Discovering Mexico’s Underappreciated Drink… Wine

I refused to eat dinner at any place that didn’t serve Mexican wine. It took a while but we finally found the rooftop patio of Downtown Mexico

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This past January @benton8tor and I decided to escape the cold and head for Mexico City. Which was unusual enough as most Canadian head for the resort cities to enjoy  sun, sand, and tequila.  @benton8tor was pretty stoked to try mezcal ( mezcal and tequila are the same drink, except tequila can only be made from the blue agave plant and mezcal any agave plant which results in more variance in flavour.) I however had my eye on trying Mexican wine. Now most people to be fair didn’t know that Mexico produces wine and if they did they were used to wine from the Baja region which produces 85% of Mexico’s wine. Mexico is pretty far south for a wine producing region. wine does not usually produce well too close to the equator. But Mexico is mountainous and has significant diurnal temperature swings in this region so wine production could be really good. In fact the oldest vineyard in North America Casa Madero was founded in 1597 in the Valle de Parras.

Mexico City is a bit far south for multiple vineyard visits so I would have to rely on tasting Mexican wine within the city itself. But I did find one wine tour that would take us up to the Querétaro, wine region so I was in. Only problem? It was offered on a Sunday only and we arrived Saturday. I waited until it was booked before I told @benton8tor this information. So arriving late Saturday night/ Sunday morning, we arrived at our hotel at about 1:30 am. We had to meet the wine tour guide at 6:30am the next morning So with limited sleep and no actual knowledge of Mexico City, we made our way to the appointed tour spot the next morning. We had a surprising amount of energy with such little sleep. We stopped first at the Pena de Bernal, the small village with third largest monolith in the world.

The village was stunning and we were grateful for the time to explore but I really wanted to taste the wine. Finally we arrived at Puerta Del Lobo a picturesque winery with its own restaurant. To start we opted for the gourmet lunch. Really showcasing the diversity of Mexican food they started us with a salad of greens, figs, strawberries and candied lemon followed by roast chicken in grape sauce with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. As well they finished with a delicious dessert. All paired with wine of course. I must admit I was disappointed to see it was white until I tasted it of course. It was shocking how good it was Just the right amount of sweetness and acidity (hint of pear?) I almost ordered a second but we had to see the vineyard. Our winemaker is extremely proud of his vineyard and loves wine. It showed. The vineyard is well run and the tasting room we had was open air. They produce red, white, and rose. We tasted both young and aged wines. the aged were my favourite. The whites however were the standout. The wines have a definite Spanish/French influence. Of course I bought a bottle. I wish I had bought more. https://puertadellobo.mx/en/home/

Once we arrived back in Mexico City, I was hooked. Rather annoyingly for @benton8tor, I refused to eat dinner at any place that didn’t serve Mexican wine. It took a while but we finally found the rooftop patio of Downtown Mexico  where we enjoyed Skirt Steak tacos and guacamole but more importantly Mexican wine. It was from Baja so it was a bit bigger but it left me wanting to try more. http://www.downtownmexico.com/meet.html

Both our local cantina and the high end restaurant Quintinil offered Mexican wine from other regions including the Valle de Parras and Durango. The wines from these regions were my favourite. IMG_6149More European in flavour and style. Mexican wine was surprisingly diverse. These wines were medium bodied with diverse flavour profiles.

Our last night we ate at La Casa de la Sirenas. We ordered a Mexican wine Disitinto from Baja that was different. Less big flavour and heavy, it was subtle but still flavourful and complex. It was a perfect finish as it opened me up to the diversity of that region.https://www.lacasadelassirenas.rest/

This trip was indeed a fabulous introduction to Mexican wine. When can I go back?

Why Mexico City?

So I sipped my mezcal complete with oranges and salt flavoured with ground worms or ground crickets, your choice. I chose worms. Good choice.

Last fall @benton8tor and I were talking about the idea of a winter getaway. There were a lot of things for it, escape from the cold and snow, a refresh after the busy Christmas season, our birthdays are in January etc… and lots against, we have a big trip in the Spring, most winter vacays  that are easy access from Winnipeg are to resorts and we just aren’t resort people. In the end, we remembered a chance meeting with a family from Mexico City in Avignon last year and decided to look into it. Sure enough it was affordable, warm, easy to access and promised lots to do. So we booked. Reactions were mixed from:

“Is Mexico City even safe” usually said with an incredulous look and raised eyebrows. For the record, we found Mexico City very safe.

“Can you go to the beach?” answer is no but that was a-okay by us as we didn’t want to go to the beach. I know Mexican beaches are beautiful but there is so much more to the country than beaches and I wanted to see it.

My favorite ” Why would you want to go there?” And I am going to answer that right now but I would be remiss If I didn’t reference the multitude of friends who thought this was a great idea, very exciting and sent us tips of what to do and where to eat. But why did I want to go to Mexico City, well for these reasons:

  1. Mexico City is stunning. It is a beautiful city with each neighbourhood having its own unique character. We stayed in the Centro Historico and it was stunning with its colonial SpanIMG_6549ish architecture, bustling energy and stunning churches. Yes Mexico City has lots of poverty and the gap between rich and poor is very apparent but you should still visit. Roma has a unique funky and slightly edgy vibe with its restaurants and nightlife. Reforma is all shiny new and landscaped and very business friendly.  Polonco is very expensive and ritzy. Condessa is beautiful , green, quiet and full of lovely restaurants and boutiques.and Mezcal bars.  Finally Coyoacan , Frida Kahlo’s area is very boho and laid back. Mexico City is huge at 21 million people and we literally couldn’t see all of it. Our hotel overlooked the zocalo (centre square) and every morning we got to see the army’s ceremony of raising the flag.
  2. The Food. Mexico City is a foodie haven. Its incredible and its own blog post but I will say our tour with Sabores Tours was a great introduction. We tried everything from grasshoppers (better than you’d think) to fresh cheese, salsas of every description, boar, Mexican tapas,mole, and street food along with the Paloma at a 90 year old Cantina. Paloma, our guide assured me is more authentically Mexican that the Margarita which most people order. In all it was a great introduction to Mexican food.https://saboresmexicofoodtours.com/ We tried Tacos el Pastor, quesadillas, guacamole which I usually hate but loved in Mexico, Amaranth blossoms, edible flowers and more.
  3. The drink. Mezcal is the Drink in Mexico. Though all tequila is Mezcal, all mezcal isn’t tequila. Tequila can only be made from blue agave cactus but Mezcal can be made from any cactus. As a result mezcal can be smoky or floral and has a great deal of variety. @benton8tor loves Mezcal so we visited La Clandestina, a mezcal bar. He did a flight and then bought a bottle. I persuaded him to have a drink next door where I could get wine and he could still get mezcal. I have forgottenIMG_6668 the name but they are connected. http://www.milagrito.com/ The place next door specialized in young mezcal. We finished at La Casa Des Sirenas with some excellent Mexican wine. The chef insisted we try mezcal. I don’t tend to drink spirits and tried to get out of it. I lost. So I sipped my mezcal complete with oranges and salt flavoured with ground worms or ground crickets, your choice. I chose worms. Good choice. https://www.lacasadelassirenas.rest/
  4. The patios and the rooftops. Mexico City has amazing sidewalk patios, open cantinas and roof top patios. It also has underappreciated wine. Most well known wine comes from the Baja region which is distinctly Californian in flavour. I preferred  wine from Chihuahua or other northern Mexico regions. It is much more complex in flavour, less syrupy and more reminiscent of Spanish wine. The elevations are higher and soil is rockier which all contribute to a wine style I enjoy. Downtown Mexico has stunning views, great guacamole, and an admirable selection of Mexican wine.  http://www.downtownmexico.com/contacto.html Likewise the  Torres Latino Americano has high views over the city from the 42nd floor while you sip your Mexican wine. http://torrelatinoamericana.com.mx/ The Cantina of La Unica de La Molotina  has great snacks and wine and the patio at the Hosteria la Boto is great for enchiladas. Also for people watching on a pretty tucked away but busy pedestrian corridor.
  5. The parks, museums and shopping. The parks is Mexico City are beautifully maintained with marble walkways and clean. They are a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Like wise Mexico has stunning art, lots of museums and great shopping. Mexico City was built on the ruins of Teotihuacan. They have excavated some amazing aztec art that is viewable from the rooftop patios and from the zocolo. It isn’t hard to fill your day.

Writing this on a cold February in Winnipeg, I wish I was back there. Oh well there’s always next year.

Heart and Soul, A Tale of Provence and Bourgogne

If I could have my way I would live in Burgundy for 6 months each year and Provence the other 6 months. Nourishing both my heart and soul.

Its no secret I love France. I love discovering new regions, exploring the vast country and appreciating the regional differences, but that said I always and I mean always want to return to Provence. I mean I absolutely love Provence, the sound of cicadas, the scent of lavender, the beautiful landscape, the taste of tapenade and of course the wine. So I try to pick a new area of Provence each time to explore. The best of both worlds. A new area and still my favourite place. The Provencal lifestyle is appealing as is the food and well just about everything! Everytime I go to France I don’t feel like I have really been to France if I don’t go to Provence. In fact I have called it it like going home.img_3569

But lately I have wondered about that statement. I do love Provence. I feel comfortable there, I know my way around, I love the food, the feel, the welcome but is is where I feel like home? Maybe but Provence is my heart, I love it more than I can say but home? Home to me in spirit is actually Burgundy (Bourgogne). Bourgogne truly feels like home. Just like visiting London on Tower Bridge felt like all my childhood expectations of London coming true that first time, so does Burgundy represent that for France. For one. wine is not only a source of pride and artistry but also identity. Its complex, boutique and like nothing else you will experience. But as well all my culinary stereotypes of France actually have their regional roots in Burgundy. Boeuf Bourgignon? check, Coq Au Vin? check? Charlois beef? check? escargot? check? and the list goes on. Burgundy with its small and beautiful wine villages, dark wood cozy bistros, less crowded local markets, and stunning countryside is where I feel completely at peace and really feels like I am home.

If I could have my way I would live in Burgundy for 6 months each year and Provence the other 6 months. Nourishing both my heart and soul. So if you want to find out just why I love these areas so much here are my tips to make the most of your visit

Provence:

  1. Try the wine. Provence is vastly underrated for its wine. The roses are well known for a reason but the reds are often overlooked.  Also it is important to note, although part of Provence, many of the wine appellations actually belong to the Southern Rhone AOCS including. Luberon, Ventoux and the famous Chateauneuf du Pape. Make sure to try Chateau de la Gardine http://www.gardine.com/en/ and Domaine Le Galantin http://www.le-galantin.com/
  2. Visit the markets: L’isle sur La Sorgue is my favourite, but @benton8tor prefers the less busy but still great Roussillon and Cadanet markets.
  3. See the lavender fields. Head up to Sault for some truly stunning views and scents!
  4. Try the local food. As I mentioned before Avignon Gourmet tours introduced us to some of Provence’s best food from tapenade to semi dried tomatoes to mussels to pastries I was amazed. Also try Bouillabaisse in Marseille! https://www.avignongourmetours.com/
  5. Relax and enjoy. There is lots to see in Provence for sure but some of the best fun is to be a had a local patio, sipping on rose or another wine, just people watching. Provence is great to unwind, relax, and enjoy.

Burgundy

  1. Go to Beaune the heart of wine county. Stay at the Henri II near the centre. The hotel is beautiful, the service spectacular and it is in walking distance to most sites.  http://www.henry2.fr/UK/index.php
  2. Visit the Marches Au Vin. Understanding Burgundy wine can be intimidating and the Marches Au Vin offers tastings at a reasonable price. The tastings are self guided but their is a roving sommelier and it is a great introduction to understanding Burgundy wines http://www.marcheauxvins.com/?lang=en
  3. Go to the villages in the Cote D’Or surrounding Burgundy. Have a 5 course decadent lunch at Olivier Le Flaive paired with some truly amazing wines! https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/
  4. Enjoy the food! Burgundy is a culinary paradise. The first meal we had in Beaune was at a local spot where my mom ordered the ham sandwich and salad. Both the sandwich and salad was a rather large portion and she didn’t think she could eat it all. We start eating and chatting but my mom is rather silent. She scarfed down her salad and sandwich in record time. ” I couldn’t help it” she says as we sat staring  at her  ” it was just so good.” I rolled my eyes, how could a sandwich be that good? Fast forward 4 years and @benton8tor and I are at the Au Carnot, a beautiful bistro in Beaune and I had a ham sandwich that was that good. http://www.brasserielecarnot.com/ But so was the gazpacho and the beef tartare. Same could be said for the food at LA Grilladine, with its pate, beef and escargot. https://lagrilladine.fr/spip.php?article2 Beaune is a foodie and wine haven.
  5. Check out the markets full of amazing food, spices and local goods with considerable less tourists.

If you are going to Provence or Burgundy, you can’t go wrong, after all they are the heart and soul of France (Just don’t tell Bordeaux)

Do You Vacation or Do You Travel?

It was a little door in an alley under a bridge that led you into a small room with six tables and an open home style kitchen. 2 women were cooking and we ate the most amazing food, a black eyed pea salad, and gizzards in some unidentifiable but delicious sauce paired with amazing wine.

Do you vacation or do you travel? Is there a difference? Is one better than the other? What is the difference? These are questions that @benton8tor and I have been chatting about recently it he gave me the idea for this post. Though we are not hardcore travelers, which is a whole other style (think Bourdain or homestays) we definitely fall into the travel rather than vacation category. Travelers tend to eschew chain restaurants, resorts, theme parks etc… Vacationers tend to seek out vacation friendly activities such as beaches, boats, swim up bars, theme parks, and ready made tours and food. Some people can fall into  both categories. One is no better than the other but it is important to think about what you want before you travel so you can get the most our of your trip.

Vacation Centric Advantages

If you are on vacation you no doubt want to relax, disconnect from your everyday and have fun. That might include being taken care of or going to a relaxing vacation spot so here are the advantages

Vacationing can be much more  stress free than regular travel. Whether it is to a cabin on the lake, an all inclusive resort or a theme park, vacationers usually will have there vacation mapped out for them. Little planning means more time to relax and have fun. All inclusives in particular offer you a choice of restaurants, usually child minding, choice of activities, pre arranged ours at your choice (with extra cost), non stop drinks, beautiful beaches and pools, and staff to meet your every need. It can be a great way to relax. Likewise cabin vacations come without the non stop service but provide great scenery, outdoor activities, and a calming atmosphere. My friend Jeff’s main interest are scuba diving, deep sea fishing and swimming so it is ideal for them to book all inclusives as that will ensure they get the most out of their vacation. Also for picky eaters, all inclusives can often be easier for meal times. This type of vacation can be suited for families, stressed out, people from northern climes looking for some sun and a winter break, and first timers.

 

Vacationers are not limited to all inclusives. Many like to travel to well known ‘safe’ locations such as London, Paris, New York, LA, Vancouver (shudder), Australia, Singapore etc… Once there they book city tours, see the main sights, eat at tourist centric restaurants a but do not venture off the main path. Again this is a good option if you haven’t traveled much as it keeps culture shock to a minimum. Also some of the mainstream sights are truly amazing such as the Tower of London. Its a great way to dip your toe into travel and much less stress free. You can also book tours and a guide will lead you through each step and book the hotels for you!

Cruises would fall into this category but in all honesty I don’t know enough or care enough to write about them. That does not mean you should write them off however. My Uncle has a fear of flying so cruises offer him a great alternative to still be able to travel.

