Wine Travel

Campo Viejo Winery Visit

February 4, 2018
Campo Viejo with jambon

Walking around the vineyards of Campo Viejo in Spain’s Rioja region, it’s hard not to stop and stare at the breathtaking views that surround this parcel of land. The mountains spread out around you and everywhere you turn there are lush vines full of decadent, ripe grapes.

Campo Viejo VineyardsAs we wandered through the vines learning about the different varieties and tasting each of the red grape types to see the differences even before they were picked and processed, it was almost overwhelming. As one grape after another exploded with flavour on my tongue and I tried to discern which ones were full of chalky seeds and which ones had tougher skin, it felt like a rush of delicious, brilliant wine knowledge spilling over me. And there is so much to learn – from the unique, rocky soil under our feet to the experimental varieties (in particular the whites) Campo Viejo’s vineyards are spectacular.

Campo Viejo insect hotelAs with many wineries of their scale, the majority of their grapes come from local growers, so Campo’s own vineyards are a complex mix of experimental development and grapes that will find their way into one of their wines. They also have a number of sustainable practices that they’re able to test out to see what works best for the vines. That means along our walk we discover everything from insect hotels to sexual confusion pheromone plantings (a form of ecological pest control) to raptor perches (again, pest control).

Everything they test on their own vineyards, they share with their growers. They learn the processes that work best, the sustainable practices that support the type of grapes they want to grow and they share them with the growers. Campo Viejo, as one of the biggest producers in Spain, has the luxury of being able to experiment and they want to share that knowledge to ensure the best grapes are going into their wines.

That experimentation continues inside their winery—a vast expanse of rooms that is largely underground, but still somehow manages to have enough natural light all through to ensure no one feels claustrophobic. As winemaker Clara Canals (all three of Campo’s winemakers are female) shows us through the winery, she talks about their desire to be integrated into the landscape and how they worked closely with the winery’s employees to ensure that the new building was designed to fully support them in making wines in the best and most efficient way possible.

It’s hard not to be awed in the tank room with 140 fermentation tanks surrounded by a host of blending tanks, or by the bottle room where six million bottles can rest in dark, cool conditions that meet the very strict Rioja bottle aging standards. And the barrel room with 70,000 barrels is breathtaking, with barrels stacked upon barrels everywhere you look—each one neat, clean and selected with exacting standards.

Campo Viejo barrel room

The clearest thing in this large-scare operation is how passionate everyone is about making good wine. There’s no discussion of oak chips or cost cutting or ways to pump out mass produced plonk. Everyone talks about the wines with reverence. They discuss how much passion winemaker Elana Adell has for blending, Clara speaks with enthusiasm about the climate this year and how it meant starting harvest two weeks earlier than usual. She reels off weather stats from recent years and talks passionately about how each year impacted the wines.

Campo Viejo vineyard sculptureAnd then we visit the experimental winery and my heart soars. Every winemaker I know would be passionately jealous of this miniature version of a full winery where Clara and the other winemakers are testing new grapes and blends to see what might make a great future vintage for Campo Viejo. In recent years, the rules in Rioja have relaxed around white wines and Campo is eager to see which whites will stand out for them. As we taste through the wines in their tiny tanks, it’s hard not to feel the excitement of what could come from these young wines under such perfect conditions.

I sense that my colleagues, like myself, are hesitant to leave as we make our way back to one of the winery’s tasting areas to go through a selection of their wines. This experimental winery has captured our hearts and the essence of Campo Viejo’s winemaking spirit. The tasting, though, is a good one and I discover so many wines that I can only wish were available in the Canadian market.

Campo Viejo Cava Brut RoséThe Cava Brut Reserva is a yummy sparkling with peach and apple on the nose that follows through on the palate. The 2016 rosé is 100 percent Tempranillo and is available seasonally in Ontario – pick it up if you can, as it’s a perfect summer sipper with lots of strawberry and peach notes. 2015 Tempranillo is a very rich and drinkable wine with lots of dark fruit and spice to round out the palate. The 2012 Reserva Tempranillo has black pepper and dark red fruit on the palate and is one of those perfect-for-red-meat wines that will serve you well when steak is on the menu.

As we head outside to enjoy some of the lighter wines with a traditional Spanish paella and the fresh tuna and tomatoes in olive oil that I could easily live on, we reflect on the wines and the land that is so perfect for creating it. Sitting on the patio, enjoying wine and food with new friends, it’s pretty hard not to realize that I’ve fallen fully in love with Rioja.

*I visited Spain as a guest of Campo Viejo. That said, my opinions are all my own and I was not asked to provide anything in return. The fact that I loved the wines and the country made this whole process much easier, though.

 

Featured, Wine Travel

Top 5 Ontario Wine Destinations

January 9, 2018
Niagara in winter

In our wine travels, Shawn and I have had the pleasure of visiting so many of Ontario’s best wine regions. We often get asked to suggest our favourites, so here is a brief overview of where we think you should go for an Ontario wine adventure.

Twenty Valley

Angel's Gate WineryWhen friends ask us what wineries to visit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we often suggest the Twenty Valley area as an alternative. Most of our favourite wineries are found in this cluster of beautiful vineyards just a short drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake and it tends to be a little less touristy than the better known region. Plus, the area is just stunning. Visit Vineland Estates to take home some wine and stop into their excellent cheese shop, pop into Megalomanic for a bottle of Bubblehead and take in the extraordinary view, head over to Tawse to check out some of the best made wines in Canada and then cap it off with a wine and art adventure at 13th Street Winery. Add on to that visit stops at Creekside Estate Winery, Westcott Winery and Fielding Estate and you have a pretty fantastic day of tasting ahead of you – to be honest, there are so many amazing wineries in this region that it’s a great idea to book yourself into one of the area’s many bed and breakfasts so you can enjoy them all.

Norfolk, Ontario

Norfolk County

If you follow me on social media, you know about my love for Norfolk County. It’s a beautiful area that’s earned its name as Ontario’s Garden. Shawn and I had one of our most magical wine adventures when we were invited to take on a Zip ‘n’ Sip experience at Burning Kiln Winery and Long Point Eco Adventures. Spending a night in their gorgeous glamping campgrounds, checking out the stars in the observatory, enjoying lunch on the Burning Kiln patio and taking a zip line tour through the beautiful forest were just a few of the many, many highlights of our visit. Add in a stop at Blueberry Hill for some of their delicious cider (and fresh blueberries in season) and a stop at Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm and you have the makings of one of your most memorable weekends away.

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Chateau des CharmesYou knew we’d be including this one, right? One of our favourite things to do in NOTL is to visit during one of the many wine festivals and pick up a tasting pass. Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake tasting passes are an excellent value – offering a wine and food pairing at all of the participating wineries – and they’re a great investment for a weekend visit (I highly recommend getting a designated driver pass if you are taking your vehicle). We recently visited for the Sip ‘n’ Sizzle event, as well as Taste the Season and we can’t wait to return for the annual Icewine Festival. Our favourite stops always include Chateau des Charmes, Ravine Vineyards, Two Sisters, Stratus, and the Niagara College Teaching Winery. Although, to be fair, we often choose our routes based on the pairings offered and that has led to some fantastic discoveries along the way!

Prince Edward County

Angeline's InnShawn and I love PEC so much that we almost bought a house there. What stopped us was the influx of tourists that have taken over this spot since we discovered it years ago. Now it can be hard to get a reservation at our favourite inns and restaurants, but the region is no less lovely to visit (just be prepared to plan way ahead). From Lighthall Vineyards to Huff Estates and everywhere in between, there is no shortage of great wine (and now beer) in the County. You can enjoy great shopping in each of the small town’s that make up the area and create a map that will help you get from Rosehall Run to Hubb’s Creek and out to Three Dog Winery on an excellent Ontario wine adventure.

Lake Erie North Shore

Oxley Estate WineryWant to hit an Ontario wine region a little further afield from Toronto? The LENS region might be perfect for you! It’s a beautiful, scenic area with lots to see and do. Shawn and I stayed at The Iron Kettle Inn in Comber, Ontario and absolutely loved it (you might recognize chef and owner, Benjamin Leblanc-Beaudoin, from his stint on Chopped Canada) and we had a fantastic time exploring the local wineries – Oxley Estate has a beautiful patio for lunch, as does Viewpointe Estates and the Wolfhead Distillery has great food *and* fantastic spirits. There’s also lots to see and do in the small towns and cities that make up this area. We can’t wait to go back again.

What are your favourite wine regions in the province? Is there anywhere you think we should check out? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below or on social!

Holiday Cheer

Last Minute Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers

December 18, 2017
Beau's New Lang Syne

It’s just a week or so until the big day and you still haven’t found the right gift for the wine, spirits or beer lover on your list? Need to pick up something for that holiday party? No problem, we’ve got you covered!

Pommie's Cranberry CiderPommies Cranberry Cider – Whether you’re picking out a holiday drink for get-togethers or picking a gift for the cider lover on your list, Pommies has you covered. This Ontario cider company has a holiday-themed cranberry cider this year and it’s actually pretty great. It’s just the right mix of tart and sweet and I’m definitely going to be enjoying a few cans over the holidays.

Wayne Gretzky Cocktail KitA Wine Club Membership – A monthly delivery of wine? For a dedicated wine lover a wine club membership can be a fabulous gift. I often suggest the Vineland Estate wine club to those who ask, as it features a host of activities and events alongside the wine deliveries. And if you have a wine or spirits lover who happens to be a hockey fan too? The No. 99 Wine & Cocktail Club offers a pretty sweet deal. Wayne Gretzky’s winery offers both wine and spirits and Shawn and I got to sample one of their fun cocktail packages, hand-picked by their estate mixologist. It featured a custom double-jigger, orange bitters from Dillion’s Distillers and wildflower honey from Rosewood Estates along with Wayne Gretzky’s Artisanal Muscat – a wine-based spirit. It created some very fun cocktail options and would be a pretty fantastic gift to find under the tree.

Beau’s New Lang Syne Belgian Tripel – I enlisted Shawn’s help to review this 750 ml specialty beer from Beau’s. Wine barrel aged (in Pinot Grigio barrels) and bottle conditioned, this would be the perfect gift for a wine aficionado who enjoys a well-made craft beer. Shawn was impressed with the genuine flavours and warm, bitter finish. There was orange on the nose, as well as nuts and clove. It had a thick, creamy texture and sweet, slightly malty palate and stands up well to tripels made in Belgium. A fun gift to ring in the holidays or the New Year.

Anneliese Pinot GrigioA nice bottle of wine – You really can’t go wrong with a good bottle of wine. I’ll be picking up Campo Viejo Reserve for those on my list and a well-priced Cotes du Rhone is always a great option. Looking for something white and easy-drinking? Shawn and I recently sampled the Nugan Estate Anneliese Pinot Grigio, which is a crisp and refreshing Australian option that’s easy to find at the LCBO and has lots of pear and green apple on the nose and a fruit-forward, nicely balanced palate. This is a good option for a holiday party of a hostess gift.

What am I hoping to find under my tree this holiday season? Champagne, of course, and great Tempranillo from Rioja. Good whiskey never goes out of style either.

What about you? What do you grab when you’re down to the wire and you need a great gift option?

*All of the items featured here were provided as samples. Opinions, as always, are my own. Well, Shawn reviewed the beer and he really, really liked it.

Holiday Cheer

Holiday Wine Time

December 10, 2017

So you need a wine for that holiday event – from entry-level to totally unexpected, these four are options worth considering.

Chateau des Charmes 2016 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
Chateau des Charmes is a favourite of ours and I often recommend their wines to friends who are new to Ontario wine – they consistently deliver at a reasonable price point. This Chardonnay has notes of pineapple, peach and mango on the nose and creamy pineapple and apricot notes on the palate. Such an enjoyable wine with or without food.

Donna Paula 2015 Estate Malbec
Trying to find a food-friendly red that everyone can agree on? This Donna Paula 2015 Estate Malbec is a great choice for an earthy meal featuring mushrooms or black olives. It’s got damp earth, fig and black olive on the nose and a savouriness on the palate that’s cut through with notes of plum and dark cherry. Shawn and I both gave this one the nod of approval.

Sperling Vineyards Brut Sparkling
Tart and pretty with loads of green apple, this B.C. sipper is a great option for your holiday party guests—especially if they include wine nerds like me. Made with great care by this family-run operation, Sperling wines are very terroir driven and drinking this lovely sparkler reminds you of beautiful Okanagan Valley vistas.

Ferox 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
I love this wine. It’s expensive, but it’s unique and fantastic – there’s tropical fruit, mango and melon on the nose and it’s much creamier than I expected. It’s an elegant wine with pineapple, mango and peach on the palate – very different than any other Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted (even from Ontario) and I can’t wait to have it again.