Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Persimmon and Wine Pairing

Before I started working on this post, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never tried a persimmon. I’d seen them at the grocery store, but I had no idea what to do with them or if I would like them, so I just took a pass. When I was approached by Persimon brand persimmons to do a wine and food pairing with this unique fruit, I thought it was a good opportunity to learn about another healthy food item I could incorporate into my diet.

Persimon persimmons are from Spain and they’re always ready to eat – they don’t need to be ripened like other persimmons. This is a bonus, as we were able to start working on our recipe right away once they arrived.  They’re also bigger than most persimmons I’ve seen (about the size of a large tomato) and they are sweet – sort of like a mango or peach. They’re actually pretty darn delicious and I would love to try then in a dessert or as a cocktail. These would even work on top of cereal or in yogurt.

Persimons actually have a Denomination of Origin designation from the Spanish government – sort of like some wines have designations for being specific to their area. I thought that was an interesting note. Persimons are grown in the Ribera del Xuquer area of Spain by more than 5000 registered producers.

Shawn and I flipped through the suggested recipes for this challenge and were worried about what to try – my cooking abilities (limited) and food restrictions (no red meat), meant a few of the recipes were off limits.  The one item that we both thought sounded interesting? Gazpacho. That’s a dish with the potential to be both healthy and delicious, but it’s a bit of a wine-pairing conundrum.

Gazpacho has lots of acid (this recipe even calls for vinegar – a wine-pairing no-no) and it’s a tough one to flavour match. So faced with this dilemma, I did what I usually do when dealing with a wine pairing mystery – I picked up my copy of What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page. This book was recommended to me by The Wine Sisters (who have an awesome wine blog and wine events company that you should check out) and they were absolutely right about how useful it is.

There are some pairings that are just tougher than others and having an easy-to-use resource like this one is a huge help in figuring out which wine to choose. So what do they recommend for gazpacho? Dry Sherry, which makes a huge amount of sense. However, I didn’t have any on hand, so I went with the second choice – Sauvignon Blanc. The earthy, vegetal notes in a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would likely work extremely well with this very earthy and veggie-heavy dish. My pick in the photo, since we weirdly had no Sauvignon Blanc either, is the 2009 Stratus white blend, which is 32% Semillon, 31% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 4% Gewurztraminer. Would that be a perfect pairing? No, but definitely in the right direction - I'd choose a 100% Sauvignon Blanc if we were to make this recipe again. I would also like to try this with the dry Sherry. And, yes, we'll be stocking up on both soon.

There are a wealth of recipes available on the Persimon website, as well as a contest to win a trip to Spain. I highly recommend you pick some up and try your hand at your own pairings. We won’t be passing these fruits by in the grocery store anymore and look forward to making some Persimon cocktails next!
 
The fine print: Persimon provided me with the Persimons and a gift card with which to purchase the needed ingredients to make this recipe. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wine and Chocolate Holiday Pairing Party

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few wine and chocolate pairing events. It’s a fun alternative to cheese pairing and I am always fascinated by the diversity of flavours and how unique some of the pairings can be. So when Ganong offered me the opportunity to try doing some wine and chocolate pairings for the holiday season, I was quick to say yes.

Chocolate is definitely a sometimes food in our household, but over the holidays it’s nice to indulge a little. I think a wine and chocolate pairing experience can be a great addition to your holiday party and I wanted to provide a few tips from my own experiments to help make yours a success!

A little chocolate goes a long way.
I love the idea of a wine and chocolate pairing party, but when I started my planning I quickly realized that it’s a great companion to a fabulous event. Focussing exclusively on sweet treats sounds awesome in theory, but your guests (and you) may max out much faster than you expect. Try saving the pairing for after your holiday dinner or as a fun addition to a holiday cocktail party where you’re also serving savoury snacks (and lots of water).

Offer a few pairing options.
Wine pairing success is partly skill and partly luck, because a certain amount of your success depends on personal preferences meshing with your selections. While I think dark chocolate and Cabernet Franc is pretty darn awesome (and is one of my personal pairing picks for Ganong plain dark chocolate), a lot of my wineaux friends turn up their nose at that mix of sweet and savoury. Have small wine glasses available and two wines to test per sample. While my Cabernet Franc pick may fall flat with some, they may find their heart soars for dark chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon or even Syrah.

Don’t count out white wines.
While red wine and chocolate seems a lock, don’t completely discount white wines. One of the best Ganong pairings I tried was their white chocolate and orange truffle with Chloe Chardonnay. The citrus notes in the wine were a delicious match for the orange in the truffle. And, if you’re a fan of orange chocolate, those truffles are pretty darn spectacular – pulling out a plate full of those with the Chloe Chardonnay to end off a holiday dinner may just keep you on the ‘nice’ list well into 2016.

Be a little adventurous.
When I tried the Ganong Chicken Bone Nougat (a sweet red mix that tastes like Christmas, with lots of cinnamon notes and a little bit of mint), I was stumped for a pairing. They recommend Cabernet Sauvignon, and that could work, but I was curious about other options. The closest taste match I could think of was Swedish Fish (they share a cinnamon heart sort of taste) and I checked in with my friends on Twitter for suggestions. Their thoughts? A slightly sweet Prosecco, Vidal Icewine (maybe a bit too sweet on sweet, but a fun experiment) or even a Pinot Noir. What would I pick? Likely the Prosecco because you can’t ever go wrong with bubbles and I think the hint of sweetness would be a good balance. Another option? Port! And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Chloe Chardonnay was actually a pretty good match for this chocolate too. It could be fun to try a few options and see what your guests think.

