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!

Green Wine & Onion Pie; A Delicious Harvest Tradition

0-1Considering the time of you year you’d think the harvest would long be over in the Niagara region but apparently not.  I know growers leave grapes to freeze for making ice wine but figured everything else would already have been picked, put through the crushers and furiously fermenting.

0Last weekend Lis and I were invited to Vineland Estates to take part in the wine club members event called “Bring Your Boots”.  And believe me when I say that when we woke up Saturday morning I knew we weren’t going anywhere without ours. Not knowing if the event would be cancelled we decided to chance it and headed to Niagara.

0-4There was already about a dozen or more cars in the parking lot and everyone looked ready to tackle the elements in order to pick the Riesling grapes from the club’s vineyard.  But here’s the thing –  it’s not that you can’t pick grapes in the pouring rain you just can’t harvest them because the water clinging to the grapes would dilute the wine when the grapes get crushed.

So what do you do with 50 or so captive wine lovers? Let them drink wine of course! Brian Schmidt the wine maker at Vineland brought everyone into the beautiful carriage house on the estate and regaled us with funny stories, interesting information about the wine making process and led a tasting that even included something called green wine.  I’m far from an expert but as far as I know there’s red, white and rosé so what in the heck is green wine?

0-3It’s not really a varietal or a colour but the word “green” translates into “young” as opposed to a mature wine.  Brian told us drinking the wine like this was a German tradition that came out of harvest time and was often served with a zwiebelkuchen (onion pie or tart). He said they’re served together because  combined they create a flavour explosion in your mouth, and he wasn’t kidding.  We were told to have a sip of the wine, a small bite of our tart and another sip of the wine, which really just made you want more.

0-2The wine itself didn’t look all that appealing since it was sort of cloudy but that’s because it was still going through the fermentation process and all the sediment had not settled as of yet.  Had anyone else served me this wine I would have thought they were kidding but as part of Brian’s tasting lecture that day it was delicious and added another check mark to something I’d never tried before.

So if you think it’s too late in the year to head down to Niagara it’s definitely not…check out the tasting rooms, restaurants and in the case of Vineland there’s even an amazing cheese shop on the property.  Go local and enjoy the flavours offered up not far from your front door.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Wine Picks and Award-winning Wines

mission hill winery Mission Hill Family Estate Winery  in  BC’s Okanagan Valley received  top honours this week. Wine Align, the online wine rating service awarded it  Winery of the Year, snatching it from Ontario’s Tawse, which  has won for the past three years.

The award of distinction is based on five of its wines that received gold and platinum medals at this year’s National Wine Awards.  They are:

Mission Hill Riesling Reserve 2011 – Platinum 100% Riesling – This was the first wine in the flight of award winners. This wine would turn me into a regular Riesling drinker. The nose sent me to a peach and honey heaven.  It was perfectly balanced, with a deliciously long finish.

Mission Hill  Chardonnay Reserve 2011  100% Chardonnay . Citrus meets a hint of coconut. Aged in oak for eight months, it is very subtle.

Mission Hill Perpetua Osooyos Vinyard Estate 2010 Chardonnay    100% Chardonnay This is part of the winery’s  Legacy series of Premium wines.

Mission Hill   Compendium  2009 – Platinum – This is a Bordeaux-inspired blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Also part of the Legacy Series, it is wine-making at its finest. Complex, full-bodied and elegant.

Mission Hill  Riesling Icewine 2011 – Admission – I know it is very unpatriotic to say I am not a fan of icewine because we produce some of the best in the world……but there are no absolutes. This was simply outstanding. Exceptionally balanced so the sweetness was perfect and not overwhelming, which is why they are often not my favourites. If you get the chance, try this one.

Sadly not all of these wines are available across the country unless by special order. Why we can’t order our own wines directly from the winery as they do in the US continues to be a mystery.  But here are a few wine picks that are available for your sampling this weekend.

cave springCave Spring 2011 Riesling Estate VQA Beamsville Bench ($17.95) There  was a cornucopia of Ontario releases at the LCBO this week. I am on a mission to get reacquainted with Riesling especially because there are such fine examples from BC and ON. If you like citrus with a touch of honey and pear – you will like this wine. It is fresh and appealing. Perfect with Sushi.

