A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned; Value Wines to Please Your Palate

Many of us enjoy wine for a variety of occasions.  Sometimes, we want that special, expensive bottle, to celebrate a milestone or achievement, but sometimes, we just want a glass of red on the sofa while we read a great book, or a cool crisp white on the patio on a summer weeknight.  Although these occasions are special in their own right, not all of us can afford to be cracking $50 bottles three times a week!  Lots of us have also tried that $8 wine that looked oh-so-good in the packaging, with the fancy bottle shape and funky label, only to be let down by its lack-lustre or overbearing, unbalanced taste.  Can we say “cooking wine”?

I used to wonder if it was even possible to spend less, and get more in a wine.  The great news is, yes it is!  You just have to know a few things.  I realize that the $10 – $25 price range is the largest market for wine consumers, and I want to help you find wines you love for that price!

I gathered some friends together to help me give you the best information I can, and added our tips too. Specific wines are bolded throughout to make them easier to spot!

If you’re looking for even more specifics, a sommelier friend put together a list organized by price, specifically for you, my readers!  Check out the list at the bottom.


The WSET Grad List

Ivy and Aaron are certified in WSET Level 2, just like us.  They’re frequent hosts of wine tastings in their home, because they love sharing their passion for wine with their friends.  They’re on a quest to try 100 grape varietals, and have reached the final stretches in that goal.  They have an entire book shelf full of wine books (of which I’ve only yet borrowed one) and are pursuing further education in the wine industry.

“There are a few strategies that I use when purchasing value wines. Depending on what type or style I am looking for will determine which countries I will look for wines in. I love Riesling and in the Germany section you can get Rieslings under $20 that are a great value. If I am looking for a fruity and accessible red my go to is Beaujolais which is found in the French section. Beaujolais wines are the Gamay grape and one of my go to wine varieties under $25.” – Ivy

“When looking for value be sure to look at South America. Chilean Pinot Noir and Argentinan Cab Sav’s and Malbec’s. You can find inexpensive quality wines.” – Aaron

Great tips! They also include a category that I often don’t shop in because I don’t digest it well; however it’s widely liked, extremely popular and important to mention here – Sparkling Wine.

“One of my favourite tips for value is bubbly wines! I love my Champagne but don’t always love the price. Cava, which is from Spain, is made in the same style as Champagne but without the price tag. You can find lovely Cava under $25.” – Ivy


We met Sandra and Ian while they worked in the higher-ups of a restaurant we frequented.  Over wine, we discovered we had more in common than we realized, and became friends.  They’ve got ISG and WSET certificates between them, and Sandra has years of experience in high end service. Ian is the bar manager, and wine/spirits buyer, at one of our city’s most trendy, award winning restaurants, recognized as a top restaurant in Canada.  (He also designs hundreds of spectacular, award winning cocktails!)

Ian walked us through how he designs wine lists for his restaurants. His goal is to find wines that will pair with the menu, cover main regions and the grape varietals they do well, and be of value to sell to patrons, for example, Pinot Noir from Oregon, or Argentinian Malbec.

He also frequents industry wine tasting events and tries new bottles that reps bring to him on the regular, so he shows the value in trying new wines and producers.

He spoke highly of South African wines for value, while still being interesting to the palate, (look for KWV on the label for higher labour standards in South Africa), as well as one other particularly interesting grape, and left me with this hilarious, but true quote.

“Look for a good Petit Syrah; you’re going to enjoy the shiz out of that!” – Ian

Sandra’s value go to is the Santos de Casa Reserva Alentejano, retailing for $27.  They’ve shared this with us before – delicious.

“I love a well paired bottle of wine, but sometimes you get home from work and you just need to unwind and have a glass of something and you don’t want to plan your meal or think too hard.  This is the perfect go to for those occasions.  It is smooth and neither too dry or too sweet and will appeal to the seasoned wine drinker and the person just getting into wine alike.”  – Sandra


Ken

We were privileged to take our WSET Level 2 from this knowledgeable and intelligent man, who is well certified himself, and always continuing his wine education.  He is currently researching and presenting on Biodynamic Wines in his free time, and is a University Professor by day.  When I asked him for some tips for you, my readers, he shared some extremely valid points.

“It’s hard to say what a ‘good wine’ is for someone, so the answer for me is to drink more, and try everything!” – Ken

 That is very well said.  The wines my friends and I are presenting to you in this article are great to us, but may not be great for you.  These are meant to be a starting point in your exploring.  I must also note, that a ‘good wine’ to me 10 years ago, is not a ‘good wine’ to me now, because I’ve done more learning and exploring; tastes change, so try to hold an open mind and be discovery oriented.  Don’t they say we should enjoy the journey, as well as the destination?

“One approach is to look for lesser known regions that are close to the ‘famous’ regions, for example, rather than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, try something from Gigondas, which is close, similar, lesser known, and provides a good value.

Another approach is to look for ‘lesser’ sub-appellations within regions, so for example, if a person likes Chablis, Petit Chablis, rather than Premier Cru Chablis.  This doesn’t necessarily mean poorer quality, just different aging.  The longer it’s aged, the more money the producer has tied up in it, the more they need to charge for the wine.” – Ken

He does realize that some of his suggestions require some background knowledge, but encourages readers to have fun exploring and experimenting.  Plus, if you’re reading this, and have a more specific question about either of Ken’s approaches, you can leave a comment and I can help direct you.


Dawn

Dawn is certified in ISG and WSET Level 3, and runs the Tasting Room at our Coop Liquor. She is hilarious, kind, hospitable, a great chef, and extremely experienced and knowledgeable. That’s why the owners of Coop have put her in charge of choosing and buying every single bottle of wine that comes into that store! She works with wine producers all over the world, and here are her go to’s.

1.   “Bodegas Laya from Spain . It’s a big, full bodied red that over delivers for the price.

2.   La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France.  It is not as dry as some of the rosés from Provence, but it is very well made and always quaffable.  It is perfect on a summer patio day.” – Dawn


Our Tips to Affordable, Yet Still Great Wine

 1. Find an affordable producer that you like.  Chances are, if you really enjoyed one particular wine of theirs, you might also enjoy their other wines.

2. Shop lesser known varietals. You can find amazing value wine if you’re willing to step outside the Cab Sauv and Chardonnay boxes.

3. Avoid the mass production wines!  These are the ultra-cheap, big name companies, that I won’t name, but you’ve heard of them.  If they’re mass produced, they’re going to be a value, yes, but also boring and predictably not great. Look on the label for hints that they’re mass produced, like the non-specific region of “California,” for example, rather than “Monterey County.”

4. Shop in the European sections.  Many of the most overpriced wines come from the USA.  Canadian producers have high operating costs and small production, so they have to charge more.  You can get really great wine, for under $20 from Europe.  Our faves are almost anything from Italy or France, Riesling from Germany, Duoro from Portugal, Rioja from Spain.  In the Italy section, if they have a ribbon around the neck that’s a blue/gray and says DOCG or DOC on it, you know you’re getting a quality controlled wine, and yes, they have these for under $20.

5. Shop in the South American sections!  Carmenere from Chile and Malbec from Argentina, are great.  It’s also worth trying the whites from these regions. Last week we had an Eco Chilean Chardonnay that was superb, and $13.

6. Be willing to take a risk!  We had a Boutari from Greece last month that was $18.  We were in Greece in 2015, and no wine grabbed us as “the best wine ever,” but we decided to give the Boutari a go (open-mind!).  It was wonderfully crisp, with lemon and fresh herb notes to it that reminded me of being in Greece.  You don’t know if you don’t try.

7. Keep a list of what you’ve tried, and write down what you like or don’t like.  Have your “go to’s” for value white, red, sparkling or rose. I use the Vivino app to keep a running tally, and when I have time, I add my tasting notes.


A Sommeliers List – Available at the Coop Wine Spirits Beer store in Blairemore

Angela is the sommelier at the Coop Liquor Store and Tasting Room, she is certified in WSET Level 3, and is currently taking her two year Level 4 Diploma.  She sent me a list of her favourite value wines, all available at our Coop Liquor Store!  Upon getting to know her, I’ve discovered she’s passionate about interesting wines and discovering new, quality wines for herself and her customers.  She’s not going to set you up with something run of the mill or boring, which I really appreciate about her, especially because she fills my wine locker every month!  I’ve personally had all of the Under $15 wines, and they’re fabulous.  I would also mention that any wine by La Vieille Ferme I’ve had has been affordable and tasty.  Check out her list below.  What do you notice about it?

Under $15

• Plantaze Vranac $13.99

• Claude Val Rouge and Rosé $12.99

• La Vieille Ferme Red $13.99

Under $20

• Gerard Bertrand Corbieres $17.99

• Henry of Pelham Baco Noir $15.49

• Glenelly Glass Collection Chardonnay $18.99

• Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro $19.99

Under $25ish

• Ricossa Barbaresco $22.99

• Gray Monk White Brut Odyssey $25.99

• Chateau Pesquie Les Terraces $22.99

There may be a lot of grape varietals that you haven’t heard of before.  Just because they’re not mainstream doesn’t mean they’re not flavourful, or a good value.  A lot of them are also international.  Hmm… I think I read that somewhere.

Remember, take a risk.  You might not like all of these wines, but you might also love them.  Now get to the store, find a value wine, and start popping corks, (or unscrewing screwcaps)!

A special thanks to all of my guests: Ivy, Aaron, Sandra, Ian, Ken, Dawn and Angela.  You’re all wonderful for taking the time to contribute and I appreciate you!

Cheers!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Three

For my third Yoga class of this experiment, I decided to change a few things.  I tried an evening class, it was Hot Yoga, and my husband came with me.  I also came across some Yoga history in a novel that inspired me to look at it differently, as you’ll read below.

Again, it was a new instructor, but I know this instructor from staff parties, as I instruct my own classes at the same gym.  It added a certain comfort level being under the instruction of someone I already knew.  She was early and prepared, she started the class off with moments of readiness and preparation, and focused our minds on loving ourselves and others.  She reminded us to be grateful for our bodies, our hearts, and life itself.  She was detailed in her instructions, and gracious in the areas we needed growth.  Her class was also the most physically challenging one I’ve attended this month, with many strength and balance poses that the other two didn’t include; fine this time, but I wouldn’t always want that.

I’m learning that it’s important to find out what I want from a Yoga class, and then choose a time of day, level and instructor that delivers what it is that I need in that season.  There’s a time for everything.

Coming into an evening class felt okay for me, because I’m not a morning person.  I was more alert and had spent more time preparing for my experience.  I had picked a Bible verse I’d come across recently that applies well to my current life space, and I was ready to use it as a mantra.  I was also using this class to help wind down at the end of a day, rather than rolling out of bed into it, another plus for this time.

It was over 30 degrees Celsius in my city at the time, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  I had concerns about how Hot Yoga would affect my already over-heated body, so I consumed extra water before going (something I wouldn’t have done well before a morning class). As it turns out, when you walk from 30 degrees into 34 degrees, it doesn’t really feel that different; however, I noticed immediately how much further I was able to stretch into my downward dogs and forward folds, simply from the added heat in the room. I was actually cold when I left the room, which was just what I needed to feel!

Having my husband there was great.  He attends my fitness classes often, lifts with me, or we run together.  I’m comfortable exercising with him in many capacities, so I was aware of him, but he didn’t distract from my focus.  He’s a bit more experienced with Yoga than I am, so I looked forward to discussing the class afterwards with him.  His main observation was that he appreciates the time to slow down and actually focus on breathing.  The average person breathes in and out more than 20,000 times per day, and breathing is an essential life function, but we don’t stop and think about it unless we make the effort to focus on our own bodies and be grateful for a few moments.

I recently read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, because in the first third of the book, she relays her experiences of life in Italy, a place I hope to move to.  The next two thirds of the book cover her experiences in India and Bali, and I wasn’t planning to read them, but I noticed that the introduction to the India section was about meditation and Yoga, and seeing as how I was right in the middle of my summer Yoga experiment, it captured my attention.  Here’s what jumped off the pages at me.

“Why do we practice Yoga?… Is it so we can become a little bendier than our neighbors?  Or is there perhaps some higher purpose?  Yoga, in Sanskrit, can be translated as ‘union.’ It originally comes from the root word yuj, which means ‘to yoke,’ to attach yourself to a task at hand with ox-like discipline.  And the task at hand in Yoga is to find union between mind and body, between the individual and her God, between our thoughts and the source of our thoughts, between teacher and student, and even between ourselves and our sometimes hard-to-bend neighbours… The ancients developed these physical stretches not for personal fitness, but to loosen up their muscles and minds in order to prepare them for meditation” (p.121).

I love that “Yoga” essentially means “union.”  Sure, it can be a simple physical exercise, surface level stretching, if that’s what you are comfortable with.  But, it can be an opportunity to experience union with other people, or with soul, spirit and body, or with my God, if I set that intention, and I love that.  In the business of this life, this North American culture, and this crazy mind of mine that insists on fighting rest at any cost… it’s a gift.

1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

I also love that it encourages one “to yoke” to something, and attach to it with ox-like discipline.

Matthew 11:28 “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Sometimes, I feel weary, like I am carrying a heavy burden, and I want rest for my soul from a humble, gentle God.  There are many ways I can seek His rest, and I would argue that Yoga can be one of them, if I’m setting that intention – to take His humble, gentle yoke upon me and let myself be taught.

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise” (Gilbert, p.122).

Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

Exactly.

Needless to say, after reading all of this, I entered my third Yoga class with a fresh perspective.

“Take my yoke upon you…you will find rest for your souls.”

Does Yoga have to be spiritual?  No.  It can be purely fitness related.  You can walk into that room and let your mind wander through all your to-do lists, and everything you’re worried about, and you can watch the clock and just stretch.  If that’s what you need, then do that.  If you’re not into the Bible like me, you can choose a different focus, any mantra you like, and make it a positive or relaxing experience, where you practice gratitude, or learn to focus your mind a little more.  Or you can use it to connect with yourself, a friend, or God.  I have done all three now.

Yoga keeps surprising me. There is one week left in my summer Yoga experiment, and I’m curious to see what it will bring.

Namaste.

Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps

Real Cork

Cork is a natural substance that has been used for thousands of years by multiple ancient civilizations.  We now associate it mostly with wine stoppers, but I didn’t know how that usage came to be until I did some research.

“The most significant development occurred in the 1600s, when Dom Perignon, developed his methode champenoise.  The wooden stoppers used to store still wines had considerable disadvantages when applied to sparkling wine.  Dom Perignon successfully adopted cork stoppers and soon cork became essential for wine bottling.”[1]

Way to go, Dom!

Natural cork has its benefits.  We know that it has good results with long term aging.  It allows a very small amount of oxygen to slowly enter the bottle over the course of several years, helping harsher wines, with lots of tannins, to soften and become more easily palatable and interesting.  Too much oxygen will ruin a wine, and quick.  Think of it like The Three Bears scenario:  too much is bad, but too little is bad – it has to be just right.  It’s also a somewhat renewable natural resource.  “Cork continues to re-grow after the bark has been harvested.  However, it needs time, so the cork bark is only harvested once, every 9 years or so.”[2]

People also seem to love wine with real cork in it.  It feels more authentic and traditional, and hints at better quality.

I found results to a study done at Oxford University that supports this argument.  They found that wine tasted better to the participants if it had a cork, because they believed and expected it to be better, as opposed to a screwcap.  The study tested 140 people that tried two similar wines back to back, one with a cork, and one with a screwcap.  They then sampled the same wines again, without realizing it, except the tops were switched.  Each time, they were asked which one tasted better.  113 of those people chose the wine with the cork, each time, even though the wines had been switched on the second round.[3]

The Professor who performed the study explained that “our senses are intrinsically linked – what we hear, see and feel has a huge effect on what we taste.”[4]  This just goes to show that no matter the truth behind the wine closure, many people want a cork in their wine, because it enhances the experience.

I have to admit, upon first reaction, I like a real cork too, especially on an old bottle, when there’s a bit of fungus growing on top.  It reminds me that the bottle has a history, and a story, and it feels real.  I have to correct my reaction that seeing a synthetic or screwcap top on the bottle doesn’t imply the quality is less.  Real cork just plays into the fanciness, and the classy feeling that uncorking a wine gives.  It’s part of a ritual, if you will, when one wants to really enjoy a wine.

So if cork works, and people love it, why would anyone not use cork?

That’s where TCA steps in.  Dun dun dun…play the scary music.

TCA stands for Trichloroanisole, and basically, it’s a compound that forms in natural cork, and ends up getting transferred into wine, through that cork.  Terms such as “cork taint,” or a wine being “corked,” are referring to TCA.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity of smelling a wine that’s been affected with cork taint, it’s really bad!  The smell reminds me of an old church garage sale, or my grandmother’s basement storage room, that’s had a little bit of water in there over the years, hasn’t been dusted or cleaned out, and is probably growing mould.  As you can guess, it has a similar, unpleasant taste, too.

TCA’s not going to kill you, and as far as we know, it wouldn’t even make you sick – if you could still stomach the wine.  What’s likely to make you sick, however, is how your beautiful, expensive bottle of wine you’ve been anticipating is now effectively ruined.

You can find countless different statistics all over the internet on the percentages of wines that have been ruined by cork taint.  There was a big surge of it in the 1990s, that got people looking for other methods to close their wines.  On one of the wine tours we attended, the guide explained that they had switched to screw caps during that time, because they were finding that up to 10% of their wines were tainted.  Other statistics claim it was as low as 1-2%, and I’ve heard up to 20%.  There really isn’t an extremely accurate way of tracking this, and it differs from region to region.  A certain batch of cork could have been tainted, or it could have been a poor winery practice that caused the taint in the wine.

The numbers have significantly dropped now, as the cork industry got on top of the issue.  “Quality procedures have been overhauled, starting in the cork forests” with procedures to prevent the mould from getting into the cork itself.  The storage has been improved with “new factories close to the forests…the bark is stored only on concrete or stainless steel, never touching bare earth.”  The cork is also “rejected if [it shows] the slightest hint of a greenish stain,” and the bark is turned into corks by hand, “ensuring that the corks are taken from the best part of the bark.”  Nothing is wasted, and all the unused material is recycled.[5]  From the sites I referenced in this article, it seems to be that the percentages of cork taint have dropped significantly; the wine buyer at my favourite liquor store says that they hardly ever have returns anymore for this issue, and in all of the wines I’ve bought from them, and had in their tasting room, I’ve only ever seen one corked one.

Synthetic Cork

An alternative to real cork, is synthetic cork.  With this, there is no risk of TCA.  Synthetic cork can also be way more affordable for producers who are making inexpensive wines, meant for immediate consumption.  We don’t see super cheap wines in Canada very often, but if you’ve travelled Europe, you know that you can get some wines for less than $5.  Robert Joseph of Decanter makes an excellent point for why these types of producers may choose synthetic cork.  “When you are earning €3 a bottle, it makes no sense to spend a sixth of that sum on a top-quality cork.”[6]

It may be more consistent, and cheaper than real cork, but it’s also plastic, and not natural.  Jeff Leve explains that “the problems with synthetic corks is the lack of a perfect seal.  In turn that allows more unwanted air into the bottle, causing the wine to oxidize.  Worse, many of the synthetic corks have been known to impart a slight rubber or chemical smell, damaging the wine.” [7]  I’ve heard several of my wine industry friends complain of this happening; they say that if they’ve aged a wine on its side, and the synthetic cork is touching the wine, it can taste like plastic, so they always store their synthetically corked wines upright.  As for the lack of perfect seal, Jeff explains that some wine makers prefer this, if it can age their wines more quickly, to be consumed sooner.  He says there are also many companies now that are coming out with synthetic cork that lets in a more controlled amount of oxygen.[8]  There has also not been proof of how well it holds up for long term aging.

Screwcaps

The good old screwcap is another manufactured wine closure that is more cost effective, and less environmentally friendly, than real cork.  It also eliminates the risk for TCA, or plastic tasting wine; however, as you read above in the Oxford study, it’s associated with cheap wine.  Australia has put significant research into screwcap closures, as an article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains.

“The winemakers worked with the Australian Wine Research Institute, which over a 24 month period conducted trials that tested nine different closure methods (including natural cork, synthetic cork, technical cork and screwcaps.  After nine months under screwcap, each bottle of the same wine tasted the same… but the same wine under eight different cork closures all varied in taste.”[9]

I like some good research to back any fact, and I am impressed that there has been significant testing done on this issue.  Taylors Wines was the first winery to bottle every wine they make with a screwcap closure, in 2004, even though they risked what people’s opinions of the quality would be.  Now, 98% to 99% of Australian wines are bottled under screwcaps.[10]

Unfortunately, using a screwcap doesn’t guarantee a perfect seal.  There are some screwcaps that have been designed to allow slow amounts of oxygen into the wine, so that it can get some aging benefits, but it’s very possible that when the cap is getting attached to the bottle, it might not seal correctly.    I’ve had this happen to me before, (once) and had to send wine back to a winery because of it.  A wine expert taught me a good way to test this; when you’re buying a screwcap bottle, gently try and twist the closure under the lid, to see if it will rotate around the neck.  If it’s stuck to the neck and doesn’t rotate, you’re good.  If it does rotate, the bottle has not been sealed properly, and you could find that it’s been oxidized.

New Zealand launched their initiative to use screwcaps on even their top quality wines in 2001.  The initiative aims to “encourage and facilitate the use of screwcap wine seals by New Zealand wineries,”[11] and basically also to research them and make them super awesome! Excellent! You go, New Zealand! Maybe they’ll find a solution to ensure even more bottles are sealed tightly.  They do believe that screwcaps can be guaranteed to age well for considerable time, which is another plus for them; I’ve heard up to 10 years or more.  The founders of the initiative believe that cork taint is a considerable problem, and should no longer be tolerated, and seeks to find new and better ways.

It seems to me that our opinions of quality, based on a judgement we make on seeing the wine’s closure, may be preventing us from enjoying actual quality in some wines.

Didn’t anyone tell us not to judge a book by its cover?  In my opinion, those who judge all wines by their screwcap ‘cover,’ are missing out on some of the best wine ‘stories’ out there.  For example, I continue to buy Australian wine, even though it’s closed with a screwcap, because one of my favourite wines of all time is Penfolds – screwcap tops, amazing quality.

Let’s not be so hasty in our judgements anymore, wine drinkers!  Have you had a poor quality wine with a screwcap?  Yeah.  Have you had a poor quality wine with a synthetic cork?  Yes.  How about with real, natural cork in it?  Uh huh – me too.  I’ve also had great bottles with all three closures.  There’s so much more to what’s in the bottle, than what’s on top of the bottle.

There are no guarantees that every single bottle coming out of production is going to be perfect when it’s opened, no matter the type of seal.  There is always that small risk that it’s going to be corked, or oxidized.  That’s why in a restaurant, when you order a bottle, they allow you to taste it before it’s served; you’re checking that the quality is acceptable.  Luckily, most wine stores and producers understand that a percentage of damaged wine is part of the process, and I’ve never had anyone refuse to refund or replace my corked or oxidized bottles.

In the end, wine producers need to weigh their options and determine what’s going to suit them best.  As a buyer, knowledge is power.  It’s good to be aware of the pros and cons of each wine closure, and to eliminate misconceptions as much as possible.  When you’re purchasing a wine, and you’re looking at the closure, think about what that wine’s purpose is going to be for you.  Keep an open mind.  Who knows, maybe in a few decades, the sound of a screwcap seal breaking will have a friendlier association… we can hope!

Happy wine-ing!

Special thanks to Chad for asking me to write this article, which required the most research I’ve done since being in University… I guess we do learn to cite things for an applicable life reason. 😉

[1] Unknown.  “History of Cork Usage.”  http://www.corkqc.com/pages/history-of-cork-usage.

[2] Leve, Jeff.  “Wine Corks Everything You Need to Know About Wine Corks.”  https://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/wine-topics/wine-education-articles/wine-corks-everything-need-know-wine-corks/.

[3] Yorke, Harry.  “The Great Wine Debate; Corks really are better than screw-tops, Oxford study finds.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/27/great-wine-debate-corks-really-better-screw-tops-oxford-study/.  (September, 2017).

[4] Yorke, Harry.  “The Great Wine Debate; Corks really are better than screw-tops, Oxford study finds.”

[5] Bird, David.  “How the Cork Industry is Fighting Back.”  https://www.decanter.com/features/which-cork-is-best-246798/

[6] Joseph, Robert.  “Which Cork Is Best?”  https://www.decanter.com/features/which-cork-is-best-246798/ (January, 2009).

[7] Leve, Jeff.  “Wine Corks Everything You Need to Know About Wine Corks.” https://www.thewinecellarinsider.com/wine-topics/wine-education-articles/wine-corks-everything-need-know-wine-corks/.

[8] Leve, Jeff.  “Wine Corks Everything You Need to Know About Wine Corks.”

[9] Bliszczyk, Aleksandra.  “Australia’s wine screwcap revolution.” https://www.smh.com/au/business/australias-wine-screwcap-revolution-20170628-gx0e3l.html (June, 2017)

[10] Bliszczyk, Aleksandra.  “Australia’s wine screwcap revolution.”

[11] www.screwcap.co.nz

How to Teach Phys-Ed in Heels

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I adore high heels.  I’m not prejudiced either; I love them in all shapes, colors and styles!  My clock is a red high heel.  I have a high heel shaped tape dispenser (thanks, sis), wine bottle stand, cake server, calendar… Even my spoon rest on the stove is a red high heel.  I also have a few real pairs… (okay, I’m being modest).  After my husband accepted the fact that he’ll never get me to stop buying them, he built me a closet for them.

I originally took my teaching degree to teach Middle Years students, but jobs are scarce in my small city, and if you want one, you take what you get and you don’t get upset!  Long story short, I ended up becoming an Elementary Phys-Ed Teacher for a couple of years.  That’s not where I thought I’d end up, but being the perfectionist that I am, I set out to do the absolute best job that I could, while still being myself, of course.

Myself – wears heels.  I was the gym teacher who wore heels every day.

My students quickly became fascinated with my shoes.  They would wait to see which pair I’d have on each day.  A rumour went around my school that I’d never worn the same pair twice, which I’ll assure you is not true!

“How many high heels do you have?” I’m often asked this question.  My students could tell you the answer I always give.  “I refuse to count.”  There are some things you just don’t need to put a number on.

Another frequent question I hear is, “how do you walk in those shoes?”  My answer to that one is, “the same way you do.  One foot in front of the other.”

“Those can’t be comfortable,” they say.  Honestly, they’re not always comfortable, no.  If what you value most in footwear is comfort, then heels are not the shoes for you.  If you value style, I would argue that there are stylish shoes in any heel height, right down to pretty flats and funky sneakers.  Wearing heels is important to me.  I feel good in them, even if my feet don’t always feel good.  (However, at work I am practical in my choices; I do have several comfortable pairs of heels, that I can wear all day, be active in, and my feet are fine at the end of the day.) Some women do a lot more difficult things in heels than teach! You get used to them.

It was inevitable that someone would eventually comment on my ability to teach phys-ed with heels on.  Some wondered how I could possibly do a good job if I wasn’t in runners.  It’s amazing to me some of the things that people decide to care so much about.  Is my shoe choice really that big of an issue that it needs to become a topic for gossip?

I kept a pair of runners at school for the days I needed to demonstrate a skill; I was the teacher – I knew when those days were coming! With my hobby job and certifications in the fitness industry, I also knew the importance of modeling proper footwear for my students when doing physical activity.  On the contrary, anyone who’s ever taught a phys-ed class knows that the teacher’s main role is not to get in there and participate in every sport.  It isn’t summer camp, and I’m not a counsellor; the teacher’s role is to educate, supervise, support, build relationships, and assess (plus so much more), much of which can be done in heels.  It can – I did it.

My boss thought I did a great job.  The kids thought I did a great job.  Any parent that actually spoke to their child in my class knew that I poured my heart and soul into being the best phys-ed teacher I could, while still being me.  One of my colleagues suggested I do a professional development at a conference titled, “How to Teach Phys-Ed in Heels.”  I didn’t get the chance, so I’m writing this in honour of her now. She knew I was fulfilling my professional duties, while still expressing my personal style. (Thanks, Heather!)

My heels can tell stories.  I remember where I was when I bought them, or an experience I had while I wore them.  I have shoes from places around the world, and when I look at them, they remind me of that trip, or that place, and that brings me joy.  My heels were a point of connection for my students to ask about my stories, and my life.  They were a discussion starter, and a symbol of me, to them.  Now, because of those cute, honest conversations with kids, some of my heels have become reminders of my students, to me. When I see certain pairs, I can see their beautiful little faces.

I’ve had parents tell me more than once that my name gets brought up when their kids see high heels on movies, shopping, or on trips. It warms my heart; it’s nice to know they think of me.

I asked my husband once if it’s dumb that I’m known throughout the school for my shoes. I said, “that’s a really trivial thing to be remembered for.” He reminded me that my shoes are just a fun part on the outside, and how any student that has actually worked with me will remember me for how I impacted their lives. Upon receiving their farewell cards this spring, I can see that they will remember me because I helped them learn something, overcome something, because I listened, because I showed them love. The heels are just a visual reminder.

Whether I want to admit it or not, wearing heels has become a part of who I am.  I feel like myself when I have them on.  People can think what they want about that. As educators, we teach kids the importance of ignoring negative criticism, and fully embracing their own little (or big) personalities. We try to instil values in them like independence, strong self-esteem and acceptance of diversity. We teach that doing things to help them feel great, beautiful, confident, or like they’re being true to themselves is important in presenting their beautifully and wonderfully created selves to the world around them.  Why should we not do the same?

Wine Tips for Beginners: Pairing Wine with Food

Anyone that’s ever experienced a perfect pairing between wine and food can tell you that it’s like magic in your mouth.  Good food + good wine = an explosion of flavor.  In my quest to answer more questions for wine beginners, I think a brief article on food pairings is an important topic of discussion! (Memes from someecards.com)

You don’t have to drink white wine with chicken; it’s a myth and it’s been busted.  I love a great Pinot Noir with my chicken.  There used to be so many rules about always pairing white wine with fish, and red wine with red meats, but what if I want to eat fish AND drink red wine at the same meal?  Now I’m forced to choose, and that’s just not going to do.  Forget the rules.  Rules make me cranky sometimes.  White wine with fish doesn’t taste bad, but there are so many more options!

So, you ask, how do I drink wine, and eat food, without it being a complete disaster in my mouth?  Trial and error always works for us!  Take a look at some tips below, and maybe you can save yourself some of the error.

From our WSET course, and years of personal experience, we’ve learned some basic tips.  There’s so much more to be said on this topic, but here’s a start, including some quotes from my husband, Greg:

1. Unlike in people’s personalities, salty and acidic qualities seem to be the easiest to pair.  It’s a lot harder to go wrong with a wine when ordering or serving these types of dishes.  This is because salt and acid in food make wine seem sweeter and less acidic by comparison.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “A well seasoned piece of meat – it could be anything, ribs, steak, whatever, you need to put the seasoning to that meat – and a Montepulciano, Shiraz, or a strong Cabernet Sauvignon.”

2. Fatty foods pair best with acidic wine; this is likely due to how refreshing a crisp wine can be in comparison.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “A great juicy burger and fries, or pork side ribs and a beer!  If you’re drinking wine though, most wines are acidic; try a good Italian wine like a Chianti, or a big bold Chardonnay.  You’re eating a burger and fries.  You’re thirsty.  You want a crisp, cool wine.”

I also love these types of wines with a cheesy pasta dish.  Yum.

3. Sweetness and certain savoury foods can bring out bitterness in wine, making sweeter foods hard to pair.  If you’re as sweet on sweets as I am, and you’ve ordered something with sweetness to it, pile on the sweetness with an even sweeter wine.

Greg’s food suggestion: “If you’re having something with a sweet and savoury sauce, like a candied salmon or reduction-type sauce, get a Gewürztraminer or Riesling for white, or Gamay, Malbec, Shiraz or Zinfandel for red.  That does sound good…let’s have that.” 

4. Try and match intensities of foods with wines.  If you have a really acidic dish, a more acidic wine will pair nicely; just make sure the wine is more acidic than the food, or the wine will fall flat on it’s face.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “Pasta sauces, like tomato sauces need an acidic wine, like Italian ones, because tomatoes are so high in acid.”

Whites generally have more acid than reds, like New Zealand and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, or German and French whites.  Italian wines are often high in acidity, and some great, easy to find reds are Chianti, Sangiovese or Valpolicella.  Most restaurants should have one of these on their menus.

5. Bitterness leads to more bitterness, just like in a bad relationship.  Keep all those bitter family members away from each other to avoid a brawl.  No heavy reds with mushrooms and asparagus, or anything soya saucy or Asian!  You’ll want a crisp white for those dishes.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “I eat noodle bowls and sushi, and ginger beef.  A crisp white wine would go well with these.” 

Many crisp whites have been listed above!

6. Spicy food will have an extra mean kick if you’re matching it with heavy, high-tannin reds.  That high alcohol level will add to the burn!  Keep the wine on the fruitier, sweeter side, with lower alcohol levels.

Greg’s food suggestion:  “Spicy ribs or chicken wings, with a low alcohol Riesling will go well because of the sweet sauce and the spice.  The low alcohol won’t enhance the spice flavour, and the sweetness should take away from some of the spicy sauce.” 

7. “What grows together, goes together.” – I’m not sure who first said that, but it’s true!  If you’re eating Italian, get Italian wine.  French food, French wine, Asian food, Asian wine?  So it doesn’t ALWAYS apply, but when it does, it works.  Almost like the foods and grapes that grow in the same soils and climates might have something in common…

*Remember this:  the wine must always be sweeter than the food!

Dessert

Red wine and chocolate is a popular pairing misconception.  They’re actually not that good together – try it for yourself and see.  This is a shame, I know.  As red wine and chocolate happen to be two of my most favorite things to consume, I just do it anyways.  So you can be a food pairing rebel, like me, or you can save your chocolate for once you’re done your glass of red, or vice versa.

This all means that for dessert, a dessert wine must be served if you want a successful pairing.  Look in the dessert wine section at your store for Icewines (more expensive), late harvest wines (a bit more affordable) or try something interesting like Tokaji (Hungary) or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (France).  The question about Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is the one we both got wrong on our WSET exam; we won’ t be forgetting that wine ever again!  It’s actually really tasty.

To Sum Up

If you are ordering for multiple people eating different things, good luck.  It’s not an easy task, but the safest choices are neutral, un-oaked whites, or light body, fruitier reds, examples below.

A white wine that pairs well with almost any meal is Italian Pinot Grigio.  Pairing well with most meals are unoaked Chardonnay.  For a more interesting choice, try Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Albarino from Spain.   

Red wines that pair well with almost any meal and are usually a safe bet:  Beaujolais (the “hot dog wine” from the Somm movies), or Pinot Noir.  These reds can stand up to red meats, but also won’t overpower a fish or poultry dish.

You can Google specific food pairings online if you want to be precise.  Some reputable websites for wine information are www.winefolly.com, or www.jancisrobinson.com.  For example, check out Madeline Puckette’s wine and cheese pairing information here:  https://winefolly.com/tutorial/6-tips-on-pairing-wine-and-cheese/.

Wine Folly | Learn about Wine

www.winefolly.com

Wine Folly is the best place to learn about wine. Browse our visual wine compendium or our playful weekly articles. Start your wine education today.

6 Tips on Pairing Wine and Cheese | Wine Folly

winefolly.com

Armed with the right information you can create amazing wine and cheese pairings on your own. Here are several classic pairings and why they work.

(All of my suggestions for resources are my own opinions.  I have not been paid to recommend these resources.  I truly find them to be written by some of the most knowledgeable and accurate wine professionals out there, and I have invested in purchasing their books for my library.) 

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!

Sonoma Valley, Napa’s Not So Similar Sibling

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley almost come hand in hand as a wine travel experience.  People ask if you’ve “done Napa and Sonoma,” and they roll off the tongue as though they are one in the same, but they’re actually quite different.  We visited Napa Valley first, and then went touring in Sonoma Valley.  We were shocked at some of the differences.  I believe our shock came from simply being misinformed, and setting false expectations for Sonoma, based on our experience of Napa.  If I had read an article like the one I hope to provide you with now, I believe I would have experienced a better appreciation for Sonoma at the time.

Let me first clarify that when I say Napa and Sonoma are different, I don’t mean that either one is better or worse; different means different, and that’s it.  Some might say that Napa is superior to Sonoma.  Few might argue that Sonoma is more personable or friendly than Napa.  My stance remains that they are both great in their own right, and they each have much to offer.

There are some things Napa and Sonoma have in common.  They both represent well known growing regions in California.  They share the Mayacamas mountain range running between them, and both have excellently warm weather, breathtaking views, and are blanketed in wine grapes!  They each have a main highway that runs through them, leading tourists and wine experts alike down a trail of near endless exploring from one wine estate to the next.  Wineries offer tours and tastings, and have vast, stunning estates for their guests to enjoy.

