Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finding Joy in Red Wine

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller

A family emergency took me back to Ontario last week. Despite the melancholy feel over the visit, I decided to try and find small joys through my loved ones while there. I held my new baby nephew for the first time, did some of my favourite things with my best friend, and spent some quality time with my Dad. And when my father and I get together, wine is almost always involved!

He wanted to restock his cellar for the upcoming holidays. We set out to three of his local LCBO stores, and together, going off his palate preferences, we purchased 15 bottles and tasted a few of his choices. These were some of the hits:

1. Cantina del Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore 2011
Flavours of ripe cherries, resin and tobacco with a hint of spice on the long finish. The soft tannins are well-structured and combine with focused acidity for a rustic, full mouthfeel. A classic Italian Dolcetto that pairs well with steak and other red meats. Decanting the wine 1-2 hours before serving will allow the red fruit flavours to really shine.

2. Montresor Capitel della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011
A sultry blend of stewed cherries, raspberries and chocolate. Smooth and structured tannins create a well balanced body with a long, lush finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with mild charcuterie, kalamata olives and mozzarella cheese.

3. Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills (H3) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Deep purple in colour, with notes of blackberry, plum and a white pepper finish. A hint of green olive mid-palate and silky tannins add complexity. A great wine to share with friends over foods such as gourmet pizzas.

When I returned home, I was asked to sample a wine for a 40th birthday party, which was the Bodegas Los 800 Priorat 2010 from Spain. An intoxicating bouquet of dark cherries, cloves and mocha lead into a rich, complex body with silky tannins and a graphite backbone. The long, spicy finish lingers long after your glass is finished. Pairs well with roasted meats like Beef Wellington.

It is inevitable that we will experience sorrow in our lives. How we get through the pain is up to us. Finding and experiencing these small joys is what has helped me get through it all this past year. Family, friends and good wine are all the joys I need to get me through anything.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Look at Sauvignon Blanc in Chile

Those who know me, know I love Sauvignon Blanc. And I also have a fondness for Chilean wines. Put them together and you have some expressive wines with great value. I spent the last month of summer tasting some Chilean Sauvignon Blancs to see how the flavour profiles change with each growing region in Chile.

Although winemaking in Chile dates back a couple hundred years, it was only in the 1990s that the country really landed on the viticultural map. Sauvignonasse was originally planted in some regions, a similar varietal that produces wines of lesser quality; it was mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc. Plantings are being removed with authentic vines replacing them. Chile tends to focus on producing fruit-forward Sauvignon Blancs with tropical nuances and less on the herbaceousness that old world wines tend to showcase.

Coquimbo is the northernmost wine region in Chile, and the Elqui Valley sub-region is becoming known for producing some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. This is likely because of low annual rainfall amounts, which would help control the growth of the vigorous vines. Plenty of access to sunlight and cooling mountain breezes also help to improve the quality of the grapes.

Falernia's 2012 Sauv Blanc is fresh and fruit-forward, full of passionfruit, pineapple and underripe green apple flavours. Hints of anise and a white pepper finish add complexity. The body is strong enough to handle dishes like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.

South of the Coquimbo region and north of Santiago lies the Casablanca sub-region of the Aconcagua Valley. White varietals dominate in the vineyards due to cooling fogs and ocean breezes, ideal conditions for growing Sauvignon Blanc. Mild winters also extend the growing season by approximately one month longer than other winegrowing regions in Chile.

The Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was my personal favourite of these wines, with tropical notes of passionfruit and pineapple up front and a beautiful nuance of sweet peas. Crisp acidity and a hint of minerality rounded out the palate. Well-balanced. Great for sipping on a patio with grilled salmon and mild cheeses.

The Central Valley consists of sub-regions that include the Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule. The Curico Valley is the southernmost region of these, with average high rainfall amounts and nutrient-rich soils. Although Curico does have the reputation for producing inexpensive blends and once was a haven for growing Sauvignonasse, some good Sauvignon Blancs have come from here of late.

One such example is the Montes Classic 2013. Notes of underripe apricots, leafiness and basil lead into a high, mouthwatering acidity that carries on through the finish. This wine has the power and structure I love about a good Sauvignon Blanc. Pairs well with seafood dishes, especially clam and bacon linguine.

Concha y Toro makes a Sauvignon Blanc on their Casillero del Diablo line that sources grapes from their vineyards in the Limari, Casablanca and Rapel Valleys. All regions are well represented here. Notes of pear, lemon and snap peas combine with a delightful hint of grilled pineapple on the finish. The zesty acidity makes this wine great with rich foods like quiches and hors d'oeuvres in puff pastry, but is also light enough to pair well with more delicate shellfish like scallops.

I was surprised to find hints of herbaceousness and leafiness in more of these bottles than I thought I would. Otherwise, each wine truly does reflect the style of Sauvignon Blanc that Chile seeks to produce, with approachable fruit flavours and crisp acidity at a good value. If Chile continues to focus on and improve quality in both the vineyard and in the winery, I truly believe their Sauvignon Blancs have potential to become world-class, like their Cabernet cousins from Puente Alto.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Meatless Monday

Every once in awhile I like to indulge in a vegetarian meal, and Meatless Monday is always a great way to integrate this into dinnertime. This week we had an influx of fresh carrots given to us by our neighbours. I decided to make a soup I have in one of my old cookbooks, called "This Food, That Wine". It's a great cookbook full of recipes that come with recommended wine pairings, and contains write-ups on the major grape varietals, their flavour profiles, and other bits of information.

Click here for more information and to buy the book.

Carrot & Cumin Soup, from "This Food, That Wine"

Serves 6, level of difficulty - easy

6 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2 cloves of garlic chopped

2 teaspoons (10ml) whole cumin seeds (quickly toasted in a skillet until fragrant,) ground in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder

3 Tablespoons (45ml) canola oil

Salt and a few drops of tabasco

1 cup (250ml) white wine*

4 cups (1 litre) chicken or vegetable broth brought to a boil

Chopped fresh chives (optional garnish)

Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche (optional garnish)

1. In a heavy bottomed soup pot warm up your oil over medium heat. Add your onions and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.

2. Add your carrots, garlic and ground cumin seeds to the pot with the salt and tabasco. Cook this all gently for about 20 minutes giving it a good stir now and then.

3. Add the wine and turn up the heat to bring the wine to a boil.

4. Pour in your hot stock and simmer until the carrots are really tender which should take around 10 minutes.

5. In a blender or food processor, blend the soup until it’s really smooth and creamy. I find it works best if you put the chunks of veg in first and add the stock to blend.

6. You can put your soup through a fine mesh strainer here or leave it a bit more rustic, totally up to you.

7. Serve the soup hot in warmed bowls with a swirl of sour cream and some chopped fresh chives.
As usual, I decided to play with the original recipe. After sweating the onions and garlic in oil, I added 1tbsp of smoky paprika to add more depth of flavour. Because I had no celery, I substituted celery salt for regular table salt. And because I prefer my soups more rustic, I spent less time pureeing the soup in the blender. Make sure you use a dry white wine with noticeable acidity as opposed to an off-dry or sweet one in the recipe. The carrots already add a sweetness; an off-dry wine would make the soup too sweet. We served the soup with caesar salad and spinach & feta "puffs" to round out our Meatless Monday meal!

Recommended Wine Match – Pinot Gris

I love this pairing because the floral aromas in Pinot Gris really highlight the fragrant cumin in the soup. The other important thing is choosing a wine that has enough body, and this wine works beautifully, with its smooth texture and fresh shot of acidity. Be sure to choose a Pinot GRIS, not a Grigio which would be too light. Viognier would be another great choice for this soup.

Since I was playing with the recipe, I decided to try a different pairing this time-I chose the Summerhill Ehrenfelser, 2013 vintage. I have always enjoyed Summerhill's Ehrenfelser; it was one of the first wines that I really enjoyed and would buy on a regular basis, even before I started my WSET journey.

Summerhill's 2013 Ehrenfelser has all the aromatics of a Gewurztraminer, without the oily texture. Notes of honeysuckle, lychee, pear and apricot preclude a spicy ginger finish. Off dry and expressive, with fresh acidity and a hint of effervescence. It pairs well with sushi, tempura, and spiced popcorn, but I also enjoyed it with the soup.

Other Canadian wines that would pair well with this soup include:

Mission Hill's Reserve Pinot Gris
Church & State's Trebella: Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne White Blend
Cave Springs Riesling

Although I will never become a full-fledged vegetarian or vegan because I love meat too much, I do believe in expanding my cooking skills to all styles of cuisines. Wine pairings are never limited, just as I will never limit myself in the kitchen. My husband has challenged me to cook a bunch of new recipes using dried red lentils I purchased awhile ago, so stay tuned for some more vegetarian recipes and wine pairings!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Red Wines for Wintry Weather...and Romance!

Calgary received its first snowstorm of the season earlier this month. Although our fair city is well known for its extreme weather patterns and long winters, this bout of winter arrived way too early. This local photo went viral almost as soon as it was tweeted out:

Those three days of heavy wet snow that plagued our city inspired me to curl up in front of the fireplace with my husband, enjoy some wine and try not to look out the window. We focused on reds from Northeast Italy, specifically from the Valpolicella and Trentino DOCs. The two exceptions here are the bottle of Rioja I decided to sneak into the mix, and my husband's choice of a Super Tuscan. Price points for all bottles range from under $20 to $60 CDN. Here is what warmed up our souls, and ignited some romance as well!

1. Folonari Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2012

Young and fruit-forward, with flavours of raspberries, blueberries and mocha lingering on the palate. Silky tannins and fresh acidity add to the smooth mouthfeel. A great accompaniment to pork ribs, and will warm you up on wintry nights! Decant for 30-45 minutes before serving so the fruit flavours can really shine.

2. Intaglio Trentino Rosso 2009

Notes of red cherry, earth and a wild animal whisper combine with soft tannins to create an alluring mouthfeel. Medium bodied and juicy, this wine paired well with smoked Gouda cheese and a cold weeknight.

3. Corallo Ripasso 2010

Another ideal weeknight wine, showing a flavour profile of dark cherries, raspberries and chocolate with a surprising earthiness mid-palate and a raisin finish. The high alcohol content makes this Ripasso very food friendly, and beef and pork dishes really brighten up the fruit.

4. Tommasi Maremma Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2011

A lively, approachable Super Tuscan, which is composed of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of fresh cherries, blackberries and black pepper combined with soft, focused tannins and mouthwatering acidity round out the palate. This wine is very food friendly and pairs well with everything from pizza to roast beef. Drink now or age for a maximum of 5 years in cellar.

5. Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2008

Full-bodied and powerful, with edgy acidity and grippy tannins. Aromas of red currants, plums, vanilla and musk lead into the palate, with cedar notes on the finish to reflect the oak aging of the wine. Pair with lamb roasts, game meats and hard, strong cheeses. Decant 2 hours before serving. Drink now or age in cellar up to 7 years.

6. Tommasi Amarone Della Valpolicella 2010

This wine will seduce you with racy acidity and silky tannins well integrated to it's voluptuous, full body. Notes of black cherries and savoury chocolate lead into a caramel finish. Curl up with your significant other, this wine and a blanket in front of a roaring fire and romance is surely in the cards!

Winter will hopefully still be awhile before it settles in here, but when it does, I'll be ready and well-armed with wines to keep my mind off the weather, and on my sweetie :) Whatever beverages light your fire, enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wine for the Soul

"If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain" - Dolly Parton originally, but I first heard it in The Fault in Our Stars.

Normally, quotes don't hit that hard with me. But this line triggered a fountain of emotions, making me sob like a baby. that was not the part of the movie I expected to cry at.

I am currently experiencing my second major loss this year. Emotional wounds that I thought were healing are now open again, bringing a rainfall of tears on my cheeks, a flood of emotions in my heart as I grieve, and a downpour of physical side effects. In times like these, it's hard to remember that this too shall pass, and at some point this will all become a distant memory.  

Last night I sat down with a bottle of Viognier for a future blog post. I took my first few sips to begin my tasting notes, and all of a sudden a fleeting moment of calm and relief came over me as I was swishing the wine in my mouth. Because I was so caught up in my own negative emotions, I had somehow forgotten how happy wine makes me, no matter how bad I feel.

"Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, makes weariness forget his toil." - Lord Byron

Wine is there for you. Think of all those lonely bottles on store shelves, wanting to make you happy. How many of you have thought "I can't wait to get home, put my feet up and drink a bottle of wine" after a bad day? Or made an impromptu side trip to your local liquor store or pub because you wanted to be cheered up? One of my favourite ecards refers to wine as a life coach at the end of a hard day:

Wine is a hug for the soul and a blanket for sorrow. Same thing for those who prefer beer or other spirits. The key is to enjoy them all in moderation. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who drink alcohol in excess to deal with the really tough stuff, but addiction is a whole other story. How many times has a glass or 2 of wine made you smile through your tears, even for a moment? How many of you have taken that first sip and thought "Wow, I'm really enjoying this"?

Case in point: My father. He was diagnosed with tonsil cancer back in 2008. Thirty-five radiation treatments destroyed his sense of taste for 4 months. Once he was finished treatment and beginning to heal, he found that wine confirmed his tastebuds were returning, helping with the emotional healing process. Fast forward to today: he is currently 5 years cancer-free, and also has a healthy collection of red wines including Amarone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape that he tucks into regularly.

This also happens in the movie (spoiler alert!): the star-crossed lovers are treated to a romantic dinner, which includes a bottle of Dom Perignon. Check out the video clip here. This becomes the pinnacle happy moment in their relationship, and the couple enjoys another bottle of sparkling wine on one of their last good days together.

Multiple studies have been performed on this subject, and if you google "studies that wine makes you happy" or something similar, you'll get pages of hits. How much fun would it be to participate in those studies?!

We all have a journey to take in life. There will be happy times intertwined with challenges. The sun won't shine every day, and we are all guaranteed to be caught in the downpour of life at some point. But while we are stuck in the rain, why not try and find shelter, whatever it may be, and reach for a good bottle of wine to enjoy while we wait for our rainbows? Or you could also dance in the rain: 

That's what I'm going to do. And I know as I continue along my healing journey, my wine journey will help me get back to being okay.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Favourite New World Cabernets

I love Cabernet Sauvignon. So in honour of #CabernetDay on Twitter, I decided to put a list together of my favourite Cabs, both single varietal bottles and blends. Prices range from inexpensive to premium. Here they are sorted by region: 


1. Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 or 2012. $20 CDN
A pronounced and perfumed bouquet of red fruit, roses and black pepper will seduce you. Fresh flavours of red currant, musk and green pepper will leave you wanting more. Ripe, grippy tannins are well integrated to the concentrated mouthfeel. Pair with grilled red meats or pot roast.

2. Concha y Toro Terrunyo Block Las Terrazas DO Pirque 2008 $33 CDN
The Maipo subregion in Chile is known to show hints of menthol in their Cabernet Sauvignons, and this wine reflects this with a flavour profile of dark cherries, eucalyptus and a hint of mint. The wine is unfiltered, but adds powerful tannins that don't overpower the palate. This has been my go-to bottle for #CabernetDay the past 2 years in a row.

3. Vina Casa Silva Dona Dominga Cabernet Carmenere 2011 $15 CDN 
The 2011 Dona Dominga Cabernet Carmenere is a fun, juicy and fruity red with aromas of blackberries, spices and coffee. The ripe tannins are well integrated to the body and structure of the wine. This wine pairs well with more casual foods like pizza and burgers, as well as with meats like venison and prime rib. An easy drinking, mouth-pleasing red wine. 

4. Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 $20 CDN
A full-bodied, intense wine with a flavour profile of blackberries, coffee & tobacco leaf. Vegetal notes mid-palate that intertwine well with the ripe tannins. Very food friendly, great with lamb and can handle a heavier cut of beef.


1. Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $40 CDN
Deep ruby in colour, with notes of red cherries, green bell pepper and a lovely medicinal hint. The full body boasts racy acidity and well-integrated tannins. Complex and shows its terroir well.

2. Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010 $20 CDN
Coonawarra Cabernets tend to carry a menthol note in the wine, and this one does not disappoint in that regard! Each varietal in the blend is well represented in this full-bodied beauty, with plum, blackberry, spice and coffee notes. The soft, silky tannins last well into the long finish. This wine pairs well with roasted lamb and gamey meats, and can also be enjoyed on it's own. 

United States

1. Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009 $120+ CDN
This is the big splurge of the list, but it is well worth it! The bouquet is an intoxicating blend of red currant, blackberries and a hint of mocha. Elegant, well-structured tannins and a smooth, full body on the palate leave you wanting more! The smoky finish adds to the appeal of this premium wine. Consumable now, but also has an aging potential of 10 years.

2. Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 $15-$20 CDN
This wine is perfect for a BBQ or a casual weeknight dinner, and is excellent value for the money. A fruit-forward, fun wine with notes of currants, blackberries and a hint of asparagus. Ripe tannins and mouth-watering acidity make this wine an excellent accompaniment to steak and burgers. 


1. Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio - Any Vintage $40-$50 CDN
Ok, this one isn't much of a value. But it is my favourite Canadian Cabernet blend, consisting of 61% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. A powerful red wine with notes of red cherries, eucalyptus and black olives on the palate. There is a subtly beautiful hint of oak that doesn't overpower the flavour profile. The tannins are supple but strong, and this wine could still benefit from a few more years in the cellar although it is drinking well now. Decant for 1-2 hours before drinking. 

2. Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2011 $20 CDN
Notes of fresh strawberries, blackcurrant leaves and green beans are intertwined with mouthwatering acidity and grippy tannins. This lively, easy drinking wine would be great to bring to a BBQ and pairs well with burgers and grilled pork.

3. Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2011 $15-$20 CDN
This wine has the approachable charm of a Merlot combined with the body and structure of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of plum, blackberry and green bell pepper with a smooth finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with grilled pork and roasted chicken. A fun wine to share with good company!

Hopefully you find a wine here you'd like to try, also like some of these wines, or find this helpful when shopping. If you do have luck here, I'd love to hear about it! 

Cheers, and if you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Meal Planning Made Easy for Moms

I'm a woman with many loves. I'm an aviation loving receptionist/admin assistant by day at our local International Airport, and by night I chase my passions for food & wine as a blogger. But the greatest loves in my life are my husband and my 2.5 year old daughter.

While on maternity leave from my day job, I stumbled across a local organization called the Mothers Opposed to Boredom, aka "MOB". It was founded a few years back by a couple of ladies looking to connect with other mothers and support eachother in what I believe is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs in the world. Since then, MOB has grown to a community of over 4,000 members with its own website, Facebook group and book club, among other things.

I was approached by one of the administrators to write an article in the food section of the MOB's online newsletter earlier this year. The subject: meal planning (something else I love to nerd out on!). That same administrator approached me recently to post the article on a family member's blog. Naturally, I said yes. But that reminded me: I never posted it here, on my own blog! So here is the link to the article.

One other thing that I ended up liking about the "More Time Moms" calendar is that my daughter can help by placing stickers on dates where I need them, or play with the stickers I don't need. Something we can do together is always rewarding!

The Mother of All Things Blogstyle is a relatively new blog, but it's a great resource for parents on subjects such as food, health, working parents, humour, basically everything parents want to say! Make sure to check it out.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Playing with Pairings: A Light, White "Tour de France"

The Tour de France wrapped up at the end of July and as a homage, I dreamt up a tour of my own! We cooked up 4 dishes and paired them with 4 light-bodied white wines from various regions in France, focusing on the 2008 vintage. In course order, we visited Alsace, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We chose the date of August 2nd as that was considered Food Day Canada, so we could use the best Canadian ingredients we could find for pairing with these French beauties.

Our first stop was Alsace. August 2008 was a cooler month with regular rain, which was said to bring higher than normal acidity to the fruit. I chose Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc for our first course and paired it with PEI mussels in a wine & herb sauce, along with a Caprese Salad made with fresh BC tomatoes and basil grown in our Alberta garden. Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc carries a concentrated blend of melon, grapefruit and fresh pear aromas, with hints of ripe nectarines and white apple lingering on the finish. There was crisp acidity on the palate, but nowhere near as high as I was expecting. Because I used some of the Pinot Blanc as part of the sauce for the mussels, the wine matched the seafood perfectly and the medium body on the wine did not overpower the delicate mussels. The crisp acidity cut through the mozzarella cheese in the Caprese Salad, and because the cheese isn't strong in flavour, it did not overpower the wine. 

Other foods that would pair well with Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc include shellfish, fresh mixed greens salads and light egg dishes. It is also excellent on it's own and as an aperitif.

Our next stop was Bordeaux. Usually, the region's white grapes are made into the lusciously sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Since not all grapes are affected by the botrytis that renders them sweet, some wineries will make a dry white wine with the unaffected fruit. Such is the case at Chateau Guiraud (see my blog post from April 2013 for more information). I paired Le G de Guiraud 2008 with Atlantic pan-fried salmon and homemade pesto. Le G de Guiraud 2008 is a well-balanced white with notes of underripe pineapple, passion fruit, fresh snap peas and green grass. There is also a refreshing acidity and a mouth-filling richness on the body. This richness, courtesy of the Semillon grape in the blend, cut through the fattiness of the salmon while complementing the rich flavours and textures in the pesto. This was my favourite pairing of the night!

Other foods that would pair well with Chateau Guiraud's Le G de Guiraud 2008 include grilled chicken breasts, portobello mushrooms, cooked asparagus and other vegetable dishes topped with goat's cheese.  

The next stop was the Loire Valley. This wine region is known best for the grape varietal Chenin Blanc, which can be made into wines of different styles including sweet, sparkling, dry and off-dry wines.The 2008 vintage started poorly, with lots of cloud cover. Conditions changed into late summer, and sunshine extended the harvest season well into Autumn. Although off dry and sweeter wines were the focus in 2008, I chose a dry white, Chateau de Targe Les Frenettes 2008 and paired it with Spinach and Parmesan in Puff Pastry. Les Frenettes 2008 is delicate and light-bodied, with flavours of green apple, lemon, and white blossom married with zesty acidity and a subtle complexity with vanilla and herbal notes on the finish. Although the delicate body of the wine did not stand up well against the dense puff pastry, the wine flourished once we got to the spinach and Parmesan center. 

Other foods that would pair well with Chateau Targe's Les Frenettes 2008 include both light and fatty fish and lighter cheeses like feta. I personally prefer this wine on it's own.

Our last stop was Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is most well-known for its robust red wines. However, some perfumed, beautiful white wines are also made in this region using grape varieties that include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, among other varieties. I paired Domaine des Senechaux's 2008 Blanc blend with Smoked Oregano Chicken, Haricots Verts and Roasted Bell Peppers. The wine contains notes of lime, cantaloupe, and wet stone on the palate, with an intriguing hint of ginger on the finish. Full of racy acidity that doesn't overpower the flavour profile and minerality that really speaks to the terroir of the region, this wine is great with food as the wine has a 14% abv content. The wine complemented the chicken, beans and peppers really well and the quince notes really brought to life some of the other spices used in the chicken.

Other foods that would pair well with Domaine des Senechaux's white blend include everything listed above! 

After these 4 courses, we were too full for dessert! However, the regions of Bordeaux, Loire Valley, and Alsace all create excellent sweet white wines that will pair well with many dessert dishes, as long as the wine is sweeter than the food. This is so that the wine's sweetness and flavour profile will stand out against the sweetness of the dessert.

Whichever foods you decide to pair your French white wines with, remember to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. The majority of these wines are both food friendly, and all are excellent on their own. If you choose to try any of the wines and/or the food pairings we tried, I hope you like them as much as I did. Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eating My Way Through...Calgary Stampede 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. Every year this week many Calgarians dust off their cowboy hats, break out their Wrangler jeans and turn Calgary into a western party called the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede features the largest kick-off parade in North America, Grandstand rodeo events like Chuckwagon Races and Bullriding, a large carnival with midway rides, nightly concerts and various exhibits, and other special events throughout the city including concerts and free pancake breakfasts.

Usually, I am what people consider a "Stampede Scrooge". Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent source of exposure and income for the city with many tourists flocking here and spending lots of money on the grounds. It was also a great way to bring the community together during our massive flood last year, and many amazing stories of humanity came out of ensuring the Stampede would go on, "Come Hell or High Water". There are many reasons why the Stampede is an awesome week-long event; too many to list here. But for someone who despises large crowds, boorishly drunk people (when I'm not drinking-ha!) and lineups over 30 minutes long, Stampede isn't really my thing. With all of this said, there is one midway feature that gets me excited enough to brave the crowds, drunks and lineups, throw on my cowboy hat and denim and scream out "Yee-haw!"

The Food.

Each year, the Stampede releases a list of the new, unique and sometimes weird new foods on the midway. Here is the link to this year's list. After salivating over the majority of the foods, my friends and I decided to find as many of these featured items as possible without bursting, and eat our way through the midway.

1. Red Velvet Mini Donuts
Of all the featured food items this year, the most talked-about sweet treat seems to be the Red Velvet Mini Donuts. My summer student insisted that I cover this one, and it was one of the first stops of the day. Warm, moist red velvet donuts with a light glaze of cream cheese icing served on a stick for convenience while walking around. They were wonderfully soft and not overly sticky, but I personally prefer "Those Little Donuts" that are deep-fried in front of you and served with cinnamon sugar on top.

2. Crocodile, Python and Kangaroo Sliders
I'm always looking for something new to try, and different meats is always on that list. I was able to sample 3 more with the sliders package at the Gourmet Burger vendor close to the Indian Village. For $12, you get 3 sliders with your choice of the meats listed above and Ostrich served with a tomato slice and a handful of chips. My personal favourite was python. It has a mild, unique flavour that is sort of like pork. The crocodile slider tasted like chicken and the kangaroo slider resembled venison as it was a little gamey.
Want something more mainstream? Gourmet Burger also offers up a full menu of burgers with both regular and unusual toppings such as the Monkey Burger, which comes with Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana!

3. Creole Cajun Chicken Po'Boy
The word "Po'Boy" alone gets me excited; how can you go wrong with a sandwich full of delicious meat and creamy sauce served in a baguette-like bun? Unfortunately, the vendors found a way for this sandwich to fall flat. It wasn't anything more than a glorified chicken sandwich on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. Yahoo to the flavourful coleslaw and the spiciness of the breaded chicken.
Rope in Instead: The Turkey Dinner Poutine from the same vendor. It's a mishmash of both worlds, and it's also a great base if you plan to hit the beer gardens for awhile.

We also ate some food that wasn't on the featured list this year but have become tried-and-true favourites:

4. Deep-Fried Cheesecake and Deep-Fried Snickers Bar
This is everything it promises: a snickers bar breaded, deep-fried and served on a stick. They are both gooey, melty delicious treats, albeit a bit messy to eat. Perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth! The picture below is of the cheesecake.

5. The Quebec Poutine, La Poutinerie
La Poutinerie takes this Canadian treasure to the next level by adding different items into the mix. I chose the Quebec Poutine which includes maple syrup with the traditional ingredients. It added a wonderful dimension to the savoury and salty flavours and the portion size was enough to leave you full without feeling too full.

We were also pleased to find out that some of the beer gardens allow minors until 8pm! It was a great chance for parents to imbibe with a beer or 2, and my daughter enjoyed a fruit smoothie while watching her daddy ride the mechanical bull! Win-win!

Although Stampede is almost over this year, there's still a chance to get down to the grounds and try some of the weird and wonderful foods on the midway. Maybe this year I'm not such a "Stampede Scrooge" after all. Happy eating and happy Stampeding!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The World Cup...of Wine Too?

Starting tomorrow, the majority of the world will shift their eyes to Brazil, intensely fixated on the matches of their chosen football teams, fiercely focused on the scoreboards and standings for the next month. I'm usually not part of this vast majority-that is, until this year.

It's interesting to note that there are many winemaking countries that qualified for the World Cup this year: Chile, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, USA, Greece, the list goes on. You'll find a winemaking country in the majority of the Group Stage matches. Since I have no real affinity for any specific team, I'm going to follow along-and drink along!-to the winemaking countries by uncorking a bottle to celebrate team wins by Chile, Australia, Italy, France and the USA (let's face it, if I drank a bottle in honour of every winemaking country that wins a game in the tournament, you might as well throw me into rehab!). Those are my top 5 choices. However, if Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany or Greece make it to the Quarter-finals, I will cheer them on at that point too. In order to pace myself, I've scheduled out the games I will celebrate-drinking multiple bottles mid-week really isn't responsible when you're a parent and work full-time. So here's my celebratory schedule for the Group Stage:

Fri June 13: Chile vs Australia, 4pm MST
Sat June 14: England vs Italy, 4pm MST
*due to a French-themed dinner party I am hosting that night, I will drink the Italian bottle on Sunday the 15th if Italy wins
Sun June 15: France vs Honduras, 1pm MST
Mon June 16: Ghana vs USA, 4pm MST
*Liver break for 3 days. I'm getting old!*
Fri June 20: France better win so I can celebrate hard at a French wine festival I already have tickets to that night!
*If Italy wins their game vs Costa Rica, I will drink on Sat June 21
Sun June 22: USA vs Portugal, 4pm MST
*If Portugal wins, I'm drinking port! 
*2 day liver and probably wallet break*
Wed June 25: Ecuador vs France, 2pm MST
Thurs June 26: USA vs Germany, 10am
*If Germany wins, I'll toast them instead 

All bottles opened for a win will be tweeted. I'll revisit the rules for the 2nd stage when the standings are finalized. 

Best of luck to my top 5 picks, my liver and my wallet, although this will definitely make football more fun! Cheers! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Okanagan Merlot and BBQ Meats

Spring "officially" began on March 20th, and although the winter season has dragged on into May, we've also seen a few short bursts of Spring-like weather. This has given my husband and I the chance to light up the barbecue and pair our grilled meats with some of the 2011 Merlots and Merlot blends from British Columbia.

The 2011 growing season is said to be one of the coolest on record in the Okanagan. Cool and wet conditions kicked off Spring and continued into the early summer. A late August heat wave allowed more hang time for the grapes to achieve physiological ripeness, and the time frame for harvest lasted a few weeks. According to the BC Wine Institute, Okanagan Merlots typically show a flavour profile that includes raspberries, plums, black cherries, licorice, oranges, coffee, toffee, chocolate, even fruit cake! They are also known to be medium to full-bodied, with moderate to assertive intensity. Here are a few of the standout wines we tasted:

Intrigue Wines is a relatively new winery in the Okanagan, but they are making their name known through their 2011 Merlot, which is consistently sold out on their website. Mellow and smooth, with soft tannins well integrated into the palate of ripe cherries, plum and smoke. Light in body and easy to drink, it will pair well with pizza, grilled chicken and ribs. The wine was also an excellent counterbalance to a Cuban cigar after dinner due to it's smoky finish, according to my husband!

Tinhorn Creek released a Merlot that is also fruit-forward with notes of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Bright and juicy, with refreshing acidity and a long, vibrant finish. This wine was great on it's own while watching the sun set on the deck, but would also play nicely with grilled chicken salads.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Series Merlot starts with a pronounced nose of plums and cloves, leading into a polished palate of raspberries, cherries and more spice. Well structured and rich with a sultry, smoky finish. This wine is an excellent accompaniment to steak and prime rib. Perhaps the best Canadian Merlot I have ever tasted, and has me back on the proverbial Merlot bandwagon!

