Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favourite Wines of 2013

One of the things that always interests me is when people choose the ‘best’ wines of a given year. I don’t quite understand how that works – mostly because I'm still a little confused by the criteria. This may come back to my  uncertainty around how wine scores work – does the wine with the highest score win the ‘best’ title or is it something else? I’m sure that people who have spent more time learning about wine totally understand how the selection is done, so I will leave that to the experts – they’re usually right.

For me, wine is often about the experience. The wine I celebrated my anniversary with this year tasted spectacular. Would it win ‘best’ based on the criteria for numbered scoring? I have no idea, but I loved that wine so much in that moment and that’s all that mattered.

As I was compiling this list (which is by no means exhaustive - I loved many wines this year), I realized that the moment I drank the wine tended to come to mind. And even though those moments were very different (on vacation in Germany, in my Wines II class, at a busy tasting), they all factored into how I experienced those wines. So will you look at this list and think I’m out of my mind to choose these particular wines over some fancy, 100-point scoring masterpiece? Maybe. But that’s OK, because the one thing I know about wine is that everyone has different tastes and my favourite may not be yours, but a really good wine tastes even better when sipped at the perfect moment. And it’s completely alright to have your happiest moments coincide with your best sips.

The Returning Favourite Category

Vineland Estate’s Elevation Riesling was my favourite wine in 2012 too. It’s just so crisp and refreshingly drinkable. I love the structure and how the green notes pop on my tongue and then leave a lovely, softly citrus finish. It’s no surprise then that I chose this wine to take with us when Shawn and I set off to celebrate our ‘first-date-iversary at The Millcroft Inn in Caledon in November. So when we were sitting in our beautiful room at the Millcroft, watching the snow fall on the waterfall outside our window, was the wine just as good? I’d argue it was better - because it was the perfect wine for us in that moment. 

I’ll give an honourable mention to Vineland Estate’sCabernet Franc in this category too, as it has become my ‘go to’ wine to bring when we’re visiting friends. It’s just such a crowd-pleaser and at an affordable price-point, so you don’t feel bad for spending $50 on a wine that no one in the room but you appreciates. Every time I bring this wine, people enjoy it and that’s way more important than the price tag.

The Year I Fell in Love with German Wine Category

I got to try a number of international wines this year and it really did open up the world of wine for me. It’s one thing to understand Ontario wine, but to really see it within the lens of wines from around the world is a treat. I was speaking with the winemaker from Errazuriz at an event and he said how much he envied Canadians because we have the wines of the world available so easily, which is very different than in Chilé. While I’d love to see a world where Canadians actually drank and appreciated Canadian wines the way other countries appreciate their own, I couldn’t help but get his point.

That said, I think there is something magical about drinking the wine of a region right where it was grown. Shawn and I had that experience in the Mosel, as we sampled so many of the local wines on our vacation. My favourite? St Urbans-Hof 2012 Kabinett, which we sipped one night as we watched the sun go down over the castle ruins in Bernkastel-Kues. Did the magic of that moment affect our appreciation of the wine? Absolutely. But I already knew it was a great one from my tasting at the winery earlier that week.

Another German wine that makes my list? The Dr. PaulyBergweiler 2011 Riesling Spatlese, which I chose for a recent #TOWineDinner. I am forever trying to choose a wine that will impress at those dinners, but because I am really just building up my cellar right now I don’t have anything vintage or fancy to bring most times. I love the dinners and learn so much, but I always feel like the newbie at the table. Following our visit to Bernkastel-Kues, I felt a bit more confident about bringing a wine from the region, as I’d had so much opportunity to really learn and start to understand the viticulture in the area. When those petrol notes hit my nose, I was concerned for a moment that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I’d had, but I shouldn’t have worried at all. Everyone agreed that this was a great wine and I fell in love all over again with the crisp acidity and complex fruit and floral notes on the palate that German wines always bring me. I loved this one.

The Incomparable Canucks Category

While I have enjoyed visiting the world of wine, my heart always belongs with Canadian vino and this year I had plenty of chances to remember why. The best moment? When Paul Dearborn (whitbywino) broke out one of his Creekside Estate Winery 2007 Lost Barrel reds at a #TOWineDinner and my heart melted with every sip. This is one of those wines that opens up more and more with every minute it’s out in the air. One swirl brings black currents, another spicy caramel and cloves – it’s a wine you just want to sit with for hours, but that is just so spectacular to drink that you can’t resist. I loved seeing The Lost Barrel win the wine of the night – especially when it was up against such a stellar line-up of impressive international wines.

Another great wine I have Paul to thank for was The Old Third 2010 Pinot Noir. I think County Pinot has huge potential and for wineries like The Old Third, they are already reaching it. This was a fantastic wine that I am so thankful to have tried. I’m also lucky to be able to report that more amazing County Pinot is in the pipeline – based on a recent barrel tasting of the 2012 Lighthall Vineyards Pinot Noir, I am prepared to have that wine on my best of list next year.

