Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Food and Drink of Ottawa

For our anniversary this year, Shawn and I decided to visit Ottawa. It’s one of our favourite cities and we’d never been in the summer, so I was excited to get back. Several of my wonderful Twitter friends helped me decide where to go and what to do on our visit and, as usual, we weren’t disappointed by our crowd-sourced adventures.

As regular readers know, Shawn is typically the DD on our wine trips. He likes a glass or two with dinner, but he’s happy not to imbibe so I can discover new wines without worries about driving. He’s really more of a beer lover, so as his anniversary gift I treated him to visits to some of Ottawa’s many great craft beer brewers. I used Sheltered Girl Meets World’s excellent post on beer tourism in Ottawa to plan our brewery visits and I highly recommend this resource to any other brew lovers visiting the city.

Our first stop was Big Rig Brewery, which is just about in the suburbs of Ottawa, but was easy to get to on our way in. We loved the vibe at this restaurant and the wings were super tasty. Shawn had a glass of the Scotch Ale with his lunch and even after tasting several other excellent brews throughout the weekend, this turned out to be the best and his pick for the trip. I’d love to go back here again, as we didn’t really have an opportunity to sample much on their menu. They didn’t offer the Scotch Ale for take-home purchase, but we were able to get a six-pack of one of their other brews to take back with us.

We chose Divino Wine Studio for our anniversary dinner and that was a much different experience. This is a great place to do wine and Italian food pairings and I enjoyed our meal and the atmosphere. We had made reservations in advance, but still weren’t able to get one of the few tables available, however, the communal seating situation here wasn’t too bad. The staff is friendly, the food is good and the atmosphere is quite unique so I’m glad we had the chance to eat here. Keep in mind that this is a pretty pricy option, but worth it for a celebration.

The next day we did a double-decker bus tour – one of the best ways to see all the great sites this city has to offer – and stopped off at Byward Market. There’s a Montreal bagel shop there that I absolutely love and I was glad to find that it was just as good as I remembered.

We had dinner that night at Clocktower Brew Pub, in The Glebe district. We stayed at the excellent Best Western on O’Connor near the Glebe and I liked this much better than our previous hotels, which we chose because they were in the heart of the city. I loved being so close to the restaurants, nightlife and shops in the Glebe, plus it was only about a twenty minute walk to the more tourist-heavy Byward Market and Parliament Hill areas.

Clocktower Brew Pub was the surprise of the trip for us. We loved the food, which wasn’t fancy but just super tasty brew pub fare done really well. Shawn also gave the beer a thumbs up, though we were disappointed that there was none available for take-home purchase at this location. We’ll look out for their Raspberry Wheat and Bytown Brown at the LCBO.

After dinner, we decided to walk to the Byward Market and check out Hooch Bourbon House, which had just opened that week. I had learned about them on Twitter via Foodie Prints and they sounded like a fun stop. We weren’t disappointed! This was a relaxing spot to hang out, with wonderful Southen-inspired décor and a menu full of bourbon to have straight or as a cocktail. I would have loved to sample some of the food we saw coming out of the kitchen (the chicken and waffles looked pretty amazing), but we were stuffed from Clocktower. This is a place we will definitely visit again on our next trip to the area.

Day three started with a long walk – much-needed after all the food the night before. One of my Twitter friends had suggested that we must check out SuzyQ donuts on this visit and our tourist map made it look pretty close. Well, 45 minutes later we had seen some new-to-us areas of the city and were more than ready for one of SuzyQ’s amazing donut treats. I had the Earl Gray and Shawn had the Maple Bacon – we certainly weren’t complaining about the walk while we were scarfing down these yummy treats.

While contemplating the route we’d take back, we ran into Vicky (momwhoruns) in the parking lot! She was in town visiting her parents and couldn’t miss a trip to SuzyQ. She gave us a lift back to the downtown core so we could stop in for a visit at the Chateau des Charmes store. I love that there is actually a CDC stand-alone store in Ottawa and wish there were more of these across Ontario. It’s a great idea.

We headed to Beyond the Pale Brewing to pick up some of their craft brew (no fancy restaurants here, just a walk-up tasting bar and growlers to go) and then to dinner at Union 613 with my other favourite Shawn (uncorkontario) and his lovely wife, Debbie. It was so great to meet one of my friends from Twitter and discover that he is just as fantastic in real life. Union 613, however, was just OK. I loved the wine that Shawn selected – Cave Springs The Adam Steps Riesling – and it’s a fun vibe, but the food was just alright. Maybe Shawn and I have spent too much time enjoying fried chicken and grits in Savannah, but this was just so-so in comparison.

Still, the company was fabulous and I’m so glad we got the chance to spend some time with Shawn and Debbie. They are truly great folks who have been a huge help in my wine education.

Shawn and I had planned to visit Cassel Brewery on our way out the next morning, but a rain storm hit (many thanks to the weather gods for keeping the predicted rain at bay until our very last day), so we’ll put that off until our next visit. Our trip was fantastic and we can’t wait to go back. We already have a list of places we didn’t get to that we need to try, so I hope that visit is sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wine on Tap Part 2

Photo provided by Versay
Apologies that I’m so far behind with some of these experience posts – seems that between work and wine school there is never enough time to get caught up. I’m hopeful that will change now that I’m taking the fall off school, but no promises

In June, I attended the launch of wine on tap at the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s Eight Wine Bar. I’d never been to Eight Wine Bar and I was excited to check it out, especially since I’m a huge fan of any establishment that offers wine on tap. I just think wine on tap is really the best way to ensure that those who order by the glass are getting a great glass of wine every time. The wine taps ensure that no glass is ever oxidized and the advantages in terms of the environment are undeniable – wine on tap is definitely the future.

