Wine From The West

Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015
Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015

 

If you’re a fan of Amazing Race Canada you might already be familiar with Covert Farms in British Columbia as it was one of the locations from last season where teams competed in various challenges.  Brothers Gino and Jesse showed their strength as they flipped a large tractor tire 100 meters and placed it on a rack showing everyone they really did have what it takes to walk away with the top prize.

You might be wondering what The Amazing Race has to do with wine but as it happens Covert Farms is not only an organic farm it’s also a winery and since brothers Brent and Sean had to complete a speed bump in this same leg of the race before they could move on they had to fill, cork, and label a dozen bottles of wine, then properly dip the neck of each bottle in wax to create a seal.

Covert Farms
Covert Farms

Located at the foot of McIntyre Bluff on 650 acres north of Oliver, British Columbia the organic farm, vineyard, and winery produces Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, and Rosé, as well as three proprietary red blends The Bluff, MDC and Amicitia.

IMG_0657Alongside a group of international journalists I recently had a chance to explore the fields and certified organic estate vineyards on a  tour with winemaker Gene Covert in his vintage 1952 Mercury truck.  Educational and entertaining I learned about everything from the land’s history to their sustainable farming practices and was quite astonished by the fact we could still pick strawberries at the end of September, something that’s definitely not happening anywhere else in this country.

IMG_0662

The day ended with a culinary journey of delicious dishes paired with amazing wines IMG_0668created by the executive chef from the Watermark Beach Resort.  We started with an appetizer of local salmon pate trendily served in a mason jar topped with pickled fennel along side a glass of the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.  I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc and with that crisp dry fruit forward taste it was a perfect fit to the first course.

IMG_0681While we might have started off light the second course was IMG_0673definitely something more fitting of a farm style meal.  Heirloom potatoes, pork belly and an organic salad mix it was accompanied by one of the farms proprietary red blends called MDC.  Made with certified organic grapes, 100% estate grown the spicy notes were the perfect pairing for the pork.

IMG_0683Since you can’t let your guests leave before enjoying dessert we were served a tasty fruit IMG_0686crumble accompanied by the family estate Rosé.  I’m not usually a fan of Rosé but to be honest I have to say this was my favourite wine of the three. Made with a combination of  Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah the acidity helped cut through the sweetness of the dessert and the notes of cherries and strawberries reminded me of time spent in the strawberry patch earlier in the day.

IMG_0687If you happen to get out that way be sure to stop by an take a tour of the farm and browse the the wines available for sale, I promise you won’t walk away with just one.

Weekend Wine Picks

Oct 14 2014 251There were so many things to give thanks for this week. Surrounded by family and friends, watching my 84-year old mother arm wrestle any one who dared to challenge her. My wonderful nieces and nephews exploring the city. My lovely daughter dancing the night away in the kitchen with guests from 8-84. And of course, toasting the whole night with some terrific wine picks that I highly recommend.

ripasso 2012Giuseppe Campagnolo Valpolicella Ripasso 2012 Corvina Blend $16.95 Medium bodied and fruity.  This was perfect to serve before, during, and after our turkey dinner.   13.5% In the Vintages section, but going fast.

 

 

peoples pinotThe People’s Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand 2011 $16.95  I was looking for a Pinot Noir to serve with turkey and this one caught my eye. Admittedly this time it was the label that stood out – often a detractor in my mind – but I do like Kiwi wines and this light bodied pick with cherry and raspberry notes turned out to be a crowd pleaser.   gran feudo 2007

Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva 2007  Blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is only $16.95  This was my favourite of the bunch. If you are looking for an affordable red – this one is worth sampling.

 

A little trip around the world in wine  made for great Thanksgiving feasting. Just in time for this week at the LCBO, where Vintages is  celebrating my favourites – great Italians. Time for some sampling in the tasting room this weekend. Salute!

Wedding Wine


 

wedding shotOnce upon a time, on a perfect beach in Maine, one hundred people held up their glasses to toast the marriage of soul mates.

What is a wedding if not belief in the future?

Looking at Rhiannon and Scott, surrounded by family and friends who gathered to rejoice in this moment, you can’t help but believe.

