Archive | September, 2014

Previously Unexplored Wineries – Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

30 Sep



This is my favourite time of year to visit the wineries close by in Niagara. I love the pumpkins showing in the fields, the squash and fresh crop apples at the farm stands, and the smell of wine being made in the winery itself – musty, fruity, yeasty. It’s particularly magical if you grab one of those days in the fall when it’s surprisingly warm and sunny.

When in Niagara, I tend to gravitate to the wineries around Beamsville, Jordan and Vineland. Not sure why. Maybe the familiarity? I’ve been there a bunch. The chance to stop in to Jordan Village and dine at the Inn On The Twenty? Tasty food and good shopping. Whatever – it’s a must stop for any trip to the Niagara region. And, if you’ve read my post on swallowing, you’ll recommend that I don’t visit too many in a row. So, 3 seems about right and then take the back roads to NOTL?

Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

A little history and background is needed here. (Paraphrased from estate website) Sue-Ann Staff is a fifth generation grape grower, 2002 Ontario Winemaker of the Year, and two-time winner of the International Wine and Spirits Award in London, England (Top 4 “Women in Wine”). She also moonlights as the winemaker for Megalomaniac Wines, who I’ve featured here before. For Bordeaux freaks like me, she also assists with Megalomaniac’s sister property in St. Emillion, Chateau La Confession. I guess you could say that she’s got a pedigree?

Despite all that, this winery is about as laid back as you can get. We arrived in the midst of a wedding on the grounds. Now, grounds might be a stretch. This is a farm. It doesn’t hide the agriculture behind a faux chateau or architectural vanity piece. I think I even saw a tractor. The winery grounds open through a gravel drive and house a barn, implement shed, and farmhouse with attached tasting room. The bridesmaids were competing for space in the tasting room and the excitement was palpable. Very cool, if you dig weddings. I really do. Even with this distraction, staff were welcoming and engaged. I’ve said it before but the staff at Niagara wineries rival the best I’ve experienced in my travels. – informed, enthusiastic and focused on the customer. And, take note Napa, they do usually charge for tasting (a very nominal fee) that is always, always reimbursed when you buy, in my experience. Nothing makes me madder than paying as much as $20 a person to taste and not getting it forgiven if you buy. A rant for another time.

Before arriving here, Sue-Ann Staff meant riesling for me. I knew that they grew a bunch of riesling and had been supplying wineries for years before making their own. But, they make other wines as well.

What we tried:

11_Pinot_Grigio_large2011 Pinot Grigio $21.00 – Hey, I didn’t think anyone made a pinot grigio in Niagara either. Obviously, Bill has not been paying attention. This is an orange wine. I’ll let other more qualified people give the full explanation. Suffice it to say that the juice from white grapes spends some time on contact with the skins. To give it some colour, maybe tannins too. This wine was big in the glass – think Cerano de Bergerac spritzed with citrus fruit. It had an off-dry profile, citrus again until the finish which was surprisingly dryer. A nice switch from the ubiquitous crisp and nada PG’s that seem to flourish these days. My first orange wine!

2012 Loved By Lou Riesling $16.95 – Citrusy after a swirl. This is off-dry as well in the mouth with a steely personality. Enough acid to food pair but I found it the least individual of the wines. That is; it tasted like a lot of other mid range Rieslings that I’ve had from Niagara. In fairness, it isn’t a single vineyard or high-priced entry. This would be a good sipper around the patio.

11_Riesl_LU_3afe8d63-ce58-47ab-a8a5-f0a6e3b3c42c_large2011 Robert’s Block Riesling $26.00 – Now, we are talking. This is a dry effort that has a big hit of petrol on the nose (love that) but clean petrol not that oil sands stuff that our government blindly supports (Did I just make a political statement?). This is crisp and lip smacking in the mouth and on the finish but there is that petrol again and citrus fruit and maybe even a bit of tropicality too. Loved It! I think it could hold for a few years – at least that’s what I’m doing.

