Top 10 Wine Experiences

What makes a wine experience truly remarkable? A recommendation from someone you trust goes a long way, but at least half the fun is in the adventure.  And then there are the surprises, the experiences that leave you breathless. Because I am celebrating a milestone birthday and because I love top 10 lists, here are some of my favourite experiences of my wine journey that started about 15 years ago with a Ripasso and a dear friend named Patrick.

Antinori

      The Chance Encounter:  It all started when studying for wine class while receiving acupuncture from my friend Adrianna who introduced me to Garrett Herman, a Toronto wine collector  who served me my first Super Tuscan, and who had a dinner reservation at the Badia a Passignano Estate in the Chianti region when his friends made a mistake with the date – oh and my husband and I just happened to be in the area…

The tour of the stunning vineyards owned by the Antinori family was a treat in itself.  Afterwards, we were invited to have dinner with the Marchese Piero Antinori, the legendary patriarch of the family which  has been producing wine for 26 generations. We chatted  about family businesses, the future of the industry, and the impact of climate change over  a “humble country meal” of Bistecca alla Fiorentina and a glass of Solaia. It was a dream. The food and wine were remarkable, the conversation even better.  It gave me insight into a world that is dependent on nature but fuelled by passion. The only thing that could possibly have topped it was if Bruce Spingsteen himself ambled up to the table and joined us for a glass.  I have sipped many Antinori wines since that night, and every time, I think about that unforgettable evening under my lucky stars.

Culmina

The Promise: Early on in my wine education, I visited Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Del Rollo, who was director of hospitality at that time, gave me my first tour of a production facility. Talking about the history of the company, Del told me about co-founder, Don Triggs, who was a mentor to him. Don  sold his share and moved west in search of the perfect spot to create the finest Canadian wine. Ten years later, I drove up to the front gates of Culmina in Oliver, B.C. A standard visit turned remarkable when Don Triggs strolled by and said “I’ll take you.” Over the next three hours, we visited each vineyard, learned the evolution of Don’s vision, the trials and errors, how they worked round the clock to save the vineyard from devastating wildfires that raged next door, and how he uses technology to keep his  promise to put quality above all else.  The tour culminated in the tasting of some outstanding wines that challenged convention. Culmina’s Riesling and Chardonnay were nothing I expected. The wines were exceptional and so was Don Triggs, whose  love for his family, the land, and quality shone through. I asked him if he loves what he does. He smiled and said simply “I am here at 6am every morning.” 

Valdipiatta

The Delivery: I found this highly-rated winery online and I sampled too many bottles to count at E Lucevan le Stelle (Translation: And the stars were shining) in Montepulciano,  my favourite wine bar in the world. There I learned Valdipiatta was the family vineyard of Cinzia Caporali, one of the bar owners.

Giulio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia booked us a tour with her father Giulio, the most delightful storyteller and insightful tour guide. In a mix of Italian and English, we got a lesson in Etruscan history. We learned about the highest standards of production, how the terroir or soil is everything, and about what it means to follow your dream.

Giulio bought the vineyard in 1990 and turned it into a successful winery with a stellar reputation. Today he and his daughter Miriam, the co-owner,  produce award-winning wines that should not be missed.  I have been back three times, and plan to visit again. I have a bottle of their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva that will be shared to celebrate my 60th year.

Salcheto

Location, Location, Location:

Ten years ago, we rented a villa with 10 friends to mark another milestone. The group didn’t really know each other. It could have  been a disaster. It turned out to be one of the best vacations of my life. The friends, the food, the music, oh yes, and the wine. Lots and lots of wine. Everything was simply perfect.  The villa owner took us on a tour of surrounding vineyards, some industrial producers, some, like Salcheto,  small and intimate. The winery is nestled  in the hills outside Montepulciano.  Ettore, our host, gave us a quick tour, telling  stories in Italian with a smattering of English words thrown in.

We sampled their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and bought cases to bring back to the villa.  The wine was so good, each time I returned to the area, I would call Ettore, who would give us a generous tasting even when Salcheto was under construction and operating out of temporary quarters.  He would set up a table laden with the latest releases, exuding pride at the company’s commitment to quality and sustainability. The renovated winery is stunning and a tribute to that commitment. 