My original Wine of Tap post remains one of the most popular on the blog. I think that’s because people are really curious about how this concept works and why it’s worth checking out. Now, I am still one of those who believes that there will always be a need and a place for wine in bottles. I love wine bottles and collect corks, so I am not someone who would like to see those established norms change. I do think, however, there is room to expand our horizons in terms of how wine is delivered. If I go out for a glass of wine and the bar offers a selection on tap, I know that the wine I get will be as fresh as it would have been from a newly opened bottle. That’s important to me and I think it will lead to more people discovering just how good wine can be when you never get a glass that has been tainted by being open just a bit too long.

Eight Wine Bar
The wine taps at Eight Wine Bar (as well as at my perennial favourite Rock Lobster) are provided by Versay and they are really quite attractive. We had the chance to see them in action at the event and I was impressed by how sleek and stylish they are. Those who think that wine on tap can’t be aesthetically pleasing will be surprised at just how fashionable these taps are. Thanks to the nice people at Versay for providing a photo of the unit similar to what is at Eight Wine Bar. It was quite dark at the event, so my photos aren’t this nice!

At Eight Wine Bar we got to sample several of the wines on tap. Three of them were from Vineland Estates, which I was thrilled to see. I think it’s great when wine bars are able to showcase some of Ontario’s best wines and Brian Schmidt at Vineland has some fabulous options. It’s definitely a go to when I see Vineland wines on a menu. I wasn’t disappointed by the wine on offer (though I was surprised to see Pinot Meunier as an option – not a wine many would expect). I enjoyed all three Vineland selections, though my favourite was the Chardonnay. I also enjoyed the Italian Pinot Grigio on the menu that night.

And the food at Eight Wine Bar was fabulous – it was so great to try their new sampling menu, including some of the best lobster sliders I have ever had. I am definitely looking forward to my next visit and the chance to try more wine on tap!

For more information on Eight Wine Bar: http://www.cosmotoronto.com/Eight-Wine-Bar
For more information on Versay's Wine on Tap:  http://versay.ca/

Saturday, August 17, 2013

SOMM


Recently, I attended a showing of the documentary SOMM at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre. If you are a wine lover and you haven’t seen SOMM yet, you must do so soon. It’s already available for download on iTunes, so there’s really no excuse not to! I saw it the night before my Wines 2 exam, when my head was already swimming with wine knowledge, and I’m so glad I decided to take the night off and indulge in this movie.

SOMM follows several young men who are studying intensely to pass the hardest wine exam in the world (given the pass/fail rate, it may even be the hardest exam in the world). The absolute passion and dedication that wine students (most of them already at the top of their game in the wine industry) put into this insanely difficult test is absolutely fascinating to watch.

Now, I am admittedly a nervous tester when it comes to wine, so the amount of pressure that these guys put on themselves is pretty incredible to see. I can’t even imagine. Well, that’s the thing, I sort of could imagine, as I watched. And that part of me that is so wildly obsessed with wine understood in a weird way why someone would put themselves through this. I don’t know that I’ll ever be in a place where I can take a year off my life to study for a test I have next to no chance at passing, but I can imagine doing it. I get it.

And the movie was so well done. I totally felt for each of these people as they went through the process. SOMM manages to be funny and heartwarming while still giving you sweaty palms as you find yourself intently invested in whether these guys will pass this test they want so desperately to master. You know the odds are long (six people out of 50 passed the year the movie filmed, one in 70 this past year), but you still hope.

 

I haven’t stopped recommending SOMM since I saw it and I anticipate that I’ll see it a few more times in the months to come. They talk quite a bit with the spouses of master sommelier candidates and I think Shawn would be interested in seeing that side of things! I suspect he’d already have something in common with them.

There has been some criticism of the fact that no women candidates are featured in the movie. I don’t think that took away from my enjoyment of SOMM, but it would have been interesting to see a woman’s take on the journey. Maybe there’s a separate movie to be made about that one day. I’d certainly watch it.   

There was a reception prior to the movie featuring wines from Creekside Estate Winery and Tawse Estate Winery, which I was happy to indulge in. While I had tried the four wines available for sampling in the past, I think it’s always fantastic when a new crowd is exposed to Ontario wine. It was great to see people coming back to the table near me to find out where they could find Creekside’s Laura’s Blend. I hope many people picked up a bottle at their local LCBO the next day!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pro & Kon

I’m always on the lookout for things to help me better understand wine – it’s a huge area of study, so any time I can get a better grasp on the subject I’m thrilled. That’s why I love the Pro & Kon YouTube series by Konrad Ejbich – it’s a great series featuring informative interviews with some of the best winemakers around and I always walk away feeling like I've learned something

Konrad is one of Canada’s best wine writers (you can read him regularly in City Bites, among others) and he makes a fabulous host for this video series. These are designed to appeal to anyone into wine, whether a complete novice or a seasoned wine expert, so newbies need not fear that this will be over their heads. I especially enjoyed his recent interview with Paul Bosc Sr. from Chateau des Charmes winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Monsieur Bosc was one of the first winemakers to bring French varietals to the Niagara area and the interview is a fascinating look at how the region evolved.
 
Pro & Kon is available free on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/WineZoneCA?feature=watch
Follow Konrad on Twitter: www.twitter.com/winezone