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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It’s Up To You, New York, New York

The Big Apple.

Doesn’t everyone dream of going there someday, at least to see it? In five days, I will be there, but perhaps not for the reasons that one may think…

I would love to see Lady Liberty up close and personal from the bow of a boat, or climb to the top of the Empire State Building, or take the subway just to say I did, look up, way up to the buildings of Manhattan, see a Broadway show, eat some fabulous cuisine made by top star chefs, and mingle with the somms of New York…yes, I’d love to do all that, but this time, I can’t!

Wait, whaattt?

My youngest daughter is graduating from High School this week. A large school with about 700 grads, so the affair takes place over two evenings. Wednesday, we’ll watch her cross the stage to accept her diploma, then on Thursday, she gets to don her fabulous dress, get the hair and makeup done, and go to the banquet and dance. I as her mother, wouldn’t miss it for the world, and I won’t. It just means I have to get on a plane very early (or very late, depending on how you look at it!)

But I also have a very important exam to write…in New York City, on June 30th…

They say third time’s the charm right? Well, I sure hope so, as I go for attempt number three to become an Italian Wine Expert. I get on a plane at 12:55 am on June 30 to Toronto, then at 8 am, I fly to New York, then catch a quick shuttle to the Astor Centre, where I will write this 100 question multiple choice exam, when most will already be finished, and anxiously awaiting their mark and whether or not they can go for the second part of the exam – the oral exam, but only if you get 90%! It’s a big deal, and I’ve been preparing diligently, all the while, trying to keep everyone’s schedule straight in my head, making sure there’s food in the house, and being the best wife and mom I can be. Not to mention my parents are arriving this evening for the graduation festivities, so I also have to be a good hostess! All this is not easy when preparing for a very important, very key exam.

After the exam, if I don’t make it? Well, I’m still an Ambassador, and will proudly represent Italian grapes and wine just like I always do. And then I get back on a plane at 6 am on July 1 to resume celebration activities with my family. No Lady Liberty, no Empire State Building, no Broadway shows, and no fabulous dinners! But that’s ok, because there’s always next time right?

Ol’ Blue Eyes said it best…a new title for me? It’s up to you New York, New York! Cheers!


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Destination: South Africa

Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Toronto, Canada to take part in an initiative to further understand South African wines and learn about the PIWOSA group (Premium Independant Wineries of South Africa). What a treat it was to meet these 9 gentlemen (and 1 lady) who represented not only their wineries, but their country as well, with fabulous (and not full of band-aid Brett) wines!

with Sir De Villiers Graaf of De Grendel Winery

De Grendel Wines – owner and managing director De Villiers Graaff was on hand to share wine from his winery outside of Cape Town. Land bought by his grandfather in 1891, this area would be considered one of the most continental with high diurnal shifts in temperature. Typically lots of rain too, although drought has been a very real thing to manage this year. Specializing in sauvignon blanc, merlot and shiraz, his chardonnay was nothing to sneeze at, and in fact all of his wines were outstanding with the pinot noir being featured for trade in the morning. I was particularly impressed with the Shiraz, as it exhibited “Rhone-like” qualities with huge violets and pepper but all well balanced with acid and tannins. The pinot had a full nose of red pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries with just that hint of smoke and dried herbs on both the nose and palate. I hope one day I can sell these wines in the store. The quality was unbelievable.

Bruce Jack of Drift, et al!

The Drift – Bruce Jack, owner and winemaker comes from the most southerly and easterly vineyard of the ten, with weird and wacky blends that actually work! Bonfire Hill has a blend of shiraz/malbec/pinot noir/barbera/cinsault, while the Moveable Feast has an even wackier blend of shiraz/tannat/touriga nacional/malbec and pinot noir! Talk about represent! Bruce has experience making wine in many parts of the world in both hemispheres, giving him reason to feature all of these grapes! The monovarietal wine Gift Horse is made with 100% Barbera and was super savoury with lots of salami, pepper, balsamic with undertones of cardamom and slight cassis. A truly unique wine and winery!

