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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.

Spirits and Cocktails

Fun Summer Sipping Suggestions

July 13, 2016
Social Lite sugar-free vodka coolers

It’s hot in the city these days, so Shawn and I have been experimenting with some alternative options for patio and cottage sipping. We have to balance a lot of things—he prefers beer, I don’t like to drink anything super sugary and neither of us has the time to make anything super complicated.

This year, we’ve had the opportunity to sample a few options that we wanted to share with you for days when wine may not be at the top of your wishlist (I rarely have those days).

Ernest Cider from OntarioErnest Cider – I like to have the occasional cider as an alternative to beer or wine. It’s a great option at pubs or restaurants where the house wine sounds dodgy, and with so many great Ontario craft options, I usually have some interesting selections to choose from. Ernest Cider impressed me with its adorable packaging, but I was much more interested in what was in the can and that was quite good too. A little sweeter than the bone dry cider I usually prefer, this had a more natural sweetness from the addition of local honey and some cane sugar so it wasn’t a sugar bomb. Shawn and I both enjoyed this one, as the apple really comes through and the carbonation is nice and crisp. We’d both have this again on a patio.

Giffard 1885 Creme de Violette gin gimletSocial Lite Vodka Cocktails – I like a cocktail once in awhile too, but I don’t like having sugar-sweetened drinks if I can avoid them. Social Lite understands that not everyone wants something sweet, so this Toronto-based company developed their line of sugar-free cocktails to appeal to health-conscious sippers like Shawn and I, who want a convenient cooler without all the sugar. First things first, these are not sweet, so if you’re hoping to replace a sugary cooler, this will throw you off. For us, it took a minute to adjust to the flavour, as both the lime and ginger and the lemon cucumber mint flavours seemed a bit bitter on first sip. But once your palate adjusts, they are a really nice sipper. We both preferred the lime and ginger (I’m not a cucumber fan at all, so this is more about my preferences than the quality of the drink) and are thinking these will be our cottage coolers of choice moving forward.

Giffard Lichi-Li Martini is a fun pink sipperGiffard Liquers Crème de Violette and Lichi Li– So first I tell you I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and then I suggest syrups? Yep. Because with a liqueur you can get a pop of flavour without a huge amount of sugar and I like the ability to play around to make a slightly-sweet drink that will be fun and summer-ready. Shawn can’t handle lychee scent or flavour at all (he asks me to keep my lychee martinis on the other side of the table at restaurants), so I was on my own to try this one. And I liked it. I made a Lichi Martini with 1.5 oz vodka, ½ oz of Giffard Lichi-li and some fresh lime juice to taste. I found it a little strong, so I cut it with a bit of diet ginger ale. The drink was pink and fun, but not too sweet..

With the Crème do Violette, I made a Violet Gimlet with 2oz of dry gin, ½ oz of Giffard Crème de Violette and 1 oz of fresh lime juice (they suggest lime cordial, but I wanted something with less sugar). It was pretty good, but a bit strong, so we again cut this with a bit of diet ginger ale to taste. Shawn and I had fun making these easy-breezy cocktails and I look forward to playing around with these syrups even more over the summer!

Chateau des Charmes Cuvée d'Andrée 2014 RoséChateau des Charmes – 2014 Rosé Cuvée D’Andrée – I couldn’t resist adding in a wine to this list because my honest-to-goodness go-to summer sipper is usually rosé and this is a really good one. With strawberry, lemonade and oranges on the nose and lots of ripe fruit on the palate, this Pinot Noir rosé is bright pink and bursting with flavour. We have already gone through two bottles and the summer is only just starting. It’s perfect for a night out on our patio, pairs well with just about everything and is a fun option to bring to a barbecue—especially at a $16 price-point.

So what are you sipping this summer? Do you have a go-to cocktail without all the sugar? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social!

*We received these products as samples, but our opinions are all 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.

Best of

The Best Wines I Tried in June

July 4, 2016
Chateau des Charmes 2012 Chardonnay from Niagara, Canada

June was a pretty impressive month for wines in my life. I had the opportunity to taste so many new-to-me wines that I hardly know where to start. Some of them will have to wait for single event posts, but below you’ll find many of the wines that kicked off my summer in style.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard 2013 Riesling Reserve DryHermann J. Wiemer Vineyard – 2013 Reserve Dry Riesling – In July, Shawn and I are spending several weeks in Germany, so we had to slip in a few Rieslings to get us in the mood. For my money, Hermann J. Wiemer’s Finger Lakes winery is making the closest thing to authentic German Riesling that I’ve tasted in North America. This had pear, lime, green apple and a hint of petrol on the nose and a lovely sweet pear note on the palate. A delicious example from one of the best wineries in the Finger Lakes.

