Thank God for Friends – there when you need them.

I’ve been away from this blog for a bit…all good intentions to write, and then something inevitably comes up.

Life has a way of kicking you when you’re down. I’m not sure if any can relate, but it seems that things happen, and it’s not fair. Like maybe you were in the wrong, but you got hurt and are now being penalized for it? This just happened to my daughter. She got hurt, but she’s the one who has to pay, and ultimately so do we as a family.

But as Bill Gates said; “Life is not fair; get used to it”. Life plays no favourites, that is sure.

When something bad happens to a member of your family, the most natural thing is to hide and/or not tell anyone. For me, it’s about being alone, staying at home and just not being around people, especially my friends. My daughter had planned to go to a movie with her friends today, but informed me she was no longer going. I asked why, and she told me that she doesn’t want to talk about it and wants it all to go away. It also makes me incredibly angry, that all the blame seems to shift one way, when it should clearly be shared. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and I remind myself to be the better person. I stumbled upon this quote this morning and it gives me hope: my girl IS the better person here, and she will overcome this. I encouraged her that going out with friends is probably the BEST way to not think about what happened and the first steps to moving beyond it.

 

My choice for this evening’s wine tasting

But wait a minute. As I’m telling her to go out with her friends, I myself just want to go home after work and not see or talk to anyone. Well thank God for friends…tonight is my monthly wine tasting with fellow classmates, and it’s one of the nights every month I really look forward to. And life must be pretty bad for me to want to miss a tasting of Southern Italy! Yup, not only my favourite country, but some of the grapes I love the most as well, and I am willing to miss it because I feel bad for my daughter and for myself? The show must go on, life goes on, so yes…I will go and taste some (I’m sure) amazing wines along with my fave(Nerello Mascalese) being included in the lineup.

Later today, my girl is going to the movies with her friends, and maybe even a sleepover too. Yes, life goes on, and so must we.

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International Albariño Day

It’s International Albariño Day! I’m so glad they give this grape its due course and deservedly so! It’s crisp, refreshing tropical fruit wines are perfect for a hot summer day to sip on the patio, share a glass with a girlfriend, or to indulge in one of the most magical of pairings: Salt and Vinegar chips!

I once did a wine tasting for a baby shower (yes, you read correctly) where this was the third baby, and what else do you do for a mother who has just given birth to her third daughter? Give her a wine tasting, and then buy her wine! And when said wine goes fantastic with salt ‘n’ vinegar chips, you’ve got a winner! Winning wine? Albariño!

You might also know this grape as Alvarinho, found in northern Portugal, which is where the grape actually originates, but also found over the border in the Galicia district and known here as Albariño, it is considered to be among the oldest varieties of the northwest. This grape is dominant in the DO of Rias Biaxes, and like many other grapes from this area it’s hot, hot, hot! You might find aromas and flavours that run the gamut of both fruity and floral – orange, grapefruit, peach and sometimes even green apple, passionfruit and mango to honeysuckle, orange blossom, lemongrass and acacia blossom; the acidity can be racy on wines made with albariño, but the firm structure and full body keeps it all in balance. There can even be a saline tang detectable on these wines, no doubt due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

There might be many albariño wines on the market, but these two are great!

La Liebre y La Tortuga (the Tortoise and the Hare)– a clever little name for a nice little bottle of wine! Grapes are hand picked from selected sites. Aromatic with passionfruits and green apple with bright, zesty acidity and super fresh! All this goodness for only $23!

Columna Albariño – want to kick it up a notch? Well, if you’re a “label buyer”, this one is gorgeous with the butterfly alone making you want to to pick up this wine! But the juice inside is stunning with bright and fresh tropical fruits along with a floral note, but full body, high acidity and a long mineraly finish! $30

Enjoy any Albariño you try today, and crack open a bag of salt ‘n’ vinegar chips while you’re at it! Happy Albariño Day and Salud!

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Collisioni – A collision of music, wine…and food!

