Wines To Warm From the Inside Out!

It seems every year about this time,we have a cold snap, and we are rendered immobile for a week or two at a time, usually between the dates of December 26-to around mid-February. We got lucky this year and enjoyed a mild December and even January started out relatively balmy…until Saturday. Temperatures fell to -26C (for my American friends who speak Fahrenheit, that’s -14.8F) That’s during the day. Tonight, it will plummet to -38C. I know that when we get to -40C, it’s the same in Fahrenheit! In other words… freaking cold. Schools are still in session, city transit still runs, and if our cars are“plugged in”, they start with ease. We learn to adapt here. Big hoods, long underwear, boots that come up to our knees especially made to withstand the harsh cold tundra, scarves, bulky mitts…you name it to wear to keep warm, we own it! It’s business as usual, and unless you CAN’T start your vehicle, you’re at work at the required time!

I don’t know about you, but when it’s this cold, I don’t want to go anywhere. As soon as the time clock dings after my eight hours, I’m heading home to change into my cozy jammy bottoms, and hunker down under a large, thick blanket with the TV on and a glass of my favourite full-bodied red. If I had a fireplace, that’d be stoked too!

So what’s in your glass if you’re in a place that gets so cold your nose hairs freeze?

Here are four recommended selections that are sure to warm you from the inside out!

2015 Tridente Tempranillo- Spain

From the Gil Family Estates, the Bodegas Tridente winery, located in the Castilla y Leon territory in Northwest Spain, makes this massive tempranillo from old vines cultivated on very sandy soils covered with gravel in a hot area of the Duero Valley. The grapes are small (old vines will eventually give smaller and smaller berries and/or yields), with loads of concentrated flavours of black cherry and black berry. It’s also aged in French oak for 15 months, so it also has huge aromas and flavours of cinnamon and nutmeg spice, along with dark chocolate. At a whopping 16%abv, it’s almost like drinking port, and sure to warm you up nicely!  SR $26CAD

 2016 1000 Stories, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel – United States

This Zinfandel is bursting with field berry fruit flavours, and then made more complex with the addition of ageing in ex American bourbon barrels. In order for a bourbon to be labelled as “Kentucky Straight”, it requires (among other things), to be aged in a NEW charred American white oak barrel, that is only used once. After the bourbon gets put into the bottle, the barrels are obsolete. But not to worry, used barrels are a great commodity to other areas of the liquor industry, specifically this winery, which in the past, used to neutralize the flavours before using the barrels, but now, they are used to add those complex flavour nuances that come from the bourbon itself previously aged inside the barrel. This 1000 Stories wines uses small lots Mendocino fruit with ageing first in traditional French and American Oak before being transitioned into the bourbon barrels.  The charred, smoky vanilla from the bourbon barrel merges with the dried fig, dried cherry, plum and cigar box of the wine to create an overall warming sensation that is sure to have your senses tingling!  SR $26CAD

2014 Nugan Estate Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz- Australia

Alfredo Nugan, originally from Spain, went to Australian in the late 1930’s with a vision to create a great new life for his family. Of course, the name Nugan Estates is now synonymous with successful enterprise Down Under. Now in its third generation, this Spanish family is maintaining family traditions and sharing passion for good wine. Like the amarone style of Italy, a portion of the Shiraz grapes were dried on specialized racks to increase flavour intensity and concentration. Maturation took place in both American and French oak for 18 months giving this wine further structure and intensity. Dense ruby colour, you’ll find warming aromas of cherry, plum, chocolate and herbaceous notes, while your palate will be enticed by further warm and rich flavours complemented by the velvety smooth tannins at the finish.  This wine will no doubt put a fire (the good kind) in your belly!  SR $29 CAD

2010 Cantine due Palme Selvarossa- Italy

Salice Salentino is a region in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot that grows mostly Negro Amaro, a red grape that has multiple personalities – some of the best rosati is made with this grape, yet it also yields rich, dark red wine! This wine has “Terra” on the label, and only the best vintages of Selvarossa are marked with this. Ancient negro amaro vines are hand harvested from the red clay soils, and also like the amarone style, a portion are sent to the drying racks to increase flavour concentration.  With the addition of malvasia nera to soften the harsh tannins, the combination of appassimento fruit and fresh fruit are blended together, with time first in French oak barriques, then finished in stainless steel to preserve freshness. The end result is a rich, thick, full bodied wine that is most assuredly able to warm you from the inside out with aromas and flavours of ripe cherries and plums, along with hints of vanilla, and the classic negro amaro spice and shoe polish! SR $35 CAD

Buy your wine on your way TO work, so you can go straight home after work to hunker down and enjoy your wine! Stay warm people!

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The World of Italian Wine: Where Do I Begin? #Italian FWT

Traditionally, other than pinot grigio, moscato and prosecco, the world of Italian wine is largely misunderstood and honestly, intimidating. Yes, those that follow scores will undoubtedly understand Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone and Barolo, but what about the unsung hero grapes like aglianico, verdicchio, negro amaro or nerello mascalese?

When I was studying Italian grapes, there was 690 registered grape varieties in Italy, with about another 470 identified but not yet registered, which totals over 1000 grape varieties in one country alone. To this point that number on both counts has likely risen. There is  probably over 700 registered grapes by now, and perhaps a few more identified, which still leaves us at that staggering number. No wonder Italy is confusing.

I often get asked by many, “I want to start trying Italian wine, where do I start?” This is a perfect topic to start the year off, and many new people to this group reading our posts/tweets will have a whole list of wines they’d like to try, made with Italian native grapes!

When I go to the Vinitaly Trade Show in Verona every year, I make it my mission to try as many native grapes as possible, or to revisit some of the more rare ones that I can ONLY taste in Italy! Grapes like ortrugo, moscato rosa, pelaverga, durella and lagrein are not often seen in market, but are incredibly fun and educational to try when in Italy!

To start your foray into Italian wine, let’s start with something fun!

Brachetto – native to Piemonte, the grape grows mostly around the town of Acqui (Monferatto too) area and will have Brachetto d’Acqui on the label. This wine was never meant to be sparkling (the still, dry versions are spectacular) but the frizzante style has made it incredibly appealing and sellable. The frizzante style has also helped put Brachetto on the map, so to speak. One of the few aromatic red grapes, it’s like drinking red berry fruit cocktail, with rose aroma and fizz! Delightful! Perfect for those that want something besides moscato and as a dessert wine, it pairs beautifully with chocolate covered strawberries! If you can get your hands on a bottle of brachetto, I guarantee you will love it!

La Gironda is proud of their area of Monferatto/Nizza, where some of the best wines of the world are made! They are a completely sustainable vineyard with no herbicides/pesticides, hand harvesting, and reduced consumption of environmental resources! That’s the whole package folks, and ALL the wines from their portfolio are simply amazing. If you have a chance to find them in your market, I highly recommend trying ALL of them!

White wine (other than those mentioned above) from Italy is often a tough sell. I must confess that before I started really studying wine, all Italian white wine tasted like bitter almonds, but this was because I didn’t understand the grape(s) and didn’t know what I was looking for! This is a myth. There are some white wines that offer a great deal of complexity in the glass with different flavour profiles. The other myth is that white wine doesn’t age. Period. I know this is a myth because I’ve had a LOT of Italian white wines with significant age on them and they were beautiful, complex and stunning. One such grape is Verdicchio.

Verdicchio – from the Marche region on the Adriatic coast, labels will have Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi or Verdicchio di Matelica. There is a difference in the flavour, with Jesi being closer to the sea and grown on hillsides, with fuller, rounder wines,  whereas Matelica is mountainous and cool, so the wines tend to be more mineral and austere with higher acidity. Both of these have lees ageing though, which is what sets Verdicchio apart. Lees is the dead yeast cells, and after the yeast has finished changing the sugars to alcohol, it falls to the bottom of the barrel as lees. The lees stays in the wine and is stirred in to add texture and mouth feel to the final product. Verdicchio is one of the few wines that has the ability to age. No small feat for white wine. I have tasted Verdicchio back to 1998 and the acid structure is still incredibly high, but the typical flavours of pears, yellow apples (and yes, almond) have changed to a rich butterscotch and sponge toffee aroma and flavour. And like any white wine with age, dark in colour.

Lorenzo Marotti Campi of Marotti Campi wines, showcases several Verdicchio in the portfolio, but when I have chardonnay drinkers approach me for something different, Lorenzo’s Salmariano Verdicchio is always the first wine I think of! With 20% aged in oak barrels and the other 80% done typically in stainless steel with lees contact, it’s got the best of both worlds in freshness and mouth feel. The stainless ageing keeps it fresh and lively, yet the small amount in oak gives it the warm, glycerol, full body, rich mouth feel that often comes from drinking full bodied white wines – a perfect transition for the chardonnay drinker to try something Italian!

L-R- Verdicchio (di Castelli di Jesi), Etna Bianco (Carricante), Brachetto, Cannonau – photo MJH

Carricante – This, my friends, is another ageable Italian white grape! Carricante you say? Where the heck is this from? If you’ve heard of Mt Etna and have had either white or red from the region, you have most assuredly had Carricante! Labeled Etna Bianco, there can be an additional 30% of a grape called cataratto, but the best of Etna Bianco are 100% carricante and a must try Italian wine! Normally I would talk about the red grape of Mt Etna (because it happens to be my favourite), but a recent trip to Sicily and the Mt Etna area, gave me a view through the microscope of this fabulous region. Wines from Sicily are hot, hot, hot right now, but none more so than the grapes of Mt. Etna. Carricante can grow up to 1000m, yet still ripen in these cool, mountainous temperatures. All that to say…don’t worry so much about finding Carricante to drink, rather the wine labeled Etna Bianco. Expect to find racy lemony flavours, along with green apple, chamomile and hints of aniseed, and that ever present minerality. As these wines age, they tend to develop that “Riesling-like” quality of petrol or diesel fuel.

Pietradolce is a winery on the northern slopes of Mt Etna, which as one might think, is cooler than other parts of the mountain.  It’s also one of the more prestigious areas, so wines coming from the northern slopes seem to have a certain caché about them. Their 100% Etna Bianco wine is eye catching because it is the bottle with “scribbles on the label”, which represents the explosive energy of the volcano itself! (The red has red scribbles and the rosé, pink scribbles, making these bottles easily recognizable). Using a combination of rich local traditions and modern winemaking techniques, Pietradolce is making a name for itself in an area that is becoming a force to be reckoned with (just like the volcano, haha!)

Cannonau– aka Grenache, aka Garnacha. The ongoing battle between the Spaniards and Italians on the origins of this grape is still going strong! Everyone, it seems, (in Italy and Spain anyway) is looking for some sort of historical documentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this grape existed first in their country. The Sardinians will strongly tell you that the genetic make-up of this grape will tell you it’s Italian! However, no one wants to know about all that technical stuff! This post is about what to try when starting the adventure into Italian wine! I picked this grape, because no matter where it’s made, it offers some pretty juicy red fruits that are packed full of flavor, and this wine is no exception. This is the entry level wine from this producer (which is ALWAYS a good place to start), but it is still made from estate grapes; fermented AND aged in stainless steel, which I always feel is a place for folks to start too, not to get bogged down by additional flavours and textures added by an oak barrel.  The wine has super juicy red fruit flavours along with notes of cinnamon spice, white pepper and a soft, velvety mouth feel. In my market, it runs about $17CAD, which is amazing value for a wine this good!

These are just examples of producers who make wines from the above grapes, but if you’re the least bit curious, I challenge you to go find some of these wines made from Italian native grapes and take the plunge to drinking Italian wine! Some you might like, others you might not like at all. That’s ok! I always encourage folks to “get out of their wine box” and try something new! Plus, there are a lot more ideas, and other native grapes from my fellow #ItalianFWT bloggers; check out their blogs below!

  • Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Sips and Eats Around the Boot: A Primer to Italian Wines and Pairings”
  • Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Introducing the Diversity of Italian Wine”
  • Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Ringing in the New Year with Loved Ones and Prosecco
  • Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Sharing Lugana DOC – Winter Whites With Friends
  • Gwen at Wine Predator shares “4 To Try in 2020: Italy’s Franciacorta, Fruili, Chianti, Mt. Etna
  • Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Why the Wines and Food of Custoza DOC are Some of Veneto’s Many Pleasures”
  • Susannah at Avvinare shares “Three Noble Red Grapes that Help to Navigate the Italian Peninsula”
  • Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “What exactly IS this Italian grape?”
  • Jen at Vino Travels shares “The Beginnings to Understanding Italian Wine”
  • Kevin at Snarky Wine shares “Cutting Your Teeth on Italian Wines”
  • Katarina at Grapevine Adventures shares “3 Grapes to Get a Beginner’s Taste of Italian Wine”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Italian Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
  • Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here”

Join us for our Saturday Twitter chat also won’t you? Salute!



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Etna and the power of the Contrada

The French had it figured out for centuries. Burgundy was pinot noir. White Burgundy is made with chardonnay, Sancerre with sauvignon blanc, and Vouvray with chenin blanc. Beaujolais is gamay, while Champagne is the classic blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunière. The consumer is getting smarter and they know the difference. So why has it taken Italy so long to adapt these same ideas of “place” instead of “grape”? Italian wines as we know it, usually label their wines ‘grape from place’. Other than Barolo/Barbaresco and Chianti Classico, for example, wines from other parts of Italy are simply known by their grape variety name.

Etna wines have been around for a long time. About 30 years ago you could practically give them away. Now, with the power of the Contrada, the producers promoting the area, and the volcano itself, there’s definitely a cache to these wines that there never was before. There are 133 officially recognized contrade on Etna, some being more famous than others. Some quite large, and others small. In the end, it has become a great marketing tool and Etna wines with contrada labeling can now associate themselves with other great Italian wines of the world.

The great Etna volcano- Photo MJH

Speaking of contrada, this term can only be used if the grapes come from that specific contrada. The producers of Etna are very serious about where they grow their grapes, how old the vines are, the way they vinify said grapes, and then how they promote the final product to both consumer and importer alike. 

An example of an old gnarled vine of Nerello Mascalese, albarello trained to large cedar posts. – Photo MJH

The idea of terraces. No machine harvesting here! Photo MJH

In Palmetto di Constanzo, they grow grapes in the Santo Spirito, Caviliere and Feudo di Mezzo contrade . The two red varieties, nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio are co-planted, harvested and vinified together. The two white varieties, carricante and catarratto, are also planted, harvested and vinified together. However, when new plantings happen, they will be specific and the grapes will be separated. Vine age ranges from 10 years up to more than 100 years old and from 650-800 meters above sea level. Traditional training is called albarello, which essentially, is like a bush vine. Because of this, it’s impossible to harvest by machine; not just because of the training system, but the old vines are terraced on steep slopes, making the harvest even more difficult. The same property can have different soils even within a few meters! The azienda of Palmetto di Constanzo is located close to the eruption of 1879 which characterizes the area of production. Soils even vary in different contrada ultimately creating different styles, textures and flavours in the wine; a big part of what makes these wines so unique.

The concept of contrada is not new, however it’s only been in the last 15-20 years that it has come to light and the producers are bringing the concept to the rest of the world. At Vini Franchetti (Passopisciaro), there are vineyards in many of the more famous contrade such as Guardiola, Rampante, Feudo di Mezzo and Sciaranuova. Sciaranuova ( Sciara, in Sicilian dialect means ‘lava’ and of course ‘nuova’ means new) so the “new lava flow”) vineyard sits at 850m asl with vines between 80-90 y/o.

When propogating new vines, they take cuttings from each specific contrada vineyard, with the baby plants from the nursery being planted in those same vineyards, which keeps the authenticity of the contrada. So Sciaranuova vines to that vineyard and Guardiola vines to that vineyard. In the Rampante contrada vineyards, the vines are 100 y/o and it is one of the most elegant wines they make. These vines are located at 800m above sea level and the harvest in this vineyard is done last as it doesn’t get much sunlight and stays mostly in the shadows. It makes sense. Anything on the north side will be cooler, so the longer the grapes can stay on the vine, the better the phenolic ripeness will be. Higher elevations will have higher acidity, more finesse and the lower elevation wines will be fuller bodied and more robust.

Wines of Benanti- including the single varietal Nerello Cappuccio – Photo MJH

The vines of Monte Serra overlooking the estate of Benanti in Southeast Etna- Photo MJH

Less well known, are the Southern slopes of Etna, but the wines are no less interesting and equally as delicious and noteworthy. The Southeast is more known for extinct craters; ‘mini volcanoes’ that themselves are older than Etna. One of those mini volcanoes Monte Serra for example, has been extinct since the 1400’s, and like the vines of the north, the slopes here too are terraced, steep and very difficult to harvest. (They are however, very used to that!). Monte Serra is also the name of the contrada, and it is here that much of the nerello cappuccio exists. Playing second fiddle to mascalese, it’s a blending grape that provides colour to mascalese’s pale hue, and also helps tame the high tannins of mascalese. It’s not often seen playing a starring role, (in fact, it’s very rare) but there are few producers that make Cappuccio as a single varietal wine, and we had the privilege of tasting the nerello cappuccio of Benanti along with their contrade wines of the Southeastern slope.

Etna’s diverse terroir makes for a trip of a lifetime for any wino, student of wine, or expert in Italian wines. Thanks to VIA for the opportunity to visit this magnificent island and learn some of the secrets of Mt. Etna. Salute!


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Wine + Food + Travel = A Really Great Trip!

