Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sideroad Twenty Cellars and Red Tractor Wines

Patric, Andrew and Yvonne
Shawn and I recently visited Niagara to do some early Christmas shopping – I wanted to make sure I got to Vineland Estates and several of my other favourite wineries to pick up gifts for everyone who’s getting wine from us this year.

Not everyone can make it to wine country before the holidays, though, which is one of the reasons I’m excited to tell you about Sideroad Twenty Cellars – a wine agency from Ontario that’s offering some fun and unique elements to set their agency apart.

I became interested in Sideroad Twenty Cellars after sitting down with Managing Director Patrick Storr. We had a great chat about wine and I had the opportunity to try some of the agency’s Red Tractor wines. Wait, a wine agency that makes their own wine? That’s pretty special in and of itself – and when I found out that Creekside Estate Winery’s Assistant Winemaker Yvonne Irvine is the winemaker behind Red Tractor, I was even more excited to try these wines.

They didn’t disappoint. These are high-quality Ontario wine offerings that reflect the region’s unique terroir and stand up against some of the area’s best bottles. I was especially impressed by the Riesling and I can’t wait to try the Cabernet Franc, which I’ll be reviewing on Twitter soon. These wines are small-lot and available at a reasonable cost via the sr20 website – perfect for holiday gifting or enjoying over dinner any night. And they can be purchased alongside other great Ontario wine selections in a mixed case – one of my personal favourite features.

The Sideroad Twenty team were kind enough to answer some of my questions below so I could share even more information with you.

Patrick, Jessica and Yvonne

How did Sideroad Twenty Cellars get started?  

Andrew Howard – President: Sideroad Twenty Cellars started the way so many wine companies start—with a passion for the wine industry and a realization that there is a different way to buy great wine. So many of the boutique and interesting wines never see a retail store because the Liquor Boards can only take so many wines and the smaller lot wines only get "loved" by the people who visit the winery. SR20 was based on the fact that the best way to buy wine is from people and by getting the right advice. We have people who help us sell wine to the people they know and we have a website that looks to bring to life more information about the wines so that more people get a wine they're going to love more often!

The name was inspired driving the back roads of Ontario and we came across Sideroad Twenty…for some reason we spontaneously turned down the road and it just had a great feel to it. The name rolled off our tongue, it wasn't already a winery's name and the rest was history. As an aside - come up with any name that you think would make a good winery name…put it into a google search….and you'll find a winery by that name somewhere in the world!

What sets you apart from other wine agents?

Jessica Nagy – Marketing & Logistics Manager: The two biggest factors that set us apart from other online agents are 1) we offer the customer the ability to mix cases from various Ontario wineries; and 2) the customer pays a flat shipping rate to anywhere in the Province. Additionally, we focus on providing access to a limited number of high quality wines that are not always available on LCBO and Vintages shelves in addition to some that are more easily found in store. So when you shop at sr20.ca, you know you are selecting from carefully curated wines that are some of the best quality in the province, and that you can’t just go down the street to pick up one of these bottles at any given time.

I love that you offer mixed cases of Ontario wine - what wineries do you work with and are there any restrictions?

Jessica: Our list of partner wineries is at 11 right now and always growing. Most are concentrated within the Niagara region, with a couple in Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. We don’t have restrictions to which wineries we will work with, but we do focus on those that are making high-quality wines that showcase the unique terroir of Ontario’s growing regions. Logistically, it’s easier for us to work with wineries that are close geographically as well, but we are always looking to expand our partnerships and for ways to bring even more Ontario wine to Ontario residents. We also like to focus on developing strong relationships with the wineries we represent—which is why we call them our partners. We’re all entering this intriguing new world of online wine sales in Canada together.

Winemaker Yvonne Irvine
You are one of the only agencies I've ever heard of with your own wine - how did Red Tractor come about?

Andrew: Red Tractor helps us to be better connected to the process of making wine and keeps us empathetic to the joys and challenges that our partner wineries go through to make great wine. As passionate wine lovers with brand-building backgrounds, we couldn't resist complementing the offerings from our partner wineries by creating our own small lot high quality wines.