2011 Baco Noir $14.95 – This red was suggested as a possible red that The Director could drink. You see, she suffers from headaches when drinking reds. Which means? More red wine for Bill! This is a soft red – some muted acidity and tannins with strawberries and herbs making up much of the experience. I tend to heavier reds but Baco Noir has been good to me before. This one has some power without the weight. It seems perfect for those that like a very approachable red – maybe on a warmer day with snackees and a movie. Price is great too.

SAS_CAB_MERLOT_2a_5b68604f-373a-409d-a27b-d39923c3a63c_large2010 Cabernet Franc $21.95 – So, here we are at the wine that impressed me the most. Oh, I could talk about the 2010 Merlot but this is where I’d like to end. I’ve praised Niagara cab franc before and, damn, if I didn’t prefer the ones from down by NOTL. Well, this winery located near Jordan (Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount) has me heading out to take another look at cab francs from here. This is a structured (by that I mean “not flabby”) and cellar worthy red with fruit close to the ground – dark raspberries and brush. Not huge but large enough to satisfy the bigophile. Balanced and polished. Perfect wine with game. What game? AL Wild Card and ribs. At least that what I’m having it with. Go Royals!

Lots of other tastes available too. They have all the usual suspects – icewines, sparkling, pinks. Oh, I forgot the dog. There’s a dog called Brix (picture below). Beautiful Bernese Mountain dog. Just laying around being a farm dog. Each bottle has a neck tag that has a picture of him and it says, “Brix Approved.” I love dogs.

Get Thee To A Winery Near You! And, if you’re doing the Niagara Region, go see Sue-Ann and Brix.

Next Post: New Kids On The Block – Westcott Vineyards



Images courtesy of:

Peace, It’s Far Out* – The Red Daily Slosh

24 Sep


*And far far away.

No video today. I’m kind of bummed out by all the hostilities, refugees, insurgencies, attack drones, and “Boots On The Ground” blabber these days. The upside? The depression makes the wine drinking seem more….well….justified. The news never changes and that’s just the stuff that’s happening far away! So, to reflect my angst, I looked for a protest song video of relevance but they were all from my youth. Here’s the thing: with this world immersed in a never ending cycle of tribal conflicts, proliferation of weapons, and inequality enough to disadvantage all but a few, I am puzzled that the protest song or actual protest, for that matter, is dead (apologies to Ferguson). I was very fortunately born into a politically curious and active family. And I was an idealistic Canadian boomer that had college friends that were Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters (and, I’m not trying to stir anything up here), I marched arm in arm with them on Parliament Hill, signs in hand – Peace Now/La Paix Maintenant! Not sure what we were trying to accomplish – it wasn’t our war and the House of Commons was probably out of session that year. But, we were pissed about it anyway. It was so hard to comprehend – the mission and the loss of life that is. Admittedly, we were naive. Fast forward to today. I don’t see any broad swell of indignation on the part of today’s youth concerning what’s going on. Don’t give the world Taylor Swift boyfriend put down songs and LOL’s, FCOL. Mobilize – make us old white guys uncomfortable (don’t threaten my meager savings for retirement, though). March on a street near you. Get involved in the issues on any side! I’d even listen to a hip-hop version of Eve of Destruction! That’s how badly I want to see some engagement. If there indeed are protest songs and I’ve just missed those engaged youth, let me know. I’d be thrilled to be wrong. So, short story long, that’s why no video. Phew, now on to the wine.

