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Weekend Wine Picks

This weekend’s picks are all about the marriage of good taste and good value. We had a little get together for 50 last week to mark a special birthday at work and I offered to pick up the wine. We didn’t have much of a budget, so creativity was required. Considering we are barrelling towards party season, I thought I would share a few of the picks for this weekend or for your next party.

A Sparkling that Sparkles

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve 2008 is a  bubbly that is worth a celebration. The crisp clean sparkling fine bubbles are  produced in the  Methode Classique which you only care about because it makes a sparkling so delicious you could easily compare it with a much more costly champagne. The taste is luxurious but at $22.95 a bottle, the price is not.



Some Red Crowd Pleasers

Montes Pinot Noir Limited Selection 2010 Casablanca Valley of Aconcagua, Chile at 14% alcohol was my personal favourite. Deep ruby colour, tastes of red berries – strawberry, raspberry, along with plums and herbs – I found it simply delicious and kept heading back for more. Well worth the $14.95 price.

 Rocca delle Macie Vernaiolo Chianti DOCG 2009

Medium-bodied with dark berries  and spice well balanced and perfect for the pasta that was on the menu. 12% alcohol. Rocca delle Macie is one of my favoruite producers because on their website they pair wine and song – this one apparently goes perfectly with Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone.  A tasty temptation at $13.95

Winning Whites

Inniskillin Unoaked Chardonnay 2009

Inniskillin Unoaked Chardonnay  VQA Niagara Peninsula 2009  This wine came highly recommended – zippy, refreshing with citrus, green apple and melon hints. At only $10.95, it was a top choice of white among the party goers. Good thing I cleaned out the shelf. But clearly others had the same idea, when I returned there was none left. The good news – you can order the 2010 Core Series Unoaked Chardonnay online at .



Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough – From the land of the crisp whites that I have spent many a Saturday afternoon with – this New Zealand wine is herbal and grassy with flavours of gooseberries. Alcohol level is 13% and a sweet price at $14.95.


Those are my picks for the weekend. If you have tried a good valued party wine, please share.

Wine Lines by Guest Blogger Richard Crouse/Film Reviewer Canada AM

Wine-Soaked Comedy that Sunked MerlotThe most surprising thing about the movie “Sideways,” arguably the most famous of the recent “wine movies” is that its star, Paul Giamatti, doesn’t drink wine. “I’m more of a Schlitz guy,” he told me when the movie came out.

 Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are two friends, Miles and Jack, on a trip through California wine country. Miles is a connoisseur. Jack is not.

 When Jack tell Miles the two women he has arranged a double date with want to drink Merlot, Miles is unimpressed, to put it mildly.

 “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving,” he yells. “I am not drinking any f**king Merlot!”

 It’s an amusing line in a funny movie, but it wasn’t really meant to denigrate the grape.

 “The funniest thing about that line is the only reason it is Merlot is that we tried all these different wines and that was the only one that was funny… was the word Merlot,” Giamati said. “For some reason that sounded funnier than chardonnay.”

 What wasn’t so funny was the effect that the line had on sales of Merlot, which, according to writer Alder Yarrow, took a dive after the movie became a hit.

 “I never would have guessed the movie would have had such an effect on the U.S. wine industry. Not in a million years,” he said.

 No laughing matter for vintners perhaps, but just one in a line of winecentric comedies.

 Based in a real life Parisian wine tasting from 1976 which pitted French wines against their Californian cousins, Bottle Shock stars Alan Rickman as a wine merchant who sees himself as “a shepherd… whose mission is to offer the public another form of great art and to guide its appreciation thereof.” In other words he’s a wine snob, but one with a purpose. He wants to show the French that good wines are available beyond thier vineyards. He does have limits though. “I don’t foresee the imminent cultivation of the Chicago vine.”

 Vintage Rom-ComIn the Meg Ryan romcom “French Kiss” Kevin Kline co-stars as Luc, the son of a French family of vineyard owners. The action begins when he sneaks a grapevine into Kate’s (Ryan) bag to be smuggled into France.

 Best wine lines?

 Luc: First, you must take some wine. Can you describe it, the taste?

