Wine to Celebrate a Milestone

Let's Get this Party Started

Let’s Get this Party Started

This is what a weekend of wine, friendship and celebration looks like. The event, a milestone birthday  – with my best friends Lynne (the birthday girl) and Helen and a promise it would be EPIC.

The weekend proved to be all that and more. Highly appropriate  because Lynne and I have shared many a bottle of good, bad and even the odd ugly wine over the years. This celebration’s wine list – proved to have  a little of each.

Our first toast was over a glass of Cuveé de FlyPorter. Not exactly vintage, but good enough to get this party started. By the way, a shout out to Porter Air for having the best service – they switched our flights to get us to Newark on the same flight – with a smile and no charge.

Live from New York...

Live in New York…

 

 

The Birthday Odyssey Surprise  began at NBC studios for a live taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Did I mention TV-friendly Hugh Jackman was the guest with a surprise appearance by the mildly photogenic Chris Hemsworth? No pix or wine allowed – but the experience whetted our appetite for later.

 

 

Little Italy’s Finest Apple

La Mela is fixture in Little Italy. 20 years ago, one of the waiters stopped my sister Eileen and lured her in. Since then, there has been a steady Canadian contingent enjoying the family style meals (menus are for tourists they told me) with wine to match. In the early days we ordered a bottle (or three) of house red to share at the table.

 

This time, we went for a full-bodied Primativo, after all what’s a milestone birthday all about? And just as they do in Italy, a digestivo of Limoncello, on the house of course.

A Perfect Primativo

A Perfect Primativo

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Cheers to All

Three Friends at La Mela

Tre Amici at La Mela

Day One. Good wine – check. Great surprise – double check. SO far so good.

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Morning with Kelly, Helen & Lynne

The TV experience didn’t end there. Lynne got up close and personal with Kelly Ripa.  Helen made 6 ft 5 Michael Strahan laugh when she looked up, way up, and told  him “I’m  5 ft 2 in a good mood”. Helen also ended up winning the daily trivia prize too. Day Two starting well. But where’s the wine?

 

AH, EATALY – the food emporium for people not afraid of carbs and wine.

Abridged for Wine Lovers

Abridged for Wine Lovers

We settled on fish and ordered an incredibly delicious Santa Vittoria Gavi 2013, a superb selection, refreshing, crisp and a perfect match with our Skate and Mixed Grill Seafood platter.

Santa Vittoria GAVI

Santa Vittoria GAVI

 

Categorize this one as GREAT.

 

The BAD came at the theatre when we were handed two sippy cups of wine. “That will be $51″ said the man at the concession stand. “Pardon?” Lynne and I, the polite Canadians replied at the same time. I kept the cup.

Dame Helen on Broadway

Dame Helen on Broadway

 

Hey when on Broadway…and when you throw in a post-show sighting of the amazing Dame Helen Mirren  – well, what’s to complain about?

Day Two: two more thumbs up.

 

Our next theatre experience, “Cabaret” starring Alan Cumming, proved it’s all about the context.

The Golden Ticket

The Golden Ticket

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

The Kit Kat Club

 

The wine probably wasn’t any better. But this time we were sitting in the former Studio 54 disco now converted into the Kit Kat Club.

Cabaret Cabernet

Cabaret Cabernet

 

 

And this time the wine  came out of a bottle. It  made  the Santa Marina Cabernet “delle Venezie” bottled last month,  taste just fine.

 

Kick Start to an NYC Morning

Kick Start to an NYC Morning

 

Oops, forgot the Prosecco at Eatery NYC- a fantastic find on 9th Ave and 53rd street.  The best Mimosas in Hell’s Kitchen- crisp and ice cold bubbly with just enough orange juice for colour (the food was fantastic too – especially Helen’s Mac and Jac).

 

 

But the big wine winners on this celebration weekend came at the official birthday dinner at Ilili in midtown where friends came from near and far to toast the birthday girl.

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The waiter Isaac couldn’t have been more accommodating, When the  white drinkers asked for Pinot Grigio – he suggested a Greek wine at the same price point.

 

A Glorious Greek

A Glorious Greek

 

I’ve sampled  a few Greek wines in the past months, especially the whites and I have only good things to say. Like the  Mantania Tselepos Classic 2012- they were light and refreshing, much more appealing than the average Pinot Grigio.

 

 

A Superb Spanish Red

A Superb Spanish Red

Isaac did the same for the red. I looked at the Chianti Classico – and he suggested a Bodegas Ateca Atteca Old Vines Garnacha 2012 . Deep red with a lovely long finish – and most important – it met the approval of the Birthday Girl. This was without a doubt my favourite wine of the evening  – upstaged only by the toast with Veuve Cliquot – which according to Lynne -” if it’s not Veuve, it’s crap” (a motto repeated to much hilarity by her 10-year old niece at a dinner party).

 

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And this is how the birthday girl felt at the end of the  weekend.