There are many things that are different about Napa and Sonoma Counties.  On our visit, we were educated about how the Mayacamas Mountains, standing between Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley, actually block some of the cool current winds that come off of the San Francisco Bay area from reaching Napa Valley.  This keeps Napa’s climate slightly hotter than that of Sonoma’s.  With more of the cooling winds able to reach Sonoma Valley’s vineyards, the grapes are subject to a bit of a cooler climate, which in turn affects their development.  You may be thinking that’s a bit ridiculous, and how much of a difference could a slight breeze really make from that far away?  Well, in the world of wine, it’s a big difference.  Believe it or not, grapes can actually change in taste from one owner’s plot to the next door neighbours, even within the same small region.

All of this means that certain grapes will not grow as well in Sonoma as in Napa, and vice versa!  It can also mean that the same grape will taste different if it’s grown in Sonoma rather than Napa.  The winemakers in each region have been at it long enough to have figured out the exact climates and micro-climates of their particular vineyards, and they seem to be doing a fabulous job!  Remember, neither is better or worse; it’s a matter of preference to your tastes, whether you like warmer or cooler climate styles of each grape varietal.  Enough about all of that for now.  To sum up, the wines from Sonoma Valley are going to taste different than the wines from Napa Valley.

Another difference I wish I had been prepared for was the type of experience we were going to have in SOME Sonoma wineries.  After coming from Napa wineries, I had some expectations in my mind regarding curb appeal, staff dress, staff language and overall etiquette on the grounds.  I must make this clear; one winery we visited, which will remain un-named, certainly does not represent all Sonoma Valley wineries, but it was found among them. The place was difficult to find, and we had to drive down a long, windy dirt lane.  When we pulled up, we weren’t even sure we had arrived at the right spot.  Upon going in, we discovered some of the staff to be dressed in dirty, very casual clothes.  One of the men had his socks pulled up to his knees inside of his sport sandals, underneath poorly fitted denim shorts.  There were dogs running around though the tasting area.  Once I heard the word “butthole” come out of one of the staff’s mouths during a tasting, I knew this particular winery wasn’t within my preference.

We finished the tasting, and made the most of it, but I wouldn’t recommend that particular place to just anyone.  If you desire a very casual environment where you can bring your dog into the tasting area, and you’re looking for more of an affordable, weekend cook-out style of wine than the expensive, 100 point stuff, the wineries you’re looking for are not found in Napa Valley.  I do believe there IS a place for every type of winery in the market though, and Sonoma definitely has more diversity in its estates.  If I had known what I was getting into, I could have come with the right mindset, and enjoyed it for what it was – it may not have been my preference for language and dress, but it was a casual and relaxing environment, where anyone would be warmly welcomed.

I will note that we also visited some very high-class, professional, gorgeous estates in Sonoma Valley, which exceeded our expectations and delivered a five star experience, at a more affordable price than the Napa Valley wineries.  For example, B.R.Cohn, and St. Francis were both exceptional tours that I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone!  Domaine Carneros sits in between the Napa and Sonoma Valleys at the south end, and has exceptional reviews; we didn’t get the chance to visit it ourselves, but it is well known and reputable.  If you enjoy sparkling wine, I would take a chance on saying it’s the place to be.

The price differences compared to Napa Valley are something you’ll notice right away once you get into Sonoma Valley wineries.  Don’t let the comparatively lower price of a Sonoma bottle fool you into thinking it’s not as good as one from Napa.  Price per acre of land in Sonoma and Napa Counties in general is very high, and can range up into the millions; however, Sonoma price per acre does tend to be a bit less than in Napa. Hence, Sonoma wineries don’t need to charge as much.  They also don’t have quite as much prestige behind their name as their neighbour, which is all the better for us consumers!  We get amazing quality wine, and I would argue that it’s just as amazing as Napa Valley wine, but at a lower price point.  Some of our favourite wines are from Sonoma; they do an exceptional job at making the grapes they grow into amazing, award winning wines that score very highly with countless sommeliers.

“Pretentious” is a word used by some to describe Napa Valley.  A dictionary would tell you that this means Napa is attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed” (dictionary.com).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say Napa doesn’t actually possess its importance, talent, or culture; Napa Valley vintners have invested in their prime location for grape growing, developed stunning estates, acquired a vast knowledge, and have developed an expertise.  They produce a quality product.  However, in the grand scheme of history, European countries have been producing wine for centuries, and Napa was only put on the map in the 70’s; it’s a baby still, yet it’s competing with the Grandparent wines of the world, and breaking all of their rules on top of it.

Napa Valley wine IS expensive, and is highly raved over by certain wine-lovers, simply because of its name, before they even know what is inside the bottle.  Some would argue that it doesn’t warrant its price, but I won’t discuss that here.  Napa wine is often very full bodied and bold, and has specific taste profiles.  If that profile isn’t someone’s taste, they’re not going to think Napa’s is the greatest wine in the world.  It would be a fair guess that most of Europe would hold that viewpoint! Sonoma produces a quality product as well, but has a more approachable atmosphere for a wider range of people.

The best way I can suggest you determine which place you like, is to visit both of them.  They’re so close together geographically; it’s quite easy to do on one trip!  Go into both experiences with an open mind, and maybe you can enjoy them equally, and soak them in for their own personalities and styles; they both do offer so much style.  Either way, you’re going to be served excellent wine, in an exceptional setting, hopefully with the ones you love.  Happy wine tasting!