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Holiday Cheer

Six Wines for Holiday Parties

December 14, 2015
HolidayParty3

The holiday season is in full swing and we’re all juggling events and activities. That can mean lots of trips to the liquor store to pick up this or that. To help make those trips easier, here are our thoughts on six wines you might want to pick up on your way to a party (or as a last-minute holiday gift). There are so many fabulous wine choices available, of course, but here are a few we’ve sampled recently and thought you might enjoy too.

Joiy (4 X 250ml) – I fell hard for this New Zealand sparkling wine at a recent event. It’s a Riesling-based sparkling that comes in four small bottle and calls itself “bottled happiness.” That’s not an overstated claim. On its own, with a silly straw or with a wedge of lemon (yes, added to the wine – crazy, but delicious), this sparkling is as charming and fun as its winemaker, Chris Archer, who I hope to profile on the blog soon. With fabulously pretty packaging, a pop of citrus flavour and a low alcohol content, these are great as a hostess gift, stocking stuffer or to serve at your holiday party. Hurry, though, they are currently only limited edition at the LCBO. Since these are pretty perfect for summer patio sipping, I hope that will change.

Quinta da Aveleda 2014 Vinho Verde – This Portuguese white has been ranked in the top three best buys in Wine Enthusiast magazine for the last three years, which had me intrigued to try it. With peach, grapefruit and floral notes on the nose, this blend of Lureiro and Alvarinho is refreshing, light and crisp with great acidity and a long finish. I love the fruit-forward styles of Vinho Verde and this is no exception. Pair this with turkey at your holiday meal or have it with appetizers or seafood.

Kaiken 2013 Reserva Malbec – I had a glass (or two) of this bold red from Argentina during a recent meet-up with my blogger group. It paired perfectly with great conversation and I was glad I chose it. This is a young red, but still quite soft and drinkable. There was vanilla, cherry, chocolate and raspberry both on the nose and the palate. This is a nice, affordable option to pick up for a holiday get together with friends or for a quiet evening in over dinner.

Killibinbin 2012 Scream Shiraz – This South African Shiraz had smoked meat, plum and spice on the nose and a bold pepper finish on the palate. A good choice for a hearty roast dinner or any big, red meat-centred dish. Shawn and I enjoyed this on its own, but both agreed that food would make it even better. Drink now or cellar for 3-6 years.

Perez Cruz 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – Cherry, plum, black pepper and blackberry are all on the nose of this full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. With red fruit on the palate and a medium-long finish, this is an affordable choice for a red meat-heavy dinner or as the big, bold red option at your holiday party. You know there’s always someone at the shindig who prefers a heavy red during the winter season.

Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne
This is the highest-priced selection on this list, but sometimes you just need a special gift for someone on your list. Or you may be looking for a well-priced French champagne to kick off the New Year. I recently had the chance to sip Taittinger at one of their Toronto events and I was so impressed. With lovely baked bread notes on the nose, perfect bubbles and lots of peach, plum and citrus notes on the palate, it hit all the right buttons for this sparkling lover. Sometimes nothing says ‘I think you’re awesome’ like a bottle of champagne.

*All wines reviewed in this post were provided as samples or tasted at events where I was a guest. Opinions are, as always, my own.

 

 

Book Reviews

Dr. Konstantin Frank Biography – A Book Review

December 8, 2015
Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank by Tom Russ

As part of our 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference welcome package, Shawn and I received copies of Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank by Tom Russ. This was the perfect gift for me, as I’m always interested in reading about the history of winemaking in the regions we visit. I eagerly dug into this book in the early fall and I wasn’t disappointed.

As you might expect from the title, this book concentrates solely on Dr. Konstantin Frank and his family, who were pioneers in bringing vinifera to the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank’s legacy in the area is a big one and author Russ lays out all the reasons his acclaim is so deserved. If you’re looking for an overall history of the region’s winemaking, Evan Dawson’s brilliant Summer in a Glass may be a better bet, but this book provides a deep dive into one family’s extensive and lasting contribution to American wine.

Dr. Frank was a German man raised in the Ukraine and forced from his home during the war. A renowned agricultural scientist, he managed to grow vinifera successfully in the Ukraine’s cold climate and had re-built a comfortable life after his original displacement by running a viticultural program. When he learned that he and his family were not safe from the Soviet round-ups of German nationals, he decided he had to once again give up the life he knew. Having already lost several family members, he arranged for a friend in the Soviet army to smuggle his small family out of the Ukraine, before making their way to New York.

There, he struggled to find work (despite speaking numerous languages, English was a challenge for him),
but was determined to use his experience in agricultural science in his new country. He eventually talked the Experimental Station in Geneva into hiring him, where he quickly made waves with his assertion that vinifera could be grown successfully in the Finger Lakes. At the time, French hybrids were the only wine grapes accepted as viable in the area, but based on his experience growing vinifera in the Ukarine, Dr. Frank was adamant that it could be grown in the Finger Lakes.

Over the years, he was able to use his knowledge and experience to prove that he was indeed correct and that vinifera could grow and flourish in the region. His experiments with different grapes and growing conditions helped to inspire and educate other local winemakers and many credit his influence with the fact that vinifera is widely grown in the Finger Lakes today. But the path to this acceptance was a long and bumpy one and it certainly makes for a good read.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Gruner Veltliner Finger LakesDr. Frank’s dogged determination to see his dream of high-quality vinifera as the only wine grapes grown in the Finger Lakes was, however, not to be. While he railed against hybrids, they still make up a large and successful part of Finger Lakes wine production. But there was much more to Dr. Frank and to his company’s continued success in creating some of the best vinifera wines in New York State.

There’s lots of interesting tidbits about the region’s history in this book and it’s clear that Russ has done extensive research about the family. An enjoyable and informative read that will appeal to any wine history buff.

Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Holiday Cheer

Wine Lovers’ Gift Guide

November 30, 2015

Last year I started what I hope will be an annual tradition of asking some of my favourite wine friends what they would like to receive for the holidays this year. For most of us wine lovers, we already have a cornucopia of wine glass charms (there is no party big enough to use all of the ones in my collection), corkscrews and novelty wine glasses. So what does the wine aficionado on your gift list really want this year? Well, here’s some advice from a few people in the know.

 

Angela Aiello – Founder, iYellow Wine Club, blogger, writer, media personality and wine lover in chief

Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles

Nothing signifies the holidays quite like a bottle of Champagne. A family business since 1934 founded by veteran Pierre Charles Taittinger, this is one of my favourite Champagne houses. Small bubbles, a perfect taste profile and flawless bend of grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonny and Pinot Meunier) make this the perfect gift for someone who has helped make this year special and successful. Keep a few bottles on hand for yourself, because you know you worked hard too!

Learn more about Angela and iYellow Wine Club on her website.

 

Andre Proulx – Blogger, wine writer, media personality, newbie winemaker and Saskatchewan’s best wine export 

 

Sauvignon Blanc – and please no more f***ing corkscrews

For Christmas this year, I don’t want new wine glasses, or a new corkscrew, or the newest decanting doohicky from wine scientist XYZ. This past year I had the opportunity to travel to California and taste A LOT of wines. The biggest surprise for me was how much I fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t think Sauvingnon Blanc will ever by my favorite varietal, but this year I truly learned how Sauvignon Blanc expresses the terroir of where it’s made.  I’m not even talking about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc either … it’s good but there is a lot more to this grape than big bell pepper bombs that kick you in the face (not that there is anything wrong with that). My suggestion is setting a budget and picking up a few bottles from around the world for your wine loving gift recipient. For $60 you could get 3 bottles for $120 you could get 6 and do a virtual trip around the world!

Some SB picks from Andre:

Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc 2014 — Californian Sauv Blanc won’t be cheap … but it’s worth a taste. Bright citrus flavours will dominate but a satisfying heavy almost oily texture on your mid palate is what makes this unique.

Trius Sauvignon Blanc VQA —  This is regular list at the LCBO and always great bang for your buck. The signature of Ontario Sauvignon Blanc is very bright and crisp acidity. This wine from Trius has tropical fruit written all over it with aromas and flavours of passion fruit and pink grapefruit.

Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc —  New Zealand Sauv Blanc doesn’t have to be twenty bucks to be good. This is everything you would expect with savory flavours taking front and centre stage roasted herb, grassy notes and bell pepper mixed in with bright citrus notes.

Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc Organic —  This Sauv Blanc from Chile strikes a nice halfway point between New Zealand and the Trius Sauvignon Blanc. You will have hints of citrus and tropical as well as savory.

Domaine De Saint-Pierre Sancerre 2013 — Sancerre is one of the quintessential oyster wines. This will be bright and crisp with lots of citrus notes and just hints of herbaciousness on the finish.

Learn more about André and read more of his reviews on his website.

 

Krista Lamb – Wine blogger, cork dork and lover of all that’s nerdy about wine (yep, that’s me)

Books, books and more books

Every year, I send my mom my Chapters Wish List and ask her to get me wine books for Christmas. She just sighs in resignation now and accepts that there are some things I just don’t get sick of receiving. While I agree wholeheartedly with Angela and André’s picks (Shawn, if you’re reading this a bottle of Taittinger and some California Sauvignon Blanc will put you on my ‘nice list’), I also want some new wine reads. While I already own these three, I think they’re perfect picks for any cork dork on your list.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justine Hammack – Looking for a great guide to the basics of wine and the breakdown of wine styles and regions? Look no further. I’ve been a huge fan of the Wine Folly blog for years and this book showcases all the reasons wine lovers and those looking to learn flock to the site for information. I love how this book, like the blog, focuses on a visual layout that’s refreshing, vibrant and easy-to-understand.

The Wine Bible 2nd Edition by Karen MacNeil – I’ve often said that The Wine Bible got me through my wine classes and it’s really true. I read the first edition cover-to-cover and plan to do the same with this extensive update. Watch for a full review soon, but for now I can assure you that any student of wine would be lucky to unwrap this on Christmas morning.

The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-it-All by Richard Betts with Crystal English Sacca and Wendy MacNaughton – So this is not a wine book, but for wine lovers like me who are fascinated by spirits too, it’s a fun and informative overview of whiskey. I’m planning to take a spirits course in 2016 and this irreverent board book will be on my personal required reading list.

Shawn Davidson – Patient husband of a wine lover, beer student and spirits lover

Spiked coffee, please

O’Casey’s Irish Cream Liquor – While I’ve learned to love wine by osmosis, on Christmas morning there’s nothing better than a cup of coffee with Irish cream. O’Casey’s is an affordable option with hints of caramel and chocolate that will make a great gift option.

What wine items are on your wish list this year? Share them in the comments or on social!

*Some of the items reviewed were received as samples, opinions are our own.

Wine and Food Pairing

Pairing Wine and Indian Food at Pukka

November 25, 2015
Pukka3-2

Pairing wine and Indian food isn’t easy. That’s one of the reasons Pukka’s wine program is so impressive – with co-owner Derek Valleau and top Toronto sommelier Peter Boyd working together to create something truly special and unique. Pukka hosts regular wine pairing events and their wine list is a top notch selection of wine options that work well with the array of spices and flavours that are the trademark of Indian meals.

And the food at Pukka – oh, the food. I was recently invited back for a blogger dinner to try out the new menu and was more than happy to attend. The general consensus at my table and in the room was that Pukka is one of the places in Toronto that is genuinely delicious all around.

Cocktails at Pukka restaurant in Toronto

There was a deep sigh of relief when we discovered that the beloved okra fries are still on the menu (and likely to remain there permanently due to their popularity), but there was so much new to discover.

While their wine program is top-notch, they have also recently developed a cocktail program that highlights fresh and natural ingredients. I was happy to be able to try a coconut martini, as there was no refined sugar in the drink.

2014 Vina Esmeralda Torres wine

We all dug into Tandoori calamari (a personal favourite), herb-infused chicken tikka and string chaat for our first course and paired it with the 2014 Vina Esmeralda from Torres, a white blend featuring Gewurtzaminer and Muscat. A rare wine from the region, it is very floral on the nose with peach, orange and tropical fruit notes. This unique mixture of flavours and acidity paired well with all the appetizer dishes, though I particularly liked it with the calamari.

2012 Vizcarra Senda del oro from Ribera Del Duero

The second course was the boatman’s fish and prawn curry, pumpkin curry, Punjabi chicken and beef short ribs (which I didn’t try). For this course, Peter selected a red wine, the 2012 Vizcarra Senda del oro from Ribera Del Duero. This medium-weight red worked quite well. I’m told it was best with the beef short ribs, which makes sense, but I thought it was a good weight and just bold enough to pair well with the curry and strong spicing in all these dishes.

Tandoori calamari at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
Tandoori calamari

Choosing wines that work so well with Indian food isn’t easy, so I wanted to ask Peter more about how he made his selections. He admits he’s learned a lot in the two years he’s been working on the wine program at Pukka. “Most of the learning was about structure, I’d say. I came in knowing that the food variations would require wines with loads of fruit, and that played out as I knew it would,” he says.

“But I assumed that high alcohol wines would be more of a problem with spice levels. As I became more familiar with the kitchen’s output, I realized my fears were unfounded as they weren’t pushing the limits, chili-wise. So, modern, 14-plus per cent New World wines fit in more easily than I first imagined. Still, the ‘gotcha’ moment came with Rhône Grenache. Fruity, yes, but not especially dense and full-bodied (despite moderately high alcohol), Grenache was a surprise supplied by Derek, and it really works.”

String chaat at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
String chaat

When diners come to Pukka, they may initially be thinking about beer (or one of the excellent cocktails on offer). Beer is the traditional drink to pair with Indian food, given how difficult it can be to find a wine that works well with all the different flavours and spices. For Peter, getting patrons to take a chance is the first step. “My advice would be to step outside your comfort zone, your usual ruts. Ask for some assistance – and ask for the most qualified person currently on duty to help you with wine,” he says.

“The whole world seems to be trying to ‘curate’ every minute of their existence. Remember that it’s one night, one meal, one small bit of discretionary income. Take a flyer, a night off from chasing perfection, and remember that we all learn a boatload more when we are wrong, or
when things aren’t perfect,”  he says.

This is great advice, which has served me well in my own wine journey, as taking a chance is all part of the magic of the wine experience.

Pumpkin curry at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
Pumpkin curry

At Pukka, thankfully, there are many skilled staff to help with wine pairing decisions and frequent event nights where patrons can come in and learn about how to pair Indian dishes with wines from various regions. These are great opportunities to learn and Peter is already planning a busy 2016 schedule.

“I’m looking forward to more dinners and wine dinner themes,” he says. “I can’t get too weird with themes at this point because we are trying to fill spaces at the tasting table but it’s always fun to explore the outer limits, bring new wines to the table! Most of all, I’m looking forward to new dishes from the Pukka kitchen. We already have some customer faves that can’t be taken off the menu for fear of revolt, but new stuff is always fun and mind-expanding. At last night’s dinner, they produced a spinach and fig tikka that was outstanding! I hope it makes it to the regular menu.”

Pukka is truly one of my favourite places to eat in the city and I can’t wait to return. Thank you to the staff for the opportunity to enjoy this media dinner and to Peter Boyd for answering my many questions.

You can learn more about Pukka on their website and visit their events page to find out about the next wine and food pairing event.

For more blog reviews from the dinner at Pukka (which focus much more on the food than the wine) check out these great posts from some of my favourite bloggers:

The Yum Yum Factor
Libby Roach 
KiKi’s BFF

*While my meal was complimentary, my opinions are most-definitely my own.