The ‘I Can’t Believe I Got to Drink That’ Category 

Ridge Vineyard's 2010 Monte Bello is one of those wines that you hear about all the time. They reference it in wine books and articles – it’s considered an industry standard for California Cabernet. But it retails for about $150 a bottle in Ontario and that’s way too rich for my blood. Luckily, one of my wine instructors was willing to spring for a bottle in his class budget. And I’m so glad he did – because it was spectacular. Trying this wine, even in the sterile environs of a wine lab, helped me to understand what makes a quality wine – the body, the structure, the mouthfeel – it was unlike anything I’d experienced before and it was such a good learning opportunity. I feel lucky to have had the chance to try it.

Another wine worth it’s high price tag was Errazuriz’s 2010 Kai, which retails for $144.95 and is a delicious Carmenere with a splash of Petit Verdot. I had the opportunity to try this at an iYellow event and the memory of this wine has stayed with me long past the party.

And since we’re on the topic, a high price tag doesn’t always mean your heart will fall in love with a wine. Shawn and I were out grocery shopping recently when a friend tweeted that we had to check out the Ace of Spades champagne tasting at the LCBO nearby. Well, of course we did! So that’s how I found myself in jeans and a hoodie sipping $600 rosé champagne from a plastic sample cup. And it was… great. I liked it. But the $300 Ace of Spades gold champagne we also got to try was even better, in my opinion. Still, compared to any other sparkling I’ve ever tasted? Both these wines were incredible and I hope one day to get the chance to have them again.

What were your favourite wines of 2013?
Any must try wines for 2014? I hope you'll share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ontario Wine Society – Prince Edward County

I thought it would be fun to join the Ontario Wine Society (OWS), but I wasn’t sure if the Toronto chapter was right for me. So when Paul and Kari Dearborn (whitbywino and whitbyfoodie on Twitter, respectively) announced the formation of the Prince Edward County chapter, my interest was piqued. I don’t live in PEC, as much as I may wish I did, but I feel a pull to the County in a way that’s hard to describe. When they assured me you don’t have to live in PEC to be a member (they don’t), I was happy to sign up.

My first event was a Wines of Summer tasting at The Grange Winery. I’d never visited The Grange, but it’s a beautiful location and winemaker Caroline Granger was on hand to walk us through a tasting of their Riesling vintages. It’s always a special treat to have a tasting opportunity like that with the winemaker and it was an added bonus that we were given a personalized tour of the cellars and tanks following that.

Add in some delicious snacks and my first OWS-PEC event was a great experience. I loved meeting other members (many live in PEC, many don’t) and getting the chance to have a one of a kind wine experience. The Society is planning more events and hopes to host them regularly as their numbers grow.

I asked OWS-PEC President, Trevor Norris, some questions about the chapter and wanted to share his answers below.

Why did you decide to start a PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society?

Being a huge fan of Ontario wine, and after hearing about Ontario's newest wine region in 2009, I decided to take a day trip to check it out and fell in love with the area. From then on I spent most of my weekends in PEC visiting wineries. I noticed right away that something was different about PEC - the wines tasted remarkably different than Niagara and I felt a strong sense of authenticity in the passion of the winemakers.  To be tasting wines with an incredible sense of place in my own backyard was intoxicating. 

After befriending a few winemakers and seeing the soil first hand I was amazed at the potential of the terroir of PEC.  The entire region sits on top of this prehistoric lake bed of ancient limestone and it was this limestone and distinct soil that was adding a wonderful third dimension to the wines much like one of my favourite regions from around the world - Burgundy, France. 

To think that someday, this little region toiling away and beginning to produce remarkable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, might rival Burgundy is extremely exciting to me.  I love drinking wine where you can taste the vineyard itself, all those terroir-driven complexities and that the winemakers in PEC are focused on nurturing and highlighting that in their wines.

I felt that a PEC chapter of the OWS would allow for us to create a window into a greater awareness of PEC wines and to educate as to why this is an extremely special region.  Most importantly, we wanted to create a space for wine enthusiasts at all levels of interest to come together, interact and share their love for wine.

What perks do people receive by joining?


With an OWS membership you (and a guest) get to attend exclusive wine events at a special member price at any of the five chapters - Prince Edward County, Niagara, Toronto, Halton and Windsor-Essex.  For our chapter specifically, all new members also receive a membership card and a beautiful Riedel Bordeaux glass engraved with the OWS-PEC logo (valued at $20).  Your membership card entitles you to complimentary tastings at participating industry member wineries in PEC, Niagara and other chapters.   As well, OWS partners with other organizations to offer discounts to members for wine magazine subscriptions, winery offers, glassware, tour packages, etc. A full list can be found at http://www.ontariowinesociety.com/membership/benefits

How are the winemakers and wineries in PEC responding to the Society?
I think first and foremost the wineries and winemakers in PEC are incredibly happy there is another voice and promotional vehicle in PEC to promote the industry out here.  PEC, being a smaller industry in a region trying to prove itself alongside Niagara's multimillion dollar wineries and industry, we have to fight hard for tourism and wine purchase dollars. 