In the photos, you can see some of my picks for wine and chocolate pairing this holiday season. These may not be the wines you’d choose, so I look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comment section. What pairings would you pull out to impress your guests?

Thanks to Ganong for the chocolate samples to make this post possible. They currently have a contest where you can enter to win some of your own for the holiday season. Click on the banner below to learn more.

https://ganong.com/delecto/

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Gift Guide

When I was putting together my plans for this holiday gift guide I thought it would be fun to include some ideas from a few of my favourite wine bloggers and writers. These are the people I turn to for suggestions, so I thought my readers might enjoy hearing their holiday gift picks. I wasn’t disappointed in the ideas I received and I’m so happy to be able to share these recommendations for what to get the wine-lover on your gift list.  

Tyler’s Pick:
My pick is a fun, yet useful wine-related item available this season at Home Outfitters.  It is a five-piece wine accessory kit in the shape of Bordeaux bottle for $24.99 and a token of good taste for the would-be wine enthusiast on your list this year.

Read more of Tyler Philp’s articles on wine at www.tylerphilp.com – A member of the Wine Writer’s Circle of Canada, Tyler is an expert on wine cellars and a great resource for all sorts of wine information.
Jason’s Pick:
Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2010 
A big, seductive Ontario red from the great 2010 vintage, this edition sports a traditional Bordeaux-blend consisting of 53% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Malbec. Would make an excellent gift that can be enjoyed now or over the next 5-8 years for that red wine lover in your life. You will find this in the VINTAGES section at the LCBO (#505610) for $38.20.

Read more of Jason Solanki’s wine reviews at his Vintages Wine Picks & Reviews site – this is a great resource to read all about the latest LCBO Vintages releases and more: http://vintagewinepicks.blogspot.ca/



Shawn’s Pick:
My suggestion is one of the most useful (and least expensive) gifts you can buy for your wineaux friends. This is a cork puller, and it is used when removing corks from aged wines. After about 10-12 years, the corks may start to break down and as you approach 20 years old, they are almost impossible to remove in one piece.

The cork puller solves this problem. The two prongs straddle the cork and you gently rotate the handle and slowly pull the cork out. It has saved me many times, sometimes when I started with a conventional corkscrew.

I acquired mine at Strewn Winery for about $8 several years ago. If you can't find any locally, Amazon.ca has some starting at about $11, and quite a nice metal one for $16.75.

Read more on Ontario and Canadian wine at Shawn McCormick’s fantastic Uncork Ontario website: http://uncorkontario.com/

Shawn is also the moderator for #ONWineChat, which takes place on Twitter every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. EST.

My pick:
Lailey Vineyard’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling
Released on the first weekend in December, this is a limited-release wine from one of Ontario’s premier winemakers. They only plant three rows for this Riesling and it’s worth it to scoop some up, if you can. As a late harvest wine, it is just sweet enough to be a perfect pairing for soft, creamy cheese. This is a great gift idea for a wine fan or a special treat to pull out after your holiday dinner.


Do you have another great gift idea to suggest? Be sure to leave a comment below!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Party Pleasers

While it’s not exactly Oprah’s Favourite Things, I’m always excited to share some of the fun finds I come across in my blogging adventures. The holiday season is a great excuse to give you a few hints about what your loved ones might like to find under the tree or at your holiday party.

This year, I’m splitting the post into two parts – today, I present a few of my favourite holiday party pleasers and then I’ll follow-up with a post featuring some of my favourite wine bloggers and writers sharing their gift-giving suggestions. Look for that one soon!

So what should you be stocking at your next holiday party, or bringing to impress the host? Here are a few of my ideas:


Pommies Perry – Most of you already know that I’m a big fan of Pommies apple cider (it’s made in a wine style and I love that it’s crisp, refreshing and a little on the sweet side). I looked very forward to trying the pear version of their cider and, while my heart still belongs to the apple, Perry makes a great addition to the bar at your holiday party. Perry is a little less sweet and more tart than the apple, but just as crisp and refreshing. A nice addition to the Ontario cider menu. Available at select LCBO locations or see their website for province by province availability: http://pommies.com/

2013 Lighthall Progression sparkling wine – Kicking off the evening with a sparkling wine is a great way to toast the season. Progression remains a favourite in our household, perfect on its own, with oysters or to accompany all those salty party snacks (I recently had it with nachos – delicious). This Prince Edward County sparkler is a fantastic and festive addition to any party. Available at the winery or via agent: www.lighthallvineyards.com/

Sprucewood Shores Warm 'n Cozy – When I was offered the chance to try Sprucewood Shores Warm 'n Cozy mulled wine, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve heard all about mulled wine being served in German Christmas markets and warm, spicy wine sounded like a pretty good idea to me. So one cold evening, Shawn and I heated some up on the stove and poured it into mugs – not exactly how we’re used to serving our wine, but a fun alternative. We curled up on the couch and both of us had the same reaction – the first sip is a little jarring. But as we tried a second and third sip, we really warmed to this drink. The flavours are very similar to the German Christmas cookies my Omi used to give us every year during my childhood, so it’s quite different than your traditional wine and it turned out to be a lovely winter warmer. This one would be great for sipping around the fire with friends or for curling up with the one you love. Available now in select LCBO outlets and via the winery: http://www.sprucewoodshores.com/

Fire in the Kitchen Wicked Pickles – I had no idea one of our favourite spice blend companies made pickles too (though apparently they have for years). We tried them recently at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo and I completely fell for them. I want my dill pickles with a huge hit of garlic and Shawn likes them nice and spicy. These come in two different styles – one for each of our tastes! Available via the company website or at select retailers: https://fireinthekitchen.ca/
Little Shop of Lobsters crab and lobster mousse– Shawn and I fell hard for the lobster and crab mousse from Little Shop of Lobsters at the One of a Kind Show this year. So hard, in fact, that we may not feel up to sharing these little pots of deliciousness with our holiday guests. Be sure to get the bigger jars if you don’t want your Grinch-y side to come out! Available via trade show of the company website: http://www.littleshopoflobsters.com/

Do you have any favourite holiday party must-haves? Feel free to share in the comments – and don’t forget to watch for the blogger wine gift round-up coming soon…

* Some of these products were provided as samples and some I purchased. All opinions are my own and all these were chosen because I really liked them and thought you might too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sideroad Twenty Cellars and Red Tractor Wines

Patric, Andrew and Yvonne
Shawn and I recently visited Niagara to do some early Christmas shopping – I wanted to make sure I got to Vineland Estates and several of my other favourite wineries to pick up gifts for everyone who’s getting wine from us this year.

Not everyone can make it to wine country before the holidays, though, which is one of the reasons I’m excited to tell you about Sideroad Twenty Cellars – a wine agency from Ontario that’s offering some fun and unique elements to set their agency apart.

I became interested in Sideroad Twenty Cellars after sitting down with Managing Director Patrick Storr. We had a great chat about wine and I had the opportunity to try some of the agency’s Red Tractor wines. Wait, a wine agency that makes their own wine? That’s pretty special in and of itself – and when I found out that Creekside Estate Winery’s Assistant Winemaker Yvonne Irvine is the winemaker behind Red Tractor, I was even more excited to try these wines.

They didn’t disappoint. These are high-quality Ontario wine offerings that reflect the region’s unique terroir and stand up against some of the area’s best bottles. I was especially impressed by the Riesling and I can’t wait to try the Cabernet Franc, which I’ll be reviewing on Twitter soon. These wines are small-lot and available at a reasonable cost via the sr20 website – perfect for holiday gifting or enjoying over dinner any night. And they can be purchased alongside other great Ontario wine selections in a mixed case – one of my personal favourite features.

The Sideroad Twenty team were kind enough to answer some of my questions below so I could share even more information with you.

Patrick, Jessica and Yvonne

How did Sideroad Twenty Cellars get started?  

Andrew Howard – President: Sideroad Twenty Cellars started the way so many wine companies start—with a passion for the wine industry and a realization that there is a different way to buy great wine. So many of the boutique and interesting wines never see a retail store because the Liquor Boards can only take so many wines and the smaller lot wines only get "loved" by the people who visit the winery. SR20 was based on the fact that the best way to buy wine is from people and by getting the right advice. We have people who help us sell wine to the people they know and we have a website that looks to bring to life more information about the wines so that more people get a wine they're going to love more often!

The name was inspired driving the back roads of Ontario and we came across Sideroad Twenty…for some reason we spontaneously turned down the road and it just had a great feel to it. The name rolled off our tongue, it wasn't already a winery's name and the rest was history. As an aside - come up with any name that you think would make a good winery name…put it into a google search….and you'll find a winery by that name somewhere in the world!

What sets you apart from other wine agents?

Jessica Nagy – Marketing & Logistics Manager: The two biggest factors that set us apart from other online agents are 1) we offer the customer the ability to mix cases from various Ontario wineries; and 2) the customer pays a flat shipping rate to anywhere in the Province. Additionally, we focus on providing access to a limited number of high quality wines that are not always available on LCBO and Vintages shelves in addition to some that are more easily found in store. So when you shop at sr20.ca, you know you are selecting from carefully curated wines that are some of the best quality in the province, and that you can’t just go down the street to pick up one of these bottles at any given time.

I love that you offer mixed cases of Ontario wine - what wineries do you work with and are there any restrictions?

Jessica: Our list of partner wineries is at 11 right now and always growing. Most are concentrated within the Niagara region, with a couple in Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. We don’t have restrictions to which wineries we will work with, but we do focus on those that are making high-quality wines that showcase the unique terroir of Ontario’s growing regions. Logistically, it’s easier for us to work with wineries that are close geographically as well, but we are always looking to expand our partnerships and for ways to bring even more Ontario wine to Ontario residents. We also like to focus on developing strong relationships with the wineries we represent—which is why we call them our partners. We’re all entering this intriguing new world of online wine sales in Canada together.

Winemaker Yvonne Irvine
You are one of the only agencies I've ever heard of with your own wine - how did Red Tractor come about?

Andrew: Red Tractor helps us to be better connected to the process of making wine and keeps us empathetic to the joys and challenges that our partner wineries go through to make great wine. As passionate wine lovers with brand-building backgrounds, we couldn't resist complementing the offerings from our partner wineries by creating our own small lot high quality wines.

We're really proud of Red Tractor wines and the recent awards they’ve won - the wines are definitely getting noticed. We make a point of talking a lot about the vineyard sourcing for the wines because one of the primary drivers for Red Tractor is selecting small lots of premium quality fruit from great local farmers. That is why most of the Red Tractor wines are produced from single vineyards and in small batches. It also feels right to be talking about "where the tractor is working" when we promote the wines.

Why the name?  I love tractors and particularly like the vintage ones. We own a gorgeous re-worked 1950 Massey Harris. It's fun to drive and they seem to perfectly represent the hard work mentality that goes into growing premium grapes and making great wine - there really are no short cuts!  It's also a bit like the Smartie jingle - we like the red ones best.

Your winemaker, Yvonne Irvine, is well-loved in the Ontario wine community. What has working with her meant for Red Tractor?

Patrick Storr – Managing Director: Working with Yvonne has been great. She’s energetic, creative, opinionated, and brings a wealth of experience from her years as a member of the Creekside winemaking team. She wasn’t always the lead winemaker for Red Tractor and actually earned the position through her precociousness. During a 2012 trip to the Okanogan Valley, Andrew fell in love with a BC Chardonnay. Knowing that Yvonne was a huge fan of Chardonnay he brought her back a bottle. After tasting it together she agreed that it was a beautiful style, but thought with a few small adjustments she could do better. After a few more glasses it was decided that she would take the lead producing that year’s Red Tractor Chardonnay. Since then, the 2012 Red Tractor Chardonnay has gone on to win awards at some of Canada’s top wine competitions and consistently receives top accolades from critics. We’ve never looked back and Yvonne has been our lead winemaker ever since.

I think this is a great option for those hoping to give VQA for the holidays, but who may be unable to make it out to Niagara to pick up some of the winery-only bottles. Are you still taking orders for the holiday season?

Jessica: Yes! We are still taking orders and even have some exciting pre-Holiday deals coming up for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We can guarantee December 24 delivery in the GTHA for all local wine orders placed by December 18. Our Wine Clubs are a great gift idea that keeps on giving all year long.

For more information on Sideroad Twenty Cellars: http://sr20.ca/


*I received samples of the Red Tractor wines to try – opinions are my own

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Vineyard Trail Interviews… Me!


One of the most amazing things about the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC14) was meeting other bloggers. Some of my favourite people were the team behind The Vineyard Trail. I loved getting to know them and learning about their fabulous and fun wine company. I was beyond flattered that they were interested in interviewing me about my journey to becoming a wine blogger.

Their post and video is now up and I hope you’ll check it out. Not because it’s me (I’m convinced I look dorky), but because I love their site and you should take a look too. I also appreciated the opportunity to once again say thank you to the  incredible people who welcomed me into the world of wine. My life would truly be very different had they not taken this wine novice into their lives and I am eternally grateful.

You can check out the post here: http://www.thevineyardtrail.com/how-social-media-made-krista-drink-wine-by-tj/

And while I’m on the subject, I thought this would be a good opportunity to mention just a very small sampling of the talented bloggers I got to know at WBC14. If you have the chance, please take a moment to visit their blogs and see what they’ve got to say about wine in their part of the world. Since this only scratches the surface of great blogs I discovered, I’ll try and plan a second post soon!

The Academic Wino – Becca’s blog is all about the science and history of wine and is often the source of some fascinating facts. She’s also fabulously nice and I was thrilled to get to know her better at this year’s conference.

A Glass After Work – Want ideas about what to sip after a hard day at the office? Alleigh is a great resource! While some of her suggestions aren’t easily available in Canada, there are some that are and the blog is a great read either way.

Cuvée Corner – When I decided to come to California, Bill was kind enough to spend an hour of his time telling me all the wineries I should visit and helping me plan my trip. Reading his blog, which is full of wine stories and reviews from around the world, it’s not surprising that he’s such a fabulous source of information. He was also a very-deserving nominee at this year’s Wine Blog Awards!

The Virginia Grape – Planning to visit Virginia wine country? Brian’s blog is a must-read for planning your trip.  I love the personal touch to his winery reviews.

Like I said, just a small selection - I'll be sure to add more soon. And please feel free to include your own favourites in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Daou Vineyards

Our view from the patio
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles, California. And I likely wouldn’t have made the trip if I hadn’t tasted the winery’s delicious White Grenache at the California Wine Fair in Toronto. One of my wonderful wine friends insisted I request a sip from the winery’s Canadian distributer and I was lucky enough to get the very last of their bottle – it was fabulous and so unique.

So when Shawn and I were planning our recent California trip, Daou was high on our list to visit. It didn’t disappoint. Driving up to the mountain-top location is an adventure in and of itself – the scenery is breathtaking (even with the California drought leaving much of the area yellow instead of lush and green) and the winery itself is stunning as it comes into view.

And from the other side of the winery
We were treated to an incredible tasting in the winery’s beautiful rotunda area and I can’t thank their lovely staff enough for the experience. We were able to taste through a full selection, starting with the Chenin de Fleurs, which had papaya, lemon and melon on the nose and a creamy mouth-feel with apple and papaya on the finish. This had very good structure and great acidity.