Disadvantages

Those who prefer vacations may be mad at me for saying this but all inclusives or sticking to tourist hot spots, you run the risk of having limited to no contact with the local culture. Pre arranged tours often give you the ‘tourist experience” not the local one. You are extremely unlikely to eat where the locals eat, come into contact with actual local customs and buy actual local goods. You are even less likely to meet locals so you leave your destination with out really experiencing the country that you visited. At my last wine club my friend Caprice was relating the time she tried paella in Mexico. My friend Aurora  who is from Spain informed her she didn’t really have paella. Aurora is right. Its not to say that Caprice’s paella wasn’t tasty  but it wouldn’t be authentic, for that you have to go to Spain, in particular Valencia. When @Benton8tor and I went to Kansas City we were told for true authentic BBQ, we would need to go to Slaps. We were also told Q 39 provided great BBQ but in a much more upscale setting with additional food options.img_8758 For some super strange reason @benton8tor got completely out of character and decided he wanted to go to Q39 as he though Slaps looked a little too rustic. I dug in my heels and we went to Slaps. Not only was the BBQ amazing but @benton8tor was over the  moon at how awesome it was. https://slapsbbqkc.com/ We did try Q39 as well and it was really good but Slaps looked and tasted more authentic and it was completely full of locals. Likewise visiting small out of the way wineries in Provence where locals show up to fill up their wine? A great way to experience Provence and its wines that you may be less likely to find in a city or on a tour.

 

Travel Advantages

Well the obvious one is that you are way way more likely to experience local culture if you travel rather than vacation for the reasons I just stated above. But you will likely get a richer experience and gain levels of understanding that really help you appreciate different cultures. We took a food tour in Porto that promised authentic food in places the locals frequented. It was one of the best tours I ever took. We tried so many local spots all over Porto, down little alleys and under bridges. 174In fact our last stop didn’t even look like a restaurant at all ( i am still not sure it was) It was a little door in an alley under a bridge that led you into a small room with six tables and an open home style kitchen. 2 women were cooking and we ate the most amazing food, a black eyed pea salad, and gizzards in some unidentifiable but delicious sauce paired with amazing wine. We met a German/ American couple on the tour and we stayed on well after the tour ended to swap expediences and give suggestions. It was amazing. Likewise in Avignon, we booked a food tour to take us where locals eat. And boy oh boy, did Avignon Gourmet Tours knock it out of the park. @benton8tor who previously wasn’t sure if he like Provencal food became an instant convert. https://www.avignongourmetours.com/ Likewise travel lets you really experience local markets. The local market in Cadenet provided us with 2 grocery bags of food at a cost of 12 euro for delicious dinner that night.

But culture is more than food, @benton8tor’s cousin Claire has provided me with my best London experiences from being fresh off the plane, she had us at an 11th century coaching inn used by pilgrims. Furthermore she introduced us to actual local pubs not owned by corporations, Chinese food in China town. She knows the local shops and can advise the best villages for local tea. Having a family members a  local. Gold Having a family member like Claire, Priceless.

Likewise when you travel you are more likely to experience local culture. Cut to Ireland waling into a pub in the middle of a sing song, In Charlottetown PEI, a local musician session, and a way to avoid tolls allowed us to discover the village of Mende which is truly stunning as is Askham UK.8075_10151083357120140_432180666_n

@benton8tor and I have had the best experiences when haven’t planned at all This past summer @benton8tor and I walked to a local winery from our gite in Roquemare. We were greeted by the son riding a tractor. He quickly called his dad who showed up with four friends, jumped out of the car led us into a large shed and set up a beautiful tasting table and provided us with some of our favourite wines and showed us a video of his horse plowing the fields and the wine he named after her. http://www.domaine-de-la-barotte.com/ Likewise , @benton8tor and I dropped off my parents in Toulouse and we decided at the spur if the moment to visit Auch, a truly beautiful town in Southern France. We had an Armagnac tasting at local shop with the sweetest most enthusiastic proprietor ever. 10387455_10152536476050140_2615767293228875328_nWe then set out somewhere in the French country side where the GPS stopped worked and we relied on signposts to take us to Domaine de Grande Comte which looks like an ordinary farmyard but opens up to a state of the art tasting room with an amazing host. You are unlikely to find that on a tour. https://www.domaine-grand-comte.fr/

Traveler Disadvantages

Travelling is expensive. You will not have a good idea of all your expensive beforehand and they can creep up on you so be prepared and set a budget.

Traveling can be stressful. Planning take more time and research, meals can be disappointing, experiences lacking and it can take more time. I thought I would love Italy, turns out I didn’t but is that because I didn’t book tours?  Did not trust experienced guides? did not go to the coast? If I had actually booked tours in Tuscany my experience might have been completely different. Travel rather than vacationing runs the risk of bad experiences being more likely so it can write off an entire country unfairly. Also expectations can be unrealistic, you may want a vacation like experience but travel is a risk, can be very disappointing. @benton8tor and I so sure we were going to love Shropshire in England. We ended up in Telford which is a collection of towns and very modern and sorry Telford, but very very boring. It was a disappointment. We finally ended up in Shifnel which redeemed Shropshire but with travel, you just never really know because try as you might, you aren’t an expert.

Culture Shock can be real issue traveling. Food and local customs if you are not familiar can overwhelm your experience and sour it. When traveling to Cameroon, the food was so different, and I didn’t stay at a hotel but at my guest house I had a guard with machete and the poverty we saw was heartbreaking. I loved Cameroon but it was very hard and the culture shock was immense.

