Category Archives: Award winning wines

Top 10 Wine Experiences

What makes a wine experience truly remarkable? A recommendation from someone you trust goes a long way, but at least half the fun is in the adventure.  And then there are the surprises, the experiences that leave you breathless. Because I am celebrating a milestone birthday and because I love top 10 lists, here are some of my favourite experiences of my wine journey that started about 15 years ago with a Ripasso and a dear friend named Patrick.

Antinori

      The Chance Encounter:  It all started when studying for wine class while receiving acupuncture from my friend Adrianna who introduced me to Garrett Herman, a Toronto wine collector  who served me my first Super Tuscan, and who had a dinner reservation at the Badia a Passignano Estate in the Chianti region when his friends made a mistake with the date – oh and my husband and I just happened to be in the area…

The tour of the stunning vineyards owned by the Antinori family was a treat in itself.  Afterwards, we were invited to have dinner with the Marchese Piero Antinori, the legendary patriarch of the family which  has been producing wine for 26 generations. We chatted  about family businesses, the future of the industry, and the impact of climate change over  a “humble country meal” of Bistecca alla Fiorentina and a glass of Solaia. It was a dream. The food and wine were remarkable, the conversation even better.  It gave me insight into a world that is dependent on nature but fuelled by passion. The only thing that could possibly have topped it was if Bruce Spingsteen himself ambled up to the table and joined us for a glass.  I have sipped many Antinori wines since that night, and every time, I think about that unforgettable evening under my lucky stars.

Culmina

The Promise: Early on in my wine education, I visited Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Del Rollo, who was director of hospitality at that time, gave me my first tour of a production facility. Talking about the history of the company, Del told me about co-founder, Don Triggs, who was a mentor to him. Don  sold his share and moved west in search of the perfect spot to create the finest Canadian wine. Ten years later, I drove up to the front gates of Culmina in Oliver, B.C. A standard visit turned remarkable when Don Triggs strolled by and said “I’ll take you.” Over the next three hours, we visited each vineyard, learned the evolution of Don’s vision, the trials and errors, how they worked round the clock to save the vineyard from devastating wildfires that raged next door, and how he uses technology to keep his  promise to put quality above all else.  The tour culminated in the tasting of some outstanding wines that challenged convention. Culmina’s Riesling and Chardonnay were nothing I expected. The wines were exceptional and so was Don Triggs, whose  love for his family, the land, and quality shone through. I asked him if he loves what he does. He smiled and said simply “I am here at 6am every morning.” 

Valdipiatta

The Delivery: I found this highly-rated winery online and I sampled too many bottles to count at E Lucevan le Stelle (Translation: And the stars were shining) in Montepulciano,  my favourite wine bar in the world. There I learned Valdipiatta was the family vineyard of Cinzia Caporali, one of the bar owners.

Giulio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia booked us a tour with her father Giulio, the most delightful storyteller and insightful tour guide. In a mix of Italian and English, we got a lesson in Etruscan history. We learned about the highest standards of production, how the terroir or soil is everything, and about what it means to follow your dream.

Giulio bought the vineyard in 1990 and turned it into a successful winery with a stellar reputation. Today he and his daughter Miriam, the co-owner,  produce award-winning wines that should not be missed.  I have been back three times, and plan to visit again. I have a bottle of their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva that will be shared to celebrate my 60th year.

Salcheto

Location, Location, Location:

Ten years ago, we rented a villa with 10 friends to mark another milestone. The group didn’t really know each other. It could have  been a disaster. It turned out to be one of the best vacations of my life. The friends, the food, the music, oh yes, and the wine. Lots and lots of wine. Everything was simply perfect.  The villa owner took us on a tour of surrounding vineyards, some industrial producers, some, like Salcheto,  small and intimate. The winery is nestled  in the hills outside Montepulciano.  Ettore, our host, gave us a quick tour, telling  stories in Italian with a smattering of English words thrown in.

We sampled their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and bought cases to bring back to the villa.  The wine was so good, each time I returned to the area, I would call Ettore, who would give us a generous tasting even when Salcheto was under construction and operating out of temporary quarters.  He would set up a table laden with the latest releases, exuding pride at the company’s commitment to quality and sustainability. The renovated winery is stunning and a tribute to that commitment. 

