The Wine Find: Terroir-driven Ontario products that sing

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

We all appreciate good quality goods in all areas of our lives — including wine. But fancy terms such as terroir-driven, small-batch or single-vineyard don’t always mean better juice. Sometimes they just suggest savvy marketing. To cut through the noise, here are five terroir-driven wines that sing — all of which are from right here in Ontario.

2016 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON (Vintages 302083 $24.95 in stores and online)

Terroir is a wine’s sense of place. So a terroir-driven wine showcases where and when the grapes were grown — the soil, terrain, climate, and weather. Since weather varies each year, a mark of a terroir-driven wine is vintage variation. The crop differs slightly year-to-year, so the wine does, too. This wine is a case in point. The 2016 vintage now on shelves tastes leaner and more restrained, with less oak and butteriness than the 2015. It starts with quiet aromas of lemon meringue pie before the focused entry slides over the palate with soft lemon-cream flavours, reined in by taut acidity, and laced with a touch of vanilla. 

Score: 90

2015 Domaine Queylus “Tradition” Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON (Vintages 392738 $29.95 in stores and online)

This terroir-driven gem was released in November through Vintages, but there’s still plenty available. Each sip starts with the slow, languid fragrance of blackberry liqueur before swathing the palate with flavours of homemade cranberry jam threaded with beetroot, underbrush and cool steel. It’s a wine of concentration, complexity and length made from a mix of young vine fruit from the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation and more nuanced, older-vine berries from Twenty-Mile Bench. In the words of chief winemaker Thomas Bachelder, “For the ‘Tradition,’ we look to craft a perfectly classic, old-world-style Pinot Noir with solid, rich fruit and a ‘sense of place’.”

Score: 91

2017 Malivoire Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ON (Vintages Essential 573147 $19.95 in stores and online)

This wine is all about purity and restraint. It’s a bone-dry and unwooded Chardonnay with the scent that calls to mind fresh linen sheets air-dried in the sunshine. The entry is a beautiful sweep of cool silk with allusions of wet stones, sea spray, and citrus oil that taper to a long finish of nougat. And all of that is an expression of three vineyards in the Beamsville Bench area — the Moira, the Estate, and the Mottiar vineyards. The Moira contributes small-berry concentration. The Estate adds classic crisp, clean fruit. And the Mottiar — the coolest microterroir — provides berries of bright acidity and distinct minerality. 

Score: 90

2015 Stratus Red, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON (Vintages 131037 $48.20 in stores and online) 

For Stratus, terroir is expressed by blending different grape varieties to create what the winemaker J.L. Groux calls “the most complex snapshot of our single vineyard in a growing season.” In this case, that snapshot is quite compelling. The 2015 Stratus Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, each of which brings its own taste and texture. The result is an orchestra of flavour that’s both intricate and harmonious — berries, plum, nuts, chocolate, leather, cola and more. While the texture is rich and velvety, it maintains the racy edge of acidity for which Ontario reds are known.

Score: 89

2017 Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard, Estate Bottled Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge, ON (Vintages Essential 198853 $22.95 till March 3, reg. $24.95 in stores and online)

I’ve recommended the 2015, 2016 and now the 2017 of this wine. It keeps impressing me with its vibrant shock of sorbet-like fruit — this year showing lime, mandarin and green mango, mostly — with a little shake of stones and salt somewhere. That stony-salty complexity lends interest and gravitas to otherwise a good but simply fruity Riesling. “Located right at the edge of the Niagara escarpment, and sitting on deep limestone soil, the Quarry Road Vineyard produces a mineral-driven Riesling,” says Paul Pender, the winemaker at Tawse Winery. Voila: terroir. 

Score: 92

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com


These five inexpensive wines are a pleasure to drink

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

Five Sub-$14 Buys

You don’t have to spend a lot to find a good glass of wine. You just need to know what to buy. By good, I mean one that’s a pleasure to drink — well balanced, well made and keeps you coming back for more. Of course, good should also mean honest value for money #pricematters. With that in mind, here are five sub-$14 bottles that over-deliver. Here’s to living well — without spending large.

2018 Vina Carmen Alario Sauvignon Blanc, Central Valley, Chile (LCBO 638239 $8.95 in stores and online)

Brand spanking new to Ontario comes this aromatic, articulate Sauvignon Blanc that brims with flavours of pink grapefruit and damp herbs, lime and green pepper. Stylistically, it hovers midway between Marlborough’s full-throttle expression and the Loire’s more restrained version of the variety — a dry drop that’s easy to enjoy on its own but also gastronomically versatile. It works particularly well with pesto pasta topped with crumbled goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and chicken. 

Score: 92

2016 Nederburg “The Winemasters” Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa (LCBO 111526 $11.95 till March 3, reg. $13.95, in stores and online)

South Africa can deliver serious value for money — especially at the lower price points. And this dry, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is a textbook example. Retaining the power and poise for which this grape is known, each sip cloaks the palate with crushed velvet flavours of cassis and cherries laced with toasted spice notes. It’s not terribly complex but delivers outstanding concentration, flavour clarity and length for the price. Pour it with all those seasonally spot-on dishes such as stews, braises and meat pies. 

Score: 93

2017 Joao Portugal Ramos “Loios” Red, Alentejo, Portugal (LCBO 89912 $9.30 in stores and online)

Pronounced “loy-ohs,” this supremely drinkable red is a bit of a find. It hails from a reputable producer — Joao Portugal Ramos — and offers a dry, medium-bodied wash of soft, juicy flavour. Quiet suggestions of damp soil and crushed stone imbue the mixed-berry centre with a touch of talc-like texture on the finish. This blend of Portuguese grape varieties — Aragones (Tempranillo), Trincadeira and Castelao — is sure to appeal to those who gravitate toward the classic table wines of Europe. Pour it with thin slices of cured ham.

Score: 90

2017 Open Smooth Red Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot VQA Ontario (LCBO 357145 $12.45 till March 3, Reg. $13.45 in stores and online)

If you’re a fan of Sangria, you’ll love this silky-smooth, lighter-bodied red bursting with bright flavours of cranberries, strawberries and sugared rhubarb. The bottle packs a whack of sugar — 26 g/L, which works out to about a full teaspoon per standard 5 ounce pour — but that sweetness is well balanced by pristine purity of fruit and mouth-watering acidity, so it finishes clean and dry. Works especially well with salty, umami-rich snacks such as shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Score: 89

2017 Santa Julia Pinot Grigio Del Mercado, Mendoza, Argentina (LCBO 545723 $13.95 in stores and online) 

If you like Pinot Grigio but find the style a bit lean this time of year, try this bottle. It offers more richness than most, without compromising the cool, crisp refreshment factor. Think gleaming flavours of mixed citrus that taste shiny and pure with a subtle top note of mango. Pour this vivacious Argentinean Pinot Grigio as a cocktail alternative, or with such flavourful fare as beef rendang. 

Score: 89+

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com


A Valentine’s Day gifts guide for wine lovers

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

The countdown to Valentine’s Day is on. Here are five gifts to make the wine lover in your life swoon, including some candy, three smart bottles of wine, and something extra special — an XO Cognac.

“Love you a bunch” Rosé Roses by Sugarfina, $10.95 for a small cube at select Sugarfina stores

Sugarfina is doing some really clever things with sugar, wine and gelatin. But what tops my list for Valentine’s Day are these Rosé Roses made with Whispering Angel rosé from Provence, France. These grown-up gummies come in a posh little acrylic cube, are labelled with a ready-made love note, and taste pretty heavenly. Satisfyingly sweet, yes, but the flavour is more suggestive than aggressive — calling to mind rhubarb and berries with just enough racy acidity to keep you coming back for more. And pink roses have traditionally been associated with affection and admiration rather than purely romantic love, making these sweets suitable for your significant other (SO) or your NSA, FWB, or BFF — FYI.

NV Fresita Sparkling Wine with Strawberries, Chile (LCBO 383901 $14.95 in stores and online) 

If strawberries and sparkling wine strikes you (or your Valentine) as a sexy idea, this is the bottle for you. It’s infused with so many ripe, hand-picked strawberries, a fine pulp settles in the glass as you drink it. And its succulent sweet-tart flavour captures the spirit of a summer day — all sunlit and pure tasting. Who doesn’t love that feeling this time of year as record-breaking snowfalls blanket Ontario? As well as the articulate strawberry character on the nose and palate, the wine hints of mixed citrus and candied cherry. And it’s well-balanced — so doesn’t cloy on the finish. A bottle Fresita with a box of really good chocolate makes a brilliant Valentine’s Day pressie.

Score: 93

NV Chandon Sparkling Rosé, California (Vintages 405555 $34.95 in stores and online)

Released Feb. 2 in Vintages, this blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier makes a stylish gift because it drinks like Champagne at a fraction of the price. It shines pale rose-gold, exudes delicate aromas of warm butter croissants slathered with redcurrant and raspberry jam, and offers a silky-crisp attack that’s dry and immediately captivating. Understated flavours of lemon curd, sun-warmed violet and butter pastry saturate the palate. Then, a whisper of raspberry emerges on the finish. Delicious on its own but goes gloriously well with smoked salmon. 

Score: 92+

2015 Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Vintages Essential 130989 $25.95 in stores and online)

If you fancy giving something red and silky on Valentine’s Day, give this local Pinot Noir. From its see-through ruby colour to its slow, languid aromas of raspberries, blackcurrant and white pepper, it’s sure to make your Valentine’s heart skip a beat. Mouthwateringly juicy yet elegant, it suggests a cool crush of dark berries threaded with violet and cranberry with a sleek mouthfeel and a gently chalky note on the finish. A pleasure to drink, especially with a bit of country pâté on toasted bread.

