Wine From The West

Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015

Jesse & Gino Amazing Race Winners 2015


If you’re a fan of Amazing Race Canada you might already be familiar with Covert Farms in British Columbia as it was one of the locations from last season where teams competed in various challenges.  Brothers Gino and Jesse showed their strength as they flipped a large tractor tire 100 meters and placed it on a rack showing everyone they really did have what it takes to walk away with the top prize.

You might be wondering what The Amazing Race has to do with wine but as it happens Covert Farms is not only an organic farm it’s also a winery and since brothers Brent and Sean had to complete a speed bump in this same leg of the race before they could move on they had to fill, cork, and label a dozen bottles of wine, then properly dip the neck of each bottle in wax to create a seal.

Covert Farms

Covert Farms

Located at the foot of McIntyre Bluff on 650 acres north of Oliver, British Columbia the organic farm, vineyard, and winery produces Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, and Rosé, as well as three proprietary red blends The Bluff, MDC and Amicitia.

IMG_0657Alongside a group of international journalists I recently had a chance to explore the fields and certified organic estate vineyards on a  tour with winemaker Gene Covert in his vintage 1952 Mercury truck.  Educational and entertaining I learned about everything from the land’s history to their sustainable farming practices and was quite astonished by the fact we could still pick strawberries at the end of September, something that’s definitely not happening anywhere else in this country.


The day ended with a culinary journey of delicious dishes paired with amazing wines IMG_0668created by the executive chef from the Watermark Beach Resort.  We started with an appetizer of local salmon pate trendily served in a mason jar topped with pickled fennel along side a glass of the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.  I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc and with that crisp dry fruit forward taste it was a perfect fit to the first course.

IMG_0681While we might have started off light the second course was IMG_0673definitely something more fitting of a farm style meal.  Heirloom potatoes, pork belly and an organic salad mix it was accompanied by one of the farms proprietary red blends called MDC.  Made with certified organic grapes, 100% estate grown the spicy notes were the perfect pairing for the pork.

IMG_0683Since you can’t let your guests leave before enjoying dessert we were served a tasty fruit IMG_0686crumble accompanied by the family estate Rosé.  I’m not usually a fan of Rosé but to be honest I have to say this was my favourite wine of the three. Made with a combination of  Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah the acidity helped cut through the sweetness of the dessert and the notes of cherries and strawberries reminded me of time spent in the strawberry patch earlier in the day.

IMG_0687If you happen to get out that way be sure to stop by an take a tour of the farm and browse the the wines available for sale, I promise you won’t walk away with just one.

The Little Wine Shop Around the Corner


A great wine store is like a great bookstore. It has to be welcoming. It has to offer something new and someone to prove their  passion with great recommendations,

Every time I visit a new city, I google “best wine bars”. You never know what will come up. In Portland, Maine – I met Jacques and Erin at  the Old Port Wine and Cigar Store .  Owner Jacques  is larger than life with a wine collection to match.

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Uncorked is a gem in NYC’s West Village.  Canadian Paul Common turned the world financial crisis into a dream when he opened what’s been labelled the best wine store in the city.


Uncorked features a tasting station with 40 wines. Unlike the LCBO or SAQ, Uncorked doesn’t charge for tasting. They simply hope it will lead to a purchase.

Lisa Carley, sommelier at Uncorked guided me through an around the world tasting tour – from a brilliant California Merlot –  to a Burgundy that did not cost a fortune. It’s no wonder they boast a client list from all over the world.

The true taste of success.


Wine Picks for the Weekend

SAN FRANCISCO 018This is how I felt when I walked into the LCBO this past weekend.

There are some fantastic new wine picks this week that are worthy of attention. I spent some quality time at the tasting bar and my shopping cart went from 0 to 12 faster than I could say Vino Nobile de Montipulciano.  These wines range from affordable (under $20) to downright cheap ($14.95)  and every single one of them will make you cheerful.




Three Ring Shiraz 2013, Barossa Valley, South Australia $18.95  Full-bodied plush with pepper, spicy, great buy.  The big fruity full-bodied attack down the middle at its best. This is the perfect wine for steak or stew, burgers or any kind of beef, or just for sipping.