Pol Roger ChampagnePol Roger Champagne – Reserve Brut – Shawn’s band was playing on our seventh wedding anniversary in June, but he knew that a good Champagne would keep me from being disappointed that my anniversary was spent in a club and not having a fancy dinner. He chose a good one, as this had lively, crisp bubbles, apples, citrus and biscuit notes on the nose and lovely apple, peach and pear notes on the palate. He was definitely in my good graces after this bottle.

Debbie Travis Pinot GrigioDebbie Travis Fine Wine Collection — Pinot Grigio – I had a fabulous time meeting Debbie Travis at the launch of her new Pinot Grigio. She was absolutely engaging to chat with and I was so interested in hearing all about her retreat in Tuscany (I’ve definitely added a week there to my bucket list). I am always a little bit leery about celebrity wines, but I was impressed with her interest and knowledge about Italian wine and happy to learn that Niagara’s Pillitteri Winery is making her wines – they are known for their high-quality winemaking and this was no exception. A lively and well-made Pinot Grigio, this is an easy-drinking summer patio wine that I have already suggested to a few people looking for a good value wine to enjoy at the cottage.

 

Chateau des Charmes – 2012 St. David’s Bench Vineyard Chardonnay – With butterscotch, pineapple, lemon and a hint of smoke on the nose, pineapple on the palate and a smoky butterscotch on the finish, this full-bodied wine paired very well with our summer barbecue during a recent cottage stay. With our mustard and beer marinated chicken wings and macaroni salad, this was a creamy, dreamy combo from one of Niagara’s best wineries. And if oaked Chardonnay isn’t your cup of tea for summer sipping, this is a wine that will age well so you can hold onto it for this winter and several to come.

Ox-Eye Vineyards 2012 Cabernet FrancOx-Eye Vineyards – 2012 Cabernet Franc – I was lucky enough to be gifted this Cabernet Franc from the Shenandoah Valley by a fellow blogger and I was so glad. For fans of Niagara or French Cabernet Franc, this may be a surprise, as it’s more fruit forward and I got little of the bell or black pepper notes I’ve come to expect from a Cabernet Franc. For a student of wine, it was such a pleasure to see how terroir really does influence a wine and I look forward to trying more Virginia wines in future.

Columbia Crest Chardonnay from Washington StateColumbia Crest Wines – I can’t choose a favourite from the recent Columbia Crest Wines tasting with iYellow Wine Club. Shawn and I both loved the lively and refreshing Chardonnay, which had lemon and orchard fruit on the nose, balanced acidity and tropical fruit on the palate. It was a nice, light summer option. The Merlot, which had strawberry, chocolate and coffee on the nose, which followed through on the palate was impressive for the price-point. The Cabernet Sauvignon had some earthy notes on the nose, alongside plum and blackberry. The palate held chocolate, blackberry and a hint of anise. All of the wines clock in at under $20 at the LCBO, making them a great value for the quality.

Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Muñoz-Oca was an engaging and entertaining speaker who had everyone in the room wanting to head to Washington State to check out the wines. Of Spanish descent and from a winemaking family who had settled in Argentina, Juan fell in love with Washington winemaking after his first visit. He had anticipated a wet, dreary region and was shocked to discover that they get almost no rainfall in that area, making it practically high desert viticulture. This has meant he can determine exactly how much water his grapes receive, giving him so much control over the concentration of his grapes. This tasting has me excited to discover more of Washington’s delicious, value-priced wines.

And a special shout-out to the girl’s night out I had recently where each lovely lady brought an amazing wine. While the night was not about tasting notes, I was blown away by the quality of the selections. From a 2014 Domaine Chatelaine Pouilly-Fumé to a Brut Cattin Crémant D’Alsace (quality pink bubbles at a value price), to a complex and delicious 2012 Red Stone Riesling, the white wines were on point. The Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro paired perfectly with pizza and the 2013 Blason Del Valle Malbec won my heart amongst the reds. This was an evening about friendship, but I am certainly blessed to have friends with such great taste in wine.

What were your favourite wines in June? Have you tried any of the above? If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social!

*The Chateau des Charmes was a sample. The Columbia Crest and Debbie Travis wines were tasted at events where I was a guest. All opinions are my own, as always.