Score: 89+

XO Organic Cognac from the Distillerie Du Peyrat, France (LCBO 517839 $153.40 in stores and online)

For less than the average dinner tab for two on Valentine’s Day, you could give this bottle of fine XO Cognac. Cognac is of course a blend of eaux-de vie, wines distilled into brandy from southwest France, aged in oak for varying lengths of time. And the youngest Cognac in this XO is 12 years old. In the glass, it glows a warm amber hue with bright copper reflections. The fragrance is complex and alluring with orange peel and pumpkin pie spices, dark rum and brown sugar, maraschino cherry and vanilla bean, dark chocolate and roasted walnut — and so much more. The entry is smooth with flavours that mirror the fragrance and resonate on the finish for ages. Riveting. And XO is a grade above VS and VSOP — so pretty top notch, just like your Valentine.

Score: 92

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

What to buy in a wine emergency

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

Whether you’re running late for a dinner party, just remembered it’s your anniversary, or need a great gift for your wine savvy boss/accountant/best friend, I’ve got you covered. Here are five go-to bottles to save the day—including a knock-out new General List item, three exciting Vintages releases, and a brilliant bubbly. 

2017 Negrar Appassimento, Rosso Veneto IGT, Italy (LCBO 629865 $15.90 in stores and online)

When you’re looking for a wine of richness and complexity with oodles of Old World charm that doesn’t break the bank—make this your go-to. It’s an Appassimento style wine, which means it’s made from grapes that have been dried before pressing. The result is a bolder, more concentrated style akin to Amarone. Negrar’s Appassimento cascades with plush layers of black and red berry fruit threaded with espresso, dried plum, black cherry and tobacco. Just a delight, great value for the price, and certainly worthy of any wine emergency.

Score: 94

2015 Viticcio Morellino di Scansano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy (Vintages 574186 $19.95 in stores and online)

Morellino di Scansano is the Tuscan wine of choice in the most stylish wine bars of Roma and Florence right now, which may be why we don’t see much of it in this market—it’s quickly snapped up domestically. So buy this bottle before it disappears—its as delicious as it is stylish. Each sip immediately draws you in with its brawny aromas of warm earth and dark, macerated cherries before a savory-sweet swirl of liquid velvet saturates the palate. The wine tastes expansive yet delicate as notes of cherry, earth, dark chocolate, and black olive emerge and fade. A bit of grip on the finish holds the fruit in place for ages. 

Score 92+

2015 Moselland Goldschild Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany (Vintages 621482 $16.95 in stores and online)

This powerful hit of pleasure will impress the newbie, the connoisseur, and everyone in between with its shiny flavours of nectarine, tangerine, and honeyed peach that unspool like cool satin in the mouth, laced with a little salty minerality and grapefruit zest. While it’s made in the semi-sweet Spätlese style, an electric shock of mouthwatering acidity offsets the sugar so it tastes well-balanced and refreshing—you know, like a really good sorbet. Serve it chilled in the afternoon or after dinner with a good gruyère. 

Score 91

2016 The Burn “Borne of Fire” Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington State (Vintages 633651 $29.95 in stores and online)

Put yourself squarely in the know with this Cabernet Sauvignon—it’s the first bottle to be released from “The Burn”, a proposed new American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Washington State tucked between Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Gorge. And if this wine is any indication, The Burn is sure to be hot with die-hard fans of west coast Cabernet. “Borne of Fire” starts with scents of cool cherry and toasted almonds followed by a cashmere crush of classic Cabernet Sauvignon flavour —cassis and red berries laced with hints of warm cigar box, vanilla bean scrapings, and Chantilly cream. It’s ripe, juicy, and sure to please.

Score: 90

NV Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne Grande Cuvee Brut, Burgundy, France (LCBO 429688 $19.55 in stores and online)

For that celebratory moment, nothing beats bubbly. And this delicious crémant from Burgundy blends Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamay to charming effect. It shines a pretty pale gold in the glass and attacks the palate with bright flavours of lemon curd and butter pastry, underpinned by wispy notes of white flowers. Crémant is of course French fizz made outside of the Champagne region. And like Champagne, it’s made bubbly by undergoing a second fermentation in bottle—a method responsible for hallmark aromas of baked bread and tiny bubbles that lend an elegant, almost creamy mouthfeel to each sip. Smart choice.

Score: 90+


Toro Bravo, the new Spanish red under $8, is sold out — for now

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

I suspected the 2017 Toro Bravo, the new $7.95 Spanish red wine I awarded 96 points last week, would clear off LCBO shelves. But I didn’t expect it to happen so fast. The LCBO burned through 2,300 cases of the wine since it was released January 15. And retail stock is now sold out. More is expected to hit shelves in coming days, but I suspect it will disappear fast.

“About 160 stores sold out of their inventory by end of day Thursday,” says Alex Patinios, president and owner of Dionysus Wines & Spirits, the agent that represents the wine in Ontario. “By Friday morning, some stores were selling out within minutes of opening such as the Bayview Village, Queens Quay, and Burlington Millcroft locations.”

By 10 a.m. Friday, LCBO stores had ordered all remaining warehouse inventory.

“On Friday morning, there were 1,100 cases of the wine in LCBO warehouses,” says Patinios. “All of that was ordered, and will be showing up in stores today, tomorrow and the next day — but it will sell out fast.”

The LCBO ordered 17,000 more cases of the 2017 Toro Bravo from Spain Saturday morning. And that shipment should arrive in Ontario in three to four weeks.

If that sells out, there’s more available of that particular cuvee. Thirty thousand cases of the 2017 is earmarked for Ontario by Wines & Company S.L.U. in Spain, which makes the wine. And Wines & Company has promised Dionysus Wines & Spirits 100,000 cases of 2018 Bravo Toro for the Ontario market, if the LCBO buys it.

When the 2017 vintage is depleted, I’ll taste the new vintage that hits shelves to assess quality. So stay tuned.

What makes the 2017 Toro Bravo spectacular and worthy of the high score is the fact that, for $7.95, it offers outstanding value for money. Price matters. So I always factor that in when I score a wine.

2017 Toro Bravo is a fabulously easy-drinking red that’s clean, dry-tasting, and well-balanced — the kind of wine you put on the table and want to keep refilling your glass with all night long. And it’s not a fruit bomb. That cannot be said for all sub-$8 wines. Therein lies the value.

Although Toro Bravo was a brand created specifically for Ontario, the wine has generated national and international buzz. Since Thursday, agents from all over the world have reached out to Wines & Company expressing interest in the wine. And Dionysus Wines & Spirits has fielded calls and emails from agents and liquor boards across Canada wanting to order the wine.

A white Toro Bravo was also created by Wines & Company for Ontario, which is a Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc blend from the 2018 vintage.

“The LCBO has not bought the white, but they have agreed to consider it,” says Patinios.

At this point, there is no guarantee the white 2018 Toro Bravo will be listed at the LCBO. But it if is, I’ll be sure to taste it.

The wine

2017 Toro Bravo, Tempranillo / Merlot, D.O. Valencia, Spain (LCBO 635755 $7.95 in stores and online)

Toro Bravo calls to mind Black Forest Cake on the nose, followed by a flood of flavour — cherries dipped in dark chocolate, tobacco, earth, and coffee — with a dusting of dark cocoa powder that lingers. Medium-bodied with a bright seam of mouthwatering acidity and a slightly chalky finish, this affable Spanish red offers outstanding value.

Score: 96

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

Elevate your wine with these sure fire cheese pairings from Toronto’s Cheese Boutique

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

If you want one sure-fire way to improve any bottle, serve it some fabulous fromage. With this truism in mind, I met with cheese master Afrim Pristine who runs The Cheese Boutique in Toronto. I brought seven bottles—each a classic expression of its style. He suggested cheeses to taste alongside. And we discovered some truly remarkable pairings. Here is a list of the top seven matches.

The Wine: 2017 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, California (Vintages Essential 369686 $19.95 in stores and online)

The Cheese: Emmi 2-Year-Old Kaltbach Cave-Aged Gruyère, Switzerland ($6.00/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

As an archetypal and widely available example of wooded Chardonnay, we poured Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve—fermented and aged in French and American oak. On its own, it suggests cooked apple laced with toasted hazelnut and crème brûlée. But with the 2-year-old gruyère, the wine becomes noticeably brighter and more tropical with notes of banana and mango emerging—without masking the oak influence.

This Gruyère is a hard cheese made from unpasteurized milk. It spends time aging in a humid, 22-million-year-old sandstone cave, where it develops a slight funky note and dots of grana—crystalized protein deposits that crunch and explode with flavour. What’s best is you can actually taste cave’s stony-damp scent in this cheese, which lingers on the finish and seasons each sip of the Chardonnay.

The Wine: 2016 Flat Rock Cellars Riesling, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Vintages Essential 43281 $17.95 in stores and online)

The Cheese: Fromagerie la Suisse Normande, Le Biquerond de Lanaudière, St-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Lanaudière, Quebec ($13.00/150g piece at The Cheese Boutique)

Ontario makes very good Riesling. And this bottle is one such example with its tightly-wound, off-dry flavours of ripe peach and lime sorbet. It tastes great on its own, but becomes bigger, bolder and more complex with a bite of this ripened goat cheese. 

The Le Biquerond de Lanaudiere with its textured rind, creamy paste and tangy-farmyardy character melts in the mouth and primes the palate for what becomes an orchestra of flavour with the next sip of the Riesling. The wine’s primary fruit is there, but the centre tastes magnified and threaded with evocative floral-farmyard characteristics as well as a mouthwatering salinity. The wine also tastes less sweet with the cheese. These two taste like they were made for each other. 

The Wine: 2016 The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, Waihopai River, Marlborough, New Zealand (LCBO 470070 $16.95 in stores and online) 

The Cheese: Lankaaster, Glengarry Fine Cheese, Lancaster, Ontario ($6.50/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is ragingly popular right now. And this sub-$20 General List bottle is a classic expression of the style with its full-throttle aromas and flavours of damp herbs, cucumber and lime. Although New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can be challenging to pair with cheese, we found Lankaaster not only works well with it, the cheese completely transforms the wine into a more elegant tasting, and interesting drink.

