54 Wines 1 Summer Solstice


Summer Solstice: a celestial event where either the Northern or Southern Pole is closest to the sun and is thus marked by the longest day on that respective hemisphere.  This year, that moment happened at 5:04 am on June 21st and sprung the Northern Hemisphere into the first day of summer.




California Wine Fair


California Wine Fair is Wine Institute’s of California and LCBO’s grand finale to what was a month-and-a-half long promotion of Californian wines (also see my earlier post). The event, held at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto, featured over 480 wines from 180 California’s wineries (for a complete list click here: wineries + wines) and consisted of 4 parts – a luncheon for invited guests only; private tasting for registered media (11-5:30 pm); trade event for wine retail trade, media and hospitality industry only (2:30-5:30 pm); and a consumer event for the general public for a fee of $75 (7-9:30 pm).


Organized Crime Winery


Organized Crime Winery – what’s in the name? Right away, one may automatically think of ‘mafia’ or ‘black market’, while more in-depth thinking may allude to a ‘stab’ at the LCBO monopoly. Nonetheless, whatever one thinks, the name draws attention and curiosity.
The origin of the name, in fact, is a combination between history and art. As it goes: In the 1900’s, in a nearby town named Jordan Station, there were two Mennonite congregations of which one brought a pipe organ into their church and played it during mass. The members of the other congregation thought that music in the church is unholy, so one night they broke into the church, took the pipe organ and dumped it onto an embankment of the nearby Four-Mile Creek; thus committing a crime of stealing an organ = Organized Crime. (Story was provided to the winery by Jordan Historical Museum)


Fielding Estate Winery


The mention of ‘Cottage Country’ brings forth images of tranquility, warmth, canoeing at foggy dawns; or watching sunsets from the cottage porch while overlooking a lake and listening to distant loon calls. For a city dweller, it may be hard to imagine why anyone would think of doing anything outside of the ‘Cottage Country’ realm, not to mention leaving it and moving elsewhere.  On the other hand, the beauty of farmlands, orchards and vineyards is equally as enchanting, but in a different, more organized, way.


Crown Bench Estates


Tucked away at the end of a seldom travelled road, in the shadows of the escarpment’s treeline, one will find the entrance to an enchanting winery.  Illuminated with a lantern, lit night and day, by natural gas escaping from long-gone creatures; one might feel though entering a fairy-tale realm and glimpsing a distant unicorn.  The perception is not far off, once realizing the wines housed within are just as unique as a unicorn would be.


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Snowshoeing in the vineyard


IMG_4879Starting second weekend in January and going right through February, Thirty Bench offers “Snowshoeing in the vineyard” tours. In a nutshell, it entails a hike through the property’s three vineyards, while sipping wine and listening to the guide’s interesting anecdotes and trivia about the vineyard, winery and the wine; and finalizing with an exquisite pairing of oaked Chardonnay and seafood chowder (described here in full detail) before heading the boutique to purchase some of the tasted wines or to continue-on visiting other wineries.


Thirty Bench Wine Makers


In 1980, a physician at McMaster by the name Thomas Muckle, bought an orchard in the Beamsville Bench and slowly converted it into what back then was known as Heritage Vineyards. Needing both physical and financial help, Dr. Muckle joined forces with Yorgos Papageorgiou and Frank Zeritsch, expanded the vineyard and all three men started experimenting with winemaking in small batches. For years, most of the harvested grapes were sold to nearby wineries, but that ended in 1994 when a first boutique winery within the Beamsville Bench region, the Thirty Bench Wine Makers, was established. The name combines geographical information (30 miles from the Niagara River) and the fact that three wine makers crafted ultra premium wines according to their individual styles.
In 2005, Thirty Bench was purchased by Andrew Peller Ltd. with Natalie Reynolds as the head winemaker, untill her assistant Emma Garner took her role 2009. Though the ownership changed hands, both winemakers ensured that the winemaking methods follow in the footsteps of the original wine makers, which is to produce high quality wines that have originally earned the winery its reputation.


Hidden Bench Winery


Hidden Bench - Montage
The Hidden Bench Winery, an artisanal winery located in the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Peninsula, is owned and operated by Harald Thiel and his family. Since his young age, Harald wished to one day have his own winery and after selling his audio-visual business in 2003, he realized this dream and purchased the property that is now the Hidden Bench Vineyards and Winery. Today, the winery employes 6 full-time employees and 10 people as a seasonal staff, who ensure that every detail, whether related to winemaking or to the look of the winery, is craftily met.
Upon entering the boutique, the feeling of warmth and coziness bestows oneself as the room’s design provides peace and tranquility, whether accomplished by the fireplace, the bookshelf full of wines, the guest book corner with captivating painting by Kevin Sonmor, or the friendly staff pouring ultra premium wines.  Everywhere you look, a lot of attention has been paid to the smallest of details – trully Artisanal winery.


Rosewood Estates


Rosewood Intro
The Rosewood Estates Winery came to its beginning in the year 2000, when Eugene (a first generation Canadian with roots from Ukraine) and Renata Roman purchased a land in the Beamsville Bench area and in 2003 planted their first Merlot vines that was soon followed by others. Three years later, they harvested and produced their first vintage and early in 2008, their retail store first opened its doors.


Rosewood Estates - 'the vines'


Daniel Lenko Estate Winery


Daniel Lenko Estate Winery is owned and operated by Daniel Lenko, a first generation Canadian whose roots extend all the way to Ukraine.  In 1947, his grandparents and his father William arrived in Ontario and settled in Beamsville, where they bought a fruit farm. Over time, they began growing vines, eventually converting the farm into a vineyard.  Growing up on a farm/vineyard, Daniel developed passion for agriculture and viticulture, so when he opened up the Daniel Lenko Estates Winery in 1999  together with his father William, it was a natural transition that was in works for decades.  Daniel already had all the skills necessary to manage a vineyard, but to make great wines, he consulted with winemaker Thomas Laszlo. Today, Daniel oversees the entire operation – looking after the vineyard and its maintenance, harvest assessment, winemaking, production and marketing.  The winery also employes one full-time, one part-time and seasonal staff.


Pairing Wine with Food – a walkthrough with Jerry Comfort


On November 16th 2012, I had the pleasure to sit down one-on-one with Jerry Comfort and let him take me through the intricacies of pairing wine with food. We met at the Westin Harbourfront Castle Hotel, shook hands and sat down around a low-laying table set with three glasses filled with water and white and red wines, aside was a plate with sliced red apple, lemon wedge and a salt shaker. I knew that we’ll be talking about pairing food with wine or pairing wine with food, but I didn’t expect a demonstration and certainly didn’t expect the presentation that followed, but before getting into that, I need to take a step back.


Château des Charmes


Château des Charmes – literally translated to ‘House of Charms’ or loosely into ‘Charming House’, is a winery owned and operated by the Bosc family.  It was originally established by Paul Bosc, who had the foresight of planting vines solely belonging to the Vitis Vinifera family (European vines) as opposed to the endemic Vitis labrusca or Vitis riparia, thought to have a peculiar taste. By doing so, in 1978 he established the first commercial Canadian winery growing 100% Vitis Vinifera and can thus be considered the forefather of today’s booming Canadian wine industry. For this, he was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada, by which coincidently becoming the 1st winemaker to receive such an award.
Chateau des Charmes


‘Hot to Trot’ – the stakes

There are more wines entering the market today than ever before and with wines making it onto the Canadian turf from unexpected places like China or Brazil, it is not surprising that wineries and agents representing them are coming up with more and more ingenious ways of marketing them.  There are many strategies by which wines are featured to the wider public including:
– visual advertisements;
– direct targeting of customers at the LCBO – entrance tastings, Air Miles promotions, attached 1 oz liquor bottles, neat packaging (holidays), etc;
– paid venues ranging from expo style events (Food and Wine Show; Wine and Cheese Show; etc) to more intimate tutored tastings generally hosted by the owner or wine-master of the winery;
– structured lunches/dinners where media is invited with the intention to share the word around (my case here :-)).
Whichever strategy is employed, they all work and it is because we need to eat, we need to drink and we surely need to have fun.  The more senses are satisfied at the same time, the more successful the product – visually gratifying labels/bottles; touch pleasing textured labels, large glassware; appealing aromas – the more the better (complexity); satisfying mouthfeel – acidity, tannins, fruit sugars (not glucose), minerality (structure); auditory satisfaction coming from popping of a cork enclosure; lastly, though not a sense, sentient fulfilment that comes from discussion of the ever elusive aromas or the complimentary merging of the senses.
In this article, I want to share my experience at a recent event where quite a bit of thought and effort went into making of what ended up being a successful and memorable presentation of two products.


17th Annual Italian Wine Tasting

On November 5th 2012, Délégation Commercial d’Italie organized and executed the 17th Annual Italian Wine tasting event held at the Roy Thompson Hall. With clientele including agents, restaurant/hotel sommeliers, wine writers/critics, media (category under which GrapeSelections was granted entry) or private buyers, all of us totalling 4 to 5 hundred strong, one would think that the staff representing the 83 listed wineries featuring on average 5 different wines, would be completely overwhelmed. On the contrary, the open, circular layout of the foyer allowed for unobstructed movement and the atmosphere, though lively, was quite relaxed and the agents were attentive and ready to discuss their products even during the peak hour.


Storing Opened Wine

How long can an opened wine last and how to best preserve it – this is a question that GrapeSelections was recently asked.

The length of time a bottle can be opened without noticeably changing composition depends mainly on the storing conditions.  I personally use the VacuVin system (pump & stopper set enabling the removal of air) and keep the half-finished bottle in the fridge. I highly recommend this method.


The young and the eager

On October 23rd, GrapeSelections was invited to a structured tasting of Rosewood wines matched with food pairings prepared by chef-trainees at the Chef’s House.

Rosewood Estates, a young winery and meadery established at the beginning of this century, has already made its name locally and globally by producing award-winning wines and meads. The Chef’s house, a restaurant operated by George Brown College, trains young George Brown chef-trainees and School of Hospitality and Tourism Management students to excel in their culinary talents. GrapeSelections, which just celebrated three months since conception, has already managed to secure a position in the wine-reviewer/wine-writer world; it was only fitting that all three parties, excited and eager to excel in our respective realms, got together in what in-my-opinion ended up being

Trickledown effect – Second video tasting

GrapeSelections was recently invited to participate in a second online video wine and cheese tasting (first one can be watched here) organized by Natalie MacLean. This article summarizes what is involved in preparation to make the video happen (on my end) as well as to feature the wines and cheeses and how they pair together.



Business and pleasure – who says they don’t mix.

Five talented and dedicated wine enthusiasts and I were treated with dinner, compliments of Bryan McCaw, and tutored wine tasting given by David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato – I felt like being back at the university, sitting in a small classroom clinging onto every word from a looked-up-to professor – a cherished moment in my life.


“No cameras, no glimmer, just good old-school quality time”


Luxury-line Penfolds tasting


This is one of the greatest wine tastings there was and probably will be in this city” – David Lawrason


Last night, September 17th 2012, I was fortunate to participate at a Penfolds ‘bring your own bottle’ event, giving GrapeSelections lots of material to write about. The premise of the event was to appreciate Penfolds customers, by inviting them (us) to a free dinner where the patrons were to bring a luxury–line bottle from their cellar and share it along with stories behind each bottle. The event was held at the House of Moments establishment and was hosted by Peter Gago, chief winemaker, together with David Lawrason, VP of wine at WineAlign.


Tasting with Wolf Blass

On Monday, September 10th 2012, as ‘GrapeSelections’, I was invited to a dinner/wine tasting of Wolf Blass wines – presented by THE MAN himself, together with Chris Hatcher (the chief winemaker) and hosted by Natalie MacLean (the author of the book ‘Unquenchable’). The premise of this event was to promote the book ‘Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest For The World’s Best Bargain Wines’ together with Wolf Blass wines, as in her book, Mrs. MacLean wittingly shares her experience meeting Mr. Blass as well as other stories of her visiting ‘the wine country’.