Judgement at Fortunes Rocks

Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

Blind wine tastings can be really intimidating. Sure, you can tell the white from red. Probably the Pinot Noir from the Cabernet Sauvignon, likely even the Sauvignon Blanc from the Chardonnay. But when I see a sommelier identify the grape, the country, the region and come within striking distance of the vintage – it blows me away every time.

Remove the demands and expectations, and a blind tasting  is a fun way to taste some great wines and really think about whether you like what you are drinking – with no pre-conceived notions.

IMG_1899For the past two years, my Maine beach buddies  have brought down a special wine – $25-50. We covered them up, talked a little bit about what to expect from each – and tried to match (make that guess) the brown-bagged bottle to the label.  Of course, I am the one who has spent the most time studying, reading (and tasting) wine. And I have yet to take home the trophy (not competitive at all!).

So this year we decided to mix it up a little. Our goal was to find out if price really dictates quality. We asked out favourite Portland wine merchant Jacques DeVilliers to pick five wines for us, one at $10,$20,$30, $40 and $50.

Wine Lovers' Chalk Art

Wine Lovers’ Chalk Art

I picked up a funky blackboard tablecloth so we could jot down our comments and scores and off we went.

The five wines:


14 Hands 2014 Columbia Valley


Ferrari-Cyrano 2013 Sonoma County


Newton 2012 Napa County


Freeman Abbey 2011 Napa Valley


Stag’s Leap Artemis 2012 Napa Valley













All we had to do was JUST match the wines with the price point. Did I mention they were all Cabernet Sauvignon?…AND all from the U.S? That was our first mistake.

Second mistake: let’s just say we may have been enjoying a few glasses prior to the face off. The rules were clear, so I thought – the bottles are numbered – write the number next to the chalk circle that says $10,$20,$30….you get the picture.

Let the tasting begin. Consultation, more pouring, sniffing and slurping and pouring. # 4 was the group favourite and it went fast.


Blame crappy pix on wine consumption


Previous winners Phil and Maria are smelling defeat


Going back for another sample Just to be sure



An hour later and the scores were in – not only were the answers all over the place, each team used a different scoring method. It all made for a great laugh – especially after 5 glasses of wine!

So while no one took home the trophy this year, we did end up tasting some amazing wines. And we did come to a few conclusions:

And I promised to go back to the old system next year.




Long Weekend Wine Picks

happy Canada Day
Like a true Canadian, I am going to start my Canada Day Blog with an “I’m sorry”. This really should have come out on Wednesday so you could have shopped for the long weekend on Thursday and not the day when the liquor stores are closed. However luckily they re-open tomorrow morning – and if you are looking to replenish – here are a couple of suggestions and the price is right.

Masserie Pisani Primitivo, Puglia $13.95

Whenever I see a wine in Vintages at an extremely reasonable price, I pick up a bottle to sample, Some have gone unfinished, and then there is this one that compelled me to return to my local LCBO and clean out the shelf. This bold full-bodied wine took up a lot of space in my wine rack, but it didn’t last long.


Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia IGT $9.95IMG_1795

When the temperature soars and you are looking for something refreshing, this General List wine makes  a terrific base for Sangria. It is also one of the LCBO’s most popular wedding wines. There are hundreds of Sangria recipes, and I must say no two batches of mine ever taste the same because I am one of those “little bit of this, little bit of that” cooks. But I always add a dash of Triple Sec,  a cup of freshly squeezed OJ (though other kinds work just fine too), lots of fruit and ice.

IMG_1796Corte Medicea Aros 2014, $14.95

Ok, so the bottle drips reveal I got a little excited pouring the second glass.  The medium-bodied wine is a Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese and I will be heading back to Vintages for more.


Have a great long weekend!


Time. Much like wine, it is something I can’t seem to get enough of. And something I run out of. Hence the absence of my blog for the last few months. Any extra time I had, I spent drinking wine, not writing about it.

So to kick myself into high gear, I took a couple of days off  from my new job and headed to BC wine country for some inspiration.

I picked a few places I had never been to before. Places with great stories. And great stories in the Okanagan are not hard to find. There are new wineries popping up here all the time.

There are anywhere from 120 – 250 wineries here depending who you ask, and whether they’ve been drinking.  And they are making some spectacular wines that we never see on the other side of the country.

I picked by grape. I know I love big reds, so I headed south to Oliver and  Osoyoos – home of some wondrous Bordeaux blends.  I also learned that if you mention you’re going to the Okanagan,  inevitably someone  sighs like they are remembering a visit to paradise and shows you a picture of that little winery that turned into a big experience.

Three days,  seven wineries and here are  a few highlights.

  1. Invictus by Perseus

    Invictus by Perseus

    Perseus – I sampled a bottle of Perseus wine a year ago and I have been dreaming about it ever since.  The winery opened in 2011 in the middle of a residential neighbourhood.  It has already picked up a number of awards for Invictus, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The winery is named after the constellation  which hangs above the Okanagan during harvest time. Had to take one home.IMG_1683

  2. Poplar GroveI visited this place  for the wine and the company.   Cindy, Cathy,

    Poplar Grove Winery

    Wendy and Sue have been friends since high school. Today they invited us join them  to  sample the best this stunning winery had to offer. One more for the suitcase. Imagine waking up to this treasure every morning?


Culmina Winery

Culmina Winery

3. Culmina Winery – This was one of the reasons I came back to  the Okanagan, Rumour had it the wine was among the best in the Valley – and it did not disappoint. Don Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) and his daughter Sara have blended old-fashioned knowledge with high tech tools to create wines to remember, including wines that shouldn’t really be growing in that climate. The approach is inspirational and will be the subject of a separate story in its own. Stay tuned.  OK… we bought a case.


4.  Moon Curser This winery has a one-of-a-kind distinction for me. I actually had to risk arrest and  break-in to get a taste. My friend Lisa and I were staying in Osoyoos and decided to clock our 10,000 steps by walking to the winery (how cool is that)?

Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine

Let nothing stand between Me and My Wine

Google Maps directed us to a walking path along the cherry trees and vines. However, about 100 metres from our destination we were met by a locked gate, not that that was going to stop us. We got down on all fours and slipped under the fence. It was definitely worth the effort. Moon Curser – formerly Twisted Tree – is named after the smugglers who used to work in “them thar hills with veins of gold.” They cursed the light of the moon when trying to sneak across the border.

Moon Curser features  some old and new world varietals that are attracting attention. Owner and winemaker Chris Tolley, a former Montrealer, and his wife Beata, honed their craft in New Zealand. Their Tannant , Malbec, Sangiovese, Syrah,

Moon Curser Winery

Moon Curser Winery

Carmenere,  along with the Afraid of the Dark white and red blends, are all  worth a taste.  Yup, Moon Curser got the last spot in my suitcase.

Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley

Big Sky over the Okanagan Valley

Go to the Okanagan!  Demand more BC wines in your local wine store!  These are national treasures that stand up to Old World excellence. Thanks for the inspiration!




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.

IMG_0134 IMG_0131





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.

IMG_1337IMG_1373 IMG_1361







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.