Sunday, June 14, 2009

An Amazing Afternoon in Madeira

Until yesterday, I did not realize that June 10th is Portugal’s National Holiday but shortly after sitting down for a Madeira luncheon, the assembled dignitaries filled us in that, normally, on that day they are kicking back on their decks and patios with family and friends. This year they chose to celebrate with us – a room of wine writers, fellow dignitaries and lovers of their favourite wine…Madeira. Now, Madeira is sweet stuff – it is essentially Ports made on the island of Madeira – so it is a wine that would not normally be associated with food. Like Eiswein, Sherry, Port or Icewine, Madeira is normally associated with dessert or on its own as an after dinner drink so pairing Madeira with food is an adventure unto itself.
When we arrived, our host for the afternoon, Mr. William Delgado, showed us into the cocktail reception area where we were offered Henriques & Henriques 10 YO Sercial. The island of Madeira is extremely small and Henriques & Henriques is the oldest producer of Madeira still operating on the island today.

“Sercial is one of the four recognized grapes in making Madeira and this 10 year old version was great paired with appetizers like Cod Fritters, Lobster Spring Rolls, Beef Tartar and Goat Cheese appetizers. Mostly caramel and spice on the nose, the flavours were light and smooth with a slight lingering finish.”
Once lunch was ready to be served, we were brought back into the main dining room to enjoy a lunch of:

Beef Consumme

Selection of Jacobs & Co dry-aged beef:
USDA Prime Whole Roasted Tenderloin
Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin
Alberta Wagyu Bavette
Sauté Mixed Mushrooms
Potato Gratin
Baby Carrots
Duck fat French Fried Potatoes

Selection of local & Portuguese Cheeses

Devils Food Chocolate Cake

The wine pairings with each of these courses were experimental they told us and some of them worked exceptionally well while others were not quite perfect. It would have been interesting to try the 10 YO Sercial that was served with the appetizers with the Beef Consumme because the Blandy’s 10 YO Verdelho was a little too heavy for this extremely lightly flavoured Consommé. Both the Madeira and the Consumme were delicious but the match did not quite work.

With the second course – the trio of beef – we were asked to pair it with the Henriques & Henriques 15 YO Verdelho and see which cut of beef the wine went best with. “The Verdelho 15 YO has a lovely rich, amber colour and has mostly citrus notes on the aromas. It is silky smooth, with very deep flavours of caramel, honey and nuts with a hint of tartness and a slightly long finish.” Although the third cut of beef - the Alberto Wagyu Bavette – was my favourite cut of beef on the plate due to the extra flavor it exhibited as compared to the other two cuts the 15 YO Verdelho seemed to pair best with the second cut of beef – the Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin

After the main course was cleared, we went into the “flight of wines” paired with local and Portuguese cheeses, fruit and honey. They had another task for us to decide upon – which of these two wines went best with the cheeses. Our two choices were the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual and Justino’s 10 YO Bual and they gave us two white cheeses, one blue cheese, an apple slice, a dollop of honey and some bread.

“The Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual had a light brown colour and a distinctive sour cherry aroma with a slight nutty undertone. The flavours were a combination of raisins and currants and it went particularly well with the two white cheeses and the honey.”

“The Justino’s 10 YO Bual had this very interesting, almost cherry colour to it while the aromas were distinctively green and medicinal. It had an extremely complex palate of green apple, raisins and cooked fruit which paired wonderfully with the green apple slice and the blue cheese.”

Both of these wines brought different things to the table – and the cheese plate. Although the aromas associated with the Justino’s 10 YO Bual were not the most pleasant, it was kind of like a Pinotage – if you can get past the aromas normally associated with Pinotage you are rewarded with an amazingly tasty wine. The same could be said for the Justino’s 10 YO Bual so if you ever have a chance to try this particular Madeira, remember to forget what you are smelling and taste it anyway – you will be richly rewarded. The consensus at our table on the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual was that it was a typical Madeira and one that could be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

Our final course of the luncheon – the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake – was paired with another flight of Madeira’s: the Justino’s Fine Rich Colheita 1996 and the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978. Now, along with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake, which had a Chocolate Ganache Frosting, there was also Chocolate ice cream and a rolled chocolate cigar.

“The Justino’s Colheita 1996 has an orange red colour with the aromas of nuts and cream – which is not typical for Madeira’s. The flavours were honey, spice and a slight amount of citrus. Essentially, this is very far from a typical Madeira but so interesting you just have to try it. The unique pairing that I found was that the chocolate ice cream brought out a major spicy undertone in this Madeira…imagine what this would be like with a pint of Haagen Dazs Chocolate.”

“Now the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978 was a real treat. It had a dark cherry colour and a complex set of aromas – smoke, honey, nutty, caramel, cherry, toast (which was almost an afterthought) were the key players but if you really wanted to analyze all of the aromas, you could easily have come up with a list as long as your arm. The flavours were mostly chocolate and toffee but there was also a hint of honey, figs and citrus to round it out. It was the most harmonious, the most perfect pairing of the afternoon because it went seamlessly with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake.

After the delicious luncheon was complete, we were welcomed back into another room to try some other Madeira’s that were not featured in the luncheon. Although there were many lovely ones to choose from, two in particular stood out for me.

Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich
Blandy’s Terrantez 1976

“The Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich showed an extremely powerful nose right up front. It actually reminded me of my Grandma’s Plum Pudding that we always have with Christmas dinner. The flavours are spicy and full bodied – mostly cooked fruit but with a kick of tartness on the finish. This could be paired with just about any cake or pudding recipe out there but would also be great on its own.”

“The colour on Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 is really quite amazing – it is a bright amber colour but with a greenish rim which actually is a sign of high quality Madeira. Although the aromas do not seem as powerful as the Duke of Clarence Full Rich, the Terrantez 1976 is just as complex. Raisins, currants, cooked fruit, citrus with even a distinctive hint of orange peel at the end are the major aromas coming into play here. You can find more of those aromas developing into the flavours combined with tangy freshness, a hint of tartness and a long lingering finish. The interesting thing is that the winery actually says it can hold until 2076 if you wanted to wait that long…but why would we do that when it is drinking so well right now. I would rather wait until 2016 or 2026 to see what it is like for my 40th or 50th birthday.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Great Wines of New Zealand

Originally posted at

Every year the best that New Zealand has to offer comes to Canada and embarks on the New Zealand Wine Fair. They reach Toronto by about mid May and it is a day of great Sauvignon Blanc, great Pinot Noir and a lot of other really interesting surprises from this island nation in the South Pacific. Almost fifty wineries set up at The Design Exchange in downtown Toronto and we spend the next 3 hours sampling wines from both islands in a variety of styles. Below are just a select few that really stood out this particular day and – for anyone who enjoys New Zealand wines – are a must buy for their cellars.

Gibbston Highgate Estate
2006 Soulgate Pinot Noir

Amethyst Wine Agency – the importer in Canada – brought not only the 2006 vintage of this great wine but also had a sneak preview for us of the 2007 vintage which gave us the opportunity to see what a difference a year can make. The 2006 vintage showed great complexity and finesse on the nose and palate with aromas of plums, cherries, herbs and spices. Due to the oak aging this wine went through, you could also smell cedar and toasty notes which helped subdue the palate, making it silky smooth.

The 2007 vintage was very similar but was even more powerful than its predecessor. There was even more complexity in the tastes and aromas and just a small amount of tannins. Both of these wines are ready to drink now but it would be very interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of years.

Gibbston Highgate Estate Wines are available through Vintages Online Exclusives.

Summerhouse Wines
2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Really great Sauvignon Blanc is a complex range of aromas and flavours and this one definitely does not disappoint. The aromas are tropical fruit, floral and a slight hint of lime while the flavours are fresh, juicy and vibrant. Citrus and tropical fruit flavours with an excellent balance of fruit and acidity make this wine one of those really easy drinking – almost “dangerous” – wines that works great on its own or paired with seafood, asparagus, goat’s cheese or tomato based dishes.

Summerhouse Wines are available only through private order in Canada and their agent is Amethyst Wine Company. Be sure to pick up this yummy wine from Laura Higgins (, 416-750-9994)

Summerhouse Wines
2007 Marlborough Pinot Noir

Classic Pinot Noir from New Zealand – this is it in a bottle. An amazing colour of bright red with this slight purple hue, great aromas of cherries and toast and a spicy, silky flavour with red berry fruit mid way through. This wine is young and vibrant, is more than ready to drink now, and will pair beautifully with a wide variety of dishes. Some of my favourites with this wine – BBQ, Spicy dishes, Chocolate cake and for something different, how about you try this with grilled Salmon.

Summerhouse Wines are available only through private order in Canada and their agent is Amethyst Wine Company. Be sure to pick up this yummy wine from Laura Higgins (, 416-750-9994)

Hawkshead Wine
2008 Central Otago Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not one of the better known grapes from this area of the world but the wineries of New Zealand are experimenting and coming out with some amazing versions of wines with non-typical grapes. The aromas are typical Pinot Gris – tropical fruit, pears, honeysuckle and, in the case of this wine, a hint of almonds and marzipan.

