Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Winemaker Interview – David Sheppard, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery

I have so enjoyed working on the winemaker’s series for the blog – and I thank all of you who have been regularly reading! Your positive feedback has encouraged me to continue with my interviews and I have a number of features in the works.

Today’s interview is with David Sheppard of Coyote’s Run Estate Winery in Niagara. If you haven’t visited Coyote’s Run, I highly recommend it. With wonderful staff and beautiful grounds, their patio is a lovely place to sip a glass of their sparkling, Pinot (gris, blanc or noir) or Chardonnay. I was very interested in learning more about their winemaking process and especially their Red Paw/Black Paw vineyards – showcasing how different soil makes a huge difference in the same grape varieties.

Can you tell me a little bit about your history? Why did you decide to move from making wine in Germany to making wine in Canada?
I did get my start and my inspiration in Germany but I am actually born and raised in the Niagara region and am descended from a line of Sheppard’s who farmed in Niagara-on-the-Lake, so I was really just coming home to my roots.  I had a degree in environmental studies from the University of Waterloo prior to going to Germany and had every intention of pursuing a career in that field. 

It wasn’t until I had exhausted my funds and needed work (even to be able to ultimately purchase return air fare) that I found work in a family-run winery.   The German family were wonderful to me and the work I found fascinating, all of which lead me to change my focus and pursue winemaking. 

In my time in Germany I occasionally helped my German boss, Fritz, conduct tutored wine tastings on the cruise ships that sailed up and down the Rhein River.   A lot of the patrons of those tastings were English speaking people and so I could be of considerable help to Fritz.   It was on one of those tours that I met a couple from Ottawa who, when they found out that I was Canadian, said that if I wanted to pursue winemaking in Canada I should look up these two guys who had started the first new winery in Canada since prohibition.   On the inside of a matchbook they wrote the names Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo from an upstart winery called Inniskillin.   Turns out Inniskillin was located a few kilometres from my home, so once I had returned to Canada I looked them up straight away, and to this day I remain grateful for the opportunity that they gave me.

What inspired you to make the leap from Inniskillin to Coyote's Run?
Over the course of the 21 years I worked at Inniskillin I got to be very familiar with our premium grape growers and the various vineyard sites that produced consistently top quality fruit.  One of those growers was a young guy (my age so I’ll call him young) named Steve Murdza who owned and operated the vineyard that is now the Coyote’s Run Estate Vineyard.   Steve was one of a select few growers who always had a keen interest in knowing what fate awaited his grapes after delivery to the winery.  He was truly a wine grower and not just a grape grower, and he had long dreamt of being part of a winery.   Steve had approached me about just such an idea, on what I already new to be a special vineyard site.   His timing was also good in that Inniskillin had been steadily growing into a part of a much larger and more corporate structure, and scaling back to something closer to my roots had great appeal.    Both Karl and Donald were very understanding and supportive and have remained great friends of mine since my move.   To this day I know that either one of them would help me out without a second thought.

I find the Red Paw/Black Paw idea so interesting - other than the soil, do you find any other major distinctions between the two? Does your winemaking technique change for each?
What makes it interesting for me is utilizing the exact same winemaking techniques so that the soil/site speaks for itself in the wines.

What are you most excited about with your newest vintage?
The newest vintage (2014) by all accounts was marked by a challenging growing season (late start, early rains, cooler spring and early summer etc.).   I think early on a lot people had written off 2014 as being one of the poorer vintages.   As it turned out, the weather we desperately needed to salvage it was exactly what we got.   What excites me about all that in particular is the quality of the red wines as they are now shaping up.  I am always more impressed with the skill of winemakers who produce great wines in “lesser” years, and correspondingly am always more pleased with my own when I know what a challenging year it was.   We have all made some great wines in the “easy” years, but it is somehow more rewarding and exciting to do it in the tougher years.

I have been talking to a lot of winemakers recently who are trying different styles or grape varieties. Are you experimenting with anything new or different in the vineyard right now?
We have been playing around a bit with our Pinot Gris from the estate vineyard blocks making a few different styles.   Last fall we let a few rows hang late in the season to get super ripe.   From those grapes we then made 2 different wines.  One, a traditional Late Harvest style wine with the natural residual sweetness, and the other,  a dry, barrel aged Pinot Gris in which the higher than normal sweetness fermented out to a higher than normal alcohol.  In the latter we were looking for a bigger, bolder texture and mouthfeel, without the residual sweetness.    Our 3rd style of Pinot Gris, from the grapes picked at the normal time and ripeness, we made in a lighter, more easy-drinking “Pinot Grigio” style.  (duly designated on the bottle as Pinot Grigio).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Food Pairing Friday with Dan Tullio

All photos provided by Canadian Club
I recently had the chance to attend a whisky tasting with Canadian Club. It was a good experience, as I haven’t explored spirits in great depth and am always excited to learn more about how things are made and why they taste the way they do. One interesting point was the potential food pairings for whisky.

I typically stick to wine for dinner but I was curious to learn more, so I reached out to Dan Tullio, Master Ambassador, Canadian Whisky, Beam Suntory Inc., one of the representatives for Canadian Club. I’m happy to offer up his thoughts about cooking and pairing with Canadian Club as my latest Food Pairing Friday guest column.

People don't necessarily consider pairing spirits with food. Why do you think rye whisky is a good option for this?
People think that as a result of the higher alcohol strength of spirits versus wine/cordials/beer, the spirits will numb the taste buds, meaning you’re not able to really enjoy the food. On the contrary, Canadian Club 100% Rye (CC 100%) used in proper proportion in the preparation of food simply ramps up the taste experience.  It’s is a distilled spirit, clean and crisp as it flows out of the line on the small copper pot still.  Then it is aged in brand new white oak barrels and matured in the dry–arid high altitude elevation of central Alberta.  During maturation the wood imparts flavors such as caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, nuttiness, aromatic and smoky tones. These are prime candidates for a delicious paring, which basically ramps up the dish.

Dan (right) and brand manager, Rob Tucker.
What is your favorite pairing and why?
My job entails a lot of time away from home, but when I am with family and friends I take over the kitchen and barbecue.  The best planned meal for me is to marinate my T-Bone steaks overnight with at least 3oz of CC 100% per steak and a bit of salt and pepper—that’s it!  The spiciness of this rye whiskey is slowly absorbed and as the steaks get infused, the high rye whisky breaks down the molecular structure of the meat, making it tender and deliciously spicy.  To complete the overall experience, I flash barbecue at a very high temperature for no more than 4-5mins while I enjoy a CC 100% over ice with friends.

Dan leading a talk about Canadian Rye
Do certain types of rye whisky pair better than others?
Canadian rye whisky is a nickname for Canadian whisky.  In fact, there does not have to be any rye grain alcohol in the recipe. Canadian whiskies can add other spirits [up to 9.09%] of any type as long as its two years old [i.e. rum, scotch, bourbon, etc]. Also the majority of most Canadian whiskies have corn as the predominant grain. I personally like using CC 100% because it’s made from a single grain type – rye. It’s like what a single malt scotch is to a Canadian whisky. 

Are you a fan of pairing or cooking with whisky? Share your favorite brands or recipes in the comments below or on social.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Exploring the Wines of South Africa

This year, Shawn and I spent our Valentine’s Day afternoon with the fabulous and fun iYellow Wine crew at an event celebrating South African wine (yes, I'm more than a little behind on some posts). I’ve come a long way in terms of my knowledge about South African wine in the last few years, as I’ve had many opportunities to taste and have interviewed several winemakers from the region. I’ve learned that I’m a big fan of their Chenin Blanc and that I have yet to develop a taste for Pinotage.
The iYellow event, which was packed with wine lovers, brought together great food from local vendors and several stations where you could taste and rate various South African sippers. As with many iYellow events, the afternoon was set up to encourage a fun and chatty atmosphere—no room for stuffiness or pretention at this party—and the wine was all easy-drinking and suitably casual.

Shawn and I circulated for a few minutes and enjoyed a few dishes. I liked the mac & cheese, he liked the mini steak sandwich and we both loved the mini lemon cheesecake doughnut from Glory Hole Doughnuts, which we shared. We also, of course, sampled several wines. Our favourites? We both liked the Frisky Zebra Seductive Shiraz followed by The Wolftrap Shiraz.

I was also impressed by the Two Oceans wines available. They offer some good value wines and, if you’re looking for something reasonably priced to bring to a party, they are worth considering. There’s a reason these wines are consistently popular.

South African wine is worth exploring and I look forward to continuing to taste through what this country has to offer.  You can find great value bottles at the LCBO or your local wine retailer or look for higher-end offerings via agent to get even better examples of the expressive and nuanced winemaking this region is able to produce. 

