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Food & Wine

Zinfandel School – Learning about a California wine favourite

March 14, 2016
California Zinfandel

I love a lot of California wines but I have a soft spot for really good Zinfandel, so I was so excited to receive an invitation to attend iYellow Wine School’s recent Zinfandel class. Two hours dedicated to sipping one of my favourite grapes? Yes, please.

Gallo Family White ZinfandelWe started the class with a wine that hides in my shameful pre-wine-school past: white Zinfandel. Most of the Zinfandel in California is grown to make this super sweet pink sipper and it remains hugely popular, despite my palate having long outgrown it. But I do understand that some people really enjoy it and, hey, I used to drink Arbour Mist before I decided to learn about wine, so who am I to judge? Angela Aiello did a really good job of presenting two white Zinfandels (a Beringer and a Gallo) to showcase two different styles both in colour and flavour profile. It’s a tool to introduce the subject of maceration, but done in way that makes those who love white Zin know that it’s OK, you’re in a wine judgement free zone here. I kind of love that about iYellow events.

From white Zin we quickly moved on to five red Zins. We start out with another Beringer, the 2013 Founders’ Estate Zinfandel, which has vanilla, dark red fruit, pepper and smoke on the nose and, while fruit forward on the palate, has a bit of a mushroomy note to it. An affordable medium-bodied wine with six months in oak, this one was not to my tastes.

Ravenswood Old Vines ZinfandelUp next is the 2013 Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel, a wine that I call my “cola wine” because, if left to my own devices, I could knock this back like a glass of soda. With 10 months in French and American oak, it has a nose of smoked meat, dark red fruit and wet soil. There are baking spices and deep red fruit on the palate and it’s definitely an easy-drinker.


Kenwood Vineyards ZinfandelWe followed this one with the 2013 Kenwood Zinfandel, which has 20 months in oak and notes of tar, earth, chocolate and mocha on the nose. This is a more savoury Zinfandel with herbaceous notes cutting through the red fruit on the palate.

After a cheese break to refresh our palates and give us some time to chat about the first wines, we move on to the last two wines, which are much bigger and bolder in style.

The 2014 McManis Zinfandel from Lodi, California has chocolate, tobacco, pepper and dark red fruit on the nose. At 14 percent, this is a big wine and it’s got tons of fruit on the palate to showcase that. With its rich mouthfeel and burst of dark red fruits on the palate (lots of raspberry here), this has me looking very forward to my upcoming visit to Lodi.

McManis Family Vineyards ZinfandelWe finished up with one that’s familiar to anyone who has gone to the LCBO Vintages section looking for a Zinfandel. The 7 Deadly Zins is well-known for its fun name and big, full-bodied Zinfandel experience. With smoked meat, chocolate and cherry on the nose, this has great promise, but I honestly find it much too hot for my tastes. I found the McManis to be more balanced, even though it also had a very high alcohol content.

My favouite locally-available Zinfandel is from Liberty School in Paso Robles, so I was disappointed not to have that one on our tasting list, but this was a great chance to try some new-to-me Zinfandels and chat about wine with my friendly and fun tablemates. iYellow makes learning about wine a really fun experience and I left that night having learned a little more and met some great people. A win-win.

Want to try more of California’s finest? The California Wine Fair will be in Canada this April – you can find more information and a list of cities on the tour here:

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club and Wines of California Canada for the invitation to this event. All opinions, especially the judge-y ones about white Zinfandel are my own.

Food & Wine

Affordable Wines from South Africa

February 23, 2016
Rustenberg 2013 Red Blend wine from South Africa

For the second year in a row, Shawn and I enjoyed a pre-Valentine’s Day afternoon sipping the Wines of South Africa with iYellow Wine Club. I’ve had the chance to taste a number of South African wines over the years and find the region’s versatility so interesting.

This event focused on entry-level wines, which I think appealed to the majority of attendees—this was a young, fun crowd who was showing their love to affordable wines like Inception and Two Oceans (iYellow provides stickers so attendees can mark the wines they like best) and that’s completely fine. Shawn and I had a great time walking around and trying a few new-to-us wines and chatting with friends. Shawn was also a huge fan of the delicious roast beef sliders—iYellow parties always feature great food.

So what wines did we like best? My favourites were:

KWV Cathedral Cellar 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon KWV’s Cathedral Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon—I think winemaker Izele Van Blerk has really elevated the wines from KWV and this wine is an excellent showcase of this. It has a nose of dark red fruit, smoke and menthol and a smoky raspberry finish.

Rustenberg 2013 Red Blend—An easy drinking red blend with ripe red berries, smoke and blackberry on the nose, this blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet was nuanced and well-balanced. One of the more expensive wines available (it retails for $19.95 at the LCBO), I found it a good value for the price.

Porcupine Ridge 2014 SyrahPorcupine Ridge 2014 Syrah—Lots of smoke, vanilla, pepper and raspberry on the nose of this value-priced Syrah. I enjoyed the smoke and pepper on the palate too.

Goats Do Roam White Blend—The 61 percent Vioginier really comes through on this easy-drinking white. Lots of apple and pear both on the nose and palate.

Shawn had his own picks too, the Graham Beck 2013 The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and The Wolftrap 2014 Syrah, both of which I enjoyed too. I couldn’t help but notice that his picks corresponded with wines where the labels showcased his favourite animals, but I can attest that the wines were good value red sippers.

Do you have a favourite South African wine? Share your picks in the comments below or on social!

We received complimentary passes to this event, but all opinions are our own.

Food & Wine

California Wine Fair 2015

June 17, 2015
Stag's Leap Wines Karia

One of my favourite wine events is always the California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York. The line-up of great wines never fails to impress and it’s a wonderful opportunity to taste through a large variety of wines in a casual, but informative atmosphere. Shawn and I were thrilled to check out new vintages from some of the wineries we visited in California last year and to discover some new favourites.

While there was no way to taste through all the wines presented, the photos below represent some of the ones we most enjoyed. Many are available through the LCBO and all are available via agent.

Coppola's Sofia Rosé wine

It was a little too far for Shawn and I to get to the Francis Ford Coppola winery when we visited California, so it was nice to taste the 2013 Sophia rosé at the event. This wine has a surprisingly good price-point at $19.95 and is a nice fruit-forward option for summer patio dining.  Plus, the bottle is really pretty (yes, I’m a sucker for a nice presentation).

St. Supéry's 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

Prior to our trip, I hadn’t really considered California Sauvignon Blanc all that much – I was more likely to grab a bottle from New Zealand. But having tried several over the past year, I’m definitely a convert. The St. Supéry 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was a great example of how good California Sauvignon Blanc can be – crisp, refreshing and very well-balanced. This wine was a highlight of the event for me. It’s currently only available via agent in Toronto, but I hope that will change soon.

Daou Vineyard's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

By now, you are likely well-aware of my appreciation of the wines of Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles, so I enjoyed the opportunity to taste their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a lovely full-bodied red that speaks to the lovely region from which it hails. I was disappointed to learn that Daou’s delicious white Grenache is still not available in Ontario, but perhaps one day. This winery is well worth a visit if you are in Paso.

Hope Family Vineyards Wine

Another Paso Robles favourite is Hope Family Vineyards. They were not sampling Troublemaker, one of my personal picks from the winery, but the Liberty School wines are a great option for a value-priced California wine and I was pleased to hear they now have some availability via the LCBO in Canada.

Brichino Malvasia Bianca Wine

Another winery on our California wish-list was Bonny Doon, which makes wines that are always interesting. However, it is the Bircihino line that always seems to steal my heart at the California Wine Fair. Winemaker Alex Krause was in attendance to represent both wineries and, as always, it was a pleasure to learn more about the latest vintages from the always irreverent Bonny Doon and the lovely Birichino. I particularly liked this floral and nuanced Malvasia Bianca. Having recently tasted a Croatian Malvasia that didn’t impress, I was interested to see how another winemaker in a different region could make the grape truly sing. Birichino wines are difficult to find in Canada, so I hope we can plan a visit on our next California adventure.

