Category Archives: Italy

Wine Bars for the Bucket List

 

A Wall of Wonder
A Wall of Wonder

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.

Paradise in a Piazza
Paradise in a Piazza

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Hangout of Taste
The Hangout of Taste

Il Ritrovo del Gusto (The  Hangout of Taste) Via dei Coronari 30, Rome

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.

 

 

A Papal Procession
A Papal Procession

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.

steve's pics 312When 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.

Cul de Sac, Piazza Pasquino, 73, Roma

Cul-de-Sac
Cul-de-Sac

 

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.

 

A Montrachet outside My Budget
A Montrachet outside My Budget

 

 

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.

steve's pics 309

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

Tuscan Blind Tasting with Eyes Wide Open

Two Glasses Half Full
Two Glasses Half Full

When life takes a turn…

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.

Steve's First Glass  at E Lucevan Le Stelle
Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

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.

The Contenders
The Contenders

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.

Organizer Cinzia in Action
Organizer Cinzia in Action

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 of LambertoVittorio 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.

 

Il Conventino Ready for Sampling
Il Conventino
Ready for Sampling

 

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.

Tasting Blind
Tasting Blind

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  Took Top Marks
Valdipiatta
Took Top Marks

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
Montemercurio Messaggero

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.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Wines Worth the Splurge

two glasses

Do you ever hear a song that sends you spinning back on your timeline? Music, like the sense of smell, is a powerful memory tool.  I am finding the same thing about a great wine. I remember my first Super Tuscan, a Tignanello. I sipped it so slowly because I wanted it to last forever.

Some events are worth celebrating with a truly memorable bottle of wine. You know, the kind you write about in a journal, or try to scrape off the label or hold on to the cork. Here are a few fantastic splurges that will have you savouring every sip, but will  YUOU cost no more than a bottle from the lower end of  a restaurant wine list.

Big, Bold Brunello
Big, Bold Brunello

Pietranera 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy $37.95 LCBO

If you have a special occasion to celebrate, it’s hard to go wrong with a Brunello. This  was a gift and on a Friday night worthy of a fine wine, it was absolutely perfect. This wine is beautifully balanced with a long velvety finish. This one has earned  the top scores it received from  the cork dorks (which, for the record, I only checked AFTER I licked the top of the bottle to get every drop.)

 

The Pride of the Okanagan
The Pride of the Okanagan

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2009, Okanagan, B.C. $44.95 SAQ

This Bordeaux blend goes down just right. It is big and bold and become the pride of B.C. A classic blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, this wine is all about red and blackberries, spice with a hint of chocolate. You can open and savour right away, or leave it for another special occasion between now and 2021. Alcohol 13.8%

 

Lighting Up The Night
Lighting Up The Night

La Vite Lucente 2011, IGT, Tuscany, Italy $34.95 LCBO, $35.00 SAQ

This is full-bodied and elegant, a truly gorgeous wine – resplendent with aromas of blackberries, cherry and vanilla. It’s produced by Frescobaldi, a family that has been producing wine since 1308 – they actually  traded wine with Michelangelo. This is their so-called second wine to big brother Super Tuscan Luce della Vite, but every bit as worthy at this price.

So look for a special occasion, or maybe just the end of a long week.

Uncork, decant and enjoy!

 

Picking Wine: The Myth of a Right and Wrong Choice

Sampling some bubbly at Chateau des Charmes
Picking the Right Wine

A friend of mine came into my office after she received a quick lesson in wine pairings from Kevin Brauch,  The Thirsty Traveler (@drinkingrobot).  Marcia said the lesson left her  determined to learn more about wine so she won’t feel intimidated visiting the wine store. Two days later, I heard the same message from another two colleagues who talked about the stress of   picking the wrong wine.

There is no such thing as a  right and wrong wine. Just like there is no such thing as a right song or a wrong song. Be it Lou Reed (RIP) or ABBA,  it simply comes down to a matter of taste (my husband might disagree on the ABBA point). Coincidentally it came up again at a wine club event, which you might think would be full or cork dorks, but you would be wrong – they are just people who love wine.

October 2013 039
The Wine Lesson

Someone asked  what happens if you can’t smell the wine notes or aromas that have been identified.  Brian Schmidt (@benchwineguy), the winemaker at Vineland Estates,  expressed it beautifully. Essentially, as they say in Jersey, fuhgeddaboudit. Schmidt said the wine industry could not have done more to complicate the drinking of wine. “It’s like we made it sound like if you don’t taste certain flavours in a wine, you are not part of the club. Just enjoy it“, Schmidt said.

 

Then he promptly proceeded to prove his point by admitting, that  on a hot day, he enjoys sipping from a bottle of Mateus. Mateus??? Cue the gasp from the alleged cork dorks.

Remembering Mateus
Remembering Mateus

Remember Mateus? The stubby shaped flat bottle looks snazzier now than when I smuggled it into a party in the 70’s.   Apparently Mateus also continues to be one of the top selling wines in Canada.

Schmidt couldn’t have used a better example. Enjoy what you enjoy. whether it is Yellow Tail, Fuzion, or a Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild (though that one will cost you a mortgage payment). I attended a wine seminar a couple of years ago and everyone was raving about an Australian Chardonnay and I didn’t like it at all.  I assumed it was because I didn’t know enough about wine. And while I am sure it was very fine wine, it’s not very fine to me.

So there is no  reason to feel intimidated when walking through the LCBO, SAQ or any other liquor store.  It’s an adventure. And the more you try different grapes, countries, regions, the more you will start to recognize the type of wine you like.

So Many Glasses, So Little Time
So Many Glasses, So Little Time

And the same thing goes for wine critics – Peter Gago, the man responsible for the jaw-droppingly good Penfolds, says by sampling their picks, you find out if you have similar  tastes.

For example, I love Italian wines. There are regions that I pick from that I know will not disappoint. They may not all be award winners, but when I pick a wine from  Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, I am 90% sure I will be very happy with my pick. I feel the same way about a Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region of Australia. The quality and price can vary widely – but at whatever level – my risk is minimal because I like that style of wine.

So if you have enjoyed a few of my wine picks, here are a few more, including one that made my taste buds somersault for joy.

Luis Canas Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain $17.95

A Spectacular Spanish Wine
A Spectacular Spanish Wine

I randomly picked up this bottle. It  was the last on the shelf which is often a good sign (Sorry Mr. Leaside who, seconds later, asked a staffer where he could find Luis Canas.  I slinked away hugging mine tightly). I tried it that night and it was spectacular. Smooth, full-bodied, with raspberry and dark cherry notes.  I went to the LCBO web site to see where I could buy more and picked up the last 5 bottles at the Danforth Store. Incredible value for $17.95. If you see them, buy them (or let me know and I will.) Apparently they have the potential of aging well. As if.

 

Cheval Quancard Reserve Sauvignon-Semillion 2011, Bordeaux, France $14.95

A Great Value Bordeaux
A Great Value Bordeaux

This wine is my white find of the week. My daughters prefer white to red so I always have a few on hand. This one particular wine had me wishing they switched to red so I could finish it off. It is fruity and full of flavour, slightly creamy  with lovely aromas. I loved the wine and especially loved the price!

 

 

Ripa de Manderole, IGT, Tuscany, Italy $15.95

A Lovely Quaffer
A Lovely Quaffer

My third pick is a medium-bodied blend of Tuscany’s favourite Sangiovese grape blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the creation of John Matta, who has been voted Italian winemaker of the year four times since 1997. It is a friendly approachable wine that is a terrific with a simple pasta or pizza.

Enjoy your discoveries and share your favourites!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Ratings System

Top Scoring WinesThis week’s edition of Vintages is dedicated to 90+ wines. The ones that someone, who has made a living off wine, considered outstanding enough to grant the equivalent of an A.  Do you pay attention to wine ratings? Whether it is the nod of approval from  Wine Spectator, Natalie MacLean, or Jancis Robinson to name a few, the numbers certainly make a difference to  sales.

Then there is the influence of Uber-critic Robert Parker who started The Wine Advocate.  His seal of approval in the form of a 90+ rating,  can mean as much as $5 million dollars in additional world sales.

Parker of the Wine Advocate  bases his ratings on a   100-point scale graded like this:

  • 96-100 being extraordinary
  • 90-95 considered outstanding
  • 80-89 very good to above average
  • 70-79 average

And really, if you rate below 70 – you aren’t flaunting it. Many others followed Parker’s lead, including Wine Spectator and Canadian Natalie MacLean.  British wine writer Jancis Robinson opted for  a 20-point scale because she believes it is more precise..

Ratings MatterThe debate over whether ratings actually matter will never end. It’s been called pretentious manipulation aimed at getting people to pay more for wine.  But there is no question that they  have an influence.

With that much at stake, many wineries go to great lengths to get a good rating. The Parkerization of wine refers to wineries that tailor their techniques to Parker’s preferred style of wine. Then there are the legendary stories (or gross exaggerations – one involving two Chateau owners who allegedly (that’s my news lingo for unsubstantiated claims) offered up their daughters  in exchange for a better review. The best story involves the manager of a French winery who was so incensed with the less than glowing review, he invited Parker back to re-test the wine.  When Parker arrived he was attacked by the manager’s dog. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage.The manager handed over a copy of the newsletter featuring the bad review..

90 Rating under $20
90 Rating under $20

I have taken a few wine courses, which have only confirmed to me how much I do NOT know, and while I am starting to recognize a few favourite producers, and a few favourite regions, I admit, the ratings do make a difference to me when it is a wine I have not tried before. Though I am not so precious as to refuse a wine under 90 points.As I mentioned, there are some great affordable wines that score in the 80’s.

The ideal way to choose your wine is to try before you buy. The tasting rooms in some LCBOs and SAQs are the perfect places to do that. Samples cost anywhere between 50 cents – $2.00  – the only problem – there aren’t nearly enough tasting rooms.

The Salcheto Vineyard
The Salcheto Vineyard

They are much more common in  Italy.  Even better,  the tastings there  are often free. You can also go into a wine bar (like the most spectacular wine bar  in Montepulciano, Tuscany –  E Lucevan le Stella,  which means the stars were shining brightly) and often taste before you buy a bottle.  That’s why you never see a sticker crowing about an award, or a label on the shelf that boasts  the number of stars or ratings in Italy, unless it caters to tourists, of course.

Antinori Superstar
Antinori Superstar

Piero Antinori, the patriarch of a family that has been producing wines for 27 generations, said picking a good wine is a badge of honour for an Italian. They would never drink a wine strictly based on a rating. So I asked Lucia, the young woman who took us on a tour of Tenuta Valdipiatta how she picks her wines. Word of mouth, a friend’s recommendation, but most important, try before you buy. How civilized.

rockawayIt’s another of the many reasons to visit Niagara-On-The-Lake. While VQA wines may not always be my first stop at the LCBO, every single time I have visited the wineries, I have come home with a special find which has sent me out to find it again.   And I have often been pleasantly surprised by the sample – usually very affordable, offered in many LCBO’s and SAQ’s on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

The tasting principle works at Costco and it sure works in Italy. Is it good business? How often do you seen people leaving empty handed?.

Still, I am not at all embarrassed that I do pay attention to the ratings. It’s not the only way I  make my picks – you would be losing out on so many opportunities if you only bought based on  ratings. It is no guarantee of greatness, perhaps more of an indication of quality or simply an idea that plants the perception of greatness on your taste buds. Maybe one day I won’t feel the need to pay attention to the ratings at all. But for now, a little advice and a little knowledge does go  a long way.

Salute!