Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Ontario Tastes BC #ONtastesBC


Today we take on the other VQA - Beautiful British Columbia! In my loitering in the LCBO, I have heard many ask quizzically "Why don't we get more B.C. wines here in Ontario?". Well, the main reason for this is that the West doesn't want to give up the wines! B.C. is still a small wine-producing region, even in comparison to Ontario, so most of the wines get sold and consumed within the province. That's why we are so lucky when we can get a fee of these gems.

In BC, the smaller boutique winery prevails. There is more focus on quality, local wines. Most BC wines are produced in the Okanagan Valley, which stretches North from the Canada-US broder for about 160 kms. Despite being further North than Ontario, the climate is surprisingly hot and dry; in fact, some of the sub-regions such as Osoyoos are literally the desert. There are also some other exciting new emerging wine regions in BC; including Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands.

Here is a sampling of 4 of the beautiful BC wines released in Vintages this past Saturday, January 19, as well as 2 quality Vintages Essentials that you can get all year long. These are my humble opinions on the wines.

Please follow myself and some other wine enthusiasts on Twitter tomorrow - Thursday, January 24th from 8:00 - 9:00 pm EST using #ONtastesBC. You'll get lots of tips, tidbits, and tasting notes on the wines of this wonderful area.

You can also enter to win a fabulous trip to BC: 5 nights/6 days with hotel, flights a private wine tasting at a vineyard and spending money! Enter here to win.

Gray Monk Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 20112011 Gray Monk Estates Winery Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley, BC VQA

Medium-full bodied gewurztraminer that is spicy, sweet, tart, and floral. When I first poured there was a noticable effervesence, and the aromas weren't very expressive. But after being open a couple of hours and warming up a touch, the aromas really opened up. The aromas are rosewater, sweet apple, candied ginger, mango, lychee, and beeswax. The first mouthful is sweet and fruity but finishes dry with a bit more acidity than expected and a slight finish of grapefruit pith. This wine has a lingering richness. This wine is very elegant.  Beautiful for a coconut curry. A great balance between the dry and off-dry style.

$19.95 - LCBO# 321588 - Released January 19, 2013

Quails' Gate Estate Winery Chardonnay 2011
Quails' Gate Estate Winery 2011, Okanagan Valley, BC VQA
The wine surprised me by feeling both creamy and refreshing at the same time - lucious without being overpowering. The aromas of toasty coconut, vanilla, lemon remind me of a lemon meringue pie, and it feels as rich on the palate. This wine is great for a lover of oaked chardonnay. Delicious for a fettuccine alfredo, or something covered in butter.
B.C. $20.95 - LCBO# 377770 - Released January 19, 2013

Mission Hill Family Estates Resevere Chardonnay 2010, Okanagan Valley, BC VQA

This lovely wine is a Vintages Essential, so its available year-round. I found this chardonnay to be bright and elegant, more Burgundian style. Bright yellow and clear in the glass, this wine hits you with juicy tropical fruit aromas of pineapple, pear, MacIntosh apple, lemon and bright minerality with a smokey background. The palate is refreshing with the rich fruit replay, mouthwatering citrus and minerality, and a slightly toasted coconut background. Great for roasted chicken or smoked salmon.

$19.95 - LCBO# 545004 - Vintages Essential

EauVivre Winery & Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008, Similkameen Valley, BC VQA
Now this is a wine I could drink every day! Beautiful pinot noir colour, bright and clear pale red. Tart cherry and earthy - mushroom aromas. The palate is fresh, juicy raspberries, smoke, truffle, crushed white pepper. Pinot noir can be a very tricky wine and I think this one has enough beautiful fruit to please the masses and enough complexity to keep the oenophiles happy. I would pair with a pasta with fresh tomato sauce, or some chocolate. But light enough for sipping!
$24.95 - LCBO# 308353 - Released January 19, 2013

Mission Hill Family Estate Quatrain 2009, Okanagan Valley, BC VQA

This wine is just as delicious as the first time I tried, "sneaking" into a licensee tasting! Seductive, rich purple. Impressive balance of jammy fruit and structure; cassis, blueberry pie filling, milk chocolate,  espresso, sweet tobacco, and with a dash of pepper. Will cellar well, but I feel like this wine opened up nicely and the tannins were noticible but nicely integrated. Feels like this wine just soaked up the sun! Some rich and tender red meat cuts will hold up to this, such as filet mignon.

$44.95 - LCBO# 218636 - Released January 19, 2013

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2008, Okanagan Valley, BC VQA
Even after a couple of hours decanting, this wine was still a little tightly wound. This wine is definitely built to age - it should be beautiful in about 5 years. Rich blackberry, dark cherry, anise, dark chocolate, christmas cake, menthol, black pepper, and tobacco, freshly ground coffee bean. Blackberry jam and dark chocolate ganache fills my mouth, with abundance of chewy tannins. Long finish. Best to hold, but if you're drinking this now, decant and drink with a nice fatty steak. Would make a great gift!
$45.95 - LCBO# 626325 - Vintages Essential


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Wines of France

Tomorrow is the start of the Ottawa Wine and Food show main event at the Ottawa Convention center, and I will be working once again throughout the weekend. I've been working this event for at least 3 years now, and it's always very crazy. But honestly, as tiring as it is, if you could pay me to do this every day I would!

This year, it will be just a little more crazy - I will be working at the massive Wines of France booth, and this year I'm running the show as the booth's sommelier. I have a total of 19 wines! They told me 18 when I signed up, but what's one more? Also, I only have 1.5 others for help! So, through Friday and Saturday evening, there will be 3 of us pouring 19 wines, and Friday and Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday there will only be 2 of us. Yikes! But please feel free to come and track down my booth, pick my brain, and taste some great wine!

As part of my role this year, I offered to do some information for me and the girls at my booth to use. I created a little quick primer on the French regions to use if people want a little more information, and not just to drink (I have hopes!), which includes all the regions we will be pouring this weekend (no Champagne - I know I cried too). So I'm including my notes to share, so you can show up officially schooled!

I will post notes about the wines after the event - I have only tried 3 of the 19 so far, and I need to give my official position!

Wine Regions of France



Located in the northeast of France on the border of Germany, Alsace has changed hand between Germany and France in the past. As such, much of the grapes that are grown in the region are native to Germany.  There are 8 grapes that may be grown in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and the one and only red grape, Pinot Noir. Alsatian wines can range in style from bone-dry to rich and sweet dessert wines and are very versatile for pairing with food such as spicy Asian cuisine. Alsace has 3 appellations: AOC Alsace, Cremant d’Alsace (sparkling wines), and AC Alsace Grand Cru (including 51 grand Cru sites).



Along with Champagne, Bordeaux is one of the most well-known French wine regions. Bordeaux is located around an enormous estuary in the Southwest of France, the Gironde, which has a large influence on the viticultural climate of Bordeaux. 89% of wines produced in Bordeaux are red or rose, and only 11% are sweet and dry whites. Bordeaux has 14 grapes that are permitted in its wines, but the most common are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds, and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. Bordeaux has 57 appellations, but these can be grouped into 6 major regions: Bordeaux, Graves & Medoc (left bank), Libournais (right bank), The Côtes (hillsides), Dry Whites, and Sweet Whites.



Located in the northern half of France and inland, Burgundy has harsh winter conditions. There are 4 permitted grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, and Aligoté. Burgundy is the region that really developed the style of delicate wines that display “terroir” or the characteristics of the soils and the climates in which the grapes are grown. Burgundy is a region with 1000’s of climates and as such is divided into 100’s of appellations, starting from the 33 Grand Crus and 684 Premier Crus, which are specific vineyards of distinction, to the 6 less specific regional appellations which include Bourgogne, Crèmant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passe-tou-grains, Bourgogne Ordinaire, and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. All of these appellations can be divided into 5 major wine growing regions: Chablis, Cote D’or, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujoulais.


Technically a region of Burgundy, but also distinct from Burgundy, Beaujoulais is known for producing a younger, fresher, and fruitier style of red wine from the Gamay Noir grape, which is 98% of all grapes grown in the region. Wines from Beaujoulais are typically un-oaked and ready to drink young, although there are some quality Beaujoulais wines that can be aged. This region is also well known for its “Nouveau Wines”, which are released on the 3rd Thursday of November from grapes picked only a few weeks before and represent the first wines from the year’s harvest.


Loire stretches across a large area in the northwest of France, and has a wide array of mesoclimates from the coast to inland. There are 87 appellations currently that can be grouped into 4 distinct regions that are known for specific grapes and styles of wines. Pays Nantais produces sparkling and still wines from the Melon de Bourgogne grape; Anjou-Samur produces red and rosé wines from the Cabernet Franc grape, and sweet and dry whites from the Chenin Blanc grape; Tourraine produces red wines from the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes, and still, sparkling, and dessert white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape; and Upper Loire produces oaked whites from the Chardonnay grape, and very dry white and red wines from the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes.

Languedoc-Roussillon (Midi)

This area in the south of France along the Mediterranean is the “new world” or France, with all AC’s (except Fitou) established after 1985. This is the largest area under vine in France, with 1/3rd of all French vines, and creates a variety of styles of wines, but usually blended red wines. The main grape variety currently is the red grape Carignan, although this is changing quickly. Next are the grapes Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault, with Merlot and Carbernet Sauvignon picking up popularity. The white grapes are less common but also increasing in popularity, including Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Some other native varietals include Clairette, Picpoul, Aspiran, Mauzac, and Ribarenc.



Rhone is located in the southeast of France, stretching from the Mediterranean towards Beaujoulais. It is divided into 2 main regions, Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône; and 2 lesser regions, The Dios and Ventoux, Luberon, & Grignan les Adhemar. Also, there is a large production of Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, which are AOC wines from throughout Rhône that do not qualify for other specific appellations and are typically from the Southern region. Northern Rhône is known for red wines made only with the Syrah grape, with the Côte-Rotie appellation allowing a small amount of the white grape Viognier to be blended in; the other 2 white grapes are Marsanne and Rousanne. Southern Rhône is mostly known for red wines blended from the grapes Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, with the most famous appellation being Châteauneuf-de-Pape. The Dios is mostly sparkling wine, which the remaining regions are similar to Provence (fruity whites and rosés).



