Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Report from: Sip Ontario - Tuesday June 12, 2007

29 wineries and, what seemed like, an equal amount of chefs, joined in for Sip Ontario, held at the Fermenting Celler in the distillery district of Toronto. Sip Ontario is the end result of the Ontario Wine Awards, which were handed out earlier this year in Niagara-on-the-Lake. These awards celebrate the best of the Ontario wine industry and on this night the best were out in full force to showcase their winning wines to the public. There were of course some notable absentees: Tawse (winner for their Chardonnay Musque - now sold out); Peninsula Ridge (winner of two medals for white wine); Pointer’s Hill (a new winery in Niagara, with an as yet an unnamed place to call home, who also won for two whites) and Maleta (winner of the wine of the year). Aside from those absent the night went off without a hitch.

Wines were poured from Niagara, Lake Erie and Prince Edward County and the food matches were impeccably well suited to the wines they accompanied. This year's big difference was where those food stations were placed. In past years, the food stations were smack-dab in the middle of the room and servers would wonder over and replace the trays as needed. This year the middle was cleared-out for better roam-ability of the guests, and the food was being freshly prepared at preparation-stations, which were situated in-amongst the wineries, mostly around the outside of the room (there was a wine and food station in the middle of the largest part of the room). Chefs at these stations matched their food sample to go with one of their neighbours wines. Some of the highlights: cheesecake sandwiched between pastry and topped with the Vidal icewine soaked sautéed onions, paired with a Reif Estate Chenin Blanc; a baked salmon on a crostini topped with strawberry-rhubarb chutney and the melt in your mouth pork shoulder with some kind of herbed topping ... I hate to admit that don't remember the wine it was supposed to be paired with, but it went with many.

Speaking about the wines of the evening, some wineries took advantage of the night to not only showcase award winners but also to pour some new wines that will be in their boutiques and/or on LCBO shelves soon (if they are not already there). Most notable: Creekside’s zingy 2006 Sauvignon Blanc and peachy 2006 Butler's Grant Riesling; Huff Estates 2006 First Frost, with its medium sweet pears, apples and apricots; Vineland’s awesome red fruit-driven and extremely chillable for summer 2006 Gamay (a real deal at $14.95) and Peller Estates’ Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2005, that cranked red fruit up to the next level throwing in some peppery notes, which comes from the 50/50 blend of new and used French and American oak barrels.

Sip Ontario is all about award winning wines, and thankfully it also provided us with some award winning chefs who prepared great foods to complement these wines – making for wonderful food and wine combinations. But Sip Ontario is also about potential - potential for next year. 104 wines were poured, and not all of them award winners, but who knows, from what I was tasting, next year, some of them could very well see the podium.

Sip Ontario was created to complement the Ontario Wine Awards and is really about showcasing an industry at its best, and year-after-year Ontario proves that it is a province making world class wines. Furthermore, it provides yet another reason to shake off consumer complacency about the Ontario wine industry. It’s high time to get off the couch and go visit one of the major wine regions of this great province (Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore, Prince Edward County) and find out what all this much-deserved hype is about.

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