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Food & Wine

Three Red Wines To Kick-off September

September 5, 2016
Chateau des Charmes 2014 Gamay Noir “Droit” is a lighter red for Autumn sipping.

The other day, I sent out a tweet saying that it felt like red wine weather was here. And in Toronto over the Labour Day weekend, that certainly feels true. I’ve heard that the heat and humidity, which has felt like a heavy blanket over the city all summer, will return. But right now I’m taking the opportunity to run through cool breezes, sit on the patio sipping big cups of tea and curl up on the couch with my hubby drinking big glasses of red wine.

I unrepentantly love autumn and its perfect running weather, chunky sweater cuddles and humidity-clearing breezes. It makes me want to drink the boldest, spiciest wines. I don’t do pumpkin spice lattes (protein smoothies, maybe), but give me a wine with a kick of black pepper, deep earthy notes or a touch of anise and I’m all in.

Granted, I drink red wine (and white) all year long, but this summer heatwave had me reaching for rosé or very light whites more often. In anticipation of the fall season, Shawn and I tested out a few lighter-bodied reds that had arrived as samples and I wanted to share our thoughts below. These are great transitions from summer into fall drinking, as you ease your way towards Cabernet Sauvignon.

I hope you’ll share what you’re drinking this fall in the comments or on social.

Chateau des Charmes – 2014 Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is a great light red wine for fall.Chateau des Charmes – 2014 Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Like much of the country, Shawn and I watched the last Tragically Hip concert on CBC in August. We weren’t enormous fans growing up, but like for many Canadians the Hip was just always there, woven into the fabric of our lives. Given that we weren’t super fans, I didn’t anticipate that this night would be so emotionally charged. I had chosen this wine because I wanted something Canadian for the evening and it paired nicely with dinner (chicken breasts done with a light tandoori glaze). We had tried to get a bottle of the Tragically Hip wine, but that was sold out province-wide (we had a bottle from the previous vintage that we had opened a few months earlier, it was OK wine, nothing special, but I kind of wish I’d held onto it a little longer so we had it for this night).

This CDC wine was a nice selection, it has notes of root beer, dark cherry and hints of milk chocolate on the nose. It’s earthy and balanced on the palate with dark red fruit and some cherry chocolate notes. It’s very food-friendly and very well-made (most CDC wines are), but I’ll always remember it as the wine in my glass during one of the most memorable nights I’ve had. When I broke down sobbing, watching a man with brain cancer scream and cry while giving the last performance of a lifetime, I didn’t really need wine, but I did raise a glass more than three hours into the show to toast one of the most brilliant, heart-breaking, powerful performances I’ve ever seen. And, like many of the important things in life, this wine will always be part of that memory.

La Crema 2014 Monterey Pinot Noir is a good option for cool weather sipping.

La Crema – 2014 Monterey Pinot Noir

OK, I don’t have anything half as memorable as the story above to tell you about drinking the La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir. We received it as a sample and it’s available via Vintages right now (September 3, 2016 is the release date). I like La Crema wines – they have a Canadian winemaker and I find that they’re well-made and very drinkable. I got smoke, root beer, dark cherry and wet soil on the nose and lots of earthy notes and a bit of anise on the palate (fellow blogger Jason Solanki said it had lots of notes of tea and I can see that too), as well as some black pepper and clove on the finish. I liked it and Shawn did too.  It paired well with pizza and was a nice addition to our movie night. If you like California Pinot Noir, this is very much worth picking up.

Chateau des Charmes 2014 Gamay Noir “Droit” is a flavourful red wine for fall.Chateau des Charmes – 2014 Gamay Noir “Droit”

As a general rule, I don’t like to include two wines from the same winery in a wrap-up post like this, but I like Chateau des Charmes wines a lot and this one is very different than the Pinot Noir (plus, my review is a lot more standard for this one).

First, a confession, I struggle with Gamay. It’s just not my grape. I have many a wine-loving friend who absolutely loves Gamay and they are always telling me I will find one that just blows me away. So far, that hasn’t  happened, but I think of it the way I think about not liking watermelon – I get that everyone else likes it and it’s just me, so please don’t let me colour your thinking on this grape.

