Welcome to the World of South American Wine!

In my quest to become a Sommelier, I have just recently studied wines from Chile & Argentina, and let me tell you… you can discover some beautiful wines at very reasonable prices.
Let’s start with Chile.  Although wine has been made in Chile for 500 years, the wine industry is young and fresh.  They did get a burst of international attention in the mid-19th Century when Phylloxera devastated the vineyards in France.  French wine makers came over looking for work and Chile welcomed them with open arms.  It wasn’t long before Chilean wine was wanted locally and abroad.  However, with 2 World Wars and decades of state protectionism, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Chile started to enjoy  a resurgence.  Chile now exports wine to 100 countries and there are some beautiful wines available from this country.
Here’s a Pinot Noir I had the other evening.  First time ever trying a Pinot Noir from Chile and I really enjoyed it.  There was a time wine-drinkers would tell you to stay away from a Pinot Noir under $20, however, this one is only $18.99 and it’s a beautiful expression of a Pinot Noir.  From the Casablanca region of Chile (isn’t that a romantic name for a wine region), it is medium-bodied with notes of cherry and delicate spices.  It is aromatic and food friendly and I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Three of the biggest names in Chile are  Concha Y Toro, Errazuriz and Santa Rita.  The Casillero del Diablo wine is the mainstay of the winery Concha y Toro, and has a fabulous story.  The rumor that the wine cellar was haunted by the devil gave this wine its unique name and now comes in 10 different varieties.   The Merlot, which is pictured here, along with the Carmenere from Errazuriz, has a unique history in Chile as well.  Carmenere was once mistaken for Merlot, even though it looked different and ripened 2 – 4 weeks later than Merlot.  These two varietals were harvested and bottled together, which sometimes gave Chilean Merlot a green unripe taste.  In 1994, through DNA testing, Carmenere was identified as a varietal on its own.  Now Chilean Merlot, like this one from Concha Y Toro, is smooth and rich with lush flavors of plums, black cherry and chocolate.  Carmenere is now known as Chile’s grape, never finding its proper home in Bordeaux France.  The Errazuriz Carmenere elicits gorgeous flavors of dark fruits, coffee and spice.  And both of these wines are under $20!
According to legend, 120 patriots, exhausted after a long, hard battle during the fight for Chile’s independence, reached the land belonging to Santa Rita. On that fateful night in 1814, these forces of liberty found refuge in the estate cellars.  The Santa Rita Chardonnay sells for under $17 where I live, and is a full-bodied beauty with flavors of vanilla and tropical fruits.
Separated by Chile by the majestic Andes Mountain Range, Argentina is the biggest wine producer in South America and the 5th largest in the world.   You cannot talk about wine in Argentina, without talking about Malbec.   It is the flagship of wines in Argentina and the biggest producer of Malbec in the world.  Originating in Bordeaux, it was used to pigment wines, but it has a starring role in Argentina.
This Norton Privada Malbec is a big winner in my eyes.  This is a big bold full-bodied wine.  Full of ripe fruit and bold spice, this baby can take on any grilled meat, steak or roast.   This wine was made for beef.
Catena Malbec
Of the 210,000 hectares of vines planted in Argentina, 156,000 of them are planted in the region of Mendoza.  The biggest wine region in Argentina, offers a wide variety of wines, and again Malbec shines.  This Catena Malbec is gorgeous, dark and rich.  Spice, chocolate and vanilla flavors complement this wine, and again it’s under $20.
Chile and Argentina offer a wide variety of delicious wines in both red and white.  I didn’t even get to discuss Brazil.  Check it out at your favorite wine store and discover a whole New World of wine!

Gold Medal Winning Food & Wine Combos

Sochi logo

The Winter Olympics are still on and Canada is doing so well.  It makes me feel like cooking!  And cooking is something I have been doing…. and in my house, when you cook – you pair it with wine.

I have posted a recipe for Caprese Chicken before, but this is my own twist to the recipe.  So, I am calling this one my own… and it tastes as good as it looks.


Darlene’s Caprese Chicken: 

  • Butterfly Chicken Breast (baked)
  • Olive Oil (buy a quality one)
  • Balsamic Vinegar (you can even use a flavored one)
  • Baby plum tomatoes – the small and sweet ones
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Ground pepper
  • Freeze dried onion flakes
  • Salt is optional, I don’t tend to cook with it
  • Fresh basil and parsley

Cook your chicken breast.  In a small frying pan combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onion flakes, garlic, mozzarella cheese, the baby plum tomatoes and salt and pepper.  Sautee for a couple of minutes and pour on top of the chicken and garnish with the basil and parsley.

Guaranteed to wow family and friends.  Now for the wine!

Here’s a match made in Valentine’s Day heaven.  Kim Crawford Pinot Noir out of New Zealand.  From the cooler regions of New Zealand, this Pinot Noir is flavorful and food friendly.  Earthy tones with fruity black cherries and raspberries this wine would compliment, and not compete with all the flavors in the Caprese chicken.   I decided to have a little fun with my original Caprese chicken recipe, and this is the wine I matched with it.

 Dreaming Tree Crush

Drinking white with this dish?  You can’t go wrong with most of the Chardonnay’s out of California.  This one is from Dreaming Tree, getting a lot of good reviews about its Chardonnay, and the winery as a whole, co-owned by musician Dave Matthews.  Beautiful citrus notes, apples and some spice, this is another great wine that won’t compete with the flavors of the dish, but will go hand in hand.   I have a friend at work, Cassandra who loves the Dreaming Tree Red Crush.   This would go with the Caprese Chicken as well.   The Red Crush contains some of my favorite grapes in the whole world, 55% Merlot, which gives it those gorgeous smoky berry plum flavors, and rounded out with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Syrah.  Fruity, smooth but with great structure from the Syrah, this wine can stand up to just about any dish.    For those that have never hear of Petite Sirah, it’s a different grape variety from Syrah, which is also known as Shiraz.  Petite Sirah orginiated in France, as a clone with Syrah as the Daddy plant and Peloursin as the Momma plant.  Petite Sirah is late to ripen, so it didn’t do well in France.  It thrives well in California, where you will see many wine makers include it in a blend to add a deeper color, more distinct tannins and a velvety texture.

I had my sister over for supper this past week.  She takes care of my Tigger when I travel.  And she loves my stuffed Butterfly pork chops.  So here’s the recipe.  Thanks to my friend Jay Lawrence for passing along what has become one of my favorite recipes.
Stuffed Butterfly Pork Chops:
Butterfly Pork Chops (ensure they are thin)
In a bowl, combine:
Bread crumbs
Feta Cheese
Real bacon bits
Apple slice, cut up
Cranberries add a nice touch, but are optional
A dab of butter
Make stuff and put the stuffing on one side of the pork chop.  Fold over and secure with tooth picks.  I like to grill them, but you can do them in the oven.   I like to serve them two ways, one with a spicy mustard, or a curried pickled relish.
Now the wine:
Riesling…. Even if you are not a white wine drinker, try this delicious Riesling from Germany.  Even if you have tried a Riesling and didn’t like, spend the couple of extra dollars and try this one.
Rheingau Riesling label
The Balthasar Ress Hattenheim Riesling from Rheingau.  Now there’s a mouthful.  You may want to take a picture or write that one down before you head out to your favorite wine store.   This premium German Riesling has a touch of sweetness, great acidity and mouth-watering flavors of apples, pear and honey.  Hello!  What’s not to like.   It will be like a sweet kiss with this sweet pork dish.
If you just drink red, a nice smoky Merlot.  And because I like Merlot so much, I’m going to recommend a couple of my favorites.
Dada label
One of the best deals in the liquor store right now is DaDa out of Argentina.  At under $16, this fabulous juicy plump Merlot is full-bodied and made with no sulphur additions.  Gorgeous Merlot.  I always have a bottle or two in the wine rack.
Another gorgeous Merlot is this Benziger from Sonoma County in the Napa Valley.  Not to be confused with the Beringer Family, although they make really good wine too.  This is  a nice rich plummy wine with a hint of vanilla from the oak aging.
Bois Pertuis
Another good deal is this Merlot-dominant Bordeaux out of France.  Under $17, and this Bordeaux will surprise you.  Of course being Bordeaux, it’s a blend, there’s some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in there as well.   Oh, and since the Olympics are on, this wine won a Gold and Silver Medal in competition.   Medium bodied with plum and cherry flavors, a hint of vanilla and its been aged in French oak for 8 months.  To use expensive French oak (each barrel ranges from $800 to $1200) and sell the wine for under $20, that’s a good bargain.  And its very food friendly.
Have a great week, enjoy the Olympics, but more importantly, enjoy some great wine this week


Gold Medal Winning Wines

Sochi logo

Well, the 2014 Winter Olympics have just started in Sochi Russia, and it got me to thinking of Gold Medal Winning wines.  There are many different wine competitions throughout the world, including the International Wine Challenge based in Britain, the International Wine Competition based in Brussels, and what is believed to be the oldest and longest running wine competition ‘The International Wine and Spirit Competition’.   It started in 1969 and is considered to be one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world.  

Let’s start in Canada.  The See Ya Later Ranch, what a great name for a winery, has won many awards dating back to 2007 on their website.   See Ya Later Ranch

But in 2013 the Syrah VQA from the Okanogan Valley vineyard won the Gold Medal.  The panel of judges had this to say “The nose is like opening a tin of maturing ginger cake.  Sploshed with baked plum, blueberry coulis and a grind of pepper. The mouth entry is a confident start, plenty of fruit and firm supportive tannin structure.  The acid and the spice notes chase each other through the palate.  This is a big mouthful, lots of personality and verve.  It balances itself beautifully.   Very good cellaring potential.”

With our frigid Canadian winters, especially this one, if there’s one thing Canada knows how to do well is make great Ice Wines.  And 4 of our Canadian Ice Wines have won Gold Medals.  Peller Estates 2011 Ice Wine, Inniskillin 2011 Riesling Ice Wine, Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Riesling Ice Wine 2008 and the Mission Hill Family Estate Riesling Ice Wine of 2011 have claimed the prize.  I recently had someone tell me they opened a bottle of Ice Wine, but found it too sweet to drink.  I came to discover he poured it in a regular glass, and went about drinking it as if it was a Pinot Grigio.  My friend is recently getting into wine, and as I told him, my favorite time to enjoy a dessert wine is after a big meal, when I want something sweet, but don’t have room for cake or any of the other desserts.  An ice wine, or a dessert wine as it can be called, is just that…. dessert!
Angove family vineyards has a reputation for putting out spectacular wines at very good prices.  This Angove Family Crest Shiraz  is available in my home province of Newfoundland, at around $36 a bottle.  The NLC carries a wide range of Angove products, but this one is a Gold Medal Winner.  With its rich aromas of spice, pepper and red cherries, this full-bodied Shiraz with its gorgeous flavors of dark chocolate and rich fruit would be welcome at any dinner table, especially one serving BBQ foods.
Gnarly Head label
Now this is a wine you have seen me write about before.  I am a huge fan of Old Vine Zinfandels, and this Gnarly Head is easy to drink and beautifully priced.  This gold medal winner, which I enjoy on a regular basis, is available for under $20.   Here’s what the judges had to say
“Medium dark ruby.  Ripe, dark roasted coffee, black pepper, hints of coconut, jammy strawberry and apricot aromas.  Medium bodied, deliciously ripe red plums and strawberry compote,  wonderfully balanced with soft, bright,  fresh fruit flavors.
I hope you enjoy the Olympics and a big Good Luck to all our Canadian athletes.  We will be cheering you all on, with our own Gold Medal winners in our wine glass.
Till next week, Cheers

Favorite Family Vineyards

Last week I had a family emergency and had to fly home in a hurry.  Thankfully everything ended up Ok, but it got me thinking a lot about Family. And as I visited my wine store last night I was looking at the shelves at some of my favorite family vineyards


Here is a favorite of mine, as many of you know. The vineyard owned by Francis Ford Coppola and his family was a winery I visited a few years ago.  They put out many great wines, including this Black Diamond Claret, based on a Bordeaux style blend is Cabernet Sauvignon based.

 Here’s another favorite of mine from California.  The McManis family has been farming in California since 1938 and in 1990, 4th generation Ron McManis and his wife Jamie started the vineyard.   They put out some of my favorite California wines including a great Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured), a delicious Merlot and a juicy Zinfandel.

Australia has a group of wine makers called ‘Australia’s 1st Families of Wine”, an initiative created by 12 family owned Australian wineries spanning 16 different regions in Australia.   Together they have over 1200 years of winemaking experience, and although I haven’t tried all of them, some of the ones we can get in Canada are delicious.

Yalumba for example, makes a spectacular Viognier.  I love Viognier, and has become my favorite wine to accompany turkey.  Yalumba was started in 1849 by Samual Britch and the word ‘Yalumba’ is aboriginal for ‘All the Land Around”.   Not only do they make a great Viognier, they also grow a Tempranillo in Australia.  I love Tempranillo, however, I haven’t tried this one yet.

Another one on the list which is familiar here in Canada is the De Bortoli Family name.   Reasonably priced, easy to drink wines from Australia.  The Shiraz pictured below is juicy and jammy with gorgeous flavors of raspberry and is under $13.  Wow.

New Zealand has a spectacular Family vineyard, called Saint Clair Family Estate.  The Wines are available here in Canada and the Pinot Noir is so good it will bring you to your knees.  I have tried two of the wines from the Saint Clair Family Estate.

The Sauvignon Blanc was the first Saint Clair wine I tried, and I loved it.  Light bodied  and crisp with gorgeous flavors and aromas.  This is a beautiful expression of a Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand.

The Pinot Noir is so good, you will sit in your home with a glass, and just smell the wine for a while.  OK, I did that.  First of all, Pinot Noir is probably my favorite wine of all time.  Like Paul Giamatti’s character in the movie Sideways, I am captivated by the flavors and aromas of this finicky heart-break grape.  (Unlike Paul’s character in the movie, I happen to love Merlot.)    I guess Pinot Noir is hard to grow, and that I can really appreciate what the vintner goes through.  Hints of cherry and raspberry greet your nose, and you will detect it was aged in French oak.  A beautiful mouth-feel with a toasted spicy tobacco note.  Serve it with any white meat, your house guests will love you.

Peller Estates

I would be remiss without mentioning a family owned Vineyard from Canada.  And Peller Estates, which started in 1927 by Andrew Peller, is run today by his grandson John Peller.   It’s been over 50 years since Andrew Peller’s first vintage, and I’m proud as hell that this vineyard is located here in Canada.

Peller Estates makes an award-winning ice wine, as a matter of fact, they make several award-winning ice wines.  Located on the Niagara Peninsula in Canada, the summers are warm enough to grow grapes and the Canadian winters are cold enough to make ice wine.
Family Series Cabernet Merlot 2012
I have also had the opportunity to try the Peller Estates Cabernet Merlot, which has 48% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full-bodied with flavors of plums and blackberries, with spicy oak.  Makes for a great wine for anything you want to throw on the BBQ.
There are many more family owned vineyards throughout the world, and I have just touched on a few of my favorites.
What are your favorites?
Thanks for reading, have a great week