Category Archives: Adventures

Brancaia TRE 2011 , Igt Toscana

DSC_0155She said: A bit earthy & herbal on the nose, but not overpowering.  Can’t taste a lot of fruit – maybe a hint of cherry, a little bit of cedar?

He said: When I first pulled the cork, it exploded with fruit out of the top of the bottle….

She said: That’s where the fruit went!

Brancaia TRE 2011 is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, and 20% Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon.  TRE –  Italian for three – has a lot of sybolism: there are three grapes used in the wine, grapes are sourced from three different estates in Italy.

He said: I taste lots of Sangiovese, then it slides away, with a moderate finish.  Very soft tannins.

She said: This wine really brought an issue to the forefront for most of us “normal” people:  how can you tell if the wine is really good, or a bit of a stinker? When I first tasted this wine, it wasn’t doing much for me.  But I pulled up a review and decided to “taste” it instead of just quaff it, and see whether I could find what the reviewers had smelled and tasted.  Once I did that, I realized that it was a subtle, and that there were lots of tastes there – I just had to look for them.  Made me realize it was a far better wine than I had thought.  And once we did a more proactive tasting, we liked the wine a lot, especially as it was only $23.95 when we bought it at the LCBO.

The details:

  • Casa Brancaia TRE 2011, Igt Toscana
  • 80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 13.5% alcohol
  • Bottled March 2013, aged in French oak for 12 months.
  • 18 days on the ‘must’ (more to come on this)
  • Serve with pasta, roasted/sautéed white meats, fried or grilled fish

How do you recognize a good wine?

For some of us normal people, there’s always a question in the back of our mind why we can’t taste the stuff the pro’s taste when they write about wines.  Is there something wrong with us or our tastebuds?wine_taster

The answer is a resounding no!  Wine professionals invest a lot of time, effort and money in becoming professionals and honing their ability to smell and taste wine – and write about it.  Many study and become accredited as Certified Sommeliers, and some like John Szabo become Master Sommeliers.  Others may also supplement their training with specific certifications from education institutions in regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Does it really matter if we can’t do a blind tasting and pick the top wine?  Again, a resounding no!  What we can do is read what the experts have to say, try to learn a little bit, and enthusiastically embrace the tasting experience.  Here’s what I would consider to be the minimum that any wine drinker should do:

Visual: Visual evaluation is about looking at the wine in your glass, usually against a white background if possible.  Is the wine clear or cloudy? Note the colour – often the colour gives you hints about what’s in the glass (lots more to come on that).

On the nose (the smell):  Does the smell want you to take a drink, or does it feel like it burned out a few nose hairs?  You might need to swirl it around a little more to let some of the alcohol mix with oxygen, which often brings more character out and evaporates a bit of the nasty alcohol. The pro’s dig much deeper and try to attach various scents to what they are smelling (lots more to come on that too).  But to start with, it’s enough to decide whether it’s compelling or not.

Taste #1: First, don’t just gulp it down.  Take a mouthful and swirl the wine around a bit.  Then swallow.  Then think about what you taste in your mouth.  This is the point where the pro’s will define what they’re tasting by one or more of literally hundreds of descriptors – from cedar to blackberry (red wines), from mineral and chalk to apple (white wines).  But for normal people, the real question is “Do you like it?”

Finish: The finish is what happens in your mouth after you swallow the wine.  Does the taste linger, leaving you with a great memory?  Does the taste change at all?  Is there a bitter aftertaste, or is it mellow?  For instance, with some oaked Chardonnays, that’s the point when I might notice a taste of vanilla or butterscotch.

Taste #2: The second thing about tasting is to determine whether the wine can be sipped by itself, or whether it needs food. Some wine is so robust, it’s almost overpowering when you take a drink of it.  So perhaps you try a cracker or small piece of cheese, then have another sip.  If the wine tastes way better, or seems less overpowering, then the food is  providing a great complement.  Most wines have a friendly food:  some wines can be sipped with a complementary snack, but many wines really only do their best work with food. If you’re visiting a winery and trying their wines, ask the staff to suggest foods that will work best with the wine. Otherwise, you can see what the pro’s have to say – most will suggest food pairings when they review a wine.

Price: For the most part, the more expensive the wine, the better the wine.  There are a lot of variables that will affect the price of a wine, from how good the growing season was, to how much of the wine is available.  Bottom line – you need to feel like it was a good value for the price. For some of us, that also means defining our sweet spot for cost – $20 to $25, $40 to $50 and so on.

Resources:  I hope you stick with me as we work our way through learning about wine tasting and drinking, and enjoying wine adventures.  Please sign up for notifications about my wine posts, and like my Facebook page – lots of more information is on its way! But here are a few resources for you:

WineAlign – From their web site:  “WineAlign was designed by wine consumers, – not wine sellers – who want logical, practical and objective wine buying advice. The service aggregates ratings from a growing portfolio of top Canadian wine critics who taste thousands of wines a year and have an objective frame of reference for rating quality and the journalistic ability to effectively communicate the style, character and background of the wine. But your opinion, and those of your friends, matter as well, so WineAlign allows you to build your personal review and rating system.”

