Let’s refresh ourselves on what’s going on here – Wine Folly created the Noble Grape Challenge as a way to learn the spectrum of flavours and characteristics found in red and white wines. Taking nine reds and nine whites and going through them from lightest to darkest, we’ll learn about the key characteristics and flavours of each.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 theNiagara 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.
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?
[According to its website this game also goes by the name Read Between the Wines, but the version I have is called Uncorked so we’re going with that for the purposes of this post.]
The makings of Uncorked! A scoresheet, tasting note sheets, theme cards. Not pictured: adorable little wine charms that we didn’t use because we were drinking out of stemless glasses. Next time!
You are joining Uncorked already in progress…
I invited some friends over to try it out and, of course, drink lots of wine. There were nine of us and we each contributed a bottle, so there was plenty to go around.
We really had our work cut out for us.
How It Works
The game is fairly simple. Each round the players sip a wine and then, based on their impression of the wine, respond to the theme. For example, one theme was to compare the wine to a celebrity. Then one person collects all the answers and the players take turns guessing who said what. It’s like Things in a Box, except with wine, so infinitely better.
Different theme cards.
You really don’t need to know anything about wine or board games to play – it’s really just a great party game.
How Did It Go?
In short, it was a really fun night. My friends are a funny bunch so it didn’t take long for the responses to hit all our respective funny bones. Wine was sampled, guesses were made, and everyone left my apartment happy. I especially like that it wasn’t a very competitive game. We kept score but never got around to crowning a winner – I think we were all more interested in enjoying the wine and just hanging out.
So many dead soldiers…
Uncorked is really two games in one. On the one hand there is this element of tasting and enjoying wine and learning about that, and then on the other hand there is this element of guessing who said what. Even more amusingly, the tracking sheets used for each round became these sort of logic puzzles where I would mark down who guessed what and who said what to make educated (well, less educated as the night went on…) guesses as the round progressed. As a fan of games like Clue I thought this was a great aspect of the game.
Interestingly, of nine bottles only three countries had multiple wines, which wasn’t planned. It would be interesting to play it with a list of suggested wines. You could have each player bring a different country, or the same country, the same or different varietals, all whites, all reds, all sparklings… There are so many ways to play this game. So, anyone want to come over and play?
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I only made it to one winery during my Californian adventure. But! I made up for it by going to a pretty special one.
We stayed two days in Napa for a wedding and on our way out of town my aunt and I stopped in at Grgich Hills Estate Winery. Don’t know about Grgich? Don’t worry, besides vaguely recognizing the labels I didn’t either. My only frame of reference was having it once or twice with my parents and feeling like it was a fancy (read: expensive) California wine.
I soon learned when I got there is that Mike Grgich, the man who started Grgich winery, is pretty much California wine royalty.
Oh, hey Mike, nice to meet you!
Let me take you back. The year is 1976, and this guy named Steven Spurrier decides that even though California is taking it on the chin in terms of wine discrimination, he doesn’t think the wine is all that bad. In fact, he thinks it might give French wines a run for their money. So, to test that thought, he decides to hold a blind tasting of French and California wines and has fancy-pants wine experts (all French, no less) come and taste. The whole thing becomes known as the Judgement of Paris and causes quite the upset since American wines took the top spot for both red and white wines. While the competition put a lot of French noses out of joint, it was also a big confidence boost for Californian wine-makers, and (in my opinion) was a watershed moment for the California wine industry.
What does this have to do with Grgich Winery, you might ask? Well! It turns out that the person who made the winning white wine, a Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, was none other than Mike Grgich.
Clearly this guy knows how to make good wine.
So! Back to the tasting at hand. I tried their Napa Valley Flight, which consisted of six wines – three white and three red.
Yep, looks like a wine list.
Pretty setup, now let’s get to tasting!
The Chard was solid, and tasted just like a classic California Chardonnay – full bodied, grassy, buttery, delicious.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the Fumé Blanc until my wine-pouring friend told me that it’s mostly composed of Sauvignon Blanc, and that Fumé Blanc is just what California wine-makers have decided to call it. Sneaky! It was crisp and citrus-y and I loved it, which was exactly what I expected once I learned it was really a Sauv Blanc in disguise.
The Plavac Mali is where things got interesting. Mike Grgich was born and raised in Croatia and has done a lot of work in the wine industry there, even while living and working in the US. This wine is actually from a winery he owns out there, and my wine-pouring friend told me that they like to include it in this tasting flight to educate people about Croatian wine and to give some history about their own winery. This wine was sharp and tangy, and had a chemical kind of flavour that I hadn’t really tasted before. If you’ve ever had Retsina, it had a similar quality. It grew on me as I drank it, but it took time to get used to because the flavour was so different from what I normally drink.
Of course they have their own branded spitting bucket – what kind of shabby place do you think this is?
The Zinfandel was light and smooth and confident and friendly. That might make me sound like a weirdo, but it’s true! It was really approachable, easy to sip. A great transition as I moved from the whites to the reds.
The Merlot was heavenly. Medium-bodied, smooth, inviting, velvety – like easing into a hot bath after a long day. I could drink this wine every day and be happy.
The Cab Sauv was the biggie of the bunch, which isn’t surprising considering Cabs are big boy grapes, and one of the jewels in the crown that is California wine. It was fuller bodied but well balanced, meaning no one flavour overpowered my taste buds. You know those people who just have effortless confidence, who can walk into a room and be well-liked by everyone? That’s what this wine was like.
Thanks for the tasting, Mike! Yes yes, your barrels look lovely.
Sadly, after meeting these six wonderful wines we had to leave Napa to get on the road (to drive the coast to LA – it’s a hard life, isn’t it?) but I did take a moment to enjoy the scenery as we left.
Kind of a humdrum view, don’t you think?
All in all, a good first visit to Napa. The only thing left to do is plan another trip.
Welcome to Palate Practice
Hi! I’m Meg.
I live in Toronto and have been enjoying wine since tasting the stuff at Sunday family dinners. I love learning about different wines and the stories behind them.