Thanks to iYellow Wine Club for inviting us to attend this event. While our tickets were complimentary, our opinions are our own.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Evening with Bonterra Organic Vineyards

One of the questions I get asked frequently is ‘Should I be drinking organic wine?’ I also get a lot of requests to suggest good organic wines. I always say that I’m not sure whether organic wine is going to make a huge difference to your health and that many wines are farmed without pesticides, but are not certified organic. Still, it’s worth consideration. I’m super conscious about what I eat – and a huge amount of the produce we buy is organic – so shouldn’t I drink organic wine too?

These are all reasons I was eager to take iYellow Wine Club up on the invitation to attend a blogger dinner with Bonterra Organic Vineyards from California. I’ve had Bonterra wines before and was interested to learn more about their wines and their growing practices. A Mendocino County, California winery, Bonterra is a mainstay at the LCBO and one of the few certified organic wines that are easy to get in Ontario (Niagara’s Southbrook Winery is another).

At the tasting, we tried four Bonterra wines alongside a meal made by Foodies on Foot’s Chef Damian Harrington. We also heard from Bonterra’s John Kinney, who talked about the history of the winery and all they do to be certified organic in California – even their neighbours have to be organic in order to avoid contamination from surrounding soil. Through their practices, which include using sheep to mow between the vines and bicycles to get around the vineyards, they have gone from producing 1700 tonnes of waste to being 98% waste free today – and they not only create their own solar energy, they sell energy back to California! It was an interesting chat, including some time spent on biodynamic wines, which Bonterra also produces. Those wines, however, are made on a much smaller scale and are not yet available in Canada.

So what did I think of the wines? Overall, I enjoyed them. Could I taste the difference organic grapes make? No. But the Viognier was full of peaches and melon and had just a touch of oak to give it some body. I liked it with my dinner salad and would likely pick up a bottle the next time it’s available in a Vintages release at the LCBO (usually once a year or so).

The Chardonnay was oaked and had a buttered popcorn nose and was a nice, creamy option. This is a definite California Chardonnay, with 70% aged in French and American oak and the remaining 30% in stainless steel. It would be nice with a creamy dish, as the acidity should be high enough to cut through the cream just a little.

The Pinot Noir is a powerful wine at 14.2% with a cherry cola nose and a soft tannins on the palate. This was my least favourite wine of the night, despite my unabashed love of Pinot Noir. I think, for my money, Ontaro Pinot Noir is a better bet, but I know some people who swear by California. I think it’s a matter of personal taste. That said, this wine did pair nicely with the main course – pork chops, polenta and blue cheese (I skipped the pork chops, but it still worked well).

While I really enjoyed the Viognier (and that would be my pick for a lighter appetizer course), the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was my favourite wine of the evening. This was a well-structured wine that held up well with the earthy flavours in the main course and had lots cherry and stone fruit on both the nose and palate. I would pick this up for an earthy, mushroom-based dish or just to enjoy when I’m in the mood for a nice, heavy red. At $19.95 it’s a good value option for a big, bold red wine.

In the end, I have to say I like when wineries use sustainable practices and eschew pesticides and chemicals. But I also know that it’s a complicated topic and many wineries that might practice sustainable, pesticide-free farming cannot be certified due to costs or other complications. It’s a subject I look forward to studying more deeply. Feel free to suggest good resources in the comments or on social.

And if you’re looking for more information on organic and biodynamic winemaking from a writer who really understands the science, I recommend checking out The Academic Wino’s writings on this topic. Becca looks at wine-related subjects from a scientific perspective and has written extensively about this subject.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club and Bonterra Organic Vineyards for the invitation to try these wines and learn more about organic winemaking.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Food Pairing Friday with Rebecca Meïr-Liebman

I’m so excited to announce a new regular series on the blog—Food Pairing Friday—where I will pick the brains of some of my favourite chefs, sommeliers and wine aficionados to find out what wine and food combinations they recommend. I’m hoping you’ll find it a fun and informative way to kick-off your weekend. Maybe it will even inspire you to try a new wine pairing at a restaurant or in your own kitchen.

First up is Rebecca Meïr-Liebman, sommelier and, alongside her husband, Chef Eyal Liebman, the co-founder of L is For and co-creator of the locally renowned Chocolate Dinner series. The dinners, which are always a sell-out, feature chocolate in every single dish, and Rebecca pairs each course with an appropriate wine (usually from a local winery).

The next Chocolate Dinner is on May 30th and will feature the wines of Prince Edward County’s Lacey Estates. Rebecca’s flare for creative and unique pairings will no doubt be a highlight of the event and her Food Pairing Friday submission showcases two of the challenges she recently took on to use wine in fun and unexpected ways.

Rebecca’s pairing suggestions:

I love pairing desserts in a non-traditional way, in particular featuring wines that are not dessert wines or port. There is a much wider spectrum of wines to pair dessert with, especially if you are working with a professional pastry chef who can adjust the complexity and sweetness of a dessert to help make the perfect pairing.

There is only one rule we have to follow - the wine has to be just a bit sweeter than the dessert, so as not to ruin the wine. Here are two non-traditional pairings I offered at our Chocolate Dinners.

The dish: Carrot cake and Valrhona Taïnori dark chocolate
Goat cheese | chocolate carrot cake
Paired with: Kew Vineyards, Heritage, 2011 (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) A stylistic blend of equal parts Apassimento and Ripasso demonstrates how the Old Italian winemaking process can produce consistently full-bodied red wines in Ontario.
The reason why it pairs well is mainly thanks to the use of the Apassimento wine making technique. The goat cheese was added to take down the sweetness of the carrot cake and add fattiness and richness to hold to the Heritage.

The dish: Tomato, olive oil and Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate
Tomato gelée, a L'Olivier and white chocolate mousse, macerated strawberries and lemon marmalade
Pairing: Stanners Vineyard, Gris et Noir, 2011
This pairing was ambitious! Since it is an off-dry wine, Chef Eyal added salt to the white chocolate mousse to lower the impression of sweetness in the dish, the salt made the pairing work. This wine would naturally pair well with a Caprese salad and that is how we realized the saltiness would make the pairing.

Looking for more information on attending a Chocolate Dinner or booking a chef experience with Rebecca and Eyal? Visit the L is For website to learn more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kicking off Spring with a Rosé Tasting

So our monthly wine tasting group has a name— #blendedcru—and I hope you will follow our hashtag on Twitter the first Wednesday of every month when we meet at 5 p.m. ET to talk, taste and tweet about new and interesting wines.

April had us enjoying rosé on April Fool’s Day—one of my favourite things to drink! Rosé really does go with pretty much everything, and because it can be made from a number of different grapes it is always interesting to taste multiple bottles back-to-back. For this tasting, we had three bottles—two from Ontario and one from New Zealand—to say they couldn’t have been more different would be a huge understatement.

First up, the 2013 Pelee Island Cabernet Franc rosé. Host, André Proulx loves Pelee Island wine, so they are becoming a staple at our tastings. This one had a surprisingly pale colour for a Cabernet Franc-based wine, it was a very pale, almost blush, pink. In the glass, this had lots of peach, strawberry and melon on the nose, but was much dryer than I would have anticipated on the palate. With a medium finish and strawberry notes, I would prefer this one with food.

Henry of Pelham 2014 rosé was next and the colour was an impressive dark pink. A blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this wine has a distinct candied fruit nose featuring watermelon and strawberry. It’s dry on the palate with that blend of red fruit and savoury notes that I love in a rosé. Of the three, this is the one I’d most like to enjoy on my patio this summer.

Finally, we tried the Kim Crawford Pansy! rosé, which was the brightest pink of all the bottles—almost fuchsia in colour, which is always fun. On the nose, this was like a fruit market on a summer morning, lush and full of strawberry, apple, peach, melon and more, which made the heavily vegetal notes on the palate a bit of a surprise. Imagine drinking a strawberry salad and that sort of sums this wine up—a bit too earthy for my tastes with lots of green notes. That said, if you’re looking for something to pair with a summer salad or a lentil-based dish, this would be pretty perfect. I can’t say I’d want to sip it on the dock at the cottage, but with lunch? Absolutely.

Overall, a fun tasting opportunity and a reminder that I need to stock up on some new rosé for the season. One favourite that didn’t make it into this tasting? Creekside Estate Winery’s delicious rosé—I can’t wait to try their new vintage.

As always, you can check out other reviews from this tasting by my #blendedcru partners in wine: André Proulx and Jason Solanki.

Do you like rosé? What are your favourites?

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?