“Lankaaster is a like Gruyere meets 3-year-old Gouda,” says Pristine, as he takes a bite of the firm, cow’s milk cheese. The cheese is creamy and mild with a lovely seaspray property—suggesting crushed oyster shells.

The palate-coating nature of the cheese adds grip to each sip of wine, making it last longer on the finish, and lends an attractive oceanic note to the flavour profile. The fruit seems to recede while stony, salty notes come to the fore adding both delicacy and intricacy to the wine. Brilliant match.

The Wine: 2015 Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon, California (Vintages Essential 444059 $24.95 in stores and online) 

The Cheese: Vandersterre Prima Donna, 2 Years Old, Holland ($6.00/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

This plush, textured, berry-rich Californian Cabernet Sauvignon is a certain crowdpleaser—fruit forward and easy to enjoy. But with a bit of Prima Donna, it quickly becomes more serious tasting and intense.

Prima Donna is hard, cow’s milk cheese comparable in taste and texture to Parmesan with tiny white dots of crunchy grana. After a bite of Prima Donna, deeper, darker flavours emerge in the wine that evoke black earth and sautéed mushrooms—and the flavours linger longer. On the finish, a distinct brown butter character emerges too that was not there before the cheese. Great match.

The Wine: 2014 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy (Vintages Essential 413179 $52.95 in stores and online) 

The Cheese: Auricchio Provolone Piccante, 2 Years Old, Naples, Italy ($5.00/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

Amarone is a classic Italian red made from partially dried grapes. And this bottle with its mouthfilling crush of berries and figs laced with more savoury notes of coffee and bitter chocolate is a classic expression of the style. We discovered Provolone Piccante from the world-renowned maker, Aurricchio, pairs perfectly.

“In Northern Italy, you’d plant a hunk of Provolone in the middle of the table and nibble on it throughout the meal,” says Pristine, quickly drawing my attention to the way the cheese creates a sort of piccante prickle in the sides of your mouth as you eat it. 

Provolone is a cow’s milk cheese that’s hard and sharp. And it transforms the Amarone into a more intense, pleasantly bitter and long experience. Conversely, the salty-spicy kick in the cheese is enhanced and amplified by the wine. Here, the math works. One plus one is at least three.

The Wine: NV Taylor Fladgate 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (Vintages Essential 121749 $35.95)

The Cheese: Fromagerie du Presbytère, Bleu d’Élizabeth, Sainte Élizabeth de Warwick, Quebec ($8.00/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

The refreshing vigour of a 10-year-old tawny pairs well with cheese—the relative youthfulness offsets the fattiness of cheese nicely. And Taylor Fladgate makes one my favourite versions of the style with its cherry-almond-toffee aromas that lead to a vibrant attack of figs and orange zest, toffee and walnuts.

With this wine, Pristine and I discover the Bleu d’Élizabeth works best. It’s a semi-soft, blue cheese made from cow’s milk. And it’s biodynamically produced at a monastery two hours north of Montreal. With it, the wine just sings.

“For me, this is the one of the top five blue cheeses on the planet,” says Pristine. 

The cheese made with organic, raw cow’s milk, is salty, pungent, and deeply hedonistic. The wine tastes full-bodied but lifted, complex and long. And together they form a kaleidoscope of flavour that just keeps turning and evolving. Very exciting coupling.

The Wine: NV Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne, France (LCBO 389056 $41.85/375mL; LCBO 563338 $72.80/750mL; LCBO 572586 $156.90/1500 mL — all sizes in stores and online) 

The Cheese: Mountainoak Cheese 3-Year-Old Farmstead Premium Gouda, New Hamburg, Ontario ($6.00/100g at The Cheese Boutique)

Veuve Clicquot’s non-vintage brut is a decent drop—it’s a dependable, consistent bottle of blue chip bubbly with hallmark flavours of cooked apple, white flowers, and toast lightly laced with warm vanilla and nuts. Without the cheese, it tastes light, delicate and elegant. But when taken with this 3-year-old gouda, the wine becomes far richer tasting and more complex. 

A semi-firm spotted with grana, this gouda immediately calls to mind butterscotch and nuts. It’s rich in umami, melts in the mouth, and is pure pleasure to eat. But take a sip of the Champagne and you have a greater than the sum situation. The wine tastes like it has been barrel-fermented. Pronounced notes of buttered toast, roasted hazelnut, and warm toffee develop and stay—almost mirroring flavours in the cheese. And the wine’s effervescence adds lift while scraping the palate clean. It’s a beautiful match.

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com


This red wine under $8 is so good it will clear off LCBO shelves

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

A wine just hit shelves at the LCBO you need to know about. It’s a $7.95 wonder called Toro Bravo from Spain that delivers incredible value for money—not just because it tastes good (it does)—but because it “drinks” well. And I’ve awarded it 96 points—the highest score I’ve given a wine under $10. It’s the kind of wine you put on the table and want to keep refilling your glass with all night long. It’s not the fruit bomb you usually get at this price point. 

It took the agent two years of steady work to bring it to Ontario, but it’s a testament to the idea that yes, good wine produced inexpensively abroad can arrive in this market without an extravagant mark-up. Here’s how it happened.

“A friend of a friend in the wine business put me in touch with Melanie Nathou, an established broker in Spain who owns Wines & Company S.L.U. She had access to some excellent wine she could sell at a very reasonable price,” said Alex Patinios, president and owner of Dionysus Wines & Spirits. “She just needed to get it to market.”

Patinios, like many agents in Ontario, is an intermediary between wine producers and the LCBO. It’s his business to find great wines for this market.

The two met in Spain, Patinios was impressed with the wine, and they began working together to develop a brilliant blend for less than the $8 price point. It also needed to be available in sufficient quantity for the large Ontario market, with minimal vintage variation.

“Melanie sent us four Tempranillo samples and four Merlot samples, and we did some blending,” says Patinios. “She and her wine team had the same set of lots and did their own blending. Funny thing is, when we compared notes, we had come up with an almost identical blend. It tasted amazing.”

The samples were from the 2016 vintage. But the blend created a taste profile that the winemaker could then replicate with subsequent vintages. 

As well as tasting good, Patinios and Nathou needed the wine to look and sound good, so they gave it a name and a label.

“We wanted the brand to be elegant, Spanish, and easy to say in Canada. And we wanted the label to be premium looking, so we added touches of gold foil on the bull’s nose ring and the lettering,” says Patinios. “Toro Bravo is what we came up with.”

The brand was born. From there, Patinios began trying to convince the LCBO to buy it, which he says took about a year. The result is a blend of 60 per cent Tempranillo and 40 per cent Merlot with D.O. Valencia designation. And it’s on shelves now.

Tempranillo—Spain’s flagship red variety—lends the firm frame to Toro Bravo while Merlot adds flesh and juiciness. Toro Bravo calls to mind Black Forest Cake on the nose, followed by a flood of flavour—cherries dipped in dark chocolate, tobacco, earth, and coffee—with a dusting of dark cocoa powder that lingers. It’s medium-bodied with a bright seam of mouthwatering acidity and a slightly chalky finish. But more than its constituent parts, this affable Spanish red is harmonious and easy to enjoy. As a wine critic, this is what I like to see.

And there’s a lot of it around, so it won’t quickly sell out and disappoint consumers.

Many of us remember the story of Fuzion, which was also brought in by Patinios. The LCBO launched the 2007 Fuzion Shiraz Malbec in July 2008. It got a rave review by a major Ontario wine critic, and it quickly rose in popularity. The 5,000 cases of it released in July sold out within six weeks. By November the LCBO was selling 1,000 cases a day. And the 2007 vintage was sold out by the end of 2008. By 2009, about 250,000 cases of Fuzion Shiraz Malbec were sold in Ontario alone.

When critics tasted the initial wine, it was no doubt stellar. But demand outstripped supply and sadly, quality couldn’t be maintained.

“We’ve taken steps to ensure that, if we start selling 250,000 cases of this wine, we will be able to maintain both the price and quality levels,” says Patinios.

As of Jan. 15, 3,400 cases of Toro Bravo were at the LCBO. When I filed this story, more than 230 stores carried it—and Patinios assures me 400 more stores will stock it by Feb. 25. Meanwhile, 9,000 cases are on standby in Spain ready to be shipped.

As a firm believer you should not have to spend a lot of money to drink well, I’m thrilled by this new discovery.

2017 Toro Bravo, Tempranillo / Merlot, D.O. Valencia, Spain (LCBO 635755 $7.95 in stores and online)

Toro Bravo calls to mind Black Forest Cake on the nose, followed by a flood of flavour—cherries dipped in dark chocolate, tobacco, earth, and coffee—with a dusting of dark cocoa powder that lingers. Medium-bodied with a bright seam of mouthwatering acidity and a slightly chalky finish, this affable Spanish red offers outstanding value.

Score: 96

How to choose your wedding wine

By Carolyn Evans Hammond for Today’s Bride Magazine, Fall/Winter 2019 Issue

Serving the right wine at your wedding doesn’t have to be pricy. It just needs to tick the right boxes. This checklist guides you through the selection process to set you up for success.

PICK CROWD-PLEASERS

Steer clear of love-it or hate-it styles such as heavily wooded Chardonnays, sweet Rieslings, or tannic reds like Aglianico. Instead, choose easy-drinking wines such as crisp whites and juicy reds. Pinot Grigio, Soave and unoaked Chardonnay work well for whites, as do Valpolicella, Chianti and Merlot for reds. Not only will these wines please the majority of guests, they tend to pair with most food dishes—which mean fuss-free menu planning.

KEEP IT LIGHT

Today, the alcohol content in wine has never been higher. But a white with more than 13 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) or a red exceeding 13.5 per cent AVB can undermine the refreshment factor—as well as the wine’s gastronomic versatility. So play it safe. Ensure the bottles you choose fall at or below these thresholds.

DON’T POUR BONE DRY BUBBLY

If the bubbly is too dry, it will taste unpleasantly shrill if you serve it with wedding cake. So choose a sparkling wine with a kiss of sweetness. Don’t worry—the naturally high acidity of this wine style will offset the sugar so it will still taste balanced and delicious.

CONSIDER A ROSÉ

If you’re tying the knot in spring or summer, serving a rosé at an outdoor reception is smart and stylish. A coral-toned rosé from Provence, France, or pretty pink White Zinfandel from California with hors d’oeuvres are both excellent choices. These are casual styles of wine though so best kept to the reception.

TIPS FOR CALCULATING HOW MUCH YOU NEED

• Estimate two glasses per person for the first hour and one glass every hour after that

• For sparkling and rosé wine, calculate two glasses per person

• Each 750 mL bottle of still wine contains about five 150 mL servings

• Each 750 mL bottle of sparkling wine contains about six 125 mL servings

• Have extra on hand just in case

SMART SELECTIONS

[Note to editor: All selections are nationally available]

Folonari Pinot Grigio, Veneto IGT, Italy

Delicate aromas of lime leaf and chalk lead to polished, silky flavours of the same with breezy hints of wildflowers, lemon zest and minerals. This dry wine shows a touch of white pepper on the finish. 12 per cent ABV.

Ruffino Orvieto Classico, Italy

Restrained and crisp, this dry Italian white shows captivating flavours of white flowers, white peach, grapefruit oil and chalk with a hint of almond on the finish. 12 per cent ABV.

Folonari Valpolicella Classico, Veneto IGT, Italy

This red offers a sheer wash of berry fruit with an earthy-spicy undertow that leaves the palate perfectly seasoned. It’s neither too fruit-forward nor too rich, so a smart choice for any wedding. 12.5 per cent ABV

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington

Warm chocolate cake and blackberry aromas lead to dry, opulent flavours of crushed plum, black and red berries, and cocoa—with a plush mouthfeel. 13.5 per cent ABV.

NV Santa Margherita Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy

Articulate aromas of sea spray and sliced pear lead to a sparkling, beamlike entry of sea salt, slate and flint. A nice kiss of sweetness offsets the bright, mouthwatering acidity. Elegant. 11.5 per cent alc.

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Highlights of the Niagara Icewine Festival on now

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

It’s cool. It’s sweet. And it’s deeply Canadian. I’m talking about the Niagara Icewine Festival on now till the end of the month. My favourite part of the event is the Discovery Pass program—a self-guided tour of up to 40 wineries offering special food and wine pairings. Many wineries offer a choice of two bottles with their annual culinary creation. So I braved the cold to find five of the best pairings of the year. 

Sweet potato salmon parfait with 2016 Howard’s Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery, 3210 Staff Ave., Jordan, ON

Here, roasted sweet potato mousse is layered with roasted mushrooms, then topped with hot-smoked salmon cured in icewine and honey. The effect is an umami explosion in comfort food format you eat with a spoon. The dish is good on its own but the flavours come into sharper focus with a sip of the Vidal Icewine, which delivers a zippy hit of candied citrus and grapefruit marmalade laced with mouthwatering acidity that scrapes the palate clean. 

The pairing: 92+

Roasted porketta on a roll with 2017 Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara River 

Reif Estate Winery, 15608 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

Taking the guesswork out of the wine selection process, Reif Estate only offers one bottle with its slow-roasted, fall-apart porketta piled high on a bun and topped with a salty slice of crackling. But it’s a perfect pairing. The 2017 Vidal Icewine poured along side fills the mouth with intense flavours of poached pear, pecan praline, and caramelized apricot while a bolt of bright acidity balances every sip. Skip the very average applesauce served on the side so as not to spoil the glory of the sip and sandwich combo.

The pairing: 96

Fois torchon with 2016 “Shatter the Cliché” Late Harvest Sparkling Riesling, VQA Ontario

Vineland Estates Winery, 3620 Moyer Road, Vineland, ON 

The fois torchon takes the lead here. The fois torchon is fois gras cured in icewine, salt, sugar and vanilla then poached. A slice is served served atop toasted baguette, crowned with a perfect coin of icewine jelly, and sprinkled with candied walnuts. Of the wines offered, go for the Late Harvest sparkling Riesling which, when sampled with the dish, becomes a dry-tasting, elegant, and complex wine. Notes of biscuit, nutmeg, salt and crushed stones come to the fore while the gently effervescent apple-scented centre leaves the palate refreshed. Very impressive pairing.

The pairing: 96 

Chicken curry soup with 2017 Heritage Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Marynissen Estates, 1208 Concession 1 Road, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

Resist the temptation to choose the 2014 Icewine and opt instead for the off-dry table wine offered instead. It’s an off-dry Riesling the winery calls its “summer lemonade,” and it comes to life with one sip of the creamy-spicy coconut curry soup. The grapefruit-scented Riesling lends a sweet-bitter tang that cools and cleanses the palate while adding complexity to the experience. The balance of the two is outstanding and it’s a total greater than the sum situation.

The pairing: 95

Chicken liver pâté with 2014 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula 

Megalomaniac Winery, 3930 Cherry Ave., Vineland, ON

Of the two wines offered, opt for the 2014 Riesling Icewine. Not only is it a glowing example of the style, it works best with the creamy quenelle of pâté. The aromatic nose of orange marmalade, dried apricot and wildflower honey leads to an expansive attack that’s certainly sweet but well-balanced by a line of bright acidity that carries through to the finish, leaving the palate cleansed and nicely seasoned. 

The pairing: 91 

For more information on the Discovery Pass program, go to http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/discovery-pass

Five wines you’ll want to be seen drinking

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

Face it. The wine you drink says as much about you as your footwear, hairdo, and gossipy neighbour. And social media magnifies that message. Read on to discover the vinous equivalents of the white leather sneaks, the perfect bedhead, and three other style statements.

The White Sneaks

NV Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, France (Vintages Essential 268771 $74.95 in stores and online)

The white leather sneak has never been more chic. It goes with everything in your wardrobe—even a suit. And one amazing pair—such as the Common Projects Original Achilles Low—quietly ennobles any ensemble. It has become unquestionably the anywhere, anytime, always-smart shoe. And the vinous equivalent is this wine right here. It looks like just another bottle of bubbly, but those who know Champagne know it’s about the best NV Brut you can buy. Its coy aromas and flavours of caramelized apple tart, lemon curd and toasted almond shot through with tiny bubbles elevates anything you put with it. Eggs benedict on the weekend? Absolutely. Lobster soufflé at a swanky dinner? Of course. Expensive? Yes. But so worth it. 

Score: 94

The Bedhead

2017 Georges Duboeuf Brouilly, Burgundy, France (LCBO 213934 $18.95 in stores and online)

You know the look—hair that’s undone but fabulous. That I-woke-up-like-this mop that says I-have-better-things-to-do-than-fuss-with-my-hair. Alicia Keys, Cara Delevingne and Robert Pattinson pull it off well, as do Alessia Cara and Paris Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt. In fact, the French probably invented it. The vinous equivalent of the perfect bedhead is this cru Beaujolais with its beautiful but blissfully unfussy appeal. No need to chill it, decant it, or drink it from fancy stems. Just pour yourself a glass and let the pleasure take hold. It’s a sheer wash of cool blackberry, warm violet, and dry chalk, leaving a ruffled and red-stained finish behind.

Score: 91

The White Tee

NV Trapiche Extra Brut Sparkling, Argentina (LCBO 262261 $13.95 in stores and online) 

This time of year, you might be wearing it underneath a flannel shirt or cashmere sweater, but the perfect white tee is always smart. It’s archetypally clean, bright, and ready to pull out at a moment’s notice—just like this bottle of bubbles. Its ethereal aromas and flavours of apple and warm croissant laced with lemon zest taste delicious—very stylish wine to have on hand to pour with finger foods. Not the most complex but very pure-tasting and well-made making it a great bottle to have on hand in quantity—especially at the price. 

Score: 93

The Puffer

2016 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California (Vintages 942599 $21.95 in stores and online)

Baby, it’s cold outside. Time to throw on that wearable duvet known as the puffer with its perfect storm of stylishness, warmth and wearability. It doesn’t have to be Canada Goose, Mackage or cost the earth. It just has to be large with lots of stuffing. This big, bold red Zinfandel with its explosive fruit and warming 14.5 per cent alcohol is, hands down, the vinous equivalent of the puffer. Every full-bodied mouthful expands with velvety flavours of black and red berries nuanced with grill marks, black earth and mixed peppercorn. This bottle was recently released in Vintages but won’t last. 

Score: 92

The Layered Look

2016 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Ivory Label Cabernet Sauvignon, California (Vintages 521021 $24.95 in stores and online)

According to Vogue magazine, “Layering is front and centre…with plays on texture and volume in a masterful game of accumulation.” That approach makes getting dressed in the morning so much more fun, don’t you think? Throw on a white t-shirt, follow with a snug sweater, then don a boxy bulky knit or jacket. And when it’s time to head outdoors, grab that big puffer. Done. The layered look in wine form is this Californian Cabernet with its suave entry of cherries and blackcurrant liqueur that fans out with suggestions of maraschino cherries, vanilla custard, toasted wood and a whisper of white pepper. Artfully complex, expressive and always available as a Vintages Essential, it’s a stylish drop. 

