A Woman of Wine

 

My journey of wine discovery has involved  many tastings. From massive producers to boutique variety to wine bars,  I have been graced to meet  many remarkable and generous people.  Sicilian winemaker Ciro Biondi gave us a tour and tasting with a heaping side of Italian history and the struggles between the north and south.

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Irene Lesti of Montemercurio fed our love of Tuscan wine with stories of the valley, the people all, of course, over generous pours of their wines.  I’ve toured the spectacular Culmina vineyard in Oliver, BC with Don Triggs.  Thanks to Canadian wine collector Garrett Herman and crossed schedules with his close friends, we had the good fortune to be stand-ins at a  dinner with Marchese Piero Antinori, the head of one of the eldest winemaking families in Italy over a glass of Solaia.

My journey has been a very lucky one. I came to the conclusion that wine people love to share stories, a glass, a meal.  They all look at least 10 years younger.  They are the kind of people who despite the many challenges of the wine business, they are living their dream.

Cinzia Caporali was one of those people. We met her  at E Lucian Le Stelle, my favourite wine bar inside Locanda San Francesco – a stunning B & B in Montepulciano. The first time we shared a joke.  The second time, I brought 8 friends and we drank them out of Valdipiatta, her family’s wines.

Organizer Cinzia in Action

The third time she invited Steve and I to join a blind tasting of the new release of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a dozen winemakers. My dream come true. That night I heard one of my favourite lines that I have used many times since.  “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

The Contenders

When friends Matt and Crystal  were going on a honeymoon, I contacted Cinzia to ask her to have a bottle of Valdipiatta waiting for them in their room along with a gift and a card. Cinzia made it an extra special vintage to mark their  very special day.

Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

And when my husband Steve had a terrible accident, she sent her best wishes. When he had his first glass of wine in 19 months at her wine bar, she said she was honoured and would not let us pay.

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia also organized what was undoubtedly our best wine tasting experience at Tenuta Valdipiatta with Guilio, her father. He talked about his love of opera, his love of wine and how proud he was of his daughters.

Over these visits, I learned Cinzia  was a mechanical engineer, she had a great sense of humour and she certainly knew how to bring people together and make them feel welcome.

We talked about getting together in Rome. Steve and I thought how incredible  it would be to explore the city with her. 

Just two days ago I sent a tweet with a photo of Steve and I sharing our last bottle of Valdipiatta, very excited to see her again in three weeks when we will be in Montepulciano.  I received a letter today telling me that Cinzia passed away last month. I have no idea how old she was because  wine people always look so much younger.   All I know is she was far too young.

E Lucevan le Stelle means  the stars are shining brightly, a line from Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas.  Indeed, Cinzia made the lives of all she met a little brighter. I count myself  so very lucky that she became part of mine,

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Stratus Winery: When Style Meets Substance

A bottle of wine tells a story even before it is  opened.  The shape can reveal its geography, its varietal, its history.

The iconic bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the embossed logo representing a papal crest, hints at its storied history.   Burgundy, Bordeaux and Riesling  all have distinctive bottle shapes.

And then there is the 2014 Stratus Cabernet Franc ‘Decant’.

Stratus Decant 2014 Cabernet Franc

Industrial designer Karim Rashid has created a wine bottle as spectacular as the 2014 Cabernet Franc created by winemaker J-L Groux.

The design was inspired by the layers of soil that create some of the finest wines from the Niagara region.  The bottle  is elegant, easy to hold, and the design acts like a decanter when pouring the wine.

“The best designs come from functionality,” says Rashid, who Time magazine called ” the most famous industrial designer in all of the Americas.” His website is a cornucopia of the greatest design hits. Guess which shoes are his?

The unique style is matched only by the substance of the wine.  The Cabernet Franc grape grows well in the region. The problem is there have been too many wines with a nose and flavour of ripe green pepper.

“People have been making it wrong,” says Groux. “This is what Cabernet Franc  tastes like, when you get it right.” This wine is full-bodied and complex and has changed my impression of the much-maligned varietal.

At $95, this is  a collector’s item so act quickly. The production is small – only 110 cases – and it is only available  online or at the  winery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering New Niagara Wines: Domaine Queylus

One of the many advantages of  living where I do,  is the proximity to Niagara wine country.  Not that I was an Old World snob,…ok, I was an Old World snob…blame my Italian heritage – but moving to Toronto, one hour from some incredible wines, re-opened my eyes to wine horizons close to home.

Lucky for us, our friends (and scouts) keep an eye out for new wineries that will intrigue and delight.  

Enter Domaine Queylus They had me at the log cabin – reminiscent of the Quebec sugar shacks of my youth. But it was the wine, and the hospitality that will keep my coming back (and buying the wine).

The name honours Gabriel de Queylus, a wealthy Sulpician priest from France who was on the losing end of a Sopranos-like power struggle in early days of Montreal. The up side – it must have driven him to drink because on an expedition to the Great Lakes, he oversaw the first vineyards on the shores of Lake Ontario. 