We're really proud of Red Tractor wines and the recent awards they’ve won - the wines are definitely getting noticed. We make a point of talking a lot about the vineyard sourcing for the wines because one of the primary drivers for Red Tractor is selecting small lots of premium quality fruit from great local farmers. That is why most of the Red Tractor wines are produced from single vineyards and in small batches. It also feels right to be talking about "where the tractor is working" when we promote the wines.

Why the name?  I love tractors and particularly like the vintage ones. We own a gorgeous re-worked 1950 Massey Harris. It's fun to drive and they seem to perfectly represent the hard work mentality that goes into growing premium grapes and making great wine - there really are no short cuts!  It's also a bit like the Smartie jingle - we like the red ones best.

Your winemaker, Yvonne Irvine, is well-loved in the Ontario wine community. What has working with her meant for Red Tractor?

Patrick Storr – Managing Director: Working with Yvonne has been great. She’s energetic, creative, opinionated, and brings a wealth of experience from her years as a member of the Creekside winemaking team. She wasn’t always the lead winemaker for Red Tractor and actually earned the position through her precociousness. During a 2012 trip to the Okanogan Valley, Andrew fell in love with a BC Chardonnay. Knowing that Yvonne was a huge fan of Chardonnay he brought her back a bottle. After tasting it together she agreed that it was a beautiful style, but thought with a few small adjustments she could do better. After a few more glasses it was decided that she would take the lead producing that year’s Red Tractor Chardonnay. Since then, the 2012 Red Tractor Chardonnay has gone on to win awards at some of Canada’s top wine competitions and consistently receives top accolades from critics. We’ve never looked back and Yvonne has been our lead winemaker ever since.

I think this is a great option for those hoping to give VQA for the holidays, but who may be unable to make it out to Niagara to pick up some of the winery-only bottles. Are you still taking orders for the holiday season?

Jessica: Yes! We are still taking orders and even have some exciting pre-Holiday deals coming up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We can guarantee December 24 delivery in the GTHA for all local wine orders placed by December 18. Our Wine Clubs are a great gift idea that keeps on giving all year long.

For more information on Sideroad Twenty Cellars: http://sr20.ca/


*I received samples of the Red Tractor wines to try – opinions are my own

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Vineyard Trail Interviews… Me!


One of the most amazing things about the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC14) was meeting other bloggers. Some of my favourite people were the team behind The Vineyard Trail. I loved getting to know them and learning about their fabulous and fun wine company. I was beyond flattered that they were interested in interviewing me about my journey to becoming a wine blogger.

Their post and video is now up and I hope you’ll check it out. Not because it’s me (I’m convinced I look dorky), but because I love their site and you should take a look too. I also appreciated the opportunity to once again say thank you to the  incredible people who welcomed me into the world of wine. My life would truly be very different had they not taken this wine novice into their lives and I am eternally grateful.

You can check out the post here: http://www.thevineyardtrail.com/how-social-media-made-krista-drink-wine-by-tj/

And while I’m on the subject, I thought this would be a good opportunity to mention just a very small sampling of the talented bloggers I got to know at WBC14. If you have the chance, please take a moment to visit their blogs and see what they’ve got to say about wine in their part of the world. Since this only scratches the surface of great blogs I discovered, I’ll try and plan a second post soon!

The Academic Wino – Becca’s blog is all about the science and history of wine and is often the source of some fascinating facts. She’s also fabulously nice and I was thrilled to get to know her better at this year’s conference.

A Glass After Work – Want ideas about what to sip after a hard day at the office? Alleigh is a great resource! While some of her suggestions aren’t easily available in Canada, there are some that are and the blog is a great read either way.

Cuvée Corner – When I decided to come to California, Bill was kind enough to spend an hour of his time telling me all the wineries I should visit and helping me plan my trip. Reading his blog, which is full of wine stories and reviews from around the world, it’s not surprising that he’s such a fabulous source of information. He was also a very-deserving nominee at this year’s Wine Blog Awards!

The Virginia Grape – Planning to visit Virginia wine country? Brian’s blog is a must-read for planning your trip.  I love the personal touch to his winery reviews.

Like I said, just a small selection - I'll be sure to add more soon. And please feel free to include your own favourites in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Daou Vineyards

Our view from the patio
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles, California. And I likely wouldn’t have made the trip if I hadn’t tasted the winery’s delicious White Grenache at the California Wine Fair in Toronto. One of my wonderful wine friends insisted I request a sip from the winery’s Canadian distributer and I was lucky enough to get the very last of their bottle – it was fabulous and so unique.