Score: 92+

Have a healthy New Year with these low-calorie wines

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

Did you know alcohol packs more calories per gram than sugar? True. That means, when you’re watching your weight—or just want to be healthier—choosing lower alcohol wines is the way to go. Steering clear of the sweeter stuff is secondary. This is because alcohol packs seven calories per gram compared to four for sugar. 

To illustrate, a standard 150ml pour of Schmitt Sohne Relax Riesling with 42 g/l of sugar and nine per cent alcohol checks in at about 101 calories—with just 25 of the calories coming from sugar. By comparison, Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay with just three g/l of sugar but 14.5 per cent alcohol yields about 124 calories for the same size glass.

With that in mind, here are five wines with 105 calories or less per glass to set you up for a happy, healthy New Year.

2017 Forrest Estate “The Doctors’” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (Vintages 217842 $19.95 in stores and online)

Alc.: 9.5 per cent

Sugar: 8 g/l

Calories per 150ml serving: 85

This bottle is made by doctors-turned-winemakers who’ve pioneered an all-natural means of making low-alcohol wines. The method involves selectively-timed leaf removal, which slows the vine’s ability to make sugar without compromising the broader ripening process. And the results are heartening. This Sauvignon Blanc now on shelves shines with robust flavours and aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit and elderflower. Terrific with oven-roasted asparagus with a light sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Score: 90+

2017 Oggi Botter Pinot Grigio, Italy (LCBO 86199 $9.25 in stores and online) 

Alc.: 12 per cent

Sugar: 5 g/l

Calories per 150ml serving: 101

I recommended the 2016 vintage of this wine last year, and the current vintage on shelves is also excellent for a wine under $10 per bottle. On the nose, soft scents of lemon and freshly sliced honeydew melon draw you in. Then a crisp, dry wash of cool flavour follows, laced with slate and salt. The fruit-driven attack feels silky smooth in the mouth and tapers to faintly saline, lime and green olive-tinged finish. Pour this wine with steamed mussels in a tomato garlic broth. 

Score: 89

2017 Banfi Placido Pinot Grigio, IGT Tuscany, Italy (LCBO 588897 $12.95 in stores and online)

Alc.: 12.5 per cent

Sugar: 6g/l

Calories per 150ml serving: 109

The whiff of flint and chalk lead to a brisk attack with cascading flavours of sour lemon, wet stones, and salt. Then the stony-salty, slightly savoury character persists on the finish for ages. Although this style might be a bit too restrained for some, its beautiful balance and understated complexity make it quite a stylish and gastronomically versatile wine—at an amazing price. I like the way this Pinot Grigio pairs with all the ingredients of a classic chef’s salad—mixed greens tossed with oil and lemon, cold cuts, boiled egg, tomato, cucumber and cheese. 

Score: 91

2016 Schmitt Sohne Relax Riesling, Mosel, Germany (LCBO 621888 $12.95 in stores and online) 

Alc.: 9 per cent

Sugar: 42g/l

Calories per 150ml serving: 101

This is Canada’s bestselling imported Riesling for good reason—it’s delicious. And if you’re watching your waistline, it’s a smart bottle to keep in the door of the fridge. Expect pronounced scents of lemon blossom that lead to a bright bolt of fetching flavour—juicy peach, lime puree and sliced apples. The explosive blast of sweet fruit is offset by lip-smacking acidity—resulting in an off-dry taste. Goes very well on its own or with salty, spicy foods. I like it with Cajun blackened fish or chicken.

Score: 89

2017 Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy (LCBO 285585 in $14.95 till Jan. 6, reg. $16.95 stores and online)

Alc.: 12 per cent 

Sugar: 7g/l

Calories per 150ml serving: 105

Valpolicella is a easy-to-enjoy red that’s light, affable and quaffable. In Hemingway’s words, Valpolicella is “a light, dry red wine, as friendly as the house of a favourite brother.” I would agree. And this bottle is a stellar example of the style with its cool scents of cherries and juicy swirl of understated fruit and earth. The charm of this wine is its balance. All the elements—fruit, acid, tannin, and alcohol—come together in a harmonious whole that’s pure pleasure to drink. Pour it with lean meats. 

Score: 91

HOW TO CALCULATE CALORIES IN WINE

Calculate the calories from alcohol using this formula:

Volume (ml) x alcohol (ABV %) x 8 / 1000 x 7

Calculate the calories from sugar using this formula

Sugar content (g/l) x volume (ml) / 1000 X 4

Add the two amounts together to arrive at the total calories in a glass of wine.

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

Five great wines for less than $10

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

Not flush with cash anymore? Here’s my gift to you, post-Christmas: five wines under $10 that are actually a pleasure to drink. After all, you don’t need to spend a lot to get a good glass of wine, you just need to know what to buy. And these bottles prove it.

NV Casal Garcia Vinho Verde DO, Portugal (LCBO 530261 $9.95 in stores and online)

Every sip of this crisp white starts with an arresting scent of salted lime before sprinting across the palate with an electric, slightly fizzy attack of Granny Smith apple and lime sorbet. No wonder it’s the best-selling Vinho Verde in the world. And the kiss of sweetness in the centre is beautifully balanced with mouthwatering acidity, so it finishes clean and dry. Pour it with fish tacos, Thai green curry, or shrimp dishes — anything you’d serve with a wedge of lime, really. Deliciousness. 

Score: 90+

NV Rene Barbier Mediterranean White, Catalunya (LCBO 332767 $9.95 in stores and online)

If you want to be sitting on a beach somewhere warm but aren’t (because you’re reading this column in Canada instead), grab a bottle of this charming white and channel the Mediterranean. It’s crisp, clean and totally clutch. Think come-hither aromas of lemon zest, honeysuckle and chalk followed by a racy attack of mixed citrus and fresh apples, all understated and cool. Serve it with chicken skewers, tzatziki and village salad, and see where it takes you. 

Score: 89

2018 Concha y Toro Frontera Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (LCBO 524348 $8.95 in stores and online)

I recommended the 2017 vintage of this wine in August — scoring it 93 — and the 2018 vintage on shelves now is just as good. Its dry, delicate green apple and damp herb flavour hovers somewhere between the restraint of French Sancerre, which is of course pure Sauvignon Blanc, and the full-throttle style from Marlborough, New Zealand. Then, an appealing little shake of salt and twist of lime lingers on the finish. Especially tasty with herb-crusted salmon or chicken.

Score: 93

2017 Oggi Botter Primitivo IGT Puglia, Italy (LCBO 86421 $9.25 in stores and online)

From the heady aromas of plums and dates, mint and cinnamon, to the juicy hit plump cherries laced with warm tobacco and earth, this medium-bodied red wine is a textbook example of Primitivo at a steal of a price. Primitivo, grown all over Puglia in southern Italy, is the same grape variety as Zinfandel — California’s flagship red. So if you like red Zin, you’ll love this intriguingly complex, mouthfilling wine. Serve it with baked beans, sausages or beef ribs.

Score: 92

2017 El Abuelo Organic Tempranillo-Monastrell, Almansa DO, Spain (LCBO 524520 $9.95 in stores and online)

This sultry Spanish red immediately draws you in with those classic leather-and-cherry aromas of Tempranillo. The entry is smooth but lively with lifted red berry flavours underpinned by a brooding depth; the bright red fruit quickly giving way to darker notes of macerated blackberries, bitter chocolate and crushed charcoal. This is a well-balanced, serious-tasting wine for a very good price. Pour it with roasted red meats or thinly sliced Chorizo sausage.

Score: 90+

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

Toast the new year with a wine for your sign: Carolyn Evans Hammond matches the personality of each astrological zodiac sign to a wine of similar character.

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

When I was in my 20s living in California, one of the standard things we did for entertainment was have our palms read at Fahrenheit 451 Books, a literary landmark in Laguna Beach. OK, I admit it. I read palms there too — for a month. That was long ago. But one could say I have a mystical background so this wine-Zodiac pairing isn’t much of a stretch. With that in mind, I’ve drawn on my knowledge of celestial configurations to match the personality of each sun sign to a wine of similar character. So for those of you who sneak a peek at your horoscope from time to time, this column is for you. 

ARIES (March 21-April 19)

2017 Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (Vintages 10421 $24.95 in stores and online)

This exuberant yet well-made Sauvignon Blanc is bound to appeal to Aries, who tend to be a bit revved up too. This polished version of New Zealand Sauvignon teems with intense aromas and satiny flavours of gooseberry and lime with subtle suggestions of salted lemon zest that linger.

Score: 89

TAURUS (April 20-May 20)

2017 Osborne Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon, Castilla, Spain (LCBO 610188 $11.95 in stores and online)

This wine and Taurus are both symbolized by the bull. Coincidence? Absolutely not. This earthy, authoritative red is clearly meant for those born under this sun sign. Heady aromas of sweet cherries and black earth lead to a commanding entry that calls to mind sun-warmed plums, freshly turned soil, muddled mixed berries and a touch of allspice on the finish.

Score: 92

GEMINI (May 21-June 20)

2017 Luccarelli Negroamaro, Puglia, Italy (LCBO 380972 $9.05 in stores and online)

Gemini, the social butterflies of the Zodiac, will appreciate this wine because it’s total crowd-pleaser—smooth, ripe and full-of-fruit. But its lovely dark undertones of cocoa, espresso and smoke and talc-like texture on the finish reveal a more complex, serious side too—just like a Gemini. Perfect match.

Score: 93

CANCER (June 21-July 22)

NV Gemma di Luna Moscato Dolce, Italy (LCBO 583401 $14.95 in stores and online)

Cancer, the moonchild of the Zodiac, will appreciate this wine with its sparkly silver moon on the label. The wine is sweet but balanced with mouthwatering acidity so it tastes refreshing and vibrant with forward flavours of baked pears and peach pie. Keeping a bottle in the fridge will enhance the home of these most domesticated of creatures.

Score: 89

LEO (July 23-August 22)

2017 Pompous Megalomaniac Red, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON (LCBO 341610 $15.95 in stores and online)

Leos like to be in the spotlight, don’t shy away from drama, and are pretty confident of their self-worth. Some say they can even be pompous megalomaniacs. So this is the wine for them—a bright-tasting blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with zippy red fruit laced with notes of walnuts, cranberry and a hint of balsamic.

Score: 88

VIRGO (August 23 – September 22)

2017 Loosen-Up Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany (LCBO 541110 $14.05 in stores and online)

Yes, Virgos can be a bit uptight at times, so this wine is the obvious choice. The label pokes fun at the tightly wound tendencies of this sun sign while the wine’s perfect balance will appeals to their attentive and analytical minds. It’s a sweet-crisp white that tastes like a lick of really good lemon sorbet.

Score: 89+

LIBRA (September 23-October 22)

2017 Lignum Vitis Frappato Shiraz, Sicily, IGT (LCBO 629337 $16.95 in stores and online)

Libras are all about balance, harmony and partnership. So this label design inspired gravitational waves—steady and parallel—will appeal to their very essence. New at the LCBO, the wine is a robust, dark blend that erupts with smooth rich flavours of bitter chocolate, black cherry puree and black pepper.

Score: 90+

SCORPIO (October 23-November 21)

2017 Toasted Head Chardonnay, California (Vintages Essential 594341 $18.95 in stores and online)

It is no secret Scorpios are hotheaded, so this Chardonnay with the fire-breathing bear on the label is their vinous soulmate. Also, Scorpio is a water sign and this wine is wet, so there’s that too. This wooded Chardonnay by the way tastes tastes a lot like caramel apples—but dry—with a silky-smooth texture, and long finish.

Score: 88+

SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21)

2017 Negrar Appassimento, Rosso Veneto IGT, Italy (LCBO 629865 $15.90 in stores and online)

Sagittarius people are the travellers of the Zodiac—needing to roam free, but always returning home. So this label with its depiction of Ulysses’ 10-year journey home from Troy to Ithaca was made for them—obviously. The wine is drop dead delicious too with its rich layers of cashmere fruit, espresso, dried plum, black cherries and tobacco taste.

Score: 94

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19)

2017 Fairview’s Goats do Roam Red, Western Cape, South Africa (LCBO 718940 $13.00 in stores and online)

Capricorn, symbolized by the goat, should grab a bottle of this because, well, the label. “Goats do Roam” of course rhymes with “cotes du Rhone”, a nod to the fact it’s a blend of that French appellation’s varieties, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Expect a bright purple swirl of red and black fruit—simple but juicy.

Score: 88

AQUARIUS (January 20 – February 18)

NV Grande Cuvee 1531, Cremant de Limoux, France (LCBO 428086 $18.95 in stores and online)

Ruled by air, Aquariuses are known for their bubbly personalities. So it becomes them to swan about with a glass of sparkling wine, such as this Cremant. It offers elegant flavours that hint at white peach, white flowers and almonds, with a sprinkle of salt and crushed stone on the finish. Sophisticated but not pretentious—just like an Aquarius.

Score: 94

PISCES (February 19-March 20)

2017 Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa (LCBO 295022 $10.95 in stores and online)

Two fish swimming in opposite directions represents Pisces. Two Oceans represents this Sauvignon Blanc. So Pisces, this wine is clearly your vinous match. Fragrant and fresh, it offers a vibrant wash of silky fruit that calls to mind ruby grapefruit and apricot laced with lime. It’s a dry, crisp wine to chill way down and pour with spicy nuts.

Score: 89

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Five seriously stylish sparkling wines

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

It’s December and the holiday season is in full-swing! How are you holding up? Exhausted yet? Well, hang in there. You’ve got a week or so left. And chances are you’ll still need to buy a bottle of bubbly at some point, so let me help you out. The popularity of Prosecco can make it seem a bit ordinary — so skip that style. And bona fide Champagne — the really good stuff from France — can blow your budget in a single pop so might not be the best choice. Instead, reach for any of these five fabulous wines that are undersung, undervalued and less than $21. 

NV Trapiche Extra Brut Sparkling, Argentina (LCBO 262261 $13.95 in stores and online)

This dry bubbly made from an unconventional blend of grape varieties-Chardonnay, semillon and Malbec — offers incredible value for money. It shines pale lemon yellow in the glass, exudes aromas of freshly-sliced Gala apples and warm croissant, and offers a brisk, expansive attack upon entry. Mouth-filling flavours of fresh apples, lemon zest and butter pastry erupt then slowly retreat, leaving a long, elegant finish. Not terribly complex but very pure-tasting, eloquent and well-balanced wine for the price. Serve it with a big bowl of salted, pot-popped popcorn.

Score: 93

NV Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé, Chile (LCBO 365205 $13.95 in stores and online)

Sparkling rosé is very on trend right now. And this pure Pinot Noir is one of the best value versions on shelves today. It shines a pretty shade of rose gold threaded with delicate bubbles and immediately draws you in with coy aromas of raspberries and cream with a hint of nougat somewhere. More subtle and dry-tasting then the label might suggest, the entry is soft but refreshing with restrained notes of ripe raspberries and cream with the whisper of nougat emerging again on the finish. Serve it with goat cheese baked in phyllo pastry.

Score: 92

NV Villa Conchi Seleccion Cava, Spain (LCBO 577148 $17.45 in stores and online)

Though the price has risen nearly $3 since I recommended this wine a year ago, it still an excellent Cava that’s well worth the money. It’s straw-coloured and pale with wispy aromas of sea spray and white grapefruit that enters like beam of light-tightly coiled flavours of grapefruit, green olive, granite and bitter orange peel unfurling in the mouth. There’s a quiet kiss of sweetness somewhere but it’s balanced by racy acidity. The allure of this sassy Spanish sparkler is its mineral and Mediterranean vibe. It’s a Cava that really comes to life with a dish of good olives. 

Score: 91

NV Grande Cuvee 1531 de Aimery, Cremant de Limoux, France (LCBO 428086 $18.95 in stores and online)

Crémant is sparkling wine made in France outside of the Champagne region. And because it undergoes a second fermentation in bottle to make it bubbly, it can be quite complex and elegant — much like Champagne. Such is the case here with this Chardonnay-Chenin Blanc-Pinot Noir blend from Limoux, which is also the oldest sparkling wine region in the world. Here, elegant aromas and flavours hint at white peach, white flowers and almonds with a hint of crushed stone and salt on the finish. This is a dry, sophisticated wine with tiny bubbles to pour with pride. Excellent with smoked salmon or shrimp cocktail.

Score: 94

NV Paul Delane Crémant de Bourgogne Réserve, France (LCBO 214981 $20.55 in stores and online) 

From Burgundy comes this shining example of crémant. It blends Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Aligoté and Gamay to create a sparkling wine full of finesse. Pale gold in colour with a persistent stream of bubbles, this wine exudes delicate aromas of baked apple and butter pastry. Then, the attack is crisp and elegant with flavours of French apple tart threaded with notes of nutmeg, lemon and wet stones that linger on the finish. For a real treat, serve this crémant with gougères — those great cheese puffs served in France.

Score: 92

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

These stocking stuffers won’t be regifted

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

With the run up to Christmas upon us, the pressure is on to find good things in small packages. These outstanding smaller-format bottles are just that. So stuff them into stockings, wrap them up for rounds of Secret Santa, and rest assured they won’t be regifted. 

NV Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut Mini Champagne, France, 200mL (LCBO 111294 $23.60 in stores and online)

Although Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut is not the most complex Champagne on the market, it’s the only one that sells these cute-as-hell 200mL minis at the LCBO. Expect that classic taste profile of bona fide Champagne — cooked apple, lemon curd and toasted biscuit — in every drop as well as gentle notes of crushed stones and salted almonds on the finish. Give a bottle or two with some eco-friendly paper straws and bring a little joy to the world. Pricey, yes, but so festive and fun. 

Score: 89

2017 Reif Estate Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (LCBO 582247 $7.95 in stores and online)

Shining deep golden in the glass, this lusciously sweet icewine exudes curling aromas of mango and marmalade followed by an intense entry. An eruption of candied citrus, superripe mango and stewed apricot saturate the palate — tasting polished and pure — while taut acidity counterbalances the sweetness to keep every mouthful juicy and fresh. Outstanding expression of Vidal icewine. Lovely to sip on its own, chilled down to amp up the refreshment factor, or paired with a good gorgonzola. 

Score: 91

2017 Folonari Valpolicella Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy, 375mL (LCBO 6254 $9.95 in stores and online)

You cannot go wrong with this reliable red with its slow, languid fragrance of violet and raspberry and bright but delicate floral-berry flavours laced with soft earth and dried cranberry. The seamless structure, lacquered mouth-feel, and long finish are all earmarks of fine craftsmanship — always great to find in a reasonably priced wine. And the chalky finish lends a bit of length and texture. Goes fabulously with roast turkey sandwiches for that week of leftovers — so Santa might label the bottle accordingly, wink, wink.

Score: 92

2015 Masi Campofiorin Rosso Verona IGT, Italy, 375mL (LCBO 297655 $12.00 in stores and online)

If the wine lover in your life prefers more savory-tasting wines from the Old World, give this wee bottle. With a few years of bottle age, it exudes a bouquet of earth, nutmeg and coffee as well as stewed plums. Then, the attack tastes brisk and textured with notes of tobacco and balsamic underpinning bright cherry fruit and fresh fig. Made from the local Veronese grapes — Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara — and aged in wood, this rosso tastes like Italy. It goes will all sorts of things, especially antipasto or pizza.

Score: 89

NV Villa Sandi “Il Fresco” Prosecco, DOC Treviso, Italy, 375mL (LCBO 194191 $10.60 in stores and online)

Fans of Prosecco, which is still ragingly popular, will love this smart little half bottle. It offers sprightly aromas of candied pear and pineapple and an off-dry attack that calls to mind freshly sliced pears, muddled white peaches, and quiet suggestions of white flowers. The racy acidity balances the slight sweetness ensuring it finishes clean and dry. Consistent and versatile, this sparkling wine works as well on its own as it does with salty finger foods such as good quality potato chips or dry-roasted nuts. 

Score: 89

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

Where to find Toronto’s best wines by-the-glass

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, published in The Toronto Star Life section and at thestar.com (syndicated)

December is the month of holiday cheer, when everyone has someone they want to meet for a drink. For wine lovers, that calls for a truly great glass of wine. But many places get the by-the-glass selection horribly wrong. So here’s your cheat sheet — five of the best wines by the glasses in Toronto, with a sure-bet pairing for each.

The wine: 2016 K. Decombes Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($17/ five ounces $10/ three ounces)

The food: Beef flank tartare ($17) 

The place: Midfield Winebar & Tavern, 1434 Dundas St. W. Toronto

This exciting find is a cru Beaujolais, one of the most undervalued wine styles in France. Cru Beaujolais hails from any of the 10 top growing areas, or crus, in the region — in this case Morgon. Here, the expression of Morgon delights the senses with earthy-but-elegant flavours of crushed white and pink peppercorn and muddled mixed berries with a touch of black tea. Bright acidity lifts the supple fruit and cleanses the palate between bites of flank tartare on toast. The raw, chopped beef from Penokean Hills Farm in Ontario (which prides itself on raising animals with a stress-free lifestyle) is seasoned with smoked oil, then sprinkled with chives and roasted beech mushrooms, and dotted with lumpfish caviar and mayo made with burnt onions. Fabulous pairing.

The wine: 2015 Lucien Muzard & Fils Santenay 1er Cru “Maladière”, Burgundy, France ($26/ five ounces, $16/ three ounces)

The food: Venison carpaccio ($16)

The place: Archive 909, 909 Dundas St. W., Toronto 

If you’ve ever wondered why red Burgundy is the Holy Grail of wine for so many people — or are already a card-carrying Burgundy hound — you’ll want to taste this beauty. Made from hand-picked organic and biodynamically grown fruit from 35+ year old vines, the pure Pinot Noir shines pale ruby in the glass and draws you in with feathery scents of coffee and wild berries before gliding like silk over the palate, tasting sunlit and pure. It quietly suggests violets, raspberries and beetroot. Then, it tapers to reveal gentle notes of coffee, cherry and crushed hazelnut on the finish. Goes very well with the red deer venison from Quebec offered on the menu, which comes topped with pickled Ontario blackberries, black truffle shavings from Burgundy, sorrel leafs, sunchoke puree, toasted hazelnuts and extra virgin olive oil. 

The wine: 2013 Lunaria Coste di Moro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP, Italy ($19/six ounces, $9.50/three ounces)

The food: Bone marrow ($18) 

The place: Harry’s Steak House, 3277 Bloor St. W., Toronto

This organic and biodynamic red from Lunaria exudes earthy-meaty aromas before swathing the palate with a mouth-coating, plush entry that instantly saturates the palate with layers of sultry flavours — black cherry, dried plum, black olive and warm tobacco. The meaty core is shot through with just the right amount of palate-cleansing acidity for the slow-roasted, melt-in-your mouth marrow that comes strewn with chopped chives and pickled red onions, with toasted baguette on the side. What I love about Harry’s, Toronto’s hottest new steak house in Toronto’s west end with a large bar area, is that they will open any bottle on its 200+ bottle wine list and serve it by-the-glass with a commitment to buy two glasses.

The wine: 2016 Westcott Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario ($15/5 ounces $27/9 ounces)

The food: Ontario burrata ($24)

The place: Montecito, 299 Adelaide St. W., Toronto 

Locavores will want to head to Montecito for a glass of this shining example of Chardonnay from Ontario. The wine begins with wispy scents of smoked lemons and orange zest before the beamlike satin entry quickly broadens to reveal mixed citrus and poached pear threaded with Chantilly cream, toasted nut and a touch of burnt sugar. This dry white wine tastes lit from within paired with a bite of the Ontario burrata on grilled Blackbird Bakery sour dough. Delightful. Taste that first. Then, for a more playful array of flavour combinations, nibble away at the salad of radicchio, Bartlett pear, persimmon, toasted hazelnut streusel and poached cranberries with a touch of oil and Niagara Baco Noir balsamic vinegar served with the burrata and bread. With this wine, it all works.

The Wine: NV Vitteaut-Alberti Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé, France ($14/four ounces)

The Food: Terrine de poisson fumé ($14.95)

The Place: Le Select Bistro, 432 Wellington St. W., Toronto

This delicate, coral-tinted sparkling rosé from Burgundy never disappoints, and is always my go-to wine when I head to this Toronto institution. From the soft peach-raspberry fragrance to the brisk attack of the same laced with notes of sea salt and lemon curd, it offers instant elegance and easy refreshment at a steal of a price. But this wine really glows when it chases a bite of the rich terrine de poisson fume — or smoked fish mousse — spread thickly on the house-baked and grilled focaccia. Whitefish sustainably sourced from Lake Huron is whipped with white wine, shallots and anchovies into the smoothest mousse imaginable then chilled and served in a perfect block — with crunchy bits of toasted grains and seeds on top and a little kohlrabi krout on the side. Decadent. 

Carolyn Evans Hammond is a Toronto-based wine writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: carolyn@carolynevanshammond.com

PROSECCO: A SMART WAY TO ADD SPARKLE TO YOUR BIG DAY

Prepared by Carolyn Evans Hammond for Beautiful Beginnings’ December 2018 Issue

No doubt about it. Prosecco is a savvy selection for your wedding. Not only is the world is smitten that stylish, pear-scented sparkling wine from Italy. But the love affair isn’t just a hot flash-in-the-pan affair that’s going to fizzle out—it’s here to stay for good reason.

Unlike other wine trends built on pretty labels or trendy new taste sensations, Prosecco’s rise in popularity flows from very real improvements in the wine itself that occurred about 10 years ago.

In 2009, the Italian Minister of Agriculture, a gent named Luca Zaia, changed Prosecco from the name of a grape variety (now called Glera) that could be grown anywhere with no regulations governing production, to a protected, demarcated region or “appellation” with strict grape growing and winemaking practices. This change dramatically improved the Prosecco on shelves today. But prices have yet to shoot up, making Prosecco one of the most undervalued sparkling wine styles on shelves today.

You can buy very respectable Prosecco for less than $20 per bottle today—a fraction of the cost of Champagne, which can quickly blow the budget at nearly $100 a pop. No, Prosecco does not have the same level of complexity or finesse of that fine French fizz, but it’s still a very respectable pour. But you still need to know which bottles to buy, when to serve them, and how.

To help you out, here’s a list of five widely available labels that offer excellent value for money, with tasting notes and serving suggestions to help make your big day sparkle.

NV Mionetto Prestige Treviso Brut Prosecco DOC, Veneto, Italy

This is bestselling Prosecco in the world and the fastest growing Prosecco sku in Canada for good reason. It’s dry, delicate and restrained with shimmering notes of pear, honeydew melon and a whisper of grapefruit. Effortless elegance.

Serve it with when the bride’s getting dressed and during the cocktail reception with d’oeuvres.

NV La Marca Prosecco DOC, Extra Dry, Veneto, Italy

Prosecco comes in three sweetness levels—brut, extra dry, and dry, with brut being the driest. So this extra dry Prosecco is actually a sweeter, off-dry style with flavours and aromas that call to mind orchard and citrus fruit. And the label is tasteful too.

Serve it with wedding cake.

NV Bottega Treviso Il Vino dei Poeti Brut Prosecco DOC, Veneto, Italy

From its soft fragrance of green apple, pear and honeysuckle to the mouthwatering attack of orchard fruit underpinned by almond and white flowers, this is one of more complex Proseccos on shelves. The barely-there kiss of sweetness is properly balanced by bracing acidity so each sip finishes clean and dry.

Serve it with when the bride’s getting dressed and during the cocktail reception with d’oeuvres.

NV Santa Margherita Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy

Aromas of seaspray and sliced pears lead to a sparkling, beamlike entry that calls to mind sea salt, slate and flint. The fine bubbles, razor sharp acidity and somewhat creamy mouthfeel add interest and intensity as the dry flavours that swell and taper to a long finish.

Serve it with when the bride’s getting dressed and during the cocktail reception with d’oeuvres.

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Bottles to brag about

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, Prepared for Taste, The BC Liquor Board’s Magazine, Winter 2018 Issue

Bragworthy bottles make the perfect gifts. Wines that are so good that, unwrapping them is almost as exciting as drinking them. Categorically, these blue chip offerings have each earned a coveted place in the collective consciousness of connoisseurs —the unspoken canon of fine wine. Prestige cuvee Champagne. Amarone.  Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Decades-old Port. Chablis. And even top Canadian Icewine. Here’s why these six styles bring their own pomp and circumstance to all things holiday.

Prestige Cuvee Champagne

Champagne is always a sparkling wine choice. But prestige cuvee—which is the term applied to a Champagne house’s top wine—is absolutely and unquestionably the best bubbly money can buy. These days, prestige cuvees can be vintage dated or non-vintage and they can hail from a single vineyard or be a blend of wines from different areas. But the common thread is this: they are always, the purest and most pristine expressions of Champagne money can buy and can be aged decades. For that reason, these wines cost top dollar to be sure; but they never disappoint. And they make spectacular gifts.

Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella – affectionately shortened to Amarone—is made by pressing and fermenting air-dried, shriveled grapes. So the wine is rich with extract – a powerful, full-bodied, dry or off-dry vino that rarely drops below 15 per cent alcohol. It’s pricey to produce and to purchase, making it a special occasion wine. But when it’s good, it’s one of the deepest, most deliciously plush-tasting red wines on the market with riveting, layered complexity that calls to mind the sweet and the savory—macerated berries and dried stone fruit as well as such earthy flavours as dark roast coffee, tar, olive, bitter chocolate, black pepper, truffle, and dried herbs. In short, it’s the perfect gift for a big red wine lover.

Napa Cabernet

Napa Valley produces some of the most coveted Cabernet Sauvignon wine in the world—a fact first confirmed in 1976 when British wine merchant Steven Spurrier hosted the famous “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting. The event pitted top Californian Cabernet Sauvignon against similar blends from Bordeaux, France—and the top wine was from California—a bottle of 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Today, the wine style affectionately called “Napa Cab” has earned undeniable cult-status. Especially when it hails from one of the now many top estates including but certainly not limited to Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin Cellars and Dalla Valle Vineyards.  While many of these wines are on allocation and nearly impossible to buy, they create a halo affect for more accessible but also quite coveted Cabernets from Napa such as Cakebread Cellars, Caymus, Cliff Lede, Dominus, Duckhorn, and Opus One. Gifting any of these bottles include an inherent drum roll that lasts until the bottle is uncorked.

Tawny Port

Tawny Port is a special wine because it is, by design, barrel-aged for a number of years—usually 10, 20, 30 or 40. This maturation process gives it a beautiful amber colour and sweet but complex character that calls to mind nuts, butterscotch, figs, and often a spike of berries or citrus zeal. The older the wine, the less fruit-forward it becomes and more about nuts and melting toffee. It is a wine that can be consumed over the course of a few months after opening too, making it a special wine to sip throughout the season. Always a smart gift. 

Chablis

The best (and most expensive) Chardonnay in the world hails from Burgundy, France. And the small region within Burgundy called Chablis makes the most transparent expression of Chardonnay. This wine is almost always unwooded, and a very pure-tasting, restrained style of white with a telltale note of wet stones that can linger for ages. Giving a bottle of fine white Burgundy—expecially Chablis—will make any white wine lover swoon. 

Top-Tier Canadian Icewine 

Dessert wine is bottled luxury. And Canada has been making world class icewine now for decades—since 1991 when Inniskillin 1989 Vidal Icewine won a top international award, the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo. Giving a bottle of Canadian Icewine from a leading local producer such as Inniskillin or Nk’Mip Cellars offers all the tradition of giving something sweet and luxurious for the holidays—and beats a fruit cake or tin of shortbread cookies hands down.

ITALIAN CLASSICS

2013 Tedeschi Amarone

Italy 110312 $54.99

Scents of cherry and chalk lead to a brisk, broad and intense erruption of super-ripe berries that arc and unfurl with flavours of earth, chocolate, marzipan, fig, coffee and more.

CHAMPAGNE

2009 Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Champagne

France 280461 $229.99

Aromas of crushed oyster shells lead to a firm, tightly-wound, deeply-mineral attack of seaspray and limestone with a grapefruit zest undertow. Elegant and linear Champagne of real class.

NAPA CABS

2016 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

California 390849 $99.99

The velvet rush of crushed berries laced with melting milk chocolate, cassis and warm vanilla bean is robust and stylish—a classic expression of Napa Cabernet.

PORT

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny

Portugal 149047 $69.99

Warm scents of toffee and roasted nuts; a sweet swirl of cherry-almond-caramel and dried citrus peel; and a long resonant finish offers pure satisfaction. Solid value.

WHITE BURGUNDY

2017 Chablis William Fevre Champs Royaux

France 25270 $36.99

A silky rush of Granny Smith apple and ripe pear anchored by cool minerals—wet stones, flint and salt—tastes harmonious and pure, then narrows to a grapefruit zest finish.
ICEWINE

2015 NK’MIP Riesling Icewine Qwam Qwmt

Canada 988535 $68.99 (375ml)

 Stewed stone fruit aromas and flavours are delicately stitched with a nutty complexity while streak of mouthwatering acidity balances the succulent fruit beautifully--a very polished tasting icewine.

 

 

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CHRISTMAS JUST GOT BETTER

By Carolyn Evans Hammond, Prepared for Taste, The BC Liquor Board’s Magazine, Holiday 2018 Issue

Despite what the chef-du-jour might think, the crowning glory of the December 25th feast is never the golden turkey, rack of lamb, or big, beefy rib roast. It's the wine that goes with the meal. Imagine, for a moment, plonking a bottle of sweet, simple rosé on the meticulously laid table. Or a fruity-frothy, alcopop-like concoction for that matter. Wouldn't work would it. Might have been okayyy in 1975, but admit it: it’s a bit yesteryear. Today, the wine matters much, so here’s how to do it right—for kids from 19 to 92—and Merry Christmas to you.

WINES WITH SEAFOOD 

Broiled lobster tails with drawn butter, oysters on the half shell, and roasted or steamed Dungeness crab are just a few culinary specialties worthy of gracing the table on Christmas. And the very best wine to pour with such seafood dishes is without a doubt Champagne. The bonafide French stuff of course, threaded with tiny bubbles and exuding hallmark aromas of butter pastry, lemon curd, and baked apple—all tightly-woven, restrained and laced with racy acidity. Such a wine and food pairing pretty much guarantees a sparkling evening. Louis Roederer, Veuve Clicquot, and Pol Roger are three names to trust.

WINES WITH TURKEY 

If you go all traditional and roast the big bird, don’t do the usual and just pop a bottle each of Riesling and Pinot Noir and call it a day. Ho-ho-ho—no-no-no. That’s not going to jingle anyone’s bells on this oh, holy night. Instead, select a voluptuous, wooded Chardonnay. The warm nuttiness and cool citrus zeal will season every bite of the bird and work well with very element of the traditional feast—potatoes, stuffing, gravy, a token green veg of some sort and even a dot of cranberry sauce.  Wente, Sonoma Cutrer, and Kendall Jackson are a few reliable makers of oaked Chardonnay.

WINES WITH LAMB

Want to really set off the delicate flavour of lamb? Serve a Chianti Classico. Its  perfumed, dusty cherry core and gentle allusions of dried herbs, wild flowers and warm wood will lift the lamb to new levels, seasoning the meat and adding elegance to the whole meal. What’s more, the wine’s inherent savory, Old World style feels warm and traditional, two elements welcome at the holiday table. A few of the most well-regarded makers of Chianti Classico include Ricasoli, Gabbiano and Ruffino.

WINES WITH BEEF

A roast of beef is a majestic cut of meat that calls for a wine of equal stature. So turn to the noblest of reds—Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s produced in pretty much every wine region of the world now, so competition is fierce and quality, high. For about $30 you can buy a brilliant bottle brimming with flavours of cassis, chocolate, tobacco and more—especially if you look to the New World regions of Argentina, California, Chile and Australia. And this classic flavour profile amps up the the bold flavour of beef. Cabernet Sauvignon form Josh Cellars, Cannonball, and Cakebread Cellars all offer good value for money.

WINES WITH VEGETARIAN FARE


Bring joy to your world—or at least your holiday feast—with a mushroom-based meatless main with a banging bottle of Barolo. Think wild mushroom risotto, mushroom Wellington, or oyster mushroom steaks with miso gravy. Barolo, after all, is made of the tar-and-rose scented Nebbiolo grape and swirls with a fruit-floral-earthy goodness that seems to work wonders with mushrooms. Don’t question why. Just taste the magic. That’s what the holidays are about after all.  Respected producers of Barolo include Fontanafredda, Marchesi di Barolo, and Gaja.

WINES WITH PORK

Serving Pork and Pinot Noir is another way to wish those you love (or at least like or tolerate) a merry little Christmas. Here’s why: pork’s a relatively mild-flavoured white meat that tastes far more calm and bright with a good, smooth red of depth and character—which a well-made Pinot Noir delivers with aplomb. Serve the meat with a deeply caramelized crust, and watch the wine really come to life. Pinot Noir producers who won’t let you down include La Crema, Hahn, and Tantalus.

 WINES WITH SEAFOOD

NV LOUIS ROEDERER BRUT PREMIER CHAMPAGNE

France 268771 $72.99

Cool, dry, almost-creamy flavours of baked apple, lemon curd and toasted pastry are  threaded with fine bubbles and taper to a long warm finish of almond and crushed stone. Beautiful.

WINES WITH TURKEY

 CHARDONNAY—SONOMA CUTRER RUSSIAN RIVER

USA 359505 $27.99

Scents of heady lemon zest and toasted meringue lead to a creamy lick of bright lemon custard edged with freshly baked butter pastry and a slow finish of lemon oil. 

WINES WITH LAMB

2015 CHIANTI CLASSICO-RICASOLI BROLIO

Tuscany 3662 $28.99

This Sangiovese with a dash each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon tastes ripe, juicy, and full-fruited with earthy underpinnings of slate and licorice that emerge through the dusty cherry core.

WINES WITH BEEF  

CABERNET SAUVIGNON—CANNONBALL 2016

California 115212 $28.49

Warm aromas and fruit-forward flavours of cassis and macerated mixed berries are gently layered with melting chocolate, a dusting of cocoa powder and a hint of charcoal. Delicious.

WINES WITH VEGETARIAN FARE 

2013 FONTANAFREDDA BAROLO

Piedmont, Italy 20214 $36.99

Earthy-dark notes of tar and dried plum mingle with lifted floral flavours and a red cherry core while bright acidity and grippy tannins scrape the palate clean. 

WINES WITH PORK  

2015 LA CREMA PINOT NOIR SONOMA COAST

California 366930 $35.99

Ripe, smooth flavours of red berries and black plum are gently laced with notes of mocha, vanilla and baking spices. This fuller-bodied style of Pinot Noir tastes silky and satisfying.

 

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