Glenelly – Nicolas Bureau comes from a line of Bordeaux wine producing families, his grandmother being born in left bank Bordeaux, so being in the wine industry comes very naturally to Nicolas. His grandmother bought the estate in 2003 specifically to grow the varieties of Bordeaux, as it was found the alluvial soils were familiar to that of Bordeaux. These, along with chardonnay, make their home in Stellenbosch. The chardonnay was very pretty and quite classic with a full mouth feel and flavours of stone fruits, citrus, with vanilla and apple pie undertones. Fairly new to the South African wine industry, Glenelly is certainly making their mark.

Jordan Estate – Gary & Kathy Jordan own and make wine at the estate, and no, the wines in North America do NOT have a spelling error! Due to proprietary rights on another Canadian wine, in North America, they are known as Jardin. Gary is a geologist and Kathy is an economist, and between the two of them, they also make outstanding wine! Also located in Stellenbosch, they have a little bit of the main red varieties, but the main focus is chardonnay. And it’s no wonder as they offer three distinct styles: the completely stainless steel unoaked version, the regular oaked in 228l French barrique, and the one tasted, the Nine Yards chardonnay, (because they put the whole nine yards in there!); with the fruit coming from their best eastern facing vineyard that have well drained soils of old granite and white quartz surface gravels. This wine is fermented in barrel and spends 12 months ageing there also, not with battonage, but a full turning of the barrel from one end to the other, to ensure the lees covers all surface area of the wines. What a great chardonnay with great complexity and full flavours!

Journey’s End – if anything, Michael Dawson, Winemaker and Tom Hanson-Smith, Branch Development Manager, were super fun to be around! Always smiling, laughing or talking! Some great youth here to drive the brand, with the Destination Chardonnay, their flagship wine, showing incredible character and complexity, one of the highlight wines of the show for sure. For oaked chardonnay, I couldn’t help but wish my boss were on hand, as he would have completely LOVED all these South African chards, especially Destination, which showed huge complexity and depth. Not bad for Mike’s first vintage as winemaker to Journey’s End…I was more than impressed.

Ken Forrester

Ken Forrester – imagine my surprise when I returned from Toronto, to read my schedule and find out that it was the SAME Ken Forrester, whom I had just met coming to visit me in the store! My rep was even more surprised to discover that I had already tasted many of Ken’s wine! Ken is, in many ways, the captain of the PIWOSA ship, encouraging the alliance and traveling together, spreading the ‘gospel’ of the quality of South African wine. Ken’s philosophy about chenin blanc, is that it needed to be shaken out of its mold and start shining on its own. He has certainly done that with levels of chenin from entry level Petit right through to the stunner FMC. I decided to go middle-of-the-road with the Old Vine Reserve that had laser sharp acidity, complemented by flavours of peaches and cream, vanilla, toast and hints of cinnamon with a finish of brioche and baked apples. That two months in barrel makes a world of difference!

Klein Constantia – from the oldest wine region in South Africa, we were able to taste the famed Vin de Constance, a sweet wine made in an old Danish style bottle with the Muscat di Frontignan grape (aka Muscat Blanc a Petit Grain). Beautiful deep golden in colour with lots of dried apricots, marmalade, ginger and ripe peach, with a full bodied, unctuous mouth feel, but with the leveling out of high acidity to keep it from being cloying. With between 150-165 g/L RS you need that high acidity! Interesting little wine with ageing done in combination of French/Hungarian/acacia barrels, not botrytised grapes, but rather passilerage grapes (raisining on the vine rather than noble rot). Hans Astrom, managing director and partner of Klein Constantia, firmly believes the Vin de Constance can rival some of the best sweet wines in the world, at a fraction of the price.

Paul Cluver – Paul has his winery in Elgin, one of the coolest wine regions in the whole Cape, as it is surrounded by three mountain ranges. Mostly known for apple production, it is Paul’s family who has been instrumental in bringing the wine region of Elgin to a fine wine producing region. Known for aromatic whites, his winery is the largest producer of riesling in South Africa. No word of a lie, it was one of the best reislings I’ve ever tasted from anywhere in the world. For you wine geeks out there, there is 9.9 TA and 18 g/L RS in this wine. High, high, searing acidity that is enamel stripping, but oh so good, if you’re a fan of high acid wines as I am! Lime zest, green apple, stainless steel minerality and hints of honeysuckle and petrol, this riesling was everything I thought it should be, could be and was. Ultra yum.

Bruwer Raats

Raats – Bruwer Raats has a similar terroir to Napa in his Stellenbosch location, and is a specialist in chenin blanc and cabernet franc. I love that. Grow what you know does well for the terroir. That’s what every smart winemaker should do! Bruwer considers chenin a “thoroughbred”; meaning that if you treat it like a winning race horse, it will be! Making chenin both in stainless steel and oak, he is creating pure expressions of chenin blanc. His “Original” chenin had a fruity nose of peaches and pears and even hints of pineapple! Great wet stone minerality with more peach pear and pineapple on the palate. I found this to be very “chablis” like, which should be taken as a complement…

Radford Dale – last but certainly not least, from The Winery of Good Hope, Alex Dale featured wines from the Radford Dale property. Not only that, as co-founder and director of PIWOSA, Alex is passionate about the wines of South Africa and tirelessly travels the globe, convincing folks like us, that the wine producing capabilities in South Africa are huge, and let’s give them a fair shake shall we? Focusing on Rhone style wine, the featured wine Black Rock was a blend of syrah, carignan, cinsault, grenache, mouvedre and a pinch of viognier to create a smokey, meaty, chewy wine with loads of dry herbs, red fruits and balsamic notes. Great body and texture with tart red fruits of cranberry and currant, but well balanced with tannins and acidity. Such a cool wine.

I was honoured to have been invited to this event, and to meet all of these incredible ambassadors for South Africa. Owners, directors, winemakers, marketers and exporters, their goal is clear: present to the world the quality and potential of South African wines! One day I’ll get there and see for myself. Until then, cheers!

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ChardonnYAY day!

Who loves Chardonnay? Apparently many, with a twist on the name to ChardonnYAY, and enough to have a celebratory day! We were to have a tasting here at the store to celebrate this momentous occasion, but alas, it was too close to our spring open house, so we had to cancel. But never fear! I am here to bring your attention to a few of the stellar chardonnay you may see out there in the market, some you have tasted, and some maybe you haven’t!

Chardonnay is known as the “winemaker’s grape”, grown all over the world, and totally versatile. You’ll find it in famous wines like champagne, by itself in a sparkling blanc de blanc versions, oaked, unoaked, and even in my own backyard of the Okanagan, you will see it made into ice wine. It’s easy to grow, and for many, easy to like and drink. But, it has suffered over the years, going through the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) phase, which is still relevant to many. Even for myself, I’ve gone through a roller coaster where I was anything but, all for it, and my pendulum has moved again to…”let’s drink something else”. Unlike my boss who totally digs the big, buttery, full-bodied Chard monsters, I’d prefer to have just a little MLF (malolactic fermentation) with my chardonnay, along with the stainless steel variety, no heavy oak thanks. And those of you who know me, know my love and passion for Italian wines, and although I carry one in the store, I firmly believe Italians should not make chardonnay. And only because with so many native grapes at their fingertips, and the chance to make something special and different, why make chardonnay? It’s a question only they can answer, and with it being the 9th most popular grape grown in Italy, I guess it means something!

2013 Catena Alta Chardonnay – after recently attending a dinner featuring Catena family wines, I must admit I’m a bit biased towards this one. Not the entry level, nor the single vineyard White Stones or White Bones, that are appropriately expensive, but for under $40, this is a solid chardonnay with everything done right: a combination of first, second and third use French oak, some MLF, and wild yeasts, giving this wine huge complexity with aromas and flavours of baked apple, lemon meringue, peach, fig jam and brioche with hints of vanilla crumble and wet stone. All with high acidity to balance it and clean the palate. Awesome, just awesome.

2015 Yalumba Organic Chardonnay – you might remember I just wrote about this ‘oldest family winery in Australia” on my previous blog. They not only have the high end red wines of shiraz and cabernet, but the feminine beauties in their organic line, viognier and chardonnay. Wine drinkers want organic these days, so this just might fit the bill. From their certified organic vineyards of Riverland and Adelaide Plains, the grapes must be in perfect condition before being picked. Natural yeasts again add to further complexity with aromas and flavours of melon, peaches and cream and lemon curd. Great price too, at least here in Alberta!  You can find it for about $22!

Prefer Chilean? The Torrean de Paredes is fermented in oak, and gives off much more of a tropical note of banana and baked pineapple. Prefer unoaked? The Drouhin St. Veran, which is from the Maconnais region of Burgundy, just before you hit Beaujolais. It is completely done in stainless steel, to keep the fruit character of the chardonnay at the very forefront. Again, under $40!

The Canadians have a pretty good handle on this grape, with Culmina winery, on the Golden Mile Bench, producing (in my opinion), one of the best chardonnays not just in the Okanagan, but in Canada also. The Triggs family went to great lengths in soil study, altitude, aspect and degree days to pick just the perfect site for the Margaret’s Bench chardonnay. Called Dilemma, because the choice was made to rip out the original vines and plant them 200m higher, could have indeed caused a great dilemma for the family! Clearly, they chose wisely, as this 2013 Dilemma Chardonnay (although expensive – it’s $57 CAD) exhibits great chardonnay characteristics of stone fruits, hazelnut, vanilla spice, and wet stone, with high, sharp acidity, but rounded mouth feel due to a portion of new French oak being used. Simply fantastic, it might be the best $57 you’ve ever spent.

Not to be forgotten, is of course, wine from Napa Valley. The Truchard family is now 2nd generation, with young Anthony III, I’m sure being groomed for the task to come! But he’s a little boy, so there’s time! I recently tasted this wine, and am thrilled that our general public will be able to taste it this Saturday, should they drop by for our annual spring open house. And why not? It’s a beautiful chardonnay, not a big oak bomb that sometimes tends to happen in many Napa chardonnays. Well balanced, using only 33% new oak, various strains of yeast, battonage, and partial MLF. All of this creates a balanced, lovely mouthfilling wine, with harmonious acid to cleanse the palate. Full of pears, baked apples and toasted oak, this is a pleasing chardonnay that I would have no qualms about serving to my guests! The 2015 is on the shelf for about $46.

And what would a post about chardonnay be if we didn’t talk of the crème de la crème, the region that perhaps boast some of the best in the world? That would be the Côte D’Or, specifically the Côte de Beaune, where chardonnay reigns supreme in Mersault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. When I think chardonnay, THIS is the wine and these are the regions I want to drink! No small change though, as these wines can be priced well over $100 or even more! The 2014 Domaine Blain-Gagnard Morgeot Premier Cru is no exception. Priced here at $114, it is stunningly beautiful with lovely integrated oak flavours – about 15% new oak used for the Premier Cru, and a combination of grapes from both older and newer vines. The Morgeot appellation is the largest PC in Chassagne-Montrachet with plantings of both pinot noir and chardonnay. Make sure you drink this with those that will appreciate it! Great substance and texture with linear acidity and flavours of lemon curd, spiced vanilla and hints of coconut and brioche along with subtle wet leaves and mushrooms. Oh so delightful!  Happy Chardonnay Day!  Drink something great, and tell me about it! Cheers!

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