Takin’ it to the Street: Pandemic-Weary, Quarantined Neighbours Drink & Review Canadian Wine

neighboursThe other day I was walking my dog – observing physical-distancing best practices (!) – when I came across a neighbour’s bag of empty wine bottles parked beside the recycling bin.

As a market researcher, I simply could not keep walking. This was a deliciously nerdy, ethnographic research study in a bag and it was calling my name (see Exhibit A above).

The bag indicated diverse drinking behaviour – organic, international, a mix of red and white, and wine price points uniformly hovering around the $10-15 mark. I had so many questions.

Like – were these 10 bottles indicative of this household’s weekly wine consumption behaviour or was this ‘pandemic drinking’? Is this a varietal loyal, region loyal, price point loyal household?

Is there a weekday budget vs a weekend budget, or does all budgeting go out the window when you’re in COVID-19 survival mode?!!?

None of the wine was from Ontario. Does this household ever #drinklocal (occasionally / 2-3x a month/ 6+ a year, hardly ever 🙂 OR, was my ‘research sample’ (ahem) supporting the worst Coronavirus-challenged economies (i.e. Italy, Spain). Who knows, right?

So much to process….

Wine Country Ontario

BC Wines

Canadian wine = Canadian jobs

Of course, if you’re on ‘wine Twitter’, you’ll know many Canadian wineries are delivering free of charge (some conditions apply) in a desperate attempt to encourage local consumers to drink up and drink local and so they, in turn, remain solvent.

As I churned through all of this, I thought…..hey, I can help!

I have an (iddybiddy) cellar. If I can ‘convince’ my neighbours to help me drink Canadian, I (side benefit) get to buy MORE Canadian wine!!

And so, tapping our street’s fabulous Facebook group, I offered to share some of my favourite ‘local’ wine with my neighbours in return for wine reviews.

They stay safely ensconced in their homes and I get to lift a glass, lift their spirits and hopefully encourage them to buy local.



My Physical Distancing/Quarantine Wine Methodology:

Here’s the ‘research design’ I proposed:

  • ‘The neighbours’ sign up for a 4 – 5 oz pour on either Wednesday/Friday or Saturday
  • Wines include Five Rows Riesling, Niagara (Wednesday), Henry of Pelham, Old Vines Baco Noir, Niagara (Friday), Culmina Merlot, Okanagan, BC (Saturday)
  • ‘The neighbours’ put an empty glass on their porch @ 6pm on either Wednesday/Friday or Saturday
  • I wear a hazmat suit when opening the bottle. I run to their porch, pour and depart. I do not touch the glass or bottle rim
  • ‘The neighbours’ write a wine review….. answering a few questions – OR, go rogue and share wine behaviours, preferences and idiosyncracies
  • ‘The neighbours’ have the option to: take a wine selfie, a pairing pic, or a photo of their cat
  • I publish the results in a blog post….et voila!


Twelve of my neighbours signed up (in about 3 minutes!).

Free wine is apparently an essential service, a therapeutic distraction and a much-needed stress reliever !

 Key Findings

Here’s a quick description of each wine followed by ‘the neighbours’ reviews (note privacy best practices 😉

  1. Five Rows, Riesling, St David’s Bench VQA, Niagara, Ontario -$35 (11% ABV/17g R/S)

Wednesday’s Ontario wine offering is a Five Rows Riesling from the St David’s Bench Appellation in Niagara.

I’m a huge fan of these artisan wines crafted by the 5th generation Lowrey family. I don’t stray far from my computer each June, as I anxiously await the email announcing the release dates for their small-quantity wines. St David’s Bench has some of the highest growing degree days (1637 GDDs) in the world – essentially a measure of sunshine – which explains why these wines are so consistently superb, in such high demand and bursting with flavour.

I love all of their wines but the Riesling, in particular, is a brilliant example of new world, cool climate wine-making, set in truly optimal conditions.

Riesling is perhaps the most misunderstood wine, often labelled as too sweet.

In a fit of generosity, I’m sharing a serious favourite!!

5 rows5Rows WGHere’s what my neighbours think:

WG # 31

I loved this idea and the wine itself was delicious. Very light and crisp, but definitely hints of fruit. I drank it with some Parmesan dipped in wildflower honey (dinner wasn’t quite ready and I didn’t want to wait to enjoy the wine!).

I used to drink Riesling all the time – I would try different types. I usually like to stick to Ontario wines for Riesling. Niagara region in particular. Then I moved to Jacobs Creek Moscato (*74 g/L Residual Sugar), and I found them way too sweet. I’ve since moved to a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

But this wine wasn’t too sweet and like I said it was nice, light and crisp.

For Sauvignon blanc I have now started getting Stoneleigh (influenced by neighbours!) as a go-to (*5 g/L Residual Sugar). But I do like to browse and try different ones. Usually my decision is swayed by the artistic nature of the label and the price!

(*amustread added the residual sugar count as a public service)

JoanneJH #28

 So that was fun, not knowing what I was going to drink.

I UNintentionally took a sip when I was bringing it in from the porch and my first reaction was, “Yum!!!!!”

It was so delightfully refreshing and sweet. I would definitely drink it in the summer when I want something cheery and light. Best served chilled. I let a little bit sit while cooking and it didn’t taste as good after it warmed (though wine is wine and I’d still drink it :-).

It smelled fruity, like apples! I drank it all while making dinner so didn’t get to serve it with anything. I usually drink fuller-bodied reds – Merlot, Cab Sauv and feel like I can never go wrong with wines from South America like Chile and Argentina – so I don’t know whites too well, but I really liked it!

I’d definitely get this in the future!! I have a podcast called Let’s Talk Basic where we drink wine and have girl talk and I can see talking about this wine!

N's CatNL #13

Did you like it?….Yes, very much!! (so did my cat)

What did it smell like?….Honey and sunshine!

What did it taste like?…Citrus, honey, very tiny aftertaste of yeast (almost more of a smell than a taste and fresh, like baked bread)

What did you serve it with?…Leftover meatloaf, white rice and sweet fries

What kind of wine do you generally like to drink? ….Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Rose, anything sparkling

Favourite wines? ….I’m not super loyal to specific brands as I don’t have a good memory for names. When I remember a specific wine it’s usually because I can remember the label. I like Jacob’s Creek, for example, because I can always remember what the label looks like. There’s your autistic take on wine label memory 🙂 (I was diagnosed a couple of years ago and that process was like someone handing me a pair of glasses for the first time – so much finally made sense to me when I was able to reframe my experience within the context of being autistic.)

I generally have a glass of wine in the evening 1-3 nights a week in the warmer months. During the winter I don’t drink as much in general. As far as American versus Canadian, I really like ice wine, which I’d never had before I moved to Canada. I try to buy local with all things, so I do try to buy local wines (and local gin – love Dillons).

My price range is pretty flexible. I don’t usually spend more than $30 on a bottle as I feel it’s a bit wasted on me. I did do a champagne pairing on our last Disney cruise that was $250 or so (USD!) and that was some of the best stuff I have ever had. But I would never trust myself to pick out expensive bottles.

Thanks wine fairy!

SB 5 Rows

SB #35

I’m in no way a knowledgeable wine drinker, but I wrote down some notes. I decided it was a fun excuse to pretty up my dinner (and let’s be honest, a little of myself too haha) so here you go:

I liked it!!!!!  It’s a bit sour like a green apple, but not too dry that it’s biting, with a little fruity sweetness.

With food: It seemed to cut through the fatness of the pork, and compliments the touch of apple cider flavour the pork cooked in. I didn’t sauce the pulled pork too much as I figured that would overpower the wine. The pork is a little sweet, which makes the wine taste a touch more tart but still pretty good!

Most of my wine experience is from Jordan/Niagara. I typically do tend to choose Rieslings, and probably actually like Canadian ones over say, a classic German one. We love Flat Rock – the view alone from their ‘tasting deck’ is spectacular. I’ve liked most of their white wines. Their Rusty Shed is unique and their Rieslings are yummy. My guilt pleasure is Inniskillen Late Harvest Riesling. Cave Spring has a delicious Dolomite Riesling but sadly they don’t sell it at the LCBO.

I don’t drink a ton, but if I’m going out, I tend to stick with cider, depending on the venue. Sometimes it’s a mixed vodka drink, if it’s that kind of night or wine if it’s a nice dinner out.

SB Riesling

2. Henry of Pelham – Baco Noir – Old Vines – 2016 VQA Ontario $20 (13.0% ABV)

This is another personal favourite of mine from acclaimed Niagara producer – Henry of Pelham. This deep ruby, spicy hybrid wine comes from the Speck family in the Short Hills Bench region – part of the Dolomite Limestone benchlands that shape Niagara Falls and form the Niagara Escarpment appellation.

The winery is a nod to a former Canadian Prime Minister. Henry of Pelham has some of Canada’s oldest vineyards and these old vines boast 30-40 years of concentrated goodness. It’s a rich, ripe, smoky beauty with silky tannins and bright acidity, thanks to the cooler fall temperatures.

The wine is a bit of a cult classic. According to Daniel Speck, co-owner and senior vice president of sales, the 1995 Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir was the first Ontario wine carried on Daniel Boulud’s wine list for his Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel in Manhattan.”

Apparently it’s a hit with the (pizza loving) neighbours:


BA #5

Thank you so much for doing this! The wine is delicious, and the thought that it was a fun neighbour-thing during this crazy time made it even better.

Did I like it?  …….Yep!! It was really, really good.

What did it smell like? …..Andy (3) says it smells like whiskey. He is wrong.  I was actually surprised that it wasn’t a stronger smell.  Very smooth smelling and maybe a little bit of black cherry. It didn’t have that hit of “wine” that is usually there.

What did it taste like? …..It was really smooth and really rich, but not too sweet.  I tasted black cherry, plum, maybe more berry flavours. Generally fruity, but ripe fruit (if that makes any sense).

What did I serve it with? ……Pizza Pizza (Andy is a big fan of pepperoni and cheese pizza. I’m pretty sure it’s his favourite food) and a family viewing of Ninjago on Netflix.  It’s actually a small miracle I didn’t spill it while children crawled on me. They were being kitty cats.

What kind of wine do I generally drink?……  I usually prefer reds, and stronger ones like Cabernets and Malbecs. If I’m having a white wine, I like Rieslings. That said, I like wine and I’m generally not too picky about it.

Matt and Chantal

MP & CB #17

We loved the wine!  Excellent pick Debbie!

A nice full-bodied dark red Canadian wine.  Primary aroma of black berries.  Cherry and chocolate flavours are easy and enjoyable to sip.

We enjoyed it with homemade pizza and salad!

So, tbh, we don’t drink many Canadian wines.  We tend to drink full-bodied reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Amarone) and light – medium whites (Chardonnay).

Wines that are more common for us to drink are Borsoa Berola (grenache blend – Spain), Ringbolt (Cabernet Sauvignon – Western Australia), Masi Campofiorin or Masi Amarone (Veneto-Italy), Josh Cab Sav (Paso Robles – California).  These are ones we default to and always have a few (or many) on hand.  Otherwise, we most commonly drink Australian, American, Italian, and South American.

No Rosé. White – basically only in summer on warm days.  Bonterra Chardonnay, Fielding Estate Chardonnay (the only Canadian on the list)!  We will also drink Australian Chardonnay.


RP #10

I drank the wine with some curried fish, vegetable biryani, chana masala, aloo gobi, and naan.  Because I knew the food was flavourful and spicy, I drank a bit of the wine before I ate any of the food.

I found the bouquet to be a bit woodsy smelling, like smoke, but not quite.  The wine was a bit dry in my mouth.

It almost tasted sweet but then the sweetness disappeared before I could capture it!

I didn’t love it as much as some other wines I’ve had.

I would not say that there is any one particular wine that I drink a lot of but I know that I like Italian wine called Valpolicella. I also like many different versions of Carmenere. I’ve attached a few photos of wines I’ve loved this year!

This was fun!!

beauty shot
Photo Credit: Culmina Vineyards

3. Culmina Merlot – 2014, Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, VQA $35 (14% ABV)

Culmina is Don, Elaine and Sara Trigg’s passion project in the south Okanagan. If the Triggs name sounds familiar, it’s because Don Triggs is half the inspiration behind the ubiquitous Jackson-Triggs partnership (sold in 2004 to Constellation Brands). The family moved west and spent half a dozen years clearing the land, micro-mapping the vineyards and readying them for planting.

Regrettably, Culmina is in limited distribution here in Ontario – as is so much BC wine – but I enjoyed a tasting at the winery in 2018 (read all about it here), and brought back a bottle of Merlot and Culmina Rosé to Ontario.

The 2014 Merlot is deep in colour and aromatic intensity. It’s got a beautiful nose of red and dark fruit – ripe cherry, ripe plumb, black current – with smoky notes of cedar, and a hint of savoury. It’s a lean, dry wine with subdued fruit….for now. Well-structured, this Merlot would do well with another few years in the bottle to help round out the flavours. If you can’t wait, give it a few hours to open up….and decant!

The reviews are in:

MairiMB #9

Here are my notes!  I initially smelled Black Cherry and Blackcurrant. It seemed jammy and big. I was excited. But when I tasted it, it wasn’t as smooth as I was expecting. And maybe I should have let it open up more before I dove in….

I tasted cherries but it was very tart, almost with a bitter aftertaste. It didn’t have as much body as I was expecting. As I drank more, I got some smoky notes which I enjoyed.

I didn’t love it. It was ok. And I just had it on its own, so maybe if I had paired it with some meat or cheese, I would have had a different experience. I just drank it as we had Quarantini Cocktail Hour with friends over FaceTime.

What do I like?  I like big red wines – California Cabernets, Shiraz…the occasional Amarone.  I like crisp whites – Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios.

But I think that’s because I feel comfortable buying those – I know what I’m getting. But when we do go out for dinner, I’m always open to suggestions of new wines – and I usually enjoy them! I just don’t have the knowledge to carry those discoveries into the LCBO.

We had a beloved Heritage from (I think) Quail’s Gate year ago and we enjoy the Fielding Estate wines and we really enjoyed the 2016 Charles Baker Riesling (I KNOW I said I didn’t like Rieslings, but I found this one written in our wine diary so maybe I’m a big liar!!).

To be honest, we don’t drink enough local wines…because of a lack of knowledge, I think.

And I loved the Five Rows Riesling from Wednesday – lots of pear, very dry…crisp and clean. Not sweet at ALL!!

Thank you so much for this wonderful activity. It was a great distraction.

Please excuse my Pandemic lack of make-up!

LauraLF #15

Thanks Debbie (aka wine fairy) for the wine!!   I really enjoyed this glass of wine. It was delicious 🙂

It smelt like raspberries and blackberries, yummy fruity delight. It tasted well balanced, smooth, medium bodied with hints of pepper and loads of fruit.

I drank it after dinner and enjoyed drinking it while eating some rich chocolate (80%).

I typically enjoy Cabernet Sauvignons and Malbecs from California, South America, and Australia. I haven’t had Canadian wine recently, so currently don’t have any favs.  This was a delicious ‘eye opening’ Canadian wine that I would buy in the future!

Thanks so much for sharing 🙂


JC #43

Did you like it:  ….. yes

What did it smell like:  ….. hmm not much…. kind of corky

What did it taste like: ….. a little bland, subtle, smooth

What did you serve it with: ….. Ellie Kelly’s famous southern style tuna casserole

What kind of wine do you generally like to drink: …..Pinot noir, tempranillo…mostly reds

Do you have a fave Canadian wine? ….. No, my bad…I like to go for organic when I can.

HdM #16

It was okay for me.

Smell: green pepper and black fruit

Taste: plummy, but also burning sticks / coffee

Served with: I had some after Descendant (deep dish) Pizza…bad pairing. It felt very dry, minerally and thin. I waited and had the rest of the glass with cake batter as I was baking….better! I could smell and taste more red fruity notes, and butter (maybe the batter) but still a bit leathery on the sides of my tongue.

Usually drink: California or old world wine… A Valpolicella? Or any Sangiovese blends. I randomly had this french one (Famille Perrin Chateau Neuf de Pape) and savoured it. Really smooth! Does that info lead you to any wine recommendations for me? 🙂

Fave Canadian: Used to be Inniskillin, but I don’t drink enough wine to go Canadian anymore. We just do tastings in Niagara on the Lake (NOTL) and Prince Edward County (PEC). 🙂

Thanks for including me… It was nice to think about other things!

Debbie pourNext Steps!!

 So, cheers, there you have it. My neighbours have spoken.

A hearty thanks to the street for rising to the occasion and raising a glass. I see more Canadian wine in our collective future as we support winemakers across ‘wine country’, and of course, hunker down to flatten the curve. Stay safe and #stayhome my friends!

And if you’d like to order some of these wines….here you go!

 Contact Information for Wineries:

Five Rows Craft Wine
361 Tanbark Road, St. David’s, Niagara, Ontario 905-262-5113   https://www.fiverows.com/

Henry of Pelham

1469 Pelham Rd, RR #1,  St Catherines, Ontario,  905.641.6970  winery@henryofpelham.com

Culmina Merlot

4790 Wild Rose Street, Oliver, BC, V0H 1T0,  T: 250.498.0789  https://www.culmina.ca

Wine Country Ontario –  https://winecountryontario.ca/

Wines of British Columbia –  https://winebc.com/industry/

Canadian Vintners Associationhttp://www.canadianvintners.com/

VQA Wines – http://www.canadianvintners.com/vqa-wines/

VQA wines proudly reflect their origin, resulting in distinct wines that provide a sense of place. Similar to France’s AOC and Italy’s DOC, the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA)™ system has been established in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia to designate Viticultural Areas, regional appellations and sub-appellations, as well as to evaluate eligible wines. VQA Ontario and the British Columbia Wine Authority are the provincial governments’ official regulators, authorized to respectively oversee and enforce Ontario’s VQA and British Columbia’s BC VQA regulations and standards.






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