Wednesday, July 22, 2015

‘Wining’ Your Way Through Woodinville by The Traveling Winers

One of the best parts of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference (which I'll be doing again this August) was meeting so many other bloggers who were as passionate about wine as I am. Three of my favourite people were from The Vineyard Trail in Oklahoma, who write about their collective adventures 'wine trailing' across the U.S.

I know many of my readers are as interested in wine travel as I am, so I'm excited to share this guest post about Woodinville, Washington from these 'winers'! If you like it, please visit their website and check out some of their other extensive wine travel pieces.

Shawn and I are off to Europe this week - so there will be no post next Wednesday. Be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter in the meantime!

‘Wining’ Your Way Through Woodinville 

by The Traveling Winers


Impromptu trip to Seattle, Washington….what to do, what to do? Well, of course, the first thing that pops into The Traveling Winers' heads is to go wine trailing. We can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon.

A quick Google Maps search of the area with the local attraction search term ‘wineries’ unveils a number of choices readily available for our choosing. So choose we did and Woodinville became our destination.

 

JM Cellars

 


In the early 1900's, the property was once a very prosperous dairy farm.  The then owner gave seven acres of the land to his daughter and her husband, who were both horticulturists.  Their land, called Bramble Bump, was their passion, and they filled it with all variations of amazing and rare plants and trees.  To this day, the current owners  have barely made any changes as they want to preserve the beauty that was carefully planted so many years ago. 

JM Cellars produces a very nice quality selection.  From their 2012 Chardonnay, which won 33rd in the WORLD from Wine Enthusiast, to their 2012 blend named Bramble Bump Red (makes you just want to give it a whirl), to their 2012 Klipsun Syrah, which they describe as having "a hint of bacon fat with a lasting finish." All of their wines were quite tasty and worthy of shelling out some bills to take a few bottles home.

Mark Ryan Winery

The tasting room is located in a small strip mall. It has these cool double wide garage doors, pulled open to invite wine-lovers to come on in, sit back, relax and taste some wine. We found the wooden floors, and motorcycles and skulls decorating the garage and bottle labels, to be an interesting combination. Mark Ryan explains the combination with "Well, they're fun, aren't they?" Mark also says that “Traditional is stuffy” and he just wants to make wine fun and approachable.  We think he has succeeded.

Mark’s wines are original, both in flavor and nomenclature. With names like Numbskull, The Chief, Lonely Heart, Dead Horse, the Long Haul, Lost Soul, Wild Eyed and Crazy Mary.  Kind of makes you want to taste them all. Some of our favorites were the Long Haul, which was quite dry, oaky and full of spice, and the long-finished Lost Soul. While we had our favorites, all of Mark's wines were amazing.

Sparkman Cellars

In the same strip mall, we found Sparkman Cellars.  This establishment is truly a family affair as is evidenced by the listed owners, Chris and Kelly Sparkman and their two beautiful daughters, Stella Mae and Ruby Leigh.   The overall feel is 'family, fun & friendly'.  They strive to be fun and unpretentious, and claim that "everyone gets a hug!" Sounds like a place that would be fun to come spend a couple of hours with friends, doesn't it? 

We found their wines to be well structured, approachable and easy to drink.  A few of our favorites were the 2013 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc (very unique flavor tasting of grapefruit and guava), 2012 Ruby Leigh (black cherry, and a touch of pepper), and the 2012 Hallelujah Port (pure heaven, so had to buy a bottle!). Also of note is their Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon, which every year is celebrated by Chris dressing up as Elvis.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

 


This winery, the oldest in the state of Washington, captures well the essence of a French countryside estate. Housed on 105 wooden acres, it is exactly what you would expect from a brand that is so well known.

They have a free tour and tasting experience, where you not only get a glimpse of their white wine production, but can also take a walk down memory lane among their photographic collections. The tour ends with a guided tasting and is very nicely done.

Sometimes it is simply not just about the wine, which by the way, was excellent. It is also about the ambiance. And at Chateau Ste. Michelle there is an abundance. Sprawling grounds offer the visitor the opportunity to stretch their legs, the lovers a quiet secluded spot to have a private picnic, the children a place to, well, just be kids and the person missing European culture, a brief escape.

Learn more about the Traveling Winers' adventures: http://www.thevineyardtrail.com/



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Wines of Westcott Vineyards

Walking into the winery at Westcott Vineyards, you are transported back to the past. With their beautiful, rustic décor and vintage photos, it’s postcard pretty. And if the beauty of the place isn't enough of a draw, a chance to sample their wines certainly makes a visit worthwhile.

