iYellow Wine Club

I thought I would dedicate today’s post to a company who I consider to be at the forefront of the Toronto Social Wine Scene and who’s founder I consider to be a personal friend.

Have you ever asked yourself any of the following questions or had any of the following thoughts?
– I love wine but I am just not confident in my tasting ability
– I wish I knew more about wine but I just can’t stand that snobbery that wine critics exhibit
– Is there a group in Toronto that does wine tastings in a fun and social setting?
– I wonder if a lot of people are like me and want to know more about wine but don’t know where to start

If you find yourself relating to any of the above I present the answer to you… iYellow Wine Club.  In its simplest form iYellow is a social club for the casual and educated wine lover alike.  Started in 2006 they are now up to an astounding 8,000 members.  Once you have joined and attended an event you will quickly understand why.  With the quick wit and fun loving attitude of founder Angela Aiello, the events are extremely enjoyable while being unthreatening to the even the most passive or introverted wine lover out there.  Whether its a quiet Thursday night gathering and social wine tasting at Marben (http://www.marbenrestaurant.com/) or a Malbec World Day celebration with hundreds in attendance and a featured DJ, these events are blast.  They now even offer group trips abroad with this years group trekking to the heart of the Tuscan wine region at the end of June.  Leave all the details to the iYellow group and you won’t be disappointed.  Plus with 8,000 members they now have group buying power and the relationships in the wine world to bring you the best of the best at a very reasonable cost.

Another great feature is their wine school classes where you can study subjects ranging from the Wines of California to Wines of Argentina on any given night.  Trust me coming from someone who has studied wine for the past year and a half, it can be a daunting task and one you have to be committed to.  iYellow on the other hand gives members the chance to learn about wine at their convenience and choose classes only that meet their particular interests.  So you can attend one class or all of them if you so desire.  They are hosted by Angela herself in conjunction with one of Toronto’s foremost sommelier’s, Taylor Thompson.

Among all this however here is the best part.  Joining iYellow is absolutely free! There is no obligation to attend anything that they do.  So join today and become a part of the wine revolution!

Join today: http://iyellowwineclub.com/membership
iYellow Wine School: http://iyellowwineclub.com/wineschool
iYellow upcoming events: http://iyellowwineclub.com/events
iYellow Blog: http://iyellowwineclub.com/blog
Follow Angela on Twitter: @angelaaiello
Follow iYellow on Twitter: @iyellowwineclub

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 

My Top 5 Favourite Beers

Well seeing as how my write-up on my top 5 LEAST favourite beers generated more hits and feedback than anything I had written previously (thanks for that) I thought it was only fitting to follow-up it up immediately with the other side of the story.  So I present to you my top 5 FAVOURITE beers.  Once again I encourage commentary and feedback.  Reach out to me on Twitter @towineman, comment right here on the Blog, or write to me at towineman@gmail.com.

Once again for clarification these are based on mainstream beers only.  Beers that are readily available on general list at either the Beer Store of the LCBO.  So again the beer you might have tried once as the guest tap at Bar Volo (http://blog.barvolo.com/) or C’est What (http://www.cestwhat.com/) doesn’t qualify.  Sorry @beerhunter4u I know that excludes a lot of your favourites.

So here we go… my top 5 favourite beers.

5. Guinness – http://www.guinness.com/en-ca/
Is this considered a cop out because it’s arguably the most popular beer in the world?    Regardless Guinness has to make the list.  Beyond their unmatched marketing savvy, Guinness is a wonderful beer. Many people get hung up on how dark it is in colour assuming then that it’s going to be a big heavy beer.  But it’s only 4.2%alc and it’s one of the smoothest beers around.  Plus I have had the good fortune of visiting the legendary Guinness brewery and once you have tasted a fresh pint poured for you, at the top of the Gravity Bar overloooking all of Dublin, you can’t help but place this beer on your list.

4. Sleeman Original – http://www.sleeman.ca/
Everyone has their “go to” beer.  Your first choice when you go to the Beer Store to get a standard 24.  It’s generally well priced and easy drinking.  This way you can afford to buy it repeatedly and can drink many of them in one sitting.  For me that beer is Sleeman Original.  Sure I graduated from the University of Guelph, the home of Sleeman.  Sure the brewery happened to be a frequent visit of mine and one of the best pre-drinking spots in all of Guelph.  But I stand by this beer through and through and I love it. Plus for $33.95 for 24, I challenge you to find a better deal.

3. Innis & Gunn Scotch Ale – http://www.innisandgunn.com/en/home/character.aspx
If you haven’t tried Innis & Gunn yet you are missing out.  Especially if you also enjoy Whiskey.  Innis & Gunn employs a very unique brewing process in that the beer is actually aged in used oak barrels.   American Bourbon barrels to be exact.  So the whiskey flavour is actually imparted subtly into the beer, giving a very unique and distinct flavour.  It might not be for everyone but this is certainly one of my personal favourites.

2. Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion – http://theflyingmonkeys.ca/
Did you know that Flying Monkeys Brewery was once Robert Simpson Brewery?  Talk about the successes of rebranding.  Flying Monkeys is now one of Ontario’s most successful craft brewery’s.  I love just about every one of their beers but my personal favourite is the Hoptical Illusion. Sure it’s loaded with hops and full of flavour but it’s not overwhelming so you can still enjoy a couple of these without overdoing it.  Plus it’s Ontario brewed and independently owned which I can’t lie certainly get’s it bonus points.

1. Muskoka Cottage Brewing, Mad Tom IPA – http://www.muskokabrewery.com/
At #1 we have an IPA.  By nature it is loaded with dry hops and this one doesn’t disappoint.      This is a big craft beer from a nice little micro brewery in the heart of Ontario’s luxurious Muskoka region.  For those that can’t stomach a big IPA try the Muskoka Lager or Cream Ale, both of which are great beers.  But for me it’s the IPA.  The reason it makes #1 on this list is if I am craving a beer, and I mean a beer that tastes like beer, I routinely find myself wanting the Mad Tom.  Personally I think that defines a #1 beer.

Honourable Mention:
– Lake of Bays Pale Ale
– Killkenny
– Dead Elephant
– Mickeys (yes because of the little games inside the caps)

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 

Top 5 Least Favourite Beers

Hey everyone likes a good countdown list right?  Well here is the first in a series of countdown lists for me.  I figured I would start off with a bit of a negative one and see if we can spark some debate.  So I present to you my top 5 least favourite beers.  Feel free to comment, argue, or just give your general thoughts right here on the blog, or reach out to me on Twitter @towineman or even send an e-mail to towineman@gmail.com.

First some clarity on this list.  I am basing this soley on mainstream beer you can buy on a regular basis available as a general list either at the beer store or the LCBO.  If I tried a local craft beer one time, and didn’t like it, that doesn’t matter… so that doesn’t make the list.  I have also factored out my general dislike for ciders and fruit flavoured beers including seasonal beers like Pumpkin Spice Ales.  Otherwise those would make up the entire list.  These are 5 everyday favourites of many people… just not me.

5. Stella Artois
How Stella became a premium brand is beyond me.  To this day I think people order it because it almost always comes in it’s own branded glass (and they are nice glasses).  Whereas if you order any other beer you have maybe a 25%-30% chance of it coming in it’s own glass.  I just find it to be watered down and overly steely, but certainly priced as though it shouldn’t be.

4. Keiths White
The only beer I can stomach that is served with an orange is Oberon, which is a very unique seasonal beer only served in Michigan for about a month a year.  Plus I am not a fan of overpowering wheat beers anyways.  So perhaps some bias on this selection.  Regardless I do not find this to be a good beer.   Once again I think people order it for the novelty of it and because it appears to be a fascinating colour.  But as we know from drinking true English Pale Ale’s or true IPA’s… colour is not everything.

3. Bud Light Lime
OK this is an exception to my ‘no fruity beer rule’ referenced in the intro.  I make the exception because this is a mainstream beer, marketed and pitched against all other beers.  However it doesn’t belong there.  I admit when Bud Light Lime first came out with the massive (and extremely smart) marketing blitz I got caught up in it.  For a couple of days I might have even been overheard saying I enjoyed a bottle or two.  The reality is it is not good.  It’s overpowering with lime flavour and amazingly underwhelming in beer flavour.

2. Budweiser
There had to be one bland, generic, corporate, everyday drinking beer on this list and for me that is Budweiser.  I know it has it’s place in the grand scheme of beer drinking, but in my opinion it is awful.  I will only drink Budweiser under two circumstances.  1. It is the only beer left where I happen to be, because someone else purchased it, and we have already drank all the other beer that was available. Or 2. I am at the Rogers Center watching my beloved Blue Jays.

1. Sam Adams Boston Lager
This one may come as a shock because Sam Adams is pretty well recognized as a quality premium beer with lots of flavour.  But I don’t get it.  I think it’s awful and unlike the rare circumstance where I will make an exception and drink Budweiser as referenced above, I can’t possibly think of a situation where I would enjoy a Sam Adams.

Honourable Mention:
– 666 Devils Pale Ale
– Busch Light
– Black Ice
– Carling
– Maudite

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 

Term of the Week – April, 2012

In keeping up with a feature I started on here in February I am trying to log a “term of the week.” It could be from anywhere, wine, beer or spirits. The hope is this will be a helpful feature making you all more and more familiar with the wide world of beverage alcohol. However I will be the first to admit this is not a unique idea. There are many blogs that have helpful definition sections, plus between apps and websites there are a copious number of ways in which you can get the definition you are seeking. But you came here. Plus the hope is I can provide definitions to terms you may not already know or have ever thought about. I also won’t be simply copying formal definitions from dictionary’s. I will try to provide descriptions that are helpful and easy to understand well also providing some insightful context. Enjoy.