Di Majo Norante Ramitello 2011 $18.95 – Molise, Italy

Before I taste a half ounce of swanky wine in the LCBO tasting room, I always start out tasting a wine I can actually afford.   This one was a real pleasure. It is a blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico grapes so it carried some decent body and plummy flavours. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points.






Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva 2006 $14.95 LCBO $15.45 SAQ – Spain This is the value buy of the week. It’s a medium-bodied blend of 70% Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo and 10 % Carinena.  At that price, get a six-pack.







bila haut


Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 $25.95 – Midi, France 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Carignan – – medium to full bodied with a lovely long finish. This was my splurge of the week and worth the extra few dollars.





Hope you enjoy the choices. Have a great weekend and let us know what you are drinking!


Great Wines for Summer Sipping

mia, maine & sicily 139If you are lucky, you have that one special place where everything is familiar, everything stays the same. Where the light bounces perfectly off the water at magic hour, the photographer’s favourite time.  When taking a bad picture, just isn’t an option.


Twenty-six years into this adventure, we sit and sip, a crisp white followed by the Red du Jour – watching the mini-dramas unfold and appreciating the joys of a slower life. The toddlers fetch pail after pail of water while their parents encourage them because they know who will fall into bed exhausted tonight.


The grade schoolers compete with the seagulls screeching at the top of their lungs that “I AM NOT TIRED!!!!”. “Of course not, ” soothes the Dad, knowing that countdown to dreamland (for both parents and kids) has begun.IMG_1349

They say goodnight to the magnificent creations of the day.

IMG_1362And make plans for their next architectural wonder, moat and all..


The future CEO’s of the world hold top-level meetings in the tidal pool to discuss their oh- so-important agendas. “What’re you getting from the ice cream truck tomorrow?” “Dunno”

It’s all simply timeless.

A couple of things have changed: parents lug around a lot more gear. sun proof tents, super sand castle makers, paddle boards, high tech coolers and portable mini cribs, tables and chairs for the next generation.


Oh and we drink better wine… and a lot more of it.

Getting Ready for the Week

This year’s picks for the first couple of days: Matua Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($9.99 US, $13.95 LCBO – on sale until Sept. 13th,, $18.25 SAQ) and two California Cabernet Sauvignons – Josh from Josh Cellars 2012 ($12.95 US) and Freakshow  2012 from Michael David Winery ($18.95 US). Both are available at the LCBO on occasion.

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We have the luxury of drinking too much or not enough and enjoying the moments we all lived, loved and on occasion endured. Would I change them for anything? Never.


Sun salutations.

A Pearl of a Winery

A Jordan Gem

A Jordan Gem

For the first time in months, I drove out to the Niagara region. As the rush hour traffic thinned, the view of the lake, row upon row of vines felt like a glass of chilled white on a hot, hazy day. I felt a sense of calm being surrounded by wineries. It reminded me of the sprawling paradise just an hour away from downtown Toronto. Concerts under the stars at Jackson Triggs, tastings at Megalomaniac, Flat Rock, Tawse and always a new winery to discover.

We have friends in Vineland who are living the dream, weekly tastings, daily golf, hot tub in the evenings – Ian and Maria are enjoying the spoils of decades of hard work. When they invited us out, Maria suggested a visit to Pearl Morisette – a wine I have seen on the occasional wine list, but  never tried.

Our visit coincided with a Niagara region monsoon. That made it challenging to search through the high speed wipers for the Pearl Morisette sign. Especially when there is no sign. You have to hunt for the clues. A green barn, a few cows, a locked office.  I’ve watched The Amazing Race Canada. We were  not easily deterred, especially with wine waiting.

IMG_1143Svetlana Atcheva met us under the awning and showed us into a room the size of a couple of large garages – a whiteboard with an expansive TO DO list, no Disney-like gift shop to peruse. This is where the magic happens.

Pearl Morissette is the result of dream. Montreal Sommelier Francois Morissette spent several years  in Burgundy working with some of the best winemakers in the region. In 2007, Toronto developer Mel Pearl proposed a deal not easy to refuse. “He offered Francois the chance to create his own vineyard,” said Svetlana, “One condition:  no compromising” he said.

To Morissette, this meant letting the grapes do what they do best.  Not influenced by sales, by Robert Parker or any other convention. No blending, no addition of yeast to speed up the process. Morissette wanted to know what the land would produce on its own with as little intervention as possible.










They grow the fruit for the skin ripeness not the sugar content.  “It’s about leaving the least footprint possible,” says Svetlana. “This is the wine speaking.”


And this wine keeps speaking much longer than you would expect thanks to clay and cement vessels that allow the wines to grow accustomed to oxygen. They test the process to see how long a wine can be exposed to oxygen without going bad. The wine we tried was opened six days earlier. Svetlana says some of their wines remain unspoiled 30 days after opening.

Francois keeps 10 % of each batch in the library to test “the quality of drunkenness”.


Svetlana says these wines bring you up beautifully – they don’t make you suffer.  “You created a wine that doesn’t give you a hangover???” Svetlana asked Morissette. “That’s the real reason I came here,” she confessed to us.

IMG_1148IMG_1159So what about the wines? I will say up front, to the dismay of just about every person I know who is either German or has studied wine, that I am not a Riesling fan which, of course, was our first wine. This was unlike any Riesling I had ever tasted. Dry, balanced, with lovely citrus notes, peaches, a touch of sage.











Each wine  was the same: unexpected and unconventional. The non-Riesling fan loved the Riesling. The non-Chardonnay fan loved the Chardonnay. The one who generally stays away from Cabernet Franc…well, you get the idea. It’s why you can’t find these wines at the LCBO because they don’t fit the standard flavour profiles. That’s not hurting the business.  As soon as the wines become available, they are snapped up by regulars, restaurants and importers.

IMG_1162The 2012 Cabernet Franc  had me at first sip. This was nothing like any I had tasted before. Svetlana called it their “Spectator” Wine in honour of the  profile-by-numbers that win high scores from Wine Spectator. Le Spectateur surprised even Francois and Svetlana  who realized early on something special was brewing. The result – everything I expected from a Cabernet Franc was dispelled. This wine had lovely aromas of cherry and red fruit – exceptional balance and never ending finish. I could not leave without taking a few bottles home. It will age well…unless I get there first.


Pearl Morisette 3953 Jordan Rd, Jordan, ON 902-562-4376. By appointment only.

Look for the barn.





Weekend Wine Picks



A dinner party surrounded by friends, old and new, is a cause for celebration. It’s an excuse to share some wine (ok – lots of wine) with lively conversation, and since everyone brings a bottle (or two) it is the chance to try some wines you never tried before.



Here are a few suggestions for your weekend of wine.


San Leonino Governo All’Uso 2013  A Medium-bodied wine that is  easy to drink and at the right price.  Itt packs a punch at 14.5% alcohol.   Spaghetti and meatballs or veal parmigiana would be a good match for  this wine. $19.95

IMG_0804Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico 2011   From the heart of the Chianti region, this is is a classic Chianti that showcases the Sangiovese grape, the star of any Tuscan vineyard. This offering from Il Molino di Grace or Thw Windmills of Grace is earthy and delicious grabbing 90 points from Wine Spectator for good reason.$18.95



Convento San Francisco 2005  One of the signs Bacchus, the God of Wine is looking out for you is when you come across a solitary bottle in the Vintages section. It’s no guarantee, but it often means word got out and this is a wine to try? And that’s exactly the case, This full-bodied wine from Ribera del Duero is 90% Tempranillo grape and 10 % Merlot. The result, rich, smooth with elegance. Loved it! $24.95


The Splurge of the Week:

IMG_0807Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace 2012

This cool climate Chardonnay was the hit of the evening. Full-bodied wiith honey, citrus and green apple notes. Le Clos Jordanne Clayton Terrace 2012 is  a stunning wine that made me want to hide it from the quaffing guests (I didn’t – but, I admit, I THOUGHT about it). I didn’t just LOVE it, it made me want to visit the winery. Such amazing and award-winning wines produced right in our backyard!

