Monday, December 28, 2015

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2015

This year is now coming to a close and although 2015 was relatively quiet in my world of wine, it brought much joy and surprise in other facets of life for me. On April 30, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child and in August, I was delighted to learn my baby is a girl! She will make her big arrival on December 30. She had me craving beer most of the pregnancy, future beer lover?

January 1-April 30 still had me busily exploring the world of wine. Some highlights included starting up a tasting group with fellow wine lovers in the late winter/early spring, visiting Jamaica's Appleton Estate Rum Distillery in February and attending a few local tasting events that focused on great value wines. I also made it back to the Okanagan in August and did some wine touring - thank goodness for spit buckets! 

Even with only 4 months of official tasting, I was able to put together a list of wines and pairings that stood out to me during the year. Here are my top wine picks of 2015!

Top Red Wines

Because my drinkable months occurred during the winter, my top picks favour red wines this year.  In fact, there were very few red wines I didn't enjoy in the first 3 months of 2015! The top two wines are priced in the premium category, while the other 3 are priced between $20 and $35 CDN.

1. Burrowing Owl Meritage 2011 - Oliver, British Columbia, Canada 

2. Joseph Phelps Insignia 1996 - Napa, California

4. Silkscarf Malbec Cabernet 2009 - Summerland, British Columbia, Canada

Top White Wines

Spain took the top 1 and 3 spots and French whites, including a Premier Cru, took 2nd and 4th place. All wines are priced under $40 CDN with the exception of the Burgundy, which is premium priced.

1. Bodegas Muga Blanco 2011 - Rioja, Spain

4. Domaine Fouassier Les Romains 2012 - Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 

Because of my shortened "tasting season" this year, I wasn't able to spend as much time with sweet wines, sparkling wines or rose wines and will therefore not be adding these categories to my list this year. However, I did get to experiment with wine and food a fair bit, and here are my top picks for pairings.

Top Wine and Food Pairings

1. Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer 2013 with Seafood Salad "Louis Style", served in Lettuce Boats

2. Domino Pinot Grigio 2012 with Honey-Lime Marinated Shrimp (v)

3. Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2011 with Slow-Cooked BBQ Ribs (v)

Honourable Mention; Cameron Hughes Della Robbia semi-sweet Italian Rosso with Wagon Wheels (v)
*Don't knock this pairing until you try it! This pairing is great for camping!

Three of my top wines in the food pairing category happen to be value wines at under $20 per bottle, so my Top Values list is shortened to include the wines mentioned above. Australian Shirazes dominate the list, with a semi-sweet Tokaji clinching 3rd spot and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc rounding out the category. 

Top Values

4. Seven Terraces Sauvignon Blanc 2013 - Marlborough, New Zealand

This year I'm going to introduce 2 new categories: Top Spirits and Top Beers. You might be surprised at the number of Canadian spirits & beers on each list, but in my opinion Canada is really starting to make their mark on the world of spirits, especially in the world of Whisky. The top beers are courtesy of my husband, who tasted approximately 100 beers in 2015!

Top Spirits

1. Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old Rum - St Elizabeth Parrish, Jamaica

2. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye - Gimli, Manitoba, Canada

3. Eau Claire Distillery Three Point Vodka - Turner Valley, Alberta, Calgary

Top Beers

1. Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter - Victoria, BC, Canada

3. Delerium Tremens - Belgium 

4. Granville Island Lions Winter Ale - Vancouver, BC, Canada

5. Erdinger Dunkel - Germany

So what's next for 2016? 

I plan to return to wine school through Fine Vintage Ltd and take their Canadian Wine Scholar Certification course in late 2016/early 2017. Therefore, my main focus will be on Canadian wines. Our major trip this year will be back to the Okanagan, where I will sample my way through the region and soak up as much knowledge as I can to study and prepare for the course. I am also hoping to spend some time in the Niagara region, should we make it back to my parents' place in Ontario.

Other regions I plan to focus on include Champagne, California, Italian food and wine pairings and Rioja, Spain. 

Huge thanks to all those who still follow me despite my long absence from the blog and twitter! May you have a 2016 filled with good food, good friends and great wine. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Farm to Glass: Alberta's First Craft Distillery

The eat/drink local trend is a popular idea in modern society today. Supporting local agriculture and husbandry allows us to consume the freshest possible products, while making a positive impact on our economy. Here in Alberta we can eat locally sourced beef and corn, and drink locally with mead wine and craft breweries. Now we can add spirits to the locally-sourced mix; Eau Claire Distillery, located in Turner Valley, is utilizing a "Farm to Glass" approach in the distillation of their spirits.

