Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From Wine to Whiskey -- Learning About Rye

During our trip to Ireland in 2011, Shawn and I stopped at the Bushmills Distillery for a tour and tasting—it ended up being a highlight of our trip, as we enjoyed the tasting far more than anticipated. Still, I tend to enjoy my whiskey, when I have it, in a cocktail, and I am much more likely to opt for a glass of wine when we’re out.

That said, when Canadian Club invited me to their #IHeartRye event, featuring a tutored tasting session with Canadian Club ambassador Tish Harcus, I was intrigued. The more I learn about wine, the more I understand the many correlations between the making of spirits and the making of wine. This was an excellent opportunity to learn more about rye and attend my first real whiskey tasting event.

And what did I learn? Well, first off, that I shouldn’t stick my nose into the glass the way I do with wine – that burns! But otherwise, the techniques are somewhat similar. Tish taught us to warm the glass with our hands, to swirl, to sniff and then to taste. I had expected to find straight whiskey a bit intense, but I was impressed by just how different all four of the options we tried were—and how smooth I found them compared to what I anticipated.

The Premium 1858, which is five-year-old rye would likely be very good with ginger ale. It had lots of caramel on the nose, which I wasn’t expecting, and had a nice, long finish. Tish made sure to advise us never to mix this one with cola, as it would kill the flavour.

Next, we tried a classic 12-year-old rye, which was the favourite at my table. Softer on the palate and a bit sweet, it also had caramel overtones on the nose. This one would be for sipping over ice – definitely not a rye that needs to be made into a cocktail.

Third, the Chairman’s Select 100% rye, had a very interesting nose – I kept getting Popeye Candy Cigarettes for some reason. This was my favourite of the tasting, as I liked how smooth it was. Tish told us this one had a high proportion of new wood and explained the use of copper pot distillation.

Finally, we tried the Sherry Cask rye, which spends eight years in oak. This one was exactly what I had expected all of them to taste like—heavy, very strong, intense. On its own, this was not a good fit for my palate, but I think it might make a nice end to a meal.

While it was not part of the official tasting, I also tried the new Canadian Club Chairman’s Select Maple, which was a little sweeter and had great maple notes. This would be really nice after a meal with dessert or in a fun maple-themed cocktail.

As part of the event, we got a lesson in mixing rye cocktails from some of the city’s best mixologists – I made a dry rye Manhattan and watched as others made the 100% rye old fashioned. I am definitely not the best bartender and I was impressed by how easy these cocktails were to make, but also how important the details were—bitters make a real difference.

While I am still a wine girl at heart, this experience made me curious to do more research on spirits and I am looking forward to future tastings. The wine geek in me is interested in learning more about barrel-aged spirits and distilling processes.

Are you a fan of rye? What are some of your favourites?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wine and Tea – Pluck Tea’s Unique Blends

There is only one item more plentiful in our house than wine—tea. My cupboards truly runneth over with little bags and jars of loose leaf tea. I think tea, like wine, appeals to the part of my brain that likes to combine flavours and textures to create a unique drinking experience. As with wine, loose leaf tea has the potential to be truly magical.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Pluck Tea, a Canadian company creating blends that take tea to the next level. There’s nothing worse than enjoying a lovely meal at a restaurant and having a wine list full of inexpensive plonk, or a tea list that consists of cheap bags of orange pekoe. A brilliant glass of wine can bring a meal to life, and a splendid cup of tea just makes everything better.

Pluck Teas’ founder, Jennifer Commins, gets that. A tea sommelier, her company is founded on the idea that tea should be special. She uses the best quality teas from around the world, combined with local ingredients to create what she describes as, “one-of-a-kind tea blends as distinct and unique as a well-aged wine.”

The Southbrook blend
And to make the wine connection even stronger, Jennifer has partnered with wine companies on at least two of her blends: Niagara Icewine, which combines Ontario Icewine with a peachy base of white tea, and Southbrook Berry Blend, which is made using grape skins from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara.

Pluck’s decision to partner with Southbook was what first caught my eye – the delicious burst of fruit flavour this tea brings to my mug sold me completely. I loved how Pluck captured some of the unique qualities of a fruity red wine in a fantastic cup of tea. I was equally impressed with the Spirit Tree Crab Apple blend, which combines green tea and cinnamon spice with fire-roasted apple pressings from the Caledon-area apple cidery.

“Pluck is always on the lookout for local growers to supply delicious products that can be integrated into our teas,” says Jennifer. “In the case of Southbook and Spirit Tree, not only are these products delicious, but in both cases Pluck is able to rescue a by-product of their core (pardon the pun) business: grape skins from Southbook and apple pressings from Spirit Tree.

"I approached Bill at Southbrook in the early days after steeping up some of their BioFlavia product (finely ground grape skins) and he was able to divert whole dried skins to Pluck for our production. In the case of Spirit Tree, they reached out to me directly with some samples of apple pressings in hand and we created a Spirit Tree holiday blend. Beyond the ingredients themselves, both of these companies are run by fantastic people who truly ‘get it’ when it comes to sustainability. I feel very fortunate to work with them.”

