It’s been a staggering 12 weeks since I sat my WSET 3 exam and I still have not received my results in the mail. I’ve been waiting all this time, both for my results and also so I could share them with you. And here we are, another week and no mail for Meg. To pass the time while I wait I made you a little photo essay.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Wine and Spirit Festival in Toronto. It was a great time! The crowds weren’t too big, the vendors all had lots of product for us to enjoy, and there was event a grocery store there giving out free snacks. It also made me wonder if these kinds of events are intimidating or a bit of a mystery to people who’ve never gone to one.
I’m a festival veteran at this point, well versed in the art of getting what you came for and having a great time in the process. Here are my tips for navigating a wine (or beer or food or whatever) festival.
But first, can we talk about how I got my very own MEDIA PASS?? Thanks so much to Drink Ink for hooking this wine lover up.
Over the recent long weekend I got to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – I went on a wine tour of Prince Edward County. A couple of family friends have started a new company out in the County and invited me on their ‘dry, not so dry run’.
Let me tell you – it. was. AWESOME.
Our small group got inside access to three of the best wineries in the county, complete with tastings and food pairings created just for us. And, as if that wasn’t enough, at each stop we got to meet and talk to either the winery owner or the head winemaker! We were completely welcomed an immersed into the world of each winery. It was such a cool way to go behind the scenes and really learn what each winery is all about.
Here’s where we went.
A few weeks ago my friend Danielle told me about an article she’d seen in the star where the writer offered some wines to re-stock your wine rack for under $100. If I remember correctly, her exact words were “you could do a much better job”. Well, Danielle, thank you for the compliment and challenge accepted!
In the original article the writer offers five wines – one rosé, two whites and two reds. I suppose the rosé snuck in there because the article was published in March and maybe the writer wanted to prime us all for rosé season. But I think rosés are too seasonal and ethereal to go in a list like this, so instead I’m offering you a sherry.
With a theoretical $100 to spend, here is what I would choose.
I was at home over the Easter weekend and this year it happened to coincide with my brother Nick’s birthday. For the past few years he’s requested a wine tasting from my parents as part of his celebrations and, wonderful parents that they are, they’ve obliged.
One of the best way to learn what you like (and what you don’t!) and have a fun wine adventure is to take advantage if you happen to live near a winery. Lucky for me, I live about an hour away from one of the best wine regions in Canada. I try to get to Niagara a few times a year to visit wineries and learn more about how they approach making their wine. It’s fascinating to get to talk to someone in the know about the choices that were made in making a wine! #nerd
Cuvée en Route
I’ll be heading to Niagara later this month for an event I’ve come to know and love. Put on by the folks at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), Cuvée en Route is an annual showcase of the delicious wines this region has to offer. On March 24, 25 and 26 wineries throughout Niagara create small tasting menus (usually 3-4 wines) and often share wines you can’t get at a normal tasting. Case in point – last year I had wines from as long ago as 1998! This is a great opportunity to taste things you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
A few weekends ago I headed to Niagara to see some friends and, of course, taste some wine. I had the immense pleasure of partnering with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute to attend their event called Cuvée en Route. For $30* you get free tastings at over 30 wineries in the area. Many wineries also take the opportunity to bring out special releases or showcase new or unique wines. We worked hard in our one day ‘en route’, making it to nine (yes, you read that right, NINE!) wineries.
The nine wineries we went to could not have been more different. Other than being located in Niagara and housing a lot of fermented grape juice, I mean. Here’s a run-down of the places we had the pleasure of visiting.
(Sadly, Ravine was the only winery where I didn’t get any pictures! Sorry, friends)
Their tasting room and shop are in an old converted farmhouse, making it feel very soft and welcoming. We sat at a lovely high-top table and sampled the three wines they chose to share. While tasting the man helping us helpfully explained the wines, including what the weather was like the year the grapes were grown and what he personally likes to pair each wine with. It’s always a pleasure to have someone take the time to share their knowledge and passion with you.
Highlight: Their 2014 Chardonnay. Toast, oak and stone fruit – it’s a great example of a California style Chard.
This winery is something else. If you’ve never been to Niagara let me assure you that it’s much like other small communities in Southern Ontario or Upstate New York; lots of old brick and stone buildings with more modern ones featuring newer materials like vinyl siding. And then there’s the Colaneri estate, in all it’s Italian villa glory. The winemakers, being of Italian descent, decided to go all in on their cultural heritage
Highlight: Their 2013 Chardonnay Recioto. With green fruit and apple blossoms, it is entirely different from any other Chardonnay I’ve tasted.
This is a winery I was not at all familiar with before this tasting. What I didn’t know is that this winery was started by a former ambassador who was posted to Italy with his family. He fell in love with wine there and when he retired from that life he knew that what he wanted to do most was start a winery in Niagara using Italian wine styles, and I’m so glad he did. Using appassimento styles (where you let the grape dry before fermenting into wine), Foreign Affair brings some great wines to the Niagara scene.
Highlight: Their 2010 Chardonnay (that’s three in a row for those of you keeping track at home!), which has lovely creaminess on the nose and delicious tropical fruit on the palate (pineapple and mango stood out for me). The age has helped it mellow a bit too, which I loved.
Oh, Megalomaniac. I know it’s their brand to be all brash and bombastic, but I really just wanted to tell them to calm down! The winery sits on the stop of a big hill, overlooking a great swath of Niagara, and definitely drives home to the bigness (is that even a word?) and confidence that their brand is all about. I thought the service could have been better – it felt like their staff weren’t even briefed on the event, and the wine could have been more mellow.
Highlight: Of the three wines we tasted I liked their ‘Big Mouth’ Merlot best. It had the red and black fruit and velvety smoothness I expect from a Merlot but also had a nice full body that I always want but don’t often get from that grape.
This visit was a pleasant surprise! For the event they offered a vertical of their Foch wine. If you’re not familiar with this grape don’t worry, I wasn’t either. It turns out that when the winery first started in the mid 1990’s they decided to create a hybrid grape that would better suit the Niagara climate, especially since they were having a tough time getting other more well-known grapes to produce quality yields. Basically Malivoire pioneered a varietal made specifically for the Niagara region – cool!
Highlight: Definitely the 2005 Old Vines Foch. Mellow and slinky, but still retaining the red fruit and oaky characters. Plus, how often do you get to drink ten year old wine? Thanks Cuvée en Route!
I’d had Kacaba’s wines before this event but, for some reason, they’re never a stand out favourite for me when it comes to Niagara wines. This visit reminded me that I should pay this winery more attention. Located in a small building that looks more like a cottage than a winery, I had a great time hearing about the (surprisingly large) variety of wines they make there. It also doesn’t hurt that the Kacaba staff person who was helping us was so enthusiastic about the wine and let me talk his ear off with my questions about their techniques and barrelling choices.
Highlight: Oh my, their 2015 Sparkling Brut! Floral and fruity with lots of tiny bubbles and a gorgeous blush colour. Delicious!
Yet another example of the uniqueness of each winery in this region. I’m pretty sure the tasting room for this winery is run out of Sue-Ann Staff’s own house (!!) which gives everything a lovely, comfortable, homey vibe – the adorable dog hanging around out front didn’t hurt either. We had a great time chatting and tasting with both Sue-Ann herself.
Highlight: Their 2013 Sparkling Riesling was so interesting, with a brightness on the palate but also caramel, burnt sugar and toffee notes and I would guess come from the wine’s age.
A multi-building outfit, it’s sprawling but compact property made me think of the few California wineries I managed to get to last summer, with its wood and stone work. The tasting room was in a very cozy low-ceilinged room with wooden beams and soft lighting – exactly my kind of room. I kind of wish they had a big puffy chair and a fireplace for ultimate wine warmth.
Highlight: We tasted three Merlots – 1998, 1999 and 2000. The 2000 still tasted a bit bright and fruity and the 1998 tasted a little thin, like it was the beginning of the end for the wine’s life. THe 1999, however, was a perfect middle ground with both lively fruitiness and the mellowness I was hoping for.
Last but not least, we finished our day with a Cabernet Franc vertical at Peller. To be honest, at this point in the day both my brain and my tongue were getting a little tired so I don’t have as much to say about these wines. Our tasting took place in a stately wood-paneled room on the second story of their building. While their wines are always solid I do usually find myself wishing there was more personality in the Peller experience.
Highlight: Of the three years we tasted (2011, 2012, 2013) I liked the 2012 best. It had the expected red fruit and smoke on the nose but also had some cigar box character that I found really interesting. The flavour was similar with some spiciness giving it a solid backbone. Yum! I do love Nagara Cab Francs.
Notable omissions include Cave Spring, Fielding, and Organized Crime (which didn’t even take part in the event this year). Oh well. They’re some of my favourites – I’m sure I’ll be back. I also would have liked to have visited Strewn, Stratus and Peninsula Ridge, none of which I’ve been to before.
Clearly this calls for another visit.
Footnotes and addenda
If you’re interested (and for whatever they’re worth!), I’ve written up my tasting notes in their entirety over on Google Drive.
*Or, in my case, complementary with the understanding that I’d write here about the trip.
One day last year I was searching for something new to watch on Netflix. I wasn’t interested in re-watching yet another episode of Downton Abbey or Gilmore Girls, but wasn’t excited about jumping into a new drama or comedy either.
And then, lo and behold, a movie recommendation came up in my Netflix feed that looked interesting – a documentary called SOMM.
Somm is the story of five people (no women, sadly) training and testing to achieve the designation of Master Sommelier. As a wine lover and lifelong learner that was all I needed to press my finger on the play button.
The first time I saw this movie it blew my mind. First of all, these people love wine. I mean, they L-O-V-E wine. It consumes their life. How any of them have partners is beyond me, since they seem to spend every waking minute reading about wine, tasting wine, testing each other on their wine knowledge, and generally nerding out to this delicious substance.
As a comparatively casual learner and enjoyer of wine, this kind of intensity is both amazing and appalling to me. Amazing because the sheer volume of knowledge these people possess and call up at a moment’s notice is just staggering. They know SO. MUCH. And appalling because they have completely given their lives over to this pursuit. They’ve gone off the deep end, into a wine-filled abyss that only achieving the Master Sommelier designation can bring them back from. As someone who proudly and happily has many interests and goals, that kind of tunnel vision gives me hives.
See what I mean? I see that clip and think, ‘wow, they really know their stuff!’ but also, “underripe green mango? crushed chalky hillside? freshly opened can of tennis balls and fresh rubber hose?! Come on!’ Just ridiculous. I love learning about wine (and would love to be able to get to the point where I can identify a wine by tasting alone!) but this is a whole level I just can’t bring myself to aspire to.
That being said, if you are at all into wine you should see this movie. It’s fascinating to see these guys go through the process, and the documentary is made so well that you really feel for them by the end of it. You can find Somm on Netlfix in Canada as well as on iTunes (Canada and US) and Amazon (also Canada and US).
And then, once you’ve watched and loved Somm you can check out the same filmmaker’s new documentary, Into the Bottle. This one kind of picks up where Somm left off, only instead of showing five people’s personal journeys toward to pinnacle of wine knowledge, Into the Bottle looks at the winemaking process. My favourite part of the trailer below is the woman who says, ‘can there be any other business where there’s so much bullshit’? It looks like, unlike Somm, Into the Bottle will take a keen eye to the more ridiculous aspects of wine and the wine business. I can’t wait.