Meet The Sparkling Winos

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Since I've come across the Sparkling Wino's account , I've been enamoured!

I love their enthusiasm, their knowledge and most importantly how they promote Canadian wines! When I reached out to them (Jeff and Mike) for an interview, they we're kind enough to say yes! I so enjoyed their answers and definitely learned something new! (I'm now on the hunt for Nova Scotia Sparkling)!

Pop some bubbly and enjoy!

(Unofficial Question - How many bottles of sparkling are in your fridge at the moment? - just curious haha) 
Three! You gotta be prepared for any occasion! ðŸ˜œ There are two bottles of Cava and one bottle of Franciacorta in there right now. Also a couple bottles of (still) Ontario rosé… I mean, it’s summer after all! ðŸ˜Ž 

First wine "AH - HA" moment. Was there a particular bottle or experience that was a game changer for you?
Jeff: Ohh, good question! In terms of sparkling I’d have to say that Hinterland Wine Co. in Prince Edward County was (and still is) a game changer for me. We visited for the first time back in 2011 and I was really inspired by the fact that their entire production was dedicated to producing premium sparkling wines here in Ontario. We tasted through their full suite of wines and all of them were fantastic. That was a real “ah-ha” moment… seeing that Ontario really can produce exceptional sparkling wines in a very broad range of styles. Hinterland are always experimenting with different methods and grape varietals to create something new and uniquely Ontario… and I love that! 

Mike: This one is hard to answer, but I had a moment in 2009 where I had a glass of Champagne followed by a glass of Prosecco and I distinctly remember thinking about how totally different each wine was was. Being the nerd that I am, I started to research the difference and you can say that's where it all began...

What country do you think has the most underrated sparkling?
Jeff: Canada! I'm very passionate about Canadian sparkling wine and that was a big part of why we began this Sparkling Winos project – to get the word out about the amazing wines bubbling up right in our backyard. We’d constantly have friends and family asking us for recommendations, so one day we were like “Hmm… maybe we should start a blog?” Since then our exposure to Canadian sparkling wines has increased dramatically and I'm even more of an advocate for them now.

Mike: This one is a tie for me! Canada (and particularly Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia) because our market is largely local and exporting is complex and difficult. Internationally we do not have a major presence and not a lot of people know about the amazing sparkling wines being produced in Canada. Bringing some awareness to Canada's wines has been a surprising (and amazing!) part of the Sparkling Winos project. Outside of Canada, I would say South Africa has some amazing Method Cap Classique wines that are also not widely known and are of exceptional value. 

Last sparkling wine you both drank, and what was the occasion?
Jeff: I’ll let Mike take this one!... Mike: Bollinger Rosé Champagne, for me 33rd birthday last weekend in Chicago! It's become a tradition to have Bolli on my birthday!

If you had to pick: traditional method or charmat?
Jeff: Traditional method is my preference, but I firmly believe that both styles deserve a spot in your fridge. Saturday night you might want something light and fruity, and at a Sunday dinner you might want something rich and complexThat’s why I love sparkling wine. It’s a whole other category with such a broad range of styles – there is literally something for every palate, mood or occasion!

Mike: Traditional method, without hesitation. That being said, there is a place and time for a delicious fruit-forward and aromatic charmat method sparkling wine. Whether it's on a patio, at the cottage, with a great meal or for a special occasion, there's nothing wrong with a great Prosecco Superiore or locally produced charmat method sparkling!

Dream wine region vacation spot? 
Jeff: We’ve been lucky enough to visit the Champagne region of France, the Prosecco region of Italy, and the Cava region of Spain. But the next one of my bucket-list is definitely Nova Scotia! As I mentioned before we’re really big on Canadian bubbles, and I’ve heard so many great things coming from the East Coast. You’ve probably heard this story, but the 2004 Brut Reserve by Benjamin Bridge placed higher than a Louis Roederer 2004 Cristal at a blind tasting in France! Incroyable!

