

To maintain a wine’s taste as it ages, it must be stored in a dark location with high humidity and a constant temperature of 10 to 15 degrees celsius. “The most important thing, and a lot of people don’t understand this, is temperature stability,” says Marc Russell, owner of Toronto’s Fine Wine Reserve, a wine-cellaring facility.

Whether it’s relaxing at home with a glass after a long workday or pairing gourmet food with the perfect vintage, savouring wine is about savouring life. “Why not live life with a little bit more elegance and passion?” asks Boyd. “That’s what wine’s about for me.”

© 2006 Diane Peters

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com