Wine tasting the Niagara Escarpment, Ontario by Jessica Lee

Wine tastes the way it does because of the climate and the soil it's grown in.

And because of the moderating effects of the lake surrounding the Niagara Escarpment, it is a great place to grow grapes.

I spent Sunday on a work-sponsored field-trip down south near St. Catharines, Ontario, tasting wines and learning more about them.

Here is a photo of my co-workers packed in a school bus:

I've only been with the company for about a month, but I really like how everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Or that they give off that image at least. There was a great camaraderie on the bus ride to and from Toronto.

The last wine tasting I did was back in Australia, in Adelaide. It was with a bunch of strangers, so the feeling was quite different, though I enjoyed it very much. I find that alcohol generally tends to go better with people you know, however.

Cave Springs Cellars was gorgeous. It made me wonder what it would be like to work at a winery, picking grapes. Of course in my head, I envision waking up every day in a distinguished stone house and prancing bare feet in the grass, through the vineyards to work in a lovely, flowing white summer dress.

The reality probably looks something like muddy rain boots, ratty jeans and a farmer's shirt- which I suppose is something I could deal with as well... (oh the sacrifices!)

We spent the day touring the place and learning about what affects the taste of wines. What really interested me the most was that the owner knew so much about the soil- what it's made of (limestone mostly), and it's history (the field used to be a cow pasture so there's lots of organic matter in it). I mean, thinking about it now it's really obvious that he would have to since it affects so much of his crop, but being from the city, I obviously know nothing about soil except that you grow things in it. Soil is a whole new field of knowledge I'd be interested in learning about (haha get the pun?).

I learned from one of my co-workers that when you swirl the wine glass, you can see the tannins (the flavour in wine which comes from the grape skins) dripping down. They look like thin, clear lines. The more tannins you see, the dryer the wine will taste; and the dryer the wine is, the more alcohol it will likely have.

Afterwards, we ate lunch on a hill and had prosciutto sandwiches, cheese, almonds, fruit preserves, couscous salad, chickpea salad and a raspberry custard tart. I think all of this was supposed to go with the wine we drank.

Then, it was time for our second tasting, but this time with specific food pairings.

I found that there was no right or wrong answer when it came to pairings, as everyone has a different palate.

We were all given a plate with smoked cheese, Italian Cacciatore sausage, honey soy-glazed shrimp, chocolate salt tart and a gherkin. We sampled these foods with Cave Spring's 2010 Estate Riesling, which is a fresh-tasting white wine that had a citrus/lime scent.

Personally, my favourite pairing was with the cheese and the shrimp and not so much with the chocolate tart- though it tasted great on its own. My co-worker echoed this opinion, but someone else found they liked the tart with the wine.

The next tasting we had is what is called a "vertical tasting" because we sampled the same estate wine, but made from different years.

It was incredible because I could actually taste the differences between them though they are made from the same grape, from the same winery using the same process.

We sampled years 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005. My favourite was the 2009, which was the coldest year, which means there is more residual sweetness in the wine.

It was a wonderful day of co-worker bonding and learning about wine. I'm extremely fortunate I'm with a company that encourages drunkenness wine knowledge in its staff.

Now if anyone asks me about say tank fermenting versus fermenting in bottles, I can say with confidence that tank fermenting produces coarser bubbles in the wine because the bubbles are bigger.

Honestly though, that is one of the few impressive things I know about wine, and it's all for show. I really am still in the beginning stages of learning. I can't wait to taste more though.

Wine and a wedding at Riviere du Chene, Quebec by Jessica Lee

I spent my weekend at Riviere du Chene, a winery just outside of Montreal for my second cousin's wedding.

I absolutely loved the whole feel of the wedding. It was romantic and like out of a fairytale. It was probably the most beautiful wedding I've ever been to.

There was a lovely vine field which looked amazing with the sunset as a backdrop.

For some reason I never thought of Quebec as a wine region. I clearly don't know enough about my own country.

Here is a photo of the happy couple right after everything was made official:

I think it was the little details that made the wedding really shine.

After the ceremony, guests were treated to carriage rides through the fields, which was wonderful and magical; albeit a little bumpy.

Here is a photo from inside the carriage:

And what it looks like on the outside:

What really impressed me however was the elaborate dessert table and the food, which was actually really good. From my experience, wedding food usually isn't the greatest, but eating here was like ordering dishes out of a Michelin restaurant. Everything was done perfectly to the smallest detail.

We had sorbet right after the appetizer but before the main course, which I found quite exciting because I usually eat sorbet for dessert. I found out later it was served after the appetizer to clear the palate for the main course. 

I had the veal grenadines layered saffron apples and red beet straws. Other choices were duck aiguillettes with flavoured salt, strawberries and rhubarb in balsamic vinegar or pangasius napoleon with leek marmalade and roasted red peppers, velvety spinach soup with nutmeg. Real fancy, not typical of usual banquet hall catering.

