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SOMM 3 – A Review

December 3, 2018
SOMM 3 documentary poster

It’s hard to believe it was 2012 when the first SOMM movie was released. I bought a ticket to the Toronto premiere, held a day before my first ever wine exam, and I remember watching with rapt attention. To say I loved it would be a vast understatement. A documentary about the intense (to put it mildly) process of becoming a Certified Master Sommelier, SOMM was a revelation to me as a wine student. There were people far more obsessed with the topic of wine than I could ever hope to be and they were fascinating and intimidating. It may have psyched me out a bit for my exam, but I never stopped thinking about it or telling people how incredible this documentary was. I still do.

I’m not entirely sure how I missed seeing SOMM 2, but I understand it was a favourite with wine lovers and I assume it’s also pretty great. That said, when my dear friend Kari MacKnight Dearborn let me know she was hosting the premiere of SOMM 3 in Toronto, I was quick to purchase a ticket. The event, which was a fundraiser for the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, was held at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox Theatre in November and featured a complimentary branded GoVino glass with a sample from Mark Anthony Wines and a bag of popcorn. Of course, the major draw, outside of SOMM 3, was the post-film panel with director Jason Wise, who is a firecracker full of energy and enthusiasm for his films.

The movie itself? Whereas SOMM was a documentary anyone with even a passing interest in wine–or in watching people who are weirdly obsessive about “winning” some sort of great prize go to insane lengths to do so–SOMM 3 is aimed squarely at the wine geek market. It features Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier and Fred Dame, a Pinot Noir tasting that plays off the Judgement of Paris and so much wine geekery that I couldn’t help but love it. To say I was part of the target audiences would be an understatement.

Will SOMM 3 play to audiences beyond the wine obsessed? I hope so. But I’m not as certain about that as I was after watching the first film in the series. After the credits rolled, I noted to the friends who had joined me that I loved it, but I didn’t think Shawn would. He wouldn’t know any of the main characters and, while SOMM would have held his interest because it’s just a fascinating story on every level, this might be too inside baseball to keep him interested.

That said, if you’re reading my blog you are likely a wine lover and, thus, I expect you’ll like this movie very much. It’s fun to see people nerd out about expensive and obscure bottles of wine, it’s always amazing to see Fred Dame blind taste and I’d watch Jancis Robinson do basically anything. SOMM 3 is available now on Netflix (Oops! Just learned I erred on this it’s available on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes) – and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

Book Reviews

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol

October 3, 2018
Drink - A book by Ann Dowsett Johnston about women and alcohol.

*I read this book and wrote this review in 2016, but struggled with whether this was the right venue for it. Given the news of late, Drink has been on my mind a lot and I decided it was a shame I hadn’t posted this earlier.

It’s important to acknowledge that alcohol, while an enjoyable indulgence for many, has a much darker layer for others. Reading Ann Dowsett Johnston’s Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol made me think about that side of things in a way I hadn’t much before.

Writing about wine and alcohol in general is a fraught topic. Our culture has normalized drinking, and wine in particular has a very romantic side to it, so it can be easy to forget about the darker side. For me, it hasn’t become an issue, but reading Drink brought into stark reality the fact that one day it could and for others it already is.

Drink is not a research book, it tells the stories of women and problem drinking through the lens of Dowsett Johnston and her mother’s personal story. Some of it was extremely eye-opening: the increase in binge drinking, especially in young women, and the number of career women who are turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. For someone who didn’t drink at all in high school, I admit to being shocked reading about young girls getting blackout drunk before they were even in the 9th grade. And university drinking, which I indulged in moderately (I was still living at home and mostly broke, so it wasn’t really an option), has taken on bizarre proportions.

But it was the older women, those who had solid careers and families that interested me most. Some drank because of family histories with alcohol, others to get over trauma and many just to cope with the stress of their lives. It makes you think about how we so often use alcohol as a crutch when things are bad. How many times have I joked that I needed a glass of wine after a crazy day? And how easy might it be to slip from a habit to an addiction? It’s definitely something worth paying attention to and one of the many takeaways from this book that I found worthwhile.

I liked Drink overall because it made me think about drinking in a way I wasn’t used to and, while it certainly didn’t dampen my interest in wine, it was a good reminder about the importance of paying attention to alcohol consumption. Looking at the whys and the whens and having the wherewithal to stop if it all becomes too much is important. And so is knowing to ask for help if you can’t stop when you try.

Dowsett Johnston’s writing is smart and lovely and I expect her story will resonate with many who are drinking to numb their pain. I highly recommend this book for those who want to reflect on alcohol through a different lens than we’re used to on this blog.

Have you read Drink? What did you think? Did it inspire you to reconsider your own drinking?

Best of

Summer Favourites

August 11, 2018

While life is crazy and busy right now, I’m doing my best to keep up with things related to the blog. That’s been made a little easier because there are so many fantastic things that are making me happy in this realm. Below is a bit of a round-up of things I wanted to share with you.

In the French Kitchen with Kids by Mardi Michels

I have long loved Mardi Michel’s blog, eat.live.travel.write, so I was very excited to learn about her new book, In the French Kitchen with Kids. I immediately bought a copy, despite the fact that I don’t have any kids of my own (and am admittedly completely uninterested in the actual act of cooking – thankfully, Shawn loves it), and this is a great addition to our cookbook collection. Mardi’s recipes are easy-to-follow and super fun and I have recommended it to so many of my friends who *do* have kids. Mardi has embraced the importance of teaching children, in particular young boys, to cook and all the ways that this skill can help them make better health choices as they grow up. I love that philosophy and how in imbues this book.

Campo Viejo – Rosé

When I was in Spain visiting Campo Viejo last fall, I spent some time on the winery patio with a glass of this lovely, fruit-forward rosé. It is a memory I was happy to relive just a little bit when I discovered a bottle of this wine at my local LCBO. Typically only available for a short time in the summer, I suggest picking one up if you see it. Dark pink, full of summer fruit flavours and just dry enough to ensure it will still pair well with whatever you throw on your barbecue, this is well worth trying.

Chateau des Charmes Methode Traditionnelle Brut Sparkling

I recently had some of my girlfriends over for an evening of pizza and wine while Shawn was in Germany. This was our intro wine and we all agreed it was a winner. Crisp and tart with great bubbles, it’s a fantastic alternative to Champagne when that’s out of budget or just not appropriate. I love a glass of bubbles to kick off an evening and this one definitely did not disappoint.

Tasting the Past by Kevin Begos

I have taken a bit of a break from reading wine books of late after reading almost nothing else for several years. I needed time to catch up on the many thrillers, biographies and science books sitting neglected on my bookshelf and to cleanse my palate before diving back in. Given the mix of science and viticulture promised in Begos’ book, I’m looking forward to taking that plunge. I have been doing a lot more science writing of late and I love seeing a few of my passions come together.

 

Port Cocktails

Following our trip to Prague (an amazing and much-needed getaway), I was so excited to be invited to a port tasting with Taylor Fladgate and iYellow Wine Club. And then I got sick. Really sick. That meant missing out on a fantastic evening, but I was so happy when the iYellow team sent me some of the recipes developed for the event. I always enjoy Taylor Fladgate port (their 20 year old is divine) and this is a fantastic way to enjoy their younger port in the summer months.

Tawny Fizz

1.5 oz of Tawny 10

.5oz part Cognac

Splash of real lemon juice

Shake over ice and pour into glass

Top with sparkling wine, we used Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne

Garnish with a lemon zest

Late Bottle Vintage Portoni 

2 oz Taylor Fladgate Late Bottle Vintage Port

.5 oz Gin – we used Bloom Gin, (we highly recommend you use this gin as other gins have different flavour profiles such as pine needle or cucumber aromas)

.5 oz Campari

Stirred over ice

Pour into glass

Garnish with an orange peel

Credit to bartender https://www.instagram.com/thegeorgejetson/ for developing these!

Patio Sippers

You’ve no doubt heard me go on about Pommies and SoCial Lite in the past, so it should be no surprise that they are making my summer just a little better. SoCial Lite has two great new flavours of their no sugar, all natural cocktails, which make for a much less stressful cooler situation. The lemon cucumber mint and grapefruit flavours are fun new additions to their line and the grapefruit, with just a hint of flavour is my new favourite. If you love a vodka soda or can’t stop drinking La Croix (guilty), you will enjoy these.

Pommies new sangria does have sugar, but it’s a tasty alternative to cider from this Canadian company. Pommies is my go-to cider, so I’m always thrilled to see it on a menu and I’ll be recommending this to my friends who like their drinks a little sweeter. I enjoyed it at a recent get-together with friends and it was a fun alternative to beer.

Whew! That was a little more of a wrap-up than I had planned, but it’s great to be back and to share some of these fabulous finds with you guys.

What have you been enjoying this summer? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Spirits and Cocktails

Guest Post – Victoria Distillers: “Phun” with Gin

July 31, 2018

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for this latest guest post on Victoria Distillers, as I continue to manage a too-hectic schedule!

It’s late spring in Victoria, BC. Thousands of cherry trees are in full bloom and the sea air inspires outdoor time.

Victoria is also home to a vibrant craft alcohol trade and Victoria Distillers has been leading the charge for a decade. They started in 2008 as Victoria Spirits under the ownership of Bryan and Valerie Murray, but in 2015 they were purchased and the name was changed to Victoria Distillers. They are one of Canada’s oldest small-batch producers. Their original production site was more rural, but they expanded and moved to Sidney (close to the airport and ferry terminal) in 2015. This move made the distiller a more serious operator and tourist destination, worthy of a pit stop on the way to Victoria.

Victoria Distillers produces a wide range of products, but their ‘signature’ product is the Empress Gin.

Purple: The Colour of Royalty

Historically, the colour purple has been used as a sign of royalty for a number of crowns and leaders. It’s hard to believe, but at one point, British legislation actually existed that forbade the wearing of purple outside the royal family.

Eventually, folks figured out how to reproduce the colour and dye easily, making them very rich as the colour’s popularity spread.

In an effort to pay respects to the royal family, the Empress Hotel in Victoria created a ‘high tea’ program, featuring the purple tea produced by the Asian ‘Butterfly Pea’ flower.

If you’re visiting Victoria, the afternoon tea may cost a bit of coin (roughly $75 per person – book ahead), but it’s a fun way to feel spoiled and indulgent when you visit British Columbia’s capital city.

The Empress Gin: A Tradition Continues

If you haven’t guessed already, what makes the Empress purple – and very unique – is the use of the butterfly pea as a key ingredient after the base product is made.

The first launch of the gin was mid-2017, in collaboration of the Empress Hotel. The gin is made as a combination of a classic London dry gin, but with some elements of ‘new world’ influence and unique botanicals. Ingredients include the Fairmont Empress Blend (black) Tea, juniper, grapefruit peel, coriander seed, rose petal, ginger root and cinnamon bark – in addition to the butterfly pea.

The formula has generated substantial accolades and attention, with sources like Wine & Spirits Magazine declaring it ‘one of the tastiest gins of the year’ and a growing list of medals.

Source:

The gin is ‘steeped’ (just like tea) in the butterfly pea after being distilled. The steeping also adds light nuances in flavour, including more earthy notes than you might expect with a gin and delicate violet notes.

Interestingly, the butterfly pea flower is sensitive to pH, making it variations in the final colour of a cocktail possible, depending on what you mix it with.

Enter … Phun With Gin

I have fun with gin on pretty much any day, but when I spoke with Jason at the main bar at Victoria Distillers, we decided to do a little science experiment with the gin to see what would happen to the colour with different ingredients.

The changes were very interesting!

The neutral – or base – spirit is a luscious indigo purple colour.

When you increase the level of alkalinity, the colour changes to a pale blue. On a simple level, you can add water, but another ingredient common to gin cocktails is a little bit of cucumber muddled in with the gin. To get the most extreme result, you can add milk, but that would result in a pretty gross combination (picture curdled milk).

Next, we added ginger to another sample of the gin. A ‘gin gin’, if you will. The chemical composition of the gin changed it from a bright purple to nearly clear.

Squeeze in a little grapefruit or citric acid via tonic water and the gin changes to a pink shade!

Introducing: The Sidney Sipper

Jason and I (well, more Jason) created an outstanding cocktail that I’ll label the ‘Sidney Sipper’.

Here’s the recipe:

  • Muddle 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon Elderflower syrup (or Grenadine)
  • 2 oz Empress gin
  • 3 oz of your favourite tonic water (I suggest Fentiman’s)
  • Shake ingredients together
  • Strain over crushed ice in a medium sized tumbler

More Information

Victoria Distillers is in a small town named Sidney on Vancouver Island, just a short drive from both the ferry terminal and Victoria airport. If driving from Victoria, it’s about 20 minutes north of Highway 17.

Details about the Empress Gin can be found here: http://www.empressgin.com/

To collect more information about Victoria Distillers, visit their website: https://victoriadistillers.com/

They also provide a number of cocktail recipes: https://victoriadistillers.com/cocktail-recipes-2/

A huge thanks to Bill Wittur for his report on Victoria Distillers! Learn more about Bill on his website: BillWittur.com