Enjoy your weekend of wine!

Family Ties

IMG_0734The wine was perfect, the champagne superb. This gathering was as much about family as it was about the wine. It had all the hallmarks of a big family event bursting at the seams. The extended table was set for members who have come from all over Europe for this little get together, the inside jokes, the teasing, the nudging, the respect for elders. And some of the best wines in the world. This is what wine dreams are made of.

The event – a luncheon with the PFV, Primum Familae Vini –  the first families of wine of Europe.images

These names represent the treasures tucked away in the finest wine collections: Antinori, Perrin, Torres, Mouton Rothschild, Drouhin. They are also accessible to all wine drinkers.

The PFV was established in 1992. Its 11 members share a commitment to excellence. Each member is a  family-run operations.  The legendary Robert Mondavi was the 12th, until he sold to the Constellation group.  Membership is by invitation only. Together they share the passion and the challenges, and when they get together, it feels like you have been invited to Sunday dinner.

An Ocean of Delights

An Ocean of Delights

Bottle SASSICAIA 2007 (750ML)

Sassicaia 2007


I had the pleasure of sitting beside Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta,. Her family produces Sassicaia, the queen of the Super Tuscans. She talked about the birth of the brand. Her grandfather Mario, a lover of Bordeaux wines,  in the 40s defied tradition and experimented by planting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region.

Those of you who have tried wines from Bolgheri DOC will know that you can rarely go wrong with anything from that region. If you haven’t, buy a bottle tonight!



Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta & his groundbreaking father Mario Incisa della Rocchetta

“People thought my grandfather was mad,” said Priscilla. But the quality of the wine, which came as no  surprise to her grandfather, led her father to believe there was an opportunity here.
With the help of his cousin, Piero Antinori – of the Italian wine dynasty, Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta began to sell his wine commercially. Sadly, her grandfather died in 1983 before knowing the extent of the success of Sassicaia. Tenuta San Guido also produces Guidalberto  ($52.95) and  Le Difese ($31.95) – wines typically available at the LCBO.
Priscilla said without her grandfather’s vision, Sassicaia would not be the grand wine it is today.  “It is a great legacy” she told the small group gathered to hear the stories of the great families of wine, and even better to taste their finest offerings. At Christmas, they send each other one bottle of their finest.

The group spend three days together once a year. Asked how long does it take to recover, Thomas Perrin of Famille Perrin laughed. Another inside joke.

Each time they meet, they debate inviting one more member. But getting 11 strong personalities to agree takes time. “It must be the right fit with the entire group,” said Priscilla.

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012


“The walls and the wines have stories to tell,” said  Laurent Drouhin, whose family founded the winery in 1890.   He chose a to showcase a crisp and delicious Chablis – the afternoon just kept getting better.

And behind each story – a wine dynasty – like Vega Sicilia that began selling wine to the Spain’s royal family in 1876 or Miguel Torres – whose family winery was established in 1870 . I have been drinking (and recommending) his wines for years. Torres paid tribute to the group. “We are all of us a real family,” he said between signing autographs.


Pablo Alvarez of Vega-Sicilia

Pablo Alvarez of Vega Sicilia

Miguel Torres

Miguel Torres










But the purpose of the PFV is more than public relations. At their annual meeting, which rotates among members – they share best practices, help each other develop new markets, create new memories. and then there’s the wine.


Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002

Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002

I started off with a glass (or two) of Pol Roger Champagne – I would have happily sipped this all day. But then I would have missed my journey into Red Wine Heaven.




Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004

Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004

Mouton Rothschild 2005

Beaucastel 2005

Chateau Beaucastel Rouge 2005



Solaia 2007, Antinori










All the wines served were simply  spectacular. My two personal favourites: Solaia and Sassicaia.  And while guests sampled from of the finest wines of Europe, the event was really was the vines that bind.

“It’s all about the family” said Allegra Antinori.

Family and tradition, a perfect pairing.