Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pairing Wine and Indian Food at Pukka

Herb-infused chicken tikka at Pukka restaurant
Herb-infused chicken tikka
Pairing wine and Indian food isn’t easy. That’s one of the reasons Pukka’s wine program is so impressive – with co-owner Derek Valleau and top Toronto sommelier Peter Boyd working together to create something truly special and unique. Pukka hosts regular wine pairing events and their wine list is a top notch selection of wine options that work well with the array of spices and flavours that are the trademark of Indian meals.

And the food at Pukka – oh, the food. I was recently invited back for a blogger dinner to try out the new menu and was more than happy to attend. The general consensus at my table and in the room was that Pukka is one of the places in Toronto that is genuinely delicious all around.
Cocktails at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
There was a deep sigh of relief when we discovered that the beloved okra fries are still on the menu (and likely to remain there permanently due to their popularity), but there was so much new to discover.

While their wine program is top-notch, they have also recently developed a cocktail program that highlights fresh and natural ingredients. I was happy to be able to try a coconut martini, as there was no refined sugar in the drink.

2014 Vina Esmeralda Torres wine
We all dug into Tandoori calamari (a personal favourite), herb-infused chicken tikka and string chaat for our first course and paired it with the 2014 Vina Esmeralda from Torres, a white blend featuring Gewurtzaminer and Muscat. A rare wine from the region, it is very floral on the nose with peach, orange and tropical fruit notes. This unique mixture of flavours and acidity paired well with all the appetizer dishes, though I particularly liked it with the calamari.

2012 Vizcarra Senda del oro from Ribera Del Duero
The second course was the boatman’s fish and prawn curry, pumpkin curry, Punjabi chicken and beef short ribs (which I didn’t try). For this course, Peter selected a red wine, the 2012 Vizcarra Senda del oro from Ribera Del Duero. This medium-weight red worked quite well. I’m told it was best with the beef short ribs, which makes sense, but I thought it was a good weight and just bold enough to pair well with the curry and strong spicing in all these dishes.

Tandoori calamari at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
Tandoori calamari
Choosing wines that work so well with Indian food isn’t easy, so I wanted to ask Peter more about how he made his selections. He admits he’s learned a lot in the two years he’s been working on the wine program at Pukka. “Most of the learning was about structure, I'd say. I came in knowing that the food variations would require wines with loads of fruit, and that played out as I knew it would,” he says.

“But I assumed that high alcohol wines would be more of a problem with spice levels. As I became more familiar with the kitchen's output, I realized my fears were unfounded as they weren't pushing the limits, chili-wise. So, modern, 14-plus per cent New World wines fit in more easily than I first imagined. Still, the 'gotcha' moment came with Rhône Grenache. Fruity, yes, but not especially dense and full-bodied (despite moderately high alcohol), Grenache was a surprise supplied by Derek, and it really works.”

String chaat at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
String chaat
When diners come to Pukka, they may initially be thinking about beer (or one of the excellent cocktails on offer). Beer is the traditional drink to pair with Indian food, given how difficult it can be to find a wine that works well with all the different flavours and spices. For Peter, getting patrons to take a chance is the first step. “My advice would be to step outside your comfort zone, your usual ruts. Ask for some assistance - and ask for the most qualified person currently on duty to help you with wine,” he says.

 "The whole world seems to be trying to 'curate' every minute of their existence. Remember that it's one night, one meal, one small bit of discretionary income. Take a flyer, a night off from chasing perfection, and remember that we all learn a boatload more when we are wrong, or when things aren't perfect,”  he says.

This is great advice, which has served me well in my own wine journey, as taking a chance is all part of the magic of the wine experience.

Pumpkin curry at Pukka restaurant in Toronto
Pumpkin curry
At Pukka, thankfully, there are many skilled staff to help with wine pairing decisions and frequent event nights where patrons can come in and learn about how to pair Indian dishes with wines from various regions. These are great opportunities to learn and Peter is already planning a busy 2016 schedule.

“I'm looking forward to more dinners and wine dinner themes,” he says. “I can't get too weird with themes at this point because we are trying to fill spaces at the tasting table but it's always fun to explore the outer limits, bring new wines to the table! Most of all, I'm looking forward to new dishes from the Pukka kitchen. We already have some customer faves that can't be taken off the menu for fear of revolt, but new stuff is always fun and mind-expanding. At last night's dinner, they produced a spinach and fig tikka that was outstanding! I hope it makes it to the regular menu.”

Pukka is truly one of my favourite places to eat in the city and I can’t wait to return. Thank you to the staff for the opportunity to enjoy this media dinner and to Peter Boyd for answering my many questions.

You can learn more about Pukka on their website and visit their events page to find out about the next wine and food pairing event.

For more blog reviews from the dinner at Pukka (which focus much more on the food than the wine) check out these great posts from some of my favourite bloggers:

The Yum Yum Factor
Libby Roach 
KiKi's BFF

*While my meal was complimentary, my opinions are most-definitely my own.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Wine on Tap – Learning about FreshTAP

Wine on tap wine taps
I’ve written about wine on tap a number of times on the blog. It’s one of those trends I hope becomes the norm at restaurants across Canada. Why? Because it’s environmentally friendly, you are always assured of a fresh pour and it makes good economic sense.

And with FreshTAP coming to Ontario, the opportunity to have local wine on tap has expanded greatly. This is a way to keep local wines cost-effective for restaurants and for patrons – something I’m definitely in favour of.

With wine on tap there’s zero waste when it comes to wine—there’s never a need to throw out a bottle that’s been open too long, nothing is ever corked and the wine is always fresh. The kegs, which hold the equivalent of 26 bottles, are good for 20 years and the program ensures that they are cleaned to the highest standards using a 15-stage sterilization program, and installed using exacting specifications.

Vineland Estates Winery in NIagara
Vineland Estates
I recently had the chance to talk to Allan Schmidt of Vineland Estates, who has been instrumental in bringing wine on tap to the province. Vineland Estates was actually the first winery in Ontario to make wine on tap a priority and they are leading the charge with FreshTAP. Allan had seen the process in Manhattan and was impressed with how it was being used for even very expensive wines. After looking into it more, he realized it was a great fit for Ontario.

“The slogan sums it up,” he says. “Smarter, fresher friendlier. It’s smarter because it reduces restaurant costs, fresher because it reduces the chance of oxidized wines normally associated with wine by the glass programs, and friendlier because of the waste reduction for the restaurant and the planet.”

The wines available on tap at a recent event
Restaurants are already excited about the prospect, as it makes service easier for them and is a cost-effective option. And Ontario wineries have been signing up quickly. The laws in Ontario mean that only VQA wines can be served on tap, but so far that hasn’t affected interest from wineries.

For Fielding Estates Winery, wine on tap works well. “FreshTap is a great system for both wineries and licensees that have invested in the system,” says Fielding winemaker Richie Roberts.  “On our end it’s a great alternative to traditional packaging because the wine tastes exactly as it does coming from tank. Even as the wine level in the keg gets lower, it’s well protected by a layer of inert gas, the exact same as when we work with large-scale tanks in the winery.

“Customers get to taste the wine exactly as we intended, without any risk of faulted wines from closure issues or a bottle being open for too long,” he continues. “In addition, we eliminate almost all the packaging associated with traditional wine bottles. The keg is returned after use, sanitized, and used again. This reduces both the shipping weight and amount that is recycled. From a restaurants’ perspective, wines on tap are a great alternative to having bottles kicking around for by-the-glass pours. Wine stays fresher longer, there is never any wasted wines, and the packaging takes up much less space behind the bar. Restaurants that we are working with are extremely happy with the results, which is encouraging for both FreshTAP and Fielding. Personally, I‘d love to see wines on tap continue to grow.”

And while most of the wineries currently signed up for FreshTAP are from Niagara, Allan sees the program expanding to include other wine regions very soon. “We have already had enquiries from Prince Edward County,” he says. “However, this year there is a shortage of wines available due to the cold winter damage from the last two years.” 

And for those who worry that wine on tap will be coming out of beer taps, fear not. The system is designed to be wine friendly and taps are set up using a completely different set of standards. A restaurant can’t simply use wine kegs in their beer system – FreshTAP is created specifically for wine and installed by a team that ensures quality is paramount. They know if the system is set up poorly and the wine doesn’t taste great, the program can’t be successful.

There are also only certain wines that will work for kegging. Since wines don’t age or develop in kegs, they have to go in at the exact time they are ready for drinking. That eliminates some wines as good options for the program, but ensures we will always keep up the tradition of aging amazing reds and other special wines in bottles.

“All wines benefit from storing in stainless kegs, just like a winemaker stores them at the winery,” says Allan. “But aromatic white wines retain their youthful fruit forward style far longer in a keg then in a bottle exposed to air ullage.”

With more than 100 restaurants currently adopting the program, it looks like this is a trend that’s here to stay. I’m definitely hopeful and looking forward to seeing more wine on tap programs offering VQA when I’m out for dinner.

Have you tried wine on tap? What did you think? Want to try it? You can find venues serving wine on tap here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Station Cold Brew Coffee Cocktails

Station Cold Brew and Jameson
Over the summer, Shawn fell hard for Station Cold Brew Coffee. While I gave up coffee in January, he remains a connoisseur. So when he tried Station’s cold brew and Jameson Irish Whisky combo at the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival, he was hooked.

Since then, he’s become a regular drinker of Station’s all-natural and Canadian made cold brew. We buy the coffee concentrate and keep a jug in the fridge. Even with fall’s chill moving in, cold brew is still on the menu. He prefers it for mid-day sipping and with no bitter aftertaste and less acidity than most coffee, it’s an overall smoother experience.

He also spent some time this summer experimenting with cold brew coffee cocktails. These were perfect for cottage sipping and remain great cold weather alternatives. Here are some of his fun experiments:
Station Cold Brew Coffee and Bailey's

Station Cold Brew ready to drink coffee and Baily’s: Approx 5oz to 1.5oz Baily’s or to taste, ice (Vanilla and Cinnamon Bailey’s used here, any type is fine).

Station Cold Brew coffee concentrate, Grand Marnier, whisky and milk: 2oz coffee concentrate, 4oz milk, 1oz each Grand Marnier and whisky.

Station Cold Brew Coffee Cocktails

“Iced Irish Coffee” – Station Cold Brew ready to drink coffee and whisky topped with whipped cream.

Station Cold Brew Coffee
He advises playing around with either the coffee concentrate or the ready-to-drink option to create versions that meet your own tastes.

And let’s say you’re looking for a hot coffee option for a cold winter day?

Matt Jones, whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory, offered a few great tips.

Canadian Club Maple Whisky“Bourbon and coffee go well together, Canadian Club Maple as well. Just add a dust of cinnamon and nutmeg here and there, whipped cream, and even make a bourbon vanilla whip cream. So many ways to go. There is also Bourbon/Canadian Club Maple Frappé, which is just shaken coffee with our whiskys and cream over ice,” he says.

Are you a cold brew fan? Or you prefer your coffee the traditional way? Do you have a coffee cocktail you love? Share it in the comments or on social.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

An Affordable Red Wine Round-up

Colio Estate's Hat Trick 2014 Cabernet Merlot
As the weather turns cooler, many people start to gravitate towards bigger, bolder reds. I confess that I drink white (and rosé) all year round, since it’s all about what wine goes well with what we’re eating. But I do find there are nights when a glass of red wine feels like a chunky knit sweater – perfect for fall.

So what have Shawn and I been drinking so far this season? Here’s a red wine round-up of some wines you might want to consider for affordable fall sipping.

Root: 1 – 2013 Carmenere – Colchagua Valley
Root: 1 – 2013 Carmenere – Colchagua Valley – This wine was recommended by one of my favourite wine lovers, Kari Macknight Dearborn (@slowoeno)It’s a reasonably-priced Carmenere from Chile that's bursting with red fruit and spice. For $13.95, it’s a great price-point and Shawn and I have been finding it an easy go-to for the hearty and earthy meals we love in the autumn or even just when we want a glass at the end of the day.
Colio Estate Wines 2013 Hat Trick NHL Alumni Cabernet Merlot
Colio Estate Wines – 2013 Hat Trick NHL Alumni Cabernet Merlot – Ontario – Pairing up with the NHL Alumni Association, Colio Estate Wines has scored a wine that will appeal to hockey fans across Canada. This is an easy-drinking, relaxed wine that has big red fruit flavours and a hint of vanilla. While I probably won’t break this big, bold red out for fancy dinners, I would definitely have it again for a relaxing evening in. Shawn and I both liked Hat Trick more than we expected and I suspect he may request it again for Hockey Night in Canada viewing. At $14.95 it’s highly likely I’ll agree.

Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz
Jacob’s Creek – Double Barrel Shiraz – South Australia – Red wine finished in aged whisky barrels? I went into this tasting thinking I was going to be drinking something with a smokiness brought on by the barrel age, but I was completely wrong about that. I tried this at an event put on by iYellow Wine Club, which meant I got the chance to talk to Jacob’s Creek representatives about the wine and what aging it in whisky barrels actually achieved – turns out, it’s got much more to do with texture than taste. This tasted like a Shiraz that had been aged far longer than it actually had. It’s very drinkable right now, with the tannins at a much more subtle stage. While I got a few smoky notes on the nose, that didn’t play out at all on that palate, instead I got lush strawberry, dark chocolate and dried spice notes. It was the smoothness and mouthfeel, which they attribute to first aging the wine in French oak before moving it to Scotch whisky barrels for finishing, that really impressed me. For $19.95, this is a good value red worth checking out.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery 2011 Merlot
Golden Leaf Estate Winery – 2011 Merlot – Norfolk County – When we visited the wineries of Ontario’s Southwest this summer, I was excited to see so much vinifera. At Golden Leaf Estate Winery, I was particularly impressed with their Merlot, which was well-balanced and full of bold flavours. While the vines in this region are still relatively young, wines likes these make it clear that in the right hands they can produce very good reds. This one is winery only and retails for, I believe, $19.95. Certainly worth it to see how a local producer is putting his own stamp on Merlot.

Montecillo Crianza 2010 Tempranillo Rioja

Montecillo Crianza – 2010 Tempranillo – Rioja A good food wine, this 2010 Tempranillo from Spain had cherry, plum, menthol and smoke on the nose with some chocolate notes on the palate. Shawn and I had this on a cool evening at the cottage and were wishing we'd opened it with the steak he made on the barbecue instead. Lesson learned. Available at the LCBO for $14.95.

Angel’s Gate Estate Winery 2011 Mountainview Pinot Noir
Angel’s Gate Estate Winery – 2011 Mountainview Pinot Noir – Beamsville Bench – The biggest splurge on this list, Angel’s Gate Winery’s 2011 Pinot Noir is well-worth it at $26.95. Complex, well-balanced and beautifully structured, this wine is layered with nuanced flavours. With earth and smoke mingling with cherry and spice on the nose and a lovely, medium body weight, this is a great option for when a lighter red wine is called for. The finish is medium-long and it has a nice subtle cherry and spice combo on the palate. If you’re looking to spend a little more for a very high-quality wine, this is my pick. Available at the winery or order online (I recommend a winery visit, as it’s one of the prettiest places in Niagara).

Do you have a red wine pick for the season? Share it in the comments or on social.

* Some of these wines were received as samples or tasted at events, others I purchased. Either way, opinions are all my own.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Chef Dez - Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque - Food Pairing Friday

Chef Dez
Chef Dez - Photo Provided
When I was working in the music industry, one of my favourite projects was partnering with Chef Dez on a series of country music recipes. Dez is a fabulous chef with a sense of fun and a lovely spirit and his recipes captured the spirit of some of Canada's best county artists. A culinary instructor and food columnist, Dez has competed on Chopped Canada and hosts a series of culinary travel experiences across the U.S., which I highly recommend checking out. 

I was thrilled when he agreed to participate in my Food Pairing Friday series with a delicious sweet potato bisque recipe that's not only hearty, but healthy too. This is a perfect recipe for this time of year and just what you need to warm you up well into the winter - I think his pairing suggestions are spot on too.

Shawn and I are thinking this would be a great option for cool fall evenings and as a starter at the big Christmas dinner we always share with our families.

Cooking with Chef Dez - Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque

The autumn season brings cooler weather and transforming leaves. It earmarks the beginning of how our vision of food and celebration starts to change. With the dog days of summer behind us, we are no longer as worried about our bathing suit images, and the calendar lineup of commemorations are welcoming us with open arms. For many, this means indulgences in comfort foods to warm the soul, satisfy our hunger, and highlight the gatherings of family, friends and loved ones.

Eating is a huge part of the social aspect of our lives, but this does not always have to signify an abandonment of healthy choices. There are many ways to pacify our desires with foods that are still very nutritious, without leaving us feeling void of pampered appetites.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque is the perfect recipe to accomplish this. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene (recognizable from their orange colour) and are high in vitamins A and C. Their moist sweet texture is ideal for mimicking richness, when in fact there is no added fat in this recipe whatsoever.

Many are confused by the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and this is due to the misinterpretation of the North American grocery industry. Sweet potatoes have orange coloured flesh, while yams are starchier, less flavourful, and have paler flesh. The names here are usually mismatched with each other, but in Europe, for example, the names are assigned accurately.

The steaming process of the diced sweet potato, instead of boiling, is important. Boiling of potatoes, or any vegetable, will cause nutrients to be lost in the discarded water, and the boiled product will take on excess water. Water has no flavour and thus will hinder the taste of the final product. Steam is hotter than boiling water and will provide faster cooking times without being as invasive.

Although this soup is great served as a meal itself, it is a remarkable first course to introduce a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey, cranberries, and all the trimmings. The addition of nutmeg and cloves gives it a warm earthiness and highlights the incredible natural flavour the sweet potato has to offer. The elegance of the presentation is heightened when beautifully garnished with swirls of sour cream and a sparse scattering of freshly chopped parsley. With the autumn air surrounding us, this soup will help to soothe our cravings of comfort food while helping us watch our waistlines… at least with the first course!

The perfect wine pairing for this soup is a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling with a sweetness code of 1 (or 2 if you so desire). The touch of sweetness in these fragrant white wines goes divinely with the characteristic flavour of the sweet potato, but it also offers diversity. If you were using this soup as a first course to a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey & cranberries, these wines would continue to compliment the rest of the meal as well.

With the recommendation of these wines, I would like to pass on a tasting tip. Traditionally white wines are supposed to be served chilled, however this does not mean ice-cold from the refrigerator. A glass of white wine should only have a slight chill to it, as the cold temperature actually hinders the flavour complexity. The closer it is to room temperature, the more fragrant and intricate the wine will become.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez
Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez - Photo Provided

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez

Makes approximately 6 portions as a first course

1kg orange sweet potato, peeled, diced 1cm
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
3 to 4 cups skim milk

For Garnish
1/4 cup no-fat sour cream
1 tbsp skim milk
Fresh parsley, finely chopped

1.    Steam the diced sweet potato over boiling water for 20 minutes until fully cooked and tender.
2.    Discard the water, and place the cooked sweet potato into a heavy bottomed pot, off the heat.
3.    Add the brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and white pepper to the sweet potato and combine thoroughly with a potato masher, ensuring no lumps.
4.    Once fully mashed, start adding 2 cups of the skim milk slowly while continuing to mash with the potato masher. Switch to a whisk, turn the heat to medium, and blend in the remaining 1 to 2 cups of skim milk (depending on how thick/thin you want it), mixing thoroughly.
5.    Stir occasionally over medium heat until completely heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
6.    While soup is heating, combine the sour cream with the tablespoon of milk.
7.    Portion the soup into bowls and drizzle small amounts of the sour cream mixture on each portion. Drag a toothpick back and forth across the surface to create a beautiful design.
8.    Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Many thanks to Chef Dez for sharing this with us! I hope it inspires you to visit his site for more recipes and food insights. Do you have a favourite fall/winter recipe? Share your favourite pairings in the comments or on social.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Quai du Vin Winery’s Jamie Quai – Winemaker Profile

Jamie Quai of Quai du Vin Estate Winery
On our recent visit to Ontario’s Southwest, Shawn and I had the pleasure of stopping in at Quai du Vin Estate Winery, where we were impressed with the beautiful grounds and the enthusiasm of winemaker Jamie Quai. It was hard not to be taken in by his sheer passion for making wines in the region.

And the wines he makes are quite interesting – a mix of vinifera and hybrids that are very expressive of the region and tailored to meet the needs of his clientele. I was happy to pick Jamie’s brain a little further about why he makes wine and what influences his winemaking choices. I hope you'll enjoy my latest winemaker profile.

Why did you decide to become a winemaker? What do you think drew you to the profession?

I'm at the beginning of what I hope will be a trend of second generation winemakers, grape growers and vignerons. The Ontario industry is so young that quite a few of the pioneers of the modern industry are still active. I had the good fortune of actually growing up in the vineyards. This was not a career I came to after too much searching.

Quai du Vin Estate Winery in Ontario
To be more specific; I decided this was the career direction I was going to take somewhere around grade 11 or 12. As it turned out, language classes were not my strong suit, I had no talent for music or art, and several wise guidance counselors pointed out that there was “little future in history.” It turned out that I loved and thrived in mathematics and the sciences. Ultimately, it was the realization that a job in wine would let me be a working scientist that drew me into the family business.