I have often written about Maine (likely because it often includes the imbibing of a fair amount of wine).  What made this wedding so special – they chose to begin their future in a place that honours the bride’s past.

Rhiannon, her siblings and my girls – along with a host of others, have spent precious days together on that beach for 25 years.

mia and maine 155And this day couldn’t have been more perfect.

goddessThe bride and her attendants looked like Goddesses as they made  their way down the beach.

tears

 

 

The catch in Rhiannon and Scott’s voices as they spoke their vows.

The relief that some of us felt (OK it wasn’t ONLY me)  that we were thankfully wearing sunglasses so those tear-filled  eyes wouldn’t show.

 

 

What does this have to do with wine?  

sunflowers

Wedding wine, of course – the challenge of making choices that will have everyone coming back for more.

Last summer, while making our way through scores of bottles, during our week at the very same beach , one evening was devoted to the tasting of potential wedding wines.

Among the 10 of us, we had plenty of familiarity drinking wine and a fair amount of experience  attending weddings. Testing wines is a tough job, but that’s what friends are for.

 

Where do you start?

  • Set your budget. Parents Sandra and Randy wanted to spend somewhere between $10-20 a bottle. Extremely attainable.
  • Pick your varietals. After much discussion which included the merits of Merlot and the shunning of Chardonnay (wrongly so) – the plan was a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
  • Find an expert: Erin from Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shop in Portland couldn’t have been more helpful. She had great suggestions and if there was something Sandra was looking for that she didn’t carry or didn’t fit the budget – Erin found something with a matching flavour profile.

Here’s what they settled on:

Cameron Hughes Chardonnay 2012 Cameron Hughes Monterey County  Chardonnay $16.00

 

scicia

 

2013 Scaia –  Veneto 2013  Garganega/Chardonnay $9.95

cab sauv

 

2012 Avalon –  Cabernet Sauvignon California  $10.99

pinot

 

2013 Angeline Pinot Noir  California 2013 $10.99

fume blanc

 

2013 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County $14.00

 

Excellent choices to celebrate with dear old friends, raise a glass with new ones and toast to Rhiannon and Scott’s future.  A Once Upon a Time kind of day that will undoubtedly  end with Happily Ever After.

Cheers!

 

Value added suggestion:

One of the many times husband Steve and I visited the tasting bar at the Summerhill LCBO, a couple planning their wedding  told us  about Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia IGT – $10.95. Turns out it  is the most popular wedding wine.  Though now Steve thinks all young couples we meet at the tasting bar are picking wedding wine – which can prove to be occasionally awkward but awfully fun.

Amazing Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi coast defies gravity.
It is proof that what needs to be done,  can be done.
No excuses.
Just sheer will.
amalfi cornerWith less workable land than a city park, the Amalfitani  built terraces on cliffs that kiss the sky, plant lemon trees that grow year round, and climb steep hills each day to tend to them.
It’s not the Mediterranean Diet that keeps them healthy. It’s all that exercise with the Nonnas and Nonnos (Grannies and Grampas) putting you to shame.

Times are tough in Italy. In some regions, the unemployment rate among young people is over 50%. There is bitterness when you ask about the government. Still,  there is an undeniable pride in this country that gets life done despite the challenges – just like the lemon tree overflowing with fruit.

An Amalfi Treasure
An Amalfi Treasure

Trattoria da Ciccio  is poised on the edge of a cliff in Amalfi.  It looks like any place – though the recommendation “qui si mangia bene” (here you will eat well) is the highest praise from a fellow Italian. They take their food very seriously.

A sea of waiters welcomed us and broke the ice by  asking us a few questions.  It was like they wanted to know our mood, our taste, our comfort level with risk-taking before making any suggestions. All local  – beginning with the wine.

 

 

A Refreshing White
A Refreshing White

The white: Costa d’Amalfi Tramonti Tenuta San Francesco  2012 DOC
The Falanghina, Biancolella, and Pepella grapes come specifically from the village of Tramonti – one of three villages in the southern Italian province of Campania that is recognized for particularly fine wine.  The estate’s vines that  grow on steep parcels of land are more than 100 years old. The result, a crisp medium-bodied wine with notes of the famous Amalfi lemons and a long finish.

 

A Full-bodied Aglianico
A Full-bodied Aglianico

 

The red: Colli di Lapio Campi Taurasini Irpinia DOC  2010
Taurasi wines have been called some of the most under-rated wines in Italy.    It’s a showcase for the Aglianico grape – the most important red varietal in the Campania province. Irpinia is one of top regions because of its high altitude, soil and lengthy growing season.  This wine was full-bodied and a real palate-pleaser.

 

 

From the signature dishes of flying squid – to spaghetti in a bag – yes, I said spaghetti in a bag – with fresh clams, olives and garlic – to the  improvised birthday cake for Rob the birthday boy of the night. The most perfect evening in Amalfi topped off, of course,  with a glass of Limoncello. All those lemons have to go somewhere.

Yes, “Qui si mangia bene” without a doubt. But when I remember this place it will be the warmth (and the wine) that accompanied our delicious meal  that will share centre stage in this breathtaking region.

 

Tuscan Blind Tasting with Eyes Wide Open

Two Glasses Half Full
Two Glasses Half Full

When life takes a turn…

A bit of a personal story before I share a wine adventure that I wish upon every lover of great wine.
Fifteen months ago, my husband and favourite travelling companion had a terrible accident. He fell down cement stairs head first landing him in intensive care with a brain injury,unable to walk and barely able to talk. Life changed in an instant. The love of my life, partner in wine, in travel, in all those mundane day-to-day things you take for granted, was not there.  And no one could tell me what the future would look like, or whether he would ever be back. Those were dark days.

Miraculously,within a relatively short time, he fought his way back. Different in some ways, and wonderfully familiar in others. Better. ( He actually tells people he is smarter.) But because of the type of  brain injury, he could not drink for a year.

The relevance to this entry, is because we got to share our first glass of wine together since the accident in our favourite place in the world.

Steve's First Glass  at E Lucevan Le Stelle
Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

And maybe Bacchus the God of Grapes  took pity on a wine lover being forced to abstain for that long,  because that evening, we were invited to a blind tasting by 10 wine producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG at E Lucevan Le Stelle Wine Bar.

Vino Nobile, along with Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti, are the  three celebrated gems of  the Sangiovese grape. In 1980, Vino Nobile  became the first to receive the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation. It must be aged for two years before release and is characteristically full-bodied with firm tannins.

This evening we were testing the new releases of the 2011.

The Contenders
The Contenders

Ten numbered bottles at the bar, a score sheet and a room full of producers and wine lovers.  There was nothing formal about this tasting – it was a chance to talk with the producers and for people like Cinzia, who owns the bar, she gets to know what kinds of wine appeal the most.

Organizer Cinzia in Action
Organizer Cinzia in Action

Oh what a night!   I was completely intimidated until Cinzia  told me that only one in  ten producers can identify their own wine, let alone all 10.   Vittorio Bagnasco, who produces Lamberto,  blamed the fact he had a cold. Great excuse, I told him.

They all come with stories.

 

 

Vittorio of LambertoVittorio has been producing wines at Lamberto for 10 years. Before that he was a documentary cameraman and Director of Photography for feature films when he decided to take his love of wine one brave step further.

 

Il Conventino Ready for Sampling
Il Conventino
Ready for Sampling

 

Dr. Alberto Brini of Il Conventino Wines – had just that day made a bid to the LCBO to get his organic wines into their stores.   He looked about 25 and like all of the producers, utterly charming. His wine was ready before the label.

 

 

And Cinzia, the event organizer – I found out that night, was a marine engineer before she toasted a new career and opened up the wine bar and B & B.

All the wines were rated for colour, nose and taste. We ranked them and tried to guess the producer.  The wines ranged from elegant and silky to tannins that packed a serious punch.

Tasting Blind
Tasting Blind

Of course, whenever I ambled my way to the bar for a refill, I peeked at some of the marks.  The producers tended to be quite generous with their marks, while some of the wine lovers were, in my opinion, much too tough.

Valdipiatta  Took Top Marks
Valdipiatta
Took Top Marks

Valdipiatta, a small winery making a significant mark, came in first place. The 2007 Riserva is available at Vintages. It  was my third pick ( and my husband’s first pick – I told you he says he is smarter now).

Il Conventino ranked second – and producer Brini was one of the few who correctly identified his own wine.

 

Montemercurio Messaggero
Montemercurio Messaggero

Montemercurio Messaggero came third. I loved this wine – the colour and nose were quite subtle, but exploded on the palate.

 

 

 

And while I  only managed to match one wine with its proper label –  it was the chance to preview some of excellent wines that will hopefully one day soon be available in Canada.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Lobster Pairings with Love from Maine

Gifts from the Maine Coast
Gifts from the Maine Coast

One of the truly wonderful pleasures of traveling to the coast of Maine each year is the anticipation of the perfect summer meal: lobster.

To me, it is as much a sign of summer as the scent of wild roses that line the sea wall, the sand that finds its way into every crevice in the cottage, and the damp towels hanging over the railing.

Chipper has been providing lobster to my family and friends for as long as I can remember. Look up Central Casting for Lobster Fisherman and you will find his picture. He is the real deal. He has the New England twang, the weathered complexion from years of early mornings at sea, and a perpetually cheerful attitude.  Chip is always  smiling, always happy to see you,  and he is the most accurate weather forecaster on the planet.(Sorry, Jeff Hutcheson)

A Palace by Any Other Name
Chipper’s Lobster Shack

The first time I cracked a lobster it was from Chip’s Catch of the day. He held a huge party in his workshop some years back and steamed more lobsters than I had ever seen. His family and friends, his loyal summer friends and their friends feasted on the freshest claws and tails all night, then danced off the garlic butter. One year he took all the kids and a few of the adults out on his boat to show us his favourite lobstering spots.

This year a glut of lobster pushed down the market price making it almost impossible to earn a living.  So Chip took his tasty catches and friendly attitude and opened up his own lobster shack. He steams them on the spot, sells them at bargain prices and sells out pretty much every day. One or two for the night’s feast and one for a homemade lobster roll the day after.

It doesn’t hurt that this year’s catch is the tastiest ever.

Dinner In the Making
Dinner In the Making

So what to pair with your lobster feast, or the next-day delicious lobster roll? Something light and crisp such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris is a good choice for the main event. Tread carefully with the Chardonnays because some can be too creamy for the rich lobster meat. And for day after rolls, you cannot go wrong with some sparkling like Prosecco.

For our first traditional steamed lobster feast, the gals went with a Sauvignon Blanc (rapidly becoming my favourite white this summer).

Bring on the Crisp Coppola
Bring on the Crisp Coppola

Coppola Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Diamond Collection – vibrant, fresh, grassy and crisp.  It was a perfect match and so was the price –  $12.00 (US prices but a good crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will never steer you wrong). One of my personal favourites is  Dog Point Vineyard 2012 at $22.95.

Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire
Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire

 

 

Pouilly Fuisse 2011 Louis Jadot from Maconnais, France at $22.00. Citrus and vanilla notes and ever-so-gently oaked that did not overpower. This was a perfect Chardonnay for the meal.

Then Alex arrived…bearing wine. Alex Manikas is the owner of Toronto’s uber steakhouse Bardi’s which has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1994. And he brought two winners.

grothGroth 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.  Mama Mia that was  one spectacular wine! Rich, crisp, aromatic and only $19.00. Unfortunately purchased here and not available at the LCBO, but if you are traveling to the US, put it on the list!

Then out came the star of the night. And it was a shining Chardonnay.

The Shining Chardonnay
The Shining Chardonnay

Talbott 2011 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Monterey County, California.  This is a big Chardonnay, but so well- balanced, the flavours performed as harmoniously as the Beach Boys in their heyday.  It has a buttery rich feel with notes of pear, peach and the oak did not overwhelm. Thank you Alex.

And for the sparkle..

La Marca Prosecco
La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco DOC from Italy LCBO $17.95 $13.95 US (ouch) This lovely was perfectly chilled and an ideal pair for just about anything including our day-after Lobster Roll.

Doesn’t it just make you want to visit your nearest lobster pound? If you are ever in on Route 9 between Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise – drop in on Chipper. You will not go home disappointed!

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