Monday, January 29, 2007

Report from: Niagara Icewine Festival - January 2007

Fear seemed to grip everyone a little early this year … the fear that icewine season could pass us by, or could be lost all together. Sounds silly now as we sit here mid-February staring at thermometer readings of minus 10 (for our third week straight), and wind chills that plunge those temps down to between minus 20 and minus 25. But in early January some winemakers were already starting to ring alarm bells – and later that same month the media caught wind of it and started to freak us all out. “No Icewine This Year!” they proclaimed from the headlines. While the Grape Growers Association sent out calming press releases, clear-headed winemakers knew all they had to do was wait – this is Canada afterall. The truth is that we have harvested icewine (as a province) as late as March. Sure there is a loss of precious fruit, but the whole of icewinedom was not lost.

This year in mid-December we had a flash freeze (temps dipped for one night below minus 8), some winemakers made the call to run out to the vineyard deciding that it was time to pick; but all a flash freeze does is harden the outside of the grape, the inside part remains soft and fleshy, not the proper consistency for making icewine; for that the grapes have to been frozen and as hard as marbles. Those that went out in mid-December will be making some really nice late-harvest wines.

In late-January we had some freezing rain – which managed to keep the berries hanging even longer; the ice acted as a protective coating for the grapes thus not allowing them to freeze inside. Once again pickers at that time ended up with mushy over ripe grape juice. Those who waited an extra week and removed the ice from their grapes, were rewarded with the perfect conditions and temperatures for icewine and they picked, plucked, squeezed and fermented our nationally renowned liquid.

All this preamble leads me into a short review of this year’s icewine festival in Niagara, where wineries congregate in either Jordan (weekend 1) or Niagara-on-the-Lake (weekend 2) to pour their nectar to thirsty and sweet-toothed visitors at real ice bars. While the throng pay five dollars a sample, I grabbed myself a touring passport to taste the wines in the warmth of a winery, where I can purchase what I like immediately with no worries that my cold-numbed brain will forget those wines that I really liked. So let’s look at who was pouring what and their pairings (if any).

Starting at the Niagara College Teaching Winery, located just outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and just off the QEW – they were serving up icewine-infused creampuffs paired with their 2005 Vidal Icewine. The dessert was delicious, light and airy and the icewine-infused cream inside really woke up the mouth. The wine itself was quite lovely, but because they pre-poured many of their samples and they had been left out on a table, the temperature was not where icewine should be served – a tad too warm. The paring worked well though.

Maleta Winery was giving you a choice between 2 icewines, an ’02 and an ’03, pairing it with an icewine sponge cake, which was truly decadent. The two wines showed marked differences in flavours and mouth feel … the debate from the patrons assembled at the counter raged as to which one they liked best. I invite you to go to Maleta and make the same comparison and decide for yourself – I thought they were both delicious with merits for both years. I found it hard to choose a favourite.

Chateau des Charmes was giving (and selling) a sneak peak of their 2005 Late Harvest Riesling during this “pre-release” event. Another delicious late harvest from the Chateau, good tropical fruit flavours drenched in honey with melon notes and a stream of crisp acidity carried this wine through the mouth and into the throat nicely – there it hung out for awhile in a long finish.
A quick stop at Hillebrand where local artists using chisels and chainsaws were carving ice sculptures out of big blocks of ice … I also got a sampling of the 2005 Trius Dry Riesling (a full review will appear in an upcoming newsletter). I also swung by Jackson-Triggs, where I tried the soon-to-be-released 2005 Delaine Vineyard Riesling. These two Rieslings are just waiting for the spring/summer warm weather and days on the dock - they’ll also pair wonderfully with foods of your choice. Both reviews will appear in time for springtime purchasing. But I digress; let’s get back to the icewine festival tour.