A small-batch winery, the grapes are overseen by Viticulturalist Alain Sutra of Bordeaux France and Assistant Vineyard Managers Sonny Nguyen and Garrett Westcott, then turned into wine by Head Winemaker Arthur Harder. Here, they take pride in quality over quantity.

Arthur, who Shawn and I had the chance to chat with during our visit, has been making wine since 1981. He grew up in Vineland Station and  studied chemistry at Ryerson before moving to Germany. There, he studied viticulture for 14 years, while working for two small wineries. He brings a European sensibility to Westcott and works to create vibrant wines that bring terroir to life.



The wines:


 

The Violette Brut sparkling wine is 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay and is nicely balanced with lots of limestone and citrus. This dry, refreshing sparkler would be a good start to any meal or celebration.

The 2013 Lillias Chardonnay, which will be poured at the upcoming i4C Chardonnay event in Niagara, is unoaked, but has a hint of mallow on the nose and pineapple on the palate. An easy-drinking summer Chardonnay.

The Delphine 2012 rosé is a blend of Cabernet Franc (85%) and Pinot Noir. Full bodied and food friendly, it’s got earthy strawberry on the nose and a fruit-forward palate. Shawn and I are excited to have this one on our patio this summer. I also absolutely love the flowers on the labels of the first three wines - striking and tasteful.

The 2012 Estate Chardonnay is barrel fermented and the oak works well here. A good wine for food pairing, this is lovely on the palate and I’m a fan of the buttered popcorn notes on the nose.

The 2012 Chardonnay Reserve is a limited release of only 100 cases and is made from a selection of four barrels. 2012 was an amazing vintage, explains Arthur, a once-in-a-lifetime vintage in many ways. This wine is nicely oaked, with buttery notes and vanilla on the palate. There's citrus, muted melon and vanilla on the nose. I would highly recommend it.

The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir is a big Pinot, with a smoky/spicy nose and lots of tannin. This still needs some time to age and should be drinking beautifully in 5-7 years.

The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir spent 1.5 years in barrel and has a mix of root beer, earth and spice on the nose. With a long, peppery finish with notes of red plum, this is another that could use a bit of age, but will be worth the wait.

Shawn and I so enjoyed our visit to Westcott, which is nestled in the 20 Valley near Sue Ann Staff’s winery. Just a year old, I suspect it will quickly become a popular destination for fans of high-quality Niagara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Learn more about Westcott Vineyards at their website.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sea Witch – What Wine to Pair with Fish and Chips

The fact that Sea Witch on St. Clair West isn’t licensed didn’t stop me from saying ‘absolutely’ when I was invited to a blogger dinner at the restaurant last month. It's not a good fit with my healthy diet, but I love fish and chips and this was worth the splurge. And, like many similar restaurants, they offer take out. If I wanted to do a wine (or beer) pairing with my order, I’d just have to grab it to go. Sea Witch also plans to be licensed within the year, offering a small selection of wine and beer for those who want to enjoy their meal with a pairing.

Dinner started out with a sampling of their thick, hearty Witch’s Brew chowder. They vary the fish used in the chowder and this one came with pickerel and halibut, which I thought worked well. I love a warm, filling bowl of chowder and this more than fits the bill. While beer is likely the best overall fit for everything on the menu, I'd always rather have wine, so I’d have this dish with an unoaked Chardonnay.

That was followed by a mini halibut fish cake with onion sauce, which was another hit with me (and seemed to be the overall favourite with the group). With great flavour and consistency, I thought this would be pretty darn good with Pinot Grigio.

The onion rings at Sea Witch are enormous and super decadent and deeply fried. They’re also addictively yummy, with a chewy consistency and lots of greasy goodness. I don’t know how anyone could eat a full order (pictured) and have room for anything else. Definitely an indulgence and best to share with a few friends.

I admit I was stumped with what to pair with the rings – I immediately thought beer, followed by a white wine with higher acidity. My food pairing books don’t cover onion rings, sadly, so I turned to the internet and found a suggestion for Alsace Pinot Blanc on a Mashable article by Laura Vitto. I’m game to try it! Have another suggestions? Leave it in the comments or share it on social.

