Category Archives: Tastings

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.


Burger night

HamburgerThe problem with watching weekend PGA golf on TV is that it always involves wine.  We try to ration it out, saving enough to have with dinner.  Doesn’t always work that way…

We started with Tapiz Alta 2011 Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, TapizArgentina ($18.95). This was reviewed on WineAlign by David Lawrason who said, “This is a balanced and complete if not huge cabernet – an absolute bargain. Argentine cabernet seems to pack in a centre of gravity that some lack (cabs can famously have a ‘hollow middle’).  There is even a sense of graphite minerality. Tapiz employs Pomerol-based Jean Claude Berrouet, perhaps accounting for the great sense of composure. In any event, it too is a great buy under $20.”

He said: for burger night, a high-end cab might be too bold.   This wine is quite acceptable. The tannins are still there, but aren’t too overwhelming and having it with a burger is going to be just fine.

She said: We’re just about out of wine, we need to open another bottle of something to have with the burgers.

He said: I thought we had lots left.  Those darn glasses!  Large wine glasses are ideal for a wine tasting experience but are quite deceiving in terms of how much wine they hold.  Makes the wine go down so much faster.

She said: Getting back to the Tapiz, it’s really a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m getting berry on the nose and some hefty pepper in the mouth.  But it still doesn’t come across as too robust. And for the price it’s a great wine.

He said: Where did the time go.  Need to get the burgers on.  Let’s have a wee taste of that Freakshow Cabernet I bought today.

She said: The Freakshow just knocked our socks off! Stay tuned!  Tapiz worked just fine with the burgers – it was probably the perfect wine for burgers.  A bit of potato salad would have been good too.

Adventures with wine and pizza

Don’t know about you, but in our house, Friday evening is often pizza night.  We’re both often brain dead and physically exhausted from a hard week.  Cooking a nice dinner might not happen, but we still want something that’s going to “play nice” with a decent bottle of wine.  Often we’ve ordered pizza in from a major chain, but it’s never paired really nicely with our wine choices.


So this week, the hunt is on to learn a bit more about matching pizza to wine, and find something that suits the both of us – naturally, we’re on opposite ends of the pizza spectrum.

First, I checked Wine Folly’s article on pairing pizza and wine – learned a lot about why a particular pairing will work.  For instance, I learned that pepperoni is made with a variety of spices, and is very fatty.  The flavour leeches through the cheese on every slice, so you need a strong wine with intense flavors to counterbalance “the pepperoni effect.”  Madeline Puckette, the certified Sommelier on Wine Folly suggests a Sangiovese as the classic choice with pepperoni pizza, but also suggests that Cabernet Franc could be a good alternative.

For myself, I’m hoarding a little ball of Buffalo Mozzarella (gosh that stuff is like gold!) in the refrigerator.  I found a recipe for Three Cheese Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Pimientos – featuring Fontina, Roquefort and Parmesan cheeses.  A suggested wine pairing is Sangiovese, but darn, this doesn’t let me use my Mozzarella.

So I turned things around and looked up Sangiovese – and it suggests this grape will go well with herbs and tomatoes.  So I thought it should go well with the pizzas we’ve chosen:

Then we realized that the cellar didn’t hold any Sangiovese, so we ended up with a Colle Secco 2Montepulciano d’Abruzzo:  Cantina Tollo Colle Secco Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011.

He said:  Pleasant wine, not exceptional, but for $10, it’s a great buy.  A great, everyday wine.  Goes just fine with the pizza.

She said: Blackberry, cherry, a bit of wood, soft tannin, a medium long finish.  The bottle suggested opening at least an hour before serving – would definitely recommend that. Now that I’m down to the last 2” in the glass, it’s really opening up and showing a bit of cedar, cherry, blackberry.

He said:  “No kidding, now I really like it.  Good thing we have 2 more bottles in the cellar.”

The details:

  • Colle Secco Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2011
  • Produced and bottled by Cantina Tollo S.C.A.
  • 13% alcohol
  • LCBO # 195826, $9.25/bottle

Mr. Black’s Little Book, 2008 Shiraz, Barossa Valley

Bottle back:  “They say ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ so open a bottle of Mr. Black’s Little Book and pour over his formulae, mixtures and little secrets.” Yes, the label is intriguing. But it’s really what’s inside that counts!

He said:  Quite enjoyable, great value.  Got cedar, chocolate and coffee flavours, with low acidity. Lengthy finish, complex flavour, harmonious balance. High alcohol level gets in the way of the flavour a bit.  Total of 37/50 points.

She said:  I could smell ripe grapes from a couple of feet away, once Dave opened the bottle.  Had a pretty intense flavour, a bit reminiscent of prunes, blackberry, cassis with a touch of chocolate. Low acidity, full bodied with nice balance. Bit more alcohol than I like – usually makes my face too red.  But nice yummy wine!  Total 37/50 points. Seem to be a few good reviews for 2010 and 2011 vintages so definitely worth looking for those.

We both thought this was pretty good – lots of dark fruit in the mouth, and medium on the boldness scale.  Would be great with a nice burger – maybe even ribs, and cheese dishes (Welsh Rarebit, for instance).

The Wine Guy has some nice things to say too.

The details:

  • Small Gully Mr. Blacks Little Book, 2008 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia
  • 100% Shiraz, 15.2% alcohol
  • Drink 2013-2015.  Seems to be in its peak right now.
  • Cost $17.95 at Ontario LCBO


Chateau Pique Segue, 2009 Bergerac

This wine is one of the reasons we belong to Opimian.  Priced at only $17.00 per bottle (Canadian), it came in a nice wooden crate, which hinted at what we would find inside.  Chateau Pique-Segue is one of those gems that you don’t run across regularly, which is part of the value of a purchasing group like Opimian.  It appears to be a smaller winery, producing about 500,000 bottles per year.  In fact, here in Ontario, it doesn’t look like the Liquor Board carries any Bergerac wine at all.

Chateau Pique-Segue Bergerac is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Bergerac is an appellation at the eastern edge of Bordeaux.

She said: It’s not a super robust wine, but still has enough tannins that it will do better with food than on its own.  I certainly get some nice pepper, but like most Bordeaux wines, it doesn’t have that “in your face” fruit hit – it’s more subtle and complex.  For the price, it’s a great wine to have on hand.

He said:  Purple colour with abundant flavour intensity, I get flavours of plum, oak, smoky, pepper and chocolate.  It’s dry with medium complexity, medium body and a long finish.  Serve with roast beef, old cheddar. Would definitely recommend this wine.


Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir

What could be better, sipping an amazing California Pinot while watching the Masters golf?Robert Mondavi Reserve 2012 Pinot Noir

She said:

This Pinot Noir seems a bit more robust than some of the California Pinots we’ve enjoyed, but that might be due to the Carneros region being a bit warmer and south of the Russian River area where we typically get Pinots from.    It’s lively but softened and earthy from the oak – but don’t take our word for it, here’s what some of the experts are saying. At $65 per bottle from the winery, this wine is a fine example of how wonderful California Pinot Noirs can be. Would we buy more?  Absolutely.

One reviewer said  “It’s meant for the table, not as a stand alone drink. That’s what wine is for, right? This is worthy of your finest dinners. An herb encrusted roast of pork or beef will bring a mutual admiration society of flavors to your guests.”

I served it with a highly flavored meatloaf and mashed potatoes with sour cream and sea salt.  I know, sacrilege, right?  But enjoying wine is about pairing it with food in a way that takes the experience from enjoyable to sublime.  Meatloaf worked!  And now, after we’ve finished dinner, the last few ounces in the bottle are even better than the pre-dinner taste.

He said:

“Getting some cherry, although it’s subtle.  It’s an amazing wine, don’t bug me, I’m watching golf.”

The details:

  • Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve  Carneros, Napa Valley Pinot Noir
  • 100% Pinot Noir
  • Appelation:  Carneros
  • 14.5% Alcohol

Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

We paid approximately $65 per bottle for this wine at the winery, which we visit every time we go to California wine country.  Tasting notes on the winery’s web site for their 2011 vintage ($75) say, “Deep dense wine bursting with complex dark red fruits like cassis, cherry and plum with hints of tobacco followed by a round and seductive mid-palate and a long, structured finish.”

Rodney Strong is located in the Russian River area of Sonoma County, so is a bit more off the beaten track than Napa Valley, although people don’t seem to have trouble finding the winery, and their next-door neighbour J Winery.  The Russian River area is a bit closer to the coast, and regularly sees fog sliding over the hills from the coast as the weather cools in the evening.  This provides a slightly cooler environment for grapes.  The Wine Enthusiast describes Russian River wines and some great recent vintages.

She said.  I love this wine – it’s very typical of California Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has an immediate taste of juicy black currant, with an underlying layer of tobacco – and a wonderful dose of greenish-black pepper on the finish.  It’s robust, but not dramatically tannic, so I can sip it without needing food.  But it will also be amazing with a filet steak for dinner.  Makes me wish we’d brought more than 1 bottle home. We like pretty much anything from this winery – the LCBO in Ontario does carry some of their wines.

He said. Highly concentrated, powerful and complex.  Full bodied and harmonious with a nice long finish.  Flavours of pepper, chocolate, coffee ad tobacco.  On the finish there’s so much residual flavour, that it’s almost chewy.  43/50 points.

The details:

  • Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  • Alexander Valley – Sonoma County
  • 15.5% alcohol
  • Barrel Aging:21 months in 100% French oak, 43% new

les venerables Vielles Vignes Chablis, La Chablisienne, 2010

Chablis is a wine region in France, at the north end of Burgundy in north-central France. Les vinerables chablisBecause it’s in the north, the wines of Chablis have the characteristics you find in colder climates:  crisp with good acidity, citrusy, with mineral and green flavours.  Chablis is made from the Chardonnay grape, and is aged in stainless steel, going nowhere near oak.  There are 4 levels of Chablis, based on quality of the wine – usually associated with where the vines are on the hills.  Here’s how Jancis Robinson describes them:

“Petit Chablis is the principal, often vapid, product of the plantings on the outskirts of Chablis proper undertaken when the Chablis growers found they were unable to keep up with international demand. Most wine produced around the pretty little village of Chablis qualifies for the straightforward Chablis appellation, which can vary considerably in quality (beware of Chablis bottled outside the region) but should usually be drunk young. Some particularly well-sited vineyards, comprising about a quarter of total Chablis production, are designated Chablis Premier Cru and represent some of the district’s most reliable buys. The very best vineyards are on the west-facing hill immediately above the village and qualify as Chablis Grand Cru.”

He said: Light straw colour with an inviting aroma, and mineral on the nose  ample flavour.  Crisp, with Lemon and a hint of Butterscotch.  Lingering finish – 34/50 points.

She said: We usually cool our white wine in the fridge, so this wine starts to reveal itself once it warms up a tiny bit in the glass.  It’s very crisp and citrusy, I didn’t get a lot of mineral in the mouth although I did get a whiff of it on the nose once the wine warmed up a touch.  We’re having this with Fettuccini Alfredo, and the acid will cut through the butter in the pasta sauce quite nicely.  This wine would also do well with seafood like shrimp and lobster – where the acid can counteract the richness of the dish.  I was hoping to try it with a bit of Brie but Dave scarfed it yesterday.  However, it does go nicely with an old white cheddar and a Blarney Castle Mild Gouda that was lurking in the crisper.

I’d love to have a bottle of this on ice sitting in the back yard on a hot summer afternoon, nibbling crackers and cheese and listening to the birds. It’s a good wine for people who like lighter white wines.

The details:

  • les venerables Vieilles Vignes Chablis, La Chablisiene 2010
  • Chablis
  • 12.5% alcohol
  • $24.95 per bottle in Ontario through LCBO (Item #215525)

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