This past weekend I made my annual springtime pilgrimage to Niagara for Cuvée en Route, a passport style event with about 30 participating wineries each offering a tasting menu. This year I made the trip with my friend Andrew – a fellow wino, so it wasn’t very difficult to twist his arm and get him to join me.
I’m always interested in the chance to take a drive and experience wines in the place they’re made. There’s something special about tasting a wine while looking at the vines that gave it life.
Except for one stop this year’s Cuvée adventure consisted of wineries I’d never been to before. I apologize in advance if I’m a broken record about all the newness! My game plan going in was to use this year’s Cuvée as an excuse to finally get to some places I’ve been meaning to go for years.
It’s that time of year again – Cuvée en Route is back! It’s one of the many times each year that I get in the car and make a little pilgrimage to the region in my own backyard. It’s also a welcome way to further my wine knowledge and keep my palate up to snuff.
What is Cuvée en Route?
Let’s review. Created by the good folks at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), Cuvée en Route is an annual showcase of the fantastic wines this region has to offer. On March 23, 24 and 25 wineries throughout the region will create tasting menus (usually 3-4 wines) for passport holders, often share wines you can’t get at a normal tasting. Case in point – my first Cuvée year I had wines from as long ago as 1998! Cuvée is a great opportunity to taste things you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere (or any time) else.
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 lot of negative things have been floating around me lately.
My roommate (and one of my best friends) leaving has been tough. While I’m so happy and excited for him to begin his new adventure, I’ll miss him a lot and his leaving has brought up lots of ‘what am I doing with my life’ and ‘not good enough’ feelings for me.
Two friends of mine lost their beloved pets this week. My heart aches to see their pain.
And then, two nights ago, we all heard about the terrible attacks in Paris. (This, only days after another attack in Beirut that left Lebanon in three days of national mourning.)
Usually I’m pretty good at being optimistic and, as my mom says, looking at the doughnut instead of the hole. But these past couple of weeks it has been much more difficult than usual to do that.
It’s tough to feel like you’re trying and trying and trying, only to have the universe ignore you. It’s tough to see people you love lose pets they love. It’s tough to see places you’ve visited, that have helped you become the person you are, be scarred and terrorized.
But what does this have to do with wine and beer? With this blog?
Wine and beer are two things I love. Learning about wine, enjoying a glass of something after a long day of work, visiting wineries and breweries – these are things that bring me joy. When I’m low, when things aren’t going my way, when tragedies happen in my world, it becomes important (imperative, even) to turn to the things I love.
So yesterday, after another long (and at times, sad) day, I picked up a few things and enjoyed some wine while taking some quiet time for myself.
Something from France, in honour of Friday night’s attacks.
Something familiar and well-loved from ‘home’ (Niagara).
A cozy winter brew to curl up with on a cold night.
Enjoying these things, especially during the dark times, helps remind me that things won’t always be such a struggle. Sure, they might seem broken now, but I have to keep faith that it won’t always be thus.
When there is darkness surrounding you sometimes you have to fight to find the light.
I had a long weekend a couple weeks ago and decided to head home to visit my family. While planning what I’d like to do with my parents the idea of a wine tasting came to mind. It had been a while since we’d done one and we thought, why not?
I was also bringing home two good friends who live in the Niagara wine region of Ontario, and so I suggested we frame the tasting as a Canada-Europe grudge match. My stepdad was happy to oblige and managed to find three Canadian reds and three French ones, pairing three different varietals – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
I should note that the French wines are most likely blends (most French wines are) and so my stepdad was probably guided by the region in matching these wines with their Canadian counterparts, since each region specializes in a few different types of grapes.
So, how do we do tastings? I thought you’d never ask!
I happily benefit from my stepdad’s years of practice in planning and hosting tastings – by the time I met him he had it down to a science and an art. Over the years he has devised a double-blind system that means no one at the tasting will know which wine is which.
The wines all nestled in their sleeves, waiting for us to enjoy them
My mom and stepdad are a great wine tasting team – he will open the bottles and either decant them or put them in sleeves, and then she will come by and put a little coloured sticker on each bottle. He doesn’t know which wines are which colour and she doesn’t know which wine she’s labelling – it’s win win!
He’s also created a great grid to help structure the tasting.
In case you can’t make out the wine list, here is what we tasted:
Clos deu Marquis, Saint Julien, France (1997)
Marynissen Vineyard, Lot 66, Niagara Peninsula, Canada (1997)
Chateau de Courteillac, Entre-De-Mers, France (1998)
Mission Hill, Merlot, BC, Canada (2001)
Couly-Duthiel, Les Gravieres, Chinon, France (2001)
We usually make it an informal and fun affair, and put out cheese and baguette to munch on as we go. The baguette helps cleanse the palate, wiping out the flavour of a wine before going on to another. I usually stay away from the cheese until I’ve finished filling out the grid because the flavour of the cheese will change how you taste the wine, and that usually makes things go haywire for my still-learning palate.
So How Did the Tasting Go?
All set up and ready to go
My main goal was to try and correctly identify some wines. It sounds like an easy task but is actually pretty hard! I’m good at knowing the flavours I do and don’t like, and am getting better at being able to differentiate between varietals, but knowing which wine is exactly which? I’ve got a ways to go.
My place at the table
I made a bigger effort to fill out the entire grid this time, even though my stepdad always tells us the only thing he needs from us is our rankings (he keeps all the sheets from each tasting he hosts!). These tastings are great practice at being able to identify what I’m smelling and tasting, so I focused on that for the first few minutes. It was a while before I even took my first sip!
It was a really tough tasting in terms of the rankings. Everyone around the table agreed that we all really liked all the wines! I managed to come up with some sort of ranking, but to be honest I could easily have switched my numbers around and been just as happy. And no, my stepdad wouldn’t let me rank ties – I asked!
I managed to correctly identify two of the wines – a new personal best!
Interestingly, the averaged rankings are close to my rankings. With one exception, each average rank is only one off from mine, and a couple ranks were the same. All but one of us chose the same wine as our number one pick, and of course once we had averaged our rankings we were all dying to know which wine was which.
And the winner is…
They’re arranged in order of average rank first to sixth, left to right
I can tell you, we were all surprised that a Niagara wine ranked number one! It just goes to show that sometimes a wine or region will surprise you, and that its worth trying new wines because you never know what you’re going to like.
Once the grand reveal was over, there was only one thing left to do – go back and re-taste! Like good wine tasters, we finished the bottles.
I don’t think we used enough glasses…
See? Tastings can be lots of fun, and aren’t very difficult to arrange – you should try it!