Sunday, December 24, 2006

Report from: Brunch at EastDell's Restaurant "The View" - Dec. 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Day, a beautiful bright sunshiny day, Holly Cole must be singing directly to us as we pulled into the driveway at EastDell – and she definitely had her description right; 7 degrees, not a cloud in the sky; who could believe Christmas was quite literally a day away. Where’s the snow, the wind, the cold temps? (A million miles away in Denver, so I hear) What a nice day to check out EastDell’s restaurant “The View” for their Christmas brunch – a special holiday version of their usual Sunday affair. And I could not think of two more deserving people then the two that have put up with me during those formative years: mom and dad. But my reasons for bringing them were twofold. 1) a nice holiday gift … and 2) there are no tougher critics in the world. Dad is the cook and gourmand of the family and incredibly valuable at helping to identify those dishes that I can not figure out. Mom loves a day out in wine country … so off we went for a 12:30 seating.

“The View” restaurant gets it’s name from the floor to ceiling windows that encase the restaurant which looks out over the vineyards of EastDell – of course in winter the view isn’t as lush and green as say the spring or summer, or as colourful as fall – but on this beautiful “winter” day as the vines lay dormant, the grass was still green and we could see clean across the vineyards to Toronto across the lake.

We were greeted by Robert (manager and sommelier) who showed us to our table, made sure we were comfortable and helped us pick out a nice wine that would pair well with a majority of the foods on the buffet tables. The 2004 Birchwood Estate (sister winery of EastDell) Gewurztraminer/Riesling was a unanimous choice by Robert and two other servers I overheard making wine recommendations at nearby tables. A delicious apple and mineral concoction with hints of lime on the nose; and apple, lychee and mango in the mouth – all wrapped up with a touch of sweetness. It paired wonderfully with everything we put in our mouths.

The buffet tables are laid out in an L-shape and are broken down into hot and cold sections, there’s something for everybody. If you have not had anything to eat in a while you might want to stop reading here and grab yourself a little bite, or else at the very least, I’m about to whet your appetite. On the cold side of the L there was a mayonnaise penne pasta salad, which was hugely overshadowed in tasteby the balsamic and sun-dried tomato tri-coloured fusilli version. A summer mixed green salad (what I lovingly call “weed salad”); teriyaki-glazed salmon, crudités, samosas with cheese and spinach; potato salad, tomato salad, croissant and a cream of potato and leek soup (which was the only dish on the buffet that my father did not identify). All wonderful starters for the hot mains that occupied the other half of the L.

The “hot L” had your typical breakfast time fare like sausages, bacon and pancakes along with Alistair (the self-described “omelette slave”, who’s British accent gave the act of ordering an omelette a more refined and dignified feel) whipping up delicious egg combinations to your specifications, which included a wonderful 5 cheese blend, veggies and other egg-includable-stuffings. But it was the non-typical fare that proved to be the bigger hit. Beef stroganoff; chicken cacciatore; mussels in white wine; blitzes filled with ricotta and spinach topped with a puree of tomatoes and cream sauce. Seafood and veggie Creole and a potato pancake (for the Hanukkah crowd) mixed with parsnips and cabbage. There was also your first taste of Christmas bird at the end of the buffet, cut to order – usually it’s prime rib that ends off the hot side, but due to the festive season turkey took the honours.

But nothing could compete with the holiday dessert table that was on display across from the main buffet table. I got to meet the pastry chef while I was there, a short skinny guy named Shane, who swears he samples everything he makes. Now I make it a hard and fast rule never to trust a skinny pastry-chef, but I am told Shane rides his bike to work everyday (even in bad weather) to keep his “girlish” figure, so I’ll break my rule this one time because of the spread he had arranged. There were the prerequisite cheese and fruit trays but beside those we found gingerbread men made with fresh ginger, black forest trifle with vanilla custard topping, round shortbread cookies half dipped in coloured chocolate and decorated with Smarties. Dark chocolate mousse in mini volovante (puff pastry) cups, also Smartie topped; persimmon tartlettes, banana bread drizzled with yellow chocolate and maple bread pudding with chocolate chips and walnuts. And how could I forget the spiced Bavarian laced with nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Robert (with a big smile) asked Shane how many of these items he had picked up from the grocery store on his way in – Shane looked appalled as he shot back “I most certainly did not.” All of the desserts are made by hand from the Bavarian to the banana bread – Shane also slaves over the melting of the chocolate, which he also uses to create the icewine truffles.

If all of this sounds good, trust me it tastes even better. And most of it is available every Sunday of the year … the restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner and Robert is hoping to host some special events in the new year – so keep a watchful eye open for those. The View is not a placed to be missed – the food is extraordinary, homemade, and uses local ingredients. No matter what time of day you walk in the door you’ll be treated to an absolutely astonishing meal, served by wonderful professionals in a stunning environment; and of course a selection of local Diamond Estates wines (Birchwood; Thomas & Vaughan, Lakeview and EastDell). And now, as I run out of adjectives to describe this incredible spread, I trust you’ll take my advice and get out there to take in the scenery and a meal. Bon appetite.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Report from: 20 Valley Weekend – Nov. 25, 2006

The weather is getting colder and harvest is pretty much complete for another season. It’s the best time to visit the wineries because they want you to come down and celebrate with them; they also have the time to spend with you. The wines are fermenting, resting, oaking and other usual wine stuff that wine does, so now it’s time to throw a little shindig, and that’s exactly what the 20 Valley Wine Association want you to do … buy a passport ($20), come visit the wineries, and let them show you a good time. There is a slight problem though, some wineries aren’t used to having a Holiday Open House, and it shows. This being the first year of the program and all, some of the wineries, on this 14 winery program, had no idea what to do with you once you walked through their door. Sure they have some good wines to sample, and they make excellent gifts for the wine-lover on your list (along with other paraphernalia that goes along with it: from glassware to corkscrews, and everything in between). But unlike Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Taste the Season (completing it’s 6th year), which pairs wine with food at all 17 of the participating wineries; the 20 Valley wineries are a little more sporadic in their offerings. Some offer a wonderful spread of foods, while others get you to wander around aimlessly wondering what to do. But I’m willing to cut them some slack for 2 reasons: 1) It’s their first year working together and the bugs still need to be ironed out. Some of the wineries have been doing their own open house around this time of year since they opened their doors, while others were caught flat-footed and just wanted to be part of the program that their association was putting on. Here’s hoping they get the holiday spirit for next year’s offering. 2) The giveaway was so worth it, and so much more practical than their counterparts to the east in NOTL. I’m talking about the stone coasters, with their logos emblazoned on the top, that each winery was giving away – now how cool is that? One wine maker from Niagara-on-the-Lake sounded off some sour-grapes when talking about the 20 Valley, “they’re always trying to copy what we’re doing.” But in this respect the Valley outshone the Lake. Sure the Taste the Season gift is a beautiful handblown glass/crystal tree ornament, but I’ve always wondered what those who have no tree to hang it on do with their ornament – guess it is just one less gift to buy. 20 Valley’s gift was cool, unique to the wineries themselves and above all practical … coasters to use for the season, and year round. A gift for yourself while you shop around for others on your list. So while I give kudos to NOTL for having their act together, after 6 years of pairing wine and food they should … I give a thumbs up to the Valley for their more useful giveaway. Now let’s see how these two events match up 6 years down the road? I hope to see you all in the Valley next year.

Best Spread:

This was a toss up between Harbour Estates and Featherstone … then again it depends on whether you wanted sweet or savoury. Harbour Estates went for the sweet tooth in all of us by offering shortbread cookies, sugar cookies with a dollop of icewine jelly, chocolate chip caramel squares, cashew-chocolate toffee brittle and a fabulous phyllo wrapped brie with Riesling icewine jelly melted in the middle – all homemade by their 23 year old daughter. While across town, Featherstone went the more savoury food and wine pairing route. Now maybe they have a bit of an unfair advantage because a) they hold an open house at this time of year annually and b) owner Louise Engel used to own a gourmet food store in Guelph (see where I am going with this) – and no offense to Louise, but you do have a few more years at it than the 23 year old … not by much. She served Orange-Curry Chicken on a deep fried wonton; Roast-Beef with Dijon-horseradish mayo; Blue Cheese Shortbread topped with a roasted walnut; fruit with mango yogurt dip, marinated olives; and baked brie in puff pastry with walnuts cranberries and pepper berry blast (is your mouth watering yet?) – all concocted and homemade by Louise, and her staff, and paired with a variety of Featherstone wines. Thankfully I skipped lunch, but my problem was I stopped at Harbour Estates first – next year I’ll reverse the order and save some room for dessert.

Runner Up:

Stoney Ridge got into the holiday spirit by pairing up wines with various dips, crackers, breads and fondue from their downstairs in-house cheese shop … quite nice. While Flat Rock served icewine laced hot chocolate – tasty and good for a cold day … but maybe a nibbly would have been in order to pair with it, a shortbread would have been ideal.

Seasonal Smeasonal:

Creekside brought you down into their barrel cellar for a sampling of a wine in progress … a great idea, but not exactly what you’re looking for this time of year at a holiday “open house”. Angels Gate tasted their just released robust Angels III Meritage blend with a piece of dark chocolate … again a good start, but for the season you’d expect more. It’s a good start and definitely something to build on for next year.

Better Luck Next Year:

4 wineries proved very disappointing during their “open house”: Fielding, Birchwood, Lakeview and Mountain Road … all four offered nothing of any substance to visitors walking through the door. Mulled wine and discounts on stemware are not really what the season’s about, is it? Though in fairness to Mountain Road they were getting ready for their 4th Anniversary celebration on the Sunday, I guess you can’t party every day no matter what Kiss says.

Speaking of Next Year:

Now I fully admit I did not get to every winery this year – the four I missed were: EastDell, Legends, Vineland (closed for a private function), and Willow Heights. I’ll be there next year to check you guys out – hopefully you now know what to do.

All-in-all an interesting if uneven event … but once they find their feet this will be another great party weekend in Wine Country. Hold it again next year 20 Valley – because if you build it, they will come.
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Report from: Gourmet Food and Wine Expo - Nov. 23, 2006

Another year and another Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo is in the books. Held at the Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto, it showcases wines from around the world with a theme region taking center stage. The question that is asked so often is does Toronto have too many wine shows? My answer is more of a question than a downright answer: is there such a thing? But seriously, Toronto seems to have a wine show for every region, locale, distributor and importer and yet the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo brings them all together under one roof for a weekend of good food, good wine and a playful atmosphere. Sure there were a few problems that were glaring: like why the featured wine region, “Best of Niagara”, was buried so far at the back of the hall? And why was it decked out like some backwater-hicksville display with white picket fencing and lamp posts; when compared to the high-techness of Chile, chic-uniformity of France and cool-classiness of California? Finally, why were the Wines of Australia notably missing from all but the VIP night on Thursday? Does Australia feel they have Ontario all locked up and don’t need to show off there wares at one of the biggest shows of the year? Quite the act of hubris if I do say so myself. But all-in-all the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo proved to be another successful showcase for some of the best wines out there currently and ones that are coming to an LCBO/Vintages store near you. Without the Aussies there it allowed other regions to shine.

Currently Available:

Let’s start by looking at some wines from South Africa that have a story to tell. Robertson Winery is actually a co-op with many different growers under their umbrella. Every year they hold a competition to determine who is making the best single vineyard expression of a specific varietal. The winner gets their wine made as a premium offering, single vineyard designated, under the Robertson Winery label. The rest of the wines go into a final blend, or house style wine. The three available this year through Vintages are stunning examples of good quality and fair priced wine. The 2003 Prospect Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (#687814 - $18.95) is delicious and juicy, made in an old-world style, that could use some more time in the bottle to soften it up a bit. The 2004 Wolfkloof Shiraz (#626341 - $19.95) is full, lush and ready to drink now. But the best value is the Retreat Sauvignon Blanc (#933085 - $14.95) with grapefruit and grassy notes, a true expression of the grape and great flavours in the mouth … this one is a winner from start to finish. The whole line of wines are ones to be searched out and purchased immediately.

Looking elsewhere in Vintages: Vina La Rosa’s La Capitana Merlot, from Chile, is a delicious version for those who like their merlot on the fuller richer side with just a hint of oak flavouring (#655209 - $14.95). And just released this past Saturday (Nov. 25) – the Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Select (#947887 - $21.95) has great chocolate notes that make you come back to the glass for another taste again and again – best of all the smell is there too – it’s one of those wines you’re afraid to drink because it smells so good but the taste might let you down – this one delivers on both counts. Yummy.

General List Gem:

Also from Chile comes this Carmenere gem from Santa Alicia, a juicy, ripe and delicious expression of the grape at a great price $10.45 (#309302). Make sure it’s the 2004 vintage, and you won’t go wrong putting this on your table or even giving it as a unique gift this holiday season (who else gives Carmenere?). Back to South Africa, the general list Shiraz from Robertson Winery ($12.20 - #610949) is great value for an every day sipper.


Delicato’s 2005 Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.95) is coming back to Vintages this spring. It’s delicious sweet berry flavours make this wine another winner from this award winning California winery.


There were lots of wine available through consignment only methods (which means they are not in the LCBO and must be purchased from their agents, and you usually have to order a minimum of a case), but none seemed as worthwhile as this bargain from Chile. Vina La Rosa winery (again) – has a lighter every day drinker called La Palma at $12.99 for both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a great value. The merlot was simple, easy drinking, with wonderful black fruit flavours. No oak is used in the making of this wine so the berry flavours really show through – and it’s micro-oxigenated (simply put – they add oxygen to the wine to make it ready to drink now instead of having to shelve it a few years). The Cabernet Sauvignon undergoes the same treatment but it’s a little more complex on the palate and proves to have a bit of a bitter finish, a few more months in bottle should take care of that. Buy both – drink the merlot first and wait for the Sauv to come around.

The Hostess with the Mostess:

Finally a big thank you to Kimberly, who made attending the show easy for a few of our readers and myself. She was the one who provided us with the tickets we gave away and the information updates that kept us abreast of what was happening this year at the show. Thank you to Kimberly, your staff your staff and all those who helped to make this years’ Gourmet Food and Wine Expo another rousing success.
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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Report from: Taste the Season – Nov. 18, 2006

Hitting 10 wineries in one day may seem like a lot, but in actual fact it’s probably just enough when it comes to this event. “Taste the Season” is not about drinking to excess, it’s about pairing food with wine and collecting recipes for those upcoming holiday get-togethers. Truthfully you probably could hit all 17 wineries on the passport program, but that would cause you to rush through the wineries and then tasting becomes more of a chore than an experience. 10 allows you a leisurely pace, if you start at about 11 in the morning; if you have time at the end you can throw in a few extra for good measure. Keep in mind that if you rush through and only do the tastings prescribed you might miss some excellent finds along the way. I hear you asking, Grape Guy what are you talking about? Let me highlight a few of the day’s pairings, wines and finds.

