Monthly Archives: April 2015

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

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:

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

Why build a wine cellar?

If you drink mostly wine, then you should think about a wine cellar of some sort.  It might be as simple as a wine fridge you buy from somewhere like Home Depot, a larger, a specialized wine cabinet, or even an actual cellar that you build out with shelving and climate control.

Why build a wine cellar?

  • It lets you get to know a wine more intimately:  buy 3 bottles, drink one now, and cellar the other two for future enjoyment. We usually drink #2 a year later, and #3 might wait based on the winemaker’s recommendation.
  • It protects your investment – if you’re spending money on wine, then you need to provide optimum storage conditions so that it will keep and improve with age.
  • It allows you to take advantage of great deals or special buys, like we often find with Opimian or with the Vintages section of our LCBO. You can buy it and keep it.
  • It allows you to experience the wine in the way the winemaker intended.  Many wines just aren’t ready to drink when they’re bottled, and need multiple years in the bottle to mature and turn into something really magical.  If you don’t have somewhere to store it while it matures, you’ll never get that experience.
  • It means you never have to rush out to pick up a bottle of wine.  If we’re going to see friends, we ask what’s on the menu then make our choice based on that.  Each Thursday, we review what’s in the cellar, what needs to be drunk, and what we’re planning to cook – then make our choices for the weekend based on those variables.
  • Wine is a wonderful hobby to share – shopping for wine, sharing the tasting experience, and even creating vacations around wine tasting gives us something we’re both passionate Our wine cellarabout, and enjoy doing together. But coming home with a vehicle full of wine means we need somewhere to put it.

Our house had a great cold cellar in it, which we happily turned into a wine cellar – it’s home to about 250 bottles, which seems to be our peak.  Our next home will be smaller, though, so we’ll probably move to a wine cabinet.  Doesn’t really matter, as long as the wine is properly kept, so we can enjoy the process of acquiring it, then tasting it only when it’s ready!

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