A Little Something to Mull Over

The holiday season has kicked into high gear – the lights are up, Christmas music’s playing everywhere and Americans have gone into battle for the best bargains on Black Friday. And now that a dusting of snow covers my yard (ok maybe just a bit by the pond) I’m dreaming of sitting by the fire with a good book and something to keep me warm.

Generally that’s a nice glass of full-bodied red wine but because it’s the Christmas season my German heritage has me longing for a hot glass of gluhwein. Not only will this drink warm you up instantly but my Swiss husband swears it will fight off a cold on contact.

Just the smell of it on the stove brings back happy memories from Christmas’ past. Not only when I was a child but when my children were young we would heat up a batch to take with us on the ultimate hunt for the perfect tree.

One thermos for them containing hot chocolate, one with gluhwein for us and batch of sugar cookies was all we needed as we pulled the kids around the tree farm on their sleds for hours in search of the tree that would be the one we took home.  My kids are long grown so we don’t cut our own tree anymore but just the smell of the gluhwein makes me smile and remember those times.

No matter what you call it (My writing partner Lis is Swedish and they call it glogg, German’s call it gluhwein, the French call it vin epicee while North Americans call it mulled wine) the aroma is unmistakable with a hint of cinnamon and cloves.

Each cultural group has their own recipe and there are lots online to try but I’m going to share mine with you.  Since I’m not a big fan of cloves I don’t put them in but you might want to add them if you like it a bit more spicy.  DO NOT use a good bottle of red for this, anything cheap and cheerful will do since you’ll be diluting it with water, fresh lemon and orange juice.  One of the things you want to remember is not to cook the wine as this will evaporate the alcohol.

Ingredients (makes 4 cups) 2 cups water, 2 cups red wine – a cheap & cheerful Merlot or cab will do, ½ cup of sugar, juice from half an orange, juice from half a lemon and 1 cinnamon stick.

Pour water into a sauce pan, add sugar, cinnamon stick, the lemon and orange juice and bring to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved take the pot off the burner and add in the red wine so it heats up but does not cook.

You’ll want to drink it while it’s nice and hot and of course what would a glass of gluhwein be if you didn’t serve it with some pfeffernusse cookies (spicy gingerbread) and chocolate.

Tell us about your holiday traditions and share a recipe that reminds you of good times spent with friends and family.

 

 

Tasty Picks for your Weekend Wine Glass

 

Look at those juicy grapes. Soon enough they will be sitting in your glass ready to sip, sniff and savour. But while you wait, here are a few recommendations for your weekend dinner table.

D’Arenberg D’arry’s Original Shiraz/Grenache 2008  McLaren Vale, South Australia at $19.95.  

A yummy wine – deep purpley red with full-bodied flavour. Lovely dark berries and spice with 13.9% alcohol. It’s named after the producer who has been making this wine since 1959 – the year Fidel Castro took over Cuba and the year I was born. Cheers D’arry!

 

 

 

Lena di Mezzo Ripasso Valpolicello Classico Superiore Monte del Fra -Veneto, Italy 2009 $17.00.

I love Ripasso which many refer to as a baby Amarone without the hefty price. This baby  led me back  to the liquor store looking to buy a few extras that just might last until Christmas. It features flavours of spice and black cherry and a nice long finish. I am not the only one who liked it. This lovely blend got kudos from Decanter Magazine.

 

 

A visit to Quebec sent me browsing through the SAQ where I discovered a few to  bring home with me – my favourite red was  Fattoria La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008   Marchese Antinori $24.95  The  classic deep garnet full-bodied wine is made from the Tuscan staple Sangiovese grape. Available at SAQ (and Tuscany of course).

My tribute to local was a sipper from Palatine Hills Estate in Ontario, Palatine 1812 Merlot Cabernet VQA 12.5%  at $13.20. Young, with berry fruit, vanilla and herbs – it matched perfectly with the cornucopia of meats served at the anniversary of Beretta Foods, a wonderful  family success story that continues to grow after 20 years.