Best Food Pairings:

Hats off to Marynissen for pairing a lovely 2002 Cabernet Merlot alongside Pappardelle with Shredded Beef Brisket – seemed like a simple dish and those serving it had no trouble admitting it. “We wanted something you could make quickly and easily and not have to go and search out your ingredients.” Plus soaking the brisket in the paired wine was inspired marketing, because if you liked the recipe you were more apt to buy the wine.

Second place goes to Stonechurch pairing their newly released 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon with Beef Carpaccio Marinated in Cabernet Sauvignon on a Toasted Crostini … the two married well together – in the same way that the Marynissen did, because of the wine and food working harmoniously in the recipe and in the glass. I’m sad to say the Cab Sauv was of mostly foreign grapes … though truly delicious. Congrats to Terence van Rooyen for a wonderful wine – I look forward to seeing what he does with the domestic grapes.

Not so good Pairing – but thanks for the food:

This is a toss up between Hillebrand and Joseph’s Estate … both of them decided to go the sweet route with the food and dry route with the wine – with the potential disastrous results. Hillebrand had some wonderful Bittersweet Truffle Cups with Cinnamon, a taste sensation for the mouth, I could have gone back again and again to sample more – but the 2003 Trius Cabernet Franc (a good wine on it’s own); was no match for these fine desserts. On the other hand Joseph’s served an incredible Brie Baked Cheesecake with Cranberries (from Willow Bakery in NOTL) … the Cheesecake was lovely, sweet, soft and scrumptious – the Cabernet Franc did little to lift the flavours of the food. Though I am not knocking the wine, it too was quite nice on it’s own, but together they did not marry up well.

On the other Hand:

The only winery that did right by the sweet stuff was Lailey – pairing their 2005 Select Late Harvest Vidal with a wonderful Apple Strudel (from the Pie Plate in Virgil). Both complimenting the other in this harmonious marriage of taste and sinful pleasure – it is up to you to decide which is which.

Forget the Food – the wine stands alone:

At two wineries I can’t even tell you what the food was that they paired the wine with (thank goodness for the list) - that’s because the wine was a stand-alone sensation. Both Reif Estates and Jackson-Triggs paired their wines with a meat themed dish – Roasted Beef Tenderloin en Croute with Olive Tapenade and Prosciutto & Roasted Plum Panini respectively, but I remember not the taste of the food. Reif’s 2002 Meritage though I remember distinctly. A relatively balanced Meritage when it comes to grape distribution with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% each for the Merlot and Cab Franc. Time in the bottle has smoothed out this wine, but not to a point where it has lost all flavours – in fact it still could rest for a few more years and develop further complexity. There is some spice, vegetal notes and tannin that linger in the palate and don’t forget to pay close attention to the sweet cherry mid-palate. Delicious; definitely worthy of it’s $26.95 price tag.

Jackson-Triggs also served up a Meritage, their 2004 Proprietor’s Reserve, which is heavy on the Merlot side (45%) followed by Sauv (40%) and Franc (15%) … but it was the steal of the day at $13.99. Great black fruit and spice taste with a little bit of tannin – but it’s ready to drink right now. As was pointed out during the tasting: “this is a great every day wine, especially for the price.” No argument here.

We came for the food and wine pairing – but were thrilled with something else:

After the Meritage at Jackson-Triggs we were compelled to go downstairs and try a few more wines. The only 2002 they had left was a Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Merlot – which drank well now but has many good years left in it, $24.95. And their newly released VQA 2004 Shiraz (Ontario grown) – is wonderful taste-wise – the nose has yet to find it’s way but the taste is awesome. This coming from the winery who brought you the wine of the year with it’s B.C. Shiraz (VQA), keep your eye on what is coming from JT and Shiraz – they know something and we’ll all benefit.

Chateau des Charmes continues to put out some great wine – their 2002 Estate Bottled Cabernet Merlot is wonderful (look for a full review in an upcoming newsletter); and their Paul Bosc and St. David’s Bench 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon also continue to turn heads. The have unearthed a few more bottles of the St. David’s Bench version (they are in limited re-release on the shelf) – otherwise that wine is completely sold out – so call the winery if you are looking for that one. Their newly released 2005 Gamay Noir ($11.95) is also quite lovely – good fruit flavours that you’d expect from this Beaujolais grape with some slight heft and good tannins, even without benefit of oak ageing. Finally, the 2005 Estate Bottled Riesling is wonderful … a special review is already on the website.

Reif also impressed with a 2004 Reserve Merlot ($23.95) that showed strong characteristics of Cabernet Franc, green pepper nose and taste, though a few hours of opening dissipated the powerful pepper on both the nose and taste to a dull roar. The mid-palate became sweet with hints of cherry and cloves … I think they have a winner with this one – though for the time being decanting is a must.

Pillitteri and icewine are becoming synonymous … their 2004 Sparkling Vidal ($60) comes in a half-sized “champagne” bottle and it tastes like icewine that tickles the tongue (with fizz) – and because of that it seems to dissipate the sweetness a little; which would seem hard to do with a wine that clocks in at 20 on the sweetness scale. Great golden colour, fine little bubbles, a light taste that lacks the kind of cloyingness you get from icewine and a great honey and apple finish. I am told that the Riesling version is even better – maybe next time.

Finally, Lailey Vineyard’s 2005 Riesling is wonderful, good apple and citrus. Winemaker Derek Barnett continues to impress with his dry Rieslings that will age a good 5 to 7 years. Though I tried one of his Southbroook 1994 Semi-Dry Rieslings (in 2006) and was blown away by its’ staying power – the fruit flavours were still there and so vibrant in the mouth, even a day after opening, and that 12 year old Riesling had no signs of going flabby any time soon. So I think Mr. Barnett may be a little conservative in his estimate for ageability.

Summing up the Season:

Well that does it again for another year at “Taste the Season” (which runs through to Nov. 25-26, tickets still available) – some great food, some great wine and a really fun day … if you don’t get a chance this year, take advantage of it next year, it really is worth the day – or the weekend if you want to do all the wineries. Thanks to the organizers and to Second Harvest, the charitable partner of this event, they help organize and sell the tickets and benefit from the wineries generosity. So if you’re not in it for the food and wine, remember it’s for a good cause – and that, if nothing else, will make you feel good about the day ... but I’ll bet the food and wine gets you too.

If you attended taste the season – and have a favourite food and wine pairing, a favourite wine, or just a really good story … let’s hear it. Log On … Log In … and Share.
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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Report from: Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Saturday Afternoon, Nov. 4, 2006

For a different perspective of the show I decided to attend in the afternoon (2:00pm) … the throng was gone, there was more elbow room, the moving around was easier, and exhibitors had more time to talk about their wares. Many who had been there before informed me that this is the calm before the storm, “by 5 o’clock it’ll be crazier than last night; this show is amazing.” I was also informed that they had sold out on Friday night and were turning people away at the door – not surprising considering the lineup I saw the night before – and Saturday should be no different. When I left the show for the day two hours later, the lineup was already forming – it was gonna be another busy, but fun, night.

So what kinda finds were found on day two of the Ottawa Wine and Food Show. On Saturday afternoon I decided to focus in on the “Cellars of the World 2006 – International Wine Competition” winners and medallists (a full list of which can be found at Canada placed extremely well in these competitions, let’s look at a few of the deserving winners.

Starting with the Gold Medal (outside of Canada) winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine (8.50-11.99)’ category, a delicious 2004 Mosseland Divinum Riesling ($11.95) with green apple aromas and citrus and apple on the taste … this wine ranks about a two-or-three on ye olde sugar code and is lovely. I tasted an array of Mosel and other regional German Riesling, but this one truly did stand out.

Back to Canada for the Gold medal winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine ($12 and over)’ category. Flat Rock Cellars continues to impress me and their 2005 Riesling ($16.95) is no exception. This wine is so true to Rieslings from Germany it’s amazing – wonderful exotic fruit nose with apple citrus tastes that linger in the mouth far longer than their German counterparts (which I had just tasted) – wonderful. I am told that their $19.95 Nadia Vineyards Riesling is even better; I’ll be off to the winery to try that one real soon and will report back to you on it.

Speaking of German wines and winemakers, Konzelmann (from Canada) told me a funny story about a lady who informed them she hated “that Canadian crap” but loved German wines – especially theirs. The sales rep proudly informed her that although their winemaker is German, the winery itself and the grapes they use are definitely Canadian – she slunk away quietly. But Konzelmann was not just sticking up for Canada at the show or “putting ignorant wine snobs in their place”, they took home a few awards themselves, the most impressive of which was their Gold for their 2004 Select Late Harvest Vidal ($22.95). Wonderful apricot, honey and pear on the nose with honey, pear, apple and cinnamon as it passes over your tongue – pure sweet enjoyment. A little pricey for a Late Harvest but very enjoyable – pick up a bottle for the holidays and enjoy it in front of the fire with friends.

Staying with the sweeties, a little place called La Face Cache out of Quebec was showcasing a wine they called “Neige” (snow). It’s an apple wine that they make in an icewine-style from Macintosh and Spartans. In a nutshell, the apples are picked in October and the juice is brought outside when it gets cold enough to freeze … thus crystallizing the water and leaving the pure sweet apple juice and sugars behind, which they then make the wine from. They have three varieties: stainless steel, oaked and December harvested (true to icewine standards) – made from special apples designed to hang longer on the tree. It is this (Frimas) that won best fruit wine in Canada at the recent Canadian Wine Awards from Wine Access Magazine and announced last month. Sounds like a must try (only the stainless steel Neige was available for sampling). They export their nectars to 16 countries – alas Ontario is not one of them (of course this is a play on words – being in Ottawa I thought it proper to make a political joke about Quebec wanting to be it’s own country). The LCBO has rejected them 3 times – I’d like to know why; this stuff is delicious.

Moving right along to the Silver Medallist of the ‘Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc ($12-19.99)’ category, Ironstone Vineyards 2003 Cabernet Franc ($16.95 – Vintages December 9, 2006) was much fruitier than expected, with good punch in the tannins department. Not your typical Niagara Franc, the green pepper is gone, replaced with red fruit, spiciness, nutmeg, cinnamon and oak flavours. This one is a must pick-up upon its release in December.

Time to move away from the medal winners to finds of the day. The wildly popular Perez Cruz winery out of Chile – who made a splash at the LCBO last year with their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (now a Vintages Essential) is releasing 3 Reserva Limited Editions in late November through vintages … namely a Carmenere, Cot (Malbec), and Syrah – each retailing at $24.95. I tried the Syrah ($24.95 - #589812 – Nov. 25 Vintages) and it was wonderful. Blackberries, cassis and smoke on the nose, with dark fruit, chocolate and pepper on the plate.

But the real find of the day was the new winery venture from Paul Boutinot – a Frenchman who now lives in England who got tired of the same old same old from France. In his opinion French wines were “old, tired and boring” and needed not only a facelift on the bottle, but a tastelift inside. And to boot, good dollar value for decent quality wine (in his opinion there was nothing between the Piat D’or and the hundred dollar bottles that spoke to any kind of quality). Mr. Boutinot now owns 6 wineries around the globe and has so far been able to place approximately 10 wines on the LCBO general list … all at very reasonable prices, all of good quality and taste. Here are a few of those stars that you can pick up today: Bin 233 Merlot (#21162) and Bin 15a Shiraz (#21154) both $10.95 and bottled with Stelvin Screwcap. While I stood at the booth sampling these wines, two ladies came along and asked “When did the French get into the Bin Business with their wines?” It was explained that after years of being poked at by the Aussies, Kiwis, and South Africans, France has poked back. The Bin on the labels are pictures of trash receptacles in Manchester, England with numbers painted on them … a subtle(?) slap at the Aussies quality? But the wine in the bottle is far from garbage. The Merlot has a bit of bite, but goes down smooth and easy, while the Shiraz is fruity and peppery with some spice mingled in – and there is also age potential for both – maybe 2-3 years. Chat-En-Oeuf (#21113 - $12.95) – picturing a cat sitting on an egg, with its tail hanging down (making the egg look cracked) – is of course a play on words and a jab at the French themselves. This Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault blend has good tannin structure with some delicious fruit and spices … making this one a real winner, that can be shelved for another 3-4 years; and is the only wine in the line under cork. The Bishop’s Selection Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (#665596 - $10.95) is also quite delicious with pepper and red fruit, made in a light quaffing style. Finally, my favourite of the bunch (for taste and label) was the $12.95 Lazy Lizard Shiraz (#21188) – this is a seriously fun wine … even the Lazy Lizard pictured on the front label is wearing sunglasses. The lizard is also in reference to the vineyards’ little residents who run around eating the harmful bugs that would otherwise destroy the grapes – thus reducing reliance on pesticides. This light, refreshing, smooth wine has the merest hint of perceived sweetness, although it is ranked at a zero, it tastes like a one – and at that price it’s a steal. As the hours ticked by the crowds began to return and the time I could take with representatives of the wineries got shorter – so I high tailed it out of there before the jostling began.

All in all I would say the Ottawa Wine and Food Show was a rousing success for visitors, exhibitors and organizers. With sell out crowds both nights, great wines and the enthusiasm showed by everyone involved, makes this show a must go for wine and food fans alike – maybe next year I’ll remember to partake in the food aspect of it.
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Friday, November 3, 2006

Report from: Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Friday Night, Nov. 3, 2006

So here I am, first time in Ottawa … ever. Some people come to see the parliament buildings, tour around, marvel at the centre of power in Canada, seek their fortunes or try their hand at becoming politically inclined. Some come to call their ex a dog, while others come to line their pockets through sponsorship scandals … me, I came for the wine.

What? Wine, in Ottawa? You bet. The 21st Annual Ottawa Wine and Food Show draws thousands of people and it’s getting bigger and better every year. “I love this show,” Ian Hanna, of John Hanna and Sons Ltd. told me. “The people, the atmosphere, it’s just great.” On the other side of the coin I heard, “Not the best show for selling our wine – it’s more pour and go, especially as you get later in the day … Toronto is better because it’s less busy … but it gets our name out there and I love this city, so I really have no complaints.”

So, you ask, Grape Guy, how was the show? In one word, busy. I arrived Friday night about 6pm and already the line-up outside was around the corner and into the parking garage. Inside the cacophony of people at times was deafening, the throng – bigger than I have ever seen at any wine show, even in Toronto. Is that because Toronto rents out a bigger venue? In fact, I think the 2 rooms at the Congress Centre make for a bigger space than the one room that held the last major Toronto show I was at; and the booth sizes range from the massive (Yellow Tail) to the very small (Vina MontGras). But all the big names are there: Ironstone; Gallo; Inniskillin; Perrin & Fils, Mott’s Clamato; the little names are there: Caroline Cellars; Lailey Vineyards; Featherstone; La Face Cachee; and all the countries are represented: France, the U.S., Chile, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Canada, etc. And apart from the ringing in my ears from the mass of people, the slow shuffle to get where you’re going, and the array of choice that’s enough to boggle the mind – everyone, and I do mean everyone, has a smile on their face and a glass in their hand (all except the Policeman who confirmed that this is not his favourite gig – understandably).