A lot of wineries in PEC are small family-run operations whose only source of promotion is word of mouth.  With an organization like the OWS, we can tap into our widespread membership and bring smaller wineries into the limelight and showcase their truly exceptional wine. 

Our events so far have enjoyed strong turnout and our membership is the fastest growing in the society.  We have received great press and very positive feedback from our participating wineries and events held thus far.  Our calendar is starting to take shape for 2014 with more and more wineries wanting to partner with us for events and the excitement is building for what we have planned this coming year.

Many people think you have to live in the area to be a member, but I know that's not true. Why do you think so many non-residents are interested in this chapter?


Well I think the biggest reason for non-resident interest in our chapter is that PEC is a destination spot.  Unlike Niagara, We are very lucky to have 3 major urban areas - Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto - relatively close by and people that live in those areas visit PEC quite a bit.  A great many of these people come to PEC now strictly to indulge in the incredible wine culture here.  As wine enthusiasts, they're looking for other unique events targeted to wine than some of the more mainstream festivals and events.  I would say more than any other chapter, we are able to attract more non-residents as member as they realize the benefits quickly.  They are already here for the weekend and get to enjoy one of our carefully tailored events, get a chance to interact and have an experience with winemakers and wineries on a level that the ordinary tourist wouldn't normally get.

For more information on the OWS-PEC visit their website here: http://www.ontariowinesociety.com/chapters/prince-edward-county/

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mosel Valley – St. Urbans-Hof


Every year, Shawn flies to Germany to attend the world’s biggest heavy metal festival. It’s one of his favourite things to do and I am more than happy not to join him – camping with 70,000 people at a giant outdoor music festival? Not for me. However, it’s a great opportunity to tack on an extra week of touring somewhere in Europe and this year I decided to fly in and meet him for a week driving through the Mosel Valley.

What an incredible trip! I can’t say enough about the Mosel Valley – it is truly breathtaking and one of those places I hope everyone gets a chance to experience at some point. We started in Hamburg (the city closest to the concert), drove to Koln (stunning – just wish we hadn’t spent four hours of our day here completely lost) and then drove on to Benkastel-Kues in the Mosel, where we spent three days. We made a side trip to Trier (which wasn’t to our tastes), but otherwise were happy to spend those days exploring Benkastel-Kues.

We were especially lucky that our hotel in B-K, the Burgblick, also has a wine bar. The proprietors are very knowledgeable about wine and were able to teach us much about different styles. I even tried some German reds, which were… interesting! They’re quite tasty, although you rarely see them outside Germany, and I actually found them somewhat similar to Niagara reds in style and character. If you ever find yourself in B-K, I highly recommend staying at the Burgblick – it’s lovely, with a wonderful daily breakfast, beautiful views (we had a view of the castle ruins from our room), and that great wine bar. It’s also walking distance from the Medieval Village, so you can get there easily without having to stay right in the heart (I suspect that would be very loud).

While B-K is full of wine – seemingly every house we passed had a sign up offering wines from their family vineyards – we were lucky enough to have been able to book a private tour and tasting at St. Urbans-Hof. For those unfamiliar, Nicholas Weis and his family have been making wine in the Mosel for generations. Mr. Weis was also one of the first to bring German-style Riesling to Niagara when he founded Vineland Estates. In fact, the grapes for my favourite Ontario Riesling (Vineland’s Elevation) are cloned from Mosel grapes from St. Urbans-Hof.

On a beautiful day in August Shawn and I went to visit. What a stunning place. The building is gorgeous and it is surrounded by acres of vineyards. Not all of St. Urbans-Hof grapes are grown here (they have several vineyards in Germany), but many of them are. We were led through an incredible tasting by one of the staff and it truly was like having a private tutorial on the Mosel region.

St. Urbans-Hof has such spectacular Rieslings and they are all so unique and different. What you anticipate from a German Riesling – crisp acidity, low alcohol, a sweeter style – is there in some of the wines, but in others there were such unexpected characteristics – bone dry Rieslings with beautiful floral notes, older vintages with petrol notes (or a surprising lack thereof). I was blown away by how each wine expressed the terroir in its own individual way and so differently than many of the other wines we had tried.

As a special treat, we were given a tour of the production area and the cellars, which was such an incredible learning opportunity. Shawn and I were impressed by the size of the operation and how even with a modern style, so many of the old world touches were present in the cellars.

This was a once in a lifetime tasting opportunity and it was a highlight of a spectacular trip. I came home with a few bottles of St.Urbans-Hof and such a hugely expanded understanding of German wines from the Mosel area. A huge thank you to Brian Schmidt, Nik Weis, Nicole at St. Urbans-Hof and everyone else who made our visit possible.