Sea Witch also offers a coleslaw that is made fresh daily. I love coleslaw, but I confess I like mine just a little creamier than this. Still, it goes a long way to cut through some of the fried food and is quite tasty. It’s a good option for a refreshing side that will complement the heavier dishes.


And, finally, the main course! This is the best of the best when it comes to decadent, old-school, fried goodness. The fries are hand chipped (they have someone on staff who pretty much chips all night long), the batter on the fish a lovely, crispy consistency and the halibut soft and tender. Hopefully they’ll have unoaked Chardonnay on their menu when they get their license because it doesn’t get better than that.

 
Sea Witch offers small, homemade desserts too – I found room to try the caramel square (chewy goodness) and it was a lovely end to the meal.

Funky and fun, Sea Witch has a great atmosphere and their simple, traditional menu is full of well-made fish dishes. Be prepared, though, that this is a definite cheat meal and the portions are much larger than pictured, so keep that in mind when ordering.

Some of the fish they serve is Ocean Wise, as they like to use sustainable fish whenever possible. They do have an old school bent when it comes to frying, though, as they fry exclusively in beef tallow. I didn’t know that going in (my fault for not doing my homework), as I don’t actually (knowingly) eat red meat. That would keep me from eating most of what’s on their menu again, but I will definitely be bringing Shawn back and living vicariously through what I expect will be a pretty great meal.

Do you like fish and chips? What do you pair with it?

*While my meal was complimentary, my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival – The Perfect Date Night

Shawn and I have something of a love-hate relationship with big ‘wine shows’, especially those that involve standing in long lines to get in and then again for each vendor booth. So we were a bit leery before we wandered onto Toronto’s Sugar Beach on a beautiful June evening to try the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival (TWSF) for the first time. This laidback, fun event turned out to be the exact opposite of what we’d feared – this is one big festival I can’t wait to attend again.

TWSF is one of the best run events I’ve attended and we had a fantastic time. We both agreed that it was a pretty fabulous date night. First off, Sugar Beach is the perfect venue for an event like this – there was plenty of room for the vendors to spread out and attendees could sprawl out in a beach chair or in the sand to watch one of the bands or just chat with friends. All this space meant it didn’t feel too crowded, even on a busy Friday night. Those of you who have had to fight your way through a crush of elbows and spilled beer to get to a vendor’s booth will understand why this is awesome.

There was also a good variety of vendors, meaning you could try interesting new drinks and find something for everyone. Shawn fell hard for Station Cold Brew Coffee with Jameson Irish Whiskey and I have decided that Pisco Gobernador and pineapple juice is a perfect summer cocktail. I also learned that I never, ever want a smoked watermelon cocktail or sake with cucumber juice again (although some people seemed to love them).

The wine selection wasn’t as strong as the spirits, but Creekside Estate Winery had some very good wines on offer and there was a booth featuring the wines of Twenty Valley. We also tried two wines from Silver Bay, which I wasn’t familiar with prior to the event. I’m looking forward to visiting the winery to do a proper tasting. This wasn’t a good environment for wine tasting and Shawn and I decided to just enjoy ourselves rather than write tasting notes. Sipping a glass of wine together while looking out on Lake Ontario is sometimes better when you’re not talking about malolactic fermentation (sometimes).

One of the best parts of the night was the food. No over paying for tiny samples at this event! There was an area set up with food trucks offering everything from gourmet vegetarian to barbecue. Shawn and I were both impressed with The Saucy Pierogi (we may have gone back for seconds…) and I enjoyed checking out the vegetarian food truck while Shawn tried a pulled pork sandwich. I also couldn’t resist of plate of Oyster Boy oysters (my food kryptonite – my willpower crumbles when I see oysters on a menu). All the food we purchased was reasonably priced for the quantity and the lines moved very quickly.

And huge kudos to the organizers for partnering with Beck Taxi. When we were ready to head home we stepped outside the gates and right into a waiting taxi. This venue was easy to get to and there were lots of safe and easy options for getting home at the end of the night.

While our entrance fee was complimentary, we paid for our own food and beverages and all opinions are our own.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Wines of Germany with iYellow Wine School

Two years ago, Shawn and I spent a week driving around the Mosel Valley, one of the most stunning parts of German wine country. It was an unforgettable trip and I loved tasting through such a varied selection of Rieslings and other German wines. 

