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wine

Wine

Friends in Wine Places

Several weeks ago I was at my friends Anna’s and Martha’s place for dinner and Martha had told us that, due to some recent slowing down in the wine consumption department, she had a number of older bottles in her cellar that she feared might be past their prime. Instead of doing what I would do (which is to open them anyway and call it a lesson in wine tasting) Martha gave me and another guest each a bottle on our way out. I can’t say enough about Anna’s and Martha’s generosity, and this is was just another example.

 

Case in point – a 1999 Bordeaux!

 

chateaudaiguilhe

 

A Cotes de Castillion, to be exact. An 80%/20% blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, harvested in 1999 and bottled in 2001.

 

I am a lucky wino.

 

Last Thursday I decided to open it. I had gotten some bad news the day before, had the next day off, and was feeling suitably Christmas-y – all good reasons to open a good bottle in my books.

 

wineinglass

 

Look

Deep and dark and surprisingly still ruby-coloured. I expected to see more of a garnet or rusty red colour but only saw a hint of it on the edges.

 

Nose

Pretty generous amounts of gorgeous red fruit (strawberries, raspberries, currant and plum) along with some leather (probable sign of age) along with some vanilla, cinnamon and clove (signs of oak).

 

Palate

  • Holy tannins! This wine was still surprisingly grippy for it’s age, which makes me wonder what kind of smack in the face it doled out in its younger days.
  • That being said, the fact that I didn’t find it highly tannic is probably a sign that it’s had time to calm down a bit (wines are like people, they mellow as they age).
  • Acidity is still pretty strong too. The wine was bright and juicy for sure. It faded as the wine opened up, and started tasting a little flat as soon as the second glass, but I was still impressed with how much acidity was still there.
  • There wasn’t much fruit left on the palate (mostly tannin, acid and leather) which is probably the truest sign of age my novice palate noticed.

 

Overall

This wine was really nice. Did it have age? Yes. Would I argue if someone thought it was a little past its prime? No. It might not have had the oomph it once did, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. On reflection, and considering how close it is to the holidays, I probably should have saved it to share with my family (sorry, parents!) but this bottle had been tempting me for weeks, I couldn’t resist it any longer.

 

Thank you thank you thank you to my friend Martha for giving me this bottle. I have no idea whether it would have been up to snuff for you but it certainly brightened my week.  

 

Have you had any stand-out wines lately?

 

Learning About Wine, Wine

Ups and Downs of Recent Wine Learnin’

 

As I mentioned earlier this year I’ve been taking a wine course at a local college as part of a bigger plan to get my WSET Level 3 certification. I was worried about the jump from WSET level 2 to level 3 so I’ve been taking this other course to help fill some knowledge gaps and get practice on blind tasting, something I still find quite intimidating.

Since September I’ve been spending my Tuesday evenings in a classroom, writing notes about soil and climate and trying my best not to embarrass myself during tastings. This week was the final exam and though I really enjoyed it, the course really kicked my butt.

I know, what a weird statement. It’s just wine, right? How hard can it be??

 

cyc_ujzw8auowzc

 

Tasting is a Game of Persistence and Practice

I was nervous for the blind tasting part of this course. In fact, the exercise of tasting wines blind and trying to identify them was my entire reason for taking this course and not just plowing through to WSET level 3. I can now proudly say that I don’t think I completely suck at tasting, but does that mean I have a good track record for correctly identifying wines?

 

giphy-1

 

That’s cute.

No, correctly identifying wines from a few whiffs and sips is still incredibly challenging. I am getting better at it though, and feel confident enough to continue with the plan to take a WSET level 3 course over the next few months, so silver linings and all that.