Biondi

 The Surprise:  Social media can be overwhelming, addictive, and can be considered the demise of our civilization, but it can also find you a damn good winery. Before a trip to Sicily, I tweeted #SicilyWines any recommendations?  I received a smattering of suggestions, one of them from a winery very close to the village where we were staying. The day before we left Mt Etna, I tweeted back, “any chance for a tasting tomorrow?”. The lucky stars over the volcano were shining in my direction. Ciro Biondi, architect-turned-winemaker gave us a tour of his fields, stopping to pull out a few herbs for that evening’s dinner. He talked of his father’s reaction to giving up architecture for winemaking “You better do a good job, I paid a lot of money for your education.” .

The cantina was an old shack with a refrigerator that had seen better days.  Over glasses of wine, he talked about the history of Sicily, the politics, the poverty and the oppression from the North, where my father was born. It was a perspective I had never heard before. Oh yes, the Biondi wines….the volcanic soil gave them a distinct flavour so delicious that I wanted to take home.  When I asked if he had help from wine experts, he chuckled. “Why pay someone to make mistakes I can make  myself?” he said.  We sampled from bottles yet to be labelled. When we wanted to take some back to the villa, he insisted on labelling the bottles – even though I told him they would not survive the night. The good news: Biondi wines are available in Toronto at Terroni’s, so when I want a taste of Sicily, I know where to go. 
Domaine Queylus

In the Hood:  Our friends Ian and Maria are responsible for some of our best tastings close to home. I love that they scope out the new wineries and wait until we visit so we can experience them together.  Domaine Queylus is literally a four-minute drive from their home. It was our last stop on the way back to their place, less than half a hour before closing time. The tasting room is a log cabin, full of light. Our host Laurie was a former Montrealer who went to the same high school as my husband Steve. Her husband, John Nadeau, the hospitality and marketing director, joined us at the last minute and shared the history of the young vineyard named after a Jesuit priest who brought wine to the region centuries ago.We stayed long past closing. John revealed his goal is to remove the asterisk – create excellent wines, period. Not “great for a Canadian wine.” He and winemaker Thomas Bachelder have succeeded. Their Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and blends  are superb. No asterisk. 

 

Jackson-Triggs

The Eye-Opener: I moved to Toronto in 2004 but it wasn’t until three years later that I discovered the gems that are growing in my backyard. Del Rollo of Jackson-Triggs introduced me to quality wines being produced in the region. He talked about the  challenges and the victories. He made me realize that winemakers are a generous lot. Success is all about sharing knowledge and helping your neighbours.  When one succeeds, they all win.

Del and coworker Stacey Mulholland  also introduced Steve and I  to one of the greatest wine experiences of my life, a concert under the stars, sipping wine and listening to a performance by Jim Cuddy. His music is now one of my favourite pairings on a Friday night with a good glass of red and that eye-opening visit to J-T, started my journey of discovery of local wines.

Stratus

 The Genius Winemaker:  Stratus is where simplicity meets quality. With care and patience, the grapes tell the story.  And what a story. Technology is used to let the grapes and the soil speak for themselves. The winery itself is beautiful. Peaceful. Welcoming. The wine is extraordinary.

Source: Stratus Wines

J-L Groux is the grape whisperer, coaxing rich textures and flavours from the soil. His Cabernet Franc is nothing like you would imagine. This grape has often been described as better in a blend. The Stratus Cabernet Franc stands alone.  When I asked him how, he said “It’s just about doing it right.” Other producers in the region have decoded the mystery as well. It’s  turned Cabernet Franc from one of my least favourite single varietal wines, to one of my favourites. J-L’s red blend rivals some of the best Bordeaux blends I have ever sampled. His Syrah and Sangiovese, which I approached  with skepticism, also over-delivered. I have never tasted a bad Stratus wine – even the Wild Ass is playful and fun.  

