End-of-vacation w(h)ining

Friends,

Let us take a moment of silence to mark the end of a glorious two weeks of vacation. It was a brief staycation, cut short by my employer’s requirement that I actually return to work. Total buzzkill. This time off will be sorely missed. But it’s time to get back to saving the world, one translation at a time [translator’s note: this may be a gross exaggeration].

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California love…ish

Some of you may recall that I went to the California Wine Fair last Friday which, as it turns out, was a somewhat disappointing experience.

For one thing, my wine count went down from the 42 wines tasted at the Taste Ontario event to somewhere between 30-35. And since I always seem to be in some sort of internally-driven competition, this felt like a loss of some sort, even though the competition was against myself and myself alone (which would make me a winner as well, no?).

This was partly due to the fact that at 5 p.m., 2 hours after my arrival, the lights flickered on and off, indicating the end of the trade tasting. At this point the pourers began promptly removing bottles from the table, and the panic among tasters was palpable. What? That’s it? It’s over already? But we were just getting started!

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Taste Ontario 2016 – Part deux

Last week I went to Taste Ontario, my very first trade tasting! In Part 1 I talked about the atmosphere and a few of my discoveries in the typical-Ontario-grapes category. Let’s continue, shall we? I know you’re all excited to hear about more of my Ontario favourites.

  • Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc 2014: vineland cab frI can always recognize a cab franc because for some reason, it makes me think of green apple Mentos. They don’t sell those here in Canada sadly, but every time I am in Europe or in the States, I pick up a few packs, because they remind me of my childhood summers in France.

mentosrollgreenapple_0

In reality, these mentos taste very little like green apple. There is no acidity or sourness to them, they just have a mildly sweet flavour that is perhaps closer to pear than apple. In any case, every time I smell or taste cab franc, that is the flavour that comes to mind. It drove me crazy in wine classes because no one knew what the heck I was going on about with my green apple mentos flavours. Eventually I learned that in the wine tasting world, my green apple is everyone else’s “vegetal” or “green pepper”. Just goes to show how subjective wine tasting is!

Now back to the wine! Vineland offers a typical cab franc: cherry, dark fruit/berries, red apple, with a hint of that nice green apple mentos vegetal component. One of the flavours typically associated with cab franc is pencil shavings (I know, weird right?). But I didn’t get much of that on this wine.

  • Closson Chase Brock Chardonnay 2014:
    closson-chase-chardonay-2011.237x700

    Same bottle, different vintage

    This is a lovely oaked chardonnay from Prince Edward County. Lots of tropical fruit, banana, pineapple, butterscotch and a hint of minerality. I’m really hoping this will be available at the LCBO this year. Otherwise we’ll have to stop in PEC on our way to Niagara!

  • Honourable mentionChâteau des Charmes Equuleus blend, made of cab sauv, cab franc and merlot. This wine had a wonderful fruity aroma. On the palate, there were dark berries and dark cherry, as well as pepper and alcohol. All very nicely balanced. Beware of the sticker shock though ($40).

 

The “other” guys

So those are the wines based on grapes that tend to do really well in our cold Ontario climate. But there were a few “outsiders”—i.e. grapes other than riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and cab franc—that caught my attention. In fact, it was the viogniers that won me over.

  • Nyarai Viognier 2015: nyarai viognierI wrote about my conversation with Nyarai winemaker Steve Byfield in Part 1. There is nothing to be humble about with this wine. I looooved it. Had I not had 41 more wines to taste, I would have treated myself to at least 3 sips. But it looks like I am going to have to order this wine directly from this virtual winery (once it’s updated with the most recent vintage, that is). That’s right, while Nyarai sources its grapes from a couple of conscientious vineyards in the Niagara area, there is no physical winery to speak of and the bottles are only available online (and at the LCBO if we’re lucky). Definitely grab this one if you ever see it on the shelves.
  • Creekside Reserve Viognier Queenston Road Vineyard 2013: creekside viognierOnly 150 cases were made of this beautiful, smooth viognier that was aged in French oak. I got notes of stone fruit with a bit of pear and light citrus. This is not your typical Ontario wine, and it blew my mind a bit that Ontario could make such startlingly different wine styles. Very few bottles left at the LCBO.
  • IMG_2714_Pinot-Gris_largeHonourable mentionClosson Chase Pinot Gris 2015: This is a light, refreshing summer sipper with nice peach, melon and honey notes. Not available online but can by purchased individually at the PEC winery or by the case online using the link above.

 

 

 

 

Other discoveries

  • Westcott Vineyards – This was one of the last wineries whose table I visited at the eveWestcott_2012_Delphine-124x359nt. At this point, the hotel was kicking people out, but the Westcotts were kind enough to let me linger at their table a while so we could chat about their wines (and so I could taste them, of course). I love that each of their wines is named after iconic women of the 1920s (though I couldn’t tell you which ones). I particularly enjoyed the Delphine rosé 2013, a Burgundian-influenced pinot noir/chardonnay-based rosé that will be available at the LCBO this fall (yay!). I also really liked their Estate Chardonnay 2013. This full-bodied white was aged on its lees for a year in French oak, which comes across in toasted notes and tropical fruit. It had really nice body and balanced structure.

 

 

 

 

To close, a lesson learned: never leave your glass by the spitoon at a wine tasting.

I’m heading to the California Wine Fair on Friday, so get your glasses ready—I’m going to have lots of recommendations for you this weekend!

In the meantime, happy wining!

 

 

 

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!

Dill + Chardonnay = Taste Bud Delight

BACKGROUND

If you just want to read about wine, I’d suggest you skip ahead.

With the forecast calling for high temperatures plus insane humidity, and the calendar showing a whole weekend with no plans, the husband and I decided to pack up and take to the water. I had a secret errand to run in the morning: the husband’s birthday was the following week and I had ordered a book he wanted to the UPS store in Ogdensburg. This is what we do when we want something that is only available in the States and the cross-border shipping fees are more than the item itself. Sometimes it’s worth a trip to Ogdensburg.

I had done the grocery shopping for the weekend the night before, so I set off to the thriving metropolis of Ogdensburg and the husband was tasked with getting everything together for our weekend sailing trip. My mission went off without a hitch and I was back in good time so we could get to the boat. It always takes us a while to get ourselves and the boat ready for departure, plus we had to eat lunch at the club because I had been too lazy and otherwise occupied to make anything.

[You must be saying to yourself, Hey, I thought this blog was about wine! Ok, I’m getting there, I promise.] We had hoped to get away in good time, but after lunch, as we were making sure we had everything, I realized that we only had packed trout for dinner. Perhaps not the most balanced meal. After pointing fingers and trying to place the blame with the other person, we decided to both take partial responsibility and do a quick trip to Farm Boy. There we picked up a quinoa salad and a greek dill salad to go with the trout. Crisis averted.

To go with the trout, I brought along a Toasted Head Chardonnay that I had picked up on sale a few weeks before.

Toasted Head

MY PAIRING THEORY

Basically, if something is going to go on the barbecue, I am generally looking for something oaky to go with the smokey flavours from the grill. So if we’re having steak, I’ll go with a red that is heavy on the oak. Lately that means, any red from California, where they seem to barrel-age everything. Since we were having fish, I decided to apply this same logic to a white, therefore: an oaky, more heavy-bodied white from California.

RESULTS

The trout off the grill (in foil with olive oil, butter, salt and pepper, for those who are curious) was simple yet delicious, and the chardonnay went pretty well with it, though in hindsight the wine was maybe too much for the subtle flavours of the trout. The light S&P seasoning allowed the flavour of the fish to shine, and next time I may go with a lighter-bodied wine for a more delicate balance.

BUT when paired with the greek dill salad, WOW. Fresh dill is quite a powerhouse of flavour in the herb world, and boy is the Toasted Head a great match for it. It took me a while to figure out why this was. Obviously, powerful flavours in food need powerful wines to stand up to them. But it was more than that. It was not just a question of the wine’s body, but also of its flavours, specifically the oak component. When a wine is barrel-aged, the oak certainly lends a specific flavour profile to a wine. This can include vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, toast, smoke and butter. Some even argue that dill is an oak flavour component, and after tasting the dill–oaky chardonnay combo, I would have to agree! It was a match made in heaven.

OAKED WHITES: LOVE ‘EM OR HATE ‘EM

Now, oak in a white wine is an acquired taste. Generally, you either love it or hate it. When I first started my wine classes, I was definitely not a fan. But the more I tasted it, the more I grew to love it. What are your feelings on chardonnay? Are you a lover or a hater? I challenge you to try a chardonnay in the next little while. If you’re not a fan of the oaked version, try an unoaked chardonnay. I recommend Kim Crawford’s Unoaked Chardonnay as a gentle transition.

Kim unoaked

If you’re looking for a nice chard under $15, I also recently tried the staff pick at my local LCBO and was quite pleased with my purchase. Lots of citrus and stone fruit (peaches and apricots). Un chardonnay typique, quoi! 

P.s. I apologize for the lack of my own pictures in this post. We were so hungry we forgot to take pictures of the delicious trout! Rookie blogger mistake that will be remedied next time!