Well, another Christmas has come and gone. I always get a little sad once it’s over – we have to wait a whole other year to absent ourselves from regular life and soak up the slower pace that comes with Christmas Day. I know there are often other opportunities to take a break or go on vacation, but it’s not the same as feeling the world slow down in unison like on December 25th. Even if you don’t celebrate the day, the slowness and the pause is a nice offshoot of our Christian-established society.
So, now that it’s over, what do we do?
We celebrate the coming year, of course!
I know I’m not alone in feeling like 2016 was a tough, difficult year. On the macro level we were faced with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, Orlando, Syria, and the loss of a hurtful number of artistic icons. On the micro level I personally felt incredibly challenged by career-related and mental health issues and while I’m taking action to (hopefully!) make some positive changes, I find myself feeling a bit raw as 2016 draws to a close. So I’ve decided I’ll be celebrating the new year with open arms and using the evening of the 31st to give 2016 a swift kick in the butt. Good riddance to this awful year! It’s served its purpose I guess, and I’m ready for better things.
Canadian Thanksgiving was last weekend and, as I usually do on long weekends, I went home to Kingston to visit my family and yes, to drink a lot of wine.
Either because I come with all these food and wine ideas, or because my parents take my visits as an opportunity to indulge, it ended up being a multi-day food and wine affair. Either way, I’m happy!
This year especially I had a lot to be thankful for. It’s been an eventful year, both for my family and for me personally. I’ve struggled to find direction in my career and to feel like I’m making a positive impact on the world around me, which is partially why I started this blog. This year my family has been faced with illness and adversity in a much larger amount than we all wanted or are used to. It’s been a year of struggle but also one of gratitude. Suffice it to say, I now have a fuller appreciation for the good things in life.
My own ongoing personal struggles make it all the more sweeter when I visit home, and the holidays are the epitome of that. For three days I cooked, relaxed, vegged out to real estate shows on tv and enjoyed the company of my family. It was a wonderful respite from regular life.
Of course, wine was also involved – why else would I be talking about it here? Below is a brief recap of some (just some!) of the delicious wines we sampled over the weekend. In addition to all the other things I have to be thankful for this time around, I am also grateful for my stepdad’s generosity in sharing these wines – they all came from his cellar.
Double the pleasure, double the fun!
Graham Beck’s sparkling wine is my stepdad’s favourite, and is quickly becoming mine too. It’s from South Africa, which is really not a place that comes to mind when I think of ‘places that make good sparkling wine’, but I’ve had and loved other wines there so it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. The wine itself is light and dry, with tiny little bubbles that make the wine float around in your mouth. The flavour is subtle and goes with just about any food you can throw at it. We had it with cheese, baguette and (as if that weren’t indulgent enough) some foie gras mousse made with black truffle. Thanksgiving got off to a great start, you guys.
This label is so Old World.
We had this little gem at the beginning of dinner, with a parsnip, apple and leek soup I made the day before. My stepdad asked me what I thought would go well with the soup and I suggested something that had depth and body, that would stand up to the fullness of the parsnip flavour. He chose this Chardonnay and I think our efforts worked out wonderfully. It’s solid creaminess was a great counterpoint to the earthy sweetness of the soup.
Chateau Malescot St. Exupéry. 25 years old, no big deal.
It’s just a little dusty – it’s still good, it’s still good.
The baby of the red bunch.
After the soup it was on to the main event! We had a veritable feast of turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, mashed turnip with carrot, roasted brussels sprouts, and of course, stuffing and gravy. It doesn’t seem like much now that I’m writing it out but believe me, my belly was FULL.
The two French wines were amazing. They both came from sub regions of Bordeaux (Margaux and Médoc, to be specific) and, as you can see from the labels, had been resting in the cellar for quite some time. I always get a kick out of thinking of how old I was when an older bottle was created. I was still in single digits when these wines came into the world!
Both wines were just lovely. The Potensac had a beautiful ruby colour, a bit of pepper and fruit on the nose and a smooth, slightly peppery and medium-bodied flavour. The Malescot was similarly medium-bodied and so, so smooth, but I tasted a bit of smoke on the finish with this one. Both were a bit mellow (on account of their age) but had retained much of their vim and vigor. It was a huge treat to taste them.
The Chateau Malescot St. Exupéry cork. Good thing we opened it! That wine was slowly but surely making its escape.
The third wine came to us from Napa Valley. It was a Meritage, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a blend of Bordeaux-style wines but isn’t actually from Bordeaux. Long story short, Bordeaux (well, most of France, really) is incredibly protective of their wines and winemaking processes and have barred other regions from making the same kinds of wine and calling it ‘Bordeaux’. This is why you’ll see wines made in North America being called ‘Meritage’.
The Stonehedge was also delicious, but I admit that by that point in the evening the wine and tryptophan had gotten to me – I have no notes from this wine. I do remember that it’s body and flavour was in keeping with the other two reds we’d been drinking, which further proves that my stepdad is no slouch when it comes to wine choices.
In the immortal words of Julia Child, ‘bon appetit!’
A Thanksgiving for the books, I think. How was yours?
I’ve talked in the past about how to taste wine in general, but it recently occurred to me that I haven’t talked about how I, specifically, go about tasting a new wine.
I should preface this by saying that this isn’t how I taste wine every time I open a bottle. There are definitely some days where I come home from work, pour myself a glass, and turn my brain off as I laze back on the couch, happy that the day is over. In those instances the wine is merely there as a delicious cherry on top of a relaxing, television-filled evening. I mean cake. Or something.
But when I am being intentional about my wine, when I really want to get to know it, this is how I taste.
How I Taste
I don’t usually pair food with the wine. Some might think this is an error, but when I’m meeting a wine for the first time I want to meet just the wine, not how the wine affects or is affected by food. It’s like meeting a blind date – I want to know how they act around me before getting to know how they act at a party.
I’m usually alone. Sad, I know! There are many people in my life who share my love of wine, but I can’t always find someone to sample a new bottle with me on a random Tuesday night.
I usually do it at home, on the couch, in front of the tv, with my macbook in front of me, jotting down anything that comes to mind as I sip, sniff and swirl.
I start by looking at the colour. I love wines that are so dark they become opaque, and ones that take on a purpleish tone – Malbecs and Carménères from Chile and Argentina often look like this.
Then I give the wine a good sniff. Often when I’m tasting I’ve just opened a bottle so getting something off the nose is a challenge for me. I often feel like I should pour the glass and let it sit for a bit, but in all honesty I’m an incredibly impatient person and can’t usually resist starting the process once the wine is poured and sitting next to me.
Next, and FINALLY, I get to taste it! I alternate between taking quick sips and long ones because the flavour can change depending on the two. While sipping I think about and try to discern the differences in flavour depending on where on my tongue the wine is hitting. I also pay attention to the flavour I’m left with as I swallow (the finish) and how lingering the wine is once it’s gone. I love when a wine stays with you!
Let’s be real. Some days I can’t get past ‘yep, tastes like wine’. And actually, I read an article recently that mentioned a study where they concluded that you can’t really taste more than three or four things in one go. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel MUCH better about times when I’m able to get much off a wine.
That being said, I do love the endless possibilities of flavour and enjoyment that come with each bottle. It’s a game I like to play. What am I actually tasting here? What’s going on on my tongue right now? And when I get stuck (because I do get stuck – OFTEN!) I do as Jancis Robinson says and try to pay attention to the dimensions of the wine, asking myself “how tough/tart/powerful/sweet/ready is it?”
I try to be methodical about tasting, mostly because I get a kick out of that process and am genuinely interested in the world of wine, with all its complications and vagaries.
I’m nowhere near these guys though, they take tasting to a whole other level. Underripe green mango? Crushed hillside?? FRESHLY OPENED CAN OF TENNIS BALLS?! COME ON!!
No, I fully acknowledge that the only real question worth asking is – do I like it? The rest is simply learning ways of learning whether you do/don’t or will/won’t like a wine.
I recently went home for the weekend to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. She’s celebrating a milestone birthday this year so I made an extra effort to go home – and also because I had a feeling that my Stepdad would pull out some delicious wines from his cellar to mark the occasion!
Weekends like these are always a treat – it’s great to see my family, nice to celebrate a special occasion, and a big treat to taste wines from the cellar. My stepdad has been collecting for years and has great taste, which means I have the great pleasure of tasting amazing wines I would not at all be able to afford, even if I found them.
We kicked off the weekend in fine fashion with these lovely wines:
double our pleasure!
We didn’t make it to that second bottle of La Playa, but believe me that both wines were delicious and went very well with the cheese and baguette we noshed on and the hoisin-glazed salmon we had for dinner.
Of course, this was all preamble to the big celebration the next night.
We started the party off with some Champagne – ooh la la!
From there we moved on to a lovely sparkling from Kew winery in Niagara. I thought this wine was quite lovely and plan to add the winery to my list of places to visit on my next Niagara trip.
A couple of glasses of bubbly in and it was time to move into the dining room for the main event!
even our table decor is wine-y
On deck was shrimp remoulade to start and then roast lamb, cauliflower gratin, roast potatoes, and broccoli, all to be accompanied with three French reds pulled from the cellar.
not pictured – my drool
On further label inspection we noticed that all three wines were GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre) which worked out very well – this blend is my mom’s favourite! Happy birthday to her!
The first red was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and it was my favourite of the night. The flavour was so smooth that it had a velvety quality to it – something I don’t taste a lot in wines I come across, but a trait I love.
The second red was another Frenchie, and I thought this one tasted more like a typical GSM. It was hearty and confident in flavour and I found it slightly tannic but not so much that it gave me that mouth-puckering sensation. My mom and I compared the first two wines a bit and realized that, while I favoured the first one, she liked this one better. Just goes to show how personal wine can be – different strokes and all that!
Even though I don’t have an individual pic of it, we did manage to open the third bottle. However, after the Champagne and the sparkling and the two other reds and the delicious food (including birthday cake!) I don’t remember much from this wine except that it had good body and that I liked it. This might possibly a shame, but at the end of the day it was still enjoyed!
All in all it was a very enjoyable (and delicious) visit home. It’s always good to take some time to enjoy the things you love – in my case, food, family, and wine!
one of the corks from the weekend – great colour!
Have you treated yourself to any special wines lately?
I have a somewhat unpopular confession to make – I like cheap wine. I love it, in fact, and let me tell you why.
All wine tasting and buying is a game. There are some circumstances – occasion, season, personal preference, amount available to spend – and an objective – buy a great bottle of wine. The game would be too easy if the sky was the limit in terms of price. Sure, If money allowed I’d drink lots of Veuve Clicquot, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and big California reds, but something tells me it would get a little too deliciously simple after a while. Where’s the experimentation? Where’s the intrigue? How can you know you’ve truly hit the mark on a good bottle if you’ve never missed it?
Full disclosure: In addition to being a big wine-lover, I am also a huge bargain-hunter. I relish spending the least possible amount on the largest possible return.
Everything you see in any given store is offering you something, and wine is no different. Each bottle offers its own version of value, but not every bottle’s offer will match the value you expect from buying it and tasting the sweet nectar it holds. On top of that, some wines will want you to pay more because of the name on the bottle, or the specific adorable little hillside its grapes were grown on. Francis Ford Coppola really wants you to think his wine is valuable, and so does the Champagne region in France, for example. Are you going to agree or disagree with what they’ve offering you?
Each bottle is a decision, and a gamble. How much do I think I’ll like this wine? Would I bet $10 to find out? $20? $50? More? For me, the more I invest in a wine the more I expect to love it. But it doesn’t always work like that, which is why I keep my gambles low. If wine was Vegas, I would be at the $1 buy-in tables, turning up my nose at the high-roller tables and private back rooms.
I have to be honest with you, I love me some bubbles.
A few years ago I went through an extensive bubbly phase. Bubbly for any occasion, big or small (and sometimes made up), bubbly with any food imaginable (I still stand by that one), bubbly at any time of day/night/year.
I defy you to pop open a bottle with some popcorn or potato chips and not tell me I just blew your mind. Bubbles really are the best!
But – and pay attention, because this is important – not all bubbly is Champagne.
Say it with me now – not all bubbly is Champagne!
There are many kinds of sparkling wine out there, but only a very small section of it is Champagne. Champagne is sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France. Made from mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, it also involves some very particular methods of production. In fact, the Champagne wine-making community is pretty feisty about it – they even created a professional association to formally set the rules of making Champagne. Serious business!
I know what you’re thinking. If the wine makers in Champagne are that intense about what they do nothing else must be able to compare, right? Wrong. There is a lot of sparkling wine out there that doesn’t come from Champagne, and let me tell you – it’s delicious!
Cava is sparkling wine that comes from Spain. I love Cava because I find it more dry and less sweet than other sparklings. Cavas also have the added advantage of being much less expensive than Champagnes.
Sparkling wine from Italy. I find Prosecco sweeter than other sparklings, and (though I have no scientific evidence to back this up) I find the bubbles to be a little bigger, which isn’t my preference. Of course, I will take most any bubbly over any other drink, so take that as you will. Like Cavas, Proseccos tend to be on the more affordable end of the scale.
Crémants are sparkling wines that come from anywhere else in France other than Champagne. Among others, there is Crémant d’Alsace (from the Alsace, duh), Crémant de Loire (from the Loire region just southwest of Paris), and, my favourite, Crémant de Bourgogne (from the Burgundy). I love Crémants because their bubbles are so small, the lovely dry wine just fizzes on your tongue and then drifts away. As soon as I finish I a sip I want more! I heartily suggest keeping an eye out for these wines at your local LCBO. While generally more expensive than Cava or Prosecco, a good Crémant still won’t set you back as far as a bottle of Champagne would.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the solid sparkling wines our own country’s winemakers create. Canadian sparklings can be delicious and I recommend giving them a try, especially the ones from the Niagara region. My only caveat here is that Canadian sparklings, while delicious, are fairly high priced – they usually fall between Crémants and Champagnes on the price scale.
My family was a liberal one by North American standards, and as soon as I turned twelve I had crossed the threshold into acceptable wine-drinking territory. My family began offering a tipple of vino as part of the weekly ritual – it was at my Grandmother’s dining table that I began developing my palate.
It might not be a surprise that I didn’t like wine much at those dinners. The taste was often overpowering, or bitter, or just downright unpleasant on my tongue. But, like coffee and olives, I acquired the taste and eventually came to love the flavour of fermented grapes.
Even though I’d been tasting for a while, it wasn’t until meeting my Stepdad that I got serious about wine. An experienced wino himself, he introduced me to the five Premier Cru wines of France, taught me how to choose a wine based on my personal taste and budget, and demystified how and why to choose a bottle to cellar. In short, he turned me from casual admirer to lifelong learner and full-in enthusiast.
I have spent many hours and many bottles in the last few years sipping and learning, and have added winery tours and structured tastings to my self-made roster of wine lessons. Now that I’m well on the path to wine nirvana I want to bring my novice knowledge to the wider world and get to know other wine geeks out there who are just like me.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s get tasting!
Welcome to Palate Practice!
Palate Practice is a wine blog written by me, Meg. I've been enjoying wine since the days of childhood Sunday dinners and my Nan's dining table. When I was older I realized that, for me, wine is more than something to sip on when I'm heading to a dinner party.
Palate Practice is a place for me to share what I've learned (and am still learning) as well as stories of wine in my daily life. For me, sharing wine with someone is often the beginning of a really special experience.