 Some photos of the dessert table: Everything tasted delicious though my favourites were the cupcakes and the macaroons. I wanted to eat all the macaroons but I left some for the other guests because I didn't want to pig out too much. Besides, the people sitting next to the dessert table had already seen me walk to and from the dessert table three times already. The best flavours were buttercream and pistachio.

Like I said before, everything was perfectly assembled down to the smallest detail. Check out the ribbon on the plate of these cake pops. The contrasting pink and blue designs are perfect as well.

This is what I wore:

 And a photo of the newlyweds with my mom and I:

Congrats again, Anita and Lincoln!

Wine tasting at Barossa Valley, South Australia by Jessica Lee

South Australia is known for its wineries. Since we were in the area, we decided to head to Barossa Valley and get cultured (read: drunk) in true Adelaide fashion.

We went with a tour since both Myra and I don’t drive/can’t drive while going wine-tasting. The tour was a little overpriced considering the tastings are free, but since there were no other options except for hiring a car, then hiring some random person with a license and trusting them to not crash/ drive us off to be sold to sex traffickers/ kidnap us; going on a tour was pretty much the only way to go.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Adelaide is full of friendly people, so these possibilities likely wouldn’t have happened, but there are also plenty of sketchy people out there and it’s best to not be naïve about such things.

The first stop of the tour took us to the town (or village?) of Gumeracha, home of the world’s biggest rocking horse. We were somewhat impressed, but not really.

Here is a photo: If you look closely, you can see Myra standing under the horse.

I think we were more impressed by the peacocks running around.

The next stop was our first winery, Wolf Blass, which has German origins. According to the guide, lots of Germans moved to South Australia to farm back in the day.

We were also taught on the best way to taste wine, which is to drink it two to three times and swish the wine around your mouth.

At wine tastings, it’s not expected that you drink everything they pour you, so they also offer a spitting cup, which I avoided at first because I didn’t want to waste any wine, but as I grew progressively tipsier, pouring the leftover wine I didn’t want just made sense.

We tried a variety of Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet and Moscato wines.

Personally, I think knowing the basics about wine is essential general knowledge for the modern day renaissance man/woman . As long as you’re not snobby about it, it’s good to know the difference between the wines. For example, in reds, Shiraz is generally sweeter than Cabernet as Cabernet is made with herbs and Shiraz is made with plums, black currents and other fruits. Also, you’re not allowed to call Chardonnay not made in the Champagne region of France “champagne”, even though they are essentially the same thing being that they both are white sparkling wines.

I can tell there is plenty I don’t know about wines and I hope to explore this further one day in a sommelier course- perhaps I will take this in France.

One more random fact though: bottles with steel caps keep wines fresher than cork caps as it makes the oxidation process slower.

The whole day had an indulgent atmosphere. I felt like a Roman where back in the day, they would eat as much as they wanted, enjoying the abundant food and wine, then throw it all up so they could eat more.

We were taken for lunch at Vine Inn, which is where I had my last meal of Kangaroo. It wasn’t cooked the way I liked (medium), but it was still a good way to end my last day in Australia, as I probably won’t be eating Kangaroo for a while. 

The meal was topped off a huge slice of mixed berry cheesecake, leaving me utterly full.

Still, we had three more wineries to go to before we could call it a day.

It was at this point where I felt somewhat queasy. All the wines from Wolf Blass and the food at Vine Inn were incredibly decadent. It was not a good feeling, but I soldiered on as we headed to Lambert Estate.

We tried all sorts of wines, a couple of dozen in total. You can smell the different flavours; nutty, lemon, cherry, vanilla, strawberry, oak, pear, citrus… I absolutely loved being exposed to such a large variety of wines.

My favourite wines I have discovered are alfresco wines, which are typically lighter in alcohol content and sweeter. My favourite so far was the Dolcetto shiraz Frizzante at Grant Burge. It was sweet and fruity.

 Another of the wines I enjoyed was the 2011 Spring Rose at Kies (which means ‘little stones’ in German). It has a “nose of rose petals and strawberries”, according to its description. I wrote that it was “fresh and light-tasting”. Honestly one day I would like to be able to describe foods with the impressive vocabulary wine/food tasters have.

I wrote down a mini review of every single wine I tried, because it’s good to keep track of what you like and don’t like. I also notice now as I’m reading back on my reviews that my writing got progressively wobblier as the day went on. Some it I can’t make out now.

We also tried dessert wines, which are sweeter wines. One of them was mixed with chocolate, which everyone loved, but I thought tasted too syrupy. It’s easy to be influenced by popular opinion, but now after all the tasting, I know exactly what I like in wines.