Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Report from ... 5th Annual 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs @ Huff - June 24, 2011

Welcome to the 5th Annual 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs
With rain in the forecast every day leading up to the event the folks at Huff did not want to take any chances, so up went a tent and instead of a walk through the vineyard to collect your food and wine pairings you were warm and dry under the big top.  As luck would have it, the rains held off so you could eat with the sun at your back on a variety of benches and tables outside the confines of the tent... though there were tables also set up inside, just in case you did not want to leave the cozy confines of the tented area.  I'm talking here about one of the most unique (uniquest - can something really be more unique?  That's a question for another day) events I have ever, and continue to attend and be enthralled with.  Six renowned chefs are paired up with 6 barrel samples of unfinished wine - they cook outdoors in the vineyard and create some of the most deliciously inventive dishes you'll ever see come off a hot plate.  This year's event had an international flair as one of the chefs was from Ireland ("I just had to take part," Denis Cotter said to me).
Under the tent - see no barrels in sight

The Chefs ...
Denis Cotter - from Ireland
Tonight's chefs were: Ryan Crawford (stone Road Grille, Niagara-on-the-Lake); Chris McDonald (Cava, Toronto); Denis Cotter (Cafe Paradiso, Ireland); Michael Potters (Angeline's, Bloomfield); Hiro Yoshida (Hiro Sushi, Toronto) and Jamie Kennedy (Giolead Cafe & Bistro, Toronto).

The Wines ...
6 barrels are on hand for these chefs - but the barrels aren't  actually around the place, they have been left behind at their respective wineries of origin and only bottled up samples are on hand.  This year 2 Chardonnays from Huff, 2 Pinot Noirs from Norman Hardie and one each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Closson Chase ... of course they are all 100% County wines.

And the top prizes for Best ____ go to ...
At an event like this it's hard not to talk about your favourites - all are good, some are better and only one is amazing and transcends the food and wine experience.

Top Three Food Offerings (as chosen by our distinguished panel of two)...
3) Jamie Kennedy's - pristine poached pickerel with Hillier chive soubise .... what a stunning piece of fish.

2) Michael Potters' - pan fried Bay of Quinte yellow perch with lovage remoulade ... the lemon vinagrette elevated the fish from good to great.

1) Denis Cotter - pan fried haloumi, beet braised puy lentils, harissa, walnut crumb and fava shoots ... who would have thought the out-of-towner would outshine the locals and he's a vegetarian cook to boot - but really who can resist fried cheese, even if it is pan-fried?
Mmmmm ... fried cheese

Top Wines ...
Best White: Closson Chase 2010 Chardonnay in a 1st fill (new) Carriage House Cooperage (Prince Edward County) 228L medium toast barrel ... buttery vanilla and creamy texture that still has fruit holding it all together; a beautiful sipping Chard right now.

Best Red: Norman Hardie 2010 Pinot Noir in a 2nd fill Mercurey (French) 228L barrel with medium toast ... great spice on the red and some lovely black cherry and subtle cranberry notes; this is a lovely wine to be.

Finally ... Best Pairing of the Night ...

After careful thought, much chewing and sipping this award goes to the Michael Potter pan fried yellow perch paired with a Huff Estates 2010 South Bay Chardonnay in a 1st fill Dargaud et Jaegle (French) 228L barrel with a medium high toast.  I talked about that lemon vinaigrette earlier, well this wine made the lemon sing in the mouth and then washed everything clean away and ready for the next bite - on the next bite that song started up again - a match made in heaven.
"Pair this with the Huff Chardonnay"

Dessert ...
Chef Bryan Steele of the Old Prune in Stratford rocked it with a rhubarb & pecan streusel with strawberry ice cream ... this was a killer of a taste sensation and a great way to end the food portion of the evening.
Dessert to die for ... thank you Bryan Steele

Thanks to Huff for having the foresight to have this event every year ... the real winners are the guests who get to enjoy this little bit of learning heaven and to see how a wine tastes in its formative years ... if there were awards for best event of the year this would take one of my top three prizes every year.  Hope to do it again next year.

Report from ... New Zealand Wine Fair - May 12, 2011

In the land of Sauvignon Blanc, the one who make it different is King ... I am paraphrasing an old saying here but what I'm trying to get you to understand is that everybody knows that New Zealand make great Sauvignon Blanc, of that there is no doubt, but the question on everybody's lips should be, when confronted by the New Zealand section at your local liquor store: what else can they do?

As it turns out plenty.  This year with close to 40 wineries in attendance I tried to avoid New Zealand's signature grape and instead focused my attention on "anything else".  At one point I started asking producers what wine they were most proud to pour for me, and 90% picked something other than Sauvignon Blanc - seems the Kiwis are getting the message loud and clear:  If you are going to have a sustainable wine industry you can't focus solely on one grape - the world wants to see what else you can do.

The Wine Fair was broken down into two parts - the self pour media seminar and the trade portion.  This year's seminar wanted us to focus on 'The Amazing Aromatics from New Zealand', other than Sauvignon Blanc, and the "Various Faces of Syrah" from different parts of this dual island nation.

Seminar (aromatics) ...
I thought all the Rieslings (3 in total) were quite nice, the best of which was a Mt. Beautiful 2008 Cheviot Hills Riesling from Canterbury; at $18 it delivered fresh fruit, petrol, peach, apple and pear ... beautiful is a good name for it. (****+)

I was less impressed with the Pinot Gris selection, the best of this mediocre lot was an Akarua 2009 Pinot Gris from the Central Otago. (***+)

My palate fared better with the Gewurztraminers, the Spy Valley 2010 Gewurztraminer ($21.95) had just what you'd want from this grape - nice floral and rose petal nuances with a dash of spice. (****)

Seminar (syrah) ...
Seven Syrahs were on the table for sample, four from the Hawkes Bay region, two from the Gimblett Gravels (a sub-region of Hawke's Bay) and one from Waiheke Island.  My favourite was the Sacred Hill 2007 Deerstalkers Syrah ($39.99) from Hawke's Bay proper; it was deep, rich and dark fruited with some sour black raspberry notes on the nose; the palate proved just as deep and rich with flavours of raspberry, smokiness and earthiness leading to a firm mouthfeel and good tannins; the finish proved to be very Syrah-like with lots of peppery notes (****+).  Rounding out my top three were two from Gimblett Gravels: Mission Estate 2009 Reserve Syrah ($26.95) with its slightly plum-pepper finish (****) and Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2008 Syrah ($37.95) with meaty-earthy and chalkiness in the mouth ... with time this should develop into something wonderful, say 3-5 years (****).

The Rest of the Show (alphabetically, four-stars and above) ...
Amisfield 2009 Pinot Gris ($32.00) - rich fuller style of Gris (****+)
Astrolabe 2009 Durvillea Pinot Noir (n/a) - sour cherry and strawberry (****)
Churton 2008 Pinot Noir ($34.95) - good acidity, nice aromatics and spicy finish (****)
Giesen 2009 The August Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95) - wild ferment, 9 months in oak, whole bunch pressed ... results: creamy mouthfeel, something different (****)
Kato 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) - grassy, gooseberry and gorgeous, especially for the price, and available on the general list (****+)
Jackson Estate 2008 Vintage Widow Pinot Noir ($29.95) - cherry cranberry fruit with a pinch of earthy on the finish (****)
Nautilus 2009 Pinot Noir ($37.95) - dark berries and spice (****)
Ostler 2009 Caroline's Pinot Noir ($39.95) nice structure, plenty of dark fruit (****)
Sileni 2009 Estate Selection 'The Pacemaker' Cabernet Franc ($18.95) - great story behind the wine, lovely cherry-tobacco notes, very pretty wine (****+)
Teawa 2009 Left Field Merlot Malbec ($18.95) - red fruit dominant with a touch of pepper on the rounded finish (****)
Te Kairanga 2007 Runholder Pinot Noir ($32.95) - from 25 year old vines, earthy perfumed and sour cherry (****)
Wairau River 2009 Pinot Noir ($19.95) - red sour cherry, sweet vanilla, spiced-cranberry, very feminine in style (**** 1/2)
Wither Hills 2010 Rarangi Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($22.95) - lots of mineral and citrus with an inkling of pea pod (****+)


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Report from … 52 Wines from 1 Fantastic Place - May 18, 2011

I think Kim Mitchell put it best when he said, "I am a Yellow Party", that was right after he attended an iYellow event.  It was also the same event where Bran Van 3000 said, "There ain't no party like an iYellow party, cause and iYellow party don't stop."

Alright, ya caught me, I'm making this whole thing up, except for the party, that the iYellow Wine Club did sponsor and held the event for the 2nd year in a row at the Toronto Board of Trade in downtown Toronto.  They invited the 26 winery members of the Niagara-on-the-Lake group to each pour two wines ... they called the event "52 wines - 1 Fantastic place" (or was that just the tag line?).

There really ain't much else to say except give you a run down on some of the wines that were at the event; but before I do that I should take a moment to thank Miss Angie Aiello herself (no relation to Danny) for inviting me to sit in with her during one of her little wine talks to a small group of wine lovers - and of course for inviting me to the event itself.  As for my top 5 wines of the evening, you can find them below, along with a link to the full review on my website: www.ontariowinereview.com ...

1) Pondview 2009 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc (**** 1/2+) a fabulous France form a rather tough year, proves this grape really does belong in Ontario - you just have to know how to handle it in the vineyard.

2) Coyote's Run 2009 Red Paw Pinot Noir (**** 1/2) - the Coyote runs in a different pack when it comes to showing off their grapes in different soil types.

3) Colaneri 2009 Corposo (**** 1/2) - this ripasso style offering really brings out the inner-Italian in this new NOTL winery, not only does it feel that way but it tastes that way too.

4) Chateau des Charmes 2007 Old Vines Cabernet Merlot (****+) - shows that it's not just the newer wineries showing the way, this old guard still puts excellent wines into bottle year-in and year-out.

5) Cattail Creek 2009 Riesling (****+) - this Riesling really shows what the grape can do in the right hands, they've been growing it in NOTL since 1974, so you just know they're doing it right.

Report from ... Reh Kendermann Wine Dinner @ The Toronto Hunt Club - May 11, 2011

Philippe Dandurand Wines (agent) invited Reh Kendermann's winemaker Philipp Maurer to Toronto to lead an experience of German wine with food.  Many think of Riesling as a sweet sipping wine and it's unfortunate that the only food most people think of is oriental, when Riesling pairs with so many other dishes. 

Many will find themselves scratching their heads wondering who Reh  Kendermann is and what wines they make.  Little do you know that you've probably experienced Reh's wines more than once in your lifetime ... Black Tower should ring bells with many of you, so yeah Reh has quietly been a part of your drinking past for many years, and now part of your future if you'll let him back into your hearts.

A Little About Reh ...
This winery has been family owned since 1920, they export 60% of their production and have four wineries (3 in Germany, 1 in Romania)

Tonight we got a chance to try the wines with their young winemaker (32), Philipp Maurer, who has been with Kendermann since 2005.  We sampled 7 different wines from the portfolio: the 3 opening wines, 2 Rieslings: Black Tower and Bend in the River; and an absolutely stunning Kendermann 2007 Pinot Noir (did you know that Germany is the 3rd largest Pinot Noir producer in the world?)

I have to admit the pairings with the food were a little awkward and clumsy at times - the food was excellent and the wines ranged from good to excellent, but together they did not seem to mesh as seamlessly as all had hoped.  So let's just focus on the wines here.

Tonight's Wines ...
Favourite wine of the night was the Carl Reh 2008 Riesling Kabinett ($12.95) from the Mosel region and with only 8.5% alcohol.  This is a classic style Riesling with slate, stone and mineral all over the smell, followed by a more mineral driven palate that has crisp fresh apples within - a bargain at under $13 and available at selected LCBO locations, stock up for what is left of summer while you still can. (****)

There are also two sister wines Kendermann produces and they are based on the saoil in which the grapes are grown: Roter Hang (Red Hill/Slope) and Kalkstein (Limestone) - they use the same winemaking style for each wine, the only difference is the soil: the Roter is grown in 200 million year old soils, while the Kalkstein is grown in a very youthful 20,000 year old soil (youthful for soil anyway).  I have tried these wines in the past and seem to gravitate towards the younger wine with its pure limestone and slate nose, and chalky mineral mouthfeel ... I have a 2004 version of this wine in my cellar that I look forward to trying soon (Philipp says I have a few years yet).

Our final wine was the decadently sweet Kendermann Laurentiuslay Riesling Auslese with its palate of ginger candy, pear and great balancing acidity that keeps it in harmony within the confines of the mouth without becoming all cloying and sickeningly sweet.  Lovely as a dessert all on its own.