This approach starts in the barley fields surrounding Turner Valley. Known as "the best barley in the world", some is exported out to the United Kingdom, where it is used to make some of the finest whisky in the world. Eau Claire uses barley and rye to make their spirits. The grains are harvested the old-fashioned way, with horse and plow. When they arrive at the distillery, the grains are put into the grinder and the husks are broken apart, to remove the bitter flavour from the husk. Then the broken grains are moved to the mash ton, boiling water is added, and flavours are extracted from the grain for 4 hours. The spent grain is removed and shipped to a local dairy farmer to be used as cow feed.

The next step is the fermentation tanks, where a specific yeast is added to develop desired flavour compounds. The fermentation process takes 48 hours, and will generate an alcoholic content of 6-8%. From there, it's off to the copper pot still with 2 different types of "towers": the stripping column, where the alcohol is taken up to 85% abv, used for whisky. The vodka and gin moves on to the second column, and distilled up to 95% abv. Once this occurs, "backwater" from the Sheep's River, fed by the Rocky Mountains, is added to proof the spirit.

There are 3 parts to the spirit when it comes off the still: the first part is the heads, the middle part is called the hearts, and the last part is called the tails. Eau Claire Distillery uses the hearts for their final products, to ensure the best quality. They distill the tails once more and put them into barrels for later usage in the blending process.

Despite the vast humidity and climate differences between Alberta and Scotland, Eau Claire has found a way to mature their whisky on-site. The floor of their aging room is composed of consistent clay, gravel and sand, which is irrigated every day, creating humidity and therefore replicating an aging warehouse in Scotland. The humidity comes from the floor, creating floral notes in the barrels on the bottom, and more earthy notes in the barrels on top. The whisky will age for 3 years before it is released to the public.

Eau Claire Distillery currently offers 3 spirits on their tasting bar: Vodka, Parlour Gin, and the Equinox. The Three Point Vodka is very smooth and creamy, with notes of banana and vanilla. Easy to sip on it's own or mix with soda water. The Parlour Gin is full of botanical aromas, followed by an herbal and spicy kick that doesn't overpower in the mouth. Their seasonal offering, Equinox, was my personal favourite. Springtime flavours of peach and nectarine with Eau Claire's trademark smooth finish make this spirit fantastic for your own customized mojito on the patio! 

Eau Claire Distillery's farm-to-glass approach with Alberta-born spirits takes the "Drink Local" trend to the next level. One sip reinforced for me the pride I have living on such great Alberta soil. The next time you're headed south of Calgary, stop by the distillery for a tour, a tasting and maybe a bottle or two. Click here for more information, or head down to Turner Valley for a tour, tasting and to purchase a bottle or two. As they say at the distillery: "May the Spirits be with You!"

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flights of Fancy: Springing into Spain

The arrival of Spring brings rebirth to the natural world. In my wine world, a new tasting group was born on Tuesday night when 5 winelovers gathered together to sample some wines from Spain, expand our knowledge base, and get to know eachother. All wines were sampled blind and structural elements as well as flavour profiles were discussed before each bottle was revealed. Here are my tasting notes for each wine:

Zesty acidity and a full body envelope a flavour profile of green apple, lemon, grated ginger and toast. Soft but focused tannins from fermentation in new French oak work in harmonious balance to create a well structured wine. Composed of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, this wine pairs beautifully with stuffed chicken breasts, roast goose and salmon dishes.

Refreshing and bright, with notes of honeydew melon, kiwi fruit and apricot on the palate. A touch of almonds on the finish reflect the oak fermentation. Imagine yourself on a patio in the summer sunshine, sipping on this wine while enjoying a prosciutto and melon pizza. Delightful!

3. Zeta Rosado Reserva Cava

Comprised of 100% Pinot Noir, this unique and charming cava shows essences of grapefruit, minerality and a floral hint. Light in body with delicate mousse and lively acidity makes this an easy quaffer. Would pair well with seafood pasta tossed in oil. Drink now.

4. Torres Celeste Crianza 2010

Fruit forward notes of strawberry and blackberry intertwined with black pepper, and a taste of toasted walnut on the long, smooth finish. Soft, fresh acidity and prominent but velvety tannins cast a sultry structure. An ideal wine for prime rib with au jus, and can age in cellar for 3-5 years maximum to soften the tannins.