Kate: It’s a nice red wine.

Luc: I think you can do better.

Kate: A bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension.

Kate: Actually, I was just talking about myself.

 Then there’s Lesley Caron’s “Gigi” which not only features a song called “The Night They Invented Champagne”–but also some solid, but humorously delivered advice on how to enjoy wine. “You have to fully enjoy the aroma,” Gigi’s aunt explains. “On your first sip, hold it on the roof of your mouth for a moment and breathe through your nose. Then you will feel the flavor… A bad year will be sharp. A good year, which this is of course, will waft.”

Finally, also worth a look is “Corked,” a mockumentary about four wineries competing for the Golden Cluster Award and “Year of the Comet,” a funny action adventure movie from William Goldman (the pen behind “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) about international intrigue and one of the world’s rarest bottles of wine.

Do you have a favourite wine film?

Winery with a Mission


Salcheto Winery just outside Montepulciano


Just a stone’s  throw from Montepulciano, one of Italy’s most beautiful hilltop towns, is a winery that blends excellence with responsibility.   Salcheto’s mission was to become the most sustainable winery in Italy, if not the world. Five years ago when Salcheto needed an upgrade, the company committed close to half a million Euros to make the new operation the ultimate in energy efficient wine-making.It reopened just last fall and you can see the fruits of their efforts everywhere you look.

Harvest Time at Salcheto Winery

We arrived during the Vendemmia or harvest, and several workers were hand sorting the grapes over one of the transparent bubbles dotting the surface of an outdoor terrace.




The bubbles open up to a funnel which sends the grapes directly into the vats to ferment.The same bubbles, when not being used for the harvest, provide natural light in the cellars.






Cellars Use only Natural Light

Instead of using mechanical pumps to stir the juice and skins, Salcheto came up with a system using CO2 captured during the fermentation process to rotate them naturally. They also found this process increases extractions by 5-10%.
Sand, instead of cement, covers the terrace to keep the cellars cool naturally.


Salcheto’s Vertical Garden

The walls are surrounded by a vertical garden which also helps maintain the right  temperature inside.
There is so much more. Nothing is wasted. The old bottles are cut and converted into glasses. Old wood from its previous facility is used to build cupboards in its wine shop.Solar panels power the computer in the office.  And the commitment doesn’t change on the road.

At a recent wine fair in Verona, Salcheto powered its booth by bicycle. Anyone who wanted to taste its wine had to spin for one minute. Talk about the benefits of exercise!!
Every single emission of CO2 used to create one  bottle of wine, for production or distribution, is calculated. The result: Salcheto has reduced its emissions by 54%! And they expect to recover their investment within six years.
OK, so what’s the wine like? Magnificent.

Recyled Wine Bottle Becomes Water Glass

Following the tour our most excellent guide Ettore Carfora, took us to a room surrounded by windows, furnished with three spectacular wood tables that seat a dozen people each. We were served a simply delicious meal of pasta e fagioli along with a plate of Tuscan cold cuts and cheeses.

Tasting Salcheto


 Ettore introduced three wines: the Rosso Di Montepulciano 2011, a simple uncomplicated red that is fruity and fresh, the   Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano which was our favourite, perfectlybalanced, incredibly smooth – I will look for this at the LCBO!

Vino Nobile

  The last was the signature wine. Salco 2006 – aged two years in oak, four years in the bottle – it is a  remarkable wine that keeps on giving. The initial attack of the tannins, turned velvety smooth.
Each year Salcheto introduces a new label for its higher end Salco. The first year we visited, the labels featured black and white landscapes.

Ode to Drummers

The second year they were dedicated to drummers from Meg White  to Keith Moon. Last year, it took on an environmental theme, boxed in a crate with a biodegradable diaper (not quite sure why) and package of rosemary seeds to plant in the crate when the wine was long gone. This year, an artist’s rendition of a QR code, that looked remarkably like the black and white drawings my brother created during the psychedelic sixties.
The good news: Salcheto’s Rosso, Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano and the Salco have all been available at LCBO Vintages over the past three years at price points varying from $15.95 for the Rosso – $45 for the Salco.  So keep an eye out for them.
I can’t say the wine tastes better than it did before all the changes. I can say it feels good to buy wine from an establishment that puts its mission first.
Thanks to Ettore, the afternoon felt more like being welcomed by family, than an official tour. A family very proud of their achievements. Rightly so.  And it is that kind of personal touch, that keeps people coming back for more.

