A 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.
“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.
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.
Winery 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..
The 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.
Mission 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.
The 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.
If 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.
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.
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.)
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%
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Some 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.
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, 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%
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%
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!
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 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.
Domeco 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 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.