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Harry's Blog

  • New Times For Old Vines

    Vieilles Vignes (French), Alte Reben (German), Vinas Viejas (Spanish) – they all translate into English as old vines. More and more, this designation is showing up on labels from the major wine producing regions around the world. Although most countries’ wine labelling laws do not specifically state how old a vine must be before it can be called “old vines,” a minimum of twenty years of age seems to be the unofficial agreed-upon benchmark. As the vine gets older, its trunk and root system matures. This translates into a “little more” of everything – bouquet, flavour, body, finesse.

    The Speck brothers of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Baco Noir pioneers in Ontario, first shovel-planted vines as far back as 1984. To quote them, “the vines are old because they are good, not good because they are old.” Their Baco Noir Old Vines has been a staple on the shelves of LCBO retail stores for many years. A full-bodied red wine with a rich bouquet and flavours of black currant and spice dominate the finish with lingering notes of tasty oak.

    Grilled lamb burgers or smoked sausages would make delicious pairings.

    2022 Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Old Vines LCBO # 459966, $19.95

  • It’s About High Time

    High Elevation refers to the location of Shannon Ridge vineyards in northern eastern California’s Lake County. Certified sustainable, organic and mountain-grown at elevations between 500 to 1000 meters, it means the growing season is longer allowing for an un-hurried, natural ripening of the grapes. This translates into intense and complex varietal character.

    With Chardonnay being the world’s most popular white varietal, Shannon Ridge offers consumers a classic, immediately approachable interpretation. Ripe pear notes combine with tropical fruits that lead into a lengthy mineral finish. California is the quintessential metaphor for an unfettered, relaxed lifestyle. This glass of California sunshine beckons one to just savour it on its own with a group of friends.

    A food pairing? California Roll, naturally! This variation of the traditional Japanese sushi roll, without raw fish, featuring avocado, imitation crab, cucumber and sushi rice has made it a staple in sushi establishments everywhere. Enjoy.        

     2022 Shannon Ridge High Elevation Collection Organic Chardonnay LCBO #36754, $24.95.

  • Red Re-Alignment On The Douro

    Firstly, tinto is the Portuguese word for red. As the production of fortified Port wines has slowed down somewhat, producers with vineyards along the Douro River are in a fortunate position. The indigenous red grape varieties, especially Touriga National, used for Port production, are ideal for making full bodied, dry red wines.

    Real Companhia Velha is Portugal’s oldest wine company founded in 1756. Its Evel brand Tinto comes from their best Quintas (vineyards) located around the town of Pinhao, considered to be the premium center of grape growing in the upper Douro region.

    Starting with a pronounced ruby red colour with violet tints, aromas of red berries, green tobacco, and vanilla from oak aging, it moves us on to a medium body with soft tannins and a long finish.

    Red wine and a red wine sauce are a local favourite pairing with Portugal’s national fish, baked Bacalhau, or cod as we would know it.  

    2019 Evel Tinto Douro LCBO #190964, $14.95

  • Haming It Up For The Holiday

    Serving ham to the family as they gather round the table to celebrate Easter is an engrained tradition in many households in Ontario. We have an extremely easy-to-prepare recipe. Put a ham into a crockpot, slather with brown sugar and maple syrup, cover with pineapple slices and pour pineapple juice over it. Simmer at very low heat for 2-3 hours. Given the sweet, slightly piquant, tropical flavours that have had a chance to infuse the meat, what wine should we pair it with? A flavourful Riesling with a beautiful balance between subtle sweetness and lively crispness, of course. And its ancestral homeland, with the largest concentration of Riesling plantings in the world, is Germany.

    The middle Mosel based Max. Ferd. Richter Estate was founded in the village of Mülheim in1680, but vine growing there has been documented as far back as 591. Across the Mosel River is the village of Brauneberg. Its top vineyard, Juffer, takes its name from a religious convent located there many centuries ago. A completely steep sloping vineyard, the site is planted only with Riesling on a base of mainly slate with clay, loam and pebbles mixed in. The Kabinett classification means it’s a slightly later harvested “reserve style wine.” Racy, characterful and elegant, it delivers an enticing interplay of aromas and flavours with a long, long finish. Drinking beautifully now, it will only improve with another 5 to 10 years of aging. Rober Parker rated it with 93 points.

    Bring on the ham, pair it with this Riesling Kabinett and enjoy family time with food and wine this Easter. Oh, forgot to mention, scalloped potatoes are a must for the carb component.                     

    2022 Max Ferd. Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett LCBO #36929, $31.95.

  • The Skinny on Skuttlebutt

    Western Australia’s Margaret River, a four-hour drive south of capital city Perth, is considered to be the Bordeaux of Down Under, and Stella Bella winery is consistently rated 5 stars by Australia’s top wine critic, James Halliday. With vineyards tempered by the cool breezes coming off the Indian Ocean, a kaleidoscope of flavours and aromas is ready to mesmerize the consumer. It’s the hot bed of top-quality Cabernet Sauvignons. But the Bordeaux style white wine blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are not to be missed.

