Wines To Love in January

SO many wines, so little time.

Over the holidays I tried so many terrific wines, I missed a few blogs because I was too busy drinking. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Some were spectacular splurges and others were fabulous finds that are budget-friendly. Since getting financially fit is the second most common resolution, this week is dedicated to bottles that won’t break the bank.

vouvrayBougrier Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2012  AOC, Loire, France $13.95 I sampled this wine walking into an LCBO looking for a red or three and I couldn’t pass  up this white charmer.  This wine is a tad sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  Pale gold and fruity with aromas of peach, pear and mango. I really enjoyed this wine, especially at that price. 12% alcohol ,Food Match: Pesto, Rich Seafood  with a little Taylor Swift or Sophie Milman playing in the background.

 

A Stressed Spanish Sensation
A Stressed Spanish Sensation

Buried Hope, Tempranillo 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain  $19.95 This  wine was a perfect match from the first sip. It’s  rich and full-bodied – fruity with cherry, plums and a touch of spice. It is nicely balanced and will only improve with time. I loved this wine and will be clearing some space for a few extra bottles. 14% alcohol . Food match: Roast Pork, Steak aux Poivre served with some Dave Matthews or Mumford and Sons.

Deep and Delicious
Deep and Delicious

Buried Hope, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 North Coast, California, $19.95 Grown in the massive area which encompasses the North Coast, this California Cabernet is earthy and smooth. Makes you wish you were sipping a glass in a cottage overlooking the Pacific. Cherry and vanilla notes, nicely balanced. 14.2% alcohol. Food match: meat, meat and more meat – and Foreigner blasting “I’ve Been Waiting”.

A Bargain from South Africa
A Bargain from South Africa

The Pavillion, Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, South Africa, $12.00 I knew nothing about this wine. It came by way of a party. It looked great in the glass – purpley-red with the kind of full-bodied swirl that I am a fan of. Produced by Boschendal Estates, this blend has lovely blackberry and spicy and a pleasure to drink with friends. What surprised me most was the price.  Alcohol 14%  Food match: Roast Beef or a Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and the Rolling Stones with plenty of Satisfaction.

I hope you enjoy these tasty bargains. If you have a favourite value wine, let us know. Coming soon, the wines of B.C’s Osoyoos , wines worth splurging on, and the wines of Sicily.

Wishing you a 2014 filled with memorable occasions and memorable wine!   .

Cheers!

A Wine Bar of Dreams

 

Words of Wisdom
Words of Wisdom

 

New York City is one of my favourite cities to visit in the world. Sure there are the museums, the music, the theatre, the shopping…but it’s also the surprises.

My friends Bev, Tina and I were wandering down West 52nd street  musing about what makes the ideal wine bar – the atmosphere, the selection, and the nibbles…and the Wine gods of New York magically steered us to Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe.

 

Wine Cafe of Dreams
Wine Cafe of Dreams

The charming little establishment in Hell’s Kitchen looked so inviting even when it was closed, we came back two hours later and fell head over heels.

The wine list has so many interesting selections by the glass. From a sparkling Shiraz from McLaren Vale to a Pinot Grigio from Virginia, but I opted for the MatchBook 2008 Tinto Rey,  a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and  Graciano from Dunnigan Hills, California. It was spicy with notes of black cherry and currants – fruity and easy to quaff.  Tinto Rey means Red King and it reigns on this wine menu. Proprietor  Brian Keyser who picks the wine, says it is the most popular red accounting for 7% of its sales. I could have sampled everything on the list.

But Casellula is also the dream destination for cheese lovers. Keyser says his goal is to share his  love of cheese with as many people as possible. And its cheese menu tempts even the lactose intolerant. We sampled a flight of cheese, including a Robiola from Italy that I still dream about.cheese and wine

The cafe is small. It seats only about 50-60 people. We sat at the bar which gave us a first hand look at the mastery of preparing the other dishes on the menu such as a killer mac and cheese, a pig’s ass sandwich and stuffed peppers.

casallula intKeyser says  70% of the people who line up to get into the cafe are women. Half come from the neighbourhood, the rest  come  from other parts of the city or out of town. And later in the evening, when the restaurants have served their last plates, the local sommeliers come in to sample  what’s new on the menu

 

Sadly our  love affair with Casellula was fleeting. We only had an hour at this cheese and wine paradise. There were moments when we actually considered skipping the Broadway show that we had ordered tickets for weeks earlier. One more glass and I would have rationalized it.  But like any great first date, it leaves you wanting more and I plan to spend a lot more quality time there next visit. Check it out if you have a chance.

Cheers!

If you have a favourite wine bar in any city, please share!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Inspired; it’s easy

BTfZpvnCMAEIRFi.jpg-thumbI met a very interesting man the other day, Joel Osteen the pastor of America’s biggest church, a best-selling author whose books spend umpteen weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list and one of the most influential people on social media. I’m neither here nor there when it comes to religion and I’m basically a W/F (Weddings & Funerals) kind of person, so I was highly intrigued as to what draws people to him and why there are so many people looking for inspiration in their lives?

1150772_10151548998151331_772431878_nWe all have hardships growing up, some more than others and I definitely had my fair share, but as things go my life has turned out pretty well. I have a great husband, healthy, smart children who now have amazing lives of their own, friends I love to spend time with and a job I actually enjoy (most of the time). Was it fate, luck, hard work or divine intervention…or maybe a little of everything combined? I can’t really answer that, but it got me to thinking about what inspires me to be happy.

0One can always use more money, vacation time and a thousand other things but as I sit here on this beautiful September afternoon in my garden sipping a cool glass of Sylvaner from Alsace I’m not sure I would be any happier on a yacht harboured by the French Riviera (ok, maybe if I was sitting next to George Clooney).  As I get older I find it’s the little things in life that make me happy, cooking something I’ve always wanted to try, and laughing when it doesn’t turn out.

0-1Uncorking a bottle of wine that turns out to be amazing, like this Remo Farina Montecorna Valpolicella Ripasso from San Pietro, $19.95 at the LCBO. Singing along to the music even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or finishing a great book I can’t wait to share with my friends.  I know it’s not always easy to find happiness in a world filled with bad news but take a minute to enjoy the small things in life and I bet it will make you smile.

0-2So kick back, skip the mall and enjoy the last beautiful days of warm weather with your friends, family or even by yourself.  Just for today, don’t count the calories, enjoy a good glass of wine just because you want to and worry about tomorrow when it comes.  Life is hard, but it’s the little things that make living worthwhile so enjoy it while you can.

And while Pastor Osteen might be making millions from his advice I’m happy to share mine for free because we all know money can’t buy you happiness (but darn, it I could probably buy me much better wine).

And while I feel it wouldn’t be right to solicit your donations feel free to send wine as we are always happy to sample something new and give you our opinion.

 

 

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!

.

The Maine Event; When life’s a beautiful beach

There are times in many of our lives where the pure joy and bliss you feel is hard to describe. Generally they come from time spent with the ones we love, witnessing a wedding or cradling a new-born baby.  And while those are extremely special moments mine came during a recent trip to a beach house in Maine.

stairsGrowing up I was never one of those girls who spent endless hours giggling on the phone with friends and I seemed to understand the ways of boys better than teenage girls.  But as I get older I greatly cherish the relationships I’ve built with a particular group of women introduced to me by my blog writing partner, Lis. Her extremely giving nature draws people in and over the years she’s generously shared her closest friends with me.  And oh what lovely friends they are…smart, funny, accomplished, beautiful and generous of spirit.

beachFor thirty years Lis and her family have rented a beach house in Maine each summer for a couple of weeks enjoying the sun, sand and warm ocean breeze…ok, occasionally the breeze isn’t so warm since we are talking about the Atlantic.  This year she arranged the house for an extra week themed around wine, women and song and invited 5 friends including myself.

cartThe six of us drove down in a caravan of two cars and the laughter of the road set the tone for the week along with our first shopping trip to the liquor store.  I know it looks like a lot but we thought it would last, ha who were we kidding. There were equal amounts of white and red from around the world and if you’re looking closely even a bottle gin in the corner of the cart to start off cocktail hour.

all on the beachMornings were meant for long walks on the beach (exercise was necessary after all the food and wine) but no pressure if you just wanted to laze around the house and have a second cup of coffee. Days were for sitting in the sun, reading beach books, swimming in the ocean and sipping wine.

lynnOur nights were filled with delicious dinners, more wine and singing along to Lis’ amazing playlist. Some days we even sat on the beach long after everyone else had left just chatting as the sun went down. And as the tide went out again in the late evening we sometimes snuck back down to the beach whispering and laughing as we walked in the dark along the water’s edge.

puzzleIt was all so uncomplicated and easy as if we’d been friends for life.  Everyone chipped in with the cooking and cleaning and there was even a big jigsaw puzzle on the table that everyone just seemed to pick away at in hopes of finding that one elusive piece nobody could find. I’m extremely competitive so it almost killed me to leave before the puzzle was finished.

At the end of the week I was the first to leave and I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and believe when I say I’m not the mushy type. But at a certain age when you start to feel like the world doesn’t see you anymore these women made me feel amazing not only about myself but the possibilities of what life still has to offer.

book&wineSitting there with my toes in the sand, the sound of the waves washing against the shore I realized life couldn’t be more perfect.  So for all the times life lets you down remember there will be other times when life’s a beautiful beach.  We’ve only been apart for a short time but I’m missing my marvelous friends and hope this is the beginning of an amazing new tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

Pinot and Pasta; The Perfect Pair

0My husband loves pasta.  Pretty much any pasta but one of his favourite dishes is Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Spaghetti with Eggs and Bacon) and it’s super simple to make.  Not only is it delicious, it takes hardly any time and as he does most of the cooking during the week I’m happy to oblige when he requests this dish.

Since every great pasta dish deserves a good Italian wine this is no exception and you even add a bit of the wine to the recipe. Before I started cooking I popped downstairs to see what was in the wine rack (I dream of a cellar but I’m not there yet) because I generally have more red than white on hand.  0-4

There was a bottle of Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio there and I figured it would be perfect for this dish.  Generally recommended to go with a salad plate or soft cheeses I knew this cool crisp wine would beautifully offset the creaminess of the pasta dish.  It’s available in ON at the LCBO for $14.95 but it’s also available in QC, BC, AB and MB but the cost varies.  You can also order it through RKW Wine Imports by the case if you’re interested.

While recipes vary there are a few key ingredients you’ll need for the dish; cheese (Romano, parmesan, or a combination), egg yolks (or whole eggs), some sort of cured, fatty pork (bacon or pancetta) and black pepper.  Here’s my recipe:

2 tbsp Extra Virgin Oil, 2 tbsp butter, 8 strips bacon cut into 1/4 inch strips, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese, 1 large clove garlic, freshly ground black pepper (lots and lots) and 1 lb. spaghetti

0-2Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil and generously salt it.  Then take a large bowl and whisk the 3 yolks and whole egg together.  Get a large pasta bowl and whisk the 3 yolks and whole egg together, grate in the cheese and add some freshly ground pepper. I usually like to have this done so you can add the cooked bacon to this mixture (of course you’ll want to sip on some wine while your working).

0-3Put the butter in the pan, and on medium heat saute the bacon until well browned but not crisp.  Turn down the heat and add the minced garlic so it gently cooks not fries.  You’ll notice the only salt is in the pasta water because since most bacon is already well salted you don’t really need to add more salt.  Add the wine and continue cooking tip the liquid is slightly reduced.  Take the pan off the burner and let it cool so you don’t scramble the eggs when you pour it into the egg and cheese mixture.  Once your pasta is cooked al dente, drain well and immediately pour into the egg, cheese, bacon mixture – the heat from the pasta will cook the eggs but remember to toss continuously so the eggs don’t scrabble.  Serve with a generous amount of more freshly ground pepper.

Eat immediately but try not to eat the entire bowl (I will confess at our house there is rarely left overs).  Oh…and of course enjoy the bottle of cool crisp Pinot Grigio.