Sunday, August 29, 2010

Report from ... Alberta Oilmen/Schott Zwiesel Tasting - August 27, 2010

This past weekend I found myself in my birth province of Alberta - I was born in Edmonton (not a popular place in what seemed like a mostly Calgary-based crowd) ... I was here to speak to the Oilmen's convention about the benefits of proper glassware and it's effects on the wines we drink.  Armed with 5 stems of the break-resistant Schott Zwiesel crystal stemware and wines from a new Argentinean wine venture, Zorzal, I had an an hour and a half to convince these folks that the right glass makes all the difference.

The first thing I like to find out, before doing these types of presentations, is who in the room is skeptical that glassware makes any difference at all to the wines we drink - afterall, to many, a glass is a glass is a glass.  I am happy to report that over half of those in attendance believed in proper glassware from the get go, while a full third of the room were skeptical of the benefits a properly designed stem could make to their wine drinking experience ... I am even happier to report that by the end of my hour and three-quarters (the last 15 minutes was a question and answer period), not one person was skeptical anymore.  Don't believe me?  I'll be doing more of these tastings/demonstrations in the future, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open for the when and where - and I bet I can turn your skepticism around ... trust me, when I first did this kind of tasting, over 20 years ago, I was a bigger skeptic than you.

Best of the Wines tried ...

Of course being in Alberta I saw and heard about the benefits of a free market system of alcohol sales.  I tasted wines I hadn't tired before and probably would not try because of the tight reign the LCBO has over the Ontario marketplace.  Zorzal is a new winery located in Mendoza, Argentina that has financial backing from a few of the Alberta Oilmen in attendance at this event - hence why their wines were being tasted this afternoon.  Of the six wines I tried two stood our as being either interesting of downright tasty.
Interesting: Zorzal 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve (13.5% alcohol) - this wine came as quite a surprise - this is not your average everyday Pinot Noir, nor is it typical or usual.  When poured into a proper Burgundy glass it exuded the usual cranberry, raspberry and sour cherry notes - but most noticeable on both nose and palate was black pepper ... this wine drank more like a Shiraz that it did a Pinot Noir.  Typical?  No.  Pinot Noir? It may say it on the label but you'd have trouble identifying it as such in a blind tasting.  Drinkable?  You bet. (****)

Downright Tasty:  Zorzal 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5% alcohol) - this was my favourite wine in the Zorzal line-up, which included a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec Rosee amd Malbec Reserve ... this was a pure Cab from start to finish with all the things you love about hot climate, South American Cabernet.  The nose was blackberry, pepper and a touch of alcohol bled its way through on the sniffer.  But on the palate that alcohol disappeared, leaving behind vanilla, pepper, black currant and a touch of toffee with big, bold flavours and lush mouthfeel ... good acidity and a long flavourful finish which ended this wine off in the mouth nicely.  (****1/2)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Report from ... Jarvis Church & Erik Peacock at Chateau des Charmes - August 22, 2010

To look at the title you'd think Erik Peacock (one of Niagara's celebrated chefs) had strapped on a guitar and joined The Philosopher Kings frontman, Jarvis Church, on stage for a jam session.  That was not the case, the only think that Erik does with jam is cook with it, but both men did create an aural/oral sensation this afternoon.

The afternoon was a continuation of the morning, gloomy, and although the call was for sunny skies by the afternoon they never materialized, instead the skies opened up and the rains fell.  But under the tent we all stayed warm and dry.  The concert was a fundraiser for the St. Catharines General Hospital - the new one is scheduled to open in 2013.

We started with Erik's delightful lunch, so simple in its execution yet so tasty in its delivery.  Served buffet style you picked form Panzanella Tuscan bread salad, zucchini and feta white bean salad, and/or regular salad (which was topped with a delicious dressing. Orecchiette pasta with yellow tomatoes, olives and chiles.  BBQ braised short rib sandwich with peppers and fresh husked corn.  And finally, peach yoghurt cupcakes, complete with fresh peach slice on top.  A lunch fit for afternoon delight.

The concert kicked off with a performance by Grenvill Pinto, who played violin just like he's ringing a bell (go-go, go Grenville go).  I'm sure that doesn't sound very exciting, but Grenville had a twist to his violin playing - he played popular music: think Karaoke backing with the violin as the vocal; quite ingenious and quite entertaining.  He played everything from Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'" to That's Amore; the Eagles 'Hotel California' to Guns n' Roses 'Sweet Child O' Mine'.  He performed an audience check with 'If you're happy and you know it', if we clapped he knew we were all still awake - we were.  He announce a "hard core Italian tune" then broke into the theme from the Godfather, and finally, he did a Michael Jackson medley dressed as the King of Pop himself.

After a short intermission, Jarvis Church's band took the stage and so did Mr. Church.  He started with three songs from his new solo album then dug deep into his Philosopher Kings past, much to the delight of the crowd.  When he performed his audience participation segment (where he invites a young lady on stage to "sing his heart out to"), Sara was more than willing to oblige (he kept her onstage for a playful 3 cover song medley) .

The Wine I Drank ...

The 2008 Gamay Noir 'Droit' is out and continues a line of delicious wines using this grape.

Funniest Moment - Out of the mouths of babes ...

Before the hootenanny began speeches and introductions had to be made.  When Michele Bosc took the stage to welcome everybody to their home (the Chateau) and into the family (all who visit are family), one of her own family members took the limelight - 3 year old Alex appeared front and centre before the stage.  He took a few tentative steps and put a foot onto the stage, Michele had to interrupt her speech to tell him not to come onto the stage, she then introduced him to polite applause.  Then the room went quiet.

Michele: "No honey, you have to stay down there."
Alex: "But mommy ..."
Michele: "Yes Alex"
Alex: "I want to play the drums."

The crowd roared with laughter as mommy called for daddy (Paul Bosc Jr.) to come and get his son before he decided to sit behind a drum kit 4 times his size.

The weather may not have co-operated but the music, the food and the Bosc family hospitality sure did.

Report from ... German Wine Tasting - August 17, 2010

Every time I taste, or write, about German wine I think of Steve Martin, in the movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" when he mumbles the word "Gemerman" before passing out because someone has slipped him a mickey.  Thankfully most Gemerman wines don't make you fall over, drunk or otherwise, because they have fairly low alcohol (10.5% or less) especially those lovely, racy, Rieslings we've all come to know and love.

Today, at the George Brown College Culinary Academy, we sampled 10 Rieslings, a Silvaner, a Pinot Noir and a Huxelrebe (14 wines in total), and by the end of the tasting I knew why Riesling was Germany's number one grape: they just do it so well on so many levels and in so many ways.  I had also tried some of the best coconut shrimp I have ever tasted - and it went so well with the dry Riesling ... imagine that.

Today's top 5 were ..

5 ... Werner Anselmann 2007 Huxelrebe Auslese ($14.95) - this is a sweet sip with lots of tropical notes, namely pineapple, with some vanilla and petrol backing it up. (***1/2)

4 .... Gunter Reh Group 2008 Carl Reh Riesling Kabinett ($12.95) - this is a simple, easy drinking Riesling with lime and a touch of mineral. (***1/2)

3 ... Schmitt Sohne Funf German Riesling (9.95 - October release) - this white bottle flies in the face of the traditional green or blue bottle you usually see Rieslings in.  The wine's name really does say it all - lots of fun(f) in this slightly sweet Riesling offering - the price is very attractive and offers good value for those who don't want too much complexity in their Riesling. (***1/2)

Time to Get Serious ...

2 ... Nik. Weis Selection 2008 Urban "U" Riesling ($14.95) - this recent general list offering at the LCBO shows that somebody in the purchasing department knows about value Rieslings and has a soft spot for good ones, especially the one driven by their complexity.  This wine is not for everybody because of its distinctive character, but it's one you'll love to sip and to serve.  Peach and petrol take centre stage here - and there's a definite linger of flavour on the palate that truly makes you want more. (****)

1 ... Kesselstatt 2008 RK Kesselstatt Riesling QbA ($14.95) - this one beat out the Urban "U" by, as Maxwell Smart used to say, "that much."  The wine just had an extra element of complexity on the palate that made it rise just a head above the number two wine.  Stony-mineral-ness on the nose and palate, apple, citrus and green apple-like acidity on the finish.  What stops this from getting higher marks is the quick finish - maybe with age that will improve, priced to find out if I'm right.  (****1/2)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Report from ... Lake Erie North Shore SWOVA Tasting 2010, Muscedere Vineyards - August 8, 2010

I show some real dedication coming to this event, the day before (August 7) I moved into my new house - I left boxes all over the place and drove to check out one of the premier events in the Lake Erie North Shore.  You can read what I have to say in Newsletter #140 ... below you can get a visual of the day's events ...

Wines of Choice (look for reviews in upcoming newsletters) ...

Dinner (Lunch) is served ...

A fan favourite - this shrimp flew off the tray as quickly as it arrived ...

Ya gotta love dessert ...
"Sweet Caroline" himself ...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Report from … Flat Rock Gourmet Street Truck Launch – July 29, 2010


Hola Amigos, welcome to the culinary stylings of Adam Hynam-Smith and his Gastronomo Vagabundo food wagon. 
Niagara is just the latest destination for the culinary food truck trend to stop at.  Food trucks have been around forever.  Ever since the invention of the wheel, man has learned to roll his food around and then sell it to his fellow man on the street.  These days you mostly find burgers, dogs and fries as well as other simple street fare, like say ice cream; but lately the trend is to cook more culinary-type foods out of these grease kitchens on wheels, minus the grease and add fresh, more healthy fare … Gone are the burgers, dogs, onion rings and piles of poutine, welcome, in this case, to the gourmet taco.

Before you shout out, “I’ve had tacos out of a wagon before”, keep in mind that the taco is merely the vehicle to get the food to your mouth – and this is not your usual taco.  Tonight, Flat Rock Cellars brings another first to Canadian wineries. 
 “Innovation is always important to me,” says Flat Rock owner Ed Madronich.  Ed equates the gourmet food truck trend to the way we used to “do” theatre.  Theatre used to be an event: you dressed up, went out fore dinner and took in the show – it was an event, an almost black-tie-type of affair.  But today we dress down: shorts, jeans, t-shirts and polos complete with sandals on our feet and yet we “are getting more and more demanding of our food – local, fresh ingredients – but we don’t want to get all dressed up to enjoy it.”

In steps Aussie Adam, with his Canadian counterpart Tamara (they met in Barcelona of all places), and together they have created the first culinary wagon on wheels in Canada and Flat Rock is proud to host them each and every weekend throughout the summer.

Tonight was the official launch of “Gastronomo Vagabundo”, which Adam describes as “Really good food in a non-pretentious way.”  And he’s right about that. On his ever changing menu (which on some days changes hourly depending on what’s growing in the Flat Rock vegetable garden) we sampled the Flat Rock Garden Fresh Salad, complete with a thing called a Mouse Melon (sourced from Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm), it’s the size of a marble, looks like a watermelon but tasted like a cucumber.  A Bangkok Dangerous Taco: with homemade authentic Thai coconut Red Curry marinated beef short rib.  A Don Caprese Taco:  this one has a Canadian twist on a Italian-Asian dish, tempura dipped and friend mozzarella cheese; and for dessert: Jordan peaches and tropical fruit with a sweet chili salt dip (it smells fishy due to the ground up shrimp, sounds odd but it is really very delicious).

All these dishes were paired with Flat Rock whites: two Rieslings, a Twisted and the 2007 Chardonnay … I also got a taste of the 2008 Gravity Pinot Noir, which is tasting better than ever.
To experience the new wave of food for yourself, head to Flat Rock on the weekends this summer, for casual South East Asian influenced dining, all served up in a casual atmosphere (how else do you describe the taco) … no jacket (or tie) required.

Report from … California / Trinchero Dinner at Bb33 – July 27, 2010

Tonight’s Bb33 dinner featured the wines of the Trinchero Family Estates with a meal prepared by executive sous-chef Derek Martens, all hosted by the director of sales and marketing for Trinchero, Brett Marshall.

The Trinchero family are the folks behind the multi-million dollar invention we all know as White Zinfandel, a wine that dates back to 1974 and was the result of a stuck fermentation.  Tonight 6 wines were poured and a fabulous dinner was served (minus any white Zin) and it all started with the 2009 Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc, a light and fruity white that had a sweet sensation on the tongue – a really delightful summer sipper served during the pre-dinner half hour (***½).

Moving on, wine-wise, there was the 2008 Main Street Chardonnay (Los Alamos Vineyard) from Santa Barbara; funny story here: somebody poured the dessert wine instead of the dry white, so we all got a sneak peak of the delicious sweetie to be served later on.  Once rectified, the Chardonnay proved to be loaded with toasted vanilla notes and baked apple and pear fruit, a very nice Chardonnay for the price ($17.95).  The wine sees 6 months of French oak and goes through partial malolactic fermentation to soften its acid edge (***½). 

This wine was paired with  “House Smoked” Cypress Island Salmon Tower Minted Sweet Pea Froth & Heirloom Beet Vinaigrette Tender Organic Baby Seedlings.
Second course:  Oven Roasted California Bison Tenderloin Sweet Potato & Apple Wood Smoked Bacon Stack Sweet Cipollini Onion Relish & Raspberry Mustard Glaze; was paired with two radically different Cabernet Sauvignons.  The first, a Napa Cellars 2007 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – 16 months French and American oak with 14% alcohol, is you basic Cali-Cab with black and red cherry fruit throughout (****) … it’s part of a 15,000 case production.  There was also the Napa Cellars 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, this was a brute of a wine, not just alcohol-wise (14.5%) but with the plum, black fruit, chocolate, caramel and toasted vanilla; 20 months exclusively in new French oak has produced a lovely, smooth, big fruited and elegantly flavoured wine.  Each year there is no more than 3000 cases (36,000 bottles) made, in 2007 only 1265 cases were made (****½).

Next came the cheese tray paired with a Napa Cellars 2007 Zinfandel.  This grape is a California favourite of mine, but not much is made in the Napa Valley, that land is far too valuable for the lowly/inexpensive Zinfandel grape and is thus used for more high priced varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, so this wine is a rarity for the area.  Plums, spice, raspberry, vanilla and cinnamon make up the flavour profile, quite a nice little sip – but you’ve gotta like Zin – though I’m not sure how you couldn’t. (****)

Finally, we got our dessert wine back: Terra d’Oro 2006 Moscato – this is a very pretty wine with pink grapefruit, sweet ginger ale notes, crisp apple and perfumed peach – most surprising, and very welcome - was the white chocolate aroma found on the nose – yum (****).  This was served with a triple medley of mini-sweets:

Mascarpone Meyer Lemon Cheesecake - Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta & Huckleberry Jam - Monterey Strawberry Mousse & Praline Crunch … all very tasty.

Another delicious dinner at Bb33.