Tasting Oregon

I have always loved Pinot Noir and, like most somms I tend to favour some serious villages in the Burgundy region.

My all time fave is Mercury and I am a twitter when a Pommard shows up to a tasting. So being a Pinot lover I jumped at the chance to head to Oregon for a tour of the terroir. I drove into the Willamette and my eyes were sparkling soaking up the gorgeous vistas ahead, filled with hazlenut trees, hops and rows upon rows of Pinot Noir. While they do grow other varietals make no mistake that this is quintessential Pinot country. What I really didn’t know was that there is amazing bubbly to be had here. Sparkling wine is my second favourite wine ever, no matter the country, I was impressed to see these very American wineries make very French style wines. The king of the crop, for me, is none other than Rollin Soles. A native Texan who felt that the Willamette was the perfect marriage of soil and temperature for good Pinot to grow. His love of bubbly has made him one of the finest makers of sparkling wine in the US. Argyle Winery makes truly spectacular wine and the ratings show it.


Now while the big boys like Domaine Serene and Maison Drouhin are here too it was the smaller wineries and the Carlton Winemakers Studio (a beautiful co-operative) that gave me the greatest pride. I met with winemakers and owners who are just making good wine in a very natural way. They love what they do and make you feel very welcome. Tastings are relaxed and informative and most tasting rooms have wine to buy on site, complete with shipping boxes. Gotta love the US shipping laws, service oriented and no duty.



As a Canadian I felt at home with the fabulous views and the endless driving, reminding me a lot of Prince Edward County. The winemakers or vineyard owners were very charming, some chuckling about the stringent liquor boards we have to put up with and some commenting about the few labels that actually make it to Canada, through no fault of their own. I left the Willamette with perhaps an even greater love of Pinot. Oregon makes it in such a French way with all the earthy overtones of Burgundy with a little more upfront fruit. In a blind tasting you may not be able to tell, but the pocketbook may. Searching the provinces I have found that really good Burgundy will set you back between $30 and $100 while really good Oregon Pinot could cost up to $60. Premium is premium let’s not forget but bang for my buck I got a new love now and he’s American.

Juggling it all

I’ll tell you that being a woman sommelier is tough. I decided after the birth of my first child I would take on much more than I could chew and study to become a wine expert.

Wow do people sure stare at you when you have a glass of wine in front of you at a restaurant while pregnant. But nothing is better than the judgemental whispering, eye rolling and jaw dropping when you have a sip of vino while breastfeeding. (Hey I had to get the work done somehow)

Having grown up in a European family I saw nothing wrong with a little nip of wine before, during and after pregnancy. In Spain they gave my mother a bottle of Sangre de Toro after my birth. It was hard to juggle the two sides of me. In North America it is considered dangerous to drink while pregnant, yet I grew up seeing that it was perfectly normal for a woman to have a glass of wine during pregnancy and through breastfeeding. Which side is right? I suppose it’s really a personal preference, so long as either side doesn’t go to extremes.

The worst part of motherhood for me is trying to keep up with the job and having children and trying to do both really well.

I question if it is as hard in other vocations as well? Do other women have the same worries as I did?

I suppose women are always trying to juggle their two distinct jobs, family and career no matter where they live or what they do as a profession.

Being a sommelier at night can’t be tougher as being a nurse working overnight shifts. In the end we must find a balance no matter the job.

It’s hard but if it were easy we might not be as challenged. So I raise a glass to all the ladies out there who are working and keeping it all together so that everyone is taken care of.

Sake in the Nuclear Age


Sake is the one wine that my husband and I can find pleasure in drinking together. Although I like the cloudy and silken cold variety he, the beer drinker, loves the hot and easy gulping draft.

When the reports of devastation started bombarding our television screens I was, of course, concerned with my precious Sake breweries. There are over 100 breweries in 3 regions. It is written that each of the 100 breweries have been damaged in some way by the earthquake or tsunami. The extent of the damage is still being explored but some have begun reporting of inventory, building or total loss. Imagine if that happened in Bordeaux?

A Decanter report wrote;
“According to Kenichi Ohashi, a Master of Sake based in Tokyo, the damage to the breweries is just one part of the challenges ahead for Japan’s sake industry. In common with every Japanese industry, the real challenge to sake will be getting the businesses working again in the coming months, with lack of raw materials, fuel, transportation and infrastructure, he said.”

So when it is time to plant the 2011 rice harvest what will happen? Who will plant it and better question- where will it be planted? Will we glow green when we imbibe in the coming vintages, and not the usual red? I think the US will see a peak of interest in their own California Sake. It is a solidly made product that will soon enjoy more real estate on North American liquor shelves. Maybe this devastation will give rise to premium Sake being made on our side of the world. But for now my heart goes out to those affected by this disaster and each time I raise my glass I will hope that this industry will be able to re-build and eventually rejoice.