My passion for German wines was on display at iYellow Wine Club’s recent Wine School class. Known for their wine events, iYellow also offers a fantastic range of classes that are perfect for those new-to-wine and looking for a quick and fun entrée into a region. Angela Aiello walked us through six German wines – five whites and one red – and provided good information about the various German wine regions and how the terroir affects the wines.

We started with an entry-level Gewürztraminer from Boden, which was quite nice for the price-point. It had all the typical Gewürztraminer characteristics – floral notes, a hint of sweetness and a good mouth feel. Perfect for take-out Thai food or any spicy Asian dish.

We followed that with a Salwey Pinot Gris, not a varietal I’ve had much experience with from Germany. Pinot Gris is like the more complex cousin of Pinot Grigio and I felt like this was a wine that would be better served with food. Lots of citrus, lime and green apple on the nose with high acidity and tart lemon/lime on the palate. An interesting wine.

A Sander Pinot Blanc was up next, another unusual choice for Germany, which was much more floral than I expected. There was still some tart citrus on the nose, but it was more muted overall. This was a lighter wine, with the great acidity that German wines are known for.

The Rieslings followed – very much the hallmark grape of Germany—and a personal favourite. The first wine, a kabinett from Uber, is a style I really enjoy. It was off-dry and fruity. I like kabinett’s especially as a compliment to spicy foods. This one was definitely entry-level, though, so lacked some of the nuances that can make a Riesling truly great.

The second Riesling was Loosen Bros 2014 and was likely also kabinett (the label does not say). An off-dry wine with a fruit-forward nose that had a lovey, complex sweetness. This was much more to my tastes and very much in the Mosel style.

The third Riesling, a 2011 Bollig-Lehnert spatlese was a pleasant surprise. The strong petrol note of an aged Riesling can, in my opinion, be the hallmark of a great wine experience to come. Many of those in attendance had never experienced an aged Riesling before and the gasoline notes on the nose were off-putting, but then the taste experience was a much more pleasing one. It was nice to see people discover one of the fascinating things about German Riesling and to see them enjoying this wine as much as I did.

Our final wine was a rare find in Ontario – a German Pinot Noir. While fairly easy to come by in Germany, it’s rare to see them in Canada. It’s a shame, as Germany has a great climate for Pinot and there are some good wines being made. This one, a 2012 Runkel, likely suffered a bit from being served after sweeter whites, but it had good body and I’m looking forward to enjoying the bottle I recently picked up from the LCBO to get a better sense of the wine.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine School for the invite to attend. Interested in taking a class? Visit their site to for the schedule and to register.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Food Pairing Friday with Andrew Hanna

Whenever I get a copy of the CellarBuilder newsletter from John Hanna & Sons Ltd, I know I'm going to be hungry reading it - the newsletter is full of great wine and food pairing suggestions. Not surprising from a company that really knows their wine.

This week's Food Pairing Friday selection is from Andrew Hanna, a third generation wine importer and Director of Sales and Marketing at John Hanna & Sons Ltd. The company is one of Canada's oldest and most respected sources for fine wines and spirits produced by families - not factories.

Andrew was inspired by a recent visit to Spain and his pairing story will make you dream of a trip to the region.

Andrew's Pairing:


Having returned - a week or so ago - from a whirlwind tour of northern Spain hosted by Rioja rock-star La Rioja Alta S.A., you’ll pardon me if my mind remains seduced by tasty tapas and on-point pintxos.

Each time I visit Spain, I am taken by both the creativity of leading culinary minds and the amazing quality of the raw materials they’re blessed to work with.

I visited La Rioja Alta S.A. to join in the celebration of this venerable wine producer’s 125th anniversary and was thrilled to have a chance to explore the farms and facilities they own across four important Spanish wine producing districts: (i) Albarino country in Rias Baixas, (ii) serious brooding reds wine territory in Ribera del Duero, (iii) somewhat more generous and modern red wine terroir of the Rioja Alavesa, and of course, (iv) the iconic cellar worthy reds found in the Rioja Alta portion of the Rioja D.O.Ca.

It was on a travel day - between Rias Baixas and the Rioja Alavesa - that we had some time in Bilbao to explore this heretofore industrial port City, perhaps most famous as home to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum.

Shortly before this cultural indulgence, I sat with a group of leading wine importers, distributors and industry professionals for an incredible foodie indulgence at a small restaurant near the gallery.

Amongst the inspired culinary treasures presented that day was a dish - and wine pairing - that will remain forever etched on my palate for both its sheer deliciousness as well as the technique and skill involved in its preparation.