 

Italy, my Everest

Italy is hard, you guys. Like, really hard. Much more difficult to figure out than France, which I attribute to a few key reasons:

  • You know how France has a bunch of regions and you’re just supposed to know the grapes used in that region when buying a bottle? Italy is like that, only with a bajillion more regions and often a few different kinds of ‘typical’ wines in each region. It’s a ridiculously large amount of information to learn in the span of a few weeks.
  • Also like France, the Italian wine industry is old and famous and well-loved and has pretty strict rules, which means the delicious stuff tends to be out of my price range. Amarones and Barolos will continue to be wines I gaze at longingly on store shelves for the foreseeable future.
  • On top of the cost (or maybe because of the cost) I don’t drink Italian wine much, which means my taste tends toward others things, which means that my palate is so far out of its depth with Italian wine that tasting these wines blind becomes a bit of a joke.

Clearly I have some remedial studying to do…

 

giphy-2

 

The (New) World is my Oyster

Fortunately, where I floundered with Italy, I flourished with the new world. Maybe it’s because the labels are more helpful, or because the wines are more affordable (and therefore my palate is more familiar with them), or because I happen to live near a fantastic wine region. Whatever the reason, I had a much easier time learning about wines from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, America and Canada.

To give some perspective, where my tasting notes were sadly sparse and I correctly identified zero of three wines on my Italy test, on my new world test my tasting notes were much more detailed and I correctly identified all four varietals and three of four regions. Totally vindicated!

 

invincible

 

Onward and Upward

So Wines II at George Brown College is done and dusted. I should get my marks back in a few weeks but I feel confident in my knowledge and tasting ability, which was the whole point of taking the course. I finally feel ready to tackle WSET Level 3, which is good because I start in January.

 

Have you ever thought about taking a wine course?

 

 

Wine

The Secret to Aging Wine

When I first started drinking wine I had no knowledge of the concept of aging it. Well, when I really first started drinking wine I was in my early teens, having a small glass each week with my family at Sunday dinner, so I’m going to go ahead and give myself a pass on not immediately knowing how to cellar a bottle.

As I’ve drunk more, learned more and generally fallen down this delicious, wine-filled rabbit hole I find myself in it’s started becoming more clear to me when and why you might sock a bottle away for one, three, five, even twenty years.

 

port

 

Four Keys to Aging Wine

Beyond the initial and most important question (which is ‘do you like it?’) aging wine essentially comes down to four things:

 

Alcohol

Tannin

Acidity

Sugar

 

These are the four major factors in how quickly a wine will turn to vinegar, even if you’ve stashed it in a cool, dark, cellar-y type place.

Quality certainly comes into it too, but the optimal balance of a combination of these four things is often what makes the powers that be deem a wine high quality in the first place, so we’re really just peeling back one further layer in talking about these elements.

Let’s think about the wines that we know can last a long time. Sherry. Port. Barolo. Cabernet Sauvignon. Riesling. Sauternes. All very age worthy, all high in some combination of alcohol, tannin, acid or sugar.

 

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look.

 

Sherry – high in alcohol, high in sugar

Port – high in alcohol, high in sugar

Barolo – high tannin, high alcohol

Cabernet Sauvignon – high tannin, high acidity

Riesling – high sugar, high acidity

Sauternes – high in sugar, high in acidity

 

These are just some examples, but there are others. (Do you know of any? Let me know in the comments!)

 

wine-cellar

 

Wait, But Why?

So why are these four things the keys to a wine’s ageability? I won’t go into the science-y stuff (mostly because I don’t know it yet), but it’s my understanding that these four things essentially protect the wine and gives it a longer life. Since all wine wants to do is turn to vinegar as quickly as it can things like alcohol, tannin, acidity, and sugar can slow that process down. Add the wine to a container made of an inert material (like glass) and things slow down even further. Things aren’t completely stopped since most wines are still sealed with a breathable cork, but that’s ok – the changeability of wine is half the fun!

 

wine bottles

 

How to Spot an Ageable Wine

There are some markers you can look and taste for in searching for a wine that might stand the test of time.

 

Alcohol – Look for somewhere around or above 15%, wines don’t need to be as alcoholic as spirits to be age worthy.