So when Shawn and I were planning our recent California trip, Daou was high on our list to visit. It didn’t disappoint. Driving up to the mountain-top location is an adventure in and of itself – the scenery is breathtaking (even with the California drought leaving much of the area yellow instead of lush and green) and the winery itself is stunning as it comes into view.

And from the other side of the winery
We were treated to an incredible tasting in the winery’s beautiful rotunda area and I can’t thank their lovely staff enough for the experience. We were able to taste through a full selection, starting with the Chenin de Fleurs, which had papaya, lemon and melon on the nose and a creamy mouth-feel with apple and papaya on the finish. This had very good structure and great acidity.

The 2011 Celestus had cherry, chocolate, sweet red fruit and spicy licorice on the nose, a medium-heavy body and a medium-long finish with chocolate on the palate. This would be a nice wine with dinner – especially if you were having red meat.

The 2012 Unbound is a unique red blend which reminded me of Syrah. There’s pepper, plum, smoke and cherry on the nose and this is rich and ripe on the palate. The tannins here are a bit chewy, making this another great red meat pairing.

The 2011 Reserve Seventeen Forty is much more tannic, with a nice structure. It’s still very young, but quite vibrant and powerful. I think this will age well.

The 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon had tobacco on the nose, along with nutmeg, plum and dark cherry. The finish was long and there was such strong character to this wine. Our host suggested this could age at least another ten years and I would agree - I wish I could have brought home a bottle to cellar.

The 2012 Zinfandel is 15% alcohol, but very balanced and not too hot. It’s fruit-forward, with some strawberry on the nose. This was a favourite of both Shawn and I at the tasting, as it was a well-made Zin that didn’t feel too heavy. Even with the temperatures well above 100 degrees the day of our visit, I still felt like this would be a nice wine to sip on Daou’s beautiful patio.

And then it happened – one of those moments all wine lovers hope for – I tried a wine that made me really pause for a moment and remember what drew me to wine in the first place. The 2011 Estate Mayote is not on the regular tasting menu, but I was thrilled that we got to taste this. The owners made this very special wine for their mother and it features cherry, nutmeg and cloves on the nose.

It’s a little hot on the nose and features amazing fruit on the palate. While I enjoyed all of the wines we tasted, this was hands-down my favourite. It made me pause and want to explore every single nuance in each sip. I loved the surge of fruit on the palate and then the way it eased into a long, but subtle finish with just a hint of coffee.

I had to take this one home and I am hopeful that it survived the rest of our California road trip without too much stress. I’m excited to try this again in a few years and relive our wonder visit to Daou. The winery itself is definitely a big part of the tasting experience and I highly recommend it if you’re in the Paso Robles area.

For more information on Daou Vineyards:  http://www.daouvineyards.com/

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bywoods Restaurant

I always love discovering new restaurants, so when I was invited to a blogger dinner at Bywoods (760 St. Claire Avenue West), I was excited to take part. 

Bywoods opened in May and they specialize in Mediterranean cuisine, they also have a wine list that is evolving to include more VQA wines - always a good thing. The list on the night I visited included Sandbanks and Angel’s Gate wines, alongside an international selection. They assured me, however, that the plan is to increase the number of local wines on offer. With locally grown ingredients a staple on their menu, it only makes sense to have more local wines available to go along with those. I look forward to hearing more about this and trying some VQA on my next visit.

At this meal, the cocktail on offer was The Bywoods, a gin, organic rosemary, lemon juice, sugar & club soda combo. I really enjoyed it and would love it if they were able to use Dillon’s excellent gin to continue the local theme. Just a thought!

For dinner, they were fantastic about managing my food restrictions (I don’t eat red meat). The chef even made a portion of the prosciutto pizza vegetarian so I could indulge. It was delish – covered in fresh arugula and very light and fresh. My favourite was the vegetarian pizza, however, which had goat cheese, leek, red pepper, grilled artichoke, tomato, red onion, black olive and fresh marjoram. I could have eaten the entire pizza on my own – and it would go really well with a glass of Ontario Riesling.

