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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.

Best of

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.

Best of

The Best Wines I Tried in April

May 4, 2016
Taittinger Rosé Champagne

It makes me smile when I look back at my April tasting notes because my cup truly runneth over with great wine finds. It’s especially surprising when you consider that this was the month where I took a few ‘dry’ weeks, but those were followed by large tasting events (and lots of spitting). It was also my birthday month, so Shawn and I opened a few of our better bottles to celebrate over that week (no spitting there). The results below showcase just a few of the best, as I think I’ll save my California Wine Fair finds for a separate post.

Birthday Wines:

Black Hills Estate Winery 2012 Syrah is a lovely B.C. red wine.I confess that I didn’t open any bottles on my actual birthday (I went to dance class instead), but that week Shawn and I did open two fantastic wines on other nights: Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne, which is a lovely example of a great Champagne – strong, fast bubbles, notes of green apple, peach and almond and just an overall well-made sparkler.

Black Hills Estate Winery 2012 Syrah—This B.C. wine came highly recommended and it did not disappoint. With black pepper, chocolate and plum on the nose and spicy, peppery plum on the finish, this wine would be a great accompaniment to earthy pasta dishes or red meat. We also very much enjoyed it all on its own.

Trivento's Amado Sur Malbec is a nice example of the grape.Malbec World Day:

On April 17 we celebrated Malbec World Day with the lovely iYellow Wine Club crew and a nice selection of affordable (and easily available) wines. With some of the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever eaten on hand to help showcase what to pair with Malbec, this event had lots to offer. My favourites? Susana Balbo 2013 Malbec, which had a rich mouthfeel with dark, spicy berries and a good structure. The oak worked well here and the result is a good, food-friendly wine.

We also really enjoyed the 2014 Trivento Amado Sur, which had vanilla, smoke and cherry on the nose and a nice fruity richness on the palate. Another good food wine that was also very drinkable.

California Dreaming:

La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are nice California wine optionsLa Crema 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and 2013 Pinot Noir –  Confession: I didn’t expect to like the La Crema Chardonnay all that much. As a general rule, I prefer California Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay, but I am always willing to give a wine a chance and this worked out well. This wine had lots of yellow apple, Meyer lemon and pineapple on the nose and had buttery apple notes on the palate. It would have paired perfectly with mac and cheese or fettucine alfredo or anything with a bit of buttery sauce. But this wasn’t a wine where the oak was overpowering and I enjoyed it as much the following day as the first fresh glass (possibly even more).

The La Crema Pinot Noir was quite nice and a little more subtle when compared to California’s bigger, more alcoholic Pinot. I had a glass on a night when Shawn was out and left him a note saying he should try it soon lest I drink it all without him. In the end, we both enjoyed this food-friendly, earthy wine with its lovely red berries and smoky chocolate flavours.

Fielding Estates 2015 Rose Wine is a great patio sipper from Niagara.Thinking Pink:

I had a chance to taste through a wealth of rosé recently and there were many I’d love to mention, but I’ll start with three that have been on my mind quite a bit since the tasting.  Taittinger appears here again because, while it’s mostly out of my budget, it’s worth the splurge. The Prestige Rosé is a well-made rosé champagne with tight, fast bubbles and a hint of spiciness that worked well with the raspberry and current notes. A delightful wine with lively acidity to save for any celebration where pink bubbles are called for.

Fielding Estate 2015 Rosé – In my haste to get to another event, I almost didn’t try this Ontario rosé and that would have been a shame, because it’s one that I keep going  back to and thinking how much I’d like to have it again—on a sunny day while sitting on a patio and without a spittoon on hand. This light-pink sipper has peach, strawberry and citrus on the palate and just screams out for summer sipping.

Campo Viejo Rioja – A Tempranillo-based rosé, this was a surprising treat with lots of big, ripe red fruit on the nose and a very balanced palate featuring notes of red apple, mango and lychee. I’ll be looking for a bottle to add to my patio sippers this summer.

