Venice for the Wine Lover

A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini.  There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set.  For the  wine lover, Venice is so much more.

Let the Ombra Begin

There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra.  My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente,  is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in  “We are going for an Ombra.

Paradise Found

Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost)  topped  the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind.   Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal.  From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and  zucchini flowers.  Simple, fresh and affordable. 

The Real  Wine Thing

Our  best find of the day, just a few steps away,  has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine bar  with a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantly  it is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.

There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.  “Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked.  Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing  which  goes a long way to building my loyalty.

First up:  Esmerelda suggested  a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to  Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a  sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz –  just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail.  In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .

Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 –  a Merlot from Slovenia –  for me to sample.  Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing  on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.

Woman of Wine: Esmerelda
Vino Vero Regulars Chris and Vivian

We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.

Cannaregio District:  Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.

Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia

Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia

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.

Red Carpet Stars

Well another year of TIFF has wrapped up and Toronto has seen many stars walk the red carpet for their film premieres.

But besides the usual suspects there was another celebrity in town. Famous in his own right, 2-star Michelin Chef, Oliver Glowig was also here. He rolled out the red carpet for a special chef’s table dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s TOCA restaurant and Lis and I were lucky enough to be two of the eight people invited.

The food was a delight to the senses, with bright, vibrant colours that were a feast for the eyes. The sizzle as the swordfish hit the grill signaled another delicious dish was coming and watching the chef hand make the ravioli let you know only the freshest ingredients were being used. As six courses were presented over the evening the flavour explosions brought a taste of Italy to our mouths thanks to the skill of Chef Glowig and his amazing team.

For every course there was a terrific wine pairing and one of the delights of visiting TOCA means you get to try something you won’t always find at your local liquor store.  We started off the evening with a deliciously light sparkling Falanghina Brut DUBL from the Campania region of Southern Italy served by sommelier Taylor Thompson.  Each dish was accompanied by a wine chosen to bring out the flavours of the food and they didn’t disappoint.

Getting rave reviews was the “Ravioli Capresi” stuffed with caciotta and marjoram, served with a cherry tomato and fresh basil sauce. Maybe it was  because Chef shared the secret of how the delicate ravioli were made but I’m pretty sure it was because they tasted truly amazing.  Some of the eight at the table were even willing to give up dessert for another crack at this dish and I was in total agreement.

While chef Oliver Glowig has now flown back to Italy to handle the affairs of his own restaurant in Rome, you can enjoy the menu he created for TOCA any time at Toronto’s Ritz Carlton.

Best Of The Bin

unnamedOk, so before you say anything this isn’t my weekly blue box collection…I’m saving these until I have enough to warrant a trip to the dreaded beer store where you have to return them. But being a lover of red I was sort of surprised at how many white wine empties were in there.  I’m guessing this has a lot to do with the summer season because nothing goes down quite like a chilled glass of white when it’s hot outside.

0011452I know a lot of people go right to the Pinot Grigio when it comes to a light white summer wine but for me I just find it doesn’t have much taste.  I much prefer a nice dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc and one I always have in the house is the WillM Reserve Riesling from Alsace.  It’s dry, has intense citrus flavours and is a perfect match for seafood, poultry or just straight up on its own and for $14.95 you really can’t go wrong.

unnamed-1One I just tried this week and went back to get four more bottles is the Cave Spring 2012 Dry Riesling from the Niagara Peninsula.  I got the first bottle as a gift from a lovely couple I met not long ago and after tasting it knew I’d be enjoying more this summer.  It was a perfect match for the cheese fondue we had on the patio by the fire on Saturday night. Also just $14.95 this VQA product is definitely worth a try.

unnamed-2Even though I said I wasn’t much of a Pinot Grigio fan I did try a bottle I quite liked.  Another gift, so who am I to turn up my nose at free wine and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised by the taste.  Sadly this will only be available to our readers in BC as it comes from La Stella Vineyard in the south Okanagan Valley. At $25 I do find it a bit pricey but it’s a sustainable vineyard where all the fruit is hand harvested, double-sorted, and fermented in small batches.  Also I loved the quote on the back of the bottle – “If music is the food of love; wine is the drink”.

unnamedLast but not least there’s always a good supply of Prosecco in the cellar because a bit of bubbly on a sunny day just makes you smile.  My go to standards are the Bottega at $13.95 and the Il Prosecco at $13.80 and believe me you can’t go wrong with either of them.  Both are a product of Italy and have a gentle-bubbly character so raise a glass of Vino Frizzante and enjoy something crisp and refreshing this summer.

Don’t forget to tell us what’s in your glass and if you’ve made a new discovery you want us to share with our readers.

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.

 

Discovering Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

ListoesThe turning twisting roads of Montepulciano, Italy feel like home to me. It’s the same feeling when I ran through the doors after grade school, or came home for the weekend from University. It is a feeling that all is right with the world.

The difference is today this home is where the wine is.

This Italian hill town in southern Tuscany has charm in and out of the glass. The people are warm and welcoming. They give you a reason to come back.

twoglassesWhile my husband took a nap, I started my wine adventure at La Dolce Vita (where else?).

Like the tasting area at the SAQ and LCBO, they had a self-serve wine tasting contraption filled with regional choices. The owners give you a credit card and you start pouring.The wine of choice here is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – a lighter version of its big brother, Brunello from neighbouring Montalcino.  It is rich, fruity and as with all wines, the quality is all over the map ranging in price from 3 euros a bottle to 50 or more depending on the vintage.

salcoI started with 2007 Salco from Salcheto a producer I visited the last time I came here. Then I went with their recommendations – a 2009 Felsina Chianti Riserva and a 2009 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino. I bought two of them to savour later.

 

HaikuThere are the curiosities – such as Haiku by Castello di Amo which comes complete with…a haiku of course.

“Hazy Moon

Becoming tipsy, I’ve turned the colour of grapes”

by Toshiiki Bojo

Any notion of wine snobbery goes out the window here. People live and breathe wine, they’re all very knowledgeable and they love to share.

the squareIn the main square, which doubled as Volterra for fans of the Twilight series, is a cavern run by the Consortium of Vino Nobile Producers. You can sample any of the regions current releases,  and get suggestions if you’re looking to visit a winery for a tasting.

 

soilDaina, a sommelier by trade,  explained the different soils in the region – in the south the soil has more minerals, the middle – clay and the northern area sandy soil giving each distinct flavours.  She talked about how hard it is to be objective when you know the producers and they all work SO hard. And  she remarked on the growing number of women at the helm of wineries big and small. All while taking me through a tasting of three wines of my choosing for only six euros.

My wine adventure has begun with the best kinds of lessons that come in a glass.

And this is only day one 🙂

Where will your wine adventure take you?

 

Pizza and Pinot; The Perfect Pairing

January is of course the month of resolutions and right at the top of the list is losing weight.  While I’m not opposed to dropping a few pounds I’ve come the realization I’ll never be super model thin because I love food and wine and pretty much hate exercising.  My one concession has been to stop drinking during the week in hopes of saving a few calories for the weekend.

unnamedI’m a great cook and actually enjoy making a nice meal so my husband and I rarely eat take out, but every once in a while the urge strikes so Friday night we ordered pizza.  And since Friday constitutes the beginning of the weekend I also got to open a bottle of wine. Wanting to enjoy a nice red but something not too heavy, the perfect choice was of course a Pinot Noir.

0304105I opted for a California wine from the Buena Vista Winery founded by Agoston Haraszthy a Hungarian immigrant, who was a man of many talents.  A  farmer, vintner, respected author and businessman he also operated the first commercial steamboat on the upper Mississippi River and became the the first town marshal and county sheriff in San Diego.

Agoston Haraszthy
Agoston Haraszthy

Often referred to as the “Father of California Viticulture” he introduced more than three hundred varieties of European grapes in that state and helped Buena Vista become California’s first premium winery in 1857. Unfortunately the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista” died in 1869 in an alligator-infested river in Nicaragua but even with the challenges of the depression, prohibition, and phylloxera Buena Vista Winery not only survived but prospered. Now a part of the Boisset Family Estates the vision and legacy created by The Count 150 years ago lives on through the family’s passion.

unnamed-1Coming from their Carneros vineyard the 2009 Pinot Noir has intense fruity flavours yet a graceful elegance.  It had a pale ruby colour and tasted of ripe berries.   I usually go for the under $20 wines unless it’s a special occasion so at $24.95 I went a bit over but considering the pizza cost about $7 it all evened out.  This wine would also be amazing with roast chicken or turkey, a nice pork loin or salmon but let’s be honest it went down pretty darn good with a good old fashion slice of pizza.