On display was a simple (but perfectly cooked) oven roasted cod served on red pepper confit and topped with chive beurre blanc. The electrifying colours and appearance of this dish stood in stark contrast to its delicate flavours and textures - and, like many of my most profound food experiences, I was left enchanted by the quiet confidence of a Chef prepared to allow the quality of a scant few ingredients speak volumes.

Next to this stunning fish, we enjoyed a glass of Lagar de Cervera Albarino. Now if you haven’t tried Albarino before, I’d advise you to take immediate remedial action to correct this, as these coastal Galician whites are amongst the most satisfying and sneakily complex white wines you can find, anywhere. Imagine a hypothetical blend showcasing the explosive aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling all within a bone dry frame, and topped off with unique and compelling mentholated “alpine garrigue” notes of pine, eucalyptus and spearmint framing the cool, refreshing and complex finish.

Not surprisingly, these coastal whites are picture perfect pairings for light seafood and fish dishes for the bright acidity, deep concentrated core of citrus fruit and delicate herbal complexity. The next time you’re thinking about fish, I’d encourage you to give some thought to a glass of Spanish Albarino; I think you’ll find it to be a tasty addition to your dining table.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his pairing! To learn more about John Hanna & Sons, visit winetrader.ca or cellarbuilder.ca. I'm sure he can find a perfect food pairing to suit your tastes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

California Wine Fair 2015

One of my favourite wine events is always the California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York. The line-up of great wines never fails to impress and it’s a wonderful opportunity to taste through a large variety of wines in a casual, but informative atmosphere. Shawn and I were thrilled to check out new vintages from some of the wineries we visited in California last year and to discover some new favourites.

While there was no way to taste through all the wines presented, the photos below represent some of the ones we most enjoyed. Many are available through the LCBO and all are available via agent.

It was a little too far for Shawn and I to get to the Francis Ford Coppola winery when we visited California, so it was nice to taste the 2013 Sophia rosé at the event. This wine has a surprisingly good price-point at $19.95 and is a nice fruit-forward option for summer patio dining.  Plus, the bottle is really pretty (yes, I'm a sucker for a nice presentation).

Prior to our trip, I hadn't really considered California Sauvignon Blanc all that much - I was more likely to grab a bottle from New Zealand. But having tried several over the past year, I'm definitely a convert. The St. Supéry 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was a great example of how good California Sauvignon Blanc can be - crisp, refreshing and very well-balanced. This wine was a highlight of the event for me. It's currently only available via agent in Toronto, but I hope that will change soon.



By now, you are likely well-aware of my appreciation of the wines of Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles, so I enjoyed the opportunity to taste their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a lovely full-bodied red that speaks to the lovely region from which it hails. I was disappointed to learn that Daou's delicious white Grenache is still not available in Ontario, but perhaps one day. This winery is well worth a visit if you are in Paso.
Another Paso Robles favourite is Hope Family Vineyards. They were not sampling Troublemaker, one of my personal picks from the winery, but the Liberty School wines are a great option for a value-priced California wine and I was pleased to hear they now have some availability via the LCBO in Canada.

Another winery on our California wish-list was Bonny Doon, which makes wines that are always interesting. However, it is the Bircihino line that always seems to steal my heart at the California Wine Fair. Winemaker Alex Krause was in attendance to represent both wineries and, as always, it was a pleasure to learn more about the latest vintages from the always irreverent Bonny Doon and the lovely Birichino. I particularly liked this floral and nuanced Malvasia Bianca. Having recently tasted a Croatian Malvasia that didn't impress, I was interested to see how another winemaker in a different region could make the grape truly sing. Birichino wines are difficult to find in Canada, so I hope we can plan a visit on our next California adventure.

Jordan Winery was a huge presence at the last Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara and it was so nice to see them make an entry into the Ontario wine scene. You may recognize this Alexander Valley winery from their very fun "Blurred Vines" parody on YouTube or from their appearances on Cougar Town (yep, I check out the labels that pop up on the Courtney Cox comedy) and they are wines worth seeking out.

Right now the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are available via agent and I've got my fingers crossed they will pop up on store shelves soon. These are well-made wines from a winery that embraces the experience of wine - no doubt why they're one of TripAdvisor's Top 10 Winery Tours and Wine Enthusiast's American Winery of the Year.

So those were a few wines Shawn and I enjoyed at the show - do you have a favourite California wine? Share it below or in the comments on social!