Vonderful Vineland

 vineland-gorgI love wine country. Any wine country. There is something about driving by fields and fields of vines exploding with new buds, that fills me with a sense of optimism and possibility. It’s proof that people in the world are working hard to make sure  I have something to peruse, pick and sample on a Friday night. 

bud break 2013Another reason I love wine country…the people here are happy. They look 10 years younger. They’re living the dream and yet they don’t lord it over you.  They don’t look down their noses at us hamsters spinning faster and faster on the wheel getting  life done.  In fact, they are more than happy to have you join their club.  They invite you to have a seat. Relax. Release that stress locked between your shoulder blades. These people, they love to share.

A few years ago, my friends Ian and Maria, my husband  Steve and I were invited to visit the private cellar of John Howard of Megalomaniac wines. Not only did he give us  a  lesson that helped spark my interest in wine that extended beyond simply drinking it, he sent us off with a bottle and a restaurant recommendation at a Vineland bistro nearby.

The Happy Couple
The Happy Couple

Three years later, Ian and Maria abandonned the pulsing suburb of Oakville for  the paradise of Vineland. They golf. They garden. They visit the wineries when there is no crowd, often meeting the winemakers and learning about the best wines in the region. The wineries here work together to help promote their collective success, because as I mentioned before, wine people believe in sharing.

Ian and Maria know their neighbours. They watch the stars and they graciously share their wine discoveries with their “downtown” friends. When I nattered on about the scandals at City Hall, the Senate, the traffic and how “crazy busy” I am,  they nodded sympathetically while they opened a bottle of Pinot Gris and poured me a glass.

Ahhhh…thank goodness for good friends.

The wines the vonderful vinelanders shared:

Tantalizing Tawse
Tantalizing Tawse

 Tawse is a lovely place to stop for a tasting. This Chardonnay Musque 2011 is exceptiona;ly aromatic. Citrus, honeysuckle, maybe a little mango. Chardonnay Musque is actually a clone of Chardonnay that is becoming more and more popular in the Niagara region,. And it’s not a big secret here unfortunately. Sorry, this one is sold out. When it is available  it sells for $23.95.



Calamus Pinot Gris
Calamus Pinot Gris

Calamus 2011 Pinot Gris

Tina wrote about Calamus is a previous blog. I found this Pinot Gris very fresh with notes of citrus and green apple and a touch of mango. Pinot Gris is believed to be a clone of Pinot Noir and it has been performing very well in Niagara and in BC’s Okanagan.


Perfectly Pinot Noir
Perfectly Pinot Noir

Featherstone Pinot Noir 2008

Raspberries, a little earthiness are the predominant flavours of this lovely wine produced by Louise Engel and David Johnson. Very well balanced and structured for a grape that is known to be difficult but when the wine maker is successful, oo-la-la! This is a winery I plan to visit. $24.95


 To learn more about some of the vonderful vines of Vineland – and to remove that kink between the shoulders – head out to Vineland for an afternoon. Below are three I have tried, and more importantly, three I will happily return to.

Vineland Estates: Gorgeous tasting bar with delicious wines to sample. My favourite was the  Chardonnay Reserve and I also really liked the O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay. http://www.vineland.com/page/home

Megalomaniac – got its name when owner John Howard wanted to name the wines after himself and friends suggested that people would think he was a megalomaniac. Behold, the naming of a winery. Great tasting experience and excellent wines with labels you won’t forget. http://www.megalomaniacwine.com/main.php  On his web site, Howard says his wines are meant to be shared with people of equal or greater egos and they pair exceptionally well with delusional fantasies of wealth, power and occasionally, omnipotence. (gotta love those wine people)

 Tawse Winery – we stopped in for a quick tasting before hitting megalomaniac and the wines were delicious and so was the experience.http://www.tawsewinery.ca/index.cfm?fuseaction=page.display&page_id=22

 Go hang out in Vineland and share your adventure.



Cheers to Chardonnay; Celebrating A Day In Your Honour

With 400,000 acres of this vinifera varietal planted around the globe there’s a world of Chardonnay to choose from.  For a time consumers shied away from this once popular wine because many felt it was being over-oaked and people’s palates were craving something a little more crisp and cool.

Ontario Chardonnay_2But over the last few years Chardonnay has made a big comeback especially those from cooler climates. As Ontario’s (and the world’s) most popular grape from unoaked to Chablis style there’s a wide range of styles to suit everyone’s taste.

It’s so popular again, that today, winemakers, cellar masters, sommeliers, and wine lovers around the world will celebrate International Chardonnay Day.  There are lots of ways to join in the celebration online Twitter is @coolchardonnay with hashtags #chardday and #14c2013. Facebook is /CoolChardonnayCelebration, and Pinterest is pinterest.com/i4c.  Many wineries will have special offerings today but if you can’t make it out to one, just chill a bottle, crack it open and toast this new trend that everyone seems to be enjoying and join in the online party.

Ontario ChardonnayHere in Ontario, today marks the kickoff to the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration taking place July 19-21 in Niagara.  Sixty-two winemakers from 11 countries will offer up a taste of the world’s best chardonnay to wine enthusiasts at events ranging from intimate vineyard lunches to the main event “The Cool Chardonnay Wine Tour”.

If you’re looking for information on Chardonnay Day activities and the i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) you’ll find it here www.coolchardonnay.org

How will you celebrate today?



Progressive Dinner; Fun With Food and Wine

When you live in the burbs and downtown is an eighty dollar cab ride away, going out with friends to a nice restaurant can get expensive.  So how do you enjoy a delicious meal,  good wine, the company of great friends without the big bill?

0Well, a few years ago I approached three couples in my neighbourhood that we regularly hang out with and suggested we form a dinner club to get us through the long boring winter and they loved the idea.  Once a month we hold a progressive dinner, traditionally done by starting at one person’s house for appetizers, moving to the next for the main meal and again to another house for dessert.  This seemed like way too much work so I changed the rules.

0-1Each month one couple holds the dinner at their house and they’re in charge of the main meal while the others provide the appetizer, soup or salad and then dessert. We rotate the houses and who makes what, ensuring the same person doesn’t get stuck making the same thing each time.  Everyone gets dressed up (no jeans allowed) so it feels like a special evening and the dinners are themed on international cuisine, or even an event like the Oscars.  Each course is paired with a wine, beer or cocktail that suits the dish or at least we give it the good old college try.

One members of the group is a true foodie (I think his TV is stuck on the Food Network) and this time around he thought we should switch it up so he came up with a bunch of cooking challenges and then picked four out of a hat.  Here’s what we wound up with:

  1. Food made with fire
  2. Breakfast for Dinner
  3. Pizza as a comfort food
  4. Food based on a colour

The categories were assigned and you could get as creative as you wanted and here’s what we ended up with:

  1. Chicken skewers and roasted veggies on the grill paired with Cave Spring Riesling from Ontario
  2. Devilled eggs with smoked salmon & capers along with white and sweet potato Rosti – a Swiss hash brown paired with Italian Proseco
  3. Wings with Blue Cheese dip on a pizza -this was amazing and the hit of the night (no wine – the boys said it had to be beer) see recipe below
  4. RED velvet cake pair with Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine

There was lots of good wine, and some not so good (Girl’s Night Out is not really a wine – more of a cooler if you must know) lots of laughs and best of all we could all just walk home

Buffalo Wing Style Chicken Pizza
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cooked and cubed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (2 ounce) buffalo wing sauce
1 (8 ounce) bottle blue cheese salad dressing (Renee’s is great for this)
1 (16 inch) prepared pizza crust
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Cook up the 2 chicken breasts in a pan then cube
In a medium bowl combine the cubed chicken, melted butter and wing sauce. Mix well.
Spread half the bottle of salad dressing over crust, then top with chicken mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheese.
Bake in preheated oven until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Let set a few minutes before slicing, and serve.


Wine Excuses: As if you need one….

excusesdBefore getting to a few wine picks for the week, I have to share a few tidbits from a book I picked up on the weekend. It’s called  “50 Excuses to Have a Glass of Wine” by Susanna Geoghegan.  I thought it could be a cute little stocking stuffer. But I opened it and LOL, so here are a few backup excuses should you find yourself in need.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…I need an afternoon Napa.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…I need more room in the fridge.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…I’m SURE the doctor said it was good for me.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…it still won’t fit tomorrow.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…the recipe needed a teaspoon (it’s a shame to waste the rest).

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…I need to be 100% sure it tastes good before sharing.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because...my bridesmaid dress is lovely…It really is.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…the fate of the wine industry depends on me.

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…there’s room for one more bottle in the recycling bin.

And my personal favourite….

It’s time to have a glass of wine because…I am doing this purely for research purposes.

And if you are looking for a few weekend picks that are excuse worthy:

Mad about Mud House

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2010 The Woolshed Vineyard Marlborough, New Zealand  $19.95   I tasted a terrific New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Mud House. It is so aromatic, you could be tempted to dab a little behind the ears. Passionfruit, citrusy, freshly cut grass. It is definitely worth picking up at Vintages. 

Le Ragose 2008 Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC  Veneto, Italy $19.95

la rogose
Recommending this Ripasso

This is my  value red for the weekend. It is full-bodied and smooth. I didn’t decant, but my aerator did the trick and it was delicious. Now I had it with absolutely the wrong food according to conventional  pairing wisdom. This should be perfect with a burger – I had it with salmon, but it tasted pretty darned good just the same.

And what would my picks be without at least one splurge? My husband can stop reading now….

Bold and Beautiful Barolo

Fontanafredda Serralunga D’Alba Barolo 2007 DOCG Piedmont, Italy $39.95

This vineyard is located on the former hunting grounds of the first king of Italy. This star of the Nebbiolo grape is full-bodied and firm, worthy of a hearty piece of beef. This one received a triple crown of 90+ ratings with notes of vanilla, spice and roses.  It is truly  a lovely wine.


Enjoy your wine picks!



A Night of Antinori Stars

The World of Antinori
The World of Antinori

There are family businesses and then there is Antinori.

This Italian family has been making wine for more than 600 years or 26 generations. Their centuries of success  has everything to do with innovation and quality, creating new traditions and blending them  with the old.  The current head of this dynamic dynasty  is Marchese Piero Antinori. Not only has he expanded the Antinori business far beyond Italy’s borders, he has played a key role in putting Italian wines on the map.

One of the greatest nights of my life, excluding my wedding day and birth of my two daughters of course, (my husband gets a little touchy about that), was the night my husband and I had dinner at Antinori’s Tignanello estate in Chianti with the Marchese himself, thanks to Toronto wine collector Garrett Herman. Antinori talked about the importance of tradition in any family business. His admiration  for his three daughters who are continuing the family tradition  was obvious. He talked about bringing his 18-year old grandson to visit Antinori’s Califonia vineyards, grooming the next generation. The lively discussion was even better than the Solaia 2007 served with the meal, and that’s saying a lot because the wine was absolutely amazing. 

antica on ice
Superstars on Ice

Among the gifts the family has brought to the world: Super Tuscans Tignanello, Solaia, Guado al Tasso, Vintages Classics like Badia a Passignano, Marchesi Antinori, Peppoli, along with wines from Lombardy, Puglia, California, Washington and Chile’s Maipo Valley. The list goes on.



Many of the stars in the Antinori portfolio shone brightly under one roof at an LCBO event recently in Toronto. Some familiar, and some new discoveries.

A few of the  highlights:

Montenisa Brut DOCG Franciacorta, Italy

Fabulous Franciacorta
Fabulous Franciacorta

My Wines II teacher once told us if we ever saw a bottle of  Franciacorta (Italian sparkling wine) – buy it immediately because  Franciacorta  rarely makes its way to the LCBO. Franciacorta is a sparkler from  Lombardy in northern Italy. It has been called the catnip of wine lovers. Now that I have tried this Champagne-like sparkler, I think Italians are crazy to let it out of the country at all.  Antinori’s Montenisa  was fresh and light with apple, pear notes. It is $35.00 a bottle, but compares with Champagne at twice the price.


Haras de Pirque Hussonet Gran Reserva 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile

This was one of the best value finds of the evening. A partnership between the Antinori family and Edourdo Matte, an entrepreneur who wanted to blend his two passions, wine and thoroughbred horses. Haras de Pirque is the name of Chile’s oldest thoroughbred breeding stud.  The horseshoe-shaped winery and prize horse farm is built on the side of a hill and gets top marks from TripAdvisor (one more place to add to the bucket list)  and this wine got top marks from me for great value. At $16 a bottle, Tina and I ordered a case.

The Superstar of the Evening
The Superstar of the Evening

Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2007, Tignanello IGT Toscana, Tuscany Italy , Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007

We elbowed our way through the crowd around this table of Superstars. I learned you do NOT save the best for last at these events. The superstars go quickly. I also learned that cork dorks (and I use the term fondly) call the King of the Super Tuscans, Tignanello – TIG.  Long live this King. It did not let me down. It  was superb.  But the true star of this evening was, without question,  the Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino… hands down. It was elegant, rich and refined with  cherry, tobacco and even a hint of chocolate. A toe-curling experience at $59.95. But compared with the Tignanello at $102.95 – almost a steal. The Badia a Passignano  was also good and is my version of a splurge at $44.95 – but tonight this Chianti Classic was clearly upstaged by her Brunello sibling.


A Tuscan Treasure
A Tuscan Treasure

La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 DOCG Tuscany,               La Braccesca Bramasole Syrah 2008 DOC Cortona, Tuscany 

I loved these wines and even bought a couple of bottles. These two Antinori estates are close to each other but very different. the web site refers to them as different souls. Each has a character worth savouring.  The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is ripe, rich with a hint of vanilla, smooth and spicy and personally, I feel it is a bargain at $25.00 a bottle. La Braccesca Bramasole is also something very special. It is 100% Syrah coming from an area near Cortona that has become known for its international grapes.  You might recognize the name Bramasole from Frances Mayes bestseller “Under the Tuscan Sun”.  I first picked up a bottle in Montreal at the SAQ and it is delicious.  This vintage is big, bold and unforgettable even at $44.00. Wine Spectator gave it 92 points.


The Stars of Piedmont
The Stars of Piedmont

Prunotto Barbera D’Alba 2011, DOC, Piedmont, Italy,                                        Prunotto Mompertone,  Monferatto 2010 DOC, Piedmont, Italy,                      Prunotto Barolo 2009, DOCG, Piedmont, Italy,                                                    Prunotto Barbaresco 2009, DOCG Piedmont Italy

The final table that stirred the crowd, featured wines from  the Piedmont region just south of Torino. Truly one of the most beautiful areas in the country, it is what I would imagine Shangri-La would look like. And the wines are equally worthy of  attention.

The Prunotto Barolo as expected, was big rich and impressive. I am a sucker for a good Barbaresco  and this one was nothing short of great. Both were $42.00 and worth the splurge if you are looking for something special. On the more affordable side of the spectrum, I thought the Prunotto Mompertone was delicious and at $19.00 a bottle, I ordered a half dozen. The Prunotto Barbera D’Alba  was also good – fresh with bright acidity – also well priced at $21.00.

That was my night with the Antinori stars – some that are regulars at LCBO Vintages or SAQ, Others are available through consignment.   It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a family that’s been making  wine for more than 600 years.