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!

 

 

 

Judgement at Fortunes Rocks

Let the Games Begin
Let the Games Begin

Blind wine tastings can be really intimidating. Sure, you can tell the white from red. Probably the Pinot Noir from the Cabernet Sauvignon, likely even the Sauvignon Blanc from the Chardonnay. But when I see a sommelier identify the grape, the country, the region and come within striking distance of the vintage – it blows me away every time.

Remove the demands and expectations, and a blind tasting  is a fun way to taste some great wines and really think about whether you like what you are drinking – with no pre-conceived notions.

IMG_1899For the past two years, my Maine beach buddies  have brought down a special wine – $25-50. We covered them up, talked a little bit about what to expect from each – and tried to match (make that guess) the brown-bagged bottle to the label.  Of course, I am the one who has spent the most time studying, reading (and tasting) wine. And I have yet to take home the trophy (not competitive at all!).

So this year we decided to mix it up a little. Our goal was to find out if price really dictates quality. We asked out favourite Portland wine merchant Jacques DeVilliers to pick five wines for us, one at $10,$20,$30, $40 and $50.

Wine Lovers' Chalk Art
Wine Lovers’ Chalk Art

I picked up a funky blackboard tablecloth so we could jot down our comments and scores and off we went.

The five wines:

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14 Hands 2014 Columbia Valley
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Ferrari-Cyrano 2013 Sonoma County
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Newton 2012 Napa County
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Freeman Abbey 2011 Napa Valley
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Stag’s Leap Artemis 2012 Napa Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All we had to do was JUST match the wines with the price point. Did I mention they were all Cabernet Sauvignon?…AND all from the U.S? That was our first mistake.

Second mistake: let’s just say we may have been enjoying a few glasses prior to the face off. The rules were clear, so I thought – the bottles are numbered – write the number next to the chalk circle that says $10,$20,$30….you get the picture.

Let the tasting begin. Consultation, more pouring, sniffing and slurping and pouring. # 4 was the group favourite and it went fast.

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Blame crappy pix on wine consumption
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Previous winners Phil and Maria are smelling defeat
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Going back for another sample Just to be sure

 

 

An hour later and the scores were in – not only were the answers all over the place, each team used a different scoring method. It all made for a great laugh – especially after 5 glasses of wine!

So while no one took home the trophy this year, we did end up tasting some amazing wines. And we did come to a few conclusions:

And I promised to go back to the old system next year.

 

 

 

Long Weekend Wine Picks

happy Canada Day
Like a true Canadian, I am going to start my Canada Day Blog with an “I’m sorry”. This really should have come out on Wednesday so you could have shopped for the long weekend on Thursday and not the day when the liquor stores are closed. However luckily they re-open tomorrow morning – and if you are looking to replenish – here are a couple of suggestions and the price is right.

Masserie Pisani Primitivo, Puglia $13.95

Whenever I see a wine in Vintages at an extremely reasonable price, I pick up a bottle to sample, Some have gone unfinished, and then there is this one that compelled me to return to my local LCBO and clean out the shelf. This bold full-bodied wine took up a lot of space in my wine rack, but it didn’t last long.

 

Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia IGT $9.95IMG_1795

When the temperature soars and you are looking for something refreshing, this General List wine makes  a terrific base for Sangria. It is also one of the LCBO’s most popular wedding wines. There are hundreds of Sangria recipes, and I must say no two batches of mine ever taste the same because I am one of those “little bit of this, little bit of that” cooks. But I always add a dash of Triple Sec,  a cup of freshly squeezed OJ (though other kinds work just fine too), lots of fruit and ice.

IMG_1796Corte Medicea Aros 2014, $14.95

Ok, so the bottle drips reveal I got a little excited pouring the second glass.  The medium-bodied wine is a Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese and I will be heading back to Vintages for more.

 

Have a great long weekend!

OKANAGAN WINERIES PACK A PUNCH

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Time. Much like wine, it is something I can’t seem to get enough of. And something I run out of. Hence the absence of my blog for the last few months. Any extra time I had, I spent drinking wine, not writing about it.

So to kick myself into high gear, I took a couple of days off  from my new job and headed to BC wine country for some inspiration.

I picked a few places I had never been to before. Places with great stories. And great stories in the Okanagan are not hard to find. There are new wineries popping up here all the time.

There are anywhere from 120 – 250 wineries here depending who you ask, and whether they’ve been drinking.  And they are making some spectacular wines that we never see on the other side of the country.

I picked by grape. I know I love big reds, so I headed south to Oliver and  Osoyoos – home of some wondrous Bordeaux blends.  I also learned that if you mention you’re going to the Okanagan,  inevitably someone  sighs like they are remembering a visit to paradise and shows you a picture of that little winery that turned into a big experience.

Three days,  seven wineries and here are  a few highlights.

  1. Invictus by Perseus
    Invictus by Perseus

    Perseus – I sampled a bottle of Perseus wine a year ago and I have been dreaming about it ever since.  The winery opened in 2011 in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.  It has already picked up a number of awards for Invictus, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The winery is named after the constellation  which hangs above the Okanagan during harvest time. Had to take one home.IMG_1683

  2. Poplar GroveI visited this place  for the wine and the company.   Cindy, Cathy,
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    Poplar Grove Winery

    Wendy and Sue have been friends since high school. Today they invited us join them  to  sample the best this stunning winery had to offer. One more for the suitcase. Imagine waking up to this treasure every morning?

 

Culmina Winery
Culmina Winery

3. Culmina Winery – This was one of the reasons I came back to  the Okanagan, Rumour had it the wine was among the best in the Valley – and it did not disappoint. Don Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) and his daughter Sara have blended old-fashioned knowledge with high tech tools to create wines to remember, including wines that shouldn’t really be growing in that climate. The approach is inspirational and will be the subject of a separate story in its own. Stay tuned.  OK… we bought a case.

 

4.  Moon Curser This winery has a one-of-a-kind distinction for me. I actually had to risk arrest and  break-in to get a taste. My friend Lisa and I were staying in Osoyoos and decided to clock our 10,000 steps by walking to the winery (how cool is that)?

Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine
Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine

Google Maps directed us to a walking path along the cherry trees and vines. However, about 100 metres from our destination we were met by a locked gate, not that that was going to stop us. We got down on all fours and slipped under the fence. It was definitely worth the effort. Moon Curser – formerly Twisted Tree – is named after the smugglers who used to work in “them thar hills with veins of gold.” They cursed the light of the moon when trying to sneak across the border.

Moon Curser features  some old and new world varietals that are attracting attention. Owner and winemaker Chris Tolley, a former Montrealer, and his wife Beata, honed their craft in New Zealand. Their Tannant , Malbec, Sangiovese, Syrah,

Moon Curser Winery
Moon Curser Winery

Carmenere,  along with the Afraid of the Dark white and red blends, are all  worth a taste.  Yup, Moon Curser got the last spot in my suitcase.

Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley
Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley

Go to the Okanagan!  Demand more BC wines in your local wine store!  These are national treasures that stand up to Old World excellence. Thanks for the inspiration!

Cheers!

 

 

Wine From The West

Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015
Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015

 

If you’re a fan of Amazing Race Canada you might already be familiar with Covert Farms in British Columbia as it was one of the locations from last season where teams competed in various challenges.  Brothers Gino and Jesse showed their strength as they flipped a large tractor tire 100 meters and placed it on a rack showing everyone they really did have what it takes to walk away with the top prize.

You might be wondering what The Amazing Race has to do with wine but as it happens Covert Farms is not only an organic farm it’s also a winery and since brothers Brent and Sean had to complete a speed bump in this same leg of the race before they could move on they had to fill, cork, and label a dozen bottles of wine, then properly dip the neck of each bottle in wax to create a seal.

Covert Farms
Covert Farms

Located at the foot of McIntyre Bluff on 650 acres north of Oliver, British Columbia the organic farm, vineyard, and winery produces Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, and Rosé, as well as three proprietary red blends The Bluff, MDC and Amicitia.

IMG_0657Alongside a group of international journalists I recently had a chance to explore the fields and certified organic estate vineyards on a  tour with winemaker Gene Covert in his vintage 1952 Mercury truck.  Educational and entertaining I learned about everything from the land’s history to their sustainable farming practices and was quite astonished by the fact we could still pick strawberries at the end of September, something that’s definitely not happening anywhere else in this country.

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The day ended with a culinary journey of delicious dishes paired with amazing wines IMG_0668created by the executive chef from the Watermark Beach Resort.  We started with an appetizer of local salmon pate trendily served in a mason jar topped with pickled fennel along side a glass of the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.  I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc and with that crisp dry fruit forward taste it was a perfect fit to the first course.

IMG_0681While we might have started off light the second course was IMG_0673definitely something more fitting of a farm style meal.  Heirloom potatoes, pork belly and an organic salad mix it was accompanied by one of the farms proprietary red blends called MDC.  Made with certified organic grapes, 100% estate grown the spicy notes were the perfect pairing for the pork.

IMG_0683Since you can’t let your guests leave before enjoying dessert we were served a tasty fruit IMG_0686crumble accompanied by the family estate Rosé.  I’m not usually a fan of Rosé but to be honest I have to say this was my favourite wine of the three. Made with a combination of  Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah the acidity helped cut through the sweetness of the dessert and the notes of cherries and strawberries reminded me of time spent in the strawberry patch earlier in the day.

IMG_0687If you happen to get out that way be sure to stop by an take a tour of the farm and browse the the wines available for sale, I promise you won’t walk away with just one.