Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Day Trip to Niagara Peninsula, Ontario Wine Country

Hey Fellow Wino's

It's practically August which means it's time to ditch the poolside lounging in flip-flops and knock a few items off that summer bucket list, including a day trip to Niagara Peninsula for some wine tasting!

I've put together my personal, (hopefully soon to be certified Sommelier), favourite wineries to visit!

Leave Toronto with water, sunscreen, good walking shoes and morning bites with serious amounts of caffeine. Plan to be on the road by 8:30/9am which should put you at our first winery right when they open at 10am. Each winery has been planned with around a 1 hour stop to explore the grounds, taste, shop and soak up the unique vibe each winery offers. This trip will start you on the west side of wine country and have you end up all the way in Niagara on the Lake, on the far east side.

Winery 1 - Hidden Bench 10 am

Hidden Bench is an artisanal, terroir-focused winery producing excellent Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Utilizing Organic and Biodynamic principals they aim to produce world-class wine right in our own backyard. If you have never had what you or your friends have thought is "Good Canadian Wine" then this is it! I dare you to try and not pick up a few bottles for home!

Flights of wine start at $10 and go all the way up to $50 per person for the serious wine lover, just don't forget to spit as you have a long day ahead. If the group is more than 4, HB recommends you reserve your flight's in advance at 905.563.8700 ext. 24 or email wine@hiddenbench.com.

Winery 2- Malivoire 11:15am

Would you believe the winemaker's name at Malivoire is Shiraz? Well, it is and trust me, his talent for wine goes well beyond just his name. Malivoire makes fabulous Rose, but my personal favourite, their Gamay. The Gamay grape, often overlooked and usually underappreciated, certainly shines through here in the terroir of Niagara. Think of this as Niagara "Beaujolais", the famed region in France that specializes in Gamay.

A flight of wine is only $10 but if you purchase more than $30 of wine, the fee is waived! #Fabulous  

Redstone Winery won Winery of the Year in 2017 by the National Wine Awards of Canada, need I say more? Grab a sunny seat on the patio (I would reserve in advance) and dine on artisinal pizza, fabulous salads or richer dishes such as Cornish Hen. Be sure to try some of their excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc over lunch. 

Make sure you grab a coffee before you leave, long afternoon ahead. 

Winery 3- Tawse Winery 2pm 

Tawse is an Organic and Biodynamic winery complete with a six-level, gravity-flow design, geothermal system and a wetland bio-filter...so don't pull up in a gas-guzzling hummer, ok? If you want to know what Biodynamic is, just ask them when you are there and they will be more than happy to share their passion for eco-friendly wine. 

This winery is like a little slice of Burgundy in Ontario, oh là là.  Excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sparkling. Sante! 

A flight of wine of wine is only $8 but the fee is waived if you buy two or more bottles #StartTheCar 

Winery 4-  Southbrook Vineyards 3:30pm 

What can I say about Southbrook other than, like Tawse, it's Organic, Biodynamic and LEED certified. Southbrook Vineyards has a legendary winemaker, Ann Sperling, who certainly knows her stuff. Ann thinks of herself more as a winegrower than a winemaker showcasing her firm belief that good wine is made in the vineyard, not the winery. 

Their Poetica Chardonnay and Poetica Red (74% cabernet sauvignon, 23% cabernet franc and 3% Petit Verdot) are absolute musts to bring home, non-negotiable! I have a 2013 Poetica Chardonnay in Magnum format that I've been saving and will probably crack this summer. 

Winery 5- Stratus 5pm 

If there was a magazine titled "Winery Architectural Digest Canada" I assure you, Stratus would be on the front cover each month. I'm not sure what is more impressive, their state of the art modern facility, their insanely huge array of different varietals or the quality of the wine? I'm serious, I feel like I should be pulling up in a Porsche ready to taste around the globe while in an episode of some HGTV renovation show when they do the final review and the owners scream with glee. 

Fancy some Tempranillo traditionally from Spain, they make one. How about Tannat? A rarer grape grown in the southwest of France near the Spanish border, guess what, they've got that too! 

I personally think their Charles Baker Piccone Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay are certainly worth putting in the trunk for home! Truly impressive all around! 

Executive Chef, Ryan Crawford will feed your soul with the chefs tasting menu for $99, other tasting menus are offered at $89 and $79 or simply a la carte. Focused on sourcing local ingredients, heck even Ryan was trained locally in Stratford, so it's sure to give you a slice of the Niagara life. Named in Air Canada's Enroute Magazine as a best new restaurant in 2016.

Hit the road after dinner by 9pm and be back in Toronto around 10:30pm. 

The old days of having to fly to France for good wine and food are over! Get out there and see what our local talent has to offer.  

We have outstanding wine, outstanding hospitality and outstanding cuisine right here, in Ontario. 

Happy Sipping, 

Ryan Sullivan 

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Summer Sippin - Vintages Release Saturday, July 21st!

Hey Fellow Wino's

I want to thank you for checking out my blog, be it for the first time, a few times or subscriber since the beginning. Not to sound like a politician, but I write this blog for people like you. People who love wine but may know very little about wine, people who may know a decent amount and those who think they could write my blog, and probably could.

I don't dip bottom of the barrel, 19-year-old style drinking "Gato Negro" wine, I also don't recommend first growth Bordeaux, but what I do is pick and choose wine's that I would drink. Wines that offer a good product at a decent price. Heck, a wine bottle most of us could afford even if it was a tad more of a special occasion.

Why should you subscribe? Simple... #UpYourWineGame 

With that said, let's jump in because I found you some serious value in my picks today.

1. 2017 Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa at $14.95
I really love wine from South Africa, the classic bridge between the New World and Europe. When tasting Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa I find it can trick you, the fruit condition can be that of New World with its warmth and fruit forwardness, but the earth and secondary notes are certainly that of Europe. This Sauvignon blanc is planted in Stellenbosch which allows for the fresh breezes off False Bay and Table Bay to grow these grapes cool and slow. The grapes are planted at an altitude of 1,800 feet (as you know from reading my previous blogs) helps to preserve acidity (freshness and crispness) from the huge diurnal shift in temperature. Warm days, cool nights. Take it slow baby, don't rush this.

So what can we expect in the glass? Fresh gooseberry, asparagus and passion fruit. I would chill, crack on a patio and pair with summertime appies like goats cheese with a nice charcuterie plate. Maybe a nice summer salad with dill salmon....mmmm.

2. 2016 Le Fils Des Gras Mouton, Sur Lie, Muscadet, Sevre-Et-Maine, Loire Valley, France at $14.95
Ok, so the title it is long and I'll explain.

Producer: Le Fils des Gras Mouton
Sur Lie: Means the wine was aged on the dead yeasts cells from fermentation, adding an almond, brioche character to the wine, much like champagne
Muscadet: Location in the western gap of the Loire Valley, right on the cooling Atlantic Ocean
Sevre-et-Maine: Sub Appellation of the Muscadet Region, this means more site-specific which in wine usually always means better!

This wine is like a much needed fresh plunge into a pool, in a glass. I would pair Oysters and a bottle of Muscadet, match made in heaven. Fresh green apple, fresh crisp pear, saline notes (heck, right on the ocean coast) and some fresh lemon. While you can go with warm seafood like cooked mussels, fresh raw fish or seafood and Muscadet on a hot summer patio....hella yes!

For the visual learners, the yellow region below on the left is Muscadet. Look closely and you'll see exactly where Sevre et Main, it's subregion, is located within the Muscadet region.

If you really want to know that I'm going to sip this afternoon in the hot sun, this wine chilling on ice, right here! 

Vintages panel says expect yellow plum, fresh lemon and grapefruit, simply a great sipper. Don't confuse sipper with bad, this is just easy living on a dock or patio, sip the bottle and afternoon away with a smile. I'd pair this with grilled seafood such as shrimp, fish or maybe even octopus....live a little! I'll probably buy a case of this wine. This is sipping wine and food wine, perfect for both! 

My gosh have I come to love Carmenere from Chile. This Carmenere comes from Apalta, a subregion of the eminent Colchagua Valley. Again, more site-specific in this case than general Colchagua valley and I think most somms would agree, solid location. The granite soils and hillside plantings make the vine struggle just to stay alive and when the vine struggles, it produces great grapes and in turn, great wine. 

Expect fresh blackberries, black cherry, plum, vanilla, baking spice, a fresh mint note with a solid structure (good acidity and refined smooth tannins). This is one of those wines like the Finao, I could see myself buying several bottles of for later. Really solid wine at a great price. Pair with grilled meats on the BBQ, burgers or steaks with pebre (Chilean salsa) and decant 30 minutes, serve at 17C. 

* Freezer for 15 minutes assuming the bottle is a warm 23C summer temperature, the decanter for 30 min, should be just right by the time you sip. Never Ever sip red at 23C, ever.

Remember how I said South Africa is the perfect in-between while comparing New World and Old World wines? This is a great example of that! If you love Bordeaux but your friend loves Napa, compromise and drink this. You'll both be happy because you'll have the fruit ripeness of Napa and the classic full-bodied earthy experience of a fine Bordeaux. Now, it's not going to taste exactly like Bordeaux or Napa but think of this as a child between two powerhouses, a Bordeaux and Napa love child per se. 

Fresh blackberry, cassis, raspberry, anise, cedar and mint notes say the wine spectator. I think this would be a great wine for a nice evening between two friends, especially if you want to move beyond being just friends ;) 

Serve at 18C with a 30 minute decant or more and pair with two nice large filet mignon, topped with St. Agur blue cheese and black pepper with a side of green beans sauteed in butter. For fun, can you taste where the wine is from? It's literally the best of both Old World and New World. 

Happy Sipping,


Monday, 2 July 2018

Top Picks - Vintages Release July 7th

Hey Fellow Winos

I know it's hot as the devil outside and you might be thinking I'm going to recommend some ice cold Riesling or sparkling wine to help chill you off, but alas, not even close!

I've picked some serious red wine options perfect for some BBQ burgers, Grilled Ribs, Steak, and two Italian wines that you should seriously consider at excellent price points for the grape/region.

Let's jump right in shall we?

1. 2015 Baptiste & Laurent Le Meilleur des 2 Mondes, Saint-Amour, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France at $19.95
As you may know, 2015 was a warm year in most of Europe so the sugars are up, in-turn the alcohols are up and that means you get a little more "bang" for your buck when it comes to the body. Take this traditionally lightweight Gamay Noir, usually, a simple easy going light red wine you can sip slightly chilled. This, however, is not entry level Beaujolais but Cru, from Saint-Amour to be specific, one of the ten crus"s in Beaujolais. Red raspberry, black plum, anise, earthy notes, a solid wine from a solid vintage.

Serve 15C, decant 15 minutes and pair with grilled chicken, sausages or bump it up to succulent rich burgers smothered in aged gouda. This is a great red wine to ease those who usually only drink white because of it's frutier and somewhat lighter nature.

Is this from the warmer 2015 vintage, no, would I buy this and drink with a smile, absolutely. I am fascinated with two underappreciated grapes right now, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. This 100% Cabernet Franc from Chinon should show classic red fruit such as red cherry and plum with a tinge of green note from a light sage to a heavier green pepper. Pair with homemade burgers and grilled green peppers, evening patio sipper right here! Serve 16C and decant 15-30 minutes. 

We have all had Shiraz from Australia, how about a Syrah from Corsica? What fun! Granite soils, this 100% Syrah offers "Notes of blackberries, blueberries, crushed violets, spice and hints of mint all flow to a ripe, sexy, concentrated and beautifully textured red that has plenty of sweet fruit, an energetic, vibrant texture and a great finish." says Jeb Dunnuck from Robert Parker's website. 

I would pair this bold wine with dry rub ribs on the BBQ or smoker. Alternatively, peppercorn steaks. I wonder if Napoleon drank this well when he was a child in Corsica? Serve at 18C and decant 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

If you have ever been timid with Barolo because of its high price, then this is the bottle to try! Literally the best deal in town on Barolo! I love when La Pieve Barolo hit's our shelves because it is the pretty much the most affordable Barolo you can find, and honestly, pretty darn good as well! Most Barolo's are built to age 20-40 years but because this is more of an entry-level Barolo, you can sip this the day you pick it up or age it for 5-10 if you really wanted to. 

This wine made from 100% Nebbiolo offers intense aromatics of rose petals, tar, red fruit and earth that will surely make you smile. I would pair this with perhaps gnocchi topped with shaved truffle in a red sauce or a traditional Piedmont dish, Brasato al Barolo. You could also pair with a nice charcuterie plate and firm Italian cheeses. Serve 18C and decant 30 minutes to 1 hour or beyond, just don't forget to smell the beautiful nose on this wine before sipping! Dam I love Barolo and at this price, you can afford to drink it even if it's for more of a special occasion. 

Barolo's come from Northern Italy, now meet the Barolo of the south, Taurasi! This wine made from 100% Aglianico is a bold red wine that should certainly impress those looking to tango! This is hardly a simple sipper, this wine means business. The LCBO vintages panel says "This one is loaded with plum, black cherry, red fruit, tobacco and oak spice with smooth, high-toned tannins. A real food wine." and I couldn't agree more. 

I would pair this with a Sunday roast, wild boar, moose steaks, or grilled rib eyes with all of the fixes. I, however, would wait for a rainy/cooler day because this wine will certainly keep you warm, stain your teeth, pack a punch, and make you fall in love with Italy...as if anyone ever fell out of love. 

Happy Sipping
Happy Grilling
Happy Summer Living


P.S. You may be wondering where to find truffles or wild boar...St. Lawrence Market. Alternatively, if you order in advance, a good local butcher. 

Tantalizing Tantalus in the Okanagan Valley

Hey Fellow Wino’s 

It's Ryan here and last week I was in beautiful British Columbia in the heart of the Okanagan Valley. I was out there visiting my parents who moved there just over a year ago and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by a winery or two. 

Instead of doing several wineries, tasting after tasting, I really wanted to focus on one winery and dive into the deep end learning as much as I can. I reached out to Tantalus and explained how I am currently a Sommelier student with CAPS doing some research for my final paper. I’m comparing and contrasting two new world wine regions, Okanagan Valley here in B.C. with Clare Valley in South Australia. Luckily, Tantalus had some time for little old me.

I was greeted by Maya Boyd, a truly fabulous sales manager who arranged for me to speak with Kyle Temple, the assistant winemaker at Tantalus. Kyle took me downstairs where we had a chance to discuss the more nerdy side of winemaking. We discussed canopy management, soil composition, climate, irrigation techniques, vinification and philosophy of creating the tantalus house style. Walking through the vineyards I had a chance to see how much they care for the Terroir in the Okanagan Valley. 

While not certified organic or biodynamic, they practice a holistic approach to their vineyard. They have an abundance of wildflowers throughout the property, government protected forests and even bees to help keep the flowers in good health. Take a peek below, beehives on government-protected land which will always remain a forest! 

Here you can see they installed drip irrigation which is something like 90% more effective than traditional overhead spraying. Water runs through the black lines and drips slowly right onto the trunk/roots if required. Kyle told me how focused they are on using as little water as possible, if at all. 

It was fun looking at the vines from the original plantings as the steep step-downs reminded me of what the Rhone Valley in France looks like or perhaps parts of the Mosel or Reihngow in Germany. Okanagan? Europe? Could have fooled me. 

The winery is located on the east side of the valley, facing west and sloping at an angle towards the lake. Since the winery faces west on a slope towards the water it has a long growing day with sun into 8 and 9pm with direct sunlight, talk about a long day at the office for these grapes! This unit of measurement is GDD or Growing Degree Days, I know, nerdy wine stuff. 

The fun thing about the Okanagan Valley is it can get quite hot during the day 35C-40C but also cool down at night to 15-20C and this change is called diurnal shift. The greater the diurnal shift, the greater the preservation of acidity. If it was just hot all of the time the grapes would ripen too quickly and you would be left with high sugar (which turns into high alcohol) and low acid grapes which would make a boozy flabby wine. Alternately, too cold and you just get a high acid, low alcohol tart sour tasting wine. The trick is to get it just right, with the right grapes in the right terroir! 

It was interesting to see their old vines Riesling which were planted in the 1970’s. The vines are bigger, older, more gnarly looking and produce visibly less fruit than say a younger vine. The benefit, believe it or not, is that while each of the older vines produces less fruit the concentration of flavours in the grapes is astronomical. I think when it comes to most farming usually the more product you grow, the more money you make, wherein wine usually the inverse is possible. The old vines may make less juice (wine) but the quality of that wine is so much higher that wineries can usually charge a premium and trust me, it’s a win-win for everyone. I’ll gladly pay for quality over quantity! 

Fun Fact - Did you know that a common vineyard practice for most wineries is to prune some grape clusters off of the vine in hope of concentrating nutrients and in turn flavour into the remaining grapes? It's true, less really is more! 

The terroir that makes up Tantalus and most of the mid and northern section of the Okanagan Valley is old glacial deposits from thousands of years ago during the last ice age. Fun fact, the whole valley was carved from receding glaciers. Check out this glacial deposit stone I found right in the vineyard!


Sometimes it can get so hot inside the vine's canopy (40C) that you need to roll a window down or put some AC on. Since that's not possible, they manually make small tears in the leaf canopy to help cool it off. 

So we know it's a warm climate with a good diurnal shift, full of old glacial deposits from the ice age and it slopes west for long sunny days. So what does that mean for the wine? 

Well, let's taste! 

2015 Blanc De Noir. This sparkling wine is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, hence the Blanc De Noir, a white wine made from dark grapes. The wine has a tinge of colour to it indicating a possible tiny bit of skin contact while pressing or fermenting. Intense minerality from that glacial terroir with that warmer tasting fruit such as Rhubarb pie. I loved it! 

2015 Old Vines Riesling Brut. We know that when you have older vines you get less yield (juice per vine per hectare) but in turn, you also get more concentrated flavours. Well, this was downright delicious. "Harmonious aromas of grapefruit, marmalade, wet stone and a hint of brioche " quotes Tantalus, for which I'll add a white mushroom light earthy note, very food friendly sparkling. 

2017 Riesling and 2015 old Vines Riesling. I loved both of these international renown Rieslings for different reasons. For instance, the first Riesling was fresh, vibrant, lively and truly a classic delicious riesling in all its glory. The old vine Riesling was just as fabulous but took a true "somm" nature to it. To me, that means it was unique, funky (in a good way), special and not your every day off the rack Riesling. I honestly loved it. One would be great for "patio pounding" or simple sipping while the other I could pair with a nice duck confit with white truffles or small white mushrooms, heaven! 

2015 Pinot Noir and 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir. I liked the bright fruit on the first Pinot Noir with its ripe red cherry and raspberry but what really stole the spotlight was their reserve Pinot Noir. Was I tasing Burgundy? Was I tasting Willamette Valley? No, I was tasting Okanagan Valley! Wine = #MindBlown. The harmony and roundness Tantalus was able to achieve in their reserve Pinot Noir was truly remarkable and more than able to stand on its own two feet with other great Pinot regions of the globe. The more subtle red fruit matched the earthy side of the wine with the delicate nose of florals, balanced acidity, dam! Again, one more for sipping and one more for a fabulous meal and honestly, some ageing. 

I also had a chance to try their 2016 Chardonnay, 2017 Rose, 2015 Old Vines Riesling Ice Wine and yes, even their awesome 2017 Syrah Ice Wine. Everyone knows Tantalus for their Riesling, but what surprised me was their ability to capture their terroir into their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

If you are ever in the Okanagan Valley pop in and say hello, taste some fabulous wine and be surprised at just what our homegrown terroir focused talent can do! If you can't make it out don't sweat it, they will ship wine right to your door. I'm about to place an order and split it with a few fellow Somm students who are anxiously waiting! 

I spent my Canada Day in 35C weather, on a sailboat at the Toronto island beaches sipping the one and only, Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut! 

Dam Canada, I just love you! 

Happy Sipping 


P.S. If you want to learn more about the Okanagan Valley check out my post Okanagan Life 

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...