Jordan Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay

Jordan Winery was a huge presence at the last Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara and it was so nice to see them make an entry into the Ontario wine scene. You may recognize this Alexander Valley winery from their very fun “Blurred Vines” parody on YouTube or from their appearances on Cougar Town (yep, I check out the labels that pop up on the Courtney Cox comedy) and they are wines worth seeking out.

Right now the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are available via agent and I’ve got my fingers crossed they will pop up on store shelves soon. These are well-made wines from a winery that embraces the experience of wine – no doubt why they’re one of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Winery Tours and Wine Enthusiast’s American Winery of the Year.

So those were a few wines Shawn and I enjoyed at the show – do you have a favourite California wine? Share it below or in the comments on social!

Food & Wine

House of Mandela Wines

June 10, 2015
Tasting House of Mandela Wines with the Mandela Family

House of Mandela Sauvignon BlancI started writing about wine because it is my passion. Since then, this blog has also afforded me many opportunities I would never have had as just a wine student. I was reminded of how incredibly lucky I am to have these experiences recently, while attending an intimate lunch in the iYellow Wine Cave with Dr. Makaziwe and Tukwini Mandela from House of Mandela Wines. Yes, that Mandela.

Why was it so inspiring? I think because it reminded me that wine can (and should) be used towards the greater good. Nelson Mandela’s family is continuing his legacy of creating positive change in the world and using wine as a vehicle to tell their story and help their country. Those are big ideas to take away from a tasting and I left the event wondering what more I could be doing to make a difference.

In town to talk about the release of a selection of their wines at the LCBO and across Canada, it was truly an honour to spend a few hours talking to these incredible women about how they are using their wine business to help South Africa.

The Mandela Family and local media
Our group assembled at Nelson Mandela Blvd. in Toronto

House of Mandela Wines, which is primarily fair trade, started in June 2010 with a desire to celebrate South Africa and make a change in the industry. Currently, while a large percentage of those working in the wine industry there are black, few of them have an ownership role. House of Mandela wanted to see more diversity and empowerment. They don’t own a vineyard or even a winery, but source the grapes from local farmers and use them to make high-quality wines with a mission to make a difference.  While the wines create work and bring economic change in the country, they also go towards the greater good – a portion of the proceeds go to three different charities.

Tasting House of Mandela wines

And the wines serve as a continuation of their family’s powerful story. All of the imagery on the bottles represent the story of the House of Mandela and their tribe – from the labels inspired by Nelson Mandela’s shirts to the bee image on the bottle top, a family totem. The wines also tell the story of South Africa, which is infused in all they do. They hope that when people drink the wines they will think about their own family legacies and how they can positively contribute to the world. I know they certainly got the wheels turning in my mind.

House of Mandela 2014 Shiraz

And how were the wines? They were quite good:

While not all the wines are currently available at retail in Ontario, House of Mandela has a large and diverse portfolio and I hope to see more of their wines at the LCBO soon.

The Sauvignon Blanc, which is available via the LCBO, is lovely and easy-drinking (not to mention well-priced at $12.85). The tropical notes make it a nice pairing with seafood.

The rosé has strawberry, melon and grapefruit on the nose. It’s Merlot-based, quite dry and has good fruit on the finish.

The Shiraz has plum, smoke and pepper on the nose, white pepper on the palate and a touch of oak from its six months in barrel.

The Cabernet Sauvignon has cherry, tar, smoke and raspberry on the nose, a good length on the finish and cherry and raspberry on the palate.

I’m not usually a fan of Pinotage, but the coffee was subtle on this one, with more cherry and earth on the nose. I picked up a lot of red fruit on the palate and a bit of smoke.

Do you have an inspiring story of wine being used for the greater good? Share it in the comments below or on social.

A huge thank you to the iYellow team for including me in this tasting.