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Food & Wine

Summer Wine Adventures

September 19, 2016
Fresh Wines at the iYellow Wine Cave.

I can hardly believe how fast this summer flew by, but given the humidity and the oppressive heat in Toronto this year, I’m kind of OK with that. Shawn and I did have some pretty fabulous adventures this summer and I’ll continue to share posts from our trips to Germany and Lake Erie North Shore, but I wanted to mention a few others too.

There were way too many things happening this summer to do individual posts, but I didn’t want to miss mentioning these great events that Shawn and I were lucky enough to be invited to attend. As always, you can follow along with our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter. Each feed features different content, so I encourage you to check out both!

Cocktails at the Toronto Wine & Spirits Festival at Sugar Beach.

Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival – Sugar Beach

Oyster Boy Oysters at the Toronto Wine & Spirits Festival.Shawn and I declared the Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival the perfect date night a few years ago and this year’s event lived up to that billing. This June festival is always one of our favourites, we love the laidback vibe, the Sugar Beach location and the opportunity to try a wealth of different types of food and drink. The attendees at this event always seem more relaxed than at other drinks-based festivals. Maybe the beach just puts people in a really chill mood or it’s just super well-run (I think it’s a combo), but this is one where you can sip a cocktail while watching a band, eat oysters while enjoying a beautiful view of Lake Ontario or just wander from booth to booth deciding what to try next. Highlights for us this year? Mama Ratty’s meat donuts, Oyster Boy oysters, Berentzen apple liquor and Flora de Cana rum cocktails.

iYellow Summer Wine Jam

It may have been the night before our big trip to Germany, but Shawn and I couldn’t miss iYellow’s Summer Wine Jam this year, especially since it marked the tenth anniversary of this fabulous and fun wine club! Angela Aiello, founder of iYellow Wine Club, has always been a big supporter local bloggers (myself included) and a cheerleader for so many Ontario wineries – her positive attitude is really inspiring. Along with her amazing team of iYellow ‘wine angels’, she has helped make wine accessible to a whole new group of wine lovers and encouraged them to discover local wines and explore Ontario wine country.  It was so much fun to celebrate with this team and I can’t wait for the party to mark twenty years!

Fresh wines sparkling Riesling has a beautiful label.Fresh Wines Launch

Travel kept us away from many of the summer wine events in the city, so Shawn and I were happy to pop by the Fresh wines media event at the iYellow Wine Cave in late August. Fresh wines are made by Niagara’s Diamond Estates and they’re very much easy-drinking, patio or party wines. The packaging is pretty and colourful, featuring artistic renderings of modern women – the type of ladies this wine is clearly being marketed towards. Full disclosure, most of the wines in this line are on the sweet side and that’s not really my thing, but I’m trying super hard not to get all wine snobby about these patio wines because, hey, I drank Arbour Mist back in the day, and if sweet wines are your thing, you’ll really like these. The sparkling Riesling had my favourite label and it would be a good choice ice cold on a patio, as would the Moscato. I also enjoyed the Satin Red, which is a very drinkable, fruit-forward red wine blend.

Did you have any summer wine adventures? What were your favourites? Share them in the comments below or on social.

*We were guests at each of the events, but our opinions are our own. Especially my somewhat judgey ones about sweet wines. I said I was trying not be a wine snob, I didn’t say I was succeeding.

Book Reviews

Wine Folly – The Essential Guide to Wine

February 18, 2016
Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine book

One of my favourite presenters at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference was Madeline Puckette, better known to wine lovers as the blogger behind Wine Folly. I was very familiar with Madeline’s work because her blog style, which merges her graphic design skill with wine facts, has taken the blogosphere by storm. It was a great go-to when I was taking wine classes (I even had instructors suggest it) and I found the format of using graphics to illustrate both simple and complex wine concepts really engaging and easy-to-understand.

Her presentation at the conference endeared me to her even more—she was funny, enthusiastic and honest. I took away so much information and left the session feeling excited to get back to blogging. I also couldn’t wait to pick up a copy of her new book, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine (co-written with Justin Hammack), which I bought soon after its release and recently read cover-to-cover.

The book itself is more of a reference guide, using the Wine Folly format of explaining wine concepts with a few words and some well-designed graphics. Having studied wine for several years, there wasn’t anything new or revelatory in this book, but I’m clearly not the intended audience. This is a book for newbies, for those who want a general understanding of wine and to feel confident at a tasting. And in that area, it does its job well.

The book breaks down wine info and gives you all the basics: what glasses to use, storage temperatures, how to taste, the hallmark grapes of some major wine styles and an overview of wine regions. It’s helpful and easy to follow. I can see picking it up when I want a quick reference for a factoid and for someone new to wine this would be really helpful.

Because this isn’t a deep dive into wine, there were omissions I was disappointed about (Canadian wine is nowhere to be seen, for example), but I think that came about because the book wanted to keep things simple and stick to the biggest grapes in the largest-producing regions. Given the intended audience, that made a lot of sense.

Throughout my read, I kept thinking how helpful this book would be for anyone who had just discovered wine or someone who was a more visual learner. I know that the wine production methods (though somewhat simplified) made a lot more sense in Madeline’s graphics than they did when my instructor went through them in my first wine class. I remember going home and looking for a video because, while I got the theory, I really needed to see the process to truly understand it. This book would have been a handy guide to have then and I’m sure I’ll recommend it often in the future.