The aromas translate smoothly and easily onto the palate – tropical fruit, pears, stone fruit (mostly peaches) and this gentle balance of fruit and acidity. Possibly the best part of this wine – the rich creamy texture that keeps you coming back for more.

Hawkshead Wines are available through a variety of importers around the world. In Ontario, contact Eurovintage International at or 416-494-2881. For other locations, please visit for more information.

Hawkshead Wine
2006 Central Otago Pinot Noir

The Gibbston region – where Hawkshead Wine is produced – is one of the coolest regions in New Zealand. Located inland at the bottom of the south island, the grapes from this region tend to require a late harvesting which equates into distinctive wines found no where else in New Zealand.

This Pinot Noir, instead of being bright red with hints of purple, is almost a garnet shade and has powerful aromas of dark berry fruit and ripe plums with floral and herbal hints. The flavours are restrained initially and you only get hints of fruit with balanced acidity. As it opens up, you can pick out flavours of dark cherries, berries, chocolate and spice making it a perfect wine to pair with a wide range of foods.
Hawkshead Wines are available through a variety of importers around the world. In Ontario, contact Eurovintage International at or 416-494-2881. For other locations, please visit for more information.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2008 Wairarapa Riesling

Before we get into the specifics on any of these wines, let me just start by saying there were six wines on this table and every one of them were amazing. The best thing about all of these wines is that every single one of them was under $30 and most were under $20 making them incredible values for what is in the bottle and – hopefully very soon – your glass.

The Riesling is another one of those grapes that we do not normally associate with New Zealand but this one definitely makes you stand up and notice it. The aromas were very fruit forward showing lime, ginger and honey. The palate is equally amazing showing hints of apricot and other stone fruits and incredible balance. Although this wine is ready to drink now, if you can stand to do so, try cellaring it for a couple of years to see this wine turn into something mind blowing.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2008 Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc

A typical Sauvignon Blanc but one of the better examples I have had in a while. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is generally very fruit forward and aromatic the whole way around. This particular version is filled with both aromas and flavours of peaches, apricots, gooseberry, melon, guava and pineapple.

The next time you are having friends over for Sunday Brunch, instead of having Mimosas, try a bottle or two of this wine instead. Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2007 Wairarapa Chardonnay

Normally, it is difficult to pick out which kind of oak was used on a Chardonnay based on the aromas alone but with this particular wine it was easy to pick out that there was a combination of French and American Oak in play here. It created an aroma that was mostly nectarines and pineapple but you could detect the creaminess and the nutty characters that French and American Oak bring to a wine respectively.

The flavours were of cream, fruit and minerals showing it had great diversity with food – I suggest Roasted Chicken in particular – but also great age ability. This wine would be amazing to see in the next 7-10 years. Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyards
2007 Wairarapa Pinot Noir

Produced in a typical Burgundian style – as opposed to New World styles – this particular wine experienced minimal human influence and handling and shows intense aromas of cherries and plums. The flavours are rich and complex – mostly tobacco, spice and fruit – with great structure and fine tannins. Consequently, this wine is both a great wine to drink now and a perfect wine to cellar for years to come.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Collection of Wine Reviews

Originally posted at

Every now and then I try to look back over past wine reviews, pick out some of my favourites and repost them in a collective blog entry. This particular entry will focus on my favourite Ontario wines – some from Prince Edward County, some from Niagara and some from Lake Erie North Shore. If you happen to be a winery owner and would like to get in on these or other blog entries that I post, feel free to get in touch with me and I will give you the details on how to get wine to me so I can review them. In the case where these wines are older vintages, due to the consistency of these wineries, I highly recommend that you seek them out and try them – you will not be disappointed.

33 Vines Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc

Wines are few and far between where I can say “I Love that colour” – this particular wine is inky purple and you could easily just sit there admiring the shade and nuances but then you would be missing something much more spectacular.

The aromas scream blackberry jam, violets, currants with a slight herbal quality to the end. It begs for chocolate before we even taste the wine. Without the chocolate there is a hint of spice at the tip of the tongue. The flavours are mostly jammy but with currants and black fruit sharing the palate.

We tried to pair it with 65 percent chocolate which was a little too light. The conclusion was that it was a better pair with the 99 percent. If you are not a chocolate fan (I understand that some people are not) you could try pairing it with goat cheese. We had a cheese from Georgia called Drunken Goat that it paired with rather well.

33 Vines Winery currently does not sell their wines in the LCBO so if you would like to get your hands on this particular wine – and I highly recommend that you do – please contact the winery directly at:

Telephone: 613-373-1133

Bergeron Estate Winery 2007 Gamay Noir

Gamay is one of those grapes that is very light and a lot of people turn their noses down at. If you are not a light red wine drinker, 30 minutes or so open will change this wine immensely.
In the beginning (of the glass) there were aromas of currant, red berry and the palate had a bit of spice and hints of leather but it is predominately red fruit. At the very bottom of the glass, on the very last sip, something very earthy comes through - mushroom. If you let the wine air even longer there is a distinctive Chinese Gunpowder Tea present in the flavours.

This is one of those wines that works well with a variety of dishes - light goat cheeses, pasta with meat sauce, white fish. The list is endless so be creative and find your perfect pairing. Bergeron Estate Winery is another winery that is not available in the LCBO – which is something I appreciate about the smaller wineries – but you can pick up their wines at their retail store outside of Adolphustown. Free delivery is available to Kingston or contact the winery to place an order:

To order by phone please call 613.373.0181 or

Featherstone Estate Winery 2005 Estate Bottled Canadian Oak Chardonnay

The oak has been coming from the same farm outside of Brantford for the past four vintages but the cooperage house initially used to craft the barrels was not a perfect match. David Johnson, Winemaker, reworked the formula and ended up switching to a California based cooperage house which has resulted in a far superior Chardonnay using oak that comes from our fair lands.

The aromas are mostly pear with toasty undertones but every now and then you get a faint whiff of apples. The palate, although David admitted to the wine being over chilled at the time he served it to me, was extremely powerful with a lot of caramel and buttery notes. Equally predominant was the crème fraiche flavours which I am sure would have been even more powerful had this been served a few degrees warmer.

Featherstone Estate Winery does not sell any of their wines in the LCBO and there are no current plans to do so. To pick up any of their wines (please note the minimum bottle amounts and shipping costs), go to the following link and print out the order form:

Joseph's Estate Wines 2001 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Amazing light brown colour - like that of a Tawny Port.
Nose is strawberry, a bit of raspberry and some honey.
Palate is lots of honey with a slight hint of lemon on the finish. Has great balance and, despite this particular vintage, it shows no sign of Ladybug taint.
We have a theory that this would be great in an Icewine Martini. If you have a chance to try it out, let me know. To purchase wines from Joseph's Estate Wines, go to the following link for ordering information:

Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery 2007 Chardonnay

Have you ever encountered someone who likes to eat steak but insists on drinking only white wine? I have and let me tell you - this is THE WINE for them.

Chardonnay is the most full bodied of white wines and this one more than delivers. Just enough creaminess to perfectly compliment the green apple and stone fruit flavours and aromas. It has this wonderful, slightly lingering finish that leaves you wanting more and more.

Aside from being a perfect partner to steak done on a summer BBQ, try mixing this up with Veal or Pork Tenderloin as well. Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery just opened this past May so to get you hands on their amazing wines, contact the winery directly at:

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2006 Sullyzwicker VQA

An interesting blend of three grapes with an equally interesting name – 49% Ehrenfelser, 46% Riesling and 5% Gewurztraminer. Ehrenfelser was developed at the Geisenheim Research Station in Germany in 1929 and is, essentially, a frost resistant substitute for the Riesling grape. Due to the fact that it is a winter hardy version, it makes it a perfect grape to grow in the cold winters that Prince Edward County receive every year. The Riesling came from vineyards in both Prince Edward County and Niagara while the Gewurztraminer comes solely from grape growers in Niagara. All three grapes were fermented separately and than blended just before bottling giving this particular vintage a sugar code of 1 (or off-dry) and alcohol at 10%.

That 10% alcohol translates into a lighter, easy drinking white that is perfect by the patio or with light food dishes including seafood (I keep picturing grilled shrimp fresh off the BBQ) and grilled vegetables. As I carried my glass of wine upstairs with me tonight I kept getting magnificently strong aromas of flowers but with undertones of apple and peach. The flowery aromas carried over onto the palate where they mixed with a lot of mineral qualities that seemed to keep going on forever and ever.

Rosehall Run Vineyards is not available at this point in the LCBO so to get your hands on this wonderful wine, you can make a trip out to Prince Edward County between May and November, phone 1-888-399-1183 or e-mail Lynn Sullivan at

Smith & Wilson Estate Wines 2004 Frambuesa

The Spanish word for Raspberry is Frambuesa and that is exactly what this wine is! There are some wines out there that can only be described using one word – WOW! This is definitely one of them – a dessert style raspberry wine that will pair amazingly well with most kinds of desserts. Anything chocolate is highly recommended to pair with this wine but my favourite pairing is a glass of this with classic crème brulee. Available directly through the winery, in 500 mL bottles, this is one wine that should be bought and enjoyed frequently.