April 2nd:
Zinfandel:
Here is a chance to clear the air and give credit to one of the worst oldest and most robust red wine grapes. Yes that’s right… Zinfandel is a huge, robust red wine. I’m not sure who created “Pink Zinfandel” and completely ruined the reputation of this grape, but that is NOT what Zinfandel is all about. Pink Zinfandel is an awful, sweet wine which tastes like juice. It not only ruined the reputation of a noble grape variety, but also the reputation of Rose wines everywhere. True Zin is a robust, hearty red wine. Loaded with tannin and stewed fruit flavour. It is huge in California accounting for over 10% of the total plantings in the region. I’m not personally a big fan of Zinfandel but those that like it are very loyal. So try a true Californian Zinfandel and see for yourself that Pink Zinfandel has no place in the world of premium wine.
Here’s a few to try:
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, 2009 – $19.95 – LCBO #942599
Clos Du Bois Zinfandel, 2009 – $19.95 – LCBO #38000
Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel, 2010 – $16.95 – LCBO #678698

April 9th:
Chianti:
Similar to the way wine is labelled in France the term Chianti seen on a wine label is a region… not a grape. Yes this is much different from the way we label wine in North America where you find straight labels of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. Rarely will you find a term like “Beamsville Bench” displayed more prominently on the label then the grape variety. In the Old World (France, Italy, Spain) this is the norm and grape varieties are rarely shown anywhere on the label. In fact many are blends and without some form of wine education, or a lot of reading, you may never know the grapes used in these blends. So let’s take Chianti. It’s a region in Tuscany which is a large and prominent wine appellation in Italy. Chianti is made up primarily of the grape sangiovese to the point of some wines even using 100% sangiovese. In fact nowadays for a wine to be labelled “Chianti” it must include at least 80% sangiovese. Other grapes may make up the balance of the blend, including Canaiolo, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc etc, but sangiovese overwhelmingly dominates. So the next time you sit down with a beautiful Chianti Classico you may want to think is of it in North American terms and understand your drinking Sangiovese. However also understand it’s very wrong to call it that.

April 16th:
Residual Sweetness: This is a term used to describe the sweetness you will taste in a wine. To be precise it is the actual level of sugar (grams per 100ml) which remains in the finished product. Grapes contain sugar. Yeast is added which feasts on the sugar to create alcohol during fermentation. If there is excessive sugar in the grapes the yeast will die out before all the sugar is consumed, therefore leaving this residual sweetness in the wine. This happens with overly ripe grapes, frozen grapes, dried grapes, and for many other reasons. For the most part it is the intention of a winemaker to have residual sweetness in the style of wine they are making. In some cases, if permitted, winemakers will add artificial sweetness to create the final product. To the consumer a basic understanding of this is essential hence my writing about it today. More than just ice wine is made to be sweet and many styles of sweet wines are of premium quality and are sought after around the world. The majority of wine we see is dry meaning no residual sweetness, so the LCBO makes it easy on the consumer to distinguish the difference. When you read a wine label at the liquor store you see a number in the bottom corner. A ‘0’ indicates no residual sweetness, thus a dry wine. In increasing numbers from there sweetness is indicated. So if you buy a wine labelled ‘1’ expect some discernible sweetness and a wine labelled ‘7’ to have a fair bit. The Inniskillin late harvest Riesling for example is a ‘7’. Then it is also worth noting that they label wines with an ‘S’ which of course indicates sugar. Ice wine for example would typically get labelled an ‘S’. I do encourage you not to shy away from sweetness in wine, but it is good to understand what it is you are buying to ensure it’s what you want to buy. Then if you do decide to try a wine with some sweetness just be sure to drink it on the right occasion.

Here is the actual rating scale the LCBO uses. The number on the right is the LCBO number the range on the left is grams of sugar per 100ml.

0.00 to 0.49 – 0
0.50 to 1.49 – 1
1.50 to 2.49 – 2
2.50 to 3.49 – 3
3.50 to 4.50 – 4
4.50 to 5.49 – 5
5.50 to 6.49 – 6
6.50 to 7.49 – 7
7.50 to 8.49 – 8
8.50 to 9.49 – 9
9.50 to 10.49 – 10

April 23rd:
Brandy: Did you know that the spirit Brandy is, in simple terms, just distilled wine? Well now you do. Of course there are many complexities in the production process which I won’t launch into here, but at the core all Brandy starts as base wine. For the most part the base wine wouldn’t be drinkable in the traditional sense, but it is made from grapes and is 100% a wine. Even the most premium of Brandy’s, which most consider to be Cognac, starts as a base wine. Cognac however has to be sourced using grapes from the Cognac region in France. But don’t be fooled it is still a Brandy, much like Champagne is just a type of sparkling wine from a specified region in France, or Scotch is just a type of Whisky produced in Scotland. Just think of it like this. Take a wine. Distill that wine. Bingo… Brandy. It doesn’t matter if you come from Spain (often called Brandy de Jerez), France (called Cognac or Armagnac), Italy (famously called Grappa or Pomace Brandy) or here at home where we do produce Ice Wine Brandy often made by blending brandy with various Ice Wines.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman