Chianti is Calling

sangiovese1I love Chianti. I love everything about it. The region. The grapes. The aromas. And oh yes, the flavours. The incredible flavours. The reflection of the ruby red colour is truly a thing of beauty.

Chianti is the heart of Tuscany and Sangiovese, its star grape, is the soul. Eight million cases of Chianti  are produced each year.  The characteristic aromas of cherry, raspberry, plum, leather and tobacco can be heavenly.

I must admit, if I were forced to have but one grape varietal in my wine rack, it would be Sangiovese (but I would still cry over the others).

Some recent favourites:

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009
Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

I am starting out with the splurge this time because this time was so good, so smooth, so utterly perfect – I could have closed my eyes and been in Italy. It was the first bottle I opened after I returned home from Maine, and it made me miss the beach a little less. This is wine-making at its best. 100% Sangiovese grapes and scored an impressive 92 by Mr. Robert Parker’s peeps. $35.00 SAQ

 

 

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010
Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010

The medium-bodied fruity wine also got a great nod from those with more refined palates than mine. I loved it. The cherry notes have a fruity finish. It is perfect Friday night wine to start your weekend. In fact, I plan to pick up another bottle this weekend. $24.95 LCBO

 

 

 

tenuta di treccianoTenuta de Trecciano Colli Senesi 2011

A respectable Chianti at the right price. It is a medium-bodied fruity wine for everyday sipping. Grown in the hills around Siena, you will recognize raspberry and currants. A nice easy drinking wine. $15.95 LCBO

Favourite Chiantis

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between a Chianti, Chianti Classico, or a Chianti Classico Riserva, here you go:

Chianti  – a minimum 75% Sangiovese grape and 25%  blend of other grapes that can come from anywhere in the Chianti region.

Chianti Classico – the largest of the seven sub-regions of Chianti. The percentage of Sangiovese jumps to at least 80%.. The minimum alcohol level is 12% with at least 7 months aging in oak.

Chianti Classico Riserva – same grape requirement as the Classico, but a Riserva must be at least 12.5% alcohol and aged 27 months.

Chianti Superiore DOCG – is produced with stricter guidelines than most Chiantis. The grapes can come from anywhere in the region except the Chianti Classico sub-zone and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.

And then there is the..

The highly lauded and appreciated Brunello di Montacino, this King of Sangiovese could  technically bear the Chianti name as it is produced from a clone called Sangiovese Grosso. But it chose to Go Your Own Way, just  like the Fleetwood Mac song says..

And of course the wine often referred to as Baby Brunello, the Vino Nobile de Montepulciano of the Prungolo Gentile grape. Smooth, powerful and more affordable – it is one of my favourites.

Let us know if you have a Chianti favourite. I could spend years testing and tasting and never get tired of the adventure.

A Quarter Century of Fine Food and Wine

Walking  into Centro, you are greeted by a vision of beauty: a wall of wine.  Not just any wall and not just any wine. It’s a collection, carefully selected to create  a wine menu that includes  familiar favourites, bottles worthy of a major splurge, and affordable gems that will leave you wanting more.

 

That’s why when Tina and I were invited to visit the cellar, we jumped at it. And who would know more about the intricacies of those gems than owner Armando Mano. He started in 1990 busing tables. One year later he was promoted Wine Bar manager, and within a few years was managing the entire restaurant.

I have often mentioned in these pages that true wine people  are a generous sort.  The only thing better than discovering a new wine, is sharing it with people who  will appreciate it. Armando is one of those people.

As  soon as he heard we were women of wine, he insisted  we try one of his favourites – Moschioni 2006 from Friuli region of north-eastern Italy. Oh my. This wine is mysterious, and doesn’t give everything away at once. It reveals slowly. The wine made me think of a Venetian Ball:  elegant, opulent, velvety with the clear suggestion that the best is yet to come. And we just got started.

 

Armando and über chef Symon Abad took us on a journey of perfect pairings. From the initial palate-cleansing glass of Prosecco, (which is so right on so many levels), to the 2011 Babich Sauvignon Blanc which  accompanied the most delicate buffalo mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes.

Symon followed with a pan-seared scallop on a bed of squid ink pasta which came with a crisp lively white Adriatico from the cellar of Lidia Bastianich, chef, author and host of Lidia’s Italy in America.

 

I  was not going to let go of my Moschioni which, in my view, would pair perfectly with anything – but in this case – my rabbit roulade stuffed with spinach and mushroom with polenta puree and  peas– which may well have been the best combination I have ever tasted.

It almost upstaged the lobster ravioli which paired spectacularly with a Chardonnay from Pearl Morrisette Winery on Twenty Mile Bench. Did I mention the shaved truffles? Beyond delicious.

 

Armando has a story for every wine. A visit to the Bastianich winery in north-eastern Italy where he bumps into Lidia herself, touring the Antinori estates  throughout Tuscany where the family has been making wine for 27 generations, and entertaining the greatest wine makers of the world in his restaurant.

He believes there are four elements to a  perfect dining experience, it is all about the food, the wine, the service and  most important, the company. Though he will pass on the fusion movement,  thank you.  “Fusion causes confusion. I want to know what wine to order with my food,” he says.

His favourite  wine book:  Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly

His signature dish: Brown Butter Crab Risotto, so long as someone cleans up while he cooks.

His favourite wine: Mouton Rothschild (it is breaking my heart that it is not Italian)

His  favourite Canadian wine, Pearl Morisette from the Bench which he praised for  sparing no expense to get it right.

This is a man who knows about getting it right, and he makes  sure the people who work for him share the same philosophy.

Armando is proud of how Toronto has become a city known  for its food. With more than eight thousand restaurants in the GTA, Armando marvels at how quickly the industry  developed here. “I travel a lot and when I come home, I feel this massive sense of pride at how far we have come.”

 

2012 marks Centro’s 25th year, a remarkable achievement when restaurants come and go faster than the sales of Fifty Shades of Grey.  And the impact of that success extends far beyond its own kitchens and into some of the other best restaurants in Toronto. The list of Centro’s alumni is enough to make gastronomers sigh and the casting agents of Top Chef weep. Chefs Like Marc Thuet (Thuet Fine Foods), David Lee (Nota Bene),Frank Parhizgar (Frank’s Kitchen), and Michael Bonacini (Oliver and Bonacini). Now Symon Abad (shown above) is king of the kitchen.

To honor its inauguration into the quarter century club, Centro’s alumni are participating in a series of evenings creating a special menu for the anniversary.

It will mean a treat for regulars, more stories to tell for Armando and a perfect launch point for the next 25 years that will keep people coming back, again and again.

Never Too Old To Learn Something New

No matter how old I am, or the fact my children are long past the days of report cards, September will always be back to school time for me. A couple of years ago, I decided to further my wine education. I had been to a couple of wineries in Italy and California. I certainly had sampled many wines. And I watched Sideways and Bottleshock – I figured I knew a fair bit –  so I convinced my partner in wine Tina to take a course at George Brown College.

HOLY GRAPES!!!

Soooo many study notes

The first thing I learned was I know absolutely nothing! My first six weeks of notes upon notes upon notes – confirmed it. I admit, I am a bit of a control freak. And facing week after week of “What do you smell?”

Deep breath. Pause. Second Deep Breath……um…red wine?  No, I did not smell “Smores”.

I would break into a sweat when called upon to analyze a wine. I envied those who knew all the answers.  Why exactly did I put myself through this classroom torture?

Because ever so slowly, it started to make sense. I became a study fiend. I traded in my novels for the textbook. I memorized the wine regions out loud before going to sleep. I studied my index cards on the treadmill to the entertainment of others at the gym.

I survived and even passed Wines One. The next semester signed up for Wines Two – which is similar but goes into more depth and like anything, helped to find a semi-permanent spot on the rapidly-running-out-of-space-on-the-hard-drive that is my brain.

The other reason the torture is worth it – you get to try an incredible number of wines – between 8-12 wines  each class.  It is such great exposure to the world of wine with classmates who are either enrolled because they work in the industry, or like me, they simply loved to drink wine.

Our teacher Serge Jancic, took it one step further in Wines Two….the term paper. I had not tackled one of those for 30 years. Before Google. OMG, another reason to love Google. While I stressed about the assignment, I ended up loving it. I made so many discoveries  – from amazing wines, regions, writers, columnists etc.

At the end of the day, it is a lot of fun. And it worked a completely different part of the brain than my day job. I met great people who love wine as much as I do. And while my wine knowledge is still ever so limited, it has sparked my curiosity to learn more  –  and isn’t that the real gift  of education?

So it being September and all, I am heading back to class again – this time to study New World Wines – but this time, (being that occasional Control Freak) – I am starting to read up now so this time I might be one of the smart asses with the odd right answer!

Stay tuned.

Wednesday Wine Picks from the WOW

Light and refreshing, with some lovely warm weather still in store for us a nice a chilled Rosé matches with almost any dish. Here’s one I think you might all enjoy.

Triomphe a Triumph

Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rose 2011 gets a vigorous nod this week. I bought a couple of bottles when I took the @iyellow wine tour last month and stopped at Southbrook, a  gorgeous winery in the Niagara region. Neither my husband or I are big Rosé drinkers, but I must admit, this one was really good. Not too sweet, red berry flavours made it  a great choice for a glass with lunch Ono this lovely weekend.

$19.95 Vintages LCBO #279117
But of course just at we head into fall, the weather is often unsettled.  Lots of rain and cooler temps, perfect for curling up with a good book and a glass of Shiraz.
A Shiraz with Legs

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz

This medium-bodied red from Devil’s Lair Winery in Western Australia is cherry and spine and everything nice. I have had their their Shiraz, Merlot, Cab before and it one a blind tasting among friends even up against some much pricier options. Definitely worth a try especially at is price.
 $15.95 LCBO #281345

Charming, Charismatic and Simply Delicious

“Wolfie” and I

Recently I had a chance to once again meet one of my favourite men of wine, the ever charming Wolfgang Blass.  Over the past decade I’ve met him several times when he’s visited Canada and each time I’ve walked away enchanted by this lovely man.

For those of you who’ve enjoyed Wolf Blass wines over the years and hadn’t thought much about the name, there really is a Wolfgang “Wolfie” Blass.  Now 78 years old and an ambassador to this amazing brand he released his first Grey label wine in 1967 and in 2003 Wolf Blass became Australia’s #1 wine brand (by volume & value).

Bronze, silver and gold medals, he’s won them all.  Probably too many to count both in Australia and internationally, but a known Wolf fact states his greatest achievement as winning three consecutive Jimmy Watson Trophies, the most prestigious and sought after wine award in Australia.

The Wolf Blass Visitor Centre

The Eaglehawk symbol seen on the bottles today was first released in 1987 and there’s a beautiful sculpture of the Eaglehawk at the amazing Wolf Blass visitor center in Nuriootpa, South Australia.  Should you ever get the chance to get there not only can you walk around and explore the centre but you’ll have a chance to blend it like Blass or sign up for other wine tasting experiences.

Well known for his love of women and race horses his German/Australian accent instantly captivates you and makes you smile.  Always elegant he’s recognisable by his dapper attire which always includes his iconic bow tie.  He’s said the bow tie added charisma when he was wearing overalls and rubber boots in the winery, and besides a long tie always seemed to get in the way during wine tastings.  Not only is he a great brand ambassador for the wine but he’s also a terrific ambassador for Australia and just like his bow tie, he often brings along a small stuffed “Joey” (kangaroo) carrying an Australian flag.  Today the Wolf Blass brand is owned by Treasury Wine Estates a global wine company, but Wolfgang remains a vital part of the wine industry and besides being a statesman for the brand itself he still plays an active role on many Australian wine industry bodies.

0When I met him a few years back he autographed a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for me which sits in my cellar.  Not wanting to open it, I decided to enjoy the bottle of Yellow Label I’m holding in the photo.  And with my very first sip I remembered why I not only enjoyed his company but also his wine.

Wine, Women & Song

In August we were invited to bring our husbands on a wine tour organized by Ange Aiello of iYellow Wine Club.  Even though we’ve been down to Niagara many times who were we to turn down such a lovely invitation.  Having never met Ange and not knowing anything about iYellow Wine Club we weren’t really sure what to expect.  We figured there would be a bunch of couples around our own age and were quite surprised to find most of those on the tour were women around the age of 30.

We had no idea that demographic had such a great interest in wine but soon realised even if they didn’t know anything they wanted to learn and they had a definite interest in FUN.

Ange did an amazing job of making everyone feel welcome and a part of the group.  She was extremely informative about everything to do with wine and the vineyards we were planning to visit, without sounding like a wine snob.  She kept us entertained, had the bus singing along to the music she played and kept everyone well fed with a variety of snacks that included everything from candy, to fruit and baked goods.

Sampling some bubbly at Chateau des Charmes

We visited 3 wineries that day, Southbrook Vineyards, Chateau des Charmes and Vineland Estates even enjoying a delicious lunch at Southbrook.  It seemed everyone enjoyed themselves and the wine tastings with most people returning home with a good selection of Niagara wines.Membership is free and not only does iyellow wine club offer tours, but classes and wine events. They have over 10,000 members and it’s a great way to meet other wine lovers.  Ange has kindly offered a great discount (15%) to any of our readers so we wanted to let you all know about it.

You can now sign up for their Fall Wine Tour lineup taking place in September and October.  On each of the 4 tour dates they’ll be visiting 3 different wineries and along with sipping amazing wines, you’ll be able to witness the harvest in action and take photos of the beautiful fall colours – so these are tours not to be missed.

Here’s a list of the wineries for each date:

Sept 22: Henry of Pelham, Jackson Triggs, Chateau des Charmes
Sept 29: Flat Rock Cellars, Inniskillin, Vineland Estates
Oct 13: Tawse Winery, Pillitteri, Trius Wines @ Hillebrand
Oct 20: Reif Estates, Southbrook Vineyards, Peninsula Ridge

In order to get your 15% discount, log onto the iYellow website (www.iyellowwineclub.com) and access the tickets through the Wine Tours tab. When you have selected your tour date and are ready to purchase your tickets you will be prompted to enter the promo code (women15).

Wednesday Wine Picks

My Favourite Catalogue

I love when the new Vintages magazine comes out – it’s full of promise and possibilities.

Castello di Bossi  C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009 was my find for the weekend. I’ll be picking up another bottle this Saturday, and I highly suggest it, if you’re looking for a something big and flavourful.  James Suckling calls this a big juicy red – full bodied with round tannins and gave it a whopping 92 points. It really grabbed me and so did the price, at  $22.95, I  sipped and savoured my way to happiness.

And if you’re looking for a couple of nice whites here’s what I recommend:

Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc 2011from New Zealand, was a great surprise. Super crisp

and lively for a warm afternoon. Very aromatic with lots of citrus and grassy notes. And the price is equally mouth watering at $15.45.

The second has an equally attractive price point. The  O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 produced with Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates. Though not typically impressed by celebrity wine, this one is really good! Crisp, fresh with citrus notes, it is a terrific buy at $14.95. I picked up a bottle when I visited the winery last month, but it goes on sale at the LCBO Sept.16th.

Winemaker Brian Schmidt in the cellar at Vineland Estates
Photo courtesy of Shawn McCormick @uncorkOntario

Final weekend pick will have to involve a gorgeous trip to Niagara on the Lake because it is not available at the LCBO only at the winery? It is the Vineland EstatesPinot Meunier 2011.  I am not all too familiar with this varietal described as the  less  sibling to Pinot Noir. It is light bodied,strawberry aromas and simply delicious at $17.95.