Tag Archives: travel

Twist & Shout…

16 Sep

Day two in the Southern Okanagan was full of winery visits – with each putting their own unique twist upon B.C. winemaking.

After a quick and yummy breakfast at Watermark, our first stop of the day was Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery in the heart of Oliver. John and Maria (and their son, and winemaker, Michael) Ferreira are pulling inspiration from their traditional Portuguese roots.

Their Portuguese heritage is found in not only the style of building, but also in their wines. There’s  the ’08 Mistura Tinto, a red blend of all six wines they make. It’s full of raspberry jam, cherries and spice with a velvety texture and a long finish. A stand-out of my visit was the ’08 Mistura Branca, that has a gorgeous floral nose from the 65% Muscat and 35% Gewurztraminer in its blend. Yummy, silky and citrusy – this has got it going on. And stay tuned for some more Portuguese influence – a fortified wine is hinted to be in the works.

The next stop of the day was at Stoneboat Vineyards where the Martiniuk family has been growing vines in the South Okanagan for over 25 years.

Entirely family-run, Stoneboat is shaking things up by not only creating wines like an energetic, berry-rich, pleasing Pinotage, but also using non-grafted vines in a winemaking area that generally only thrives because of them. I loved the tasting room piano and the musically-inspired wines. From the ’09 Chorus made to showcase the white Germanic varietals owner Lanny is so proud of, to the ’08 Duet, an affable wine of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinotage, these wines are in perfect harmony.

Our third visit of the day was at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and their patch of heavenly landscape. We sampled a few wines in the tasting room before having a lunch in the Sonora Room where Vines-surveyed sommelier Jay Whiteley is manager.

My favourite in the tasting room was also my favourite accompaniment to a delightful lunch – their ’08 Chardonnay. A approachable Chard that’s great with food, this is luscious and has a great balance of spice, fruit and crisp acidity. It’s just plain and simply good – very, very good. Burrowing Owl is like a really comfortable sweatshirt – you may not want to wear it every day, but it’s good to know it fits perfectly when you need it.

After lunch, we moved along to Hester Creek Estate Winery. On top of having a kick-ass, dream kitchen to host all sorts of functions, they are making some interesting wines.

A personal favourite was the ’09 Trebbiano – one of the first wines produced from start to finish by winemaker Robert Summers (a Niagara boy with stints at Peller, Henry of Pelham and Cave Spring Cellars who joined the team in 2006). I imagine sitting down to a plate of spicy pad thai or spring rolls dipped in sweet and sour sauce and this refreshing, appley, grapefruity, minerally, yummy wine. Also cool about Hester – they’re producing 3 L casks (aka, wine in a box) of their Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Merlot. Identical to the wine in regular bottles, this form allows for a great party wine that’s easy to pour and even easier on the pocketbook.

Finally, we made our way to Nk’Mip Cellars, back in Osooyos.

The last visit of a day always seems to get lost in the sludge of spit buckets past, but Nk’Mip did it’s best to deliver solidly crafted wines. The first Aboriginally-owned and -operated winery in North America, my favourite bottle of theirs was their ’08 Riesling that we drank at dinner back at Watermark. A perfect apéritif with great minerality – this certainly goes down easy after a long day of tasting.

Hills and valleys…

12 Sep

Day one in the Okanagan area of British Columbia and I’m already dreaming about packing up the apartment that I just moved into, selling off my worldly possessions (my Packers’ memorabilia has got to be worth something) and heading west. But who doesn’t want to live in a place this beautiful? There’s a reason that Clifford Sifton fellow didn’t have to give the hard sell to early 20th Century farmers. It’s stunning out here.

After getting picked up in Kelowna, my kind host Sue Alexander and her longtime friend – and my marmot and rattlesnake guide – Dan Schnell, led me to the eye-popping Mission Hill Winery.

We got a behind-the-scenes tour of this great entry into Okanagan wines. Let’s be honest – few wineries in B.C, let alone Canada are like this. The architecture is amazing, the grass amphitheatre is unbelievably crafted and the wines are award-winning.

We tasted through a flight of their more premium wines, including my favourite the ’06 Oculus. At $70 a bottle, this stuff better deliver – and it does. It’s a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot from specific clusters of specific blocks of specific vineyards (sense a theme?) that are all hand-picked and hand-sorted and spend over 14 months in French oak. With rich chocolate and cherry notes on the nose, coffee and cassis on the palate and a finish that’s more persistent than the nerd who hit on me in high school, this is simply a stellar wine.

After we wrapped up at the all-mighty Mission Hill, we dropped back into reality and meandered southward. Close to the northern most tip of the ‘South Okanagan’ was our next stop – Dunham & Froese Estate Winery.

We were hungry, so we ate – pulled pork sandwiches from Covert Farms. We were thirsty, so we drank – a bone-dry, beefy ’09 Rosé (a blend of Merlot and a tiny bit of Syrah) and the ’09 Amicitia White Blend were stand outs. As luck would have it, winemaker Kirby Froese was behind the tasting bar and managed to sneak away to join our crew on the picnic tables out front of the shop. A great contrast to Mission Hill and just a great little stop to make.

Then it was onward to our resting place to check in. The Watermark Beach Resort has it all – large, comfortable suites, a pool with waterslide and hot tubs and prime location. I kid you not, my suite is better equipped than my own apartment!

And you can’t beat the view.

After a brief refresh, we were back on the road – heading up to Tinhorn Creek for a BBQ and the Bedouin Soundclash concert.

The kids danced, Bedouin rocked out and Tinhorn wines were as great a backdrop to this amazing night as the mountains were.


Make the most of it…

10 Aug

The Corkscrew presents the Top 10 Ways To Make the Most Out of Your Winery Visits.

  1. Get a DD. Now, I’m not suggesting that you can’t enjoy a wine tour without being rip-roaring drunk, but very few people want to spit out everything they sample (but feel free to spit out what you don’t like, wine folks don’t mind). The best way to avoid getting slapped with a DUI is to get someone else to drive. Whether that’s your pregnant best friend, a whiskey lover or a wine tour company, you’ll get more out of the experience and leave the roads (and sidewalks) a safer place to be.
  2. Plan your day – minus a few stops. No matter what wine region you plan to visit, you can’t hit everything in one take. So, head online and get researching. Where do you want to go? The Big Boys? Small, family operations? All organic vineyards? Narrow it down to five or so stops in one day, but leave room for a little off-roading. There is nothing better than stopping when something catches your eye and sometimes this on-a-whim attitude might bring you the best buys yet.
  3. Don’t use common scents. Wine is as much about smell as it isn’t about taste and texture. So, put down the perfume bottle. Spit out your gum. And for god sake’s, please don’t smoke. If you go in the wine tasting room smelling like your drunk, middle-aged Aunt who always wanted you to try on her mood ring, you’re only getting half of the experience.
  4. “Stop expecting it to look like you what you thought it was going to look like.”  Enid from Sex and the City was right. It’s true of fall lines, relationships…and wine regions. Look, not everything is as pretty as a post card. To be quite honest, it might not look like you imagined it. Dump your expectations (good or bad) and take it all in.
  5. Try some Chardonnay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You ‘don’t like’ Chardonnay. Listen, the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) trend is still floating around, but I’m here to tell you – this is something our home and native land can do very well. Just try some. I swear it’s better than the stuff you tasted last time. If you don’t like heavily oaked wines, ask the person behind the desk if they have something that either hasn’t touched the stuff or that’s like the vermouth in a bone dry martini – just in and out. Your smoked cheddar, creamy pasta and seafood thank you in advance.
  6. Don’t be shy, ask questions. 97% of the staff at these wineries love questions. They pour wine for you – please entertain them. And if you happen upon a winemaker – let loose. I have never met one who won’t be more than thrilled to share his or her passion with you. Plus, nothing’s better than the inside scoop (see No.10).
  7. Stop and smell the roses. Take a quick detour and pick up those peaches from the road side stand, stop at that cheese shop and deli, swing by that delicious smelling bakery. Then when it strikes midday, pull yourself up a slab of grass or picnic table and savour the delights. A enjoyable meal will keep you on course for the afternoon and you’ll be able to taste more of the region than just the grapes.
  8. Write that sucker down.You are guaranteed to forget something remarkable unless you jot it down. I don’t care if it’s in your Blackberry note pad or on an actual note pad, as long as you can return to it and say “Hey, I should really buy some of that (fill in blank) for this weekend’s backyard party.”
  9. If you love something, buy it. Not everyone has the cash to go floating around and buying case after case, I realize that. But, if you have an enlightening, thrill-seeking, earth quaking experience with something – do me a favour and buy it straight from the winery. You may never see it again and I don’t want to be responsible for anyone going a little crazy with a baseball bat inside the LCBO. Don’t forget a cooler.
  10. Get on the list. If you have a great experience at a winery, don’t be afraid to sign up for their mailing list or e-newsletter. You’ll be on the inside track to deals, events and upcoming releases – all good things.

The Screwcap?

17 Jul

“Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself.”

– Basil Bunting

I try to talk myself out of it.

I take out that pair of shoes I don’t really wear because they hurt after any considerable walking distance or that extra black tank top that’s identical to the other two I already have in my bag. I start with the smallest suitcase possible in attempts to limit my available space, knowing I’ll cram something into that tiny front pocket if given the option. But, despite any of these perfectly rational measures, I still over pack. There are just very few things I’m willing to leave behind just in case – one such thing is a corkscrew. I find it to be the necessary travel companion, besides good company and banana-chocolate chip muffins.

Yes, most hotels these days have a chinzy plastic opener in the room. Yes, I don’t need one when I’m going to an all-inclusive resort where every Cuban server has two that they guard with their life. Yes, I normally travel in places where buying one would be less than a problem.

I pack one anyways.

So, it’s probably not surprising that I slipped one into my giraffe-print tote in preparation for a trip south of the border for a recent long weekend. I mean, a winery stop was guaranteed with my bestest (we kindly refer to her as ‘Charlotte’ in these parts) beside me.

Alas, I never ended up using it. It eventually got piled under Boston souvenirs, a seafood bib and one particularly sandy bathing suit. Though it wasn’t for a lack of trying that my poor buddy didn’t make an appearance – the wine was a-flowing. However, we were blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) to be surrounded by refreshing, affordable whites and rosés all bottled under screwcap.

No complaints here, the weather was beautiful and these wines hit the spot with our mostly seafood and potato chip diet.

Even our stop at Newport Vineyards (about 10 minutes from Easton Beach – trust me, make a day out of it and see the mansions and the gorgeous beaches) found us putting rosé in the trunk.

Enter Newprt Vineyards 2009 White Merlot ($14.99 US).

If you ever get a chance to hit up Newport Vineyards, this definitely has purchasing potential. I mean, taste your way through their wine list and I’m sure you’ll find something worth the bucks, but my money is on the White Merlot. A great mix of snappy acidity and strawberry sweetness, this is a enjoyable summertime sipper. It’s not the most complex wine on the market, but since when does that matter? It’s gulpably good and it goes down quick with zippy cherry and berry notes.

And hey, it’s screwcapped, so your corkscrew can remain buried at the bottom of your bag, right where it belongs. Basil was right – carry a corkscrew and even if you don’t use it, the wine will provide itself.