This is especially true here because this CDC wine is a very good Ontario Gamay. It won gold at the Ontario Wine Awards and the National Wine Awards, it’s extremely well made and the nose is just lovely – wet grass, black pepper, red current, stewed plums and a wonderful spiciness. It’s got black pepper and dark red fruit on the palate and has a tart, spicy freshness that just screams fall sipping.

This was another pizza and a movie night wine in our house and it paired well with both our Mediterranean chicken pizza and Johnny Depp’s Black Mass.  While Gamay is not my ‘go-to’ wine, I hope you’ll try this one because there’s a good chance it will be yours.

Coming up in the fall, I’ll return to my monthly wine round-ups and there will be lots more wine travel posts, as Shawn and I want to share more about our trips to Germany and Lake Erie North Shore. Shawn will also be covering Toronto Beer Week (he’s scheduled to do his level 2 Prud’homme Beer Specialist in October!) and I’m working on a whole bunch of new winemaker profiles to share with you! It should be a fun few months here at Upkeep.

*We received all three of these wines as samples, but all opinions (especially my long, rambling ones about The Tragically Hip) are our own.

Food & Wine

Wine and Food Pairing with 13th Street Winery

July 8, 2016
13th Street Winery 2014 Gamay Noir paired with an apricot and blue cheese tart.

Set in a beautiful swath of the Niagara region on the boarder between St. Catharines and Jordan, 13th Street Winery is a lovely space to visit. Shawn and I have long enjoyed stopping in to pick up little pizzas or other treats at the on-site bakery and check out the stunning sculptures and beautiful art on the walls. The wines have become favourites too, especially their always pleasing sparkling rosé.13th Street Winery in Niagara, Ontario

On a recent visit, we were invited to check out their new tasting menu – a delicious way to enjoy food and wine together without having to book a full meal. Seated in the lovely new section of their tasting room, with a view of the trees around the property, Shawn and I tried several wines paired with offerings from the 13th Street kitchen.

13th Street Winery 2014 Riesling paired with spicy soup.The June’s Vineyard Riesling, with light floral notes and a hint of limestone and petrol on the nose was very dry, but with a hint of sweetness that helped it pair nicely with the warm and spicy soup we enjoyed alongside it. We also tried the soup with the 13 Below Riesling, which is a blend of Riesling Icewine and off-dry Riesling. I love sweet wines with spicy food, so this was a great option for me. The wine had a very expressive nose full of candied pears and other orchard fruit and it was sweet, but not at all cloying.  The sweetness cut through the heat so perfectly and created a really balanced tasting experience.

The 2014 Gamay Noir, with its earthy nose and dark cherry and black pepper notes was a perfect accompaniment to the pork turrine and chicken liver. Shawn described them as rich, well-balanced meats and felt that the nuts were a great addition that brought out the pork. I was a little jealous not to eat red meat as I watched him devour this, but the wine on its own was pretty great too.

My favourite dish of the day was the apricot tart with blue cheese, walnuts, carmelized onions and (on Shawn’s) bacon. The tart was bursting with fresh flavours and I enjoyed trying it with both the Gamay (very good) and the 2011 Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay (also quite nice).

13th Street Winery 2011 Sandstone Reserve Chardonnay paired with brie and Chardonnay-soaked raisins.The Chardonnay, which is fully oaked and has notes of butter, vanilla and Meyer lemon, worked even better with the brie with Chardonnay-stewed raisins. The richness of the wine paired perfectly with the richness of the cheese and the raisins added a nice note of sweetness.

With such delicious and well-thought-out offerings, this tasting menu makes great sense. Wine is best when experienced with food and 13th Street’s smaller portions mean you can try one or two things to experiment with the wine pairings and not have to commit to a full meal – add in such a beautiful space to taste in and you can’t go wrong.