Biondi

 The Surprise:  Social media can be overwhelming, addictive, and can be considered the demise of our civilization, but it can also find you a damn good winery. Before a trip to Sicily, I tweeted #SicilyWines any recommendations?  I received a smattering of suggestions, one of them from a winery very close to the village where we were staying. The day before we left Mt Etna, I tweeted back, “any chance for a tasting tomorrow?”. The lucky stars over the volcano were shining in my direction. Ciro Biondi, architect-turned-winemaker gave us a tour of his fields, stopping to pull out a few herbs for that evening’s dinner. He talked of his father’s reaction to giving up architecture for winemaking “You better do a good job, I paid a lot of money for your education.” .

The cantina was an old shack with a refrigerator that had seen better days.  Over glasses of wine, he talked about the history of Sicily, the politics, the poverty and the oppression from the North, where my father was born. It was a perspective I had never heard before. Oh yes, the Biondi wines….the volcanic soil gave them a distinct flavour so delicious that I wanted to take home.  When I asked if he had help from wine experts, he chuckled. “Why pay someone to make mistakes I can make  myself?” he said.  We sampled from bottles yet to be labelled. When we wanted to take some back to the villa, he insisted on labelling the bottles – even though I told him they would not survive the night. The good news: Biondi wines are available in Toronto at Terroni’s, so when I want a taste of Sicily, I know where to go. 
Domaine Queylus

In the Hood:  Our friends Ian and Maria are responsible for some of our best tastings close to home. I love that they scope out the new wineries and wait until we visit so we can experience them together.  Domaine Queylus is literally a four-minute drive from their home. It was our last stop on the way back to their place, less than half a hour before closing time. The tasting room is a log cabin, full of light. Our host Laurie was a former Montrealer who went to the same high school as my husband Steve. Her husband, John Nadeau, the hospitality and marketing director, joined us at the last minute and shared the history of the young vineyard named after a Jesuit priest who brought wine to the region centuries ago.We stayed long past closing. John revealed his goal is to remove the asterisk – create excellent wines, period. Not “great for a Canadian wine.” He and winemaker Thomas Bachelder have succeeded. Their Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and blends  are superb. No asterisk. 

 

Jackson-Triggs

The Eye-Opener: I moved to Toronto in 2004 but it wasn’t until three years later that I discovered the gems that are growing in my backyard. Del Rollo of Jackson-Triggs introduced me to quality wines being produced in the region. He talked about the  challenges and the victories. He made me realize that winemakers are a generous lot. Success is all about sharing knowledge and helping your neighbours.  When one succeeds, they all win.

Del and coworker Stacey Mulholland  also introduced Steve and I  to one of the greatest wine experiences of my life, a concert under the stars, sipping wine and listening to a performance by Jim Cuddy. His music is now one of my favourite pairings on a Friday night with a good glass of red and that eye-opening visit to J-T, started my journey of discovery of local wines.

Stratus

 The Genius Winemaker:  Stratus is where simplicity meets quality. With care and patience, the grapes tell the story.  And what a story. Technology is used to let the grapes and the soil speak for themselves. The winery itself is beautiful. Peaceful. Welcoming. The wine is extraordinary.

Source: Stratus Wines

J-L Groux is the grape whisperer, coaxing rich textures and flavours from the soil. His Cabernet Franc is nothing like you would imagine. This grape has often been described as better in a blend. The Stratus Cabernet Franc stands alone.  When I asked him how, he said “It’s just about doing it right.” Other producers in the region have decoded the mystery as well. It’s  turned Cabernet Franc from one of my least favourite single varietal wines, to one of my favourites. J-L’s red blend rivals some of the best Bordeaux blends I have ever sampled. His Syrah and Sangiovese, which I approached  with skepticism, also over-delivered. I have never tasted a bad Stratus wine – even the Wild Ass is playful and fun.  

Gaja

Paradise Found:  I am half Italian. My father was from Torino, the place he described as a centre of the universe. I have visited relatives there many times. How is it that it took more than 50 years for me to learn that a mere 30-minute drive south of his birthplace lies the Langhe, one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world? The discovery came by accident. A wine sampling at my local LCBO, led to an email to the winery, to some research, to WOW!  Our tour guide  was Sonya Franca, assistant to the legendary Angelo Gaja, who is credited for helping turn Barolo and Barbaresco into Italian wine royalty. She spent two hours with us telling us about the rich history of the Langhe while tasting their wines, I had never tasted anything like this before. There was Gaia and Rey Chardonnay, a white so full-bodied, had I been blindfolded, I might have mistaken it for a red. Sonya also recommended a visit to the wine museum in nearby Barolo. My husband took a nap, something I tease him about endlessly.  The museum tour ended in a tasting room where the new vintage of Barolos had just been released. “How much for a tasting?” I asked. “15 Euros,” they answered. “For how many?” I asked, the polite Canadian looking thirstily over 140 bottles on display for self-tasting. “All of them.” Sweeter words were never heard. I made it to 35.

Going Blind In Tuscany

My Lucky Day: Whenever I have the privilege of visiting Tuscany, if the world is behaving as it should, there is time for a glass of wine or two at E Lucevan le Stelle,  the wine bar at  Locanda San Francesco in Montepulciano. I put away the smart phone, disconnect and watch the world go by. We were on our way south to Sicily but wanted to take a couple of days in our favourite part of Italy.  This visit was extra special –  my husband had been recovering from a brain injury and this would be his first glass of wine in 18 months.

We were well-received by Christian.  It turned out the day we were supposed to leave, the wine bar was hosting a blind-tasting with 10 producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Some itineraries are meant to be adjusted.

The evening was a blend of stories, new people, new wines. And I learned some important lessons: 

  • Wine people look at least 10 years younger than they really are. 
  • Wine producers are living their dream – despite the challenges
  • My favourite wine quote from Brazilian newlyweds – “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

Aristotle was right. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I will never know enough about wine.  I think I got two out of 10 wines right in the blind-tasting that night. But what I did get, was an experience of a life time.

There are so many experiences deserving of honourable mentions. Too many to mention. They all speak of family and friendship, of generosity, of following your dreams and sharing the spoils.  So in this milestone year, I will make some new wine memories, savour the ones from the past, and mostly I will be thanking my lucky stars… again.

Wine Meets Art at Mission Hill

august 19-2014 134A visit to Mission Hill Family Estate  in Kelowna makes you feel as relaxed as a floating yoga class. Stepping through the gates,  you feel  a sense of  peace paired with refreshingly crisp rose.

Just writing about it brings me back, “forcing” me to pause for a moment to pour myself a glass of white… even though it’s just shy of noon. Mission Hill  is a place to reflect, to wander and to drink some great wine.

And until October,  it is also a place to see some remarkable art.

august 19-2014 129“Encounters with Iceland” is an exhibition of the works of Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir.  There are 40 life-sized sculptures all over the Estate, each placed by the artist herself. august 19-2014 171

You find the sculptures in all kinds of places:  keeping watch over the underground cellars blasted out of volcanic rock, in a staircase, attached to a building.  Each looks as though it belongs, created with that exact space in mind.august 19-2014 140

august 19-2014 157august 19-2014 138Winery  owner Anthony von Mandl and his wife Debra discovered the sculptures on a trip to Iceland last year. He felt they were a perfect fit for Mission Hill..

august 19-2014 139august 19-2014 151august 19-2014 127The artist says the sculptures are inspired by her son. Some are playful and others intensely reflective, they are stunning in their simplicity.

In honour of the exhibition, Mission Hill Winery released a collection of two of its wines –  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Riesling Icewine –  embellished with labels featuring 20 of  Thórarinsdóttir’s sculptures.

august 19-2014 143Mission  Hill’s commitment to art and beauty can be seen throughout the Estate.

The courtyard plays host to such world class musicians as Tony Bennett, Chris Botti and the Gypsy Kings.

The four bells in the 12 storey Tower were created by Fonderie Paccard in France, which created the bells for Sacre Coeur and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

august 19-2014 144The Chagall Room, set for someone’s private dinner the night I was there, displays a spectacular tapestry by Marc Chagall called Animal Tales.  It is one of only 29 tapestries created by the artist. Below it, a piano bought at a charity auction from  legendary music producer David Foster, autographed by Celine Dion, Sting, and dozens of other A-list performers.

august 19-2014 146If that is not reason enough to make Mission Hill a part of any visit to Kelowna, there’s always the award-winning wines and Terrace restaurant – voted one of the top five winery restaurants in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. More about that in an upcoming blog, I need another glass of wine.

Cheers.

Wines Worth the Splurge

two glasses

Do you ever hear a song that sends you spinning back on your timeline? Music, like the sense of smell, is a powerful memory tool.  I am finding the same thing about a great wine. I remember my first Super Tuscan, a Tignanello. I sipped it so slowly because I wanted it to last forever.

Some events are worth celebrating with a truly memorable bottle of wine. You know, the kind you write about in a journal, or try to scrape off the label or hold on to the cork. Here are a few fantastic splurges that will have you savouring every sip, but will  YUOU cost no more than a bottle from the lower end of  a restaurant wine list.

Big, Bold Brunello
Big, Bold Brunello

Pietranera 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy $37.95 LCBO

If you have a special occasion to celebrate, it’s hard to go wrong with a Brunello. This  was a gift and on a Friday night worthy of a fine wine, it was absolutely perfect. This wine is beautifully balanced with a long velvety finish. This one has earned  the top scores it received from  the cork dorks (which, for the record, I only checked AFTER I licked the top of the bottle to get every drop.)

 

The Pride of the Okanagan
The Pride of the Okanagan

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2009, Okanagan, B.C. $44.95 SAQ

This Bordeaux blend goes down just right. It is big and bold and become the pride of B.C. A classic blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, this wine is all about red and blackberries, spice with a hint of chocolate. You can open and savour right away, or leave it for another special occasion between now and 2021. Alcohol 13.8%

 

Lighting Up The Night
Lighting Up The Night

La Vite Lucente 2011, IGT, Tuscany, Italy $34.95 LCBO, $35.00 SAQ

This is full-bodied and elegant, a truly gorgeous wine – resplendent with aromas of blackberries, cherry and vanilla. It’s produced by Frescobaldi, a family that has been producing wine since 1308 – they actually  traded wine with Michelangelo. This is their so-called second wine to big brother Super Tuscan Luce della Vite, but every bit as worthy at this price.

So look for a special occasion, or maybe just the end of a long week.

Uncork, decant and enjoy!

 

Picking Wine: The Myth of a Right and Wrong Choice

Sampling some bubbly at Chateau des Charmes
Picking the Right Wine

A friend of mine came into my office after she received a quick lesson in wine pairings from Kevin Brauch,  The Thirsty Traveler (@drinkingrobot).  Marcia said the lesson left her  determined to learn more about wine so she won’t feel intimidated visiting the wine store. Two days later, I heard the same message from another two colleagues who talked about the stress of   picking the wrong wine.

There is no such thing as a  right and wrong wine. Just like there is no such thing as a right song or a wrong song. Be it Lou Reed (RIP) or ABBA,  it simply comes down to a matter of taste (my husband might disagree on the ABBA point). Coincidentally it came up again at a wine club event, which you might think would be full or cork dorks, but you would be wrong – they are just people who love wine.

October 2013 039
The Wine Lesson

Someone asked  what happens if you can’t smell the wine notes or aromas that have been identified.  Brian Schmidt (@benchwineguy), the winemaker at Vineland Estates,  expressed it beautifully. Essentially, as they say in Jersey, fuhgeddaboudit. Schmidt said the wine industry could not have done more to complicate the drinking of wine. “It’s like we made it sound like if you don’t taste certain flavours in a wine, you are not part of the club. Just enjoy it“, Schmidt said.

 

Then he promptly proceeded to prove his point by admitting, that  on a hot day, he enjoys sipping from a bottle of Mateus. Mateus??? Cue the gasp from the alleged cork dorks.

Remembering Mateus
Remembering Mateus

Remember Mateus? The stubby shaped flat bottle looks snazzier now than when I smuggled it into a party in the 70’s.   Apparently Mateus also continues to be one of the top selling wines in Canada.

Schmidt couldn’t have used a better example. Enjoy what you enjoy. whether it is Yellow Tail, Fuzion, or a Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild (though that one will cost you a mortgage payment). I attended a wine seminar a couple of years ago and everyone was raving about an Australian Chardonnay and I didn’t like it at all.  I assumed it was because I didn’t know enough about wine. And while I am sure it was very fine wine, it’s not very fine to me.

So there is no  reason to feel intimidated when walking through the LCBO, SAQ or any other liquor store.  It’s an adventure. And the more you try different grapes, countries, regions, the more you will start to recognize the type of wine you like.

So Many Glasses, So Little Time
So Many Glasses, So Little Time

And the same thing goes for wine critics – Peter Gago, the man responsible for the jaw-droppingly good Penfolds, says by sampling their picks, you find out if you have similar  tastes.

For example, I love Italian wines. There are regions that I pick from that I know will not disappoint. They may not all be award winners, but when I pick a wine from  Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, I am 90% sure I will be very happy with my pick. I feel the same way about a Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region of Australia. The quality and price can vary widely – but at whatever level – my risk is minimal because I like that style of wine.

So if you have enjoyed a few of my wine picks, here are a few more, including one that made my taste buds somersault for joy.

Luis Canas Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain $17.95

A Spectacular Spanish Wine
A Spectacular Spanish Wine

I randomly picked up this bottle. It  was the last on the shelf which is often a good sign (Sorry Mr. Leaside who, seconds later, asked a staffer where he could find Luis Canas.  I slinked away hugging mine tightly). I tried it that night and it was spectacular. Smooth, full-bodied, with raspberry and dark cherry notes.  I went to the LCBO web site to see where I could buy more and picked up the last 5 bottles at the Danforth Store. Incredible value for $17.95. If you see them, buy them (or let me know and I will.) Apparently they have the potential of aging well. As if.

 

Cheval Quancard Reserve Sauvignon-Semillion 2011, Bordeaux, France $14.95

A Great Value Bordeaux
A Great Value Bordeaux

This wine is my white find of the week. My daughters prefer white to red so I always have a few on hand. This one particular wine had me wishing they switched to red so I could finish it off. It is fruity and full of flavour, slightly creamy  with lovely aromas. I loved the wine and especially loved the price!

 

 

Ripa de Manderole, IGT, Tuscany, Italy $15.95

A Lovely Quaffer
A Lovely Quaffer

My third pick is a medium-bodied blend of Tuscany’s favourite Sangiovese grape blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the creation of John Matta, who has been voted Italian winemaker of the year four times since 1997. It is a friendly approachable wine that is a terrific with a simple pasta or pizza.

Enjoy your discoveries and share your favourites!

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for Weekend Wines

montepulcianoSome friends of ours just got back from Tuscany with that look in their eyes. You know, that look that says for at least a few moments, a few days, a few weeks – all was right with the world. There was no rush, no anxiety, no reason to consider anything except the perfection of where you are sitting, and equally  important, what you are drinking.

Their tales of joy sent me straight to the Italian aisle for this week’s red wine picks.  A couple of VQA’s round them out.

fielding estate 2012 chardonnay
Fielding Estate

 

Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2012, Fielding Estate Winery Beamsville Bench, $21.95  Gold in the glass with citrus aromas,  pear and peach. Rich and lovely over dinner or just a warm conversation at twilight.

 

burrowing owl 2009

 

Burrowing Owl, Merlot 2009 VQA Okanagan, $41.95  An award-winning wine that is wracking up the hardware. Full-bodied and plum juicy with a strong finish – this winery looks worth visiting as much as the wine was worth tasting.14%

 

The Noble One

 

Palazzo Vecchio Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 2007 DOCG $23.95 Some refer to this wine, aged two years in oak, as a Baby Brunello. While the price is friendlier than a Brunello – this baby can easily  stand on its own long and luscious legs. This doesn’t just feel like home to a lover of Italian reds … it feels like Christmas. 14%

Il Grigio
Il Grigio

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 LCBO $26.95 SAQ $27.00 It’s easy to splurge in the tasting room but it is a double-edged sword. You get to taste a great wine for a buck, but after you taste it, you really, really want to take it home. This is one of those. Blackberries, black cherries, and spice are dominant in this wine. Riserva’s must be aged at least 24 months, and it should even improve with age, if, unlike me, you can wait. Worth splurging for yourself or a really good friend. 13%

Finally, what to drink with your Thanksgiving turkey, white wine lovers can do well with a Riesling or Pinot Grigio, but if you are like me, a lazy long turkey dinner with a glass of Pinot Noir or Chianti is the idea of holiday perfection.

Happy Thanksgiving! To family, friends and good music and great wine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!