How Merlot Can You Go

Cheers

I’ve been on a real Merlot kick lately. I love Merlot.

Merlot is the #1 grape varietal in France and the #2 varietal in the world, behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is a full-bodied grape but less aggressive than Cabernet Sauvignon, as it’s not as tannic. (A tannic wine will get your two jawlines singing) It’s smooth and lush, and great for pairing with food. Before I get into some of the new Merlot wines I have tried recently, I wanted to share this with you.

4 years ago yesterday

Yesterday marked 4 years since I became a Certified Sommelier.

I worked really hard for 5 years to get this Certification, so I was really proud. Hundreds of hours in a classroom and even more time spent studying. I always joke and say I loved the homework, but believe me, this was a lot of work and I’m incredibly proud of this accomplishment. Considering I do not work full time in the wine industry, one of the reasons I keep writing this blog is so that I don’t get rusty on wine. (Other than the drinking part) Doing this blog not only encourages me to continue trying new wines, it also has me reading up on what’s happening in the wine world & the latest trends.

I have it framed and proudly displayed

So let me share with you some of the new Merlot wines I have tried lately.

Ghost Pines Merlot

I’m not sure if this is being discontinued in Nova Scotia, but I believe it was originally around $27.99 and it was on sale for $21.99, and I think I may have bought the last one at my neighbourhood NSLC. I enjoyed this, it had a real smoky flavor to it, which paired wonderfully with the meat I had on the grill. You would be hard pressed to find a rating from a wine critic less than 90 Points on this wine, it’s that good. If you see it, and it’s on sale, I recommend you scoop it up.

Sterling California Merlot

This wine was so good! And for a week, it was on sale here. Still a great value at $17.99, I picked up a couple of bottles when it was $15.99. A note to my Newfoundland friends, this wine is available at the NLC as well. The Vintner Collection from Sterling represents a distinct quality, and Wine Spectator says it was plush and well spiced. And that’s what Merlot is all about!

Think Outside the Box

I like to think outside the box when it comes to my wines, so its always fun to try a Merlot (or your favorite wine) from a different country. Chile is producing some fantastic Merlot wines. Chile is producing some great wines period. Although Merlot was bought to South America in the 19th Century, it wasn’t until the Chile & Argentina wine boom of the 1990’s that people started appreciating the Merlot made there. This is a great Merlot for $18

And last, but certainly not least, the biggest treat in my two weeks of Merlot madness! It was amazing. Here’s what the winemaker had to say.

“Our 2017 Sandstone Merlot has inviting notes of ripe fig and pomegranate, with a hint of sandalwood. This delicious Merlot bursts with berry flavors from cranberry, grilled cherry and acai, finishing with a nice lingering acidity.”

Wente was named American Winery of the Year in 2011 and it started in 1883 with Carl Wente. 4th generation siblings, Eric, Phillip & Carolyn took it over in the late 70’s. This family has been making wine for a long time, and they know how to make it right. It’s a great price at under $24. Sandstone refers to the soil the Merlot grapes were grown in. Some of the great wine regions, like Bordeaux, have Sandstone. You’ll really notice it makes a difference in the wine.

Have a great weekend everyone. Till next week, Cheers

Does Your Easter Bunny Bring Wine?

This is how my Easter weekend is going

I thought this cute little GIF perfectly describes how I am spending my relaxing Easter weekend. And yes, my Easter Bunny does bring wine, and I hope he does for you too.

I want to share something that happened to me this past week, it happens on a semi-regular basis. So this happened a few days back.

The wine was compromised

This picture may not show it well, but I opened a bottle of red wine, and the cork was all wet and red. I knew instantly the wine was compromised. One sip confirmed this with a strong vinegar taste. So I put the cork back in the bottle and returned the remaining wine back to the NSLC. They are excellent, and will return your wine if you bring it back. (not empty of course) Most people don’t know this but anywhere from 2% to 8% of wines are corked, with the lower number being synthetic closures. Which is why synthetic closures and screw caps are becoming more and more popular.

Cork, from trees mostly grown in Portugal, started becoming the favorite stopper, replacing glass stoppers, back in the 1600’s. Too many of the glass stoppers would break. But cork is a) becoming much more expensive and b) it reacts to temperature spikes, high temperatures and movement. A compromised wine can smell vinegary, like the one I had did, but mostly they smell like a wet dog. It’s that moldy, damp wet dog smell in reds, and in white wines it will smell like cooked fruit or also like pronounced vinegar.

