National Malbec Day

French or Argentine? When you think malbec, what country comes to mind first? Is it the malbec made popular by the Argentinians where (almost) every winery in the country has one, and it’s found everywhere on restaurant wine lists? Or, do you think of the old country malbec from Cahors or from Bordeaux where it was (& still is, although not seen as much) part of the famous blends of the region? Whatever your choice, it’s a big bold wine that is inky purple in colour with high tannins, medium acidity and lots of black fruit, both sweet and savoury spice and bramble notes. Love it or hate it, Malbec is still high on many people’s list as a go-to, first choice grape. My philosophy on this grape is that it’s easy to say, therefore easy to order in a restaurant! Nobody wants to look silly when they order wine!

But seriously, even though it’s never my first grape to reach for, there are some good ones out there:

Luigi Bosca, a family owned winery, have their roots in both Italy and Spain, and one of the great families of the area, the Arizu Family. And this particular one, is under $30 on the shelf and one of the highest selling malbecs in Alberta! With notes of black plums, black cherries, and vanilla spice, it’s a perfect match for barbecue, wild game and hard cheeses.

From the Bergerac region, on the right bank of Bordeaux, this Château Laulerie Malbec may be slightly more unknown, but no less delicious! Dense with black fruits and hints of pepper, the tannins are oh so silky on this one! And the price? Outstanding at $22!

And last, but certainly not least, the Astrolabe Cahors malbec. Malbec is king in the Cahors region in southwest France. More earthy tones in the malbec here, this wine is full-bodied with concentrated black fruits, with candied cassis notes, hints of earth and spice; pair it with lamb, beef, ripe cheeses and anything with truffles! At $33, it’s one of the more expensive malbecs, but certainly worth the price!

This is just the tip of the Malbec iceberg! Not only are there the malbecs featured in the photo available for sale, but there are many, many more! Whatever country malbec you happen to reach for first, Happy Malbec Day and may your glass always be full! Santé!


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Hotel Aldobrandini 

Italy truly is a family affair. Not just in the wine business, but it seems in other areas too. Booking hotels in a foreign country can be interesting to say the least. You go by reviews, photos, and proximity to places you want to see. After being in Rome, Florence was a walkable city, so I chose something close to everything, making it easy to get from place to place.

After getting turned around somewhat on our first day, we finally found Hotel Aldobrandini, tucked away in a corner of a small piazza. After a small ascensore took us up a couple of flights, there was yet another set of steps to climb up in order to reach the front door of the hotel. Please understand that the word ‘hotel’ in Italy, is used mildly. This was no 5-star wonder with every amenity one could think of. This was your basic one room with 2 beds, a chair and a lamp kind of room. Ok, there were 2 lamps…and a small desk, but clearly this was less than creature comforts. A saving grace for this room though, was a very large window that looked out onto the street below.

The door of the bathroom didn’t quite close, there was a hole in it, and the sliding doors of the shower didn’t quite slide(as I’m adjusting them whilst IN the shower!) But after I came out of the shower, I saw my daughter, with her head out that huge window, listening as the restaurant owners clamoured for people to come sit down and eat, watching locals and tourists alike move up and down the street, the cacaphony of several different languages being spoken, and me just watching her take it all in. You see, it didn’t matter that we had to climb up a very narrow spiral staircase with 40 lb luggage, or that the bathroom door didn’t quite close, that the shower doors were askew, or that it took a special touch to flush the toilet. Watching her, and listening to her relay information about what was happening below, I knew she didn’t care either. (She was quite amused by the country music being played!) She was here. In Italy. Crossing that somewhere off of her list that she really wanted to be. We had seen the Colosseum, threw coins in the Trevi fountain, viewed the ancient crypts and catacombs, rode horses through the vineyards of Chianti, ate gelato everyday, climbed the medieval city streets of San Gimignano, looked over the city of Florence, saw the magnificent David, the works of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Donatello and Titian. We leaned up against Pisa, imagined the Palio race while standing in the middle of Piazza del Campo, visited a real life castle, drove a little Fiat like the locals, ate pizza, pasta and more gelato. There were tons of pictures taken, smiles, laughs, some good wine with dinner, and I hope, memories to last a lifetime!

