Archive | March, 2016

Helpful Friends – The White and Sparkling Daily Slosh

30 Mar

I used to include a “This Day in Music” tidbit with my posts but have lapsed lately. This post deserves a reboot of that practice as March 29th (post written then and posted today) was the day the Beatles started recording “With a Little Help From My Friends” at their Abbey Road studio. Although it’s not them below, it is truly the iconic rendition of that song. If you’ve never heard Joe Cocker sing this, do not click away until you play it. Play it as you scroll down. This one is from the Queen E II celebration, I believe, and has Brian Mann of Queen on guitar, Phil Collins on drums. And, that scream – inimitable. RIP, Joe. Did I suggest that you play it? Oh yeah, and turn it up to 11.

So, what could this have to do with wine? Best pairing ever – wine and friends. And I get by with a little help from them; get high with a little help from my friends.

rablHad our niece home from Germany last week. She drinks whites exclusively due to headaches from the reds, pinks, balsamic vinegar, etc. Yes, she’s a pain in the ass. But, then again, so is The Director who only drinks whites for the same reason.

When someone visits from abroad, we wine geeks get a bit conflicted – do we offer our ‘local’ wine or do we try and make them feel at home with their ‘local’ wine? In this case, I had some German Rieslings downstairs as well as a 2014 Franken Würzburger Stein Silvaner Trocken which is from her region in Germany. I decided on a compromise of sorts – a Grüner Veltliner – 2013 Rabl Langenlois #377457 $14.95. – closer to hers than ours. If you’ve never had a Grüner (which sounds a bit rude – “Hey baby, want to share a Grüner?”), you really should. It is a great alternative to other dry, crisp whites and a good one to add to your white wine arsenal. This one’s mouthfeel was akin to Sauvignon Blanc – big, juicy gooseberry flavours with the typical Grüner pepper. It was paired with a pasta with lobster, tarragon, mushrooms, cream – rich, earthy. Good pairing. If you already love Grüner – there’s another one coming this Saturday – 2014 Loimer Langenlois Grüner Veltliner #142240 $21.95 that has a strong review (WS – 92) if you’re into the shelf talkers.

henriNiagara Region does Riesling right. I just heard from a fellow blogger that a friend of his sang the praises of a Tawse Riesling. You can read about my recent visit to Tawse here. This Saturday a Riesling from Henry of Pelham arrives. I realize now I have been remiss in mentioning them for a long while (their Baco is groovy and inexpensive). The 2012 Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling #557165 $17.95 is a dry Riesling that, although just a few years old, has already started to show some age – a wee bit of kerosene on the nose. It’s slatey, salty, citrusy on the swallow. A very good value Riesling. And that’s not just me but Sara d’Amato of Winealign says almost the same thing in her review. This all reminds me that I need to get back to Henri de Pelham soon. Great Chardonnay, the Baco, and a brilliant sparkling wine – Cuvée Catherine.

cdlrSpeaking of which, there’s a sparkling this Saturday that I haven’t had from Cave de Lugny – 2012 Cave de Lugny Cuvée Millésimée Brut Crémant de Bourgogne #183764 $24.95 I think that I will get a couple for down below. If it’s anything like their NV Cave de Lugny Rosé Brut Crémant de Bourgogne #297846 $19.95, it will be solid value bubbly. We had the rosé to start our Easter get together and to celebrate my other niece, Kristin’s, B-day. She renamed the day Kreaster. This wine had a nice moussey volume to it. It was perhaps too good to just quaff and ignore but that’s unfortunately what happens at these things. Not all people want to analyze their wine. Everyone loved it though. Toasty beyond a usual Crémant. Apples and citrus. Good stuff.

I’ll leave you with this – just because I can ’cause it’s my blog. Here’s Joe singing a great Randy Newman song – You Can Leave Your Hat On. The greats always have spectacular bands. This band is beyond awesome! Love the horns.

Remember: you can check stock inventory at your LCBO by clicking on the wine’s link (underlined SKU and price), dropping down the ‘cities’ menu, clicking on your city and hitting the ‘Find Stores’ button.




Family Day For A Wino – #Sunday Sips

27 Mar


There’s an artificial holiday in Ontario called Family Day. I believe Don Getty while Premier in Alberta was the first to think that we wanted to spend time with our family. Seriously? What family do you live in? Eventually in Ontario, politicians didn’t want to appear anti-family values, so now we too have a Family Day here.

The Director and I took the opportunity to head to Niagara for a quick look see at some of our favourite wineries. It was a shitty day weather-wise and promising to be horrid by nighttime – sleet, snow, freeing rain.

First stop was just off the QEW on the outskirts of Grimsby at Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery. I don’t believe that I’ve spoken about this winery.  They have an exceptional restaurant in an old Victorian house with the winery Visitors Centre in a newer building. The tasting room (below) is generously appointed with the usual tasting bar, knick knack displays, hewed wood beams, etc. They have a pairing menu of artisanal cheeses and/or chocolate. FYI, most wineries in Niagara and all that I’m mentioning here have a reasonable tasting fee ($5 – $10 which is $1.50 US) that they wave with purchase.


Tasting Room at Peninsula Ridge


2012 A.J. Lepp Vineyard Reserve Merlot $18.95 I tend to shy away from Niagara single variety Bordeaux wines – they just don’t seem to get ripe enough – showing green pepper too much. This Merlot had but a hint of that – telling you it was Niagara born. Full-bodied, plummy with firm tannins. Needs time or a long decant to really open up.

2012 Reserve Syrah $24.95 That’s right a Syrah from Niagara. You’d think that it would thrive here. But only a few wineries grow it. This was far and away the best of the wines I tasted at Peninsula Ridge. Peppery, smoky, balanced, solid tannins, long finish. Loved it! I bought but only one bottle as this was the start of the day and, alas, gave it to my sister-in-law as part of a birthday present. Which means I’ll have to return soon.


2009 Beal Vineyard Chardonnay $18.95 Pen Ridge has a very successful non-oaked Chardonnay called Inox #594200 $14.95 usually available at the LCBO. This one, however, was touched by oak. Nonetheless, the thing that I noted most was the acidity on the finish – not large oak influence. Apples, citrus. A very nice Chardonnay for patio and potato chips.

Peninsula Ridge’s web site:

Next we trundled to Jordan for lunch. We ate at a new (at least new to us) eatery called Jordan House Tavern right on the corner. Now, you might ask, “What corner?” Well, you clearly haven’t been to Jordan. They’ve done a really nice job at the place. Refurbished an old warehouse-style building. Menu a bit of a blend of roadhouse and English pub. Good selection of craft beers and local wines – I enjoyed a local 20 Valley Cream Ale with my wings – it screamed, “Cottage!”

Then it was off to some more wineries. We stopped at a couple places (nothing notable) en route to Tawse. This is one of my faves – the wine is just so consistently excellent and the venue, staff, etc. are top drawer.

Here’s a great video on how they operate. Take some time, watch it and you will want to head there to taste what they create. Lauded by Decanter magazine, Canadian Winery of The Year multiple times.


2012 Tawse Estate Chardonnay $37.95 Tawse Chardonnays have a kinship with those of Burgundy. In fact, Tawse has vineyards there. This white was perfectly ready to quaff. Melon, apple, and some oak influences on the nose and in the mouth. Long, lip smacking finish.

2012 Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay (certified organic and biodynamic) $35.95 This was notably more mineral in character than the Reserve – almost stoney in places. More restrained on the oak influence. Certainly not Chablis in character but definitely leaning toward ‘less is more’. Loved it!

They had a half case of Chardonnays unavailable in single format that The Director decided she needed. Looking forward to cracking one for our Easter dinner today. FYI, the case held- 2011 Beamsville Bench, 2011 20 Mile Bench, 2011 Celebration Chardonnay (this wine was served at the i4C in 2015, I believe).

Reds I love Tawse Pinot Noirs and may have expressed this opinion several times on these pages. They are structured, lean, powerful, and even I can pick out the nuances of the different cuvèes. Which, according to the video above, is the goal here.

2011 Tawse Quarry Road Estate Pinot Noir (certified organic and biodynamic) $34.95 Spice, liquorice, and menthol on the sniff and the swish. This is quite mineral with darker red berries – big, smoky and a long finish. Great effort!

laundry2011 Tawse Laundry Cabernet Franc #130997 $31.95 OK, I know I’ve sung the praises of the Burgundy varieties at Tawse. But, really, if you want to get a sense of the winemaking, this is the test. This is an Old World Cab Franc. Bursting with life both in the glass as you swirl and sniff and then – pow – you get a hit of the mint and black berries. This is Sean Penn – intense, a bit rough around the edges, purposeful, story telling. Love it! Needless to say, it was an expensive day at Tawse.

Off we went with our car listing a bit due to the extra weight. West on King Street and a hard left up the drive to another of my faves – Malivoire. Malivoire has a cool vibe. Where Tawse is somewhat opulent, formal, Malivoire is more playful, experimental. The winery is set into a hill with a quonset hut styled metal roof. This allows a gravity fed operation. Malivoire hit it big a number of years ago with a unique bottling – Old Vines Foch. It became a cult wine. They’ve since got everyone to pay attention to their overall prowess and the many different wines they craft. I seem to annually recommend their Ladybug Rosé #559088 $15.95 (having as a pre-dinner sip with Easter dinner) and Guilty Men Red #192674 $15.95 but tasted other wines this time.

Malivoire tasting room entrance Spring

Malivoire Tasting Room entrance Spring


2011 Mottiar Chardonnay $29.95 Tropical and toasty on the nose (I’ve seen ‘brioche’ used but definitely not confident in that until I’ve brioches a bit more). Vanilla, roundish stuff in the mouth with a nice crisp finish which was a surprise given the smoothness of the rest.

2011 Chardonnay $19.95 Although this wine is available at the LCBO #573147, I’m not sure of the vintage currently in stock. I kind of like this better than the more expensive one above. Can’t put my finger on it. This might have a little more zip in the mouth. Flavour profile as far as fruit and oak elements very similar but less tropical more apple. More food friendly. Not that I didn’t love the other – just saying’ for $10 less, I could get 5 bottles of this instead of 3 bottles of the other. Oops, let the cat out of the bag.

2013 Rennie Vineyards Christine Chardonnay $35 I don’t quite understand the relationship between Maliviore and Rennie. Rennie is a family owned and operated vineyard on the Bench, In any event, there clearly is some symbiosis of vineyards if not cross-pollination of staff as well. This wine is a beaut! Can we talk? Frequently New World Chardonnays are one-dimensional – they’re naked, they’re not, they’re round, they’re crisp and acidic. This wine defies some of that. I don’t claim to have a sophisticated palate. For instance, I can’t tell the difference between Maduro tobacco and just plain tobacco. Or, Montmorency cherries from, well, regular black cherries. Mea culpa. This wine, however, helped me to relax and just let it come to me. There was an overall feeling of bon ami. OK, what it really tasted like was a bit tropical – pineapple – an alcohol bump (14%ABV), and the best finish for the whites we tasted that day – medium length, citrusy. It’s a warmer wine than the others, if that makes sense.

Red Here’s where it gets fun at Malivoire. I mentioned above the Old Vines Foch. Let’s start there.

Background Note: My father was a home fermenter. He made wines from anything that could be constituted as fruit – dandelions, sour cherries, etc. But, he also was part of a cooperative venture that purchased fruit from Niagara and everyone got together, drank last year’s stuff (I was a DD) and crushed, fermented, and eventually bottled their wine together. I remember his Marechal Foch bottling as, well, almost the same as all his other bottling – hint of sulphur, very fresh, fruity and light. And not to speak ill of the dead, but it was pretty lacklustre. Not suggesting that my friends and I didn’t poach a few of each case – just sayin’. Now, fast forward to Malivoire’s 2013 Old Vines Foch

2013 Old Vines Foch $24.95 I remember this wine in previous vintages was one of the most unique reds that I’d ever had from Niagara. This doesn’t disappoint on that score. In the gurgle and swish, it feels French to me – Southern France – kind of Grenache-ish. And I love Grenache!  ABV 12% which avoids any heat – chocolatey goodness. You get a sense of power with this wine. I love it now like I loved it before (Fleetwood Mac lyric? Help me here). Dad, wish you could taste it.

2014 Small Lot Gamay $19,95 Gamay might be making a comeback. I read a great review of a Cru Beaujolais by a fellow blogger, Jim VanBergen, you can read it here. To paraphrase, Jim sang the praises of natural wine and how smashing a particular naturalBeaujolais from Morgon was. I also read a piece in a recent Wine Enthusiast about Gamay now being made in Washington. Interesting to watch the ebb and flow of the popularity of grape varieties. hard to keep up. Malivoire has three Gamay bottlings – a single vineyard (Courtney – $25.95), a generic ($17.95), and a Small Lot. The Small Lot is a fun, fresh cherry bomb. This is all about the fruit with just a hint of grassiness hiding on the finish. I bought a few and am waiting for the first Spring weather day to open with apps – yes, I have an app for Gamay. Chilling this wine for a few minutes wouldn’t hurt and would add to it’s refreshingness. Refreshosity? Refreshmency? Love this wine!

We left Malivoire, raced down the QEW to overnight in Hamilton just beating the freezing rain. Watched it all from our room with one of our purchases chilled and popped. I like Family Day.

That’s our day. In the next month or so, I’m going to put together my ideal wine tour of Niagara so that you can benefit from my swings, misses, and home runs.




The Malibu Effect – A Good Friday Ramble

25 Mar

I was walking down to The Morrissey House for my obligatory lunch and two craft beer workout last Friday. As I walked, a car passed me and pulled into a parking spot ahead. “Hyundai has done a great job with that Sonata,” I thought to myself. Then, “No, it’s not a Sonata but maybe a new Chrysler 200?” Then, as I approached the car, I saw “Malibu” on the trunk lid. What? It could have been any of several makes and models of car. Because they all look alike it seems. I’ll call it the Malibu Effect.


It’s not that these cars don’t appeal. I like how the Malibu looks in the picture above. But, why do car makers have to make all their cars look alike? I can’t see creative designers sitting at the drafting table thinking, “How do I get people to mistake our car for another brand?” And, it isn’t just cars. Look at television. I lost interest after CSI: Split Lip Township, Law and Order: Hard Core Truants, and Big Brother Season 62.  I’ve ranted on television before so will drop it now.

So, what does this have to do with wine? I bet you think you know where I’m going. But, “Dude, ya’ll be wrong,” to quote the star of Lefty, the Gator Farmer.

Wine is treated differently and, unfortunately, the same as other products. It’s treated the same, as in it’s a consumer product and many producers use the same business methods to produce and sell the most at the largest margins they can manage. This means that there are a gazillion gallons of wine that taste the same year in year out, look alike, and are priced almost identically. Safe wines to sell to safe consumers for sustainable margins. But, you don’t have to buy them. That’s the point. Wine is special. Why?

1 – There are a zillion kinds of wine made from a zillion wine grapes providing different experiences. Oh yeah, and we can afford it

I read somewhere that there are 1,000 different varieties of grapes. And whoever said that was wrong. Because there are 2,700 different varieties. And if you believed that, you’d be wrong because there are 10,000 varieties. I learned all this from the internet. Hence, the confusion. Rather than quibble over a few thousand grape varieties, let’s agree that there are a shitload of different grapes that can be and are made into wine.

Cariñena still on the Vine - Sao del Coster - Gratallops

Cariñena – Sao del Coster – Gratallops

And, we get to drink wine made from different grapes tasting like what that grape or blend of grapes, the region, the climate for that vintage, and the idiosyncrasies/talents of the winemaker decide for us. We don’t have to partake in the wine equivalent of meat and potatoes every night.