A Winning Team at Maple Leaf Gardens

Chef Mark Russell and Company

.A few months ago, I bid on an auction item – Dine with the Chef at the PC Cooking School at Maple Leaf Gardens,  a four course dinner for eight prepared by Executive Chef Mark Russell.  It  sounded like fun. The cause was the Radio Television Digital News Directors Association – one close to my heart.  I had never been to the new Loblaws. I knew it got rave reviews when it opened last November, but I didn’t have any real expectations – other than a fun evening with eight great  work buddies.

OK, if you haven’t been there…this isn’t just any neighbourhood Loblaws.

And a meal prepared by the Chef is anything but ordinary.

The underground parking got the first nod of approval. But really, this place  had me and Tina at the wall of cheese. Stilton, Pecorino, Grand Padano, Buffala Mozzeralla – you name it.  Marci was overwhelmed by the wall of cupcakes. Lucie loved the aisle of freshly cut flowers.  This is the way Europeans shop if they can’t hit the individual butcher, baker and candlestick maker. It reminded me of Italy’s Costco equivalent – aptly called Hyper-Coop. You can get everything there without feeling like it is mass produced.

 Russell says the store has come to define the neighbourhood with people coming in to eat lunch and dinner daily. 

“They treat it like the village square,” he says.

The Chef supervises the preparation of fresh food prepared in the massive kitchen above the supermarket. He lived and breathed this baby for two years before it opened. A former chef for the family of Diana, Princess of Wales,  he also worked as personal chef to the Weston family for seven years before they approached him to take on the project.

“I spent 15-18 hours a day here. Now that it has opened it’s more like 10,” he says. “It’s a really unique place.”

There is another production he is even more proud of. . He and his wife are parents to five-month old Thomas.

“He changed my life.  And every time I bring him to the store, I lose half a day because everyone wants to see him,” he explained, while pulling up photos of the new star on his IPhone.

 And we got a taste of the kind of food this village square had to offer prepared by the Chef himself.

We originally thought we would help in the food preparation, but when you get eight women together after work, talking about anything BUT work, we were most happy to let Chef handle the food and as good journalists, we could ask questions.

How often do you get to spend time with amazing people from work without a deadline, without an agenda, just for the sake of having fun. It doesn’t happen often enough. These people I work with are so dynamic – they all come from different backgrounds but they are all so smart and  so entertaining. There is something about people who are routinely used to rolling with whatever is thrown at them, The only routine is that there isn’t one. Hence lots of lively chatter and a little less time for chopping. Thanks Mark.

The PC Cooking school is set up on the second floor, tucked beside an LCBO (how handy) and a Joe Fresh (you never know if you show up 5 minutes early  – which we did – always time to shop a little). It is equipped with large screens so you can  easily watch the preparation (when we aren’t talking).

Our hostesses Minnu and Heather couldn’t have been more gracious, keeping our glasses filled and serving up the courses.

Minnu Goes Over the Evening Menu






And what courses!

The menu prepared for us after assuring that there were no allergies:

Butternut Squash Soup served with Brie Beignets and Spiced Aioli

Pan-Seared Scallops served on a Cauliflower Puree with a Herb Oil to finish

Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin sliced on a Crisp Parsnip Potato Rosti with Glazed Shallots Red Wine Jus

White Chocolate and Gingerbreak Parfait served with Caramel Sauce and Quennel of Coffee Mascarpone.

The soup was so creamy and the beignet exploded with cheese inside the crispy exterior. I thought Jen – our senior producer also known as Producer Jen to her Twitter followers – was going to have an out of body experience. She has made getting the recipe part of her benefits package.