Whew! That doesn’t even include the stand-outs from County in the City and the California Wine Fair, so watch for those soon. What were your favourite wines last month? Share them in the comments below or on social.

*Some of the wines I tried were samples or tasted at events where I was a guest. All of my opinions are my own.

Best of

The Best Wines I Tried in March

April 4, 2016
Seriously Cool Chardonnay from Niagara.

March was a good month for Ontario wine in our house. I was impressed with several local wines I had the opportunity to try! I expect April will be all about California and Prince Edward County, with fabulous wine events representing both regions on my calendar.

You can read all about my favourite wines from March below but before you read further, I hope you’ll take a moment to join the brand new Upkeep: Wine, Body & Soul Facebook page. You can find all the latest Upkeep posts, stories from our archives and must-read blog posts from some of my favourite wine bloggers. Sign up here!

And now, onto the wines!

Emiliana Novas Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon red blend wineEmiliana – Novas Gran Reserva – 2013 Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon Blend – I always enjoy a good Carmenere and this Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Chile has all the hallmarks I like to see, black pepper, cigar box, cassis and vanilla on the nose and a lovely peppery finish with some deep, red fruit. This is such a smooth and drinkable full-bodied wine, but the rustic quality is also appealing—nice with dinner or just on its own. I had the chance to chat with the winemaker at their recent Toronto event. Emilio Contreras was lovely and we discussed Emiliana’s decision to go organic in 1998 (they are now the world’s largest grower of organic grapes) and how they have adopted a number of biodynamic principles. Emilio is interested in creating a wine that reflects the terroir far more than the grape varietal and that shows through in this wine. He also expressed a fondness for growing Pinot Noir and I have a soft spot for anyone who shares my love of the heartbreak grape. I look forward to one day trying his Pinot. The Novas Gran Reserva is available at the LCBO for $15.95 and is well worth the price.

Konzelmann Estate Winery 2014 Pinot NoirKonzelmann Estates 2014 Pinot Noir – Shawn and I made our first trip to Konzelmann Estates during the Icewine Festival in January and I suspect it won’t be our last visit. The grounds are simply stunning and the Icewine was delicate and lovely. I was excited to try their Pinot Noir, which has root beer, raspberry, mushroom and cloves on the nose. The earthiness of the nose follows through nicely on the palate with some great herbaceous notes, but also enough fruit to make it quite tasty. This is a very light and drinkable Pinot Noir, which I think would pair nicely with pastas and lighter meat dishes. Shawn enjoyed this one very much, remarking on how light it was and how well it would go with a range of different foods. I heartily agree. At $13.45 this is a great value at the LCBO, but I highly recommend stopping in at the winery and checking out the breathtaking view from their observation deck as an alternate option. The only surprise? Lots of sediment on this one – be sure to decant accordingly.

Southbrook Vineyards’ Seriously Cool 2015 Chardonnay – The Seriously Cool red blend made my best of February list, then I had the chance to try this lovely Chardonnay and was even more impressed. This wine has green apple and stone fruit on the nose, as well as a hint of vanilla (it’s lightly oaked). The apple and vanilla follow through on the palate, making for a wonderfully refreshing wine experience. A great wine to transition into summer with.

Creekside Estate Winery's Iconoclast Sauvignon BlancCreekside Vineyards’ 2013 Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc – Creekside is always a favourite stop when Shawn and I visit Niagara wine country. It’s a laidback and fun winery experience and I’m so glad we picked up a bottle of this Sauvignon Blanc on our last visit. This has all the hallmarks of a Sauv Blanc on the nose: green apple, wet stone, cut green grass and, yes, a little bit of cat pee, and the palate is full of refreshing fruit notes.  There was pear, apple sauce and peach on the finish with a nice herbaceous-ness that makes this lovely for patio sipping or as a companion to a relaxed dinner. I look forward to having this one again soon, even though the label is one of the toughest I’ve ever tried to photograph!

What were the best wines you tried in March? Share your picks in the comments or on social.

*  Two of these wines were samples (Seriously Cool and Konzelmann Estate) and the Emiliana was tasted at an event where I was a guest. All opinions are my own.