When I ask people about if they’ve had any Italian wine, the first two answers they give are Chianti and Prosecco. And when visiting, most have gone, and/or had tours set up to Tuscany, Rome and of course Venice. Tuscany, being full of many tourist attractions with Florence itself holding many of them. The capital city of Rome with its ancient ruins and of course the famous Colosseum a destination unto itself. Experiencing the canals of Venice and walking the criss-cross bridges of the city are sure to be on everyone’s bucket list.

How many of you have been to Piemonte though? Perhaps lovers of Barolo, Barbaresco and the many faces of Moscato have visited the region, and marveled at the 360 degree vistas, the rolling hills and the culinary delights; or taken a walk in the capital city of Torino! Lovers of food, wine and travel however; have you put it all together in one amazing trip?

Now you can! Join myself as your hostess for a wine and culinary experience in the region of Piemonte! I’ve joined up with my friend Heidi from B-Side Travel to creat a custom experience for lovers of food, wine and travel!

Some of the highlights of this tour:

  • Welcome dinner at Marchesi di Barolo, a property boasting amazing views of the rolling hills and the Barolo Castle
  • A class on how to make Tajarin, one of the many culinary delights of the region
  • Artisanal cheese and chocolate tastings
  • A walking tour of Torino
  • Winetastings at some of the best known wineries of the region

Unlike many other tours, everything is included, even your flight!  If travelling to Italy is something you’ve been thinking about for awhile, now might be the time to make it happen! We fly June 1, then will have a full SEVEN days in the region to eat, drink and travel our way through Barolo, Barbaresco, Asti, Alba and Monferrato. We’d love to have you! Why not join us!

Click on the Piemonte tour link for a detailed itinerary and to book your spot! We only have limited space, and if you book before October 31, you’ll get $100 per person! Salute!



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Big Daddy loves Chinon

For those of you who regularly check this blog and read posts, you know my affinity for Cabernet Franc. So much so, that I call it by its moniker: Big Daddy.

It’s amazing how many people don’t know that Cabernet Franc (along with Sauvignon Blanc) is the parent to Cabernet Sauvignon. All these years, Franc has taken a backseat to his more famous son, watching in the wings while the famous offspring has been planted all over the world, in regions well-known, and made into world class wine by iconic producers. Today however, this humble daddy has been slowly rising in importance, making waves in parts of the world where it’s always been famous, and other places where it is moving from a blending grape to the undisputed star of the show.

A traditional grape is defined as being somewhere for 500+ years, as opposed to an international grape – one that is grown all over the world in every region that grows grapes. Cabernet Franc can absolutely take its place as a traditional grape; making its home in Italy, (mostly) in the northern regions of Friuli Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, adapting to the terroir of the cooler northern regions; but also moving towards prominence and tradition in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany not only in the blends of some famous Super Tuscans, but also as a single varietal wine being made by such iconic producers as the Antinori family and Le Macchiole.

It is in France though, in the regions of Chinon and Bourgueil of the Loire Valley, where Cabernet Franc has been grown and made into wine for years, the true home of Big Daddy, and where some truly amazing examples have been made.

Domaine Olga Raffault, in the landscape of Chinon, is a producer spanning four generations of Cabernet Franc excellence. Like other lady proprietors before her, her husband was taken much too early, making her solely responsible for the estate, along with being a mother to two small children. Hard work, dedication, determination, and help from a German friend, kept this estate running and continuing to grow grapes, harvest them, and make wine. Today, the estate is managed by Olga’s granddaughter Sylvie, along with her husband Eric. They are combining the perfect blend of tradition and modernity to create wines of epic proportion.

From the Les Picasses vineyards, located in the Savigny-en-Véron village, the 60-year old vines are very much at home on the limestone rich soils. It is these soils that help to create an age-worthy wine rich in minerality and soft tannins. The grapes are harvested by hand, then fermented with only indigenous yeasts. Very much a “hands-off” approach, the wine is left in large barrels for up to 14 months and bottled unfiltered, then left in the bottle for additional ageing.

This wine was tasted upon opening, giving aromas and flavours of ripe green pepper, pencil shavings, mulberry and hints of licorice and pepper. I was told that more fruit would emerge with ageing, which seems backwards, but in tasting this wine, I would agree. The limestone soils is immediately evident with huge minerality notes like wet rock or metal shavings, but I would be confident in saying that not only would this wine morph in the glass while drinking it, but with a decant, trying it again the next day, or two or three; and yes, with even more age like 20-30 years, the true personality of this wine would most assuredly come shining through!

Big Daddy does it again…we shouldn’t be surprised.


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