Palate Practice

tasting with intention

Category: Wine Buys (page 1 of 2)

Easter Wine Wish List

This weekend is both Easter and my brother’s birthday, which means two things:

  • My family will have an annual birthday wine tasting in my brother’s honour
  • We will cook some delicious meals (jambalaya! lamb!) which, of course, necessitate the pairing of some delicious wine  

Here are some wines I’m excited to try this weekend. Conveniently they’ve all found their way into the Vintages catalogue at the LCBO, which is where they caught my eye.

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Affordable Wine Round-Up

A friend of mine recently asked me for a list of red wines between $10 and $15 that could be good go-to wines. I told her I’d get going on that list immediately, and then I had a thought – far be it for me to keep this list of wine goodness from the rest of my fellow wine lovers. So here it is! A tidy list that you can take to your local wine shop. Pick away! And let me know what you think of them.

Some Notes Before We Start

  • There are, of course, many many wines that could have made it on the list that I didn’t include.
  • My palate tends to skew more toward the intense, fuller body end of the spectrum, and this list reflects that.
  • Some regions and types of wine can command a higher price point than others – reds from Bordeaux, California Cabernet, Australian Shiraz, for example. In the interests of affordability these wines didn’t make the cut.
  • I’ve tasted all of these wines, so I am personally vouching for them here. Don’t like them? I’m interested! Let’s talk.


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Wine Spotlight – Montes Twins Red Blend

Every so often (very often, if I’m being honest with you) I try a new wine and think – why am I not writing tasting notes? Writing tasting notes is a great way for me to explore what the heck I’m drinking and help myself figure out whether I like what’s in my glass or not. So I’ve decided to start writing more notes and, of course, I thought you might be interested.




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Holiday Wine Pairings

The holidays are officially upon us, and you might be wondering what sort of wine to get for the big day. This day could be Christmas or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or Yule, but every celebration worth celebrating comes with a big feast, which of course begs the question – what will you drink with it?


Here are some friendly pairing suggestions from your favourite wino.


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Holiday Gift Ideas for the Wino in Your Life

Now that American Thanksgiving is over it feels like we’re fully into the holiday season, which means it’s time to talk gifts. I know, I know – it can be hard to come up with good gift ideas! I always try to find something thoughtful while also not breaking my meagre bank account – sometimes easier said than done. So, in the spirit of giving those you love gifts they’ll love, here are some gift ideas for the wino in your life.


Splurge Bottles

I like to take any opportunity available to enjoy a special bottle, and the holidays are definitely a good excuse to do just that. Here are six special bottles that are sure to impress.


Let’s start with some reds, shall we?




I know what you’re thinking, “a Zinfandel?? Like Wild Vines? No thank you!”. Well! First, let me tell you that Wild Vines doesn’t even count as wine and why are we even talking about that gross poser wine? Cakebread is an incredibly delicious winery out of California that is out of my personal price range for the everyday, which makes it a great splurge for the holidays. This Zin will be big and full-bodied – and California is known for creating great ones.


Pomerol is a mainstay Appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. Wine makers in this area use mostly Merlot grapes with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This particular wine is a common occurrence in the Vintages sections of LCBOs and would be great to open when given or to be saved for a few years, depending on whether the wino in your life enjoys cellaring.


Now, the Amarone. Amarones are Italian wonders – big, full bodies, ripe red fruit flavours and a nice strong finish. The grapes for an Amarone wine are allowed to partially dry out before making them into wine, which concentrates the flavours into something really wonderful. If your wino likes Italian wine they will surely appreciate this one, especially since Masi is a reputable maker.


Now, for the whites.



You probably haven’t met the Chablis grape before, and I don’t blame you. It’s difficult to find them in the LCBO for less that $24. In fact, my own experiences with Chablis come exclusively from the kindness of others sharing theirs with me. Which is why this would be a great gift, especially if your wino is on a budget. This Chablis is light, crisp, and very dry, and really, how wrong can you go with a white wine from the Burgundy region of France? (hint: not very)


The Cave Spring Late Harvest Riesling is something special. These grapes are harvested between the regular harvest for Cave Spring’s other Rieslings (which are wonderful) and the ones harvested for their icewine. This means they’re slightly sweet but not so much so that they venture into super sweet icewine territory. This would be a great wine for the wino in your life who, like me, doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth but still wants to enjoy something special.


You didn’t think I was going to leave icewines out, did you? I live too close to Niagara (with its world renowned icewine production) to do that. Strewn is one of many wineries in Niagara making icewine and this one is made with Vidal grapes, a common icewine varietal. It’s sweet of course, and has some citrus flavours going on as well as apricot and mango. The LCBO suggests serving it with blue cheese, which sounds heavenly.


Great Accessories

If you don’t feel super comfortable wandering the aisles of the LCBO (or worse, the Vintages section) then here are some wine-related gift ideas. And, for your shopping pleasure, they’re all available on Amazon.




Every wino should have a good corkscrew, and this one fits the bill. Note the double hinge and ergonomic handle – key features for any good ‘screw! If the worm has five loops, even better.


The Corksicle is a wine accessory that I just love. Put it in the freezer and then, when you’re enjoying some bubbly or white or rosé you pop the Corksicle in the bottle, keeping the wine cool in more way than one (see what I did there?). If your wino likes cold wine this is a must-have.




This aerator is super handy, especially when you’re not drinking an entire bottle and therefore don’t want to use a decanter. Since I’m still learning I love tasting wine on its own and then through the aerator to get a sense for how oxygen changes a wine.

Again, this accessory is great for winos who like their wine cold. Just put this marble cylinder in the freezer an hour or so before opening the wine, and then use pop the bottle in, keeping your wine cold while enjoying it. I would love one of these for hot summer days.


BONUS – Wine Experiences

If your wino is the type that has everything or is a minimalist at heart, then consider giving them a wine experience instead of more wine stuff. If you live in Ontario I heartily recommend the Niagara Icewine Festival, which conveniently runs in January. If you’re somehow already booked up for early 2016 then check out these events at wineries throughout Ontario. Or, you know, there’s always France.


Adventures in the LCBO – volume 3

I picked up some new things at the LCBO this weekend and, of course, wanted to share them with you. Here’s what I got.


Pessoa Da Vinha Reserva 2012



I’m on a big Portuguese wine kick lately. I love the full bodies, the juicy yet grounded flavours and, best of all, the great value. I plan to enjoy as many delicious wines until the LCBO prices them out of my snack bracket.


The LCBO says this wine is opaque ruby/purple colour with aromas of blackcurrant, black licorice, spice and toast as well as black currant, anise, dark chocolate, spice and plum flavours. Clearly a lot going on! If I can taste half that I’ll be laughing.


Les Jamelles Merlot 2014



This puppy is a lovely little Merlot if you’re looking for a smooth, easy drinking wine. Les Jamelles also makes a decent Cabernet Sauvignon, but I chose the Merlot because I’m planning to mull this wine (post coming shortly!) and wanted something easy to drink and middle of the road in terms of body, tannin and general intensity.


The LCBO describes this wine as deep ruby in colour with dark fruit aromas including black berries, currants and cherries – works for me!


Georges DuBoeuf Gamay Nouveau 2015



Yes, you read that right, this wine is from 2015! Talk about young. Beaujolais Nouveau wines are like mirages, there one minute and gone the next.  The wine is fermented quickly and released just weeks after harvesting. The Beaujolais region in France has a festival around the release of the Nouveau wines every year, and lots of importers (LCBO included) tend to make an occasion of their release too. This past Thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau Day so I picked this guy up to celebrate.


As an aside, it’s interesting to see the differences in the label design of Beaujolais Nouveau wines versus other Old World (and especially French) wines. Beaujolais Nouveau wine labels tend to be much simpler, with lots of white space and bright colours. Maybe they’re trying to emulate the quickness of the process and the youthfulness of the wine on the label?


According to the LCBO this wine has a purple colour with aromas of red berry fruit, strawberry, plum and herb and a light earthy, floral/mineral tone. It’s dry, light bodied, and slightly spritzy on the palate. I’m excited to try it!


As always, you can follow me on Vivino to see what I think of my new purchases.

Feeling Thirstie?

For those of you not familiar with life in the land of the LCBO, I should explain some things. When it comes to buying alcohol in this province things are pretty much on lockdown.

Of all the kinks in Ontario’s liquor program, my biggest pet peeve is that you are entirely at the whim of the powers that be and what they decide to import. See an article about a cool wine? Nope. Had a great beer while travelling and want to enjoy it at home too? Forget it. Want to specially order or have a friend mail you something? Slight possibility, but it still isn’t looking good.

Look, I know the LCBO is one of the largest buyers of alcohol in the world, but that size comes at a price.

Which is why I was slightly surprised to see a new app enter the Toronto beverage scene.

Thirstie is an app that allows you to order alcohol through your smartphone and have it delivered to whatever address you put in. It follows an ever-growing list of ‘like Uber, but for ___’ style apps that aim to bring the entire world to your overburdened emoji-typing thumbs.




According to their website, Thirstie claims to “partner with top wine and spirit retailers”, and to “work with local stores to offer you the best selection of wine, beer and spirits”. It’s not clear whether that means they have some sort of partnership with the whole of the LCBO or whether they just send people out to local shops to buy what people punch into the app. An article in the Huffington Post says the app will be partnering with existing local alcohol delivery services (I remember Dial-a-bottle from my university days) who might not be as plugged into the whole web/smart phone order thing just yet. Either way, it seems like adding another layer to an already over-layered system – a layer that will cost you $10.25 per delivery.

A quick glance at the catalogue shows a similar product line to what you would find in stores, and at the exact same price. This is a bit of a relief to be honest – it means that Thirstie is neither breaking provincial laws on discounting alcohol, nor are they (currently) marking it up because of the convenience factor.

Looking at their beer catalogue it’s clear they aren’t interested in helping you pick up a couple tall cans when you run out at a party. Nothing in this list seems to be less than $9.95. However, many of the wines listed are affordable, sitting nicely in the $12-$15 range.




Bottom Line

It’s a cool-looking app, and I can see it taking off with people short on time or who those who get a kick out of using technology to escape doing more mundane and menial tasks.

Will I use it? Maybe. It might be handy in the winter when all I want is my couch. But I could just as easily make the 7 minute walk to my local LCBO, and my body would probably thank me for the exercise – if only to counter the booze I’m about to enjoy.

Would you use Thirstie?

Tasting California From the Comfort of My Couch

This past June I took a trip to California with my aunt and cousin. It was my first trip there (though hopefully not my last) and took us to San Francisco, Napa Valley, Half Moon Bay, Carmel, through Big Sur, and then on to Hearst Castle, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Malibu and Hollywood. Whirlwind and whistle-stop would be accurate descriptors for this trip! We drove through the state at such a clip that, unfortunately, pit stops to wineries wasn’t an option.

While I did manage to hit up one winery, my wine experiences during the trip mostly revolved around wines enjoyed at meals, except for the two bottles I brought home – sadly, the maximum allowment by Canadian standards.

I picked up a white wine at a Trader Joe’s in LA and a red wine at an adorable little grocery stop in Yountville in the Napa area. I wanted to bring home the two varietals that California is most known for – Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These two varietals are what the California wine industry pretty much made their name on, which is why I decided to spend my money on them.

So, what did I bring home?


Cuvaison 2013 Chardonnay


Lovely sunny little bottle, isn’t it?

I wasn’t sure about spending half my customs allotment on Chardonnay, a varietal I have yet to love. But, I thought, California is known for their Chards. I had to at least give it a shot.

This wine had such a lovely golden colour, and a pleasantly full flavour that I am slowly getting used to from whites. I’m surprised to say it, but I’m really starting to get into this varietal.

Say it loud, say it proud – I like Chardonnays now!



Golden nectar…


Cannonball 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon


I love the simple whimsy of this label.

This wine was just what I hoped I’d find in a California Cab. It was sturdy and solid, with some vanilla going on (probably from being aged in oak) and a bit of a punch on the finish. I ended up having it over two evenings, and loved at how soft and mellow it got after being opened for a day.

Also, it’s amusing to me that, the very day I decided to open my bottle, I saw this wine in my local LCBO. Ha! Good job, LCBO buyers!



So dark!


These wines were both so enjoyable. It’s clear by how much is going on in the glass that California has had the benefit of years of growing grapes and making wine. I’m looking forward to exploring more California wines – if only they weren’t so expensive here in Ontario!


Do you have a favourite California wine? Let me know!

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