“Tawse-ing” my senses with Ontario goodness

Last Friday evening, after a week full of wine adventures, I attended a tasting of Tawse Winery wines, hosted by the vineyard’s sommelier, Daniel Lafleur. I was excited to attend this eve for reasons outside the obvious (I mean, who doesn’t welcome a chance to try new wines?)– despite the twitter wine geekery which had already taken place between Daniel and myself, I had not yet met with him and welcomed this opportunity to finally do so! New wine, new wine-mind– it was a win/win situation from the first scent, through to the finish. ;)
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Speaking candidly with Daniel about the philosophy and history of wines produced at Tawse, he gave me a thorough insight into the standards, viticultural methods, and the vineyards, themselves. Winner of Canadian Winery of the year for three years running, 2010-2012, this family-owned winery situated on the lower slopes of the Niagara escarpment operates under 100% organic and biodynamic methods of production. Their wines are crafted through old-growth vines with low-yield vines and the quality shines through. If you have not had the opportunity to visit this vineyard or taste any of its wines, I certainly recommend that you add it near the top of your list.

The tasting featured three top wines from Tawse: two whites and a red. I have included my commentary for each wine, along with a few details about the vintage itself. I hope you find it useful to negotiate which of the three you will try first!

2010 Tawse
‘Echos’ (Sketches) Riesling, Niagara

This wine features 100% riesling grapes which are purchased by Tawse. The grapes are grown off-premisis, from vines that lie within an 8-10km radius of the vineyard in the Beamsville Bench region. Although the grapes are non-organic, the viticultural methods of production are, thus this wine still retains characteristics that are inherent among Tawse vintages.
The riesling itself was full of bright citrusy aromas, prominently grapefruit. On the palate, it maintained a refreshingly high acidity and slight tartness, which added to its lively character. On the finish, lingering citrus left me wanting more. I would serve this wine chilled, for a brunch or starter course and pair it with goat cheese and leek tart.

2010 Tawse
‘Robyn’s Block’ Chardonnay
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara

As I learned from Daniel, the Cherry Avenue Vineyard, located in the Twenty Mile Bench sub appellation, is the estate vineyard of Tawse. Each of these three blocks is named for one of the family’s children. ‘Robyn’s Block’ has been planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in separate growing seasons. This 2010 vintage is considered to be the flagship Chardonnay for Tawse. Aged 12 months in French oak (20% new oak), the wine revealed a complexity of aromatics that was fragrant but not in the least overpowering. Green apple blossom, peach, and honey, along with notes of buttery pie crust lured me in. Silky smooth without being heavy, this chardonnay had a well-balanced acidity and slight tropical fruits on the finish. Yum. Much more complimentary to serve this chardonnay just below room temperature, perhaps next to grilled white fish and avocado, pineapple, kiwi salsa? I could go for that!

2010 Tawse
Cabernet-Merlot, Niagara

The last in the series of three was this tasty red Cabernet-Merlot blend. Comprised of 58% Cabernet Franc, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Merlot grapes, and aged in new French oak, this was a lovely wine with which to wrap up my night.
Bursting with deep plum and currants, mocha, oregano and slight cigar box qualities, I was impressed at the lack of any sharp edges in this wine, which I had expected–judging from the high content of Cabernet Franc. Instead, the winemaker achieved a wine brimming full of ripe raspberry, sour cherries and smooth soft tannins, especially for such a youthful wine. On the finish, I picked up slight smoke and musty earthiness. Rare sirloin and pungent gorgonzola with a side of grilled asparagus would be my pick to serve alongside this wine. Perhaps even with hors d’oeuvres of figs stuffed with walnuts and blue cheese. If all else fails, it would be just as pleasing on its own, served at room temperature or just slightly below.

Although it is not easy for me to pick a favourite from these three very good wines, I must say that the Riesling’s citrus character won me over from the start, but all three are worth a try, should you have the opportunity. And, if so–I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Happy wining–Cheers :)

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And just when you thought you weren’t having enough wine fun…

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it…

…after all, the time will pass you by anyway.”

Cliche as it may be, as I set out to write the first post of the week this Friday evening, I can’t help but pay homage to the old adage, time sure flies when you’re having fun! Yes, it sure does, and even more so when good wine is involved. This week, I was very fortunate to experience such a delight–sprinkled amongst several opportunities to meet some fascinating people, two of the three Canadian Master Sommeliers to name just a couple. Aah, but if every week were so enticing and inspiring (strangely, in the world of wine, I’m realizing that it’s more often than not)! I am very pleased to say, I am looking forward to an array of wine events in the upcoming week, month, and years….

My week started out on a promising note as I had the chance to sip among the who’s-who of the Ontario and Canadian wine world, meeting many producers, winemakers, sommeliers and enthusiasts alike, at a fundraising event hosted by CAPS. This evening, which place at Canoe restaurant, was held to generate financial support to send two of Canada’s top sommeliers to the International World Sommelier competition being held in Tokyo, at the end of March. Attendees had the chance to win an assortment of fantastic prizes as well as bid on items during the live auction all whilst mingling with Ontario winemakers, sampling a broad spectrum of delightful local and international wines and spirits, and enjoying the chef’s artistically presented hors d’oeuvres. That evening I discovered two new favourite wines, on which I will elaborate in a separate posting.

Tuesday presented the second highlight to my week as I took part in a (my first) small blind tasting session, led by Master Sommelier Bruce Wallner and one of Canada’s top sommeliers, William Predhomme. In just under one month, Predhomme, currently the sommelier at Canoe, will be competing with his Canadian colleague, Veronique Rivest, against the top sommeliers from 55 different nations in the 14th A.S.I World’s Best Sommelier Competition. The session was my first true glimpse at the intensity and mastery that is required by top sommeliers. One must rely on astutely trained senses in order to seamlessly analyze a given wine, based on sight, smell, and taste. Then, with razor-sharp accuracy, profile the wine. It is a meticulous art–that which takes hours and years to achieve–fascinating to witness perplexing to attempt, especially for a novice. There was a nervous excitement that I experienced, rigorously analyzing the three mystery white and red wines placed before me that day, and once again, I knew, it was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The quest to achieve the title of Master Sommelier, an even more arduous and gruelling process–one that a mere 10% of those who attempt, ever manage to achieve. Speak to anyone who has ever set-out to accomplish such a feat, and they will all tell you the duress such a quest presents. Some may even caution against it, and try to talk sense into those who hunger for such a challenge. Such is the advice and response that I have received from anyone to whom I have shared this desire. Strangely enough, the more I am told no, the stronger my passion becomes. I no longer question my ability or the stubborn determination that I have to fulfil this dream. I know, without a shred of a doubt, that it is a certainty, a need, a requirement. And I am loving every minute.

Fast-forward through the rest of the week, which was a conglomeration of various wine-related activities. From learning how to really smell (ha, and you thought you knew!) to making my own flashcards to assist my learning, to reading absolutely every wine related news article that I could guide my eager eyes through, the next few days seemed to simply vanish before mine eyes. Suddenly it was Friday and I had not even met with my computer for the purpose of writing, sadly, even once! But, better late than never.

This afternoon, I took a pause in all things wine–studywise–and ventured out to a tasting that was happening at Epic Lounge. Head-sommelier of Tawse Vineyards, Daniel Lafleur, presented a trio of most delicious wines to guests, which paired nicely with the live jazz that nourished our musical souls. Daniel was most hospitable, as he entertained my many wine-related queries and gave me an in-depth perspective on each of the three wines, as well as enticing details of the 2011 vintage which has yet to be released. This tasting left me with a definitive top choice, from those I sampled this evening, and an excuse to pay a visit to this Niagara vineyard, in the near future. Thank you, Daniel! I look forward to more epic releases to come…

Tomorrow, I will post reviews of the scrumptious two whites and a red that I enjoyed earlier. Here is a sneak peak:

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Have a wine-derful Friday evening, and a restful, rejuvenating weekend to come.

Cheers!

Stop reaching out for something you don’t have, and start recognizing and remembering that you are and you have…

I loved this quote immediately upon reading it, and it made me stop and take both a mental inventory of how I do this, and to be conscientious of it throughout my day. Correspondingly so, to honour Open That Bottle Night, I carefully selected an Ontario Red as my bottle of choice–one which already occupied a place in my collection, and not something new. Too often we overlook the wonderful things/ people/ qualities/ attributes, and so on that we already possess and are right at our fingertips, always fixating on what we could have that would improve our (you fill in this blank). In my case, although there were many other enticing picks among any of the many wine retailers of which I am surrounded, remembering my new mantra to appreciate what is already within my grasp, I knew that I already had a gem awaiting me in my home. This added to my anticipation, knowing that it was going to be a surprise!