Jennifer and Bill at Southbrook

The feeling is mutual for Southbook’s owner, Bill Redelmeier. “We at Southbook really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Jennifer at Pluck Tea. Her total devotion to maintaining high quality standards, and creating compellingly delicious beverages, aligns perfectly with my own goals,” he says. “We also identify with her spirit of independence, and pluck, in competing in a market dominated by multi-national brands, by focusing on building relationships with our local community.”

I'm a sucker for a great Earl Gray
The fact that Pluck takes advantage of ingredients that might otherwise be wasted makes them even dearer to my heart. The company is built on an ethos of sustainability. “At Pluck, everything we do is guided by “Tea for Good.” Supporting Ethical Tea Partnership members, sourcing locally, and upcycling by-products of the local food industry all support this mission,” says Jennifer. "As we grow, I will be seeking out more and more Canadian grown ingredients to integrate into our line. We also offer a buy-back program for restaurants, where we purchase sealed teas left over from their previous supplier and donate them to The Stop—a local community centre and food bank.”

I know many of my fellow wine-lovers are also mad about tea, so I encourage you to check out these wonderful wine-inspired blends (even the ones with no connection to wine are quite fabulous). They are bursting with delicious flavours and you can feel good about supporting a company that is helping the local economy and the world around us. Pluck Tea is available via their website (the best selection), at Chapters/Indigo stores and in other select stores and restaurants across Canada.

Have you tried Pluck Tea? What was your favourite?

* Photos featuring Jennifer provided by Pluck.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 Wine Bloggers Conference Hits the Finger Lakes

Wine Bloggers Conference
It's hard to believe almost a year has gone by since I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) in Santa Barbara. It was my first experience with WBC and I had a fantastic time. I made some incredible new friends, learned an enormous amount at the sessions and had the opportunity to taste wines from across California and around the world.

I signed up for this year's conference even before I got home from California and I can't wait to attend. This year, the conference is hitting the east coast and I'm excited to make my first trip to the Finger Lakes region in New York State. You may remember my review of Evan Dawson's fascinating book, Summer in a Glass, which explores the region through the stories of multiple winemakers. It's a fabulous read and had me itching to explore the area. I'm thrilled this year's conference will give me the chance to do just that.

So this August, Shawn and I will hit the road for a mid-month wine adventure. I hope to re-connect with some of my new wine blogger friends, like the fabulous team from The Vineyard Trail, The Academic Wino and Aleigh from A Glass After Work, among many others.

I'm also looking forward to the chance to taste wines from the Finger Lakes, something the LCBO has decided I don't need to do, and enjoy the experience of learning more about both wine and blogging.

Interested in attending this year's WBC? Check out their site to learn more!

And be sure to visit my review of last year's WBC to find out why this conference is such a great experience.

Will you be attending WBC15? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Highlights from the Restaurants Canada Show

Barley Days' Oyster Stout
If you work in the restaurant industry, the Restaurants Canada Show, held in Toronto in early March, is the place to go to learn about all the newest products and trends. This industry-only trade show is full of fabulous foodie finds and I had so much fun learning about new and exciting products I hope to see at local restaurants soon. Here are a few of my favourites:












Boulart breads – In our house, bread is sort of like candy – an occasional indulgence – so when we go out to eat, I expect the bread to be a show-stopper and worth the splurge. From my experience tasting Boulart’s products, these would make the cut. Made with natural ingredients and no preservatives or additives, this bread is super fresh and tasty, I’d be happy to see these on a menu. Confession—I may have swung by this booth a few times to try guest chef Rodney Bower’s delicious samples.

Chef Rodney Bower
FreshTAP – If you’ve read my previous posts about wine on tap, you know I’m a huge advocate for serving wine in ways that ensure a fresh pour every time. FreshTAP is better for the environment (far fewer bottles used) and for the consumer. I hope to see more restaurants making the switch.

Pristine Gourmet oils – Wine people tend to be equally passionate about their oils, and I’m no exception. Using high-quality, non-GMO seeds, Pristine Gourmet from Norfolk County takes an artisan approach to their oils. These are definitely worth seeking out.

Shucker Paddy Oysters are one of my favourite foods and getting to chat with Patrick McMurray, one of the world’s best oyster shuckers (and the owner of personal favourite restaurants Starfish and Ceili Cottage), was a treat. I am also coveting one of his branded oyster-shucking tools, though Shawn rolled his eyes at the idea that I was ever going to actually shuck my own oysters. You never know!

Trail Estate Winery – There were only a few local wineries at the show and I was happy to get a chance to try some of Trail Estates’ wines. One of the newest wineries in Prince Edward County, I am planning a visit in April to learn even more about this new kid on the PEC block. If my initial tastes were any indication, it will be a worthwhile visit.


Cocktails in Style – Looking for some wine-related décor? I had so much fun checking out the wine barrel wood platters and cheese plates at the Cocktails in Style booth. While they were mainly stocking restaurant-ready accessories at this show, they have lots of home décor available too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Winemaker Interview - Bruno Francois, The Old Third Winery

Jens and Bruno - Photo provided by winery
Whenever I'm in Prince Edward County, it's hard not to stop by The Old Third Winery. The barn that Bruno Francois and Jens Korberg have refurbished is absolutely stunning and the wine and cider they produce are equally impressive.

Known for their unique style and daring choices—white Pinot, dry sparkling cider—The Old Third is not your average wine trail stop. Their white Pinot was one of my favourite wines of last year and I am eagerly awaiting their next vintage.

I was glad Bruno was willing to be the latest subject for the winemaker series so I could pick his brain about some of those choices. And I encourage you to check out The Old Third's new blog, which chronicles their adventures in winemaking, food and interior design. Jens incredible photography skills are on display (he also designs the winery's lovely labels) and it's always an inspiring read.

Why did you decide to start a winery in Prince Edward County – what drew you to the area? My partner came here in the dead of winter having heard of the potential of the region. We fell in love with the place immediately.

You have tried some very unique wine styles – such as your white Pinot – why have you opted to do things that are somewhat unexpected?

Well, I believe my soil is suited for red grapes, which is why I have both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc planted.  The French have been making whites from Pinot Noir, both sparkling and still, for quite some time. It can be a challenge to press ripe Pinot Noir and get a white wine and not a rosé but I like a challenge! And I certainly believe in the quality Pinot Noir can give, both as a red and a white.

Your cider is another very unique endeavour – it’s very different than what most expect from cider. What inspired you to try a dry, sparkling cider? What has the reaction been?

I have been amazed at the reception my cider has gotten. My grandfather produced cider in Normandy, so it felt right that I should continue my family tradition. The apple can express terroir every bit as much as the grape and so I make it the same way I  make all my wines. Single vineyard (or orchard) and single varietal. Cider should be given the same respect wine has. So, I suppose I didn't really decide on a style as much as just do what I do already.

This has been a tough winter – do you have any concerns about the vines?

None, we bury our vines. I am worried for our colleagues down in Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore, however.

Is there anything you’re very excited about for 2015?

Yes, we have great wine to sell!

Be sure to plan a visit to The Old Third the next time you are in the County

Monday, April 6, 2015

Wine in the City - April Edition

Toronto is a great city in which to be a wine nerd—here are a few of the events I’ll be checking out in April. Hope to see you there too!

Toronto Food + Drink Market – April 10-12 – Direct Energy Centre
This will be my first time attending this festival of food and drink and I can’t wait. A farmers market and health & wellness stage? This sounds right up my alley. Look for my review to follow soon.

California Wine Fair 2015 – The Fairmont Royal York – Want to taste the best that California has to offer? This show is a great opportunity to try some old favourites and new options. This is one of the best wine shows of the year and I'm excited to be attending once again.
County in the City – April 16 – Airship 37 – Always one of my favourite events, this is a great opportunity to try and buy the best of Prince Edward County without having to make the drive to PEC. This year's event is in a new venue and I'm looking forward to checking out some of my favourite wines in a different space.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sadie Nardini’s 21-Day Yoga Body – Combining Wine and Wellness

Wait? Why am I reviewing a yoga book on a wine blog? Before you decide to click over to watch wine videos on YouTube instead, you should know that Nardini is very much a wine-lover and that her 21-Day Yoga Body book includes both wine pairings and cocktail recipes. And that’s just one of the many reasons I loved this book.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with is how to pair my love of wine with my desire to live a healthy lifestyle. It can be tough to strike the right balance (and I can’t say I always win), but I think it’s possible when you make a real effort to fill your body and soul with things that are good for you.

While I didn’t follow Nardini’s plan exactly as set out (I added some of her tips to own daily yoga practice and made a selection of the recipes rather than follow the exact diet), I did read it over 21 days and was impressed with her positive attitude and realistic expectations. I felt good reading this book and impressed by her attitude towards alcohol. She is not going to suggest you go out for a wine-soaked Friday evening, but if you want a glass of wine or a cocktail with your healthy meal? Have at it.

The wine pairing suggestions in the book make good sense, the recipes I made (OK, let’s be real, Shawn made) were delicious and fairly easy and the cocktail recipes were excellent. Shawn made Nardini's margaritas for an Oscar watching treat and I loved them. As with all her recipes, these are made with real ingredients (usually organic), so you’re not adding refined sugars and unneeded chemicals to your libation.

For me, the daily motivations and tips for living well were inspiring and helpful and reading this book reminded me how important it is to keep on track "wine, body and soul." So, obviously, this is the perfect book to feature on Upkeep. I hope you'll consider adding it to your library too.