So know what you want out of your experience and plan accordingly. Either way you will have a great time!

Happy New Year! Tips for Travel and Wine to Make 2019 Shine

Turns out Vienna has a thriving wine industry. Croatia’s is well known but not Bosnia where I am the most excited about visiting a Monastery that produces wine.

2019 is almost here and lots of us are making resolutions. Well not me but if I did make a resolution, it would be the same as always. Travel more, be open to new expediences, try new things.  I tend to get pretty smug thinking I do this well but I realized as much as I travel and as many new experiences as I have, I still need to stretch a bit more so this year, my mom-has a major birthday so to celebrate we are heading out on a European vacation but not to the usual spots. So here are my tips to get the most out of travel and wine drinking for 2019.

  1. Travel to different places. I love France. I would happily go to a new location in France every year (some say I do) but this year I need to give other countries a try. So look out Mexico, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Austria! Talking to others and finding out what they like, doing online research and sometimes just winging it! There are very few places in the world I don’t want to travel so it makes sense to travel to as many places as possible as you can. Turns out Vienna has a thriving wine industry. Croatia’s is well known but not Bosnia where I am the most excited about visiting a Monastery that produces wine. scotland 2.jpg
  2. Speaking of wine, It is also good to stretch your interests. I have my wine club to thank for that. While I am still likely prefer old world wines, I can still expand my palate by drinking more Spanish and Portuguese wines as well as trying Romanian, Moldova, Croatia etc… Maybe even the occasional white!
  3. Make a budget. People tend to fall into 2 categories, always saving or always spending. Not going to judge either as do what works for you. I however find the middle ground helpful. I like to figure out where to go and then try to make a budget to fit it. Sometimes we have to give things up, other times more is possible. Trivago, Kayak, and trip advisor can be your best friends. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/  https://www.ca.kayak.com/  https://www.trivago.ca/ Many love Air B and B. It is a good option but not always that much cheaper than a hotel so do your research if amenities are important. They are to me so I prefer hotels.
  4. Make sure your travel companions are compatible. We have dear friends who love to travel and always ask us to travel with them. They however like to stick to their Canadian eating habits ( you may remember them from the no a pasta in Rome blog) go to the beach and water based activities. We however like to experience more local cuisine, try local activities so we probably wouldn’t travel well together. I travel very well with @benton8tor. We push each other out of our boundaries and I get great stories like when he falls in the lake. But don’t be afraid to go it alone. You will meet lots of people and it can be exhilarating!
  5. Expect the unexpected. Who knew the Azores grows tea and pineapples? That Missouri has a thriving and old wine industry? That England has amazing sparkling wine? Well I do now! SO if you have an interest, research it? Check travel sites like culture trip, viator and wikitravel. seek out travel blogs. you’ll be amazed at what you find. https://theculturetrip.com/ 

So what will 2019 bring for you?

https://wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page

https://www.viator.com/

Perfect Wine for the Holidays

Sparkling is a great start to an evening. It ranges from crisp and dry to buttery and rich but is never heavy so it wont overshadow the food choices.

The holiday season is rife with holiday events, full of food, fun and wine. With all the events and food available, how do you pick the perfect wine? The short answer? You don’t. Holiday events are often full of appetizers, snacks and desserts. These events can prove difficult to pair as the flavors often vary from light (veggies and dip) to flavorful (cheese, dips, etc…) So here are my recommendations for wines for the holiday season.

1.. Go with sparkling. The holidays are festive and what says celebration more than a bottle of sparkling? Nothing that’s what. Sparkling is a great start to an evening. It ranges from crisp and dry to buttery and rich but is never heavy so it wont overshadow the food choices.

2. Drinkable wines. Forgo that perfect pairing. Italian wines are notorious for being paired with food to really bring out the flavors so skip wines of that nature. As well forgo your big purchase Burgundy or Bordeaux and save the Napa Valley special for another occasion. Find a wine that is easy, approachable and can be enjoyed on its own. Sandhill and Gray Monk from Canada have very complex high end wines but also easy drinking wines that are good choices as a re in Beaujolais crus.. https://www.sandhillwines.ca/ Avoid big wines such as Australian Shiraz and buttery chardonnays from the US. Easy drinking wines wont get lost in food nor overshadow them. http://www.graymonk.com/

3. For the big day, see my Thanksgiving post as the same rules apply.

4. Still avoid wines that are just bad. Easy drinking doesn’t mean cheap or a wine that simply says red wine. For me this means avoiding Apothic Red or Copper Moon no matter how prevalent they are. Remember wine is subjective so if you like them, drink away. Just don’t confuse easy drinking with cheap or popular.thumbnail_IMG_5619

For extra ideas check out the article from Food and Wine

https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/big-bottle-party-wines-best-champagne

So this holiday season, get together, enjoy your wine and plan your next trip. Enjoy!!!

 

The Provencal Food and Wine Road

The end result is to try wine, lots of it, remember to eat the fabulous food and just enjoy, after all you are in Provence.

This past summer, We visited Provence. I have mentioned before that my cousin Christopher joined us. He was very excited to do a wine tour. Which by the way, I strongly recommend as Provence has some excellent tours. I however still love my version of a wine tour which involves screaming stop or arret at @benton8tor as he drives through villages and I spot a sign that says degustation. Why I like this rather adhoc method as that you can find some really small bouquet vineyards or some larger ones but it will definitely be interesting.  I mean @benton8tor and I found a winery within walking distance from our Gite so we walked over for a tasting. The son greeted us from his tractor to tell us his parents weren’t home yet. He called his dad to get him to come home for a tasting. I was starting to feel guilty, but we persevered. Minutes later a  car full of men careened into the yard and one jumped out. It was the proprietor and he greeted us warmly. We tasted several wines and the roses and reds were particularly good in this Lirac region. He showed us a video of his horse Pearl sowing the fields and named his wine after her. He set up a tasting on a makeshift table in a shed but pulled out beautiful glassware and wine on this rustic setting. We bought 3 bottles. So well I love wine tours, you are unlikely to have an experience like this on a wine tour. So with this in mind, I decided we’d stick to the shout and stop method when introducing  Christopher to wine.

But wine also needs good food so our first stop was at Cafe de L’ Ormeau in Lourmarin.  Lourmarin is a foodie haven so you are unlikely to find bad food anywhere. Cafe de l”ormeau has a beautiful side patio with typical regional dishes. In particular, their wine is also local and airs exceptionally well. The Strawberry panacotta dessert was out of this world. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g641880-d1446666-Reviews-Cafe_de_l_Ormeau-Lourmarin_Luberon_Vaucluse_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Azur.htmlNow that we had eaten, wine tasting could commence and our first stop was just outside Lourmarin at Chateau Fontvert which quickly became one of my favourite wines of the trip. They had an excellent selection of reds with peppery berry fruit flavors and delightful whites. My only regret is that we didn’t buy more.https://www.fontvert.com/?lang=en

 

Next stop was the Domaine Des Peyre just outside of Gordes. Christopher and I were the only 2 that tasted but again well worth it.  We finished off with dinner in Bonnieux at the P’tit Coin where I had an amazing curried fish and the rest of the table seemed taken with the tuna tartare. http://www.unptitcoindecuisine.fr/un_ptit_coin_de_cuisine/Bienvenue.html The views are as spectacular as the food and wine.http://www.domainedespeyre.com/en/home/

The next day we focused on the infamous Chateauneuf du Pape are. Chateau De Gardine was an amazing spot outside of town close tot he bridge that links to Roquemare.http://www.gardine.com/en/ this Chateau featured the old key to the pope’s cellar. The tastings are in a traditional French cellar and set on beautiful grounds. The wines were out of this wold.  Our favourite was the Rasteau with a Grenache Syrah mix. Christopher, who before this had largely consumed wine from BC only was blown away.

 

Our final stop was Chateau Fines Roches. The hotel has a vineyard and winery as well and it provided me with my absolute favourite wine of the trip. The one that @benton8tor and I have saved for our tradition of drinking wine before our next trip. Jas De Bressy.  http://www.chateauneuf.dk/en/cdpen12.htm

But for those who want to try wines without committing to a tour, L’Ampelos in Avignon is a wine bar with an extensive tasting menu. Sure we stopped in to escape from the rain but we stayed long after the sun had reappeared. L’Ampelos is the kind of wine bar where you can easily while a day away. http://www.lampelos.fr/

The end result is to try wine, lots of it, remember to eat the fabulous food and just enjoy, after all you are in Provence.

5 Misunderstood Wines

So I try, taste and travel in search of good no great wines, even those that are misunderstood.

Wine, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a favourite. As you should, however often when people try a wine that they like such as an Argentina Malbec or a Pinot Gris,  that is what they will stick with eschewing other wines in favour of a favourite. I am guilty of this myself, always looking for the French wine on the menu. In fact if you ask anyone of my friends, they will tell you to buy me a French wine. This is a problem as there are several French wines, I don’t actually like (hint Loire valley reds). My reason for drinking French wine is not only do I like the complexity of many of the wines, I also understand the regions and grapes enough to know what I am likely to enjoy. However I can miss out on really good wines if I am not open to trying new ones.  So I try, taste and travel in search of good no great wines, even those that are misunderstood. With that in mod, I present the 5 misunderstood wines.

1. Port and Sherry: Port and Sherry have very complicated reputations.Both are in fact a fortified wine.  Last night, @benton8tor and I were at a dinner party and one of the couples had recently returned from Porto. Mat was explaining the amazing port tastings he had tried and a good 3/4 of the table were not impressed. “I don’t like port” was the general consensus

. Well I for one love port but that mainly due to port tastings where I was able to distinguish between tawny ports, white ports and ruby ports. Ports as @benton8tor points out are meant to be enjoyed with highly flavoured cheese,  chocolates, or fruit or for a sipping after a rich meal. Ports are very different so try them and see if in fact there is a port you like. Sherrys much like Ports have a bit of a maligned reputation thanks to Harvey’s Bristol cream. Sherry can be light or dark and vary in sweetness from dry to quite sweet. Sherry like Port are meant to be sipped and pair especially well with cheese and various tapas. Some of the best producers of Sherry and Port include:

https://kopke1638.com/

http://www.sandeman.com/

https://www.tiopepe.co.uk/

2. Merlot: Thanks to the movie Sideways, Merlot has suffered in reputation. Last winter on a trip to San Diego’s wine country, One of the wine makers told us that people are still reluctant to try it. Granted Merlot grown in a warm climate on clay soils and badly handled can indeed bIMG_4518e sticky or syrupy. But in fact, Merlot depending on the region it is grown will vary in flavour. Merlots from Bordeaux can be some of the most highly acclaimed wines in the world, fully of complexity, balance, with noes of leather and tobacco. @benton8tor rightly describes Merlot from Bordeaux as a workhorse wine, suitable for sipping, enjoying with a meal or for cooking. Give Merlot a second chance and try them from various regions.

3. Roses: Again in California last winter the winemakers producing roses are still upset with Ernst and Julio Gallo for sullying the reputation of roses with their white Zinfandels. Those white zinfendals are cloyingly sweet and quite honestly somewhat unpalatable. They have unfortunately sullied the reputation of roses. Roses are made all around the world and most famously associated with Provence, France. Provencal Roses are usually made vithumbnail_IMG_3429a direct press allowing for a very short contact period with the grape skins resulting is a light pink hue with floral finishes and dry mouth feel which produces an exquisite wine. As well Roses made via saignee are likely to be a little more robust in colour and flavour but most likely dry. On a hot summer day nothing beats a delightful rose.

4. Sweet wines: This includes late harvest or ice wines. Again these wines are meant to be paired with cheese or sipped after a meal. Late harvest wines are wines that have been left on the vine and concentrated in flavour. Many late harvest wines are infected with botrytis which ensures a honey flavour. Ice wines are grapes that have been frozen and very concentrated in flavour. Canada shines in ice wine production and countries like France, Argentina and Germany produce amazing late harvest wines. Bordeaux in particular is famous for its delicious late harvest Sauternes.

5. Lesser known wine regions: When traveling, I often check for wineries even in the most unexpected regions. For instance England  and Slovakia produce some amazing sparkling wines, Missouri some amazing reds, and Lebanon some renowned wines in the French style. Even if you think, the country doesn’t produce wine, look into it, try it and you will be surprised. Bulgaria and Uruguay produce some of my favourite reds.

At the end of the day my advice is always to try and keep trying because you just never know.

Picking the Perfect Thanksgiving Wine

Yes I am recommending British wines but check reviews first. Chapel Down Winery is one I would recommend.

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada so it is a good time to reflect on all I am thankful for. And apart from the very popular pets, friends, family, career, and health, I am very thankful for wine and travel. I am thankful for all the support I got to study and eventually pass my French Wine Scholar Guild exam. I am even more thankful that people read my blog. And with that in mind, I though I would focus this week’s blog on picking the perfect Thanksgiving wine.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s. I wouldn’t say my family was particularly wine focused. In fact the only one who drank it was my grandmother and she preferred Baby Duck (shudder). Side note: to Leopold’s Tavern in Winnipeg, if you are going to put wine on your menu, please ensure its drinkable. I know you like the dive bar concept and I am sure you think Baby Duck is retro. Here’s the fact, Baby Duck may be retro but it is in fact believed to be universally disgusting, so offer wine that is palatable. However back to the story, in our family it was assumed that red wine was for red or darker meats and white was for fish or chicken. I am here to tell you that is not true.

While it isn’t as simple as picking your favourite wine or a label you like, it is not complicated either. If you are having turkey, chicken, or ham, they are lighter meats. Big bold reds or buttery whites would not pair well. The reds would overwhelm and the buttery whites would add rich on top of rich. So if you are having those meats look for wines high in acid and fruit forward. This means looking for cooler climate wine. France’s Northern Rthumbnail_IMG_4982hone, Bourgogne, Jura, Savoie , and Loire regions would all produce reds that would pair well. Bourgogne is infamous for its pinot noir and pinot noirs in a cool climate or high elevation would be a perfect pairing. So explore BC’s Okanagan Valley. Quails Gate, Indigenous Winery, Sandhill, Summerhill, and Cedar Creek all have excellent pinot noirs.https://www.sandhillwines.ca/ Austrian and English reds would also pair well. As would wine from Spain’s Rioja region, Portugal’s Douro Valley, and Tuscan wines from Italy.

If you are set on white I would recommend looking for higher acid wines, again Loire Valley, Alsace, Savoie, and Northern Rhone wines are ideal. Especially the Vioginer from the Norther Rhone. Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, and Rieslings will also pair well. So again focus on B.C.’s Okaganon, Norther California, German, Austrian, British and Northern Italian wines. thumbnail_IMG_2078  Yes I am recommending British wines but check reviews first. Chapel Down Winery is one I would recommend. https://www.chapeldown.com/

If you are going for a heavier meat such as goose, venison or beef, look for the heartier reds with bolder flavours. This is the time for Bordeauxs. Languedocs, Southern Rhone wines from France. Or the Southern Californian pinot noirs. Southern Spain, Southern Portugal, Barolo form Italy,  Croatian Wine and of course the new would carmeneres, and malbecs from Chile or Argentina. And if you are dead set on Australian, now is the time. Likewise the saviginon blancs from New Zealand or Buttery Chardonnays would work though not as well.

If you need a cocktail to start, try any variation of Sparkling Wine cocktails. Add in your favorite liqueurs such as creme de cassis which will give it the berry flavour that ties in nicely with cranberry sauce. Or add any berry, cognac, or citrus flavoring you like. Or keep it as plain old sparkling wine and it will still be delicious.

