Venice for the Wine Lover

A quiet spot in a city of water, a city most commonly associated with tourists fighting pigeons for space in front of the Piazza San Marco, gondolas gliding down the canals and Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the Bellini.  There is so much to see in this city that has the look of a movie set.  For the  wine lover, Venice is so much more.

Let the Ombra Begin

There is a tradition in Venice called the Ombra. The literal translation is shade. To Venetians, it means a glass of red wine. Some say the origin of the term comes from the wine sellers who sold their wares in the shadow of the tower in Piazza San Marco. Another story claims it came from the fishermen who worked each morning in the baking sun. Once they unloaded their small boats, heavy with their catch of the day, they retreated into small bars which lined the dock for a glass of red wine or Ombra.  My favourite story, echoed by the concierge at the Hotel ai Mori D’Oriente,  is that Ombra became a noun that refers to strolling from one small bar to another for a glass of wine, a pub crawl of sorts for the oenophile as in  “We are going for an Ombra.

Paradise Found

Paradiso Perduto (Translation: Paradise Lost)  topped  the recommended list and it turned out to be the perfect place to start our Ombra. We each had a glass of the house Prosecco, gentle bubbles of the lightest kind.   Outside, tables laden with cichetti or Venice’s answer to Tapas, lined the canal.  From roasted vegetables to fried shrimp, octopus, Baccala and  zucchini flowers.  Simple, fresh and affordable. 

The Real  Wine Thing

Our  best find of the day, just a few steps away,  has clearly been found before. Vino Vero is a small wine bar  with a dozen seats inside and a few tables outside. You know when you walk into a bookstore and can tell instantly  it is run by someone who truly loves books? That’s the feeling at Vino Vero.

There are about 200-300 wines here. So much choice but somehow Esmerelda, who handles the bar, makes it approachable.  “Give me something I have never tried before,” I asked.  Esmerelda pulled out two wines to try before committing  which  goes a long way to building my loyalty.

First up:  Esmerelda suggested  a sparkling wine called MUNI made from Durella, a white grape native to  Northern Italy. It was fruity, classic and elegant – with plenty of spritz. However, sparkling wine is the only spritz you’ll find at Vino Vero. There’s a  sign on the counter that warns – No Spritz –  just in case someone was considering ordering the popular Aperol cocktail.  In case you doubted their policy – “Nospritz” is even the WIFI password .

Esmerelda then pulled out a bottle of Slavcek 2012 –  a Merlot from Slovenia –  for me to sample.  Deep ruby red, dry and delicious. She is extremely knowledgable, with a lovely blog of her own called Yeasteria.it, focusing  on Italian bio-dynamic wine and beer.

Woman of Wine: Esmerelda
Vino Vero Regulars Chris and Vivian

We shared a drink with Chris and Vivian from Queensland, who were at the bar for the third time – proof that while the wines make Vino Vero worth visiting, the atmosphere and service make it worth the trip back.

Cannaregio District:  Both bars are located in the Cannaregio district. It’s the historical Jewish quarter and far from the cruise travellers and tourists armed with selfie sticks. A 10-minute walk from the train station and 20 – 30 minutes walk from most of Venice’s most popular sights.

Vino Vero, Fondamenta Misericordia 2497, 30100 Venezia

Paradiso Perduto, Fondamenta Misericordia 2540, 30100 Venezia

OKANAGAN WINERIES PACK A PUNCH

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Time. Much like wine, it is something I can’t seem to get enough of. And something I run out of. Hence the absence of my blog for the last few months. Any extra time I had, I spent drinking wine, not writing about it.

So to kick myself into high gear, I took a couple of days off  from my new job and headed to BC wine country for some inspiration.

I picked a few places I had never been to before. Places with great stories. And great stories in the Okanagan are not hard to find. There are new wineries popping up here all the time.

There are anywhere from 120 – 250 wineries here depending who you ask, and whether they’ve been drinking.  And they are making some spectacular wines that we never see on the other side of the country.

I picked by grape. I know I love big reds, so I headed south to Oliver and  Osoyoos – home of some wondrous Bordeaux blends.  I also learned that if you mention you’re going to the Okanagan,  inevitably someone  sighs like they are remembering a visit to paradise and shows you a picture of that little winery that turned into a big experience.

Three days,  seven wineries and here are  a few highlights.

  1. Invictus by Perseus
    Invictus by Perseus

    Perseus – I sampled a bottle of Perseus wine a year ago and I have been dreaming about it ever since.  The winery opened in 2011 in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.  It has already picked up a number of awards for Invictus, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The winery is named after the constellation  which hangs above the Okanagan during harvest time. Had to take one home.IMG_1683

  2. Poplar GroveI visited this place  for the wine and the company.   Cindy, Cathy,
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    Poplar Grove Winery

    Wendy and Sue have been friends since high school. Today they invited us join them  to  sample the best this stunning winery had to offer. One more for the suitcase. Imagine waking up to this treasure every morning?

 

Culmina Winery
Culmina Winery

3. Culmina Winery – This was one of the reasons I came back to  the Okanagan, Rumour had it the wine was among the best in the Valley – and it did not disappoint. Don Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) and his daughter Sara have blended old-fashioned knowledge with high tech tools to create wines to remember, including wines that shouldn’t really be growing in that climate. The approach is inspirational and will be the subject of a separate story in its own. Stay tuned.  OK… we bought a case.

 

4.  Moon Curser This winery has a one-of-a-kind distinction for me. I actually had to risk arrest and  break-in to get a taste. My friend Lisa and I were staying in Osoyoos and decided to clock our 10,000 steps by walking to the winery (how cool is that)?

Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine
Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine

Google Maps directed us to a walking path along the cherry trees and vines. However, about 100 metres from our destination we were met by a locked gate, not that that was going to stop us. We got down on all fours and slipped under the fence. It was definitely worth the effort. Moon Curser – formerly Twisted Tree – is named after the smugglers who used to work in “them thar hills with veins of gold.” They cursed the light of the moon when trying to sneak across the border.

Moon Curser features  some old and new world varietals that are attracting attention. Owner and winemaker Chris Tolley, a former Montrealer, and his wife Beata, honed their craft in New Zealand. Their Tannant , Malbec, Sangiovese, Syrah,

Moon Curser Winery
Moon Curser Winery

Carmenere,  along with the Afraid of the Dark white and red blends, are all  worth a taste.  Yup, Moon Curser got the last spot in my suitcase.

Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley
Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley

Go to the Okanagan!  Demand more BC wines in your local wine store!  These are national treasures that stand up to Old World excellence. Thanks for the inspiration!

Cheers!

 

 

The Little Wine Shop Around the Corner

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A great wine store is like a great bookstore. It has to be welcoming. It has to offer something new and someone to prove their  passion with great recommendations,

Every time I visit a new city, I google “best wine bars”. You never know what will come up. In Portland, Maine – I met Jacques and Erin at  the Old Port Wine and Cigar Store .  Owner Jacques  is larger than life with a wine collection to match.

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Uncorked is a gem in NYC’s West Village.  Canadian Paul Common turned the world financial crisis into a dream when he opened what’s been labelled the best wine store in the city.

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Uncorked features a tasting station with 40 wines. Unlike the LCBO or SAQ, Uncorked doesn’t charge for tasting. They simply hope it will lead to a purchase.

Lisa Carley, sommelier at Uncorked guided me through an around the world tasting tour – from a brilliant California Merlot –  to a Burgundy that did not cost a fortune. It’s no wonder they boast a client list from all over the world.

The true taste of success.

 

Tenuta Valdipiatta: A Wine of Distinction

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines
Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

 

Giulio Caporali is proud of his grapes, his wines and his daughters, and not necessarily in that order.  He grew up making wine.  His career steered him to the railway industry. In the 70s, Guilio decided to get into the wine business, buying a choice piece of land in southern Tuscany, close to Montepulciano.

Tenuta Valdipiatta is a family-owned winery producing about 100,000 bottles a year. And oh what bottles!  These are award-winning wines that have shared the spotlight with the much-heralded Super Tuscans Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

A Sign of the Times
A Sign of the Times

 

Giulio took us through the stunning grounds. He gave us a primer on the status of the vines and the way they are trained to produce the best grapes.  Everything here is done by hand.  The aging room was dug out of tufa rock. Etruscan relics found on the property are mounted on the walls. And inside the barrels… pure magic.

 

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We started with 100% Pinot Noir, unusual for this area. Critics said it could not be done but Guilio doesn’t really care about going against the grain, or the grape. He follows his own path – something his daughters learned from their father.

Miriam – an economist,  runs the winery and Cinzia, a mechanical engineer  is co-owner of La Locanda di San Francesco, the most romantic & luxurious B & B in Montepulciano with a wine bar where I first sampled Valdipiatta (in fact our group like it so much we cleaned them out of all 12 bottles that night – hey, before you get judgey, there WERE 8 of us.)

A Noble Favourite
A Noble Favourite

Each tasting came with a story of an evolution, a discovery or a philosophy.

 

A Man and his Wines
A Man and his Wines

Guilio on Decanting: 90% is theatre. A good wine, is a good wine. But if I were having friends over I would open the bottle the day before. How would you feel if you were locked up in a bottle for 10 years? You need to stretch.

 

On Super Tuscans: Great marketing strategy.

Barrels of Stories
Barrels of Stories

On Oak Barrels: Russian Oak was the thing until the Revolution and the French saw an opportunity to step in.

Today Valdipiatta uses Slavonian, French and some Russian oak.

I am not sure which I enjoyed most: the wine, which was spectacular or the conversation. Though I know exactly which wine I loved the most. The 2005 Riserva. 100% Sangiovese. So smooth. So spicy. So Savoury – with flavours that live on. When you are only allowed to bring 2 bottles each through Canadian customs, you become rather choosy about what those bottles will be, but the Valdipiatta Riserva has a permanent spot in my heart and my luggage.

Luckily Valdipiatta is available on occasion at the LCBO.

There are dozens of producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but this tasting was one of the best. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend it for the wine and for the experience. Go to their web site – www.TenutaValdipiatta.it for a full list of tours and tastings available.

 

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

 

Wine Meets Art at Mission Hill

august 19-2014 134A visit to Mission Hill Family Estate  in Kelowna makes you feel as relaxed as a floating yoga class. Stepping through the gates,  you feel  a sense of  peace paired with refreshingly crisp rose.

Just writing about it brings me back, “forcing” me to pause for a moment to pour myself a glass of white… even though it’s just shy of noon. Mission Hill  is a place to reflect, to wander and to drink some great wine.

And until October,  it is also a place to see some remarkable art.

august 19-2014 129“Encounters with Iceland” is an exhibition of the works of Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir.  There are 40 life-sized sculptures all over the Estate, each placed by the artist herself. august 19-2014 171

You find the sculptures in all kinds of places:  keeping watch over the underground cellars blasted out of volcanic rock, in a staircase, attached to a building.  Each looks as though it belongs, created with that exact space in mind.august 19-2014 140

august 19-2014 157august 19-2014 138Winery  owner Anthony von Mandl and his wife Debra discovered the sculptures on a trip to Iceland last year. He felt they were a perfect fit for Mission Hill..

august 19-2014 139august 19-2014 151august 19-2014 127The artist says the sculptures are inspired by her son. Some are playful and others intensely reflective, they are stunning in their simplicity.

In honour of the exhibition, Mission Hill Winery released a collection of two of its wines –  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Riesling Icewine –  embellished with labels featuring 20 of  Thórarinsdóttir’s sculptures.

august 19-2014 143Mission  Hill’s commitment to art and beauty can be seen throughout the Estate.

The courtyard plays host to such world class musicians as Tony Bennett, Chris Botti and the Gypsy Kings.

The four bells in the 12 storey Tower were created by Fonderie Paccard in France, which created the bells for Sacre Coeur and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

august 19-2014 144The Chagall Room, set for someone’s private dinner the night I was there, displays a spectacular tapestry by Marc Chagall called Animal Tales.  It is one of only 29 tapestries created by the artist. Below it, a piano bought at a charity auction from  legendary music producer David Foster, autographed by Celine Dion, Sting, and dozens of other A-list performers.

august 19-2014 146If that is not reason enough to make Mission Hill a part of any visit to Kelowna, there’s always the award-winning wines and Terrace restaurant – voted one of the top five winery restaurants in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. More about that in an upcoming blog, I need another glass of wine.

Cheers.

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.

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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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