The Southwest of France is just south of Bordeaux, and is a great area to get some Bordeaux-style wines at a great price. The region has 2 major “groups”, which includes the Bordeaux-style appellations, and then the regions produces traditional French county wines from local native grapes. Bergerac and Monbazillac produce Bordeaux-style sweet white wines with the Semillon grape, while Buzet creates Bordeaux-style reds. Some of the traditional style appellations include Cahors, which uses the Malbec grape (known as Côt or Auxerrois locally); Madiran, which uses primarily Tannat to make dark, substantial reds; and Jurancon, which uses Gros Manseg and Petit Manseg to make dry and sweet wines respectively.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Pairing Cheese with Wine (& Beer!)

So last night was Wine & Cheese tasting on Google Hangouts, with Natalie MacLean and some other quirky wine and food personalities. There was some sipping, some nibbling, some agreeing, some debating, lots of laughing, and a smashed bottle $70 bottle (ouch). The format last night focused on the 6 cheeses, and then our suggestions for which of the 9 wines did (or did not) pair well with the cheese. Not always orderly (I will have to look back myself and try to recall what happened) it WAS fun. Watch the video here!

I was lucky enough to be located in the same area as the Food Gypsy Corinna Horton so we teamed up. I say lucky, because she whipped up some condiments to do a side pairing with the cheeses so I had additional nummies to try. I hope she posts them soon - it will be a great way to enhance any wine & cheese event you may like to try in the future!

I think wine and cheese events are a great theme to a party, especially for other foodies or oenophiles. It's the ultimate in simple - no all-day cooking marathons for a wine and food pairing (it has been done!) and it is a great way to keep discussion going. To make things even more light and fun - I will also make some suggestions for pairing cheeses with local beers! There maybe be some debate around this, but I think beer may even pair better with cheese than wine does. That's because the effervescence (bubbles) in beer help cleanse the palate and really help you taste both the beer and the cheese. Beer and cheese tasting is less expensive because of (generally) smaller packaging & cheaper prices. It also means you can do a tasting in a smaller group, try many more types, and not be left with many half-drunk bottles or fully-drunk friends.

10 Tips for pairing Cheeses with Wine (or Beer)

1. Match the weight of the cheese to the wine/beer: light and tangy cheeses with light and fresh wines,

2. Compliment flavours: buttery, creamy brie with a buttery, creamy chardonnay; fresh, tangy goat cheese with a fruity and crisp sauvignon blanc; earthy pinot noir with an earthy Oka.

3. Contrast flavours: Creamy cheeses pair well with high-acid wines such as riesling or chardonnay

4. Go tart: Acidity in wine/beer pairs well with cheese because it cuts through the creaminess and fattiness.

5. White wine & beers pair best: again, because of acidity. Also, bubbles go very well with fatty foods, therefore sparkling wines and beer are excellent pairings.

6. Red wines should be light or old: red wines generally have something called tannin; this is the fuzzy, bitter feeling in your mouth that is similar to drinking an over-steeped cup of tea. These tannins don't go to nicely with the creamy fattiness of cheese, and it creates a harsh metallic taste. Young, light reds (think pinot noir, gamay noir (Beajoulais), or Chianti) that are low in tannin can pair well with cheese. If you want to pair a fuller-bodied red, older is better because the tannins crystalize and drop out of the wine as sediment as it ages. Although, if you really want a big California cabernet - do it! Pair it with older, hard cheeses with more flavour.

7. Don't overchill; too much cold closes up the aromas and flavours. Take cheeses out of the fridge about an hour before to bring them to room temperature. Take heavier white wines and beer out of the fridge about half an hour before to let them open up.

8. Yummy accompaniments; as I learned from Corinna last night, matching condiments is another easy way to double the fun of the event. Using some of the same general tips for pairing with beverages (compliment or contrast of flavours), purchase (or make, if you please) some spreads, dips, pates, nuts, pickle, pastes, etc. to go with each of the cheese. Or course, have some sliced baugette or crackers as well.

9. Try different pairings: Encourage people to try the cheeses with all the beverages, and see what people like and don't like. You will get a range of opinions from a range of palates and it will make things more fun. You've reached a great pairing when the cheese or wine/beer brings something out in the other that wasn't as obvious before.

10. Have fun! Feel free to break the rules.

Now with these tips in mind, I will tackle the cheeses we tried in last night's Wine & Cheese pairing, give you the best wine pairing(s) from that night, as well a (Bonus!) Ontario beer that would be fantastic as well. The wine links will take you to the reviews on the Natalie MacLean website, which will give you her reviews as well as the reviews from the other participants!

Cheese & Wine (& Beer) Pairing

1. Comfort Cream, Upper Canada Cheese Co., Jordan Station, ON.

A Camembert style cheese from the Niagara region, it has a soft white bloom outside with a slightly creamy butter-yellow center. Flavours are butter, cream, mushroom, with a tangy-bitter finish.

Wine Pairing: a crisp, refreshing riesling goes well as a contrasting pairing; the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling 2011 is off-dry with mouthwatering acidity and aromas and flavours of lemon, lime, peach, honey, and minerality. Also a great pairing that compliments the cheese is the Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2009; rich aromas of buttered popcorn, lemon, pear, and vanilla also backed with racy acidity both compliments the cheese and cuts through the creaminess.