    On the nose, we get bursts of passionfruit, crushed limes and stone fruit. The palate sings with zesty citrus flavours backed up by a gentle acidity. It is drinking beautifully on its own and is the perfect reception wine for guests as the brand name Skuttlebutt suggests.

    The Skuttlebutt was the source of fresh drinking water on sailing ships of the past. This is where the crew would gather and catch up on news and gossip, not unlike the modern-day office water cooler. The connection to all things nautical means that when we are looking for a tasty food pairing, we should not overlook to the bounty of our oceans. How about grilled scallops served on a bed of linguine tossed in a basil garlic pesto. And after the meal? Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes have crisp flavour profiles that pair well with cheddar or any sharp, semi-hard cheese.

    2022 Skuttlebutt Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon LCBO # 47621, $19.95

  • Savour This Sauvignon Blanc

    The Sauvignon Blanc grape has found the ideal location to bring out its best characteristics along the coast of Chile. The San Antonio Valley appellation, completely located within the Matetic estate, is located only 13 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean where the Humboldt Current delivers cool sea breezes. We could really feel this while standing in the property during a recent visit. This dry, cool climate, combined with the pure uninterrupted sunlight of the southern hemisphere make it the perfect spot to grow grapes at a slower pace and make characterful wines. While the label may seem like a pre-schooler’s rendition of a horse, it is actually a copy of an ancient cave drawing discovered on their property. Most likely, this was done by an aboriginal artist. The Corralillo brand name is taken from a still standing, non-operational century-old wine cellar and winery also on the property.

    The intense aroma, full of tropical and citrus fruits, gently slides along mineral and herbal notes. It is lively and zesty to taste with a textured, long-lasting finish.

    Coming from close to the ocean, seafood would obviously be the best companion for this wine. Ceviche, tuna carpaccio, oysters and scallops head the list. Or sushi, as another alternative. 

     2022 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc LCBO # 47621, $19.95

  • Baco Noir & Back Ribs

    Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery is the torch bearer for the Baco Noir grape variety in the Ontario wine industry. This hybrid variety, with origins in France, has proven itself to be an easy to grow grape that requires no pampering to produce a range of high quality characterful red wines. They can range from bright fruit driven to very serious with good aging potential. Henry of Pelham’s entry level Baco, as it is affectionately referred to, is deep ruby red with hints of purple. The aroma is an interplay between smoke, spice and cocoa. The palate is dry with a medium body and smoky, wild berry nuances underpinned by a subtle refreshing acidity.

    The wine’s wild berry and smoky notes will blend right into the perfect match – saucy BBQ pork back ribs. Slathering the grilling meat with a sauce typically made up of brown sugar, molasses, tomato paste and apple cider vinegar results in a tender, fall-off-the-bone juiciness beckoning to be paired with glasses of Baco Noir. (At blogger Harry’s home, we often take a short cut and regularly pick up boxes of very reasonably priced Montana’s BBQ & Bar brand pork back ribs at our favourite supermarket.)     

    Henry of Pelham Baco Noir VQA LCBO #270926, $16.95

  • Taking a Liking to Lisboa Wines

    Lisbon, called Lisboa in Portuguese, is one of the classic capital cities of Europe. It also lends its name to the wine growing region north of the city. The area is characterized by dramatic vineyard covered hillsides that vary in altitude from 70 to 450 meters above sea level.

    The San Sebastiao estate winery is located in the quaint town of Arruda in what locals call the “Enchanted Valley.” The soils are mainly clay-limestone based with a microclimate that is Mediterranean with light Atlantic breezes moderating the otherwise hot summer temperatures.

    A lush dark red blend of Syrah and local Tinta Roriz grapes, fermentation takes place only in stainless steel tanks. It is very fresh with the essence of grape and notes of cassis, plum and black fruits coming through loud and clear, not masked by any wood notes that come from barrel aging. At $13.95, the value is exceptional. In addition, it received the 2022 Gold Medal and Berliner Wine Competition Trophy.

    Serve with pasta dishes, light to medium strength cheeses, or your favourite meat dish.

    2021 San Sebastiao Lisboa Tinta Roriz/Syrah LCBO #632869, $13.95 

  • An Addition to Sicily’s Specialty

    The huge Mediterranean Island of Sicily could be considered its own continent, or country for that matter. The diverse geography ranges from mountains to sandy beaches with huge expanses of vineyards, farmed fields and woodlands in between. Since antiquity, it’s been at the crossroads of civilization. It was the bread basket of ancient Greece. As well, the Greeks brought viticulture to the island over 3,000 years ago. Whether it’s the historic Valley of the Temples in Agrigento or Mount Etna that erupts regularly, and everything in between, it’s a kaleidoscope of culture, places and landscapes. And let’s not forget the sun and moderate climate for which the term “Mediterranean” is known the world over.

    Nero D’Avola is the best known and most widely planted red varietal and is indigenous to the island. It yields wines of deep colour and flavour, with moderate structure, juicy acidity and soft-to-medium tannins. But Sicilian-based Cusumano winery has kicked things up a notch by combining the complex character of Syrah with the power of Nero D’Avola in its Benuara blend. Hailing from their Presti e Pegni estate in southeastern Sicily, its deep brooding colour takes us on a journey filled with delicious and exciting black fruits in the bouquet while providing a full body on the palate underpinned by fine tannins and a long finish. It ticks off all the boxes for what consumers are looking for in a red wine that overdelivers for the price of only $17.95. Yes, $17.95! Drinking well now, it has good aging potential should you wish to lay down a few bottles to see how it develops further complexity. The James Suckling panel taster, Zehun Shuai, rated it 91 points. Enjoy with your choice of assorted meats. But the smokiness of slightly charred calamari done on the BBQ makes an interesting counterpoint to smoky nuances of the wine.

    2021 Cusumano “Presti e Pegni” Benuara Syrah Nero D’Avola LCBO # 597138, $17.95  

  • Pinot Noir Explorer

    Exploring must be in David Hall-Jones’ blood. His great-great grandfather, John Thomson, after which his Domaine Thomson winery is named, was responsible for mapping much of New Zealand in the 1850’s. This included the now famous Pinot Noir hotbed in the South Island, Central Otago. As an international businessman, his travels have taken him all over the world. Falling in love with Burgundy, France, he purchased vineyard holdings in the famous commune of Gevrey-Chambertin. A few years later, harkening back to his roots, he went on to explore Central Otago to find a prime location to establish a Pinot Noir only vineyard. In 2000, he settled on the area of Lowburn-Pisa Hills. The property is on the western shores of Lake Dunstan and faces northeast. (Remember, we are in the southern Hemisphere, so to get the optimal exposure to sunlight, one must plant vineyards facing in a northerly direction.) The vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic.

    It's only logical that their premium entry level Pinot Noir, hailing from a single vineyard site, would be called “Explorer.” Bright garnet in colour, seductive aromas of cherries and berries, accented by mild spice and nut nuances, lead us into the realm of a flavourful, silky texture and a long finish.

    Since New Zealand is famous for lamb, why not pair this wine with lamb kebabs plus a side of Tzatziki dip. Wine Orbit’s Sam Kim, a New Zealand respected wine critic, scored the wine with 93 points.

    2022 Explorer Single Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir LCBO #19619, $31.95

  • Cava Captivates

    The Penedes region southwest of Barcelona, Spain, is well known for its production of sparkling wine. The amounts are astronomical as it supplies millions and millions of bottles to parched throats and celebrants all over the world. Called Cava, by law it uses the traditional bottle fermentation method of Champagne to infuse millions of tiny bubbles into the final product. While the lion’s share of the business is controlled by a few gargantuan producers, well-known the world over, thank goodness there are many smaller producers who take meticulous care to produce sparklers that will have you doing a double take.

    With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, a quality rosé Cava will add some colour to the special day of romance. Or any other day, if you prefer. Enter producer Castell De Sant Pau. Primarily using the indigenous Trepat red grape variety, the colour is a bright, pale pink. Fresh berries dominating the bouquet gently waft from the glass while we are captivated by a dry, lingering finish on the palate. And the perfect pairing? Tapas, of course. Wine & Spirits Magazine gave it 92 points. At $18.95, it’s unbeatable value. 

    Castel De Sant Pau Cava Brut Rosé Sparkling LCBO #36065, $18.95

  • Ground Hog Day And Cabernet Sauvignon

    On February 2, the spotlights on celebrity groundhogs: Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam or Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil. Peeking out of their burrows, if they see their shadow, it means winter will continue for six weeks. No shadow means an early spring. Either way, there’s plenty of time to enjoy a flavourful Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State’s Columbia River growing region.

    Nicole Walsh is the star winemaker of Skyfall vineyards who spent nearly two decades honing her skills while working for California’s iconic Bonny Doon Vineyard. As a respected leader in the Women Owned Winery Movement, she is a winemaker in pursuit of making wines true to terroir that showcase the quality of Washington State’s grapes. The name Skyfall references the rugged boulders scattered around the vineyard of the same name. They look like meteorites that have fallen from the heavens. The bold, colourful label shows Mother Nature emerging from the natural environment. This is the same as Skyfall wines emerging from Washington to express all its elements, from each vintage’s weather to the thousands of years of geological history. An intriguing blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, the subtle upfront fruit emphasizes blackcurrant, plum and cedar notes supported by soft tannins while finishing off with a balancing, refreshing acidity.    

    Lamb is rich and fatty. It’s also slightly sweet. Skyfall Cabernet Sauvignon’s acidity and tannins will cut through the fat, keeping it from coating one’s palate, while the tannins help balance the subtle sweetness. The wine's fruit flavours will complement the richness of the meat beautifully. Try cooking the lamb with rosemary and thyme. These pungent, earthy notes complement Cabernet Sauvignon’s natural qualities and are certain to enhance the dining experience.

    2020 Skyfall Washington Cabernet Sauvignon LCBO #26508, $18.95.