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Red Wine, White Wine

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!

Beer, Red Wine

Adventures in the LCBO – volume 2

I picked up some things at my local LCBO this week and, of course, wanted to share it with you. Here’s what I got.

Porto 6 2012 Red Blend


Let’s hope I like the wine as much as I like the label.


I saw this one recommended by someone in my Twitter feed, though I can’t for the life of me find where exactly. I generally like Portuguese wines and the price was right so I picked it up. I opened it last night and, unfortunately, was disappointed. It tasted like it was trying to pack too much flavour in, it was too tannic for me. A shame, really, but you can’t win ‘em all. At least I’m only out $13.


Kaiken 2013 Malbec Reserva


Simple, yet beautiful.


This one is much more of a sure bet. I’ve had Kaiken Malbecs before and always enjoyed them. I started following the winery on Twitter a few days ago and have been craving their wine ever since. This is a big, warm wine that goes great with the colder weather we’re starting to get. If you’re looking for something new I definitely recommend taking a chance on Kaiken.


Great Lakes Brewery Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA


I see what you did there, GLB.


Oh, Great Lakes Brewery. I love you so much, I just can’t help myself. This little beauty is a Belgian-style India Pale Ale. It’s a bit more mellow than other IPAs out there, with a hoppiness that’s more middle-of-the-road than burn-your-face-off. GLB makes great beer and I’m sure this one will be no different. If you like IPAs or Belgian-style beers you should pick this one up.


Left Field Brewery Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale


Take me out to the ball game…


Allow me to introduce you to Left Field Brewery! Left Field is a relatively new brewery based in Toronto. It’s adorably baseball themed, hence the name Eephus, which baseball fans might recognize as the name of a type of pitch. This beer is a lovely little oatmeal brown ale, and is the only Left Field beer available in the LCBO. It’s a mellow beer – creamy and malty and would be lovely to curl up with on the couch. If you’re looking for an easy and approachable brew you should get to know Eephus.

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

Red Wine, Wine

Wine + Stew = Deliciousness

One of the many things in my life I haven’t had the chance to talk about here yet is my love for cooking. It only seems natural that I would eventually end up talking about how wine can enhance cooking.

On a recent day off I decided to make myself a big batch of something yummy that I’d be able to eat for the week. My go-to recipe source is Epicurious, and it didn’t disappoint. I quickly found the perfect recipe to tackle – beef stew with potatoes and carrots – and wine, of course.


Poor ingredients, they don't event know what's coming for 'em.

Poor ingredients, they don’t event know what’s coming for ’em.


Sorry if you're a vegetarian - I think this looks delicious.

Sorry if you’re a vegetarian – I think this looks delicious.



The wine destined for tonight’s stew.


Since it was only me eating the stew I halved the recipe and, believe me, it still took most of my afternoon and made a ton. This is a great recipe for a lazy fall Sunday, especially if you’re having people over later and can help eat.


Business/sauteeing veg in the front, party/seared beef in the back.

Business/sauteeing veg in the front, party/seared beef in the back.


I recently read an article about the uses of acid on one of my favourite cooking websites and decided to substitute some leftover port I had for the balsamic vinegar. The recipe didn’t explicitly say it but I’m pretty sure the vinegar was meant to deglaze the pot. I decided port would do just as well and might even give a bit more depth of flavour to the stew.



Looks oddly familiar…


After I’d deglazed with the port I added the wine and let it bubble and reduce away, concentrating the flavour and burning off some of the alcohol.


Just let me wipe up the drool and I'll be right with you.

Just let me wipe up the drool and I’ll be right with you.


Seriously, doesn’t that look amazing already? Too bad blogs don’t emit smell yet…


After that it was time to shove it all in the oven and let the beef braise. Two hours later it came out smelling amazing and looking even more stew-like. I cut up some veg (carrots, potatoes, parsnips and mushrooms) and kept it simmering on the stovetop until the new additions were cooked through. And voila – delicious stew!





The recipe and its reviews both said the stew only got better with time, so I let it cool and then put it in the fridge until the next day, when I finally got a taste. And let me tell you, they were not wrong. It was delicious! I can’t wait to eat it all week.



This is how I feel when I make some delicious. Complete sense of accomplishment.

Fortifieds, Red Wine

Cold Weather, Warm Wines



The seasons are changing and so are my wine tastes. I know some people who are perfectly happy drinking the same sorts of wines all year round, but my tastes are more cyclical than that.

I love to take advantage of what’s happening outside to switch up what’s in my glass. Here are some wines (and wine drinks) I’m looking forward to now that the days are getting colder.


Return of the Mac Reds

Summer to me means whites and rosés, which means fall and winter are all about reds. As soon as I can’t feel the sun on my skin anymore I begin to swing away from the Gamays and Beaujolais, the Sauvignon Blancs and even some of the Pinot Noirs in favour of Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs, Syrahs and Carménères. There’s just something about cool air that makes me want a big, flavourful red. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.


Mulled Everything

Have you ever had mulled wine? If you haven’t, you are missing out big time. Do yourself a favour – buy a bottle of red you know you like, read this recipe, and make mulled wine. It will take you all of twenty minutes, after which time you will sip that delicious liquid and wonder how you just managed to distill autumn into such an enjoyable beverage.

You’re welcome.



Let me talk about my love for fortifieds. With fortifieds we’re talking wines like port, sherry and marsala – these have all had a spirit (usually something distilled from grapes) added to them before, during or after fermentation. These wines have a higher alcohol content than regular wine (hence the term ‘fortified’) which I know can be a turn-off for some people, but the flavour and warmth of these drinks can’t be beat. If you’re interested in them but still worried about the booziness, try cooking with them. A little marsala or sherry is a great addition to soups and stews or any dish where you need to deglaze (which might explain why deglazing is one of my favourite cooking activities…).


Bonus – Whiskies

I know, I know – we’ve taken a bit of a left turn here, but we’re still in the family of big warm flavours we’ve been talking about so far. There’s nothing better than curling up with a wee dram on a cold night, letting it warm you from the inside out. While I love Scotches like Benromach, Bowmore and Aberfeldy (and Lagavulin and Laphroaig and Balvenie… the list goes on!), I also love Irish whiskies like Jamesons, Bushmills and, the peaty to end all peaties, Connemara. You don’t even have to shell out for good whisky – a quick search on the LCBO website will show you that Canada makes a bunch of great, affordable stuff.

Well, there you have it – my cold-weather drinks wish list. If you need, I’ll be fixing myself a drink.


Red Wine, Rosé Wine, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

How I Taste Wine

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.

So really, it’s not that complicated after all.

Red Wine

Adventures in the LCBO

I picked up some wines at my local LCBO yesterday and I thought where better to share my finds than right here.

I bought two reds (on impulse, really) while wandering the aisles. This is often how I make my purchases – I’ll float in and out of the racks, perusing bottles, reading labels and picking up the ones that are that sweet combination of interesting and not-too-expensive.


The Finds

Campo Viejo Guardian Reserva

Looking good, you two!

This time around I picked up a bottle of Guardian Reserva 2012 (a blend) and Campo Viejo 2013 Tempranillo.


Campo Viejo 2013 Tempranillo

Campo Viejo 2013

Love that yellow.

I’ll admit, I chose this one mainly because of advertising. I’ve recently seen campaigns for this wine, both in print ads and in social media campaigns, and they totally wore me down. Ok, Campo Viejo, OK! I’ll buy your freaking wine, IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? (… of course it’s what you want…)

I did have some other reasons besides my weak will. Campo Viejo is a maker whose wines I’ve had and enjoyed before. On top of that, I know I like reds from the Rioja region of Spain, especially Tempranillos. Plus, it was on sale! Win-win.


Guardian Reserva 2012 Blend

Guardian Reserva 2012

I only realized there is a face on the label when taking this photo. My observation skills could use some work.

With this wine it was the label that originally drew me in. I was shopping with a friend and we both thought this label was super pretty. I challenged her to try it and decided I should too so that we could compare our impressions.

I also like that it’s from 2012 – age x affordability = a winner in my books. Despite being a blend (and we all know my feelings about blends) the grapes used are listed on the back, which I very much appreciate. Beyond that I noticed that this wine is from the Colchagua Valley in Chile, a region I know I like. So even though this particular wine is new to me, I made an educated guess in choosing to buy it.

Guardian Reserva 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere and Merlot and Cabernet Franc, YUM!

Plus, it was also on sale. How can you go wrong??


Campo Viejo Guardian Reserva

Woop woop, wine buys!

I haven’t tried either wine yet, but if you want to know my thoughts when I do you can follow me on Vivino, where I log most of the wines I drink.


Campo Viejo Guardian Reserva

I am excited about these wines!

Red Wine

Not Everything is Better Homemade

I had a few friends over for drinks this week, and it was quite the oenological adventure.

It all started when I found out my friend Myles had had some wine made at one of those homemade wine places where you pick the general style of wine you want, pay your money, and voila – in a few weeks you get to pick up your very own wine! Myles’ batch was $40 for 14 bottles, which really appeals to the bargain hunter in me.

But let’s be real here – this wine is not top notch. It’s great value, and might be fine for people who aren’t as picky about their wine, but there is a very real difference between this kind of wine and the wine you can buy at your local wine shop.


Bad pic of the bottle, complete with fancy engraving instead of a label! Myles is an engraving wizard.

