Ice Wine in the Grand River Valley

The nasty weather held off here in Cleveland, and I was able to check out the WineGrower’s of the Grand River Valley 9th Annual Ice Wine Festival. It proved to be a good afternoon to sample some of their award winning offerings. My friends and I narrowed our trip to two participating wineries: Debonne and Ferrante. Click on any thumbnail to view the entire gallery.

At Debonne, we were treated to some ice carving demonstrations and a taste of their Vidal Blanc ice wine with home made cheese. The pairing was nice and brought out the ‘velvet-y’ qualities of both. My friend, Kell, was quick to point out this term, one he had picked up from our discussions about the wine aroma wheel. Learning can be fun! We moved inside to the tasting room and sampled an off-dry to sweet varietal wine selection. It ranged from a blend (Jazz White) to Razzberry Riesling. My pick from this grouping was the Jazz White; a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling. It was a clear, light straw color, very minimal on the nose, but was lightly nuanced on the palate; refreshing with a subtle honey finish. I thought it could be a great sipping wine on a hot summer day and would be particularly good with a mild, white fish. The Riesling Reserve lot 907 was also light and sweet but didn’t have the same complexity as the Jazz White. The Razzberry Riesling, to me, tasted a lot like a Jell-o shot; very sweet and fun.

Ferrante treated us to their Vidal Blanc as well as a delicious Cabernet Franc. I have a soft spot for Cab Franc because it’s fruit forward with a rich, warm vibe (yes, even for an ice wine). And it has a buttery finish that can cuddle you up like a favorite blanket. Ferrante’s 2010 Cab Franc was no exception; it had a rich cherry top note and, true to form, ended with that beautiful butter kiss. You might say it was almost … velvet-y.

The Grand River Valley Ice Wine Festival continues March 10 and again March 17.



Cupid’s Little Cupcake

'10 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet

'10 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet

“Where there is no wine there is no love” ~ Euripides

A wise man that Euripides, at least from my standpoint.  Liquor may be quicker but wine is… divine. It’s Valentine’s night and I wanted to celebrate with a wine that had a real chocolate vibe. I’ve had Chocovine and I liked it, but I wanted something that I could sip with my dinner and would not be so sweet, but would have the rich quality and depth that I associate with chocolate. I was turned on to a ’10 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet from California.

I opened it just before a dinner of garlic buttered shrimp with savoury vegetables and rice, sipping as I put the finishing touches on the meal. The Cupcake wine looked very glossy and smooth on the pour and had  an earthy, almost caramel chocolate on the nose. The quick, top taste was of vinyl shower curtain (yep), not that I’ve tasted many shower curtains, but that’s what came to mind. My friend, Terri, added that the shower curtain was “clean and algae free” which gives you more of a visual than you’d probably ever want :). According to the wine aroma wheel,  a vinyl/petroleum taste is legitimate and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with the wine.  That said, what I found particularly intrigung about this wine was that the predominant chocolate vibe on the finish lingered with me well after the sip was gone. It was nice.  Many wines I’ve had don’t have this kind of intensity and length.  What was particularly impressive was that it started out light and continued to grow richer in the glass, sip after sip.

For dessert, when I paired it with a dark chocolate  bar with sea salt and caramel, and it grew even more complex in depth and playfulness. A nice finish indeed.

I like to have fun with wine and this one was a great compliment to a lovely Valentine’s dinner.

I wish you all a very happy Valentine’s.  And if  you can’t wine with the one you love, then love the wine you’re with.


Face-off! 2007 Mike Weir vs. 2007 Wayne Gretzky Pinot Noir

2007 Wayne Gretzky Estate/ Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir

2007 Wayne Gretzky Estate/ Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir

Last night, I had a little tasting with my friends Judy and Terri and I wanted it to be as unbiased as possible. Since I’m an ex-pat from the Niagara region, I’m partial to many wines from that area, not just the Icewine that it’s noted for. Maybe I’m feeling a little homesick especially since it’s Grape and Wine Festival time. Sigh. I know it’s called ‘The Niagara Wine Festival‘ now, but it’ll always be ‘Grape and Wine’ to me.

For years, I’ve enjoyed the whites and particularly liked what had been coming off the vine from Mike Weir Wine. Having never sampled anything from Wayne Gretzky Estates, I wanted to try something different and compare the two. To keep things on equal footing, I chose the same type and vintage, otherwise it could be like comparing apples to oranges, and not really a fair fight. We poured both through an aerator since we didn’t have time to decant.

