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Red, Red Wines for Winter

February 20, 2017
Chateau des Charmes 2015 Cabernet Franc

It’s been a red, red wine season at my place with big, spicy reds sounding pretty perfect on cold winter nights. I’ve been lucky to have a few sample bottles on hand that ensured there was always something new to try. Here are a few of my recent favourites.

Southbrook 2015 Triomphe Pinot NoirChateau des Charmes 2015 Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Franc is a grape that Ontario does extremely well and this 2015 from Niagara’s Chateau des Charmes is an excellent example. We cracked this one open for Shawn’s birthday and it was bursting with big, bold flavours. Lots of ripe red fruit, well-balanced spice and a hint of black pepper on the finish. This was one of the best Ontario wines I’ve had in the last few months. I highly recommend.

Southbrook Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir – With cherry, raspberry, plum, vanilla and root beer on the nose and lots of red fruit on the palate, this Niagara sipper has a longish finish with lots of fruit. A pleasant and very drinkable wine from one of Ontario’s most reliable wineries.

Louis M. Martini 2014 Cabernet SauvignonLouis M. Martini 2014 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is available for just a little while longer at the LCBO and it’s well worth seeking out. A value-priced California Cab Sauv, this has smoked meat, cassis and big red berries on the nose. The palate is smoky and earth with nice fruit on the finish. A nice wine to pair with dinner.

What do you have in your glass this month? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social.

*These three wines were samples–opinions are most definitely my own.

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.

Book Reviews

Nose: A Novel

June 20, 2016
A review of Nose, a novel by James Conaway

I recently finished another novel set in the wine world, as I play catch-up on my backlog of wine reading. Nose is a novel by wine critic James Conaway that has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. It tells the story of a mystery wine that blows away a pompous, old school wine critic and leads him on a quest to find out who made this incredible wine.

The story starts out with wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, but CJ is far from the only character whose perspective is shared—there’s Les, a young journalist turned wine obsessive and makeshift PI, Claire, CJ’s long-suffering wife, Sara, a medical technician and the daughter of a California wine scion struggling under debt, Cotton, an environmentally conscious winemaker devastated by the loss of his great love and seething over the role of Sara’s father in that tragedy and Sam, the owner of Glass Works, the wine bar where everything comes together at some point or another.

All these characters (and a few others of less import) weave in and out of the narrative, as we piece together the complex story of this wine and the people in its orbit. There’s also Nose, the gossipy wine blog that bedevils CJ (an old school wine critic annoyed by a blogger – that would never happen, right?), as his own publication struggles.

There’s a lot going on in this book. I might argue that there’s actually way too much going on, since I often found myself losing the plot threads. But I would say the biggest flaw with this book is that you stay with the characters for such a short time that you don’t really understand (or even like) them. Les seems like the central character, and is something of an anti-hero, but I found myself mostly confused and annoyed by his behaviour. C.J. flits back and forth between pompous fop and misunderstood genius and Claire, who is the most likable character in the beginning, drifts off in a very weird direction by the end.

The mystery of the wine isn’t terribly mysterious (it’s fairly obvious where this part of the plot is going from early on), but there were a few surprising twists and turns along the way. Conaway clearly knows and understands the California wine industry and I suspect some of the characters are based on the people he’s met along the way. Unlike real life, though, sometimes it’s better to try and tell the story from fewer perspectives to have the most impact.

I have a few more Conaway books on my list for 2016 and I’m excited to see how I feel about his non-fiction. Novels are a personal thing, so I’d be interested in hearing from others who have read Nose and their thoughts on the book! Share your reviews of Nose in the comments or on social.

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The Best Wines I Tried in May

June 6, 2016
Lush Sparkling Wine at Kitchen 76 Restaurant in Niagara

May was a jam-packed month and I spent lots of time running, writing and attending wine events. Shawn and I also took a trip to Niagara and discovered some wonderful new wines, as well as enjoying some delicious meals—I highly recommend Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery, if you’re visiting the area.  Watch for more on our Niagara visit on the blog soon, but for now here are just a few of the memorable wines I tried last month.

Two Sisters Vineyards Lush Sparkling Rosé

Two Sisters Vineyard Lush Brut Rosé – Niagara, Ontario – While we loved the food at Two Sisters, we were also very impressed by the wines. This dark pink sparkling rosé was a perfect accompaniment to my meal. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it also includes a dosage of Cabernet Franc. The quality of this sparking is obvious and I loved the strawberries and orchard fruit notes on the palate.

Two Sisters Vineyard 2012 Cabernet Franc – Niagara, Ontario – Full-bodied and lush, my tasting note for this wine starts with a simple word that conveyed my feelings: delicious. There’s no bell pepper on this Cabernet Franc, just a rounder, peppery note lending to a nice balance of earthiness and big, red fruit on the palate. An amazing example of how well Cabernet Franc can be done in the Niagara region, this is a bottle that’s well worth the $48 splurge.

Angels Gate Winery V red wine blendAngel’s Gate Winery Angel’s V – Niagara, Ontario – Shawn and I almost always stop in at Angel’s Gate Winery when we’re in Niagara, we love the staff (Kara is amazing) and the wines always impress. This time, we had the chance to try their newest release, a Bordeaux blend that includes vintages from 2002 to 2012. With a deep red hue, this wine opens up beautifully after some time in the glass. There’s lots of deep, lush red fruit on the nose and, while this one really needs some age on it, it’s drinking fairly well now. I expect this will be extraordinary in a few year’s time.

Red 2014 wine blend from Quai du Vin WineryQuai Du Vin Estate Winery Signature Series Red 2014 – Ontario – A blend of red hybrids wasn’t at the top of my list of things to try, I’ll admit it, but winemaker Jamie Quai has consistently impressed me with his wines and I was willing to give this one a go. Turned out, it was one of the stand-outs for me at the recent event for Ontario’s Southwest. I will come right out and admit that I didn’t plan to review this wine, so I didn’t take notes, but even a few weeks later, I’m still thinking about it. Shawn and I both highlighted it as a very drinkable and approachable red that made us (well, me) reflect on how hybrids in the right hands can be made into some really good wine.

La Crema Monterey 2014 Chardonnay from CaliforniaHonourable Mention:

La Crema 2014 Monterey Chardonnay – Monterey, California – With notes of butter, Meyer lemon, creamed corn and mango on the nose, I knew this would be a big California Chardonnay and I was hesitant about how much I would enjoy it. But I poured a chilled glass on a warm summer night, sat out on the patio sipping and found it quite enjoyable. The mouth feel is nice, with buttery notes and some pineapple on the finish. While it was rightly pointed out when I posted about this one on Instagram that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea for a warm evening, I found a chilled glass was fine. However, a lighter wine might work better if you’re looking to have more than one glass on the patio. And when I paired this wine with a grilled chicken sandwich on a buttery bun, it worked well. This is a reasonably affordable Cali option if you’re looking for a wine to pair with roasted chicken.

Have you tried any of these wines? What did you think? Did you try any fabulous wines in May that you want to share? Post about them in the comment section or on social!

*Some of these wines were sent as samples and others were tried at the winery or at events where I was a guest. All opinions, as always, are my own.