Collisioni 2017 is in the books with successful concerts from Placebo and Robbie Williams, readings from poets, authors and actors, and copious amounts of wine tasted along with a new initiative this year:  Progetto Food.

The vast Barolo countryside

For me, this was my first trip, not only to Piedmont, but to Collisioni itself. What an incredible region with its vast expanse of prestigious vineyard land, dotted with town castles to indicate the various Cru of Barolo wine. At this event, there was opportunity to not only taste wine of the region, but wines of other consorzio and regions who were present to have us taste their wine. With eight days of wine tastings and winery visits, (the festival itself is four days) I came home with a little more knowledge about Italian wines than when I left.

Barolo Castle and Village

The village of Barolo, with its 700 year round inhabitants, grows exponentially with people arriving from all over the world to participate in its cultural, gastronomical and ‘around-the-boot’ tastings of Italian wine. The Progetto Wine Project has become a permanent fixture to the festival under the direction of Ian D’Agata, who is the creative director of the wine and food entity of Collisioni. D’Agata brought in about 70 experts from different parts of the world including sommeliers, retailers, importers, directors, restaurant owners and wine writers to participate in the various tastings and winery visits. What a privilege to be included in a top-notch group of people, many of whom I consider friends.

My most favourite part of visiting any new region and participating in wine tastings is about the native grapes of Italy. I was able to add to my “collection” of grapes that I have tried:  Vernaccia Nera from Serrapetrona in the Marche, the whites of Bellone, Malvasia Puntinata and Moscato di Terracina, along with the red Nero Buono from Lazio, Petite Arvine from Valle D’Aosta, and Ortrugo from Emilia-Romagna, just to name a few. Of course, there were the classics of the region like Barolo, Barbaresco from the Nebbiolo grape, as well as Dolcetto, Barbera, Arneis and Favorita. In the end, it amounted to well over 250 wines tasted between informative panel discussions and winery tastings/visits. To also taste the local cuisine of Piemonte is almost a requirement as the vast array of dishes are bound to be served at least once a day!

Collisioni is surely a wino and foodie dream come true, and to be a part of such an event was a remarkable experience, but in order for it to be remarkable, it must be shared with like-minded professionals and those with whom I am honored to call “friends”! Salute!

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My Favourite Grape…

I am often asked what my favourite wine is, and my standard answer is always… “whatever is in my glass.” That may seem cliché to a lot of people, but I can never pick just one wine. There are usually circumstances surrounding a great glass of wine, and typically it includes fabulous people, and those circles constantly move and change. People, places, time and circumstance are always part of an amazing glass of wine.

I was however, asked the question, “if you could be any grape, what grape would you be?” and without a moment’s hesitation, I answered, which surprised he who asked. After studying thousands of grape varieties, how could I narrow it down to just one grape? For me, it was easy…

I like this grape so much that I got a tattoo of it! Now that’s real commitment right?! Seriously though, every time I look at my arm, and see those grapes, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. Unlike many in this business, I’m a virtual baby, only really being in the wine trade for six years, but I’m also older than many in my business. I have spent a lot of time, money, tears, and life events sacrificed to finish all the education, and to have the career and job that I have. Just like my favourite grape Nerello Mascalese, I’ve had to work really hard to get to where I am now.

My family has encouraged me to share this story, because much of it defines who I am in the wine world and all that I’ve accomplished along the way.

Nerello Mascalese grapes

Loving this grape has nothing to do with its recent rise in popularity, due to its home in Italy: Sicily. Sicilian wine varietals seem to be all the rage these days and Nerello Mascalese is no exception. Grown (mostly) on the southern slopes of the active volcano Etna, vines grow here even at a thousand meters above sea level. It can get pretty chilly up there, but still it grows, and vigourously too! Pick the grapes too early, and the tannins are green and unbearable, so de-leafing for extra sun exposure to help in the ripening process is an absolute must. But because they grow so high up in elevation, sunburn is a real risk, so choosing the exact right time to do this (de-leafing) is the key to the grapes gaining full phenolic ripeness. Even at full ripeness, the tannins could still become a real concern, so crush times can’t be too long (this is where the skins extract the colour and tannin into the wine) and the fermentation temps must stay fairly low. The vine goes through a lot of stress, the rains of spring and just before harvest, along with the stress of drought due to summer heat. All of these things affect the size, weight and ripening of the berries. This grape has to go through a lot of stuff before it’s even harvested.  Not to mention there’s always a smoking gun in the background – you never know when it might blow!

The reward for this tough slug? Some exciting wine that tastes of sour cherry, herbs, tobacco, smoke and some flinty-pencil-shaving-minerality that comes from that volcanic soil. Pretty amazing I’d say, first of all, that a grapevine can actually grow in those (sometimes) harsh conditions, and second of all, that the wine made from this grape is pretty darn outstanding. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Nerello Mascalese. It was a life altering moment, and since that day, I’ve featured the grape in many tastings, and have sold copious amounts of it.

In the end, hard work pays off.

Just like me…and I’m loving every minute of it!

You’re my one and only Nerello Mascalese! You will always be my favourite! Salute!

Me with my brother-in-law enjoying the Nerello Mascalese (he is btw, a Pinot lover, and this grape suited him just fine, as it’s very “pinot-esque”!

 

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Some Interesting (& lesser known) Italian Grapes

Nothing says interesting like Italian grape varieties, and these two are no exception with some new offerings brought in that are actually quite perfect for “patio” whites and all this hot summer weather we’ve been having!

Bombino bianco is most well known from Puglia, although it can also be grown in the regions of Marche, Lazio, Sardinia, Umbria, Campania, and where today’s featured wine is from; Emilia-Romagna. But there’s also a bit of a conundrum with this grape…is it called pagadebit, or mostosa, and better yet, the Pagadebit di Romagna wine is made with…what exactly? We certainly know that bombino bianco is a distinct grape variety, but this mostosa…is it the same grape as pagadebit? But wait a minute…I thought pagadebit was bombino bianco?

Ian D’Agata in his book Native Grapes of Italy states:…”at our present state of knowledge, we can say that mostosa is empibotte, but not bombino bianco. It is also likely to be pagadebit.”

All of these weird and wonderful grapes are called such for a reason: the grape name empibotte, means “fill the barrels, and pagadebit means “pay the debt”. Called such, because even during bad weather years, the grape is so productive that farmers count on this wine to pay off some debt! Light and refreshing, and only 12% abv, it makes it easy to sip this wine on the patio. Great lemony citrus aromas and flavours along with stony minerality and herbaceous notes of thyme and rosemary. Some added sauvignon blanc boosts the acidity! It’s not meant to be super complicated, this wine is both easy on the palate AND on the budget! Only $21 CAD on my shelf!

Orvieto is the famous white wine from Umbria typically made with grechetto, but only part of it. This grape also suffers from being hard to identify. The grechetto we speak of is Grechetto di Orvieto, however, some of these vines planted in Umbria just might be pignoletto, another native of both Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. And, it is almost always a blend, the wine being a mixture of both Grechetto di Orvieto and Grechetto di Todi.

This particular wine is a blend, but perhaps not what one might think. This is a blend of 50% grechetto, 20% sauvignon blanc, 20% vermentino and 10% procanico! Most people think of Orvieto as being semi-sweet or ambabile, but this one is most certainly not. Perhaps just a touch of sweetness on the tip of the tongue, that would be barely perceptible, and only to the most seasoned of tasters. But very refreshing with aromas and flavours of lemon, chamomile, and notes of blossom. Great high, zesty acidity that cleanses your palate and leaves you wanting another sip! A great wine for sipping on the patio, and the price too, is $21 CAD on the shelf!

Confusing? I know the geeky stuff might be too much, but concentrate on the taste profile (AND the price) and you’ll definitely want a bottle or two of these wines! Salute!

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