While we were there, we also had the chance to taste the new Burger Blend wines. These are an affordable and fun option for summer barbecues as, you guessed it, they go really well with burgers!

13th Street Winery White Burger Blend wineThe white Burger Blend had lots of apple and pear on the nose and the pear shows through quite prominently on the palate. I really enjoyed this one and would like to try it with grilled chicken (my go-to for barbecue).

The red Burger Blend is a mix of Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir and has strawberry and spice on the nose. The Gamay comes through on the palate, but is nicely muted by the Pinot Noir. Another summer-ready easy-drinking wine.

During our visit, there was lots going on at the winery. On top of launching their new food pairings, they have moved the farmer’s market on-site (a great addition alongside the bakery) and there was construction on some new production buildings taking place off in the distance. These changes didn’t seem to affect the tranquil nature of the tasting rooms, which showcases incredible bursts of colourful artwork on stark white walls and is modern, yet approachable.

Whatever brings you to 13th Street, there is sure to be more than you expected to find. We are already looking forward to our next visit (which we hope will involve another to-die-for apricot and blue cheese tart).

Thank you to 13th Street Winery for hosting us. While our tasting and food pairings were complimentary, our opinions (especially about the tart) are definitely our own.

Food & Wine

A Father’s Day Gift Guide for Wine Guys

June 13, 2016
Dujardin Fine V.S.O.P. Brandy - a great Father's Day gift idea.

It’s almost Father’s Day and I know there are a lot of great dads being feted this spring. So what do you get the dad who loves wine? Here are a few suggestions that might go over better than a new tie or another sweater.

Wine & War is the perfect book for a wine-loving history buff.A Great Wine Read

This blog has been chock full of wine book reviews over the last year and I have no intention of slowing down. Because wine lovers are always looking to learn more about the wines we adore, a book is a great gift option. My dad loved all history and Shawn loves war history, so I know that’s a theme many dads might enjoy. I’ve mentioned Wine & War: The French, the Nazis & the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup before and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s hard to put down this 2002 book, which details the lengths French winemakers went to while trying to keep their wines out of Nazi hands in World War II and what happened when they succeeded (and failed). This is the perfect read for any wine-loving history buff.

Dujardin Fine V.S.O.P. Brandy - a great Father's Day gift idea.Brandy

I haven’t spent much time drinking brandy, but I know it can be perfect for gifting. I received a bottle of this Dujardin Fine V.S.O.P., which is Brandy distilled with select French wine, to review and was pleasantly surprised. There was maple, toffee and banana notes on the nose and it was quite drinkable on the rocks. Shawn and I also tried a Horse’s Neck cocktail, which mixes one ounce of Dujardin with four ounces of ginger ale (we opted for diet, as I prefer not to drink sugary sodas). It was a pleasant drink and surprisingly sweet, but nice for an evening on the patio.

Zenato Winery Amarone della Valpolicella makes a good gift for a wine loverA Special Bottle of Wine

What wine-loving dad doesn’t want a special bottle on Father’s Day? If you can’t afford Bordeaux, or want to try something different, you might want to consider Amarone. I recently had the chance to meet winemaker Alberto Zenato and try the 2011 Classico Amarone della Valpolicella his winery makes. Made in the appassimento style, Amarone is a special treat. This one had a deep, smoky vibe and big, lush fruit with a hint of sweetness. I’d say cherry and chocolate with a touch of smoke. And I was impressed with how passionate the Zenato family is about promoting and protecting the traditions of Amarone. Worried about producers who are making lower-quality and lower-priced Amarone and using the name without following the strict rules for making this wine, the Zenatos have banded together with 12 other wineries to create Amarone that reflects the traditions and will continue to impress. This is a gift dad surely won’t mind drinking now or cellaring for several years.

These are just a few ideas from me, but I’d love to hear yours! Guys, what do YOU want for Father’s Day this year? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social.

*The Dujardin was tasted as a sample and the Amarone at an event where I was a guest. All opinions are, as always, my own.


Food & Wine

Top 5 California Wine Fair Moments

May 24, 2016
White and rosé wines from Birichino and Bonny Doon at the California Wine Fair.

The California Wine Fair in Toronto is a great opportunity to try a selection of the best wines from the state. While the trade tasting can be quite busy, the public event in the evening is typically more relaxed and a great value for the wines you experience. This year, I attended the media tasting earlier in the day and had the opportunity to take an incredible class on California Pinot Noir from one of my greatest wine writing inspirations, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. I would be hard-pressed to pick just five favourite moments from the day, but I wanted to highlight a few of the stand-out selections.

Tasting 13 fascinating California Pinot Noir wines with Karen MacNeil.Learning about California Pinot Noir with Karen MacNeil

I’ve said many times on this blog that The Wine Bible got me through my early wine classes and it remains one of my go-to wine resources. With that in mind, there was no way I would miss out on a Pinot Noir tasting with Karen MacNeil.  At this session, we tasted through a wealth of new-to-me Pinots from smaller California producers, which showcased some of the best of the varietal being grown in the state. Very little of this wine is available here, so I won’t go into too much detail about tasting notes but in tasting 13 of MacNeil’s hand-picked favourites, you could really see the diversity of the grape and the quality of Pinot that California can produce. I don’t think we get enough of the really good stuff in Ontario, so we sometimes overlook this grape when buying from California, but this tasting inspired me to seek out some of these producers when I next visit the state. My favourites from the tasting? The 2013 Laetitia Vineyards and the 2013 McIntyre Vineyards.

Red wines from Birichino at the California Wine Fair.Birichino and Bonny Doon

One of my favourite booths every year is the one shared by Birichino and Bonny Doon Vineyards. The wines are just so unique and interesting—and so very good. I wish the LCBO would offer these more regularly, as it’s such a treat to be able to explore a different side of California winemaking. The Birichino Vin Gris and the Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare were two of my top picks of the event and the 2013 Birichino Grenache was my favourite red wine of the day. Even the heavily floral Birichino Malvaysia had me impressed—I am such a fan of winemakers that go beyond the boundaries and make wines that are outside the box, yet still very drinkable.

Ca'Momi Cabernet Sauvignon was a stand out at the California Wine FairCa’Momi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

California Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic and this one with strawberry, smoke, dark raspberry and tar on the nose and a nice fruit-forward palate, is very enjoyable. At $25.95 at the LCBO, this is a good value sipper if you want to drink California Cab without breaking the bank.

Liberty School 2013 Pinot Noir was a stand-out at the California Wine Fair in Toronto.Liberty School 2013 Pinot Noir

I was in a Pinot Noir kind of mood after the Karen MacNeil tasting and I really enjoy Liberty School wines (their Zinfandel is a perennial favourite in our house), so this 2013 Pinot Noir was a good option for me. The nose is herbaceous with smoke, green pepper, cherry and dark red fruit, there are herbal notes on the palate with a good bit of salt on the finish and some great dark fruit notes that make this a good food-friendly wine. The Pinot Noir is currently only available via agent in Ontario, or you can visit the winery on your next trip to Paso Robles, which Shawn and I heartily recommend. Our 2014 visit was a highlight of our California trip.

Caricature red wine blend from Lodi, CaliforniaFun red blends

I like a good Califonia red blend, preferably one that’s not too sweet, so Hope Family Vineyards’ Troublemaker is a perennial favourite (note that they also make Liberty School Wines). At this year’s show, I also tried Caricature out of Lodi, California, which I had enjoyed at the Wine Bloggers Conference Awards Dinner last year when they announced Lodi as the location for this year’s conference. Caricature is a little on the sweet side and very drinkable, but with some nice savoury notes that offset the sweet and keep it from becoming a fruit bomb. While I don’t think I’ll make it to Lodi for this year’s conference, I do hope I’ll continue to see a good selection of Lodi wines available in Ontario.

There were many other California stand-outs at the show, but these were just a few highlights I wanted to share. What’s your favourite California wine? Share it in the comments or on social.