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/