Weekend Wines at an Oscar Party Worth WOWing* About

Be Our Guest
Be Our Guest

The fashion, the faux pas, the gushing and the guffawing – blend it all with some great wine, creative nibbles and clever company and you have yourself one award-winning party.

Treats of the Southern WIld
Treats of the Southern WIld

My friends Rita and Khawar went all out this year at their Oscar night. Each plate came with a movie label: Mango UnChained, Treats from the Southern Wild, Lincoln Drinkin’ some Wine and Eatin’ some Cheese, Life of Chocolate Pi, Argonado Dip –  very creative.

Mango Unchained






Life of Chocolate Pi
Life of Chocolate Pi

While we sharpened our tongues on the fashion misses, we sipped two delicious Italians and one Californian (that almost sounds a little sleazy). Rita and Khawar picked a Bolgheri blend, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Rutherford Ranch  Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 for the evening. Each had a style that deserved to be on the Red Carpet.



 The Bogheri is one of my favourite regions of Tuscany. It is  almost impossible to go wrong with a wine from here.. This  Bolgheri Rosso 2009 by Michele Satta was no exception. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese with a touch of Teroldego (one of the many I have never heard of) – fruity, herbal and chocolatey. $19.95.

A Tasty Italian and Spunky Californian
A Tasty Italian and Spunky Californian

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  is typically a wine that gives you good value and good taste. This Gentile Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  Vigne di Ofena was even better. I would buy it again if I could find it!  The grape is often mistakenly thought to be the grape of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Sometimes that’s a mistake that can end up in your favour with a big bold fruity delicious wine. These are found in the Other Italian Regions section.

The third was from the Rutherford Ranch in the Napa Valley, a big bold Cabernet Sauvignon  from 2010 that, had I not been driving, I could have sipped all night. As it was, Rita needed the extra boost as she experienced a life-altering Oscar shock. Her husband Khawar, who is more familiar with the bottom end of the Oscar pool score sheet, cleaned her clock – ok he tied for first place with Franca – another movie buff who filled in her sheet just after she got there. 

WInners Franca and Khawar
Winners Franca and Khawar

Rita’s reaction was the equivalent of a series of Botox treatments – her words, not mine. While Khawar’s…somewhere between the happy dance I would do if I won a wine trip around the world and Sylvestre Stallone at the end of Rocky.

It was a sight to behold. No worries, Rita, there is always next year – in the meantime Khawar – start doing your research. I will help…over a glass or two of wine.

 *WOWing (Women-Of-Wine approved)


PS – Favourite Wine quote of the week:

Q:How do you get to know wine?

A: Buy a corkscrew. Use it.

Italian Wines that WOW and other Weekend Wine Picks

Every two weeks, LCBO’s Vintages  delivers a flutter of joy to my inbox. If you are over 40, it’s the same kind of greedy excitement you felt when the Sears’ Christmas Wish Book came to the door. If you are under 40, it could be the Victoria’s Secret, Restoration Hardware or Canadian Tire catalogue that gives you the same kind of thrill. The Vintages online catalogue features the new releases and each edition spotlights one particular region. Last week, joy of joys – the feature: Tuscan Triumphs – featuring  many affordable wines and others that are wishlist worthy.

While I start to make my way through the new releases, a few of them made The Women of WIne’s weekend picks.

Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011 DOCG (Tuscany)

Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011
Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011

The Italian white is fresh and lively- think citrus and green apples – pale straw coloured and nicely aromatic with a creamy  texture. The Vernaccia di San Gimignano appellation was the first wine designated DOC – an Italian mark of quality. It was later upgraded to DOCG or quality guaranteed.  The Vernaccia grape is grown in the stunning area surrounding San Gimignano, the Tuscan town declared a UNESCO heritage site. If you have ever seen the movie Tea With Mussolini, starring a trio of British treasures: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Joan Plowright, part of the film was shot there. Like this wine, the movie too, has a big finish. I won’t spoil it, but definitely worth watching with a glass of this wine in hand.

 Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008 DOCG (Tuscany) 

Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008
Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008

The scent of a good Chianti is one of life’s true pleasures. This deep ruby wine is full of plum, cherry preserves, spice and chocolate notes. Its tannins will make you pucker so decanting is a good idea. This is 100% Sangiovese and comes from Chianti Classico, an area within the gorgeous Chianti region. This wine also has the favourite WOW (women of wine) characteristic. It tastes a like it should cost more than it actually does.  13.5% alcohol. $18.95




Out of the New World WIne

Barista Pinotage WO 2011 (Western Cape, South Africa)

Barista Pinotage
Barista Pinotage

Pinotage is South Africa’s specialty. It is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir and when it is good, it is very very good. The name is highly appropriate. Barista is like sipping from a strong cup of coffee with mocha flavours all wrapped up with red fruit and oak. I have not always been a big fan of Pinotage, but some of the latest releases have been terrific. And at $14.95, so is the price. 13.5% alcohol. Have it with a burger or even biscotti.




Deal of the Week

Vina Alicia Paso de Piedra Malbec 2008 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Vina Alicia Malbec 2008
Vina Alicia Malbec 2008

This is an exceptional value wine. Deep and delicious with black cherries and spice. It is 100% Malbec, the signature grape of Mendoza which produces 70% of the wines of Argentina. This wine is full-bodied and fruity. And if you need an official rating for proof, uber-critic Robert Parker gave it a 92 points. Not bad for $19.95. Buy one for yourself, one to hold and one to gift to someone you love.



Splurge of the Week: A Few More Dollars But a Lot of Delicious

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009
Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009, (Tuscany)

Cherries and spice and everything nice – this is a superb example of this noble wine of Tuscany made by Poliziano, one of the region’s top producers. Some refer to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano as a baby Brunello at a more affordable price.  I am a big fan and not just because Montipulciano is one of my favourite places on the planet. Sure, like any type of wine,  some are better than others, but when a Vino Nobile is well-produced – like this one, it is elegant, giving, well-structured  and keeps you wanting more.  It is 85% Prugnolo Gentile (a Sangiovese clone) and 15% blend of Canaiolo, Merlot and Colorino grapes. Pick up a bottle, they are going fast – or even better – get yourself to Montipulciano – it will taste even better. I promise.  14.5% alcohol. $25.96

Have a great weekend. Let us know if you try out one of the picks or if you have another to suggest.


Celebrity Winemakers: Star Studded Labels

The trend of celebrities owning wineries or lending their name to a wine isn’t new but it seems more and more are investing time and money into the vine.  After reading that Hollywood’s power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will be releasing a new wine called Miraval from their French Chateau next month I was curious about who else with a famous moniker was putting their face or name on a label.

When it comes to Canadian celebrities there’s a couple that have been around for a while along with some newer additions. There’s golfer Mike Weir who in the spring of 2005 launched Mike Weir Estate Winery, actor Dan Aykroyd who in partnership with Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits launched his wine in 2007, and of course the great one; hockey legend Wayne Gretzky whose wines you’ll find both at the LCBO and online. The latest addition of famous Canadians getting into the wine business is of course Mr. Wonderful, billionaire investment guru Kevin O’Leary.  But whether or not they’re actually involved in the wine making process or just broadening their brand they’re definitely helping to bring recognition to Ontario wines around the world.

Some celebrities actually come from families with a long history of winemaking like director Francis Ford Coppola whose grandfather Agostino Coppola, used to make wine in the basement of his New York apartment building.  Now, the man behind the famous Godfather trilogy is also directing things behind the scenes at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Steve & Francis Ford CoppolaLis and her husband Steve had a chance to visit the winery and she says driving through the gates is like entering the Disneyland of Sonoma.  Wine lovers, film geeks and and day trippers languish on lounge chairs surrounding the pool. Welcome to Casa Coppola where you can rent a Cabana and pool privileges for the day. You can pop inside for a taste of vintage Francis, either at the bar or the museum upstairs. “We took home a couple of  bottles from the Director’s Cut line. Oh, did I mention there was a shop with Mama Coppola’s spices, Francis signature panama hats and other memorabilia?  My husband also got the t-shirt which thankfully he wasn’t wearing when he met his idol at Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco. That was last May. He is still talking about it.”

Then there’s Andrea Bocelli whose family has been making wines for over 130 years, long before the singer became famous for his music.  Now he and his winemaker brother Alberto together run Bocelli Family Wines located in Lajatico, Tuscany, in the province of Pisa.

sam-with-tp-newOthers are wine enthusiasts who start small and somehow their passion becomes more than a hobby.  Such is the case with actor Sam Neill probably best known for his role in Jurassic Park but who may now be even better known for his famously splendid wines.  But combining his two loves he often stars in what he calls microdoodles, short vignettes about winemaking and his beloved winery Two Paddocks in New Zealand.  I had the pleasure of meeting him some years back and have to say his Pinot Noir was some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

There’s certainly quite a list of celebrity winemakers but here’s a list that might surprise you:

acdc-wineAC/DC– Turn up the tunes because now you can blast “Highway To Hell” while sipping the Australian rockers Cabernet Sauvignon by the same name. Their other musically inspired wines, include ‘Back in Black’ Shiraz, ‘Thunderstruck’ Chardonnay and ‘Hells Bells’ Sauvignon Blanc.  Produced by Australia’s Warburn Estates it’s recently become available in the US but is not available yet in Canada.

318025_426591957411188_1286107301_nDrew Barrymore – inspired to create a wine in honour of her family.  The multiply award-winning actress is more than just a pretty face and her Pinot Grigio from Italy’s Veneto region is also a winner getting a Gold Medal at the 2012 Sunset International Wine Competition. Her website says she’s a fan of crisp fruity white wines and created this Pinot to reflect her style and personality.  If you were trying to match people to their wine personality I think that’s totally how I would see her.

Emilio Estevez – who together with is wife tend the vines at Casa Dumetz in Los Alamos, California 

Fergie – Not the Duchess but of The Black Eyed Peas who owns a wine label called Ferguson Crest which she started in 2006.  Fergie’s dad is the viticulturist on the 6 acre estate winery and with the help of winemaker Joey Tensley they’ve even created a 2011 vintage called “Fergalicious”.

Sting – the rocker and his wife, Trudie Styler founded Il Palagio more than a decade ago. A beautiful Tuscan villa where they spend every summer they have 3 wines available, “Sister Moon”, “When We Dance” and the one pictured here, “Casino Delle Vie”.  Named after a property on the estate and when translated it means “little house by the roads”.

There’s certainly many more out there and I’m sure the trend will continue. And let’s face it, if I had the resources that Brad and Angelina had I’d own my own French Chateau as well.









Weekend Wine Picks: Blends to Brag About

A taste of Spain, France and Italy  with a white that’s worth watching for. This week the spotlight is on affordable red blends and a splurge from Northern Italy.

Terraprima, D.O. Penendes, Spain 2007  Can Rafols del Caus $19.95terraprima

This blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Garnacha , 10% Syrah comes in just under $20, but tastes like you paid much more.  It is deep ruby, medium-bodied, fruity and herbal. Jay Miller of eRobertParker.com gave it a 90 and called it a racy red. It even comes with a story – Carlos Estevez, owner of the Can Rafols del Caus estate took a mining company to court because it wanted to create a quarry in the next valley. Estavez argued successfully the project would hurt his vines and destroy the natural beauty of the area. The judge ruled in his favour only if Estevez took over the land himself.  Enter Terraprima.  Thank you Your Honour! Good pairing with pasta.

armoiriesTerres D’Avignon Reserve Des Armoiries Cote du Rhone 2010 

Another blend – this one from Southern Rhone combines Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes. It’s dry with plenty of flavour and fine tannins. Juicy comes to mind. Best paired with slow roasted meat. And I saved the best for last. It is only $14.95 at the LCBO.

Don Jacobo Reserva  DOCa Rioja, Spain 2004don jacobo

I am a real fan of Spanish wines – they tend to be more afforable yet still pack a punch. The LCBO advertised this one as “Back by Popular Demand” and after tasting a glass – I can understand why.  Dark red cherry, with big fruit  and spice, medium to full bodied.  The blend is 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and Mazuelo(otherwise known as Carignan), Nicely aged at a terrific price, just $17.95 a bottle. I am signing up for a case.

Ironstone Obsession Symphony 2011 $14.95sym

I came across this California wine a couple of years ago on a hot summer day and I was a little weary of my fallback Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. I liked it enough to pick up another bottle this week.  Obssession  is light and lively. Aromatic, with a sweet finish. The Symphony grape is the star of this show. According to the LCBO website, it is a cross between Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. Perfect match for a spicy Thai dish. You will find it in general list.

Splurge of the Week: Giribaldi Barbaresco 2006 DOCG Piedmont, Italy $31.95barbaresco

Barbaresco is one of the crown jewels of Italy’s Langhe region. Like its bold and beautiful cousin Barolo, it is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Interesting little fact, Nebbiolo comes from the Italian word Nebbia which means fog, which is no stranger to the stunning valleys of the Langhe. And there is an actual town of Barbaresco and Barolo – both highly worth visiting. But in the meantime, this wine is light in colour, earthy with tobacco notes and tannins that will leave you puckering for more. Decant, decant, decant for full pleasure.

Got  a blend to recommend? Let us know.


Wine Songs: Grape Harmonies

Grape Inspiration
Grape Inspiration

There are so many ways to appreciate a good glass of wine. You can buy a case, tell a friend, and if you are a musician, write a song about it. How many songs can you think of with wine in the title?

The most bizarre, best known,with a title that makes me strangely sad:

Spill the Wine– Eric Burdon and War (1970)

According to Wikipedia – the inspiration came from Lonnie Jordan – founding member of the band War, who accidentally spilled a glass of wine all over the mixing board. Rock and Roll legend Eric Burdon thought it was so funny, he and Jordan wrote a song about it. That explains the Wine, but not the Gnome, which always made me think of Twin Peaks.

This title makes me happy:
Red, Red Wine – UB40 – (1984)

Neil Diamond wrote and performed this song lamenting a lost love by drowning his sorrows in red wine. It made it to number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1968. UB40’s reggae-style version spun the tune to the top of the charts around the world, hitting number one in the US when it was re-released in 1988.



Days of Wine and Roses – Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer (1962)

This song picked up an Oscar for best original song from the movie of the same name. It went on to be performed by greats Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. The film was a brilliant and tragic tale of two average people whose lives are devastated by alcoholism. (ok, that’s a real downer for a wine blog – but the performances are truly incredible).

How deep is the love:

Poison and Wine – Civil Wars – 2009

This haunting tune by the fabulous Nashville duo John Paul White and Joy Williams looks at the good, the bad and the ugly of relationships (and I firmly believe the wine part = the good). I first heard it on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The song is on their album Barton Hollow which debuted as #1 on the ITunes Singer-Songwriter chart.


Cracklin’ Rosie –Neil Diamond – 1970

Wait a minute – I thought this song was about a spunky gal named Rosie or a store-bought love doll. Wrong! Cracklin’ Rosie is a bottle of cheap sparkling wine with a Canadian connection. This was Diamond’s first #1 hit and he got the idea from a folk tale about a native tribe in Northern Canada where the men far out-numbered the women (have you ever been to Fort McMurray?). The guys who didn’t get the girl on a Saturday night– got a bottle of Cracklin’ Rosie. Re-reading the lyrics with that in mind gives the song a whole new perspective.

“Cracklin’ Rose, get on board/ We’re gonna ride till there ain’t no more to go/ Taking it slow/ Lord, don’t you know/Have made me a time with a poor man’s lady”

Those are just some of the titles that hit the charts. Imagine how many wine-inspired tunes sounded great ….until the morning after.

Got another favourite wine title? Send it to us!

Why Drink Water?

“Why drink water, when you can drink wine?”, it’s quite possible this is a quote but I’m not sure who to attribute it to.  But somehow over the years it’s sort of become my motto.  Not that water isn’t good for you or that I don’t drink it, it’s just that I’d much rather be drinking wine.


Lucie & Nilesh
Lucie & Nilesh

My husband and I just spent a very lovely 10 days on the Riviera Maya with our good friends Lucie and Nilesh.  We’ve made this journey every January for the past six years and we always have a great time.  Dollar for dollar vacationing in Mexico offers great value for your money and we’ve never been disappointed.

We’ve stayed at various five-star resorts along the strip, some more than once and while each has different things to offer we’ve always enjoyed ourselves.

0-4This time we stayed at the GRAND SIRENIS MAYAN BEACH HOTEL & SPA and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The food was good, the hotel was lovely and the staff, especially the animation team were terrific. Not only did they offer the usual nightly shows but lots of fun and entertainment all day long and on several evenings there was even a Mariachi  band that came to perform for everyone sitting in the lobby area.

The only thing I’m always disappointed in is the wine selection.  I talked about this quite a bit in the post called “In Case of Last Resort” published in November of 2012 and for a country where the weather is primed for making wine you’d think they be better at it.  Basically you’ve got your standard Vino Blanco or Vino Tinto offered at every restaurant and buffet but even if you want to pay extra and order something better it’s generally from Chile and no worth paying the extra for.

0-2But considering our fun in the sun was a cheap and cheerful vacation I don’t want to slag the wine selection too much.    While a lousy red is really hard to drink,  a so so white goes down alright when it’s chilled and served with food, so we enjoyed many a glass at every meal.

And while most large resorts purify their water for drinking if you’re going off site you might just want to play it safe and stick to the wine when stopping for a meal, so you don’t wind up with the Mexican stomach flu.

But after ten glorious days in the sun and enjoying lots of cheap and cheerful white I’m happy to have a lovely glass of red once again.


Fabulous February Wine Picks

7858376214_a0c50318d6I’m always looking for great wines under $20 – something that can help me get the weekend off to a good start – but also doesn’t put a huge dent in the budget.

So on a particularly stressful day recently  when I wanted to transport myself  into the closest LCBO to buy and fly,   I decided to cosy up to the tasting bar at Queen’s Quay – one of my favourite 10-minute adventures. A tasting bar is basically a wall of opportunity. You can taste wines that you can’t afford, and even in that one ounce sip – you can recognize greatness. But the more practical reason, you can avoid post-corking disappointment when you try before you buy.

This week’s list featured some of the finest Super Tuscans, some of BC’s best offerings and French wines that are in a stratosphere way beyond my pay scale. There were six that fit my under $20 criteria. You can taste 4 x 1/2oz or 2 x 1 oz.

For this week’s wine picks I included two wines not on the tasting menu that I highly recommend: one under  $20 and one splurge that curled my toes.

valdivieso Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Maipo Valley

The LCBO description describes this wine as a juicy and ripe with notes of vanilla, blackberry and woodsmoke. One slurp and I didn’t need more convincing. Now, I will admit that I have not been a big fan of most Chilean- but if this Cab at this price is an example of what is coming out of the Maipo Valley today – I will go back for more. LCBO $19.95

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2010 Spain

Full-bodied, black cherries and spice with strong vanilla notes – the rich dark ruby colour has been compared with wines from Northern Rhone. Uber critic Robert Parker went a step further and called it the winery’s “interpretation of Chateauneuf du Pape” but at a non-Chateau price. LCBO $19.95

Pinotage The Grinder 2011 WO, Swartland, South Africa 

 the grinderPinotage is South Africa’s signature grape – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (my Wines 2 teacher would be so proud). In can be the best or worst of wines – at worst it has an overiding scent of burnt rubber, at best rich coffee and dark chocolate. Enter The Grinder. It is a good example of a quality Pinotage – meaty and mocha – perfect to pair with a rich stew. And at $13.95 a bottle at the LCBO, you can’t go wrong.




Virgen Del Aguila Artigazo 2007 artigazo

I mentioned this last week when I tried it at the tasting bar, but now that I have had a full bottle, I am giving it another shout out. This juicy wine from DO Carinena – just south of Rioja region is a blend of 40% Garnacha, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet SauvignonLCBO $18.95.




Bonus Tracks:  Vinaceous! Raconteur Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Barossa Valley South Australia

Tell Me About It!

This Barossa Valley Cab is one for the road – get it out of the store and into your glass. It’s big and fruity and lush with black cherry and cassis notes. I love the Aussie labels. The web site is absolutely stunning and while it says you can hold on to it for 10 years. I don’t know how or why you would wait that long.  It is rich and smooth, very well-balanced. LCBO $19.95




The Big Splurge: Mastrojanni San Pio 2008 IGT Tuscany, Italy

Some of the best wine discoveries I have ever made are completely random. In this case Isan pio was reading a Globe and Mail article by Eric Reguly about the head of the Illy Coffee dynasty and how they shared a glass of wine (who says you can’t mix business and pleasure?). The wine came from Mastrojanni – a winery owned by the Illy family. Later that day in the LCBO I see a bottle of Mastrojanni San Pio 2008 and thought I deserved a splurge. I decanted. I sniffed. I savoured. I loved. It is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Sangiovese Grosso – the grape that creates the magic that is Brunello. It is 14% alcohol but so balanced, so smooth, it is simply superb. LCBO $30.95

 Enjoy the picks for next weekend and if you have tasted something that has you going back for more, let us know!