The 2011 Celestus had cherry, chocolate, sweet red fruit and spicy licorice on the nose, a medium-heavy body and a medium-long finish with chocolate on the palate. This would be a nice wine with dinner – especially if you were having red meat.

The 2012 Unbound is a unique red blend which reminded me of Syrah. There’s pepper, plum, smoke and cherry on the nose and this is rich and ripe on the palate. The tannins here are a bit chewy, making this another great red meat pairing.

The 2011 Reserve Seventeen Forty is much more tannic, with a nice structure. It’s still very young, but quite vibrant and powerful. I think this will age well.

The 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon had tobacco on the nose, along with nutmeg, plum and dark cherry. The finish was long and there was such strong character to this wine. Our host suggested this could age at least another ten years and I would agree - I wish I could have brought home a bottle to cellar.

The 2012 Zinfandel is 15% alcohol, but very balanced and not too hot. It’s fruit-forward, with some strawberry on the nose. This was a favourite of both Shawn and I at the tasting, as it was a well-made Zin that didn’t feel too heavy. Even with the temperatures well above 100 degrees the day of our visit, I still felt like this would be a nice wine to sip on Daou’s beautiful patio.

And then it happened – one of those moments all wine lovers hope for – I tried a wine that made me really pause for a moment and remember what drew me to wine in the first place. The 2011 Estate Mayote is not on the regular tasting menu, but I was thrilled that we got to taste this. The owners made this very special wine for their mother and it features cherry, nutmeg and cloves on the nose.

It’s a little hot on the nose and features amazing fruit on the palate. While I enjoyed all of the wines we tasted, this was hands-down my favourite. It made me pause and want to explore every single nuance in each sip. I loved the surge of fruit on the palate and then the way it eased into a long, but subtle finish with just a hint of coffee.

I had to take this one home and I am hopeful that it survived the rest of our California road trip without too much stress. I’m excited to try this again in a few years and relive our wonder visit to Daou. The winery itself is definitely a big part of the tasting experience and I highly recommend it if you’re in the Paso Robles area.

For more information on Daou Vineyards:  http://www.daouvineyards.com/

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bywoods Restaurant

I always love discovering new restaurants, so when I was invited to a blogger dinner at Bywoods (760 St. Claire Avenue West), I was excited to take part. 

Bywoods opened in May and they specialize in Mediterranean cuisine, they also have a wine list that is evolving to include more VQA wines - always a good thing. The list on the night I visited included Sandbanks and Angel’s Gate wines, alongside an international selection. They assured me, however, that the plan is to increase the number of local wines on offer. With locally grown ingredients a staple on their menu, it only makes sense to have more local wines available to go along with those. I look forward to hearing more about this and trying some VQA on my next visit.

At this meal, the cocktail on offer was The Bywoods, a gin, organic rosemary, lemon juice, sugar & club soda combo. I really enjoyed it and would love it if they were able to use Dillon’s excellent gin to continue the local theme. Just a thought!

For dinner, they were fantastic about managing my food restrictions (I don’t eat red meat). The chef even made a portion of the prosciutto pizza vegetarian so I could indulge. It was delish – covered in fresh arugula and very light and fresh. My favourite was the vegetarian pizza, however, which had goat cheese, leek, red pepper, grilled artichoke, tomato, red onion, black olive and fresh marjoram. I could have eaten the entire pizza on my own – and it would go really well with a glass of Ontario Riesling.

The beet salad was another of my favourites – full of flavour and with just enough walnut dressing to create a fantastic contrast. I would definitely want to have this dish again. The Mediterranean salad was also very good – I love a salad with feta. And the linguine with shrimp was another great dish – not too creamy, so it felt lighter than some pasta dishes.


There were several meat dishes that I couldn’t try, but the entire table seemed impressed – especially with the potato puree with smoked paprika that came with the pan roasted lamb sirloin. Everyone was going crazy for those potatoes.

For dessert they offered a flourless chocolate cake. I'm not a huge fan of flourless cake, but that's really a personal preference. I'd want to try a different dessert on my next visit. 

All in all, I was very happy with my meal at Bywoods and thrilled that they had so many options for me (I love when I’m not stuck just eating chicken again). I can’t wait to go back with Shawn and see what Ontario wines they’ve added to the menu.

For more information on Bywoods: https://www.facebook.com/Bywoods 

Thanks to Bywoods Restaurant for including me in this event. While the meal was complimentary, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wine and Cricket Pairings

One of the best feelings in the world is finding a perfect wine and food pairing. That said, I never thought I’d find myself looking for a pairing that worked well with chocolate covered crickets! But now that I’ve had the chance to try this very, very unique pairing, I think I’ll have an answer should anyone ask me what wine goes well with crickets.

The opportunity for my cricket tasting came about because I was invited to an event for Argentina’s Trapiche Wines. The first half of the night was a chance to taste the Pure Malbec from the winery’s line. For that, we enjoyed a lovely reception at Toca in the Ritz Carlton. We tried the Malbec with cheese, dark chocolate and (for those who eat red meat) small chunks of rare beef.  It was lovely and I really enjoyed the Malbec – especially with the chocolate. I’m a sucker for a good Malbec and this was one I would definitely like to enjoy again.

Winemaker Sergio Case spoke at the event and I had the opportunity to chat with him a little at the tasting. He was able to tell our table more about winemaking in Argentina and a bit about his history. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about their methods of production, as I hope to visit Argentina’s wineries in the future. 

