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Holiday Cheer

Wine Lovers Holiday Gift Guide 2016

December 4, 2016

It’s that time of year when you have to decide what the wine lover on your holiday gift list wants. If they’re like me, the answer is John Szabo’s new book on volcanic wines. I’ve worked with some of my favourite wine friends and bloggers to put together a few other ideas for gifts to get the wine lover in your life.

gift-guide5 First, I’m going to give another huge plug for John Szabo’s latest book: Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, which is the perfect gift for someone truly passionate about wine education. This is an informative read that will keep the wine geekiest among us happy for hours. I’ll be following up with a full review in the new year, but for now it’s topping my wish list and I know many of my wine-loving friends are hoping to find this under the tree on Christmas morning.

I’m also going to suggest Icewine. This one is a bit of a surprise, as I love Icewine but have never been big on having it in the house. We like it in moderation, so it’s the type of thing I’d only pull out when we had guests over and even then you hardly make a dent in the bottle. Enter my discovery of Icewine cocktails! Add a little to your favourite sparkling wine for a special treat or mix it into a martini for a hint of sweetness. Now that I understand the versatility of this Canadian favourite, I’m all about having it on hand. The 2015 Chateau des Charmes Vidal Icewine comes in a cute package (perfect for gifting) and is a great pairing for blue cheese or a fun addition to your holiday cocktails.

Charlene Theodore and Megan Munro, Chew Street Blog:
“Chew Street has teamed up with Swell Made Co. to curate two holiday gift packs for the holiday season.  One of them is perfect for the wine lover on your ‘nice list’ this year. The Wine Love Gift Pack is a collection of chic, witty and fun items from stationary to totes specially packaged for the holidays.  For each one purchased, Chew Street and Swell Made will buy a Christmas dinner for clients of the Yonge Street Mission, an organization that has served Torontonians in poverty with dignity since 1896.  The Wine Love Gift Pack ($62.00CAD) is perfect for the oenophile, casual wine enthusiat, or wine newbie who likes eye-catching, minimal design.

The gift pack includes:

  • WINE Pendant + Chain
  • I Got Wine in My Bag Black Tote Bag
  • This Calls For Champagne Keytag
  • Thank You note for your recipient informing them of their contribution to the Yonge Street Mission.”

Fresh sparkling Riesling is a fun holiday sipper from NiagaraAngela Aiello, Wine Expert & Founder of iYellow Wine Club:
“Fresh Sparkling Riesling – one of my local Holiday go-to wines. My favourite grape just got better! Celebrate Ontario with this great bottle of bubbly! I may have bought a couple cases and sent a case to my sister, and a case to my mom too.”

Anne Louise Bannon, Oddball Grape:

“When I’m asked what do wine lovers really want for the holidays, I usually say more wine. Which might intimidate non-wine folks. But fear not. One of the best gifts Michael ever got was a gift certificate to a really great wine shop. It came from my daughter and the shop was in San Francisco, where she lives. We live about 600 miles away in Los Angeles. Michael had a blast picking out his wines – bottles he’d probably not have bought for himself. But better yet, what a sweet way for the kid to suggest we come up and visit. So a well-thought out gift certificate can be a great way to give the wine lover in your life more wine. Unless, of course, you’ve got the funds to hire a sommelier to stock your cellar. That would be even better.

Making wine at home can be fun.“Assuming the wine lover in your life isn’t already making her or his own wine, one of the most fun gifts you can get them is a home wine-making kit. You can find them online or at a local home brew shop. There are few things more exciting than making it yourself. But be aware, even though that first wine may actually be pretty grim, wine-making can be very addictive. It won’t be long before your wine lover is finding ways to buy (gasp) real grapes and talking about harvest and brix and acetobacters. And talk about a rabbit hole. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard professional winemakers tell us that they got their start when a spouse bought them a kit for the holidays. It’s how we started.”

Have some ideas we haven’t covered? Share them in the comments or on social!

 

Book Reviews

Champagne, Uncorked By Alan Tardi

August 15, 2016
Champagne Uncorked by Alan Tardi

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When I started taking wine classes, I was instantly enchanted with Champagne. The unique terroir, the traditions of the region, the exacting process of making the bubbles so perfectly, it all drew me in. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of trying several Champagnes, but never Krug, the subject of this book by wine and food writer Alan Tardi. After reading Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World’s Most Celebrated Drink, I feel like I need to rectify this very soon.

Champagne Uncorked by Alan TardiTardi immersed himself in the world of Krug over the course of a year – an entire vintage production cycle. Along with this hands-on experience of every aspect of producing Krug Champagne, he interspersed the history of this famous Champagne house. It’s a little like the recent documentary, A Year in Champagne, with a lot more history and a stronger sense of the personality of the author.

I felt throughout the book as though I’d like to have a glass of Champagne with Tardi one day. He doesn’t come off as stuffy and affected, but as genuinely passionate about his subject and not afraid to admit that, even after years of wine writing, he’s still a little unsure in some wine-related situations – like when he was suddenly asked to add his opinion during a rapid-fire tasting to help choose the blend. I’m sure I would have been immobilized in that moment (especially given my pokey nature as a taster) and it was comforting to know that Tardi was a bit thrown, though he recovers quickly.

I quite enjoyed this book, taking away a wealth of new knowledge about Champagne, the House of Krug and the changing world of Champagne production (in particular as ownership of many big houses shifts away from families to large corporations). I would highly recommended this one for wine-lovers and bubble obsessives alike. I liked it so much that I’ve already added Tardi’s other book, Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo, to my reading list.

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Have you read Champagne Uncorked? Do you plan to? Share your thoughts below or on social

*While I received a review copy of this book, all opinions are my 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.

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.