These recommendations are for the new release of September 27.

balbasI won’t go into too much detail – GET A BUNCH OF 2001 Balbas Reserva #085183 $20.95. My past reviews of this wine – a Ribera del Deuro beaut – are here and here



A few months ago, I recommended this Niagara blend and got good feedback. Well, that was the 2010 and there’s been some shelf space allotted for 2011 Creekside Laura’s Red #117960 $19.95. As I mentioned last time, Creekside has a nice vibe at the

laurascellar door. They identify themselves as having a bit of an attitude. They might have been the first in Niagara to provide nibbles with their sips. And great nibbles at that. This blend includes shiraz/syrah which isn’t plentiful in Ontario. In my experience, it’s best done around Beamsville (the Creekside Shiraz and Flat Rock’s Rogue comes to mind) with the exception of Lailey’s NOTL versions. Well, this wine is very similar to the 2010 – I’d say a bit richer in the fruit department than 2010 but the same style – friendly, accessible, and spicy. Loads of smoky goodness. My friend, Grant, loved the last vintage and will likewise appreciate this local effort.

haroWe are starting to plan a trip to Spain this weekend. And, even though I’ve mentioned the Balbas up top, I need to show Spain more love. A few posts ago, I mentioned a great Rioja value – 2008 Lopez de Haro Crianza. See, how it works in Rioja is like this – there’s the Crianza – the bulk of most bodegas’ offering – made from good but not exceptional grapes and aged a shorter time in wood and bottle. Reserva – from better grapes, more highly regarded vineyards and aged longer in wood and bottle before release, and Gran Reserva —-you get the point. There is a progression in quality. At least there should be some integrity within a single producer. Now we have the – 2005 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva #337355 $18.95. I mentioned that the crianza was a great value. And, if the system works, this should represent a more balanced, complete wine. It does! This is my kind of Rioja – cedary in the glass and the mouth, great acidity on the first sip that kind of eases off after that. Some dirt and grit from the land. Perfect red for my favourite Spanish meal – paella. And, only $18.95!

ventisqueroWhere do the best value reds reside? Chile, man. Yes, Chile has kept their pricing in the range of most wine consumers unlike some of the past bargain centres (Australia, California come to mind). This week, there’s another carmenère – 2011 Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carmenère #325415 $19.95. This wine brings the distinct darkness and full-body that I like. It might not be as tannic as many of these can be, which I think you’ll appreciate. Stand around is allowed but food would really help this wine shine. I posted my theory of carmenère and archaeologists in a previous post.

A wine that I’ll probably pick up but haven’t had this vintage:

Any self respecting California winehound (with resources) has enjoyed a bottle of Caymus. For me, Caymus Special Selection was the first over-priced California cab that I had and, wow, it was a bit of a revelation. It had more complexity and, well how to put it in my early wine description phase, ‘flavour’ than anycaymus red wine I had had to that date. And, since I couldn’t afford the Special Selection ($219), I settled for the regular bottling – which is almost always a solid cab. Well, this week our local favourite wine store (read: only wine store) has the 2012 Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon #222877 $68.95. This wine has introduced many more than this poor scribe into the financially unfortunate habit of buying what all but the 1% would judge as expensive wine. Why not let it do the same for you? Plus, when you’re done, you could put a candle in the empty bottle and use as a centre piece – great conversation starter – “How we spent $70 on a bottle of wine and luvved it, baby.”

And on the slagging of all youth, I hope that I’m wrong and you’ll send in your experiences and protest songs through the comment box below. And, ‘Working In a Coal Mine’ and ‘Car Wash’ don’t count regardless of how hard it was. FYI as a poor student, I worked at a car wash – talkin’ about the car wash, yeah. And, since you’ll want to know, indeed those cars never seemed to stop coming.

Images courtesy of:

All bottle images –

Peace sign –

#MondayBlogs – Can I Get A Friend?

15 Sep

I didn’t contribute to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge last month. I just couldn’t get my fingers moving to type out a treatise on “friend” – the theme. I thought that it would be too random, way too serious, and therefore fail to earn me any love from the voting community. Having been rejected several times already, I couldn’t risk the humiliation. And, it has nothing to do with a lack thereof – friends, that is. I am surrounded with some of the best friends a person could have. But, here’s the thing. I struggled with the word. See, how it works with bloggers like me is that to figure out what to write on a theme, I start with a little word association game. And I discovered that friend, as a word, has seemingly morphed into something…………..different. And I’m not sure that I like it. It’s a function, I think, of language’s constant evolution and social media’s impact. Here’s what I mean.

