That time of year…

Summer weekends … so much to see and do… and what better way than to start the day at a fabulous farmers’ market.IMG_3006

This morning I headed over to one of Toronto’s best markets: the Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market off the Bayview extension.

I never go to markets with much of a shopping list. Instead, I like to be inspired by what’s in season and on offer. Well, today it was garlic scapes, fresh onions, and my favourite – sea asparagus!

IMG_3003IMG_3004IMG_3007The other thing on offer at the Brickworks and many other farmers’ markets is Ontario wines. This morning there was a wealth of wines to choose from too, with Cave Spring Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Malivoire Wine, Tawse Winery and Sratus all on hand.

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Eating and IMG_3002drinking local tonight! Hope you are too…

Lost in Translation?

A couple weeks ago I was at a German wine tasting sponsored by Wines of Germany. It featured 36 wineries from most of Germany’s major wine regions and showcased winemakers of the so-called next generation – those under 35-years-old.

The afternoon had a more than a few surprises for me – the biggest of which had to do with the names of certain grapes in German. I started the afternoon trying whites, so when I read Weissburgunder on a label, drawing on my high school German, I silently translated that to White Burgundy, which made me think it might be a blend of grape varieties that grow in Burgundy.

Boy was I surprised when I tasted it and realized it was a Pinot Blanc. Who knew? I guess I always assumed that most winemakers simply used the French (or Italian – or at least some phonetically similar) name for the most well-known grape varieties. Well, that’s not the case in Germany.

Another example you’re likely to see is Grauburgunder – that’s Pinot Gris! The other white grapes commonly used in Germany – Riesling, Rivaner, Silvaner, Kerner, Bacchus, and Scheurebe – are called the same in German and English.

Similarly, on the red side, Pinot Noir is called Spätburgunder and Pinot Meunier is Schwarzriesling in German. The other red grapes commonly used in Germany – Dornfelder, Portugieser, Trollinger, Regent, and Lemberger – are called the same in German and English.

So, next time you see a Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, or Schwarzriesling on a German wine list – you’ll have to do your own translation!

Somewhereness… Something Special

A group of a dozen Ontario wineries have banded together into a group they call Somewhereness. The name is meant to invoke the idea of the special qualities attributable to terroir and the wineries in the group pride themselves on their stewardship and quality. The wineries in the group are: 13th Street Winery, Bachelder, Charles Baker, Cave Spring Cellars, Flat Rock Cellars, Hidden Bench, Hinterland, Malivoire Wine, Norman Hardie, Southbrook Vineyards, Stratus, and Tawse. The group has done a good job of promoting to restaurants and if you notice one of them on a wine list, it’s likely you’ll see other Somewhereness wines on the list too.

The group had a trade tasting in Toronto recently and, in addition to many of their best known wines, there were a few surprises.

Most Unusual

The most unusual offering was a new wine produced by Southbrook Vineyards called: 2014 Small Lots Estate Grown Orange Wine. Nope, that’s not a typo. The wine, which is to be released in May, is, in fact, a light orange colour with a distinct un-filtered haze. (It looks more like a very light beer than a wine.) It’s made of 100% Vidal and it is made with whole clusters of grapes. Rather than try to describe it, here’s a video of Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing and Sales, explaining how it was made.

Other Delightful Finds

In terms of premium-priced wines, my favourite was the 2012 Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay ($44.95).

One of the biggest surprises for me was Cave Spring Cellars’ 2012 Pinot Noir Estate ($34.95). Cave Spring Cellars is so well known for its whites, it’s easy to overlook their reds. Don’t. If you’re a fan of Pinot Noir, give this a try.

The 13th Street 2012 Pinot Gris ($19.95) was very nice – well balanced and crisp.

I love bubbly and I was wowed by Tawse’s 2103 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling both in terms of taste and price ($19.95 and available at Vintages). It’s made using the traditional method and it’s definitely something that fans of sparkling will enjoy.

And finally, an Ontario wine tasting wouldn’t be complete without a dessert wine. The biggest discovery at the dessert wine table was 13th Street Winery’s 2013 13 Below Zero Riesling. It’s a blend of 40% Riesling icewine and 60% off-dry Riesling. At $19.95 for 375 ml. it’s a bargain!

Wineries at the Cuvée Grand Tasting 2015

I’ve blogged a bit about some of the chefs who will be serving at the Cuvée Grand Tasting on Friday night (Feb. 27th) – but of course, the evening is also about celebrating Ontario wines and winemakers. So, I thought it only fair that I report on the 52 (!) wineries that’ll be there.

Though the list features wineries mainly from the Niagara region, the Lake Erie/Pelee Island region is represented by Coopers Hawk Vineyards and Pelee Island Winery.

Here are the wineries that will be there. Note that the Cuvée organizers have not released information about the wine winery will be pouring – but it’s supposed to be the winemakers’ favourite. (I’ll report on what they’re serving as soon as the list is released.

2015 winery partners 

  • 2027 Cellars Ltd.*
  • Big Head Wines
  • Cave Spring Cellars
  • Chateau des Charmes Wines Ltd.
  • Colaneri Estate Winery
  • Coopers Hawk Vineyards
  • Cornerstone Estate Winery
  • Coyote’s Run Estate Winery
  • Creekside Estate Winery
  • Domaine Queylus
  • EastDell Estates by Diamond Estates Winery
  • Flat Rock Cellars Ltd.
  • Foreign Affair Winery
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
  • Inniskillin Wines
  • Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
  • John Howard Cellars of Distinction – Megalomaniac
  • Joseph’s Estate Wines Inc.*
  • Kacaba Vineyards Inc.
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery
  • Lailey Vineyard Winery
  • Lakeview Cellars by Diamond Estate Winery
  • Le Clos Jordanne Wines
  • Legends Estates Winery*
  • Magnotta Winery Estates Ltd.
  • Malivoire Wine Company
  • The Marynissen Estates*
  • Mike Weir Wine Inc.
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery
  • Nyarai Cellars
  • Pelee Island Winery
  • Peller Estates
  • Pillitteri Estates Winery Inc.
  • Pondview Estate Winery Ltd.
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery*
  • Reif Estate Winery
  • Rennie Estate Winery
  • Ridge Road Estate Winery
  • Riverview Cellars Estate Winery
  • Rockway Vineyards
  • Southbrook Vineyards
  • Stoney Ridge Cellars Ltd.
  • Strewn Winery
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
  • Stratus Vineyards Limited
  • Thirteenth Street Wine Corp.
  • The Thirty Bench Wine Makers
  • Trius Winery at Hillebrand
  • Two Sisters Vineyards*
  • Vieni Estates
  • Vineland Estates Winery Ltd.*
  • Westcott Vineyards

*these are wineries that were not at the Grand Tasting last year.

Tickets are still available for the Grand Tasting ($200, with a Cuvée en Route pass thrown in for added fun the rest for the weekend). (Rumour has it that tickets will be available at the door, but to avoid the possibility of disappointment, it’s best to buy your ticket in advance on-line.)

For Chef Parsons, it’s all in the technique …

In talking with some of the chefs that will be cooking at Cuvée 2015’s Grand Tasting (Friday, Feb. 27th) I was struck by how calm they are about cooking for hundreds and hundreds of guests. What I also found interesting was the different factors they considered when designing the dishes they’ll be serving.

When cooking at Cuvée, It goes without saying that the goal is to impress (or, as Chef Del Priore put it: the Wow factor). But that’s not the only factor the chefs mentioned as being important. Using unique ingredients was key for Chef Downes. (I think it’s safe to say that his choice of pickled tongue fits the unique ingredient criterion!) Local ingredients – and the challenge of sourcing them in the dead of winter – was a consideration Chef Midgley mentioned.

MVI_2441-001For Chef Jason Parsons, Executive Chef at Peller Estates Winery, the choice of cooking technique also played an important role in deciding what he’d serve. When he learned he’d been invited to participate in Cuvée this year, he quickly decided that sous vide was the way to go. The technique, which Parsons admitted can sound like boil-in-a-bag, allows the chef to bring the food to a certain temperature and then maintain it without overcooking or changing the taste or texture. As a result, it’s a great way to ensure that every guest gets a serving that’s cooked to perfection, regardless of whether they are the first person served or the 700th person served.

Parsons and his team will be serving two dishes at Cuvée: a sous vide salmon and a wild boar sausage.

Here’s a short video of Chef Parsons talking about Cuvée – and extolling the virtues of sous vide cooking!

Now trending …

No – this isn’t a stock market update, or news of some new fashion. Just a comment about what I think must be an emerging culinary trend: Raclette.

What’s that you ask? Well, it depends. Raclette happens to be a type of cow’s milk cheese that melts very well. Raclette also can refer to a Swiss-dish that involves heating said cheese. No – it’s not fondue (another Swiss dish that is often involves melted cheese).

Anyway, if melted cheese appeals to you (and come on, how can it not??) – and you’ve never tried Raclette – well, your time has come. At least a few Ontario wineries are doing their part to revive the Swiss specialty.

As noted in my earlier post about loving February, on Saturday afternoons throughout February there’s Raclette at Malivoire with The Cheesy Guys ($10/person and it includes tasting of 3 wines). As well, Hidden Bench Winery is hosting Raclette On The Bench on Feb. 14-16th from noon to 4 p.m. ($10 plus wine).

Those are two Raclette-centered happenings I’ve heard about at wineries – but there may be more. (Let us know if you hear about any!)

I predict this Raclette thing will catch on. (I know, it’s been around for years – but some of us weren’t necessarily around the last time it was hip.) Anyway – enjoying the best of two worlds: Ontario wines and Ontario cheese – what a great way to relax when it’s so cold outside!

 

Gotta love February!

So – I know it’s the dead of winter here in Ontario, but I’ve always loved February. Honest. My friends and family figure I love it because it’s my birthday month. Well, sure, that’s part of it. (My dream birthday present growing up was a day off from school because of snow!) But it’s not just that. I love the fact that it’s a no brainer in terms of what you wear – it’s cold so you bundle up, right? Simple! And of course, smack dab in the middle is Valentine’s Day! If that doesn’t appeal to your heart (even if you’re single) – well, you may as well stop reading this …IMG_2110

Anyway – if the reasons I’ve already mentioned aren’t enough to win you over to the “loving February side”, the wineries of Ontario go all-out in February to get your mind off winter. The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, for example, are hosting their Days of Wine and Chocolate (more on that in a minute) on weekends throughout the month and on Feb. 7 and 8 the wineries in the Lake Erie/Pelee Island region (EPIC, as it’s known) are having their Festival of Ice, and at the end of the month is Cuvée (which I’ll be writing more about in coming posts).

As well, various wineries are hosting winter-themed events. Here’s just a sample of what you’ll find: Georgian Hills hosts an Après Ski tasting of their Vidal Frozen Wine and chocolates and roasted marshmallows ($20/person), on Saturday afternoons there’s Raclette at Malivoire with The Cheesy Guys ($10/person and it includes tasting of 3 wines – great deal!), Peninsula Ridge’s lovely restaurant is featuring a very reasonably priced ($24.95) Surf & Turf dinner every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. As well, many wineries are hosting Valentine’s Day dinners. So – really – what’s not to love about February?

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Days of Wine and Chocolate

As mentioned, 27 wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region are hosing Days of Wine and Chocolate on Fridays-Sundays in February (ending on Sunday, March 1) from 11-5 p.m. The passports ($35/person; $30/person for designated driver passports) are good throughout the event, which means you can enjoy wine and chocolate all month long. Tickets can be purchased on line and at participating wineries.

Here’s the list of the wineries and what they’re serving:

  • Between the Lines2013 Cabernet Franc paired with a Raspberry Filled Chocolate Truffle
  • Cattail Creek Estate Winery2008 Select Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Nutella Crunch Cream Cake
  • Château Des Charmes 2011 Cabernet Franc, Estate Bottled paired with a Spicy Double Chocolate Cookie Bar Topped with Cassis Dark Chocolate Truffle & Dried Berries
  • Coyote’s Run Estate Winery2012 Cabernet Merlot paired with a Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake
  • Diamond Estates2008 Lakeview Cellars GMR Sparkling paired with Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
  • Hinterbrook2012 Cabernet Franc paired with a Cabernet Franc Chocolate Cake
  • Inniskillin Wines – 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine paired with a Chocolate Soba Noodle Salad with Cocoa and Soy Cured Duck
  • Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery — 2012 Grand Reserve Shiraz paired with a
  • Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Smoked Almond Cream
  • Joseph’s Estate Wines — 2010 Late Harvest Vidal paired with a White Chocolate Almond Biscotti
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery — Konzelmann Merlot paired with a Nutella Cheesecake
  • Lailey Vineyard — 2012 Merlot paired with a Flourless Chocolate Brownie
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with a Roasted Butternut Squash with Chocolate Mole
  • Palatine Hills Estate Winery2011 Lakeshore Red paired with a Caramel Brownie
  • Peller Estates Winery — Ice Cuvée Classic paired with Sea Salt Caramel & Valrhona Dark Chocolate Truffles
  • Pillitteri Estates Winery2012 Rose paired with Dark Chocolate Pecan Bark Topped with Caramel & Sea Salt
  • PondView Estate Winery 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve paired with Milk & Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Drizzled with Caramel and Sea Salt
  • Rancourt Winery2013 Chardonnay Reserve paired with Lobster Bisque with White Chocolate Shavings
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – 2012 Sand & Gravel Cabernet Franc paired with Chocolate Mint Opera Cake
  • Reif Estate Winery2011 Merlot paired with Chocolate Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Riverview Cellars Estate Winery 2012 Rosso Cabernet Merlot paired with a Chocolate Cronut
  • Small Talk Vineyards 2011 Riesling Icewine Cocktail paired with Pineapple infused white chocolate
  • Southbrook Vineyards — Triomphe Cabernet Franc paired with Bresaola dusted in thyme and cacao nibs
  • Stratus Vineyards — 2010 Tollgate Fume Blanc paired with Roasted Fennel, Beet, & Dark Chocolate Salad
  • Strewn Winery2010 Merlot Terroir paired with Herb & Pepper Crusted Pork Tenderloin on Crostini with Red Currant & Chocolate Glaze
  • Trius Winery At HillebrandTrius Brut Rosé paired with a Dark Chocolate and Bacon Truffle
  • Two Sisters2011 Eleventh Post paired with a Roasted Mushroom Crostini with Gorgonzola, Arugula and Agrodulce sauce

Superbowl Sunday

If you’re like me, you yawn at the thought of Superbowl Sunday. Don’t get me wrong – I love a reason for a get-together with friends that involves eating and drinking, but the idea of nachos, wings, and beer doesn’t do it for me (nor do the Patriots or Seahawks).

Anyway – I was blue-skying about other excuses for a Sunday get-together and it didn’t take long for me to think of a wine tasting party as a great alternative. And, with so many Ontario wineries now delivering – organizing a winetasting on short notice is a breeze:  just pick your favourite and check their website to see about ordering options. Or, why not pick a winery you’re not too familiar with and order from them? You can see how they stack up against some of your faves – and you might just have a new winery to add to your list of favourites!

Another idea to check out is services like Sideroad Twenty Cellars – they represent a bunch of great Ontario Wineries, including a few from beyond the Niagara region.

So – hope this idea takes the yawn out of the Superbowl for you!

And why not?

Though we here in Ontario had Thanksgiving last month — living so close to the U.S. border, it’s hard not to take note of the fact that our American friends are celebrating tomorrow.IMG_1799  And of course, just as morning follows night, so Black Friday follows Thanksgiving. (For those of you living under a rock, Black Friday is — the bargain hunter’s dream day — or 36 hours, given how many stores are opening on Thursday night.)

This week I’ve gotten more than a flurry of e-mails from Ontario wineries announcing they’re jumping on the band wagon and offering Black Friday specials themselves. Some are offering discounts on certain wines, others are offering mix-and-match cases or half-cases — and many are offering free shipping. And I say, why not!

So, if you’re planning your holiday parties — Friday (and in some cases they’re extending the specials through the weekend) is a good day to go on-line and check out some of the deals being offered by Ontario wineries in honour of Black Friday.

 

You know it’s good when…

Last week Tom Magliozzi died – he was one of the co-hosts of National Public Radio’s Car Talk. I never listed to the show, but I gather it was very popular and Tom was well loved. A couple of different newscasts that mentioned his passing ran a clip that was so funny (and so true). In response to the question of how you know if you have a good auto mechanic, Tom answered, “by the size of his boat!”

Well, that indirect indication of the popularity of something came to mind recently I asked three friends if they’d be interested in going to Taste the Season with me. Without a moment’s hesitation they all responded with, “I’d love to!”

I was honestly surprised by how fast they all got back to me. I don’t know about you — but I find that everyone is so busy these days, it can be a truly up-hill battle trying to get together with friends for fun outings. (Especially as we get near the holidays, which means year-end projects at work and busier than usual social schedules.)

My takeaway from the overwhelming positive response I got from my friends is that the wineries have hit on a terrific idea with Taste the Season.

So – if your November weekends aren’t already chock full – or if there are some friends you may be wondering what to get for the holidays – why not invite them to join you for a day (or more) of winery hoping and wine shopping. I’ll bet you’ll find they’ll jump at the idea.

Taste the Season starts this Friday (Nov. 7, 2014).