Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Report from ... Prince Edward County, the 2nd Wave Dinner - December 5, 2009

Prince Edward County is exploding, or more rightly put, is set to explode, the moment ‘the policy’ gets passed … and I implore the existing wineries to do so post haste and stop halting the progress of this region, because if they keep this up they will rob the Ontario wine loving and buying public from some very good wines and wineries.

Tonight, it was a dinner at East & Main Bistro in Wellington, where 9 wineries presented their wares to an excited group of writers and the public at a delicious dinner (photos below).

Reception …
Casa Dea (formerly Carmela Estates), under new ownership and a new winemaker, kicked off the evening with their brand new sparkling wine. Also taking part in the reception another two wines were poured; one was an absolute surprise from Karlo Estates, a Frontenac Gris Rosé that was a stunning achievement with a grape variety I never knew existed.

Appetizer …

Cracked Pepper Scallop Ravioli, lemon thyme butter, melted leeks – served alongside 2 Chardonnays and a Riesling. Clear winner here was the Barnyard Wine Company’s 3630 Chardonnay 2007 ($28.95).

Salad …Green Salad, strawberry balsamic vinaigrette – we continued sipping on the white wines with this course, and still the Chardonnay shone through.

Main …

Seared Duck Breast, root vegetable gratin, blueberry demi-glaze – three Pinot Noirs were poured, and while everybody at the table seemed to ooo-and-ahh over one in particular Pinot I found it had too much volatile acidity (nail polish remover) for my liking, no matter how much aeration the wine was given. Instead, I gravitated towards the funkiness of the Lift Haus 2007 Pinot Noir, it reminded me of leathery fruit; think back to being a kid and playing with a fruit roll up.

Cheese Plate …
Benedictine Blue and Vieux Bruge – this dish belonged to Del-Gatto Estates 2008 Two Shades of Red, I did also enjoy the Casa Dea Cabernet Franc, but the Del-Gatto wine had me guessing as to what were the two shades and the grape varieties within. Someone in attendance (not the winemaker or owner of Del-Gatto, who was no where to be seen) told me that the sum was much better then the two separate parts … the sum (being the wine) was quite good.

Dessert …

Pear Charlotte, caramel sauce, crème Anglaise – for lack of better terminology the Hillier Creek Vidal Icewine 2008 served with this course, tasted like icewine – a well made icewine at that, but icewine none the less – it paired better with the delicately sweet dessert because it was sweeter than the pairing. But the real star of the dessert course was the Karlo Estates 2008 Late Harvest Frontenac Gris (there’s that variety again), overwhelmed by the sweetness in the dessert this wine was better when tasted alone and offered some real zip and zing to the palate … very impressive.

After Tasting …
Another nine wines were set out for tasting after dinner. Standouts here were the Hillier Creek 2008 Riesling and their 2007 Gamay (I’m a sucker for good Gamay), but the real winner of the nine-wine sideboard was the Stanners Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir, of which only 25 cases were made – pity it’s so little because this is one delicious wine that more people should have the opportunity to taste/sample and buy.

Good luck to the 9 newbies of the County. Thanks to East & Main for a delicious dinner and thanks to the wineries who invited us down for this interesting and fun tasting of the new wineries of Prince Edward County.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Report from ... Ontario Wine Society Taste & Order Event – November 30, 2009

In truth, I don’t have much to say about the wines, for the simple reason that the wines I tasted here will see the light of day in either my newsletter or Weekly Wine Note (though one of the wine reviews has already found its way into a Newsletter). But what I would like to say is that the evening was very impressive and interesting, if not a little overwhelming. Take into consideration that there were 33 wineries in attendance, each having 3-4 wines on for tasting; they were then spread out over 4 rooms, in alphabetical order, throughout the main level of the Faculty Club of the University of Toronto and you begin to see the scope of the event. This is made all the more impressive when you consider that the event was put on entirely by the volunteers of the Ontario Wine Society (OWS), no help from either the Wine Council, the LCBO or any other trade organization. According to VP of the OWS, Sadie Darby, “the event was put on to promote the wines and wineries of Ontario.” Those in the know about Ontario will realize that the province has well over 33 wineries, but the event was only open to those industry members of the OWS … which does help to explain the lack of support from the Wine Council, LCBO or anybody else because they would have wanted to have more winery inclusion - but really, could you imagine trying to taste over 100 wineries wines in only 3 hours? Nor can I.