At home, I was very excited at the treasure I discovered:

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Thirty Bench Red, VQA Beamsville Bench, 2007

Dealing with this Bordeaux-style 2007 Red, I wanted to get the full sensory experience which I knew it was capable of delivering, and chose to decant half the bottle. (Why don’t I do this more often???!!!!) It was by far the best thing I could have done, as it immediately elevated what could have been a very good wine, making it a delicious selection for the night. Wafts of licorice, black currants and plums lured me in, even before tasting. On my palate this full-bodied red presented flavours of wood and lots of spice with noticeable tannins that were softened a bit by the decanting. I was very satisfied with this wine and would give it 91/100.

I will admit it was an extra boost to the wine’s existing panache, just knowing that I found so much enjoyment, not in something I didn’t have, but rather in what I already do have. Therefore, rather than my original plan of continuing to work, study, make bookmarks and countless notes on all things Bordeaux, I am adjusting that, remembering that I do have knowledge already, and am augmenting this at a rapid rate. I need not burn the figurative candle (only the unscented one beside me!) at all ends, but be kind to myself, and allow a break from my formalized structure of learning, retiring to my couch with a glass or two of Thirty Bench, and catching up with some Netflix. Of course, in this depiction of how awinegal finds relaxation, although it is indirectly implied that I will only be watching the latest episode of Damages, please, do not be mislead. Those who know me understand that my current choice of Wine texts, a bottle of nailpolish, cell phone and possibly hand cream will also be placed within my grasp. Aaah yes, the art of multi-laxing– I think it fits!

Busy day tomorrow, but hopefully I will find time to sample what is left of this Beamsville beaut and see how it has mellowed even further. I would love to put it through a blind tasting next to some ’07 Bordeaux reds as well…. But, for tonight, that shall be all…. Off to enjoy the bountiful fruits of my decanter :)

Cheers!
ac

“Wine has been with civilized man from the beginning,” Robert Mondavi

After a few days of near hibernation from the virtual world–a condensed read through of the latest in wine news and a dismal effort to follow and participate with my fellow twitter winos–I am back in business and thankful, on account. Without a doubt, I find that through blogging and being able to share my passion for wine, newly-acquired knowledge, and all of the wonderful experiences that life has to offer, I am motivated and inspired to do more learning, tasting, experiencing and discovering. But that is not enough. Once I have finished gathering and processing this new data, it is entirely impossible to keep it to myself and fight the desire to share or teach it at the first possible chance I get–and this includes striking up random conversations in the office (aka. local Starbucks)/ grocery store/ Chapters, etc, with the first unsuspecting victim that I come across. On occasion, this works to my benefit and I make some awesome new friends through my incessant and somewhat unrestricted nattering (and sometimes, well, if you haven’t heard from me recently…) Yes, without a doubt, I am an educator and student for life–maybe a professional educationist? I think it could work…..

So, my efforts through the past few days have been a combination of sorts, aimed at beginning my mastery of wine in France in terms of history/ regions/ appellation/ viticulture practices/ and, plethora of wines, both then and now, and getting over a wee bought of fatigue. Luckily, I am a feisty force to be reckoned with, and stubborn as anything, and I am feeling like my my game face is almost back! As for French wine, yeah, that’s gonna take a wee bit longer. Personally, I think experience is simply the best teacher, ne c’est pas?

As I will be doing the bulk of my homework from my Toronto-based headquarters, and that inundation into the French wine scene will have to be postponed for a future investigative journey, I have structured my course of action according to the following plan:

  • History (extremely brief and to be revisited frequently)
  • AOC
  • Geographical Regions: Classic; Important
  • Regional Characteristics, in order of importance
  • Noteworthy Producers, Wines

Thus far, I have equipped myself with a minor overview of the evolution of France’s wine industry and cultural significance, and consider myself to have an understanding of the four levels of AOC designations. Geographical regions are beginning to become second-nature, and I am feeling that I have a firm grasp on its three temperate climatic zones. Soon, the appellations within these regions will be solidified in my mind, and I will begin to know the best-suited grape varieties, wines, vineyards…. it will all come…. and then for the best part–the tasting, analyzing and critiquing–the full sommelier experience. Currently, my regional exploration has me based in Bordeaux, and will be my destination for the next day or so. The first tasting on which I will report will be a horizontal tasting of Bordeaux reds of 2009 vintages. Then, it will be onto the stunningly beautiful valleys of the Loire. And, so, the reading, researching and learning must once again, take my full attention….France

As I depart to continue my tour of France, I can’t help but offer my take on Mondavi’s impression of wine’s longstanding presence:

“Wine has been instrumental in civilizing man from the beginning.” A.C.

Cheers for a fantastic weekend….. and more posts to come :)

The Black Chook, Shiraz (96%) Viognier (4%), McLaren Vale, 2008

I decided to make a continent leap tonight and visit Australia. Southern Australia, McLaren Vale to be exact, as I cracked open a bottle of The Black Chook, Shiraz Viognier, 2008. I wasn’t sure what dimension the Viognier was to occupy as it is not the first of such combinations I have had, however, past experience has led me to approach this blend with a slight air of caution. In this case, I was certainly pleased with my findings. It leads me to conclude that it is the result of another winemaker displaying clear method to madness– evidence of backwards design (desired flavours dictating the grape varietals rather than the grapes determining the final flavour, my speculation ) for this combination, and somewhat typical stylings of new world wines. This approach can be hit or miss, depending on the vineyard and as always, the respective taster. Thus, I aim to taste with an open mind and unbiased palate.

After noting from the bottle that this wine has been aged for 12 months in French oak, and snapping a few regulatory pics of its playful label, I got the party started–and that it was! This intriguing combination of 96% shiraz/ 4% viognier proved to be a well matched duo in the glass. Another South Australian gem, the addition of the viognier grape brings a unique floral component to the existing aroma of ripe, jammy raspberries, toasted oak, and anise. Bursting with fruity red berries and spice on the palate, its well balanced tannins make this wine a definite pleaser, with or without food. Out of 100, I score this wine as 89.T

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How To Tell if You’re a #WineGeek?

As I got ready to sample some wines and chronicle my tasting notes this evening, there were a variety of events–both prior to, during, and since I’m a meticulous planner, those that would follow promptly after– took place that caused me to think “Am I a WineGeek? A through-and-through Nerd-of-All-Things-Wine?” Just to really see if I was whining about nothing, to test my hypothesis, I decided to compile a list of reasons and regular occurrences–the keyword being regular here, folks– and examine the list, after doing so. I mean, really c’mon, it’s gotta be just all in my imagination… totally NOT that bad…

Signs that You May, Truly,  Be a WineGeek

  • You want to have a hot bath, full of bubbles, and so you fill a tub full of hot water and use your favourite in your collection of various unscented bubbly bath products, since you could not possibly have lingering scented body wash as you drink your wine later–it would taint the bouquet in your glass! The same goes for scented body lotion, candles and even floral arrangements
  • You find yourself cringing when you watch a television show where the characters are drinking wine from inappropriate stemware. Don’t even get me started about restaurants that have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ glass
  • The first place you look when purchasing/renting/moving into any style of living accommodation is the kitchen–naturally you need to know that cupboard shelf height will accommodate both stemware and that there are enough drawers to support your collection of cork-stoppers, openers, etc.
  • You have so many uses for old wine-corks, you haven’t been to Home Depot in years
  • Every piece of furniture must pass a vigorous red wine stain resistance test before you even consider bringing it into your proximity.
  • Your refusal to wear anything white in the wintertime has nothing to do with the age old fashion rule that says nothing white after labour day, but everything to do with the fact that your wine consumption is 70% red-based during the winter months, and we simply cannot risk a spill
  • Should you find yourself in a pinch (or more likely someone whom you may be with) you have a Tide-to-Go touch up pen in every jacket/purse/gym bag that you own
  • You love the latest improvements to the camera on your new smartphone–it makes all of the snaps you take of wine bottles, glasses, labels that much sharper and more precise so you can read even the finest of print on that foreign label
  • You don’t ‘picnic’ or camp since its too difficult to match the appropriate glassware to match your choice of wines and then there’s the issue of perfect temperature….
  • You find yourself having dinner conversations that include the phrase “Well, I’d love a big meaty Italian–I mean, you don’t expect me to have that Valpollicella?!” (cue sharp disdain!)
  • You have memorized the wine lists for all of the places you regularly dine out, in all languages
  • Your dinner mates don’t utter a single word when you ask, “so how’s your wine?” until you have given your casual thoughts; and, finally
  • You carry around a laminated copy of both a Wine Pronunciation Guide and a Tasting Comparison Sheet, in case an of an impromptu dinner/drink with others.

Now, if you answered yes to only a few, chances are, that you may have avoided it thus far, but are on your way to becoming a true WineGeek. If, however, you can identify with this list wholeheartedly, and it is not in the least bit a stretch from reality, then congratulations, WineGeeksUnite!

I think we may need to start an annual conference….. Who’s with me here?

Cheers and Happy Sipping!

“Holidaaay!!!” Aaaahh, love Sunday number 2

Here is a great article I stumbled onto, on one of my new favourite foodie sights. If you’ve ever been scared to order wine and come off like a geek (or maybe you don’t know it…) here’s an article to set things straight Wine Survival Guide.

Happy reading, and catch up later….

Cheers!

Blustery winter mornings and the elusive concept of “somewhereness”

It took more than a little bit of convincing this morning to drag myself out from under my warm covers, but luckily for technological luxuries, I can still be productive without feet even touching ground! Steve Jobs, to you (or all of those poor, underpaid souls who worked for you) I send utmost appreciation and thank-you for so skillfully marketing and convincing me that the iPad would change my life–I hate to admit it, but it has.

With so many areas of interest in the world of oenology, and after reading an article by journalist Bill Zacharkiw, wine critic for the Montreal Gazette (Wine reflects culture, place, and time), I have been paying much needed attention to the illustrious concept of place, or as termed by Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, somewhereness. By this, one is referring to more than simply the country, region or even terroir of any given wine, but to all of those elements applied in combination with the winemaker’s viticultural techniques– from grape harvest to fermentation, the time and methods of aging, etc– and all of the other interminable, undefinable factors that bring the wine to life. Sometimes, the best wines may have been the result of a poor harvest, wherein the winemaker was forced to employ their very best imagination, and think “outside-the-box”, improvising the way to a wine with bold character and nuances that cannot be pinpointed other than to say it has a certain Joie de vivre like no other. This is what I would call somewhereness.

We have all heard that “sometimes the greatest discoveries are simply results of the biggest mishaps.” I would boldly venture to suggest that the same can be said for wine production. That sometimes, the best, most notable wine may stray from textbook perfection, however in doing so, may exhibit unique characteristics that makes it such a gem…. Cue, once again, a wine’s place and its somewhereness. Better yet, its living soul. Just as one would describe a technically proficient, yet masterfully expressive musician’s performance– although, arguably deficient to some, exquisite to others. This intangible quality is one that speaks more to our hearts than our technically structured minds. Somehow, it just connects and resounds…

In the end, we should not lose sight of the fact that wine tasting, though a meticulous, skillful practice and art that takes years to cultivate and decades to master, is subjective to each individual taster. What I may love, another may forgo and so on. Everyone has a certain tasting profile, and preference, and in the end, we know best what makes our senses sing and hearts happy. The best wine may be one that is highly revered by a Master Sommelier (we have two Canadian superstars, fyi, who will be competing in Tokyo in March: Canadian Sommelier Olympics), one which I rave and recommend or simply one that sits in your collection, picked up on an impromptu trip to a small, out-of-the-way winery, and boasts memories galore. So often, the wines that make the biggest impression in my memory, are the wines that have stories to go with them. Whatever it may be, find it–search for it– and be passionate about it. Share it with others, take time to savour it in your glass: its aromatics qualities, its hue, and then, how it feels and awakens your taste buds. Let the wine come to life.

I am not sure what is on my tasting menu for the day, but whatever it may be, I can’t wait to savour the adventure….

Cheers!

Waving the white (and green and red) flag….

So just when you thought that drinking an Italian white wine meant being relegated to either a flute of bubbly Asti or a drier Soave, I bring forth new wonder from the Piemonte region of Italy. Presenting Gavi, a dry white wine made from the Cortese grapes, and sheer delight in your glass!

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2011, Podere Saulino, Gavi, DOCG
LCBO, Vintages Product ID 305490

My first impressions came as soon as I uncorked the wine, as the aromatic tendencies of this wine came to life! Light and citrusy, with notes of fresh grapes and apricot, the wine had a crisp acidity and undertones of vanilla. Perfect about a half hour out of the fridge, and would be an awesome summertime sipper. Definitely a great match for turkey or ham at Easter, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Definitely one I will be keeping on hand.

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