South Africa: My Next Journey Awaits

Ringing in the new year always gives me pause and makes me reflect on the past year’s accomplishments as well as looking forward to what the new year may bring. I work in retail and the dichotomy between December and January is staggering. Fully staffed on many days leading up to Christmas with the hustle and bustle of the season, to only the boss and myself for the doldrums of January. Still in the business of selling wine, but the sales come to a screeching halt come January 1. Long days at the store might be spent doing inventory, making schedules, making up (a lot) smaller orders, then spreading out time in putting everything on the shelf. In between all that, there’s a few computer games, music, movies and drinking hot water (because wow, it’s really cold here right now).

With events that are coming up, I know I should probably spend my time a bit more wisely, but truth be told, I don’t want to. Yet one more time, I need to write an Italian wine exam, and my brain screams that I should be studying my flash cards, learning more minute details, and also researching for my next trip, but again, I just don’t want to. Let things come what may.  I’ll pick up the flashcards closer to the exam, and learn as I go where I’m headed.

Speaking of my next trip…something that came as a complete shock to me was an opportunity to go to South Africa. A friend of mine was there last year on an internship program, and she encouraged me to apply also. PIWOSA (Premiuim Independant Wineries of South Africa) is a group of wineries collaborating resources, ideas and expertise to promote South African wine of quality. I went on a press trip to Toronto in June, 2017 to meet these producers, and found out myself how to apply for this internship program. Only for women in the wine business, it’s a journey to learn all aspects of harvest in both the vineyard and the winery.  I received the news in October that I had been chosen by Journey’s End Vineyards to assist in all matters of grape sampling, machine harvesting, hand harvesting, crushing, pressing, cleaning of tanks and barrel work, making additions, inoculations, lab work, sugar readings, and any other general cellar and vineyard work. What exactly does this all mean? Well, to be honest, I have no idea! Truly, I’m heading to Cape Town in two weeks with really no idea how much work I’ll be doing, when I’ll be doing it, or if I will have any downtime! There’s also the matter of being on a continent and in a country that isn’t always the safest! Ignorance is bliss as they say…I really don’t know what to expect.

But what I DO expect is to be surrounded by some of the utmost beauty of landscape, to taste grapes that have come from the earth, with the help of nature, soil and weather; to marvel in another piece of God’s creation, in a part of the world I have not yet been. I’ll also expect to taste some great wines that we don’t see here in this part of the world. No band-aid or bad Brett, just quality, varietally correct wine. And THAT is something I expect! I look forward to sharing my journey with you, in pictures, posts and comments. As they say in Afrikaans, Gesondheid!

The view I expect to see when I wake up every morning in South Africa! (photo courtesy of Journey’s End at

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What Are you Doing New Years Eve?

‘Tis the season for bubbles…with International Champagne Day coming up on December 31, not only will Champagne be opened, but other such bubbles too. So what’s your favourite bubbly for not just NYE, but any special occasions? Or do you find yourself reaching for something else?

The first thing I reach for is rarely a Champagne. Maybe a little Brunello, or Nerello, but very rarely a bubbly.

This NYE, maybe you’ll forego the traditional Champagne in favour of something else. Cremant perhaps? Made in exactly the same way as Champagne, but in other parts of France and often different grape varieties. Or what about you Prosecco fans? There’s a great amount of that out there too with different levels of sweetness, lending itself to steely or creamy in your mouth, some beautiful floral and peachy notes, not to mention the cocktails and blends you could make with it!

LombardThis year though, I WILL be reaching for a Champagne, surprising even myself! Not Veuve, or Bollinger or Roederer, but rather an independent, family run company called Lombard, which is located in the heart of Epernay. They have 100 ha of land, with both chardonnay and pinot noir grown on both premier cru and grand cru sites. This Extra Brut, Premier Cru Blanc de Noir, made with 100% Pinot Noir comes from some of the best terroir and vineyards of the Montagne de Reims. Lots of chalk in this soil lending to the clean minerality finish of this wine, but the red berry notes come through as well as vanilla, brioche and sweet pastry coming from 48 months on the lees.

My New Years Eve will be setting up a charcuterie platter complete with Chaource cheese, olives and various meats. And maybe after the Champagne, I WILL open that bottle of Brunello or Nerello! Happy 2018 to everyone! May all your dreams come true in this coming year! Santé!

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Life is Short…Drink More Wine.

Hey, I know it’s been a long time. My aspirations to write a weekly blog pretty much went out the window after my last posting in…October? Life, heartache, loss and writer’s block seem to keep me off the page. My best “writing” occurs at night when my eyes are closed and I’m ready to drift off to sleep. So the other night I put a notebook by my bed and wrote down ideas as they came to me, before I fell asleep! I WILL cure this writer’s block yet!

Time’s change. A seemingly lost friendship is always difficult to deal with, and mine is no different. Where once conversation was easy, it’s now stilted and awkward. But life moves on and people make different decisions and that’s okay. Little reminders along the way of things shared together in the past make the memories that much more bittersweet. Wines tasted together during the times spent together, now bring different memories when consumed again. I don’t drink wine to forget, I drink wine to remember. And the remembering is an important part of the journey and moving forward to the next thing.

Last night was our monthly tasting get together. A great group of people I’m involved with meet once a month to taste wine and discuss. The theme was sparkling wine (no parameters as long as it had bubbles!) and there was a great array of bottles brought, including the exclusive 2006 Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs. As part of the discussion, we always ask how much said bottles were. This particular one was quite expensive. If one were to go buy it off a retail shelf (which you pretty much can’t do now as it’s all gone) it would cost you almost 300 bucks a bottle. But for my buddy that brought it, no matter the price, there was no doubt in his mind that he’d share it with his peeps because that’s what you do with good wine…you share it with people you love, you want to be with and that will appreciate it. All three categories may not prevail in every case, but I would say that last night all three did!  It’s one of those experiences that I will never forget, and if I’m ever fortunate to taste another bottle of Comtes, whatever the vintage, I will remember this night. So, yeah, I don’t drink wine to forget, I drink it to remember. Life is short…drink more wine.

I’ve been told on many occasions that I am greatly blessed and highly favored. I don’t take that phrase lightly, but when it’s told to me by several people that do not know each other in any way, I pay attention. So, when I found a necklace that said that very thing, I knew it was a sign, and I wear that inexpensive little thing with a great deal of pride and a blush every time someone reads it out loud as it’s hanging around my neck. Yeah, I am.

Since it’s December I always have a chance to look back on the year and see what I’ve accomplished. Truthfully, life’s been pretty good, and what I may be going through is minutiae compared to other friends my age who are losing their parents, spouses or other deeply loved ones. Now that’s tough, and I won’t really know what they are going through unless I go through it myself. And the hope is always that it never happens tomorrow. But in the meantime, life is short, so I’ll drink more wine. No, not excessively, ever. But tasting, appreciating, learning, sipping, remembering, reminiscing, reflecting, sharing and I hope, with lots of smiles and laughter. Salute, Cheers, Santé, Prost, Salud, Chimo, Saude…whatever you prefer, I raise my glass to you!


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Any Day is a Good Day for Bordeaux

Not only is the Italian wine selection impressive at the store, but Bordeaux also has its fair share of excellency here. The usual suspects are not here though. You won’t find any Château Lafite, Latour, Margaux or any other first growths here, but 3rd-5th growths that are just as amazing can all be found on the shelves, and I’m rather proud of the selection. Some of my distributors carry more than others, and some have a definite affinity for the region, so futures are offered and I usually tap into that.

Florent Genty, Export Director of Domaines Delon. His own family is from Chinon, producing reputable wines from cabernet franc

When I get invited out for lunch with export manager Florent Genty of Domaines Delon, I don’t say no…especially when I get to taste aged Bordeaux. No, not 20 or 30 year olds, but at least a 19 and 14 year old, and from both banks too. Needless to say, the wines did not disappoint, and the food was pretty amazing too. Thanks to the Edmonton Golf & Country Club for putting on a gastronomic cornucopia for this small intimate group to pair with the wines. And thanks to Lanigan Edwards for bringing in these fabulous wines to share!

An Italian Sausage Ravioli was up first, and pairing it with the 2006 Château Nenin from Pomerol. This estate has been owned by the Delon family since 1840, and is considered to be one of the top wines from Pomerol. In fact, it has long been a favourite of the Royal Family, something to boast about indeed! The estate is planted mostly to Merlot, with small parcels of both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2006 Nenin has 76% merlot with 24% cabernet franc. Hints of black cherry and cassis were surprising, but welcome, along with earth, mushrooms, cedar and beetroot. Somewhat austere on the palate, but smooth tannins and more earth and black fruits on the palate along with hints of spice and dark chocolate. Life left in this bottle for sure!

garden beet salad

The second course featured fresh garden beet salad with lobster medallion, paired with the 2008 Château Pontensac from Médoc. Not a fan of beets, but I certainly cleaned up everything else on my plate, and admittedly, the wine with all it’s earthiness was a nice match for the one tiny piece of each beet colour I DID try! This Cru Bourgeois was certainly showing all of the grape varietals within as the 42% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon and 18% cabernet franc exhibited black fruit, softness, some earth and vegetal notes with an austerity that would most likely be from the high levels of limestone soil the grapes are grown in.

Alberta short ribs with wild mushroom cream, and grilled lamb lollipop with roasted red pepper coulis, Dauphinoise potato, baby carrots and yellow beans

Our main dish featured Alberta braised short ribs along with a grilled lamb lollipop. For a meatatarian such as myself, a good deal of protein to stick to my ribs and keep me going for the day! But not only that, a real liquid feast as well:  2003 Clos du Marquis and the 1998 Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases from Saint-Julien were our wine pairings for this dish. Um…wow. Florent was very specific in his vintage picks:  pick some of the inbetween vintages that got lost in the shuffle of the greats of 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010. Some have said that the 2003 Clos du Marquis is past its time. To that, I say a resounding “NO”. These vineyards were planted in 1902 in a mixture of clay and sand with a forest reserve close by. And 2003 was the the warmest recorded vintage in 20 years with record breaking temperatures of between 40-45°C for 3 weeks +. For younger vines, this usually proves tragic, (no irrigation is allowed by law) but for those older vines with deep roots on great terroirs, although lower yields, were simply outstanding. It helps that there is 54% cabernet sauvignon in this wine along with 3% petit verdot, with the balance being merlot. All that great structure is keeping this wine drinking beautifully! For me, this was the most complex, bringing notes of cedar, cassis, menthol, red plums and dried flowers, all with (still) fresh medium plus acidity and silky medium plus tannins also. If that wasn’t enough, the Leoville at 19 years of age was truly just beginning to shine. This second growth estate is located on the northern end of Saint Julien adjacent to the Gironde river, and like its next door neighbour Château Latour (a first growth of the 1855 Classification), they have an extraordinary reputation for making stellar wines, even in difficult vintages. By all accounts, this château of Leoville Las Cases is a jewel in the crown of Bordeaux and perhaps one of the best wines of the region. This inbetween vintage (in the middle of the great 1995 and 2000) of 2008 stood out with lots of ruby colour in the glass, huge tannins that still have time to open up and mature. The fruit was starting to indeed move into that “stewed” stage, but lovely aromas of plum and cassis nonetheless along with bark, forest floor, truffle, cigar box and hints of menthol. The blend of 76% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot and 9% cabernet franc was a standout match with the shortribs, and most especially the lamb. What a treat to be tasting and enjoying these wines!

And what’s a Bordeaux tasting without an encore of Sauternes? the 2005 Château Guiraud was served with our dessert of warm Apple Rhubarb Crisp. No, it wasn’t the most perfect pairing but on its own, this botrytised wine was certainly quintessential of Sauternes, and something I’m always happy to sip on when served! The balance of sweetness and acidity along with the noble rot are key to these wines. Dried apricots, honey, hazelnut, ginger, baked apples and pears with high acidity and full mouth filling body, and of course those aromas and flavours of botrytis, filled my glass and made my heart sing! A complex wine made from 65% semillon and 35% sauvignon blanc. And still time to keep and drink – up to 2020.

Wonderful people, a scrumptious lunch and magnificent wines made my day! And then I found out I could buy these wines too? Yes please! The Clos du Marquis shall be gracing the shelf (alongside some of the other fantastic Bordeaux) before Christmas! Santé!



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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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