Another way to tell if your wine has been affected is if the cork is protruding from the bottle top. However, just because it isn’t, doesn’t mean the wine inside hasn’t been compromised. Or, as in my case, the entire cork was soaking wet with wine, not just the very bottom of the cork. The best ways to tell is smell and taste.

Did you know most people didn’t realize you could bring back tainted wine? You can, and they will graciously exchange it for you. Too many people have tainted wine and thought “I don’t like this wine”, or they pour a bad wine down the sink. That’s what I used to do. But wine is expensive, and your liquor store knows a certain percentage of wine will be off.

I love a good feed

I’ve had to use up some remaining 2020 vacation days in March, as our year end is March 31st, so I’ve been doing some cooking. No surprise there. Yes, that’s a feed of ribs you see in that picture.

Can’t grill without wine

I did some kabobs. My sister Jackie, absolutely loves chicken kabobs, hands down her favorite BBQ food. So I’ve been trying new recipes, with new marinades. This tasty marinade, in front of the glass of wine, consisted of olive oil, lime juice, honey, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce and a touch of ginger. I’m very careful when cooking with ginger, I use it in a bottle. I find it can over-power the food, unless you are careful, or unless you love ginger. Again, I marinated my chicken in this combo for a couple of hours, and set aside some of the marinade to use while cooking.

Invest in a meat thermometer
A Nice steady temperature

These two pictures are very important for my cooking and grilling. A meat thermometer and a nice steady temperature. When I’m grilling, I try not to keep the lid open for long. Let the grill do the work. However, I open the grill at times to bring temperatures back down.

And my friend Sharon gave me this wonderful meat thermometer for Christmas, and it was one of my favorite gifts. You need a meat thermometer because the days of guessing if the meat is done is so 1980’s. Our moms did this. ‘Oh, it looks like it’s done, so I’ll leave it in the oven for another 20 minutes just to be sure’. I don’t know about you, but I grew up on overcooked meat. My mother was scared to death of meat that was done any way less than well done. We’ve all heard the horror stories.

But my biggest cooking accomplishment over the past few weeks has been scalloped potatoes. This is a favorite with my sister and all my nephews. My sister, who doesn’t generally cook as a rule, told me to ignore if the recipe says 60 minutes, you need 90 – 100 minutes to properly cook scalloped potatoes.

My trusty mandolin

You can buy a mandolin anywhere for less than $20. I love mine, and find it so handy.

It makes perfect potatoes for scalloped potatoes. Would you believe I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, but the easy recipe I used is right here! Just so you know, I cooked them covered for 1 hour 25 minutes, and then uncovered and cooked for another 15 minutes. They were tender, cheesy and delicious. I also added some freshly grated parmesan in all the layers and a mozza/cheddar blend on top.

But enough about food, let’s talk some wine.

Ruffino Pinot Grigio from Italy

To our weekly games night, Joan bought this beautiful Pinot Grigio. Ruffino is a staple in Italy, making quality wine there for 140 years. Vibrant and fresh on the palate, this wine is under $15 and just a gorgeous white wine.

Avalon Cab is on sale here in NS

For the red this week, this wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi California. Lodi, with its beautiful Mediterranean climate, is more known for Zinfandel, but the soil and climate of California, produces some spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon wines. This easy to drink Cab with its hints of vanilla, spice and chocolate, is a perfect pairing for whatever else the Easter Bunny brings this weekend. Priced under $20 normally, it’s on sale here in Nova Scotia right now at $17. My apologies for snapping this photo, above my cat food dishes. LOL.

Have a safe wonderful Easter weekend. Till next weekend, Cheers

Darlene

A Wine Holiday For you

Isn’t Everyday National Wine Day?

Let me tell you Saturday is my favorite day of the week. Hands down. The day I can sleep in, and relax and do what I want. And Saturday night feels like a little holiday. You see I can sleep in on Sunday, but I always say ‘I’ll be going to bed early tonight, because I have to work tomorrow, so I better get up’. There’s none of that crap on Saturday. But as I was laying in bed this morning, I realized I had a little writers block. Which happens to me every once in a while. And as I lay there wondering what to write about, I thought, ‘there must a some kind of wine holiday today’. LOL. As it turns out there is a whole list of wine holidays I didn’t know about. I didn’t include the ones that were in January & February, I’ll include them early next year. I thought I would have a little fun with them.