With the gelato world champion (yes, there is such a thing!) in San Gimignano

But really, I am the blessed one. It was such a pleasure to bring my daughter to this country that I’m learning to love very much, and to see the wonder in her eyes at each new sight. She even tasted and sipped wine with me (and quite likes Prosecco!) it is a privilege to be her mom and to have spent this time with her. I’d give her Hotel Aldobrandini every day if I could. 

As I say goodbye to her very early tomorrow, I will miss her. I’ll miss having her by my side and I’ll miss giving her that kiss every morning to wake her! Buon viaggio back to Canada my sweet girl! ☺️ Salute!

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The Joy of Wine

I was reminded on Saturday while dining with friends why I do what I do and why I love it so much. Sometimes I just need to be reminded what the joy of wine is really all about and the reasons I named my company as such.

Of course for many of us, good wine is meant to be shared! Unlike others in the bizz, I don’t have many wines that I store or “cellar”, but I did pull one out to take over for dinner this past Saturday night, and I can say in truth, I’m glad I did!

It just so happens that my daughter is dating the son of the friends with whom we dined with on Saturday night, and this dinner date had been booked for about three weeks in advance. I know my husband and I were looking forward to the outing, the visiting, the food, and I’m sure our friends were looking forward to the wine! (Well, let’s be honest, I was too!)

We started out the evening with the Bisol “Crede” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, along with Prosciutto, pecorino cheese, crustini with a warm mushroom truffle mix, almond stuffed olives, black olives and sundried tomato olives. A blend of glera, verdiso and pinot bianco, this was a really great prosecco with creamy rich flavours of peach, pear and apple, along with a great mineral edge – from one of the leading producers of the region. This bottle got emptied quite quickly!

I knew Bob was putting together a lasagne, but I had no idea how fabulous of a lasagne! I didn’t actually count the layers, but I’m pretty sure there were at least five. And full of meaty goodness, including Italian sausage with just a slight kick of spice on the finish. Add some more Italian crustini, a deconstructed ceasar salad, and we had a meal that any Italian himself would be happy to consume! For wine, I naturally thought Sangiovese, due to the tomato based sauce, but I also thought a Chardonnay might fit nicely too. It would have some body and acidity to stand up to the pasta dish. I had been sitting on the 2007 Yves Boyer-Martenot Mersault-Charmes Premier Cru for the past four or five years, so thought it might be time to share it, as I knew our friends would truly appreciate it! The appreciative nods and glances on both of their faces was all I needed to see that yes, I had brought something truly special -this wine was magical with aromas and flavours of baked apple and pear along with ground nutmeg and hints of lemon meringue. This 10-year old scored a perfect 10 for all of us.

The 2013 Col D’Orcia Banditella was no slouch either. This 100% “baby” Brunello hit all the right points of a Sangiovese with red cherry, blackberry, earth, spiced oak and hints of tobacco and leather. Two pretty much perfect wines to go with dinner!

Not to be outdone, the 2013 Andreas Bender Hofpäsch Riesling wowed us all with its just-the-right-balance of sweetness and acidity. An Auslese level, there was a lot of residual sugar on this wine, but you’d never know it with that laser sharp acidity behind it all, making the finish clean and crisp. Citrus lemon notes, honeysuckle and green apple with the ever present hint of petrol, paired charmingly with the lemon coffee cake and the crème brûlée layer cake!

Never have I felt so appreciated for bringing and serving wine, and to see the smiles on my host and hostess’s faces and the pleasure these wines evoked, solidified that without a doubt, I am certainly following my passion, living the dream, and working in the right place! Joy of wine in action indeed…Santé, Salute and Prost!

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An Evening with Catena Wines

Last week, my boss and I were privileged to be two of only six guests for dinner and a tasting of some exclusive (higher-end) wines from the Bodega Catena Zapata of Argentina.

Anyone who knows me, will know that Argentine wines are never my first go-to, and my least favourite grape is Malbec. However, my mind is always open and I tasted some fine wine from this iconic winery along with some brilliant food, prepared for us at The Glass Monkey, a busy little restaurant in south Edmonton.

Andrea Nuñez, Sommelier and Export Manager for Bodega Catena Zapata was our host for the evening, walking us through the featured wines of the Adrianna Vineyard, along with wines from the Alta line and the Zapata line.

The Catena family has been around for generations, founded by Nicola Catena. After leaving Italy in 1898, his hope was to find a more prosperous land and escape his famine stricken homeland. With his family, he sailed to (what he later referred to as) the promised land of Mendoza in Argentina. In 1902 the first family vineyard was planted to Malbec, which Catena believed would thrive as a single variety rather than the blender grape it was typically known for in Bordeaux. His son Domingo took over the reigns and took the business from a single vineyard to a family with the largest ownership of land in the country. Third generation Nicolás, a young 22-year old just finishing a degree in Economics, was starting to help out his father during the country’s downturn of the 1960’s. During this time of depression, it was extremely difficult for the family, and they almost didn’t pull through. Nicolás urged his father to just leave the grapes on the vines, rather than pick and make wine as doing this would likely turn out to be a loss of income, rather than just leaving them on the vines.

Political challenges remained in the country, along with high inflation rates and overall instability. Taking over the family business during such lean times would be daunting to anyone, but Nicolás’ focus was on expanding distribution to the entire country. But the question was how to bring the wine to the next level? Nicolás did that with a job offer at University of Calfornia’s prestigious Berkeley campus, teaching Economics as a visiting scholar. There with his wife and youngest daughter Adrianna, they would spend weekends visiting wineries in the area, studying soils and arming themselves with information to take back to Argentina. His plan was grandiose: make world class wine, to rival both California and France on the world stage.

adrianna-vineyardWith a reputation preceding the country of much bulk wine production, Nicolás Catena set out to refute the moniker and make wines worthy to be tasted among the worlds best. He set out to find the best vineyards for growing grapes, and to do so, sold all of his bulk wine production areas, much to the locals dismay. Catena felt that he needed to push the limits of vine cultivation to new levels, and purchased Gualtallary Alto in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. At close to 5000 feet in elevation, it is the highest and most western spot in Tupungato. He named the vineyard Adrianna, after his youngest daughter.

Even his own workers worried that Malbec might not ripen at such high altitudes, but it did, and beautifully! According to Catena, high altitude vineyard sites provided unique flavour profiles and more powerful aromas, along with higher levels of acidity. Ironically, poor soils are exactly what a grapevine needs to survive and thrive, and these were no exception. Yields were naturally low, giving wines that had softer tannins and greater balance of flavours.  Unlike his father and grandfather before him, Nicolás didn’t bestow upon the virtues of Malbec, especially when Cabernet Sauvignon was revered so much throughout much of the rest of the world. However, it was important for him to have a Malbec stand up and receive its due. Time and patience rewarded Catena, as his first quality Malbec from the 1994 vintage came with kudos and accolades from none other than Robert Parker Jr, and a ranking of Argentina’s #1 Malbec in the Wall Street Journal.

Cabernet Sauvignon was next on the list to perfect and with the 1997 vintage, the Catena Nicolás Catena Zapata, which daughter Laura Catena named after her father, was released to rave reviews in 2001. The wines from Catena have proven time and again that they can stand up to some of the world’s best. This is a family passing down knowledge from generation to generation through heart and passion, and now with state of the art science from a new world of viticulture. Now, run by fourth generation Laura Catena, this family has (almost) single handedly put Argentinian wine on the map.