There are words that just so capture what they mean to you when you say them. For some that might be complex like ‘right’ or ‘left’. For others it might be something as simple as ‘green’ or as powerful as ‘hate’.

Well, that word for me is ‘friend’. There is only one meaning. Growing up, I knew exactly what a ‘friend’ was; what we’d do for each other and how much we meant to each other. Not only that, I knew all my friends. It’s not just that I knew their names or their profile (the essential deets – those having asterisks beside the text box). But, I knew the names of their siblings, their parents’ names and what those parents did for a living, and (when such things mattered to a young man) what cars their dads drove. I knew who they wanted to date, who they wanted to dump, and if they (or I) was buying the beer that weekend. And, yes I had a friend who seemed to never buy the beer. Didn’t we all? But he was a friend. I liked my friends a lot. Trusted them. People say, “In bad times, you learn who your real friends are”. Well, I’ve had some pretty dark times and I knew who my real friends were going in and they were the same ones I had coming out. I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. I guess by now you get it – I really knew the people that I called ‘friends’. And, channeling Sally Fields, I really, really loved them. And nothing’s really changed in the intervening years, I still do – know them and love them.

friendship1Years ago as Facebook took off, I expounded obnoxiously. “Why do I care to “connect” (visualize me a la Dr.Evil using hand signals for parentheses) with people using Facebook that I don’t care to connect with in my real life?” You can see that I can assume an insufferable attitude, really. Not my best feature. But, and here’s the rub, Facebookists, Facebookers , or whatever the term you use for the buggers, had hundreds of friends. What? I’ll say that again – they had hundreds of friends! While poor Bill had eight to ten. OK, ten is a bit of a stretch. Hundreds of friends? How can that be? Unless ‘friends’ were no longer really friends, that is. My word ‘friends’ got high jacked to serve another master. Other words have been similarly repurposed. ‘Like’ has a new meaning – it happens, liking that is, when you click on an icon. That’s it. I do it all the time – I like stuff on-line. I truly like it but not in the same vein as someone going to the Kellogg’s website and liking them, whoever them is, so as to, perchance, win a trip to DisneyWorld. That ain’t a true ‘like’.

Then there’s the word, ‘influence’. Recently in the social media circles I travel in, there was a serious spat about whether a certain social media entity could be on a list that spoke to the influence certain other social media entities had in the wine social media world (stop and take a breath) as defined and measured by services that supposedly measure influence. Confused? I was too. It was like Dale Carnegie was on acid and trapped in cyberspace. It caused a little binge drinking in the wine blogging community. OK, maybe only in my little corner thereof and in Oz. And I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t take much at my place. But, what it illustrated to me was that we haven’t quite found social media’s place in our intimate and personal world. The world where DuffsWines is Bill, not a social media entity. The world that matters and uses such words as influence, friend, follow, like. A world where those words are personal not virtual. At least, I haven’t. How Twitter and WordPress, for instance, play in my head, heart, and day-to-day life. I realize that people are working on it – somewhere there’s a strategy being developed to turn my social media Brand Awareness into buying Depends. But, that’s not what I mean. Now, before I dig a bigger hole with the above-mentioned influence listees, let me say that many people and services that made this list are influential to me. And, I don’t doubt to others. They really are, as per my personal definition of influence. I read them, trust them, believe them, and am comfortable acting on their recommendations and suggestions. It’s not the idea of a list that I’m talking about but the use of an algorithm to measure influence in the absence of ‘real’. It’s drone science and not something to squabble over. To my 17 followers, “No I did not make the list”.

For me, it isn’t quite ‘real’ yet – social media that is. Attempts to substitute it for the personal world or elevate it to matter to us all are a bit premature, I think. For example, having news segments like, “Let’s see what’s trending on Twitter” is just lazy 24-7 journalism. It’s like eavesdropping on me leaning over my fence and shooting the shit with my neighbour. It doesn’t matter to anyone but me and him. It’s not news. Please stop scrolling Twitter feeds masquerading as content!

How I’d suggest we deal with this at this point in time is to Stay Calm and Use a Little Restraint (T-shirts available). Have fun with it. This will all work itself out – this social media meeting real world expectations, accepted nomenclature, and the human condition. We are not there yet. At least, I don’t think we are. But, there will soon be an app. Cue: Scarlett Johansson.

For my part, I follow, comment, interact, and share within social media regularly in such a positive way for me that I ‘like’ these people with whom I exchange stuff. I like ’em a lot. But, to remain theoretically consistent with the above, I cannot call them ‘friends’. Not until we meet at the Wine Bloggers Conference next year in the Finger Lakes. And, then after sharing some real time drinking wine, getting to know each other, talking wine, and drinking some more wine, we’ll become BFF’s, I’m hoping. Which in my paradigm of friendship means that I can call them regularly late at night with little regard for time zones, borrow money from them during my weekly rough patch, stay in their apartment if I’m stuck, and, most importantly quaff those bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche that they have in their cellar. Screw Facebook, that’s the kind of friends I’m talking about, baby!

Now that wasn’t too random and serious, was it?

Ontario Makes An Appearance – The Red Daily Slosh

10 Sep

This release features Ontario wines and what’s the best way to celebrate our province?  Fly the Royal Ensign from your passenger car side window? Nope. Spend your weekend sitting in Tim Horton’s debating the fate of Rob Ford and the demise of the Senate with really old people? Nope. Preparing for the endless sports media coverage of Da’ Leafs by renewing your Paxil script? Nope. Honeymoon Suite? You bet! A group from Niagara Falls is in order. Yes, I know that their hair reminds us all of the folly of being a slave to current and obviously doomed fashion. But still.

Shamefully, I haven’t had many of the featured Ontario wines. Let me explain. Many Ontario producers have a limited capacity and sell much of their premium product through cellar door operations, restaurants, and wine clubs. Without receiving samples (not so subtle a hint) or being on the LCBO tasting politbureau, I don’t get to see much of it unless I’m drinking and weaving along the roads of Ontario. This leaves limited opportunities to taste and experience Ontario wines not generally listed at the LCBO. I traveled recently to Niagara for some winery visits (posts to come) and will try and represent in my posts. That being said, I’ve written about the wines in this release that I’ve experienced and that I can recommend. I’m sure many more of the featured Ontario wines are worth a look and taste.

The wines:

triomphecabfrancI have mentioned Southbrook several times on these pages. Their adherence to organic and biodynamic practices is fascinating to me. Not sure what they were scrambling around doing this week but three nights in a row the moon was a ghostly galleon which must indicate something in biodynamic as well as poetic terms. Setting the sheep loose in the cab franc? Burying Aunt Marie feet-first between the Riesling and the raspberries? Their winemaking and cellaring facilities as well as their visitor centre are über cool and I’d place it among my ‘must visit’ wineries in Niagara on that score and the great staff (shout out to Rachel) alone. But, they are more than a pretty face and have great wines too. The wine this week is their 2012 Southbrook Tromphe Cabernet Franc #275958 $21.95. Niagara for me, particularly down by Niagara-On-The-Lake and Four Mile Creek, does great cab franc. The 2012 vintage was a good one overall for Bordeaux grapes in Niagara and this wine expresses good weather, good ground, and good winemaking. It has that Niagara thing in the glass – I used to experience it as a green note but in this case it’s herbal and cedary. Firm with a tannic streak that’s pretty balanced for this early on in development – dark fruits, and a bit of lip smack on the finish. I liked it a lot. I’d suggest that you don’t stand around with this but eat something with a bit of fat and burnt flesh.

