Category Archives: Travel

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?

 

A Wine Bar of Dreams

 

Words of Wisdom
Words of Wisdom

 

New York City is one of my favourite cities to visit in the world. Sure there are the museums, the music, the theatre, the shopping…but it’s also the surprises.

My friends Bev, Tina and I were wandering down West 52nd street  musing about what makes the ideal wine bar – the atmosphere, the selection, and the nibbles…and the Wine gods of New York magically steered us to Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe.

 

Wine Cafe of Dreams
Wine Cafe of Dreams

The charming little establishment in Hell’s Kitchen looked so inviting even when it was closed, we came back two hours later and fell head over heels.

The wine list has so many interesting selections by the glass. From a sparkling Shiraz from McLaren Vale to a Pinot Grigio from Virginia, but I opted for the MatchBook 2008 Tinto Rey,  a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and  Graciano from Dunnigan Hills, California. It was spicy with notes of black cherry and currants – fruity and easy to quaff.  Tinto Rey means Red King and it reigns on this wine menu. Proprietor  Brian Keyser who picks the wine, says it is the most popular red accounting for 7% of its sales. I could have sampled everything on the list.

But Casellula is also the dream destination for cheese lovers. Keyser says his goal is to share his  love of cheese with as many people as possible. And its cheese menu tempts even the lactose intolerant. We sampled a flight of cheese, including a Robiola from Italy that I still dream about.cheese and wine

The cafe is small. It seats only about 50-60 people. We sat at the bar which gave us a first hand look at the mastery of preparing the other dishes on the menu such as a killer mac and cheese, a pig’s ass sandwich and stuffed peppers.

casallula intKeyser says  70% of the people who line up to get into the cafe are women. Half come from the neighbourhood, the rest  come  from other parts of the city or out of town. And later in the evening, when the restaurants have served their last plates, the local sommeliers come in to sample  what’s new on the menu

 

Sadly our  love affair with Casellula was fleeting. We only had an hour at this cheese and wine paradise. There were moments when we actually considered skipping the Broadway show that we had ordered tickets for weeks earlier. One more glass and I would have rationalized it.  But like any great first date, it leaves you wanting more and I plan to spend a lot more quality time there next visit. Check it out if you have a chance.

Cheers!

If you have a favourite wine bar in any city, please share!

 

 

 

 

Lobster Pairings with Love from Maine

Gifts from the Maine Coast
Gifts from the Maine Coast

One of the truly wonderful pleasures of traveling to the coast of Maine each year is the anticipation of the perfect summer meal: lobster.

To me, it is as much a sign of summer as the scent of wild roses that line the sea wall, the sand that finds its way into every crevice in the cottage, and the damp towels hanging over the railing.

Chipper has been providing lobster to my family and friends for as long as I can remember. Look up Central Casting for Lobster Fisherman and you will find his picture. He is the real deal. He has the New England twang, the weathered complexion from years of early mornings at sea, and a perpetually cheerful attitude.  Chip is always  smiling, always happy to see you,  and he is the most accurate weather forecaster on the planet.(Sorry, Jeff Hutcheson)

A Palace by Any Other Name
Chipper’s Lobster Shack

The first time I cracked a lobster it was from Chip’s Catch of the day. He held a huge party in his workshop some years back and steamed more lobsters than I had ever seen. His family and friends, his loyal summer friends and their friends feasted on the freshest claws and tails all night, then danced off the garlic butter. One year he took all the kids and a few of the adults out on his boat to show us his favourite lobstering spots.

This year a glut of lobster pushed down the market price making it almost impossible to earn a living.  So Chip took his tasty catches and friendly attitude and opened up his own lobster shack. He steams them on the spot, sells them at bargain prices and sells out pretty much every day. One or two for the night’s feast and one for a homemade lobster roll the day after.

It doesn’t hurt that this year’s catch is the tastiest ever.

Dinner In the Making
Dinner In the Making

So what to pair with your lobster feast, or the next-day delicious lobster roll? Something light and crisp such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris is a good choice for the main event. Tread carefully with the Chardonnays because some can be too creamy for the rich lobster meat. And for day after rolls, you cannot go wrong with some sparkling like Prosecco.

For our first traditional steamed lobster feast, the gals went with a Sauvignon Blanc (rapidly becoming my favourite white this summer).

Bring on the Crisp Coppola
Bring on the Crisp Coppola

Coppola Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Diamond Collection – vibrant, fresh, grassy and crisp.  It was a perfect match and so was the price –  $12.00 (US prices but a good crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will never steer you wrong). One of my personal favourites is  Dog Point Vineyard 2012 at $22.95.

Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire
Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire

 

 

Pouilly Fuisse 2011 Louis Jadot from Maconnais, France at $22.00. Citrus and vanilla notes and ever-so-gently oaked that did not overpower. This was a perfect Chardonnay for the meal.

Then Alex arrived…bearing wine. Alex Manikas is the owner of Toronto’s uber steakhouse Bardi’s which has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1994. And he brought two winners.

grothGroth 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.  Mama Mia that was  one spectacular wine! Rich, crisp, aromatic and only $19.00. Unfortunately purchased here and not available at the LCBO, but if you are traveling to the US, put it on the list!

Then out came the star of the night. And it was a shining Chardonnay.

The Shining Chardonnay
The Shining Chardonnay

Talbott 2011 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Monterey County, California.  This is a big Chardonnay, but so well- balanced, the flavours performed as harmoniously as the Beach Boys in their heyday.  It has a buttery rich feel with notes of pear, peach and the oak did not overwhelm. Thank you Alex.

And for the sparkle..

La Marca Prosecco
La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco DOC from Italy LCBO $17.95 $13.95 US (ouch) This lovely was perfectly chilled and an ideal pair for just about anything including our day-after Lobster Roll.

Doesn’t it just make you want to visit your nearest lobster pound? If you are ever in on Route 9 between Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise – drop in on Chipper. You will not go home disappointed!

.

The Maine Event; When life’s a beautiful beach

There are times in many of our lives where the pure joy and bliss you feel is hard to describe. Generally they come from time spent with the ones we love, witnessing a wedding or cradling a new-born baby.  And while those are extremely special moments mine came during a recent trip to a beach house in Maine.

stairsGrowing up I was never one of those girls who spent endless hours giggling on the phone with friends and I seemed to understand the ways of boys better than teenage girls.  But as I get older I greatly cherish the relationships I’ve built with a particular group of women introduced to me by my blog writing partner, Lis. Her extremely giving nature draws people in and over the years she’s generously shared her closest friends with me.  And oh what lovely friends they are…smart, funny, accomplished, beautiful and generous of spirit.

beachFor thirty years Lis and her family have rented a beach house in Maine each summer for a couple of weeks enjoying the sun, sand and warm ocean breeze…ok, occasionally the breeze isn’t so warm since we are talking about the Atlantic.  This year she arranged the house for an extra week themed around wine, women and song and invited 5 friends including myself.

cartThe six of us drove down in a caravan of two cars and the laughter of the road set the tone for the week along with our first shopping trip to the liquor store.  I know it looks like a lot but we thought it would last, ha who were we kidding. There were equal amounts of white and red from around the world and if you’re looking closely even a bottle gin in the corner of the cart to start off cocktail hour.

all on the beachMornings were meant for long walks on the beach (exercise was necessary after all the food and wine) but no pressure if you just wanted to laze around the house and have a second cup of coffee. Days were for sitting in the sun, reading beach books, swimming in the ocean and sipping wine.

lynnOur nights were filled with delicious dinners, more wine and singing along to Lis’ amazing playlist. Some days we even sat on the beach long after everyone else had left just chatting as the sun went down. And as the tide went out again in the late evening we sometimes snuck back down to the beach whispering and laughing as we walked in the dark along the water’s edge.

puzzleIt was all so uncomplicated and easy as if we’d been friends for life.  Everyone chipped in with the cooking and cleaning and there was even a big jigsaw puzzle on the table that everyone just seemed to pick away at in hopes of finding that one elusive piece nobody could find. I’m extremely competitive so it almost killed me to leave before the puzzle was finished.

At the end of the week I was the first to leave and I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and believe when I say I’m not the mushy type. But at a certain age when you start to feel like the world doesn’t see you anymore these women made me feel amazing not only about myself but the possibilities of what life still has to offer.

book&wineSitting there with my toes in the sand, the sound of the waves washing against the shore I realized life couldn’t be more perfect.  So for all the times life lets you down remember there will be other times when life’s a beautiful beach.  We’ve only been apart for a short time but I’m missing my marvelous friends and hope this is the beginning of an amazing new tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

California Wine Dreaming

california cruisin

There was a lot of California Dreaming going on at a recent event put on by  IYellow Wine Club..

California Cruisin’ was another brainchild of IYellow Wine Club founder Angie Aiello (pronounced I-Yellow… get it?). Angie brought 30 wine producers from California, threw in some gourmet food truck nibbles and then tweeted her friends and followers. They brought their friends, and suddenly  450 thirsty young wine lovers were crammed into a room getting a taste of California. These 20-35 somethings are the most powerful demo in advertising, and these days this demo is toasting that power with a  glass of wine.

wine wine 014Young Canadians are getting sweet on wine. Overall, the per capita wine consumption here is growing three times faster than around the world. And it is expected to be the fifth fastest growing market between now and 2017.

Looking around this event, those new stats are easy to believe.   All decked out for a Saturday night on Toronto’s King Street, this isn’t the note-taking crowd. This is the demo that still has enough brain cells to remember the stories they are told over the course of the evening. They taste the wines and the next morning over brunch – start planning their trip to California wine country.

This is not a stuffy crowd of cork dorks (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is an engaged group eager to learn more and Angie Aiello’s wine social club provides the perfect opportunity to learn the difference between a flavourful Cabernet Sauvignon and a powerful Zinfandel.

There are so many great California wines  and thanks to  huge marketing initiative to get Canada sampling.- they took centre stage recently at the LCBO. Poke around the section and you will find some super wines at super prices.

dreaming treeWines like The Dreaming Tree Crush 2010. This red blend from the North Coast is a co-production of musician Dave Matthews and winemaker Steve Reeder. And what a blend! 78% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 6% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Syrah, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. I sent a bottle home with a good friend from Montreal and she called extolling the virtues of its mocha and coffee notes. It’s $16.95 a bottle  and it’s going fast.

 

mondavi

Tina and I moved on to Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 which was a little pricier at $34.95 but bold and concentrated, a perfect Napa Cab. Now I will admit right off I am a sucker for anything Robert Mondavi. Anyone who starts a brand new career in his fifties out of a love for wines – is worthy of  attention (ok maybe adoration). He died in his 90s and  when I visited the vineyard last year, Mondavi is regarded as a saint by everyone who knew him. The one that smaller wineries could count on when they had a bad season.

 

 I sampled a Chateau St Jean Pinot Noir  2011 from Sonoma County- an ideal wine for meat pastas or roast chicken. It is a celebration of raspberries and strawberries. It is a staff pick at the LCBO and currently on sale for $17.95.

justinWhile Napa is known for its Cabs, Sonoma its Pinots – head a little further south to Paso Robles, and you will find some superb Syrah`s. The area was made famous by the so-called Rhone Rangers – who were determined to create their own Syrah-based blends in California to rival their French ancestors. The Justin Syrah 2011 is a prime pick for those who like ripe fruit forward wines. It is not available at the LCBO yet – but well worth trying out when it come in..

obsessionIronstone Obsession Symphony 2011 has been a regular on my table. Symphony is a grape that is on the sweet side, highly aromatic and most pleasing on the palate.  Also on sale right now at the LCBO for $13.95 (I picked up two).

The California Cruisin’ evening was about sampling and learning about wines that are affordable but don`t compromise on taste.  And wine clubs like IYellow are making it cool to be a cork dork. For more information, check out IYellowwineclub.com for monthly events and classes that are not for cork dorks only.  Toronto Life voted it the best place to learn about wine. And you can follow them on twitter @IYellowwineclub.

Off to book a trip to California!

 

Why Drink Water?

“Why drink water, when you can drink wine?”, it’s quite possible this is a quote but I’m not sure who to attribute it to.  But somehow over the years it’s sort of become my motto.  Not that water isn’t good for you or that I don’t drink it, it’s just that I’d much rather be drinking wine.

 

Lucie & Nilesh
Lucie & Nilesh

My husband and I just spent a very lovely 10 days on the Riviera Maya with our good friends Lucie and Nilesh.  We’ve made this journey every January for the past six years and we always have a great time.  Dollar for dollar vacationing in Mexico offers great value for your money and we’ve never been disappointed.

We’ve stayed at various five-star resorts along the strip, some more than once and while each has different things to offer we’ve always enjoyed ourselves.

0-4This time we stayed at the GRAND SIRENIS MAYAN BEACH HOTEL & SPA and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The food was good, the hotel was lovely and the staff, especially the animation team were terrific. Not only did they offer the usual nightly shows but lots of fun and entertainment all day long and on several evenings there was even a Mariachi  band that came to perform for everyone sitting in the lobby area.

The only thing I’m always disappointed in is the wine selection.  I talked about this quite a bit in the post called “In Case of Last Resort” published in November of 2012 and for a country where the weather is primed for making wine you’d think they be better at it.  Basically you’ve got your standard Vino Blanco or Vino Tinto offered at every restaurant and buffet but even if you want to pay extra and order something better it’s generally from Chile and no worth paying the extra for.

0-2But considering our fun in the sun was a cheap and cheerful vacation I don’t want to slag the wine selection too much.    While a lousy red is really hard to drink,  a so so white goes down alright when it’s chilled and served with food, so we enjoyed many a glass at every meal.

And while most large resorts purify their water for drinking if you’re going off site you might just want to play it safe and stick to the wine when stopping for a meal, so you don’t wind up with the Mexican stomach flu.

But after ten glorious days in the sun and enjoying lots of cheap and cheerful white I’m happy to have a lovely glass of red once again.

 

Mozart Makes the Vines Grow Stronger

A Rocking VintageThe connection between wine and music is a marriage made in heaven, not just because it is the combination of two of my favourites things, or even because I can’t imagine my life without either, but there is actually a science behind the power of this pairing.

Throw a little ACDC on the sound system and you might describe the red you are sipping as as punchy or bold, while those Pat Metheny tunes will have you calling a white wine  light and crisp. A study out of Herriot – Watt University in Edinburgh suggests the music you are listening to  affects the way it tastes and certain kinds of music will make the wine taste better.

Research out of the University of Leicester in the UK found that music can also  affect the kind of wine you buy. So  listening to Tony Bennett Leaving his Heart in San Francisco while shopping could lead you to a lovely Napa Valley red – while sultry French songstress  Edith Piaff could send you directly into the Bordeaux aisle.

There are web sites dedicated to music and wine pairings. WIneandMusic.com – tells us Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams goes nicely with 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel 2007, or Maroon 5’s Hands All Over is perfectly paired with d’Arenberg’s Stump Jump. The web site’s philosophy is “Wine is like music, you may not know what is good, but you know what you like.”

Seven Deadly Zins Suggested with Angelic Katy Perry

Another web site dedicated to harmonic pairings, WineFoodMood.com – combines beat of the music and wine style – so fast-paced and energetic tunes like Abba is best consumed with something easy drinking – like a Beaujolais. Most of the research focuses on how our wine decisions and appreciation are  influenced by music.

You don’t have to look far to see more evidence of the marriage of music and wine. For example, AC/DC Back in Black Shiraz, the Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot, or Sting’s Tuscan creation Sister Moon – clearly wine appreciation extends to all musical genres.

Wines That RockA Calfornia winery out of Mendocino County called  Wines that Rock produces Forty Licks Merlot and that’s just the beginning. Wines That Rock calls itself the official wine of rock and roll. Its mission: to  “create great tasting wines inspired by music.” http://www.winesthatrock.com/The-Wine. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, Police’s Synchronicity Red Blend, Woodstock Chardonnay – the labels are amazing and the reviews pretty great, too.

According to the website,  winemaker Mark Beaman has music blasting through the cellar while working his magic. He even has playlists for harvesting (including U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zepplin and Dire Straits) and for blending (Fleetwood Mac, Police, Pink Floyd and The Red Hot Chili Peppers).

A  small winery in Tuscany believes the love affair  goes both ways.. It uses the power of music to coax the best out of its grapes.

The Sound of Mozart in Paradise

Il Paradiso di Frassina plays Mozart to its vines 24 hours a day. Owner Giancarlo Cignozzi believed playing music to the vines would enhance their flavour – and make Giancarlo happy at the same time. A civil lawyer from Milan, he bought the vineyard in 1999 and brought his love of music with him.

Whether classical music makes the vines go stronger, or if it is merely a marketing tool, it is an effective one.  Il Paradiso has become known as the Mozart Vineyard. Every major wine publication along with the international media has come to call and to sample.

“We became known as the people who play music to the grapes. They thought we were nuts,” says Ulisse Cignozzi, Giancarlo’s son who gave us the tour.

The speaker people at BOSE believed enough to donate 100 speakers to the cause. The University of Florence took notice and is currently involved in a long term study to see if there is science to support the theory.  Ulisse says it’s too early to tell, but there are some initial findings that suggest the grapes respond to sound.