You can get some St-Urbans-Hof wines at the LCBO and I highly recommend searching them out. We drove out to Oshawa to scoop up the last bottle of their Kabinet recently, as it was just incredible.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wines of Portugal

My experience with Portuguese wines has been limited at best. It’s not a wine region that we have covered extensively in my wine classes thus far, and besides Port and Vinho Verde I really haven’t had much opportunity to taste wines from this county. Even The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil, which has become my go-to resource when I want to learn more about an area, focuses primarily on Port – covering the non-fortified wines in just a few pages.

That’s why I was thrilled to get an invite to a seminar on Portuguese wine by Sommelier Christopher Sealy at Midfield Wine Bar. The event, which started with a seminar and tasting and ended with a dinner and wine pairings, was a deep dive into the table wines of Portugal and an incredible learning opportunity.

Sealy started off with a seminar covering the history, geography and terroir of Portuguese wines.  The event, which was sponsored by Vini Portugal (Wines of Portugal), was an effort to increase awareness of Portuguese wines, especially among restaurants and agents. I felt, as I often do, incredibly out of my league in terms of overall wine knowledge, but also fantastically grateful to have been included. I know that it was a rare treat to learn so much about a region in the company of those with far more wine experience than my own.

The first tasting flight was done blind and Sealy asked us to pick out the wine we thought was not from Portugal. This resulted in a lively discussion amongst our team, who thought that the wine with the buttered popcorn on the nose and rich, oaky palate was the least likely to be Portuguese. Turns out, we were wrong – that wine was 100% Antao Vaz and was indeed Portuguese – as were all the wines in the flight. Sealy’s deception was a worthwhile one, as it really highlighted misconceptions we might have had about what a Portuguese wine tastes like.

The next flight wasn’t blind, but it was still fascinating. I found all three flights to be a unique experience, as there were so few grapes I had ever tried before. I was also very impressed by the Portuguese Syrah that we tried. This is not a grape that I associated with Portugal before this tasting, but it was a star player in two of my favourite reds of the evening.

Since I started my wine education, I’ve found that the opportunity to taste a large selection of a country or region’s wines has been invaluable. It can be so hard to really understand the characteristics of an area’s wines without tasting a considerable amount of the wines from there. In this case, while we only tasted through twelve, they were so new to me that I was able to really grasp how they compared to other similar styles I’ve tried. I was impressed by the diversity and also the qualities of these wines – the great minerality and acidity in the whites and the rich, complexity of the reds. While not every wine was one I’d want to have again, there were some fabulous picks at each price point.

This event was also special because it ended with an opportunity to try some of the delicious selections from Midfield’s menu with Portuguese wines. It’s really nice to be able to judge how a wine will stand up with food and many tastings don’t offer a really substantive opportunity to do this. Sealy, who is a co-owner of Midfield, truly understands the importance of wine as an accompaniment to a meal.

I was thrilled to be included in this event. Even though I tend to be the quiet one at these tastings (a shocking fact to those who know me), I love any opportunity to listen to those who understand wine discuss it. I learned so much from Sealy, from those on my team and from everyone in the room who was willing to share their opinions. A great event with a fantastically well-considered format.

Learn more about Midfield Wine Bar (which I highly recommend for wine lovers in the city) here: http://midfieldwinebar.com/ 

Learn more about the Wines of Portugal here: http://www.viniportugal.pt/en/HomePage

Interested in trying some of the wines we tasted? These ones should be available via the LCBO (or will be soon):

1. Mar da Palha- Quinta da Chocapahla - Syrah / Touriga VR Lisboa $18
2. Character Pintas - Wine and Soul - Douro DO $27
3. Chryeaia - Prats and Symington - Douro DO $75
4. Nostalgia - Quinta Touquinheira? - Vinho Verde DO $22 
5. Dao Branco Reserva - Alvaro Castro - Dao DO $16

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

U.S.A. Rice Recipe Challenge

One of the fun parts of blogging has been taking on the occasional recipe challenge. I love these. For someone who rarely, if ever, cooks, these challenges are a great opportunity to learn something new and stretch a bit creatively.  Shawn also loves when I do them because he can watch me do the cooking – although he still gets called in to assist fairly often.

Usually, I try to do a wine pairing for whatever I make. That’s gone well for the most part, but when I received the recipes for U.S.A.Rice I realized that might be problematic. You see, while I do eat some meat, I won’t cook with raw meat. Yes, I know that’s weird, but we all have our things, right? Shawn is rolling his eyes right now if he’s reading this.

So I could have made this and paired it with a Riesling: 


Or this and paired it with an unoaked Chardonnay:










Or this… well, I actually bought the stuff to make these, but they looked kind of hard to make and then I thought they might be too sweet to pair with an Icewine (the dessert should be less sweet than the wine). Super sweet desserts are not easy to pair.





Instead, I decided to make Brown Rice Power Bars. They looked like something I’d like to eat and they seemed reasonably easy to make. I also thought it was kind of cool to make something so different with rice. It’s definitely not my go to ingredient when I decide to cook up some squares! This left me with a challenge, though, as to what wine I could pair with this. It’s kind of a breakfast-y type dish, so I was thinking about a sparkling wine or maybe a Moscato. But then I was reading about Halloween wine pairings on The Daily Sip on Bottlenotes and they mentioned that a big California Cabernet would go well with peanut butter treats – and these are super peanut buttery, so I think that would be my choice if there was ever a chance I’d want to pair these with wine. To be honest, I think they pair best with a big glass of milk.

But onto the cooking! You can find the recipe here, as well as a photo of what they look like when someone other than me makes them: http://riceinfo.com/recipes/sides/brown-rice-power-bars/

I chose an organic brown rice from California and Bob’s brown rice flour from Oregon – we’re big fans of Bob’s products, so that was an easy choice. I usually cook rice in the microwave (hello, Uncle Ben’s), but I decided to challenge myself and make this on the stove top. I was a little freaked out to discover it takes an hour to make on the stove, but I was in this to learn, right? And once Shawn talked me through the whole math part of figuring out the ratio of water to rice I was good to go. And the rice turned out really, really well. I made more than I needed and it was great with dinner.

These bars have a lot of stuff in them, including brown sugar, which is not something we would normally eat. I’d actually like to try and make them without that as I found them a bit too sweet for my tastes. I also thought maybe it would be better if the instructions suggested chopping big pieces of the trail mix – mine had whole dried apricots and Brazil nuts and that threw things off. Yes, I could have just done it anyway but remember when I said I don’t cook? Chopping is high on the list of reasons why.

Anyway, I mixed all the ingredients – including two cups of cooked rice – and then baked them for 30 minutes. They smelled fantastic. And they tasted really great too. They were super moist, which I actually think is because of the rice – not something I was expecting at all. And, as long as you choose a glutton-free baking powder, this recipe is glutton free.

The ingredients


The rice is ready - and super delicious even on its own.




Mixing it all up - who knew you could make squares with rice?
Ready to bake.

Hot from the oven
Ready to eat - and super tasty.
So another fun recipe challenge under my belt. It may not be the best item to pair with wine, but it was a lot of fun to make and I bet these would be a great breakfast treat for guests on a wine tasting weekend.

Rose Reisman has a video on the U.S.A. Rice Federation site that will give you some tips on cooking rice and you can also find lots more great recipes there: http://riceinfo.com/


The fine print: U.S.A. Rice provided me with the recipes and a gift card with which to purchase the needed ingredients to make this recipe. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Summer in a Glass – Evan Dawson

One of the things you learn when you read a lot of wine books is that, as much as I may love them, many are not exactly thrill-a-minute page-turners. And for those who aren’t passionate about wine, they may even seem a little dry. Wine is fascinating, but it’s also complicated and that can make it difficult to write books about it that appeal to people who aren’t necessarily all that interested in wine.

Evan Dawson may have written a book that’s the exception to the rule. I bought a copy of Summer in a Glass last year, having seen it recommended on Twitter. I kept thinking I should get around to reading it, but I was concerned that a book about the Finger Lakes wine region in New York State might not be that interesting. And never mind that there were so many books about the bigger and more influential areas that I needed to read for wine school.

But then I picked it up and I had trouble putting it down. This is probably the first and only time a book about a wine region almost made me miss my subway stop. Dawson writes in a way that’s just so compelling – each chapter is the story of a Finger Lakes winemaker and how they found their way to the region. And the stories are just so fascinating – and told so well. There’s the French estate literally stolen away from one, the ongoing immigration saga of another, the slipping away from his German home in the middle of the night of a third. Each story is given equal care and attention – whether the winemakers’ story is full of drama or just full of a passion for the region.

And this really is a love letter to the Finger Lakes – a region that’s not too far from Toronto and yet had been very far off my travel radar before this book. Now I simply can’t wait to visit – I’ve already ordered my Finger Lakes travel guide. We likely won’t get there until sometime next year, but I’m sure that the stories in this book will still be with me as we get there – the stories Dawson has chosen to tell are just too vibrant and compelling to forget.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I look forward to a future post on the Finger Lakes.

To order from Amazon click here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

iYellow and Errazuriz Wines

I love wine events that involve meeting the winemaker. It’s always such a unique opportunity to really learn about a wine and to ask questions that the sales rep might not be able to answer. The recent iYellow event featuring Errazuriz wines and winemaker Francisco Baettig was a fabulous opportunity for me. Not only did I get to experience some of the very best wines Viña Errázuriz makes, but I was able to listen to the winemaker explain why he decided to make the decisions he did when it came to creating those wines.

And Francisco did not disappoint – he was wonderfully personable and happy to talk about his winemaking techniques and the viticulture in Chilé. He was also willing to chat with guests and answer our questions. I was especially interested to learn that most of the wine consumed in Chilé is made in that country and that there is limited access to imported wines – almost the exact opposite of the way things are here.

I didn’t know a lot about Errazuriz wines before this event, but I’m looking forward to trying them again soon. We were able to sample wines from three different quality and price points, starting with the Estate Chardonnay and Estate Pinot Noir, both of which were enjoyable entry-level wines (and, with the grapes picked in March I think these both qualify as cold-climate wines, although I’d love an expert to weigh in on that).

At the second level we tried the Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (surprisingly similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on both the nose and the palate) and Syrah (which was one of my favourites of the night). There was also a Cabernet Sauvignon available, but I didn’t get to sample that.

The surprise of the night was that we were also able to taste Errazuriz’s highest-quality wines, which retail for $80 and up. The 2010 Kai, which was my absolute favourite wine of the night (and honestly one of the best wines I’ve had ever) retails for $144.95 and is a delicious Carmenere with a splash of Petit Verdot that will likely only improve with age. If you are going to spend this kind of money on a bottle, Kai is one of the wines worth the splurge.  This was just such a lush, savoury wine.

We were also able to sample the 2008 La Cumbre, which is a lovely, vibrant Syrah. And the 2008 Don Maximiano, which is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend. Both were truly excellent wines with outstanding mouth feel.

I honestly felt lucky to be able to try these three wines, as they really highlighted for me just how magical some wines can be. There are those who scoff at such high priced wines (and those like me who simply can’t afford them), but the experience of a truly brilliant bottle – where the grapes are hand picked, each grape checked for perfection and the wine made in small quantities to ensure greatness – is one that I hope everyone has at some point in their lives.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club and Philippe Dandurand Wines for the invite.

To purchase Errazuriz wines in Canada, visit the LCBO or the Philippe Dandurand Wines website.

To discover more fabulous and fun wine events in Toronto, check out the iYellow website!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sherryfest Toronto

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a ‘secret’ sherry tasting with some of the best wine and food experts this city has to offer. I definitely felt like the fly in the wine at this one, as every one of the other eleven people in attendance had way more wine experience then me (nothing intimidating about having a Master Sommelier at the table). Of course, the wine community is nothing if not wonderfully welcoming and inclusive, so while I may have wished I had more to offer no one made me feel the least bit bad about quietly taking it all in.

And I learned so much – I was thrilled to have the opportunity to really start to understand sherry, which I’ve barely touched on in my wine classes. Host Derek JB Kranenborg from The Vine Agency is an incredible font of information on sherry and at the end of two hours and 19 tastings, I felt like I had taken a master class in this unique Spanish wine.

Derek is bringing his love of sherry to life in October when he brings Sherryfest to Toronto from October 9th - 11th. The festival, which originated in New York in 2012 via Peter Liem and Rosemary Gray, will bring together the best sherry from a number of bodegas. While the Toronto version will be slightly smaller than New York’s, it will still showcase sherry in a way that this city has never seen.  

Below is a Q and A with Derek about Sherryfest – you can also read more at his blog, www.alltherightgrapes.com

Why bring Sherryfest to Toronto?

Sherry has always been a personal favourite and a wine I am passionate about (I lived in Spain briefly at the end of the '90s when I was working for a bank and I really fell in love with Spain, Rioja and Sherry), when I joined The Vine we embarked on importing Barbadillo and Equipo Navazos as I was convinced they were real wines of quality and worth trying to bring attention to. In the UK and New York City specifically, dry sherry at the premium end of the spectrum was gaining momentum and last year there were two great sherry events in London and NYC. We had some success with Equipo Navazos and I could sense there was a real interest in sherry with several somms and chefs, even if they felt it would be hard to sell. After attending Sherryfest in New York, I really wanted to try it in Toronto and see if we could pull something off here. I contacted Peter Liem and the Consejo Regulador in Jerez and both were interested in giving it a try.  So here we are, a week and a bit away from the largest ever sherry-only event in probably all of Canada. It's hard to bring in high-end (old and rare) sherry through the LCBO (see another post on my blog) but I feel this wine just deserves more attention.

What do you think the highlights of the festival will be?

While I think the dinners will be spectacular and I am really looking forward to the sherry cocktail competition, the highlight will have to be the Grand Tasting, with 10 bodegas, most with a principal or representative present and over 50 sherries to taste, it will give everyone a comprehensive sense of what is being produced these days and what variety sherry can offer.

I'm a huge fan of wine cocktails and love the idea of the cocktail contest - do you have a quick and easy sherry cocktail that you recommend?

I am not a cocktail guy. While I appreciate the art and I am intrigued by it - hence the interest in the cocktail competition - I really don't have a repertoire. I do think that sherry could be a good component and it might be a way to get people interested in it. The only sherry cocktail I know, perhaps not really a true cocktail is the "Rebujito" - popular in Spain and a great refreshing drink: In a tall glass, ice, an ounce or 2 (a copita basically) of dry fino or manzanilla and then filled up with Sprite or 7Up.  I like it. Especially when it's hot. But I'm sure our city's bartenders will come up with much better stuff than that at the competition on Friday October 11th at The Harbord Room from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Interested in attending Toronto's first Sherryfest? You can find information about the tastings and events here:


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sip & Savour Ontario

This is another event I’ve been a bit slow to post about, but I definitely Tweeted up a storm while I was attending. This really and truly was one of the most fun wine events I’ve been to in a long time – and not just because I got to spend some time with the very awesome Cellar Sisters.

Sip & Savour Ontario showcases some of the best food and wine Ontario has to offer. The winners of Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards are paired with some fantastic local food fare and the results are pretty spectacular. I’m already salivating at the thought of next year’s event.

Some of my personal favourites from the evening:

13th Street's Cuvee 13 Rosé is fabulous - not at all surprising from this winery!

And this is where I discovered Creekside Estate Winery's Backyard Bloc Sauvignon Blanc - one of my pick's for wine of the summer.










Kacaba Vineyards' 2009 Single Vineyard Syrah received a well-deserved silver at the awards and was a personal favourite of the evening.

I also had the chance to try Nyarai Cellars' Cadence for the first time - what a delicious red wine.

Vineland Estates had two winning Chardonnay's available for tasting.

















There was also plenty of great food on display at the event, including:

This is a popelin - it was delicious!


Barque Smokehouse had a fabulous salmon dish.


I fell hard for these yummy Summerfresh desserts.




Thanks to the Sip & Savour Ontario team for inviting me to this event - I can't wait for next year!




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wine School Reconsideration


I recently completed Wines 2 at George Brown. I passed, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. Not that I didn’t love it – I very much did – but my newbie-ness was on full display. I’m still pretty awful at blind tastings, though I’m getting better (thankfully), but I find testing situations just brutal.

Really, I don’t know why this happens, but when you call something an exam I completely freeze up. That wasn’t the case when I was in school – I was great at exams back then – but when it comes to tasting I turn into an uncertain mess. It’s probably all the pressure I put on myself, but it’s frustrating. I don’t know how to stop second-guessing myself so much. In a normal non-exam setting, I find it pretty easy to tell Pinot from Nebbiollo, but in an exam they sure start to seem similar.

Whatever the case, I did my best, I learned an enormous amount and I found that at the end of the day I was still just as much in love with wine. But given my recent experiences I think I need to take a break from classes for a little while. Everyone at school has way more life experience with wine than I do and I think I need to get some more of that under my belt. So I’m going to take the fall to read all the expensive wine books I’ve purchased, attend all the tastings I get invited to and really practice my wine reviews.

You can expect to see more reviews posted on Wine Align (where I’m a member of the blogger cru) and I’ll continue to post regularly on the blog about my adventures. I think that my formal wine education will continue in the new year, but we’ll see. No more pressure for this wine lover – for now it’s going to be all about learning at my own pace.

And who knows, maybe if I go back to doing this just for love I’ll feel a little less stressed about things and ready to tackle another semester. After watching the documentary SOMM recently (which I highly recommend) I realized that I am not the only person who has gone a little crazy for the love of wine learning! And even though I can’t see myself ever having the ability to pass the master sommelier exam (can you even imagine what a nervous tester like me would be like trying to pass the hardest exam in the world?) I do love that there was a little part of me who wondered if I could do it. Ah, wine, you do have such a vice grip on my soul!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Fool and Forty Acres


A Fool and Forty Acres by Geoff Heinricks – a book about one writer’s decision to try and grow a vineyard in Prince Edward Country long before such a thing was considered a viable idea.

My lovely friend Ali on Twitter recommended this book and I’m really glad she did. I took A Fool and Forty Acres with me on our trip to the Mosel and now have memories of lying in our hotel room in Bernkastel-Kues reading the book with a view of the vineyards outside my window. While I didn’t finish the book on that trip (truth be told, this really isn’t a vacation read), I will always treasure that memory.
 
And I loved this book. I think partly because I too feel the pull of the County and understand innately the desire to give up the life I’ve built in Toronto to find my place among the vines. While I don’t want to start a vineyard, I can completely understand why Geoff did – and I applaud his dedication and determination to making that dream a reality.

For those, like me, who discovered Prince Edward County just recently, this is a wonderful history of the origins of wine growing in the County. Geoff truly was an innovator at a time when few thought there was much point in planting grapes in the area, and his vision laid the foundation for many of the vineyards I know and love today. This book is in many ways a love letter to PEC and the history and beauty of the County that are so hard to resist.

It’s also the story of one man’s struggle to turn a rundown farm into a viable vineyard. That Geoff succeeded despite the doubts of others and no end in struggles along the way is a testament to the power of his vision that PEC could be a wine region. Not to mention the incredibly hard work he put into growing those grapes. I can’t say I envied him the backbreaking work, but I understand putting everything you have into doing something you truly love.

I hope many of you who read this review will pick up a copy of A Fool and Forty Acres. For those who love the County, it’s a must read and for those who love wine I think you’ll find this a fascinating tale.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Food and Drink of Ottawa

For our anniversary this year, Shawn and I decided to visit Ottawa. It’s one of our favourite cities and we’d never been in the summer, so I was excited to get back. Several of my wonderful Twitter friends helped me decide where to go and what to do on our visit and, as usual, we weren’t disappointed by our crowd-sourced adventures.