Merlot has always been a great sidekick to Cabernet Sauvignon, softening it's bold tannins and adding fruitiness to the palate. This is no exception for Cab-Merlot blends in the Okanagan, and the two varietals continue to compliment eachother - both in bottle and with food.

Sumac Ridge's 2011 Cabernet Merlot has the approachable charm of a Merlot combined with the body and structure of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of plum, blackberry and green bell pepper linger on the palate through the long, smooth finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with grilled pork and vegetable kebabs. A fun wine to share with good company over animated conversation.

The Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Merlot contains notes of fresh strawberries, blackcurrant leaves and green beans, intertwined with mouthwatering acidity and grippy tannins. This lively, intense wine would be great with everything from grilled bison burgers to venison. Excellent value for money at a price of $20 CDN.

It was interesting to note that most of the Merlot wines we tasted had a smokiness on the palate, which added a beautiful complexity to the wines. They were also very expressive of the varietal, showing the traditional notes of plum and fresh berries. Despite the early season growing challenges, the wines were well structured and married nicely with all the grilled meats we paired with them. If you love Merlot, why not include a bottle, or 2, or 3 from the Okanagan? It will be sure to impress both you and your guests alike. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Add Some Green to your Glass for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, and the country's culture and customs. Because it is also known as a Christian feast day, food and drink tend to be at the forefront of the celebration; especially drink. St. Patrick's Day falls under the season of Lent, which means no meat on Fridays, sacrificing a luxury in the name of the Lord, and in some cases, no drinking. However, these restrictions are lifted on March 17, allowing everyone to participate, which may encourage some views that this day represents heavy drinking. Traditionally, pubs fill up quickly and green beer flows like the water cascading down Niagara Falls. Other traditional drinks include Irish Whiskey (i.e. Bushmills), Irish Cream Liqueur (mmm, Bailey's!), and for those who don't want food colouring in their beer, Ireland's trademark Guinness does the trick.

But what about us wine drinkers? Is there a way we can celebrate with wine? Yes! Here are some ways us wine lovers can add some green to our glass, without the food colouring:

1. Drink "Green Wine"

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese semi-sparkling white wine that translates into English as "green wine". This translation is meant to describe the wine as young, and not in reference to the colour. Vinho Verde wines are full of citrus flavour, with mouth-watering acidity and low alcohol. They can also show notes of tropical fruit, lighter stone fruits like apples, and in some cases a bit of a barnyard aroma. Vinho Verde wines are great values and many are found in Canada under $20. They also pair well with fish and chips!

Vinhos I recommend: Twin Vines, Gazela, any Vinho Verde made exclusively with the grape Alvarinho.

2. Wines that Think Green

Many wineries throughout the world highly value sustainability in the vineyards. Organic and biodynamic wineries are on the rise as environmental concerns become mainstream. No chemical treatments are used in organic viticulture, and all wines have to be registered with a certification body in order to be classified as organic. Biodynamic wineries base their vineyard management on planet and star cycles, and winegrowers use holistic concoctions to mitigate pests & diseases. Organic wines range in prices from inexpensive to premium, but there are many good quality wines on the market that do their part for Mother Nature without costing you a lot of greenbacks!

I recommend: Villa Teresa DOC Prosecco-why not add a little bubbly to the celebration?

3. Wines that Taste Green

This is where the red wine drinkers come in. There are many varietals in the wine world that pack a vegetal punch with hints of asparagus, peas, and grass to name a few. Some of the most common varietals include:

-Cabernet Franc
-Sauvignon Blanc
-Cabernet Sauvignon
-Pinot Noir
-Gruner Veltliner

Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon would both pair well with Irish stew, and Gruner Veltliner marries well with potatoes. Bonus points for finding bottles that have Irish names, places or language on the label!

You don't have to be a beer drinker or a whiskey lover to participate in St. Patrick's Day. The day is for celebrating Ireland's customs, culture and St. Patrick's contribution to Christianity. Everyone is welcome to celebrate no matter what they drink as the day is meant to be fun and friendly. And as an Irish toast once said:

"May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances.
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Petite Sirah: A Star of California's Vineyards

You've heard the trademark Hollywood rags to riches stories about the girl next door leaving home and moving to California to try their hand at acting, getting their first major role in a movie after some bit parts and becoming a blockbuster star. A similar story can be found in the wine world. Petite Sirah has made a name for itself in Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin Valley; currently starring in it's own bottles, which is a big change from the tiny roles it used to play in blends. Here is the rags to riches story of Petite Sirah, one of California's boldest grapes with an almost cult-like following.

Originally named Durif, the grape was born by experimentally crossing Peloursin in an eastern French lab around 1868. For a long while, Durif had no idea who it's father was, but many years later found out it was likely Syrah. The grape did quite well in France in it's early years, proving to be strong enough to resist the the downy mildew epidemic running rampant through the vineyards at that time. However, Durif did not do well in frost and was also sensitive to the scorching summer sun. The grape needed a change of terroir to really flourish and show it's true potential.

In a typical Hollywood story the star is "discovered" by an influential person who can see their "star power". For Amy Adams it was Stacy O'Neil. For Durif it was Charles McIver of California's Linda Vista Winery, who imported the grape as Petite Sirah, possibly misspelled from Petite Syrah. Fortunately the name caught on, and Petite Sirah adapted well to the more temperate climate. It didn't take long for other wineries to notice the grape, and by the turn of the century Petite Sirah was one of the most widely planted varietals in the state. However, the grape was so powerful and tannic only small amounts were used in blends to add structure and colour. This would continue for decades until 1961, when Concannon vineyards made the first bottle of 100% Petite Sirah. This turned out to be the grape's "big break" as other wineries followed suit, and Petite Sirah gained many devoted fans thanks to this trend. Although other varietals have found their way into the limelight from the 1970s to today, many wineries continue to produce bottles made exclusively of Petite Sirah, and websites like advocate the awareness and support of these wines. Petite Sirah has found a true home in California, and plantings have also been recorded in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Cellar owners would love P.S. as the wines tend to age very well, upwards of 10 years. Patience is rewarded when aging this varietal.

Stag's Leap Winery's 2010 Petite Sirah shows the powerful tannins, inky dark colouring and juicy palate that are trademark to the varietal. Full-bodied and complex, the bouquet contains notes of black fruit, tobacco and cedar. This wine was best after decanting for 4 hours. Pairs well with grilled lamb or roast beef, and will age beautifully in the next 7-10 years.

Stargroves 2008 Petite Sirah is approachable now, with an elegance and refined structure consistent with the Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. Supple tannins are harmoniously balanced with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherries, tobacco and rubber linger on the palate through to the long and lively finish. Surprisingly drinkable on it's own, and also pairs well with red meats and hard cheeses. Decant for 1-2 hours.

Petite Sirah has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in Eastern France to thriving in the California limelight. If you enjoy dark, bold, tannic reds, this varietal will not disappoint! So treat yourself like the star you are and try a bottle today!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2013

Happy New Years!

This past year was a busy one on my wine journey. From Gruner Veltliner to Gaja, I was able to taste wines from many different regions. There were some surprises on the way; the biggest one being my new-found appreciation of Chilean wines. Traditions were also continued, like The Pinot Noir Project and a return visit to the Okanagan in the summer. My experience with WSET Advanced classes gave me a ton to learn and taste. Here are some of my favourites from 2013 , with the country and region of origin for each wine also listed. Anything with a (v) means the wine is a great value at under $20 CDN:

Top Whites
It seems like 2011 was a good year for white wine producers all around. The Pfaffenheim is priced at just over $20 CDN, making all four of these wines an excellent value.
1. Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2011-Chile (v)
2. Rabl Gruner Veltliner 2011-Austria (v)
3. Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2011-Alsace, France
Honourable Mention: St Urbans-Hof Old Vines Riesling 2011-Mosel, Germany (v)

Top Reds
There wasn't any consistent red wine trend for me this year; however, I did develop a fondness for Italy's southern reds like Nero d'Avola and blends using the grape. With the exception of the Tedeschi Amarone (a beautiful splurge at $50), these wines are priced between $22-$33 CDN.
1. Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France
2. Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella 2005-Italy
3. Donnafugata Sedara 2010-Sicily, Italy
Honourable Mention: Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon DO Pirque 2008-Chile

Top Sparkling Wines
Those who know me know that I will always splurge on Champagne when I can. This year I was fortunate enough to taste some premium Champagne thanks to the WSET Advanced classes. There are plenty of excellent value sparkling wine options in the world, and Martini & Rossi's Asti fits the bill at $15 CDN.
1. Dom Ruinart 1998
2. Pol Roger 2000
Honourable Mention: Martini & Rossi Asti (v)

Top Sweet Wines
Once again, I was fortunate enough to try a premium Tokaji thanks to the WSET classes. Chateau Guiraud's Petit Guiraud retails at $30 CDN for a 375ml bottle and the Rutherglen Muscat is an excellent value at just under $30 as well.
1. Hetszolo Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2001-Hungary
2. Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud 2010-Sauternes, France 
3. Rutherglen Muscat-Australia

Top Rose Wines
There are plenty of good quality sparkling rose wines that are good values because they do not come from the Champagne region. The Louis Bouillot is made using the same grapes and method as Rose Champagne, and priced just over $20 CDN! 
Still: Quail's Gate 2012 Rose-Okanagan, Canada (v)
Sparkling: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose N/V-France
Honourable Mention, Sparkling: Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose N/V-Burgundy, France

Top Value Wines (under $20 CDN)
This year's value hot-spots are California and Chile. Both regions are producing some powerful, yet smooth and silky wines that rival their Old World counterparts, and are available at a fraction of the price!
1. Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel 2011-California, USA
2. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2010-California, USA
3. Vina Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva 2009-Chile

My Top Food & Wine Pairings
Interesting note: Kendall Jackson shared the photo of their Pinot and burger pairing on both their twitter and Facebook pages!
1. Tarte Tatin with Le Petit Guiraud 2010
2. Pork, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Burgers with Kendall Jackson's 2010 Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir (v)
3. Grilled Lamb Chops with M. Chapoutier 2010 Crozes-Hermitage

Hopefully you'll find this list useful-maybe there's a wine here that you've been wanting to try, or one that piques your interest. I would drink any of these again, and likely will in 2014. Enjoy!