Beer Pairing: Steamwhistle Pilsner from Toronto, ON is a refreshing and crisp beer with aromas of grassy Noble Hop, which is a great refreshing contrast to this creamy and buttery cheese.

2. Alpindon, Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co. Creston, BC.

This is a cheese made in the traditional French style of Beaufort D'alpage, it is hand-rubbed and made only with milk from summer pastures. It's is a golden, well-aged cheese with a smooth nutty & buttery, almost fruity taste, firm texture with some crystalization, and a thick rind.

Wine Pairing: A very well-priced oaked chardonnay at $10.95, the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Series Chardonnay 2011 has firm oak aromas of butter, smoke, and vanilla that again matches the rich buttery/nutty flavour of this cheese, while the stone fruit and citrus is refreshing against the meatiness of the cheese.

Beer Pairing: Broadhead's Long Shot White beer in Ottawa, ON (available in growler's from the brewery's newly-expanded location mere blocks from my work!) is a yellow hazy unfiltered wheat beer that is full-flavoured and fruity while stille refreshing, with some spiciness from coriander and orange peel. The meatiness of the beer matches well the meatiness of the cheese, while the fruitiness and spice works well to compliment the nuttiness.

3. 1608, Laiterie Charlevoix, Baie-St-Paul, QC.

This is a creamy yellow, semi-firm "pasta" cheese that is great for cooking with. It has a lot more tang to it than the firm two cheeses, but this melts in your mouth. Yum!

Wine Pairing: the Jackson-Triggs Reserve Series Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was very fresh and crisp, with lovely melon and citrus and slight herbaceousness, without being overwhelming as some cool-climate sauv blancs can be. The freshness of the wine really enhances the tanginess of this cheese, while the acidity cuts through the melt-in-you-mouth creaminess.

Beer Pairing: Nickel Brook Organic Lager from Burlington, ON is a beer that has a suprisingly creamy taste for a pale lager. Light amber in colour, it has a bit of weight in the mouth and some light fruitiness (I detected raspberries), some balanced hop bitterness and a short, clean finish that matches both the tang and texture of the cheese.

4. Onion Cheddar Cheese, St.-Albert Cheese Company, St. Albert, ON.

This cheese was a little simple indulgence - it was like reverse french onion soup for me. A simple tangy cheddar with bits of sweet and savoury caramelized onion.

Wine Pairing: I really enjoyed the Jackson-Triggs Reserve-Series Merlot 2010 with this cheese. I felt that it had the same sweet-and-savoury property as the cheese, with rich black fruit and pepperiness that complimented with sweet caramelized onion.

Beer Pairing: the idea of yummy, cheesy french onion soup in a pub made me think I would like a thick, dark, creamy beer. Luckily, Kichesippi beer right here in Ottawa just came out with their latest seasonal beer last week, Logger, which is a "Pennsylvannia Porter" style, which is a porter-style lager. The beer has a creamy texture with mocha-nut flavours, but a cleaner, shorter finish than a "regular" (ale-style) porter. This beer is also only available in growlers from the brewery.

5. Madagascar Green Peppercorn, Bothwell Cheese Inc, New Bothwell, MB

This is another simple, slightly creamy cheese flavoured in a big way with green peppercorns that really ads a spicy punch.

Wine Pairing: I found both the Open Cab2 Merlot 2011 and the Inniskillin Pinot Noir 2011 to have a rich, sweet berry-vanilla quality to it that I found to be a nice contrast to this cheese. I found the cheese to be a bit harsh with a lot of the other wines, enhancing greatly either the pepperiness or the greenness which I didn't find pleasant. But some others like that!

Beer Pairing: Another even darker beer, Flying Monkey's Netherworld Dark Ale from Barrie, ON is a whole lot of beer. It's a black IPA style, which exhibits rich dark chocolate and coffee-like flavours and a creamy texture, but with a very refreshing finish from a good dose of hoppiness. I found it weighty, but refreshing again the spiciness of the cheese.

6. Bleu d'Élizabeth, La Fromagerie du Presbytere, Sainte-Élisabeth-de-Warwick, QC

This is an organic, semi-soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk. It has a natural rind and tons of rich blue-green veins from Penicillium Roqueforti. It is very buttery, tangy, and intensely salty cheese. Very full-flavoured!

Wine Pairing: The only wine that was not killed by this intensely flavoured cheese was the Inniskillin Wines Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2011 - what a treat this wine it! Intense contrasting aromas and flavours of tropical fruit and stone fruit, honey, and just enough balanced acidity to tame the wild cheese. The effervescence of this wine was a bonus, and does a great "clean-up" job of refreshing the palate!

Beer Pairing: This huge cheese needs a huge beer as well -so I picked one of my personal favourites lately, Amsterdam's Boneshaker from Toronto, ON. It's a strong, unfiltered IPA that is not for the faint of heart. This beer also has huge tropical fruit notes, with grapefruit, citrus peel, and a long hoppy bitter finish. The fruitiness is again a nice contrast against this salty cheese, with a very refreshing finish. I recently spotted it in the LCBO here in Ottawa, previously I had obtained it from the brewery.

The only wine we had trouble pairing was the Open Chardonnay 2011. We found it to a very light, simple, fruity wine that didn't quite have the backbone to pair with the cheese, but it is a nice light sipper if you're looking for something really easy-going.