“We noted the sugar content is higher in grapes that are closer to the speakers,” he says.

One of the wines under the influence that we sampled, a Brunello di Montalcino 2007 was full-bodied and delicious. While I haven’t found it in the LCBO, Zoltan Szabo – sommelier at Toronto’s Trump International Hotel and Tower stocks it at the hotel.

Another wine, though not grown in the shadow of the speakers, accompanies the musical theme. 12 Uve (12 grapes) features 12 different varietals – 6 Italian, 6 Bordeaux – one for each note on the musical scale.

There’s no shortage of interest in the pairing of music and wine closer to home. Mount Royal University in Calgary offers a course in music and wine pairings. www.Mtroyal.ca

Jackson-Triggs holds a  spectacular concert series each summer, a perfect example of the harmonious blend of good music and good wine – www.jacksontriggswinery.com

The Outside Lands Festival near San Francisco even hired a wine curator to pair wines with the music performances on the menu.

“We’re creating a new platform where all these pleasure points in our life – eating, drinking and music,” curator Peter Eastlake told Wine Spectator earlier this year.

True, because there is nothing more pleasureable than a tasting a great glass of wine – at any price, while listening to the perfect piece of music.

Slainte (cheers in Gaellic – pronounced Slawn-tcha)

 

 

Wine and Calories

A_iT3yaCAAEllARThe tree is bare, the decorations packed away and you’ve rung in the New Year.  Like most people you’ve probably made some resolutions – lose weight (definitely the number one), join a gym, stop smoking, and maybe even drink less (probably just because of the calories).  But realistically how long do these resolutions last, a month at most?  So, maybe better than a resolution how about an inspiration. There must be things you’ve wanted to do but just haven’t had the time, like more travelling (there’s exercise in there somewhere or reading a good book – kind of like exercise for the brain) are you sensing a theme?

IMG_0047I for one would also like to lose weight but realise it’s no easy task.  Since I’m hitting the beach some time soon rather than stressing about putting on a bathing suit (ok who am I kidding) I’ve promised myself I’d walk along the ocean every day for 30 minutes, remember inspire don’t beat yourself up.  That should make up for the wine I drink on my holidays right? But since there’s no magic pill, fad diet or easy exercise that sheds the pounds, you’re looking at hard work, sweat and maybe a little a swearing when things don’t go your way.  But when it comes down to calorie counting I find it easier to give up the sweets and snacks over my beloved glass of wine.

centro 024So what does a wine lover do to cut some calories? One of my strategies now that the holidays are over to is to skip that evening glass I’ve been having for dinner each night and go with wine on Friday and Saturday nights only.  It’s not like this change will have me losing 20 pounds but hey every little bit counts. Depending on the wine (be it red or white) just one glass can have between 110 – 300 calories. This is based on the alcohol and sugar content and serving size.

Wines with the highest alcohol content will have more calories and if you’re a lover of those big bold reds like us these will have the most calories.   The alcohol content in dry wines generally come in around 11 – 14% but you’ll often find many dry wines exceeding 15%.  This means that a standard glass of dry wine with 15% alcohol content will have 175 calories.  So just skipping Monday to Friday you’ll save yourself 875 calories.  Since one pound equates to 3500 calories you’d only need to make this tiny change to lose one pound. So if you start now you’d lose 6 pounds by the end of June which to me seems doable.

Often sweet wines like Riesling can have fewer calories per glass than most Cabernets or Merlot but you may wind up drinking more because they taste lighter (less alcohol). But if like us you love those lovely full-bodied reds than remember you can always consider your glass of wine dessert.

Life is not about giving up the things you love most it’s about being inspired to live life to the fullest and enjoy every day like it’s your last.  So raise a glass (on Friday and Saturday of course) and don’t stress about your resolutions but dream about the things you want to do in this brand new year.

What will inspire you to live life to the fullest in 2013?

 

 

In Case Of Last Resort

Funny but when I was younger I could never understand why people felt the need to get away from winter but let me just say, I totally get it now.  It’s barely the beginning of November and I dream of someplace warm.

One of my favourite escapes when the cold Canadian winter is in full swing is the Riviera Maya in Mexico.  Dollar for dollar it’s a great value vacation and I’ve never been to a five-star resort I didn’t like.  If you’re staying close to Playa Del Carmen, a short taxi ride will take you into town for a day of shopping and dining.

 

I really only have one complaint – no matter the quality of the resort, the wines they offer are definitely lacking.  It’s not that I’m a wine snob, lets just say I have particular tastes. Since I’m not into Tequila or sugary fruit drinks my inner wine snob (ok, so I admit it) pales at the thought of only having 2 choices – vino blanco and vino tinto  unless you’re willing to spend big bucks on a high-end domestic or imported wine. And while cheap and cheerful works for something cool by the pool, I definitely enjoy something a little better when I’m having a nice meal.

So why is it that Mexico doesn’t have better wine considering it’s actually the oldest wine industry in the New World?  Well, I figured I’d do a little digging and share what I found.

In 1521, just after the Spanish invasion, conquistadors started planting vines and in 1524, Hernán Cortés, the governor of New Spain (Mexico), decreed that each Spanish settler given lands must plant ten grapevines per year for the next five years.

With the success of the Mexican wine industry Spanish imports started to dwindle. So in order to protect the Spanish wine industry King Carlos II banned the production of wine in Mexico in 1599, except of course for use by the church. The ban remained in effect until Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and lets just say a few hundred years can turn any wine enthusiast towards other popular domestic spirits like Cerveza (Mexican beer) or tequila.

L.A. Cetto Vineyard in Baja California, Mexico

In the 20th century winemaking gradually increased, but with the removal of trade barriers in the late 1980s production declined again due to inexpensive imports from around the globe. With this increased competition the government soon levied taxes to around 40% on each bottle and wine makers recognized in order to compete they would need to rely on quality, not price.

The average Mexican is still not a big wine drinker but consumption is on the rise much of that due to tourists who consume about 40% of the wine. One element which is considered key for a broader consumer base is the need to produce more palatable entry-level wines.

Considering Mexico is the number one fly in destination for Canadians going on vacation here’s hoping the resorts will soon be sourcing some of those.

Now if you’re not planning a trip to sunny Mexico just yet but want to try a Mexican wine, my partner who endlessly snoops through the aisles at the LCBO to source great finds has suggested L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Petite Sirah 2008.  It’s from the Baja California region of Mexico and priced at $19.95 you’ll find it in the Vintages section.

We would love to know about your experience with Mexican wines or if you’ve found one worth sharing.


 

 

 

A Small Tuscan Winery gets Top Marks

 

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Tucked into the valley underneath those clouds is a modest winery getting anything but modest results. When you drive down the long dirt road approaching Tenuta Valdipiatta and you witness the glory of the past and the taste of the future.

Acres and acres of vines, some decades old, some barely a year, roots finding a home in some of the most valuable terroir in Italy.

Everything about this place feels authentic.

This is not product of good marketing. This is the product of care, attention and excellent grapes. We lucked out on this day because it was prime harvest time. The workers were hand picking  the vines.  Truckloads of fat juicy grapes were  poured into the de-stemmer and the fermentation process begins.

A Truckload of Beauty
A Truckload of Juicy Beauties

We got a tour and tasting of four of their wines for 10 Euros. They have another tour that sounds sublime: a sensory wine tasting that guides you through the experience using natural and artificial aromas that lead you through the sampling of three of their fine wines.I called at the last-minute on the off-chance they had an available time. Lucia graciously obliged with a tour of the estate and a tasting of some of their best.
It’s one of the many things I love about this country.

There is always something around the corner to discover that makes your life so much richer for having experienced it.

 In this case, it was the Valdipiatta Vino Nobile Di Montipulciano 2009. And it wasn’t just us. Robert Parker gave it a whopping 93 – not bad considering it is only 17 Euros a bottle. We sampled the Rosso, the Vino Nobile, the Riserva and Lucia threw in a Super Tuscan blend of Canaiolo and Merlot  for comparison.

Tenuta Valdipiatta produces 140,000 bottles a year. And I am taking home four of them for tonight’s  dinner and four of them back to Canada.  Such difficult decisions. Allowing you to bring back   only four bottles is sheer torture. The signs that say We Ship Worldwide  are so misleading. In Canada,  it only valuable of you are buying crazy expensive wine. The base price for shipping 6 bottles in 110 Euros. Argh!

But Valdipiatta will make my final cut. And when I am sitting on my back deck with great friends, a plate of simple pasta and I pop open that bottle – it will bring back memories of another perfect day in the outskirts of Montepulciano, Italy – a glass in hand and a dream to return again.

Is there a special wine that brings back memories for you?