Weekend Wine Picks and Award-winning Wines

mission hill winery Mission Hill Family Estate Winery  in  BC’s Okanagan Valley received  top honours this week. Wine Align, the online wine rating service awarded it  Winery of the Year, snatching it from Ontario’s Tawse, which  has won for the past three years.

The award of distinction is based on five of its wines that received gold and platinum medals at this year’s National Wine Awards.  They are:

Mission Hill Riesling Reserve 2011 – Platinum 100% Riesling – This was the first wine in the flight of award winners. This wine would turn me into a regular Riesling drinker. The nose sent me to a peach and honey heaven.  It was perfectly balanced, with a deliciously long finish.

Mission Hill  Chardonnay Reserve 2011  100% Chardonnay . Citrus meets a hint of coconut. Aged in oak for eight months, it is very subtle.

Mission Hill Perpetua Osooyos Vinyard Estate 2010 Chardonnay    100% Chardonnay This is part of the winery’s  Legacy series of Premium wines.

Mission Hill   Compendium  2009 – Platinum – This is a Bordeaux-inspired blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Also part of the Legacy Series, it is wine-making at its finest. Complex, full-bodied and elegant.

Mission Hill  Riesling Icewine 2011 – Admission – I know it is very unpatriotic to say I am not a fan of icewine because we produce some of the best in the world……but there are no absolutes. This was simply outstanding. Exceptionally balanced so the sweetness was perfect and not overwhelming, which is why they are often not my favourites. If you get the chance, try this one.

Sadly not all of these wines are available across the country unless by special order. Why we can’t order our own wines directly from the winery as they do in the US continues to be a mystery.  But here are a few wine picks that are available for your sampling this weekend.

cave springCave Spring 2011 Riesling Estate VQA Beamsville Bench ($17.95) There  was a cornucopia of Ontario releases at the LCBO this week. I am on a mission to get reacquainted with Riesling especially because there are such fine examples from BC and ON. If you like citrus with a touch of honey and pear – you will like this wine. It is fresh and appealing. Perfect with Sushi.

 

riojaDomeco de Jarauta Lar de Sotomayor Vendemia Rioja 2010 ($17.95) Spanish wines are often overlooked in the showy presence of their neighbouring spotlight hoggers in Italy and France. This Rioja has some punch to it. It is full-bodied with notes of black and red fruit. 90% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano grapes. Great value.

 

mcmanis syrah 2011McManis Syrah 2011 ($19.95) Speaking of big and luscious, this Californian delivers in every way. This wine will keep you warm sitting on a patio with a blanket because you are not ready to move indoors just yet. Red fruit jammy with a touch of pepper. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Enjoy your wine-shopping this weekend. The women of wine are heading to the Big Apple and some highly recommended wine bars and we will report back next week.

Cheers!

Weekend Wine Picks

Luscious and Lovely
Luscious and Lovely

The eve of grape harvest or the Vendemmia, as they call it in Italy, is around the corner. It is the most beautiful time of the year because it is a time full of promise and anticipation of the greatness.  I have a date at a winery in the Niagara region this fall to help out. I can’t wait.

Until then, here are my Weekend Wine picks to enjoy. I am happy to say I picked exceptionally well this week.

 

A Baby Brunello
A Baby Brunello

Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino 2010 DOC,   I discovered this  producer’s Brunello di Montalcino earlier this summer and became a fan. So when I saw a new Caparzo under $20,  I should have known better and picked up a few bottles.  It is medium-bodied and fruit forward with cherry and plum notes. Loved it. Pairs well with pasta and meat dishes. $19.95 at LCBO. (There is a 2011 at the SAQ that I have not sampled at $18.85 – but will try the next time I am in Montreal.)

 

 

Heavenly Washington Wine
Heavenly Washington Wine

H3 Horse Heaven Hills  Columbia Crest 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, This a simply outstanding wine from Washington State.   It comes from Horse Heaven Hills – where one quarter of the state’s wineries are located.   Dark fruit and mocha on the palate and it delivers a nice elegant finish.   14.5% alcohol. Pairs nicely  with a pasta with meat sauce or lamb. $19.95 LCBO.

 

The Wise Choice
The Wise Choice

 

Talamonti Tre Saggi  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008;  Here was my third little find of the day. This is a perfect example of a wine rating influencing my buying decision. When The Wine Enthusiast gives a $15.95 wine  a 90 rating, it’s hard to resist.  Tre Saggi means three wise men in Italian and after I tasted the wine, I felt very wise for not resisting, It is medium to full-bodied, juicy and delicious. Pairs with steak or sausages. 13.5% alcohol. $15.95

 

 

 

A Southern Italian Gem
A Southern Italian Gem

 

Terredora Loggio Della Serra Greco di Tufo 2011, Campania, Italy    This pale-gold white is intensely aromatic, It’s medium-bodied, very nicely balanced with some grip to it. Give it a try if you are looking for a new white, especially if you are a fan of unoaked whites. According to the winery’s web site, pairs nicely with grilled fish, buffalo mozzarella and chicken dishes. $17.95.

 

 

Magnificent Mediterra
Magnificent Mediterra

Poggio al Tesoro Mediterra 2010, Bolgheri, Italy – on the coast of Tuscany.  This was my favourite pick of the weekend, It is full-bodied and rich, with an explosion of cherry, raspberry flavours with a hint of mocha. Incredibly smooth, this wine is a blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. $23.95

 

 

Mission Hill Reserve
Mission Hill Reserve

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Finally, I traveled to the East coast and sampled an excellent bottle from the West. Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. I sipped this full-bodied red while looking out at the water. It’s smooth and elegant and right for just about any occasion. Mission Hill is quickly approaching the top of my  list of wineries to visit. $23.95 LCBO

 

It’s been a good week for tastings.  Enjoy your weekend of wine. Let us know if you try something special.

 

 

 

Get Inspired; it’s easy

BTfZpvnCMAEIRFi.jpg-thumbI met a very interesting man the other day, Joel Osteen the pastor of America’s biggest church, a best-selling author whose books spend umpteen weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list and one of the most influential people on social media. I’m neither here nor there when it comes to religion and I’m basically a W/F (Weddings & Funerals) kind of person, so I was highly intrigued as to what draws people to him and why there are so many people looking for inspiration in their lives?

1150772_10151548998151331_772431878_nWe all have hardships growing up, some more than others and I definitely had my fair share, but as things go my life has turned out pretty well. I have a great husband, healthy, smart children who now have amazing lives of their own, friends I love to spend time with and a job I actually enjoy (most of the time). Was it fate, luck, hard work or divine intervention…or maybe a little of everything combined? I can’t really answer that, but it got me to thinking about what inspires me to be happy.

0One can always use more money, vacation time and a thousand other things but as I sit here on this beautiful September afternoon in my garden sipping a cool glass of Sylvaner from Alsace I’m not sure I would be any happier on a yacht harboured by the French Riviera (ok, maybe if I was sitting next to George Clooney).  As I get older I find it’s the little things in life that make me happy, cooking something I’ve always wanted to try, and laughing when it doesn’t turn out.

0-1Uncorking a bottle of wine that turns out to be amazing, like this Remo Farina Montecorna Valpolicella Ripasso from San Pietro, $19.95 at the LCBO. Singing along to the music even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or finishing a great book I can’t wait to share with my friends.  I know it’s not always easy to find happiness in a world filled with bad news but take a minute to enjoy the small things in life and I bet it will make you smile.

0-2So kick back, skip the mall and enjoy the last beautiful days of warm weather with your friends, family or even by yourself.  Just for today, don’t count the calories, enjoy a good glass of wine just because you want to and worry about tomorrow when it comes.  Life is hard, but it’s the little things that make living worthwhile so enjoy it while you can.

And while Pastor Osteen might be making millions from his advice I’m happy to share mine for free because we all know money can’t buy you happiness (but darn, it I could probably buy me much better wine).

And while I feel it wouldn’t be right to solicit your donations feel free to send wine as we are always happy to sample something new and give you our opinion.

 

 

The Ratings System

Top Scoring WinesThis week’s edition of Vintages is dedicated to 90+ wines. The ones that someone, who has made a living off wine, considered outstanding enough to grant the equivalent of an A.  Do you pay attention to wine ratings? Whether it is the nod of approval from  Wine Spectator, Natalie MacLean, or Jancis Robinson to name a few, the numbers certainly make a difference to  sales.

Then there is the influence of Uber-critic Robert Parker who started The Wine Advocate.  His seal of approval in the form of a 90+ rating,  can mean as much as $5 million dollars in additional world sales.

Parker of the Wine Advocate  bases his ratings on a   100-point scale graded like this:

  • 96-100 being extraordinary
  • 90-95 considered outstanding
  • 80-89 very good to above average
  • 70-79 average

And really, if you rate below 70 – you aren’t flaunting it. Many others followed Parker’s lead, including Wine Spectator and Canadian Natalie MacLean.  British wine writer Jancis Robinson opted for  a 20-point scale because she believes it is more precise..

Ratings MatterThe debate over whether ratings actually matter will never end. It’s been called pretentious manipulation aimed at getting people to pay more for wine.  But there is no question that they  have an influence.

With that much at stake, many wineries go to great lengths to get a good rating. The Parkerization of wine refers to wineries that tailor their techniques to Parker’s preferred style of wine. Then there are the legendary stories (or gross exaggerations – one involving two Chateau owners who allegedly (that’s my news lingo for unsubstantiated claims) offered up their daughters  in exchange for a better review. The best story involves the manager of a French winery who was so incensed with the less than glowing review, he invited Parker back to re-test the wine.  When Parker arrived he was attacked by the manager’s dog. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage.The manager handed over a copy of the newsletter featuring the bad review..

90 Rating under $20
90 Rating under $20

I have taken a few wine courses, which have only confirmed to me how much I do NOT know, and while I am starting to recognize a few favourite producers, and a few favourite regions, I admit, the ratings do make a difference to me when it is a wine I have not tried before. Though I am not so precious as to refuse a wine under 90 points.As I mentioned, there are some great affordable wines that score in the 80’s.

The ideal way to choose your wine is to try before you buy. The tasting rooms in some LCBOs and SAQs are the perfect places to do that. Samples cost anywhere between 50 cents – $2.00  – the only problem – there aren’t nearly enough tasting rooms.

The Salcheto Vineyard
The Salcheto Vineyard

They are much more common in  Italy.  Even better,  the tastings there  are often free. You can also go into a wine bar (like the most spectacular wine bar  in Montepulciano, Tuscany –  E Lucevan le Stella,  which means the stars were shining brightly) and often taste before you buy a bottle.  That’s why you never see a sticker crowing about an award, or a label on the shelf that boasts  the number of stars or ratings in Italy, unless it caters to tourists, of course.

Antinori Superstar
Antinori Superstar

Piero Antinori, the patriarch of a family that has been producing wines for 27 generations, said picking a good wine is a badge of honour for an Italian. They would never drink a wine strictly based on a rating. So I asked Lucia, the young woman who took us on a tour of Tenuta Valdipiatta how she picks her wines. Word of mouth, a friend’s recommendation, but most important, try before you buy. How civilized.

rockawayIt’s another of the many reasons to visit Niagara-On-The-Lake. While VQA wines may not always be my first stop at the LCBO, every single time I have visited the wineries, I have come home with a special find which has sent me out to find it again.   And I have often been pleasantly surprised by the sample – usually very affordable, offered in many LCBO’s and SAQ’s on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

The tasting principle works at Costco and it sure works in Italy. Is it good business? How often do you seen people leaving empty handed?.

Still, I am not at all embarrassed that I do pay attention to the ratings. It’s not the only way I  make my picks – you would be losing out on so many opportunities if you only bought based on  ratings. It is no guarantee of greatness, perhaps more of an indication of quality or simply an idea that plants the perception of greatness on your taste buds. Maybe one day I won’t feel the need to pay attention to the ratings at all. But for now, a little advice and a little knowledge does go  a long way.

Salute!