And when it comes time for dessert, late harvest wines are probably your best bet. Summerhill’s late harvest Erenfelser has the nutty flavours that pair well https://www.summerhill.bc.ca/ as does Rollingdale’s Fort. http://www.rollingdale.ca/ In fact BC’s wineries probably do some of the best late harvest wines available. As well any of Borduax’s Sauterenes and the Rhone’s Beaume de Venise would also do well. Medium bodied or dry sherry’s would also work exceptionally well. Ports though I love them and icewines wines are better paired with cheeses than sweet desserts.

If you still aren’t sure, visit the local wine store and ask their advice. Be sure to tell them what you like and and what you don’t. They will be more than happy to help. In Winnipeg ,I favour Di Nardi, Kenaston Wine Market, The Winehouse, and Banville and Jones. They are all excellent at recommending wines.

http://www.banvilleandjones.com/

http://www.piazzadenardi.com/wine/

https://kenastonwine.com/

http://ticoswinehouse.com/index.php/about.html

Whatever you pick for your Thanksgiving meal, I hope you enjoy it as life is far too short not to have a wine you enjoy.

The Canadian Wine Road Part 2

Their standout by far was a late harvest Merlot that had an accidental (read ancestral method) second fermentation which result in a slight effervescent that was truly amazing to drink.

Make no mistake, Kelowna has lots to offer. Lakes, water acclivities, skiing, snowboarding, hiking and golf. But we were there for the wine. So for day 2 of the Winnipeg Wine Group’s Kelowna field trip, Louise had booked us a wine tour with Apres Wine tours. Apres was amazing, not only did they ask our interests so they could customize our tour, they added a fifth (!) stop for us so we could visit the Indigenous Winery which turned out to be a favourite.https://www.kelownacustomwinetours.com/ So on day 2, we some how managed to all be up early, breakfasted and ready to go. In fact that night when I called @benton8tor he asked how the day was going. “Fine” I tell him ” I was up at 6:40 and went for a walk ” at which point he told me I was turning into my dad. Ha turning.

Anyhow at 10:40 sharp were were ready to board the van. We started our morning at Rollingdale Winery in East Kelowna. Rollingdale is a completely organic winery with an amazing array of wines to choose from and for our tasting we could choose 6.

They unlike most other Okanagan wineries excel more at reds than whites but their standout by far was a late harvest Merlot that had an accidental (read ancestral method) second fermentation which result in a slight effervescent that was truly amazing to drink. I am still upset read so so mad that I didn’t buy a bottle. It was that unique. http://www.rollingdale.ca/

From there we made our way to Quails Gate. One of the best known BC wineries for a reason. Quails Gate occupies some beautiful real estate on the Okanagan and their wines live up to the hype. We were treated to a one hour tour with Peter who took us through the vineyards, through the wine making process to a tasting. The tasting was unique in that he paired wines with cheese, lemon and sausage so that we could fully understand the wine and how the flavour changes. Again, the Pinot Noir was a standout but surprisingly the Chardonnay was a standout for even the red wine drinkers.

https://www.quailsgate.com/

 

From there we headed to Mount Boucherie, which was fascinating for its use of unusual grape varieties. thumbnail_IMG_5063Here again, they matched the tastings to our individual interest and it made for a much more interesting tasting. https://mtboucherie.com/

Finally we made our way to the Indigenous Winery. This winery features Indigenous owners and their son is the wine maker. Again we received a beautiful tasting of five wines , complete with explanations. Once again there was a focus on the Foch grape but its origin was fully explained as it is a North American/ European cross combining earthiness with more fruit forward flavours. Surprisingly however, the whites were my favourite.thumbnail_IMG_5065 Adrianna, our fellow wine clubber who just enrolled in her Social Work Masters program bought a special wine that she is saving for her graduation. https://indigenousworldwinery.com/

We ended the day at Sandhill, which I am sure would have been a great experience if anyone but Alex had been our server. Alex was either hungover or super bitter. Her descriptions included “It the Okanagan in a glass” and “its a Bordeaux blend”. When asked what does that mean, or what gropesare in the blend, she responded by repeating the same phrase. I am sure Sandhill has some amazing wines, and if she like every other winery had taken the time to ask what we liked and customized, I am sure I would be singing their praises. In fact other groups seemed to be having a great time with engaged hosts. If nothing else, she has contributed the phrase “pulling an  Alex” to our wine clubs lexicon. thumbnail_IMG_5069Sorry Sandhill, I know your wines and other staff are good. https://www.sandhillwines.ca/

We finished the day at the highly recommended Bouchon Bistro, a little taste of heaven (ahem France) close to the lake. I can only rave about the Toulouse cassoulet and the extrodinary cheese plate but we were all ecstatic with our meals from French onion soup, to escargot, to steak tartare to fish. Everyone loved it. It was complimented by Beaujolais crus and some delicious banyuls and Beaume de Venise desert wines. http://bouchonsbistro.com/

The next day we reluctantly had to leave our new found wine haven. and return to reality. the way home was a little stressful as a delay in flights caused a little concern if we’d make our connecting flight. It was at this point we learned that Louise will make sure we have all the gate information, Caprice will wait to board until everyone there, and I will sprint to the gate, board the plane first and then text everyone to tell them at least I am on board. Somehow they all still talk to me and we all made it home. Now to plan the next one!!!