Award-Winning Collection

We sidled up to the bar in the bright tasting room attached to the log cabin. Laurie started our flight with Chardonnay, not my favourite varietal. This one was full-bodied and elegant with just enough oak.  It is one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted recently and  I highly recommend it.

Their signature Pinot Noir was absolutely delicious, but the wine that we really took a shine to was the 2013 Cabernet Franc – also generally not one of my favourites.  This one was medium-bodied, complex with a long finish. I loved it. I bought some for home sipping and I am sure it will be outstanding with a juicy burger. 

Cabernet Franc 2013

Domaine Queylus challenged my tastebuds and the pre-conceived notions about certain wines.  It is a great addition to the region and I predict it is going to be a busy summer at the cabin.

A Glass of Wine with a Side of New York Stories

Frank’s Place on 2nd Avenue, NYC

Whenever I visit a city, I always check to see if there are any interesting wine bars that have garnered some great reviews. I have found it is a great way to discover some new wines – whether local or imported and meet people who share a passion for the grape.

Wine Cafe of Dreams

 

I did a 30-hour pop in to NYC, well-known for having some stellar wine bars. Casellula on West 52nd street is a gem in Hell’s Kitchen. The wine selection is creative. I loved the Matchbook Tempranillo – one of their staples from California. Or  Frank’s on 2nd Avenue in the Lower East Side where I found a Tuscan favourite called Salcheto.

 

But New York also makes me think of my dad,  Alberto Travers, who introduced me to the city many decades ago.

Alberto after he joined the Italian Resistance

He was  a fighter in the Italian resistance and to him, New York was the dream. As a teenager during the Second World War,  Alberto  fought alongside American soldiers, smoked their cigarettes, read their copies of Life magazine with a dictionary in hand  and heard stories of the greatest city in the world.

Back in NYC at last

Years later, my father would drive from Montreal in a van typically full of his children, our friends and visiting European relatives.  We all jammed into the same hotel room, though hotel is a bit generous for this downtown  place.

 

The Times Square Motor Inn was a favourite of my dad’s mainly because it included parking.  We found out the “hotel”  had a second vocation as a temporary shelter for the homeless and home to  some really big bugs and the odd rodent.  But  you couldn’t beat its location,  next door to the New York Times on  43rd  where the delivery trucks rumbled down the street after midnight. It was an impressive sight for  a wannabe journalist of 14.

 

 

The Former Times Square Motor Inn

 

Coincidentally on my latest visit, I ended up staying at a hotel right across the street. The New York Times moved around the corner, and the Inn was no longer open for business.

 

Those NYC trips were magic. From Broadway musicals like Chicago and A Chorus Line, to the late night improv clubs, to his own self-created Mafia landmark tour including Umberto’s Clam Bar where mobster Joe “Crazy” Gallo met his maker, My father  shared his stories and gave us experiences we will never forget.  The only rule: order the cheapest thing on the menu.

My father passed away  25 years ago in May but all four of his children inherited his love of New York.  One daughter and three grand daughters live there now.  The rest of us visit when we can. Relatives still talk about those adventures,  many of them over a glass of wine.

It is one of the  many gifts he left us.

A sign painter by trade  and a fan of fonts – my father  lived life in capital letters and taught us to do the same.

 

 

Movies for Wine Lovers

 

When wine is a passion, you are  always looking for new ways to enrich the experience,  The spa that serves bubbles, the endless hours in the hair stylist chair is eased  with a glass of chilled  Vouvray, and now my latest addiction…Movies for Grown-Ups.

The VIP movie theatre experience  has reached a whole new level with reclining seats more comfortable than at home, plenty of leg room and a selection of wine by the glass or even by the bottle.

This is the way to watch a movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A glass or two  of Sparkling  during La La Land.

Five ounces of California Cab to sip during Manchester By the Sea, Make that 8 ounces, please.

And a punch your face off Zin to sip while hiding your eyes on the Saturday afternoon shoot ’em up  flick Jack Wick 2.

You get the idea.  This is the way to watch a movie.  A little pricey, but Boomers no longer have to pay the sitter.

it’s dangerously addictive.  And the appeal is clear.  No crowds. No line-ups.

The message is simple – if you pour it, we will come.

 

 

Okanagan Winery Culmina: Where Vision Meets Science

 

Many of us strive  for perfection. At least we talk about it. A lot.

Meet Don Triggs, a man who not only raises the bar, but takes his neighbours with him.

Years ago we were doing a  Canada AM special  in Niagara-On-The-Lake.  I asked Del Rollo of Constellation Brands, which includes Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery,  about the founders, Alan Jackson  and Don Triggs.  Before being taken over by Constellation, they   built their company into one of the largest producers in the world. Jackson remained  involved in the winery and joined us on the live show. Don Triggs headed west in search of the perfect piece of land to create the perfect BC wine.

Every few years I would ask Del the status of Don’s search. “Testing the land,” he’d say,   or  “Getting closer”  or simply “Not just yet.”  And I would keep waiting. Then last year on a visit to the Okanagan, I asked our tour guide if he knew anything about it. “Definitely Culmina,” he said without missing a beat.

An imposing gate welcomes you to the winery.  The gate opens slowly…ever so slowly for someone who has been waiting years for this and has been accused of suffering from NPIS (News Producer Impatience Syndrome).

Everything – the property, the vines, the building – is impeccable. Every detail carefully planned. Even the speed of the opening of the gates is calculated. Slow down.  Smell that rose bush at the edge of the row of vines. Breathe.

We were met by Sara Triggs, Don’s daughter who runs the marketing for the winery and arranged the tour,

Don Triggs took us around the vineyard sharing the history, the challenges and his vision for the future.

Culmina, which means peak in Latin, sits high atop the hills of Oliver in the southern part of the Okanagan Valley. With the help of French wine consultant Alain Sutre, Don and his wife Elaine did their homework – testing every inch of the land. The result: a grid of the winery with each grape varietal matched with the right soil to achieve optimal results.

There are rows upon rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah  – grapes that are comfortable  in  the hot and steamy temperatures of the area. There is also a field planted with Gruner Veltliner, a grape more commonly grown in the colder climes of Austria. Unicus is the first of its kind grown in the Okanagan. Don named the plot Margaret’s Bench, after his mother.  It’s also his favourite spot for a picnic with his wife Elaine,  so long as you don’t mind sharing  with the odd deer.

“Experience is the sum of mistakes when you take notice” quoting Margaret,   something he does frequently. And he takes plenty of notice.

Don’s  vision  is a blend of tried and true techniques of the past enhanced by the latest technology.  Every aspect of the vineyard  is closely monitored using data from solar powered gathering stations. The team can easily identify one patch that is getting too much or too little water.

In 2015, wildfires  licked uncomfortably close to the vines.  Staff monitored and watered the area around the clock to make sure the flames just one hill over did not spread.

By this time, I must admit I was feeling mighty eager to sample these wines. It was like that movie trailer that has you counting the days, hours, minutes to the release.

Don took us through a tasting of six wines. Decora a riesling, so flavourful it had me rethinking my under-appreciation for the grape.

 

Each wine has a story. R & D – a testament to the research and development that goes into each wine, and the importance of family, the photo on the label is Don and his twin brother  Ron,

 

 

My two favourites – the Cabernet Sauvignon and Hypothesis – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Merlot. Absolutely stunning. The marriage of Art and Science and years of Patience.

 

To Don, it is all about doing what you love.

“You enjoy what you do,”  I observed.  “I was here at 6 am.” Don says with a smile ear to ear.

Cheers Don, Elaine and Sarah. It was worth the wait.

If you are planning a  visit to the Okanagan, Culmina offers tours and tastings from the end of April to the end of October. Reserve ahead for a tour.  No advance booking for the tastings which are  regularly scheduled throughout the day.

 

Cheap Wines for January (or any month)

Yes You Can!

Next Monday January is  Blue Monday. It’s apparently the date when the Christmas bills come in. You may have already cheated on your resolutions and for We The North, it could be one of the coldest weekends of the year.

For wine drinkers like me, this budget-challenged time is a good time to explore some new wines.  Over the holidays, I found some outstanding wines in Quebec and Ontario between  $15- $20.

There are lots of tasty value wines to be found on the general list shelves of the SAQ and LCBO. Here are a few I tested, served to guests and MOST important, bought them again.

Crazy price

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso, IGT Tuscany $15.95  (SAQ $18.95) Cassamatta means “Crazy House” in Italian and this little gem is tucked away  in the Tuscan section of Vintages for a crazy price. It is juicy, fruity and full-bodied and perfect for pizza night, If it is all about the numbers-for you, it earned a 90 from wine writer James Suckling,.

 

 

A Crisp Winter White

Nederburg, The Winemasters Sauvignon Blanc 2014, $11.95 LCBO   This South African white was a fan favourite at a recent holiday gathering, It is crisp, delicious and aromatic at an unbelievable price. Nederburg has been producing wines for more than 200 years. If you like this one, try the Winemasters Cabernet Sauvignon  – it is earthy full-bodied and approachable at an  equally approachable f$11.95

 

Thank you, Argentina

 

La Posta Pizzella, Malbec 2015 Mendoza, Argentina $15.95  This  holiday finds that had me going back for more. It is a  Malbec that is  deep and deliciously balanced. If you’re looking for something meaty sample these smooth  mocha notes.

 

 

Caparzo Rosso
Beronia
Monte Antico

Finally a tip to help in your search, keep it in the family. Check out some of the names you recognize.  Many of the bigger producers have a portfolio that includes value wines worth trying.  Monte Antica, from the Antinori Family is $15.95 in Vintages, Caparzo Rosso $13.10  also makes a delicious Brunello and the Beronia Rioja 2013 $13.95 has a Reserva and Gran Reserva on the shelves of Vintages.

Most important, when you come across a great find, share with your friends. You will make their Blue Monday just a little bit tastier.

Cheers!