Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Tops Amarone in U.S. Wine Competition

Judgement at Fortunes Rocks

Each year, a select group of committed wine drinkers gathers on the eastern Maine coast to swirl, sniff, slurp and savour at the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks. 

Ready, Set, Drink

The table is set. The teams are picked. The rules are simple. Each of us brings a bottle from a different country or region. This year offerings came from Italy, France, Portugal, California, and of course Canada.

The blind-tasting has evolved over the years. We  started off with wildly different wines, to give us a fighting chance.  We had the year when we got cocky and  featured all Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in price from $10 – $50 to find out if price really does matter. It did, sort of. We all identified the least expensive wine, but our favourite was the $30 special – which all of us needed to “sample” again… just to be sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is probably the one time of the week we all take seriously – well semi- seriously, during a beach week of fine wine, fine music and fine food.  The Judgement at Fortunes Rocks  is like taking the big exam after practicing a whole lot. There is even a trophy.

But this year, the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 will be remembered as the year of Canada -Take that Mr. Trump.

 

 

 

Most of the teams nailed the Pinot Noir, a confidence builder because of its lighter colour.

Two teams identified wine #2  from Medoc. Bottle #3 – EVERY SINGLE TEAM – deemed it an obvious Amarone. This group should know – they have sampled many many bottles  together – and even toured and tasted at the Zenato winery north of Verona last year. 

And every single team got it wrong.

The best wine of the bunch was the Cabernet Franc from Vineland Estates. 

 

Vineland Estates Scores Big

Now wine snobs can sneer and call us a bunch of amateurs – we are. But the fact that all of us committed wine drinkers selected the Vineland Grand Reserve over Amarone under any circumstance is worth noting.

OK, this may not be quite on the level of the 1976 Judgement of Paris when a panel of the creme de la creme of French wine judges awarded two California wines – a  red and a white – top spots in a blind-tasting. The competition sent shock waves through the wine industry, opened the door to globalization,  and even inspired the film “Bottleshock”.   

VQA wines have come into their own.  It’s never been a better time to buy local. Our wines have lost the asterisk, that old descriptor of “that’s really good for a Canadian wine.”

Wine makers in the Niagara region are making outstanding wines worth savouring. Period.

And for the winner and the losers of the Judgement at Fortunes Rocks 4.0 …. we’ll just keep practicing.

Cheers!

Montemercurio: On the Wings of Fine Wine

On the Wings of Paradise
On the Wings of Paradise

I am under the Tuscan Sun, the place  where magic happens, where grapes become wine, history becomes a playground, and life truly feels like this was how it was meant to be lived.

the square
The Grand Piazza of Montepulciano

Montemercurio Winery combines legend and science to create memorable wines.
It is said the grand piazza of Montepulciano was once the site of a temple honouring Mercury, the winged-God of Roman mythology. Mercury was the God of communication, commerce, eloquence (poetry) and travellers (how forward-thinking those Romans were).

Honour Thy Grandfather
Honour Thy Grandfather

 

 

In 2007, when Marco Anselmi decided to create his own brand of wine in the shadow of the hill town of Montepulciano or Mons Mercurio as it was once called, he honoured the legend and he honoured his grandfather Damo who taught him everything about wine.

 

First Place
Poetry in a Bottle

 

Last year at an informal blind tasting of producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at the E Lucevan Le Stelle – a wine bar par excellence in the pretty hill town , Montemercurio came first. It sparked brisk sales, and my interest in getting to know their wines better. Much better.

 

Wine Tasting with Irene
Wine Tasting with Irene

 

Sommelier Irene Lesti was our guide. She drove us to the stunning fields just below Montepulciano, most planted with Sangiovese –  the Tuscan hero grape,  a little Merlot, Canaiolo, Colorino, and Barbera for blending –  along with Malvasia Bianca, Canaiolo Bianco, Trebbiano and Pulcinculo used to produce a kick ass white.

Owner and winemaker Marco Anselmi is a firm believer in traditional methods.  He respects the old ways – from the size of the oak barrels to the regional grapes.

Cementing the Future
Cementing the Future

 

His latest experiment, aging wine in a gigantic cement block as the Romans did 2000 years ago. It’s an idea that’s caught on in the last few years with Crush Pad in the Okanagan and a number of California wineries, including Conundrum and Cliff Lede, doing the same.

 

The Full Montemercurio
The Full Montemercurio

Back at the Cantina, Irene let us sample the entire production line, starting with Caduceo IGT 2012, a white even my husband Steve, a seriously dedicated red wine drinker, appreciated. It was full of all the flavour Pinot Grigio often lacks.

Irene took us on a journey through the Tedicciolo, an IGT Toscana Rosso which softens the 80% Sangiovese with 20% Merlot. “Sangiovese can be a very aggressive grape,” said Irene. “Merlot gives it a little fruit.” Steve, my official tasting companion, loved it….until he tasted the Petaso – a Rosso di Montepulciano that went down so nicely, we had to take one home. With a flavour that is equal parts intense and elegant, this is a great value wine. Snap it up if it comes to the LCBO or SAQ!

Of Gods and Great Wine
Of Gods and Great Wine

Messaggero Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 was my favourite. It was big, bold and beautiful – a delicious blend of 95%Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo. The reason this vintage was special – Marco did not think the selection grapes met the standard for their premium wine, DAMO, so all the grapes meant for DAMO went into the 2008 Messaggero. Essentially a Riserva without the price tag. This was only the second harvest for the winery. The good news is Messagero is coming to the LCBO – so keep an eye out for it.

Finally, DAMO, Montemercurio’s premium wine is a blend of the best grapes of the vineyard. 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino and Barbera. Named after Damo, Marco’s grandfather and inspiration. Irene let us try the 2007 – the first vintage and the 2008, a complex blend that opens with age.

Montemercurio produces 30,000 bottles a year, 80% is exported. Thankfully that means you don’t HAVE to return to Tuscany to try it, HOWEVER  this is where the magic happens so I highly recommend it!

Saluté

Two Glasses Half Full
Two Glasses Half Full

 

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.

Weekend Wine Picks from Canada, California and an Italian Best Buy

august 19-2014 200

 

One of the many things I love about a long weekend…there is one more day to drink wine. I have a rule (with the odd exceptions) not to drink Monday-Thursday except on a holiday weekend. Sitting in the backyard sampling wines and listening to good music is one of life’s great pleasures

 

 

California ruled my Friday night visit.

aug31wine 014Diamond Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Napa Valley is the LCBO’s wine of the month. For good reason. Winemakers described 2012 as ideal and excellent conditions and this full-bodied cab – perfect for the barbecue –  delivers. $23.95

aug31wine 013

 

 

 

My next Californian – Jekel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Arroyo Secco, Monterey County.  My husband and I loved this wine –  we love big wines and this was full-bodied, fruit forward without oak trying to steal the show.  Good value at $19.95

 

aug31wine 017

Raise a Glass to BC and Niagara.

The second visit left me  tipping my hat to VQA wines from BC and ON. The Sperling Pinot Noir 2012  from the Okanagan Valley was a show stopper.  It was delicious this afternoon  and will only improve with age. $27.95

 

 

aug31wine 015

 

 

Creekside Estate Winery Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – fresh and inviting on this warm weekend. At $17.95, great value.

 

 

 

 

aug31wine 021Best Value Wine: My wine find for the weekend was a modest unassuming wine tucked away on the bottom shelf of the tasting room. Tormaresca Neprica 2012  from Puglia over delivered.  A blend of Negroamaro, Primativo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes – clearly not for the faint of palate. What can I say? At $14.95 in Vintages, I bought five. Ok –  true confession – the next day I bought a case.

 Enjoy your weekend. It may not be a long one, but hopefully this will save you time at the LCBO giving you more time to savour.

Cheers

 

 

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.

The Wines of Sicily: Le Vigne Biondi

april 2014 381Some of the best surprises come from a little random research. Looking for a winery recommendation,  I searched #Sicilanwine, using my new favourite travel tool Twitter. Stephanie and Ciro Biondi of Le Vigne Biondi tweeted me back instantly inviting me to drop by.  It turned out to be one of the best tasting experiences I have ever had.

april 2014 380
Ciro Biondi met us in the tiny town of Trecastagni.  We followed him to his first vineyard, Chianta
( meaning “to plant”) which was a feast for the eyes.    The vines grow in perfect symmetry up the steep hills surrounded by the spent craters of Mt. Etna..
These vines have been in his family for generations.
april 2014 385As a boy, Ciro played here with his sisters. His grandfather tended the grapes. So did his father until he decided that life was not for him.  Ciro also chose a different path, studying architecture in Florence. But he could not stay away. In 1999, Ciro and wife Stephanie brought the vines back to life.  His father’s reaction, “Your education cost me a fortune. Don’t screw it up.”.
 While talking about the importance of respecting nature, Ciro  leans into a  flowering fennel, sniffs the fronds and picks just enough to make that evening’s dinner. He believes you must allow the earth  to express itself in the wine without manipulation. 
april 2014 388“You don’t own the land, you lease it,” says Ciro.
Located on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, the earth is black from volcanic soil. The quality of the specific terroir has been recognized with the appellation ETNA D.O.C. , responsible for creating rich reds and elegant whites.
Our tasting took place in a modest building in the heart of his Cisterna Fuori  vineyard nearby. A retro fridge last seen on “Leave It to Beaver”, a simple table and four complex wines.
Over a discussion of Sicily, its history, its strengths and its troubles, photos of his children, and his father’s pride when he first tasted Ciro and Stephanie’s wine.  We sampled two whites and two reds, all blends of Sicily’s traditional grapes.

.P1000966
There is a humbleness when talking about the success of their wines. When I asked him whether he has a winemaker – he says why pay someone to make mistakes when he can make them himself. He doesn’t seem to be making that many.
Biondi is one of the wineries featured in “Palmento: a Sicilan Wine Odessey” by Wine Spectator contributor Robert Camuto. The two became friends, and when he asked to bring a group to the winery including the American wine importer, producer and influencer Kermit Lynch, Ciro naturally agreed.   The group arrived, They tasted. They discussed techniques, terroir, exchanged philosophies. Some time into the afternoon, Ciro learned the group included Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanee-Conti – only the most prized and expensive burgundy in the world. romanee contiBoth share the highest regard for terroir. When de Villaine extended a invitation to visit Burgundy, Ciro and Stephanie jumped at the chance. “I was afraid to ask questions after one of the people in the group asked the head winemaker at Romanee-Conti about the PH level of their grapes. ” The winemaker snapped back  “Do you ask a beautiful woman what her cholesterol level is?”
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The Wines We Sampled:
Outis Etna Bianco
Outis Etna Bianco

Outis (Nessuno) Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2013 – straw-coloured, vibrant and delicious. 

 
Chianta Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2012 the blend of Carricante, Cataratte, Minello grapes looks like spun gold, with a flavour that is rich but not overly oaked.
And then there were the reds – oh, I wanted to take a case of each of these reds home.  
They are the pride of Etna:

 

Cisterne Fuori Etna  D.O.C. Rosso 2011: a blend of Nerello Mascalese and  Nerello Cappuccio grapes.  This is why Homer braved the wrath of Cyclops to travel to this part of the world. 
 
San Nicolo' Etna D.O.C. Rosso
San Nicolo’ Etna D.O.C. Rosso 2012 
St Nicolo Etna D.O.C.Rosso 2012 – the single vineyard blend was simply spectacular. We bought four bottles to take home to Canada. They didn’t make it that far.
Sadly the wines of Le Vigne Biondi  are not available at the LCBO or SAQ, but they are available at Terroni’s, the chain of Italian restaurants in Toronto. SO, I will just have to go back, to Terroni’s or better yet, Mt. Etna.