Tag Archives: wine tasting

Australia – Revisited

Anyone who has followed the latest entries, knows that Tina and I are big fans of Italian reds. We also have been mighty lucky to taste some spectacular Niagara, South African and Calfornia wines. Now I have returned to the classroom to learn a little more about New World Wines. SO much fun.

Jumping Into New World Wines

The first week we focused on Australian and New Zealand Wines. A few things to note about Australian wines:

  • What you see is what you get. Australian wines are all about consistency and blending. There is less guess work with Australian wine – that $20 wine you bought last year will be just as good when you buy it this year. 
  • Australia is at the forefront of innovation – labour shortages and much more flexible rules allow winemakers to do what they need to do to make sure the wine tastes the same for the consumer.
  • One hard fast  rule – 85% of the grapes must be the varietal or from the area listed on the label.
  • Australia is the 6th biggest wine producer in the world.
  • Most popular red grape is Shiraz. Most popular white is Chardonnay.


Brown-Bagging it

Being the embarrassingly obsessive note taker and homework keener, I “forced” my husband Steve to do a tasting of Australian wines with me this weekend – for educational purposes only of course :). Try  your own tasting, it’s lots of fun. I did this with the group in Italy and they ranged from people with virtually no wine knowledge – to people with a  some vineyard exploration experience. We had a blast. Who cares if you are guessing?

A Trio of Aussies

I picked three wines; a Shiraz from Barossa Valley, one from Victoria and a Shiraz-Grenache blend from McLaren Vale – one of my favourite regions that  rarely disappoints.

Tasting Notes:

We covered each bottle with a brown paper bag and started comparing. I was supposed to print off a sheet from Wine Spectator with some options to circle, but I forgot and I needed the practice for school because we have to remember all the descriptors by heart.

A tasting is separated into three parts: Sight, Sniff and Savour. Some questions to consider…


  • What colour is each wine?
  • Are they the same colour?
  • Are they red or purple – garnet, ruby, cherry red, brick?
  • Which wine is darkest and densest?
  • Can you see your fingers when you look through the glass?
  • When you swirl, are the secondary legs – the second wave of drips down the glass, slow or fast?
  • Which is fuller bodied – think of the comparison between skim, 2% and  homogenized milk? Slower legs could indicate a higher alcohol level  or higher residual sugar which could indicate a higher alcohol level.

Sniff: Stick your nose in the glass and take a big whiff.

  • Are the aromas strong when you put your nose to the glass? Compare them.
  • Are their aromas you can identify? ie; Blackberries, plums, spice, pepper, licorice? (or like me in the first 8 classes – “it smells like red wine.”)
  • Is there a presence of oak – American oak will smell like coconut, dill pickles and brown sugar. French oak will be more mellow and  vanilla notes are more common . New oak will have a stronger presence. Does it smell toasty?

SIP :Take a good sip, swish around your mouth and then slurp in some air to get the full result.

  • Is the wine thick or heavy?
  • Do you taste the tannins – the pucker feeling? The tannins come from, the skins, stems and seeds and they also come from the oak barrels. Fruit tannins will be apparent in the front of your mouth, wood tannins in the back.
  • Are the tannins grippy, silky, grainy, velvety? Did the wine seem silky or smooth which could suggest lower levels of tannins or make your mouth feel dried out – which could mean high levels that need to open up?
  • Are the flavours the same as the aromas or do you taste something else?
  • Is there any bitterness? Do you feel a burn at the back of your throat – which could suggest high alcohol?
  • Acidity can be determined if it makes your mouth pucker which sounds just like the tannins doesn’t it – still working on that one. You feel the acidity on the sides of your mouth. I will report back if I get a clearer definition.
  • Do the flavour hang around for 1-5 – short finish, 5-8 medium finish, or 8 seconds + a long finish.

We lined up the wines. Took notes and made our conclusions (or guesses – don’t tell my teacher) based on what we knew about the wines or the regions.  You start to notice things like the colour of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are much darker than Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.  It doesn’t matter if you get it right, what matters is you start comparing similar markers for wines. You get used to the terminology. You don’t have to be a nerd or a cork dork. It is a terrific way to find out what types of wine appeal to you the most and it gives you more knowledge when buying wines you have never tasted before. And here’s what the winners who picked the right wines looked like when we did this in Italy.

The Happy Winners

 Here are the three Steve and I tested:

Tahbilk Shiraz  2008 $22.95 – a deep garnet purple, lovely aroma of blackberries – fruit forward were silky, it was full-bodied with a long finish. Super balanced at 14.5%




Barossa Valley

Grant Burge Shiraz 2009 from the Barossa Valley (available at LCBO and SAQ). This Shiraz from a  fifth generation winemaker has  aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, and black cherries  with notes of spice and chocolate and hint of mint. Yummy taste and great  value at $17.95.



And finally Paxton AAA Shiraz-Grenache 2010 from McLaren Vale (one of my favourite regions) at $19.95 – I had tasted this one before with considerable appreciation. But I must say, stacked up against the two others – it was our third pick. The colour was lighter than the others which was our first indication that one of these things was not like the others. The smooth and balanced wine is a  blend was 70% Grenache and 30% Shiraz with aromas of raspberries and pepper. Full-bodied  with grippy tannins.

 I have to say they were all pretty good and worth trying. But Tahbilk was by far our favourite.

Planning a tasting is also a way of getting the chance to try a few pricier wines when friends are each bringing a bottle.  Enjoy and let us know if you taste something worth sharing.

Skol! (Cheers in Swedish)




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?

The Perfect Marriage

Wine and music. I can’t imagine life without them.  Of course my family and friends push them out of first and second  place – but really they’re so much a part of my greatest memories: Sunday dinner, Lucia party (A Swedish Christmas celebration), graduations, birthdays, travels or a gathering of great friends.

A Perfect Marriage

I’ll create a playlist for most special occasions, whether it’s a trip, a workout, music to cook by, laid-back tunes and most recently wine-tasting and wine-studying. My husband is my fiercest critic and greatest fan. He loves telling people my playlists degenerate towards the end – but he always downloads them to his iPod, so they  can’t be all that bad.
Every once in a while on a Friday or Saturday night, I will pick a few bottles and wrap them up in a paper bag after they’re opened. All  I need is a few minutes to forget which is which – but if you want to be sure, get someone else to mix up the order. I started by trying three wines, each from a different country and each a different kind of grape. A Rioja from Spain, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California and a Chianti.  If you have never done it before, get a few details about each wine and see what you can pick out from the appearance, aroma and taste. If you know you’ve practiced, challenge yourself and get three California Cabs  or three Australian Chardonnays from different regions.There are lots of great web sites to give you the ABC’s of Wine Tasting from Wine Spectator, bottle notes, or the Wine Doctor.  IYellow Wine Club founder Angela Aiello sums it up for first timers with 5 easy steps:

  1. sight
  2. swirl
  3. smell
  4. sip
  5. savour

If  you do it with friends and each brings a bottle – then you can afford better wine. Experimenting  is a lot of fun definitely worthy of a playlist or two. Building your own is also one of the great pleasures of life so give it a try. Here is mine:

Lis’ Wine-Tasting Playlist

  • Your Body Is a Wonderland – John Mayer (as is the body of a great Cab)
  • Your Song – Elton John  (great swirling music)
  • You Really got a Hold on Me – Smoky Robinson and the Miracles (tried a great Barolo lately?)
  • You Can’t Make it  Love – Michael MacDonald ( who has a voice like the deepest Shiraz)
  • You Are so Beautiful – Joe Cocker (frightening, but I have thought that about a great glass of wine)
  • Humble Me – Norah Jones (I could be thinking about the great winemakers Antinori and Gaja – more or likely their wine)
  • How Deep is Your Love – Bee Gees (or how deep is the  colour in your glass)
  • How Do You Keep the Music Playing -Tony Bennett and George Michael
  • So Right – Paul Simon
  • Sara Smile – Hall and Oates
  • This Guy’s In Love With You – B.J.Thomas
  • Up on the Roof – James Taylor and Carole King (because they go together in perfect harmony like wine and music)
  • Into the Mystic – Van Morrison
  • Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding (because it may be one of the most perfect songs ever written)
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac version
  • Drive  All Night – Bruce Springsteen ( because anyone who would drive all night to buy his woman some shoes deserves toasting)
  • Heart of Mine. – Boz Scaggs
  • Through the Fire – Chaka Khan (because I can hit the high notes in my dreams. Or in my car. Only if I am alone..I promise)
  • Tiny Dancer – Elton John ( because you might have had enough wine to sing along – though watch the wax if you hold up a candle instead of a lighter- concert style) Also a favourite of my blogging partner whose name is Tina Daenzer and back when well-known sportscaster Rod Black hosted Canada AM he would sing to Tiny Daenzer when she arrived at the studio (minus the wine in the mornings of course)
  • Still Crazy After all These Years – Paul Simon (because Paul Simon is such a genius)
  • Thunder Road (the acoustic version or any version for that matter) – Bruce Springsteen ( because he could be the greatest songwriter of our time. This is his greatest song and this is such a powerful  version that it can pair with a wine that’s rough around the edges or smooth as silk).

And if you are exploring Italian – throw in a little Andrea Bocelli,   Chris Botti’s Italia CD is divine, and Chiara Civello, the best Italian-English  singer you have never heard of will keep you coming back for more.

Whatever you choose to  add to your playlist, whatever memory it brings back, whatever wine you pour in your glass, so long as company is selected with care, you will have the perfect blend.