iYellow Wine Club: South Africa Earth Day Taste + Tweet‏

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By Megan Stulberg | Photos by Alice Prendergast

You know that dreadful folk song, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”? If you replace “99” with “14” and “bottles of beer” with “glasses of wine” then you have my Tuesday evening. The iYellow Wine Club is a group based in Toronto that invites its members (and guests) to sample wines from all over the world, and meet and mingle with Toronto’s fellow winos. When I received an invite to attend their “South Africa Taste + Tweet”, I jumped at the chance to spend Earth Day 2014 learning about the growing sustainable wine industry. Hosted at the iYellow wine cave (243 Queen St. W) with an alleyway entrance, the event was hard to find but definitely worth the struggle.

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The moment I walked in the door, the coat in my hand was swapped with a glass of Pinot Grigio. Sweet to the taste, this was a great drink to start the night off with. Guests were given markers to label their glasses with in order to avoid confusion. Next up was a Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc. John McFarland recommended that guests pair this wine with a camembert cheese in order to balance the drink’s slight astringency, as this wine is less fruity than most being sampled. I decided to switch over to red at this point, and continued alternating back and forth throughout the night. Apparently this is a no-no — who knew? Ah well, a rookie mistake. Next I sampled Honey Badger Sweet Red 2011, a 95% Shiraz and 5% Pinotage from Western Cape. This wine was by far the sweetest of the night. Perhaps a little too sweet for regular consumption, but perfect if having a small glass with dessert. iYellow Wine Bar used the terms “approachable” and “picnic” to describe the new Inception Pinot Noir. My photographer/self-proclaimed wine connoisseur called this “the soda of wine” due to its easiness to drink and lack of aftertaste. A full-bodied beginner’s wine that should be monitored, due to its 13% alcohol content.

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About halfway through the evening, a short presentation was given by Oliver Kristen, founder of The Grape Grinder. Oliver described the importance of eco-friendly wine, explaining that Grinder’s goal is to make a better product while encroaching less on the environment — keeping their “ecological footprint” to a minimum. Oliver explained that most South African wines, including Grinder’s, are labelled with a sustainability seal that certifies the wine has been produced sustainably, can be traced back to its exact origin, and confirms that it was bottled in South Africa. Individual bottle seal numbers can be checked online at swsa.co.za. After trying the Grinder Pinotage, I tried another Pinotage made by Cafe Culture. Hints of a smokey mocha were tasted in this; definitely one of my favourites. I was told that it would be paired well with a smoked meat or a pasta dish. Of the Pinotage wines, Grinder tasted smoother and Cafe Culture felt a bit heavier. 1625591_10154040716125133_7813166010512065751_n 10268399_10153962197650538_2126312175_n Next I tried a glass of Roodeberg red, the label describing it as a “classic blend of red varieties”. I found this wine to have a slightly lighter body than the other reds without losing that concentrated rich flavour. Seven glasses done, seven to go! If you’re wondering how I was even still vertical at this point, you’re not alone. Wine #8: The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. iYellow Wine Club used the terms “mellow,” “easy,” and “mineral” to describe it. Fruity and flavourful, my photographer and I both agreed that its aftertaste was strong but sweet, similar in taste and consistency to Bellingham Big Oak Red 2012, which we tried next. At this point I switched back to white, opting for a glass of Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2013. This was not only my personal favourite, but the most popular wine of the night for everybody! The aggressive taste was an overall crowd-pleaser, and I overheard guests describing the wine as “punchy”.

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Number 11: a glass of Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012. This wine had a rather bitter taste. I enjoyed it, but its bold aftertaste was a bit too strong for my palette. Number 12: A second variety from The Pavillion: a Chenin Blanc Viognier from 2013. An incredibly dry and crisp wine that I liked very much. At this point in the night, my handwriting had become increasingly problematic. In my scribbles about this wine, I can make out “smells floral and tastes carbonated, so it’s pretty great”. Trust my drunken hand. Number 13: A 2011 Shiraz also from Durbanville Hills. This wine had a definite earthy taste to it, brought out by a variety of spices. Number 14: Place in the Sun Shiraz 2012. The sweet spiciness of this wine made me want to turn it into sangria and serve it alongside heaps of guacamole to all my friends.

Overall, this was a great night! I loved having the opportunity to learn more about the sustainable wine movement. To keep up to date with iYellow Wine Club’s future events, go “like” them on Facebook. Interested in seeing more from the night? Check out anything my fellow guests might have posted while live tweeting with the hashtag #ILoveSAWine.

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Real Talk: It’s true, I’m a high-functioning alcoholic

Trigger warnings: addiction, drugs, alcohol, abuse, depression, anxiety

Before I begin this Real Talk entry, I just want to go on the record by saying that I am not a registered physician or addiction specialist. I am writing this from my own personal experiences and struggles. I am not suggesting that you follow what I have done. I am simply sharing my story and hope that I can provide some prospective and helpful information for those looking for further help.

It should be known that I have always grown up around the bottle. One of my very first memories is tugging at my father’s pant leg around the age of three begging him to make me Kool-Aid. Instead he poured beer into my Kool-Aid man cup and I took a huge gulp. I don’t think he did this intentionally but there it was – my first sip of the sweet nectar at the tender age of three.

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My father is an alcoholic. I have seen him at his best and I have seen him at his worst. I have seen him at his highest and his lowest. Because of this when I was growing up, I vowed that I didn’t want to be like him. But what I didn’t know then was that addiction was a slippery slope that I may or may not have a choice of falling down. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies, research has shown conclusively that family history of alcoholism or drug addiction is in part genetic and not just the result of the family environment.

When I re-kindled the flame with alcohol at age 15, I knew I had fallen in love. Alcohol gave me something — feelings, an escape, uninhibited tendencies and well, fun Yes, I had a fake ID and was going to bars and nightclubs at that age. Nobody was going to stop me from getting that ‘fix’, if you will. As I grew older, I could drink more than most of my male friends. Have you ever seen a 5″2′ girl chug an entire bottle of vodka or Jameson in one evening without throwing up? This was me and I thought like this was something I should be proud of.

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People loved inviting me out. They knew with me they would get a show (dancing or otherwise) and I’d always be the last one standing or know where to hunt down (more) free drinks. But all it really was me self-medicating through the bouts of anxiety and depression I was feeling.

Throughout my formative years, I came to realize that downers were my drug of choice. I didn’t like feeling happy and up. According to the George Mason University Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education website, downers affect most of the basic processes that happen in your body to keep it alive by slowing or inhibiting processes causing users to experience sedation, dis-inhibition of emotions and impulses, muscle relaxation and drowsiness. Basically, I just wanted to numb the pain of the world that I was experiencing. If that meant being a functioning alcoholic then so be it.

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Over the years, friends would recommend that perhaps I should slow down on the drinking or people would even stop hanging out with me because I was “out of control” but I never thought I had a problem. All I remembered was having good times and I couldn’t understand why friends couldn’t get on board with that. Sadly, in between all those good times there are a lot of dark, dangerous and humiliating times. I want recount the stories but they happened and sadly as I hurtled myself towards my 30th birthday it seemed things got more real. What was I doing with myself and why?

Life started to get complicated when I got close to thirty. I think my mind opened up and realized that I was (by the definition) a high-functioning alcoholic. I had a full-time job and was a published freelance writer. All really truly amazing things, but I began to realize that perhaps other people were not the problem anymore and I was the problem. Perhaps my life choices while drinking were a problem. All of the dates in the first 3 months of my relationship with my current partner, I was hungover for. Suddenly, the drinking and my alcoholism started to make me feel ugly.

