Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Now For Something NEW!

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

To say that Prince Edward County is a “hopping place” might be a bit of an understatement – and the growth is in more than just hospitality fields. The Economic Development Office for Prince Edward County always seems to have something on the go and they are constantly on the move. If you want to see what I mean, follow @CreativeDanT and @CreativeKarinD on Twitter – they are constantly up to something…and in a very positive way for Prince Edward County. When I asked Dan last week how many wineries were opening between now and the end of the year in Prince Edward County, his quick count came up with between six and eight new wineries opening bringing the total number of wineries to around thirty or slightly more. That means that, in the four short years since Prince Edward County received official DVA (Designated Viticultural Area) status from the Province of Ontario, they have more than doubled the total number of wineries found in the previous DVA to receive status – Lake Erie North Shore.

So, on Monday, June 21st, I decided to make a trip out to Prince Edward County. Now, I have done this trip many times in the past but my focus that day was slightly different. I did have a couple of stops I had to include – like buying a case of Pinot Noir from my friends at Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery which was definitely a happy necessity – but my plan was that I needed to stop and check out some of those six to eight wineries that have opened already this summer. My first stop was at Hillier Creek Estates on Stapleton Road – a winery I have been watching transform over the years. In the Fall of 2000, Amber and Kemp Stewart purchased the property that is now Hillier Creek Estates. Though the property had not been inhabited for 15 years, the land had quite a bit of history, tracing its roots to the Loyalist days of the County. The barn, now used as our winery, cellar, and tasting room, outdates us all. Estimated to be over 150 years old, the original barn was built directly on the ground. After its purchase by the current owners, it was necessary to raise the barn in order to complete renovation and restoration. A cribbing system was used to hold and suspend the barn, alternating timbers four inches at a time. Upon raising the barn, it was discovered that there were two underground streams, which necessitated the building of a 9000-gallon cistern below the patio. The finished foundation stabilized the structure in 2008, and the barn was completed in 2009. Their winemaker is Lauren Horlock and I remember her work from her days at Oak Heights Estate Winery and it was Lauren who took me through the portion of Hillier Creek’s portfolio that uses either estate or Prince Edward County fruit. Eventually, Lauren hopes they will be 100% estate or County fruit but for a few more years at least, they will have to bring in certain varietals from other areas in the province – namely the Vidal grapes for their award winning Icewine. Of the four wines I tasted – Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir – three of them were made up of 100% estate fruit. What that means is that the all of the grapes that went into the Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been grown on the lands that the winery owns. The grapes for the Gamay are 100% Prince Edward County fruit so those grapes came from elsewhere in The County. While I enjoyed all of these wines, there were two that I was particularly drawn to – the Chardonnay, which is not an easy task for any winemaker when it comes to my palate, and the Gamay. The Chardonnay was made from 100% estate fruit, and you could see the very vines that were used as you looked out onto the patio from the tasting bar. Aromas of apple, melon and just a touch of strawberry – which was the part that surprised me, but, yes, Strawberry. The palate was a continuation of the very same aromas which made it less than a typical Chardonnay. It had great balance, lovely acidity and a unique finish which is rather refreshing in a region that is rapidly become as known for its Chardonnay’s as it is for its Pinot Noir’s. On the other end of the scale was a very unique Gamay Noir and it was that uniqueness that drew me to it. Gamay Noir is typically one of the lightest wines made in North America and it can be rather one dimensional with simply fruit flavours. While that can be quite enjoyable when you want an uncomplicated wine on a summer afternoon, it is nice to see a winemaker try to stretch their wings with this grape and add some extra dimensions to what is in the bottle. Now, to understand where this wine’s uniqueness comes from, you need to first know that for their Pinot Noir, Lauren wanted to use a couple of Canadian Oak barrels made in Prince Edward County. Now, Canadian Oak, for those who are not familiar with it, is the same type of tree as American Oak – it basically comes down to the geographical differences. In general, American Oak can be a heavier type of wood than the wood used in French oak barrels (or European Oak barrels in general) so when new barrels are purchased, depending on the grape, some winemakers may choose to initially put a different wine into the barrel to soften it before putting the originally intended wine in. Pinot Noir is definitely one of those grapes so, in this particular case, Lauren decided to put the Gamay into the Canadian Oak barrels – which were made locally in Prince Edward County as well – for two months to soften the barrels before putting the Pinot Noir in for aging. The resulting differences with the Gamay Noir were quite astounding and it made for one of the most interesting Gamay’s I have ever had made by any winery in this province. There were the typical aromas of cherry and cranberry but there was a distinctive peppery note to the nose. There was also added complexity to the fruit flavours in this wine and a slightly lingering finish which made this wine quite lovely.

My next stop was at Karlo Estates – a place I have visited before, while they were under construction – but this was the first time I had been there since they opened to the public. Richard Karlo is rapidly getting the distinction of being a “Maverick” in the Prince Edward County wine scene and with twenty plus years of experience under his belt as well as awards in every competition he has entered in the past twenty plus years, you know that you are bound to get some amazing wines when you step into the barn at Karlo Estates. On this wonderful sunny Monday morning, as I walked into the barn, Sherry was there to greet me as she was setting up some nibblies to enjoy with the wine. Richard makes wine in a very food friendly style so to show the wines to their best, they take great pride in pairing them with a variety of cheeses, crackers and nuts. First wine up was their 2008 Chardonnay which was made from 100% County fruit. This wine was barrel fermented in French oak and then transferred to County Oak, made by Carriage House Cooperage, for four months before bottling. The wine has this lovely golden yellow colour and the aromatics were an understated medley of apple, pear and a little bit of citrus. The understated aromatics are made up for with a lively, crisp, clean citrus palate and just enough of a lingering finish. Next we moved on to their 2008 Frontenac Gris which was made in a Rose style from grapes (Frontenac Gris) that were developed in Quebec to withstand temperatures of -40°C. Having grapes like this planted in a Prince Edward County vineyard means that you do not have to hill them up in the fall to prevent frost damage and winter kill unlike a lot of the other grapes that are planted here. There is an amber, almost copper colour to this wine and aromas that actually remind me of a young Madeira – caramel, grapefruit and slight vanilla. The palate is very fruit forward with just a touch of sweetness and it finishes off with a flourish of key lime. We paired this up with La Rumeur, which is a double cream French Brie – YUM!

Our next step were Richard’s much anticipated red wines – Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a Bordeaux blend which has yet to be released. The 2008 Malbec has a lovely purply red colour and dark fruit with a hit of spice, vanilla and cedar on the nose. This wine has a medium mouthfeel, with flavours of dark fruit, cedar and spice. There are smooth tannins and excellent balance and this wine is a great accompaniment to Asiago cheese, and not so bad with Cheddar cheese. The 2008 Cabernet Franc was made using fruit from the same vineyard on Wilson Road that Richard used for his 2008 Chardonnay. In both the aromas and the flavours, there is lots of dark fruit with hints of floral and chocolate. There is a big mouthfeel to this wine – in face, even before you take that first sip you can taste the flavours of fruit, spice, violets and a nice string of acidity up the sides of your tongue. This wine paired wonderfully with spicy salami and old cheddar. The next wine up was the 2008 Merlot which actually spent an extra six weeks on the vine past the “normal” picking time making even the seeds riper. As a result, this wine had an almost chocolate brown colour with a garnet ruby hue to it with aromas of earth and tobacco. There was a great big, mouthfeel to this wine and it paired amazingly with both Kalamata Olives and Cheddar Cheese. Now, our final red wine of the tasting is something extra special – and Richard has yet to release this so, when he does, make sure to get your hands on this. They are calling the wine Quintas and it is a Bordeaux blend of five grapes. It is a 50/50 blend of Niagara and Prince Edward County fruit with the following breakdown – Cabernet Franc from Prince Edward County and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petite Sirah from Niagara. It has this captivating purply red colour with an inky black hue and there is a real complexity to the aromas but without any one aroma being overpowering. The aromas of floral, dark fruit, tobacco, earthiness and a hint of chocolate translate on to the palate seamlessly where it shows a great balance of acidity and flavours. Now, some people wonder why Richard chose to use grapes from Niagara and not concentrate on Prince Edward County fruit – or even fruit from his own estate. To understand the rationale behind his decision, you need to understand that Richard and Sherry are firm believers and supporters of abolishing the Cellared in Canada wine system that currently exists in Ontario and British Columbia. If you are on Facebook, Sherry created a group a couple of years ago called Boycott Cellared in Canada Wines and, with over 1300 members currently, this has rapidly become one of the largest voices on this subject. Unfortunately, even with our voices, grape growers in Niagara are still having to let a lot of their grapes fall because they are not able to get contracts for them. So, Richard and Sherry came up with a plan – help out some of those grape growers by buying their grapes and making a very traditional Bordeaux blend using the five grape blend instead of the regular three. Boy, are we ever glad Richard came up with this plan and, when he is ready to release this wine, there will be a great many people who will be equally happy to get their hands on this blend.

Now, that is not the end to this story – we still have dessert to enjoy. Two wines – one from Frontenac Gris grapes and one from Frontenac Noir. Both equally delicious and both are going to make people stand up and take notice. Now, the 2008 Frontenac Gris Dessert wine is one I would highly recommend any person try who regularly says “I don’t like sweet wines”. This wine is made from 100% estate grown fruit and it is not your typical dessert wine. It has an almost smoky aroma accompanied by aromas of persimmons, apricot and cinnamon. The palate is very expressive and just when you think it is about to become sickly sweet, the acidity kicks in and brings it right back to a crisp clean finish. This wine was great with soft cheeses but it would do just as well on its own. Now comes the final wine – Richard’s Frontenac Noir 2008 Tawny Port Style. Believe me when I say that if you are even remotely interested in Port or Port Style wines, you need to get on Richard’s reservation list for this wine. Sherry indicated that Richard is contemplating the idea of doing a Port program – the only one in Prince Edward County and possibly all of Ontario – and, if he does, what a treat that will be for wine lovers in Ontario. This particular Port style wine, which Sherry took my picture of while enjoying a glass of it, had this amazing nutty nose with hints of chocolate, caramel and floral. The palate was silky smooth with a slightly nutty character and it paired beautifully with walnuts and cheddar cheese.

As much as I would have loved to stay the entire afternoon with Sherry and Richard, I did have two more stops I had to make before heading back home. My next stop was at The Old Third Vineyard who specializes solely in Pinot Noir. They are currently pouring their 2008 vintage and right from the second the wine hit my glass, I was captivated. The colour is this delightful brick red but with a slight hint of orange to it. The aromas were very fruity with just a hint of spice while the palate was very fruit forward with tons of complexity in the mid to back palate and into the finish. There was just a touch of oak to this wine and Bruno revealed to me that only 20% of his barrels are new French Oak so the wine does not become overpowered with oak aging. The part I love the most about this particular wine is the string of spicy acidity that weaves its way through this wine right to the lingering finish. Now, Bruno also gave me a sneak peak at the 2009 vintage which is shaping up to be just as delicious as the 2008 vintage and a special treat – a dessert style Pinot Noir. He will not be releasing either for a while but, when he does, get some quick because they will not stick around on his shelves for any length of time.

My final stop was more for picking up wine then trying anything new but I would hate it if any of you – my loyal readers – were to miss out on this so I am adding in my personal recommendation on this winery. I have been here many times before – I have even helped harvest their grapes with hands that have gone almost black from the Baco Noir juice. Today, I was on a mission, for my guy just as much as myself, to pick up a case of the as yet unreleased 2008 Pinot Noir from Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery. Instead of trying any at the tasting bar I waited until I was home with my guy and we cracked open the first bottle from that case. Aromas of chocolate and cherries and leather and just a hint of smoke poured out from the bottle. The palate is very fruit forward but it is balanced out with just a touch of oak. The firm tannins on the finish shows that this wine, while drinking really great now, will definitely reward if you want to put this down for a couple of years.

So, the next time you want to take a road trip – or have a weekend away - and try some of Ontario’s great local wineries, take a look at Prince Edward County. With all of their wineries, plus the other small business opening up, this is an area that is hip and happening and full of delicious little goodies to tempt your palate with. Cheers,

The Stars of Ontario are Shining

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

I love the month of June in Ontario – well, more specifically, I love the middle week of June in Ontario. A few years ago, our provincial government decided that the second week in June every year would be designated Ontario Wine Week. It was a nice gesture on their part – too bad they still have tons more to do to help out Ontario wineries. To coincide with Ontario Wine Week, Tony Aspler and the Ontario Wine Awards competition holds a tasting during Ontario Wine Week to showcase the winners of his prestigious awards – now that is something to look forward to. If you are passionate about, or have ever been curious about, Ontario wines, then this tasting is definitely not one you ever want to miss.

This year, instead of being at their usual home of the Distillery District, the Sip & Savour Ontario tasting was held at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto. Prior to the walk around tasting, they also held three tasting seminars focusing on three grapes that Ontario excels at making – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, my favourite, Riesling. Each seminar was led my someone who is highly esteemed in working with the particular grape in question – Bill Redelmeier for Chardonnay, due to his efforts in organizing the Chardonnay tasting at London House back in May, Norman Hardie for Pinot Noir due largely to his pioneering efforts in Prince Edward County and Natalie Reynolds for Riesling due to her focus on Ontario Riesling at her winery, Thirty Bench Winemakers. Having already had multiple discussions with Bill and Norm over the years on their particular subjects, I took advantage of the Riesling seminar opportunity and sat in on a tasting that included two gold medal wines, one silver medal and one bronze medal winner from this year’s Ontario Wine Awards competition. Although I had never had the opportunity to meet Natalie prior to that day, I discovered rather quickly that she and I share a couple of opinions when it comes to Rieslings. Both of us prefer Rieslings made with Weis Clone 21B and both of us recommend picking up Rieslings that are under $20 because, not only are they good value in general, after a few years of proper aging, they will become something spectacular.

Of the four wines that were in the seminar, my favourite ended up being the silver medal winner – Tawse Winery 2009 Sketches of Niagara Riesling. At $18 a bottle, which was not the lowest priced wine either (in case you were wondering), and a blend of mostly Weis Clone 21B with a slight amount of Clone 49, this wine had aromas and flavours that were not overpowering but not overstated. A combination of citrus and stone fruit with a string of minerality, this wine was the most balanced of the four in the seminar. The others were either lacking something or came off too strongly – the Tawse Winery Riesling was absolutely perfect.

Now on to the main tasting – the walk around featuring the various wineries of Ontario. Although there were a lot of the regular favourites, I wanted to go into this tasting looking for wines I had never tried before or wineries I had never visited before. Well, of the twenty five or so wineries in attendance, only one winery was brand new to me so that was my first stop for the day – Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards. This is a very small winery, and most of their fruit is sold to another winery, but the Lowrey family keeps five rows to themselves to make wines from for customers who appreciate a fine wine and having that extra something special to open up for friends and family. While all of the wines they had on the table were quite lovely, the two that impressed me the most were their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2007 Pinot Noir. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was a silver medal winner in this year’s Ontario Wine Awards and it is a very well rounded, enjoyable wine. Aromas of blueberry, cherry and vanilla with flavours of jam with soft tannins and great balance. The 2007 Pinot Noir was completely different from the Cabernet Sauvignon – as it should be – but was equally delicious. Aromas of berry, earth and a slight whiff of tobacco which continues on to the palate where it shows great balance and just enough tannins to age this wine for many years if you like.

While there were plenty great white wines in this tasting, there were two that stood out that day – a white blend from a virtual winery and a single varietal from a celebrity winery. The white blend is Nyarai Cellars 2009 Trois – a blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has great aromatics – not too subtle but not overpowering either – and the flavours are a delicious combination of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It has great power and a nice, lingering finish but it is not so “in your face” that it is unbearable either. The single varietal wine from the celebrity winery was Mike Weir Wines 2008 Chardonnay. A few years ago I did an article on all of the celebrity wineries popping up in Ontario and, naturally, Mike Weir Wines were included in that article. That was before Mike had decided to change from Creekside Estate Winery and move to Chateau des Charmes and, although I did find the wines enjoyable then, there is a difference that is noticeable and quite enjoyable. This particular vintage was bright and lively, even with being slightly over chilled, and it seemed to continue endlessly. This was just one of those wines that, even if you were serving it to a wine snob who “would never” drink a celebrity wine, would even be surprised.

So, the next time you are deciding which bottle of wine to open for dinner – or with family and friends on your deck on the weekend – take a serious look at the wines of Ontario. Our winemakers are making some amazing wines and, although they may not all be available in your local wine store, all of these wineries are more than happy to deliver the wines to your doorstep…or your office desk. Cheers,

Can You Tell The Difference?

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

The Wine Australia Comparative Masterclass is always a very interesting tasting to go to. Wine Australia loves to “test” those of us who attend to see if we can pick out which wines are Australia and which are from other wine regions that make wines using the same grapes and this year’s Masterclass included wines from Australia as well as France, California and Ontario. Some of the foreigners were easy to pick out while others were just a little bit difficult so, if you are not someone who can pick out a specific wine region based on what you are tasting, don’t worry because even some of us seasoned professionals can have difficulty doing this as well. There were four flights of wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – with five different wines in each flight, except for the Shiraz/Syrah category that had six different wines to taste. In each flight, there was three (or four in the one flight’s case) that were from various regions within Australia and two international wines from regions that are considered to be “benchmarks” in the particular flight we are tasting.

Naturally, we started the tasting with the flight of Chardonnays – one from Margaret River, one from Mornington Peninsula and one from Adelaide Hills with the imports being from California and Burgundy. Of the five wines, I did have two favourites – the Chardonnay from Yabby Lake Vineyards and the 2008 M3 from Shaw & Smith Tasting Room. Both of these wines had a tropical fruit quality to them but that is where the similarities ended. The Chardonnay from Yabby Lake had a distinctive but not overpowering salty quality to it. Considering the vineyards proximity to the Ocean, the salty sea and air is giving this wine its saltiness. There was also a smoky nose to this wine – like Applewood Smoked Cheddar – and, overall, the wine had great balance despite a strong presence of oak aging. On the other end of the scale, the 2008 M3 from Shaw & Smith had this wonderful, big mouthfeel but still showed some restraint to its flavours. It was like it was trying to be this huge, complex wine but then the winemaker reigned it in and made it this elegant, great drinking wine. If you like old movies, think of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady when you drink this wine. It’s like the process Professor Henry Higgins goes through to transform Eliza from her original self into a classy lady – Eliza is the wine trying to fight free from the restraints and Henry Higgins is the winemaker reigning her in when she starts to go too far. In the end Henry Higgins won the battle and that is what this wine does as you are tasting it.

Next we move on to the Pinot Noir flight where we have wines from Mornington Peninsula again, Yarra Valley and Tasmania alongside a wine from Burgundy and Ontario. My favourite was from the Yarra Valley – a 2008 from Oakridge Wines – that just stood out as being completely different from every other wine in that flight. While there was some berry fruit flavours and aromas to this wine there is an unmistakable earthy quality which none of the other wines really seemed to bring to the table. There was one other wine in this flight that deserves an “honourable mention” and that is the Yabby Lake Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir. The vines for this wine were planted in 1998 and you can get a real sense of development from this wine that the other wines do not quite have. A variety of flavours and aromas including black fruit, vegetal, tobacco, chocolate and beet root with incredible balance makes this wine rather nice to enjoy.

Our next flight was of six Shiraz/Syrah’s from McLaren Vale, Victoria, Hunter Valley and Barossa Valley with the Northern Rhone and Sonoma Coast mixed in for diversity. My favourite came from the Barossa Valley and it was the 2005 Schild Estate Morrorroo Limited Release Shiraz. Out of all of the six wines in this flight, this wine was the most developed in flavours and aromas and one of the tastiest wines of the afternoon. Aromas of coffee and dark fruit, even the nose smells complex. The palate is jammy and fruity with smooth tannins and a good string of acidity to give this wine really great balance. I do remember hearing several people simply say “YUM” as we tasted this wine and I have to agree – that’s the best way to describe this wine.

Our final flight of the tasting was the Cabernet Sauvignon wines and this is where something surprising happened. First off, when I think Cabernet Sauvignon – and it is not a wine I drink on a regular basis – Australia is not really a region I think of. However, that’s part of the point – the people behind Wine Australia wanted to expand our horizons and, essentially, give Australia a chance when it comes to choosing Cabernet Sauvignon’s for our dinner tables. Now, as I said above, Cabernet Sauvignon is not a wine I enjoy on a regular basis but I am always open to trying them and have found a few I enjoy over the years. Surprisingly, although California is known for great Cabernet Sauvignon, up until this tasting, I had yet to find a California Cab that I really enjoyed. Equally surprising is that side by side with the California Cab I enjoyed, I found a great Cabernet from Coonawarra that I enjoyed just as much if not more. The Australian Cab – from Katnook Estate – was the 2005 their Limited Release Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon. It had pleasant aromas of berries, dark fruit and a slight hint of floral. The mouthfeel was full and expressive and very enticing with flavours of dark berries, plums, vanilla, coffee and chocolate and a nice string of acidity winding through the mid palate to the lingering finish.

Now, in case you are curious, my California Cab find at this tasting was the Joseph Phelps 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot Noir flight was very nice but since the French comparison was from Burgundy, it would have been nice to see how a Prince Edward County Pinot Noir compared to the others as opposed to the Niagara Pinot Noir that was chosen. Don’t get me wrong – I did enjoy the Niagara Pinot Noir and, in 5-7 years from now I am sure it will be really enjoyable, but just as a personal preference, most of my favourite Pinot Noir’s come from Prince Edward County. As for the Chardonnay flight, it was interesting to see how the three Australian versions compared to a powerhouse like a California Chardonnay – the results were quite impressive. Either way, the next time you are in your local wine shop, give the Australian section a try – you may find something you really like that you have not tried before.

An Afternoon at C5 Restaurant

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Have you ever walked up to the Royal Ontario Museum and wondered what was with that thing “growing” off the side of the building? That giant Crystal like formation that gives the ROM it’s uniquely modern feel now? Have you ever wondered what’s inside that Crystal? Well, on the fifth floor – the top floor – of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal you find C5 Restaurant. So, why was I there one sunny afternoon in early June? Well, I was attending a wine pairing lunch with the Wines of Portugal, specifically those of the A9 Fenadegas, which is a Portuguese cooperative of wineries. The A9 Fenadegas has 27 associate wineries spread across Portugal and, on this particular day, we were pairing seven of their best with the food prepared by the talented culinary team of C5 Restaurant.

As I arrived at the tasting, and saw many of my colleagues already gathered, I was handed a glass of Favaios Favaito Moscatel (Douro) to enjoy with the passed hors d’ouevres in the room. While I did not have any of the appetizers, I did sample the Moscatel and found it to be quite enjoyable. Normally I would not start a tasting with a sweet wine like a Moscatel but this was refreshing and light. I found it similar in “weight” to a Canadian Late Harvest wine with flavours of stewed fruit and a hint of tropical fruit to balance it out.

Moving into the actual luncheon, we had five glasses sitting in front of us. Looking at the menu, we saw that with the first course – BC Wild Halibut Cheek & Scallion Pancake - we were going to be pairing it with two white wines – Veercoope Via Latina Alvarinho 2009 (Vinho Verde) and Adega Pegoes Selected Harvest 2009 (Peninsula de Setubal). Okay, before I go any further, let me explain how these names work since they can be a tad confusing. The first word (or in the case of the second wine, the first two words) are the winery name. The second set of words, prior to the vintage, is the wines name. Thirdly you see the vintage the grapes were picked in and then the word or words in brackets are the wine region within Portugal. In some cases, the wine name will contain the grape name but not always. In the case of the first wine, Alvarinho is the grape name but in the second wine there is no grape name provided. It was explained within a few minutes that the second wine was a Chardonnay based blend which, when you take that first sip, you immediately know it is. The first wine had aromas of cut grass and slight citrus. It had a full mouthfeel with a good string of acidity winding through it. It was mostly citrus flavours on the palate but there is a hint of cut grass and a lingering finish that makes this wine thoroughly enjoyable. The second wine had aromas of apples, pears and a touch of melon and tropical fruit. Those aromas continue on to the palate where there is a slight oilyness to the mouthfeel which is slightly mellower than the mouthfeel in the first wine. Now, out of these two wines, the Selected Harvest 2009 from Adega Pegoes was the better of the two, particularly because of the light batter coating the fish (almost like a tempura batter) making it a perfect pairing with any Chardonnay based wine. However, if you tasted the wine specifically with the Scallion Pancake, the Alvarinho from Vinho Verde was the perfect accompaniment.