That being said, I did have a great time giving this homemade concoction a taste. Myles chose the Barolo style, which really just added to the hilarity of what we were about to get into (you might remember that we talked a bit about Barolos when I tasted the Nebbiolo as part of the Noble Grape Challenge).

Can we talk about the hilarity of the cork-screw combo?

Can we talk about the hilarity of the cork-screw combo?

Here are some choice comments expressed as we tasted this wine:

Hayleigh (in a surprised tone) – “Oh my god – it’s not that bad!”

Myles – “You know, I think it’s gotten better” (after about two months of ‘bottle aging’)

Andrew – “It got better as I drank it, mostly because I didn’t care”

As you can see, we weren’t very kind critics. The wine did taste pretty smooth, and definitely had that earthiness and dark red fruit flavours that I associate with Italian reds. Unsurprisingly, it had none of the depth and complexity that is found it more professional wines, but we really weren’t expecting that so there was no love lost there.

In case you couldn’t already tell, I’m always wary of homemade wine. I’ve had my share of lacklustre wines, and while this one wasn’t too far off from that mark I did enjoy it. But, then again, I think a bottle is always better when shared with friends.


Bottom Line

Does it stack up against something from the lcbo? No, not at all, really. But the company made it enjoyable.

Do you drink (or make??) homemade wine?

Noble Grape Challenge, Red Wine

Tasting the Spanish Sun in Argentina

It’s time for another installment of the Noble Grape Challenge. Last time around we hung out in Italy to learn about the Nebbiolo, and today we finally leave the Mediterranean to get acquainted with the Tempranillo.


About the Noble Grape Challenge

Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of wine flavours found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites, we’ll go through them from lightest to darkest, learning about the key characteristics and flavours of each.


About Tempranillos

Temps are most commonly grown in Spain but also grown in the US, Australia, and Argentina. Some of the most common flavours are cherry and plum with some leather, tobacco, vanilla and clove. Acidity and tannin is usually middle of the road, which can make Temps a bit smoother than other wines.

Oh, and one more thing! Since the word comes from Spanish, the double L at the end is a E sound, so it’s pronounced temp-ran-EEE-o and not temp-ran-ILL-o.


The Test Case

What a treat! I went home for the weekend a couple of weeks ago and discovered that my stepdad had brought a 2005 Zuccardi Tempranillo out of his cellar for me!

Zuccardi Tempranillo from 2005 - quite the treat!

Zuccardi Tempranillo from 2005 – quite the treat!

I couldn’t find this wine in the LCBO database (Ontario’s government-operated liquor-selling store), but I’m familiar with the maker and would recommend any of the wines the lcbo has brought in for our tasting pleasure.

Specifically, Zuccardi makes one of my favourite go-to wines – Santa Julia Magna. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon, but is similarly full-bodied wine to the one I tasted for this post.

It’s also worth noting that this Tempranillo is from Argentina, even though Spain is more well known for this varietal.


So dark! Doesn’t that look delicious?


Tasting Notes

Is this wine ever dark! It’s very dark in colour, and quite opaque. The colour is a little garnet-ish, but also has some of the beginnings of browning on the edges – a sign of its age. It has lots of legs and a fair amount of depth on the nose, though I had trouble identifying anything specific. Leather? Cinnamon and clove? Who knows! (Seems there’s always more tasting work to be done, more to learn…)

I may have had a hard time knowing what I did get, but I do know what I didn’t get. I didn’t notice any floral or fruity notes, nor any smoke. When I’m struggling a bit I find it helpful to come at tastings from the other side, finding out what’s in the wine by process of elimination. There are a bunch of handy tasting charts that can help with this.

When it came down to it I thought this wine just smelled warm and cozy. I can easily imagine having this wine on a cold winter night in front of a fire… so maybe I was smelling some baking spices, but more in an amorphous way. I also got some vanilla on the nose after the wine had opened up a bit.

The flavour was smooth,  with some spiciness on the finish, and the warmth I smelled carried over. It was beautifully full flavoured, which I love – this is a confident wine!

I know it probably sounds pretentious, but I often swish the wine around in my mouth a bit to see what other flavours might present themselves when I do. When I did this with this wine I get some fruit! Dried red fruit I think – cherries or cassis maybe – definitely dried though, because the flavour tastes pretty concentrated.


Bottom Line

Does this wine match up? Oh yes! Very pleasantly too – this wine smells and tastes like a textbook Tempranillo. I really loved it! I have a soft spot for wines that taste like a cowboy hanging out on a ranch, and this is definitely that.

I’m so grateful to my to my Stepdad for giving me this wonderful wine!


Next up – The beginning of the home stretch with Cabernet Sauvignon!