Nova Scotia Surprise

I don’t have a big cellar by any means but there are bottles that can get lost once in a while. As is the case with the JOST 2000 Cayuga from Malagash. Now there are many of you who don’t know that Nova Scotia makes amazingly delicious wine. From the first brave farmers to today’s state-of-the-art wine facilities wine made in the Maritimes can be drunk without hiding the label. The trick here is to find a style you like because most grapes used are not the same ones you’ll find on the shelves in regular wine shops around Canada and the US. Cayuga is not well known as a grape varietal but it does make soft, semi dry wine in both still and sparkling varieties. It was developed in Upstate New York in the 50’s and has seen commercial success there and in Nova Scotia since the 70’s.

Deep brass colour, clean and bright with almost no colour loss. The nose was slightly nutty with some honeydew melon, apple peel and grass. I had a faint whisper of cork on first sniff but it passed. The nose became less appealing as it spent some time in the glass. In the mouth it was delicately floral with some red apple and lime peel. It was so balanced and still had a lot of acidity and body. I had originally left it in the cellar to find out how the sweetness level would play out in 5 years. It turned into a rather pleasant medium bodied, off dry white with some sweetness but definitely not like a sweet wine.

I tip my hat to Hans Christian Jost who I bought these bottles from. I never thought this wine would age but it has done so beautifully. I am impressed and think you have some excellent wines. For those of you who like delicate, floral whites like Riesling try to score a Cayuga once and do a comparison tasting. You won’t be disappointed.

A Barbera of Note

Uncorked a beauty this morning. I had tried it at the Salon des Vins in March with the producer waxing poetic about his luscious wines made entirely of estate owned grapes.

Now for those of you who don’t know Barbera can be good, bad and simply amazing. I think I’ve stumbled on the latter. Piedmonte wines are tannic, acidic brutes who need time in the bottle to fully appreciate their plum and pepper, black cherry and herbaceous flavours on the nose and in the finish. Wine from this region tend to be medium to heavy in body and can cost between $15 and $150. Nice range right???

Is the $15 anywhere close to the $150. Hell NO!! but it can be a good example of the flavours and viniculture in the Piedmonte and a good start.

My new love is the Barbera d’Alba from Poderi Colla. This vignoble is owned by a family who can be traced to the area since 1703. What’s their line-up you ask? Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo of course, from 3 distinct properties. The Barbera is an outstanding value at $35 and I am going to be bringing some into the cellar to round out my Italian category to be held for 2 to 8 years.

If you’re interested and want to join in on the order just let me know.

More to drink… cheers

Chateau Musar Dinner

I had the pleasure recently of enjoying one of my favourite wines at a restaurant that could quickly become one of my favourite places to eat in Montreal.

A balmy evening began with an outstanding 2006 rosé that had a nose of strawberry, ripe cherry and cedar with some pepper and rose on the finish. I then had the pleasure of being introduced to Gaston Hochar, managing director of Chateau Musar.

This family has had a long and revered history making wine in the Bekka Valley of Lebannon. The following is from my tasting at Le Vertige in Montreal.

We sat down to carpaccio of beef, delicately spiced Asian style and the Hochar Pere et Fils 2002. This is the introductory wine of Musar here in North America. Lots of black cherry, pencil shaving, green pepper, molasses and almond with some berry on the finish. This is a wine that seemed younger than its vintage, telling me that I should buy all of it and use it for my ‘house wine’ this summer. The wine is able to age beautifully and the wood notes will soften into more berry flavouring. Yum!

The next course was an elegant surf and turf of grilled scallop and chorizo with beef jus and creamy polenta. The wine pairing was outstanding and showed that it is about weight not colour when giving a wine dinner. Chateau Musar Blanc 2001 was comparable to some intense flavoured Jura wines. Honeysuckle, rosewater and almonds gave way to peach and apricot all with amazing acidity and body through to the finish. This would age up to 50 years said Hochar and I believe it. I am putting 6 in my cellar to find out.

Next up was the flagship Musar 1998. Paired with duck and onion confit it held up well and had a smooth and velvety texture with red currant, smoke and a hint of forest floor with mushroom overtone. It is becoming an older wine in flavour but the tannin still engulfed the mouth and the finish was ever so slightly alcoholic.

In comparison the 1988 was a monster of a wine! Matched with braised veal cheek with gnocchi and porcini mushroom the pairing seemed to be ready for a knock down fight with all the flavours melding together into one amazing flavour sensation. Blackberry, pink peppercorn, lead, tobacco leaf, some baking spice along with a hint of garden herbs it was a feast for the senses. The finish lasted 60+ seconds making it seem like a much younger wine.

Hochar insisted that all Musar must be drunk with quite a lot of age and that each vintage represents a new flavour combination, much of it stemming from oncoming gunfire I suppose, as the 1988 and Blanc had a slight steel/ residue aftertaste.

Ending the meal with Musar Arak I was transported to late afternoons in the South of France, enjoying the anise flavour and knowing that all this food would find a way to settle in my stomach for the night.

My advise to you is to hit Vertige when in Montreal and to start a Lebanese section in your cellar. You won’t be disappointed with either choice.