Have you read Wine Folly’s book or visited her blog? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Food & Wine

The Best Wines I Tried in January

February 4, 2016

Welcome to a new monthly column that will feature some of my favourite wine experiences from the month past. A few of these are still available and some have been in my cellar too long to still be on store shelves. Either way, I hope it inspires you to check out wines from these producers. And feel free to share your own ‘best of the month’ in the comments or on social!

I didn’t include any Icewine in this post, although I did try some fantastic ones in January. Check out my Icewine Festival post for an update on what I enjoyed tasting at this year’s fest.

Angel's Gate Winery 2011 Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling WineAngel’s Gate 2011 Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling Wine—I’m always impressed by Angel’s Gate sparkling wines, so it was easy to choose this one for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. This dry sparkling had lots of strong, fast bubbles, citrus and pear notes on the nose and palate and a bit of biscuit on the finish. This worked well with our dinner of stuffed chicken breast and for a toast at midnight.

Inniskillin 2010 Winemaker’s Series Shiraz Cabernet—I picked this up at last year’s Icewine Festival on the recommendation of the tasting room staff that it was drinking well at the moment. So when I pulled it out a year later I was worried I’d waited too long. Luckily, I hadn’t—this red blend is drinking beautifully right now and still has great fruit to cut through the notes of pepper and smoke. Shawn and I were very impressed with how this went with our pizza dinner and for a glass on its own. We wished we had picked up another bottle.

Creekside Winery 2011 Estate ShirazCreekside Estate 2011 Shiraz—Another wine we wish we’d bought more of, this Creekside stunner hit us with a huge burst of black pepper on the nose that quickly morphed into a complex mix of pepper, spice and dark red fruits, all of which I felt followed through on the palate. Shawn would have loved to try this with steak and I thought it was perfect just on its own.

Finca Hispana Castrijo, Rioja CrianzaFinca Hispana Castrijo Tempranillo—This Spanish wine from Rioja has a great label featuring the winemaker, but there’s more to it than that. I don’t typically drink Rioja wines without food because they’re very Old World in style, which just calls out for a hearty diner. However, this is a New World style Rioja – more fruit forward (lots of cherry and dark red fruit) than I anticipated and very enjoyable to sip on its own.  The oak is here in the subtle vanilla notes (this was aged in new oak), there’s some black pepper on the palate and the acidity works well. A nice lazy Friday night wine. This is currently a general list wine at the LCBO, so look for it at a store near you.

What did you drink in January and what stood out for you? Share in the comments or on social!

Book Reviews

Vintage – A Novel by David Baker

January 21, 2016
Vintage Novel by David Baker

I confess that for the first part of Vintage by David Baker, I really didn’t like Bruno Tannenbaum, the main character in this novel. A washed-up wine writer and food critic who drinks too much, has been kicked out by his wife for his philandering and now lives on his mother’s couch, it was hard to see the good in Bruno. During the first few chapters, his drinking and bad behaviour infuse every ounce of this book. And when, after losing his prestigious newspaper job, he takes on a friend’s assignment to catalogue his wine collection – then goes to help himself to a 1963 Chateau d’Yquem – I actually had to put the book down for a few days. Apparently, I am tortured by the thought of someone opening a vintage d’Yquem for the wrong reasons.

But it turns out this moment is the one that kicks off the real story in the book. Bruno ends up on a wild, wine adventure that takes him all across Europe in search of the story for his next great book. As he researches wine history while looking for a mysterious missing vintage that may have been hidden by the Nazis, Bruno drinks too much great wine, eats too much fabulous food and uses his odd charm to make friends and ferret out clues.

Bruno’s quest is a dangerous one—he’s not the only person pursing this wine and some of the others are not afraid to use force to get it—but for Bruno it is clearly a turning point in his life. He wants to be a better father, possibly a better husband (his love life remains a bit of a muddle), and he desperately wants to regain his stature as a great writer. His research trip is clearly also about pulling together the broken pieces of his life and figuring out what still fits.

So in the end, I came to enjoy Bruno much more than I did at the start. He wormed his way into my heart in the same way he charmed so many on his trip through Europe. While I certainly didn’t approve of (or often understand) his choices, I could relate to the internal crisis he was facing and how he was looking for redemption.

While this is a work of fiction, lovers of fine wine and food and European wine history will want to check out Vintage. David Baker, who made the documentary American Wine Story, has a passion for wine and food that emerges on every page. Each chapter of Vintage starts with an excerpt from Bruno’s fictional wine and food writing that celebrates the ability of cuisine to bring people together, to heal the soul and to transform lives. These short vignettes help you better understand Bruno the character, but I think they also tell you a bit about the author and why he is so passionate about these things too.

Vintage is a fun and quick read (especially if you don’t have to take a break after the d’Yquem like I did), It’s perfect for your next vacation read (in particular if you’re spending it in a wine region) or just as a lazy weekend page-turner.

Have you read Vintage? Do you have a favourite wine-based novel? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Love wine-related fiction? Me too! Check out my review of Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Golden Nose (set in B.C. wine country) to learn about another great read.

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