Wine of the Weekend – previews wines about to be released at the LCBO (in Ontario), that are under $25.  If you sign up, you’ll get a wine review in your inbox every Friday.

Vines Magazine – dedicated to Canadian wine drinkers.


Visiting Napa Valley, California

If you’re thinking of going to Napa Valley, here are a few wineries I’d recommend.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s something wonderful about every winery in the region, but you can’t see them all!   This grouping is of some of the larger wineries where it’s as much about the experience as the wines.  But there are many smaller wineries with small, friendly tasting rooms where you can try a few wines and chat with the staff.  Sometimes, it’s worth just stopping and giving them a try. We usually try to get out to one winery in the morning, have a bit of lunch, then visit two more wineries.  That’s usually enough, especially as you’ll want to spend some time at each winery. I’d also suggest visiting two major wineries, then finding one smaller, which will give you a nice cross-section of the selection available in Napa.

Chateau Montelena

Located at the north end of the Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena was popularized in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, the story of the early days of California wine making featuring the now infamous, blind Paris wine tasting of 1976 that has come to be known as “Judgment of Paris,” in which California wines were chosen over their French counterparts.  They have a smaller tasting room which can get quite crowded, so it’s best to go early.  They do offer a tour and tastings, as well as a special tasting event highlighting the history as shown in Bottle Shock, which starts at 9:45 am. Cost will be $25 and up per person.  We went because of the movie, but found the tasting room to be quite crowded, as we just walked in. Next time, I think I’d like to book a more formal tour.  Regardless, their wines are wonderful.

Sterling Winery

Also towards the north end of Napa Valley, Sterling is located atop a hill that offers absolutely breathtaking vistas.  You can enjoy the vistas as you take the unique tram ride to the top of the hill.  Once there, take the self-guided tour, then enjoy a wine tasting.  But be ready, the regular tram ride with self-guided tour and tasting is around $30 each.  You don’t need to book in advance unless you’re in a large group. Beautiful wines, many of which are available in Canada.

Castello di Amoroso

Very close to Sterling, Castello di Amoroso has to be seen! It’s styled very authentically after a 13th Century Tuscan castle, complete with gatehouse and crenelated watch towers.  They offer several tours and tastings, which range from $35 and up.  General admission is $20 per person, which comes with a tasting of 5 wines.  You can also wander around and explore the castle if you don’t want to participate in a guided tour – inside and out, there’s lots to see and enjoy. We really enjoyed the wine tasting in the tasting room, which is underground and just oozes atmosphere.


Photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa


Domaine Chandon

Photo courtesy Domaine Chandon

Photo courtesy Domaine Chandon

Close to Yountville, Domaine Chandon offers still and sparkling wines – although we’ve only tried their sparkling wines which are among my favorites.  They offer several tours, as well as tasting menus which you can enjoy on their beautiful patio.  When we were there last, we sat beside a beautiful little pond with a waterfall – and watched the hummingbirds darting all over.  It was extremely peaceful and a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the wine.  It’s a large winery with lots of capacity, so your experience should be good whatever time you visit.

Robert Mondavi

In the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi is just a bit north of Yountville.  It’s one of our favorites because of the wines – we usually just scoot to the To Kalon Room to taste some of their reserve wines and agonize over whether we can afford a bottle. But they do offer several reasonable tours and tastings – and recommend that reservations be made in advance. It’s a lovely, spacious setting, and even when there have been lots of people there, we’ve never felt crowded.

Regardless of where you go in Napa, there are at least 1200 wineries to choose from, so there’s lots of room for return visits.

Here are a few resources:

Vino Volo – our new airport favorite!

On our way home from golfing in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, we had a layover in Dallas VinoVolo_Logo_noTagWhiteairport, where we discovered Vino Volo.  This is a wine bar/restaurant that focuses on offering wines by the glass, and wine flights.  For a reasonable cost, you can sample 3 different wines according to particular flights that the company designs.  We had the following:

California Kings, a tasting consisting of

  • Branham Estate Wines 2012 Resolution Zinfandel
  • Tamas Estates 2012 Merlot
  • Crane Ridge Vineyards Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

Captivating Cabernets, consisting of

  • Michael Pozzan 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • G. Reedy Wines 2011 Del Rio Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mount Veeder Napa Valley 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Vino Volo FlightIf you have to cool your heels in an airport, there are sure worst ways to pass the time!  It was a great way to try a few wines while waiting for the flight home to Toronto – they were all very nice wines, many of which can also be bought in Vino Volo’s wine store.  Have to admit, I slept all the way home :-).

Vino Volo tasting sheet

My Vino Volo tasting sheet: The Alexander Valley wine was my favorite.

For more information, or to see where Vino Volo wine bars are located, visit their website at