Friday, 29 September 2017


Hello Fellow Wino's

I'm writing this from "Beautiful British Columbia", Okanagan valley to be specific AKA wine country. Did you know the Okanagan Valley is Canada's second largest wine region behind Niagara? Did you know that the weather here in summer is essentially sunny, dry and hot right into 35C and beyond? This climate allows for some "big wines" from warm climate grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This being said in wine there is always an exception to every general understanding or rule. The thing that makes the Okanagan valley so unique is its temperature variation between the northern section and the southern section. This can mean the difference between growing light aromatic whites all the way to heavy hitting red's with 14%+ alcohol.

My parents moved here this spring and I'm finally visiting them, seeing their new home and exploring the lifestyle that is #OkanaganLife. Kelowna is located in the BC interior which means it's on the east side of the Cascade mountains. To quickly explain, the wet weather moves in from the Pacific and hits the mountains, is then pushed up high where it cools, water in the cloud condenses and falls as rain. This is why Vancouver and Vancouver Island are so wet where here in Kelowna very little if any clouds make it over the mountains creating the dry almost desert-like conditions here. So we know Kelowna is hot, we know it's dry but why is it special? Well, the moderating effects of the Okanagan Lake can help keep grapes warm on cooler nights and help cool grapes on hotter days as well as provide the required irrigation (water) to sustain plant life in this arid climate.

Let's start in the North and work our way down. If you look at a map Kelowna is mid-way up the lake so around here white's such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and lighter red's like Pinot Noir thrive. Further north mostly just whites are grown but this is considered the northern section of the Okanagan Valley. My first stop was at Quails Gate Winery on the west side of the lake known as West Kelowna. The vines are on hills sloping down to the lake providing better morning sunlight capture. Quails Gate grows a plethora of different grapes but in my opinion, specializes in their whites and Pinot Noir. Closest to the lake on the steepest section of land they grow Syrah and getting further back from the lake it turns into Pinot Noir and Whites like Riesling, Chardonnay etc. It's profound how the warm lake water can keep the grapes closest to the water warm overnight to help grow bigger reds like Syrah where even only 100 meters away from the lake you can only grow cooler climate grapes. I toured the winery and had a few samples on their breathtaking tasting patio. Right now the LCBO is mostly out of Quails Gate wine be it their rose, Chard or Pinot but keep an eye out because it's worth a try or you can also order some shipped right to your door via

Growing grapes is probably the craziest thing you can do and I fly airplanes for a living. The reason I say this is because there are so many variables that can impact a vintage. I find drinking wine much easier than making wine, not that I have tried. The 2017 Vintage as you can see below is partially affected by smoke from the surrounding forest fires earlier this summer. The smoke created a blanket for moisture to form (like a cloud) and some rot set in so they will discard these specific grapes. #ForestFireWine 

Next stop was Summer Hill winery back on the east side of the lake. My family and I had some lovely Viognier (white grape) and charcuterie for lunch. The Viognier was oak aged so it was smooth, rich with pear and melon-like characters. I just love lounging an afternoon away with food, wine, and family or's my yoga. 

We then headed to Tantalus Winery which is a little more up my alley. They are a smaller producer making a few different wines from Pinot Noir to a sparkling Blanc De Noir and sparkling Riesling. The fun thing about this side of the lake is that because we are on the east side of the lake we get the hotter afternoon sun so you can be further up the hill away from the lake and still maintain a warmer climate. I'd order a small selection of their different wine to have but for me probably mostly their Pinot Noir and Riesling #Excellent :P 

We headed over to Spierhead winery next on our wine adventure. This was a really great spot because it was small, affordable and offering great quality. I'm passionate as you know about wine being affordable and this place offered the best value for their Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I found so far. Check it out and order some for yourself If I lived here I would have joined their wine club because although the labels may not be as sexy the wine is and at a great price. A definite must while in Kelowna because their wine appealed to my mother, stepfather and my palate which is impressive because sometimes we can't always agree on everything. #Family. 