But from this there was regrowth and revitalization and strength. All of which I didn’t know I had within me. I should first go on record as saying, I’m not a sober person. I still drink. However for those that know me know that I barely drink a fraction of the amount that I drank in the past and now I know my limits. I started to re-evaluate my life and those in it. Were they party friends or real friends? Would they love me with or without alcohol? Some friends left me by the wayside as the less I partied the less we hung out. I realized I was just another fixture in the background of their party. For some of those realizations, it hurt immensely as you thought you were “real” friends. But for the people who stuck around to be real friends, they gave me the strength and confidence I needed to re-build myself.

Coming out of this alcoholic fog was when Yuli and I sat down and really discussed making Fat Girl Food Squad a reality. It was when I was introduced to my current partner whom I love so dearly and he’s been such a supportive person. But also when one of my other best friends promised to take me to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, if I ever wanted more support. It was from having all of these emotional stongholds in my life that happiness emerged, clarity came and I decided to put the drink down.

So why did I feel compelled to write this? I want others to know they are not alone. I came across this study that states that more women are binge drinking and self-medicating with alcohol. Other fearless and powerful women (Jen McNeeely of Toronto’s She Does the City recently spoke to how to support a recovering alcoholic) are going through this each and everyday and you don’t have self-medicate with alcohol. There is a way out and things do get better.

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3, 2, 1, DRINK!

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Coke vs. Pepsi

Beatles vs. Stones

Athens vs. Sparta

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning

These are some of the greatest rivalries known to the world. We’d like to add one more:

Beer vs. Wine

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Restaurant International at Algonquin College is offering the opportunity for this rivalry to finally be solved, over a five course dinner specially prepared to match with five beers and five wines. A resident beer expert and sommelier will be on hand to help the diners decide on the ultimate food pairing winner.

The showdown occurs on February 27th, and Fat Girl Food Squad has ringside seats. Get your tickets and join us for the epic battle.

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Gourmet Food & Wine Show is Coming

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Next Thursday (November 14, 2013), the 2013 Gourmet Food and Wine Show kicks off for another year for an entire weekend of all things food and wine. Taking place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, you’ll encounter everything here from wine seminars, cheese tastings and people walking around in bacon costumes. True story.

But the Gourmet Food and Wine Show is more than just a expo of all thing gourmet: it’s more of a mingling party. Down aisle one you’ll find Caesar Clint from Mott’s but if you’re feeing a bit pretentious you might find the boys from BarOne putting on a mixology show and mixing you up a Cosmopolitan. No matter what you’re looking for: this show has your bases covered and let’s your inner food & drink geek come out.

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Be warned: there are crowds at this event, but the wait times are surprisingly short. You can either make a game plan ahead of time or just play it by ear. Either way, wait times are never more than a couple minutes for sampling tickets.

Most importantly: have fun with it and experiment. Last year at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show, I took a Chilean Organic wine tasting class and also tried a Molson Canadian cocktail, which was surprisingly tasty. Don’t stick to the old favourites. Push your boundaries, make new friends and have fun. There are over 1,500 wine, beers and spirits to choose from – so go nuts.

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Tickets often sell out and are limited to those 19 years of age or over. Pricing ranges from $40 (VIP) to $25 (Weekend). Check the website for more details.

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First Annual Toronto Bourbon Week Lets You Taste the Freedom

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Bourbon: beloved by FGFS and Toronto.

Bourbon is in. Like, way in. I’m always equally perplexed when things outside of say, clothing and furniture, come in and out of vogue. And right now bourbon is on everyone’s lips.

Toronto, being the great cosmopolitan metropolitan that it is, has itself a Bourbon Week this year. Not to be outdone by the other boozy weeks Bourbon Week aims to offer something for new comers and old pros. Each evening between September 27th and October 3rd will offer a different experience. From the festival opener at Indie Alehouse with Fingers and Bones, serving up fingers of the sweet sticky alcohol along side some equally sweet and sticky ribs. Or opt for a daylight sipping with the Bourbon Brunch at Acadia where you can tap into some of two exclusive in-house kegged bourbon cocktails.

Or what about meeting some of us FGFS members at the Monarch Tavern on the night of the 30th for Classics from the Old School, where we’ll be downing some mainstays like the Manhattan and Mint Julep.

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