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:




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.

Port or Sherry? Porto or Jerez ? Both Please

But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.

Most people if not everyone know, i love wine, in particular reds from France (especially the Rhone) so it should come as no surprise that I love port and sherry, fortified wines and in the case of port sweet. Or maybe it does. Certainly the majority of wine drinkers I know detest both port and sherry. But that is not the fault or either port or sherry. Rather I lay the blame on Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry or a ruby port, cheap, smelling and tasting like cough syrup. I can’t blame them. However this is prevalent in Canada, In Europe it is much more common to understand the diversity of both port and sherry.

It took me a long time to drink either. My first foray was Christmas 1998. @benton8tors parents served me sherry, Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry. I brought champagne every Christmas since then. However, I knew in the back of my mind, there had to be more o sherry but I was to preoccupied with discovering red wines and champagnes to find out.

Fast forward to 2015 and a wine store in England hosting a port tasting. My introduction into good ports! Fast forward 1 more year and @benon8tor and i are in Seville, about an hours drive from Jerez de la Frontera,  the sherry capital and home of its production. IMG_4214Now @benton8tor really likes sherry so he wanted to do tastings, try the different styles, and really discover sherry. I wanted to eat tapas and sit rooftop and poolside at our hotel overlooking the cathedral but unfortunately it isn’t all about me so I wen with good grace to Jerez. Our first stop was Tio Pepe http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/. Tio Pepe is omnipresent in Spain when it comes to sherry.. Bonus points they offered a tapas and sherry tour! But it didn’t start for another hour and a half. The staff at Tio Pepe were very helpful and suggested waiting in a cafe on the square. Which turned out to be a great idea. Southern Spain in August is very very hot and Jerez is fairly arid so a cafe with some petty views an a tortilla (Spanish omelet) was a perfect was to kill some time. Once again, the service was awesome.

The Tio Pepe tour was good, informative but a little corporate. However the sherry is awesome.We had 4 tastings, a ranging from dry to sweet and all made differently as you’d expect. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t understand the diversity of sherry and the nuances. How could a dry sherry still have a taste of hazelnut and 20160828_195228sweetness without being sweet. Why did the sweet sherry remind me of Christmas cake and not just pure sugar? It definitely awoke a taste for sherry. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time n Jerez but I want to go back and visit and taste at the smaller sherry bodegas. However that night back in Seville (one of the most stunningly beautiful cities) we did sit poolside and enjoy a rebujito, a refreshing sherry cocktail made with dry sherry, sprite or tonic water and mint.

With a love of sherry now certain, it was time to conquer Port and to do that you best go to Porto. Which is what we did. Porto is the epicenter of Port production. In fact the entire side of the river bank is depicted to port houses. We were lucky enough in Porto to visit Port houses (Kopke and Sandeman) do part tastings at the Wine Box http://www.thewineboxporto.com/ ( a must do) and tour the Douro Valley, home of port production and fabulous views.

Port is diverse as Sherry, if not more so. The menu at the Kopke Port house https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g580268-d6965338-Reviews-Casa_Kopke-Vila_Nova_de_Gaia_Porto_District_Northern_Portugal.html showcases just how diverse port is, you can have white port, rose, ruby and tawny, all aged differently , made with different levels of sweetness. Despite all the tastings, I still found myself drawn to the tawny ports, aged ones in particular. the nutty, Christmas cake, dried fruit taste of an aged tawny port with a blue cheese? out of this world!

Sandeman is as omnipresent in Porto as Tio Pepe is in Jerez. http://www.sandeman.com/ That said, they have amazing port offerings and some of the best views of the Douro Valley. In fact to truly appreciate port, tour the Douro Valley with its terraced vineyards, beautiful river and some of the most relaxed and petty settings to sip your port, smell the wisteria and watch the world go by.

Both Porto and Southern Spain are often overlooked as tourist destinations in favour of there more famous regions. Spain has Barcelona and Malaga, Portugal has Lisbon and Madeira. But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.220

Top 5 Alcohol Tours (non wine)

I have had many amazing non wine related travel experiences. Most of them involve musicals or food. Probably a lot of shopping (and pottery).And meeting amazing people. But sometimes they involve other forms of alcohol

Wines tours and tasting are my favourite part of travel. Recently I booked a trip to Portugal concentrating on Porto for its location in the Douro Valley wine producing region and for its Port Houses. Many of my friends who are Portuguese or have been to Portugal have lovingly described Lisbon, or Lagos or the beaches. I meet it with a blank stare and silent judgement, it simply never occurred to me to look elsewhere, wine is where it is at ( well wine and France, I did try to see if I could sneak in a quick visit to France but alas I will have to wait to next time. Next time better come pretty quickly). But as my friends are somewhat  wrongly quick to remind me, there is more to drink than wine. And it is true, I have had many  amazing non wine related travel experiences. Most of them involve musicals or food. Probably a lot of shopping (and pottery).And meeting amazing people.  But sometimes they involve other forms of alcohol. So I have put together my top 5 favorite alcohol tours (non wine).

5. The English Whisky Distillery Norfolk. https://www.englishwhisky.co.uk/. Located in Roudham Nofolk, United Kingdom, this  independent whisky distillery is one of 2 independents left in England.img_4810 We were visiting family back in 2015 and as anyone who has stayed an extended time with family, knows just how important a drink can be, so one day we ventured out and literally stumbled upon the English Whisky Company. We got a private tour complete with four tastings. I am not much of a whisky connoisseur so when I say I could actually drink it, that is a glowing review!!! That said I definitely preferred the Bailey’s Irish Creamesque Norfolk Nog. It was delicious! the staff were friendly and passionate about their product. It has a lovely gift shop as well. I bought my Scotch loving friend a whisky embossed bib for his baby. So thoughtful. @benton8tor actually bought him whisky and other more appropriate gifts.

4. Guinness Tour Dublin Ireland.https://www.guinness.com/en-us/                                  Guinness is synonymous with Ireland and should you find yourself in Dublin is well worth the visit. In fact I would recommend it as my top tour in Ireland, whether you like Guinness or not.

@benton8tor with his perfect pint

I recommended it to my own parents when they visited Dublin and my beer hating mother took the tour 2 years ago and adored it! My dad adored it too and not just because he got my moms extra Guinness. The Guinness tour is fairly affordable at 20 euros a person. Upon entering at the St James gate location in Dublin, you will view the 9000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed. Dispelling the popular myth, Guinness is not made from water from the Liffey river but rather from the Wicklow mountains. The tour takes you through the beer making process and allows you to taste the roasted barley that gives Guinness its distinct flavour. But the favourite moment in when you get instructed as to how to pull the perfect pint of Guinness. After that you enjoy your perfect pint in the top floor cafe with 360 stunning views of Dublin. Fun fact, despite its filling flavour, Guinness has slightly fewer calories than skim milk or orange juice.

3. Tio Pepe Sherry Jerez, Spain http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/  Tio Pepe is one of the largest Sherry producers in Spain.

The big barrel is meant to represent Jesus

I was hoping to try many of the smaller producers as well but alas, we ran out of time. However Tio Pepe is a lovely introduction to Shimg_4217erry. The highlights of the tours are the barrels saved for or signed for famous individuals and the truly stunning grape lined streets. The barrel room has barrels named for disciples at the last supper and arranged just so. The Sherry’s range from very dry to very sweet so there is something for everyone.

2. Beer Tour Munich It was only fitting in Munich, home of Oktoberfest and the beer purity laws, that we do a beer tour.Jared our guide as nothing short of amazing. I had a good feeling about the tour when I saw a guy in a vintage CBC t shirt and instantly knew he must be Canadian.thumbnail_img_6258 Turns out he was and was from a town quite near to where i had lived as a kid. Instant best friends at least for the next 2 hours. We started at the beer museum where we learned all about the history of beer in an amazing building.http://www.bier-und-oktoberfestmuseum.de/en We found out all about beer purity laws (what ingredients can go into beer), and finished with a tasting including dunkelweiss, weissbier, fruit beer and an ale. We then

St Augustine beer

proceed to an authentic beer hall (hint not  hofbrauhaus) where we had authentic beer hall food and more beer!!! Both the beer and pretzels were terrific. After the hall, we proceeded to the actual hofbrauhaus for a quick view and heard about its storied, somewhat alarming and kind of gross history. We were then advised to cross the street to the better St Augustine’s brewer for a final beer nightcap, which we did and it was amazing.

  1. Remy Martin Cognac France.http://www.remymartin.com  If you want to know more about cognac, go to Remy Martin, If you want to feel fancy, go to Remy Martin, If you love cognac, go to Remy Martin. There are many reason to go to Remy Martin and it is my #1 choice for a reason. Not only is it set in beautiful palace like grounds, Remy Martin tours have the unique ability to make you feel fancy with out ever being condescending. You can know nothing and still love this tour. Unlike anywhere else with the exception of the wine producers in Burgundy, Remy Martin staff are involved, invested, in love with their product. They care about producing the best they can. In fact some of the producers know that the best cognacs they are producing, they will never live to taste, as those cognacs are aged for hundreds of years. (no I didn’t get to taste those ones) We learned all about the production, the cognac grapes, the angels share and the good luck of black mold on the walls in the cask room. Finally time for tasting. We learned about how different cognacs are prepared for different markets and what to look for in a tasting. My first tasting, my throat was on fire, all that artistry and I hated it. We were then given an appetizer prepared by the Remy Marin chef and told it will compliment the cognac. I tried my cheese appetizer and then bravely tried another sip of cognac. It was transformed. Effortlessly smooth and silky I couldn’t believe it was the same drink.@benton8tor who loves cognac considerably more than me liked all of it. We had some additional tasting of progressively smoother cognacs. Upon finishing the tour, we visited the gift shop and spent what I thought was an obscene amount on cognac, until i saw what I fellow tour mates spent. Where upon, I left the tour feeling like a much more informed and happy cheapskate.

There are many more tours that are excellent, so do your research, ask for recommendations or simply take a chance. The thing about tours like these is that the experiences and the feelings associated with the tour last a lifetime and you may just find a new interest. And that is one of the best gifts that travel can give.

Tapas Time

Located in the heart of Andalusia in Southern Spain, to call Seville a jewel would be vastly underestimating its amazingness.

I have to  admit, I was a little hesitant to go to Spain, @benton8timg_4141or had always wanted to go but I resisted. ‘Why go to Spain when you can go to France?’  I thought. We eventually compromised and decided to visit both Spain and France (totally great compromise by the way) We picked Seville based on its proximity to Sherry production and sun and hot temperatures.Not knowing much else as the bulk of my time was spent preparing for Provence, We were ready to find out jut how much Seville had to offer.

Way, way way more than I believed possible. Located in the heart of Andalusia in Southern Spain, to call Seville a jewel would be vastly underestimating its amazingness. Seville is quite truly a stunning city, much of the beauty with its history steeped in the Moorish architecture that dominates Seville’s architectural highlights.

We drove into Seville. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have nerves of steel and a tiny vehicle. Streets in central Seville are very narrow and wind around the cathedral turning in one ways when you least expect it.

Street width

Once there get ready to enjoy yourself.We booked a wine and tapas tour our first night to get acquainted with Sevillian food, wine and landmarks.Our guide met us in front of the cathedral and

Orange wine

took us through the old town and Jewish quarter for a traditional tapas experience. Our first stop, we were given an aperitif of traditional wine flavoured with Seville oranges. I wast sure what to expect and still find it hard to describe the flavour. It was refreshing and good but also and acquired taste.



Next stop was a typical tapas bar, favoured by the after work crowd for a drink and tapas. We tried delicious wine from the Rioja region paired with cured meas and cheeses and flamenquin a breaded deep fried cheese and pork dish. Down the winding streets to my favourite stop of the night, more wine, this time white paired with an medieval dish, goats cheese and tomato marmalade and a sardine tapa.

Above left to right Salmoreja, medival taps on left top and bottom left rebujito with braised pork

It was delicious and my foray into Spanish whites proved to be light and crisp. We also enjoyed Salmoreja , a cold soup similar to gazpacho but richer includes ham and bread but is still silky smooth. We finished off the tastings at another restaurant a bit moreimg_4017 off the beaten path, where Ben had his favourite dish ever, oxtail lasagna, we also had braised pork and potatoes. All of this was complimented by a very refreshing Sherry cocktail called rebujito. Truly stuffed we walked back towards the centre, with our guide Chel a flamenco dancer explaining the finer details of Moorish architecture, including how they kept their buildings cool. Very much needed in Seville where temperatures often reach 40 degrees, but many of the streets mist you as you walk by, keeping you cool. We finished at a rooftop patio with a Spanish doughnut and  a Cava. Enjoying the view of the city sipping on a cava is truly one of my favourite travel moments.

As I mentioned, Seville can get hot. Many of the hotels have pools and if you are lucky a rooftop terrace and or pool. We were lucky, our hotel had just that. After a day seeing the sights, sherry tasting, hot air balloon riding or simply shopping, it is heavenly to come back to the hotel, sit by the pool on the rooftop and enjoy a dip in the pool or simply a glass of wine or Sherry Cocktail while you enjoy the breathtaking views of Seville and the catherdral.http://www.fontecruzhoteles.com/hotel-fontecruz-sevilla-seises/ It also helps that you can enjoy breakfast on the patio underneath lemon and Seville orange trees.

Seville is famous for the Alcazar ( The Royal Palace developed by Moorish Kings)  and the Place De Espana a beautiful plaza. The Alcazar was simply amazing, full of hand painted

Royal Alcazar

tiles, intricate woodwork and beautifully manicured gardens, there is simply nothing else like it. You could send hours there and you should.http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/  @benton8tor lost his mind and any shred of coolness he had when came upon the sunken garden where scenes for the water gardens of Dorn were filmed for Game of Thrones. Channeling my inner Leslie Knope, I totally mocked him for his obsession while be remaining somewhat supportive. Place De Espana is equally stunning and time should be sent there as well.






Finally don’t miss a walk along the river and over to Triana. We had the best patas bravas of our tip in Triana along gazpacho finally. Gazpacho is lighter than salmorejo and if often served in a glass. All paired with a Spanish red wine that managed to be rich and refreshing. We said goodbye to Seville with a Spanish brandy for @benton8tor and a cava for me, sad to leave.

Seville was so much more than I could have imagined and I was glad I was open minded enough to expand those travel horizons. Seville I’ll be back.

Place De Espana