Lots of wine was poured, and amongst them plenty of interesting new wines will be making its way onto the shelves of some of your favourite wineries. My top new wine of the evening, the yet to be released Peller Estates 2007 Andrew Peller Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (to be reviewed in a January newsletter); top County pick: Sandbanks 2007 Cabernet Merlot Reserve (to be reviewed in January) and top sweet selection, Lailey Vineyard 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine (another for the January newsletter).

Slight drawback was the lack of food presented, plenty of bread, but I saw only about one or two hors d’oeuvres trays, which were swarmed by attendees as quickly as they were spotted, leaving little for those late in arriving to the scene of the massacre – waiters should have demanded danger pay. Another drawback was that the Faculty Club does not really lend itself to this style of walk around event, sit down yes – I hosted a tasting for the OWS here earlier this year as a sit down affair – but the walk around style and the lay out of the place does not lend itself to this style of event; I almost missed the last room where the winery of my Chardonnay pick of the evening was just packing up; good thing I accosted Mario Testa before he hightailed it out the door and back to Stouffville.

All in all a very enjoyable and educational evening, and made more impressive that it was all done in house at the OWS. Their next event will be taking place in the Distillery District of Toronto at the Cannery Restaurant, and will be featuring Schott-Zwiesel stemware, my buddy Lloyd Thistle and yours truly … details can be found here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Report from ... Wrapped Up in the Valley – November 21, 2009

Last year they filled a basket, this year they filled a box … a box of chocolates that is. This year twelve 20 Valley wineries took part in Wrapped Up in the Valley, each pairing a wine with a food and each gave the gift of chocolate to thank you for the visit, namely a chocolate truffle made with the winery’s wine. At the end of the trek you ended up with a full box of chocolate truffles and the memories of a variety of foods in your belly. To fill your box you had to visit all twelve wineries, while there you would have tasted 12 different food pairings … now for someone with a sweet tooth like mine you just know that visiting all 12 wineries was a must (I’m also a bit of a collector and a completionist); while I haven’t broken into the chocolates (yet) I can give you a run down on the food and wine pairings, not all of them worked; in fact very few had that “wow” factor you look for in a food and wine pairing. Some of the wineries had really good food, others the wine was the star, but in all cases (with the exception of one) the wineries showed us something interesting and worthy of a return visit for next year’s edition of Wrapped Up in the Valley, in whatever form it takes; if for nothing else than to see what they plan to fill.

The Best Pairing …

A tie here between Fielding and Vineland. Fielding served up a spicy corn chowder alongside their 2007 Chardonnay Musque … the coolness of the wine simmered down the heat of the chowder creating a taste combination second to none. That’s why they tied with Vineland’s Marinated Jumbo Shrimp and the 2007 Pinot Noir … this dish was served with two sides and two wines – the Sauvignon Blanc paired with the Citrus Thyme dip while the Pinot Noir went masterfully with the Smoky Paprika Chipotle – reverse the two and it was a messy affair. I was also impressed with the healthy portions of both of these foods being served.

Great Food …

EastDell’s homemade slow cooked chili hit the spot on this chilly day – thick and rich and exactly what the doctor ordered. Another nice sized portion.

Speaking of nice size, DeSousa had a “homemade” meatball that should have been called a “Man-sized” meatball; easily the size of a golf ball (if not bigger) stewed in a port-infused sauce paired with Lakeview’s port-style wine “Starboard” … the pairing didn’t work because it was sweet-on-sweet, but the meatball on its own was incredibly tasty.

Flat Rock did a phyllo flower filled with gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions – the key to this one was to pop the entire flower into one’s mouth (eat the petals first, then pop the middle in your mouth) otherwise you ended up getting too much of one flavour over the other.

Rosewood Estates made a change to their menu, for the better, instead of Salmon Gravlax they served a Greek dish called Spanikopita: phyllo pastry-filled with spinach and feta cheese … heated this would have been an awesome little snack because cold it was quite tasty.

The Other Five …
Angels Gate, Cave Spring, Harbour Estates, Mountain Road and Peninsula Ridge all did okay, nothing fantastic as far as the pairing goes; the wines performed well and the food was decent, some up, some down, but all edible and passable … plus you needed to go there to fill up your box of chocolates.

Disappointment …
There’s one in every crowd, and Creekside led the charge here. Their serving was suppose to be a rustic mushroom soup and their scheduled time to begin was 11:00am. But upon our arrival at 11:05 we were told they were not serving their pairing till noon; the girl behind the counter had very little knowledge of what was being done, “my manager left me a note saying that our organizers would be in at noon.” She poured us the wine and found the chocolate (so we were able to complete our collections); but I think someone dropped the ball at Creekside in a big way. Our embarrassed wine-jockey offered us tasting of whatever we wanted to compensate – a nice jester on her part.

Final Thought …
Wrapped Up in the Valley has a lot of potential to be one of the premier holiday events of the Niagara region; I believe this is the third time they have run the event and it still needs a little polish. One important point for future years would be to have a consistent start time from winery to winery to avoid confusion with patrons: 5 wineries started at 10:00am; 6 at 11:00; one at 10:30 and another advertised for 11 but didn’t get going till noon (so they said, we didn’t stick around to find out) – this kind of inconsistency could drive away customers and it just manages to piss people off. If you want to begin the event at 11 in the morning (allowing for opening and set-up) then make it across the board for each winery … I hate to point this out but that should be a basic starting point when planning any multiple location event. That said it is important to note that the tickets were sold out early to this event (both weekends), which shows that people like the direction this association of wineries is headed. I am looking forward to next year’s edition of the Wrapped Up festivities.

Drop in Surprise …
Louise at Featherstone was doing her annual Open House, outside of what the rest of the 20 Valley Association was doing – once again she served up great home cooked appetizers (though this year she admitted to have a little outside) with some Featherstone favourites (rosé, Chardonnay and Merlot). It’s always worth a drop-by.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Report from ... Gourmet Food & Wine Expo – November 19, 2009

The best part about the Toronto Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, for me anyway, is the ability to sample wines I have yet to try or find out what certain countries, agents or producers are raving to the public about. Amongst all the goings on I found seven worth crowing about.

Spain …
I found three real winners here, which then turned into two once I had my information corrected. The Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry ($11.30) is a stellar performer for sweet sherry drinkers: a cherry, almond, tangerine and marmalade nose leads to a creamy smooth hazelnut, spice and cherry marmalade palate with a hint of spice on the finish (*****). There’s also a Torres 2006 Coronas Tempranillo ($13.25) which shows incredible ageability (5+ years) all for under 15-bucks. Spices, herbs and black fruit galore, which leads to a long spicy, bitey finish (****). Finally, there was this Marques d Valcarlos 2000 which was awe inspiring, especially at the quotes price of $13.95; lots of red fruit on both the nose and palate followed by a lovely hit of tannins on the finish. Pretty impressive for a 9-year-old wine that was ready to drink yet could age another 3-4 years comfortably, all for under $15 (****). That price seemed a little fishy to me (especially after it was revealed to be a Vintages product). Upon my arrival home I looked the wine up on the LCBO website; the price was actually $17.95; the good news is that there is plenty of it available throughout the system. At $13.95 it was a special-trip-scour-the-city-buy-what-you-can-grab wine, but at $17.95 I can now wait till the next time I’m in the LCBO’s hallowed aisles, and if it’s sold out, so be it. But it is a very good wine it just doesn’t get that extra half star for value.

South Africa …
I tried The Wolftrap 2008 ($13.95), this usual Syrah-Viognier blend has been augmented with the addition of Mourvedre (30%) and it has made a world of difference. Instead of the usual unpleasant “South Africa notes” (tarry, barnyard) I pick up in the lower end wines from this country I am picking out chocolate, spice, black fruit and the slightest hint of burnt coffee aroma. Palate seems smoother and fuller with blackberry fruit, dark chocolate and a touch of spice. Terrific. (****½)

Argentina …
Coming in February (2010) to Vintages will be an Alta Vista 2007 Atemporal Assemblage ($19.95) a blend with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot – nice spice, chocolate and floral notes on the nose; very bold and flavourful in the mouth with lots of spice and tannins (****). On of my perennial favourites to come into the LCBO is the Clos de los Siete, this 2007 version (40% Malbec / 20% Merlot / 20% Syrah / 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) is rich in red and black fruit, smooth and tasty in the mouth with licorice, leather, blackberry and a spicy finish (****) – not the best they’ve ever made but still a good wine.

United States …
Let’s conclude this look into the wines of the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo with a Chardonnay from the Scott Family, 2008 Dijon Clone Chardonnay – Arroyo Seco ($28.95), it spends only 7 months in new French oak, has 14.5% alcohol and is just a lovely, delicate wine full of rich flavour and yet enough complexity to make it interesting. Vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, pineapple and honeydew melon greet the nose and tantalize the taste-buds; the mouth is loaded with tropical fruit and creamy vanilla – good mouth feel and a long lingering finish, this is darn good Chardonnay (****½); and that’s high praise coming from a non-Chardonnay drinker.

Bargain Hunters Notice …
Get ready, word on the street is that Chilean producer, and Vintages staple, Montes is getting ready to invade the LCBO’s general list. Coming March 2010 you’ll see the Montes Classic Series for a mere $12.95, in two varietals: Sauvignon Blanc for you white fans and Cabernet Sauvignon for you red lovers – both wines are quite good and very nicely priced.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Report from ... Hanna & Sons presents: Wines of Daniel Wollenweider – November 19, 2009

Another trip to the Fine Wine Reserve and another wine tasting. The Fine Wine Reserve seems to be the favoured spot of wine agents these days – there’s an intimacy and exclusivity to the place. As for Daniel Wollenweider, all I learned about him is that he is making some damn fine Rieslings in the Mosel (Germany). 12 of these wines were poured for us today in a range of styles, from a Dry Kabinett to a super sweet Trockenbeerenauslese and everything in-between; even the years poured had a range, 2002-2008 … all were very good, but of course I had my favourites (as did everyone in attendance):

My Top 3 Selections …

2008 Riesling Spatlese ($36.80) – this wine had a pure mineral sensation mixed with delicious apple on the nose; the palate showed a steady seam of acidity with bosc pear fruit and peach pit nuances; spectacular and delicious. (****½) … I also tried the 2002 Spatlese, the peach and mineral were intact with hints of petrol, quite lovely, you can see how this wine (2008) might age and what it has the potential to turn into.

2005 Riesling Auslese ($53.95) – another stellar wine that’s aging quite nicely. You can smell and taste the development of the apricot and peach with honey notes; there’s a touch of dried fruit on the tongue mixing with a sweet stony mineral sensation.

2008 Riesling ($24.05) – this wine is crisp and lemony with the three “P’s”: peach, pear and petrol (just a touch); great acidity, beautiful seam of minerality and a long persistent ready-for-more finish.

Report from ... Lunch at Biff’s Bistro for La Chablisienne – November 17, 2009

When you are invited to a place named Biff’s for lunch you really don’t expect a whole lotta great high-end food; burgers, ribs, basket of fries and potato skins come to mind. So wouldn’t you be surprised at being served a fabulous Seared Arctic Char, delicious Smoked Salmon and a wonderful Classic Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee. Biff’s is a French Bistro on Front with a funny name but obviously, from my description, delicious food. It also seemed (at first) an odd place to be drinking fine French Chardonnay, though my host would correct me on that statement: “In the north of France we don’t make Chardonnay, we make Chablis.” The winery, or better yet, the co-operative to which I am referring today is “La Chablisienne”, who represents close to 300 growers and controls approximately 25% of the Chablis region; their history dates back to 1923. La Chablisienne produces some thirty different wines every year from all regions of the appellation, including 6 Grands Crus and 11 Premier Crus. You might think that’s a lot of Chablis and that many probably taste the same (after all, it is still Chardonnay), but each wine is distinctive from the next: “We are not just here to make wine. We are here to put a piece of the land into the bottle.” One of the distinct qualities of Chablis is the mineralness that comes in these bottles; and each plot of land brings something different to the wine … true terroir in action. Which brings me round to another quote from our newfound Chablisienne friend: “Chablis without minerality is not Chablis,” says our host, “it’s Chardonnay.”

In 2003, La Chablisienne turned a major corner in its evolutionary history with the purchase of Chateau Grenouilles, “a celebrated Grands Crus and the only Chateau of the Chablis appellations.” Today, we tried five of the wines released by La Chablisienne with along with a delicious Chablis-inspired lunch. All wines scored at least 4-stars (very good) but two scored a little higher and really deserve some attention here:

Stunning Chablis …
2006 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaulorents’ ($31.80 - #111666) – of the Vaulorent area, of which there are 7 hectares, La Chablisienne owns 4½. The nose of this wine is peach pit, floral and delicate with a small touch of butteryness. The palate delivers a refreshing mineral note along with peach pit and lemon drop … the mouth feel is soft, round and supple; it’s wine to enjoy with food or sip on it’s own. (****½)

2005 Chablis Grand Chateau ‘Grenouilles’ ($89.00 - #82974) – after tasting this wine there is no wondering why this is a feather in the Chablisienne cap; it is their cream of the crop wine, handmade from 2 hectares of vineyard, gravity fed, aged in 100% French oak for 12 months, while the taste is … The wine is delicate yet with a little power behind it: strong minerality, candied almonds, hazelnuts and a beautiful elegance; each sip is to be savoured, each swirl to be sniffed … lovely complexity and thoroughly enjoyable. (****½)

Thanks to Vinexx for the invite and to La Chablisienne for the chance to taste these wines.