Happy shopping and let us know if you taste something worth sharing.

Cheers!

 

 

 

A Brand New Beau

For over a hundred years it’s happened on the third Thursday in November.  People anxiously await the arrival of the year’s releases of Beaujolais Nouveau.  I’m not sure if the rush to be first in line is as big a deal as it used to be but it’s definitely still a highly anticipated event circled on many a wine lovers calendar.

So why the third Thursday in November you ask?  Well, this date is defined by French law where the phenomenon began when local winemakers produced a quick maturing wine to celebrate the completion of the harvest with their workers.  Called  Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Primeur, it was fresh and fruity and easy to drink. As word of the tradition spread more and more people joined the celebration in something that today has become an international event.

This is not a wine that will ever be considered a classic like a well aged Bordeaux, in fact it’s not meant to be kept but drank immediately.  So what’s all the hoopla about?  Made from the Gamay grape, served chilled it’s easy drinking (not something you usually associate with a red wine) so think cheap and cheerful neighbourhood get together or just a reason to throw a party at this time of year.  But even if you’re just planning to have a glass all by yourself this weekend, a big part of the fun is knowing you’ll be linked to millions of other people around the world all doing the same thing.

This year in Ontario the LCBO has 10 for sale with 2 actually coming from Ontario and I hear tell the one from Chateau des Charmes is quite good.  Here’s what they have to offer:

Ontario 
The Fool Reif Estate Gamay Nouveau VQA, 750 mL, $9.95
Chateau des Charmes Generation Seven Nouveau VQA, 750 mL, $11.95

France
Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau, 750 mL, $13.95
Catalans Primeur Syrah Merlot, 750 mL, $9.95
Jeanjean Syrah Primeur, 750 mL, $9.95
Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau, 750 mL, $8.95

Italy
Negrar Novello Del Veneto, 750 mL, $9.95
Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti, 750 mL, $8.95

In VINTAGES fine wine and premium spirits sections at select LCBO stores:

France
Beaujolais Villages Nouveau (Joseph Drouhin), 750 mL, $14.95
Beaujolais Villages Nouveau (G. Duboeuf), 750 mL, $14.95

I picked up my brand new Beau today and took him home for dinner (went for the Chateau des Charmes).  But remember don’t wait too long, if you don’t take one home someone else will because these guys are not waiting around.

 

Let us know if you’ve try any, which ones you like or share why you’re not a fan at all.

 

Australia – Revisited

Anyone who has followed the latest entries, knows that Tina and I are big fans of Italian reds. We also have been mighty lucky to taste some spectacular Niagara, South African and Calfornia wines. Now I have returned to the classroom to learn a little more about New World Wines. SO much fun.

Jumping Into New World Wines

The first week we focused on Australian and New Zealand Wines. A few things to note about Australian wines:

  • What you see is what you get. Australian wines are all about consistency and blending. There is less guess work with Australian wine – that $20 wine you bought last year will be just as good when you buy it this year. 
  • Australia is at the forefront of innovation – labour shortages and much more flexible rules allow winemakers to do what they need to do to make sure the wine tastes the same for the consumer.
  • One hard fast  rule – 85% of the grapes must be the varietal or from the area listed on the label.
  • Australia is the 6th biggest wine producer in the world.
  • Most popular red grape is Shiraz. Most popular white is Chardonnay.

 

Brown-Bagging it

Being the embarrassingly obsessive note taker and homework keener, I “forced” my husband Steve to do a tasting of Australian wines with me this weekend – for educational purposes only of course :). Try  your own tasting, it’s lots of fun. I did this with the group in Italy and they ranged from people with virtually no wine knowledge – to people with a  some vineyard exploration experience. We had a blast. Who cares if you are guessing?

A Trio of Aussies

I picked three wines; a Shiraz from Barossa Valley, one from Victoria and a Shiraz-Grenache blend from McLaren Vale – one of my favourite regions that  rarely disappoints.