As regular readers know, Shawn is typically the DD on our wine trips. He likes a glass or two with dinner, but he’s happy not to imbibe so I can discover new wines without worries about driving. He’s really more of a beer lover, so as his anniversary gift I treated him to visits to some of Ottawa’s many great craft beer brewers. I used Sheltered Girl Meets World’s excellent post on beer tourism in Ottawa to plan our brewery visits and I highly recommend this resource to any other brew lovers visiting the city.

Our first stop was Big Rig Brewery, which is just about in the suburbs of Ottawa, but was easy to get to on our way in. We loved the vibe at this restaurant and the wings were super tasty. Shawn had a glass of the Scotch Ale with his lunch and even after tasting several other excellent brews throughout the weekend, this turned out to be the best and his pick for the trip. I’d love to go back here again, as we didn’t really have an opportunity to sample much on their menu. They didn’t offer the Scotch Ale for take-home purchase, but we were able to get a six-pack of one of their other brews to take back with us.

We chose Divino Wine Studio for our anniversary dinner and that was a much different experience. This is a great place to do wine and Italian food pairings and I enjoyed our meal and the atmosphere. We had made reservations in advance, but still weren’t able to get one of the few tables available, however, the communal seating situation here wasn’t too bad. The staff is friendly, the food is good and the atmosphere is quite unique so I’m glad we had the chance to eat here. Keep in mind that this is a pretty pricy option, but worth it for a celebration.

The next day we did a double-decker bus tour – one of the best ways to see all the great sites this city has to offer – and stopped off at Byward Market. There’s a Montreal bagel shop there that I absolutely love and I was glad to find that it was just as good as I remembered.

We had dinner that night at Clocktower Brew Pub, in The Glebe district. We stayed at the excellent Best Western on O’Connor near the Glebe and I liked this much better than our previous hotels, which we chose because they were in the heart of the city. I loved being so close to the restaurants, nightlife and shops in the Glebe, plus it was only about a twenty minute walk to the more tourist-heavy Byward Market and Parliament Hill areas.

Clocktower Brew Pub was the surprise of the trip for us. We loved the food, which wasn’t fancy but just super tasty brew pub fare done really well. Shawn also gave the beer a thumbs up, though we were disappointed that there was none available for take-home purchase at this location. We’ll look out for their Raspberry Wheat and Bytown Brown at the LCBO.

After dinner, we decided to walk to the Byward Market and check out Hooch Bourbon House, which had just opened that week. I had learned about them on Twitter via Foodie Prints and they sounded like a fun stop. We weren’t disappointed! This was a relaxing spot to hang out, with wonderful Southen-inspired décor and a menu full of bourbon to have straight or as a cocktail. I would have loved to sample some of the food we saw coming out of the kitchen (the chicken and waffles looked pretty amazing), but we were stuffed from Clocktower. This is a place we will definitely visit again on our next trip to the area.

Day three started with a long walk – much-needed after all the food the night before. One of my Twitter friends had suggested that we must check out SuzyQ donuts on this visit and our tourist map made it look pretty close. Well, 45 minutes later we had seen some new-to-us areas of the city and were more than ready for one of SuzyQ’s amazing donut treats. I had the Earl Gray and Shawn had the Maple Bacon – we certainly weren’t complaining about the walk while we were scarfing down these yummy treats.

While contemplating the route we’d take back, we ran into Vicky (momwhoruns) in the parking lot! She was in town visiting her parents and couldn’t miss a trip to SuzyQ. She gave us a lift back to the downtown core so we could stop in for a visit at the Chateau des Charmes store. I love that there is actually a CDC stand-alone store in Ottawa and wish there were more of these across Ontario. It’s a great idea.

We headed to Beyond the Pale Brewing to pick up some of their craft brew (no fancy restaurants here, just a walk-up tasting bar and growlers to go) and then to dinner at Union 613 with my other favourite Shawn (uncorkontario) and his lovely wife, Debbie. It was so great to meet one of my friends from Twitter and discover that he is just as fantastic in real life. Union 613, however, was just OK. I loved the wine that Shawn selected – Cave Springs The Adam Steps Riesling – and it’s a fun vibe, but the food was just alright. Maybe Shawn and I have spent too much time enjoying fried chicken and grits in Savannah, but this was just so-so in comparison.

Still, the company was fabulous and I’m so glad we got the chance to spend some time with Shawn and Debbie. They are truly great folks who have been a huge help in my wine education.

Shawn and I had planned to visit Cassel Brewery on our way out the next morning, but a rain storm hit (many thanks to the weather gods for keeping the predicted rain at bay until our very last day), so we’ll put that off until our next visit. Our trip was fantastic and we can’t wait to go back. We already have a list of places we didn’t get to that we need to try, so I hope that visit is sooner rather than later.