Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learning about Wine

I did fine in my first wine class. After all the exam stress, it turns out that some of what I thought I didn’t know, I did, and I came out with a good mark and a renewed excitement about starting my next course. Not that I still don’t feel overwhelmed – I think the whole exam experience gave me a lot to think about in terms of keeping my expectations in perspective. Wine is definitely interesting, but it’s not easy to learn about. I just have to remember that I can’t do it all in a year (or ten) and that sometimes things aren’t going to come as easily as others.  

A huge thank-you to all those who left me comments on the blog, Facebook and Twitter – I needed that boost and the reminder that I’m not alone. The wine community is an amazing, supportive one and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

So, with wine education on the brain I thought I’d look at some of the options available for those who aren’t able to take a college course or who’d just like to learn for the love or fun of it. I’ve recently encountered a few great books and new ideas that I thought it might be worthwhile to share.

I had the opportunity to meet the president of Wine Awakenings, Amato De Civita, at the recent Good Food and Drink Festival and I really enjoyed learning about their line of products. Their Wine-Expert-in-a-Box course was designed by wine expert Gary Pickering (a professor of Wine Science at Brock University) and includes an aroma kit to help learn the various scents associated with wine (these are available to purchase separately too and seem like a cool idea to this newbie who still struggles with identifying wine aromas). It also comes with Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste book and learning tools like aroma wheels, a texture card and taste discs. There is also a study guide and an online course that can be taken at your own pace. Is it going to be the same as taking a WSET or college course? No, but it seems like a really great option for those who are looking for a more affordable or less intense way to learn about wine or who don’t have access to a wine school in their area. You can tell that they put a lot of time, thought and energy into creating a very interactive learning experience that you can take advantage of without ever leaving your home.

Looking for some even more affordable resources? The books below are ones that I think will give any true wine newbie a good place to start -  and they won't break the bank. 

I came across this book at Costco and tossed it into the cart because it looked interesting. It ended up being a great study aide during my class. The book is set up like a wine course – each chapter covers one class and then has a quiz and ideas for tastings at the end. It also includes short videos that you can access via links or QR codes. I didn’t watch many of the videos, but I wasn’t super impressed by the ones I did – they’re really short and more like intros to the topics. The book, however, is very good. It’s a great, easy-to-understand resource for anyone with an interest in learning about the basics of wine regions and wine in general. I’m sure I’ll be picking this one up frequently.

This was a book I never would have picked up, but I read agreat review on the Food Gypsy blog and sent in a comment, not even realizing that it entered me in a draw to win the book. And I won! Despite the name, this is a pretty fabulous resource for the wine novice. It was the first book about wine I picked up and I found it easy-to-read and informative. While it’s certainly not an exhaustive study of any one wine region, it’s a good start and it does offer great suggestions of books to read if you’re interested in learning more. A great newbie resource, if you can get past the bright yellow cover and the whole ‘for Dummies’ thing.

These are just three places to start. I’m moving on to Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste and Edward Finstein’s Ask the Wine Doctor next and I’m sure they will do much to add to my wine education. There are so many great options to learn about wine and I look forward to chronicling even more in future posts.

What’s your favourite wine education resource? I’d love to add it to my list!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kawartha Country Wines

Recently on #ONWineChat (Wednesday’s at 10 p.m. ET on Twitter) we were discussing the lesser known wineries in Ontario, specifically the ones that are not in designated wine regions. It got me thinking about my visit to Kawartha Country Wines a year or so ago. At the time, I was just getting into wine and when I discovered that there was a winery in Buckhorn, just an hour from our family cottage, I immediately started talking Shawn into a mini-road trip.

He was game - he’d been spending summers in the Kawartha area since he was a little kid and had never been to Buckhorn. So on our next trip to the cottage, we took a day trip to this tiny town to check out their winery.

The fruit wines that they create at Kawartha Country Wines are very different than what you’ll find at a winery in Niagara or Prince Edward County, because what wineries like Kawartha do is turn apples (and pears and raspberries and so on) into wine instead of vitus vinifera – which is totally fine, it’s just different. They do have more traditional grape wines too, but the fruit wines are what really sets this winery apart - and on our visit they seemed to be what everyone wanted to sample.

Apple, peach, blackberry - the wines here are full of ripe, orchard fresh flavours. These are summer sippers to be enjoyed on your patio – preferably with a liberal dose of club soda to cut the alcohol content down. They make great spritzers – I brought home a few bottles and made wine cocktails for cottage and patio entertaining.

This winery really is worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.  There are no tasting fees and the staff are laidback and fun – just like the wines. Buckhorn seemed pretty quiet, but they have a nice main street with several restaurants, including some right on the water. And Shawn and I really enjoyed our visit to the winery. We chatted with the staff, tried some wine and jams, bought a bunch of things to enjoy later and felt it was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon in cottage country. 

It's worth noting that Kawartha Country Wines also owns the Kawartha store on Main Street in Fenelon Falls. You can order their wines in advance and pick them up at their Fenelon Falls location, although there is no tasting bar. There is, however, a great selection of Canadian clothes and some wonderful local jams, jellies and other sweets. I always make the effort to stop in when we're in the area and I'm never disappointed in the great selection.

Kawartha Country Wines is located at 2275 County 36, Buckhorn, ON

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wine Overwhelm

As I was sitting in my Wines I exam the other night, staring forlornly at the pages and wishing the names of regions and grapes would magically appear, I had a bit of an epiphany. I am in over my head. It’s fine – I set myself up to drown and that feeling of overwhelm is all my own doing, but that doesn't make it easier. Because despite the hours of study I had put into this course, despite all the wine tastings attended and online articles read, I’m still far too new to this.

And that’s OK. Should I have thrown myself headlong into wine with the enthusiasm of one completely besotted? Maybe not, but what harm has it done? I’ve finally found my passion and I’m thrilled to be able to share that excitement with all those I meet and the growing numbers who read my blog (if I haven’t said it enough, thanks for reading).

But as I watched those names spin in front of me I had to take a step back and look at where I’d put myself. It was exactly eleven months since I started to get really interested in wine and in less than a year I’ve taken on a wine blog (chronicling my newbie adventures), read many a wine book, read every wine article I could get my hands on, visited dozens of wineries, talked to many wine makers and tried countless wines. But it’s only been eleven months and here I was taking the first course towards my Wine Specialist Certification – despite the fact that a year ago I was more likely to order a martini than a Merlot. Or that the class was set up to teach me about international wine regions when prior to that first class I had drunk almost exclusively Ontario wines. To say I had a limited scope from the get-go would be an understatement.

So is it any wonder that as I tried desperately to remember the different regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, I felt like I was sinking? I was always an excellent student, but I remember how I struggled with French for years. Even in university, French and I were not good friends. So it seems like some kind of sick irony that my vinous undoing was coming about as I prayed that a million French names I thought I had memorized would pop into my head. And in the right order. With the correct grape varietals attached. Please.

I finished the exam, completed the tasting portion and walked out shaken. I had studied so hard, but half of what I focused on wasn’t included and the wine regions I knew best were the ones least represented. That’s life, but it still shook me up. I’d envisioned sitting in front of the test feeling good and positive and sure about my answers. Instead, I was anything but.

Shawn helped me put it into perspective afterwards, “You just started learning about wine, this is still new to you, you’ve taken on way more than most people would and you’re doing really well. And you’re not giving up, so that’s the most important thing.” Wise words from my husband, who likely noticed that despite my upset, I was laying in bed reading Wine for Dummies (a surprisingly informative book despite the name) and already looking forward to the next course.

And, of course, I’m not giving up. For all my wine exam stress, I loved the course, learned so much from the instructor and can't wait to go back and learn even more. I'm fairly certain I passed the exam, even if it didn't come to me as easily as I expected, and even if I didn't I'd just have to dust myself off and try again. But this was a good opportunity to put my new love in perspective - wine isn't easy. Oh, it's easy enough to drink, but it's going to take a whole lot more than tastings to get my Wine Specialist Certification! And I'm certainly thankful and grateful that as I continue my wine education, I will have a wonderful and supportive wine community to remind me that I’ll get there – maybe just not as quickly as I’d like.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Good Food and Drink Festival

On April 6th, I visited The Good Food and Drink Festival at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto. I’d been to the show when it was held at The International Centre in Mississauga  a few years ago and hadn’t been hugely impressed, but I was willing to give it another shot – especially since I saw that Wine Align was now a sponsor.

And, in all fairness, it was much improved! While there weren’t a huge number of wineries involved, there were enough wine and spirits vendors to make it worthwhile for a drinks enthusiast. And there were some great food vendors – I was especially pleased to see a personal favourite, Fire inthe Kitchen, and to discover Evelyn’s Crackers. Delicious stuff!

A few of my favourite things – Good Food and Drink Festival edition:

I’ve been meaning to try the wines from Coyote's Run for ages, so I was pleased to see them at the show. I tried the Five Mile White and quite enjoyed it. An interesting, light, dry, white wine blend. I’ll have to take a trip out to the winery to try even more

I admit I was curious to try Dreaming Tree's Crush red blend after seeing so many ads for it, but I wasn’t expecting much. Celebrity wines are notoriously hit and miss, but with Dave Matthews teaming up with acclaimed winemaker Steve Reeder there was definite potential. And it turned out to be a pleasant surprise – I really enjoyed this wine and will pick up a bottle soon, as I’d like to try it with food.

I enjoy a good cider now and then, so I was interested in checking out Pommies Dry Cider. What a great find! This was so crisp, fruity and refreshing. And it’s made in made in a wine style, which makes it even more interesting – I wanted to ask lots of questions, but this booth was understandably busy. This is a great option for the patio or cottage when a beer just isn’t what you’re looking for.

There’s lots of great food at this show, so here are a few of the highlights for me:

I’d never tried Evelyn’s Crackers, but I’m so glad I stopped by this booth. The crackers are divine. The Cheddar Crispies were my favourite (and I can’t wait to try them with wine), but I truly couldn’t stop eating any of the samples of these organic crackers, which are made with heritage grains from Ontario. These are great for those trying to eat slow and local or just for those who want a delicious snack.

Fire in the Kitchen is one of my favourite vendors at any food or drinks show. Shawn and I stocked up on their delicious spice rubs and use them all the time – they add a huge hit of flavour to meat dishes and Shawn has had a great time experimenting with them. They are simply fabulous as a dry rub on chicken wings.

Did you visit this show this year? What were some of your favourite things?

For more information on The Good Food and Drink Festival:

More pictures from the Festival:


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Death Row Meals – #SweetTO Wine Tasting

Sweet Wines all ready for tasting
I’ve always wanted to attend a Death Row Meals event, but didn’t have the opportunity until last week’s #SweetTO wine tasting. As the name implies, this was all about the sweet wines – from Sauternes to Icewine to Port and Sherry, all were on the sampling menu as sommelier Allison Slute walked us through all you need to know about dessert wines.

We started the evening by piling our plates full of pairing samples – walnuts, almonds, ricotta and honey, dark chocolate, blue cheese and dried apricots – they were all there to help showcase what exactly you could and should eat when having something so sugary sweet with a meal.

The evening started with a 2005 Casa al Vin Santo Del Chianti from Italy. This was probably my least favourite of the evening, but it was interesting to try. Especially with biscotti. Who knew that you could dip biscotti in wine? And why have I never tried this before? Turns out, this combo was fabulous.

We tried a 2007 Puklus Pinceszet Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos next, a sweet wine from Hungary that was new to me. I’d definitely have this one again, though, as it was just lovely – a sweet but not too sweet wine to serve with dessert. This one and the 2009 Sauternes that followed gave Allison the opportunity to teach us about noble rot and apparently I’m a big fan of wine made from ‘rotten’ grapes – both were delicious.

I’ve had a lot of Icewine in the last year, so I wasn’t expecting too much from the 2011 Pillitteri Estates Vidal that we tried, but I was surprised by how much I liked it. Typically, I prefer a Cab Franc Icewine, but this one really popped with lots of lemon and candied fruit notes.

The Williams & Humbert Walnut Brown Rare Old Brown Oloroso Sherry is one I’ve had before and really enjoyed, so I was happy to give it another try. I enjoyed it, although some at the tasting declared it their least favourite of the night. I’m not sure what it is, but this fortified wine just strikes a good note with me – I think it’s a great dessert pairing (provided what you’re having is not sweeter than the wine).

We ended with a 2007 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port, which was a pretty good end to the evening. Again, this is one that was just not to my taste, but that’s the great thing about wine – and a good lesson from the evening – you should never declare that you don’t like a certain style of wine, as it may just be what’s in that particular bottle.

The wines we tasted
This session was a great opportunity to try several different sweet wines and learn more about them. It was a good chance to improve my wine knowledge and it will definitely help the next time I have to hit the liquor store to pick up a dessert wine for the end of a dinner party.
Interested in more food and wine events? Death Row Meals has many – you can learn more about them here:

More photos from the evening: