I make no claim of being a wine critic.
I tried Sommelier training, and I failed miserably. Blind tastings, wine descriptions and criticism, awarding points to a wine – well, it’s not my skill set. When I am presented with a glass of wine, I just want to drink it. I don’t have the patience to gaze forever at the colour, and a good nose and swirl is all I need before I taste. My analytical skills are zero. My only criteria is “Do I like it?”
Given this lack of objectivity and description ability, you may ask “Why on earth are you giving me wine suggestions Jo?”. Well, one thing I am actually pretty good at is directing people to wines they might like. Wine is a pretty subjective thing, and wines you like, I might not – and vice versa.
However, with owning Highbrook, I have many guests who want my opinion of Niagara wineries. The conversation usually starts with “What are the best wineries to go to?”. My response to this is always “What style of wine do you like?” followed by “What is your preferred price range?” and finally “What kind of wine experience do you want?”
I have spent many hours of hard, long, research at the wineries here, and many hours of hard, long, research tasting. So I think I’m pretty good with knowledge of Niagara wineries, being able to direct people to what they might like. All for my guests, you see.
And now for my blog readers.
My wine rack is not just Ontario wine though. I would say it’s 80% Ontario, and a 20% mix of French, Californian, Argentinian, and Australian. I love a big Shiraz now and then. I also tend to be more of a red wine drinker, though I do enjoy white wine too.
Let’s get on with my latest purchases, shall we?
1. Big Head
I am in love with the wines at Big Head, and have been twice since they opened in April. Once I stood at the bar and had samples poured for me by the winemaker himself. The second time I went for their Bigger tasting, which is a fabulous tasting experience. It takes about an hour, and you sample ten wines blind. You can guess how good I was at this. Our poor server, it got to the point where she would ask what wine it was, and I would say “Red!”.
Yep. After many years of wine tasting I still suck at blind tasting. Anyway.
The wines are beautiful. Rich and bold and many are sold out. I went back to pick up some of the 2012 Biggest Red for the holidays, but I was too slow and they were all gone. Cue the sad trombone.
So I learned my lesson. I am now the proud owner of the 2013 Big Head Red, 2013 Bigger Red, 2013 Petit Verdot (honestly my most favourite in this bunch) and the 2014 Big Head Red. Many of the whites were lovely too, but like I said, I tend to drink more red wine.
Colaneri also does Appassimento style, and the winemaker there – Andrzej Lipinski – is also the winemaker at Big Head. So you can see why I like them both. I also have to give high marks for the service at Colaneri. Really helpful, engaging, friendly staff.
But the best marks of course go to the wine.
2012 was a particularly great year for our wines, so when I spied the 2012 Merlot, 2012 Cabernet Franc, and the 2012 Insieme ( a red blend), I knew I had to try them. Then I knew I had to buy them. Their Corposo red is a staple in my cellar, and I also still have some of their 2011 Syrah. The 2012 Syrah has been released but I have yet to try it. I have a feeling it will be glorious too.
3. Foreign Affair Winery
I’ve always loved their Conspiracy blend, but I finally made it out to the winery to sample some of their others. I came home with 2011 Dream (sadly out of stock now), 2010 Temptress, and my only recent white purchase, their 2010 Chardonnay. There were many more I would have liked to come home with too, but I do need to buy other things this month. Like groceries. Well, maybe I can skip groceries this month.
4. Rancourt Winery
I love the wines at Rancourt, and I also love the vibe – totally relaxed with not a whiff of wine snobbery anywhere. Many of their wines are quite budget friendly, with the most expensive listed at $30 on their website.
But let me tell you, that 2012 Syrah is worth every penny of that $30. I love it. I also really enjoy their Chardonnay Reserve, and their Rosé was especially yummy this summer. As you can see in the photo, I have also added their 2012 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to my wine rack.
5. Reif Estate Winery
With many thanks to Reif, I have a supplier for my “Tuesday night wine” this winter. You know what that is, right? A bottle that you are happy to open on a Tuesday night, not one of those “save-it-for-the-weekend-bottles”. But my Tuesday night wine from Reif is just as yummy as a weekend bottle too. It’s their 2011 Merlot, which I got for a steal at their magnificent annual Red Sale last month. This Merlot typically goes for $19.15, but I got it for $9.95 at the sale. I also got their 2012 Meritage and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve for a bargain.
If you didn’t know about their annual Red Sale, you do now! Keep it in mind for next year, as it’s a great chance to stock up on all the reds you love. They also have a White Sale in the spring. I’ll keep you posted.
6. Other wine picks
I don’t have a very sophisticated method for selecting wines at the LCBO. I know what regions I like, the varietals I like, and then I just plunge in and experiment. I read the description if one is attached, and I look at the price point. Typically I prefer most of my wines in the $15 to $20 range, but that seems to be more and more difficult to find these days. I have also received great wine recommendations from Victor Borja-Sheen on Twitter. He is a product consultant for the LCBO in Toronto, and if you aren’t following him already, you really should. Everything he has recommended to me has been great.
I always have a few bottles of Australian Shiraz around – The Four in Hand is the only one left right now. I recently enjoyed the Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz, which is finished in aged whisky barrels. Very smooth and delicious.
The Ravenswood Zinfandel and the Sterling Merlot are two of my classic faves from California. They both were on sale recently too, so that was a bonus. Argentinian Malbecs are a favourite of mine, and some good value ones can still be found. I also always have a few bottles of French wine in the rack. I love Côtes du Rhône in particular, and am always curious to try different ones.
My wine rack is always changing and evolving. I do have certain wines and wineries that are mainstays in my cellar, but I love to experiment and try new ones. My dream is to have a big wine cellar one day, but my organization skills are sometimes lacking. I worry that I would forget wines on the lower racks for example, and that would be a travesty.
What wines have you discovered lately? I’m always looking for terrific wine recommendations.