Butternut Squash Soup Extrodinaire

After each course was served, we peppered (no pun intended) Mark with questions. The preparation of scallops and how they are seared just perfectly – some tips – don’t crowd them in the pan and dry them off before you cook them so they don’t get watery.  They were simply delicious! (And special thanks to Mark – when he heard one of the eight was not a fan of scallops – he sent Minou downstairs to replace the scallop[s with salmon).

Perfectly Seared Scallops

These two courses were served with a delicious Pouilly Fuisse 2010 which drew raves from Bev and the rest of us. A perfect pairing.






Then there was the beef. Slow roasted for 2 hours at 250 degrees with just a bit of sage and garlic. It was so tender. Dawn carefully savoured each bite separately – witness her plate mid-course.

Beef par Excellence

 I had mentioned when I approved the menu that one of the 8 was not a fan of parsnips –  but sure enough – there was one Rosti –just potato.

And another perfect pairing with a 2008 Sicilian Syrah – called  Spadina  (which made one of my weekend wine picks – at an exceptional value of $14.95 at the LCBO).

The meal was capped off with a cappuccino, espresso and tea along with the parfait – that included all the best dessert taste sensations – chocolate, gingerbread, caramel, coffee. Just spectacular.

Dessert a la Delicious

What an incredible meal and such a fun evening. Sue said that would have been the dream menu she would have picked if asked for a favourite meal.  We all had such a great time, and while we didn’t put in any of the hard labour – I am definitely going to try that beef again. And I am also going to find out about their other cooking courses.

The other important lesson, make the effort to spend some time  together. if you are as lucky as I am, it only makes your life richer.

In Great Company

All in all a spectacular evening was had by all. Many thanks Minnu, Heather and Mark (by the way – I will have to get that soup recipe).






It’s Time for Weekend Wine Picks

From the Land of Super Tuscans

While I am thankful for so many things after the Thanksgiving weekend,  in addition family,friends, health and some leftover turkey, I discovered some awesome wines that I have to share.

I admit I couldn’t abandon the Italy section of Vintages after it had just brought me so much joy recently. But I also needed top expand my horizons. So here are my picks of the week.

Michele Satta Bolgheri Rosso 2009  I am a big fan of this region along the coast of Tuscany. This is the home to Super Tuscans. This deliciouis offering is 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 10% Teroldego (first time I heard of that varietal). Deep ruby colour, with intense flavours of red fruit. Great buy at $19.95 – but give it a chance to breathe.


Perfectly Delicious Pinot

2009 Picnic Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has been touted as a perfect pairing for turkey. It is medium bodied and can be  the best of tastes and the worst of tastes. This one appealed because I had tried a bottle from the same produicer a couple of years ago and came away impressed. This one from Two Paddocks of Otago, New Zealand was even better than remembered. It’s got plenty of flavour of luscious cherry fruit and definitely became a table favourite. Note – I am not usually a fan of celeb wines (which everyone says even though there are some very respectable wines – ie Sting’s Sister Moon) – but this one by actor Sam Neill is winner and worth the $25.95 at the LCBO.



Great White at Great Value

Silver Point East Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009

My girls are committed drinkers of white wine, and while they lovingly tell me their favourite wine is Fuzion, I feel committed to helping them expand their horizons. Both gave this one the thumbs up. From New Zealand’s Marlborough area, it has a cool crisp citrus flavour that makes you wish for a warm day just so it can refresh you. At $13.95 a bargain for sure!

Did you have any great picks worth sharing? Let me know.

Have a great weekend!


A Tuscan Watering Hole

If you ever visit the  town of Montepulciano, put on a pair of comfy shoes and head to the top of the hill. E Lucevan le Stelle is a restaurant with an outdoor patio that overlooks the rolling hills of Tuscany. The restaurant is named after the third  act of Puccini’s opera, Tosca.

 “When the stars were brightly shining ”  tells the story of Mario, a painter in love with Tosca. It became the favourite watering hole of another pair of well-known lovers – Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart during their happier days filming scenes from New Moon.

( For Twilight fans, Montepulciano was the stand in for Volterra hence the New Moon t-shirts and menus in some of the more touristy spots). At twilight, e Lucevan Le  Stelle became our neighborhood gathering place during two days in the town.



Owner Kristian and Luca moved tables and kept the wine coming as the new arrivals to our group kept coming on our first night. They could not have been more gracious.