2 – Wine can’t be made to taste the same if it’s made from grapes grown in different regions

With wine, there are no global brands or labels. Think about this. If you walk into a store in the UK, you probably will see Coca-Cola and Budweiser, etc. Those are US brands in my mind. But they are brands brewed under licence in the UK. Same holds for many other countries. And, although there may be subtle differences in flavour profile, these products are many times locally produced and taste the same everywhere. If you were to order a Goose Island IPA here in Canada it would have been brewed in London, Ontario by Labatt’s. Not Chicago? Nope. This is what I mean. Even craft beer is compromised by this globalization.

With wine, you will still see some of the same labels but that product is not made locally – it’s imported. Why? One reason – the food scientists in their white coats and pointy little heads haven’t turned their attention to wine yet, thank God. Right? Wrong, there are scores of ways that those nasty food scientists are already screwing with wine to make it consistent as if that’s a lofty goal. Right now that’s the exception, hopefully, and fodder for another ramble.

Corollary to #2 – Most grape varieties cannot thrive in every climate. This renders global brands, made locally, a tough task

You can’t even grow the same grapes in different climates. Well, you can. It just doesn’t end well. Take for instance how long it’s taken for Niagara wineries to just give up on some major grape varieties as anything other than a blender. When wineries ‘push the envelop’, these experiments become nothing other than an oddity or a quirk of a particular winery. “We are making Blaufränkisch in Virginia great again,” from a Trump winery news release. BTW, I read that right below their pledge to deport any and all Malbecs – “until we find out what the hell is going on.”

3 – Region-specific cultural and commercial history Trumps (last one, promise) group think. Folks don’t want the same things in every country. How else to explain cod cheeks in St. John’s?

Not everyone wants the Coca-Cola of wine, whatever that is. I think much of that has to do with culture, experience, agriculture, and history. Italians prefer Italian wine. Catalonians want their wine. If everyone sticks to this, there will always be loads of variety in wine. We get the benefit of this (and don’t shoot me for supporting the monopoly but) because we have a supplier that provides us with lots of options. Not true choice but options.

So, that leaves us with a spectacular and high classed problem – What To Drink?

OK, I see comments accruing below. They foolishly take issue. They decry the trend in homogenizing wine. “Bill, who can taste the difference between Fuzion Malbec and Skinny Girl Malbec? Or, Naked Cab and Naked Merlot? Wine is starting to all taste the same!” First, I have to say that I’m looking forward to Naked Skinny Girl Malbec – that sounds relish and label might be fun. Second, relax folks. I admit there’s a trend and maybe the big aisles are taken up with some of those clones. But, where was I? Oh yeah, – What To Drink?

boone's farmYou cannot go wrong. If you want to drink the same thing (or something that tastes the same as the same thing) every night, do it. I accept that people should drink what they love; even if they’re completely wrong most of the time. I’m tolerant of the unwashed masses. I’m sure some of them are good people. Definitely last Trump reference.

But, if you want to try real stuff – better stuff, you only have to wander to the mother ship and walk down one of the over merchandised aisles, close your eyes, and pick something out.  Wait, wait, wait I see that you’ve mistakenly picked out a wine that tastes the same every year and exactly like many others in this aisle. I told you there were some of those. So, put it back, step away from the Barefoot Peach Samba/Boone’s Farm Peach Samba section and walk to the Vintages section. It’s pretty safe there. Try again. Now there you go, you’ve got a slim bottle of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sweating in your palm – site specific and completely unlike the Cremant d’Alsace in your other hand. Either way, you win. They won’t be Malibus.

Unfortunately, like Malibus and Sonatas, wine only comes in a few colours. What’s with that? I want a silver wine.





Back From The Abyss – The Rainbow Daily Slosh

18 Mar


It’s me – Duff. Remember me? After two months of silence, I’m back to bloggin’. There are several reasons for my absence. All are deeply personal and can’t truly be shared on something as trivial as a wine blog. However, other bloggers will identify with the challenge of balancing life with writing, making sure that you are ‘there’ for friends and family as well as readers, the pressure to taste interesting wines all the time instead of just chugging cheap caselots, and the constant demands of fame and fortune.  Now, if you’ve been playing along at home over the past three years, you know that’s got nothing to do with why I haven’t posted in a while.

Truth be told, I’m stubbornly lazy. I don’t know about you but once I cast my lot with Monsieur Sloth, I’m all in. And the winter just depresses me – so why not just sit around, veg, contemplate my mortality, and watch my Prime Minister doing something cool every day? Is it just me or is he everywhere – the most selfied man in the world? That’s all nice, but I am still waiting on the steak.

This Saturday’s release is titled, ‘Viva Italia!’. Most of the affordable Italian offerings seem pretty run of the mill or I haven’t tasted them. But I guess that I have to recommend at least one Italian wine.

carpeneI hate to use absolutes but Prosecco is the most over-rated sparkling bev, IMHO. I mean it’s everywhere and usually underwhelming. I guess if you are in a cafe in Italy and you want a little something before you dig into the ‘real’ wine, you might order a flute of bubbly – not worrying about its quality. But, with sparkling (as in not Champagne), I kind of gravitate to Cremant de Limoux, de Bourgogne, even Cava (story for another time), and local stuff. However, The Director and I shared a glass of Prosecco with friends a few years ago, and said, “Whoa!” The Carpene Malvolti 1868 Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore #727438 $19.95 is drier than most Proseccos. And not to flog the bad Proseccos horse too much, this one carries lots of actual flavour – peachy, stony. Pop this one with confidence.

susanabalbocsWho do I recommend the most? Susana Balbo, that’s who. Whether it’s her own label or Benmarco, I like her New World take on reds and Torrontes, in particular. This Saturday, her eponymous Cabernet Sauvignon returns to the shelves (if it ever left). The 2013 Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon #260919 $19.95 is all Cab Sav – dark fruit, cassis. I think it’s the best vintage ever of this bottling and I’ve got pretty much every vintage in my notes.  This is Serena Williams in a tux – classy and formal on the outside, powerful and beautiful underneath. This food friendly wine is full bodied with lots of stuffing, gentle tannins. Great value. Buy a case!

caliterraStaying in South America, the 2013 Caliterra Tributo Single Vineyard Carmenère #056630 $16.95 has all sorts of nervous energy. It’s powerful without the weight that this grape sometimes gives us. Struggling archaeology grad students love this stuff! Great value – great food wine. Smoky good.




Last one – the 2006 Monasterio de Las Viñas Reserva #166579 $14.95 is a blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Carinena. The Garnacha comes through on the sniff for sure. Reminds me a bit of a Monsant without the higher alcohol (this one is 13% ABV). I’m sure there are a zillion cases of this made each year but that shouldn’t dissuade you from trying this well-aged, fun,

monasterio rand ready to drink red. This co-operative’s gran reserve (2005) is available in some mother ship locations and represents fantastic value too ($16.95). You can search for it here. Both these wines can be dinner wines and at these prices you don’t normally get something as balanced and food friendly.

One last pitch – I’ve been buying a lot of Bibi Graetz Casamatta #330712 $14.95 lately. Originally, I was thinking it would be a perfect cottage red – fruity, lightish, fresh. The problem? I got a case, I started drinking it every once in awhile, I bought another half dozen, and now I’m stuck with only 6 bottles left for the summer. And, I’m not too optimistic that there will be any left once the cottage road is open. If you like Tuscan reds that aren’t all funked up and leathery, pick up a bunch of these for the patio or deck.

P.S. On top of my laziness, I’m in a rut. I’ve been drinking French, Italian, Ontario, and Spanish wines a lot this past few months and I’ve noticed that I’m not drinking any California wines anymore. Well, aside from The Director’s Chardonnays. Why is this? I used to quaff those buggers like they were going out of style – Napa Cabs, Russian River Pinots, Rhone Rangers, Lodi Zins – loved them all. But, nothing lately. The only excuse I can muster is that my palate has changed? We all know that’s bullshit and since when is all California wine crafted to a single red-stained palate? So, help me out here fellow bloggers and readers. Help me edge away from the ledge of Euro-centric wineism. Shoot me some food friendly, exciting, not too big Cali wine recos to ease me slowly back. Thanks.




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