Monday, March 31, 2008

Report from ... Hamilton Food and Drink Fest 2008 - March 28, 2008

Hamilton’s Food and Drink Fest is now in it’s 3rd year and I can definitely see that it’s getting bigger … more folks showed up than I saw last year, the place was a sell-out for exhibitors (as every possible corner was filled with a booth), food, wine and beer were all given equal billing and the spacing out of these booths was well managed – meaning that all the wines weren’t in one place and all the beers in another, a good mixtures was to be found in all the aisles – you could sample as you saw fit. A young wine show always has glitches and I noticed two minor issues this year. One, which prevented me from really tasting the wines, was the glass (same as last year) – great little vessel for beer, spirits and port, but not very wine-tasting-friendly. The second was the lack of dump buckets for unwanted/unfinished libations – some very major wine pouring booths (ie: Churchill Cellars with a dozen or more wines) didn’t have a single dump bucket, which meant you had to cross the floor to find a garbage can and by then your attention drifted elsewhere. Good for you, not so good for Churchill. These are minor issues that did not affect the show to any degree for the hundreds that came through the door on this night – in fact, maybe it’s just me being nit-picky.

So this year’s Fest was all about food and beer for me … last year I wrote about the wine and food, this year I decided to focus my attention in a different way. In no way was I able to visit or taste everything, so I went in search of beef and beer.

If you’re a pasta lover there was, what seemed, a pasta dish on every corner, middle and end ... and they all looked good, but, like my ancestors of old, I was in searched for meat. My favourite returning food was from the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Caterer, they resurrected last year’s mini asiago cheese and Italian sausage burger smeared with a Dijon sundried tomato mayo and topped with a sweet roasted red pepper … and why you may ask did they duplicate their offering this year? According to Lisa-Marie Upton, “It’s because it was such a hit last year we were asked to bring it back again.” And if the line-up at their booth was any indication, it was a hit again this year.

Beef seekers also needed look any further than the front door, where Hamilton Harbour Queen and Cruises caterer were shaving up some roast beef for a simple offering of beef on a bun au jus, taste was simply delicious – with your choice of white or whole wheat bun of course.

Dessert was a toss up between Cupcakes (mint buttercream and a fine assortment of other cupcakes) and a vanilla coconut square created by Dyments Farm Market. The square beat the cupcake by a nose because I just couldn’t stop tasting this delicious confection, even after it had been long swallowed.

Drink time brough about the hankering for a beer, the lighter versions were handled by Nickel Brook, who’s Apple Ale is smooth and refreshing with the bite of crisp green apples. They also produce an award winning red amber ale that went very well with that aforementioned beef on a bun. The need for heavier beer brought me to St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, it’s creamy head, rich coffee flavours and smooth delivery is just what the doctor ordered. I was told they also make a delicious cream ale but it’s only available on tap – St. Ambroise is brewed by McAuslan Brewing out of Montreal, Quebec.

Creekside Came to Town – March 27, 2008

Santa came early this year, as Creekside and all its subsidiaries came up the QEW to Toronto’s Royal York Hotel on Front Street. One restaurateur remarked to me, “Creekside’s come a long way; who woulda’ thought they’d be at the Royal York.” The subsidiaries were Wayne Gretzky and Mike Weir (men who have undoubtedly stayed at the Royal York at least once in their lifetimes) along with Creekside’s own label.

Mike Weir Winery News …

Mike had the newest stuff to offer, with a 2006 Pinot Gris, and 07 Sauvignon Blanc (being released simultaneously with the 06 thru Vintages), the award winning 05 Cabernet Shiraz and the Vintages June 2008 release, 2006 Pinot Noir. All excellent wines – although someone in the marketing department better re-think style … it was said by a Weir principle that they are going for an “old world style” – that same restaurateur looked over at me and asked, “Do you think Weir is old world in style?” I shook my head. “Neither do I,” he replied.

Wayne Gretzky Winery News …

The wines are 06 and I’ve tasted them before (06 Meritage / 06 Chardonnay / 05 Vidal Icewine), but what I didn’t know was the following:

- Wayne’s winery has now taken over the Willow Heights winery – the signage switchover is now complete.
- The plan is to have Wayne’s wines in the Willow Heights locale for approximately 5 years – then whether they move or not to another location is still a mystery; what will happen to the Willow Heights property in the event of a move is also still up in the air … besides, they have 5 years to figure it out.
- The inside of Willow Heights will be completely renovated to reflect the new Gretzky motif – Willow Heights wine will continue to be sold there, but no new wines will be made under that brand name. All sku’s of Willow Heights wines will be, or have been, removed from the LCBO and the name will then disappear once they are all sold out.
- A new mid-range of Gretzky’s wines will soon hit shelves; those wines will be priced in the $18-20 range.
- Finally, Wayne seems to have some interest in the Napa Valley – wines bearing Wayne’s name will be appearing in our market “maybe by the summer or end of the year.” Prices will be a little higher and packaging will be different to reflect origin – Silver 99 on the label, my guess is for the L.A. Kings, instead of the current orangey-red for the Oilers.

Creekside Winery …

Creekside itself didn’t really have anything “new” – they had some sneak peaks of wines to come, but nothing with finished labels or in bottle. A very attractive 2007 Pinot Noir Rosé (~$14.95) with a nose of strawberries and raspberries, a touch of tannins on the taste … cranberries and raspberries carry the flavours here with very little sweetness to speak of (0.3). It will appear in a Burgundian screw cap bottle and will most likely be available for the New Vintages Festival in June. May 1st should see the launch of their 2007 Pinot Grigio, which is good, crisp and fruity ($13.95). Set for release June/July 2008 is the 2007 Reserve Gewurztraminer (~$25.00 – only 50 cases made), great aromatics here: peach, floral and apricot scents are followed on the palate with floral-rosy nuances, under-ripe peach and apricot flavours – a touch of sweetness finishes this one off nicely. Most interesting of all is a Johannesburg Riesling clone based wine (due summer 2008 – only 60 cases made), which is smooth, spicy and experimental. Seems the boys (Power and MacDonald – winemaking team) decided to stick this one in some really old (4-5 years) neutral oak barrels – just to give it some structure in the mouth. The grapes were babied: hand-picked, whole bunch pressed and watched through every step of their evolutionary way. The result is a Riesling with character and good texture in the mouth … no word on price.

A Brief Taste of Spain – March 27, 2008

On Thursday March 27, a small contingent of wine writers gathered in the LCBO “tasting kitchen” at the Summerhill store, to sip on 26 Spanish wines. Spain, to me, is one of the overlooked wine regions of the world – sure they produce Sherry, but they’re also producing some kick-ass table wines at really excellent prices, and let’s not forget Cava (Spain’s famed sparkling wine contribution to the world).

Cava …
The label can’t say Champagne, but it might as well, some of Spain’s Cava holds up very nicely in comparison with their French counterparts, and it’s made the same way (just with very different grapes), with secondary fermentation and ageing taking place within the bottle itself. Take the Free-X-Net (Freixanet) – a pronunciation I have heard of this famed bubbly – for instance, a line of 3 wines, each with its own charm and character, but priced well below what you’d pay for Champagne. In the black bottle is Cordon Negro Brut ($13.05 - #88591) – fruity, light, citrusy and yeasty … this one is aged 18-24 months in bottle. The clear/frosted bottle version houses Carte Nevada Brut ($11.65 - #74757) – 12 to 15 months of ageing; this one is lighter, crisper and fruitier than its black bottled brethren. The Brut de Noirs Rosé is summery fresh ($12.65 - #352369) … strawberry-raspberry nose – apple, strawberry with a citrus tang in the mouth. All the above wines come with bubbles that carry the wine delicately over the palate.

The whites did little to appeal to me, maybe it’s the cold weather and snow that’s still out my window or that there were but 3 samples on the table – but nothing here made me stand up and say “wow” (considering I was already standing all they would have had to do was make me say “wow”), but anyway, we’ll move right along to the reds.

Red Wines – A couple of surprises ...
Two screw cap wines got my attention – the 2005 Toro ($11.90 - #19570) had very good fruit extraction, fresh with some oaky character – red and black fruits, touch brambly and a fine seam of tannins … made me look at the price twice … really? That cheap for something this tasty? Buy some now before somebody realizes they’re giving this one away. Also under screw cap is Torres Sangre de Toro 2005 ($11.75 - #6585) – they still give you the little plastic bull with each bottle – its easy drinking, very consumer friendly with a full on sweet red fruit nose … pleasant on the palate for not a lot of dough – and that’s no bull (that goes for both these wines).

More good Reds ...
Step it up a dollar and you can experience Torres 2005 Coronas ($12.95 - $29728) – still under cork – this one’s more black fruit dominated and has an international grape component to it - Tempranillo mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Looking to wow the crowd at your next gathering – or that special someone? If money is not an issue than the Torres 2003 Mas La Plana ($45.00 – Vintages) made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – very nice, very expressive, very tasty.

My final red to recommend is the Mad Dogs and Englishmen ($13.95 - #669135) – the LCBO is between vintages so you’ll see both the ’05 and ’06 on the shelf, keep your eyes open when picking up a bottle. I’m betting you’ll like the smoother, lusher and longer finishing ’06 with its chocolate and red fruit in the bottle.

As for kicking-ass, there is an El Burro Kickass Garnacha available these days (look for the Burro’s head on the label – for $12.85, it’s not very taxing on the palate … black fruit, smooth and slightly grapy, tasted slightly sweet - definitely no kick here.

As for Sherries, the tasty, nutty Gonzalez Byass Nutty Oloroso is coming back to Vintages this summer ($12.85). There’s the sweet with a dry finish Croft Fine Pale Sherry available ($15.25) … dry Sherry fans can find Tio Pepe’s Palomino Fino ($15.75) in Vintages. And those seeking something more exotic can check out the new wine from Harvey (of Harvey’s Bristol Cream fame), Harvey’s Orange, with just a hint of orange on the taste ($15.95 – May 2008).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

California Wine Fair Preview – March 18, 2008

Now before you go toddling off to the California Wine Fair (April 28 at the Royal York in Toronto and other venues across Canada), let me tell you what to expect … well for starters there will be more than 400 wines to taste; and if you think you’ll be able to taste your way through that – not only do I wish you luck, but I think you best forego taking a cab or public transit to the event and opt for an ambulance, because if you get through that many wines they’ll need to pump your stomach on the spot.

Lucky for you uncle Mikey (aka The Grape Guy) got a first hand sneak peek at what’s coming from Cali-forn-I-A and will point you in the right direction of some good Cali-wine. Tonight’s tasting was done blind in 9 flights (A thru I) and took us through Sauvignon Blanc territory, into the Chardonnay sea, poked around the Pinots, zipped through Zinfandel, careened into Cabs and finished off with a veritable cornucopia of blends – here’s how the whole thing shook out: I’ll give you my top three choices in each category, and briefly review the number one, thus leaving the door open for you to have your own experience with these wines.

A – Sauvignon Blanc …

#3 Schug Carneros Estates 2007 Sauvignon Blanc - $27.95
#2 Honig Vineyard & Winery 2006 Sauvignon Blanc - $28.95

#1 Vina Robles 2007 Sauvignon Blanc - $19.75 (Consignment – Glen Ward Wines Inc.)
Different than the rest, bubble gum and tropical fruit nose … reminded me of chewing Trident tropical fruit gum, and for some reason I just found it very enjoyable.

B – Chardonnay (presumably unoaked) …

#3 Summerland Winery 2006 Chardonnay - $13.95
#2 Wente Vineyards 2006 Morning Fog Chardonnay - $16.05

#1 Francis Ford Coppola 2006 Diamond Collection Chardonnay - $19.95 (Vintages April 2008)
The nose keeps tropical fruit at the fore-front with slight vanilla nuances; it’s pleasant vanilla and buttery smoothness kicks the palate into gear and has a good steady stream of acidity that keeps the mouth watering and wanting more. Excellent length of finish.

C – Chardonnay (presumably oaked) …

#1 Clos LaChance Winery 2006 Glittering Throat Emerald Chardonnay (n/a)
Too much similarity in this category led to bland wines – but this one stood out with it’s dedication to the combination of balancing fruit and wood. A touch oaky but tons of tropical and peachiness mix in with the vanilla … buttery joined the above flavours on the tongue … one drawback, short finish.

D – Pinot Noir …

#3 Schug Carneros Estates 2006 Pinot Noir - $31.95
#2 Cuvaison Estate Wines 2006 Pinot Noir - $34.95

#1 Tandem Winery 2005 Van der Kamp Pinot Noir - $54.95 (private order – Kylix Wines)
Lovers of Burgundian Pinot best look elsewhere, California is all about the fruit, not the earth nature of this grape. Tandem mixed the best of both worlds here, though they keep the fruitiness elevated. A nose of sweet vanilla and cinnamon with cran-strawberry nuances. Red fruit comes through in the mouth with a slight hint of earthy and a good finish. I truly enjoyed sipping on this one.

E – Zinfandel …

#3 Ironstone Vineyards 2005 Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel - $29.00
#2 Tamas Estates 2005 Tamas Estates Zinfandel - $14.95

#1 Michael-David 2006 7 Deadly Zins Old Vines Zinfandel - $24.95 (Vintages)
Many know that I am a Zin-fan (not the sweet pink stuff) these wines just have such character. Sure 7-Deadly is commercial, from the packaging to the wine, but who cares when it’s this tasty. A beauty of a nose that’s loaded with cherries and plums. In the mouth, there’s plenty going on, from oakyness to tannins, red and black fruit and some walnut shell on the finish … nice!

F & G – Cabernet Sauvignon (broken down into 2 flights, 14 wines in total)

#3 Sterling Vineyards 2004 Vintner’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon - $29.75
#3 Ridgeline Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - $39.95
#2 Lucus & Lewellan Vineyards 2004 “Valley View” Cabernet Sauvignon - $18.65
#2 Hanna Winery 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - $34.95

#1 Treana 2005 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon - $16.85 (Vintages)
#1 Peju 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $59.95 (consignment – Le Sommelier Inc.)
The Treana is simple yet enjoyable with chocolate and blackberries on the nose, sweet blackberries, chocolate and cassis in the mouth … its easy drinking nature is capped off with a nice, pleasant finish. Peju, on the other hand, was a little more complicated adding a spiciness to its black fruit and cinnamon nose … the mouth proved equally as complex with juicy blackberries that didn’t just mingle but actually fought for dominance of your taste buds with the spices and tannins – easy a-three-plus star wine.

H – Red Blends …

#2 Newton Vineyard 2005 Claret - $26.95

#1 Miner Family Winery 2003 Oracle - $77.95 (consignment – Barrique Wine Imports)
A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot – the other grapes aren’t mentioned in the notes – this wine has character (and at least a year more ageing than the others in this category), red fruit with rum and cola aromas plus the addition of sweet herbs and vanilla – all moved from nose to tongue where the oaking also came through – a quick finish kept this one from being more than a 4-stars recommendation.

I – Other Red …

#2 Hahn Estate 2006 Cycles Gladiator Syrah – (n/a)

#1 Christine Andrew 2004 Malbec - $24.95 (Lifford Wine Agency)
This category was a mixed bag of Merlots and Syrahs, but the one that stood out was the Malbec for its red-fruited pepperyness.

I’ve given you a good jumping off point, now the rest of the wines you try are up to you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beware or Rejoice: California’s Coming – March 6, 2008

The rumours you have heard are true, the LCBO will have us California Dreamin’ from April 28 – May 25 as they launch “California Style” in 600 of their stores across Ontario. The promotion will encompass 140 California wines, including general list and Vintages product. California will also have their annual wine fair at the Royal York, in April, and be a spotlight during the Sante Festival held in May. California will be everywhere for all to see.

Tonight’s tasting featured many of the wines in the promotion, including new wines from recognizable names: Gnarly Head (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon), Twin Fin (Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot), Francis Ford Coppola (Pinot Grigio, Rosso Shiraz) – along with new wines being listed for the first time: Smokin’ Loon (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon), Sonoma Vineyards (Chardonnay, Merlot) and Little Black Dress (Merlot, Chardonnay).
And of course there was the stuff you know and love from Robert Mondavi, Ravenswood, Sterling, Toasted Head, Rosenblum, Sutter Home, Virgin, R.H. Phillips, Dancing Bull, Beringer, Fetzer and Beaulieu – just to name a dozen.

You’ll also notice some lower prices on some of your favourites, due to the promotion and our stronger dollar … so get ready - get set for the Americans (namely the Californians) are preparing to storm the Bastille we know as the LCBO.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Don Melchor Tasting – March 6, 2008

Today I learned two lessons: one, always check your invitation, not just what you have written in your day-planner; and two, downtown is definitely more than 15 minutes away.

On a beautiful Thursday morning I lolly-gagged about the house till 10am … the tasting was at the Royal York at 10:30 and I figured I’d miss the morning rush hour traffic then make my way downtown. I took my invitation off my bulletin board to check the room number and … jumpin’, it started at 10, so much for my memory and copying skills – now it was all up to my driving skills. But this is Toronto and although they say we are a fast paced city the traffic moves really really slow. By the time I arrived it was 10:45 and the formal presentation was over, all that was left to do was taste, and the Q & A. I was tempted to raise my hand and ask, “What did I miss?” but somehow the wiser side of me took hold and I listened to the questions being asked, I had no doubt that somebody would ask questions that had already been covered in the formal presentation – it always happens no matter where you are.

Don Melchor represents the top tier of Concha Y Toro wines and is named after its founder … it is a blend of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in their Puente Alto Vineyard – and on rare occasions some Cabernet Franc is added to the blend, but never more than 10%. Don Melchor wines need a minimum of 4-5 years of cellaring to really come into their own, before that they are just too young, but show great potential. Between 12,000 and 15,000 cases are made every year, it is exported to 91 countries of which the U.S. is the top market for this wine. To put those numbers into perspective, Concha Y Toro produces between 20-21 million cases per year, is the number one volume producer in Chile and number 9 in the world … they own 7000 hectares of vineyards.

The Tasting …

Four wines were poured – all Don Melchor – from the 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2005 Vintage – proving the ageability of this wine, and how they compare in a variety of vintage conditions.

1997 … From a hotter year – a nose that was woodsy and smoky with chocolate nuances; flavours were reminiscent of bacon grease, blackberries, cassis and woodsiness.

2000 … From a cooler year – dried fruit, slightly vegetal and forest floor smells; but juicy blackberries with hints of tannin and quite elegant.

2004 … Normal year – fruity nose loaded with blackberries and raspberries lead to juicy black fruit flavours and elegant tannins – smooth with a bit of a bite.

2005 … “Great year in Chile” – full-on red berries with eucalyptus/mint on the nose, the flavours follow from the nose, mostly red berries and chocolate with big lush tannins – beautiful, elegant and great ageing potential. (Personal Favourite)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Graham Beck Luncheon ... March 4, 2008 - Le Select Bistro

From this luncheon I got three things: a full belly, a tasting of some great South Africa wines, and a press pack as thick as a slice of Wonder bread (the Texas Toast variety). I have been through the press pack so I know all about Graham Beck, but I thought to myself, “What do you, my readers, want to know? What would be of interest to you?” So instead of recopying the press pack here, I thought instead I would tell you what the principles of Graham Beck, seated around the table, were talking about.

1) It has been a very cool year in South Africa and harvest in about 3 weeks behind schedule … this has proven to be a boon for Sauvignon Blanc, which according to Gary Baumgarten, general manger, is tasting beautifully in tank.

2) Graham Beck is a rather large company and has winemakers in charge of specific grapes or brands, so that things don’t get lost and quality isn’t sacrificed, like one who specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and another for their sparkling wine program.

3) For every hectare cultivated, three are under conservation … Graham Beck has a game reserve which is currently 3885 hectares, while surrounding property owners have committed their land to this preservation attitude, and this will soon amount to 6000 hectares around the Roseburg Mountain – they are the only winery in the world that can boast this kind of commitment to the land and the animals upon it. They are proud to be acknowledged as a winery that is ISO-14001 sustainability certified.

4) The Gamekeeper’s Reserve wine was designed for the North American market and 10 cents from every bottle sold goes directly to the game reserve. Disney was the first to acquire this wine for it’s theme parks and it was exclusive to them for the first two years of its release.

5) Graham Beck cultivates 300 hectares (under vine), they are 90% self sufficient, the other 10% they buy from single vineyards in specific regions with specific terroir, and these grapes go into their ultra premium, single vineyard wines.

6) Graham Beck will be celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.

About the Wines Tasted …

2005 Brut Rosé and NV Brut

These two wines are perfect just the way they are. Someone mentioned the rosé was too light (onion skin coloured) and hard to distinguish as a “rosé” – screw that noise, good wine is good wine no matter what the colour; I’d prefer to drink something that tastes good rather than something that’s the appropriate colour. Broken down, this sparkling Rosé is fruity and easy drinking, made from 80% Pinot and 20% Chardonnay – grapes are harvested and pressed together … a touch sweeter than the Brut this wine was set for launch through Vintages on March 15 ($21.95 - #4085). The Brut is a 50/50 blend of Pinot and Chard, with citrus and yeasty flavours that are crisp with bite and lemon freshness (due February 2009 - $18.95 - #62119).

2007 Sauvignon Blanc (no price or availability given)

This is Graham Beck’s basement Savvy B., but you could have fooled me. Typical and delightful with lots of grapefruit, gooseberry and grassy notes on the nose; with great acidity, crisp refreshing flavours of citrus, full mouthfeel and a lasting grapefruit finish … this was pretty awesome for their first rung Blanc. We were teased by a description of the “Pheasant Run” Sauvignon Blanc – their top tier, limited availability (900 cases), single vineyard offering from 15 year old vines … if you like S.B. get some of either, if you can.

2005 Railroad Red ($12.20 - #665273)

A blend of 60% Shiraz and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon … this usual Vintages product has been recently added to the general list: smoky, red fruit and vanilla greet the nose, while oaky tannins, red and black fruit, cinnamon and spice play on the palate.

2005 “The Andrew” ($25.50 - #52753)

A Bordeaux blend that has all the ingredients, including the Petit Verdot and Malbec … named after Graham Beck’s second grandchild (the first, named William, also has his own wine – no indication whether the boys like their respective beverages). 15 months in French oak has resulted in a smoky, black fruit, lead pencil and earthy nose, with a matching taste.

2003 Rhona Muscadel ($21.80 - #607812 – 500ml)

This wine, named for Beck’s wife, from the September 29, 2007 Vintages release, proved to be the hit of the tasting. Made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, this limited wine is made in 1200 case lots every year (roughly 14,000 litres), is fortified to 16% and ranks between a 9 or 10 on the sugar code. A nose that’s full of grapey, pear and orange blossom notes that follow through in the mouth with a little bite, great acidity and fruity as all get out …a life span that’ll see if lasting 10 year plus.

Monday, March 10, 2008

CFRA + Hostex Show – March 4, 2008

For those of you who saw these call letters (CFRA) and thought a new radio station was about to hit town, think again. The CFRA show is the Canadian Restaurant and Food Association and they teamed up with Hostex (the Hospitality and Catering Exhibition they show all the equipment you see in restaurants etc.) to bring one heck of a big show to Toronto. This year they took over the Direct Energy Center on the Exhibition grounds, moving from the International Center by the airport, which meant you had to pay for parking … but the 11 dollars I shelled out was only a fraction of the cost of the food I consumed, or the samples I walked away with – and of course there’s the knowledge one gathers.

How about this one pop-fans. The Pop Shoppe still exists. Remember that red and white logo, the cool flavours (grape, cherry, lime rickey, cream soda, pineapple, root beer) they’re all here – paint me shocked, I thought these guys were long gone; but as their brochure proudly proclaimed “The Pop Shoppe is Back” and I found out I could get my favourites at Giant Tiger, Costco, 7-11 and Zellers … awesome, brings me back to my childhood (like I ever really left) –

Speaking of drinks, check out the new flavoured carbonated water from Clic, presented in a see through “can” – 8 great flavours of which pineapple, grape and cherry were my favourites, while mango, peach and lychee were close seconds … and not too much carbonation making them perfect refreshers without that bloated, gassy feeling – fuzzy water minus the disgusting wet-belch. These cool little beverages are available at Highland Farms –

Drinks seemed to be all consuming for me today – probably to wash down all the food that was being thrust in my direction. There was this odd little drink from Tea Shop 168 – Green Tea and Aloe Vera, with real chunks of aloe vera … odd to chew my iced tea, but very refreshing (had it been hotter out) and my inside’s have never felt so smooth –

I mentioned food and there was lost to choose from, but these two really stuck out to me: 1) Bagel O’s (available at Wal-Mart) – stuffed bagel bites already loaded with your favourite cream cheese (think puffed pastry sized, but made with bagel). Cream cheese choices included Classic, Herb and Garlic, Salmon, and Blueberry – in traditional or whole wheat … a quick way to start the day. And as good bagels should be they are certified Kosher – 2) Black & Tan beer fans unite with McCain’s Brew City Black and Tan Onion Rings – these rings have zing and stripes, they are drizzled with stout beer … this was the first food stuff I popped in my mouth at 10 in the morning and it stayed with me all day (in a good way). These you’ll have to find in pubs and restaurants.

Of course being a wine writer I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that New York Wines was there, promoting the fact that 5 New York wines will be on Vintages shelves come the fall … a first for N.Y. wines. I found the prices to be a little hefty, but that, I am sure, has more to do with the healthy LCBO mark-up than what the wineries are actually charging back home. The Hermann J. Wiemer 2006 Riesling ($23.50), of Finger Lakes origin, was very nice with great crispness and a biting finish; the Sheldrake Point Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay ($15.85) from Long Island has a dry pineapple core. Brotherhood, from Hudson River, has a Pinot Noir ($18.75) that tasted of dried cranberry and then there was the over-priced wine of the day, a Raphael 2001 Merlot from Long Island, sure it had a nice dry cedary taste and long finish, but $42.95 might be a hard sell in Ontario … those in the booth were saying the price should be more like $38 or $39 – but even that seems a bit high.

Churchill Cellars was there with a limited supply of wine, two of which were really good value. The French Pere Patriarche Pinot Noir ($9.80 - #522649) under screw cap of all things – light, fruity and earthy; and the Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva ($15.80 - #479014) a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with great black-fruit intensity and subtle oak nuances.

Finally, my product of the day had to be the Enomatic Wine Serving System, I could sit here and try to describe it, but instead I took pictures (see above and below), to save myself the thousand words. I urge both restaurants and especially the LCBO to look into this ingenious, revolutionary way to serve alcohol by the glass (for restaurants) or by the ounce (for the LCBO) – heck I’m sure a forward thinking winery or two would have use for this … it keeps wine fresh in the bottle for up to 60 days – depending on the wine – and amounts served can be programmed and carefully controlled by the machine. You can see it in action at the Mercatto Restaurant on Toronto Street or visit

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Report from: Cuvee-En-Route 2008 - March 1-2, 2008

What is there to say about the ultimate Ontario wine event, especially when it involves touring around tasting some of the best wines of Niagara (or any other wine region that participated in the program – 2 from the Lake Erie North Shore were in the brochure). Over the course of two days (Saturday and Sunday) I visited a total of 17 wineries to get my impressions of past, present and future wines that have or will be coming out of Niagara – here are the highlights and, unfortunately, one low-light from the two day winery extravaganza.

Maleta Winery …

A flight of Meritages: ’02, ’03, and ’05 … the ’02 ($29.95) is coming along nicely with the tannins and fruit integrating beautifully in the bottle, this one still has a few years of cellaring potential ahead of it. On the other hand, the monster ’05 is going to be big, really big – this weekend marked it’s first public appearance, in the form of a sneak preview – it still has 18 months (or so), before it’s official launch, so after the weekend it’s back into the cellar it goes. Currently there’s tons of black fruit wrapped up in silky rich tannins of vanilla. It’s 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon … I’m told there’s some Merlot in there too, but too little to mention … it’s going to be a beauty upon release sometime in 2009. The wait is on.

Coyote’s Run …

Ontario wine lovers know (or have heard) that Coyote’s Run Winery has two very distinct soils on their property, a red clay and a black clay – and on early spring days or late fall days you can actually see the delineation line separating the two. Coyote’s Run has made a name for themselves by vinting the grapes that grow on these plots into Red Paw and Black Paw wines – most notably the Pinot Noirs (the 2006 Pinot Noir reviews on available now). New for 2006 will be the Red and Black Paw Cabernet Francs – two completely different, yet irresisitable in their own way. My favourite was the Black Paw with its striking nose of cherry and tobacco leaf, and the palate of sour cherry, vanilla and a touch earthyness … there’s also a luscious mouthfeel and long finish. No price yet, but if the Pinots are any indication, the Black will be more expensive than the Red … official launch June 2008.

Reif Estates Winery …

Showcasing their three 2002 First Growth Wines (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) these wines constitute the crème-de-la-crème of Reif’s wines. The Pinot was earthy-cranberry and sour cherry; the Merlot: chocolatety-earthy and dark fruit; while the Cabernet: rich, velvety and red fruited … each wine is fantastic and each retails for $50.

Lailey Vineyard …

A flight of Pinots showed what was, what is and what’s to come. The sold out 2004, the current (2006) Niagara Pinot (review coming in April) and Wismer Pinot, and the unbelievable but true 2007 Pinot (watch for it Spring of 2009) – you would not believe your eyes (re: colour) or your tastebuds (wow!).

Jackson-Triggs …

White dominated J-T’s offering this weekend with a wine that makes its first appearance since 2001, the stellar 2006 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Riesling ($17.50) – then there was the award winning 2006 White Meritage ($24.75) and the only red on the panel today, the 2005 Delaine Vineyard Cabernet Merlot ($18.95).

Featherstone …

Not a winery I expected to see open … but happy to find out they were, due to their win for best Limited Edition White Wine – 2007 Gewurztraminer. New and noteworthy is the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 summer release 2007 Black Sheep Riesling (July 2008 – when the sheep return to the vineyard). Featherstone will be closed now until April (2008), when they will launch these beauties as well as a few others that were not divulged to me – they have to keep both you and I in suspense.

Hernder Estate …

Caused quite a stir, by entering the same wine twice (2004 Merlot - $14.95) and winning both times … is this a loophole in the Cuvee rules? Why it did not sell out the first time is a mystery to me – but take advantage of it while you can – the price is very affordable, the wine is very good. Even former winemaker Ray Cornell had a hard time believing there’s some left … “It’s the best wine I ever made there,” he said. The time in nigh to beg borrow or steal fifteen bucks to get yourself a bottle.
It has now been brought to my attention that this was a mistake on the part of Cuvee - as it turns out, nobody won best Merlot and the previous winner (Hernder) was not removed from the program before it went to print.

Hillebrand Winery …

Hillebrand we’re thumping their chest with pride as they showed off their awards – 3 in total: 2006 Trius White, 2005 Artist Series Meritage and 2006 Trius Dry Rielsling (review pending).

Calamus Estate …

A winery that cleaned up big at the Ontario Wine Awards last spring was shut out this winter at Cuvee – but they brought out a couple of newbies (2007 Pinot Gris and 2007 Riesling) both exceptionally good hot-weather quaffers (both reviews pending). Also on sample were a couple of older horses that have done very well, even better now that they had a little bottle age: 2006 Calamus Red and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vineland …

Thrilled by yet another year of Riesling, made by Brian Schmidt (the 2007 Semi-Dry – review pending) and his Riesling-centric brain – the folks at Vineland decided instead to focus on some of Brian’s other whites, the Alsatian inspired ones: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer (reviews all pending).

Rosewood …

Our final good experience came at Rosewood Estates, a new winery, and Niagara’s only meadery, was open for a sneak peak this weekend only, their official opening is May 3rd, 2008. Wines of note included a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Trois Femme Rosee and the Merlot (reviews will appear in an upcoming newsletter).

Inniskillin …

Ugh! People will think I am picking on Inniskillin (see Icewine review), but really I just expect more from them then a cheesy-o stunt like this. The program stated “2006 Inniskillin Canadian Oak Riesling icewine” – sounds great right? Instead they were pouring a cloudy tank sample of their 2007 icewine that will “sooner or later” see Canadian oak … I also learned that this is the first year they’ll be trying this combination (Riesling Ice in Canadian wood) – so there never was a 2006 Canadian Oaked Riesling Icewine to be had. The “sample” that was poured had absolutely no oaking done to it what-so-ever … ouch! To add insult to injury, the eye-candy that served this to us said, “Oak ageing does nothing to the wine, except soften its acidity.” … double-ouch!! I expect so much more from Inniskillin – please folks, don’t make me lower those expectation, let’s get it right next time out – say for the Wine and Herb Festival in May.

Well besides that there really is no whining about Cuvee – it is truly all about the hooch. This entire event is centered around wine … when I was offered cheese and appetizers at Calamus I almost wet my shorts, they were the first, and one of the few, to offer up a pairing (Maleta did truffles, Rosewood had cheese and honeycake, Reif offered up Melba toast) … “You’ve come all this way, might as well feed you,” said Pat Latin as she placed a shrimp appetizer in front of us, which matched quite well with the Gris. She was shocked to find out nobody else was doing a pairing. (Derek Saunders, co-owner) was thrilled – “more shrimp for me,” he said clicking his heels together – the food’s a nice touch, but just keep the good wine flowing.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Report from: Cuvee 2008 Gala - February 29, 2008

What a day, the snow began falling at about 2pm in Toronto and I didn’t hit the road till 3. It was a nightmare of a drive, who would have thought that 5cm of snow at the end of February in Toronto, Canada would cause so much havoc … by this time of year we should be used to it and be driving according to the conditions; but every turn I made was wrong and when I thought I was in the clear, a new accident would happen just a few clicks up the road – so it was back to dipsy-doodling through back routes to try and avoid it. 5 hours later I was in Niagara Falls – and an hour later I found myself in the Great Hall of the Fallsview Casino enjoying the festivities. In truth it took me about half-an-hour to get my bearings and feel like I wasn’t climbing the walls of my car anymore (5 hours to go 130km I enough to make you go stir-crazy) – and by the time I was feeling better the evening was over.

When all the dust in my head had settled I learned that Creekside had won 3 awards (four if you count the Mike Weir wine); Hillebrand took 3; the Peller Group of Wineries (Thirty Bench, Peller and Hillebrand) had walked away with 6. An upstart (Cattail Creek) had wowed all with their Limited Edition Sweet Wine Award, Cave Spring took home two (a red and a white) and Hernder had re-won best Merlot, with the same exact wine they won it with last year (Is that fair? Can they do that? You decide) - It has now been brought to my attention that this was a mistake on the part of Cuvee - as it turns out, nobody won best Merlot and the previous winner (Hernder) was not removed from the program before it went to print.

Featherstone, (usually closed from late December to April) had to open on the weekend due to a win for their ’07 Gewurztraminer. Reif pulled off a coup by winning for their Vidal Icewine second year in a row (no controversy here – it was a different wine from previous year, same style). Other winners included Jackson-Triggs, Niagara College and Pelee Island.

Somebody commented to me that there would be a great article in the fashion of the night … men are hard to criticize in suits and tuxedoes (nobody came in Bermuda shorts or ripped jeans), so of course I refer to what the women were wearing; but I’m no Mr. Blackwell and fashion isn’t my game (though I did find myself being catty with fellow people-watchers like I am during the Academy Awards – “What on earth is she wearing?” – no wonder Cuvee is called the Oscars of the Ontario wine scene). So, in this article, I’ll make little mention of the paperbag princess, the age-inappropriate micro-mini, or the lady (ladies) in red that caused quite a stir. Afterall, Cuvee is about the wine, the real story is how it got here, not who brought it. See you all next year.

Cuvee 2008 Winners:

Red Wine: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2005 Benchmark Red
Limited Edition Red: Creekside Estate 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
White Wine: Cave Spring Cellars 2006 Gewurztraminer
Limited Edition White: Featherstone Winery 2007 Gewurztraminer
General List Red: Hillebrand Winery 2005 Artist Series Meritage
General List White: Hillebrand Winery 2006 Trius Riesling
Sparkling Wine: Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rosé
Sweet Wine: Reif Estate 2005 Vidal Icewine
Limited Edition Sweet Wine: Cattail Creek Estate 2006 Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine
Meritage: Creekside Estate 2004 Reserve Meritage
Cabernet Sauvignon: Pelee Island 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Vinedressers)
Cabernet Franc: Cave Spring Cellars 2005 Estate Cabernet Franc
Merlot: Hernder Estates 2004 Merlot
Syrah/Shiraz: Creekside Estate 2005 Broken Press Shiraz
Red Assemblage: Mike Weir Estate 2005 Cabernet Shiraz
Riesling: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2006 “Triangle Vineyard” Riesling
Sauvignon Blanc: Jackson-Triggs 2006 PGR White Meritage
Chardonnay: Niagara College Teaching Winery 2006 Barrel Fermented
White Assemblage: Hillebrand Winery 2006 Trius White

Red indicates one of my top 10 predictions – see report from Cuvee Media Tasting
Pink indicates one of my top 20 predictions – see same report.
Click on wines in blue to read my review at