The beet salad was another of my favourites – full of flavour and with just enough walnut dressing to create a fantastic contrast. I would definitely want to have this dish again. The Mediterranean salad was also very good – I love a salad with feta. And the linguine with shrimp was another great dish – not too creamy, so it felt lighter than some pasta dishes.


There were several meat dishes that I couldn’t try, but the entire table seemed impressed – especially with the potato puree with smoked paprika that came with the pan roasted lamb sirloin. Everyone was going crazy for those potatoes.

For dessert they offered a flourless chocolate cake. I'm not a huge fan of flourless cake, but that's really a personal preference. I'd want to try a different dessert on my next visit. 

All in all, I was very happy with my meal at Bywoods and thrilled that they had so many options for me (I love when I’m not stuck just eating chicken again). I can’t wait to go back with Shawn and see what Ontario wines they’ve added to the menu.

For more information on Bywoods: https://www.facebook.com/Bywoods 

Thanks to Bywoods Restaurant for including me in this event. While the meal was complimentary, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wine and Cricket Pairings

One of the best feelings in the world is finding a perfect wine and food pairing. That said, I never thought I’d find myself looking for a pairing that worked well with chocolate covered crickets! But now that I’ve had the chance to try this very, very unique pairing, I think I’ll have an answer should anyone ask me what wine goes well with crickets.

The opportunity for my cricket tasting came about because I was invited to an event for Argentina’s Trapiche Wines. The first half of the night was a chance to taste the Pure Malbec from the winery’s line. For that, we enjoyed a lovely reception at Toca in the Ritz Carlton. We tried the Malbec with cheese, dark chocolate and (for those who eat red meat) small chunks of rare beef.  It was lovely and I really enjoyed the Malbec – especially with the chocolate. I’m a sucker for a good Malbec and this was one I would definitely like to enjoy again.

Winemaker Sergio Case spoke at the event and I had the opportunity to chat with him a little at the tasting. He was able to tell our table more about winemaking in Argentina and a bit about his history. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about their methods of production, as I hope to visit Argentina’s wineries in the future. 

After that tasting, we moved on to the iYellow Wine Cave to experience a much more unique pairing opportunity with Trapiche’s Extravaganza red blend. For this, local restaurant Sliced had prepared some truly unusual pairings – frog’s legs, duck tongue tacos and chocolate covered crickets. As a quasi-vegetarian, I passed on the frog’s legs and duck tongue (though I understand those who had them were very impressed), but I had no real reason to turn down crickets. Well, besides the obvious reason that crickets are icky.

And, to be fair, these were super icky. They weren’t actually covered in chocolate – more sitting on top of the chocolate on a homemade donut. And while the chocolate did mask the taste, it couldn’t hide the crunch – or the sight. I did brave a few bites, so I can tell you that Extravaganza does pair quite nicely with chocolate and crickets. In my opinion, the Pure may actually have been the better bet for this off-the-beaten-path delicacy, but I also just really like Malbec.
This was such a fancy and fun event – not at all the traditional wine tasting. Everyone was chatting throughout the night and truly excited about the wine and what went well with the food. Kudos to the organizers for trying something different.  The Pure Malbec and the Extravaganza red blend both retail for $15.95 and are available at the LCBO in Ontario.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winemaker Profile – Estelle Lourens – Flat Roof Manor


I‘m a sucker for a wine label featuring a cat. I suspect wine marketers know there are more than a few of us out there, as there’s never a shortage of feline images at the LCBO. And so when I saw that cats figure prominently on the labels of South Africa’s Flat Roof Manor wines, my interest was piqued. The cat images in this case were inspired by a legend that came along with the 350-year-old estate the grapes are grown on.

At her recent appearance at the iYellow Wine Cave, winemaker Estelle Lourens didn’t go into the details of the legend (though I wish she had), but she did tell an audience of wine lovers a whole lot about the Flat Roof wines we were tasting that evening.

Estelle, who was studying biophysics before winemaking became her passion, walked us through two very different wines from the Flat Roof Manor line – the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot. Flat Roof grapes are grown on the Uitkyk Wine Estate, a well-respected and long-established South African winemaking operation. But the team there wanted to try something new – including growing some grapes not well-known in South Africa.