Gaja

Paradise Found:  I am half Italian. My father was from Torino, the place he described as a centre of the universe. I have visited relatives there many times. How is it that it took more than 50 years for me to learn that a mere 30-minute drive south of his birthplace lies the Langhe, one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world? The discovery came by accident. A wine sampling at my local LCBO, led to an email to the winery, to some research, to WOW!  Our tour guide  was Sonya Franca, assistant to the legendary Angelo Gaja, who is credited for helping turn Barolo and Barbaresco into Italian wine royalty. She spent two hours with us telling us about the rich history of the Langhe while tasting their wines, I had never tasted anything like this before. There was Gaia and Rey Chardonnay, a white so full-bodied, had I been blindfolded, I might have mistaken it for a red. Sonya also recommended a visit to the wine museum in nearby Barolo. My husband took a nap, something I tease him about endlessly.  The museum tour ended in a tasting room where the new vintage of Barolos had just been released. “How much for a tasting?” I asked. “15 Euros,” they answered. “For how many?” I asked, the polite Canadian looking thirstily over 140 bottles on display for self-tasting. “All of them.” Sweeter words were never heard. I made it to 35.

Going Blind In Tuscany

My Lucky Day: Whenever I have the privilege of visiting Tuscany, if the world is behaving as it should, there is time for a glass of wine or two at E Lucevan le Stelle,  the wine bar at  Locanda San Francesco in Montepulciano. I put away the smart phone, disconnect and watch the world go by. We were on our way south to Sicily but wanted to take a couple of days in our favourite part of Italy.  This visit was extra special –  my husband had been recovering from a brain injury and this would be his first glass of wine in 18 months.

We were well-received by Christian.  It turned out the day we were supposed to leave, the wine bar was hosting a blind-tasting with 10 producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Some itineraries are meant to be adjusted.

The evening was a blend of stories, new people, new wines. And I learned some important lessons: 

  • Wine people look at least 10 years younger than they really are. 
  • Wine producers are living their dream – despite the challenges
  • My favourite wine quote from Brazilian newlyweds – “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

Aristotle was right. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I will never know enough about wine.  I think I got two out of 10 wines right in the blind-tasting that night. But what I did get, was an experience of a life time.

There are so many experiences deserving of honourable mentions. Too many to mention. They all speak of family and friendship, of generosity, of following your dreams and sharing the spoils.  So in this milestone year, I will make some new wine memories, savour the ones from the past, and mostly I will be thanking my lucky stars… again.

Giusti Wines: From Dream to Vines

From:Giustiwine.com

Growing up among the vines of Italy’s  Veneto region, Ermenegildo Giusti  always knew Canada would be his destiny. “From the time I was 8 or 9, I knew where Canada was. My parents told me it was at the end of the vineyard and a bit further, ” he said.  Just shy of 18, Ermenegildo explored “a bit further”.  He landed in Canada where he took his dream and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.

But he never forgot the vines.

When he left home, his family stopped producing wine.  In 1998,  Ermenegildo took the family’s two hectares and began rebuilding,  “I grew up in the vineyard. My memories growing up are surrounded by  grapes and the harvest.”

      Today the Giusti vineyard is 100 hectares in the heart of Prosecco country.  The sparkling wine is part of Ermenegildo’s history. “It was like having water growing up. My brother and I would drink it after school.” To him, Prosecco also meant celebration. “It was celebrating friendship, life, birth, people coming together.”

Source: Giustiwine.com

It’s that history he honours.  ”Once a farmer always a farmer,” he explains. The fields are impeccably tended because that’s what he remembers. “My vineyards are like a garden because I remember how my father kept them. Everything was so tidy. They were so proud. There was so much love. It was like giving something of themselves,” he explains.

The Giusti produces 320,000 bottles a year, including a range of Prosecco, whites and reds.   The wine he is most proud of?  Umberto Primo – a blend  of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot he named after his grandfather.

This fall Giusti launched a sparkling Rosé. Ermenegildo laughs when I ask him about it.  “I never wanted to do a rosé because in summer when my mother would give me wine with water,  that was not wine. So I refused to make rosé because every time I looked at it, I thought  it was a wine I didn’t want to drink.” When he finally conceded, he took grapes from his best vineyards using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Recantina – a heritage grape that’s regaining popularity. The results are remarkable. Even my non-sparkling-wine-loving family wanted more.

Giusti’s Prosecco is by far its biggest seller with sales of 200,000 bottles a year. It was their award-winning Rosalia  that won my affection at a wine tasting at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory.   It was fresh, fruity and not overly sweet.  The second time was in a small wine store in Canmore, AB where I found the Giusti Merlot. 

     

Today, Emenegildo divides his time between  his vineyards in Italy and his  Calgary  where his three sons and seven grandchildren live.  At the heart of the vineyard is a tribute to the sense of belonging  in both lands. A tower overlooking the fields is  surrounded by water. “It is a symbol of somebody going away and leaving their home.”  he says. And though his history called him back to Italy, Canada is his future. “I am more Canadian than Italian. I spent 45 years in Canada. Canada is definitely home.”

Venice for the Wine Lover

A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini.  There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set.  For the  wine lover, Venice is so much more.

Let the Ombra Begin

There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra.  My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente,  is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in  “We are going for an Ombra.

Paradise Found

Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost)  topped  the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind.   Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal.  From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and  zucchini flowers.  Simple, fresh and affordable. 

The Real  Wine Thing

Our  best find of the day, just a few steps away,  has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine bar  with a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantly  it is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.

There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.  “Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked.  Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing  which  goes a long way to building my loyalty.

First up:  Esmerelda suggested  a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to  Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a  sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz –  just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail.  In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .

Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 –  a Merlot from Slovenia –  for me to sample.  Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing  on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.

Woman of Wine: Esmerelda

Vino Vero Regulars Chris and Vivian

We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.

Cannaregio District:  Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.

Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia

Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia

Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Tops Amarone in U.S. Wine Competition

Judgement at Fortunes Rocks

Each year, a select group of committed wine drinkers gathers on the eastern Maine coast to swirl, sniff, slurp and savour at the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks. 

Ready, Set, Drink

The table is set. The teams are picked. The rules are simple. Each of us brings a bottle from a different country or region. This year offerings came from Italy, France, Portugal, California, and of course Canada.

The blind-tasting has evolved over the years. We  started off with wildly different wines, to give us a fighting chance.  We had the year when we got cocky and  featured all Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in price from $10 – $50 to find out if price really does matter. It did, sort of. We all identified the least expensive wine, but our favourite was the $30 special – which all of us needed to “sample” again… just to be sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is probably the one time of the week we all take seriously – well semi- seriously, during a beach week of fine wine, fine music and fine food.  The Judgement at Fortunes Rocks  is like taking the big exam after practicing a whole lot. There is even a trophy.

But this year, the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 will be remembered as the year of Canada -Take that Mr. Trump.

 

 

 

Most of the teams nailed the Pinot Noir, a confidence builder because of its lighter colour.

Two teams identified wine #2  from Medoc. Bottle #3 – EVERY SINGLE TEAM – deemed it an obvious Amarone. This group should know – they have sampled many many bottles  together – and even toured and tasted at the Zenato winery north of Verona last year. 

And every single team got it wrong.

The best wine of the bunch was the Cabernet Franc from Vineland Estates. 

 

Vineland Estates Scores Big

Now wine snobs can sneer and call us a bunch of amateurs – we are. But the fact that all of us committed wine drinkers selected the Vineland Grand Reserve over Amarone under any circumstance is worth noting.

OK, this may not be quite on the level of the 1976 Judgement of Paris when a panel of the creme de la creme of French wine judges awarded two California wines – a  red and a white – top spots in a blind-tasting. The competition sent shock waves through the wine industry, opened the door to globalization,  and even inspired the film “Bottleshock”.   

VQA wines have come into their own.  It’s never been a better time to buy local. Our wines have lost the asterisk, that old descriptor of “that’s really good for a Canadian wine.”

Wine makers in the Niagara region are making outstanding wines worth savouring. Period.

And for the winner and the losers of the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 …. we’ll just keep practicing.

Cheers!

The Prosecco Trail

I love prosecco.

I love it in the morning with a dash of OJ (for colour), as an afternoon palette cleanser, or a toast before dinner.

Prosecco turns any event into a celebration.

I am in great company.   More than 355 million bottles were sold worldwide in 2015 and the demand is still growing.

About 90% of prosecco comes from a region just north of Venice.  There you’ll find the  Strada of Prosecco, a 47-km trail lined with sparkling wine cantinas. 

We got the chance to tour one of the prettiest wineries in the region in late September.  And the prosecco was the lure.

Pitars is a fourth generation producer in San  Martino al Tagliamento, about 90 minutes north of Venice. 

The staff was setting up for a wedding the day  we visited. This place is so gorgeous, such a perfectly romantic setting,  it almost made me want to convince my husband to renew our vows.  Almost.  We opted instead  for a few toasts – mostly counting our lucky stars to be there.

After the tour, hospitality director Valentino Florian led us through a tasting of half a dozen wines.  Plan to spend some time.  They have 20 wines, each worth sampling.  White grapes rule the region. Most of fields in the area are planted with Glera grapes and used for prosecco.  I loved its aromatic flavour and bubbles that tingled on the way down. I especially loved their sparkling Ribolla Giallo – a white grape gaining popularity in Canada. 

Pitars produces eight whites and  four reds. Their  portfolio includes a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Naos, a knockout red blend.  My cousin Lindo claims the only good wines in the world are produced in this region. 

“Un minuto!” I responded. “California, France, Canada, Spain? What about Tuscany?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders “I suppose I will give you Tuscany,” Lindo said .

Finally, the price.  A bottle of award-winning prosecco was SIX EUROS. Even with a generous exchange, that’s $9 CDN.  A  prosecco of this quality in Canada sells for more than twice the price.

As we were leaving, my husband tried to persuade me  to take home a dozen bottles, until I reminded him he was the one who challenged me to do carry on only.

That’ll teach him.

If you find Pitars on the shelves, try it first…then let me know!

Bonus Cocktail discovery:

Italian Lemonade uncovered at a Bistro in Canmore Alberta – Amounts vary to taste but I used:

1 cup of Limoncello from the freezer

Juice from 2 lemons

1/2 bottle of Prosecco

1-2 teaspoons of sugar (optional and to taste)

Top with sparkling water.

on ice.

Discovering Grappa

Distillery Pagura

Grappa is proof grapes keep on giving.

I never knew much about Grappa, other than my father telling me when I was a child, “Don’t touch, it can kill you.” Grappa was what was passed around the plastic-covered table when my father visited friends in our Italian neighbourhood in Montreal.

Grappa is made from the skins, seeds and stems  leftover when every drop of goodness is pressed out of grapes for wine. The aroma of the pomace or vinaccia is rich and heady, like the inside of a whiskey barrel.

It is steam distilled into a clear liquid of between 35 and 60 per cent alcohol.  Yes Dad, it can kill you.

Grappa is a digestive typically paired with coffee.  You can serve Caffe Corretto or corrected coffee, pouring it right in the cup,  or my favourite,  ammazzacaffe – coffee killer – where you throw back an ounce of espresso followed by a healthy shot of grappa.

 

Many years later, at my cousin’s table in Italy, it was served to me after dinner with espresso and a story.

In Italy, there is always a story.

Lindo Pagura’s family has been producing Grappa for four generations. His grandfather and namesake worked as an apprentice for Domenico Campagna who founded the Pagura Distillery in 1879.  Every morning farmers would drop by at 5am for a quick hit to get them started for the day. When Campagna died,  he left the distillery to his young apprentice.

 

Young Lindo grew the operation, winning international awards for his Grappa. But his success was short lived. He died at 35 leaving a wife and two children. Young widow Giovanna Mistruzzi kept the distillery running between two wars even though soldiers of all stripes freely came in to seize the Grappa.

“It is really all because of my grandmother that we are here,” says Lindo today.

The distillery looks much like it did one hundred years ago. Lindo and his three sisters  still use equipment given to the family in 1923 by Germany,  part of reparations from the first World War.

The distillery is in the small town of Castions di Zoppola, about 90 minutes north of Venice. It is a centrepiece of the village. Everyone knows Lindo and his family.  Several times a year he opens his courtyard to musicians and events.

The night I was there five jazz musicians and a choir of 40 performed the music of George Gershwin under the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Today the distillery produces a variety of grappas, from tawny coloured barrel aged varieties to bottles infused with local produce.  The bottles are personalized and each year, the family contracts an artist to create a unique bottle which is in itself a work of art.

Now the next generation of Pagura’s is preparing to take over the family business, moving forward with innovation, but very much  respecting the rich traditions of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

Continue reading A Woman of Wine

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.

 

 

Because Sometimes All You Need Is a Good Glass of Wine