Just so you know today is……

March 27: International Whisky Day (However, I am not a whiskey drinker at all, but Happy Day to all my Whiskey loving friends)

April 17: World Malbec Day

May 1: International Sauvignon Blanc Day

Carmen Reserve Premier Sauvignon Blanc

This line of wines from Carmen are excellent values, because they are so delicious and come at a great price. This Carmen Reserve Premier Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and dry with herbal notes & great acidity. A perfect pairing for shellfish, sushi and really any appetizers. Less than $15.

May 9: World Moscato Day

May 13: World Cocktail Day (My cocktail of choice, happens to be wine)

It’s how I feel about Wine Wednesday

May 15: World Whisky Day (Wait, what? Isn’t today International Whisky Day?)

May 2: International Chardonnay Day

Trinity Oaks Chardonnay

I had the chance to try a new Chardonnay this past week with my friend Angie and I said to her “this is my new favorite Chardonnay”. I can’t tell you how much I loved this wine. Why? Because it wasn’t overly oaked, it wasn’t ‘buttery’, the Chardonnay grape was allowed to shine with gorgeous pear and citrus flavors. Plus, as an added bonus, they have partnered with Trees for the Future, a nonprofit that’s planted over 180 million trees, Trinity Oaks plants one tree per bottle purchased.  Win-Win! You get a great wine and a tree gets planted. $22.99 here in Nova Scotia.

May 25: National Wine Day – (Please, any day can be National Wine Day! In My opinion, anyway.)

June 4: International Cognac Day

June 11: World Lambrusco Day (Remember Riunite wine from the 80’s? It was a Lambrusco wine)

June 25: International Rosé Day

July 22: Shiraz Day (Also happens to be my birthday!)

It’s always Wine O’clock somewhere

August 1-5: International Albariño Days (It’s a white grape varietal out of Portugal. Totally unfair that this wine gets 5 days.)

August 4: White Wine Day

August 18: International Pinot Noir Day

Meomi Pinot Noir

Meomi Pinot Noir is one of the best value Pinot Noir wines in the wine store for two reasons. 1. It’s under $25, which is unusual for a spectacular Pinot Noir. 2. It truly is a spectacular Pint Noir. Priding themselves on fantastic coastal California wines, when I visited the Napa region in 2001, many winemakers will tell you the coastal California breezes add a special terroir to the grapes like no other region.

September 2: International Cabernet Day

September 17: International Grenache Day

October 9: International Pinotage Day (Buy a good one from South Africa, not the ‘coffee flavored’ pinotages.

October 15: Champagne Day (Don’t feel compelled to wait this long.)

Cheers!

October 28: Carignan Day (Known for being used in blends, if you are not familiar with this grape, it really adds a beautiful touch to red blends)

November 7: International Merlot Day (I don’t know about Paul Giamatti, but I’ll be drinking me some Merlot on this day, I’ve recently founds a few new ones, which I will share with you next week)

November 11: International Tempranillo Day

November 17: National Zinfandel Day (It’s an American celebration, but don’t tell anyone.)

November 18: Beaujolais Nouveau Day (a.k.a. The worst Gamay Noir you will taste this year)

November 24: Carmenère Day

December 4: Cabernet Franc Day  (If you haven’t tried Cabernet Franc on it’s own, outside of a Bordeaux blend, you don’t know what you’ve been missing)

December 20: Sangria Day (In other words, take all that leftover red or white wine from those previous days and mix it with a bunch of chopped fruit.)

And now for my wine of the week…..

Trinity Oak Cabernet Sauvignon

A little earlier in the blog I wrote about the Trinity Oaks Chardonnay, and it truly is one of my favorite Chardonnay wines because of the complexity, which sometimes gets lost in a Chardonnay. The complexity can also be found in the Trinity Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, and it too, will plant a tree for every bottle purchased. The grapes come from both Coastal California and Lodi (known more for its Zinfandel, but features beautiful grape-growing weather). Try this beautiful Cabernet with your next meal featuring beef, you’ll love it. It too is $22.99.

Wine pairing is easy!

That’s it for me for this week. Thank you for reading

Darlene

What’s Your Wine Name

Deep Moon Merlot

It’s Saturday morning, and let’s have a bit of fun. I saw this chart this past week, and chuckled, and thought “I have to pass it on to you”. Let me know in the comments below what your wine name is. Mine is Deep Moon Merlot.

I have to share with you what else this week bought. Meet Maggie

Maggie is a Bernadoodle that belongs to my sister Jackie. Her son, Riley is going to St. FX University here in Nova Scotia. He picked up the dog, and I met him at the half way mark to get this little doggie on a plane to his new forever home.

Cuteness overload

I got to visit with my nephew Riley this past week. Saw him briefly on Tuesday in Truro, and of course when I saw him Tuesday, I had to bring him a load of food. That’s what an Aunt Dar does! He’s coming up again this coming Friday so I guess I’ll be cooking Thursday night, I’ll share any new recipes.

Fajitas, Rice, Homemade cookies

This week I also completed my latest puzzle, my 18th since the pandemic started. A gorgeous puzzle of St. John’s Newfoundland.

St. John’s Newfoundland

I did some cooking, this probably comes as no surprise to anyone.

Brown rice, a salad with beets, almonds, parmesan and a homemade vinaigrette. The chicken is done by sautéing onions and garlic, orange juice, and some fresh herbs. Here’s my homemade vinaigrette, and the one suggestion I would use is to buy a decent olive oil. It is estimated 80% of olive oil is not ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ or even olive oil in some cases. There is no regulation when it comes to olive oil, which means you can put olive oil on a label, and it doesn’t have to be in the bottle. Here’s a great way to test it. If you can’t drink it from a spoon, it’s probably fake. I have a couple of different olive oils.

This is my everyday oil

If I’m cooking, I don’t use the super expensive one from a wonderful place here in H.R.M. called Liquid Gold. I use this organic one I buy at Costco. If the olive oil is the star of the show, like it is when you make homemade salad dressing, this is the one I use.

Please don’t spend $4 on olive oil, I would be willing to bet it is not olive oil. The one on the top is a great buy at $15 for two bottles at Costco, and the Liquid Gold is the best, and is about $20 for a bottle.

Here’s my homemade salad dressing, combine ingredients & whisk

  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Grainy mustard
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Brown sugar

Easy and delicous.

Let’s talk some wine.

An Italian Classic

If there’s one thing Italian winemakers excel at, is making food-friendly wine. They are the king of the world, the largest wine producer in the world. Even when I visited there in 2017, where ever you ate, they would bring out a carafe of wine. You had no idea of the grapes, or if they made it in a back room. But it was delicious, and whether you drank white or red, you could be guaranteed it was going to compliment the food. It had been a long long time since I’ve had the Campfiorni red Rosso. Made with 3 grapes that are indigenous to Italy, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Whenever you see Rosso on a bottle of Italian wine, although the word means ‘red’ in Italian, they tend to be blends. This wine, I had the 2017, it is medium-bodied, easy to drink and very food friendly. Masi is famed for its Amarone, and they use that method to make this wine, called Appassimento. It’s the process of drying the grapes to enhance flavor. It makes for a beautiful wine that feels like its been aging forever. A spectacular wine for $22.

For my white loving friends, they make the Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio

Again they use an Appassimento method, drying Verduzzo grapes to add to the Pinot Grigio to add a unique complexity to the wine. This one is only $17. My friend Jakke, who works at the NSLC up the street from me, told me she found some great videos on YouTube of Sommeliers talking about wines under $20. They are fantastic, and it’s a great idea to give you some new ideas about wines. Here’s the thing that will kick you in the pants, what Americans and Europeans pay for wine, we pay double and sometimes more. The first video I watched, they were talking about the beautiful Bogle wine, and the first thing that hit me was the host said she had paid $14 for it, but the average price was $12. That wine is $25.99 here. Our friends South of the border have a huge selection of great wines under $20, us, sadly not so much! That’s why I’m here.

Don’t believe it!

Well that’s it for me for this week. As much as I love wine, do not believe it when it tells you you can dance!! LOL Learn from my mistakes.

Have a great week

Darlene

Losing An Hour of Wine This Weekend

This would be me during an upcoming election

This is the weekend the clocks go ahead. Personally I never understood why they do this on the Saturday night / Sunday morning, and we lose an hour of our weekend. I’m all for changing it to 4 p.m. on the Friday. Who’s with me? Yesterday it was 15°C here in Halifax, this morning it is 0° with a windchill of -7°C, that’s Atlantic Canada for you!

It’s a great time for red, white or sparkling

Like you, I am looking forward to longer and warmer evenings. As most of you know, I grill all year round, but let’s face it, grilling is best when the weather is warmer. Speaking of the grill, I have a new recipe for chicken skewers. Do not ask me why I seem to be obsessed with food on a stick lately. Now don’t get me wrong, for people with kids, it’s a great way to get them to eat vegetables. I must still have some kid in me, because I love them. I love how fast they grill up and how great they look on a plate. I’m having a big of an issue finding the length of skewer I want.

There is a mid-size range

These are the two size skewers I have in my pantry. The shorter one is a little more ideal than the really long one. (That thing is a weapon, you probably don’t want to give that one to kids) There is a size in the middle though, I’ve had them before. I just can’t seem to find them in Halifax. I have an awesome new recipe for Grilled Honey Chili Lime Chicken Skewers. However, you don’t need the skewer. You can make this recipe for any cut of chicken you wish, and it can be done on the grill or in the oven. I have a new grill and I love using it, but many times I’m using it like an oven.

2 chicken breasts = 10 small skewers

So I cut up the chicken in bite size pieces, and marinated it in this recipe. I cut up 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, but I also love boneless skinless thighs. Like I said, you can use any cut of chicken you like. You can even do this recipe on a full roasted chicken. Here’s the marinade:

  • fresh lime juice
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • salt & pepper
  • honey
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of brown sugar (I’ll tell you why shortly)
  • red chili flakes
  • a splash of orange juice or chicken broth

Boneless skinless chicken, like boneless pork, is a blank canvas and they will absorb all the flavors you want to throw at them. Which is why marinating is so important with these two meats. Why the brown sugar? Not only does brown sugar contain molasses, which is a whole new flavor level, it also carmelizes on the grill and adds a gorgeous flavor.

My basting sauce is simple

On my skewers, along with the chicken, I cut up red onion, cherry tomatoes, and some peppers. It gives the skewer big pops of color. Then while grilling, I kept brushing with this simple sauce.

Don’t they look awesome!

What I was brushing them with was a little olive oil, a little orange juice, and fresh cilantro chopped up. That’s it, the oil ensured it would get golden brown, the juice adds some acidity, and the cilantro just added a good swift kick in the chicken bits! I eat them over rice, over salad, and sometimes if I’m hungry enough I eat them like a popsicle! LOL

I’ve got 2 wines for us this week, a white and a red. Let’s start with the white.

Blu Giovello

Every Tuesday evening myself and 3 friends get together for a games night, we play a game called Rummikub. Every week Angie and I alternate bringing a red wine, and Joan and Elaine alternate bringing the white wine. This is the wine Joan bought this past Tuesday, and it was one of the most unique Pinot Grigio wines I have ever tasted. It was very dry, with very little acidity, but it had beautiful flavors of lemon-lime and stone fruit. I can’t eat fish, but if I could, this would be the perfect wine for an oilier fish. This wine is $19 here in Nova Scotia and $12.90 in Ontario. How’s that for a price swing in Canada. Each week I am noticing new readers from the U.S., and Alison from Oklahoma told me she comes on to my blog to check the price of the wines I’m featuring, because it makes her feel good when she goes to buy them.

I tried a brand new red this past week, and it was spectacular

My friend Maggie and I were having coffee last weekend and she was telling me she was discovering some fantastic wines out of Chile. Chile is still one of the great values in the wine store, and I’ve been wanting to try this one. The Valle Del Maipo, which means Maipo Valley is home to the most prestigious wines that come out of Chile. It is known as the “Bordeaux of South America”, but let me tell you, the wines are a fraction of the price. I paid $20 for this Merlot and it was stunning. This was so well balanced, and still very young, as you can see I enjoyed the 2018 vintage. Full-bodied, rich and supple, this was a beautiful treat.

Enjoy the weekend, I personally think that any weekend where they take an hour away, should be an automatic holiday on the Monday. But that’s just me.

Till next week, Cheers

Darlene