Truth be told, I disliked this industry as a young person. To me a winery was where my allowance came from, summer jobs, etc. On top of that, I saw the daily challenges, not the romance. Imagine being a child in a world that doesn't deal with children (under 19 at least). Imagine not being able to wear your family business shirt at school because it promotes alcohol, or not being able to go with your parents to “take your kid to work day.” I really had to near adulthood before I felt drawn to the industry. 
Quai du Vin Estate Winery
How have you found making wine in Ontario's Southwest? What unique challenges do you face because of the terroir?

I love making wine in the North Shore of Lake Erie and Ontario`s Southwest. I describe it to students I've taught at CCOVI (Brock University) as “frontier winemaking.” After over a decade of vintages in a frontier region, I have a difficult time imagining what I would do with the relative comfort of being in an established region. Not to minimize all the hard work of those vignerons in an established region, but there is a whole different level of challenges that one faces as a frontier winemaker.

Here's a relatively benign example of what I mean to illustrate my point: There are no major winery supply companies within a two hour drive of my farm. That means harvest needs must be planned out thoroughly when you are frontier winemaking. One cannot simply pick up that replacement part, or yeast or aid on the way from home to the winery.

When it comes to challenges of terroir, the biggest issue we in Ontario's Southwest contend with is our own expectations of what is “normal” for Ontario. What we, as an industry, take as terroir gospel, is based on the whims of Lake Ontario (makes sense since that’s where the action is). Both Niagara and Prince Edward County terroir are driven by Lake Ontario. Despite both being Great Lakes, and the relative proximity of our regions to each other we must always remember that Lake Erie is not Lake Ontario.

Our season tends to start later than Niagara, our autumns tend to be warmer (on average). We’ve, anecdotally, had less issues with spring frost. There tends to be much greater seasonal variability from one vintage to another (our highs are high and our lows can be low). If we based our grape growing tasks around what Niagara growers are doing that day, we would fail miserably. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been on Twitter or Instagram and seen colleagues doing tasks weeks ahead of where our vines are developmentally. None of our challenges are unique – it’s just about perspective.

One great thing about our terroir, relative to Niagara, is that because of our similar continental climates and our delayed start to the season, Niagara tends to see disease outbreak first. They are my canary in the coal mine for mildew and pest pressure.   
Vineyards at Quai du Vin Estate Winery

What do you think has been your best vintage thus far?

I’ve been making wine professionally my whole adult life. I break vintages into two categories: vineyard vintages and cellar vintages.

I’m going to exclude the obvious vineyard vintages from my mind (2004, 2007, 2010, 2012). Those were tremendous years for us, but I’ve started to think that those wines were mine to (potentially) screw up. Absolutely anyone could make great wines in those years. They were too straightforward to be my best (it may be semantics, but I’m differentiating between THE best and MY best).

I’ve come to really respect the cellar vintages. One of the pillars of quality is consistency. And a winery that can make consistently great wines, even in off-years (because of their great team), is where consumers should put their money. Cellar vintages need extra coaxing, and more and more they need patience. Off years take longer to show their true potential.

After thinking about this question for a while, and I think my best vintage would be 2011 (It was a toss up with 2008). 

What grapes do you think grow best in Ontario's Southwest and why?

Being part of a multi-generational wine business has given me some great lessons on what potential Ontario’s Southwest has to offer. Odds are, we’ve tried it, or know someone who has.
I see my role in the timeline, to narrow down some of the varietals we grow and put energy into helping realize the grapes fullest potential.

Here are four grapes that I see as the foundation of our region, and three that I have difficulty imagining as cornerstones of Ontario’s Southwest - these are only in the order they occur to me, by no means ranked.

  • Riesling. This grape just has it all. It has shown itself to really thrive in our soils, with our winters, and in our growing seasons.
  • Chardonnay. Definitely on the leaner side. This grape has proven itself, though some work by vignerons is needed to help the wines best express themselves. 
  • Cabernet Franc. It does very well in our winters, we get the heat to ripen it properly. Much like Chardonnay, this grape just needs a little coaxing to realize its fullest potential. 
  • Hybrids (a cheat since its more than one grape). We have vines dating back to the early 1970s of Vidal, Seyval, and newer plantings of Foch and Baco Noir that are creating some truly fantastic every day wines. These wines are responsible for some of the strongest brand loyalty we enjoy. I lose more sleep over Vidal then I do over Chardonnay almost every year
On the con side:
  • Pinot Noir (blasphemy, I know). We’ve tried it here and I’ve had lots of examples throughout the region. Many were tasty, most were good, none were great, and the word exceptional isn’t even a descriptive consideration. I don’t think this area is the best place for Pinot Noir in the province. And that disheartens me as a Pinot lover.
  • Sauvignon Blanc. Our winters just get too cold.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. This goes back to the highs and lows comment earlier. I only see great potential in Ontario’s Southwest Cabernet Sauvignon maybe three of every 10 years. Those three are amazing, but one really has a challenge building a brand on that level of success.

2014 Maple Dessert Wine at Quai du Vin Estate Winery
What advice do you have for those hoping to pursue winemaking in Ontario?

Be a well-rounded person. Having taught at Brock University for almost 10 years now, I can say almost without fail, those who have succeeded in this industry were well-rounded people. That means being: intelligent, practical, friendly, worldly, possessing strong communication skills, strong work and personal ethics, being literate, possessing some humility, having interests outside of wine, and being open to the possibility that you could be wrong.

Centuries ago, a general would lead their army into battle. The soldiers drew strength from seeing their leaders. It’s only a recent affectation of battle that the general is out of harm’s way behind the theater. Find a winery whose leaders rally their teams in person, and learn from them. Find leaders who are the first one there and the last one out, and learn from them. Find a winemaker who is willing to walk into their tasting room to answer even the simplest customer question, and learn from them. You learn more about winemaking by working alongside great leaders, than you ever do from a drop-in consultant, elusive boss, or detailed work order.

Thanks so much to Jamie for this open and candid remarks about what it’s like to be a winemaker in one of Ontario’s emerging regions. Want to try his wines? You should! You can visit him at Quai du Vin Estate Winery in Ontario’s Southwest.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Wine and Cocktail Ideas

Casillero Del Diablo 2014 Malbec and The Famous Grouse Scotch
Halloween is one of our favourite holidays and Shawn and I are always up for some spooky fun. This year, we’ve already participated as ‘running bandits’ at the Monster Dash 5K and we’re planning to spend October 31st with the lights out watching horror movies.

So what wine pairs best with horror movies? Sparkling, of course! Nothing goes better with salty popcorn than a crisp, dry sparkling wine. But Halloween offers lots of great wine options – you can add some real flair to your vampire costume by pairing it with a blood red wine in a suitably spooky goblet.

Casillero Del Diablo 2014 Malbec
We may just crack open the Casillero Del Diablo 2014 Malbec I recently received as a gift as our Halloween wine this year. The devilish logo has Halloween night sipping written all over it. Have you tried it? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Want something a little sweeter for your Halloween treat? Consider this delicious Scotch-based cocktail Shawn and I recently tested. Wait, did I just suggest Scotch in a sweet cocktail? You bet I did – and your party guests will definitely be impressed by this pumpkin-pie-in-a-glass goodness.

Since I’m still off sugar, I had to skip this one, but I did have fun watching Shawn shake it up and I confess to stealing a sip for taste-testing purposes. What a surprise – this is not-too-sweet and perfect for fall sipping.

The Famous Grouse Scotch Pumpkin Pie Martini
Made with Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky, we subbed the pumpkin pie filling (not something we keep on hand) for pure pumpkin and half tsp of organic brown sugar. We also used 2% organic milk instead of half & half to make a slightly healthier version. Either way, it was well-worth the effort.

Famous Pumpkin Pie Martini
1oz Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
4 tsp pumpkin pie filling
1oz apple juice
0.5oz half & half cream
0.25oz maple syrup
2 dashes cinnamon
Combine ingredients in a shaker tin with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with fresh grated nutmeg.

The Famous Grouse Scotch Halloween Cocktails

Looking for other options? Canadian Club and Jim Beam sent me some spooky cocktail recipes you can shake up to impress your guests.

Ogre's Brew
1oz Canadian Club 100% Rye
0.5oz Bols Blue Curacao
4oz orange juice
Shake with ice (turns bright green!)
Strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice
Garnish with gummy worms

Dancing with the Devil
60 mL Jim Beam® Devil’s Cut® Bourbon
30 mL Triple Sec Liqueur
30 mL fresh lemon sour
30 mL passion fruit juice
2 dashes Tabasco® Sauce
Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry

What will you be serving this Halloween? Do you plan to go with wine or cocktails? And have you ever had a Scotch cocktail? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments and on social.

While I received a sample of Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky to try in this cocktail, all opinions are my own.