After that tasting, we moved on to the iYellow Wine Cave to experience a much more unique pairing opportunity with Trapiche’s Extravaganza red blend. For this, local restaurant Sliced had prepared some truly unusual pairings – frog’s legs, duck tongue tacos and chocolate covered crickets. As a quasi-vegetarian, I passed on the frog’s legs and duck tongue (though I understand those who had them were very impressed), but I had no real reason to turn down crickets. Well, besides the obvious reason that crickets are icky.

And, to be fair, these were super icky. They weren’t actually covered in chocolate – more sitting on top of the chocolate on a homemade donut. And while the chocolate did mask the taste, it couldn’t hide the crunch – or the sight. I did brave a few bites, so I can tell you that Extravaganza does pair quite nicely with chocolate and crickets. In my opinion, the Pure may actually have been the better bet for this off-the-beaten-path delicacy, but I also just really like Malbec.
This was such a fancy and fun event – not at all the traditional wine tasting. Everyone was chatting throughout the night and truly excited about the wine and what went well with the food. Kudos to the organizers for trying something different.  The Pure Malbec and the Extravaganza red blend both retail for $15.95 and are available at the LCBO in Ontario.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winemaker Profile – Estelle Lourens – Flat Roof Manor


I‘m a sucker for a wine label featuring a cat. I suspect wine marketers know there are more than a few of us out there, as there’s never a shortage of feline images at the LCBO. And so when I saw that cats figure prominently on the labels of South Africa’s Flat Roof Manor wines, my interest was piqued. The cat images in this case were inspired by a legend that came along with the 350-year-old estate the grapes are grown on.

At her recent appearance at the iYellow Wine Cave, winemaker Estelle Lourens didn’t go into the details of the legend (though I wish she had), but she did tell an audience of wine lovers a whole lot about the Flat Roof wines we were tasting that evening.

Estelle, who was studying biophysics before winemaking became her passion, walked us through two very different wines from the Flat Roof Manor line – the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot. Flat Roof grapes are grown on the Uitkyk Wine Estate, a well-respected and long-established South African winemaking operation. But the team there wanted to try something new – including growing some grapes not well-known in South Africa.

They were also interested in moving into the international market – an endeavor which might not be as easy with wines under the Uitkyk name (I’ll let you try and figure out how to pronounce that). So Flat Roof Manor was born and the cats began dancing across their wine labels.

Pinot Grigio is not a grape that’s common in South Africa, and hearing Estelle talk about the challenges of cultivating the grape and turning it into an internationally-accepted wine is fascinating. While this wine is not typical of other Pinot Grigios I’ve had, I did enjoy it. It has a nice, fruit-forward nose and a good balance of citrus and acidity. It was interesting to learn about the use of carbon in this wine and the challenges of figuring out how to extract the colour from the red grapes, while not taking out the flavour.





The next wine we tried was the Merlot. There’s no new wood used in this wine, which has helped Estelle create a version that's softer and easy-drinking. Merlot is admittedly not my favourite grape (please, no Sideways comments), but this one was well-made. I think it would be a good fit with a red meat pairing.

The team at Flat Roof has also been growing a Malbec that is available in B.C. and Alberta and a Shiraz that is currently South Africa only.

As always, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear from a winemaker about the decisions made when creating these wines. The process of making wine is one that I find completely fascinating and I always jump at these invitations to hear winemaker talks. I'm so glad I was invited to attend this event.

Have you ever tried a Pinot Grigio from South Africa? What did you think?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard

The pond at Buttonwood
Yes, I am woefully behind with my blog posts, it's true. But as I know several wine-loving friends who are planning trips to California, I thought it was high time to start telling the stories of some of my favourite winery visits during our recent trip to the state. I’ll start with Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard and you can expect updates on Daou and Hope Family Vineyards to come very soon!

On the Friday evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference, each of the 300+ blogger and industry reps attending were whisked away to one of ten surprise winery visits. Our mini-bus driver gave us a few hints as we drove through beautiful Santa Barbara wine country and we were all thrilled when we learned that our destination was Buttonwood Winery.

Zingy - one of the fabulous Buttonwood wines
We had tried one of Buttonwood’s wines at that afternoon's speed tasting, but seeing this location in person is spectacular. The winery is set on 106 acres of gorgeous land (39 acres are vineyard). We started our visit with a hilltop toast, overlooking the beautiful grape vines surrounding us. Our host, winemaker Karen Steinwachs introduced Brander winery owner, Fred Brander, to provide an overview of the proposed changes to the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which they are hoping to get approved very soon. I find the AVA issue an interesting one, though I have to admit I need to educate myself more on it.  I found a good explanation of the changes on the Brander Vineyards site, which some of you may find helpful in understanding this: http://www.brander.com/we-need-more-avas-2/

The incredible Brander Sauvignon Blanc line-up.
After the spectacular views, we walked down to the winery for a delicious course of appetizers and wine tasting. The wines, all from the Santa Ynez Valley, were very high quality, although I was really blown away by the Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted through their recent vintages with winemaker Fabian Bravo and was so impressed. I am hopeful I can find them in Toronto, as I’d really like to have these again.

Wines from Solminer
I also really enjoyed the Solminer wines I tried – this is a newer (and smaller) winery, so they do not currently have distribution in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I think they are well worth seeking out. Shawn and I are already planning to visit the area again in a year or two and Solminer will definitely be on my ‘must’ list, as the wines were so well done.


Anna and David deLaski of Solminer
Over an incredible dinner catered by The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, and held in Buttonwood’s beautiful barrel room, I was able to try Buttonwood’s 2013 Syrah Rosé, which was a wonderful compliment to the meal. Over a delicious peach cobbler (made with peaches grown on Buttonwood’s farm), I tried a lovely dessert wine from Rideau Vineyard – a unique and delicious blend of Riesling and Viognier. This was my first California dessert wine and I was impressed.

Seriously, how could you not want to visit Buttonwood?
I cannot speak highly enough of our wonderful visit to Buttonwood. I know that I'll want to visit again when next we’re in California – the wines are well worth trying and the location is breathtaking. I also had a wonderful conversation with winemaker Karen Steinwachs, whose passion for winemaking is infectious. You must visit if you are in the Solvang area - this is a winery that won't disappoint.

For more information on Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard: http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com/
For more information on Solminer Wines: http://www.solminer.com/
For more information on Brander Vineyards: http://www.brander.com/

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Upkeep Updates

As some of you have noticed, the blog has been on a bit of a break over the last few weeks. I had hoped that all my recent life changes would have minimal impact on my blogging, but that clearly wasn't the case. I've had less time to write and when time did arise, I'll confess to just being way too tired to focus on writing anything worthwhile.

The Twitter community, who always seem to be there when I need my spirits raised, were quick to point out that sometimes we all need to hit the pause button. It's true. And now I'm back and feeling recharged and refreshed!

But despite the short blog hiatus, I've still been doing lots of wine-related things. I thought this post could be a re-cap of some of the ones I'd like to share.

What I've Been Drinking:

Photo from the Palatine website
Ages ago, Shawn McCormick from Uncork Ontario suggested that I would like the Palatine Hills 1812 Chardonnay and I filed that info away until I came across it. I found a bottle at the LCBO this month (at an extremely reasonable price-point) and decided to bring it to a recent corn roast with my husband's family. The wine was a hit with both myself and the guests who tried it. It's an unoaked chardonnay with great acidity and paired perfectly with roasted corn, potato salad and all the great fixings that come with this sort of family get-together. I often turn to Twitter and great friends like Shawn for suggestions on wines to try and this was a perfect example as to why.
For more info on Palatine Hills: https://www.palatinehillsestatewinery.com/ 
To read Uncork Ontario: http://uncorkontario.com/



 I recently learned about Canada Braai Day from a rep for the Distell Group in Canada. They offered to send over some info and I was intrigued. As the media release explains, braai is Afrikaans for barbeque and the custom has become so popular in South Africa that it now has its own holiday. I have really enjoyed learning about South African wines and culture of late and I thought it was a fun idea to try and bring this tradition to Canada. Braai Day was yesterday (September 20th) and to celebrate, I raised a glass of Savanna Cider from South Africa. It wasn't as sweet a cider as I usually like, but it was nice to try my first South African cider and Shawn, who prefers a dry cider, really enjoyed it. I hope to have some South African wine this weekend to extend the celebration - I've become quite a fan of the region recently.

There's a website that explains Canada Braai Day and offers up recipes and other info for how you can celebrate this weekend or in the weeks to come: http://braai.ca/

What I've Been Reading:

Recently, the topic for Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter was wine books. This is a subject I have plenty to say about, as I have acquired an extensive collection of wine books over the last few years. The chat offered many excellent suggestions for books every wine lovers should own and I was pleased to be able to offer many of my own options. I wanted to share two of my recent favourites here: Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup and The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. Both of these books took me on a journey though fascinating parts of wine history. Wine & War looks at how the French tried to keep their vineyards and wine from falling into German hands during WWII and The Billionaire's Vinegar looks at one of the most extraordinary cases of alleged counterfeit wine ever. These two books are perfect for the wine or history buff in your life and both had me staying up way too late trying to squeeze in just a few more pages before bed.

For more info on Wine & War: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/wine-and-war-the-french/9780767904483-item.html?ikwid=Wine+%26+War&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=5

For more info on The Billionaire's Vinegar:  http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-billionaires-vinegar-the-mystery/9780307338785-item.html?ikwid=Benjamin+Wallace&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Interested in Ontario wine? Join Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter Wednesday evenings at 10:00 p.m. ET.


What I've Been Eating:

As a quasi-vegetarian (no red meat for this girl), I'm always looking for delicious options that will work for my diet. I've been working hard recently to make sure I nourish my body with good food, so healthy options are key. If I want to have a glass of wine, I need to pay that #winetax with good food, exercise and healthy living. One of my new favourite places to find interesting vegetarian options is Yam Chops at 705 College Street in Toronto. I attended an event there a few months back and I am still craving their un-tuna. Shawn and I also loved their meatless spaghetti sauce and their chutney. They don't serve wine, but you can find plenty of options to practice your vegetarian pairings at this place.


 For more info on Yam Chops: http://yamchops.com/

  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Winemaker Chat with KWV's Izele Van Blerk

Izele's Twitter picture captures her spirit so well!
When I read that South African winemaker Izele Van Blerk was training to become a professional tennis player before an injury led her back to South Africa to study winemaking, I didn’t get the connection right away. But when I had the opportunity to talk to her, the transition in professions made total sense.

“There’s a competitive side of sports and winemaking, but also the passion and the drive,” she says. “The energy during harvest time, is like a tennis match in the heat of the third set. It’s harvest time, it’s crunch time, you need to pull it through, it’s long hours, it’s hard work. Like sport, it’s also practicing, practicing, practicing.”

And Izele is certainly getting a lot of practice as a winemaker for KWV, one of the five biggest wineries in South Africa. She started with the company as an intern and has moved up quickly to become one of their winemakers. She is responsible for a large range of the company’s biggest sellers and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to taste through her 2013 releases at the iYellow Wine Cave recently.

In talking to Izele, you can’t help but be pulled in by her enthusiasm for wine. She is relatively young for a winemaker, but she is already an award-winner. “At KWV all our winemakers are on average 27 to 32, so we’re young, we’re new, we’re excited about the wines and the new styles and the new trends. I think if you get started at a young age, you’re still energetic and competitive and you strive to be the best and your passion is coming through in the wines,” she says.

Despite her young age, she is already an experienced taster who judges regularly in competition. “I think the difference between a good and an excellent winemaker comes down to tasting,” she explains. “Tasting is one of my passions. If I was to ever stop making wine, I would probably become a professional taster because I just enjoy it and you understand winemaking better if you can taste it and you understand what you need to improve. You have to be your biggest critic.”

She also values tasting wines from around the world. In South Africa, she explains most of the wines available are made in the county, but her travels with KWV and work as a judge have allowed her to taste more international wines. KWV also does a Friday event where each winemaker gets the opportunity to present a tasting of an international wine. This has helped give her a better understanding of winemaking techniques around the world.

But there is also a desire to create wines that are unique to South Africa. One of the most interesting is Café Culture, which blends South Africa’s signature wine, Pinotage, with coffee and mocha flavours. “You can drink it in the morning, because it’s coffee,” she says with a smile. “If you really like wine and you really like coffee, it’s a good combination.” KWV even has a special glass for Café Culture because they wanted to show this was definitely a non-traditional wine.

Having tried it at the tasting, I can concur that it is very different – it smells delicious, as they have captured the coffee and chocolate notes perfectly on the nose, but it wasn’t really to my tastes. Others at the tasting, however, really liked it so, as with all wine, it’s a personal preference.  My favourites from the tasting were The Mentors Chenin Blanc and the KWV Cathedral Cellar Brut Methode Cap Classique – a sparkling wine done in the Champagne-style, but with a much better price-point. The entry-level KWV Contemporary Chenin Blanc, while not as nuanced as The Mentors, was very good for the price.

I was shocked to see how quickly time flew during my chat with Izele. Her enthusiasm is infectious and I do think you can taste that in the wine she produces. If the winemaker feels like an old friend only a few minutes into a chat, it seems like she would be the perfect fit to design charming and inviting wines. I look forward to seeing her style develop over the years.

For more information on KWV: http://www.kwv.co.za/

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wine Labels 101 with Two Oceans

Jackie Olivier
I am woefully behind in my blog posts, as I try to find that balance between work, wine school and blogging. It’s been a challenge and I definitely feel remiss in being so late with this post, as it was fascinating to speak with Jackie Olivier, Global Marketing Manager, Premium Wines, Distell Group Ltd., about the launch of Two Oceans’ new labels in July.

Labels have always been of interest to me – before I started to learn about wine, they were often the deciding factor (alongside price) in why I chose a wine. Not the best way to choose a great bottle, but what did I know? So when I had a chance to speak briefly with Jackie at a recent Two Oceans' event, I wanted to know more about why such a well-known brand decided to make such a big change.

The logo hasn’t changed, Jackie explained, but the new artwork really brings out the symbolism of the weather and how it affects the vineyard. The weather in South Africa is very affected by the merging of the two oceans and the sea breezes. The choice to change was about wanting to make sure this message was understood and their research was very positive about the switch. In looking at the new design, which is very attractive, I can see that it was well thought out – not so far from the old label as to confuse the consumer, but a nice refresh that may catch the eye of someone who hadn’t noticed the brand before.

Two Oceans’ is arguably one of the best-known wines in Ontario – I have actually met people who drink it exclusively – so this decision was interesting to me. Familiarity is often why someone chooses a wine and it’s always a bit of a risk to change up something well-known. With such a popular brand, however, it likely pays to freshen things up once in a while. As I sipped their Sauvignon Blanc recently, with its citrus overtones and consistent, easy-drinking style, I could understand the brand’s success. If you want a reasonably-priced wine that is always consistent, this would be a good choice.That the packaging is attractive likely helped many discover the wine in the first place.

And, while their Sauvignon Blanc may be their best known wine in Ontario, Jackie introduced me to the Pino Grigio at their event and mentioned that they may also introduce a Chenin Blanc in Ontario. Given that many consider Chenin a grape synonymous with South Africa, I’ll look forward to trying it. Ontario Chenin Blanc has become one of my go-to food paring wines and I would be interested in tasting what Two Oceans does with the grape.

There is so much that goes into wine marketing and as a wine student it was fascinating to get a little glimpse of how one of the best known brands in the world makes their decisions. Do wine labels ever influence your buying choices?