How do you select your wine?

Recently I noticed that many of the wines I get excited about and that I tend to choose and buy are based more on a memory or experience that I associate with the wine than any other reason.  What about you?  Do you have a fond memory of a wine you enjoyed that special someone or at a great party or for just about any other reason?

My choices are definitely associated with wines I’ve come across while traveling locally and internationally.  But it’s more than just the travel that has made these wines special to me.  It’s the entire experience that surrounded my introduction to that wine.  I know I should probably want and enjoy a wine because it has more of oak taste or hints of berries or the influence of the soils, but for me it can be as simple as a memory that goes with the wine.  Now I’m not saying I’m going to drink a crappy wine just because the memory was awesome, but for me that has rarely happened.

Let me share some of my memories and wines that go with them.

Most recently my sister and I were at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in Toronto and we were walking around hitting the wine regions that we normally enjoy.  Then as we headed down one of the aisles we were pleasantly surprised to see the winery Between the Lines from Niagara, Ontario.  We almost ran over to their booth to see if they had the wines that we had tried and enjoyed while on a wine tour in Niagara a few years ago.  This winery was the last of our tour that day and it was one of the best.  Their Cabernet Franc and their unique Lemberger really stuck with my sister and I.  These wines were great, but it’s that memory of spending the day with my sister, just the two of us doing something we enjoy together, that our father introduced us to.

Another great memory that has brought me to, what I feel are, some great wines was a recently trip to the southern hemisphere.  Specifically to New Zealand.  Now I’m already a lover of new world wines from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but it was this trip that gave me a very unique experience and introduction to great wines and wineries.  I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts and in some videos that I got the opportunity to meet with some winemakers one on one for a wine series I was working on.  It was those meetings with wonderful people, the atmosphere, the day, the trip and so much more.  Those wines I learned about and tasted have really stayed with me.

When I walk into the LCBO and see bottles of the Trinity Hill Syrah on display in the front of the store, I pick up a feel bottles to enjoy and share with friends.  I apologize to those friends if I bore them with my stories about the wine, the winery and memories of the trip, but to see the label, read the name and taste the wine bring me back to a wonderful place.

Or as I sit at a restaurant in Toronto and see on the menu Mapmaker from Staete Landt Vineyards I immediately order a glass so that I can be transported back to that gorgeous day in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, where I met the most lovely team at the Vineyard.  They made the experience so memorable, that just a sip sends me right back.  And I remember that they told me that many of their wines can be found in restaurants in Canada and less of them in the LCBO.   So it was my lucky day to find it on this side of the world.

There are many more memories, but I would love to hear how you choose some of your wines.  Is it based on a memory, a varietal, or something far more fancy?

Last days in NZ

My last days in New Zealand have been great. Things have been slowing down a bit. Not any huge adventures, but still great fun.

Because I have not treated myself enough, on Thursday I went for an aqua massage and a soak in the thermal pools at the Polynesian spa in Rotorua. That was great. I don’t think my skin has ever been so smooth. But I don’t think I will be getting the sulphur smell out of my swimsuit any time soon. Time to buy a new one.

After some more relaxing, it was off to an exciting evening with the the Maori people for a traditional Hangi. Well as traditional as you can get with about 200+ of your closest strangers. Check out the awesome food we got to eat.

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Plus so much more. They also explained the Maori culture and history to us a bit. Very interesting. Following that had a bit of Kiwi (bird) experience. They are pretty cool birds and NZ is doing so much to protect them. Impressive.

After my last bus ride it was time for my last days to be spent in Auckland. Started my trip in a big city, Sydney, and ending in a big city, Auckland. It’s a nice city and I’ve been staying with a great girl through Airbnb. Spent time just enjoying the city and the only aquarium of my trip. The Kelly Tarlton Underwater Adventure. It was filled with some beautiful and interested aquatic life. Centered mostly on penguins. Here are some pics.

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Sunday, I spent at Waiheke Island visiting another winery, Stonyridge. Impressive place and they have to be one of the coolest wineries, bringing DJs from around the world for great outdoor parties. Need to come back for one of those.

Otherwise, I’ve just been enjoying Auckland and slowing down a bit. Today I’m on the search to find something to wear to the taping of the Ellen Degeneres show on Tuesday, which coincides with the same day of my big birthday. Awesome.

Wheels up later today for LAX. Thanks so much New Zealand. See you again soon!

Can’t even describe today…but I’ll try.

Before I get to today, let me catch up a bit. After leaving rainy Wellington, I went to sunny Hastings to meet up with another winery. This time it was the awesome team at Trinity Hill. They were a great bunch and their wines are fantastic. Have to try some more when I get home.

Included in that stop in Hastings was a great home cooked meal from my new friends, Tessa, Stuart and Larissa, my good friend Brett’s sister. Had a great night with them and made a new special little friend in Larissa. Thanks!

It was then time to say good bye to Hastings and head off to Rotorua for my next big adventure, and boy what an adventure it was.

Today was my day to go Black Water Rafting in the caves of Waitomo. It was incredible to say the least. This was a true test of me pushing my limits. Once we had our wetsuits, helmets with lights and the rest of the gear on, we made our way to our start/entry point. Thanks to my niece I went for the more adventurous of the trips, which included abseiling, zip lining and climbing out of the caves through waterfalls.

We were not able to take cameras with us which made for a better day, so the photos I have on for the leaders and on a CD, so I will share those later.

But, here is the day. First we started with a 12 storey abseil down a black hole. That was the first thing of the day that I’ve never done before. With my fear of heights and other various fears, I was amazed how easy it ended up being. Once the whole group was done, it was time for a little zip lining in the cave in the pitch black. It was AWESOME! One of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

After our hard work, it was break time as our feet dangled over the edge of the ledge to the 3m drop to the water. A little hot chocolate and a snack.

Did I mention we were doing this to see glow worms? The most beautiful site. They just light up the caves with the glowing poop. Yes, that’s what glows. Their poop.

With break time over, time for the next fun challenge. Grab an inner tube, stand on the ledge, turn off all headlamps and jump. INCREDIBLE!

As we made our way down the caves while pulling of the rope, the glow worms were a site to behold. Such unique clusters of them. Like looking at clouds, you could make out shapes of the clusters. We also saw some other amazing formations.

Our way back down with the current, we linked feet under arms of the person in front of you, turned off the headlamps and relaxed through the sites of the glow worms.

After all that, the adventure was not over. Now it was time to get out of the caves. So why not do it by climbing through waterfalls. Put you foot here, then your hand there, then pull up. Oh ya and the water is falling over your feet, face etc. And also, crawl through small tunnels etc. you know something that you do everything Wednesday afternoon in the corporate world….

I know I have described my experience, but the feelings of joy and achievement are almost impossible to describe.

This day is definitely one of the highlights of this entire journey.

Pics will following as soon as I can. Thank you universe for this kind of beauty and these kind of days.

Goodbye south. Hello north.

I wrapped up my time on the south island yesterday. But not before I did a bit of work and met with a few wineries for my vblog that I’m doing for a wine website. I met with the great husband and wife team at Staete Landt Winery and Jane Hunter and team over at Hunter’s Wine. I won’t go into too much detail, as the vblog will come out after I return home. They were all lovely though.

I must also say that my accommodations in Blenheim, through Airbnb.com was great. The couple were awesome. He’s an ex-rower, so lots to chat about and they were both lovely. Plus the most comfortable bed of my entire trip. Blenheim is a funny town though as it shuts down at 4pm. So funny.

My ferry ride from Picton to Wellington was good. It was cloudy, but still gorgeous going through the sound.

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That’s me leaving the south island, which I loved. And here I am arriving at the north island. Which hope to love also.

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Luckily that was yesterday, as a big storm has blown over from Australia and there are no ferries today. The wind gusts are getting up to 150km/h. Crazy. But since this is my only day in Wellington, the weather couldn’t stop me.

I started my day at the Te Papa Museum. Probably my only museum stop on this trip. It was interesting and a great place to wait out the storm for a few hours. They have a house that our can stand in that simulates an earthquake and also have an enormous squid on display. Plus much more.

By the time I was done there, the weather had calmed down a bit, so time to rush and get on the funicular up for a view of Wellington. Even with the bad weather, it wasn’t too bad. What do your think?

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Decided to chance the weather and walk down through the botanical gardens. It was worth it and the rain didn’t return until I was almost back down.

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That’s the day so far. Just chilling for a bit now and then sushi for dinner on a recommendation from my new friends in Blenheim.

One more thing, do you think I would look good in these shoes?

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A bit of decadence in Marlborough.

After the big kayaking adventure, we toned things down a bit for a few days. Deb and I continued to head north on the south island, trying to get to the end. Pretty much did, as we almost reached Farewell Spit. We had gotten such an early start to the day, we were having trouble finding somewhere open for brekkie. To kill some time a walk on the empty beach was needed. Gorgeous.

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After this it was time to get serious about this breakfast thing. Hadn’t really recharged after the kayaking and things were getting out of hand on the hunger level. So off to the little town of Takaka which was coming alive by that time. Thank goodness as we needed to get ready for the crazy drive on the Takaka Road. One of the craziest roads I’ve ever been on.

But I will not bore you with the road details. Our day progressed pretty uneventfully. We, or I, decided that I was much more interested in spending some time in the wine region then planning another active day, so we heading for the Marlborough region.

Luckily for me, on my Deb’s bucket list was going for a wine pairing meal at a winery called Hans Herzog. So with a stop there to make a reservation and to get some help finding accommodation, we were all set for a night of decadence with a meal and a real hotel, The Marlborough Vitners Hotel. What a treat to stay in a real hotel with a great shower. Felt like I was finally able to have a really good shower, after 20 or so days of not so great ones.

Our dinner was called the degustation, which is when each dish is paired with the right wines. We opted for the 3 courses meal and I couldn’t of eaten another bite.

Here are some pics of my main and my dessert (one of the best I’ve had in my life).

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Sorry to make your mouth water. It was lovely and it was my first birthday celebration event. So let the month/year of my birthday begin.

Today, went to some interesting wineries that had very strong European influences, Johanneshof, Clos Henri and to a kiwi winery, Seresin.

Tomorrow I’m off to start my vblog on NZ wineries and will be meeting with Hunter’s and Staete Landt. Should be a great experience.

Falling in love with…

…New Zealand.

Had you there for a second, didn’t I. But, you would also. And all of those that have been here, know what I’m talking about.

Let me backup. I took JetStar airlines from Melbourne to Queenstown and that was an experience. I will not complaint about Air Canada for a minute, as I appreciate them so much more now. Because they offer that free benefit on their flights of “free” water. Yes, JetStar won’t even give you free water. That led to a horrible migraine headache my first night in Queenstown. Nothing like a migraine when sharing a room with 4 other girls in a youth hostel. Who knew that water would become a perk on a flight. REALLY!

Enough of my bitching. Back to the awesome NZ. I was greeted at the airport by Alexa, a wonderful friend of my friend Leslie. Thanks for that great connection. She treated me to a few hours of touring before my migraine took over the evening. Off we went to the place where bungee was invented. Wasn’t tempted to try it, don’t worry. Had enough trouble even walking on the bridge.

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After a few more stops at some of the lovely wineries in the area, it was time to call it a day for my head. Luckily the hostel beds were comfy. Being on the top bunk is like being 10 years old again. Sadly my body isn’t and it’s not that easy to hoist this big frame up to the top bunk. But once there, it’s like having a sky bed. Fun!

I was as good as new on my first and only full day in Queenstown. Had an early start for my day trip to Milford Sound It was a long 12 hour day with lots of time on the bus, but it’s all about the journey not just the destination. We saw so much beauty on the way there and while on the Milford Sound boat cruise. Here are just a few pictures.

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I looked at all the breathtaking waterfalls and I was reminded of something I heard a few years ago when I was in Maui. Some one said that they didn’t want to go on a specific tour because they had seen enough waterfalls. Do you really think that is possible? I don’t. Each is so unique and beautiful. Just my opinion.

My Tuesday saw me leaving Queenstown and heading for Franz Josef. On to the bus again for me. The bus drivers here are like tour guides. Pointing out interesting sights and places. Can’t imagine our Greyhound drivers doing that. But I might be wrong. Maybe they do that on interesting drives.

The 8 hour bus ride didn’t seem that long with all there was too see. There was a lot of rain on our trip and you know what that created, more waterfalls. Kind of cool to know that a waterfall wasn’t there in the morning but was a few hours later. Like this one:

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It’s time to recharge my iPad and to take a shower before bed, so that I’m all ready to hike the Franz Josef Glacier tomorrow. Should be great fun. Hope the rain let’s up.

A little rain can’t dampen my Wine spirits!

Ever have one of those days that you truly enjoy?  Yesterday was one of those days that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Wondering what I got up to?  A Wine Tour in the Niagara region of Ontario.

I organized a great day out for my sister and I.  I’ve done wine tours in other parts of Canada and the world, but never really in my own part of the world.  We have one of the best wine regions in the world right here in Ontario and I really got to experience it.

Much of this great day is thanks to finding a great tour company and package.  For us, the most important part was that no one had to drive and that both of us could enjoy all the day had to offer.  After some Googling and emailing, I decided on the “VIA Rail Express Fiesta Lunch Tour” put together by the great husband and wife team at GRAPE AND WINE NIAGARA TOURS INC.  As there slogan goes:  Sip, swirl and savour!  Let us do the driving!  And that’s what we did.

Let me break it all down for you.  For a very reasonable package price, we took the VIA train from Toronto to Niagara (less than 2 hours) and were met right as we got off the train by our awesome tour guide, Dennis.  He was so nice, helpful and entertaining, with a main goal of keeping us happy.  Perfect.  Being a Tuesday, which is great day for a wine tour as it’s not too busy anywhere, our tour was just for my sister and I and a young couple just learning about wine.  With such a small group and a well connected tour company we were able to hit the wineries that weren’t busy or over run with big tour buses.  Plus we got priority service when we’d walk in the door.

We started at Niagara College Teaching Winery with a tour of wine making process and a wonderful educational wine tasting.  We were taught how to taste wine correctly and what to look for.  It’s amazing how a wine can change by a simple swirl between sips.  From a Chardonnay to a Merlot to an Ice Wine, it was all fantastic.  With Niagara being known for Ice Wine, it was a constant at all the wineries we visited.  But I’m not complaining, I truly enjoy ice wine.  And now I can appreciate them even more.

What I really appreciated about all the wineries we went to and what we learned was that you need to try lots of different wines to figure out what you truly enjoy and to drink wine the way to you like to.  If you want to put red in the fridge then do it.  If you need to put an ice cube in a white, then do it.  However you enjoy the wine is what works best for you.  Sure there are suggestions, but they are just that.

After the teaching winery, we went to Benchmark for lunch.  It’s the restaurant within Niagara College.  And we had a fantastic lunch.  I loved every bite of my hothouse heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, pork with a fruit chutney and cranberry pecan tart.  Mmmm.

With a full tummy it was time for some more wine tasting.  First we headed to the Diamond Estates Group who make Lakeview Cellars, Dan Aykroyd, 20 Bees and Fresh to name a few.  Most of the wines that we tried here were not for me.  We did find out that, unlike many other celebrities with their names on wines, Dan Aykroyd sits on his wine board and tries all of his wines before he will allow his name on them.

This should last a few days!

Then we were off to Caroline Cellars Winery and Reif Estate Winery.  Caroline’s being a boutique that isn’t in the LCBO and Reif’s which is one of the oldest in Niagara and has products in the LCBO.  With a few minutes to spare our awesome tour guide was able to slip in another great boutique winery.  One of his personal favourites, Between the Lines.  So glad that we went there.  Had some great wines that have been made by young team of two brothers on land that their parents had.  Bought a great bottle there that we will enjoy in 6 months when it’s truly ready to drink, the Lemberger.

After all those tastings, a wonderful lunch, a little rain, a great wine education, it was sadly time to go home.  But at least it was in the luxury of the train.  With a few purchases in hand we ended our great day of tasting and headed home.

It was such a great way to enjoy a rare day off and to try Ontario wines that I’ve never tried or thought of.  Now I will actually go into the VQA/Ontario section at the LCBO and check some of our great wines out.  You should too.  And remember the more you try the better you will know what you like and dislike.  So get out there and drink wine, responsibly.