Mike: This might be cliche, but Champagne takes the cake! Between the landscape, champagne houses, the beautiful city of Reims and the countless bottles of bubbly, the region is simply a dream. I happened to spend a very memorable 28th birthday there, and am itching to go back!

Is there a sparkling wine which is still on your list to try?
Jeff: Oh gosh, my list reads like a dictionary at this point! Definitely a lot of the super premium Champagnes. I’m really interested to try more English sparkling wines too, but they’re very hard to find in our market. I get a kick out of the obscure stuff. They’re making sparkling wine all over the world now. I just read a glowing review about Chandon’s winery in India!

Mike: Oh, are there ever! Off of the top of my head, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut, Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades Brut and a few of the amazing sparkling wines being produced by Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia. Luckily we're going out that way in August so it's one thing off the list!

In your opinion, best value pick on the market right now? (in Ontario)
Jeff: It’s so tough to pick one, but I’d have to say anything from Kew Vineyards. Their 2010 Rosalie is just stunning, and is aged on its lees for 6 years. It’s an incredible value at $29.95. You can’t go wrong with anything from Kew in my opinion.

Mike: Château des Charmes Brut Méthode Traditionelle VQA, priced at $24.95 in the general list of the LCBO, is exceptional value for Ontario sparkling wine. 

Fav food pairing for bubbles?
Jeff: My favourite is McDonald’s French Fries! ðŸ™Š There’s just something fun about pairing sparkling wine (which is synonymous with elegance) with junk food! You can go from oysters… to McDonalds! That shows how versatile it is.

Mike: No questions: truffle frites. All day, every day.

Any innovative ways you've enjoyed your sparkling? fun cocktail recipes? (Spritz Aperol-esque or frosé concoctions you've experimented with)
Jeff: Yes! We experiment with sparkling wine in cocktails all the time on our blog (we call them “Mimosa Hacks”). We’re always up for a challenge. My favourite cocktail is a blood orange margarita, and I love to add a little bit of Prosecco to it. The “spritz” makes it extra refreshing and perfect for summer.

Mike: Recently we came up with a Mimosa recipe on our blog featuring Kavi Whisky (which is a Canadian whisky infused with cold brew coffee) and let me tell you... it goes together perfectly with a dry charmat sparkling and a splash of cherry juice. Such a great (and surprising) mimosa hack!

Finally, I know you're all about the bubbles but what table wine are you most excited by at the moment?
Jeff: We had a chance to taste a bunch of skin-fermented white wines (“orange wines”) recently which was interesting. The jury is still out on that category for me. But we had one from Norman Hardie that I loved and thought would be absolutely delicious with a charcuterie board. Although this time of year I’m all about Rosé in the backyard, and I really love what Trius and Back 10 Cellars are doing in that department.

Mike: Good question! Since it's the summer, I'm a sucker for rosé and I have to say, the JP Azeitão Shiraz Rose Bacalhoa from Portugal is an insane value at just under $9 a bottle. It's quite dry, and  when served chilled, is the perfect wine to bring to the cottage or for a backyard picnic.

wine. all the time. A book review.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Best wine book I've read. I laughed, I learned, I reconsidered, I dropped my jaw in "oh my goodness - that happens?", I smiled to myself, I re-read, I highlighted and I even took goddamn pics of pages. I mean, it was borderline obsessive.

So when I went to post this book on Instagram and started to write a caption, I realized a paragraph would not suffice. So, without further ado thoughts.

I've never read about wine in such an entertaining way because it's not about the wine, it's about the emotion wine provokes. It's about the memories it conjures up, the moments it brings you back to, the nostalgia of that glass you had with that friend which ended in deep conversations and closed out the restaurant that one night.

There are many memorable moments in this book (highlighted below), but the game changer happened in one sentence on page 41. "Wine is a creative writing course"

Thank you. I needed that.

I want to get back to describing wines in weird ways which make sense to me. After reading this on the weekend, I walked to the LCBO and spent what could have been 30 minutes wandering aisles with my book in hand. I looked like a crazy person; finger on the page, trying to find where it mentions which area in France, Pineau d'Aunis comes from (I ended up with an organic Italian Soave, which I promptly came home, tasted and wrote about.)

Here's  my highlight reel of fav quotes and concepts:

1. We all have the capacity to understand wine because we all have memories and emotions. We've  bitten into an apple, we've smelt old leather or fresh ground coffee. Maybe, we've also dreamt of an island off the coast of Greece, lined with white rocks with the aroma of salt in the air. You haven't been there yet but you can imagine what it feels like. If you have memories and imagination, you have the ability to taste and talk about wine.

2. Marissa is not a sommelier. PRAISE THE LORD! You can know about wine and not be a somm. Some of the most knowledgeable and enjoyable people I know in the industry aren't somms.

3. Wine is not math. There is no right or wrong answer.  Don't be nervous to talk about your wine. You're not a contestant on a game show; "Ohhh, sorry Tamara,  no it wasn't "jammy". The word we were looking for was "Fleshy...Fleshy."  (Not my analogy. Quote from the book).

4. Be as experimental with food as you are with wine. When you avoid the unknown (unknown varitels) you avoid inspiration.

5. "Nero d' Avola is a dusty European cowboy covered in jam. Riding in from a nonexistent desert on the outskirts of Italy."
I mean. I have nothing else to say about that one (check out the entire varietal section for more descriptors like that).

If you have the slightest interest in wine, read this book. In all seriousness, what I fully respected were the sections entitled  "How to drink with your boss and not lose your job" and "How to have a successful drunk heart-to-heart". Amidst the light-heartedness and humour these titles provoke, there was a clear "dont be the drunken idiot in the room" vibe, which I respected immensely. Wine is there to make moments better, not for us to forget them (the tips on getting wine into a stadium weren't bad though).

So here's to great wine writing that connects to emotions and not thesaurus inspired descriptors of acidity no one can relate to. That's why I started writing in the first place and somewhere between buying too many thrifted clothes and reading too many blogger tips, I had forgotten that. This book was a breath of fresh air when I needed it most.

Natural or "LOW INTERVENTION" Wines

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Natural wines. Yeah, I'm going there, but here's why.

I've been on a bit of a health journey ever since my first visit to a naturopath in 2012. After which, I was more mindful of how my body reacted to what I put in it. The next evolution in my health journey occurred more recently when a friend was recommended testosterone cream to help her acne. The change in her skin was staggering, and it made me realize that if something applied topically was able to change her skin that much, it was time to rethink what I was putting on mine.

Fast forward a few years and I'm trying to be as a low-toxic as possible from skin care, make up and cleaning products (a work in progress). However, as I was walking around Toronto one day listening to a podcast on wine with Marissa A. Ross , I was called out BIG TIME.

Her argument made sense and I felt so stupid I hadn't realized it before. It went something like this. Consumers are more educated than ever before about health. We consider if produce is organic, local or sustainable and put time and energy into buying foods (and supplements) that support our well-being. Yet, after picking up our organic veggies at Whole Foods we then buy a bottle of $10 wine and think nothing of it.

The lightbulb went off. If I'm concerned about what I'm putting in my body, then why on earth isn't wine part of that equation?

There is a diconnect between how we view produce and how we view wine. To the masses, wine is an alcoholic beverage, but in reality it's an agricultural product. If only wine listed its' ingredients on the label - maybe then we'd think twice. And for me, organic/biodynamic wine isn't a far off concept  (I explain about it here). It rather, was something I didn't care to make an effort to find. Good wine is good wine and I'd make the excuse that I want to drink what I want, and I wasn't about to restrict myself to the handful of organic wines the LCBO has tucked away in a far off corner. But truth is, how many of us have suffered through a horrible hangover, had a glass that makes our face go flush, or causes an immediate headache? I've had all 3 happen (and yes, the 1st can very much be attributed to too much wine!) but more often than not, those symptoms are brought on by a shit ton of chemicals found in conventional wine. Just as my naturopath shifted my perception on food, this podcast forced me to re-consider the integrity with which the wine I was drinking was made.

In this podcast, Melissa refers to these wines as "low intervention"; wines made with as little done to them in the winery and in the vineyard as possible. After all, there's no set definition for "natural wines" and many of these low intervention wines aren't necessarily certified organic or biodynamic. I loved this terminology because it gave me more freedom as a consumer to make conscious decisions.

So, that's where I'm at. As pretentious as it sounds and as reluctant as I am to confess it, it's the truth. I guess my health journey and my wine journey finally crossed paths. It's not to say I won't drink non-organic wine ever again (I did this past weekend!), but balance, is simply the aim for now. So I'll ask more questions, educate myself, research importers and try to find these elusive natural wines that I honestly turned my nose up at before. I'm excited for what I will find and humility, after all, is a beautiful thing.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's officially Spring here in Niagara, although most days you wouldn't know it. With many a rainy day, and cool temperatures, it's hard to believe it's now June. However, there's the odd day when the sun is shining and the evenings are warm, and it's those kind of days, that have me thinking "rosé".

To say rosé is trendy is an understatement. Madonna calls it her summer water and "Yes way rosé" has become a brand in itself. Yet, I still find people either love it or hate it. It's come a long way from the perception it once had, but what is it about this wine that makes it so unique?

How is it made?

There are 3 ways to make rosé. The most popular being to let the grape skins sit with the grape juice for a very short period of time. When any grapes are pressed, their juices run clear. Red wine gains its' colour through skin maceration. The skins and the juice normally sit together for weeks if not months. In the case of rosé, they sit together for 2 to 3 days.  The juice doesn't have time to get red, and voila! have pink wine.

You can get any shade of pink under the sun, from salmon to strawberry, fuschia, and peach. It's simply up to the winemaker and the style they're looking to create. Rosé can be any level of sweetness and is actually more often made dry than sweet. It's a wine that, due to the skin contact, can take on structure and complexity that a white wine doesn't offer, yet still leaves you with a crisp, easy drinking wine. It's the best of both worlds. The most popular place in the world for rosé is France and in particular, Provence and these wines are typically inexpensive and good quality.

My favourite rosé in Niagara has always been Mallivoire's Ladybug Rosé (a blend of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay). This past weekend I finally enjoyed my first rosé of the season at Midfield Wine Bar in Toronto. It was a Spanish rosé and it was delightful. Paired with ample sunshine, cheese and oysters it doesn't get much better than that on a Saturday afternoon in June.

What is Orange WIne

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

With green beer nearly upon us as St. Patricks day draws nearer, I had orange wine on the mind. Why? I don't know, especially because even I find it hard to understand what the big deal is with this newest trend in wine. So what is it and why is everyone talking about it?

I first came across this wine while living in Nothern Italy, where it's nothing new nor trendy and is how many Nothern Italian producers have made white wine for thousands of years. I also came across it while in Australia, where it was secretly being poured behind bars of restaurants. One night I remember curiosity getting the better of me and I asked the bartender what he was pouring.  He reached for an unlabelled bottle of wine and poured me a glass of this murky, copper coloured substance. To say I didn't love it would be an understatement.

What is orange wine? It's white wine fermented with grape skins. Normally, white wine is separated from the skins in order to avoid bitterness in the wine. On the other hand, red wine is always fermented with the skins. Red grapes, after all, don't have red flesh and it's the skin which makes red wine red. Alternatively, red wine which sits with skins for only a short period of time is one way of making rosé.

But orange wine is made from white grape varietals only and it results in a bigger and bolder style of white wine. As Winefolly's Madeline Puckette says here, make sure you're sitting down when you try your first glass.

I find it a bit "funky" depending on how the wine is finished and they're typically very "au-natural", often left unfiltered. Orange wine is not very fruit forward, instead, offering up aromas of bruised apple (slightly oxidative), honey, marmalade, wood varnish, nuttiness, and soughdough.

With all this said (can you tell it's not my favourite!?) it's always worth trying.  I think of fashion trends when I think of orange wine. Just because it's trendy doesn't mean you have to wear it and the same goes for wine. If you come across it, however, it's great opportunity to see what exactly grape skins do to a wine. So, experiment and don't be afraid to try something a little out of the ordinary.

The best wine and chocolate pairings

Sunday, February 12, 2017

With Valentines Day around the corner, I'm already planning what wine and chocolate I'll have (to drown my sorrows...just kidding!). Regardless of February 14th, the pairing of wine and chocolate is one of my favourite indulgences at any time of year, and below are a few stellar combos.

Dark Chocolate
- Shiraz
- Zinfandel
- Cabernet Franc Icewine
When one thinks "wine and chocolate", red wine and dark chocolate typically reign supreme. However, this pairing can be better in theory than in reality if not done right. Why? If you have dark chocolate which is too bitter and a red wine which is dry, the combo can lead to quite an unpleasant experience for your palate. Go with dark chocolate which isn't too dark (75%) and a red wine with some residual sugar in it.

White Chocolate
Sparkling (Moscato d'Asti)
- Beaujolais Nouveau
For a chocolate which can be difficult to pair, the suggestions above can work well. Beaujolais Nouveau is a super light and fruity wine, with tonnes of fresh berry fruit on the nose and palate. The result is a berries and cream effect, and sparkling can compliment white chocolate's creamy texture. Moscato d"Atsi is a sweeter style with a gentle effervescence, which helps to balance this more delicate chocolate.

Milk Chocolate
Pinot Noir
If you're going with milk chocolate go for a lighter red, so it doesn't overpower the chocolate. A fruit forward Pinot can be a good choice which can lead to a "chocolate covered cherry" taste.

2 More Ideas:
Mint Chocolate
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvingnon can often have notes of menthol (or mint and eucalyptus) on the nose. With the right Cabenerat Sauvignon mint chocolate can make for a great accompaniment.

Orange Chocolate
An unconventiaonal pairing, but it works. So many chocolate pairings cater to the red wine crowd, so if you prefer white, this is a great option. Just esnure the Riesling has a bit sweetness to it.

Happy Galentines & Valentines Day!

My favourite stop on the beamsville bench

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Whenever I'm asked which wineries to visit in Niagara, I name the usual suspects, but lately KEW has been topping the list.

There's something about this winery that feels like home. It could be the fact that the winery, is in fact, a converted home, but from the moment you enter, you'll feel its' warm and inviting vibe.

Last year I learned you could bring your own picnic which pretty much solidified them as my new favourite. They have a gorgeous property, tucked atop the escarpment, far from neighbouring wineries with vineyards as far as the eye can see.

KEW is known for their sparkling, so if you go I suggest getting a flight. It's one of the few times I've noticed a dramatic difference in sparkling wines from one producer. Whether it's their Blanc de Noir (100% pinot) or their Blanc de Blanc made from barrel aged chard, each offers something different and unique to the Beamsville Bench.

My favourite wine at KEW, however, is their Old Vines Chardonnay. It's one of those chards you can't stop smelling.  The perfect balance of tropical and classic aromas, with a dense yet soft mouthfeel. The last bottle I opened was ripe full of cooked pineapple, vanilla and apple pie notes, but there was something I couldn't put my finger on. I kept going back to it and this will sound strange but I think this is the elusive smell I love in chardonnay. It was the scent of a freshly opened bag of gummy bears. I'm pretty sure I nailed it, but the jury will forever be out on that one. The description on their website does a much better job.

I highly recommend, not just a stop at this winery, but a picnic in the warmer months, a flight of sparkling wine and a taste of their chardonnay. You won't be disappointed.