Konzelmann Estate Winery

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, but we've been on vacation! Washington DC was the first trip, and then Kevin, his mother, and I went to NYC and Niagara. It was a fun-filled trip, including Hamilton (yipee!) and seeing the beautiful falls. While in Canada, we went on a day trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake and had a tour of the quaint town. This is a large wine region within Ontario, and we had one stop on our itinerary -- Konzelmann Estate Winery. I was mostly excited to try icewine, although I was curious how their table wines fared against what I was used to from other regions.

Konzelmann is a beautiful winery directly on Lake Ontario. Konzelmann wines actually began in Germany in 1895. Friedrich Konzelmann was frustrated by how expensive it was to purchase wines from other German winemakers for his restaurant, and since his family had been growing grapes since the 1500s, he decided to make his own wine to serve. He later noticed that people who visited the restaurant loved the wine, but felt the food left something to be desired. Konzelmann decided to shut down his restaurant and focus all of his efforts on wine. The winery had to close during WWII, and once it was over, the Konzelmann family only received a small plot of barren land, so Herbert Konzelmann, the great-grandson of Friedrich, decided to immigrate to Canada.

Once in Canada, Konzelmann purchased a 40 acre peach farm directly on Lake Ontario, which gave rise to their best selling wine today... Peachwine! Yes, that is wine made from peaches! There are no longer peach trees on the property, but they purchase the fruit to make the wine from their neighbor's grove. Spoiler alert: while it doesn't necessarily sound appealing, the Peachwine was actually quite tasty (if you like peaches) and the sweetness was cut by including Chardonnay in the blend. They now grow 17 varietals with the most being Riesling, make 30-35 different types of wines, and have a production of about half a million bottles annually.

On our tour, we got to taste their Canada Red (Cabernet Sauvignon and Zweigelt), Canada White (Riesling), Peachwine, and Vidal icewine. After the tour, the three of us also shared a tasting of their Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Sparkling Riesling, and their Vidal Late Harvest. I was surprised by how many I liked as many had more residual sugar than I was used to, but my favorite was the Sparkling Riesling. No surprise there!

I've mentioned their icewine quite a bit, and you may be asking, "What is icewine?!" Icewine is a specialty of Ontario, and they make something like 90% of the world's icewine. Icewine is produced by leaving grapes on the vines to freeze in the winter months of the year. The grapes must be on the vines for three consecutive days of frost and then they can be harvested. The frozen grapes are put through a press, where sometimes as little as a single drop of liquid can be extracted from each grape. The water content is frozen, but the sugar is not, so what is left is a very sweet and concentrated juice. After fermentation, you've got a delicious dessert wine! Since it is very sweet, be sure to only pour a couple of ounces, sip it slowly, and pair it with a sharp cheese or nuts!

If you ever find yourself in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, definitely check out Konzelmann Estate Winery! What are other regions we should visit?

La Dolce Vita

First, let me say that I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. Second, let me say that I can't believe it's already been ALMOST a MONTH since we returned home from our glorious jaunt through the northern half of Italy. WHY DOES TIME MOVE SO FAST?! Can I hear an amen?

Not a day has gone by since we returned that I haven't reminisced and day dreamed about our Roman Holiday (...see what I did there? But really, we weren't just in Rome). It was fifteen wonderful days of sight seeing, relaxing, eating handmade pasta and gelato, and drinking all the wine we could. The biggest thing we learned from our trip? Old World wines are where it's at! Everyone's got their preferences, and I still enjoy New World, but man, has my love for Old World styles grown.

While we were in Siena, we went on two wine tours: a half day tour through Chianti and a full day Brunello tour. Both were great in their own ways, but the thing I liked best was learning about the bio-dynamic wineries in Montalcino. It was so fascinating!

As a little background, Montalcino is a picturesque hill town in Tuscany. Brunello is their super star wine (and many consider it to be king in Italy), and Montalcino was the first town to be awarded their "DOCG" designation, or Denomination of Controlled Guarantee in rough English,  by the Italian government. All this means is that there are very strict laws and regulations about the wine in regards to grape varieties, methods of production, additives, aging, etc. If you want to see the full laundry list of rules, check out this website by the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino. So needless to say, the people in Montalcino care about their wine.

Now for a little background on Brunello, the wine is made from the Sangiovese grape. Its primary flavor tends to be red fruit and cherry, but it can also have flavors of leather and tobacco. It's definitely more savory in flavor than fruity. The wine must be aged for 5 years prior to release with at least 2 of those years in oak by law, but many say that this wine should be aged in the bottle for at least 10 years after release for the flavors to develop and soften. It's a wine collector's dream! Finally, like most Italian wines, Brunello pairs best with food (hello bruschetta and pasta!) because it's high in acidity. 

Sangiovese grapes.jpg

We went to two bio-dynamic wineries while on our Brunello tour, but the first, Podere le Ripi, was my favorite. I feel a little bad saying that because the owner has an "unfair" advantage over the other wineries we visited... he is the son of the man who started Illy Coffee so he has a large fortune to work with. Regardless, his wines were tasty and his cellar was spectacular.

The tour began with his vineyards. They only have a few hectares that are designated for the DOCG wines, so they grow some other varieties as well. Our guide indicated that this winery puts more vines per hectare in order to have the vines work harder for water and nutrients. They believe that vines that "suffer" produce better fruit, so they planted more than quadruple the number of vines per hectare compared to other wineries. 

Additionally, they are bio-dynamic, which is most easily described as a more intense version of organic. They do not use pesticides and chemicals in their vineyards or production, but it is also the mindset of working with the earth and the environment to help improve the winery. They plant other crops and pay attention to the position of the moon and constellations for their work in their vineyard. If this interests you, you can read more about bio-dynamic wines in this post by Wine Folly.

They then took us to the owner's cellar. The owner believes that metal creates a magnetic field and damages the wine, so they built the cellar without reinforced cement. The entire building was built from clay bricks and limestone mortar all by hand. It was very impressive! The winery also does not use steel tanks to ferment, but uses cement tanks and oak barrels. The cellar is a corkscrew shape so the winery can only use gravity to move wines from phase to the next.

The tasting was great, and we ended up purchasing one of their wines that was 100% Syrah. We wish we had bought more, but we had to hedge our purchases since it was our first stop of the day! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our favorite winery stop on our trip to Italy, and if you're ever headed over there, let me know! I love sharing my itinerary. 

A Beginner's Guide to Napa

I apologize for the lack of tasting notes recently. We have been out of our house and have not had the opportunity to taste new wines. I have, however, been asked several times over the past few weeks about advice for someone traveling to Napa. 

Disclaimer: I have only been there once and LOVED it. However, because I've only been there once, I certainly am not an expert, but there were things here and there that I picked up on and would love to share with anyone considering going to Napa.

When should I go to Napa?

There isn't a bad time to go to Napa really. Sure, there's peak seasons and low seasons, but given the weather is fairly mild and wineries are open year round, you can make the trip whenever your heart desires. I found a great post that describes the different types of experiences you will have based on what time of the year you go.

What wineries should I go to?

There are a gazillion wineries to choose from and it can be very overwhelming to decide which ones to go to. Anyone who has been to Napa has their idea of which winery is the best, so I would recommend you rely on recommendations of people whose opinions you respect. If you're the first to venture out to wine country, then I would definitely check out this map. It lists all the wineries, and which, most importantly, require an appointment vs public tasting room.

Wait, what's the difference?

My initial perception of Napa is that every winery had a tasting room you could go to. WRONG. There are some wineries that require you to make an appointment for a tour and tasting. I found that it was best to experience both types. Our schedule had one tour by appointment and then we filled the rest of the day with wineries with public tasting rooms. I wish I had found that map prior to our trip to Napa because it would have planning a lot easier! Tours are typically pricier ($40-$100) and public tasting rooms can vary based on the winery and the type of tasting you get.

Important Note: One great tip to keep travel costs low if you want is to split a tasting. I have never heard of this being an option on a tour or when you go to a by appointment place, but you can definitely do this in a public tasting room! I was nervous to do it as first because I was afraid it was frowned upon, but not a single person gave any thought to it when my husband and I asked for a single tasting between the two of us.

Okay, I have some wineries in mind but am not sure how to plan out the day. What would you suggest?

The first thing I would do is plot your desired wineries on the map I linked above. You will want to plan your wineries by geographical location. After a tasting or two, you definitely don't want to be driving all over the place, so I would make sure you plot out a good route (or hire a driver if you can afford it!). I simply used GoogleMaps when I was planning it out to figure out the easiest path, but the map I linked above would be a huge help too. 

Also, in my opinion, I thought three a day was plenty. I usually had a tour first on our schedule in the late morning, a tasting room for after lunch, and another before we headed back to the hotel. One day we threw a fourth public tasting room for the heck of it, and it's doable, but I liked the relaxed pace of doing three a day.

You mentioned lunch. What do people do for breakfast and lunch while out and about?

Napa is another food-centric city so the options are bountiful! This is where I found TripAdvisor and recommendations to be very helpful. We chose to eat a light breakfast since we knew we'd be drinking and eating a lot throughout the day. We just picked up some bagels and cream cheese from the local Walmart to have in our hotel room. 

For lunch, picnics seem to be very popular! We picnicked once at Clos du Val and it was great. There are plenty of cute markets around where you can pick up some meat, cheese, and other snacks to have on the go. If that's not your style, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, from fast food (In-And-Out!) to sit down affairs. Once you have picked out your wineries, I would look online for popular restaurants in that area, or if you're not as type A as I am and like to go with the flow, ask someone at one of the wineries what they would recommend.  We stopped at a local legend, Gott's Roadside, on whim, and it was tasty! 

Do I need to dress up for tours and tastings?

Napa is a very casual and laid back place, so you should feel free to wear whatever makes you comfortable! When I was there I saw people dressed on both ends of the spectrum, so you can't go wrong. I would suggest bringing some layers if you go in the fall as we found the mornings to be chilly, but it would warm up quite a bit during the day. Also, if you choose a winery with a cave, it can be a little chilly down there, so pack a sweater! The only time you need to really think about dress is for dinner options -- there a couple of restaurants in the area that have a dress code.

Do you have any last bits of advice?

This is totally a personal thing, but I highly recommend throwing in a sparkling wine options, or something to mix up all of the big, bold reds you will have. Napa is the king of Cabs, and while they are delicious, it can be a little daunting, especially in the morning! We added a maker of sparkling wine to the agenda, and I was SO glad that we did. It was interesting to compare the process of making sparkling wine to the traditional wine, and it was fun to have some bubbles in the morning!

Also, shipping back from Napa is easy! If you are going into the vacation thinking you'll buy some bottles, don't fret. Shipping bottles back is second nature to them. If you don't know if you plan to, I recommend setting a budget. It's easy to get caught up in the glory of Napa and buy more you intended, so think about it before heading in!

This may seem old school, but if you're headed to the outskirts of the Napa region, I would print out a set of directions just in case! Because I am type A, I had printed out our path and directions from Google Maps, but we actually went to a winery where neither of our phones got service, so my hardcopy directions came in handy.

Last question... if you could suggest only one winery from your first trip, which would it be?

Palmaz. The tour was great, the wine was delicious, and the winery has a cool, science-y story. It only does by appointment, but I thought it was well worth it! I'm going to cheat and give another, but Schramsberg was a close #2.

If you make the trip out there, I hope you enjoy it! It's a fun and relaxing place to drink some spectacular wine and eat some great food. Have any other questions or tips of your own? Leave a comment below!