Let’s move on to the finds of the first night and tomorrow we’ll sample some of the winners from the competition held in mid-October. The first night was about soaking in the atmosphere and trying some of the interesting wines and finds.

Lately I find myself on a Zinfandel kick, so I made my way over to California, home of those massive fruit, massive alcohol Zins. It was once not unusual to find 15 or 16% Zins that ripped at the throat and needed steak to help cut them down to size; but today we find California’s winemakers have scaled back their Zinful ways and are now making lighter, more palatable and lower (14%) Zin. Like Gallo’s $9.90 general list Zinfandel; Rancho Zabaco’s Dancing Bull Zinfandel (general list $15.95); or Fetzer’s (general list $9.95). All fruit forward affairs that drink well on their own, but will suit more simple pasta and pizza dinners quite nicely. But when it comes to Zin some of my favourites are of the ‘old vines’ variety – less fruit per vine, more concentrated flavours per berry … and there were a few that caught my eye and sang on my tongue. The Reserve Rancho Zabaco ($19.95) soon to be in Vintages (maybe January ’07); Delicato’s ‘Gnarly Head’ 2005 Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.75) which will find it’s way to Vintages store shelves around April. The ‘Gnarly Head’ is crafted from 35-80 year old vines and has a cute little story about its name on the back label of the bottle. Both of these Zins are as you’d expect, fruit forward with a little more oak punch then their less expensive counterparts – especially the robust and oaky Zabaco, which will need a few years on its side to settle down. My favourite Zin of the night was from Ironstone Vineyards – this $16.75 2005 ‘Old Vines’ Zinfandel (Vintages – Nov. 11) goes beyond description, but if you’re a red Zinfandel fan, or plan to be one, this one will do it for you. And just in case you can’t put you hands on this limited release Zin, and are still looking for something special in a Zin, check out the Ravenwood Zinfandel ($19.95 – Vintages essential) – it’s always available and always very good.

Worried that I would spend my whole night in California I decided to move on and check out a few other parts of the world in search of different tastes. Like the new taste combo from Brick Brewing Company and Mott’s Clamato called “Red Eye”. A combination of specially brewed lager and Mott’s Original Clamato juice … quite unique and very interesting.

My final stop of the evening, as the room was getting busier and busier as the night wore on, was to Creekside, where I got my first taste of their new Laura’s Blend White (49% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Chardonnay, 3% Viognier) … the Laura’s Blend red is consistently one of my favourites so the white had some big shoes to follow in. This first time wine, and interesting blend (not seen often outside of Australia), is delicious, with great notes of grapefruit from the Sauv Blanc, fruitiness from the Chardonnay, with the Viognier adding that extra brightness to the fruity finish. I also tried a couple of young wines that will show well in a few years, like the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir ($30) – which needs a little more time in bottle, and the 2004 Reserve Shiraz ($29.95) from the St. David’s Bench area … great guts from the 50% new oak, and set for release in January of 2007 … but definitely not ready for prime-time, not yet anyway. This is also one that should be laid down for a while. Final wine of the evening was the 2004 Broken Press Shiraz (95% Shiraz, 5% Viognier - $32) – complete with interesting story. If not for the addition of the Viognier this one would also be tight, but the Viognier freshens the blend and makes it an interesting and welcome addition to the Creekside line of wines.

After all that tasting I went and had dinner at one of the local restaurants, and wouldn’t you know it – I left my souvenir glass on the table … guess I am going to have to go back tomorrow – shucks darn. Tomorrow we’ll taste some of those competition winners and see if they truly are worthy of their medals - until then goodnight.
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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Report from: Stoney Ridge Winemakers Dinner and Pre-Release - Oct. 25, 2006

At a recent dinner held by Stoney Ridge at Truffles Restaurant in Yorkville, they launched and previewed some new wines, showcased some older wines and talked frankly about what’s upcoming for Stoney Ridge. Now I would tell you about the great food served and the pairings with the wines, but I did not get the recipes, nor, I am sure, is Lora Kirk (chef at Truffles Restaurant) prepared to divulge her secrets about the succulent short ribs or delicious cauliflower soup. Suffice it to say the food was delicious. What I can tell you about are the wines.

We started the evening off with the 2003 Charlottes Chardonnnay (named after winery founder Jim Warren’s wife – both Jim and Charlotte were in attendance at the event). This is a magnificent unoaked wine (which is the way I seem to enjoy most of my Chardonnays, with some exceptions of course). Wonderful fruit flavours and a fruit driven nose that reminded me of a dry Riesling. At $24.95 it really is a bargain.

Moving right along, I’d like to start by praising the 2004 Founder’s Signature Collection Pinot Noir. Winemaker Liubomir Popovici told us that 2004 was not a particularly great year for Pinot, yet this one turned out beautiful and can only get better with a few more years in bottle. The nose showed typical Pinot characteristics: strawberry, earth, raspberry, truffle, black licorice, sour cherry and plum; with tastes that followed suit on a medium long finish and some great acidity giving the wine some length and backbone - making this wine the highlight of the night. Then Art Cole stood up and broke our hearts … “the problem with this wine,” he said, “is this is it, there isn’t anymore, we’re sold out.” If you were lucky enough to buy a bottle (or more) you can drink it now or hold onto it – but you have yourself an absolute beauty of a wine. If you’re like me and have none, this description is all we have left. Though the 2005 Founder’s Signature Collection Pinot Noir is on it’s way, in the spring of 2007, and Liubomir says 2005 was a great year for reds … more on that later.

Speaking of not much left, for dessert we were served a 1999 (barrel aged and fermented) Gewurztraminer Icewine. I’ve tried an aged Gewurztraminer Icewine before (a 1999 for that matter) and found that it had not aged well. The Stoney Ridge version has been aged in oak and has surprising staying power (which was the big difference from the one I tried from a different winery) … the wood seems to have made all the difference. Rusty in colour, mainly from the barrels, but I am sure the age also has something to do with it. There were notes of butterscotch, apricots and rusty apple on the nose; caramel apple the predominant taste, and with full mouth-feel and lasting finish this wine was an elegant end to the evening. 100 or so cases are heading overseas, so it you want some now’s the time to pick some up. After trying it, $59.95 didn’t seem like such a steep price for an aged icewine of this quality.

Switching gears; this year marks the first time Stoney Ridge tries their hand at making sparkling wine done in the Methode Champagnoise. 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, bottled in January 2006 and set for release in March of 2007 (just missing that precious Valentine’s Day mark). A fruity, yeasty, nutty nose is followed by good acidity, wonderful fruit and tiny playful bubbles that dance on the tongue. Fresh and delicious, a decidedly good first effort.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay. Now granted this is a pre-tasting and it will still be sitting in the barrel for another 6 months (for a total of a year and a half), but right now it’s closed with green and grassy notes along with a hint of oak on the nose. Everything just seemed muted and no matter how much air I tried to give it in the glass it did not want to open up. On the taste there is some typical oak and butter notes, but right now it is showing poorly. We’ll check back on this one in 6 to 8 months, after bottling and release. Here’s hoping Liubomir can finesse something out of this one.

Finally, let’s end on a high note. The 2004 Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Franc is stellar. Aged in French oak for 2 years, the wine shows incredible complexity on the nose: vanilla, cinnamon, cassis, oak and cherry, all wrapped up in a sweet, yet tannic oak blanket. The taste is a little tight but still shows signs of blackberry, cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, oak and plenty of tannin with a medium finish. A little pricey at $59.95, but it’s a wine that’ll age a minimum 5 years (Liubomir claims ten). Only 42 cases were made of this wine and it will sell out quickly, even at that price. As Liubomir said, 2004 was not a great year for reds in Ontario, and yet he has made this wonderful wine. I can’t wait to try the 2005 version.
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Monday, October 23, 2006

Report from: Port and Douro Wines Tasting - Oct. 23, 2006

Gloomy doesn’t go far enough in describing what the fall has been like, nor does rainy or cold, but on yet another gloomy, rainy and cold autumn day in Toronto, the intrepid, and myself congregated at the King Eddy hotel downtown to try some of the wines from the Port and Douro region of the world – otherwise known as Portugal … and I would have to say I came away with some pretty good finds that I am very happy to share with you … as well as remind you about some old favourites.

In a room set with 17 stations, we stumble around from table to table tasting white and red wines and white, red, tawny and ruby ports. Below you’ll find my selections from the day’s event:

Best Red Wine … hands down was the 2003 Callabriga Douro ($18.95 Vintages) from Sogrape. Callabriga is a blend of three grapes from the region: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional; with the nose and flavours of black fruit and fine tannin backbone … delicious for now or for ageing over the next 5+ years.

Best White Port goes to Foncesca ($12.95 LCBO #276816) a delicious little number that was light and seemingly refreshing in comparison to the much heavier red ports. Plenty of bright fruit flavours, but make no mistake, this is not “white wine” that you’d have with dinner, it’s sweet port, and truly delicious, something to consume before dinner as aperitif, or after, your choice.

Best Ruby Port was a toss up between Dow’s Fine Ruby ($14 LCBO #649715 – available all the time), which was nice and light with good fruity and nutty port flavours without the sweet sticky heaviness, and reasonably priced for its punch. While the limited edition Newman’s Celebrated Ruby ($14.95 – Vintages – available now) was quite impressive for the price … if you can’t find the Newman’s keep in mind that the Dow’s is available year round.

Best Red Port: Quinta de Noval Late Bottled Vintage ($23.95 LCBO #677815) sweet cherry and raisin flavours predominated in both nose and mouth – as was once said on a Simpson’s episode “there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited” – delicious doesn’t say enough for this one.

Now you probably noticed that the above mentioned “Best ofs” were all under $25, I like to think, and shop, in bang-for-the-buck, so to speak – when money’s no object there are other great ports to be had, both Vintage and non-vintage … let’s take for example the real star of the show, the Taylor Fladgate 40 year old Tawny (LCBO #540260) … this amber coloured liquid is like nectar from the God’s for port drinkers – nutty flavours intermingle with butterscotch and caramel leaving a deep long finish behind … price, a mere $239 per bottle, start saving your pennies. And I called this one Best Wallet Opener.

Still favourites after all these year: Croft Indulgence - Reserve Blend ($16.80 – LCBO #621904); Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve ($15.65 – LCBO #309401); Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2000 ($16.95 – LCBO #191239); and Warre’s Warrior Special Reserve ($15.95 – LCBO #170928). All red port, all well priced, all delicious for any occasion. Cheers.

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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Report from: Taste!, Prince Edward County - Oct. 7, 2006

On a beautiful fall afternoon, we traveled to Picton to check out the 5th Annual Taste! (a celebration of regional cuisine) Event. Prince Edward County has come a long way in the last few years. It has suffered some debilitating set backs, with freezing cold winters (-30 C) that killed many of their young vines resulting in many years of short crops. But persistence and patience has paid off and a majority of the wines shown at the event this year were a far cry from the wines I personally tried, and despised, just 2 years ago … those wines were barely passable, and some barely drinkable. 2 years ago I learned to spit wine properly in Prince Edward County. This year there was no spitting, just pure enjoyment, as “The County” finally begins to emerge from the shadows and begins to show that wonderful potential everyone was hyping about a few years ago.

This event is held at the Picton Fairgrounds at the east end of town. Spread out over the fairgrounds and inside the “Crystal Palace” pavilion. This year, 44 booths set up throughout the venue, with a variety of local foods, beers, wines and other things you’d expect to see at these events being showcased. The restaurants and boozeries paired foods with complementary drinks, and competitions were held to see who’s pairings worked best. A live band played in the main pavilion, adding atmosphere to the joint. I was told by Bob Tompkins, owner of Carmela Estates, that this year the weather finally co-operated, “in past years we’ve had nothing but rain and cold weather.” This year, 16 degrees, clear blue sky, and the sun shining down greeted the visitors to Taste! The weather pretty much encapsulates the way growers and owners are seeing the future of Prince Edward County; a new found vigor and hope – with the ’06 crop looking very good. Are the wine-Gods finally smiling down on them? As David Lawrason, of Wine Access Magazine, stated during his awards presentation, “after some harsh winters, the future looks bright for this bountiful harvest year.” Here’s looking forward to more great wines from Prince Edward County.

Below you’ll find a short list of some of my selections from the day.

Red Wine of the Day: Bella Vignes 2005 Leon Millot-Zweigelt.
From a winery barely in existence, Bella Vigne is from Del-Gatto Estates, and is sold through Black Prince Winery in Picton. Bella Vignes is run by Pat Del-Gatto, a third generation winemaker, who has been making wine “since I was 9, I started by helping my father.” Made from a French hybrid grape, Leon Millot, which is considered by Pat to “be the best of it’s three siblings” (Marechal Foch and Lucy Kuhlman); and Zweigelt. This particular blend won’t be seen, from this particular winery, for at least a few years, because after the vintage Pat pulled the Zweigelt out of his vineyard – but he is planning to plant more. This year he reports that his crop of Leon Millot “is looking very good”. 60 cases of the ‘05 were made and it has a beautiful nose and taste of red ripe cherries. The winery itself is currently under construction and should be ready in about 2 years, though the history of the Del-Gatto’s in the area goes deeper than that. For the past 5 years Del-Gatto and his wife have settled down in the County and been growing vines, after having shopped the world looking for the right place to plant roots. “We just fell in love with the area and the soil,” Pat told me, “we’re happy to be here.”

White Wine of the Day: Carmela Estates 2005 Terroir Twist.
“Norm Hardie will always be my winemaker,” Bob Tompkins told me, as I tried this Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling blend. Turns out the 2005 short vintage was even worse down in the county, so their winemakers had to get more inventive with their wines. Because there wasn’t enough grapes to make individual varieties of these wines – Norm blended them all together to make this unique wine. “We didn’t want to buy grapes” (besides in that vintage who was selling), “so we had to make due with what we had. And we wanted something all county.” Delicious and fruity with just a hint of sweetness – and if you pay careful attention you can pick out the influence of each individual grape.

Other wines of note from the day:

Domaine Calcaire Hillier Pinot Noirs were impressive, especially the 2004 Closson Pinot with notes of strawberry and earth on the nose and earth and fruit on the palate … “it’s not ready for release yet,” owner Dan Taylor told me, “because it’s still way too tannic.” But once you get through those chewy tannins you really see where this one is going. I know I’ll wait with baited breath on this one.

Norman Hardie 2005 County Cabernet Franc … a wonderful edition to Norm’s repertoire … keep your eyes open for my review in the newsletter.

Rosehall Run has a trifecta of great wines out right now. Their 2004 Top Barrique Chardonnay, made from 24 year-old vines grown in Niagara is dreamy, elegant, fully oak integrated and has wonderful flavours – look for a full review in the upcoming months. Their 2004 Buckthorn Red is 100% Zweigelt, grown in the county and is a light easy drinking affair. And the 2005 Sullyzwicker, this time 75% Riesling and 25% Ehrenfelser, all county grown, is even better than last years version.

Finally, two other wines that made the hit list … Sandbanks 2005 Cabernet Franc still shines (see newsletter # 38) and Huff Estates now sold out First Frost, their take on a late harvest Vidal is, or should I say, was, wonderful. Let’s hope we see it again next year.

The Irish Rovers said it best: “Wasn’t that a Party?” and yes the county had themselves one heck of a party … and it’s about time. I am not quite yet ready to throw the mantle that has been bandied about for a few years now, lauding PEC as “the next big thing” – but I do think they are getting ready to take it. I for one am not on the bandwagon, but I won’t let it pass me by either. See you next year, same weekend, same place.
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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Report from: The Chilean Wine Fair – Oct. 4, 2006

I like to call this venture “Checking on Chile” … another of my reports where I look in on other countries (“the competition”) to see what they’re doing. Now I’m sure you’ve read, somewhere on this site, that Chile is where my love for red wine started. I have never been to Chile, but would love to go (I’ll even squeeze into your suitcase if need be); but many years ago I was out for dinner with a friend, who claimed she loved Chilean Merlot, not wanting to appear daft or contrary I said I like them too. We each got a glass and my love for red wine, and especially with Chilean Merlot, began. So to attend this show was an enormous thrill for the palate.

Chilean wine is some for the best value wine you can find. It’s still one of the few countries still making top-notch wine for under $10, and some of the greatest deals happen between 10 and 15 dollars. Here are some of my top finds at this year’s show:

Best Value Wines: Chile is one of those country’s that really doesn’t have to worry about their weather, cause it’s pretty must the same every year, therefore they do not have to rank their vintages like we do here in Canada (or in France for that matter). This means that their consistency year-to-year is pretty much the same, but my palate still has to like it and I still pay close attention to the year on the bottle. Tarapaca has been one of those wineries that sits just below my radar, some of their wines are great, some are ust shy of excellent, while others are take it or leave it. That said, the two best value wines at the show were both from Vina Tarapaca, their 2005 Merlot: smooth, easy drinking, delicious yet still ageable, while their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is lovely and smooth with great red fruit and chocolate notes … both wines are a steal at $9.45 and $9.50 respectively. Having tried both the ’04 and ’05 of both wines (4 wines in total) those are my recommendations … so pay attention to the vintage date.

Other wines of note: I’ll start with the runner up for the best value wine, Cono Sur 2006 Pinot Noir is light and lively with a sweetness on the palate that is quite enjoyable ($10.95 – available now at the LCBO).

Best Packaging of the Day goes to Vina Camina Real Los Portones de San Francisco 2005 Merlot – it’s gonna be general list at the LCBO soon and retail for about $10.05 … you’ll recognize it by the burlap sack it’s wrapped in.

Vina Cousino Macul who consistently make great low end ($11 – $14 bottle) has a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend called Finis Terrae 2003 coming to Vintages at $24.70, which is worth the price.

Dropping down the price ladder: Vina La Rosa’s La Capitane Merlot has great chocolate notes and is available for $15.95 at Vintages now.

Vina Morande’s Vitisterra Merlot 2004 was the best Merlot of the day … a reasonable $17.95 and it should also be seeing LCBO shelves soon.

Carmenere has become Chile’s signature grape, so every winery makes at least one, but for my money some of the best wines are blends, which include this grape in the mix. From the northern part of Chile in the Lamari Valley, there’s Vina Tabali 2004 Espeical Red Reserva. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Shiraz (35%), Carmenere (9%) and Merlot (6%) great mouth-feel and taste, fabulous nose and it’s $21.95 price tag will seem like a steal once you lay it down for a few years and it matures. Finally, Vina Veramonte’s 2004 Primus ($20.00 - Carmenere/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) is quite impressive tasting, with some tannin that scream “lay me down”. This should see Vintage’s shelves around April or May. Alright, how about one last blend recommendation, with no Carmenere added: Via Wines, coming March 2007, have a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah blend that’s a perfect every day quaffer and at $12.95 you can make it you every day wine.

Chile continues to impress with good quality and reasonable prices; although with quality and recognition comes the inevitable price increase. But to raise prices from under $10 to $15 isn’t that huge a jump – I just hope it remains gradual. Chile remains one of the biggest competitors to our homegrown wines. I have heard on many occasions people ask “Why would I buy an Ontario Merlot for $20 when I can pick up a Chilean one for $12”, and I, instead of getting into some kind of socio-economic discussion, answer simply “personal taste”. What Yours?

If your interest in the wines and regions of Chile goes beyond tastings in your own backyard, check out this little trip being planned by fellow wine writer Edward Finstein:, click on the Special Events section.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Report from: Uncover Australia - Sept. 27, 2006

On Wednesday September 27, I attended the Uncover Australia Event at The MaRS Centre in Toronto, to find out what I could uncover about Australian wines. And man are the Australians doing it right – but I bet you already knew that because Canada has recently become Australia’s third largest export market; which means we Canadians are drinking a lot of Australian wine.

Over 70 wineries were on hand, pouring over 400 different wines, everything from Shiraz (as you’d expect) to Tempranillo (?) and Zinfandel (??) in reds and Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, Chardonnay in whites. The show was spread out over 2 levels and colour coded to help designate the different regions of Australia: New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Highlights of the show were as follows.

Best Value White: Redbank “The Long Paddock” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($12.80) available now at the LCBO in the general list section. Great grapefruit and gooseberry nose, low in acidity but with great tart and sweet fruit in the mouth. Like a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade (you know the ones they make at those summertime festivals in the big lemon stands), only better.

Best Value Red: Nepenthe 2004 “Tryst” Cabernet Tempranillo Zinfandel … at $13.95 it’s a steal for those who like their wines with some spicy nuances in both the nose and the taste. I’m told it will be available in Vintages come the new year, so keep your eyes open for it. Nepenthe is slowly becoming one of my favourite Australian producers. Their ‘Rogue’ was in the Vintages section a few months back and is a delicious blend of Cabernet-Merlot-and-Shiraz … we should see it again next year.

Other wines of note are:
The Banrock Station 2002 Reserve Petit Verdot ($18.95) – this one should be available in Vintages spring of 2007; not just a curiousity, but a very good wine for everyday occasions.
Speaking of being curious, for those curious about Australian Zinfandel there’s a wonderful Nepenthe version that was in Vintages these past few months, a little pricey at $24.95 but quite tasty. Keep checking back as the LCBO should be ordering more.
Pangkerra 2005 Grenache, which should see Vintages’ shelves come February 2007 and is priced reasonably at $18.95. It’s smooth and easy drinking and ready for consumption now.

Finally, there were two sweet wines that were absolutely stunning. Now I have to admit when I think of Australia I do not think about sweet wine. Where we here in Ontario make our most famous sweet wine based on the cold temperature (icewine) the Australians use Noble Rot (Botrytis affected berries) … those in the know, know that this makes a very intense flavourful wine when done right; if you do not know, I would suggest finding yourself some of these wines and really enjoy something special. First there’s the Wolf Blass 2004 Gold Label Botrytis Affected Semillon ($19.95) – sweet apricot and apple with a honeyed fruit finish … it’s available right now in Vintages. The second, and my favourite wine of the afternoon event, will be in Vintages February of 2007 for the same price as the Blass, but with more complex candied fruit and honey flavours. Lillypilly 2002 Noble Blend ($19.95) is 80% Sauvignon Blanc; 10% Semillon; 5% Muscat of Alexandria and 5% Riesling – all having been affected by Botrytis and the complexity of both the nose and taste is amazing. Unfortunately, totally indescribable unless you’ve tasted it, especially, in the confines of this small, but growing, article. The best things I can say are that it lingers long and luscious in the mouth … a wine remembered long after the last sip has been taken and the bottle totally consumed. Come February 7th you’ll be seeing me lined up outside the door of my local LCBO location first thing in the morning – it’s that darn good. I may not even share it with anyone.

Australia is doing some amazing stuff beyond the usual Shiraz and have been for years. You’ll notice in this report I did not mention any Shiraz’s; that’s because we all know the Australians are doing that right – it’s what they made their name from – I was interested to see what else they were doing right … and as this show showed, Australia is a lot more than just the one trick pony of Shiraz, a lot more.
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Thursday, September 7, 2006

Report from: Shores of Erie Wine Festival - Sept. 7, 2006

The weekend of September 7 thru 9 saw 12 wineries, and approximately 12 restaurants, get together to celebrate The Shores of Erie International Wine Festival ... what they lacked in size they made up for in fun and frolic - what a wonderful time.

The setting is Historic Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario, overlooking the Detroit river; and while I wouldn't jump in for a swim, the scenery, especially the sunsets (that set off colours of purple, orange and red) and the big ships passing by, made for an ideal setting to share a glass (or bottle) with friends and complete strangers ... who soon became fast friends. I shared a bottle of Merlot with some tough-looking biker-types from Lasalle (very close to Amherstburg I was told), who were not only some of the most wonderfully congenial wine lovers I have spent time with - but they were serious enough about their wine to bring their own glassware (Riedels, Spiegelau, Ravencroft, etc.).

On the wine scene, old guards like Carlo Negri, of Colio, poured his bold and brawny ’02 CEV Reserve Merlot to great acclaim, alongside new kids like Colchester Ridge, who’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot is wonderful to sip and savour. Restaurants served up everything from soup to nuts, egg rolls to decadent desserts, vegetarian fare to carnivore extravaganzas.

Chefs and guest speakers, of whom I was one, gave demonstrations and lectures to interested, small (about 50 people) on-lookers … while the bands on the main stage played cover tunes from the likes of Steely Dan, John Mayer, R.E.M. and countless other musical icons.

30 minutes of heavy rain Saturday afternoon forced people to take cover under the tents – where winemakers and restaurant staff made them feel welcome with more wine and food while they waited out the downpour. When it was all done, and the rain was just down to a spitting, all emerged to head back to the benches and grass to resume the party.

This annual event is sure to continue – I was very glad, not only to attend, but be a part of it. Next year, may I suggest making the trek down to enjoy this wonderful, fun-filled event, which will be celebrating year number 3 … bigger and better I’m sure.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Report from: Pelee Island, Sept. 6, 2006

So I ask you, have you ever been to Pelee Island? Truth is there ain’t much to do there, except maybe walk around, enjoy nature, have a glass of wine and slow down for a day or two; which is exactly what we did when a friend and I were invited over by the Pelee Island Winery to see the pavilion and the rest of the island.

We boarded the ferry in the middle of the afternoon on a late summer day in early September. We were lucky enough to get our car on what could have quite possibly been a packed ferry (this time of year sees a lot of winery machinery, that is needed to harvest the grapes, making the trek across); but lucky for us the grapes weren’t quite ready to be picked yet. So the winery cancelled their spots, making room for us. The ferry ride itself is about and hour and a half, and we sat on deck where the sun beat down on us and the largest flock of seagulls I have ever seen followed us at least half the way there.

We were greeted by Melissa inside the Pavilion, but before that we were greeted by some lush greenery and beautiful flora (unfortunately the visit did not provide much in the way of fauna) in the way of flowering plants, roses and bushes. The gardens at the pavilion are exquisite, and as you make your way to the front of the building you’ll see rows of grapes, clearly labeled, showing you the different varieties growing on the island: Riesling, Gerwurztraminer, and Chardonnay to Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. It’s interesting to see and touch the grapes that go into your favourite wine.

The Pavilion is a large open concept building – so you are walking into one large room, but there are a number of sections you can visit within. The tasting bar and wine shop are to your right and there are a variety of museum pieces about the place (most to your left) that chart the history of not just the Pelee Island Winery, but also winemaking in the area. Walking around was informative and enjoyable.

If you feel like lunch, take a break in the Pavilion’s back gardens and picnic area. Your meal is grilled up to your specifications, because you become the grill-master. In the courtyard there are a number of tables and BBQs. There are two stations clearly marked that you can visit: The “Deli Hut” – where you pick out your meats and cheeses to grill, your sides and your drinks; then it’s off to the “BBQ Hut” – where you take over one of the many grills that reside at the end of the courtyard. It’s a wonderful concept and a novel concept for guests to make their own lunch. When I asked Melissa why they organized it this way she said, “there’s not much else to do on the island, so you’d better learn to slow down – you’ve got lots of time.” Unless of course you’re trying to catch your ferry back to civilization.

I would recommend picking up a bottle of wine to enjoy with you meal. Currently the ‘05 Franc is a personal favourite. Grab some meat and kick back for a bit, it’s a nice way to get away from it all and surround yourself in a blanket of restfulness – too much of this would drive me to drink, but then again I would be in the right place for that too.
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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Report from: 2006 Vintage Tasting Viewpointe Estates, Harrow - August 12, 2006

I'm not sure where to begin this report because you could not have asked for a better day for an event, but let's start here. The day was beautiful, the location stunning, the wines were superb, the food looked delicious (because I was runing around tasting wines I forgot to eat - though I am told it was all delicious and plentiful). Under a tent overlooking the water behind Viewpointe we couldn't have asked for a better day - I don't even think there was a cloud in the sky ... the sun beat down on this exquisite affair.
All 14 wineries from the area were in attendance pouring their newest vintages that would soon hit their store shelves. Some highlights from the afternoon included: Wagner's Fire House Red (cherry wine); Spruce Shores soon to be released Pinot Noir; Smith and Wilson's Double Barrel - a blend of Cab Franc and Merlot; Sanson's always awesome Autumn Harvest Vidal - a steal at $10.95; Viewpointe's award winning Auxerrois; Erie Shore's exotic fruit tasting and citrus smelling 2005 Riesling ... along with scores of other great wines from this region.
Lake Erie North Shore continues to be a high point in the Canadian, and especially, the Ontario wine-world; and this event just highlighted that fact even more. Kudos to everyone involved.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Report from: Fiesta Buckhorn - 10th Anniversary - July 18, 2006

What a day ... I read the forecast in the morning and it said rain all day - my family in Toronto called me and chuckled slightly when asking me how the wine tasting is the rain was coming along ... but thankfully it was only them that got rained upon. Up in Buckhorn it may not have been the brightest and sunniest of days, but it was a beautiful day none the less. 89 (or so) exhibitors of beer, wine, food and other delights sampled their wares for all to taste and see. Another delightful year ... and they'll do all again next year, bigger and better ... but let's let the organizers catch their breath, for a little while anyway. I'll see you July 18-20, 2007.
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