Another great review posted from one of the wine-and-cheese culprits, Dan Trcka aka Grape Selections:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Niagara Wine Trip

I got to go once again to tour beautiful Niagara again - there's nothing better than getting to see what's happening in our own backyard! I came for the Niagara Wine Festival, but what I ended up getting was a much better treat - some personal tours and tastings at the winery.

First stop was at Tawse, a beautiful facility with sprawling gardens, ponds, and a roomy tasting room with a view of the gravity-flow winemaking. It was a quick tasting of their selection, the favourite of which was the Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008, which was rich with a nice earthiness and great oak integration. At $47.95, a little out of my budget. One of Tawse's signature wines is the Sketches of Niagara Riesling, which you can get in the LCBO. It's a very bright and juicy wine with great acidity and lots of citrus fruit, great for light appetizers, salads, seafood and sushi.

The second stop was Cave Spring cellars - and if you have never been here, GO! In the center of Jordan Village, it is nestled in amongst little boutiques, art shops and the Inn on the Twenty (also owned by Cave Springs) with accomodations, restaurant and spa. Makes me dream of having a wedding there - which they do frequently. With our passionate and knowledgable guide, Brian, we got to tour their century-old cellars (also beautiful for events!) and learned a lot about the old cidery brewing in the facility, about the very unique and varied terrain of Niagara & Niagara on the Lake, the Niagara Escarpment and how it protects the vinyards, and their process for aging the wines and types of barrels used. It ended with a tasting of 3 stunning wines. We tasted two of their CSV reserve wines, the 2008 Riesling and the 2008 Chardonnay. The Riesling had huge acidity and very heavy flavours on the background of peach, honey, and grapefruit, and was obvious that this wine could hold up in the cellar for a few years. The Chardonnay was so elegant, with rich brioche, pear, custard, stuctured minerality and acidity. It was velvet in my mouth, I thought it was my favourite, until the final wine: 2007 Pinot Noir Estate. So rich in flavour for a pinot, it had a cherry background with aromas of forest floor and molasses. LOVE earthy pinots and this one was very complex. Although these wines are on the slightly higer end of $30, most of Cave Spring wines are under $20 and you can find a lot of them in the LCBO. My favourite is the 2009 Pinot Noir VQA... however, it's mostly the 2010 that is available now. If you find one, buy it! Also, the Riesling VQA is a beautiful off-dry wine with peach, honey, apricot, and citrus. I actually brought both to Thanksgiving dinner last year, and it was divine!

After a little lunch (burger!!), our third stop was at Featherstone, definitely the highlight of the trip. This is a beautiful little winery of about 20 acres produces about 6000 bottles a year. They focus on creating high quality wine, most in the $20 range to keep it down to earth, and the tasting room is in the family home. The vineyard is full of animals - there were ducks and chickens running around, and a rooster crowing in the background. They also 'employ' seasonal animals, the sheep, which help to thin out the foilage on the vines and expose the grapes to more sunlight to ripen them. Sadly, their work was done and the last of them were on their way out in boxes. If only I didn't have a 6 hour drive home! Louise Engel, part-owner and in charge of marketing, brought us around the harvesting and fermenting action that was in full swing, talking excitedly about the process and giving us some raw materials tastings. We got to taste the freshly crushed gewurztraminer grape juice (the full experience with lots of floaty bits and a couple of critters) which had that intense lychee-like sweetness and perfume. We also got to taste the partially-fermented riesling, which got it's start a little earlier - YUM!! It was the beautiful beginning of peach and citrus, with a bit of a spritz from the dissolved CO2 from fermentation. I would drink this at breakfast every day - only about 4% alcohol at this point! We also got to learn about their wine-making techniques, which involved a lot of experimentation with different yeasts that her husband and the winemaker, David Johnson, was very into. It was interesting to hear, since I've heard a lot about the importance of yeast selection in brewing beer, but not so much in winemaking. They also talked about preserving the barrels, which were sitting in storage and waiting for the wine to come, as she explained they rarely do reserve wines (i.e. aged more than a year) and focus on producing a high-quality and reasonably priced wines that don't have to be a special purchase. The barrels are still empty because at this point they've only been picking white grapes. In fact, Louise was so excited - with the warm vintage, she pointed out that this is the first year they've harvested anything before Thanksgiving. Typically they are pushing the red wine grapes to mature until the frost comes and they have to pick, but this year they are excited at the prospect of actually being able to choose the ideal time to pick. 2012 will be a fantastic red wine vintage in Ontario! So, on to the wines... I was excited to try the Gewurztraminer, which was devine. The Gemstone (a blend of Baco Noir & Cab Franc) was a very meaty wine that would go great with game meats. The Red Tail Merlot was rich and velvety. I tried the lastest vintage of the Cabernet Franc. The 2010 was released in Vintages on September 15th and sold out the same on almost the same day so I was sad I missed it! The 2011 was still very rough around the edges with a ton of tannin, but I could see it will be delicious in a few years. I ended up buying that wine, with Louise made me promise to keep at least one year, and ideally 3 (I can do it!), along with the Black Sheep Riesling, which is getting amazing reviews in the LCBO and it is widely available. Another rich, fruity, mouth-watering, food-friendly Riesling. Are you seeing a trend in my purchasing? The Black Sheep Riesling is the only wine widely available at the LCBO at the moment, but keep your eye out for new releases in Vintages that will come occasionally (OK, I can do that for you). But if the Cab Franc was any indicator, you will have to act fast! You can also order the wines online to be shipped within Ontario.

The rest of the day was low-key and was quickly coming to an end at this point. We made one more note-worthy stop at Megalomaniac (I've linked to the site but Google is giving me a malware warning, so proceed at your own risk), since it was close by and I had just heard Konrad Ejbich raving about the winery on CBC radio one  on Friday. It was very show-stopping winery, with a huge cellar/tasting room built bunker-style into the side of the escarpment, which you had to reach by first weaving your way through the vineyard. They have a small selection of wines that we tried, but by far the best wines were the ones recently picked up by the LCBO (and raved about by Konrad), the Megalomaniac Homegrown Red at $14.95 and Homegrown Riesling at $12.95. Beautiful balance of fruit and savoury oak in the red, and another fresh, fruity, off-dry Riesling at an excellent price.

Alot of these wines are great picks for thanksgiving, as well! The off-dry Rieslings are GREAT food wines and have the body and versatility to stand up to the range of foods on the table. The reds are a good fruity and savoury balance to pair with the rich gravies, root vegtables, and savoury sides. Try a couple of them this weekend with good locally grown food and great company!

The wines:
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Riesling VQA - ($14.95) LTO $13.95 (on sale this month!)
Megalomaniac Homegrown Riesling - $12.95
Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Pinot Noir VQA - $17.95
Megalomaniac Homegrown Red - $14.95


Mark your calendars, and please join me with Natalie Maclean, and several other wine connoisseurs at 8pm on Wednesday, October 10th as we pair delicious Canadian cheeses with affordable VQA wines in an event that will be full of fun and a little bit of learning. All the information can be found here:

If you can, pick up one or 2 or the wines and the cheeses and follow along! Also, follow all the pre-action on Twitter by using the hashtag #CdnCheese. This is my first official crack at being an 'expert' and I am SO excited!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Go Local - Ottawa Area Breweries

You don't think I only drink wine, do you?

I am a huge fan of beer! But real beer - local, flavourful, and varied. Last night, I went to a Craft Beer Tasting at the Billings Museum with local Sommelier, Beer, and Whisky guru Geoffrey Skeggs. He teaches both a Beer Course and a Whiskey Course at Algonquin college. They are part of the Sommelier program, but they have no pre-requisites so you can take them on their own. The setting of the museum is beautiful, and you feel a little special/naughty drinking beer in a historical setting like that.

Ottawa's micro-brewery scene has seen rapid growth in the past few years. You now have a number of options to get fresh and flavourful beer right here in the city. All 5 of the beers last night, 1 lager and 4 ales, were fresh from a different brewery in the National Capital Region, and paired with a nice little nibble. Most of the pairings were cheese, and he touched on the rumour that I have heard a few times before - that cheese actually pairs better with beer than it does with wine!

A little beer lesson to start: all beers are either a 'lager' or an 'ale' (they can be a 'lagered ale' but that's another story). What is the difference, you ask? Well the main difference is in the type of yeast used to ferment the beer. Lagers use a strain of yeast that is bottom fermenting, works at a cooler temperature (around refridgetor temp), ferments more slowly (up to 6 weeks), and converts all the residual sugar to alcohol. This leaves the beer with a "clean" taste with a short finish. Ales use a top fermenting yeast, works at room temperature, ferments within about 6 days, and leaves around 5% residual sugar. That's why we perceive ale to have a 'fuller' taste, and be more fruity.

First pairing was the lager - Beau's Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager. This is a seasonal beer brewed for the fall only - and just beacuse it's a larger, doesn't mean it's light! It's a full orange-copper colour, with a deep aroma of yeast, orange, dried fruit, honey, and metallic notes with a short, clean finish. It was paired with a cheese - which Geoff had never tried before and wasn't sure 100% what it was called. From his attempt at spelling it, and matching the flavour profile, I believe it was a cheese called Menage, which is a hard cheese made with a blend of cow, goat, and sheep's milk. The only thing is it's an American style, and he indicated that it was Spanish. Either way - it was decadent tasting, with a deep earthy, nutty, sweet, and tangy flavour. A full and rich flavoured cheese, with a rich flavoured beer and a clean finish. Great pairing! If you would like to pick up Beau's, you can get many of them in the LCBO, including their rotating roster of Seasonal beers. You can also visit their brewey in Vankleek Hills east of Ottawa.

Second pairing was a hoppy wheat beer - Kichesippi Uncle Mark's Hopfen Weisse, which is a traditional German Hefeweizen brewed with lots of hops, adding extra bitterness. The aroma is tradtional Hefeweizen aromas of banana, bubblegum, and clove with grapefruit pith and pine aromas. The flavour is much drier than most wheat beers, and slightly herbal. Geoff paired with herbed goat's cheese. The herb coated matched the bitterness of the beer, which the sweet and creamy cheese was a nice contrast to it. If you would like to purchase some, Kichesippi offers this seasonal beer only in growlers from it's brewery on Campbell Avenue, close to the Carling exit of the 417. It's flagship Natural Blonde is available in bottles in the LCBO.

