Welcome to yet another wine blog. Mine. I’m a Canadian writer with a penchant for all things wine. And scotch. And I can’t forget cognac, either. And the technical stuff? Well, I hold a master’s degree in journalism, and my advanced WSET certificate.
For the first time ever, a BC winery has released a wine specifically for the Chinese New Year.
A limited release (688 bottles) of the 2012 Haywire Pinot Noir’s beautiful yellow and red label features symbols of the horse and good fortune, to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year, and to welcome the Year of the Horse.
I haven’t tried the wine yet, but according to the winemaker’s tasting notes, it “was gently aged in old French oak barrels and bottled in its purest state and has lovely cherry aromas and fruit-forward flavours, with soft texture and light tannins. It pairs well with pepper and onion sauce pork rib as well as seared sablefish with sweet soy sauce and baby bok choi.”
Alas, not yet for sale in Alberta, it can be found in BC at St. Regis Fine Wines & Spirits, Crosstown Liquor Store, Garrison Wine & Liquor Merchants in Vancouver; and on Vancouver Island, at Hotel Grand Pacific, Vintage Spirits, Village Liquor Store and Lucky’s Liquor Store. For more information, click here. To order the limited-edition bottling, contact Whitney Law at 1-604-800-0601 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Once a month or so, I have the opportunity to go on CBC Radio across Canada and talk about wine on the morning weekend shows.
This past week, I talked about wines for the holidays in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ottawa, Montreal and Newfoundland.
It’s a ton of fun, but I realize the shows go quite quickly, and listeners may not have a chance to write down the names of every wine I spoke about, so I figured I’d follow up with a quick writeup of a few of the Canadian wines we discussed.
First of all, if you’re pairing wine with turkey, almost any wine will work. If you like it, then just enjoy it and don’t worry about what the wine snobs say. I have family that only wants to drink Shiraz with their turkey. Others swear by semi-dry Rieslings. Me, I love a Gamey. (France’s famous Beaujolais wines are made with the Gamay grape.)
One of my favourite wines is the Blue Mountain Vineyard Gamay. Blue Mountain is a family-owned winery in the Okanagan Valley; the family’s Gamay costs 25 bucks or less in BC and Alberta, and it’s a real charmer. It has also made all three editions of my book. That’s how much I love it. Current vintage: 2012, but I wouldn’t give away the 2011. Or the 2010. Or the 2009.
I’m also crazy about the wines from JoieFarm in the Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada. The reds include a Reserve Pinot Noir — it’s has lots of classic, earthy, cherry notes. And the PTG is a 50-50 blend of both Gamay and Pinot Noir.
I recently tried a Chardonnay from Painted Rock in the Okanagan, also in the BC and Alberta markets. It spends a little time in oak, and it has some very pleasant tropical fruit notes. A bottle will set you back about $30.
And there’s a lot of buzz around the Pinot-Gris-Viognier blend from Tyler Harlton. Harlton grew up in Saskatchewan, but he moved to Montreal and became a sommelier. Now he’s making wines in Summerland. This beautiful white blend goes with almost everything – turkey, salmon, salad, you name it. It’s about $35 a bottle. (Stay tuned for more on Tyler Harlton. He’s in Calgary this week and I’m hoping to catch up with him for a visit and tasting.)
Another very versatile wine that’s listed in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Yukon is the Gray Monk Latitude 50 White. It goes with everything, and tastes delicious. It’s about $20 or so.
Head across the country to Ontario, and I figure anything by Thomas Bachelder is a good bet with turkey this Christmas. He’s Canadian, working in Niagara, but he’s also making fantastic chardonnay in Oregon and Burgundy, too. He describes himself as a wine gypsy, because he never imagined he’d be making wine in so many regions.
Then there are the bubbles! Drink local with a bottle of Backyard Vineyard‘s sparkling Blanc de Noirs brut. Made in the traditional method (the way that Champagne is made) it has notes of citrus, apple and spice. It’s well-balanced and very food-friendly.
Or find the fabulous Fizziotherapy from Therapy Vineyards, also in the Okanagan. I know I’m not the only one who could use a little Therapy — or a lot — during the holiday season. There’s a Blanc and a rosé, so you can serve one with brunch (the rosé, maybe) and one with dinner.
We didn’t have time to talk about dessert wines. But if I had, well, I know I’d talk about Canada’s legendary icewines, late harvest and sweet wines. Tucked in a corner of our cellar are a couple bottles of Optima from Quails’ Gate. With notes of orange peel and honey, this late-harvest wine is made in the style of France’s famous Sauternes. It’s the perfect ending to a wonderful holiday meal.
A couple of years ago, I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Georgia, thanks to my friend Alla Wagner at Lotus Vini. I wrote about my trip last fall for City Palate magazine, a food magazine based in Calgary, Canada. Since the story isn’t available online, and that issue of the magazine is no longer on newsstands, I thought I’d repost it here. Sometimes I still dream about that trip. It’s a beautiful, wonderful, friendly country and I hope to one day take my entire family there.
And yes, Georgia is on my mind
The scent of woodsmoke. An ancient Lada car, packed with watermelons — on the roof, in the trunk and crammed into the passenger seats. Bushels of corn lit by fall sunshine. A lamb carcass — or is it a goat? — outside a shack by the side of a gravel road. A bloodied cleaver is jammed into a butcher block beside it. Nearby, men squat and talk. Flies buzz. Then, a child’s small, smiling face, bright as a star.
I memorized everything I could see while travelling through the small towns and countryside in the republic of Georgia, a small but fierce country that borders the Black Sea to the west, Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia to the south and, in the southeast, Azerbaijan.
At every corner, it was clear that Georgia is a country of contrasts — eastern and western influences, rural and urban. The capital city, Tbilisi, features designer shops, lively bars and fancy restaurants, but a visit to the countryside is a step back in time. Everywhere I looked, I was mesmerized by Georgia’s fascinating history and its rich food and wine culture.
It hasn’t always been easy to visit Georgia. For 70 years, the country was hidden under the banner of the Soviet Union, one of the many formerly independent countries that were swallowed up by the USSR in the 1920s. In 1991, it regained its independence, but along the way there have been major hiccups, including a brief war with Russia in 2008.
A year or so ago, I visited Georgia to attend the first international qvevri symposium, a celebration of the country’s winemaking traditions. As the executive editor of Wine Access, a now-defunct Canadian wine magazine, I had been invited to join a group of writers, wine critics and sommeliers from around the world, who were gathering to find out more about Georgia’s ancient wine-making history, long hidden from outsiders.
Georgians have been making wine for more than 8,000 years, since the fifth and sixth centuries BC. For generations, they put their crushed grapes in qvevri — massive terracotta clay vessels (some hold 9,000 litres) that are lined with beeswax and hidden in the ground. Some say this was a practice started as a way to hide it from invaders. (Over the years, myriad armies — Roman, Arab, Russian, Turkish, to name just a few — have invaded the small nation.)
The unusual style became popular, so much so that the Georgians began exporting their wines more than 2,500 years ago. In the 20th century, Russians were Georgia’s largest market — largely because of their proximity and the fact they were both part of the Soviet Union.
The Russians, however, put an embargo on Georgian wine imports in 2006, citing undefined “safety concerns” as the official reason, although no evidence has ever been provided and most say the embargo is simply an attempt at causing financial hardship for the former Soviet satellite state.
Georgian winemakers simply turned their sights on the wine-drinking west — the U.S. and, increasingly, Canada.
For North Americans more familiar with sweet Oz shiraz or oaky California chardonnay, these Eastern wines are mysterious, with unusual flavours and grapes we’ve never heard of — kisi, saperavi, rkatsiteli, mtsvane. Even how the wines are made is different than what we see in North America. The Georgian clergy, for example, has preserved many of these grapes along with the country’s ancient winemaking traditions. Massive old monasteries dot the countryside, and most seem to have at least one resident winemaking monk.
Yet, as in the days of the Soviet Union, much Georgian wine is still made in massive co-ops, where every farmer’s grapes are dumped together and crushed. The end product isn’t as much about producing fine vintages for one’s cellar as it is about washing down one’s dinner.
Other Georgians — such as the Margvelashvili brothers — own and operate Tbilvino, a large, modern winery located in Tbilisi. They rely on indigenous grapes (Georgians claim more than 500 varieties) as well as international varietals, grown in various regions throughout the country. Their products — made by an Australian vintner — would be at home on any wine lover’s table around the world. (You can find a selection of their wines in Alberta.)
Still others are redefining artisanal wine-making, with an emphasis on natural (free of all chemicals) wines and small production. American John Wurdeman is one such person. Based in Kakheti, the country’s largest wine region, he teamed up with a local winemaker to create Pheasant’s Tears. Their unusual lineup of small-production wines now sell internationally, including in Calgary.
With wine comes food, and plenty of it. Every night I was in Georgia, I was treated to a supra — a legendary feast where a single toast can go on for half an hour, and people celebrate each other and their ancestors half the night. (These feasts are pretty common, but the Georgians held myriad extra celebrations for the visiting journalists.) A supra—a sort of uber-dinner party — is an awe-inspiring experience, with hours of singing, dancing, wine and food. There are platters of local fish, eggplants stuffed with ground walnuts, salty homemade cheese, long loaves of dense bread, cabbage salads, skewers of grilled lamb and chicken, and bowls of cucumber and tomatoes.
A favourite supra dish is the kachapuri — a flat, warm cheese bread that’s also served at every meal, even breakfast. For us, in the morning, it was accompanied by locally grown tea, and at night, we washed everything down with cold white wine, served in small clay bowls.
Several times outside the monasteries, I saw women selling lumpy, brownish strings of something that appeared to be edible — or maybe not. “Candles? Sausage?” I asked a guide.
“No, Georgian ‘Snickers,’” he said with a laugh, explaining that they’re a popular homemade candy bar.
By chance, at our next stop, at a small rural restaurant, a woman in the outdoor kitchen was making them. She saw me watching and gestured. Would I like to help? I found myself threading walnuts onto a long loop of string, and then dipping the nut-laden string, again and again, into a warm sticky syrup made from grape pulp. We hung our creations to dry and later, at the meal, they were presented as dessert. Delicious.
The next day, while the two women I was travelling with and I were waiting for a ride at our small-town hotel, a woman who worked at the hotel heard via the young man at the front desk that we really enjoyed Georgian food. She offered to teach us later that morning how to make khinkali, artfully twisted dumplings that are often served at dinner. Boiled and then eaten, hot, by hand, they’re filled with cheese, potato or a brothy ground meat and onion mixture that squirts everywhere when you bite into a steaming bundle.
Our newfound instructor didn’t speak English, but cooking is universal. Throw some flour on a wooden board. Take a rolling pin and a bowl of dough. Use a grinder to prepare the filling, and a pot, positioned on top of an outdoor fire, to cook the final product. She demonstrated while we watched, and then we tried to duplicate her efforts.
Hers were miniature works of art, as you can see, above, but I needed practice. Still, after we boiled the dumplings in a pot over the firepit in the hotel courtyard, my friends and I ate them outside as an impromptu lunch in the sun.
Several times, walking down the streets in the small towns we visited, I was surprised by how few Georgians smiled when they were greeted by a stranger — especially one who was so obviously a tourist. (I was taller than most of the other women. I was the only redhead. Unlike the other women my age, I wore jeans. And I was constantly snapping photos.) Especially in the small towns we visited, they pulled to the opposite side of the street, and they avoided eye contact. Mothers shooed their children away quietly.
Later, I asked a Georgian fellow beside me at dinner if I’d been doing something wrong. Was I being rude when I smiled or tried to ask questions?
“No,” he replied. Then he paused. “Think about it. For thousands of years, we have watched people fight over our tiny country. They want what we have, and they’re prepared to take it at any cost. Of course we are suspicious of strangers.”
Their attitude changed once they knew why I was there – to learn more about their culture, to experience their hospitality and to check out and share our experiences of their fascinating wine scene. Then I was welcomed like I was long lost family — hugged and kissed again and again at every meeting, and laden with gifts and stories.
My last night in the country, I found myself sharing a bottle of chacha with a group of my new friends, all Georgians. Between mind-numbing shots of the fiery, clear grappa-like alcohol, they were trying to teach me to dance like they do. Despite the fact that the liquor’s name sounded like a dance move, my hands refused to follow the delicate flutters the Georgian women demonstrated, and my feet — still clad in the dusty work boots I had worn in the vineyards earlier in the day — moved like they were made of clay. I gave up and returned to my seat, where someone had ordered us more khachapuri — this time, with a slightly poached egg nestled on top. I was assured that it was ideal for taking the edge off drunken nights with friends. The egg melded with the warm cheese and dough and it was so delicious, I ate and ate.
“You like it?” the woman sitting next to me asked. “Do you like our country?”
“Yes. Guamarjos!” I said, as I held up my glass and offered a traditional Georgian toast to her and her friends and country.
The expression means “To victory!” I meant it, and I still do. This beautiful, intriguing country holds so many secrets. I can’t wait to hear more.
Georgian wines in the Alberta market:
Look for these Georgian wines at various liquor stores around town, including Willow Park Wine & Spirits and WineInk. I’ve found the Tbilvino at Co-op Wines & Spirits. MetroVino and Willow Park carry some of the Pheasant’s Tears wines. The Mildiani wines are at Willow Park, as well as select Liquor Depot and Olympia Liquor locations. Prices are approximate.
Mildiani Khvanchkara, 2008 (Telavi, Kakheti) $24
This red from a family-owned winery is medium-sweet with plum and raspberry notes. Try it paired with fresh walnuts and hard cheese as a simple dessert, or maybe with roast lamb or duck with a rich berry reduction.
Mildiani, Kindzmarauli, 2008 (Telavi, Kakheti) $22
From a small, family-owned winery in the heart of Georgian wine country, this red, medium-sweet wine is made from saperavi, a popular indigenous grape. Try it with hard cheeses and salty almonds or walnuts.
Tbilvino, Tsinandali, 2011 (Kakheti) $17
This blend of rkatsiteli and mtsvane grapes is the Tsinandali appellation, made by Tbilvino, a family-owned winery based in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. Expect an unusual, bold, dry white, with notes of grape and flowers. It will pair well with grilled fish dishes and hearty Nicoise-style salads.
Tbilvino, Saperavi, 2011 (Kakheti) $17
This rich, quirky, but pretty red wine is made from the saperavi grape. Expect slightly sweet notes of cherries and a hint of smoky vanilla. Pair it with roast duck with a cherry reduction, grilled lamb or even lamb burgers.
Pheasant’s Tears, Chacha (Kakheti) $33
This spirit comes from an American artist named John Wurdeman, who fell in love with a Georgian woman and the Georgian way of life. His winery, Pheasant’s Tears, is located near the lovely town of Sighnaghi, where he and his family live and operate an atmospheric wine bar. Chacha is not a wine, but a Georgian form of grappa, distilled from pressed grape skins and seeds. Georgian men will open a bottle of this at the end of a party, then pass it around the table until it’s gone. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s about 48 percent alcohol.
I figure that’s a good time to talk about fine holiday gifts for wine lovers. No hints, really. I have a kazillion openers, aerators, decanters, books on wine, you name it.
But when I buy gifts for my grown-up friends this month, you can bet those prezzies will probably be wine-related.
A few of my favourite non-pourable things?
1. Cool wine-themed stuff from Etsy. I love Etsy. Love it. I can shop from the comfort of my home, while listening to Coffitivity and pretending I’m working. And there are always very cool wine-themed things to be found.
And personalized wine charms, because after a couple glasses of wine, my friends and family never remember if they have the green tag or the blue tag. But (hopefully) most of them remember their own names. And the thought of ordering from a business named Philanthropic Panda just makes me laugh.
2. Books about wine. I received a copy of John Bonne’s new book, The New California Wine, for my birthday, and I’ve enjoyed it so much (and learned a lot,) I’m giving a copy to at least one set of friends this Christmas. He’s thorough and opinionated and interesting, and he’s the wine editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.
4. Wine bottle stoppers. Bright colours, very practical, and the Trudeau promise is that they’re leak-proof. I like. Practical for those days when you don’t drink the whole bottle (surely, there’s at least one or two in a year), and they’ll fit in a stocking. I have some old ones, but they aren’t nearly as cute. I’d upgrade…
5. A wine club membership. Depending where you live, the options will vary, of course. But a few to consider include Tannic (high-end international wines, slightly discounted prices, Canadian), Alberta Winestein (you can pick a pack with cheese, too), Black Hills Winery (one of the Okanagan Valley‘s finest), Tinhorn Creek’s Crush Club (you get extra treats when you visit the on-site restaurant, also in Canada’s Okanagan Valley), and last but not least, the Okanagan Crush Pad club (you can mix and match your fave wines.)
Coming soon: Wines for your favourite teachers, financial advisors, neighbours and even your mom. Or your dad.
Dozens of bottles stood at attention on my office floor — sparkling, whites, reds, desserts. A multicoloured map leaned —indeed, still leans — against one wall. And a big stack of books slouched — yes, still slouches — beside me. Not just books on wine — a couple of my favourite Italian cookbooks, language books, interior design books.
Why? I recently hosted my first all-Italian wine tasting.
The volunteers at the Parkland Community Association in Southwest Calgary (Canada) recently asked if I’d come talk at one of their community gatherings. One thing led to another, and, when it turned out they’d chosen Italy as the theme for the evening, I offered to host a tasting.
Oh, the research that’s involved when you offer to do such a thing. Prosecco or Lambrusco? Pinot Grigio or Soave? The budget was tight and I wanted to introduce people to new (to them) wines, but I also wanted to please people who, when they think of Italy, automatically assume Amarone or Chianti.
Ultimately, this is what I decided to pour.
(Insert drum roll here…) The first wine of the night: Paola Rinaldini, Pronto Lambrusco, non-vintage
About $22 at select stores including Co-op Liquor (Crowfoot location) and Kensington Wine Market.
Tasting notes: From one of Italy’s top artisanal Lambrusco producers (and definitely the top in our market in Alberta, Canada!) This dry Lambrusco — made by a female winemaker, Paola Rinaldini — has notes of licorice, graphite, dark chocolate and flowers. Serve chilled with charcuterie, especially mortadella, olives and a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The grapes are 70% Salamino, 15% Marani and 15% Ancellotta. A dry, fizzy (“frizzante,” in Italian) red that was new to almost everyone in the crowd. I figured it was a great alternative to Prosecco, as most people have tried at least a couple of Proseccos in our market.
About $17 at Kensington Wine Market.
Tasting notes: From a family-owned producer that started growing grapes and buying land in the region in 1630! The grapes are 85% Garganega, 15% Chardonnay, and all have all been picked by hand. Look for notes of almond and flowers. This dry white makes a great aperitif, or pair with seafood dishes or soft cheese. Serve chilled.
The third wine of the night: Cusumano Nero d’Avola, 2012
About $20 at Kensington Wine Market.
Tasting notes: From a young, family-owned winery that’s operated by two brothers, Alberto and Diego Cusumano. This unoaked red is made from Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s most important red wine grape and one of Italy’s finest indigenous grapes. Look for ripe, sweet black cherry and violet notes, plus a fair bit of tannin. And check out the very cool glass closure on the bottle! Pair with pizza or Italian sausages (mild or spicy!)
The fourth wine of the night: Barone Ricasole, Brolio Chianti Classico, 2010
(Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy)
About $24, widely available, including Sobey’s Liquor, most Co-op Liquor Stores etc.
Tasting notes: No, not Barolo. Brolio. Barone Ricasole — also known as Italy’s Iron Baron — was the second Prime Minister of Italy, and the man who codified the recipe for Chianti Classico (although it has changed a bit since then.) Gorgeous, with notes of plum and cherries, spice (anise?) earth, even hints of mint. This wine spent nine months in oak, so you can expect aromas of vanilla, too. Made from 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pair with pizza, chicken cacciatore, pasta with tomato sauces.
I visited the Ricasole winery a couple of years ago, and it still stands out as one of my most amazing Italian tour experiences. The Iron Baron was a bit of a collector — an understatement, really — and the massive castello now operates as a museum, with room after room of swords and weaponry, rocks, gemstones and just generally cool things. Sort of a scaled-down Italian version of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. I loved it, and the views from the gardens are breathtaking, overlooking the entire valley. A storm was rolling in the day I was there, and we watched the sky rapidly change from bright Tuscan sun to thunder and torrential rain. Beautiful.
The fifth wine of the night: Tommasi Viticoltori, Valpolicella ‘Ripasso’, 2010
(Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy)
About $25, widely available, including most Co-op Liquor Stores etc.
Tasting notes: Ripasso-style wines are, by their name, very rich and full-bodied reds. (Some call them “Baby Amarones,” because they are made with the pressed must left over from the Amarone winemaking process.) I always think of Ripasso-style wines as the crowd-pleasers; red wine drinkers love them because they’re rich and big, and taste delicious even without food. They also love them because they aren’t as expensive as Amarone! Pair this Ripasso with roast beef or lamb, cassoulet, ribs, burgers, mushroom risotto, lasagna. Or just enjoy it by itself!
The sixth wine of the night: San Felice Agricola, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, 2005
(Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy)
Price: About $25 at select Co-op Liquor, Kensington Wine Market and more.
Tasting notes: Vin Santo is a rich, sweet dessert wine and traditionally is a treat served to special guests and visitors. It’s often served with a tiny biscotti beside it, for dipping! This one comes from a well-respected producer in the heart of Chianti Classico; look for notes of almond and honey. Serve chilled in small glasses. No one had tried this one before, and while sweet wines can be a tough sell for many Canadians, I think they’re worth checking out and trying, even if only occasionally. Also worth noting that San Felice has many other incredible reds in our market, if Vin Santo’s not your style…
Oh, they’re everywhere these days: Sting, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Nascar guys, golfers, you name it.
And TV shows are getting in on the action, too. Downton Abbey — the hit British TV drama set in post-Edwardian England — now has an official wine. Well, two. (The show just wrapped up its fourth season; a fifth is in the works.)
The Downton Abbey wine collection is made by fifth-generation winemaker Jean-Marc Dulong, of Dulong Grand Vins, a family-owned winery in Bordeaux, France.
The 2012 claret (Of course it’s called a claret! It’s an English TV show!) is from Entre-Deux-Mers, and is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Pair with hard cheese, stews or red meats. I haven’t tried it but it’s so young — 2012 vintage, according to the site. I’d definitely decant it for a while. Or stick it in the cellar if you prefer.
And the white — a 2012 Bordeaux Blanc — is a blend of Muscadelle and Semillon grapes. If you get a chance to try it, expect notes of tangerine and apricots; it’ll pair with goat cheese dishes, shellfish or fish dishes, or simply enjoy chilled by itself as an aperitif.
The wines were announced a couple of months ago, but I only heard about them recently. Alas, as far as I know, neither wine is widely available. Nor do they come with a butler to serve them for you…although that would be a rather novel addition to the otherwise saturated celeb wine market. Track them down in your travels, and let me know what you think, or contact the creators by clicking here.
A girl can dream, can’t she? Grapes, wine, Canada… I found this ad in The Globe and Mail this week, under the headline “Business Opportunities.”
“Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. Ideally located near the lake on the wine route. Modern buildings including well-appointed home. 36 acres planted. For sale as going concern, including all equipment and inventory. $4 million. For details Kevan O’Connor, broker, Royal LePage Niagara R.E.C. Brokerage, 905-468-4214 Kevan@kevan.com.”
Photo below courtesy of Niagara-on-the-Lake Tourism.