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.
Diamond 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
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
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
Creekside Estate Winery Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – fresh and inviting on this warm weekend. At $17.95, great value.
Best 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.
Ok, 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.
I 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.
One 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.
Even 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”.
Last 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.
Rome is to wine bars what Montreal is to hot dog joints and Toronto is to Tim Horton’s. Business people negotiate deals over a glass or two, students study will sipping, and friends get together and savour. Where in North America you head to Starbucks, Italians go to the wine bar.
First of all, you can get a decent glass of wine for the price of a Grande Caramel Latte. There is no awkwardness about going into a bar by yourself. And there is no pressure to hurry up and clear the table. How civilized.
I discovered a lovely wine bar next door to our apartment around the corner from Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most beautiful historical squares. A couple of priests sat in the back sipping on a beer. Five Polish women were laughing in the corner – enjoying the special day after coming here with one million other pilgrims for the Canonization of two popes by two living popes.
I sat back, by myself, and enjoyed the show. While it was sheer coincidence that I came to Rome the same day as the pilgrims, I was moved by what was going on outside – the songs, the masses, the celebration of groups from all over the world. They joined the Old Nonno (Italian for grandfather) with a new pair of shoes, the young men who emerged from the shadows with armfuls of ponchos and umbrellas at the slightest drop of rain. This is the Rome I love.
And I am sheltered from the rain inside this little wine bar that treated each customer as though they were royalty.
When I was not enthusiastic about the wine-by-the glass choices on the board, the bartender brought me new choices; a Cerasuola from Sicily and a Primitivo from Puglia. The bartender lamented that tourists come in asking for Chianti, Chianti, Chianti – or if they feel adventurous Amarone, Barolo. “These wines need food to be properly enjoyed,” he says. As he tells me and my friends about the wine we are drinking, he offers us a plate of bruschetta to sample some of the local specialties. No charge.
A five minute walk away in a neighbouring piazza, a different experience. Cul-de-Sac prides itself in having a great selection of wine. No kidding! There is a short one page menu for food and 3-inch binder with wine picks. Fourteen hundred choices to be exact, 55 by the glass.
From best of local to exclusive bottles such as this 2000 euros (3000 dollars CDN) Montrachet that I passed on. They have something for every palate.
They have an interesting menu with such offerings as pasta with hare ragu to lasagna and a killer Tiramisu (My husband Steve should know, he has ordered it in every restaurant in Italy.) Everything is homemade.
We were surrounded by business people who work in the area – it is always a solid endorsement when the majority at the tables are local. The beauty of it is you can sit and watch the world go by, or you can catch up with the world with their free WIFI – which is offered at most places now.
Slowly after a two weeks in this country, I am losing my automatic skepticism that everyone is out to cheat the tourist. Because despite my proud but broken Italian, and my Euro-sneakers, they can spot that I am a tourist in a millisecond. Offering that extra service is good business.
Because…I went back the next day – and now I am telling my friends.
Some 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.
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.
As 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.
“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.
.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. Both 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?”
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.
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.
The Amalfi coast defies gravity.
It is proof that what needs to be done, can be done.
Just sheer will. With 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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 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.
The 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.
While 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.
I 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.
There are the curiosities – such as Haiku by Castello di Amo which comes complete with…a haiku of course.
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.
In 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.
Daina, 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.