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).

Where Peter Piper Might Have Gone with His Pickles

On a recent trip to the Lake Erie/Pelee Island region to visit wineries, Ann Wilson, owner of Oxley Estate Winery suggested I stop in at Lakeside Packing Company — she thought that being a foodie, I’d be interested in their business — and their story. Boy was she right!

Lakeside Packing IMG_2041Lakeside Packing Company is  just a few doors down from Oxley Estate Winery  on County Road 50. Ann’s interest in them started when Oxley, which happens to have a large asparagus patch, was looking for a way of packaging their pickled white asparagus. Turns out, she didn’t have to go far for her solution: Lakeside Packing.

Lakeside Packing is third generation family business that’s been around since 1942. Founder Charles Woodbridge started the packing business when he was looking for a way of preserving vegetables (in part to use up surplus crops) so that consumers could enjoy them year around. Using old family recipes, he started pickling different produce (pickles, mainly). He started with the traditional methods (wooden barrels and salt brine) but he experimented with other methods and developed innovations that increased the quality.Lakeside Packing IMG_2049

They supplied many large food retailers with product, producing products under those retailers’ labels, but they also co-packed for other processers. Beginning in 1948 they started offering products under their own Lakeside label and they haven’t looked back since. They still co-pack for other processers and they do some private label packing too – but the bulk of their revenue is from Lakeside brands.Snapshot 1 (28-08-2014 9-52 PM)

The company is in the hands of the second and third generation of Woodbridge, with founder Charles’ son Donald at the helm as president of the company and together with his wife Heidi (CFO) and their son Alan (vice-president) and Alan’s wife Susan. Here’s a short video of Alan talking about the company.

Like Coals to Newcastle

They produce over 70 products and sell around the world. Indeed, their biggest market is Germany. My favourite story is that they sell sauerkraut to Germany! Go figure… Their second biggest market is Australia, which explains why they have three clocks in their small office/retail shop: one that shows the local time, one that shows the time in German, and one that’s shows the time in Eastern Australia.

Besides pickles, peppers, and relishes, they also produce a variety of hot sauces, pasta sauces, barbeque sauces, and salsa, most of which are proudly Foodland Ontario labelled, which means the majority of the ingredients are from Ontario.

The Last Packer in Canada

One other interesting – and kind of disheartening – fact about Lakeside Packing is that they are the last packer in Canada.

Wine on the Horizon????Lakeside Packing IMG_2045

Alan does much of the development of markets around the world, but he also had a hand in product development. One of his latest innovations is cucumber wine. It’s not ready just yet, but he expects it will be soon. I asked whether it will be more like a wine-based vinegar or something that you might use in cooking and he clarified that it is definitely going to be a sipping wine. (I tried to coax a sample out of him but the bottle he had had been opened a few days and he was concerned with the oxidation – but he said maybe next time I stop in).

Thoughts of Bubbly

Truth is, I love bubbly! That may not sound like much of a confession, but I’ve never liked any kind of soda – because of the carbonation. Yes, I realize the contradiction. But what can I say? It is definitely my all-time favourite drink.

Bubbly’s on my mind for a lot of reasons: I was delighted at the recent Taste Ontario event atthe Royal Ontario Museum by how many Ontario wineries that were there were offering bubbly. I knew of some of Ontario wineries that do bubbly (13th Street Winery and Henry of Pelham, Huff Estates Winery, Vieni Estates, and Hinterland Wine Company, for example) but I had no idea that Angel’s Gate Winery, Creekside Estate, Flat Rock Cellars, Sue-Ann Staff, Reif Estate Winery, and The Grange of Prince Edward also do.

Another reason bubbly has been on my mind is because I just finished reading a terrific book: The Widow Clicquot, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It’s about Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin – THE Veuve (which is French for widow) Clicquot.

My sister recommended the book a couple years ago and I forgot about it until recently. It’s a fantastically interesting story about Barbe-Nicole, a young widow and mother who took the reins of the new winery her husband’s family founded. She grew the business and is credited with many of key innovations that helped the Champagne industry grow and flourish in the late 18th and early-19th century.

She solved one of the technical problems that had had dogged champagne makers: how to produce clear champagne. The solution she came up with: storing the bottles tip-down and at an angle (on a so-called riddling rack) so that the lees could settle and then be removed through a process of disgorging.

The book also provides lots of insights into many aspects of the wine industry. One of the biggest surprises to me, for example, was the fact that for a long time bottles were all blown glass, and not too sturdy at that. It wasn’t until bottles were made of forged glass that they became sturdy and more-or-less uniform in shape. And even when wines were bottled (many were sold in casks), they weren’t labelled. The initials of the winery might be on the cork or cask, but not on each bottle! Veuve Clicquot’s signature egg yolk yellow label was one of the first.

I highly recommend the book – it’s a great read. Only thing is, it made me thirsty – for bubbly and to learn more about the innovators in the wine industry!

P.S. If you’re particularly into the process of making bubbly, you might be interested in this video of Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company explaining the different methods.

Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski of Big Head Wines

When I started work on the App I was struck by how often the name Andrzej Lipinski came up. When the App was first published in 2012, he was the winemaker at Cornerstone Estate Winery, Burning Kiln Winery, The Organized Crime Winery, and Colanari Estate Winery, not to mention having left his fingerprints on winemakeing at  The Foreign Affair Winery.Lepinski Snapshot 2

Lipinski, who trained as an auto mechanic, emigrated from Poland in 1989. His winemaking journey began in the fields picking grapes and by 2002 he had honed his skills and went on to become the winemaker at Legends Estates Winery and then Megalomaniac. He then moved on to the other wineries I mentioned earlier. In 2012 he started Big Head Wines – a virtual winery.

People really started to take notice of his talent when he was working with Len and Marisa Crispino of The Foreign Affair Winery. While there he produced an appassimento style wine by drying grapes indoors at Vineland Centre. When he moved on to Burning Kiln, which is in the heart of Ontario’s ailing tobacco growing region, he began re-purposing tobacco kilns because, as he says, they’re perfect for drying grapes.

He has continued using the technique and all of his Big Head reds are made using dried grapes. Having devised a reliable method for drying grapes, these days he’s focusing more of his attention on natural yeasts and blending.

Over the years I’ve had various wines Lipinski’s made at different wineries and they have all been very good. But, his Big Head wines are a cut above what he’s produced elsewhere. Friends and I recently enjoyed a formal tasting of a range of whites and reds at Big Head and, while we each had our own favourites (mine were his 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Chenin Blanc), we all were impressed with his innovation, daring, and talent.

Here’s a video of Lipinski describing his winemaking journey from appassimento style, to experimenting with natural yeast, to his thoughts on blending.

Estimates of Damage from the Napa Quake

Though most people thing of wine as pure pleasure, whenever I visit a vineyard or winery I can’t help but think that – at its heart – it’s farming and therefore subject to the whims of Mother Nature. And, when Mother Nature deals a wine region a tough hand – as she did this past winter here in Ontario – my heart really goes out to those whose livelihood is dependant on any crop!

Of course, weather isn’t the only hazard at Mother Nature’s disposal. Wineries in certain parts of the world face additional perils if they also happen to lie in an earthquake zone.

A report released last week about the 6.0 quake that hit Napa on August 24th estimates that losses to the Napa Valley wine industry top $80 million. The report was prepared by the Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division for the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

The Bank estimates that 60% of Napa County wineries sustained some degree of damage, with up to 25% of them suffering moderate to severe damage. The losses vary from $50,000 per winery to $8 million in the most devastating circumstance.

The majority of the damage was located in the southern and western areas of the county, as well in business operations in the City of Napa. The Carneros region of Napa, Mount Veeder, Yountville, and Oak Knoll areas suffered the greatest damage, according to the report.