Savvy Summer Sister

Finally, here in Calgary we have entered into summer and it’s a hot one! Calgary is not alone, across Canada people have been feeling the heat.

WineCollective has a cure for the heat and you can look for it in our August packages. It is the perfect time to break out from under that sheltered rock and try a Rosé, the “sophisticated summer sister” to red wines! Not only is Rosé refreshing and thirst-quenching, but it should be served chilled. Perfect to sip while either escaping the heat or loving the heat! Or as put by, “Rosé wines is one way to muzzle the heat.”

Rosés come from many different red wine varieties such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Rosés show beautiful tones and colors from coral orange to a sassy dark pink, depending on how long the skins of the grapes are exposed to the juices.

Sitting on the patio seems like the natural way to sip away on Rosé! And why not, Rosés are at the top of the list when it comes to versatility with food pairings.  Match it up and switch it up, rosé is great for BBQ and patio food- from burgers and fries, to kabobs and watermelon salad.

If we haven’t won you over yet listen to this, “Rosé wine sales are on the rise as savvy wine lovers have discovered that many of these pink wines are not sugary sweet wines but rather sophisticated summer sisters of many red wine varietals”, as put by Stacey Slinkard from

Still need convincing? How about this from wine expert Lysanne Tusar, “Rosé has always been the go-to drink of choice throughout wine regions in Europe in the summer. It’s also quite diverse in food pairing options.” Tusar also states in the Huffington Post, “Rosé is very easy all by itself, it doesn’t get better than drinking a chilled rosé on the patio in the summer heat!”

This summer, enjoy the heat and enjoy Rosé because before you know it summer will be gone!

Win $150 to WineCollective

Have you ever taken the most awe-inspiring photo of your favourite wine but have no way to show it off? Here is your chance!

We would love to see what photos you have with a glass of vino or anything to do with wine. Be unique, be creative, bring out the photographer in you! The winner will receive a wine package worth up to $150 from WineCollective.

Check out our Facebook page for more details or submit your photos to

Must be legal drinking age. Your own photos and your own creativity.

Photos must be submitted by the 22nd.  Voting starts July 23rd to the 29th, winner will be announced July 30th.

Have fun and drink responsibly!

Calories in wine? Who cares!

Ever wonder how many calories are in that appealing glass of wine? Glamour Magazine posted this image from Pinterest, showing a spiritied way to count calories.

Thankfully, unlike other happy hour bevies wine is one of the most waist-friendly libations you can choose.  fitsugar summed up the calories of some of the most frequently consumed wines, helping us decide if what we are pouring is the best choice for the bikini body.

However, not all wines are created the same! A glass of wine can range from 73 calories to upwards of 200. Dessert wines, with alcohol close to 15%, can contain up to 237 calories, while a medium red or white varietal averages 120 calories. In comparison, your average 12-ounce beer can have more than 200 calories, and even your light beers can still have more calories than wine.

Additionally, wine is low in calories and free of cholesterol, sodium and fat. Also knowing that wine is full of antioxidants helps justify the “Who Cares?” attitude. So, while sitting on your patio maybe leave the beer behind and enjoy a bottle of bubbles, with under 100 calories!

Sip happy, because who cares!

BYOW: Poplar Grove Chardonnay at Farm

There are a number of local eateries that allow you to bring your own bottle, and on certain nights you can bring your favourite wine for free! Free-corkage nights are beneficial for the restaurant as well as the diner, it is a great way to fill tables on slower nights (most BYOW nights are Sunday-Wednesdays), and the cost savings are an obvious advantage to the customer. However, BYOW isn’t about being a penny-pincher, it’s an opportunity for you to share a special bottle with your company and pair it with an elegant meal, and not be restricted to your own culinary abilities.

I brought a bottle of 2010 Poplar Grove Chardonnay to Farm last Monday. I was excited to share this bottle with a friend that I knew would appreciate it. I wanted to make sure the pairing was perfect, so we had asked our server to select our meal based on the tasting notes of the Chardonnay.

A richly textured Chardonnay, with aromas of honeyed cashew and toffee. Toasted nut and oak integrate nicely with clean, bright acidity on the palate. Soft hints of vanilla linger with the long finish on this voluptuous Reserve Chardonnay.

We made our own notes on the Chardonnay, and found toasted nuts and warm honey on the nose with baked apples.  The palate was luscious with soft flavours of melon, apples and vanilla. There was surprising acidity that added a crisp and fresh component . Our server first brought us a charcuterie plate of P’tit Basque Sheep cheese from France, Coppa (like proscuitto but with less oily-ness) and air-dried strawberries. We had the steelhead trout with an herbed vinaigrette and almonds as our main.