 

 

 

The moral of the story: when you are lucky enough to have great friends as I do, whatever you toast with is a celebration.  Friends pick you up when you need it, dance with you when times are good, and they always turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

 

Friends Worth Celebrating

Friends Worth Celebrating

And yes, it was EPIC.

 

A Wine Lover of Substance

A Man of Substance

A Man of Substance

The world lost a very special man this week. Someone with a passion for life, a passion for music and a passion for wine.

Patrick Vetter was a brilliant musician. He played the sexiest instrument of all, the saxophone, for the likes of Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin and too many more to mention.

Celine and Patrick

Her Heart Will Go On

In me, he ignited my love of wine that continues to this day.

I remember his first recommendation: Villa Caffagio – a Chianti. I can’t remember the year, but it was delicious and $21.95 a bottle – a fortune compared to the basket-hugging Ruffinos, Black Tower or the $8 a gallon Gamay that my father kept under the kitchen bench for easy access. “Buy a case,” Patrick said.

I did and it was the start of my love affair with Italian wines.

Patrick taught me how to savour wine. Much the way he savoured life. He brought out those little scent bottles to teach me how to recognize the aromas in wine. And like authentic wine people, he always loved to share. Patrick’s wife Helen is my best friend, and whenever I was invited over for dinner (Patrick was also an incredible cook. Helen a master at take-out) he would make an incredible meal and be sure to pull out a special bottle for us to sample. He introduced me to Zenato Valpolicella Ripassa Superiore- one of my favourite wines to this day.

His generosity to his friends and family knew no bounds. Patrick even let me sing with his live band at his 50th birthday party. Those of you who know how badly I sing, will know just how generous that actually was.

Soul Mates

Soul Mates

Helen was the great love of his life. His muse. His best friend. They were soul mates.  He used to tease her that if she didn’t make him laugh once a day, he might have to replace her.  They kept each other laughing  for 26 years….. and kept us laughing too.  Patrick could hold court at a dinner party leaving us all in stitches, his comedic timing spot on.

But last Thursday, for the first time in his life,  his timing was off. Way off.  He passed away suddenly. Far too soon. Far too young. Leaving us with a big hole in our hearts.

I will remember him with love and feel blessed that he was part of my life, for at least a little while.

Grazie, my friend. I hope somewhere you are sipping the Super Tuscan that you so well deserve.  You are  loved by many and will be missed by all.

Patrick Vetter 1957-2015

 

Fine February Wine Picks

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Thrilled about New Italians

I know it’s going to be a good weekend when the message from VINTAGES in my inbox says Hot New Italians (okay I may be using a little poetic license – but that’s how I internalized this week’s theme…Only in Italy: 11 Native Grapes).

My brother in wine, Rob, who curses and blesses me for turning him from a beer guy to a wine lover, went shopping for “a” bottle…or 5.

Some of our worthy picks this weekend:

BIg Beauty

BIg Beauty

Beni di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006  – One of my favourite words in the Italian language – this Barolo it was more than worthy.  It could last for 10 years or more. We decanted for about an hour. Sight, Sniff and Savour all got top scores.  It was a slow sipper because we wanted the goodness to last as long as possible $39.95

 

 

A Price-friendly Wine from Piedmont

A Price-friendly Wine from Piedmont

Marenco Suri Dogliani 2011 - just a few kilometres from Barolo in Italy’s Piedmont region, it is a whole lot friendlier to your wallet.  I really enjoyed this wine. It is a well-balanced medium- bodied wine that I would gladly have with a plate of charcuterie or some Italian meatballs.  $17.95

 

 

Salcheto Vino Nobile de Montepulciano  2011 $29.95 – Love this wine. A sommelier once told me that a wine often tastes 20% if you have been to the winery. I agree if you like the wine. A great experience will keep that winery in your heart and on your shopping list forever. But it can work in reserve too.  I have been to a few that, in my opinion, were way overrated  and in those cases, I rarely give them a second chance. Salcheto was the former. I have been there a number of times and each time was better than the last…and each visit our wine order was bigger than the last. One of the most environmentally- conscious wineries in Europe. If you are going to be in the Montepulciano area – don’t miss it.

Enjoy and let us know if there is an Italian at your table worth sharing.

 

 

The Longest Month of the Year

Climbing Mount Abstinence

Climbing Mount Abstinence

February is here..finally.  It’s been a long dry January – and I really mean dry.

A good friend of mine, who has often been my partner in wine, makes  a point of abstaining for the month, giving her liver a chance to recover after the holiday.

How hard could climbing Mt. Abstinence  be?

Especially after my husband, my brother and two great friends said goodbye to 2014 with some outstanding dinner companions named Barolo, Brunello, Amarone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and more…14 to be exact,  including a special bottle I was saving from Mission Hill that mistakenly became Bottle #12.

Yes, my liver could use a vacation, too.

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The Day After or As One Hungover Friend Put It, “Happy *** New Year”

Suddenly I seemed to become a magnet for every announcement for the latest wines to hit the store. Smart buys! Spectacular Spanish wines. Sigh!

But it was clear sailing… until Friday.

While every day is worthy a good glass of wine, when it comes to Fridays, it should almost be compulsory.  On that first Friday of Abstinence – 5 PM came with no stop at the liquor store on the way home, no perusing the shelves looking for that special bottle or arriving home with a bottle decanting ready to pour while my husband  and I  dissect the week and celebrate the start of the weekend.

OK, I decided  just one bottle wouldn’t be the end of the world  – that’s still half as much as we would normally drink on a Friday. And one more on Saturday. But I survived Sunday.  I believe in celebrating small victories.

A Worthy Brunello

A Worthy Brunello

It pretty much went the same for the whole month. What I did learn, when you are only drinking two bottles a week – you make sure they are really great ones like this Brunello.

You also sip slowly and savour because in two and a half glasses, the bottle’s empty.

 

 

An Irish friend of mine said he and his friends  would also take “the pledge” (to avoid alcohol) once a year. But they had the right idea. They picked February, the shortest month.

Cheers!

Don’t Quote Me

IMG_1634-3Most of my Facebook friends not only know I love wine but many of them are wine lovers as well.  At least once a week I get a quote that seems to speak directly to me, so I wondered just how many there were. From the historical and famous to the ones that make us laugh out loud, I found hundreds of quotes that seem to fill the glass where we often find life’s meaning.

Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance. -Benjamin Franklin

Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age. -Pope John XXIII

I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food. -W. C. Fields

Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living. -Robert Mondavi

Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages. -Louis Pasteur

Nat-cork-screw wine-pairing-in-the-stone-age images

 

It’s funny how true some of these quotes ring, so if you’ve found one you love make sure to share it with all your friends. Because next to wine, laughter is the best medicine.

The Art of Charcuterie

august 19-2014 118When my daughters were little, there was no better way to get them to eat than creating a little visual masterpiece of manageable bites. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, splayed out just tempting them to sample.

As they grew older, their taste buds grew more adventurous. Star-shaped mild cheddar morphed into triple cream Brie or Aged Pecorino. Squares of sliced ham replaced by locally-cured porchetta and salamis.

Little did they know they were charcuterie lovers in-training. A few weeks ago I asked Mia what she wanted for her birthday dinner. “One spectacular plate, please.”

august 19-2014 120Charcuterie dates back to 15th century France. Originally it was a method used to preserve meats before refrigeration.  The name comes from “char” or flesh and “cuit” which means to cook. And while hundred of years ago it was a necessity, today it has become an art form.

Charcut in Calgary,  and Toronto neighbourhood favourites F’Amelia and Black Hoof  specialize in the art of charcuterie.  A recent trip to Kelowna. where the local food movement is not just embraced, it is expected,  raises the charcuterie bar.


Owner of Salted Brick Chef Jason Leizert  smokes and cures all his meat  The curing room is at the back of the restaurant for all to see, That day he was preparing venison and cranberry sausage.

The open concept lets hungry customers watch Chef Jason prepare their platters and answer questions at the same time. The platter was perfect and the sandwiches sublime. Downed with a glass of Sumac Ridge Red.

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It’s hard to resist those tasty little nibbles: the artisanal  cheeses, the home-cured meats and the creative condiments you would never taste at home – all shared with a glass or flight of wine.

A “plate” among friends.

My daughters are now 25 and 29, and there is still nothing that makes them feel more like home….except maybe a nap on the couch.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

 

Weekend Wine Picks

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Oct 14 2014 251There were so many things to give thanks for this week. Surrounded by family and friends, watching my 84-year old mother arm wrestle any one who dared to challenge her. My wonderful nieces and nephews exploring the city. My lovely daughter dancing the night away in the kitchen with guests from 8-84. And of course, toasting the whole night with some terrific wine picks that I highly recommend.

ripasso 2012Giuseppe Campagnolo Valpolicella Ripasso 2012 Corvina Blend $16.95 Medium bodied and fruity.  This was perfect to serve before, during, and after our turkey dinner.   13.5% In the Vintages section, but going fast.

 

 

peoples pinotThe People’s Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand 2011 $16.95  I was looking for a Pinot Noir to serve with turkey and this one caught my eye. Admittedly this time it was the label that stood out – often a detractor in my mind – but I do like Kiwi wines and this light bodied pick with cherry and raspberry notes turned out to be a crowd pleaser.   gran feudo 2007

Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva 2007  Blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is only $16.95  This was my favourite of the bunch. If you are looking for an affordable red – this one is worth sampling.

 

A little trip around the world in wine  made for great Thanksgiving feasting. Just in time for this week at the LCBO, where Vintages is  celebrating my favourites – great Italians. Time for some sampling in the tasting room this weekend. Salute!