The third pairing was my personal favourite - an India Pale Ale. I'll save the history of IPA's for another time - I know I'll be talking about them again. This one was from Big Rig Brewpub, a new brewpub in Ottawa partially owned by Ottawa Senator Chris Phillips. I was impressed by this IPA, which I expected to be a wimpy attempt. It was very powerful, with stone fruit, orange, grapefruit, pine and soapy aromas. The flavour is very fruit with a long, lingering bitterness. It was missing a little bit of the tropical fruit aromas I enjoy in an IPA but still a very strong beer. It was paired with a spicy sopressata. Personally, it was my least favourite pairing. Traditionally, IPA is a great pairing with spicy foods because the bitterness has a cooling effect that quels the spiciness. However, this time both flavours lingered leaving me with both spiciness and bitterness competiting for attention in my mouth for a long time. Big Rig IPA is available in growlers at the Big Rig Brewpub on Iris at Greenbank, near the IKEA in Ottawa (you all know where that is) along with 4 other traditional styles. You can stop in just for the beer or stay for a nibble at the restaurant.

The fourth pairing - back to cheese - was a strong French style of beer called Bière de Garde. Ambre de la Chaudiere from Mill Street is one of the styles brewed exclusively in the Mill Street Brewpub in Ottawa. This style is very fruity, very sweet with stone fruit and honey aromas, and just a hint of yeastiness (the style is unfiltered) and clocks in at 7% alcohol. Typically, I am not a fan of this style of beer, but I thought it provided a nice contrast when paired with the aged blue cheese which was very earth and salty. If you like this style of beer, you can pick it up in a growler at the store in the Mill Street Brewpub in Ottawa near Lebreton Flats. I believe they can also be found in the Mill St. seasonal sampler packs in the LCBO - but don't hold me to this, they probably have a different seasonal offering now.

Finally, our last pairing was dessert. Geoff paired Broadhead Beer's Darkhorse Stout with a locally made chocolate ice cream - heavenly! I had actually seen an article in the Ottawa Citizen earlier in the year that used the same beer to make a Beer Float (I know!!). Anyways, the beer has a very nice aroma of coffee crisp (coffee, chocolate, vanilla) and creamy in the mouth. It's a little drier in the mouth than the aroma hints at, but a nice coffee hint in the background without hitting you over the head with it. If you would like to purchase this lovely treat or one of their 5 other ambitious offerings, you can get them in growlers at their little brewery at 81 Auriga Drive unit 13 in the industrial park at Hunt Club Road and Prince of Wales Drive. They just switched units in order to expand, so it would be helpful to note that it is on the right side of the building about halfway down. Also note - because of the move coupled with a lot of recent publicity, their brew availability is spotty. You should call ahead before making a special trip to find out what is available!

Before I depart, in case you've been asking "What is a Growler?" and you haven't googled it yet, a growler is a 1/2 gallon refillable bottle (64 oz, or a little less than the equivalent of a 6-pack).

1. Night Märzen Oktoberfest Lager - Beau's Brewery
2. Uncle Mark's Hopfen Weisse - Kichesippi Brewery
3. Big Rig India Pale Ale - Big Rig Brewpub
4. Ambre de la Chaudiere - Mill Street Brewpub Ottawa
5. Darkhouse Stout - Broadhead Beer

Happy drinking!

Friday, 14 September 2012

My Buys: Vintages Release - September 15

So my birthday is tomorrow, and it is also the next Vintages release! The focus of this release is all about Ontario wines. I am a huge fan of Ontario wines, however I will heading out to the Niagara Wine Festival at the end of the month (September 28 - 30) so I'm a little reluctant to purchase many Ontario wines - I know I will have all the wines available to me, and I'm going to blow my budget! However, I will show restraint while still fantasizing about what I will buy (and if someone reads this and wants to buy one for my birthday, I won't stop them!)

The release is filled with the grapes that are done very well here; Riesling and Chardonnay  for the whites, and Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc for the reds. These are all wines that can excel in our climate, and the skillfull hands of our winemakers.

Riesling is a very versatile grape, making wines in the range from bone-dry aperatif wines to rich and sweet icewines. However, it needs a cooler climate like Niagara to keep a balanced acidity that makes it lip-smacking good and keeps it from being cloyingly sweet. The 2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling at $18.95 is the signature balance of peach, citrus, minerality, and petrol that makes Niagara Riesling so great and has some cellar-ability as well.

An even more versatile and adaptable grape would be Chardonnay, which can flourish in almost any climate. In warm climates, the result is a more powerful wine filled with tropical fruit and usually a heavy-handed dose of oaking. In Niagara, we produce a more elegant Chardonnay that can be both refreshing and complex at the same time. To me, Lailey Chardonnay 2010 sounds delicious: apple, peach, and lemon with a light oak adding aromas of sweet spices. $19.95.

I am a fan of Cabernet Franc. It is original fame is as the third in line in red Bordeaux, or a more prominent red grape in the white-wine dominated Loire region. In Niagara it is gaining popularity, but it has a bad rap. It does need a longer time to ripen than Pinot Noir or Merlot, but less time than Cabernet Sauvignon. If under-ripe, Cab Franc has some harsh tannins with aromas and flavours of including tart cranberry, bell pepper, and pencil shavings. But in a good year, it can rival the other Cabernet for richness and depth of flavour. I'm excited to try 2 wines: Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 at $16.95, which is a rich and intense style that is featured as the "Local Find"; and the Burning Kiln Harvest Party Cobernet France 2011 at $17.95, which is actually made in an "appassimento" style using grapes partially-dried in old tobacco kilns. Should be very rich and smokey!