The creamy cheese complemented the mouth feel of the oaked and full Chard, while the Coppa’s salt helped to enhance the fruit presence in the wine. The trout was a perfect fish pair to the wine, it had an almost sweet miso-glaze. I would hold off on the Asian slaw next time,  too much acid for the wine can bring out an undesireable tart-ness. Post-Chardonnay, we indulged on an eccentric selection of truffles: goat cheese, vanilla bean, bacon and dark chocolate paired with Moscato.

A few tips if you are going to take advantage of a BYOW: give the restaurant a head-up that you will be bringing your own bottle, if you want the kitchen to pair with your wine, let them know what it is and any tasting notes you have. I gave the server the tasting card for the Poplar Chardonnay, your WineCollective tasting cards are perfect reference for the server or chef. Avenue Magazine has a list of corkage nights in both Calgary and Edmonton. Even if restaurants don’t promote BYOW, if you ask, most will accomodate you at a price.


Tasting a tank sample of Meyer Family Vineyard’s 2011 Gewürztraminer

Winemakers use samples to gain insight into the development of their wine. For the public, a barrel tasting is a great way to learn and partake in some aspect of the winemaking process. Most importantly, barrel sampling is an exclusive and fun event. You may have the opportunity to try a barrel sample if you visit a winery, and many California wine festivals are now showcasing young wines from the barrel to the general public. If you are fortunate enough to take part in a barrel tasting, remember that you are not drinking the finished product, the sample is a small reflection of what you may expect from the bottle.

Winemakers use barrel samples to check the wine’s aging and progression. Wines are constantly evolving based on hundreds of variables. After taking a sample, a winemaker may use a number of techniques to adjust the levels of sugar and acidity, and even the oaking treatment.  Peachy Canyon‘s blog notes in ‘A Crash Course in Barrel Tasting’ another important aspect of barrel samples:

“One of the more interesting aspects of barrel tasting is the incredible variation. Most wines are the result of blending together multiple barrels (if not multiple barrels of multiple varietals). Although a winemaker selects barrels specifically, each barrel is slightly individual, and there will be some variance from one to the other (one barrel, for example, might give off more of a toast flavor than its neighbor), due to subtle differences in coopering, age, and conditioning.”

When analyzing a barrel sample you are still looking at the wine as you would if it was from the bottle, but there will be certain characteristics that will be attributed to its youth and what stage of aging it is in. As mentioned in Tastes Peachy, with red wines there may be significant gas on the nose with subtle fruit notes, and the palate will tend to be overwhelmed with tannins and acidity at first taste. The most important thing to remember is that a barrel samples are not a finished wine.

We were fortunate enough to receive a sample of the Meyer Family Vineyards‘ 2011 Gewürztraminer and sat down recently to really enjoy this unique experience.

The 2011 Gewürztraminer sample was showing very well.  White varietals such as Gewurtz are not usually intended to age as long as red wines, so the time between a sample and bottling is not as long. A portion of the grapes were whole bunched pressed, which can help with the drainage of the juice from the grapes.  The remaining grapes were left with their skins for a short period, this can help extract greater flavour as well.  However, too much contact with the skins in white varietals can cause unwanted astringency in the wine; we did not notice this in our sample.  Both batches of grapes were then gently pressed, rigorous press would again induce stronger astringency in the wine. All grapes were then combined for a long cool fermentation in stainless steel vat. The cooler temperature helps create a more light and fruity wine. The wine is then aged for several months sur lie, before bottling. We noticed some bready or yeasty characteristics that would have come from the process  of leaving the wine on its lees. This process is common in Chardonnays, adding a creaminess and also affecting the clarity.

We are excited to try the 2011 Gewürztraminer after bottling and compare our previous notes. We can expect a rich textured wine with strong acidity to balance the spice and savoury qualities.

If you haven’t been invited to try a barrel sample, you may have to schedule ahead of time to find a winery that will host you. There are many more unique opportunities where you can sample wines during your holidays. Travel to Wellness has a comprehensive list of Canadian wine and food festivals where you can taste many producers in one convenient location. Closer to home, the Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival, May 4-5 in Banff, is a chance to indulge in rare wines and meet some of the producers. We are also approaching the tasting season of our neighbouring BC vineyards.  Visit BC Wine for easy reference to BC wine regions and mapped locations of wineries such as Meyer Family in Naramata.


Everything you need to know about the Calgary Wine Fest

Your first Winefest is never your last, that is why most attendees are seasoned veterans. Winefest is Calgary’s longest running wine festival, 2012 marks their 20th Anniversary.  We have compiled some valuable tips and event info for both the newbies and the more experienced.

