Angela Aiello, founder of the Toronto-based iYellow Wine School inadvertently practices what she preaches. Throughout the year, Aiello can be found standing with a wine glass in hand leading a class on how to to appreciate a fine sparkling wine (among other varieties). The fizzy wine is bubbly, refreshing and focused, she might say. But so too is the teacher. It all started in 1998 when Aiello popped open a bottle of Vineland Estates riesling after work at the winery. “I just turned 18,” Aiello told OurFaves. “I brought it home from the winery and I had to push the cork into the bottle. I definitely remember that memory a lot.”
What was meant to be a summer job slowly turned into a career. In 2006, Aiello inaugurated iYellow Wine School. Since then, more than 6,000 people have sipped and sniffed reds, whites and sparklings with Aiello. Recently, OurFaves hitched a ride with Aiello as she toured a bus load of iYellow Wine Clubbers around Niagara-on-the-Lake. There was wine, there was cheese and there was a singing bus driver.
After the tour (and a new appreciation for all things riesling), we sat Aiello down and made her tell us about a few of her favourite wine things…
We’re going to make you say it. What’s your favourite wine?
If I had to be monogamous with a wine, which thank god, I don’t, it would be riesling. And I’d pick a varietal. I love Ontario wines because I’m born in Ontario, so I grew up with an Ontario palette. Rieslings are my go-to wine.
Do you have a favourite year or kind?
The very first one that I have a really good memory of is a 1998 Vineland Estates semi-dry riesling. I worked for five years at Vineland. I order a case of riesling from them almost every single month. It’s my go-to grape. If I’m going to drink, I’m going to drink that.
What do you look for in a glass of wine?
What I look for in a wine really is if I like it and that what I preach in a lot of different ways. Do I look for structural acidity versus sweetness and balance? Maybe. But at the end of the day, I drink it because I like it. What one person looks for in a wine is very subjective.
You deal with wine every day for work. How often do you drink it?
Even the other night, I’d been drinking all week, going to tastings and I came home and all I wanted to do was have a glass of riesling. I’d say most of my evenings end with a glass of wine. A glass. I can open a bottle and it can last me all week.
If a case of wine landed on your doorstep tomorrow, what would you want inside?
A collection of rieslings from all around the world. And sparkling wine.
Where’s your favourite place in the city to enjoy wine?
My condo. If I’m not drinking at home or entertaining at home with the wine I have on hand, I’m typically bringing my own wine to a venue that lets me do that. Last night, we brought two bottles to Nota Bene for dinner.
When I go to a wine bar or restaurant, I don’t want a 6 or 9 ounce glass of wine. I want to taste certain things. For me, I enjoy going places where the glassware is good, where the wine selection is good. Cafe Taste down in Parkdale is really great. They do flights of wine very reasonably priced. I like going somewhere I can experiment because I can sit at home and drink my favourite all the time.
What are some wine trends you’re excited about this summer?
Blended whites reallly excite me these days. And I know quite a few people agree with me on that. Things like the blend of chardonnay, gewurztraminer and riesling have been a very powerful blend here in Ontario. The other thing I’m looking forward to this summer is drinking some really good pinot grigio. I’ve had the chance over the last little while to go to the birthplace of pinot grigio which is Northern Italy and understand that pinot grigio can be a really awesome grape.
I know roses are going to be huge. They’re crisp, they’re refreshing. So I hope people can get into the rose mode because there’s some really good roses out there.
The other thing I hope to see as a trend increase is the idea of people bringing wine to restaurants because I think that’s empowering people. I hate paying $8 for a glass of wine when I can pay $12 for a great bottle of wine and bring it and save money. Even last night, everyone was like, ‘Are we doing this?’ Like it was not cool to bring your own wine. I’m going to make it cool.
Would you say that the concept of exclusivity around wine is slowly fading with things like BYOB?
That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to find a way to take the upper echelon of what wine is and bring it to the people. Somebody called me the Robin Hood of Wine. Wine has been elitest in a lot of different way. There are people against what I’m doing and there are people who are really massively approving of what I’m doing because in the end, I’m making everyone aware in the whole industry. People are drinking more wine because they understand. I think there is a snobbery about wine but I’m working really hard to make it easy and approachable and fun. That’s what wine is. Crack open a bottle of wine with your girlfriends. You’re not thinking about acidity levels and sweetness and balance and blah, blah, blah. You’re thinking about how you’re drinking a bottle of riesling with your friends.
What’s your favourite part about iYellow?
Honestly, I love having my own business. It’s the most challenging part but it’s also the most rewarding because I don’t have to wake up and be at a cubicle for 9 am. I love the people I meet. My favourite part is owning my life from a personal and career perspective. I love that I have created something that I have complete control over. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it though.
We want wine some good recommendations. What are you stocking right now?
When I was in Italy, I drank Masi Pinot Grigio. It was a blend of Masi pinot grigio and verduzzo. It’s two different types of grapes. $17.95 a bottle. Love that.
My favourite sparkling wine is the Peller Estates Ice Cuvee or the Trius Brut or the Cuvee Catharine. Three sparkling wines from Ontario that I really do enjoy.
I’ve got to recommend rieslings. Vineland Estates produces my favourite rieslings. Semi-dry riesling is available at the LCBO. It’s $13.95. Amazing price. Amazing bottle of wine. The Riesling Reserve from Henry Pelham is also very good. I had a Deinhard Green Label Riesling this weekend. The Green Label is $11.95 a bottle. I also had an Alsatian riesling from France last week. It was about $13.95 and it was delicious.
For red, I’m a huge fan of pinot noir and syrah. Flat Rock from Ontario has a really good pinot noir. It’s actually a white pinot noir. It’s called The Rogue. All grape juice is white – how you get colour is contact with the skin. So in this case, the pinot noir didn’t spend any time with the skins and yet it’s still a pinot noir. It’s really cool.
The nice thing about ice wine is you can get it in different varietals. Vidal is the classic way to make ice wine but you can also get a riesling ice wine which I think is a little more elegant, softer on your palette. People tend to enjoy it more because it’s not as syrupy for a lack of a better term. Vidal has a thickness to it which is good with food. Riesling is a little more thinner. And you can even have that in a cocktail. You can have an ice wine cocktail. Throw some vodka in there 50/50 and there’s a good mix for a cocktail. You can’t really go wrong, I’ll be honest. You grab ice wine anywhere from Ontario and it’s pretty good, but gewurztraminer, chardonnay and riesling ice wines are a nice twist on it.
Interview by Maria Cootauco. Photography by Therese Hall.