Taste Ontario 2016 – Part one: Riesling, pinot and cab franc, oh my!

Today was a great wine day. I went to my first trade tasting! After getting back from Taste Ontario 2016, my initial thoughts were:

a) How sweet is it that I am now considered part of the trade!?

b) I really need business cards.

While I was there, I took lots of notes about the wines I tasted, but I also took lots of notes about my first impressions of a trade tasting, from the outsider/newbie’s perspective. I felt a bit like an undercover spy, or an imposter. Luckily, after a few sips of wine I overcame that feeling.

Observations

  1. Even though this event gave me the opportunity to practice my spitting technique, originally this section was entitled “Obversations”.
  2. The Ottawa wine world is small. Everyone seems to know each other (hence the feeling of being an outsider). As a result, I observed that the objective of the trade tasting for most is twofold: a) wine tasting; b) networking.
  3. In some ways, it sort of felt like being at a high school dance, except that I didn’t know anyone (i.e. the stuff of teenager nightmares).  There were definitely cliques: the sommelier/restaurant clique, from all the fancy restaurants around town – they tended to move together in packs, tasting together to decide if they wanted a wine for their restaurant’s wine list. Then there was the media crowd – the journalists were pretty controlled while the radio people let loose. And then there were the oddballs – those of us who were there because we’d somehow managed to squeak through under the “media and trade” label.

Wines tasted

By my count, I tasted 42 wines in about 3 hours. Now, I must admit that Ontario is not by any stretch of the imagination one of my favourite wine regions, but I wholeheartedly support the Buy Local movement. And there are certain grape varieties that definitely lend themselves well to our Ontario terroir (namely riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, hence the title of this post). So without further ado, here were my favourites from that crew:

  • Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay – this medium-bodied chardonnay has a beautiful oaky aroma, with a complex flavour profile. I kept getting rose water and orange flower. Lovely! Thomas Bachelder owns a successful trifecta of small craft wineries in beautiful wine regions: Niagara, Oregon and Bourgogne.
  • Coffin Ridge 2015 Riesling Bone Dry – I had a great chat with Nyarai Cellars and Coffin Ridge winemaker Steve Byfield. He explained that Nyarai means “humility” in a South African dialect. And when I asked him how he rated his wines, he did indeed respond very humbly, saying that the wines are exceptionally balanced and food-friendly and allow for the terroir to really shine and express itself. This riesling was maybe one of the best I have ever tasted. It doesn’t have that vinyl plastic taste I find so distracting, and focuses more on the fruity aspects: stone fruit like peach and apricot, as well as apple and a hint of citrus. In my notes, I wrote “Buy this”. I’ll likely take my own advice.
  • Malivoire Moira Rosé 2015 – Malivoire’s Ladybug rosé is a popular Ontario quaff in the summer, but the Moira rosé, made with 100% pinot noir, would be my preferred choice for a sunny day on the patio or out on the water. Sweet floral qualities on the nose, with red apple and candied fruit, yet still dry with medium acidity. My only wish is that they would sell it at the LCBO. I guess a trip to Niagara is in order.

That is certainly not the end of the list, but as you can imagine, I’m quite sleepy. Stay tuned for more thoughts on my first trade tasting, including more of my favourites and lessons learned.

P.S. I would be remiss if I did not thank @NatalieMacLean for alerting me to this event in the first place and getting me on the guestlist!

The Wine Shower: the wine lover’s alternative to a wedding shower

I have another confession to make: I really do not enjoy showers. Be it the wedding or baby variety, there is nothing I would like to do less than sit around for an afternoon surrounded by squealing women playing ridiculous games like Guess the Mess in the Diaper or The Toilet Paper Bride. And God help you if it is a dry event. I don’t care if the guest of honour is pregnant, the rest of us should still be able to indulge so the poor girl can drink vicariously through us.

All this to say, when I was in the horrible throes of planning my own wedding, I made it clear that there were to be NO SHOWERS. However, knowing my penchant for wine, one sneaky friend managed to convince me by suggesting a novel concept: the wine shower.

How It Works

Each guest is invited to bring two bottles of wine:

  • one for immediate consumption at the shower
  • one for the couple to cellar as a souvenir of their year of marriage

You can see why I was so easily convinced. It’s a FANTASTIC idea for any wine-loving couple. First of all, you get to taste lots of different wines at the actual event, then you get to keep as many bottles as guests for your collection!

As a nice touch, my friend brought a lovely little “guestbook” where each guest wrote the name of the wine they brought and drank, and the one that they left for us.

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Our friends are the best

It has now been three years since our wine shower, and we still have a few bottles left. Last weekend we decided to open one, and we were not disappointed!

Domaine St-Pierre Vacqueyras 2009

Vacqueyras is an appellation in the Côtes du Rhône region. Located in the south of France, it is just north of the city of Avignon (famous for being the papal seat starting in the 14th century) and west of Orange. It is a region where you can still feel the influence of the ancient Romans, and it has lots of beautiful (and in some cases still used) ruins to show for it. It is an amazing area, with some of my favourite wines.

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The amphitheatre in Orange dates back to the 1st century and is still used as an outdoor music venue in the summer

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A brilliant Rhône Valley map c/o WineFolly (http://winefolly.com/review/cotes-du-rhone-wine-with-maps/)

This Vacqueyras was a blend of grenache (one of my favourite grapes) and syrah. The colour was a deep, rich ruby red that was practically opaque. On the nose, a fruit explosion. We pulled out the large Riedel glasses for this one, and the fruit aromas just filled the bowl. It was heavenly: dark fruit, plum, cherry, fig, sweet spices, cassis and mint/cedar/eucalyptus. When I finally got over sniffing my wine and tasted it, the flavour was just a continuation of all the lovely aromas, with the addition of more dried fruit like raisin and prune (a result of aging), plus some leather, sweet spice and smoke, due to the 6-12 months this wine spent aging in oak barrels. It was still a medium-full bodied  wine, with medium acidity, and after 7 years in the bottle, the tannins had softened right out. This wine was incredibly drinkable and I’m glad we didn’t leave it in the cellar any longer! If you still have a bottle of this lingering in your cellar, now is the time to drink it.

 

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The first thing I did after drinking a glass of this wine was email Erica to thank her!

So the wine shower…great idea, right? Who’s with me?

Happy wining, friends!

Spit or swallow: the great debate

Please don’t get the wrong idea. If you are a teenager who just googled the first part of this post’s title, I’m afraid you are going to be sorely disappointed. But if you are of legal drinking age, keep reading and you may learn a thing or two anyway.

The question

Someone recently asked me why wine snobs bother spitting the wine that they are tasting. Doesn’t that impact on the taste? Do you really get the full flavour if it doesn’t go to the back of your mouth and down your throat?

The short answer is, no, you don’t really get the full flavour of a wine if you spit it out. That said, you can get a pretty good idea of the wine’s qualities by swirling it around in your mouth for about 5 seconds while sucking in a bit of air, hence the hilarious gurgling/slurpy sound effects that are a constant source of mockery for the rest of us.

spit fail

Awkward! For more amazing spitting stories and images, check out this appropriately themed article on Vivino: https://www.vivino.com/wine-news/how-to-spit-wine-like-a-pro

To explain why wine pros spit, let me tell you a story.

Story time!

I was recently invited to a team tasting in April organized by wine writer extraordinaire Natalie MacLean. When describing the event to me, she said there would be at least 70  bottles to try and potentially review. 70. Bottles.

That is a lot of wine.

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So much wine! Picture from a previous Natalie MacLean team tasting. To see what I am in for, check out the whole blog post: http://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/wine-team-tasting-reviews-ratings/

I have a confession to make: I rarely spit….when tasting wines (why did I feel the need to specify??). While taking my courses, I rarely drove to class so I could fully enjoy the various wines we tasted, which were often above my wine budget. No spitting there. Even at wine events, I may not finish a two-ounce pour, but I feel like spitting is sacrilege.

Case study #1

I have been to a couple of wine shows around town, the first being the Ottawa Wine and Food Show, back in 2012. That one was not a great experience for me. You pay $30 just for your ticket and the “privilege” of standing in line outside for an hour, then you have to buy drink tickets, with each glass going for 2 or 3 tickets, or as many as 10 tickets for Bordeaux wines you won’t find at the LCBO. Another issue is the people who attend these shows. Sure, you’ve got the industry reps and the people who are legitimately interested in trying new wines, but for the most part, it seems to be 20-somethings who want to get dressed up then get wasted, but on wine so it’s classy-like.

The day leading up to this big event, I followed all the rules: I hydrated well, ate a big meal before going, and wore comfortable shoes.

Buuuuuuuut I still got drunk.

Rookie mistake – I wasn’t just tasting the wines, I was drinking them. All of them. I think we were home by midnight.

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Case study #2

This past November I attended another event organized by the Ottawa-based Savvy Company called Outstanding in their Field. This really fun event brought in wines from Niagara, Prince Edward County and even the Ottawa Valley.

However, with the price of entry, you received a tasting glass and free reign to try over 60 wines. Danger!

We were only there for three hours. In that short time, we found 6 bottles we wanted to buy (the minimum purchase for free shipping) and I managed to get…very social. Yup, I was definitely more than tipsy, and on a work night no less.

The answer

Going back to the original question: why do wine pros spit out their wines? As you may have guessed from the above story/case studies, the answer is basically this: so they don’t get drunk. Also, there is such a thing as palate desensitization. Wine tasting becomes a rather fruitless endeavour if you are so drunk you can’t taste the wines anymore. I discovered this at the Wine and Food Show, after leaving the aged Bordeaux as my last wine of the night. It tasted like…wine. What a waste.

So while I am looking forward to this team tasting in a month, I am also kind of nervous. I have always felt that spitting out wines is…rude somehow. So lately I have been asking myself all kinds of soul-searching questions, like:

  • Do I have to taste every single wine?
  • How do I decide ones which to pass on?
  • Will I have the strength, will-power and discipline to taste rather than drink?
  • What wine tasting note format am I going to use? Old school notepad or high-tech tablet? Or maybe just my phone?
  • Is everyone going to be watching me?
  • If I spit, is there a way of doing so gracefully?
  • What happens if there is a little dribble? (note to self: do NOT wear white)
  • Oh god, what if I miss the spitoon entirely?
  • Are all the other wine tasters going to judge me? They’re all going to laugh at me!

Clearly I am going to have to do some spit practicing as I seem to have some hang-ups in this department. Sounds like the perfect excuse to open some of those not-so-great bottles in my collection!

Wish me luck, and happy wining!