Tasting Notes:

We covered each bottle with a brown paper bag and started comparing. I was supposed to print off a sheet from Wine Spectator with some options to circle, but I forgot and I needed the practice for school because we have to remember all the descriptors by heart.

A tasting is separated into three parts: Sight, Sniff and Savour. Some questions to consider…

Sight:

  • What colour is each wine?
  • Are they the same colour?
  • Are they red or purple – garnet, ruby, cherry red, brick?
  • Which wine is darkest and densest?
  • Can you see your fingers when you look through the glass?
  • When you swirl, are the secondary legs – the second wave of drips down the glass, slow or fast?
  • Which is fuller bodied – think of the comparison between skim, 2% and  homogenized milk? Slower legs could indicate a higher alcohol level  or higher residual sugar which could indicate a higher alcohol level.

Sniff: Stick your nose in the glass and take a big whiff.

  • Are the aromas strong when you put your nose to the glass? Compare them.
  • Are their aromas you can identify? ie; Blackberries, plums, spice, pepper, licorice? (or like me in the first 8 classes – “it smells like red wine.”)
  • Is there a presence of oak – American oak will smell like coconut, dill pickles and brown sugar. French oak will be more mellow and  vanilla notes are more common . New oak will have a stronger presence. Does it smell toasty?

SIP :Take a good sip, swish around your mouth and then slurp in some air to get the full result.

  • Is the wine thick or heavy?
  • Do you taste the tannins – the pucker feeling? The tannins come from, the skins, stems and seeds and they also come from the oak barrels. Fruit tannins will be apparent in the front of your mouth, wood tannins in the back.
  • Are the tannins grippy, silky, grainy, velvety? Did the wine seem silky or smooth which could suggest lower levels of tannins or make your mouth feel dried out – which could mean high levels that need to open up?
  • Are the flavours the same as the aromas or do you taste something else?
  • Is there any bitterness? Do you feel a burn at the back of your throat – which could suggest high alcohol?
  • Acidity can be determined if it makes your mouth pucker which sounds just like the tannins doesn’t it – still working on that one. You feel the acidity on the sides of your mouth. I will report back if I get a clearer definition.
  • Do the flavour hang around for 1-5 – short finish, 5-8 medium finish, or 8 seconds + a long finish.

We lined up the wines. Took notes and made our conclusions (or guesses – don’t tell my teacher) based on what we knew about the wines or the regions.  You start to notice things like the colour of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are much darker than Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.  It doesn’t matter if you get it right, what matters is you start comparing similar markers for wines. You get used to the terminology. You don’t have to be a nerd or a cork dork. It is a terrific way to find out what types of wine appeal to you the most and it gives you more knowledge when buying wines you have never tasted before. And here’s what the winners who picked the right wines looked like when we did this in Italy.

The Happy Winners

 Here are the three Steve and I tested:

Tahbilk Shiraz  2008 $22.95 – a deep garnet purple, lovely aroma of blackberries – fruit forward were silky, it was full-bodied with a long finish. Super balanced at 14.5%

 

 

 

Barossa Valley

Grant Burge Shiraz 2009 from the Barossa Valley (available at LCBO and SAQ). This Shiraz from a  fifth generation winemaker has  aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, and black cherries  with notes of spice and chocolate and hint of mint. Yummy taste and great  value at $17.95.

 

 

And finally Paxton AAA Shiraz-Grenache 2010 from McLaren Vale (one of my favourite regions) at $19.95 – I had tasted this one before with considerable appreciation. But I must say, stacked up against the two others – it was our third pick. The colour was lighter than the others which was our first indication that one of these things was not like the others. The smooth and balanced wine is a  blend was 70% Grenache and 30% Shiraz with aromas of raspberries and pepper. Full-bodied  with grippy tannins.

 I have to say they were all pretty good and worth trying. But Tahbilk was by far our favourite.

Planning a tasting is also a way of getting the chance to try a few pricier wines when friends are each bringing a bottle.  Enjoy and let us know if you taste something worth sharing.

Skol! (Cheers in Swedish)

 

 

 

Weekend Wine Picks

This weekend’s picks are all about the marriage of good taste and good value. We had a little get together for 50 last week to mark a special birthday at work and I offered to pick up the wine. We didn’t have much of a budget, so creativity was required. Considering we are barrelling towards party season, I thought I would share a few of the picks for this weekend or for your next party.

A Sparkling that Sparkles

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve 2008 is a  bubbly that is worth a celebration. The crisp clean sparkling fine bubbles are  produced in the  Methode Classique which you only care about because it makes a sparkling so delicious you could easily compare it with a much more costly champagne. The taste is luxurious but at $22.95 a bottle, the price is not.

 

 

Some Red Crowd Pleasers

Montes Pinot Noir Limited Selection 2010 Casablanca Valley of Aconcagua, Chile at 14% alcohol was my personal favourite. Deep ruby colour, tastes of red berries – strawberry, raspberry, along with plums and herbs – I found it simply delicious and kept heading back for more. Well worth the $14.95 price.

 Rocca delle Macie Vernaiolo Chianti DOCG 2009

Medium-bodied with dark berries  and spice well balanced and perfect for the pasta that was on the menu. 12% alcohol. Rocca delle Macie is one of my favoruite producers because on their website they pair wine and song – this one apparently goes perfectly with Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone.  A tasty temptation at $13.95

Winning Whites

Inniskillin Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Inniskillin Unoaked Chardonnay  VQA Niagara Peninsula 2009  This wine came highly recommended – zippy, refreshing with citrus, green apple and melon hints. At only $10.95, it was a top choice of white among the party goers. Good thing I cleaned out the shelf. But clearly others had the same idea, when I returned there was none left. The good news – you can order the 2010 Core Series Unoaked Chardonnay online at www.Greatestatesnioagara.com .

 

 

Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough – From the land of the crisp whites that I have spent many a Saturday afternoon with – this New Zealand wine is herbal and grassy with flavours of gooseberries. Alcohol level is 13% and a sweet price at $14.95.

 

Those are my picks for the weekend. If you have tried a good valued party wine, please share.

Wine Lines by Guest Blogger Richard Crouse/Film Reviewer Canada AM

Wine-Soaked Comedy that Sunked MerlotThe most surprising thing about the movie “Sideways,” arguably the most famous of the recent “wine movies” is that its star, Paul Giamatti, doesn’t drink wine. “I’m more of a Schlitz guy,” he told me when the movie came out.

 Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are two friends, Miles and Jack, on a trip through California wine country. Miles is a connoisseur. Jack is not.

 When Jack tell Miles the two women he has arranged a double date with want to drink Merlot, Miles is unimpressed, to put it mildly.

 “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving,” he yells. “I am not drinking any f**king Merlot!”

 It’s an amusing line in a funny movie, but it wasn’t really meant to denigrate the grape.

 “The funniest thing about that line is the only reason it is Merlot is that we tried all these different wines and that was the only one that was funny… was the word Merlot,” Giamati said. “For some reason that sounded funnier than chardonnay.”

 What wasn’t so funny was the effect that the line had on sales of Merlot, which, according to Vinography.com writer Alder Yarrow, took a dive after the movie became a hit.

 “I never would have guessed the movie would have had such an effect on the U.S. wine industry. Not in a million years,” he said.

 No laughing matter for vintners perhaps, but just one in a line of winecentric comedies.

 Based in a real life Parisian wine tasting from 1976 which pitted French wines against their Californian cousins, Bottle Shock stars Alan Rickman as a wine merchant who sees himself as “a shepherd… whose mission is to offer the public another form of great art and to guide its appreciation thereof.” In other words he’s a wine snob, but one with a purpose. He wants to show the French that good wines are available beyond thier vineyards. He does have limits though. “I don’t foresee the imminent cultivation of the Chicago vine.”

 Vintage Rom-ComIn the Meg Ryan romcom “French Kiss” Kevin Kline co-stars as Luc, the son of a French family of vineyard owners. The action begins when he sneaks a grapevine into Kate’s (Ryan) bag to be smuggled into France.

 Best wine lines?

 Luc: First, you must take some wine. Can you describe it, the taste?

Kate: It’s a nice red wine.

Luc: I think you can do better.

Kate: A bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension.

Kate: Actually, I was just talking about myself.

 Then there’s Lesley Caron’s “Gigi” which not only features a song called “The Night They Invented Champagne”–but also some solid, but humorously delivered advice on how to enjoy wine. “You have to fully enjoy the aroma,” Gigi’s aunt explains. “On your first sip, hold it on the roof of your mouth for a moment and breathe through your nose. Then you will feel the flavor… A bad year will be sharp. A good year, which this is of course, will waft.”

Finally, also worth a look is “Corked,” a mockumentary about four wineries competing for the Golden Cluster Award and “Year of the Comet,” a funny action adventure movie from William Goldman (the pen behind “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) about international intrigue and one of the world’s rarest bottles of wine.

Do you have a favourite wine film?

In Case Of Last Resort

Funny but when I was younger I could never understand why people felt the need to get away from winter but let me just say, I totally get it now.  It’s barely the beginning of November and I dream of someplace warm.

One of my favourite escapes when the cold Canadian winter is in full swing is the Riviera Maya in Mexico.  Dollar for dollar it’s a great value vacation and I’ve never been to a five-star resort I didn’t like.  If you’re staying close to Playa Del Carmen, a short taxi ride will take you into town for a day of shopping and dining.

 

I really only have one complaint – no matter the quality of the resort, the wines they offer are definitely lacking.  It’s not that I’m a wine snob, lets just say I have particular tastes. Since I’m not into Tequila or sugary fruit drinks my inner wine snob (ok, so I admit it) pales at the thought of only having 2 choices – vino blanco and vino tinto  unless you’re willing to spend big bucks on a high-end domestic or imported wine. And while cheap and cheerful works for something cool by the pool, I definitely enjoy something a little better when I’m having a nice meal.

So why is it that Mexico doesn’t have better wine considering it’s actually the oldest wine industry in the New World?  Well, I figured I’d do a little digging and share what I found.

In 1521, just after the Spanish invasion, conquistadors started planting vines and in 1524, Hernán Cortés, the governor of New Spain (Mexico), decreed that each Spanish settler given lands must plant ten grapevines per year for the next five years.

With the success of the Mexican wine industry Spanish imports started to dwindle. So in order to protect the Spanish wine industry King Carlos II banned the production of wine in Mexico in 1599, except of course for use by the church. The ban remained in effect until Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and lets just say a few hundred years can turn any wine enthusiast towards other popular domestic spirits like Cerveza (Mexican beer) or tequila.

L.A. Cetto Vineyard in Baja California, Mexico

In the 20th century winemaking gradually increased, but with the removal of trade barriers in the late 1980s production declined again due to inexpensive imports from around the globe. With this increased competition the government soon levied taxes to around 40% on each bottle and wine makers recognized in order to compete they would need to rely on quality, not price.

The average Mexican is still not a big wine drinker but consumption is on the rise much of that due to tourists who consume about 40% of the wine. One element which is considered key for a broader consumer base is the need to produce more palatable entry-level wines.

Considering Mexico is the number one fly in destination for Canadians going on vacation here’s hoping the resorts will soon be sourcing some of those.

Now if you’re not planning a trip to sunny Mexico just yet but want to try a Mexican wine, my partner who endlessly snoops through the aisles at the LCBO to source great finds has suggested L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Petite Sirah 2008.  It’s from the Baja California region of Mexico and priced at $19.95 you’ll find it in the Vintages section.

We would love to know about your experience with Mexican wines or if you’ve found one worth sharing.