Finally, the king of grapes, Pinot Noir can be very finicky. With the right soil, weather, and winemaking, it can be show-stopping. However, it can easily be a flat and lifeless wine. Prince Edward County has been making some very impressive Burgundian-style Pinots, but they don't usually come cheap. So, my last Ontario pick is a splurge (for me, anyways): Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2010 at $35. I had to pick this one, because I have had to pleasure to visit the winery earlier in the spring and reading the reviews brings it all back to me; it was juicy, fruity, earthy, and smokey. Deliciously delicate and complex.

2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 - Niagara - $18.95 - 294041
Lailey Chardonnay 2010 - Niagara - $19.95 - 193482
Burning Kiln Harvest Party Cabernet Franc 2011 - Niagara - $17.95 - 301515
Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 - Niagara - $16.95 - 064618
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 - Prince Edward County - $35.00 - 125310
Full Vintages September 15th release

I promise to give my favourites when I return from Niagara at the end of the month!

Birthday wine to come...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cooking with Miso, Growing Green Onion, and some wine

I had a busy weekend this week, with an Italian wedding on Saturday. I was a +1 as a favour to a friend - but I really did not mind at all, because the food was fantastic, and they even served a nice local wine. Our table wines were Trius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and Sauvignon Blanc 2011. I wish I could do a better review of them, but I consumed a little too much. The Cabernet I can say was medium-bodied, rich red fruit, vanilla, touch of oak. Very nice under $15 Ontario wine, and a stunning winery if you're ever in Niagara. Also - it's on sale until Sunday!

Back to this week, I found a little time to cook last night, and the stove was full. I attempted 2 dishes using one of my new favourite superfoods, miso paste. The first being a Vegan Cheesesteak wrap (yes, I know I have officially changed everything about it), and the second being a Green Onion and Pea soup to use up my stock of green onions. The latter didn't quite work so well - I had a hard time getting a smooth consistency while maintaining a fresh flavour.

However - I would like to take a moment point out just how easy it is to have an abundant and fresh supply of green onions on hand. Green onion, along with other herbs, is one of those things I buy for a recipe, use half of, then throw the other half out when it gets old and tired. No more! I found out that you can very easily grow green onions from saving the bottoms of green onions from the store. I did this a while ago, so I don't have procedure pictures. Basically, here's the deal:

1. Save the white bottoms of store-bought green onions after you use them.
2. Stand them upright in some water (with the root-part down and the cut part above the water).
3. Change the water daily for 2 - 3 days, during which you will see the roots start to grow longer and green onion shoots will start to grow taller.
4. After a few days, plant in soil and place in the sunlight.

Easy, yummy and fresh! They grow really quickly, so you don't need much for a steady supply. This is the result of planting the bases of 3 small bunches of green onion:

A week later, after using green onion for a green onion fritatta, green onion and pea soup, and salad rolls (with lots of green onion) over the course of the week. It's never-ending.

Back to miso: miso is generally made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans and grain (barley or rice). What fermenting does is makes it an un-cooked and unprocessed "living food", with healthy bacteria that aids in digestion. It is also a good souce of fiber, vitamin k, and maganese. It is a good source of plant protein. However, it is very high in sodium, so needs to be used sparingly. It had a great umami ("meaty") flavour so it can be used to create a meaty flavour in vegan/vegetarian foods. So far, I've been using it in gravy, substituted for boullion in flavouring soups, and in veggie burgers. However, it should be heated as little as possible as cooking kills the healthy bacteria. It's not the most common grocery-store item, but you can get it at any health food store and any grocery store that has a decent ethnic sections (Food Basics, Loblaws). I got it at T&T, because of the large selection and good prices.

Last night, I used it to flavour a gravy in making a vegan cheesesteak, complimented with this Basil Cashew Cheeze sauce from the amazing vegan recipe blog Oh She Glows. I also made vegetable stock, but I will save that for another time.

Cooking requires wine.

Surprisingly, the end of my Monasterio bottle was still good days later! Actually, I swear it was better.

Vegan Cheezesteak

Yield: 4 servings
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (any colour), sliced
  • 1 lb large cremini/portabello mushroom, sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp Red Miso (any miso will work fine)
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • Ground pepper
  • Vegan Cheeze Sauce
  • 4 sandwich rolls or wraps
1. Heat oil to a large pan over medium high, saute sliced onions, pepper and mushrooms until soft, about 8-10 minutes.
2. Stir cornstarch into warm water. Add mustard, soya, and cornstarch mixture and stir to slightly thicken, about 1 minute.
3. Remove from heat and add one heaping tablespoon of the miso paste, stir to incorporate. Season generously with fresh ground pepper.
4. On halved sandwich rolls or wraps, spread a heaping tablespoon of cheeze sauce. Add 1/4 of the mushoom/pepper mixture. Close/roll and enjoy!

I'm not great at the picture-taking yet, so here is my results for this round. I know, not too appetizing.

I promise to work on my recipe writing!!