You can find all essential information on the Winefest site regarding dates, tickets and parking. However,  @winejennifer helps the novice and experts alike by listing her top 11 tips for Winefest in “How To “Do” Wine Festivals”. #6 on the list, ‘Don’t wear white’ is crucial, and so is comfortable footwear!  Also, #10 “Don’t rinse your glass with water”, this is the most repeated offense I witness at wine tastings.  Make sure you are rinsing with a splash of wine instead. Whether you are industry or amateur, everyone likes finding their new favourite vino.  Instead of trying to balance a pencil, notebook and glass to take notes, snap a photo of the with your phone and give it a quick rating.

The most important thing to remember is that Winefest is a social event, don’t be too focused on the details of each wine. Look for wines you have never tried, then research them after the event.  You can find where your favourites are sold at  This way you can relax and not be rushed to learn everything about every wine.

This year Winefest is featuring 230 different wines from 15 regions, as well as a delicious tapas menu. From what I have heard of the Edmonton Winefest last weekend, you won’t be disappointed by the selection! You can check out the list of producers and the menu on the Winefest site.  If you are already a WineCollective member, you will recognize our favourites on the list.  Here are some wines to look out for!

Spy Valley Pinot Noir

Sip this with the Miniature Apple and Brie Grilled Sandwich. This wine delivers big time Pinot Noir blueberries and strawberries up front. There are good levels of vibrant acidity which make it food friendly but is also great on its own. The tannins have a softness and approachability which are rounded out by its medium length finish

Road 13 Jackpot Syrah

This wine is ideal with 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier which gives the wine some fruit to go along with the savory Syrah core. Try this meaty Syrah with Bulgogi Pork on toasted Baguette.

If you haven’t already bought your tickets, there are only ones left for Saturday afternoon 2-5.

The best lasagna I’ve ever eaten!

I rarely follow a recipe when I cook, it’s a testament to what my mother has taught me in the kitchen; to be resourceful and creative!  I like to read cook books, look up recipes online (WineAccess has recipes and pairings), and then combine all the A-list ideas into my own creation.

This is how I made the best lasagna I have ever eaten! (Yes, I am bragging a little)  Everyone knows how to make a standard lasagna, and it is fairly easy to spice-up and re-invent.  Here is what I did to create the best lasagna EVER:

  • After the pasta has been boiled, rinsed in cold water and patted dry; toss in olive oil
  • Use half ground beef and half Italian sausage (removed from casing) for the meat-tomato sauce layer
  • Blend 2 chipotle peppers with some adobo sauce and add to the tomato sauce mixture (and 1 cup of red wine)
  • I made one layer of mushrooms in a heavy cream sauce with loads of garlic (and 1/4 cup white wine)

The only negative to this recipe (and most lasagnas) is the amount of dishes; but after 45 min at 350, dishes were done and I was ready to eat!

You might be wondering what wine to pour with this caloric feast?  Lasagna is very friendly with wine, a versatile dish that will pair well with several varietals, from many regions and all for different reasons.  A simple pairing formula to follow: your wine should either compare or contrast to your meal’s weight, texture, or flavour.  Here are a few favourites from the WineCollective archive,  that I think are matches made in lasagna heaven.



Wrong Dongo 2010

Varietal: Monastrell
Region: Jumilla, Spain
Approximate Price: $21

The spice from the Italian sausage and chipotles are paired well with the peppery nature of Shiraz or boldness of a Spanish Monastrell.

“There is some signature Spanish earthiness and spice on the mid-palate before the wine ends on some fairly rounded tannins.  This wine is not a casual sipper, it is a huge food wine. Pair with BBQ, big red meat or something equally hearty such as pasta in a tomato sauce.” -WineCollective Staff



Alias Chardonnay 2009

Varietal: Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc
Region: California
Approximate Price: $18

Match the creamy texture and richness of the cheese and garlic cream sauce with a slightly oaked and acidic Chardonnay.

“… surprisingly crisp with a very good acidity profile. The oak and vanilla notes are there but take a backseat to lemon or grapefruit citrus notes, which are complimented by stone fruit such as apricot and perhaps nectarine.” -WineCollective Staff



St. Supery Elu Meritage 2006

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot
Region: Napa Valley, California
Approximate Price: $71

The weight fullness of pasta won’t be overshadowed by an equally big wine like a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Silky tannins, great, cleansing acids, and a great sense of balance from start to finish.”-Tom Firth, Wine Access National Tasting Panel Member @cowtownwine



Castello Sonnino Galterra 2007

Varietal: Sangiovese, Merlot
Region: Tuscany
Approximate Price: $31.59

However, when in doubt, go Italian! The high acidity of the tomato sauce pairs best with a well-balanced, acidic Sangiovese or Chianti.

“Galterra is made from a blend of 65% Sangiovese and 35% Merlot, to give an intense dark ruby-coloured wine with a spicy nose and hints of licorice and black pepper… a very versatile wine to pair with food and complements almost anything with tomato-based sauces, red wine sauces, ratatouille, mushrooms and bell peppers, eggplant dishes, spicy sausages such as pepperoni pizza…” –Linda Garson, Calgary Wine Examiner


All wines shown can be found at Willow Park Wines & Spirits!



Sparkling wine + food = fantastic

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Norwood’s restaurant in Ucluelet, British Columbia. This tiny (less than 20 tables) restaurant has been getting rave reviews for its intensely local-focused cuisine. In addition, the restaurant has a wonderful wine list, which features many Canadian wines, but also pays tribute to all of the important countries world wide.

Situated on the wild west coast of BC and a two minute walk from the harbour, it is no surprise that the menu is heavy on seafood. When we sat down at the chef’s table (reserve in advance, as it books up quickly), my attention turned not just to the menu but the wine list. We were in the mood for bubbles, so I went in reverse and selected the wine first and then picked food off the menu to pair with the sparkling wine.

I picked the Blue Mountain Brut, from Okanagan Falls. I had been hearing great things about this sparkler, but hadn’t had the opportunity to taste it yet. Many people reserve sparkling wine for celebrations and often drink it on its own. While there is no bad time for sparkling wine, I feel that it is perhaps under-appreciated in some circles as a wine to pair with food.

It is tough to match the versatility of a sparkling wine. The natural pairs are with sushi, oyster, cheese and chocolate and strawberries. All wonderful celebration foods, but people shouldn’t shy away from other pairings. The crisp acidity of the Blue Mountain Brut made it an excellent pair with both the grilled octopus and local albacore tuna appetizers. The fine bubbles but robust body made it a hit with the halibut main course.

While seafood was the name of the game that evening. I would go so far as to say other than 1) big red-meat meals, 2) super spicy entrees, 3) hearty soups, stews & chili, you could pair a quality dry sparkling wine with anything.

Blue Mountain Brut – 47% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, 6% Pinot Gris, Alcohol: 12.5%, made in the method traditionnelle style.

Christmas & Holiday Wine Pairings

One of the most frequent questions we get at WineCollective is what wine to pair with a big dinner like Thanksgiving or Christmas While WineCollective packages always feature amazing wines that have diverse food pairing options, here are some specific varietal recommendations specifically for Christmas, the holiday period and New Year’s Eve.

We’re all about versatility. Some people love to pair a monster wine with a monster meal. They reach for an aged Barolo or Chateauneuf du Pape and make the wine the star attraction. That is a great way to make a memorable meal, but how about those who don’t have a wide selection of aged wine superstars or who want to ensure a big party of feasters are all satisfied?  (Some of this info can also be found in our Thanksgiving blog post as well!)

Grenache – Go for a Rhône-styled wine here. The spiciness, acidity and body of the Grenache do well to offset a Flintstone sized turkey leg. Grenache is often blended with other varietals due to its characteristically low levels of acidity but can be found as a straight up varietal. WineCollective has recently enjoyed a single varietal Grenache, Grenache/Carignan combinations (which is a little less traditional), but you can also look for a quality traditional French Grenache/Syrah blend from the southern Rhône.

Gewürztraminer – The default white wine for many at Thanksgiving is Chardonnay, and while there is nothing wrong with a good Chard (I’d recommend unoaked for a big feast), my favourite white at Thanksgiving is a Gewürztraminer from Alsace (France). If you haven’t had the chance to experience a traditional Gewürz with a bit of residual sweetness there is no better time to take the leap. They have such huge versatility you could serve one before the meal with appetizers or even use it after the meal to replace port.

Pinot Noir – Most quality Pinot Noirs have extreme versatility, drinking well on their own or pairing with a diverse range of food. A new world Pinot from New Zealand or Oregon may be more fruit forward than a Burgundy example, but should also have soft and approachable tannins. Avoid “huge” wines with alcohol levels of greater than 14% simply because they are a bit trickier to pair. A Pinot would pair beautifully with anything from fowl (goose, duck, and turkey) to fish (salmon) to a hearty vegetable dish.

Albarino – Darkhorse call here. Albarino (a white grape) is a relatively rare varietal which is grown in Spain. It is very distinctive and one of the hottest varietals in Europe right now. Spain consumes so much of the stuff we are hard pressed to get any exported.  An Albarino would pair well with an appetizer or salad course, but could be used with fowl in a pinch.

Sparkles! – There are many options here. Do you go with name brand Champagne from France, or try to get Champagne quality from other regions in France (Blanquette de Limoux for example) or go with a Cava or Prosecco?  I’m going to suggest none of the above (although all are good choices). Try going to a major French Champagne house that has property in the United States. A couple of examples are Mumm or Louis Roederer (makers of Cristal). Grab one of their US based sparkling wines and enjoy the production techniques of French Champagne at a fraction of the price. Everyone will be happy to see you at a party come New Year’s Eve!

Don’t let this list limit you, there are other pairings that will work, Bordeaux, single varietal Merlot, an Italian red-blend featuring Barbera and of course Cabernet Sauvignons. There is really no wrong answer, wine is as subjective as the individuals that are experiencing it. 🙂

Top five wine tasting tips

Tasty goodness

I love tasting things.

Let me emphasize tasting for a moment. Our senses are amazing! Even just the fact that we can quickly (without thinking about it for a second) know if something is sweet versus tart, or even hot versus cold. However, we develop most of our taste recognition from our sense of smell. Don't believe me? Plug your nose the next time you try eating something (or taste something with a cold) – prepare for blandness.

Then again everything you taste might taste like mustard if you don't practice. Not that I don't like mustard or anything, but we are all wired to smell between 4,000 to 10,000 different types of odours. As we age, we also become desensitized to flavour – thus why so many people add progressively more salt to their meals. Granted you can avoid having the palate of a reptile by practicing often.

I haven't seen any iguanas enjoying a Shiraz as of late, but if you enjoy a glass of wine and want to get an optimal tasting, here are a few tips on how to make your tasting experience just that little bit more fun.

  1. Use a clean glass. We've said this before, but honestly there is no way you can give any wine a half a chance using a tool that impacts what you are trying to enjoy.
  2. Slow down and break down. You don’t necessarily need to come up with grand definitions of characters right off the bat. Does it smell good? Dark fruit? Red fruit? Sometimes saying something smells like a 17th century cigar box can be a bit pompous.
  3. Can't smell anything? Our noses will eventually tucker out after a while of smelling things (try inhaling cognac a few times, you'll see what I mean). One little trick I've learned is if you smell your arm you can sometimes reset things. Handy.
  4. Analyze food the way you might analyze wine. You might already do this, but once you really start to think about your food, your senses will be flexing their muscles big time – your food will likely reward you as well.
  5. What does stuff smell and taste like in the first place? Go sample a bunch of food that are common flavours found in wine (berries in particular) and take your time to examine their true identities. This can also be fun at dinner parties while drinking wine side by side.

Have any other handy tasting tips? Please feel free to share in the comments! 🙂

PS. I don't have anything against reptiles – they actually might have fantastic palates – I've always wanted to hang out with a chameleon. I wonder what that means.

What happens when wine ages

On Saturday October 23rd, we had the chance to present some amazing wine to an enthusiastic group of around 30 at our first Willow Park partnered event.

Over the hour we had the chance to talk a bit about what happens to wine as it ages, as well as proper cellaring conditions. For example, here is a graph showing perfection in association of years cellared. Those who were tasting with us noted the “surly” stage first hand with a 5 year old Bordeaux.

optimal time to drink wine

Also here is small reminder of what happens to the colour as time goes by (going from young to old).

wine as it ages - colour

*Graphics are from The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson.

The spectacular wine we tasted included a Domain Weinbach Cuvee Laurence – Gewurztraminer from 1992 and 2007. As well as a Clos du Marquis Bordeaux from 1996 and 2005. Having the two different vintages side by side really showcased the amazing transformation that time plays on wine. It was fairly conclusive that the 2005 Bordeaux really needed more time (surly stage!) and was simply not ready to drink now, whereas the 1996 was sickly smooth. Now if only we could drink aged wine all the time!

Thanks to everyone who managed to make it down and to Willow Park, it was great to have you and we hope you enjoyed the seminar.

Facebook contest = free wine!

It's that time again.. We're running a small (yet hopefully fun) contest on Facebook.

Simply let us know on our Facebook Fan page what you are drinking – perhaps a bit about it if you like as well. You'll be entered to win a free enomatic wine tasting card, which are useable at the main Willow Park store.

If you win, you'll be able to try even MORE wine. Which earlier today there was a bottle of Alter Ego up for tasting (goes for about $90 a bottle).

Hurray free wine!