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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Québec City, Week 3

Week three of our Québec City adventure saw the arrival of our daughter and 9-year old grandson. With a fresh infusion of awe and wonder, we set out to enjoy even more sights and adventures. We hopped on the red, hop on-hop off bus for an open-air, second deck look around the city, affording us views we had not seen from street level.

Although touristy, we generally try to take one of those double-decker bus tours when we arrive in a new city. They provide a great overview of the city, allow you to get your bearings a bit, and help you decide which sights you want to explore in more detail. While on the bus, my grandson spied the exact t-shirt he wanted to get as a souvenir of his trip. After disembarking, we made our way to the store where he got his t-shirt, and I found (and bought) mine!La vie est simple

Thursday was my wife’s birthday, so thousands of people from all over Québec came over for a fête on the Plains of Abraham. There was a huge concert, featuring French and Québécois performers with music ranging from country, to folk, to rock. It was all in French, and we didn’t know the songs, but music is a universal language and everyone there had a great time! After the 2+ hour concert, they even had a fireworks show! Oh, Friday happened to be Québec’s 408th birthday, so the fête could have possibly been for that. Like I said, it was all in French!

On Saturday, we paid a visit to the Aquarium du Québec. It’s a fun family destination, and while small in comparison to some aquariums, they really pack in the interest and delight. Dory and Nemo were even there! Among other attractions were the two baby walruses. Apparently, breeding walruses in captivity is incredibly difficult. Worldwide, only seven pups have been born in captivity since 1930! As luck would have it, two of them were born recently right here in Québec!

Perhaps the highlight of the week, aside from my wife’s birthday, of course, was the Changing of the Guard at the Citadelle de Québec. Built by the British, starting in 1820, to defend against anticipated attacked by the Americans, the Citadelle is now home to the Royal 22nd Regiment. Located on the highest point in the city, the views are amazing! The Changing of the Guard ceremony is similar to the one in London, which I missed when I visited there a few years ago. The Royal 22nd Regiment’s version includes their mascot, Batisse the Goat. This is a tradition that has continued for decades. The current goat is Batisse XI, and is a direct descendant of Batisse I, a gift from Queen Elizabeth in 1955. They continue the lineage, and Batisse XIII is currently in training!

And yes, there was wine this week, too! Here’s what we had, in no particular order:

Borsao Crianza 2013

Borsao Crianza

Red blend of Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo. Ruby red with aromas of raspberry and blackberry. Medium body but structured, with distinctive oak flavors along with the berry. The finish is medium with dark berry, oak, and mineral notes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Le Grand Café, $7.75 CAD per glass (approx. $5.95 USD)

13th Street Winery Burger Blend 2013

2013 Burger Blend

A blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir. Delightfully juicy and delicious. Medium red color with red raspberry and cranberry, with some mild earthiness and spice. With lively acidity and mild tannins, this is a great wine with…well…burgers!

4.5 Stars (92-94 points)

Chez Victor, $9.25 CAD per glass (approx. $7.09 USD)

 

Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2015

Trimbach Pinot Blanc

I’ve been reading a lot about Pinot Blanc lately. It seems to be riding a tide of popularity, so naturally I wanted to try it.

Light straw color. Initial aromas of unripe apricot and almond notes. On the tongue, tangy acidity wakes up the tongue with flavors of lemon, grapefruit, red apple, apricot, and mild almond, with a hint of spice and mineral on the finish. Slightly creamy mouthfeel, yet dry and brisk, it’s quite refreshing and paired very well with our dinner of seared chicken with tarragon sauce.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $19.55 CAD (approx. $15.18 USD)

 

Folonari Valpolicella 2014

Folonari Valpolicella

Great pizza wine! Ruby red color. Aromas of blackberry bramble and spice. Flavors of ripe raspberry, black pepper, plum, and oak are balanced with smooth yet structured tannins and bright acidity. Long, zippy finish of raspberry and Bing cherry. Amazing value! Yes, I will have another glass, thank you!

4.5 Stars (92-94 points)

SAQ Store, $15.90 CAD (approx. $12.35 USD)

 

Vieux Chateau Renaissance Bordeuax 2014

Vieux Chateau Renaissance Bordeaux

Ruby color with red brick rim. Aromas of blackberry bramble, raspberry, and new oak. On the palate, blackberry, cassis, raspberry, and oak, with a hint of eucalyptus or mint on the finish. Quite dry, with a medium body and light acidity.

I don’t normally think of Bordeaux with pizza, but it says, right on the back label, “Ideal pour accompagner vos pizzas…” And they’re right! This was a great pairing with our combination pizza.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $14.55 CAD (approx. $11.39 USD)

 

Roquebrun Col de L’Orb Saint-Chinian 2015

Col de L'Orb

A very nice Rose for a hot day. Tasty and refreshing, delightfully dry, and not overly complex. It has a deep salmon color. Initial aromas are soft strawberry and raspberry essence. On the palate, there are flavors of strawberry and raspberry, with a bit of floral, and a hint of fresh fig on the finish. The acidity is light and zesty, leading to a medium finish.

3.5 Stars (85-87 points)

SAQ Store, $14.10 CAD (approx. $10.92 USD)

 

I also found another Québec wine that I really like a lot! I only had a sample at the farmer’s market, but it’s sure tasty. I’m waiting to review it until I can have a proper glassful, so stay tuned!

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Québec City, Week 2

Carriage Ride

Another fantastic week in and around Québec City! We did a lot more touristy stuff this week, and learned a great deal about the history of the city and region. I have been fascinated by the parallel history between Québec and the American colonies, which include many overlapping historical figures. Growing up and going to school in the U.S., I didn’t receive the Canadian version! Canadian history is just as colorful as that in the U.S., which fierce military battles and political upheaval. Yet in many ways, it is much more complex, with regime changes yet lasting influences, as well as peaceful, diplomatic maneuvering. Whereas the U.S. fought and won its independence with tremendous loss of life, Canada’s independence, albeit nearly 100 years later and still as part of the British Commonwealth, was achieved in 1867 without a shot being fired. Next year, Canada celebrates her 150th birthday. Still, it wasn’t until 1931 that Canada achieved its own sovereignty, and amazingly, Canada didn’t adopt its first constitution until 1982! Much of Canada’s character as a nation has come about because of social evolution, not revolution.

Our excursions this week included a walking tour of the Old City, a bus tour to nearby Montmorency Falls and the Basilica du Sainte-Anne-de-Beuapré, and a Sunday morning horse-drawn carriage ride around the city. Our walking tour guide, Michael, as Irish as they come, was informative and entertaining. He showed us sights we had been overlooking for more than a week! Montmorency Falls is breathtaking. It falls some 275 feet, roughly 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls. The bus ride included a brief drive to the île d’Orleans, an agricultural island in the Saint Lawrence River just outside Québec City. Many of the local wineries are situated here, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the nature of this bus trip! On to the Basilica of Saint-Anne, who was the Virgin Mary’s mother – Jesus’ grandmother. At this magnificent church, many people have reported miraculous healings over the years. Finally we enjoyed our carriage ride with Danny, our driver, and the ever trustworthy steed, Freddie. Again, we saw things we’d been walking past without noticing. It was a charming and relaxing way to spend our Sunday morning.

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Other points of interest this week: a visit to J.A. Moisan, the oldest continuously operating grocery store in North America. They’ve been supplying provisions here since 1871! Across the street is the Musée du Chocolat. It’s small, but admission is free, and who doesn’t love a museum about chocolate?! We also enjoyed many fantastic meals, and the wine to go with them! In addition, I found a delicious, Québécois gin. Here’s what I thought of the week’s libations.

Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet Les Pins de Camille 2015

Picpoul de Pinet

Beautiful golden color. Aromas of Meyer lemon and grapefruit. Flavors of lemon, grapefruit, and a hint of tangerine. The acidity is bright and lively. When cold, it starts fairly light body, but as it warms it develops a richer feel. Everyone says to pair this with fish, but it was delightful with our lemon-rosemary chicken.

4.5 stars (92-94 points)

SAQ Store, $14.50 CAD (approx. $11.24 USD)

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel 2013

Ravenswood

Sometimes when you’re on holiday, you just want familiar. Something that tastes like home. For us, Zinfandel is comfort food. Here in Quebec, the SAQ store doesn’t have a big selection of Cali Zinfandel, but there is was: Ravenswood. Ubiquitous in NorCal restaurants.

Brick red color. Inviting aromas of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, cherry, fig, clove, and black pepper. Medium body, and smooth tannins. Simple, but comfort food. Basic, but just what we needed!

3.5 stars (85-87 points)

SAQ Store, $18.50 CAD (approx. $14.37 USD – yes, I know that’s almost double what I’d pay in the states, but you can’t put a price on your wife’s happiness.)

Ktima Foundi Xinomavro Dry Red 2013

Kthma Foundi

Recommended by our server to pair with black pudding. Excellent pick! Ruby red with aromas and flavors of raspberry, red currant, and just a bit of oak. Fruit forward but dry, with very mild tannins and light acidity. Smooth drinking and complemented the rich flavor of the dish.

4.0 stars (88-91 points)

Restaurant L’Echaudé, $12 CAD per glass (approx. $9.37 USD)

 

Gin Thuya, Dry Gin, Distillerie Fils du Roy, Inc.

Gin Thuya

I like to try local products when I travel. I asked a sales associate for some assistance in finding a good, local gin suitable for a G&T or a Gin Rickey. This was one of two he immediately recommended. I’m a little choosey with my gin, so I asked about the style and flavor. He said Gin Thuya is definitely a dry gin with a juniper base, but beyond that it has some floral and savory notes. He said, in his French accent (we’re in French-Canada after all) that there isn’t really a word he can think of to translate from French. The best he could say is that it tastes like the seashore. Well, who doesn’t love a day at the seashore? Sold.

 You know what, he’s right. It’s hard to describe the flavor. Almost a mild umami/earthy taste, but with a slight saline quality. Seashore! Quite delicious and refreshing, especially with a squirt of lemon and topped with tonic water. A perfect quaff on a hot Québec afternoon!

The producer’s website, translated via Google, has this to say:

“Gin Thuya is a gin that is not shy. Juniper is the dominant ingredient and the second ingredient in importance is coriander. If you mix a volume of water against a volume of gin, you are sure to appreciate the flavor.
Gin Thuya earned a double gold medal at the “San Francisco World Spirits Competition” in March 2013. This is the highest honor available on the planet is currently in the industry. Gin Thuya recently won a gold medal at the “International Spirits Challenge” in London UK “

 The SAQ website describes it this way:

“Made entirely with natural ingredients, Thuya gin is flavoured with young cedar shoots freshly harvested in Saint-Arsène, Quebec. First distillery in Acadia, Distillerie Fils du Roy uses production methods that result in a perfectly balanced gin with fully preserved aromas. Savour it with a splash of water or in a wide variety of cocktails.”

4.0 stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $39.25 CAD (approx. $30.66 USD)

During week 3 our daughter and grandson will be joining us! More fun awaits!

Québec City, Week 1

Chateau Frontenac

Our first week in Ville de Québec has drawn to a close. Fortunately, we still have a few more weeks to enjoy this enchanting city! There is so much to see and do here, and it is very interesting learning about North American history from both a Canadian and a French perspective. The food has been outstanding! We’ve saved money by hitting the Super Marché for groceries and dining in for many meals, but we’ve enjoyed a number of fine restaurant meals, as well. I’ve been surprised by the culinary diversity. Beyond the expected French cuisine, there are several Irish pubs, Italian Ristorantes, Chinese, Greek, and even a few Mexican cantinas. Our first full day here, we stopped for lunch at one of the Irish pubs, were I had an Irish-Canadian fusion of a pulled-pork sandwich over poutine, all smothered with a whiskey gravy. It was decadently delicious! Another day I had the best French onion soup I’ve ever tasted – savory and light; not over-salted like so many I’ve had in the U.S. Perhaps the topper of the week, however, was last night’s Duck Confit Burger! Yum! Tender chunks of duck, with shredded pickled beets, topped with a soft poppy seed bun, with an enormous side of fries. It’s all I’d hoped it would be!

After a bit of a rocky start in the wine department, we enjoyed a Québécois wine that I found at the local farmer’s market, as well as some amazing ice wines and ciders. I also braved a sample of a locally produced tomato wine. Yes, tomato wine. In addition, between restaurants and the SAQ store down the street, we’ve taken advantage of the huge selection of fine French wines. Not unlike many states in the U.S., wine and liquor sales in Québec are regulated by the government liquor board. Although they do sell wine in grocery stores, frankly it’s not anything you want to drink. For the good stuff, you must head to the local SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) store. Nevertheless, they do have a wide selection, and with the favorable U.S. exchange rate, the prices are pretty reasonable. I reviewed the Québec red wine in my earlier post, Destination: Québec City. Here’s what else we drank during Québec City, Week 1:

Willm Alsace Réserve Pinot Gris 2015

Willm PG

Rich, golden color in the glass. There are aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, ripe apricot and peach, and a hint of elderflower on the finish. Light and tasty, with mild acidity making it a great evening sipper.

Paired well with dinner of Roasted Chicken Thighs and Gold Potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $17.80 CAD (approx. $13.93 USD)

Château Eugénie Chateau Eugenie Tradition Cahors 2012

Chateau Eugenie

Dry and medium bodied. Raspberry and red currant, with fresh acidity. Finish is red fruit with a hint of licorice spice. Great with my Croque Monsieur and my wife’s Burger la Parisian.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points)

Chez Jules, $20 CAD for a 375 ml carafe (approx. $15.58 USD)

Albert Bichot Chablis 2014

Chablis

Light straw color. Initial aromas of green apple and pineapple. Very well balanced, with medium mouthfeel and bright acidity. No one flavor dominates, but is a blend of pineapple, white grapefruit, lemon, and pear. These flavors linger with a zesty and invigorating finish.

A nice complement to a ground turkey casserole and green salad.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

SAQ Store, $22.50 CAD (approx.. $17.60 USD)

Note: This was actually my first Chablis. We are not big Chardonnay fans, but we have recently been enjoying unoaked Chardonnay, in the Chablis style. We are now big fans of Chablis!

Vignoble Le Nordet Vendanges Oubliées En Rosé 2012

Rose Ice Wine

Ice Wine from a Québec producer. Delightful! Rich dessert wine with ample sweetness, and light raspberry and strawberry notes. Beautiful pink color, and pleasant mouthfeel.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Marché Du Vieux-Port Farmer’s Market, $29 CAD for a 200 ml bottle (approx. $22.60 USD)

Domaine de la Bergerie Yves Guégniard La Cerisaie 2014 (Anjou)

La Cerisaie

Deep purple color. Black currant and blackberry, with woody notes. Quite dry, with good acidity for food pairing. Smoky-berry finish. A very nice accompaniment to my duck confit burger.

3.5 Stars (85-87 points)

Chez Victor, $9.75 CAD per glass (approx. $7.60 USD)

And finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Tomato Wine!

Omerto Vin Apéritif de Tomate

Tomato Wine

Tomato wine. Yup. Wine made from tomatoes. Very much like sake in that it is bone dry and has a neutral flavor, with just a hint of sweetness and vegetal notes. 16% ABV. This was drier Sec style. They also make a Demi-Sec, as well as one aged in acacia barrels and one in cherry and chestnut barrels. I only tasted the Sec. Interesting to try, but not something I’d drink often.

3.0 Stars (82-84 points)

Marché Du Vieux-Port Farmer’s Market, $24 CAD (approx. $18.71 USD)

There’s more to come in the next few weeks! Stay tuned!

Destination: Québec City

Salutations de Québec!

My wife and I have safely arrived in Quebec City, where we will be spending the next 30 days. We rented a condo in the Old City, so we can live like the locals. We are walking distance to several cafés and restaurants, and the famous historical sites in the city. In fact, the 400+ year old fortification wall is just out our back door!

IMG_1028

Through those trees, is the City Wall.

We’ve only just begun to explore, but already we are taken with the beauty, charm, and history of this French-Canadian city.

Neither my wife nor I speak French well enough to blend in seamlessly. I only know enough to embarrass myself. (Really.) Fortunately, most everyone here is bilingual, and can converse in English just as well as French. This is especially true in the tourist areas and those working in hospitality. We did run into a couple of folks at a neighborhood supermarket who didn’t speak English, but they were able to summon help from a coworker in the store.

Speaking of the neighborhood supermarket…if you are a wine lover, and I assume you are if you are reading this Wine Blog, please accept some advice and learn from my mistake blunder. Do not buy wine when you are suffering from jet lag and are seriously sleep deprived. Seriously, don’t do it. You see, since we are renting a condo, we needed to find a supermarket and stock up on provisions for our stay. We’ll be cooking in more than eating out, because, money. We Googled a nearby grocery store and headed out. I had an idea where the local wine shop was located, but we were tired and just wanted to pick up a bottle for the first night. So I quickly browsed the very small wine section and grabbed the first bottle I saw that said it was from Canada. (When in Rome, and all that!) It was an $8.50 bottle, so I didn’t have great expectations, but I figured it’d be OK. It wasn’t until I got back to the condo that it dawned on me that there was no vintage listed on this 750 ml bottle. Panic started to set in. I also remembered that at the current exchange rate, that $8.50 CAD was about $6.70 USD. Uh-oh. A closer look at the label revealed nothing about what was inside, other than some fruity adjectives; no varietals listed. In a cold sweat, I logged into Vivino, only to discover, to my dismay, that this wine carried an average rating of 2.1 stars. The first review I read said “water tastes better.” I looked at the label again, and realized it said “Blended in Canada.” So I have absolutely no idea where this wine is from! This is nothing more than jug wine in a 750 ml bottle! Well, never up, never out, so I pulled the (synthetic) cork. It definitely had some nice, fruity aromas of raspberry and strawberry. Beyond that, it tasted sort of like a juice box, with a Sweet-Tart candy finish. It was drinkable, but definitely not what I’m used to enjoying. I rated it 2 stars. So again, learn from my mistakes. Don’t buy wine under the influence of jet lag; but if you must, don’t cheap out.

My wife, travel planner extraordinaire, found us a fantastic little condo through VRBO, in an historic building near the Vieux-Port. When we arrived, the owner gave us a little history, and told us the building has been in the family since the 1860’s, when her great-great-grandfather arrived from Ireland to work on the docks. The condo is a mere block away from the Marché du Vieux-Port, an indoor farmer’s market overlooking the port. IMG_1059

As luck good-planning-on-my-wife’s-part would have it, in addition to the fresh produce, flowers, fresh cheese, fresh seafood, large Asian food section, a Crêperie, and all things maple syrup, the Marché has at least six vendors selling wine, vin de glace (ice wine), cídre de glace, and other delights; all locally produced!

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There’s also a vendor advertising more than 300 local craft beers, if that’s your preference. Every stall I visited was staffed by very friendly folks, all of whom offered tastes of pretty much anything on the bar (and many who posed for pictures!) As I expected, actual, genuine Québécois wine is of high quality and pretty tasty! Made from locally grown grapes (many of them hybrids), like Vidal, Ste-Croix, De Chaunac, Frontenac, and Baco Noir, these wines are rich and earthy, with a unique terroir adding to the flavor. The cooler climate also means the wines are lower in alcohol than their southern counterparts; typically 11-12% ABV, from what I saw. They are also higher in acidity than many New World wines, which makes them great with food.

After several tastes, I selected the Domaine de Lavoie Tourelle 2014, a red blend of De Chaunac and Ste-Croix grapes.IMG_1069

Deep purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry and black currant. Flavors of blackberry, bramble, black currant, and earthy spice. The tannins are smooth and soft, and there is food friendly acidity – more so than most New World wines. Made with local varietals, De Chaunac and Ste-Croix. The finish is medium, with earthy, dark berry notes.

$16 CAD, approx $12.70 USD at today’s exchange rate.

3.5 Hearts (85-87 points)

This was my first Canadian/Québécois wine. I look forward to exploring others over the next month. This is just the first of what I intend to be many posts from the Ville de Québec. Santé!

Review: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This is the first review in my Judgment of Paris wines series. I came up with the ridiculous idea of sampling recent vintages of each of the 10 reds and 10 whites represented in the famed blind tasting of 1976. This will probably take a couple of years to complete, but they say it’s good to have goals, right?

Freemark Abbey was one of 11 wineries representing Californian wine at the 1976 blind tasting event. In addition, Freemark Abbey has the distinction of being the only producer to have wines represented in both the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) and whites (Chardonnay/White Burgundy) competitions. The wines entered were hand-selected by the organizer, Steven Spurrier. Each of the wines chosen were considered the best of the best, and was selected over hundreds of others. So even though the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon placed 10th out of 10 entries, it’s still a very impressive showing.

FMA_logo_GT

Photo Credit: FreemarkAbbey.com

 

Freemark Abbey has no connection to nuns or monks, or any religious institutions for that matter. Nevertheless, the winery has an intriguing past, with many notable mileposts. Freemark Abbey Winery’s history dates back to 1886, when Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built a redwood cellar on the site, becoming the first female winemaker in the Napa Valley. 12 years later, in 1898, a friend of Ms. Tychson named Antonio Forni bought the winery. He renamed it Lombarda Cellars in honor of the Italian town of his birth. Forni constructed the winery building which still stands today. The current name came about in 1939, when three southern California businessmen bought the winery. Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert “Abbey” Ahern combined their names to form Freemark Abbey. Of course the role Freemark Abbey had in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact that event had on the Napa Valley, remains one of the winery’s crowning moments.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2012

Here’s my review of this historic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

I decanted the wine for a little over an hour. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, and cassis, with soft oak. As the wine opened up, the luscious aromas filled the room, and some light violet scent emerges. On to the tasting! This is a rich, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blackberry, cassis, black plum, mild oak, and pepper. The tannins are soft and smooth. The berry and oak flavors continue into the medium-long finish, with the addition of some baking spice and dark chocolate. There is also a little lingering alcohol on the finish. Paired well with grilled ribeye and roasted rosemary potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Total Wine & More: $32.99

So, one down, 19 to go! Now it’s on to the next one. Wish me luck!