Wining with Mel

Living life, one glass at a time

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Resurfacing…with big news

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Friends!

I know, I know. It has been a while. My excuses are valid, I assure you, but I don’t want to bore you with them. Let’s just say that I have been struck with a case of shifting priorities, and unfortunately this blog was one of the things that got shuffled to the bottom of the list, along with many other things that are dear to me. But it was all for a good cause! Read on, and you will see: this is a post of big news…

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Top wine gifts for the holidays and beyond

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The holidays are upon us, and as usual, I am behind on my Christmas shopping. Today, the cashier at the grocery store asked me if I was getting excited for Christmas, and I was surprised that my response was a scowly face. Let me explain: I do like Christmas. I love spending time with family, eating delicious food and splurging a little on fancy wines. I love the uplifting smell of a pine tree in our living room. I love walking through our neighbourhood at night and seeing all the pretty lights shimmer against a fresh dusting of snow. I love hearing Christmas songs everywhere I go, especially now that it’s December (any stores that played Christmas music in November got blacklisted). What I do NOT love is the consumerism associated with Christmas. Continue reading

Serendipitous Saturday Pairings: tilapia and chardonnay

As you know, I am in total denial that winter is here, so lately I have insisted on drinking summer-y wines, generally from the Southern Hemisphere. The sun sets at 4:30 these days, so you have to find ways to trick your body into not falling into a depression. Obviously, wine is the answer. Delicious food helps too. Put the two together and you can occasionally succeed in your anti-depressive measures.

This happened in a completely serendipitous way on Saturday night. Continue reading

Dreaming of warmer climes with great-value whites

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It is now day 4 of wearing the puffy coat and big snow boots

You know it’s bad when you start dreaming of warmer weather…in November.

That’s right, it’s not even officially winter and we already have a foot of snow in Ottawa…and it’s here to stay.

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View from the front door

In wine terms, normally as the cold weather settles in, you reach for fuller-bodied wines to accompany hearty winter meals like stews and roasts.

Me on the other hand? I am dreaming of warmer temperatures and my wine choices are reflecting that. Instead of stocking up on big, bold reds, I seem to be buying—of all things—lighter-bodied fragrant whites. Is it just a major case of denial? Winter is here, get over it, Mel! But no, I’d prefer to bury my head in the sand and pretend that nicer weather is just around the corner, despite all the signs to the contrary. By the way, whose idea was it to have the sun set at 4:30? Continue reading

Quebec City Wining

We were in beautiful Quebec City over the Family Day long weekend. And it was cooooooold. Not just the regular need-to-wear-a-toque-today cold, but the pull-out-the-long-underwear-and-balaclava kind of cold. It was the second year in a row with these same frigid temperatures over the long weekend. I remember, not only because my Facebook feed was filled with Memories from a year ago side-by-side with similar cold-related posts, but also because we had been on our same annual ski weekend, so the cold was particularly memorable. Now, I should mention that I am not in any way a skier. I tried it a couple of times when I was younger, but since I hate the cold, it turns out it wasn’t really my thing. So for the past three years, we have gone on an annual ski trip over the long weekend, which generally involves me hanging out by the fire with the cottage to myself while everyone else freezes their nuts off on the ski hill all day. I love it!

For this year’s ski trip, my husband and I, along with another couple had rented a really cute AirBnb in a quaint hillside town halfway between Quebec City and Mont Ste-Anne. We left Friday night right after work in, of course, a blizzard. Typical start to the long weekend. Needless to say, it took us much longer than expected to get there, and only arrived after midnight. We had a quick drink (a glass or two of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, in case you were wondering) then went to bed.

My husband was sick with a cold, so he passed on skiing on Saturday. Our friends took off first thing in the morning to take advantage of the fresh powder, while my husband and I had a much-needed sleep in. Our big adventure for the day was getting bundled up for the -30 °C temperatures with the wind chill and walking the 500 metres to the grocery store and back. I put together a beef stew in the crockpot and opened up a bottle of The Show. Yes, that’s right, the failed rib pairing (see link for wine description). You will be happy to hear that this rich Californian red was fabulous both in and with the beef stew. The rest of the evening was spent opening more bottles (including a bottle of my go-to cava, Segura Viudas) and playing various games, including Code Name and our family favourite, Cards Against Humanity.

The next morning involved another sleep-in.  Once we eventually got moving, we headed to the Chutes Montmorency, a beautiful half-frozen waterfall a ten-minute drive from where we were staying. It was just as cold that day, so you’ll have to excuse me if I didn’t risk getting frostbitten fingers to take pictures, if only to keep my typing skills (and by extension, this blog) intact. Here’s a stock photo instead:

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Source: quebecvacances.com

Luckily, my husband has heartier fingers than I do (or what is known as “man hands” in our household) and was able to doff his gloves momentarily to snap this lovely selfie.

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As some of you may recall, the Sunday of the long weekend was Valentine’s Day. And since we had just celebrated our “real” 8-year anniversary (real because it commemorates when we became a couple, not our wedding, and is therefore really where it all began), a nice dinner out was in order. Quebec City has an excellent selection of nice restaurants, so after getting a few recommendations from a friend, we finally settled on Chez Boulay.

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Cocktail hour with friends

We started off with some cocktails. They had some very interesting concoctions, and I of course chose something with a local sparkling wine in it, seeing as the restaurant’s mandate is to offer traditional nordic fare using regional ingredients.

We ordered some appetizers to start: some bison tartare as well as the salmon tartare. We all chose our mains and my sommelier skills were going to be put to the test when choosing a bottle of wine to go with all four meals. We were ordering the following:

  • Confit goose and duck parmentier with scalloped parsnips, sautéed green cabbage, herb pesto with Labrador tea, cooking jus
  • North Atlantic scallops with cranberry powder, navy bean and leek ragout, cooking ju
  • Cod fillet, gaspesian broth infused with Kombu and smoked cod, potato purée with seaweed from Gaspésie, green onion emulsion
  • Pan seared milk-fed veal medallion from Quebec, liver meatloaf, fried jerusalem artichokes, brussel sprouts, gnocchi with black walnuts and mustard cream sauce

Are you drooling yet?

So what did I have to work with? Two dishes that traditionally paired with white (fish/shellfish) and two that generally went with red (red meat). Also, my fellow diners were in the mood for a white, so that was tipping the scales as well. Plus I wasn’t super familiar with many of the wines on their list, so I happily enlisted the help of our server, who suggested a versatile Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley from Henry Pellé.

I even discovered a new appellation I’d never heard of before: Menetou-Salon. It’s the one right next to Sancerre, home of perhaps the most famous French sauvignon blancs.

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Menetou-Salon, located right-dab in the middle of France

This bottle was so lovely that I didn’t care that I was drinking a white wine with my red meat (goose and duck – YUM). It was light-medium bodied with a lot of apple flavours. I also got a bit of pear and definitely a lot of citrus. You could also see the terroir coming through in the wine’s subtle minerality. It also had plenty of acidity, so it was great with all of our dishes. Everyone was happy (though I was maybe the only one who really cared about what we were drinking ;-)). I was even happier when I discovered that this wine is available across the river at the SAQ! But it looks like stocks are limited, and at the $24+ price point, I’m not sure that I will be trekking across the bridge solely for that bottle. However, with the 15% bulk discount offered at SAQ Depots, my arm could be twisted.

What bottle did you open for Valentine’s Day? Or simply to beat the cold? Whatever the bottle, and whatever the occasion, I hope it was a lovely one.

 

Happy wining!

 

 

 

 

The best ways to take wine tasting notes

Do you have “a thing”? You know, that quirky activity that no one else in your social circle seems to do, so they always associate it with you? Maybe it’s yoga, or knitting, or perhaps something a little more trendy like axe-throwing or adult colouring books. They’re the sort of things that are incredibly helpful to your friends and family when they need to buy you gifts. For example, I have a friend who went through a gin phase. She became the ‘gin girl’ among her circles, and as a result received so many different bottles as gifts for various holidays and birthdays that she now has more gin than she will ever drink.

Obviously, my “thing” is wine tasting. But instead of receiving more wine than I could ever drink (a. is that possible? and b. I am open to this idea), I now have more wine journals than I know what to do with.

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3 samples of the wine journals in question

Each wine journal is different. For instance, some leave a space for the labels, others don’t. Some encourage some sort of personal rating system, and some allow you to write down how and where you acquired the bottle. That said, every single wine journal will provide a space to record the following information about the wine:

  • Name and vintage (year of production)
  • Appearance
  • Aroma
  • Taste
  • Price

And that, in essence, is what makes up your basic tasting note.

If I learned anything in my wine courses, it is that there is no right or wrong way of taking a tasting note. Every single teacher I had in my classes had a different way of doing it. Over the years, I have tried different things, but I have yet to come up with a set system for note-taking. Originally, I used one of my many wine journals:

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Wine journal sample (also, week 6 of shellac nail polish – time to take it off)

 

I then started keeping just a regular lined notepad on the table, but my husband wasn’t a huge fan of that.

 

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When not at home, I am that anti-social girl at the table on her phone. But I’m not on Facebook, I’m obviously taking tasting notes. Admittedly, it’s not very civilized, but it gets the job done. Plus then I have a record of it whether I am at home or not.

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My notes for Open Smooth White, taken using the InkPad app. The app can apparently be used to meet new people as well…

There also lots of wine-related apps for mobile devices designed specifically to help you keep a record of wines you taste. I have used Vivino, but there is also Hello Vino, Drync, Delectable, and lots more that I hope to review in the near future.

 

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One of my summary reviews in the Vivino app.

 

Finally, if I want to share a wine with the world, my notes will end up on this blog, for your enjoyment!

So next time you taste a wine you really like, by all means, grab your cell phone and take a picture of it. But it might also be worthwhile to take some notes, in whatever format you prefer. Whichever you choose, the point is to write something down that will give you an idea of:

a) What the wine looked, smelled and tasted like.

b) Whether you liked it.

c) If you’re really feeling adventurous, what foods it might pair well with.

 

How do you remember note-worthy wines? Do you use one of the methods above, or do you have another system entirely? Please share with the group!

 

Happy wining!

 

P.S. Alert for Ontario residents:

If you are a chardonnay fan, the two below have been discontinued at the LCBO, so stock up on these affordable bottles while you can still. Disclaimer: I have not tasted either of these wines. Is that ironic, considering this is a post on tasting notes?

 

Ripasso love

Fellow wine lovers,

Today I am very excited to be sharing one of my favourite wines styles with you. I often forget about it, but today’s bottle has served as a delicious reminder.

Ripasso wines are made in the Veneto region, which is the area in northeastern Italy between Verona and Venice.

The first step in making ripasso wines is making a valpolicella.  This table wine is made from three Italian grapes: corvina, rondinella and molinara.

The second step involves another wine called amarone. Amarone is made with the same grapes, however these grapes have been dried in a process called apassimento, whereby they are dried in the heat of the end of the summer, traditionally on straw mats.

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“Drying racks” by Tommasi

This process dries out the water and concentrates the amount of sugar in the grapes, which then yields a higher alcohol content during fermentation. Amarone is the wine created using these dried grapes, and is the crème de la crème of Italian wines. However, these bottles go for $30 and up, so are not always the most affordable choice. Ripassos (meaning re-passed), however, are a happy medium between the everyday valpolicella wines and the exhorbitantly priced amarones.

Ripasso is made by running valpolicella wines through the rich leftover amarone skins. This process adds body, texture and rich flavours to the valpolicella and makes for a consistently beautiful wine.

 

Breakdown of valpolicella wines c/o Wine Folly

Last Saturday night I made my special lasagna. It is special because I’ve adapted the recipe over time to meet my husband’s non-dairy needs. Instead of ricotta, I make my own tofu ricotta and I replace regular mozzarella with President’s Choice goat mozzarella. It’s pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. Because it was Saturday night and we didn’t have any other plans, I decided to choose a nice wine to accompany the meal. A standard rule of thumb for wine and food pairing is to go by geography, so for the lasagna, I decided to open the only bottle of Italian wine I had in the house: you guessed it, a ripasso.

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Farina “La Pezze” Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2013

This medium ruby red was full of cherry, blackberry, raisin (from the amarone skins), cedar and menthol.  On the palate, the first thing I noticed was a juicy, mouthwatering acidity that makes you want to drink more!  This wine is medium bodied and surprisingly light in tannins. It’s got really nice fruit flavours like fresh respberry, blueberry, blackberry and cherry,  and is also heavy on the dried fruit (raisin and fig) as well as some nice refreshing mint. It finishes off with a  lovely medium-long cherry finish.

In conclusion, drink ripasso. This particular one, although much lighter than the benchmark ripasso, went extremely well with my lasagna. Sometimes goat cheese does funny things with red wines, particularly tannic ones, but this Farina ripasso’s medium body and fruit-forward character, not to mention high acidity, made it a perfect match. Don’t forget, wines with high acidity are great food wines, so this guy is a great food-friendly candidate that would make a great contribution to dinner parties. Plus now you have lots of fun ripasso facts to share with the other guests! And did I mention the price? In the valpolicella diagram above you will notice that the price range for ripasso starts at $20, so this one is a steal at $15.90!

BONUS: Again, I am ahead of the curve. This ripasso is now on sale at the LCBO until February 3 for $11.90!! That is a $4 savings! I tried to pick up a few bottles at my local store tonight but they said a guy had come in and bought their last 100 bottles earlier (!!). I guess that means I need to scour the city tomorrow for a case! The race is on folks. Get ’em while they’re hot! (I hope all the exclamation marks properly express the urgency of the situation).

 

Happy weekend and happy wining!

Testing the LCBO’s Customer Favourites – Part 2

Hello fellow wine lovers!

As you will recall, a few weeks ago I blogged about an LCBO article listing its 2015 Customer Favourites. I ran out and bought 3 of the 4 most-bought wines to see what all the fuss was about. In the blog post I reviewed the Beronia Tempranillo, and last weekend I brought the 2 remaining customer favourites to dinner at my sister-in-law’s place. All in all, I think Ontario and I have different tastes, but I can see the appeal of both the wines I tried.

Let’s break it down!

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Pinot: when wine and words collide

In my job, I spend a lot of time with dictionaries. So wasn’t I surprised when today I saw that “Pinot” is the second most popular search term in the US on oxforddictionaries.com! It’s even trending!

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Screenshot, Oxford Dictionaries, January 13, 2016

I find this is interesting. Why the sudden interest in Pinot in the States?

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Definition of Pinot, OxfordDictionaires.com

The only thing I can think of is that scene with the music video from the Netflix TV series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And while I appreciate that this scene from an oddball Tina Fey–produced comedy may be sparking interest in wine, I fear that people may get the wrong idea, given that the song is actually an ode to a dark male appendage. That said, no press is bad press, right?

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RELATED UPDATE: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/52863 

But is that really it? Is that really why Pinot is the 5th most popular Oxford Dictionary search IN THE WORLD right now??

Oxford Pinot World

Pinot is the 5th most popular search term in the world on January 13, 2016. WHY I ask you??  Also, interesting to note that the abbreviation for the province of Quebec is the most searched term in the world today.

In an effort to distract myself from these questions, here are some of the wine regions around the world specializing in pinot noir. Note that this list is by no means exhaustive:

Bourgogne (France) – the original pinot noir – a medium-bodied wine tasting of cherry, fresh red fruit, mushroom and mineral (from the limestone soil in which the grape is grown). It is lower in tannin than most wines since it spends less time on oak, and has high acidity. Its colour is more garnet than ruby red. I like the Albert Bichot.

California  – Cali’s pinots tend to be bigger than the average pinot, due to a longer growing season in this warmer climate. I personally enjoy the Robert Mondavi.

Oregon – Oregon pinots are making quite a name for themselves and gaining  in popularity on the world market. Their characteristics are much more subtle than their Cali counterparts and make for a refined quaff. As a result, they tend to be on the pricier side (starting at $22). I tried the Duck Pond pinot when I was in DC and quite enjoyed it.

New Zealand – These cold-climate pinots are medium bodied, with yummy fruit and earthiness. They are often grown in the same regions as sauvignon blanc. Try the Kim Crawford.

Pinot noir’s typically high acidity, paired with its lighter body, makes it a perfect food wine. Someone once said it’s the black jeans of wine—it just goes with everything!

On that note, I’m off to have a glass of Pinot Noir to ponder this some more. Leave a comment if you have any other ideas as to why Pinot might be getting so much attention these days…

Happy wining!

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