Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shout out to the OHIO Girls!

Hi Ladies,
Just wanted to say it was a pleasure meeting you yesterday in Niagara.  Hope you enjoyed the rest of your day and week-end.  Especially Ravine Vineyards!

Do keep checking back with me and my blogs from here on in!

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding.  Send photos!


I'm Back!!

Hello world!
It's been a while since we last connected via the "blogesphere".  I've missed you greatly!  While I haven't been away from the world of wines and spirits it has only been my blog that has been terribly neglected and not intentionally.

I have been busy with my tutored tastings calendar.  Then my friend got sick, fell and broke her hip (yikes!) and so I squeezed in running her B & B to boot!  It's amazing what one can accomplish when one puts their mind to it.

What's that saying....If you want something done ask a busy person.  Very true.  You are somehow able to manage to fit just one more thing on the "to do" list.....or two or three....

My friend is now back running her B & B so no more neglect of my blog as I LOVE connecting with you and letting you know of my new discoveries of which I have many and will be writing about.  The women winemakers of Niagara for one.   Young, intelligent, confident and oh yes VERY GOOD!

I have a lot to fill you in on with some of my new upcoming ventures too.



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Posh Nosh - A British Satire

Welcome to Posh Nosh, a satirical take on the world of cooking and wine tasting. My sister introduced me to this programme a few years back and I could not stop laughing from the very first moment.

The humour is definitively british, richly ladled with sarcasm, undertones of restrained anger and arrogance thrown in for good measure. Lady Marchmont has married "above her status" while her husband is "not quite out of the closet". Lady Marchmont is somewhat oblivious to her husband's retorts while "she alienates the chorizo". His descriptive, lyrical and snooty wine reviews are the perfect embodiment of a wine snob.

In this episode Jose Luiz has passed away suddenly and at a very young age. I won't tell you anymore than that. Just a reminder that this is very tongue and cheek humour. You may need to watch it a second and third time to take in all of the humour.

I love my job!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Perfume..Making scents of it all!

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived” . Helen Keller

Ah yes Helen, you couldn't be more right. Nothing takes you back to a moment in time so quickly, automatically and completely as your sense of smell. It is primal and instinctive. It stimulates pleasure and alerts us to danger. It can dictate our mood, happy, sad, relaxed,excited. It is the one sense that is most closely linked to our memory.

Smell is a silent invisible force. It’s our internal GPS system. It can provide us with clues without any other sense coming into play. Your mind's eye is instantly able to visualize, recall a place, a time, a person, a sound, an experience. It can also signal "danger Will Robinson, danger".

Just as we choose our clothing to reflect on our very own style that says to the world "You hoo, look at me", so too do we select a perfume that is our signature scent. The difference between the two statements is that perfume is a hidden signature. You don't need to see it to form an opinion.

While we might recoil in silence at the way someone is dressed with a blank, expressionless stare or perhaps making eye contact with another person who, like you, has picked up on the same thing, it is often difficult to hide one's opinion of the person who has a) o.d. them self in their favourite perfume or b) you're just not into petunia oil anymore. The brow furrows, the nose crinkles, the lips tense. All unintentional of course. It's instinctual, automatic.

Perfume has been recorded as far back as 4000 years. In 2005 in Pyrgos, Cyprus an ancient perfumery was discovered. Sixty stills, funnels, mixing bowls and perfume bottles were among the artifacts found. Fragrances have been used over the centuries for everything from burials to attracting a mate. Nothing much has changed there! In the beginning they used flowers, herbs and resins. Today they use everything from ambergris expropriated from the sperm whale (rare and very expensive!) to tobacco leaves. Yes I did say tobacco.

A perfumer is the alchemist, the wizard who concocts elixirs to entice, tantalize and titillate. They must study and commit to memory thousands of scents. There is only one way to do that I'm afraid, practice, practice, practice. In building up their repertoire when first learning the "perfumer in training" is given ten oils to study and memorize. Once these are solidified in the olfactory then another set of ten are given and so on until a menagerie of oils are at their recall. Much like a wine writer records their notes on a particular wine so as to be able to revisit at a later date, so too does a perfumer catalogue their thoughts and affiliations each scent has for them in order to build a foundation on which to draw upon when designing a perfume.

When building a scent a perfumer must be able to distinguish between what is an inexpensive version of particular odour and what is the real McCoy! In the fashion world this would be the difference between a knock-off versus haute couture. Obviously which ever is used will dictate the commercial market value.

The next phase of learning would be to understand the volatility of each oil and how they will interact with each other in the blend. There are a number of methods of extracting aromatic compounds. In order to determine what method of extraction is appropriate one must consider its components. Some methods of extraction may be too harsh for a particular plant material or for the desired house style. Mmmm sounds a bit like wine making.

Steam Distillation is similar to that of whisky distillation. The raw material is put inside the still, water is put into the bottom and heated to boiling. The steam passes over the raw material capturing the oil which then makes it way to the top of the still towards the condenser. As we know, oil and water do not mix......can you say Gulf of Mexico.....I digress. Passing through the condenser the steam returns to its watery liquid state and the oil and water are forever parted. Et voila we now have what is known as an essential oil. The water retains a small amount of scent. The most famous would be rose water. Nothing goes to waste.

Solvent Extraction uses benzene and hexane to extract the oils. Using this method results in an oil that is the truest to the smell of the plant. The benefit of this process is that the stainless steel vessels are able to contain anywhere from 3000 to 4000 litres. Are you seeing the similarity to sparkling wine and second fermentation taking place in tanks? Volume!

The solvent(s)are mixed with the raw material i.e. a flower or a wood that you are using to extract oil from. The raw materials are placed on numerous trays with many holes throughout to allow the solvents to pass over them. As the oil and solvents mix, the remaining used raw materials are removed. I'm thinking spent lees in wine!

The mixture is then decanted ( there's that wine language again) and will go through a partial distillation under reduced pressure. This produces a thick, wax like paste which will either be called a "resinoid" if for instance a wood is the raw material, or a "concrete" if a flower is used. The paste will then be processed to extract the oils.

The mixtures are cooled to between -10 and -15 degrees Celsius to solidify. Concretes must undergo further treatment as the oils contain waxes that are insoluble in alcohol. Concretes are repeatedly washed with alcohol resulting in the wax separating from the oil and alcohol. The oil and alcohol is then heated at reduced pressure in order to protect the oil from possible damage. The alcohol evaporates and we are left with a substance which is now known as an "absolute". Are you absolutely confused yet!! Whew I need a drink. Scotch anyone?

Expression extractions is strictly used to remove the oils from citrus fruits. The rinds are mechanically pressed to remove the precious cargo from the skins. Juice is sometimes part of the equation which is then removed with the use of a centrifuge. Wine, I'm thinking wine. That was an easy one!

Enfleurage extraction. In a word....Fat! Yes, refined fat is used....fat, fat, fat, not a word we like to hear these days...fat, we all need fat.... I love the FAT cookbook. I'm feeling very Monty Phythonish at the moment. Ah yes, back to perfume. Glass plates held in a frame are covered with refined, odourless fat. Flower blooms are spread out onto the fat plates and left to unleash their scent. This can take days depending on the bloom. Blooms are removed and replenished continuously until the fat is inundated with a copious volume of scented oil. Now called "pomade" it is washed with alcohol and mixed with the oils and the fat is discarded. This is then heated resulting in "absolue de pommade".

All work is done by hand hence this makes for a very labour intensive and time consuming process. You can see why Solvent Extraction would be the extraction of choice.

Tinctures are produced by macerating the raw material in alcohol extracting the oils, scenting the alcohol. This is then heated producing a tincture.

And just as in wine, what may be considered a fault, as in noble rot which produces the most treasured dessert wine Sauternes, just such a fault can manifest also in the perfume world. For instance Agarwood is the result of an infestation of mold in heartwood. In response to the infestation, heartwood fights back by producing a high quality resinous substance that embeds into the wood, darkening it. This resin is rich in organic compounds which are then removed by CO2 extraction. Are you starting to see a commonality here with wine and perfume?

And like the world of wine the perfume world has what is called a Fragrance Wheel. It was created in 1983 by Michael Edwards a perfume consultant. Like the aroma wheel the Fragrance Wheel serves to unify the language used when speaking to the terms of scent. It classifies and categorizes families of scents that are relative to each other. The five families are floral, oriental, woody, fougere and fresh.

When nosing a wine we first experience the aroma which is your first initial impression. The next stage would be the bouquet which would be a deeper experience of the aroma. For instance citrus would then become a bouquet of perhaps lemon rind, lime, orange peel. In perfume you have the top note which would be your first impression of the scent, the middle note or the "heart" which is the main body of the perfume, and the base note which brings depth and cohesion to the perfume.

Perfume has many concentrations levels. Concentrations dictates the style from Perfume, Eau du Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne. The more concentration as in Perfume, the longer it will remain on your skin.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of possibilities for the perfumer to create magic. As a sommelier my sense of smell is always on alert to different odours whether I like it or not. I can only imagine what it must be like living the life of a perfumer on a daily basis. I have only touched the surface of this world.

Bartender........where's that scotch I ordered?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Konzelmann Winery - Approachable Affordable and Accessible

Hi everyone,

A couple of weeks ago I visited some wineries in Niagara that I hadn't been to in many, many years and Konzelmann winery was one of them. The reason Konzelmann was on my radar was because in June the annual Sip & Savour Event was held at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Sip & Savour is one of Toronto's premier events to experience the wines of Ontario. Awards are given to the best in each category. While I am always interested to see who won what, this does not dictate whose table I visit. I go to the tables that are the least crowded or the ones with the "funky" looking labels that people are avoiding. It is sad to say but whether or not you are attracted to the label usually determines whether or not you will venture to try a wine. I always find a few gems this way.

At this year's show I tasted Konzelmann's sparkling wine made from the riesling grape. It was refreshingly crisp and bright with soft citrus fruit on the palate. The bubbles were gentle. A great summer sipper.

I also tasted their sauvignon blanc. It was slightly herbaceous with soft grassy notes. Again it too was refreshing with crisp acidity. A great starter on its own or with appetizers. Both were lovely little wines. It was because of these two samples that I decided to pay a visit to the winery.

What I remember about Konzelmann from years ago when I worked at the LCBO attending tastings, when we got to the Konzelmann table it was a bit difficult to get beyond the rigid body language and the rigid prose. They seemed distant and at the time for me a wee bit intimidating.

What I also remember is that their labels, being in the germanic font again, was one of those things that was hard to appreciate. It was different and difficult to read (or so I thought back then). It too seemed rigid in its style to my canadian eye. As years have passed and my life experience has been greatly increased I now see how little I knew back then. The saying "if I knew then what I know now" comes to mind.

The night before heading to Niagara I was surfing and scrolling the internet. Click, click. I happened upon the Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brechner (who are each other). Low and behold it seems they too discovered a Konzelmann wine in a New York restaurant. I could not believe what I was reading. Oddly enough they were saying the same things I had said all those years ago about the label.

They ordered the bottle on the recommendation of the sommelier and they were pleasantly suprised. It was the pinot blanc 2006. I found their story at I love it when things like this happen.

While at the winery I tasted a number of their wines from the vidal, riesling and pinot blanc for the whites to pinot noir and baco noir for the reds.

What I like about Konzelmann is that they don't try to mislead you to believe anything other than their wines are what they are, approachable, affordable and accessible. They deliver.

My favourite on this day..............the pinot blanc! I love that they use the german name for the grape on the label "weissburgunder". And the germanic font.....what can I say but I love it. Isn't it ironic. Oh wow, I'm feeling a little Alanis Morrisetteish at the moment. There sure is something to be said for age and experience.

You can purchase this wine and others from Konzelmann at the LCBO. The pinot blanc is number 219279 and is $11.60. Can't beat that!

Thank you to the staff at Konzelmann and in particular Jeremy Miron. They were informative, educational, energetic and most of all they were FUN!!


p.s. apologies, I am having a problem posting more photos. I'll keep trying!

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's all Greek to me! - Wines of Stature!

When I think of Greece I think calamari, squid, souvlaki, tsatziki. I think of the island of Santorini and the colours white and blue. I think of the greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Being a marathon runner I think of the town of Marathon where the road race gets its name. I think of ancient Greece and the legend that is now the Olympic games. I think of the god of the grape Dionysus.

And, as you know me so well, there has to be humour somewhere. I think about the movie Shirley Valentine "hello wall". I think about Tom Conti (the male lead in the movie) in the boat when he says "we make %@#*". I think about Meryl Streep in Mama Mia. I think about Yanni!!!!!

Geez I'm thinkin' a lot..........More thinking....

I think about my dad before he passed away. (No worries, it's a funny memory!) I think about how I thought he would like the movie Shirley Valentine. It's about a middle aged English woman from Liverpool who is having a mid-life crisis, wondering what has happened to the relationship with her husband and how her life seems to have stagnated, when her friend wins a trip for two to Greece. It's a comedy. I had seen it many years before.

I think about how I had forgotten about the off colour language in the movie, language even as an adult I didn't utter to my parents. I think about how I squirmed and wriggled and felt the flush to my face when it all came flooding back to me when the movie started. I think about that boat scene! I think about how my dad laughed when he watched the movie. I think about how we laughed together but didn't dare give each other a sideways glance. No, no avoid eye contact at all cost right now!

Now when I think of Greece I think about the fabulous wines I tasted last month when I attended a greek wine tasting at the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Toronto. It was put on by the Kolonaki Group. Let me tell you I was blown away. If you do nothing else this summer you must add greek wines to your repetoire.

We tasted four grapes varieties. Moschofilero and Assyrtiko for the whites and Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro for the reds.

We had four flights of five wines each. The first three wines of each flight were the greek varietals and the fourth and fifth wines were international varieties. We tasted the flights blind so although we knew the greek varietals we did not know what the international varietals were. The object was to show that greek wines have flavour and style much akin to the european wines and yet also distinct.

The whites ranged in profile from similar to riesling, gewurtztraminer, pinot grigio, gruner vetliner, chablis. They had great minerality, citrus, spice and acidity. The reds were similar to spanish Rioja, southern France, Italy, Burgundy. They were lighter in body like that of a pinot noir and equally fuller to that of an italian barolo. All were exceptional wines!

No they definitely were not bombastic blow your head off oak monsters. Yes they most assuredly have finesse, subtlety, character and nuance. They were lower in be read normal alcohol levels! They were old world styling. Delicious! You weren't full after one glass.

Showcasing the wines in this way with international varieties was very smart. It put the pre-conceived notions about greek wines to bed if you know what I mean.

The first major selling factor in buying a wine is whether or not you are attracted to the label. It is as basic as that. I think the fear factor with greek wine as well as german wine is the font and script styling. They are pretty intimidating for us north americans. Therefore we are less likely to try. Once you know how to pronounce what seems unpronouncable......xinomavro (zeenomavro) it's not so scary to venture into.

Kudos to the Kolonaki Group for putting this fabulous tasting on and the way it was presented. It truly was magical!

In this sommelier's opinion greek wines are the next going concern. So if you want to get ahead of the game and show your friends you know a thing or two, check out their wines that are listed with the LCBO.

Better yet contact Kolonaki Group direct at to buy wines that aren't available at the LCBO. Tell them Jackie O sent you!

You won't be disappointed!!


Listed below are the wines we tasted.

White Wine

Grape Variety - Moschofilero

Boutari 2009 - Bright and clear with a pronounced nose of lemon and mineral, riesling like. Medium bodied with light acidity. Fresh with a medium lingering finish.

Spiropoulos Mantinia 2009 - Clear with a slight oxidative quality. Light venturing to medium acid. Light body with a medium finish. Italian pinot grigio style.

Tselepos Mantinia 2009 - Clear pale lemon with clean pronounced nose. Similar in style to a gewurtzraminer with a lovely light spice quality on the nose. Light rose petal on the palate with light lingering spice finish following through. Acidity, light venturing to medium with a medium body.

Grape Variety - Assyrtiko

Ktima Argyros 2009 - Clear very pale lemon in colour. On the nose it had an oxidative salty quality, similar to a fino sherry. It also had a slight mineral essence. On the palate is a lovely light petulance initially which softened. Lime/lemon zest carried through on the palate with a long warm lingering finish.

Gaia Thalassitis 2009 - Clear pale green in colour. This too had a slightly oxidative quality. Lemon on the nose. Medium body with the lemon carrying through on the palate and medium acidity. Long warm lingering finish.

Sigalas Santorini 2009 - Clear pale lemon with green hues in colour. Clean medium nose with stone fruit and earthiness shining through. Acidity was soft yet present with a long lingering finish.

Red Wine

Grape Variety - Agiorgitiko

Papaiouannou Estate 2005 - Clear medium ruby in colour. Clean pronounced with black cherry, slight menthol, red licorice and soft wood nicely balanced on the nose. Medium body with low tannin and light acidity. Medium lingering finish. Old world style.

Tselepos Driopi Nemea Reserve 2006 - Clean medium ruby in colour. Clean medium/pronounced nose. This nose was plums with a lovely mint/menthol backdrop to the soft toast of oak. Medium body with light tannins. The acidity was present, medium, but gentle. Slight toast followed through on the palate with a long finish.

Parparoussi Nemea Reserve 2003 - Clear ruby in colour. Clean medium nose with a Bordeaux right bank essence. Again a soft toast oak with stewed plums and herbal quality. Medium body, soft tannins with a long finish.

Grape Variety - Xinomavro

Boutari Grande Reserve 2003 - Clean pale/medium ruby in colour. Clean pronounced nose with soft dried cherries and a soft cheese essence. I know, seems weird but trust me it's delicious. Medium body with light tannins much like a pinot noir with a gentle leather component. Light oak presence on the medium long finish that lingers.

Kir Yianni Ramnista 2005 - Clear medium ruby in colour. Clean pronounced nose of soft fruits, candied plums, light jam, raisins. Medium body with medium acid much like a good chianti with soft tannins and light oak. Long finish.

Alpha Xinomavro Hedgehog 2007 - Clear medium ruby in colour. Clean pronounced nose of cooked cherries, strawberries with very soft oak in the background. Medium body with medium tannins that soften. Slightly watery mid palate but disappears quickly.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Wine - Room Temperature?

Did you know that we in North America are drinking our red wines too hot? Are you confused? Let me clarify this totally misunderstood term "Room Temperature".

This phrase was actually coined before the days of central heating. Room temperature refers to the temperature akin to a cold storage cellar.

I must admit to cringing in restaurants when I see wines stored high above in over head bins. While this presentation may look appealing I'm afraid to say that unless the air conditioning is on, the heating is off or low or the restaurant has a very high rate of turnover (selling) of its wines, they are being cooked as the hot air rises. This in turn ages the wines more rapidly hence the potential for a wine that is past its prime much sooner than anticipated at cooler temperatures. Particularly red wines.

When red wine is served too warm it loses its nuances. Over heated wines become flabby and flat. They become bastions of alcoholic vapours. They are vapid. They lose their definition and smell of highly over extracted baked or stewed fruit at times.

In general the lighter the red wine the cooler it can be served. For instance a beautiful Beaujolais (gamay noir) can be served slightly chilled at around 12 celsius. On a hot summer day nothing is more refreshing.

On up the graduation grape scale of heaviness, pinot noir should be served at about 15 Celsius. Old world styles such as Bordeaux and Spanish Rioja wines would be best around 16/18 celsius while wines from the Rhone region in France (syrah based) and New World wines from California or Australia will deliver nicely at 18 celsius but certainly no more than 20 celsius. Beyond this temperature all will be lost.

The next time you are in a restaurant and your red wine feels too warm, ask the server for a wine carafe with a bit of cold water and some ice. Chill for a couple of minutes or so depending on the grape variety. If they look at you funny......then this is a tell tale sign of their knowledge of wine.