Tannin – Something that leaves your mouth feeling a bit tingly is a good contender for high tannin and therefore potentially age worthy. Swirl it around your gums and behind your lips if you’re not sure.

Acidity – Does your mouth water like a faucet after you take a sip? Does your immediate reaction to a sip leave you with a puckered face and the flavour of citrus? High acidity, right there.

Sugar – You’ll want to look for wines that have a generous amount of grams per litre of sugar, like sherry, port and ice wine (120-220 g/L), sweet wines (35-120 g/L) or even some off-dry wines (10-35 g/L). The shelf label at your local LCBO will list this information.

 

Remember that you will want to find a wine with a combination of these factors, not just one. Finding two is great, finding three is exceptional (and probably expensive), finding four might be impossible.

 

The Final Question on Choosing a Wine to Age

I’m currently taking a wine class at a local college and with every tasting we’re asked to determine how long we think any given wine should age for. I tend to agree with my teacher, who says that, in reality, any wine in the LCBO could be enjoyed now. So how do you decide to store something away, to take that gamble? We consider this with each wine we taste in class, and every time the question comes up our teacher asks us in turn:

Will this wine get any better with age?

Will it benefit at all from more time?

Sometimes the answer is yes. We can make assumptions about how much longer the acidity will last before the wine gets tired and ‘flabby’, and we can estimate whether the tannins will soften further based on what kind of wine it is and how old it is.

And sometimes the answer is no. The wine might not be well-balanced enough to stand up (for example, if the tannins soften and leave too much acidity in its wake), or it might have aged as much the wine will allow. Or you might just not like the wine, which is completely acceptable!

Regardless, aging wine can be a fun game, especially if you save a bottle or two of something you know is a perennial favourite or something always stocked at the lcbo. That way you can save bottles for a year or two and then taste three years side by side (this is called a vertical tasting) to see how the wine changes – it’s great for learning!

Do you age wine? What’s been your biggest payoff or disappointment? Do you have a go-to age-worthy wine?

 

 

Beer, Spirits, Wine

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2015 Placeholder

 

Merry Christmas, all! I’ll be taking a few days off to spend time with my family, eat (a lot!) of great food and, yes, partake in some festive beverages.

 

If you celebrate this particular holiday I hope you have a joyous and festive one. If you don’t I hope you have a wonderful 25th of the month.

 

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read or do, let me recommend the following posts:

 

Enjoy and see you in 2016!

 

Wine, Wine Thoughts

5 Things I Foolishly Used to Think About Wine

winerack

 

I know a fair bit about wine, but that wasn’t always the case. In my earlier wine-drinking days I made some assumptions, like we all do, that I have since realized are simply not the case.

 

Here are some things I thought (and possibly said out loud!) about wine, before I knew better.

 

Wine in a bottle with a cork is better than in a bottle with a screw cap.

Not so! In the past, ‘fine’ wine was sealed with a cork and more ‘budget’ wines tended to be sealed with screw caps, entrenching a belief that, if you were a true connoisseur, screw caps were beneath you. But nowadays cork is becoming more and more scarce and the technology used in screw caps is getting better and better, which means the line between the quality of wine and the method of sealing is blurring. These days the argument of cork v. screw cap isn’t nearly as meaningful in terms of wine quality.

 

People who swirl their wine and make weird sounds are pompous weirdos.

Ok, they sometimes are, but there IS a reason for why they do that! It turns out that the slurping and swishing people do when tasting wine is aerating it, forcing oxygen into the wine to enhance or change the flavour. Still slightly weird and definitely nerdy, but at least there’s a good reason.

 

French wine is the pinnacle, and is always magically better than other wines.

I guess this one is still pretty hotly debated, but my point here is that there are great wines from places that don’t sound like the chef from the Little Mermaid. Most articles that talk about the best wine regions will, of course, mention France (it’s got this reputation for a reason!) but Italy, Spain, the US, Australia and South Africa usually get top marks as well.

 

Only rich (and probably snobby) people can afford to really get into wine.

I used to think that you had to spend thousands of dollars to really learn about and enjoy wine. It was only after I met my stepdad that I really realized that’s just not true. You can find a bottle that tastes great (and is even worth cellaring!) at a bargain price – you just have to learn how to spot them. Over the last few years I’ve learned that there are so many factors that help determine the price of a wine – country, region, varietal, popularity, how good the winery’s marketing department is. It’s not just about the wine itself. Which is kind of a no brainer when you think about it. Wine is like any other industry!

 

It’s more important to know what wine is good according to people who really ‘know’ than according to yourself.

Ok, listen up because this is the big one. I don’t have a link to share that will illustrate by point, but it still stands. YOU are the one buying and drinking the wine, so why should it matter more what other people think of it? If there is a $10 bottle out there that you keep getting because it tastes like ambrosia, then go for it! The opinions and writings of other, more ‘experienced’ wine people is only meant to be a guide to help you learn and be able to make your own decisions. Got it? Good.

 

womanembarrassed

No need to be embarrassed anymore!

 

These misconceptions aren’t the end of the world, really. And on a brighter note, they show how far my wine knowledge and experience has come, so it can’t be all that bad to go back and revisit them from time to time. Especially since wine is an ever-evolving industry, it’s good to check your assumptions every now and then to see which ones still hold up and which might need tweaking.

 

So, if you’re just starting out on your wine journey and possibly feeling a little shy about it, have no fear, everyone starts somewhere!

 
What are your assumptions about wine?

 

Wine, Wine Thoughts

6 Must-See Holiday Movies (and Drinks To Go With Them)

People talk all the time about pairing wine and beer with food. But what about other things? I am a staunch believer that a well-thought out drink will make anything better. It’s like putting together the perfect outfit for a themed party, it feels perfect when things match.

 

It’s in this spirit that I offer you this list of holiday movies with drinks pairings. Whether traditional or modern, funny or heartfelt, I hope something will pique your interest and inspire you to create a great holiday experience.

 

Disclaimer: I was raised Catholic, so these movies are all quite Christmassy. Apologies to those who don’t celebrate this particular holiday! I hope you’ll still enjoy this post, if only for the suggested accompaniments.

 

holidaymoviesanddrinks

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Oh Whoville, with your adorably gentle love for Christmas! This one is a personal favourite. I look forward to watching it (and quoting along) every year and I’m not ashamed to admit that I usually shed a big-hearted tear or two at the end. Between the Whos’ handholding and joyful singing on Christmas morning, sharing the day despite the Grinch stealing everything, or the Grinch carving the roast beast for one and all – the warmth and love gets me every time! Christmas day will always be, just as long as we have we.

 

Suggested accompaniment – Absinthe, to match the zany, whimsical trippiness that is Whoville. And because it’s green, duh.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

How can you not identify with Charlie Brown? This poor kid, stuck in his own head, over analyzing why he just can’t get into the Christmas spirit. Now that I’m an adult (and a childless adult at that) I definitely struggle to feel the true spirit of the season (which is usually my cue to put on How the Grinch Stole Christmas). I know this Christmas special is pretty religious, what with Linus quoting the bible and all, but there’s just something about the kindness those kids show Charlie Brown at the end that keeps me coming back.

 

Suggested accompaniment – A hot toddy, to match the cozy comfort of this holiday classic.

 

Home Alone

I’m sure every 90’s kid gets where I’m coming from on this one. Sure, it’s unrealistic at times (not to mention sadistic!) but, like the first two I’ve talked about, it’s got a soft, gooey centre that gets me right into the holiday spirit. I’m not much for the booby-trapped house scenes – it’s the quiet ones that get me, like Kevin’s realization that he ‘made his family disappear’ and the conversations he has with the Santa stand-in and his scary not-really-a-serial-killer next door neighbour that make me watch it year after year.

 

Suggested accompaniment – Egg nog. Straight up if you’re 8 years old. Spiked if you’re not.

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

As you can tell, I tend to gravitate toward the more mushy holiday classics, so it took me a long time to realize the genius of this movie. But I’m sure glad I did. Between the ridiculous dinner scene (that turkey! the grandparents!), the marathon bad-to-worse tobogganing episode, the hilariously off-kilter neighbours, and Gus Griswold finally losing it at the end, this movie is non-stop hilarity. If you have a personal aversion to schmaltz or come from a family that is less than perfect (and who among us doesn’t?) then this movie is for you.

 

Suggested accompaniment – Beer. The cheaper the better.

 

White Christmas

Speaking of schmaltz, there is nothing more schmaltzy than a heartfelt Christmas classic chock full of songs written by an iconic Jewish songwriter. Enter White Christmas. My mom and I are locked in an eternal debate over which is better – White Christmas or Holiday Inn – but this is my blog so you get White Christmas. It manages to have a WWII plot line, excellent musical numbers and a fair amount of romance (it is a golden-era Hollywood movie, after all). Plus, how can you say no to Rosemary Clooney, and snow?? Don’t try, just watch and enjoy.

 

Suggested accompaniment – A sparkling wine cocktail, which you can sip while pretending to be at General Waverly’s swanky celebration. My fave is cava poured over a splash of St. Germain. If you’re feeling extra fancy you can put a raspberry in the bottom of the glass.

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

I have to admit, this movie is not one of my favourites – even I have my sappiness limits! But I still acknowledge its status a mainstay of the holiday movie pantheon. You don’t even have to seek it out, I’m sure it’ll be airing non-stop on Christmas Eve and Day on some tv channel or other. You could probably spend a full 24 hours listening to Clarence’s sage advice, watching the rise and fall (and return) of Bedford Falls, and listening to George and Mary singing about dancing ‘by the light of the moon’.

 

Suggested accompaniment – Mulled wine, because I’ve decided that’s what they’re all drinking as they toast George Bailey at the end and declare him ‘the richest man in town’.

 

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-advent

 

What are your top holiday movies?

 

Beer, Wine

My Wine & Beer Wish List

You’ve been introduced to some gift ideas for the wine lover in your life. Now it’s my turn – here is my own personal wine-and-beer-related wish list.

 

Sparkling Wine

What holiday is complete without bubbly? A bottle of sparkling always makes a good gift, especially when all you really know about someone is that they like wine. The bubbles somehow make everything special .

 

BaillyLapierreSparkling

 

This sparkling is a cremant de Bourgogne, which means it’s a sparkling from the Burgundy region of France and made in the traditional method used to make Champagne. Which means it’s delicious. Plus, look at that gorgeously sunny yellow label! Instant festivity.

 

Society of Beer Drinking Ladies Swag

The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies is an awesome group that was borne out of five womens’ desire to get beer-drinking women together in an atmosphere that doesn’t assume all we want are light beers and only drink it because of or boyfriends. The SOBDL, now nearing the end of its second year, holds a ‘bevvy’ every month exclusively for women to get together and drink beers you can’t find anywhere else.

 

Plus, they have swag! Toques, glassware, hoodies and even Christmas ornaments. I’m partial to the purple t-shirt, myself.

 

Wine Charms

An item that combines my love for wine and my love to Harry Potter? How can I resist!

 

HarryPotterwinecharms

Adorable!

 

Wine charms are great to have in a drawer somewhere for parties or random Thursday night gatherings. As someone whose mother is constantly taking her wine glass (inadvertently, I’m sure), wine charms are handy for knowing where your glass is, and who’s picked it up by mistake.

 

For similarly geek-minded friends, this company also has Super Mario, Frozen, and even Ninja Turtles charms. Let the nerdy wine enjoyment commence!

 

Port or Scotch

Grahams20yroldTawny-Benromach10yrold

 

The holidays are a time when I like to take advantage of the specialness and indulge in something different. For me that means port and scotch, and I’m lucky that there is often a bottle of something yummy under the tree for me.

 

This port is 20 years old, which already makes it a treat. On top of that, it’s a tawny, which means it’s been aged in wood barrels and has a nuttiness to its flavour. One of these features would be enough to make me interested so having both goes even further toward this port earning a place on my wish list.

 

This scotch, on the other hand, is one of my favourites. I’ve had the pleasure and luck to travel to Scotland twice, and both times I’ve gotten to know some of the wonderful whiskies that country has to offer. Benromach is a delicious single malt Speyside scotch. In their words it’s ‘not too wee and not too big’ and while that may make it sound too middle of the road to be enjoyable, let me assure you that is not the case. Instead this scotch is delightfully Goldilocks-ish – enough scotchiness to warm you from the inside out but still gentle enough to make you want to keep sipping.

 

A Winter Beer SamplerBlackCreekNutceackerPorter-GLBWinterAle

Ah, winter, the time where I turn away from saisons and wheat beers and embrace the depth and heaviness of stouts and porters. This Porter comes highly recommended from my beer-drinking friends and therefore have been on my list for a month or so now. I’m looking forward to seeing picking it up from my local LCBO so I can give it a go. The Great Lakes Brewery winter ale is a mainstay of my cold-weather roster. With its baking spices and orange peel, it’s a great winter warmer.

GranvilleWinterAle-MuskokaWinterBeardStout

This Granville Island brew is my current favourite winter ale, with great body and a spiciness that makes me think of chewy gingerbread – a great counterpoint to the chilly air and snowy landscape. Like the porter, this stout comes highly recommended but for some reason I haven’t given it a chance before. Well, no more – I bought one a couple of weeks ago and can’t wait for the perfect quiet winter night to enjoy it.

 

I could go on, of course, but I’ll leave it at that – for now.
What’s on your wish list?

Red Wine

Nothing Says ‘Holidays’ like Mulled Wine

I love the holidays. Clementines, pine trees inside the house, ornaments, the food (my god, the food!), the lights – I want it all! One of the things I love most about the holiday lead-up is mulled wine. It’s something I only have a couple of times a year so, like lots of holiday things, it’s pretty special.

 

A year or two ago my wonderful friend Katie gave me mulling spices and I’ve been breaking them out over the holidays ever since. Along with the spices she also gave me a simple recipe for mulled wine, which is the one I use when making this delicious drink.

 

mulled wine recipe

Easy peasy! (click to enlarge)

 

This past weekend I invited some friends over to decorate my apartment for the holidays and decided to tempt them into manual labour by offering to brew (is it brew?) up some mulled wine.

 

LesJamellesMulledWine

All ready to go.

 

Let me tell you – it is incredibly easy to make mulled wine! As long as you follow the recipe, anyway. The first time I made it I decided that, since I don’t like oranges, I would omit the zest and juice the recipe calls for. Big mistake – turns out that citrus flavour is kind of crucial! I learned this the hard way when I tasted the wine – something about the heat and the spices and the lack of citrus to balance it made it taste completely sour and downright gross! It’s still a running joke between my mom and I – hot sour wine! HOT SOUR WINE! Anyway, take it from me and don’t omit the citrus.

 

MulledWineSpices

Citrus – a crucial ingredient.

 

MulledWineintopot

Glug glug glug

 

Spicesintopot

Into the pot they go!

 

Honeyintopot

Yummy sweetness

 

Finished and ready for consumption! (Note to self: get fancy glass mugs for next batch)

Finished and ready for consumption! (Note to self: get fancy glass mugs for next batch)

 

My minimal efforts yielded a deliciously wonderful accompaniment to decorating and listening to Christmas music. My friends even brought over chocolate chip cookies! Christmas festivity achieved.

 

ChristmasTree

Cue singing in Whoville…

 

ChristmasOwl

My newest ornament – what a hoot!

 

Have you met Bruce, the Christmas moose?

Have you met Bruce, the Christmas moose?

Are you getting ready for the holidays yet?