Armed with both the Wine Aroma Wheel and Mouth-feel Wheel, we started with the 2007 Mike Weir Wine Pinot Noir. The color ranged from a burgundy (Terri) to light claret (me) to garnet (Judy). We all agreed that, sadly, there didn’t seem to be much on the nose. As for mouth-feel, it seemed to be a bit thin and watery; as if it could’ve been cellared longer. We found the taste to be more tart berry; Judy thought it had a grippy, alcohol feel. Terri thought it had more of a chemical, bitter feel. She described it as ‘gird-y’: for her, it produced more of a burn-like sensation going down. Overall, it wasn’t bad, it just tasted quite young. I wondered if pairing it with something like Brie and fruit might have brought out more of its depth.

On to the 2007 Wayne Gretzky Estates (Estate Series) Pinot Noir. By comparison, the Gretzky was richer in color; a deep garnet with nice floral notes on the nose.  The mouth-feel was warm, satin-y and supple with a viscous, mouth coat texture (yes, ‘mouth coat’ is listed in the wheel). Terri found it had a smoother, softer, fuller texture compared to the Weir. It tasted of rich cherry, sulfur with a light smoky, butter finish, and would probably pair well with a nice filet or roasted chicken. We thought it was a nice wine to drink all on its own, from start to finish.

Looks like, for now, No.99 is still the Great One.


Wine Tasting 101~ The Mouth~feel Wheel

The Mouth~feel Wheel

The Mouth~feel Wheel

It’s been a busy time for the Wine Student; none of it wine related, I’m sad to say. So, yes, I’ve been blowing off my studies a bit. I’m back to the study hall and picking up where I left off: the Mouth~feel Wheel. Like the Wine Aroma Wheel, the Mouth~feel Wheel, is made up of various terms that describe how red wine feels when it’s on your tongue. This part of wine tasting is really new to me: I’ve never thought of wine as ‘chewy’ or ‘grippy’; according to the Mouth-feel Wheel, it can be.

Developed by Richard Gawel in collaboration with Dr. Leigh Francis and Anita Oberholster of the Australian Wine Research Institute, the Mouth~feel Wheel lists 53 terms to describe red wine’s various sensations and texture. When I was looking through the wheel, I noticed some of the terms weren’t anything I’d ever use to describe wine. Like ‘chamois’. Chamois, according to the wheel, describes the surface smoothness and astringency of the wine. A harsh wine could be described as hard and aggressive while a complex wine might be fleshy, rich or supple.

My friend Katrin (who was visiting for the weekend) and I decided to take a spin with two offerings: a 2008 Angel’s Gate Cabernet Shiraz from Niagara and a 2009 Sean Minor Pinot Noir, Carneros.

We found the Angel’s Gate Cab Shiraz to be ‘astringent’ or “pucker-y,’ with a thin weight. It seemed a little young but pairing it with dark chocolate covered pomegranates seemed to cut it nicely.

The Sean Minor Pinot Noir, Carneros offered us more mouth~feel. I found it had a fuzzy sensation with a slight tingle; Katrin found it to be ‘fleshy’ and ‘active.’ We agreed that it provided a good measure of heat: warm and peppery and the finish was like ‘microsuede.’ I’ve never tasted microsuede, but it’s probably like a chamois.

It took us a few glances around the wheel to really put terms to how the wines felt, and the more we sampled, the better the descriptions became. We likened it to CSI for wines, except I don’t think our findings would ever hold up in a court of law.



2008 Angel's Gate Cabernet Shiraz

2008 Angel's Gate Cabernet Shiraz





Wine Tasting 101 ~ The Wine Aroma Wheel

Okay, so we’ve learned a little about how to taste wine. Now, we want to actually be able to describe what the wine tastes like. The Wine Aroma Wheel is a great tool to help categorize what you’ve just tasted and define it as more than just ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘grape-y’. It’ll help if you keep it near where you drink wine, so you can refer to it as often as you quaff. The more familiar you become with the Wine Aroma Wheel, the better you’ll be at identifying the flavors that draw you to a wine, or keep you from pouring another glass.

Developed in 1977 by Ann C. Noble, the Wine Aroma Wheel breaks the various tastes of wine into 12 categories:

A Wine Aroma Wheel (DREW LAMBERT)

A Wine Aroma Wheel (DREW LAMBERT)


Depending on the wine you choose to sip, you’ll notice certain flavors at the beginning ~ when the wine first hits your tongue, middle ~ when you’ve sloshed it around a bit, and the end ~ after you’ve swallowed. The remaining flavor is the ‘finish’. For example: a Cabernet Franc I had the other night, I would describe as having a light, raisin-y start, an almost soy-sauce component as I sloshed and it ended with a buttery finish. Does that correspond to how the experts might describe it? Probably not, but that’s what I tasted, and it was good.

You may not get all the nuances right away, that’s alright ~ you’re just learning. You may find that the taste at the beginning of the glass isn’t the same as what you taste at the end; it can change as you go along. To further complicate things; what you taste might be very different from what your friend does. And that’s okay. Everyone picks out something different. The good news is: nobody’s wrong. And the more discussion you have, the more you can learn about the wine you’re drinking.

Next study hall: the Mouth-feel Wheel. Yep, there’s a wheel for almost everything.


[ Drew Lambert]




Wine Tasting 101

Much of what I’ve learned about wine tasting (real wine tasting; not quickly sucking back a wine skin before a high school dance) I’ve garnered from trips over the years to wineries. The American Wine School here in Cleveland has some great classes to demonstrate how to quaff like a pro.  And once you have the basics, you can impress your friends at dinner with your learned snuffing and swishing. I don’t recommend spitting at dinner ~ it generally horrifies the others.

You’ll want to use a glass that gives you the ability to: swirl it without spilling, and get your nose into fully so you can inhale the aroma. In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about glassware and how it can enhance the wine drinking experience.

Unless you’re going to decant your wine for a few hours, or pour it through a wine aerator, you can: swirl it (on a table or countertop) to move a little oxygen through. This works to breathe new life, if you will, into a wine that’s been stopped up in a bottle for a while and improve the flavor you experience.

Love at First Sight

Once you’ve got your wine in the glass, and you’ve swirled it a few times, you’ll want to look for a few things:

  • Clarity: how clear is the wine?  Is there any sediment floating around or settling to the bottom
    • can be described as: muddy, cloudy, bright.
  • Intensity: is the color pale or dark?
  • Color: this indicates the tone or tint of the wine. you could use words like: ruby, purple, crimson, green, yellow, straw, amber

A good way to really see how it looks is to hold your glass at a slight angle over a white surface. You can use a white table cloth or a light countertop.The white surface helps to illuminate the wine and you can see more detail.

After swirling, tilt your glass and take a look. You’ll be surprised at what you can see.

White surface...for better clarity

White surface... for better clarity

On the Nose

Smelling, or nosing, determines several things about a wine:

  • condition (good or bad)
  • intensity (weak or robust and pronounced)
  • character (how you’d actually describe the fruit itself)
  • How to ‘Nose’ a Wine: I know, it sounds all kinds of wrong but it isn’t. Take one short sniff (to determine condition) and ask yourself: is it good or bad? Short sniffs are actually important because air that moves quickly into the nasal passages intensifies the sense of smell.
Hello Wine!

Hello Wine!

After this, you can take several more deep, gentle sniffs to determine the aroma’s intensity and character. When you swirl and sniff, see how many ways you can describe the aromas. And don’t worry if you’re just starting out, you will be able to tell if a wine just doesn’t smell good to you. Really.

Over the Teeth and Past the Gums: Taste the Wine

Many experts have said that the best way to taste wine is to take a bit in your mouth, swish it back and forth while opening your mouth just slightly as you do it. This is to bring air into the wine to further oxygenate and bring out the flavors. That may be true, but I just end up with it dribbling down my chin. You can try it but  make sure you have a napkin nearby, just in case.

According to the American Wine School, tasting involves seven components:

  • Sweetness ~ how dry or sweet is it? Whether a wine is ‘dry’ means that there is very little left over sugar
  • Acidity ~ this is the sour yin to the sweet yang; described as fresh, crisp, tart, flat.
  • Tannins ~ provide the robust texture and structure (like espresso); hard, soft, bitter, chewy, round.
  • Alcohol ~ is what carries the aroma and heat (and all this time I thought it was a hot flash); low, medium, high.
  • Body ~ how much weight the wine has on your tongue. It’s like a milky consistency of varying degrees, depending on the type of wine; light, medium, full
  • Fruit ~ the grapey, fruity (and non-fruit) flavors (like smoke, cherry, citrus, butter, stone and vinyl).
    • ** The wine aroma wheel is an excellent tool to help you to describe the fruit tastes you’ll experience. I’ll be looking at that in one of my next posts.
  • Finish ~ is the aftertaste and how long it stays in your mouth; usually described as short, medium, long.

So there you have it; some basics on tasting to get you started.


To read more about  wine tasting: