December 02, 2010

GrapeScot on CBC Radio

Listen in to an early morning nosing with Michael Bhardwaj of CBC Radio 1's In Town and Out.

Scotch Interview Nov 2010 by GrapeScot

Rideau Canal Museum Scotch Tasting

Good friends, tasty whiskies, nice food, super hosts, a piper with Christmas lights on his bagpipes, local musician Harold Frizell, a lively crowd........................... These were just some of the elements at the Rideau Canal Museum's annual Scotch Tasting fundraiser. The annual event is the best whisky tasting bargain in the area and a key fundraiser for the Smiths Falls Museum. Look out for another one next October. Slainte Mhath!

October 01, 2010

November Scotch Tasting - head to Smiths Falls on Saturday!

As cold evenings set in and Christmas lights go up all over the city, the whisky bottles seem to find their way to the front of the cabinet and there's less inclination to shake up an icy martini or pour some chilled Prosecco. Not that it's unheard of to drink Scotch in the summer, but somehow a wee dram on a chilly evening is just the thing.

November 30th is St Andrews Day, Scotland's official national day, honouring the patron saint of Scotland. Perhaps it's the lack of a coloured beer, but somehow St Andrews Day isn't celebrated quite as much in Canada as St Patrick's Day. If someone wants to come up with a formula for tartan beer, I'm sure this would all change.

In any event, we have one remaining GrapeScot Scotch tasting in November, so hope to see you on Saturday in Smiths Falls.Feel free to don your finest tartan regalia, if you possess any, and, while there won't be any tartan beer, there will be great Single Malt Scotches, good food, some Scottish music, a little education and a lot of fun.

The Rideau Canal Museum is holding its annual Scotch Tasting fundraiser on Saturday, November 27th at 7pm. For a mere $40, sample great Single Malt Scotches, savour some tasty food, enjoy some music, and take the opportunity to win some great prizes. This is always a jolly evening with an enthusiastic crowd. Hope to see you there. Contact 613 284 0505 for advance tickets only.

The next Scotch Tasting at DiVinos on Preston Street is on April 14th 2011. For reservations, email

And the photo above? Any ideas? Clue - not Camp Fortune.

April 05, 2010

Variety is the spice of life!

Test yourself! Without aid of books or internet, see how many grape varieties you can name. Chances are you'll be struggling to come up with even 20 to 30, yet there are thousands of grape varieties used in wine production today. So, armed with this thought and equipped with the moderately vast selection from the many LCBO's in Ottawa, and some other sources, I recently held a wine tasting focused on lesser known grape varieties, for an enthusiastic group of tasters. Limited by the reality of consumption by tasters less inclined to taste and spit and more inclined to swallow and enjoy completely, I limited the selection at 7 wines, and a great time was had by all.

First on the tasting agenda was a nice Chasselas, also known as Fendant, a very popular, simple and crisp white wine, produced in Switzerland, from the grape of the same name. During a year living in France on the border with Switzerland, we often enjoyed Chasselas with wonderful Swiss fondue (also used in the recipe), or with heart stoppingly delicious raclette. A lot of wine is produced in Switzerland, but most of it is consumed locally, so it's not common to find Swiss wines on the world stage.
Next up was a Torrontes from Argentina. With its wonderfully aromatic and perfumed nose and juicy palate, this varietal from Argentina, created by guest winemaker Alberto Antonini for Proyecto Mas, was typical of Torrontes - well known in Argentina, less known elsewhere.
Pinot Noir could hardly be regarded as a lesser known grape variety. Grown all over the world and bottled in dramatically different expression, usually dependent on its growing conditions and winemaking techniques, we next enjoyed a lovely New World Pinot from Montes winery in the Colchagua Valley in Chile. New World Pinot is often a good conduit from tasting whites to more full bodied reds and this one was a favourite with many. Elegant, gently fruity, refreshing and nicely balanced, this wine presented great value at around $20 a bottle, as do so many Chilean wines at every price point.
Then back to obscure grape varieties, although probably not if you're from Greece. Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto - all indigenous Greek grape varieties, mingled in this next blend from the Tsantali winery. Statistically the least favourite wine of the evening, this one suffered from a general muddiness and lack of definition and balance. Can't love 'em all!
At $12 a bottle, the next blend of 75% Tinta Roriz and 25% Touriga Franca from the Symington Family, and the Douro region of Portugal, was deemed by many as the best value of the evening. The craftsmen of the Douro use their consummate skills to produce memorable Porto and some very good wines, like this lovely, medium to full bodied Altano. With a delightful nose - floral, a little spicy, raspberries and cherries, and a lovely juicy taste, this wine provided reason in plenty not to bypass the Portuguese section of the local wine store.
On to Italy - probably my most favourite wine country - and a Valpolicella Ripasso from the Veneto region. Valpolicella is a common enough wine name, but not everyone knows the constituent grapes in a Valpolicella wine - namely Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella; nor the particular method of producing Ripasso wines, which uses the spent dried skins and must from the Amarone production process, re-fermented with Valpolicella wine to make a wine richer than common or garden Valpolicella but not quite as intensely delectable as an Amarone. (There - that was a GE sentence)! Ripasso wines are generally oak aged for 18 to 24 months so there's lots of additional complexity in the bottle. Yum!
Last up, a particular favourite of mine, and a big brooding, satisfying wine from Apulia - the heel of Italy. Aglianico is one of the oldest grape varieties in the world and produces wines which benefit from aging, to allow the tannins to integrate. This 2004 wine from the Rivera winery spent a year in oak, then a further year in bottle at the winery before release. It arrived in modest quantity at the LCBO one Saturday in March and was gone the same day. Aglianico might not be a household name, but there are enough wine lovers in Ottawa to know that $20 a bottle presented extremely good value. This wine had a wonderfully complex nose, with rich red fruit and barrel characteristics, lots to chew and enjoy on the palate and a very satisfying finish. It was drinking very nicely for my taste buds, but I will try very hard to hang onto my couple of remaining bottles for a few more years, when it should show even better. It has more than enough fruit, alcohol and tannins to let it stand up well after a bit of cellaring.
So, 'fess up - how many of these dozen or so varieties, apart from Pinot Noir, did you know? Next time you're in the liquor store picking up a Chardonnay for the salmon or a Cab Sauv or Malbec for the BBQ lamb, look around until you find something you've never tried before and give it a whirl. You might discover something wonderful!

March 15, 2010

In Vino Veritas at Harvard

Veritas (truth in Latin) is the well known motto of Harvard University. Harvard Law School has a thriving wine society, cleverly named In Vino Veritas. In February, I had the distinct pleasure of leading a tasting of Italian wines at one of the bi-weekly events. A thirsty crowd of about 70 wine enthusiasts gathered to taste an eclectic selection of wines from different Italian regions.

I'm a big fan of Italian wines. There is a huge number of interesting grape varieties used in Italian wine production and, in general, Italian wines seem to offer food friendly balance at every price point. In between tasting the wines and enjoying good company, and aided by some terrific maps of the regions, courtesy of the Italian Consulate in Boston, we touched on the country's historical wine journey, wine laws (appropriate, given the audience), food pairings and grape varieties.

All the wines for the tasting were sourced in Boston. First up, a delicious and fresh Arneis from Roero in Piemonte. This white DOCG wine, from the Ascheri winery, is aromatic, fresh and quite delicious. Sometimes used to soften Nebbiolo in the Roero, this was a favourite with many. Not often available at the LCBO, it's worth searching out and serving with pasta with a light cream sauce or with a variety of seafood.

Next up for tasting was a Vermentino from Sardegna. This one had 15% Nuragus in the blend - not an everday varietal. This had less on the nose and wasn't quite as fine as some other Vermentino I've tasted recently from the LCBO. For Ontario shoppers, there are still a few bottles of a very tasty Crabilis Vermentino 2008 lurking on some shelves.

Then onto the reds, starting with a trip back up to Piemonte, and a Barbera d'Alba, again from Ascheri. The winery is located in Bra - home of the slow food movement. There is so much delicious Barbera grown and produced all over Italy, and most especially in Piemonte, but this one was a little thin. Still, the interesting thing at wine tastings is the range of opinions for any given wine, and more than a few folks liked this one.

Off to Tuscany next, and a nice Rosso di Montalcino from San Felice winery. Good body, nice balance and juicy dark fruit and cherries on the nose and palate made this Sangiovese wine a real winner. Rosso di Montalcino is often referred to as baby Brunello. Usually made from grapes from vineyards close to those used for Brunello, and barrel aged for less time, Rosso can be drunk considerably younger than Brunello and is often great value.

Still in Tuscany, we next tasted a baby Super Tuscan - (winery description, not mine). With about 70% Sangiovese, the rest mainly Cabernet grapes, and not much aging, this one could best be described as rustic. But given the right food............

Last up was a wine from Puglia (the heel) produced by the organic winery, Perrini. Negroamaro is widely grown in the region, sometimes bottled as a straight varietal and sometimes blended with Primitivo, another main Puglia grape. This was pretty good - juicy, nicely balanced, briary (in a good way), definitely a little brooding and rustic, and crying out for some kind of rich stew that we didn't have on hand. Negroamaro is often available at the LCBO and is a great food wine, despite, or perhaps because of, the meaning of its name - black and bitter.

Now why exactly was GrapeScot leading a wine tasting at Harvard? Well, it's a long story, best told over a glass of nice Italian wine. But in the meantime, here's a terrific blog to while away the hours with your own glass of wine. On second thoughts, this blog will take you all over the world on adventures that few experience, so perhaps you'd better open a new bottle before embarking. See if you can see a GrapeScot family resemblance in the author.


"Thank you again for hosting last night's event. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and your work was greatly appreciated. I received comments from multiple people regarding the helpfulness of the resources and information."

Jonathan Truppman, President, In Vino Veritas

January 05, 2010

May Malts at DiVino Wine Studio

A capacity crowd gathered at DiVino's on March 4th for an international whisky tasting. Paired with the predictably good food from DiVino's kitchen, an enthusiastic crowd tasted their way through some gems from Japan, Ireland, the US, Canada and, of course, Scotland. As a very basic description, all whisky is an alcoholic beverage produced from grains and water, but between chopping down the grain in a field and pouring something deliciously interesting into a glass, a lot of different things happen. In between sampling, we followed some of the processes and techniques used in different countries and distilleries to produce various versions of uisge beatha, aqua vitae, the water of life - call it what you will.
The next tasting at DiVino's will be on Thursday, 27th May. After traveling the whisky globe in March, we'll be back in Scotland for this one. Expect great Single Malt Scotches, fabulous whisky friendly tasting plates, good company and a little education. These events sell out pretty quickly, and there was a waiting list for the last one. Hope to see some of you in May.

Date: Thursday, May 27, 2010
7pm to 9pm
$85 plus taxes and gratuity/admin fee
For information and reservations call 613-221-9760 ext. 21
or email: