Who Doesn’t Love A Good Mystery?

Last week I got an interesting delivery at the office.  It started with an email from the shipping department saying I’d gotten a package from a “No Name Sender”.  Already curious, I quickly opened the box when it arrived at my desk.Inside was another box…a wooden one this time, you know the kind you sometimes get a fancy wine gift in.  The box was rather light to contain a bottle of wine and stamped on the front were the words “The Label Project”, so I wasn’t really sure what it was all about.
The Mystery Box
I’m naturally curious but as a journalist, I’m downright nosey and hate not knowing all the facts.  sI quickly opened the box and laughed out loud when I discovered a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey inside with a letter.Now I’ll admit I’ve read the trilogy because I was curious about all the hype but my fantasy is not to be dominated and tied up in someone’s cellar unless that cellar happened to contain the world’s finest wines that I would be allowed to drink.
Wondering what the book had to do with the wine box I quickly turned to the letter which was actually an invitation to be a part of a global wine adventure called The Label Project.   They sent the book as a reflection on first impressions and just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover the letter stated a pretty label is not an indication of how the wine tastes.Sent to 140 bloggers from 12 different countries the invitation consists of a two-week challenge to go beyond the label and uncover the wine inside the bottle.Over the next few weeks we’ll all receive three unique deliveries, each containing; one bottle of “label-less” wine, a sensory clue (smell, taste and sight), facts about the region and tasting note clues to get us guessing.

We each have to work out the grape varietal and region the wine is from and send our answers by email at the end of the two-week period.

So what’s the point of all this cloak and dagger intrigue you ask? Well it looks like a bit of fun detective work while enjoying wine and let me just say this couldn’t get much better for me.

The thing that gets my heart pounding is not an erotic novel but a good old fashion mystery.

Stay tuned for the next chapter after the first wine arrives!

Happy Trails

Mission Hill Winery

Besides wine, travel is our other great passion and our bucket list of places to visit is long.  But sometimes work and the fact the bills need to be paid keeps our adventures closer to home.  Because of this we often live vicariously through our friends who are off roaming the world on their own wine/travel journeys.  Funnily enough most of our friends share our passion so we’ve invited them to send us their stories of wine adventures so we could share them with you.

Recently Dagmar went west to visit family but also hit the wine trails of the Okanagan Valley and here’s what she had to say:

“I recently visited the Okanagan Valley in B.C and some of the spectacular wineries which are bountiful in the region. One of my favourites is Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.  Because I have the benefit of having family in the region I make it a point to visit this winery every time I’m out here.  Mission Hill is nestled between the Coastal Mountains to the west and the Monashee Mountains to the east.  The estate overlooks Lake Okanagan and the lush vineyards and orchards below.

This stunning location is a magnet to food and wine lovers, newlyweds and is a photographers paradise.  The owners are passionate about wine and food, so if you’re interested in enjoying lunch or dinner the stunning dinning terrace overlooking the vineyard offers amazing seasonal fare. In fact the restaurant has been chosen as one of the top five winery restaurants globally by Travel and Leisure Magazine.

After enjoying the scenic gardens and stunning views I ventured inside for some wine tasting. After all isn’t that what it`s all about .

Mission Hill Winery Cellar
They offer daily tours and tastings in elegant salons adorned with chandeliers and vibrant paintings depicting the local art of winemaking. There are underground barrel cellars which also provide stunning backdrops to help educate the not so educated wine drinkers like myself.
And as a side note, the wine shop adjacent to the tasting rooms is spectacular.
If you know nothing about wines you can still lose yourself shopping for anything VINO to fill your home and at least make it look like you know a thing or two about wine.
I finally cozied up to the tasting bar to get down to business and given several options from the five vineyards which produce their vintages. Here were my favourites.
2009 Pinot Blanc.  A dry white wine with a crisp and refreshing ruby grapefruit and pineapple flavour that combine for a fresh clean finish.
2008 Pinot Gris     A drier tasting white wine also with a crisp fruity flavour but without the sweetness.
I walked out with two bottles of each, enough to get me by until at least Thanksgiving.”
Cheers,  Dagmar Ballard, (wine taster adventurer in the making)
We’re so glad Dagmar had a such an amazing wine adventure and we’re hoping to get out to BC ourselves next year. Can’t wait to check out all the new and existing wineries and culinary delights and if you’re considering a trip to BC, Tourism BC is a great resource.  No matter what city or region you’re looking to visit they’ve got information about what to see and do, accommodation and transportation some special offers and discounts that will help make your BC holiday even more special.

Cross Border Shopping


One of the great pleasures in visiting Montreal is prowling through the SAQ, Quebec’s version of the LCBO. There are many treasures you find in these airy outlets. I usually drop by an outlet closest to my stomping grounds and hightail it to the Selection section, comparable to Vintages. I typically end up with yet another SAQ carry bag because they too have done away with plastic bags. They have a plentiful selection of French wines, for obvious reasons, followed by a respectable array of Italians.

So where do I start? How do I pick the one – who am I kidding – the 6, I usually take home? I head to the regions I know and love. So Tuscany of course, and anything new from southern Italy, which is more  affordable.  It could be a place I have traveled to that has a reputation or a fond memory. Because the sun is shining, I will check out a white or two. From there, I head west to France and  Bordeaux – on the off-chance I  will pick something that will support my dream that all good Bordeauxs do not have to cost a  mortgage payment. I have been lucky with a few from  St-Emilion or Pomerol. Then I venture over to Rhone where, this time, I found a SPECTACULAR wine – that tied for first place of the weekend.

