Upkeep Updates

Recent Wine Adventures

October 24, 2016
2015 rosé from Niagara's Fielding Estate is a great summer option..

Time seems to fly by these days – before we know it, it’s almost Christmas! Sometimes, my schedule means that I can’t get my posts to you fast enough. That’s why this Upkeep Update is all about some recent wine adventures I thought you’d enjoy hearing about, but I haven’t had the opportunity to turn into a full post. With so many interesting adventures in wine happening these days, I’m hopeful I can go back to posting twice a week soon, but life always seems to get in the way (isn’t that always the case?). In the meantime, here are three fabulous wine adventures from the last few months that I wanted to share with you.

Ghost Pines Chardonnay from California is a fun Halloween wine pick.Spooky wine for Halloween night

We love Halloween in our household! Last year, Shawn and I made Halloween-themed cocktails to celebrate October 31st. This year, I had the opportunity to check out a Chardonnay and Merlot from Ghost Pines wines at a spooky wine tasting at Toronto’s Wychwood Barns. The grey, rainy weather on the night of the tasting was perfect for the theme and an event that featured a scary wine-inspired ghost tale and spooky personalized pictures. My guest and I both enjoyed the Chardonnay, a crisp and refreshing blend of Chardonnay grapes from across California. I’d definitely consider it a Halloween-friendly option for those of us left at home to manage trick or treaters on October 31st.  And this reasonably-priced sipper ($19.95 at the LCBO) won’t leave you screaming at the cash register the way some Cali wines can.

Sparkling wine from Niagara's Fielding Estate.

Niagara Knock-outs at Fielding Estates

This was the summer of rosé for Shawn and I – it was our go-to drink on hot summer nights and two of our favourites were from Niagara: Chateau des Chames’ 2015 Cuvée d’Andreé and Fielding Estate’s 2015 rosé. Shawn and I had the chance to taste and tour at Fielding for the first time earlier this year (how on earth it took so long for us to get there, I have no idea). It’s a beautiful space, but with a much more relaxed and friendly vibe than many big Niagara wine estates. Our tour was informative and we had the opportunity to enjoy a number of their wines, including our favourites of the visit: Lot 17 Riesling and the 2012 Chosen FEW (this one will be drinking very well in 5-10 years).  We will definitely return to Fielding soon – I’m especially looking forward to enjoying a glass of their wine in one of the big Muskoka chairs on the winery grounds next summer.

KWV Cathedral Cellar 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.KWV Tasting in Toronto

If you haven’t read my 2014 interview with KWV’s lovely winemaker, Izele Van Blerk, I hope you will. Izele is one of the most exuberant and infectious personalities in the wine community and I’ve learned so much about South African wine from speaking with her. I was thrilled to visit with her again when KWV hosted a Toronto tasting in September. Nearing the end of a whirlwind Canadian trip (and readying for another week in New York), Izele was still full of energy as she talked about the latest KWV releases, including the value-priced Cathedral Cellars sparkling (perfect for mimosas or casual nights at home) and the impressive 2014 Cathedral Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.  Shawn and I both chose the Cab as our favourite of the evening. With notes of cherry, chocolate and vanilla on the nose and dark red fruit  on the palate with chocolate on the finish, it’s a well-made wine that will pair nicely with red meat. We also enjoyed the Cathedral Cellars Chardonnay, which had notes of apricot, lemon and vanilla on the nose and was buttery citrus on the palate. I’m already looking forward to Izele’s next Toronto visit.

* We were invited guests at each of these tastings, but our opinions are, as always, our own.

Musings on the Wine Life

Wine Quizzes Make Me Crazy

October 17, 2016
PInot Noir wine tasting.

Recently, one of my lovely friends in wine tagged me in a Facebook post with a link to one of those Decanter wine tests.

For those not familiar, Decanter posts these regular quizzes so you can test your wine knowledge. For many of my friends who work in wine, these are a fun way to test your mettle because they are often really tough! The Facebook post had quickly filled up with comments like: “Four out of four!” “Perfect!” and “Three out of four – that was hard!”

I already knew going in that I wasn’t going to comment. As with most Decanter tests, I clicked on it, read the wine description, thought long and hard and then made my guess. And I got a big, fat zero. But, Krista, you’re thinking, you know wine! How could you fail this test so miserably when everyone else was sailing through?

A lovely white wine at a tasting.Well, I do know wine. I’ve taken a number of classes, read a ton of books, attended many, many tastings and, yet, I still couldn’t pass one of those darn Decanter tests. Why not? Well, 1) because they’re hard and deliberately aimed at the super smart sommelier set and 2) because I have pockets of wine competence. What does that mean? It means I have focused my areas of interest and study on certain regions and topics, so I flail when you remove me from my comfort zone.

Ask me about Ontario Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir? Or Ontario wine in general? I am probably going to be on point. I’m also pretty well versed in California and New York State wines, which I’ve spent a lot of time studying. And because we’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, I’m pretty good with those wines too. But French wine? I remember much of the theory from class, but because I rarely drink French wine, I’m pretty rusty. And Italian wine? I’m a bit scattered with my knowledge there too.

So how did this happen? I think partly it’s because I started my wine journey in a bit of an odd way. Most people begin with French or Italian and then gradually slide into other regions. I became interested in local wine first – part of a period of time where I was learning about the locavore movement and wanting to eat (and drink) things grown or made close to home.

I hyper-focused on Ontario wine until I started taking classes and began to dip a toe into the French, Italian and other wine regions of Europe. But then I visited California, Germany and the Finger Lakes and found myself drifting from super intimidating regions to ones I could wrap my head around a little more easily. I fell in love with those regions and started soaking up knowledge about them.

Along the way, I have fallen for some very good French wines (rosé from Provence is a new obsession and Champagne a recurring one) and batted around a few Italian options (Valpolicella and Chianti are my typical go-tos, as well as a nice Prosecco). I like many wines from Spain, Chilé and South Africa too. I like to go to Salt Wine Bar and have manager Phil Carneiro school me on Portuguese wines. I’ve become a little obsessed with Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a good Malbec from Argentina is a thing of beauty. But I’m nowhere near an expert on any of these regions – yet.

I’m not a sommelier, I’m not sure I really want to be a sommelier and I’m OK with that. I’m someone who is in love with wine and in love with learning about wine. I want to be good at the Decanter quizzes, and maybe one day I will be. Or maybe not. Some of those things are hard, guys. Really, really hard. And if you’re one of those people who can ace them, can we have drinks so I can sit and listen to you fill my head with even more wine knowledge? I’d like that.

What to try your hand at one of these quizzes? You can find them here!

Wine Travel

Oxley Estate Winery

October 10, 2016
The grounds at Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North Shore.

I was speaking with someone on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) about how much I had enjoyed interviewing Oxley Estate Winery’s owner Ann Neydon Wilson and they said, “Don’t you just wish you were related to her?” And it was so true. From the moment she greeted us at the winery and ushered us out to the gorgeous patio at Oxley’s restaurant, you felt like she would be the most fabulous aunt ever. She tried to coax Shawn into trying dessert more than once, told us all about their lovely neighbours, had us laughing about her experiences booking hip, young bands for their events and just made us feel like old friends and not tired bloggers from Toronto on an epic LENS adventure who she’d literally just met.

Oxley Estate Winery in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region.If you visit Oxley and meet Ann, you will probably want to hug her when you leave – even if you just met her – and that’s sort of how I felt about Oxley overall. It just feels comfortable. The patio is so pretty and the tasting room is modern and fresh, but it’s the kind of place where they sell $5 jars of relish and the staff seem genuinely happy you’re there.

We didn’t have a meal here, as we were completely booked for meals on our whirlwind tour and I’d just tasted through the Oxley portfolio with Ann’s husband Murray at a recent Toronto event (you can read about that here), so this was really just a chance to see the space and have a fabulous chat with Ann. It was awesome.

Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann – one that they gave up corporate careers to pursue, but things seem to be coming together nicely. While they’ve struggled a bit with their vines through some rough winters, they’re starting to see the grapes develop and the wines are proving popular.

Ripper Red wine from Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North ShoreThe restaurant, which wasn’t even in the original plan, is a big success. They had planned to just be a country winery and Ann thought she’d add on a small kitchen so they could do some catering. In talking with others in the industry, though, she was persuaded to put in a larger kitchen – just in case. When they opened the winery, just in time for that year’s “Explore the Shore” event, they weren’t really ready, but they had hired a chef to make some food and the compliments on those offerings were so prolific that they decided to consider a restaurant. It was a good idea – even on the blisteringly hot Thursday afternoon when we visit, the patio and indoor seating are quite full, and if you’d like dinner it’s best to book ahead.

It’s been a few years since that frantic opening – when 3000 people stopped by on the first weekend, far more than the fledgling winery had expected – but enough time for them to realize they could have a successful business on their hands. That said, they’re still not at a place where they’re resting on their laurels. Wine is a tough business and while the restaurant helps, they are also growing root stock to sell to Niagara and for export as a secondary income stream. Like North 42 Degree’s lavender farm, the root stock provides a back-up revenue stream that is a wise idea in the fickle business of wine.

And continued growth for Oxley is on the horizon. Since they bought the original property, they’ve gone on to buy the neighbouring farm and are hard at work creating a space that draws from their own wine tasting experience. They wanted to develop a fun community, with a great spirit and make Oxley the type of space they liked to visit when they were touring. On this warm summer day, under a bright yellow awning, chatting with a lovely woman who we kind of wish we were related to, it’s hard not to think they’ve succeeded at that.

Best of

The Best Wines I Tried in September

October 3, 2016
Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Cabernet Franc is an organic wine from the Niagara region.

It’s officially autumn! I love this time of year so much and I’ve been signing up for races and yoga classes to celebrate the start of a new season. Even though I’m well past school age, September always seems like a great time for fresh starts and heathy changes.

And I’ve had lots of great wine in my glass this month to share with you! Shawn and I have been traveling and tasting and having so much fun on our wine-infused adventures. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in the weeks and months to come. But up first, a few of my favourite sips from the past few weeks.

Southbrook Vineyards 2013 Triomphe Cabernet Franc – I am a big fan of Southbrook wines and of Ontario Cabernet Franc in general, so I was pleased when this sample arrived.  And as I inhaled the aroma of this Ontario red, it felt like fall in a glass – black and roasted pepper, blackberry and wet earth on the nose and lots of earthy, spicy goodness on the palate (blackberry, strawberry, a bit of chili pepper). Even better, it’s organic, which is something Southbrook takes very seriously. I had this with a dish of wild rice and beans that Shawn made for me and it was a perfect mix of earthy flavours on a cold, rainy evening.  I had spent my day taking an html and CSS course at Camp Tech (which I highly recommend) and let me tell you, a glass of this wine with a big bowl of rice and beans and getting sucked into part four of the excellent ESPN documentary on O.J. Simpson made for a pretty perfect way to end the day.

Seriously Cool Red from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara, Ontario.Southbrook Vineyards Seriously Cool Red Blend – The Seriously Cool series is more of an entry-level wine for Southbrook, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. With its colourful and memorable label, it’s hard not to want to pick up a bottle. With dark chocolate, smoked meat and plum on the nose and black cherry and roasted plums on the palate, this is a really good food wine. Shawn and I cracked this bottle on a Monday evening, after we returned home from an adventure in Norfolk County (we’ll talk more about that another time). To celebrate the last day of our longer weekend, he made grilled cheese sandwiches with turkey bacon and we enjoyed an evening of comfort food and a marathon session of The Walking Dead (we’re trying to get caught up before the new season starts). This wine paired quite nicely with vacation day binge watching.

Burning Kiln Sparks sparkling wine is a lovely option from Norfolk County.Burning Kiln Vineyards – Sparks – There’s very little in life that I like more than a good sparkling wine. It doesn’t have to be French Champagne (not that I’ll ever turn that down), but a well-made sparkling will always steal my heart. Such is the case with Burning Kiln’s Sparks, which is made with seven different grape varietals and has a little bit of biscuit on the nose, along with nice notes of lemon that follows through on the very crisp palate. It’s a pleasant, refreshing sparkler and it paired quite nicely with the perch tacos I enjoyed on the winery’s patio last weekend. Burning Kiln is on a beautiful piece of property in Norfolk County, a place that has seriously captured our hearts. We can’t wait to go back, and when we do I know that more of this sparkling will be enjoyed.

Levendi Winery 2015 Reserve Chardonnay – I was lucky to recently attend the Napa Valley tasting event in Toronto (more on that in another post soon) and there I discovered Levendi wines. Their lively and fresh Chardonnay was a stand-out for me with balanced acidity and pineapple, pear and apple notes. This is a very good example of a California Chardonnay that could work both with food or on its own. A nice sipper that I hope to have again soon. This one is available via agent in Ontario, but you can grab their Cabernet Sauvignon (also very good) at the LCBO for a limited time.

So what did you drink in September? Share what you tried and loved in the comments below or on social.

Coming up in October on the blog, we’ll continue to look at the wineries of Lake Erie North Shore and our German wine adventures and I’ll give you a deeper dive into two recent tastings I did this past month, which I wanted to dive into with more detail. And I may even share a few more personal posts about my recent wine foibles – I’m told they’re pretty funny!

*All wines tasted this month were either samples or tasted at events where Shawn and I were guests. And thank goodness for that because my wine budget is already completely out of control and running this blog is a very expensive hobby! Opinions remain, as always, our own.