Willow Heights was serving icewine Martinis which went down way too smoothly and could become addictive, they were also serving up surly staff members behind the counter which did not add to the enjoyment of the fabulous drink creation. On the other hand, the staff at Stoney Ridge proved to be much more amiable, as they poured the late harvest Vidal and cabernet Franc that they playfully have named Igluu. And Vineland, who always seems to be over-staffed (but that is to your benefit), poured Vidal and Riesling icewine alongside chocolate truffles. I also sampled some of their dry and semi-dry Rieslings, which are always superb, and some of the best Niagara has to offer. Vineland also had gifts for visitors … the first weekend they gave out bottle stoppers, but demand exceeded supply; so on the second weekend they passed out icewine glasses … a nice touch and great memento of the day.

Last stop Angels Gate Winery, who decided to fly in the face of convention, skipped icewine altogether and poured a flight of Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages. They topped that off with an unfiltered, as-yet-unreleased tasting of a 2006 late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon that they are working on. Surprisingly the 2003 Cab Sauv was the winner of the flight and a steal at $18.95 … there’s plenty left and it’s drinking well now, but it can still age for a number of years. 2003 was not a particularly good year for reds in Ontario, but there are some gems out there if you look – this is one of them.

Obviously not a comprehensive list of places that were pouring and serving during the festival, but a nice little tour that made for an enjoyable day out on the wine trail. Many wineries went un-visited and many others had interesting and unique pairings that I just did not have time for. Next year I would suggest grabbing a passport and checking out the wine route, make a weekend out of it, it’s one of the most delicious and economical ways to enjoy the icewine festival.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Report from: Stoney Ridge Winemaker’s Dinner and Sneak Peak January 27, 2007

When I recommend going to an event it’s usually an annual affair, wine show or recurring seminar – rarely do I recommend a conceptual idea without being specific; but winemaker’s dinners are different. Each dinner is unique and can never be duplicated for a number of reasons. The food is never the same, the wine is never the same and the ambiance of the locale is never the same. A winemaker’s dinner is a unique experience unto itself, which is why I whole-heartedly recommend you treat yourself to one at least once in your life. I say that because I know if you go once you’re sure to go again. What makes these dinners truly unique is the pairing of wine and food, something you might strive for at home and on occasion may get close to a good pairing. At one of these dinners you have two professionals: the winemaker, in the case of my dinner Liubomir Popovici, chief winemaker of Stoney Ridge, and Rob Trout, head chef of Peninsula Ridge … teaming up to bring you wine and food pairings that will not only compliment each other, but in most cases, blow you away as to how well it can be done.

Starting off with the hors d’oeuvres of pineapple ginger satay chicken and tomatoes & goat cheese tarts with basil while sipping on the first 2006 wine released in the marketplace by an Ontario winery … the 2006 Beamsville Bench Reserve Riesling – crisp acidity with white peach, hints of citrus and minerality on the nose, the sweetness level is a 2 and tastes like white peach with a touch of honey in the mouth.

We moved into the newly renovated barrel cellar for the first course of the evening, which saw the 10 year old 1997 Old Vines Reserve Chardonnay paired up with a pear and fennel soup with blue cheese and walnut oil drizzle – the combination was sublime; a sweetish soup paired with an older chardonnay that had apple, pear, almond, hazelnut and asparagus on the nose – following through with the same on the taste and a longggggg finish. There are precious few of these bottles remaining – so if you’re a fan of older Chardonnay, now’s the time to be opening this one (or begging Stoney Ridge to sell you one). The wine and soup paired like nothing I have had before, and worst of all, nobody would give me the recipe.

Moving onto the pork tenderloin with bacon mustard cream, which was served alongside the 2004 Reserve Merlot. Now Ontario Merlots are a difficult pairing, especially when young – because Ontario Merlot takes a good 5 years to truly mature into a suitable drinking wine … but this one is coming around nicely – a spicy character with blue and black berries and some cassis, cedar and vanilla on the nose. The taste was black raspberry, vanilla and a cedary finish. The pairing worked …hats off to Liubomir for this risky move that paid off … or should I be thanking chef Rob Trout for the excellent food that probably would have gone well with an over-the-hill Pinot Grigio served in an old boot (thankfully we had the benefit of Stoney Ridge’s excellent wines served in etched stemware instead).

Ending our meal was the 2005 Igloo – a late harvest Cabernet Franc that has been barrel fermented and aged. Candied strawberry nose with a little tartness on the taste; it went well with the Strawberry mousse in brandy snaps with strawberry and thyme compote. Not an inventive or earth shattering pairing strawberry with strawberry, but sometimes simplicity makes sense, especially after the first two wines went so well – no sense risking the possibility of a busted dessert pairing. Stoney Ridge, and Liubomir, proved once again the longevity of their wines and the knack they have for pairing them with good food.
Winemaker’s dinners are an experience, and when they work – like this one did – the food and wine pairings are ones you will talk about for a lifetime … that soup and Chard will always be at the top of my list. Who do I have to bribe for the recipe and a bottle?
Special Sneak Peak …
Before dinner Liubomir took all in attendance down to the production area and gave us a sneak peak, or is that taste, of 4 soon-to-be-released (late February) 2005 line-up.

Starting with the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay … made with a shot of Chardonnay Musque for added complexity. 18 months in oak has treated this wine well with vanilla and pineapple on the nose along with other tropical fruit nuances … soft in the mouth, this wine really tastes wonderful now but has the potential to age a further 5-plus years. If it has the legs of the 1997, in ten years dinner guests will be blown away by its majesty. The medium-long finish really stays with you both in the mouth and in your memory.

Next up, the 2005 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir was truly something to experience. Not often do you get this kind of deep colour in Pinot, but ruby red was the colour of the day for this one. A red fruit nose and taste with hints of oak and dusty cocoa like tannins. This is a limited soon-to-be-released wine that was made using one (yes I said ONE), French oak barrel – that’s it … we’re talking 25 cases of this superb wine is available … and the ageing potential on this one’ll be 10 years-plus easy, and considering the speed last year’s version sold out, you’d be wise to place your order for a bottle or two now.
The piece-de-rĂ©sistance (my attempt at French on my Anglophone keyboard) will retail for around $39.95 but has a pre-released price of $34.95; so I would recommend you call or get yourself down to Stoney Ridge to order yours cause only 270 cases have been made of this precious liquid … I’m talking here about the Fox Vineyard 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc, c’est magnifique (more French). I have long said Franc is Ontario’s grape and with an example like this I am proven right again. The grapes came in at an unheard of 26 brix (incredible sugar levels for Ontario red grapes – we usually struggle for sugar levels and are lucky to see 22 or 23 – but 2005 is proving to be a very good year for red wine). A dark fruit nose and chocolate taste all wrapped up in a dark fruit blanket … a sweet mid-palate, wonderfully smooth tannins and good acidity makes this a winner with a capital “W”. Finish that off with a medium-long finale and 14% alcohol and you have another ten plus year wine to enjoy for years to come. Serve it along side the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay at the 2017 dinner (may we all live long enough to enjoy it) … Yooza! If I could afford it, I’d have a case upended in my cellar and make it a yearly ritual to open this one.
Stoney Ridge also made an ’05 icewine made of Franc, which was drinking like strawberry jam out of your glass – sweet, thick, very nice. Franc icewine is truly one of my favourites. Liubomir also let slip that a 2006 Chenin Blanc icewine is in store for next year’s release – should be very interesting.
This sneak peak was a wonderful addition to the night’s festivities and I highly recommend pre-ordering these highly anticipated and soon-to-be-quickly-sold-out wines. Let me put it to you this way … last year the Pinot Noir sold out in 3 months and they had 10 times the amount they have this year. Capisce? And that 270 cases of Cabernet Franc won’t last long either … I can’t seem to praise that wine enough now, so imagine what I will be saying in ten years from now – wouldn’t you like to have a bottle on your shelf when that review comes out?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Report from: Ontario vs. Bordeaux Tasting Sette Mezzo Toronto - January 23, 2007

The setting: Sette Mezzo Restaurant Toronto. The task: 34 wines in one sitting and to judge which were from Ontario and which from Bordeaux … rating them on a hundred point scale. This was another in a series of the Ontario vs. Bordeaux tastings put on by “The Little Fat Wino” Larry Paterson along with some help from Zoltan Szabo and Sadie Darby; a daunting task to say the least, but this time there was to be no doubt when the verdict came down. I sat down with 12 other wine experts, each one of us with a different set of 34 – oh, the wines were all the same, but the order was different. My number one was different than my neighbour’s number one and different from anybody else’s number one … my number 2 was different than anybody else’s number 2 and so on, all the way up to number 34. A computer program had generated this element of randomness so that each taster was on his own and could not compare notes – or wines – with his fellow taster. It was like being back at school taking a multiple choice test, but my worst fears had been realized, the guy sitting next to me was not taking the same test – yikes!

Tasting like this one were started back in 1976 when Steven Spurrier (an American living and working in Paris) decided to promote a “stunt” where the best of France went blind tasted head to head with the best, of then burgeoning, American wines (read: California). It was assumed the French, being the wine superpower they were at that time, would wine handily. The “stunt” was devised just to bring attention to American wine and show that it had come a long way since those early days of foxy hybrids and sweet sippers. Nobody, not even the American winemakers themselves, expected the Californians to win. But the rest, as they say, is history … the Americans bested the French in their own backyard at their own game – in both the red and the white category. The French were aghast and cried foul play, the Americans were ecstatic, and could not believe their good fortune. The whole event is detailed in a wonderful book by George M. Taber called Judgment at Paris. At the time, Taber was the journalist in Paris for Time Magazine, and the only journalist to attend the “non-event”. His account is the only true first hand, neutral third party account of the event. It was at this event that the wine world was first, and irreversibly, turned on its head … France’s decline, Californian rise, and the French have been feeling the heat ever since. America, Australia, Italy, Chile and many other countries have all vied for the worldwide wine domination mantle.

Turning our attention back to modern day Canada, we haven’t been trying to wrestle away any mantle, what we are trying to do is get some recognition that we are making wines as good as, or better than, our French counterparts, who are still seen, to this day, as the pinnacle of winemaking excellence. Time and time again, since the early 90’s, Ontario’s wines have consistently ranked right up there alongside, and at times better than, our French winemaking brethren. Ta this tasting there were 34 wines – 17 from France, 17 from Canada and all wines were of great quality and ready to drink. One of the major complaints leveled against these tastings is that the French wines were not yet ready to drink, as they need time to mature to truly show their flavours, truth is, so do many of Ontario’s best. This tasting took that factor out by researching independent sources for the drinking status of the French wines (
to see these sources click here) – some of the wines included were: 2001 Chateau Margaux (1st growth); 2001 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (1st growth); 1998 Chateau Leoville-Barton (2nd growth) and 1999 Chateau Durfort-Vivens (2nd growth). The final scores you can see at under Tastings: Canada vs. Bordeaux here you will find the top 30 bottles - four of the wines were considered as back-up, just in case their happened to be a corked or off-bottle (of which one was found to be, so the other 3 backup were eliminated).
The winner: Southbrook Winery’s 2002 Triomphus Cabernet-Merlot … a best of the best wine – best barrels, best grapes, from the best vintage in Ontario of the last decade … all for $50 a bottle; beating out the $339 Margaux; the $349 Lafite and 27 others. The price tag seems like a deal in itself.

So how did yours truly do? Well, I ranked the Southbrook wine as my number one choice (giving it my highest mark along with 2 other Ontario wines who received the same mark). As for the guessing game of whether it was an Ontario or Bordeaux wine – I nailed the Southbrook as being from Ontario and got a respectable 71% right on the rest. Now if only my multiple choice tests in school had been that good … maybe if I had stopped copying from my neighbour they would have been.

About the Winning Wine:

In the spirit of 1976 the Southbrook 2002 Triomphus Cabernet Merlot follows in the footsteps of Warren Winiarski (maker of the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, which beat the French in 1976) and Mike Grgich (maker of the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, which did the same result in ’76). Both winemakers had truly storied pasts, but shared a love and passion for quality artisan wine making.

The ’02 was made by head winemaker Colin Campbell (now with Durham Regional Police) and his assistant Steve Byfield (now assistant winemaker with Ridgepoint Wines and Calamus Estates) … in a discussion with Steve Byfield I asked him his recollections about making the wine.

“The fruit was beautiful that year, clean and abundant. I remember we got good extraction. We used the best barrels from that year to make the wine. One Merlot, one Cab Franc and one Cab Sauv. The Merlot and the Franc were from Watson Vineyard, while the Sauv was sourced from Donna and David [Lailey Vineyard]. We picked what we felt were the best barrels from the Triomphe [reserve] line and let them sit for about 19-20 months [instead of the usual 14 months for Triomphe]. The mix of barrels was 2 French and 1 American, and ranged from new to 2 year old oak barrels. The final blend was done in a thousand liter stainless steel tank, bottled unfiltered right on the property by hand. Most of our bottling is done off-site, but the Triomphus is all labeled and bottled by hand to avoid too much handling. That way we can keep a good watchful eye on the wine; a true artisan approach to winemaking. I remember it being an absolutely stunning wine before we bottled it and as it aged in bottle it got even better. Last time I can remember trying it was at the release in October of 2005 … it is one wine I am very proud to have had a hand in making – not bad for two guys making wine in a barn with fairly rustic equipment.” It’s the spirit of 1976 all over again.
To read the review of this wine check it out here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Report from: London Wine and Food Show - Jan. 20, 2007

Two hours west of Toronto and two hours east of Windsor – and what seems to many to be the middle of nowhere, lies London, Ontario – a place where I spent many of my University, College and a few working years (12 in total), but have not been back to in almost 6 years. So, while I might have lost touch with this expanding city I still remember it well enough to know I missed its’ charm. This is where I visited in mid-January, to check out the London Wine and Food Show and also to deliver a little talk on judging wine by the label (if you missed it, well then you missed something special … the talk and the show). London’s first show, in 2006, was a resounding success, which led to this second show and hopefully many more to come. Organizers told me that future editions will be bigger and better, and I can believe it. There is plenty of room to expand into the unused section of the Progress Building and a show of this caliber can only get better with the addition of more local flair. London’s Show has big city feel on a small town level, given that many of the exhibitors are local vendors, restaurants and artisans. Many wineries and agents are also present: a good mix of Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore, along with the local fruit wineries of Elgin county and surrounding area of which there are about 6 making everything from dry fruit wine to luscious sweet ones. But it is the local flair that really gives this show its’ charm and charisma, everything from tea rooms, meaderies and restaurants to travel arrangers, food and snack sellers and do-it-yourself wine merchants. For those not totally into wine you’ll be glad to know that the brewers were there too: Brick, Creemore, Mill Street and Steam Whistle, just to mention a handful. Many exhibitors I spoke with love the show and will be back again and many visitors felt the same way. In a brilliant marketing move by Royal Doulton, in conjunction with the show, they gave out “Tapas Plates” to the first 300 patrons through the door each day of the event, making sure that early birds do get the perverbial worm – or plate, in this case. (a “Tapas Plate” is a plate with an opening on one side in which to rest your tasting glass so you can eat unencumbered).

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I bet many of you have not been to the London Show – and that’s a shame because it’s well worth going, and here’s why: it’s not too big to be overwhelming, the crowd is interested in wine, and the usual drunken clientele that you’ll find late on the Saturday or Friday night of many other big shows is just not present – so the show comes off as a wine show should. For those of you who attended the Ottawa show you know that it was wall-to-wall people by 8pm (and a much bigger show) … in London the Friday night was full but roomy, while Saturday filled up steadily throughout the day, but at no point did the room feel overcrowded – there was none of the pushing and jostling that would force you to leave early, or spill your drink on someone. Prices for both the entrance fee and tastings were reasonable. All said and done, a night at London’s Wine and Food Show won’t set you back a mortgage payment to try a number of good quality wines. Overall a great show.

Show Highlights:

First off they had some Grape Guy named Michael Pinkus there speaking about wine – and man was he good … if you ever get a chance to see this guy talk about wine, take it.

The Wines:

Speaking of wine, let’s start with some wine highlights. South Africa had a strong presence at the show, and some rather nifty wines on display. The best wine of the show had to be this incredible Springfield Estate Wine 2003 Wild Yeast Chardonnay (currently available through Lifford Wine Agency only – but the 2004 will be heading into Vintages later this year). A nose and taste of tropical fruits (pineapple especially) – pear, apple, a spritz of citrus. There’s good acidity here with some slight sweetness of honey on the finish, (this could suggest the merest hint of Botrytis), there are also toffee and caramel notes after the swallow. $31.95 seems like a steal for this wonderful bottle – you’ll just have to buy it in quantities of 6 … now that can get a little pricey. Also from South Africa, and a little more affordable, The False Bay Shiraz (#665307 - $12), good dark fruit (cassis and blackberry) with a crisp tannic backbone … putting some air into it will break it up and smooth it out. This ones a winner. Moving up the South African financial ladder a little, the recently released (through Vintages) Goatfather – from the Goats do Roam line of wines (#011072 - $16.95) is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera and Primitivo – good body with cassis and anise in the flavours … good value for a good proprietors’ blend.

Flying over to Chile we find Concha Y Toro is at it again with their Trio line, which has been a Vintages staple for the past 4 years and has now been moved to the general list. At $14.95 these are true bargains in a good quality Chilean wine. Check the LCBO website for availability (typing “TRIO” into the search box should do the trick).

Finally, our trip abroad takes us to Portugal. I am always in the mood for a late night glass of Port – and as the day progressed I felt the need to search one out. Dow’s Ruby Port for $13.95 (#649715) did the trick, sweet in the mouth, great jammy red fruit and black cherries; it’s aged in oak, that’s where it picks up those vanilla and dark chocolate notes. For the price it’s a great everyday end-the-evening-by-the-fire sipper.

Back home, Ontario’s wineries had a good presence, especially those from the Lake Erie North Shore area. A couple poured me some of their newest additions. Aleksander had their new one litre bottle of 2004 Cabernet ($18.95), a light bodied wine that was quite fruit forward with red berries and red licorice … I could swear there was a sweet cherry finish on this dry wine. Edie Mastronardi was more than happy to pour me a full glass of her newest creation, the $18.95 Mastronardi 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, fuller and more structured than the Aleksander, green pepper and red berry notes in the mouth, along with some vanilla and smoke on the nose. Having spent 18 months in oak this needs a little time to settle down. Drink the Aleksander’s now while waiting for the Mastronardi to smooth.

Wineries of Note:

A couple of local wineries sparked my interest as they should yours. Sprucewood Shores, opened in late November 2006, just in time for the Christmas rush. This is a welcome addition to the already dozen or so wineries open in the Lake Erie North Shore area. I had heard about, and tasted a few of the proto-types back in August during the New Vintages festival held at Viewpointe, and have been eagerly waiting to try the finished wines. All were well worth the wait, and the prices are astoundingly reasonable. Gord Mitchell (owner), took me through the tasting before proudly introducing me to the winemaker, his daughter Tanya, as only a proud father can introduce one’s daughter. The 2005 Riesling ($10.95) might just be one of the best Riesling bargains in Ontario. Good acidity and a white peach taste – the nose is a little muted but that could have been due to over-chilling, a short finish keeps you coming back for another sip. This is not a wine you should pass up. 2004 was good to Pinot Noir in Ontario – many I have tried have been quite nice. The Sprucewood version is no different, retailing at $13.95 it has a beautiful ruby colour, just this side of rose. It’s light, having spent some time in 2 year old French oak, and has a cherry-oak nose. A sweet finish ends the affair, but some cedary-oaky notes linger long after the last swallow. Good tannin structure could see this one drinking for the next 3 years. The 2004 Meritage ($14.95) a blend of one-third equal parts Franc, Sauv, and Merlot that has spent 18 months in 2 year old oak barrels, has a very closed up nose, and no amount of aeration seemed able to loosen the grip, though some dark fruit, oak and cedar did squeak through. Good tannin in the mouth showed a willingness to age, and the dark berry taste accompanied by luscious oak led me to believe this will be a good wine to lay down for a few years before trying it again. Finally the $14.95 2004 Cabernet Duo is a real winner. 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon make for a wonderful sipper – good fruit, good finish, good value – and a yum factor that had me begging for a touch more … and I finished every last drop.

At every show there oughta be a little learnin’ – and here’s what I learned: … Mead ages – ages long and ages well – or so say John Bryan of Munro’s Honey and Meadery in Alvinston. And John should know he’s been making the stuff for quite some time now, and had won medals at the prestigious International Mead Meet (it’s what I have dubbed the international competition he attended and took home silver for his dry mead). At first I stopped by to check out and buy an array of honeys including chocolate honey, cinnamon honey and apple cinnamon honey. But while the honeys were delicious for dipping pretzels the mead was delicious on it’s own. My two favourites were the Cranberry Mead ($13.90 – sugar code 3) with the smell of sweet cranberries and a tart yet sweetened cranberry finish … and the Raspberry Mead ($13.90 – sugar code 4) light raspberry on the nose and a wonderful sweet yet mellow raspberry taste. John told me he thought the raspberry was still a touch young – “it needs some time to develop, then it’ll be wonderful.” After I asked how long he said, “maybe another couple of years, but mead ages very well. Seven plus years before a monk would even think of drinking it - that’s how long they used to wait for it to mature … but the peak could be anytime after that.” The things you learn.

Uniquely London:

I once had a friend who adored tea-rooms, myself not so much – but I am a fan of lasagne. How they go together you ask? Well at Heritage Line Herbs and Silver Birch Tea Room you’ll find out. This booth was located amongst the Elgin County display along with Meadow Lane Winery, Quai de Vin, M.E. Suzies and Shaw’s Ice Cream. But Heritage Line ( was offering up the greatest herb infusd lasagna I have ever tasted – and by looking at me you’ll know I’ve tasted quite a bit of lasagna in my day. Made from mom’s super-secret recipe – which is so super-secret not even a bribe will drag it our of her, though I did pick up a little hint, “use the freezer” is all she would say … now I have figure out how to use that information. The lasagna will be one of the signature dishes once they open in June of 2007 – I see it being a big big hit.

What’s Wine Without Cheese:

Ending our tour of the London Wine and Food Show is an announcement of a cheese shop opening in Toronto. Stopping by the Stoney Ridge Winery booth I was asked if I wanted my wine paired with cheese? Never saying no to good cheese I accepted. I was too busy enjoying the wine and cheese pairing that I missed out on what cheese I had chosen to chew on, but it was a great combination. This little exercise was performed by employees of Provincial Fine Foods who have been selling cheese commercially and for wholesale for a number of years, but have now decided to open a retail shop at 3467 Yonge Street in the Yonge and Lawrence area – calling it Provincial Fine Foods About Cheese. Over 300 different artisan cheeses, selected meats, exclusive Prociutto, condiments and cheese related products. I tried a sheep’s milk cheese with a Cabernet Franc – you can experience the cheese without the wine by going to

Well those are all the plugs I have for you this time out. Kudos to the organizers and staff of the London Food and Wine Show for a great event; they promise something bigger and better next year, and I have no doubt. As for that Grape Guy’s talk – definitely a highlight, hope they have him back next year. Cheers.