A Super Tuscan Virgin

The words Super Tuscan evoke a certain reverence among wine lovers.  I first heard the term as a young news writer in Montreal. Apparently the Hells Angels were big fans. They fought the spiraling unemployment rate by hiring people to wait in line outside the SAQ when Super Tuscans went on sale for astronomical prices. I knew nothing about these warriors of wine with names like Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia. I was a 24-year old  beer drinker.

A lovely view of the Chianti region

Turn the clock forward 15, ok, more like 25 years, and at this point I have been to Tuscany. I visited a small winery located on the property and run by a God-like handyman named Arc-Angelo ( not kidding) and a raven-haired beauty named Allesandra who gave us a barrel tasting and explained what a Super Tuscan is all about.These wines produced by some of the greatest winemakers in Italy actually carried the same designation as simple  Table wine because they did not meet the specifications of Italy’s DOC and DOCG system. Enter Giovanni Goria, who in 1992 created a a new category – IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, which denoted a designer wine of sorts – a winemaker’s creation that did not follow a set formula. It was more  about a passion and drive for excellence and individuality.

And the thing about a passion – it opens up a world of experiences with other people who share it.  Tina and I were taking a wine course a while back and one day I was studying out loud, reciting the multitude of wine producing regions of Spain.  My dear Chilean friend Adriana, who happens to be an awesome massage therapist, helped me through my pronunciation. The next day she called me and said one of her friends/clients was opening a bottle of Vega-Sicilia and because we were taking this course, would we like to come sample?  I said where and what time.

1996 SASSICAIA

I will spare the details of an incredible house tour, including the “Hunter S. Thompson for Mayor ” poster in an upstairs bathroom and more books that I could ever read in a lifetime. But it was the first time I visited a wine cellar that made my heart flutter. What I saw first in that room of beauty were case upon case with the names of the Holy  Trinity: Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Tignanello. And  then there were the cases of California’s Opus One – the marriage of the Old and New World brilliance  of Robert Mondavi and Baron de Rothschild. I thought this must be what heaven will look like if I am really really good.Witnessing  our excitement (it may have been our wide eyes or the way we lovingly stroked the bottles ) our most gracious host asked if we would rather opt for an Italian than the Vega-Sicilia. I couldn’t help it. I was too close.  And I was a Super Tuscan virgin.

Tina and the Super Tuscans

The  four of us started with a bottle of Tignanello and I have to say, it was everything I dreamed it would be. When we toured the house, I took my glass with me. It was like the  Christmas when you got that present you wanted more than anything and refused to put it down for a second.  But this time, the presents kept getting better. We tasted  Sassicaia and Guado Al Tasso. We changed continents, moving to Chile’s finest Almaviva.

Then came Opus One.

The evening  was a life-changing experience. No offence to anyone,  but it was much more impressive than my other first time when I secretly wondered what all the fuss was about. As early as I was in my wine education, I  understood clearly  what all the fuss was about. I understood the meaning  of perfect balance, perfect complexity and what  separated great  from spectacular. And I understood that all the days going forward on this wine journey would be defined by the days before The Super Tuscans and the days after.

Going For Gold

As athletes continue to go for gold the nation watches in anticipation.  As of today, the Canadian medal count stands at 5, four bronze and a silver won over five competition days. Not wanting to get too excited and jinx anything but that’s pretty darn good considering Canada didn’t even win their first medal in Beijing until day 8.   With many events and hopefuls yet to cheer on, watching the games could offer a challenge to viewers during the sunny summer weeks.  With winter Olympics, nobody seems to mind spending lots of time in front of the TV but since summer is short in many parts of the country Canadians are known to spend as much of it outdoors as they can.

Watching the Olympics on the back deck

So how do you get the best of both?  Well, friends of ours had a great idea…they decided to hook up their tv outside on the back deck.  This offered us the ability to watch the games, cheer on the athletes but still enjoy the sunshine while sipping a cool glass of Chardonnay. We even managed to take a dip in the pool and practice our synchronized swimming technique…getting into the floaty without spilling a drop of the delicious wine.

Just A Few Award Winning Wines

 

 

But did you know winning a medal isn’t just for athletes.   Canadian wines have been winning medals both at home and in international competitions and at the last International Wine and Spirits Competition Jackson-Triggs won 24 awards including four GOLD.   They are certainly not alone in raising the profile of Canadian wines amoung an international crowd as wineries from across the country have been recognized for their excellence.  So if you’re planning to cheer on our athletes in hopes they win gold, try raising a glass of Canadian wine which deserves its spot on the podium and in the glasses of Canadian consumers.

Ode To Maine

Maine Friends

Holding your  friends close can be tough to do in these busy times. Not enough time for visits, calls or catch-ups.

For the past 22 years, I’ve been so lucky to be able to spend this calendar week  with a stellar and eclectic group of people in the state of Maine. And during the week I would hold  them very very close because that week  (which eventually became two) would last me the whole year.

We refer to each other as  the Maine friends, not because the friendship exists only on our sandy beach, (and  none us of actually comes  from there), but because the Maine friends believe there is no better place to spend this  week each year.

Yes, the water turns your lips blue, the traffic on transit day means the drive from Montreal could take you 5 or 10 hours and the weekly fee for the cottage keeps creeping up  steadily.  There were years of the 60 cent dollar that left you wondering if there was a point where it didn’t make sense (or cents) anymore.  After all, PEI is beautiful.

When we moved to Toronto eight years ago, the driving time doubled, but who cares?  This was OUR week, on OUR beach so OUR kids could grow up with blue lips, powerful waves and a beach that stretched for miles.

I always loved the fact the kids would pick up where they left off. The blue-lipped gang would explore the rocks, spend hours body surfing and run at the sound of the ice cream truck. Of course there were also the dramas. We even used to bet how long before the first kiddie meltdown.  But the dramas never lasted long. It was Maine.  And Maine never lasted long enough.

Two years ago, my girls, now in their twenties,  carted down a load of books, a bottle of sunscreen and  counted their blessings because they love it every bit as much as they did when they played in the tidal pools.

Friends for Life

Other beach  regulars would call us The Canadians. They watched our kids grow. That’s what the woman from Connecticut told me every year when we exchanged  reading suggestions. She also loved watching the  compound grow. There were always the drop-ins, those invited guests who easily slipped into the relaxed pace of the week. It took at least three summers before they could  be called regulars proving they were more entranced by our beach Big Chill  than scared off by the big chill of the water. Then they had to take the Pledge not to reveal more about the location other than it was near Old Orchard.

This is  the first time in 22 years my husband and I can’t be there. No illness or depressing reason other than being kept home by a work thing that couldn’t be changed (try explaining to the IOC that you would really appreciate it if they held the Olympics a couple of weeks later). I am handling it like an adult. It’s been put in perspective, and my often Pollyanna-like optimism reminds me that “I’ve been so lucky to have been able to go for 22 years and we will definitely be back next year”.

Time flies and I’m sure by Monday, I’ll stop thinking about what I would be doing this very minute on my beach   – whether I would be helping to take  orders for Goldthwaites for “arrival night”  dinner on the beach or arguing what Billy Jo Macallister really threw off the Talahatchee bridge. I would have mused at least a dozen times that it doesn’t get better than this.

I would have  already unpacked my 24 interesting bottles of wines picked up in tax-free New Hampshire and my dozen books for beach reading plus the selections I’d have picked for others because after 22 years you get to know the reading preferences. I would have made the bed with my sheets ridiculously-ironed and spritzed so when I crawl into them and look out window at the ocean and hear the sound of the waves, I would sigh. Because this is my happy place. It’s the place where I am most true to myself. It’s the place where my children will take their children, and it’s the place where I can hold my dearest Maine friends oh so very close.

Celebrating Canadian Style

Dinner Under The Stars

Long weekends are all about food, family & friends and of course great wine… and I think this time around we covered off all the bases. We started off with a beautiful dinner under the stars and since there was still some hope Italy could win the Euro cup we drank plenty of red Italian wines. My partner in crime in this blogging venture is always on the lookout for great wines under $20 and never ceases to amaze me with her finds.  She kindly hosted the dinner in her charming backyard and with so much delicious food the fellow (my husband) in the picture was so full he practically went into a food coma. Her find of the week was a bottle of Spadina Una Viola Syrah from Sicily that was pretty darn good and for only $14.95 it’s definitely worth checking out. Of course it seems when we get together there’s always more than one bottle involved and by the end of the evening we were singing and dancing the night away.  Sunday was of course Canada Day and it promised to be an all Canadian Day…starting with blueberry pancakes make with local berries and real maple syrup to a great bbq dinner that included a lovely bottle of Ontario Chardonnay from Vineland Estates. It was a 2009 Chardonnay I received from winemaker Brian Schmidt with a creamy mouth feel yet lovely and light and a perfect match for the bbq’d chicken, corn and roasted sweet potatoes.  It was such a beautiful weekend to be outdoors enjoying the amazing weather and I really hope our neighbours to the south have as great a day as they celebrate Independence Day.

Celebrating Canada Day

During the summer I do tend to drink more white than red wine because I love the cool crisp taste on a hot sunny day.  I’ve been enjoying more Canadian wines especially from the Niagara region and can’t wait to head back down there for a few vineyard tours.  There’s a great Chardonnay celebration going on down in Niagara from July 20-22 which we’ll attend because since we’re definitely not experts we try to take every opportunity to learn more about wine.  There’s a link to the celebration on the right of the blog so check it out and come on down for some tastings.