There is something so wonderful  about seeing old friends walk through the door of the perfect little restaurant, in the perfect little town, at the start of a perfect little vacation. My friends Cindy and Phil only found it because a kind-hearted truck driver took pity on the first timers trying to navigate the twisty roads in the dark, and he drove them there himself.

Those are  the kind of people you meet everywhere in this wonderful country. They take the time to talk, to share their knowledge, and while you enter as strangers, you often leave as friends who you hope to see again.

Luca was a big fan of the locally produced Valdipiatta, a  small winery with some big  wines.  It became our wine of choice for the eight of us over dinner, lots of catching up, and getting acquainted.  Even with eight bottles, the dinner cost us 45 Euros per couple.


The stars shone brightly for us that night.

I love Italy!



Mystery Solved

So if you’ve ever heard the expression “go with your first instincts” pay attention and do exactly that, because when you over think it, you’ll get it wrong.  I was recently invited to take part in a really fun endeavour called The Label Project. Basically over a period of time I received 3 boxes that arrived by “No Name Sender”.

Each box contained a bottle of wine that was unidentified and through some provided clues and tastings I had to determine what the wines were and where they were from.  Then last Friday I had to hand in my tasting notes and today the results were revealed.

The first wine I received was a white and I really thought it was a cool climate chardonnay but wanting to be absolutely sure I totally over analyzed it to the point I got it wrong, and believe me I really hate getting things wrong.   I even had a friend (a talented Sommelier try it who also didn’t think it was a Chardonnay after several sips – goes to show the experts are sometimes as challenged as a novice when it comes to blind tastings) The other 2 bottles were reds and I figured I would just enjoy the wine and not try so hard and guess what?  I got them both right.

Jacob’s Creek Wines

Today I received a letter from the wine maker, Bernard Hickin of Jacob’s Creek thanking me for my participation (no thanks needed – I had a ton of fun). He revealed the 3 wines I had tasted from 3 renowned Australian regions, Barossa, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills.  Along with the letter I also received the same three bottles of wine, this time with the actual label you’ll find on the bottle when you buy it at the LCBO. Now I guess I’m just going to have to open up that Chardonnay again, close my eyes and just enjoy. If you’d like to try them as well, here’s a list of the three bottles:

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2011 (from Adelaide Hills, Australia) $14.95

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2009 (From the Barossa Valley, Australia)  $16.95

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Fromm Coonawarra, Australia) $16.95


Still Guessing

This has been an absolutely crazy week for me…my blogging partner in crime is currently away having the time of her life in Italy, as you can see from the previous post.  Since we also work together at our day jobs, when she’s not there things get a little stressful for me. There were a couple of big projects that needed to be taken care of, which meant I worked 23 hours from Tuesday morning til Wednesday night.  This of course didn’t leave time for much else except a little sleep so when I finally got back to my desk I found 2 new mystery boxes sitting there.

To boot I got a note from whoever is organising #thelabelproject that I had to figure out what these last two wines are and send in all my tasting notes by tomorrow afternoon.

So here I sit, sipping from bottle #2.  It arrived as usual in a box with a couple of clues and some chocolate

(Oh yes, I cracked that at the office to alliviate the stress – I would have cracked the wine as well but for some reason there’s a company policy against drinking wine at your desk – a shame really because I could have use a drink today!)

The clue states the winters are cool and wet but summer days are warm dry and sunny, well that could describe half of the globe so not much help there.  The varietal clues says spicy aroma of rich fruit cake, berry flavours with a hint of dark chocolate.

Since I better get a move on I’ve had a glass of wine #2 and I’m cracking bottle #3 which comes from a maritime climate, tastes of ripe cassis with a hint of mint…hmmm.

Right now all I definately know is these wine are from Australia.  This is definately tough work but someone’s got to do it.  But whether I get it right or wrong, it’s been a lot of fun trying to figure it out.  Considering in my line of work I get pitched a ton of marketing campaigns, some definately better than others.   So whoever came up with this idea deserves koodos because it definately caught my attention, way to go #thelabelproject




The Best Day Ever

There are days that are circled on your personal calendar of life followed by five stars. Today has been one of those days.

The Salcheto Vineyard

We started out by visiting Salcheto, one of my favourite wineries in Tuscany. The vines, heavy with ripe fruit, are ready for picking. Three years ago when we came to Cortona with friends for a birthday celebration, we were introduced to Salcheto, producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Salcheto’s Vertical Garden


It was one of highlights  of a week. And we stayed in touch with the director of hospitality, Ettore (Italian version of Hector) even when the winery was operating out of the back of a restaurant while the main facility was being turned into an ecological marvel.  Ettore gave us a tour and orchestrated a tasting of their outstanding wines over a Tuscan brunch.

The lunch of homemade pasta e fagioli and a plate  of Tuscan meats and cheeses was spectacular, the wine even more so.

My husband Steve at the Mozart Vineyard

Next stop about 35 km from Montepulciano was a winery known for its music.  Il Paradiso Di Frassina believes music will influence the growth of the vines. So it plays Mozart in the vineyard, 24 hours a day. This relatively small operation is in the heart of Brunello country – a region so beautiful that everywhere you look, is a photograph worthy of framing.Returning to Montepulciano, a 16th century hilltop town, we wandered down the side streets steep enough to give your calves a serious workout. We poked around the little shops, including my favourite, Fantamagoria where all the jewelry is handcrafted by the owner. I found a necklace that will make me smile and think of this day every time I wear it.

Then it is wine with a view.   Lucevan e Stelle, a little bar-restaurant at the top of the hill at magic hour.  the outdoor terrace overlooks the valley. Kristian and Luca, attentive, informative, knowledgable to a fault, suggest their favourites from their wall of wine. Each has the  price to order by the bottle, or for 20% less, to take home (which made one of my traveling companions wonder why the mark up has to be so much in restaurants in Canada – GOOD QUESTION! Two visits – 6 bottles. Seems about right.

Guilio – Owner of Osteria Acquachetta

Our day of days,  ended with dinner  at Osteria Acquachetta, a little hole in the wall with a big reputation. It’s the kind of place that represents everything that is best about dining in Italy. It’s loud. Its crowded. The owner and server have personality galore! Anina who is seven months pregnant, greets us like we are old friends.Guilio the owner, armed with a cleaver and eyebrows that stretch halfway up his forehead, deftly navigates the tables loaded down by slabs of beef. The food and wine just keep coming. Each dish is better than the last. The house wine, an excellent a Rosso di  Montalcino cost  6 euros a litre. That’s right. Less than $7.50 a LITRE.

What made this day so special, was getting to share all of this with my husband and with some of my dearest friends.

So when I will have one of those days that feels far too long, and couldn’t end soon enough, I will look back on this one, and know that whatever is going on, I have been truly blessed.

Loving Local

Tundra Lobby Bar

Recently I had a chance to visit the newly renovated Tundra Restaurant and lobby bar in Toronto’s Hilton Hotel.  Quintessentially Canadian from decor to cuisine the restaurant has won several awards in the past.  The textures used to create this new space are visually pleasing, warm and inviting, making both hotel guests and restaurant patrons feel like they’re enjoying a true Canadiana experience with a modern twist.

Chef Kevin Prendergast

Keeping it local on many levels Executive Chef Kevin Prendergast changes the menu seasonally and even has his own herb garden at the hotel.  From salmon to lamb chops, Cornish hen to grilled octopus the menu has something for everyone. I got a chance to sample several things off the fall menu including the seared duck breast which was my favourite.  One thing I noticed on the menu that I really liked was the fact that each dish came with a wine recommendation.

Since so many people get intimidated by trying to select a wine to pair with their meal and this takes away the stress and makes everyone feel like a sommelier.

Seared Duck Breast

Along with international wines they also carry a good selection of Ontario VQA wines and even have a house red and white provided by a Niagara vineyard which they serve at special functions.  So many people are realising its important to support our local growers and its nice to see that along with individuals restaurants are stepping up to the plate.

So whether you’re planning on staying the night or just looking for a place to enjoy dinner with friends, check in and check out the menu.