We started out the evening with the 2013 Catena Alta Chardonnay. A gorgeous wine with dense fruit of baked apples and mangoes, a mouth coating creaminess from oak and MLF, but with rich, mouth-watering acidity. A Chardonnay that I would most assuredly recommend to any lovers of creamy, oaky, fully bodied Chards! Here at the store for $38.95.

white-stonesThe wines just kept getting better and better as the evening went on, as we had opportunity to taste some of the more premium offerings of Catena, that prior to now, have only been offered on-premise. 2013 Catena Zapata Chardonnay White Stones and 2013 Catena Zapata Chardonnay White Bones, come from selected rows in the Adrianna Vineyard and are named for the soil types the vines are grown in. White Stones has a soil of gravel with round white stones which was the source of an ancient river bed. White Bones refers to soils of limestone deposits that have the appearance of crumbled bones. Back and forth I went between these two Burgundian style Chardonnays, pairing it with various cheese, buttered prawns, and the homemade pasta we were served, swirling and waiting; tasting it at several intervals of the evening, and my favourite came in the form of White Stones. I loved the fresh minerality, along with beautiful baked apples, stone fruits, hints of cinnamon and nutmeg flavour, with integrated oak. Suggested retail for White Stones is $120/bottle and White Bones at $144/bottle. Absolutely classy, stunning Chardonnay.

20170223_184811Of course we can’t forget about the Malbec! It may not be one of my favourite wine varietals, but it IS Argentina’s signature grape, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of these Malbecs. They paired well with the smoked ham, the short ribs and the heavier cheeses. Besides the Catena Alta Malbec, the Catena Zapata Nicasia, the Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino (both 2011) and the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae (2012) were all tasted, then promptly consumed! Because I was seated beside Andrea, she would lean over, and ask how I liked the wines and which ones I preferred. I told her my (slight) aversion to Malbec, however, she was pleased to hear that I enjoyed the rich plum, coffee, smoke and black cherry aromas and flavours of the Nicasia. Smooth tannins, and well balanced with acid and alcohol, I would happily drink this Malbec if served to me.

20170223_195243The ultimate wine for me for the evening, was the 2011 Catena Nicolás Catena Zapata, a beautifully balanced, rich cuveé of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, this vintage with 25% Malbec and 75% Cabernet. 20170223_195252Unbelievable with notes of cassis, smoke, cigar box, cloves, pencil shavings and undertones of menthol; the tannins were smooth, the oak refined with structure and concentration o’plenty! Wow…I was impressed with not just this wine, but all the wines tasted in the evening. Suggested retail for this wine would be about $140.

To top things off, the owner of the Glass Monkey, Rob Filipchuk, brought out some wine from his cellar, sharing with us the 2002 vintage of Malbec, grown from the vineyards of Altamira and Adrianna. The colour on both of these wines was still an intense deep ruby, with development of a rich bouquet nose. The Altamira seemed to be faring a bit better with loads of fruit on it yet with mocha notes, herbaceous sage, along with forest floor, graphite and cedar. It was fantastic! The Adrianna had more of a dried fruit characteristic, reminiscent of prunes, figs and dried cherries with a great deal of earthiness on the nose! Thanks Rob for sharing your hidden gems!20170223_202037

I cannot say enough of how impressive these wines were. It’s decision making time at Hicks Fine Wines, as we settle on what wines would suit the store best and which ones we would like to grace our shelves! In the end, no matter what we choose, we’ll be winners, and so will the consumer should they decide to take any one of these wines home to indulge in. Salud!

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Geeky Grape Girl (G3) – Part 2 Answers

It’s Friday, so it must be answer day to the geeky grapes question! I’m happy to report that at least one person attempted to answer the questions, which I received via email! And the individual even gave me the reference of the website they were using to find the answers. Hey, doesn’t matter how they were found, I was happy to receive some answers! I’m also happy to report this individual did really well in the research and other than a few details, got them all right! If you are a regular reader, you know I kind of work in themes, and this week is no exception! All of these wines from this weeks quiz come from the islands of Italy – Sardinia and Sicily. So do you want to know the answers?

Carignano – a red grape grown on the island of Sardinia. We know this grape as Carignan in France and Carineña in Spain. This is known as a traditional grape (as opposed to a native grape) as it arrived in the country via the Spanish. It’s also known as Uva di Spagna (grape of Spain), and wines from old vine carignano can be interesting indeed – velvety, fleshy fruit with soft tannins.


Frappato grapes

Frappato – a red grape from Sicily, this grape is more known as a blending grape in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend (with Nero d’Avola). A maximum of 40% can be used in this blend to help soften the wine. In fact, the more frappato put into Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the lighter and more fragrant it will be. On its own though, this is a lovely pale wine, with lower alcohol (around 12/5% abv) brimming with floral notes of violets, fresh fruits of strawberry and cherry, and some dried herbs. I’m a big fan of frappato, and recently got my wish and now have some on the store shelves!

Nero D’Avola – also a red grape from Sicily, although it’s found in Calabria too (the toe of the boot). For centuries this grape was known as Calabrese, but everyone in the world, including Italians, know this grape much better as nero d’avola. As stated above, it is the main grape in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend, but makes powerful wines on its own. It is the second most common cultivar grown on the island of Sicily, everywhere except the northeast corner, and seventh most common in all of Italy. Good nero d’avolas will have dark cherry fruit, some tar, earth and tomato leaf aromas and flavours.

Nasco – a white grape from Sardinia, the name means “musky” which characterizes the


Nasco grapes

wines aroma. Lots of strong herbal notes as well, this grape can also be used to make good quality sweet wines, of which I have tasted
both versions of (dry and sweet). Many growers of this grape believe that it’s one of the oldest varieties of Sardinia, and potentially the best.

Monica – a red grape from Sardinia, the name alone is pretty enough to make me want to try it (which I have). One of the most abundant grapes in Sardinia, a pure monica is meant to be drunk young and fresh. It is a simple wine, yet lovely with red berry aromas and flavors along with hints of tobacco and smoke.


Monica grapes


Grillo grapes

Grillo – a white grape from Sicily, many may be familiar with Marsala, but not really know about it! Grillo is actually the main grape used in marsala wine (along with cataratto and ansonica).What is interesting about this grape is that it is considered only of Sicily’s highest quality varieties, although its existence on the island seems relatively recent (after the eighteenth century, which for Italy in all its oldness, is indeed recent!) For fans of sauvignon blanc, give grillo a try! It will have a lemony, grapefruit, herbal crispness reminiscent of the sauvignon blanc grape many of us are familiar with.


Vermentino grapes

Vermentino – a white grape from Sardinia, and grown well in Tuscany, but can also be found in Liguria, Umbria, Abruzzo, Lazio and Sicily. Some might know this grape as pigato, or favorita, or rolle (France). In fact, is this grape actually a true Italian native grape, or is it a traditional grape, traveling to the country from elewhere? So, in a way, I guess this was a bit of a trick, and although this grape is found mostly in the southern part of Italy, the largest acreage under vine is in Sardinia. (Side: my next set of testing wines is this grape, one wine from Sardinia and one wine from Tuscany. My goal is to see if I can tell the difference between the two.) I love a good vermentino, and certainly don’t drink enough of it! It has lovely stone fruit notes of peach and apricot, along with some sweet floral notes and ripe golden delicious apple (my favourite apple btw…). Some vermentino can also be aged on the lees (those dead yeast cells that get stirred up into the wine), which always adds a creamy texture to the wine. Added lees will give more tropical fruit notes to a vermentino, and there are even ones blended with chardonnay that will really hit you with a creamy texture. Because this grape is grown by the sea,  most always, a saline tang will be prevalent on the finish. And just to confuse you even further, there is also a red grape called vermentino nera, which is extremely rare, but out there nonetheless!

I hope you learned something about these grapes, and for the next edition of G3…look for the theme, and that will surely aid you in taking a stab at guessing where they are from! See you next week. Salute!

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