angelsgatemerlotTo quote the late great Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” Many of our first tastes of Ontario wines, post Cold Duck, were those from fledgling wineries whose vines were young and their wines somewhat………..well, non-descript. Not sure what I expected but I wasn’t impressed and effectively took a hiatus from Niagara for awhile. That was a mistake. A perfect example of this is Angel’s Gate Winery. I traveled there with The Director many years ago as they had just broken ground on their spectacular chateau-styled winery building. At that time, without considering the path that’s needed to get to great wine, I thought that they might have been a bit ambitious. No longer. Age of stock, experience or both have led them to making some of the nicer whites on the Beamsville Bench. But, I still didn’t give them any street cred with reds. While that changed with a sniff and sip of the 2012 Angel’s Gate Mountainview Merlot #299172 $18.95. I’m suggesting that, if you are a California cab lover, that this is not going to be ‘big’ enough for you. But, I believe that ‘big’ should be power not just heft. And, this wine has a nice balance of power (intensity of black fruit, complexity, solid nose) and bite without being heavy or ‘too’ full. I could stand around with this wine pre-dinner, drink with some porkish meat, or just have it with a cookie before bed. What type of cookie? Well, the merlot would play beautifully off a chewy white chocolate chip, macadamia nut cookie. Oreo? Don’t make me laugh. Well, unless you are one of those disgusting people that break them apart and then scrap off the filling with your teeth before eating the cookie wafer part by itself. I admit it might work with the deconstructed Oreo, if you’re so inclined.

cantineferriAnd, just ‘cause I can, another wine from Puglia that I had while there last year. 2008 Cantine Ferri Oblivio Nero di Troia #380600 $19.95 is a “deep somnabitch” or so my notes say. Just layer after layer of dark, herby, leathery stuff. A bit farm smelly for those that shy away from smelly wines – BTW, I love ‘em! If I was drinking this tonight, I’d open a bit early to gain some integration and then have with a Mediterranean veggie pizza (which I actually had last night, drat). Plus, remember, it would add uva di troia to your Century Wine List.


Recent Discovery:

DNmalbecWandering the aisles aimlessly the other day, attracting the attention of consultants, secret shoppers, and weird Buddy, I found what looked like a familiar friend – 2011 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec #178657 $18.95. I’m not sure why I thought that I’d had it in another movie. The name Don Nicanor just sounded familiar, is all. Sometime when I recommend Malbec, people give me feedback that it’s a bit too heavy for them. Maybe it’s the modern fruit forward style we usually find. Maybe it’s the high alcohol content which seems to accompany Malbec. Well, this one has a lighter profile despite ABV of 14.5% which is pretty high for me. In the mouth, it has ever present acidity, solid dark fruit, and a nice smoky finish. I was pleasantly surprised after being disappointed that Don Nicanor and I were not old friends. Drink this with some hearty fare. As I take another sip, I have it – it’s an Old World Malbec! That’s it. If you like Cahors, you’ll recognize it in this wine. Vineyard character, a bit of dirt on the nose.

Wine that I’m going to pick up:

queylusThomas Bachelder makes some of the more interesting pinots that I’ve had recently. He is a pinotphile in the greatest sense – making Burgundy pinots, Oregon pinots (very highly recommended here), and Niagara pinots under his eponymous label. He also makes pinots under the Queylus brand. I’ve never had these and am going to make sure I get a bottle of their 2011 Domaine QueylusTradition Pinot Noir #392738 $29.95. It’s reviewed well (Tony Aspler – 92) but more importantly, his style is what has impressed me. Now, we’ve all had and loved Meoimi pinot from Belle Glos and the Wagner family. But, our tastes have changed, haven’t they? Big, sugary, thick pinots don’t do it anymore, do they? Anyone out there? “Of course, they don’t Bill.” That’s better. I mean when Tony Aspler uses the terms “floral grace notes”, I’ve heard all I need to spring for this wine. Finding that $29.95 is a bit stiff? Well, if you’re like Ken, you just buy it and stash it for a special occasion.

Images courtesy of

Don Nicanor

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