California Wine Dreaming

california cruisin

There was a lot of California Dreaming going on at a recent event put on by  IYellow Wine Club..

California Cruisin’ was another brainchild of IYellow Wine Club founder Angie Aiello (pronounced I-Yellow… get it?). Angie brought 30 wine producers from California, threw in some gourmet food truck nibbles and then tweeted her friends and followers. They brought their friends, and suddenly  450 thirsty young wine lovers were crammed into a room getting a taste of California. These 20-35 somethings are the most powerful demo in advertising, and these days this demo is toasting that power with a  glass of wine.

wine wine 014Young Canadians are getting sweet on wine. Overall, the per capita wine consumption here is growing three times faster than around the world. And it is expected to be the fifth fastest growing market between now and 2017.

Looking around this event, those new stats are easy to believe.   All decked out for a Saturday night on Toronto’s King Street, this isn’t the note-taking crowd. This is the demo that still has enough brain cells to remember the stories they are told over the course of the evening. They taste the wines and the next morning over brunch – start planning their trip to California wine country.

This is not a stuffy crowd of cork dorks (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is an engaged group eager to learn more and Angie Aiello’s wine social club provides the perfect opportunity to learn the difference between a flavourful Cabernet Sauvignon and a powerful Zinfandel.

There are so many great California wines  and thanks to  huge marketing initiative to get Canada sampling.- they took centre stage recently at the LCBO. Poke around the section and you will find some super wines at super prices.

dreaming treeWines like The Dreaming Tree Crush 2010. This red blend from the North Coast is a co-production of musician Dave Matthews and winemaker Steve Reeder. And what a blend! 78% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 6% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Syrah, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. I sent a bottle home with a good friend from Montreal and she called extolling the virtues of its mocha and coffee notes. It’s $16.95 a bottle  and it’s going fast.

 

mondavi

Tina and I moved on to Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 which was a little pricier at $34.95 but bold and concentrated, a perfect Napa Cab. Now I will admit right off I am a sucker for anything Robert Mondavi. Anyone who starts a brand new career in his fifties out of a love for wines – is worthy of  attention (ok maybe adoration). He died in his 90s and  when I visited the vineyard last year, Mondavi is regarded as a saint by everyone who knew him. The one that smaller wineries could count on when they had a bad season.

 

 I sampled a Chateau St Jean Pinot Noir  2011 from Sonoma County- an ideal wine for meat pastas or roast chicken. It is a celebration of raspberries and strawberries. It is a staff pick at the LCBO and currently on sale for $17.95.

justinWhile Napa is known for its Cabs, Sonoma its Pinots – head a little further south to Paso Robles, and you will find some superb Syrah`s. The area was made famous by the so-called Rhone Rangers – who were determined to create their own Syrah-based blends in California to rival their French ancestors. The Justin Syrah 2011 is a prime pick for those who like ripe fruit forward wines. It is not available at the LCBO yet – but well worth trying out when it come in..

obsessionIronstone Obsession Symphony 2011 has been a regular on my table. Symphony is a grape that is on the sweet side, highly aromatic and most pleasing on the palate.  Also on sale right now at the LCBO for $13.95 (I picked up two).

The California Cruisin’ evening was about sampling and learning about wines that are affordable but don`t compromise on taste.  And wine clubs like IYellow are making it cool to be a cork dork. For more information, check out IYellowwineclub.com for monthly events and classes that are not for cork dorks only.  Toronto Life voted it the best place to learn about wine. And you can follow them on twitter @IYellowwineclub.

Off to book a trip to California!

 

Weekend Wine Picks

This week’s wine picks celebrates an Ontario red, white and a honey of an Italian, all under $20.

garganegaCantine Riondo Vinea Garganega 2011,  This weekend’s wine finds come from  the LCBO’s Tasting Room at Queen’s Quay – where I am quickly becoming a regular – all they need is a cosy chair and WIFI . I started with an Italian white called Garganega from the Veneto region. It is light and crisp, aromatic with honey, peach and grapefruit notes. It medium-bodied with good balance. At $13.95, it is a excellent value wine.

 

 

rockawayRockaway Vineyards Small Lot Reserve Red Assemblage 2010 VQA Niagara Peninsula  This blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Savignon and Merlot got a strong 89 from Sara d’Amato from WineAlign.com. It is earthy, spicy with dark fruit  and the blend also has a good strong finish. Currently featured in the Vintages section and well priced at $16.95

 

 

malivoireMalivoire Riesling 2011, VQA Ontario

Vive le Riesling. I have vowed to drink more of this grape that inspires awe among many wine professionals, and nose wrinkling by  the uninitiated. I have always found Rieslings to be too sweet. But I have been told I am simply drinking the wrong ones. Well, this yet-to-become a Malivoire Riesling fan picked a good one. This was dry, aromatic, with the sweetness  balanced by acidity. At $15.95,  I would happily buy the Vintages release again.

Let us know if you have a favourite wine pick of your own.

Cheers

 

Pope Francis: The Secret of Sacramental Wine

 

I’m not Catholic and to be honest, the only time I go to Church is for weddings and funerals, the last time being my nephew’s wedding in Italy. I know very little about the Church’s ceremonies or canons but I’ve observed the Eucharist (also referred to as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion) and know there’s real wine in that Challis.

So as the world watched Pope Francis step onto the balcony in the Vatican, I wondered where the wine they serve comes from.  Does the Church have its own vineyards, is the Eucharist wine any good and could there be a secret cellar in the Vatican that houses wine just for the Pope?

According to the Catholic Church Canons, Sacramental wine, also referred to as Communion or Alter wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt meaning it must be naturally fermented with no additives. I was actually told by a Church historian that it would be sacrilegious to use anything but real wine.

Chateauneuf_du_Pape_2The Church actually has a long history with Old World vineyards and one of the best known is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  In 1308, Pope Clement V moved the papacy to the city of  Avignon and it was said he was a great lover of wine.  He avidly promoted the wines of the area which came to be known as “Vin du Pape” (now known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape) during the 70 years the Papacy was located there.   But it was actually his successor John XXII who was responsible for the building of the famous castle that stands as a symbol for the appellation to this day.  0012286

Of course their wine now is not limited to supplying the Church and you can find a nice bottle of La Fiole du Pape a Chateauneuf-du-Pape red for $34.95.  It’s a smooth full-bodied red from the Rhone in France.

I’m certain there are others vineyards in the Old World that supply wines to the Church but there’s also some well-known ones in the New World.   In Australia Jesuits founded  Sevenhill Cellars in 1851 in the Clare Valley. They now produce over 90,000 litres of wine annually, providing sacramental wine for both Australia and Asia along with a variety of award-winning white, red and fortified wines.

Located in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York State you’ll find O-Neh-Da the oldest still-producing vineyard founded by Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid in 1872.  This is one of the last remaining wineries in the world dedicated to producing authentic sacramental wine from their original vineyard.  They created a second vineyard called Eagle Crest that offers wine to the public.

There are even several wineries in Sonoma County that managed to survive Prohibition by producing sacramental wines.  Among them was SIMI Winery founded in 1876 by two Italian brothers who immigrated to the US during the California gold rush. By continuing to produce wine they were one of the few wineries ready to sell wine again once Prohibition ended.

There are certainly others vineyards producing Sacramental wines around the world and generally the wines are known to be not too dry or sweet so as not to offend the palate. But how do they really taste? According to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques of Grass Valley, Calif., an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine (New American Library, 1984) ”There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good”.  Which totally leads me to believe there’s a secret wine cellar at the Vatican even though no one will confirm it.

Pope Francis has already charmed the masses and today as millions of faithful watched the Papal inauguration ceremony at St. Peter’s Square I’m sure his fan base will only grow.  Considering that right out of the gate he mentioned words of wisdom I truly believe in “Like good wine we get better with age” I don’t think you even have to be Catholic to like this guy.

 

 

 

 

Italians Wines for Every Reason

 

 

1grandi marchiIt was a night to shine your bobbles, sharpen your pencils, and shake off your cares of the day. Some sexy Italians of all grapes and sizes came to town  leaving  tastebuds tantalized and palates pleasured.

 The event is called the Grandi Marchi and it brings together some of Italy’s greatest wine producers  representing some of the best known and lesser known regions in the country. 

 

 

2wine on iceThe evening, put together by the LCBO’s Vintages, is a chance to sample fantastic wines that might be out of your regular price range, and an opportunity to try different varieties that you can afford, but know nothing about.

I have been to a few of these events. They are not cheap. Typically tickets go for anywhere from $60-$125, but when you think of what you would spend on a great dinner, and the wines you get to taste, I have never left an evening disappointed.  There is no obligation or pressure to buy. Tina and I did buy once because they have some great finds that are not available at the LCBO, but be warned, don’t plan on serving your purchases at next month’s dinner party…our order came in 6 months later.

 You can tell the pros from the newbies, like me. The vets are systematic. They visit the tables in order, jot down their tasting notes and move to the next one.

Orneto pio cesare I make a beeline to the favourites that I do know, the Antinori wines, the Pio Cesares – the ones I  know, in advance,  that  they alone will make the evening worthwhile, and do they ever.

Pio Cesare’s Ornato Barolo 2008 DOCG, Piedmont shone like a diamond. Rich, elegant, powerful – I am talking Barolo royalty. The family has been producing top quality wines in the northern Piemonte region (home to Barolo and Barbaresco) for five generations. This is a single vineyard variety coming from grapes in the Serralunga d’Alba area, which is top tier terroir in the Barolo region. You will often recognize Pio Cesare as the label with all the gold award stamps on the front. I have tasted lower end and higher end wines from this producer and they have yet to disappoint. At $95 a bottle, a case is not in my future considering it is roughly the cost of airfare to Italy. 

 Affortable Finds:

While  Ornato was amazing, there were also some terrific wines that did not come anywhere near triple-digit price points.

 rovereto-gavi-di-gavi-docg-michele-chiarlo-6-bottle-caseMichele Chiarlo Rovereto Gavi Di Gavi 2011, DOCG, Piedmonte  Also from northwestern Italy, this white from the Cortese grape is fresh and  balanced with notes of grapefruit and At $17.95, This is an excellent choice if you are going to experiment with a GavI. The Rovereto is also available online at the SAQ for $20.40.

 

 

 

Lungarotti Rubesco Rosso Di Torgiano 2009 DOC,  Umbria   This is a wine that would cheerfully  make my Friday night take-home list. The blend is 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo, both grapes favoured by Umbria’s Tuscan neighbours. It is the most popular wine made by Lungarotti, a family business  run by Chiara  Lungarotti and her sister Teresa Severini.  Nicely priced at $20.00.

Masi Brolo Campofiorin Oro Appaxximento 2008 IGT, Veneto:

Heading north to the Veneto region, home to Amarone, this wine is a  Rosso del Veronese, made with  the same basic method used to create the gorgeous and most glorious Amarone. The technique is called appassimento and involves drying the grapes  on straw mats to concentrate the sugar and flavours. It  produced rich, full-bodied wines and often pricier wines. This is no exception but at a wallet-friendlier price. $24.95

nero di troiaRivera Violante Nero Di Troia 2009, DOC Puglia   Italy has thousands of grape varieties, and most of us recognize only the superstars like  Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio.  But  there are so many others that you could devote years to learning and tasting. The Nero di Troia is an ancient grape that legend has it was brought to the Puglia region by the Greek hero Diomedes – who fought in the Trojan War. Today it is used in single variety wines like this one, or blends. The result is a full bodied wine that is fruit forward with a heady aroma of violets. Available online at the SAQ for $17.95

 

 The Grandi Marchi, was a Grande Success for this visitor. I would definitely go again, maybe this time I won’t race to the favourite tables for a chance to taste the holy grail of wines, getting flushed as a teenager waiting for a Bieber sighting.  Then there will be no morning after regret when I review my notes and realized the gems I missed. Some of these wines are available at the LCBO, some by consignment, your local LCBO can help you.

If you are looking for  a list of upcoming events, you can check out Events at Vintages.com or sign up for their online catalogue

Salute!

Ontario Wines: So Many More To Discover

I know Lis and I often go on about how much we love big bold reds from Italy but we also like to promote home-grown grapes and the wines they produce.  In truth there are so many wineries in the Niagara region I’m not sure how long it will take us to visit them all but we’re going to give it our best.

We’ve certainly been to the bigger ones, Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Colaneri Estate Winery, Chateau des Charmes, Stratus Vineyards, and several others located near the main strip but there’s so many more throughout the Niagara region and they’re yours to discover.

0One of my colleagues found out about our blog and said his wife worked for a winery called Calamus Estate Winery. Telling him I’d never heard of it he kindly brought me a selection of their wines to taste.   I started with the whites because even though reds are my passion, every wine deserves a chance…plus a nice light white is always great for summer sipping.

0-3The whites included a 2011 Pinot Gris, a 2011 Riesling and a 2010 Gewürztraminer.  Of the three my favourite was the Riesling, which was a light straw colour, tasted clean and crisp with a hint of peach and because of it’s acidity it went wonderfully with the cheese fondue we were having for dinner.

0-2The reds included a 2010 Cabernet Franc a 2008 Calamus Red.  Of the two I definitely gravitated towards the Calamus Red, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Ruby red in colour is smelled of cherry, blackberry and vanilla and tasted delicious.  This one is definitely worth a trip down to the winery but you can also order online.

calamus_90_PandD_v2

Founded by Derek Saunders and his wife Pat Latin they first purchased 14 acres near Beamsville, Ontario and planted a 10 acre vineyard in 2000.  When the land was being cleared for planting fragments of rock from the original First Nation inhabitants were found and played a role in its naming as CALAMUS is Latin for the word arrow.  In 2001 they purchased a second property next to Ball’s Falls Conservation area and this is now home to the Calamus Estate Winery.

The old barn that now houses the tasting room is also home to a very cool feature, a Chronos Observatory.

BarnwLogoOften mistaken for a farm silo the observatory actually includes a working deep space telescope.  Located on the Niagara bench it’s just a short distance from the town of Jordan and this is definitely one of the areas we would like to explore more. It would make for an amazing venue in the evening, gazing at the stars while sipping the wines.

Is there a hidden treasure we should know about?  Send us a comment and we’ll add it to the post.

 

Weekend Wine Picks that WOW

Rolf Binder Ma I? Have This Evening Shiraz/Mataro 2009 (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Have This Evening?
Have This Evening?

Great value alert: I love to start with a wine that tastes like it should cost much more. This Barossa Valley red is a blend of 80% Shiraz and 20% Mataro grapes. It is structured and elegant with blackberry and hints of dark chocolate. And I admit it, I am a sucker for an Australian wine with a lovely label and this one is a beaut.The Australians and Californians often have great labels and still manage to get the wine right. All too often the memorable label is a strong sign that the wine will be anything but.  And I must give honourable mention to Ontario’s Megalomaniac wines that produce award-winning labels and terrific wines. More on the art of the wine label next week.

Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 DOCG $19.95 LCBO, $18.80 SAQ

Value Vino
Value Vino

OK I was seduced by a wine I love at a price that seemed too good to be true. This is another great value wine. Strong cherry and tobacco notes, the wine is extra dry.  It could benefit from decanting. While this is not as smooth as some of  the wines of its Tuscan neighbours, you don’t often see Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at this price. 12.7% alcohol.

 

 

Quinta Da Lixa Pouco Comum Alvarinho 2011 $14.95

Fresh and Crisp White
Fresh and Crisp White

This white from Portugal’s Minho region is aromatic and crisp. Think citrus, think lime – a wine that is ripe with opportunity. It is fresh and balanced, but with substance. At $14.95 – if you haven’t ventured past Charodnnay and Pinot Grigio, give yourself a new grape to try. It comes from northern part of the country, a region best known for Vino Verde – refreshing whites with a green tinge.

 

 

 

The Splurge of the Week

Bold and Beautiful
Bold and Beautiful

Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2010 (South Australia) $29.95

I love this wine. I love this winery’s philisophy and I would love to have its two founders, Sarah and Sparky Marquis ,over for  dinner. Mollydooker is Aussie slang  for left hander – because Sarah and Sparky  are both lefties.  Just last month, I wrote about Mollydooker’s Maitre D’. This week I was delighted to see a new and equally distinctive label on the shelf at Vintages.  The Boxer is a guaranteed crowd pleaser if you like full-bodied, fruity, rich, bold, delicious – and I could go on and on wine. While this style of fruity, highly alcoholized wine is not to everyone’s taste, it has a lot of fans. Sarah and Sparky’s story is as rich as its wines.  They went from the brink of bankruptcy to almost overnight success. Check out their fabulous web site. It is as creative as their labels. Their wines get rave reviews and they can’t produce enough of it.  It is a splurge, but I am sipping it as I write, and it is ripe with blackberries, blueberries, spice  and plenty of promise that keep delivering. Alcohol: (hold on to your hat) 16%

What attracts your eye to the bottle? The label, the grape, the region or the rating?