Next, we went to Sperling Vineyards. You should know that Ann Sperling makes her own wine here in Kelowna, is the winemaker at Southbrook in Niagara and also owns her own vineyard in Argentina. I would imagine Ann has a few aeroplan points from the traveling that must be required to manage all three. I would describe her wine here in the Okanagan as very unique. This almost seems like her playground where she fiddles around in the sandbox. Ann makes a Pinot Noir without any skin contact so you get the nose and fruit of Pinot Noir without the tannins or colour, it's a white wine! Ann makes a Pinot Gris with skin contact creating an "Orange Wine'. Pinot Gris is a white grape and normally a white wine but instead, Ann has aged the wine on its off-white skins to absorb some tannin, colour, and character that a normal white wine wouldn't ever have. Ann also doesn't filter or fine this wine so it's cloudy, hazy and has some sediment. This may not appeal to the average consumer but trust me it was delicious, fresh, funky and awesome! I enjoyed comparing her two Pinot Noir's as well. Different plots of land, different styles and different characters. Like a bother and sister from the same family, similar yet different. I guess these are Ann's kids and I'd adopt them. Check out her 2013 Poetica Chardonnay she makes at Southbrook in Niagara, it's life changing! If you want to venture out of your comfort zone and into funk town, order some of her wine here if not, anything from Southbrook is excellent! Also, keep an eye out for her "Versado" from Argentina for a Canadian take on Argentinian wine.

The next day we ventured about 1 hour south to Penticton which is about halfway in this north-south wine growing region. This is where things get more intense because the heat is stronger. It's more common to see Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah instead of Chardonnay or Riesling. While Syrah was grown in West Kelowna it had to be on a steep angle to catch every drop of morning sun and right on the lake to help keep it warm at night. Here it's a few degree's warmer which can fully ripen these longer growing season reds. We went to Painted Rock winery which is right out of Architectural Digest due to its modern aesthetic and honest breathtaking views. Jim the owner was kind to pour our tasting and had a wealth of knowledge to share from the grapes and terroir to the business side of things in regards to sales and pricing. Did you know that the Painted Rock 2013 Merlot was loved so much by the King of Sweden than he ordered a case or that you can find this wine in the Shangri-La in London? While this level of seriousness in any winery can be intimidating even to me I'm impressed with Painted Rock. Our nations wine game is really aiming for the stars these days. Sure the whole Okanagan Valley makes less wine than the tiny region of Beaujolais France but our country comes from humble small beginnings and is building from the ground up. Who would have thought that an old apricot orchard in the BC Interior could be turned into an up and coming world renown winery? These Bordeaux varietals are big, like 15% alcohol, rich red and black fruit but incredibly balanced and smooth. Order some of this premium wine for a special occasion because it is worth celebrating. Don't take my word for it, some of Canada's most respected wine writers have given very high praise in the 90+ point range! The 2015 vintage was a challenging one for all winemakers here because it was extremely hot and if you pay close attention you can taste it (acidity is slightly lower) but they have done an amazing job with it and I would proudly recommend anything they produce!

If you head further south to Oliver and Osoyoos it's hot, hot hot. It is around 5C warmer in Osoyoos than in Kelowna which really helps grow some of the biggest reds you can grow. Winemakers are experimenting with Carmenere (Chile), Sangiovese (Chianti, Italy), Aglianico (Southern Italy), Nebbiolo (Barolo, Italy) and many others. The few extra degrees makes growing Pinot Noir out of the question because it is too hot but these larger more powerful wines at 15%-16% alcohol are possible. I find it unique that one, quite frankly small, growing region of Canada can produce such diversity in its wine. From delicate and aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs to Bordeaux type blends and palate punching hot climate red's it's really impressive. If you think Canada is just beer, maple syrup and Ice Wine you couldn't be further from the truth! 

Going backward for a moment, while tasting at Quails Gate winery I spoke to a couple from Switzerland. The couple couldn't believe that Canada made white wine let alone fuller bodied red wines. I like when people come to Canada they underestimate us be it our peace, healthcare, multiculturalism or our winemaking. Knowing this couple is going to bring back a few bottles to share with their friends made me happy because it's how our story is being shared, one bottle at a time. The wine industry in Canada makes something like 1-100th of 1% of total wine production globally but considering we are still relatively infantile in age yet already being celebrated internationally by Royalty and 5-star hotels are worthy of pride. I find sometimes Canadians can be quick to doubt our own ability to produce great wine, but trust me..we do and the best is still yet to come! 

Stock your cellar (or kitchen cabinet) with some homegrown talent and show some pride.  

From Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful British Columbia, 

Ryan Sullivan 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sipping in the Flight a passenger

Hey, fellow wino’s it’s Ryan from the flight levels but before you panic, I’m on vacation sipping as a passenger. I’ve decided to do a write up on my two experiences of sipping wine in the flight levels while on vacation. I flew Porter Airlines (my airline) to Halifax earlier this summer and am now writing this literally while on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Kelowna.

I’d like to answer a question I’m often first asked before we dive in. People often wonder how an Airline Pilot can love wine so much and what are the rules on flying and alcohol. To start off the rules are set at the federal level for all pilots regardless of aircraft size or route. Transport Canada currently has an 8-hour restriction of no alcohol prior to flying. This might sound very minimal but it is intended for a glass of wine or beer with dinner the night before…not a wild night on the town. Most airlines and pilots impose even stricter limits on themselves because at the end the of the day safety is our first and foremost priority. Transport Canada is in the process of changing these rules from 8 to 12 hours “Bottle to Throttle” we usually say. I’m passionate about wine but even more so about aviation safety and never compromise or mix the two.

That said, I’m on vacation so let’s treat ourselves. I’m first going to write about my experience while on Porter from Toronto to Halifax. My partner Joseph and I were heading to the east coast for a few days of R&R and thought we would sample our wine onboard and attempt a review. On Porter Airlines, wine and beer are complimentary and served in real glass #KeepingItOldSchool. The white wine was a Jackson trigs Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula from 2016. On the visual a golden straw like a wheat field in the setting sun. The nose almonds, pineapple, melon, ripened yellow apple, brioche and leazzy notes. On the palate, it was smooth, round and refreshing. Translation lemon, pineapple, Asian pear with some wet stone on the mineral side of things and a tiny bit of butter which is from the oak. It had a lingering mineral finish and rate it as quite nice. The red wine was a Jackson Trigs Black Reserve Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 2015. Visually it was a dark shade of purple. On the nose ripe blackberry, blueberry, cedar and smoke. On the palate, it was quite dry, smooth with fig, plum, blackberry, berry compote, dried leaf with a medium tannin. Its finish was nice as it left me wanting more. Was the wine the best I’ve had? Hardly, but with some classy flight attendants who pour from full bottles into my actual glass and complimentary even though it’s a short domestic flight I’d say it’s a job well executed. Would it be nice to have some more options from France, Spain or Chile absolutely but again for short haul flying it goes above and beyond.

I’m currently now somewhere over Manitoba sipping a mini bottle of Tempranillo-Grenache from Spain on WestJet….I repeat WestJet not Air Canada first class. I’ve had the pleasure of flying Porter to many destinations and West Jet but the most surprising were WJ’s new wine selection. Visually the wine had a purple and ruby tinge to it. On the nose a little bit of red cherry and blackberry with some stewed plums. The palate had stewed cherries, plum, and cocoa with smooth tannins and some spices from the use of oak. The alcohol was 13% but it seemed a little stronger than that perhaps due to my less than a full stomach. West Jet is also offering a Cabernet Sauvignon from France, Chenin-Blanc and Chardonnay blend from South Africa, a Sauvignon Blanc from France and Prosecco from Italy for $6.99 each. I’m going to work my way onto the French Cabernet Sauvignon next but I’ll have to hail a flight attendant. I was pleasantly surprised at the effort from West Jet to add some options for their wine conscious consumers. I don’t really care for the small bottles nor the plastic cup but the fact that I’m sipping a Spanish blend over Manitoba does add a bit of context. Both of these wine experiences are hardly an aspiring sommeliers dream come true but again for economy type fairs flying domestically I was pleased.

While flying on an airplane at 25,000 or 35,000 FT the cabin altitude is around 8,000 FT. Aircraft cabins are dry, cozy in size and at the altitude of Everest base camp. This means that your palate can be dull and the requirement to drink more water than you think you should is all too important. Pairing wine in this challenging climate is difficult because since I can taste less fruit than there actually is the alcohol can seem a tad overwhelming in comparison. The real challenge is to find a few wines that you know millions of people will love. The whites have to be not too dry, not too sweet and the reds have to be flavorful without too much strength and tannin or too light and fruity. I think Porter has done a nice job with their selection because it really highlights our local wine talent. I also think West Jet was pleasantly surprising due to their international available selection.

If I had to choose I’d say Porter came out on top as the experience did have more refinement to it but they are both great in their own unique ways. I’ve had the pleasure of flying standby on several highly recognizable airlines and have been bumped up to first class much to my surprise. Airline Pilot's do have perks you know :P. If you ever have a chance to fly first class internationally (even if only on your honeymoon) and experience a chef tailored meal it's a memorable experience. 

Next time you fly, see if your taste buds seem a little dull by trying different snacks or wine compared to on the ground. You may be surprised at the difference.  

I see the flight attendant coming now so I better order my wine.

Happy Sipping from the flight a passenger,

Ryan Sullivan

Friday, 22 September 2017

September....a wine map all over

Hey Fellow Wino's

It's been a month since my last blog post, can you forgive me? I've been working some overtime, traveling, started the CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers) program at George Brown College and oh yeah, drinking some wine.

Let's get right back into it but let's try and not be too basic ok?

I love September because you can still find some days where shorts, flip-flops and a glass of chilled white are perfect and then other days you can dine alfresco with big sweaters and while enjoying some bigger reds. It's almost the like the perfect month where you can enjoy all the grapes of the rainbow. Tuesday it's chilled Pinot Gris and a T-Shirt, Thursday its a big Chianti with a cozy sweater with that crisp in the air. This month I figured I would focus on what I've been up too and drinking opposed to what I think is a good deal which has normally been my primary focus.

For my 31st birthday, we drank a 2011 Graham Beck Brut sparkling Rose at only $21.95 from South Africa. This bottle is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and filled with ripe orchard fruit (apples, peaches etc) and some tasty almond/brioche notes. There are still a few bottles in the city so go and celebrate because at the price even cutting your toenails deserves to be celebrated. I'm passionate about accessibility in wine for everyone which is why I chose this bottle for my birthday. You don't need to be a king or queen to live like one!

One of my favorite wineries, Closson Chase in PEC (Prince Edward County) released their 2016 Pinot Gris at $22.95. Keith, the winemaker has displayed his talents well with this wine having the perfect amount of time in Oak. This wine is elegant, balanced and refined. I had notes of pear, some tropical fruit like guava, a bit of pineapple followed by some honey and lush softness imparted by the oak. My rating, buy two! Pssst, Pinot Gris is the French term for Pinot Grigio reflecting the style :P 

It hasn't always been hot out in September because in the beginning of the month we had some Chianti on my sailboat with sweaters and blankets. Check out this 2013 Castello di Albola Chianti Classico at $18.95. This wine needs to be decanted so if you don't have a decanter, let it open up in your glass at least 30 minutes before drinking. This had some of that classic dried cherries, dried leaf, and a hint of some pencil shavings. The reason we decant wine is the same reason a sprinter warms up before being able to reach their peak performance. A wine doesn't roll out of the bottle into a sprint, it needs to open up with oxygen and unfold, allowing you to taste all of its complexity. 

In the CAPS program, we will sample over 1,000 wines through the next year to learn traits of grapes, styles, and regions. Take this complex Reva, Barolo at $59.95 we used to help calibrate our palate. This wine was killer with mocha, caramel, cherry, smoke, earth and a finish that lasted a long time. This is well-made wine hence the price tag. When tasting the wine we use a grid starting with Visual, Nose then Palate. How we learn to taste is not necessarily "this taste has to be a Barolo" but more fill out the grid and that will lead you to the grape and or region. This Barolo had higher levels of acidity, red fruit, and some smoky spice notes so we could narrow that down to "Nebbiolo" grape, aged in oak which gave it those smokey spice notes and probably not too old, maybe 3-5 years because of how fresh the fruit and acidity seemed vs super mellow and aged. Do you want to really know how to know wine? Simply taste, taste and then taste 10 times more. Practice, plain and simple. 

I took a few of my fellow Somm students out for an afternoon wine tour on the water. We had a bottle of "Cremant de Loire" and oysters. "Cremant" is a term the French use for sparkling wine made in France that isn't from Champagne. So Cremant de Loire, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Bordeaux etc which offer incredible value compared to the all mighty Champagne. Considering they are made in the same method you simply can't lose. I'm talking $15-$30 type value! Check out any Cremant next time you are shopping because I feel we could all use more reasons to drink sparkling wine on a Toronto mortgage beer budget. 

My partner and I headed north to Halliburton where we dined alfresco with my Aunt and Uncle on my first bottle "Crozes-Hermitage". In Europe wine is labeled by the place (Bordeaux, Barolo, Chianti, and Crozes-Hermitage etc) where in the new world wine is usually labeled by the grape. Crozes-Hermitage is a region in the Northern Rhone valley of France using the Syrah (shiraz) grape blended with small portions of Marsanne and Roussanne white grapes. The Syrah grape provides strength, tannin and red/black fruit to the wine while the white (up to 15%) can provide lovely aromatics to the wine and help lift it out of the glass. Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jalets Crozes-Hermitage 2014 at $26.95. Still a little young and could use another 5 years to soften out but drink it if you must. Notice Syrah is not written anywhere on the's because you the consumer should learn that if it's from here, Syrah is the type of grape used. Complicated, you bet but like anything you can learn it with practice. 

Have you ever driven a Ferrari? How about drank one? We cracked this lovely Italian sparkling wine for my birthday when a few friends came over and it was just pleasure in a glass. Fresh fruit, not too complex but left everyone wanting more. Heck at $24.95 its cheaper than a real Ferrari and I'd gladly buy another bottle or two! 

My Friends Louis and Felix had us over to their rooftop for dinner in Roncesvalles where we dined on baked salmon, scalloped potatoes, and a Russian themed beet salad. I bought a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley "Sancerre" and a Chardonnay from Burgundy. If you pick up a bottle of "Sancerre" you know its Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France where if you pick up a bottle of white Burgundy you know it's Chardonnay because of French wine law. The green notes in the "Sancerre" did match the dill notes in the salmon but was still a tad bold for the softer meal. The smoothness of the Burgundy meshed right into the delicate meal so well we agreed it was a better pairing. Check out Louis Jadot Chardonnay from "Bourgogne" at $23.95. The words Chardonnay are on the label so it's clearly advertised to a less knowledgeable wine consumer but for the price, it's quite nice. Remember, if it's from Europe and the grape is on the label its because the winemaker or importer assumes you are an uneducated consumer and unaware that "Burgundy" is either Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Gamay. Don't worry, in time you'll learn but it starts by getting out there to try new wines! 

My last wine was a 2012 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay by Tawse right here in Ontario at $37.95. My review...On the nose, pear, ripe green apple, little peach, smoke, crushed rock and flint with some elegant baking spices...truly complex. On the palate, ripe fruit like apple, pear, peach with a balanced acidity and a well-integrated use of oak with a steely mineral element. This is complex, balanced and truly well made. Is it sharper than a well made Burgundy...yes but it's a balanced level of boldness I can only comment Bravo Tawse, Bravo. Best Ontario Chardonnay I've tasted! 

Happy Sipping,

Ryan Sullivan 

Vintages, Saturday May 25th, 2019

Hey Fellow Wino's I've got some new picks for you to try out from today's vintages release. 1.  Blue Mountain Gold Label Bru...