Our Australian Stop Over Part One: Sydney

On “our way” to New Zealand, we figured we would stop over in Australia, as we had never been there, and had considered living there. We did five days in Sydney, three in the Barossa Valley, and three in McLaren Vale, all at Airbnb’s. We had many exciting and great experiences, a few annoying and frustrating experiences, and overall, a great adventure. Read on for an overview of the highlights (and lowlights) of our trip.

To begin, the flights were long. So long! We left our families in Saskatchewan with tears, knowing we wouldn’t see many of them for a long time. We flew to Calgary, then L.A., and then finally on to Sydney. It was a 15 hour flight from L.A. to Sydney, and we spent well over 24 hours in travel. We left on Oct. 30th, and arrived on Nov. 1st, leaving Halloween as only a mist that we quickly passed through. Amazingly, the flight to Sydney wasn’t full, and we had three seats to just the two of us. We were able to take turns lying down across the seats, and actually got a bit of sleep. I also greatly enjoyed Virgin Australia as an airline.

We picked up our rental, and on the other side of the car and road as we were used to, hesitantly headed to our Airbnb in the Surry Hills area of Sydney. This is a trendy area that came highly recommended, but we didn’t enjoy it at all. I recommend staying in the Bondi Beach area if you plan to go to the beach a lot, or in Circular Quay or The Rocks, if you want to be around the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and other main attractions.

Our Airbnb in Sydney was also the worst we’ve ever stayed in. It was so dirty; there were spots of old food and goop on the tables and walls, dirt and dust all over the carpet and tiles, and black mould on the bathroom walls and in the shower. There was no garbage can, anywhere in the unit. I bought a hair dryer, and we ended up turning the box into our garbage. There were no tea towels or washing towels, there were two knives for cooking, one of which had the tip broken off. There was one wine glass… so we shared it. The worst part of all, is that we were on an extremely busy street, and the window was broken. The frame was hanging out of the side of the building, leaving an inch gap along the sides and top. We slept with ear plugs in the whole time! Long story short, we complained to Airbnb and were given a partial refund. Our friends who recently moved to Sydney have seen much worse places on their house hunt; apparently Sydney needs to up its standards. Our friend made a comment about how Australia is a first world country, but many Sydney residents live like it’s a third world country. I was quite disappointed in that, and I feel it’s something tourists should be aware of.


Bondi Beach

We came to Australia in their spring, from reasonably chilly weather in Canada, so we hit the beach on day one! Bondi Beach is amazing, and huge, and beautiful, with white sand, blue water, big waves, a stunning view, and lots of shops and restaurants along the street.

The parking fee is outrageous! There is a lot there, but it costs $15 for 2 hours. To spend a day at the beach is upwards of $45 in parking alone. If you plan to go to the beach, stay in that area and walk! Thankfully, the parking machines were down for two of three visits on our trip, and we paid only once, saving us a lot! I loved Bondi Beach, and the time we spent there. The water is much cooler than in places like Hawaii, but it is warmer than in Canada. There are surfers to watch, and lots of people. We were pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of public toilets, water fountains, showers, and even free wifi at the beaches in Australia. We enjoyed two of the cafes and restaurants along the beach during our visits too.


Opera House and Harbour Bridge

These are two main sights that Sydney is known for, so we visited them several times and had views of them from many different angles, bars and restaurants. If you stay in the Circular Quay or The Rocks areas, you can easily walk to both of these. They are beautiful and worth a see! If you like tours, you can tour the Opera House for roughly $45/each. We chose not to. There are a few bars and restaurants right alongside the Opera House, that we enjoyed a few times. Parking in the lot there is $16/hour! When my parking costs are higher than my alcohol costs, that’s a problem for me. If you book online ahead of time for any Wilson lot, you can get discounted parking, so if you know where you’re going to be, I suggest doing that!

You can also walk on top of the Harbour Bridge for the Bridge Climb if you have $300/each to spend, or you can go halfway up for half price. We climbed one of the towers on the bridge that its creators added to make it look similar to the Tower Bridge in London. The climb was a few hundred stairs, and only $15/each.


Sydney Tower Eye

We were being very budget conscious on this trip, due to our move, but we decided to do one nice dinner out, and we chose the 360 Bar and Dining in the tower. We thoroughly enjoyed our food, drinks, view and experience there! They were great with my soy allergy, and they actually gave Canadian and American style table service. (Most of Australia and NZ requires you to walk up to a bar or counter to order, pay, and then nobody serves you after that.) We ate a variety of appetizers, meals and desserts, all of which were amazing, and even tried the Kangaroo, which was really tender and flavourful! I would recommend this place to anyone who enjoys fine wine and dining. Note that again, the parking situation is challenging. The nearest Wilson lot is a 10 minute walk away, and requires pre-booking for a discount.


Sydney Harbour Cruise

We chose to do a 2 hour, afternoon boat cruise, and it was fabulous. We saw so much of the harbour. Sydney would be an amazing place to do a full cruise to!


Hillsong Church

If you’re a Christian or God follower of any kind, or even potentially if you’re not, you know of Hillsong. They have churches all around the world now, but they started in Sydney, and going to their original location was a major highlight for us!


Darling Harbour

This is another harbour that is less famous than the main harbour, but is also very beautiful, and full of restaurants and bars that capitalize on the exceptional setting. They do free fireworks all spring and summer on Saturday nights at 9pm!


Local Events

We were fortunate to have friends that had just moved to Sydney, and to get to spend two days with them. They invited us along to some local events, and we met some of their friends as well. This really made us feel like we got some of the local experience, and we enjoyed experiencing Sydney with them very much!

Food and Wine Festival in Lane Cove (above)

Melbourne Cup Day (above)

The Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney’s oldest pub (above)

Navigating our way around The Rocks at night (above)


There are so many more things to see and do in Sydney! Check out Circular Quay and The Rocks areas. The train is easy to use, and pretty affordable. There are great restaurants, pubs, chocolate shops and coffee shops everywhere. There are lots of great places to walk and jog! It’s probably not the best idea to rent a car there, unless you’re like us and are moving with too much luggage! The weather was fantastic and the people were pretty friendly. Other than having disgusting accommodations, we really enjoyed our time there!

Thanks for reading, and happy traveling!

Living with the In-Laws; Week One

We’ve been living at my husband’s parents’ acreage for one week now, and so far so good! It’s been a very atypical week for our family, so we haven’t settled into any sort of normal routine.

A lot has happened this week! I had my birthday; it didn’t really feel like a birthday so much this year, but that’s life. My brother-in-law also got married, and my in-laws hosted both the rehearsal dinner and the gift opening dinner, with over 100 guests total. My husband was a groomsman, and we worked on his speech; we sang during the signing and practiced our song lots. I even helped my in-laws with some suggestions for their speech! We chose a date to move, booked our flights, applied for our Australian visitor and New Zealand working holiday visas, and were quickly approved for both. We announced our moving date and destination to our friends and family, and have had lots of conversations about the move. We saw most of our extended family due to the wedding festivities, and there were lots of guns, tannerite, quads and blowing up things, which are frequent family activities. So as I say, this was quite the week!

We moved in on my 31st birthday, so my husband and I had a nice wine and my birthday cheesecake in his brother’s childhood bedroom, across the hall from his parents. It was different than our living room, of course, but still comfortable.

I spent the weekdays doing what I usually do, minus tv, because they only have one channel. Instead of the usual morning show while I eat breakfast, I visited with my mother-in-law most mornings. This, in my opinion, was a better use of time than watching tv would have been anyways.

Something that stood out to me this week was how hard working my mother-in-law is. I got to witness her in action all week as she prepared food for both of the huge meals they were hosting. By the time I showed my face in the kitchen on Monday morning, she had already completed several batches of home made buns, and perhaps a few pies. When I got home later that evening, she was still in the kitchen, and had accomplished more pies and several lasagnas. Tuesday looked much the same, as did Wednesday afternoon once she returned from volunteering at a Mom’s group at our church.

She thinks she isn’t good at organizing and planing ahead, but she had pages and pages of lists of all her meal plans for each meal, and was working well ahead to get everything prepped in time. There were so many pies and cakes, salads, buns, meats, lasagnas and sides! She had even arranged for some friends to come and help serve during the rehearsal dinner so she could socialize with her guests.

As I write this, those two meals are done, but Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the in-laws are hosting our family for that as well! The turkey literally had to come out of the freezer on the morning of the wedding! They amazed me this week with all of the money, effort and love that went into both of the wedding meals, and Thanksgiving. In the midst of all of this, she apologized to me for not putting on a birthday dinner to celebrate me. Let’s just say she’s completely excused!

As my in-laws kept showing up from each trip into town with more and more groceries, I’d ask what the new stuff was all for. “This is for Thursday, and this is for Saturday… no that’s for Thanksgiving.”

Oh and did I mention that they don’t have a dishwasher??? Yes. Everything gets washed and dried by hand here.

We’ve been busy with so many of our own things this week, but we’ve been able to step in and help a bit with prep and clean up, and hopefully we’ve made a bit of a difference for them.

Thankfully they also let us change the doorknob to our room with one that locks. We’ve had so many people in the house this week, that it’s nice to know I have one room, at the least, that’s my private space. I learned more than ever last summer when we lived in our camper out here, that I am a really private person. I value my privacy much more than I ever realized. In being a private person, I find sharing space is hard for me; I’m trying to be as respectful of their routines as possible, and they have been really good at giving us our space and alone time as well. I’m very aware that we are guests in their space, and I’m reminding myself to be grateful that we were welcomed in, to spend this last month at home with family.

A few of the guys ended up getting ready for the wedding in our room, so our teddy bears and string of Christmas lights will forever be in their photos!

I’m hoping for a quieter week ahead, and more relaxation time for all of us! This first week has sure been a whirlwind of activity, but we have seen a lot of our family. We won’t see them for a long time once we leave, and I’m already missing some of them. I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for.

Thanks for reading, blog family, and Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

Red Wine Really Does Taste Better on Fruit Days 🍓 How I Put the Biodynamic Wine Calendar to the Test

I’ve heard it said that red wine tastes better on fruit days. First off, I can make my wine taste better? Second, what’s a fruit day? What does that even mean? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about it!

The biodynamic wine movement bases it’s entire operation on the lunar calendar. For vineyard practices, certain days are believed to be ideal days to water, prune, harvest, fertilize, etc. The lunar calendar doesn’t just determine when to do each vineyard practice; it’s believed that the lunar cycle affects us and our experiences of wine too. Biodynamic enthusiasts will tell you that wine will actually taste better on certain days than it does on others. This theory applies not only to biodynamic wine, but all wine. Crazy? Maybe. Maybe not!

Before you go discounting this whole idea, keep in mind that growing vines is essentially farming. The Farmer’s Almanac has used the lunar calendar for farming practices for decades, and if the moon can affect weather and climate patterns for other crops, it can certainly affect a wine crop, and potentially us!

There are 4 types of days the calendar presents: fruit days, flower days, leaf days and root days. These days are determined by the lunar cycle, so sometimes an entire day will be one type, and sometimes the type will change part way through the day! For example, it could be a fruit day in the morning and change to a leaf day at 2:00pm if that’s how the moon cycle was at that time.

Okay, so you might ask how on earth (or should I say on the moon) are we supposed to know which day is which?

Thankfully there are lots of handy calendars online. Here’s a link to one I like: https://ca.rhythmofnature.net/biodynamic-calendar.

Alternatively, you can download a biodynamic calendar app (the only one in the App Store), but you have to pay in order to see ahead in the calendar, which with my planner personality, I don’t like.

Enough moon talk. Let’s get to the wine!

According to the wine tasting theory, red wine is supposed to taste best on fruit days, and white is pretty freaking great on flower days; awesome!

🍓 🌺

Apparently both red and white are supposed to be less enjoyable on leaf days and root days. Boo.

🍃 🥕

I’ve read articles written by people that have tested the theory and found it to be true, and others who think it’s a complete joke. I love a good experiment, and drinking wine, so naturally, I had to see for myself! My husband did the experiment with me, and we found that red wine actually did taste the best on a fruit day!

We took this experiment pretty seriously, so before you judge me as completely off my rocker, have an open mind and read on.

Here’s our experiment:

Hypothesis:

I figured we’d each agree on our enjoyment of the wine for no more than 2 of the days, and that we would not be able to peg the fruit day specifically. (I clearly had little faith in this theory!)

Materials:

  • A good friend to determine 4 blind tasting dates for us (as I couldn’t check for myself in order to keep them anonymous)
  • 4 bottles of red wine of the exact same producer, grape, and vintage (the control) 🍷 🍷 🍷 🍷
  • Wine glasses (cause drinking from the bottle’s just not classy)
  • Pen and paper (and an ability to keep secrets!) ✏️ 📝
  • Open minds (reader, you need this too!)

Procedures:

I wanted this to be as legit as possible. I had my friend, Ivy, check the biodynamic calendar and select 4 days during my upcoming holiday. She checked 2 calendars just to be sure, and gave me 4 dates that covered each kind of day, without telling me which was which. (Very secretive!)

I wanted to do the whole experiment on holiday so that I would be in roughly the same type of happy mood each day (which ended up slightly failing, as I’ll explain below).

We selected a type of wine that we don’t normally drink a tonne of, (yes, it was difficult, but we found one) and a producer that we had never tried before, so that we wouldn’t have many past experiences to compare the wine to.

We purchased 4 bottles of the same wine, so that each day we could open a fresh one. Have you ever tried week-old opened cheap red? Yikes! Don’t! This way there could be little risk of the taste having changed from oxidation over the course of the week.

We made sure to chill them each to the appropriate temperature range, and to drink the experiment wine first, before any other wine or food that evening (to ensure we were of perfect clarity of mind and palate).

We each kept notes of our level of enjoyment of the wine and gave it ratings based not on quality, but on how we felt it tasted (as that was the goal of the experiment).

We did not peek at the biodynamic calendar at any time. (No cheating!)

Lastly, we did not discuss the wine with each other at all until the whole experiment was done. No tasting notes were given, not even if we liked it or not, nor any guesses or comparisons – we said nothing, to keep it completely subjective. (As wine education lovers this took incredible self-control!)

(Image from winefolly.com)

Results:

Upon comparing our notes, we both felt the wine wasn’t that great on Day 1, which turned out to be the root day. My husband gave it the lowest score, and I gave it the second lowest score on this day. Interesting! 🥕

We were in between on our opinions on Days 2 and 3, which ended up being the flower and leaf days, however I must add that I gave it a high-ish score on Day 3, the leaf day, as I drank it in the first good sun tanning weather I’d had on the trip. I believe the perfect weather probably affected my emotional experience of it – I was really happy when I drank it! It wasn’t very complex that day, but it seemed enjoyable. This goes to show that environment and mood also affect enjoyment of wine. 🌺🍃

Finally, we both pegged the fruit day right on! 🍓

On Day 4, we had just had an afternoon nap, woke up before a dinner date, and it was raining, but we knew we had to taste the wine before we could go out! It shouldn’t have tasted good in that setting, but it was immediately, upon first sip, the best and most complex it had tasted to both of us during the entire experiment. This was mind blowing to me, because I was not expecting to actually notice that much of a difference! Once we looked up the days and realized it was the fruit day, we were both shocked that it was noticeably better for both of us on that day, without us knowing any better or speaking to each other about it.

🍓🍷✔️

This could be one factor to explain how sometimes a wine is so good, but when you open the same one the next time, it’s not as good as you remember, or vice versa.

Based on my results I’d absolutely recommend saving higher priced red wines to drink on fruit days, or at least when you’re in a fabulous mood!

Further Experimentations:

I want to try this with whites, and see if we can peg the flower day. 🌺

I also will choose dates for my friend, Ivy, and her husband to do their own version of the experiment to see what kind of results they get. 📝

If you think this is all complete BS, that’s fair. I honestly did too. Now, I’m open minded to it and will be paying closer attention! ✔️

I challenge you to try it for yourself. You might just be surprised! At the very least, you’ll have some bottles of wine with someone you like, and that’s pretty great in itself.

Happy fruit and flower days!

🍓🌺

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!

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.) 

St. Francis Winery, Sonoma Valley – A Visit to Remember

Exactly one year ago today, we visited St. Francis Winery in Sonoma, and it was incredible.  St. Francis Zinfandel was the wine that introduced us to this particular producer, some years ago, when great friends shared it with us.  We loved it, of course, and shelved the information in the back of our minds.  Those same friends invited us to spend a weekend at their cabin the following summer, and we were to bring wine for a meal.  We browsed the isles at the liquor store, and picked out the St. Francis Zin, not remembering its significance.  When we served it, our friends exclaimed in excitement that this was from their favourite winery, and they had been to visit!  We asked them to tell us the story this time, and determined that if we ever went to California, we were going to St. Francis.

Fast forward two years, and we made our way to California for a wine-tasting adventure.  I made sure to book a tasting at St. Francis well before embarking on the trip, and it’s a good thing I did, because they book up fast!  For a standard tasting, guests can walk in with no appointment and approach the bar.  We wanted the full deal, and I booked our lunch tasting months in advance.  Upon booking, I discovered that St. Francis was the highest rated restaurant in all of the USA that year on opentable.com.  I was impressed!  The price was $72 per person, for a five course meal with wine pairings, seating only 16 people at once to facilitate an intimate and personal setting.  For those not interested in a meal, St. Francis offers several other events at which to experience their winery, such as art festivals, concerts, outdoor movie nights, and even an annual Blessing of the Animals.  Information on the wine, winery visits and the event schedule can be found at www.stfranciswinery.com.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards – Sonoma, CA

www.stfranciswinery.com

For more than four decades, St. Francis Winery has consistently produced luscious, elegant, fruit driven wines that best interpret the richness and distinct varietal characteristics of Sonoma County’s unique, diverse terroir.

We arrived at St. Francis early to enjoy the grounds before our tasting began.  We were greeted by a very friendly face, who in realizing we had a while to wait, offered us a complimentary glass of crisp white Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy in the hot weather as we walked the grounds.  It was perfect.

The grounds are big and beautiful, and surrounded by the vineyard.  There are charming benches to sit and relax, a calming fountain, gardens full of flowers in bloom, streams of lights decorating the spaces, and statuesque art acting as centerpiece to a lush lawn area.  The gift shop is full of practical wine tools, artistic home décor pieces, and cute wine themed souvenirs.  The tasting bar is long and grand, with plenty of room for tasters to make their way through their desired flights.

Once it was time for our booking, we were welcomed into the luxurious tasting room.  Our two hosts explained the wine making process, educated us about the grape varietals, and gave tasting notes for each of the 4 wines that went with our dinner courses, and the 5th wine, specially paired with dessert.  In a traditional pairing situation, the food is the star, and the wine is selected to enhance the meal, but at St. Francis, the chef has done the opposite.  He has designed a well thought out menu to showcase the specific taste profiles of each wine, and very successfully so.  He greeted us after the meal to personally answer our questions.

Upon finishing the tasting, my husband and I began to make our selections for purchase.  As participants in the tasting, we were given an additional 15% off of our purchases, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  St. Francis has a large selection of varietals and blends to choose from, and they kindly allowed us to taste some additional wines that hadn’t been a part of our lunch pairing.  We found their prices to be reasonable, and left with a full case of some of our favourites, and a special gift for our friends who introduced us to St. Francis in the first place.

Our visit to St. Francis was a highlight of our trip, and I would recommend the investment of time and money there; it doesn’t disappoint!