Intense and powerful, with notes of blueberries, black currant and kalamata olives woven into firm tannins and a full body. This wine is excellent for food pairings, including charcuterie, beef stew and hard, strong cheeses. Decant a minimum of 2 hours before serving.

Aromas of cherries, caramel and a hint of musk combined with lively acidity and soft tannins. Spice notes on the finish add complexity. Very approachable and easy to drink. 

The next tasting is 2 weeks from now and will feature Pinot Noir. Parameters to be confirmed closer to the date.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at Spatburgunder in Germany

I have always been intrigued by German Pinot Noir, but it was a past season of the Bachelorette that became the catalyst for this post. (I know, I know...please don't laugh too hard at me!) The season that featured Desiree Hartsock traveled to Germany, and LOTS of red wine was consumed there. As sure as I am that Dornfelder and Portuguesier were consumed in the mix, there was almost certainly some Spatburgunder in those glasses on the one-on-one dates. After watching that episode, it became my mission to taste as many bottles as I could find locally.

Pinot Noir vines were said to be brought to Germany by Burgundian monks in the 14th century, and the first indication of Pinot Noir in Germany was formally documented in 1470. The varietal struggled to produce notable wines until recently, when advances in clonal research, lower vineyard yields and barrel aging shifted the winemakers' focus to produce higher quality Spatburgunder. The best examples tend to be full-bodied and smooth, with the traditional red fruit aromas and vegetal/herbal hints consistent with the Pinot Noir grape. These wines pair well with ham, poultry, charcuterie and game meats.

Germany's winegrowing area consists of 10 sub-regions that produce a variety of grapes. The sub-regions that I am going to focus on include the Rheingau, the Rheinhessen and the Pfalz. I wasn't able to find a Pinot Noir from Baden here in Calgary.

Elegant and refined, Ernst Bretz's 2009 Spatburgunder was my personal favourite in the tasting. Fresh acidity and soft tannins wrapped around a flavour profile of raspberries, green olives, and a hint of resin. Paired well with roasted pork loin. 

The Weingut Hans Lang 2010 Spatburgunder contains notes of wild strawberries, forest floor and mushrooms. The acidity really comes alive on the back of the palate. Velvety tannins and a smooth finish round out the mouthfeel. Drink now as the wine is close to fully developed. Decant 30-45 minutes for the fruit flavours to open up.

Andreas Bender's 2011 Pinot Noir is fruit-forward and approachable, with expressive notes of raspberries, ripe cherries, earth, and a hint of wet stone. Refreshing acidity and silky tannins create a graceful structure that includes a long, sleek finish. I enjoyed it best on it's own. Drink now.

Spatburgunder still has a long way to go to compete with similarly priced AOP Bourgogne wines in the Western World, but you can find some great values locally that won't break the bank. Perhaps in the future, we may see more quality German Pinot Noir options on the shelves in North American wine stores. Until then, the choices are limited but definitely worth exploring.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Appleton Estate: The True Spirit of Rum

Smooth. Rich. And a touch of sweetness. These are some of the traits you will find in a well-made rum. And Appleton Estates is the essence of quality when it comes to these characteristics.

My husband and I recently traveled to Jamaica, and for us, no trip to Jamaica is complete without a tour of the Appleton Distillery...and bottle purchases! Our tour began with a scenic drive through the mountain roads; if you want a true Jamaican thrill ride, this is a must! Narrow roads twisting and winding up and across the mountainous island terrain, all with oncoming traffic that you may come across at every turn!

Once we arrived, we were greeted at the tour meeting area with a refreshing glass of rum punch, which surprisingly settled my stomach from the drive!

Appleton rum begins in the sugarcane fields. When the canes are harvested in Spring, they are brought to the plant and ground down mechanically to extract the sweet juice inside. The cane juice is cooked down to cane syrup, then cooked even further down into molasses in copper pots (We were able to sample this molasses on the tour, and it was so pure and sweet that I could eat it all day!). The crystalline sugar is removed, leaving behind the molasses which is used for the fermentation process. 

Water and a natural yeast culture, exclusive to Appleton, are added to the molasses and allowed to ferment. This creates a "wash", composed of 15-18% alcohol. The wash is then put through the distillation process, which occurs in Appleton's classic copper pot stills, or in a higher capacity column still. Pot stills are used for the minority of production; column stills are used for the majority. Each harvest's production run, whether from pot or column stills, are then barreled and sent to the aging warehouses. These consist of cask buildings filled with oak barrels. Each barrel is labelled by date and production run. 

The cooler air inside each cask building is caused by rum vapors evaporating, creating ideal conditions for rum aging. Each oak barrel will lose between 2%-6% per year through the pores of the oak wood, which is referred to as the "angel's share". Barrels must be topped off every three years, gradually making each year's production smaller, darker and more flavourful. The longer the rum ages in oak, the darker the spirit:

Appleton's premium rums are aged from 8 years to 30 years, and the minimum age for the blend of rums is guaranteed and stated on each bottle. 

Once the rums have aged their required amount of years, it's up to Master Blender Joy Spence to create the perfect house style that has set Appleton apart from their competitors for decades. With over 25 years of experience in rum blending and 16 as part of the Appleton family, she ensures the house style and quality are consistent each year, blending by hand. 

Appleton is also extremely diligent with their carbon footprint. All of the sugarcane grounds from pressing are returned to the fields. The moisture from the mud on the stalks is removed and used as compost. They have also installed an emissions-free boiler, which releases only water vapor and no ash. Nothing is wasted at the distillery.

After the tour was finished, it was time to taste! Appleton allows tasting of the following products: 

My personal favourite in the tasting was the Sangster's rum cream (chocolate flavoured!), pictured 2nd from the left. It is fantastic with coffee! And there is always a soft spot in my heart for the V/X, pictured on the far right, which is a staple on our bar at home. We ended up bringing home bottles of the Reserve and 12 Year Old Extra rums (click here for their product list), which are not part of the tasting, but sell for a great price on site.

The next time you're in Jamaica, it is definitely worth checking out the Distillery Tour. The guides are all friendly and extremely knowledgeable, the tour is thorough and interactive, and the rum punch a tasty must-have! All of this on top of access to some of the finest and highest quality rum produced in the world. You will leave feeling "Irie" - I promise! 

For more information on Appleton Distillery and the tours, check out their website: 


Friday, January 30, 2015

Eastern France: La Coeur du Vin

Motivated by the French sweep in my ultimate 2014 wine list, I continued to drink French wine like it was going out of style. I have fallen in love with regions like Chablis and Alsace, where the quality of the wines shine year after year. This post focuses on the eastern wine regions of France, including Alsace, Burgundy and Beaujolais.

Alsace is the French white wine love of my life. Located close to the border of Germany, the variety and complexity of the soil, along with the longer growing season, allows the grapes to reach a ripeness that creates beautiful, expressive wines. The four noble varieties of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat, are the heart of Alsatian wine.

One of my favourite producers, Pfaffenheim, makes an expressive Gewurztraminer that starts with a bouquet of honey and blossom. Pear and ginger feature on the palate, with a sleek texture and a citrus backbone. I paired a spicy seafood salad with the Gewurz; the smoothness of the wine harmonized beautifully with the spiciness of the dish.


Domaine Eugene Meyer produces a dry Riesling that shows flavours of underripe peach, lime zest, green apples and a steely minerality with their 2011 vintage. Lively acidity brings intensity and carries through the long finish. This domaine focuses on organic and biodynamic viticulture, and would also make a great gift for the vegan winelover in your life!

Chablis is the northeastern wine region in Burgundy. Wines produced here are made from the Chardonnay grape, but thanks to the fossil-rich soils of Kimmeridgian clay, Chablis wines tend to consist of high acidity, little to no oak flavours and show ripe fruit and minerality.

Herve Azo's Chablis 2012 is an elegant, polished wine with zesty acidity and notes of green apple, apricot and lime. There is a whisper of flint on the finish. Excellent with goat's cheese, crudites or grilled chicken. 

Farther south in the Burgundy region lies Pouilly-Fuisse. Chardonnays from this region are known to be rich and full-bodied, with flavours consistent with oak aging, like hazelnuts, toast and coconut.

Bouchard Pere et Fils is a well known producer throughout the Burgundy region. Their 2013 Pouilly Fuisse is an exception to the Pouilly Fuisse stereotype as only a fraction of the grapes are aged for 6 months in oak barrels, offering a lighter mouthfeel and creamier texture. Pear, ripe pineapple and lemon essences mingle with a hint of brioche that marries well on the palate. Crisp acidity adds intensity without overpowering the flavour profile. An ideal accompaniment to seafood.

Red wine country is featured south of Pouilly Fuisse with the Beaujolais region. The grape varietal grown here is Gamay Noir, which tends to produce fruit-forward wines with an added zip of pepper. There are 10 "cru" villages of distinction, one of which is named Morgon. Winelovers who are looking for a more robust, complex Beaujolais will likely find what they are looking for in this area.

George DuBoeuf's Domaine Mont Chavy Morgon 2013 expresses these characteristics well. A bouquet of cherries and granite follow through to the mouth alongside strawberries and a spicy cinnamon finish. Mouthwatering acidity and chocolate tannins cast intensity and spine. Unique and complex, this wine would pair well with gourmet burgers and pork loin in a berry sauce.

Winelovers really can't go wrong when it comes to Eastern France. The emphasis put to both the viticulture and vinification techniques ensure that the end results are of sound quality and taste. Your palate will thank you!

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2014

Happy New Years!

My 2014 was a roller coaster ride of joy and sadness. Many life lessons were learned, and with that came much personal growth. My love and passion for the wine world was a great source of comfort and perseverance through the tough times. The major highlight was branding myself as the Wine Concubine. I also attended a Joseph Drouhin tasting as well as a vintage port tasting earlier this year. And I continued to expand my knowledge of the wine world through a lot of self study. Can't let those text books go to waste!

Let's face it: I can't drink every bottle of wine out there in one year. But I did find some beautifully expressive wines of the ones I did taste. Below is the list of the wines I felt were the best in quality, which became my personal preferences of the year.

Top Red Wines
I was spoiled with bottles of red this year, and my top 3 picks are all in the high-priced category, ranging from $45-$90 CDN. These wines are excellent splurges when celebrating a momentous occasion or want to impress! The Rodney Strong Pinot Noir retails at under $25 CDN.
1. Chateau de Clinet: Fleur de Clinet 2011 - Bordeaux, France
2. Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2010  - Valpolicella, Italy
3. Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Beaune 1er Cru 2011 - Burgundy, France
HM:  Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir 2009 - California, USA

Top White Wines
It was a French sweep in the world of whites this year, with the exception of a California Chardonnay receiving my honourable mention of the year. Prices range from $25 to $45 CDN.
1. Jean-Michel Gerin "La Loye" Viognier 2007  - Northern Rhone, France
2. Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer Steinert Grand Cru 2009 - Alsace, France
3. Joseph Drouhin Vaudon de Chablis 2012 - Burgundy, France
HM: Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2012 - California, USA

Top Sparkling Wines
The Jura is a lesser-known wine region in Eastern France, and their wines can be hard to find here in Alberta. Once I discovered that some local stores and restaurants carry Cremant du Jura, I spent all my "bubbly" energy tasting as many bottles as I could! The Jurancon wines are priced here between $20 and $25 CDN.
1. Domaine Rolet Pere et Fils Brut Cremant du Jura Rose N/V - Jura, France
2. Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne N/V - Reims, France
3. Domaine Baud Cremant du Jura Brut Blanc de Blancs N/V - Jura, France

Top Sweet Wines
It was the year of vintage port! Not only is the 2011 vintage considered to be one of the best ever, but I attended a vintage port tasting in May and fell in love! Although the prices of my top 2 picks are very high, the bottle of Cave Springs retails here at under $30 CDN. It is interesting to note that Hetszolo made my 2013 list with their 6 puttonyos Tokaji.
1. Warre's Vintage Port 1983 - Portugal
2. Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1977 - Portugal
3. Hetszolo Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2001 - Hungary
HM: Cave Springs Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling 2010 - Niagara, Canada

Top Values
Since my top reds are ideal splurges, this is where I focused my value picks this year. Spain offers a lot of complex, robust wines at the $20 price point, and Chile makes the list with both a red and white offering.
1. Tommasi Maremma Toscana Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2011 - Tuscany, Italy
2. Bodegas Los800 Priorat 2010 - Priorat, Spain
3. Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva 2008 - Rioja, Spain
4. Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto 2012 - Puente Alto, Chile
5. Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - Casablanca, Chile

Top Food and Wine Pairings
Two of my top wines this year also shone with food. I focused the rest of year on pairing richer dishes with the zesty acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. The Montes Classic listed below, from Chile, retails at under $20 CDN!
1. Domaine Rolet Pere et Fils Brut Cremant du Jura Rose with Charcuterie
2. Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer Steinert Grand Cru 2009 with Spicy Smoked Chicken
3. Chateau Guiraud Le G de Guiraud 2008 with Grilled Salmon on Pesto
HM: Montes Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2013 with Clam and Bacon Linguine

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. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!