The main course – a Cumbrae Farms 60 day aged Ribeye with Potasto Hash, Green beans and Piri – was paired with three red wines – Extra Madura Colheita Selectionnada Tinto 2008 (Madura), Vale do Rodo Cabeca de Burro Reserva 2007 (Douro) and Udaca Adro da Se Reserva 2008 (Dao). The first wine had aromas of berry fruit, cedar, a hint of mint and cherries. There is a good string of acidity the whole way through this wine and it has firm tannins throughout. Herbal and berry flavours are trying to peak through but this wine needs food and probably a little bit of time would do it some good as well. The aromas on the second wine are slightly pungent with a distinctive earthiness and mushroom being the predominant scents. The palate still has a lot of tannins, a string of cedar and a slight bitterness on the finish. It is hard to tell if this will develop more with time although, in theory, it will so this wine will improve. In the meantime, this is definitely a wine that needs food so it is good that we are going to be pairing this with steak. The final red wine of the lunch was a real medley of aromas – mint, black fruit, slight cigar – but the palate says this wine still needs A LOT of time. The fruit flavours are trying to peak through so it will develop into something nice but, for the moment, this needs a good steak to make the wine better in its present form. Although all of these wines, on their own, need time to develop, the general consensus at our table of wine writers was that the second wine – Vale do Rodo Cabeca de Burro Reserva 2007 (Douro) – was the most complimentary to the steak we were enjoying. The food did an excellent job at softening the tannins of each of the wines and they were all great pairings but the extra development in the palate of the second wine is what helped it make the pairing the best it could be.

Finally, we moved on to dessert which was a Chocolate and Rhubarb Cheesecake which was paired with a Santa Marta Porto Vintage 2004 (Douro). There were great aromatics on this Port – slight chocolate and dark fruit mostly – and a great string of acidity with the chocolate and fruit gave it good balance. I decided to get a bit creative with this final pairing because the kitchen had sort of deconstructed the cheesecake. Pairing the Port with the Chocolate or with the Chocolate and Grapefruit was a great combination but I found that if you tried just the small grapefruit segment with the Port that the combination was completely off. Luckily I tried that in the beginning so I finished the meal with a decadent mouthful of chocolate, grapefruit and my last little bit of Port – what else can I say but YUM!

Travel to Greece

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

I am rather behind in my writing but there is an advantage to that – the ability to go back and look at the wines I tasted last month and rediscover my favourites. This blog will be about the Greek tasting that I attended last month in downtown Toronto and the five wineries that I really enjoyed wines from.

Let’s start with the wines of Boutari, which is one of the largest wineries in Greece, running seven different wineries across Naoussa, Goumenissa, Santorini, Crete, Mantinia and Attica as well as Domaine de Mayrac in France. Although there were several wines available on the table and I did enjoy a bunch of them, my favourite was definite the Boutari Moschofilero 2009. All of the aromas were slightly understated but given the complexity of aromas, it made the wine more aromatically balanced than overpowering, which it could have easily been had the aromas been more forceful. Along with slight fruit and slight floral, there was also a touch of clover on the nose giving it “something extra” that the other wines on the table did not seem to have. Those aromas of fruit and floral continued on to the palate where it found a great string of acidity making this wine a real thirst quencher. This wine, which is 100% Moschofilero, would be great as a summer sipper but you could try pairing it with light foods and appetizers as well – maybe some Greek Dolmades if you enjoy Greek food just as much as you enjoy Greek wine.

Next we move to Mediterra Winery and their Mirambelo Reg 2007 which is a blend of 80% Kotsifali and 20% Mandilaria. This wine was smooth and easy drinking – exactly what you want at this time of the year – with aromas and flavours of black fruit and plums. There are fine tannins and cedar notes making this wine incredibly balanced and very tasty. Our next winery is the Parparoussis Winery which is situated near Patras in the northwest part of the Peloponnese. This winery likes to focus on vineyards that are small and privately owned and I got a real sense of this as I was trying their Nemea Reserve 2003. Made from 100% Nemea, this wine has an aroma that can only be described as POWERFUL! Mostly cherries, raspberries and earth, this wine also has a fruit forward palate with a nice string of acidity to balance it out. It is medium bodied and you can tell it has some oak aging behind it but not excessively so, making this wine one of the most intriguing wines I tried this afternoon. The next winery – Semeli – was founded in 1979 and my favourite on the table this day was their Mountain Sun White 2009. Normally a blend of Moschofilero and Roditis, this particular vintage was 100% Moschofilero. It had a floral nose, which continued onto the palate where it joined a hint of clover, a slight waxiness and then finished with a slight tartness. It was crisp and refreshing and everything you want a white wine to be when you are sitting on the deck in the summer sun.

Domaine Sigalas – located on the northern part of the island of Santorini – and their Sigalas Santorini Barrel 2009 was just wonderful. It was made from 100% Assyrtiko and the one aroma and flavour that stuck out the most with this wine is its smoky character. There is a good string of acidity running through the palate and the finish, making it quite enjoyable, but I bet if you had a small sample of Applewood Smoked Cheddar to enjoy this with that the result would be orgasmic. Our final stop was at Domaine Spiropoulos and their Mantinia 2009 was quite captivating. Made from 100% Moschofilero, this wine had a wonderful tropical fruit aroma to it. It had a crisp, clean palate with more of those great tropical fruit flavours and a slightly lingering finish. This was, quite simply, a very enjoyable wine to try and I would love to have more of it while sitting on the deck on a Saturday afternoon.

So, have you ever had a chance to try wines from Greece? A quick check on the LCBO website found more than 50 wines from Greece to choose from ranging in price from $5 a bottle up to almost $60 a bottle. So, the next time you’re planning a dinner party, take a look at the wines of Greece – you may be surprised. By the way, they are meant for pairing with more than just Greek food – try your favourite dishes with these wines as well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring is Here...So Bring Out The Barbecue

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

There is this unmistakable feeling in the air, the temperatures are rising every day, and we have probably seen more than a few robins hopping around our yards. Personally, I cannot wait until the thermostat reaches the high teens because that is when the sandals will come out and the winter boots will go away…and I know that all of the guys in my life cannot wait to set the barbecue up and grill that first hamburger, steak or rack of ribs.

The natural instinct when it comes to barbecued foods is to pair it with beer or hard liquor and those are great but have you ever thought about giving it a try with a glass of wine? Well, let’s start with what your favourite food is to put on a barbecue – are you a ribs person, steak, seafood, fish or do you like to go towards the more exotic? When I asked the question “What food are you looking forward to putting on the barbecue this summer?” on Twitter a couple of weeks ago I got a wide variety of responses – lamb chops, salmon, chicken and veggie kabobs, gourmet burgers, ribs, pork chops, steaks and foil wrapped fish were tops on the list.

So, what wine would you pair with any of these food dishes? A lot of that decision depends on what you are doing to the food before and while it is on the grill. Here are a few of my favourite food examples and wines you may want to try out with them…

Lamb Chops with Lemon, Olive Oil & Rosemary:

Lamb in itself can be a rather rich meat so you do not need a large cut to fill you up. To keep this dish light and tasty, marinating it with Lemon, olive oil and Rosemary for a couple of hours makes this a great alternative to red sauces. The lemon in the marinade also makes it easy to pair with crisp, fresh white wines and for my personal preference, the lemony tang in the palate of Rosehall Run Vineyards 2007 Sullyzwicker VQA is a perfect match for this dish. Sullyzwicker is a blend of three white wine grapes – Ehrenfelser, Riesling and Muscat Ottonel – with slight residual sweetness that comes in at 10.8% alcohol per volume and a price of $16.95 that you simply cannot beat. The wine itself has flavours of mango and a variety of citrus fruits and you can feel it lingering for quite a while.

Pork Chops and Peaches and Pinot:

This recommendation came from one of my wine friends on Twitter and it was such a natural fit that I decided to run with it. The Pinot in the title refers to Pinot Noir and even though some people may question pairing a red wine with white meat like Pork, it is the lightness of Pinot Noir that makes it a perfect choice for white meat and peaches. There are a few Ontario wineries that focus primarily on Pinot Noir and when it came to pairing it with peaches, my choice came down to Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir. Although peach is not a common component to the flavour profile of a Pinot Noir – and it is not in this wines flavour profile either – the fruity flavours of cherries and herbs do compliment the flavours we will be adding to the pork chops. Flat Rock Cellars bottles all of their wines under screwcap so this wine stays light and fresh with good acidity and great balance with a medium finish allowing it to linger slightly while you enjoy your barbecued pork chops. At only $20.15 a bottle, be sure to pick up some of this wine as you will make a lot of use of it over the months to come.

Grilled Salmon with Lemon & Dill:

There is nothing better – to me, at least – than a salmon fillet on the barbecue and the classic combination of lemon and dill makes it one of the simplest and most satisfying meals one can enjoy on a hot summer night. When having a meal that is this light feeling, you would not want to overpower it with anything heavy in your wine glass so the key was to find something light but that would also compliment the lemon and dill flavours that you are grilling the salmon with. After going through many excellent possibilities amongst the Ontario wineries, the one that seemed to jump out as the clear choice is Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery’s Cuvee Catherine Brut. The initial flavours may not seem to lend itself to that light and crisp description I gave before but if you wait, just ten seconds or so, the very detectable taste of lemon will come shining through and pair perfectly with the lemon and dill you are using on the salmon. By the way, pair this with some salad greens and a light vinaigrette dressing for the perfect meal.

Striploin Steak with Hawaiian Alae Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper:

If you are a red meat lover, you know there is nothing better than a steak hot off the barbecue. Normally I will marinate a steak for several hours in a combination of red wine and herbs before slapping it on a hot grill but a friend of mine suggested trying the combination of Hawaiian Alae Sea Salt and cracked Black Pepper to change things up a bit and I have to say it is a wonderful combination. As I said, I normally marinate a steak in red wine and herbs so whatever wine I use in the marinade is the wine that will end up in my glass. By doing it with sea salt and black pepper, I had free reign over what wine to choose but when I tried Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery 2008 Baco Noir, my search was over. Here is the review I did on the wine just a couple of weeks ago – you will quickly see why it was the perfect choice for a hearty steak dinner.

“Blacker than SIN – that’s the only way to describe the colour – and the aromas and flavours are equally sinful. Abundant blackberry followed by a hint of bing cherry, blueberry and raspberry on the nose – talk about a fruit bomb. The texture is silky and slightly chewy with that familiar blackberry coming through, good acidity in the mid palate, slight blueberry, a very faint hit of mint and slight pepper on the finish. This would be great with duck, steak, game meats, roasts – anything you would put a Zinfandel or a Shiraz with would work with this wine.”

At $20.20 a bottle, this wine is reasonably priced and a great value. It can only be ordered through the winery and this is still a winery with a small production level as they have only been open for two years so I would make a phone call to the winery or visit them quickly to get your hands on this wine.

