Once upon a time, on a perfect beach in Maine, one hundred people held up their glasses to toast the marriage of soul mates.
What is a wedding if not belief in the future?
Looking at Rhiannon and Scott, surrounded by family and friends who gathered to rejoice in this moment, you can’t help but believe.
I have often written about Maine (likely because it often includes the imbibing of a fair amount of wine). What made this wedding so special – they chose to begin their future in a place that honours the bride’s past.
Rhiannon, her siblings and my girls – along with a host of others, have spent precious days together on that beach for 25 years.
And this day couldn’t have been more perfect.
The bride and her attendants looked like Goddesses as they made their way down the beach.
The catch in Rhiannon and Scott’s voices as they spoke their vows.
The relief that some of us felt (OK it wasn’t ONLY me) that we were thankfully wearing sunglasses so those tear-filled eyes wouldn’t show.
What does this have to do with wine?
Wedding wine, of course – the challenge of making choices that will have everyone coming back for more.
Last summer, while making our way through scores of bottles, during our week at the very same beach , one evening was devoted to the tasting of potential wedding wines.
Among the 10 of us, we had plenty of familiarity drinking wine and a fair amount of experience attending weddings. Testing wines is a tough job, but that’s what friends are for.
Where do you start?
Set your budget. Parents Sandra and Randy wanted to spend somewhere between $10-20 a bottle. Extremely attainable.
Pick your varietals. After much discussion which included the merits of Merlot and the shunning of Chardonnay (wrongly so) – the plan was a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Find an expert: Erin from Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shop in Portland couldn’t have been more helpful. She had great suggestions and if there was something Sandra was looking for that she didn’t carry or didn’t fit the budget – Erin found something with a matching flavour profile.
Excellent choices to celebrate with dear old friends, raise a glass with new ones and toast to Rhiannon and Scott’s future. A Once Upon a Time kind of day that will undoubtedly end with Happily Ever After.
Value added suggestion:
One of the many times husband Steve and I visited the tasting bar at the Summerhill LCBO, a couple planning their wedding told us about Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia IGT – $10.95. Turns out it is the most popular wedding wine. Though now Steve thinks all young couples we meet at the tasting bar are picking wedding wine – which can prove to be occasionally awkward but awfully fun.
The Amalfi coast defies gravity.
It is proof that what needs to be done, can be done.
Just sheer will. With less workable land than a city park, the Amalfitani built terraces on cliffs that kiss the sky, plant lemon trees that grow year round, and climb steep hills each day to tend to them.
It’s not the Mediterranean Diet that keeps them healthy. It’s all that exercise with the Nonnas and Nonnos (Grannies and Grampas) putting you to shame.
Times are tough in Italy. In some regions, the unemployment rate among young people is over 50%. There is bitterness when you ask about the government. Still, there is an undeniable pride in this country that gets life done despite the challenges – just like the lemon tree overflowing with fruit.
Trattoria da Ciccio is poised on the edge of a cliff in Amalfi. It looks like any place – though the recommendation “qui si mangia bene” (here you will eat well) is the highest praise from a fellow Italian. They take their food very seriously.
A sea of waiters welcomed us and broke the ice by asking us a few questions. It was like they wanted to know our mood, our taste, our comfort level with risk-taking before making any suggestions. All local – beginning with the wine.
The white: Costa d’Amalfi Tramonti Tenuta San Francesco 2012 DOC
The Falanghina, Biancolella, and Pepella grapes come specifically from the village of Tramonti – one of three villages in the southern Italian province of Campania that is recognized for particularly fine wine. The estate’s vines that grow on steep parcels of land are more than 100 years old. The result, a crisp medium-bodied wine with notes of the famous Amalfi lemons and a long finish.
The red: Colli di Lapio Campi Taurasini Irpinia DOC 2010
Taurasi wines have been called some of the most under-rated wines in Italy. It’s a showcase for the Aglianico grape – the most important red varietal in the Campania province. Irpinia is one of top regions because of its high altitude, soil and lengthy growing season. This wine was full-bodied and a real palate-pleaser.
From the signature dishes of flying squid – to spaghetti in a bag – yes, I said spaghetti in a bag – with fresh clams, olives and garlic – to the improvised birthday cake for Rob the birthday boy of the night. The most perfect evening in Amalfi topped off, of course, with a glass of Limoncello. All those lemons have to go somewhere.
Yes, “Qui si mangia bene” without a doubt. But when I remember this place it will be the warmth (and the wine) that accompanied our delicious meal that will share centre stage in this breathtaking region.
Over the holidays I tried so many terrific wines, I missed a few blogs because I was too busy drinking. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Some were spectacular splurges and others were fabulous finds that are budget-friendly. Since getting financially fit is the second most common resolution, this week is dedicated to bottles that won’t break the bank.
Bougrier Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2012 AOC, Loire, France $13.95 I sampled this wine walking into an LCBO looking for a red or three and I couldn’t pass up this white charmer. This wine is a tad sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Pale gold and fruity with aromas of peach, pear and mango. I really enjoyed this wine, especially at that price. 12% alcohol ,Food Match: Pesto, Rich Seafood with a little Taylor Swift or Sophie Milman playing in the background.
Buried Hope, Tempranillo 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain $19.95 This wine was a perfect match from the first sip. It’s rich and full-bodied – fruity with cherry, plums and a touch of spice. It is nicely balanced and will only improve with time. I loved this wine and will be clearing some space for a few extra bottles. 14% alcohol . Food match: Roast Pork, Steak aux Poivre served with some Dave Matthews or Mumford and Sons.
Buried Hope, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 North Coast, California, $19.95 Grown in the massive area which encompasses the North Coast, this California Cabernet is earthy and smooth. Makes you wish you were sipping a glass in a cottage overlooking the Pacific. Cherry and vanilla notes, nicely balanced. 14.2% alcohol. Food match: meat, meat and more meat – and Foreigner blasting “I’ve Been Waiting”.
The Pavillion, Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, South Africa, $12.00 I knew nothing about this wine. It came by way of a party. It looked great in the glass – purpley-red with the kind of full-bodied swirl that I am a fan of. Produced by Boschendal Estates, this blend has lovely blackberry and spicy and a pleasure to drink with friends. What surprised me most was the price. Alcohol 14% Food match: Roast Beef or a Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and the Rolling Stones with plenty of Satisfaction.
I hope you enjoy these tasty bargains. If you have a favourite value wine, let us know. Coming soon, the wines of B.C’s Osoyoos , wines worth splurging on, and the wines of Sicily.
Wishing you a 2014 filled with memorable occasions and memorable wine! .
A friend of mine came into my office after she received a quick lesson in wine pairings from Kevin Brauch, The Thirsty Traveler (@drinkingrobot). Marcia said the lesson left her determined to learn more about wine so she won’t feel intimidated visiting the wine store. Two days later, I heard the same message from another two colleagues who talked about the stress of picking the wrong wine.
There is no such thing as a right and wrong wine. Just like there is no such thing as a right song or a wrong song. Be it Lou Reed (RIP) or ABBA, it simply comes down to a matter of taste (my husband might disagree on the ABBA point). Coincidentally it came up again at a wine club event, which you might think would be full or cork dorks, but you would be wrong – they are just people who love wine.
Someone asked what happens if you can’t smell the wine notes or aromas that have been identified. Brian Schmidt (@benchwineguy), the winemaker at Vineland Estates, expressed it beautifully. Essentially, as they say in Jersey, fuhgeddaboudit. Schmidt said the wine industry could not have done more to complicate the drinking of wine. “It’s like we made it sound like if you don’t taste certain flavours in a wine, you are not part of the club. Just enjoy it“, Schmidt said.
Then he promptly proceeded to prove his point by admitting, that on a hot day, he enjoys sipping from a bottle of Mateus. Mateus??? Cue the gasp from the alleged cork dorks.
Remember Mateus? The stubby shaped flat bottle looks snazzier now than when I smuggled it into a party in the 70’s. Apparently Mateus also continues to be one of the top selling wines in Canada.
Schmidt couldn’t have used a better example. Enjoy what you enjoy. whether it is Yellow Tail, Fuzion, or a Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild (though that one will cost you a mortgage payment). I attended a wine seminar a couple of years ago and everyone was raving about an Australian Chardonnay and I didn’t like it at all. I assumed it was because I didn’t know enough about wine. And while I am sure it was very fine wine, it’s not very fine to me.
So there is no reason to feel intimidated when walking through the LCBO, SAQ or any other liquor store. It’s an adventure. And the more you try different grapes, countries, regions, the more you will start to recognize the type of wine you like.
And the same thing goes for wine critics – Peter Gago, the man responsible for the jaw-droppingly good Penfolds, says by sampling their picks, you find out if you have similar tastes.
For example, I love Italian wines. There are regions that I pick from that I know will not disappoint. They may not all be award winners, but when I pick a wine from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region, I am 90% sure I will be very happy with my pick. I feel the same way about a Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region of Australia. The quality and price can vary widely – but at whatever level – my risk is minimal because I like that style of wine.
So if you have enjoyed a few of my wine picks, here are a few more, including one that made my taste buds somersault for joy.
I randomly picked up this bottle. It was the last on the shelf which is often a good sign (Sorry Mr. Leaside who, seconds later, asked a staffer where he could find Luis Canas. I slinked away hugging mine tightly). I tried it that night and it was spectacular. Smooth, full-bodied, with raspberry and dark cherry notes. I went to the LCBO web site to see where I could buy more and picked up the last 5 bottles at the Danforth Store. Incredible value for $17.95. If you see them, buy them (or let me know and I will.) Apparently they have the potential of aging well. As if.
Cheval Quancard Reserve Sauvignon-Semillion 2011, Bordeaux, France $14.95
This wine is my white find of the week. My daughters prefer white to red so I always have a few on hand. This one particular wine had me wishing they switched to red so I could finish it off. It is fruity and full of flavour, slightly creamy with lovely aromas. I loved the wine and especially loved the price!
Ripa de Manderole, IGT, Tuscany, Italy $15.95
My third pick is a medium-bodied blend of Tuscany’s favourite Sangiovese grape blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the creation of John Matta, who has been voted Italian winemaker of the year four times since 1997. It is a friendly approachable wine that is a terrific with a simple pasta or pizza.
Some 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.
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, 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%
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%
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!
There are family businesses and then there is Antinori.
This Italian family has been making wine for more than 600 years or 26 generations. Their centuries of success has everything to do with innovation and quality, creating new traditions and blending them with the old. The current head of this dynamic dynasty is Marchese Piero Antinori. Not only has he expanded the Antinori business far beyond Italy’s borders, he has played a key role in putting Italian wines on the map.
One of the greatest nights of my life, excluding my wedding day and birth of my two daughters of course, (my husband gets a little touchy about that), was the night my husband and I had dinner at Antinori’s Tignanello estate in Chianti with the Marchese himself, thanks to Toronto wine collector Garrett Herman. Antinori talked about the importance of tradition in any family business. His admiration for his three daughters who are continuing the family tradition was obvious. He talked about bringing his 18-year old grandson to visit Antinori’s Califonia vineyards, grooming the next generation. The lively discussion was even better than the Solaia 2007 served with the meal, and that’s saying a lot because the wine was absolutely amazing.
Among the gifts the family has brought to the world: Super Tuscans Tignanello, Solaia, Guado al Tasso, Vintages Classics like Badia a Passignano, Marchesi Antinori, Peppoli, along with wines from Lombardy, Puglia, California, Washington and Chile’s Maipo Valley. The list goes on.
Many of the stars in the Antinori portfolio shone brightly under one roof at an LCBO event recently in Toronto. Some familiar, and some new discoveries.
My Wines II teacher once told us if we ever saw a bottle of Franciacorta (Italian sparkling wine) – buy it immediately because Franciacorta rarely makes its way to the LCBO. Franciacorta is a sparkler from Lombardy in northern Italy. It has been called the catnip of wine lovers. Now that I have tried this Champagne-like sparkler, I think Italians are crazy to let it out of the country at all. Antinori’s Montenisa was fresh and light with apple, pear notes. It is $35.00 a bottle, but compares with Champagne at twice the price.
Haras de Pirque Hussonet Gran Reserva 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile
This was one of the best value finds of the evening. A partnership between the Antinori family and Edourdo Matte, an entrepreneur who wanted to blend his two passions, wine and thoroughbred horses. Haras de Pirque is the name of Chile’s oldest thoroughbred breeding stud. The horseshoe-shaped winery and prize horse farm is built on the side of a hill and gets top marks from TripAdvisor (one more place to add to the bucket list) and this wine got top marks from me for great value. At $16 a bottle, Tina and I ordered a case.
Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2007, Tignanello IGT Toscana, Tuscany Italy , Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007
We elbowed our way through the crowd around this table of Superstars. I learned you do NOT save the best for last at these events. The superstars go quickly. I also learned that cork dorks (and I use the term fondly) call the King of the Super Tuscans, Tignanello – TIG. Long live this King. It did not let me down. It was superb. But the true star of this evening was, without question, the Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino… hands down. It was elegant, rich and refined with cherry, tobacco and even a hint of chocolate. A toe-curling experience at $59.95. But compared with the Tignanello at $102.95 – almost a steal. The Badia a Passignano was also good and is my version of a splurge at $44.95 – but tonight this Chianti Classic was clearly upstaged by her Brunello sibling.
La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 DOCG Tuscany, La Braccesca Bramasole Syrah 2008 DOC Cortona, Tuscany
I loved these wines and even bought a couple of bottles. These two Antinori estates are close to each other but very different. the web site refers to them as different souls. Each has a character worth savouring. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is ripe, rich with a hint of vanilla, smooth and spicy and personally, I feel it is a bargain at $25.00 a bottle. La Braccesca Bramasole is also something very special. It is 100% Syrah coming from an area near Cortona that has become known for its international grapes. You might recognize the name Bramasole from Frances Mayes bestseller “Under the Tuscan Sun”. I first picked up a bottle in Montreal at the SAQ and it is delicious. This vintage is big, bold and unforgettable even at $44.00. Wine Spectator gave it 92 points.
The final table that stirred the crowd, featured wines from the Piedmont region just south of Torino. Truly one of the most beautiful areas in the country, it is what I would imagine Shangri-La would look like. And the wines are equally worthy of attention.
The Prunotto Barolo as expected, was big rich and impressive. I am a sucker for a good Barbaresco and this one was nothing short of great. Both were $42.00 and worth the splurge if you are looking for something special. On the more affordable side of the spectrum, I thought the Prunotto Mompertone was delicious and at $19.00 a bottle, I ordered a half dozen. The Prunotto Barbera D’Alba was also good – fresh with bright acidity – also well priced at $21.00.
That was my night with the Antinori stars – some that are regulars at LCBO Vintages or SAQ, Others are available through consignment. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a family that’s been making wine for more than 600 years.
It’s enough to force you off the street and into the closest SAQ (Quebec’s answer to the LCBO).Excuses, excuses …. pretty much any time you visit Montreal is a good reason for a stop at the SAQ.
Searching for Wine in an April Snowstorm
My mother has gotten used to the fact that even after spending five hours in the car, my first pit stop is the small but well-stocked liquor store around the corner from her place. She stopped taking offence after I made sure I also stocked her up with her favourites.
They have their version of Vintages. Many have a tasting bar. And they have incredibly helpful staff. But there are a few differences:
Fans of French wines will be overjoyed by the SAQ which has a richer selection of wines from France. There are Italian wines that are only available on consiognment in Ontario. But sorry Quebec, whenever you can find the same wines in both provinces, the LCBO version is typically cheaper.
Another difference – the tasting philosophy. LCBO is very strict about making sure you taste no more than a total of 2 oz of wine (4 x 1.2 oz – that math combination I have learned well!).
In Quebec, it’s pretty much self-serve. Load a few bucks on to your tasting card and keep tasting until your card runs dry. Now I haven’t spent a whole day there, so maybe someone would eventually get thrown out, but the expectation is you know better than to drink too much at the liquor store.
This time I tasted a FANTASTIC Saint-Joseph from the Northern Rhone quite aptly named Hedonism. SO good that a bottle of this sexy red ended up in the cart. 100% Syrah, it exudes luscious strawberries and spice. This one is medium to full bodied like most Saint-Joseph reds and would go nicely with a juicy beef burger or beef stew. Yum. WIne Spectator gave it an 89 rating.
Alcohol 13% $27.40 SAQ
Here are the some of others that made it into my Mom’s personal tasting room.
Valley of the Giants Cabernet-Merlot 2009 from Western Australia $16.95 This very affordable Australian was flying off the shelves. Excellent value.