 

riojaDomeco de Jarauta Lar de Sotomayor Vendemia Rioja 2010 ($17.95) Spanish wines are often overlooked in the showy presence of their neighbouring spotlight hoggers in Italy and France. This Rioja has some punch to it. It is full-bodied with notes of black and red fruit. 90% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo and 5% Graciano grapes. Great value.

 

mcmanis syrah 2011McManis Syrah 2011 ($19.95) Speaking of big and luscious, this Californian delivers in every way. This wine will keep you warm sitting on a patio with a blanket because you are not ready to move indoors just yet. Red fruit jammy with a touch of pepper. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Enjoy your wine-shopping this weekend. The women of wine are heading to the Big Apple and some highly recommended wine bars and we will report back next week.

Cheers!

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!

Cheers to Chardonnay; Celebrating A Day In Your Honour

With 400,000 acres of this vinifera varietal planted around the globe there’s a world of Chardonnay to choose from.  For a time consumers shied away from this once popular wine because many felt it was being over-oaked and people’s palates were craving something a little more crisp and cool.

Ontario Chardonnay_2But over the last few years Chardonnay has made a big comeback especially those from cooler climates. As Ontario’s (and the world’s) most popular grape from unoaked to Chablis style there’s a wide range of styles to suit everyone’s taste.

It’s so popular again, that today, winemakers, cellar masters, sommeliers, and wine lovers around the world will celebrate International Chardonnay Day.  There are lots of ways to join in the celebration online Twitter is @coolchardonnay with hashtags #chardday and #14c2013. Facebook is /CoolChardonnayCelebration, and Pinterest is pinterest.com/i4c.  Many wineries will have special offerings today but if you can’t make it out to one, just chill a bottle, crack it open and toast this new trend that everyone seems to be enjoying and join in the online party.

Ontario ChardonnayHere in Ontario, today marks the kickoff to the Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration taking place July 19-21 in Niagara.  Sixty-two winemakers from 11 countries will offer up a taste of the world’s best chardonnay to wine enthusiasts at events ranging from intimate vineyard lunches to the main event “The Cool Chardonnay Wine Tour”.

If you’re looking for information on Chardonnay Day activities and the i4c (International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration) you’ll find it here www.coolchardonnay.org

How will you celebrate today?

 

 

Wednesday Wine Picks

 

The holiday season may be over but the crop of new wines that hit the LCBO last week are worth celebrating.   They include some promising Spanish wines worthy of exploration aWeekend Pickslong with  a great selection of BC wines. While I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting either place, I can say I am a big fan of their wines.

Chardonnay’s from the  Mission Hill estate, the awesome Pinot Noir from Burrowing Owl, or the Bordeaux Blends of Osoyoos Larose, there is gold in them thar BC vineyards and finally they are available in the east.

I sampled the Burrowing Owl  Pinot Noir 2010 VGA from the Okanagan Valley – it is a splurge to doubt at $41.95. It is supremely balanced with strong notes of cherry and other red fruit.

There is rarely a Rioja that has brought me disappointment in my wine tasting life. It could be luck, or it could be great wine-making – I like them big and bold and plan to get better acquainted with my friends from Rioja, Navarra, and my pick for the weekend : Virgen Del Aguila Artigazo 2007 from DO Carinena – just south of Rioja  region $18.95.

I admit I did try a couple of the other new releases that are absolutely worth the splurge. 

A Bolgheri Beauty from ItalyI Greppi Greppicante Bolgheri 2009 DOC  from the west coast of Tuscany – which is super Tuscan territory. This is  beautifully smooth, complex, fruit forward with rich tannins and a lovely finish. It is $23.95 and worth the splurge.

The Maitre D' by MollydookerMy other splurge-worthy suggestion is by a favourite Australian wine maker that has never disappointed, Mollydooker The Maitre D’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from South Australia. The deep purple colour and black cherry jammy flavour characterizes the  full-bodied and luscious wine. The finish is long, fruity and entirely worth the price. Buy two, one to drink now and one to save for later.  Oh and their labels are delightful. $29.95

 

Finally if you can still find it, Three Rivers  River’s Red from Columbia Valley, Washington – I may have mentioned it before because it was one of my favourite wines from my wine class. But if you haven’t tried it yet, hurry while there are still bottles left. At $19.95, it is a real bargain.

Give them a try or explore the LCBO’s new bounty and let us know If you have sampled a wine worth sharing.

Cheers