They were also interested in moving into the international market – an endeavor which might not be as easy with wines under the Uitkyk name (I’ll let you try and figure out how to pronounce that). So Flat Roof Manor was born and the cats began dancing across their wine labels.

Pinot Grigio is not a grape that’s common in South Africa, and hearing Estelle talk about the challenges of cultivating the grape and turning it into an internationally-accepted wine is fascinating. While this wine is not typical of other Pinot Grigios I’ve had, I did enjoy it. It has a nice, fruit-forward nose and a good balance of citrus and acidity. It was interesting to learn about the use of carbon in this wine and the challenges of figuring out how to extract the colour from the red grapes, while not taking out the flavour.





The next wine we tried was the Merlot. There’s no new wood used in this wine, which has helped Estelle create a version that's softer and easy-drinking. Merlot is admittedly not my favourite grape (please, no Sideways comments), but this one was well-made. I think it would be a good fit with a red meat pairing.

The team at Flat Roof has also been growing a Malbec that is available in B.C. and Alberta and a Shiraz that is currently South Africa only.

As always, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear from a winemaker about the decisions made when creating these wines. The process of making wine is one that I find completely fascinating and I always jump at these invitations to hear winemaker talks. I'm so glad I was invited to attend this event.

Have you ever tried a Pinot Grigio from South Africa? What did you think?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard

The pond at Buttonwood
Yes, I am woefully behind with my blog posts, it's true. But as I know several wine-loving friends who are planning trips to California, I thought it was high time to start telling the stories of some of my favourite winery visits during our recent trip to the state. I’ll start with Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard and you can expect updates on Daou and Hope Family Vineyards to come very soon!

On the Friday evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference, each of the 300+ blogger and industry reps attending were whisked away to one of ten surprise winery visits. Our mini-bus driver gave us a few hints as we drove through beautiful Santa Barbara wine country and we were all thrilled when we learned that our destination was Buttonwood Winery.

Zingy - one of the fabulous Buttonwood wines
We had tried one of Buttonwood’s wines at that afternoon's speed tasting, but seeing this location in person is spectacular. The winery is set on 106 acres of gorgeous land (39 acres are vineyard). We started our visit with a hilltop toast, overlooking the beautiful grape vines surrounding us. Our host, winemaker Karen Steinwachs introduced Brander winery owner, Fred Brander, to provide an overview of the proposed changes to the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which they are hoping to get approved very soon. I find the AVA issue an interesting one, though I have to admit I need to educate myself more on it.  I found a good explanation of the changes on the Brander Vineyards site, which some of you may find helpful in understanding this: http://www.brander.com/we-need-more-avas-2/

The incredible Brander Sauvignon Blanc line-up.
After the spectacular views, we walked down to the winery for a delicious course of appetizers and wine tasting. The wines, all from the Santa Ynez Valley, were very high quality, although I was really blown away by the Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted through their recent vintages with winemaker Fabian Bravo and was so impressed. I am hopeful I can find them in Toronto, as I’d really like to have these again.

Wines from Solminer
I also really enjoyed the Solminer wines I tried – this is a newer (and smaller) winery, so they do not currently have distribution in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I think they are well worth seeking out. Shawn and I are already planning to visit the area again in a year or two and Solminer will definitely be on my ‘must’ list, as the wines were so well done.


Anna and David deLaski of Solminer
Over an incredible dinner catered by The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, and held in Buttonwood’s beautiful barrel room, I was able to try Buttonwood’s 2013 Syrah Rosé, which was a wonderful compliment to the meal. Over a delicious peach cobbler (made with peaches grown on Buttonwood’s farm), I tried a lovely dessert wine from Rideau Vineyard – a unique and delicious blend of Riesling and Viognier. This was my first California dessert wine and I was impressed.

Seriously, how could you not want to visit Buttonwood?
I cannot speak highly enough of our wonderful visit to Buttonwood. I know that I'll want to visit again when next we’re in California – the wines are well worth trying and the location is breathtaking. I also had a wonderful conversation with winemaker Karen Steinwachs, whose passion for winemaking is infectious. You must visit if you are in the Solvang area - this is a winery that won't disappoint.

For more information on Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard: http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com/
For more information on Solminer Wines: http://www.solminer.com/
For more information on Brander Vineyards: http://www.brander.com/