Here are a few of my finds.

Il Bruciato Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Bolgheri 2010

$21.95 SAQ

There are certain producers that make me take a second look. Antinori is one of them. The family has been producing for 27 GENERATIONS, surpassed only by the house of Frescobaldi. Head of the family,  Piero Antinori is considered a visionary in the industry.  I had the pleasure of sampling some wines with the Great One himself which is so worthy of a future entry on its own. This wine is from the Antinori’s Guado al Tasso estate on the Tuscan coast which is home to such greats at Sassicaia and Ornellaia.  This blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah is on the Super Tuscan path without the super Tuscan  price. Ruby colored, full-bodied, with cherry notes, soft spices and a lovely finish. 14% alcohol.

Chateau des Nages Joseph Torres Costieres de Nimes 2009 $21.95 LCBO  $20.95 SAQ

This  Cote de Rhone find started as a recommendation from the remarkable Lily Shatsky. I regard Lily as one of the perks of my job as a journalist. I found her when I was working in Montreal and assigned to find a bagel expert. I looked up an organization called Jewish Support Services for the Elderly. i thought where better to find a bagel expert. Not only did I get a great story, I met an inspirational dynamo.   Incredibly, the wine turned up again the next day at the table of the Certosini’s, dear friends who have long been my partners in wine.  Chateau des Nages proved to be as remarkable  as Lily with the staying power of an old friend. Deep purply red with a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre. Lots of body, spicy, dark fruit – it is delicious enough to make your toes curl with pleasure.

Il Chiuso Castelle di Ama Toscana IGT 2010  $25.55 SAQ

Full disclosure – the first time I visited Tuscany,we rented a place in Gaiole in Chianti,  right in the heart of the famous Chianti region. Since I was having lunch with the same friends I toured Chianti with several years ago, it seemed highly appropriate to choose a wine from the region that held so many happy memories. And I am very pleased to say this  lighter  medium-bodied blend of Sangiovese and  Pinot Noir did not disappoint.

Velenosi di Verdicchio Castelli dei Jesi Classico 2010  $13.30 SAQ

This one totally caught my interest because I will be heading to Le Marche where it is produced,  in a couple of weeks. While it didn’t knock my socks off, it had more body than a Pinot Grigio, and it wasn’t  oaky like many Chardonnays. So even though it may not take home many awards,   it was an absolute pleasure for an afternoon, enjoying-a- glass-with-my-brother-while-we-are-catching-up kind of  wine. It could have been the company, it might have been the weather, or because I had absolutely nothing to do but have a nice chat with someone I don’t see often enough. But it was a wine I would buy again…maybe next time in Le Marche or when  I am discussing life with my brother.

SAQ Publicatoin Cellier

Final word, if you do end up at the SAQ, check out their publication Cellier. It is available in English and is chock full of information. While the LCBO’s fabulous Food and Drink focuses on the food, Cellier is mostly about the wine, and there has not been an issue that I have not devoured cover to cover.


Just Like Fine Wine

Growing old is not for the faint of heart.  In a culture obsessed by youth our seniors are often forgotten and neglected.  But just like fine wine they should be celebrated.  My parents both passed away at a very early age so I never got to know them as an adult.  I only saw them through the sullen eyes of a teenager who didn’t appreciate them enough while I had the chance.

I’ve been very fortunate to have friends who have let me share in the pleasures of their family especially my best friend Nancy.  There hasn’t been a Christmas or birthday that I haven’t gotten an invitation to and I try to make them all because over time her family has become mine.

Happy Birthday Jeannette

This past weekend Nancy’s mom, Jeannette turned 80.  Vibrant and full of life, Jeannette has been many things throughout her life…wife, mother, sister, teacher, friend and grandmother.  She has touched hundreds of lives and I believe each of those has been enriched by knowing her.She’s always got a smile on her face and never raises her voice yet if she gives you that one certain look you know somehow you’ve misbehaved, probably why she made such a good teacher.

Gravenhurst Bifocal Concert Band

She was a teacher for 30 years but just because her professional career ended long ago doesn’t mean she can’t still teach us all something.  To this day she remains a force to be reckoned with, an avid gardener she’s a vital member of her local horticulture society, she plays in the Gravenhurst Bifocal Concert Band, often going to entertain other seniors and as a mother and grandmother she’s always there when you need her.

In an age of where most of us communicate online she still keeps a handwritten daily journal, something she has done for the last forty years and loves to send and receive a well written note.   You may think this old fashion and out of date but you’d be surprised how much pleasure a beautiful note or a real Christmas card gives you over a flashing e-card.

The average price of a 1932 vintage wine would probably run you in the thousands today which reflects its value.  So just like a fine wine a life well lived also deserves to be appreciated.  So whether the ones you love are fresh off the vine or have gathered some dust during a life well lived, eat cake and raise a glass to celebrate because life is fleeting and one never knows when it might end.

Love wisely and drink well!  And should I make it to 80, just like Jeannette I expect lots and lots of champagne.