Chicken & Veggie Kabobs:

This is one of my favourite things to cook on a barbecue. A couple of kabobs filled with chicken, red onion, sweet peppers, zucchini and cherry tomatoes, add a nice garden salad to the plate and a glass of wine – this is great for a weeknight dinner in the middle of the summer. Just a touch of seasoning on the kabobs and a light vinaigrette dressing on the salad and you have the perfect opportunity to pair this food with a wide variety of wines. How about a nice, dry Rose wine in your glass? You wouldn’t want a sickly sweet Blush wine but Ontario makes some great European style Rose wines that have a kick of spice, lots of fruity flavours and bone dry acidity. Take a look at Thirteenth Street Winery and you find a Cabernet Rose made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that would compliment this meal perfectly. The flavours are mostly berry fruit, red pepper and spice but there is an interesting little hint of anise in the finish that makes you stand up and take notice of this wine. If Strawberries are still in season when you try this meal, slice up a few to put into your salad to make an even more seamless pairing than what already naturally exists between the kabobs and the wine. Only $16.20 a bottle, contact the winery to get your hands on this summer sipper.

Gourmet Burgers:

It is a bit of a treat but nothing beats a good, homemade burger topped with your favourite toppings. There are so many options on what to put in and on top of your burger these days that it would be impossible to pair everything with it but here are a few suggestions on what to put on your food and what to put in your glass.

My best friend’s suggestion for her favourite burger was ground sirloin topped with chopped portabello mushrooms, red onions and crumbled blue cheese. For burger toppings like this, you want a wine that is not overpowering but that is still hearty enough to stand up to the power that mushrooms, onions and blue cheese invariably bring. To compliment this burger, after much deliberation, I chose Colio Estate Wines 2006 Merlot VQA. The aromas of this wine are black fruit, blueberries and a hint of chocolate, which continue on to the palate where there is a distinctive earthy component joining them. It is that earthy component which makes it a perfect pairing for mushrooms and, hence, for this burger.

Now, for myself, I love a good bacon cheeseburger with a spicy cheese, like Black River Cheeses Hot Pepper Mozzarella. With cheese that has a kick you need a wine that has an equal amount of kick to make the pairing seamless. Since we do not have anyone making a Red Zinfandel here in Ontario (yet), our next choice falls to Shiraz and, in this province, a good spicy can always be found at Creekside Estate Wines. Creekside Estate Wines specializes in Shiraz so there are a few to choose from but for a spicy bacon cheeseburger, I recommend their 2007 Broken Press Shiraz. In Australia, where one of their winemakers hails from, and in the Northern Rhone area of France, it is quite common to add a small amount of Viognier, which is a white grape, into Shiraz. The result is a slightly floral, perfumy component to the berry fruit and spice elements common in Shiraz that seem to develop and linger endlessly. The price on this wine is $39.95 a bottle and is available at the winery or online through their website. By the way, if you happen to have any cranberry relish kicking around, adding a touch of this to the burger will really enhance the food and wine pairing – give it a try.

So far we have stuck with meat dishes but the barbecue can be a great place for vegetarians as well. How about a veggie burger piled high with hot peppers – what wine would you want to serve with that? Well, since we already have a spicy red for our last burger, and this burger is made up of veggies, which a red wine may overpower, how about we try out the spiciest wine in the white wine forum – Gewurztraminer. As soon as Gewurztraminer was decided on I knew exactly where to go for the perfect wine – Prince Edward County! With our steak we went to Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery and that is where we find ourselves again because their Gewurztraminer is one of the best I have tried in a long time – an opinion some other wine writers share with me given the amount of press this wine is receiving. Check out the review their 2009 Gewurztraminer recently received:

“There’s something captivating about a wine that is the colour of gold – it has almost the same appeal as a deep ruby red wine – and this wine definitely holds you captive as you look at it in the glass. It takes a bit of swirl for the aromas to come through but when they do you are hit with the unmistakable lychee and rose aromas so commonly associated with true Alsatian Gewurztraminers. The lychee and rose continue on to the palate where they are joined with a major hit of spice, perfect acidity and amazing balance. My first instinct is to want to pair this with Thai food because it is such a classic pairing but – on second thought – Blackened Salmon with rice and asparagus would be just as great.”

As with their Baco Noir, the Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery 2009 Gewurztraminer is available through the winery, at a great price of $22.20 per bottle. Call or email the winery today to place your order or visit them on the weekends – daily hours will begin in mid May but if you want to get your hands on this wine, I’d get some now before it disappears.

Sole packed in a foil packet w/ Veggies:

When it comes to grilled fish, there are so many options. There is the all traditional Salmon but, for a change, why not try Sole, wrapped in aluminum foil packets with a combination of carrots, celery, red onion, lemon, olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper? The key with this dish is to make the wine light and crisp…the same way the veggies and other flavours are and, although there are many possible wines to choose from, my choice for this dish is the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2008 Lepp Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Peninsula Ridge specializes in Sauvignon Blanc with their white wines and they have a few specific vineyard Sauvignon Blanc’s to choose from but the Lepp Vineyards wine for the 2008 vintage had more of the flavours and aromas that are in the meal than any of the others. Aromas of “yellow apple, hay and watermelon with a touch of fresh cedar. The palate is nice and crisp, medium weight with flavours of white grapefruit and mineral.” It is the flavours of citrus and mineral which compliment the fish best while the aromas are simply a pleasant beginning to an enjoyable meal. Available directly at the winery or online at the price of $18.95.

Baby Back Ribs:

When it comes right down to it, ribs can actually be one of the most difficult meats to pair wine with. Ribs on their own, before they start marinating or have any rubs on them, essentially, have no distinct flavour to them. What you put on the ribs – in terms of rubs or sauces or both – is where the flavours come from and since there are so many available options out there, it is difficult to give an exact pairing. Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you that, when it comes to ribs, this is not exactly my area of expertise. My father was very anti-pork in our house (he got sick off of the stuff when he was young) so ribs was not something we ever really had growing up. Thankfully, that is no longer the case but I still wanted an experts advice for this section so I went to our local expert – Darryl Koster at Buster Rhinos BBQ. If any of you are on Twitter, you can follow him @BusterRhinosBBQ or check out his website: http://www.busterrhinos.com. Darryl explained to me that there are a lot of factors when it comes to the ribs – if you put a rub, what spices you use, what sauces you use, precooking, grilling, smoking, indirect heat or direct heat (which Darryl does not recommend). Now, in my house, when we do cook ribs, the ribs are precooked in the oven and then added to the grill later on when the sauce is added. While cooking in the oven, there is only a rub, the temperature is low and they cook for as long as possible without allowing them to dry out. You can go even lower than 325F and cook them for longer than two hours but, when precooking, that seems to be the norm amongst the people I spoke to. For myself, in terms of a rub, I like to keep it simple – salt, pepper, some Paprika for colour and fresh Thyme or Rosemary. Once the ribs are precooked, there are a bunch of sauces I like to choose from, depending on who is eating the ribs and even what the day feels like. Here are three possibilities on rib sauces that I like:

Beer Berry BBQ Sauce

2 bottles Beer (your favourite - ale works best)
1 pint Blueberries
1/4 cup Butter, melted
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Honey
1/4 cup Hot Sauce
2 tbsp Barbecue Sauce (your favourite)

You can completely adjust the heat level on this sauce – I know, ¼ cup of hot sauce sounds a bit much to me too – by reducing the amount of hot sauce. Personally, I use something closer to five or six dashes of hot sauce rather than ¼ cup.

Cherry Zinfandel Sauce

1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 tbsp Garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups Red Zinfandel wine
1 cup Ketchup
2/3 cup Dried cherries
3 tbsp Cider Vinegar
3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
3 tbsp Brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Ginger, chopped
1 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Anise seed
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
3 tbsp Lemon juice

Now, when it comes to wines to pair with this, these can be difficult but only if you want to make it difficult. Both of these sauces have major fruit components so you want a wine that has a lot of fruity characteristics to it. With the second sauce, the easy choice is to use the same wine that you put in the sauce and, in all probability, that is what I would do. Since there are no wineries in Ontario that make a Red Zinfandel wine, we need to look to California to find a great pairing. Luckily, the LCBO has a little more than fifty Red Zinfandel’s to choose from at a variety of prices. Here are just a few that are my favourites:

7 Deadly Zins 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2007
Michael David Vineyards Cline Cellars
Vintages #59311 Vintages #719211
$24.95 each $17.95 each

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfadel
Ravenswood Winery
Vintages #606632
$17.95 each

However, in keeping with the trend in this article, let’s find an Ontario red wine that will match well with the berry flavours of the sauces. Berry fruit and cherries are two common flavours in most Gamay Noir wines but there is a tendency to make Gamay really light in structure and mouthfeel so you need one that has a little more oomph than a typical Gamay. In Ontario, there is one wine that epitomizes that description – Chateau des Charmes St David’s Bench Gamay Droit. Any vintage of this wine will do but the combination of berry fruit and cherries, with a kick of tart cranberries and this slight hit of earthiness gives it the perfect structure to hold up to something as strong as the sauces we are putting on our ribs. This wine is available through the winery itself but also at your local LCBO at a price of $16.95 per bottle. Now, if you are one who prefers to cook your ribs completely on the grill, just follow the same principles and try these wines out with them.

Here’s hoping that you find some great wines to pair with what goes on your grill. It doesn’t always have to be beer and hard liquor when you set up the barbecue – there are many great Ontario wines that can pair with your grilling favourites. Happy grilling and happy wine pairing…cheers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Sampling of Wine Reviews

Originally posted at http://ontariowinediva.blogspot.com

Hi everyone,
It's been a while since I have simply done a series of wine reviews so I thought I would do that today to highlight three Prince Edward County wines that are about to be released. I've put them in the order that they will be released - either at the winery or through the LCBO Vintages program - and I hope you enjoy them. I highly recommend getting your hands on all three of them and, in the case of the first two, preorder them today so you are not disappointed. By the way, I've listed the reviews in the order they are going to be released as indicated by the wineries.

Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery 2008 Baco Noir
11.2% alc./vol.
$20 per bottle
Available at the winery only after Saturday, March 27th 2010 or by pre-order now.
Call (613) 399-2598 or email Cynthia@laceyestates.com
Blacker than SIN – that’s the only way to describe the colour – and the aromas and flavours are equally sinful. Abundant blackberry followed by a hint of bing cherry, blueberry and raspberry on the nose – talk about a fruit bomb. The texture is silky and slightly chewy with that familiar blackberry coming through, good acidity in the mid palate, slight blueberry, a very faint hit of mint and slight pepper on the finish. This would be great with duck, steak, game meats, roasts – anything you would put a Zinfandel or a Shiraz with would work with this wine.

Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery 2009 Gewurztraminer
13.4% alc./vol.
$22 per bottle
Available at the winery only after Saturday, March 27th 2010 or by pre-order now.
Call (613) 399-2598 or email Cynthia@laceyestates.com
There’s something captivating about a wine that is the colour of gold – it has almost the same appeal as a deep ruby red wine – and this wine definitely holds you captive as you look at it in the glass. It takes a bit of swirl for the aromas to come through but when they do you are hit with the unmistakable lychee and rose aromas so commonly associated with true Alsatian Gewurztraminers. The lychee and rose continue on to the palate where they are joined with a major hit of spice, perfect acidity and amazing balance. My first instinct is to want to pair this with Thai food because it is such a classic pairing but – on second thought – Blackened Salmon with rice and asparagus would be just as great.

Black Prince Winery 2008 Riesling

11.0 % alc/vol
$18.95 per bottle
LCBO Vintages release (April 17th)or at the winery directly.
This is very far from a typical Riesling and it definitely fits into my category of "dangerous" wines. A "dangerous" wine is one that can be drunk so easily you don't realize you've drunk a whole bottle until you empty it because it is so light and tasty you don't think you're drinking alcohol of any sort. Since some of my family and I went through the bottle in the space of an hour one day - which equated to a couple of glasses each - this wine definitely fits the definition.

The aromas are a mix of melon, apple, pear and a slight hit of lemon which continues on to the palate where it joins lime and some wonderful effervescence. Honestly, when you smell this wine and definitely when you taste it, it feels almost like a Chardonnay but then the citrus kicks in and you know it's a Riesling. I would pair this with a bowl of fruit salad or lightly sauced pasta and most chicken dishes - so long as they're not overly spicy.