Monday, October 27, 2014

Bywoods Restaurant

I always love discovering new restaurants, so when I was invited to a blogger dinner at Bywoods (760 St. Claire Avenue West), I was excited to take part. 

Bywoods opened in May and they specialize in Mediterranean cuisine, they also have a wine list that is evolving to include more VQA wines - always a good thing. The list on the night I visited included Sandbanks and Angel’s Gate wines, alongside an international selection. They assured me, however, that the plan is to increase the number of local wines on offer. With locally grown ingredients a staple on their menu, it only makes sense to have more local wines available to go along with those. I look forward to hearing more about this and trying some VQA on my next visit.

At this meal, the cocktail on offer was The Bywoods, a gin, organic rosemary, lemon juice, sugar & club soda combo. I really enjoyed it and would love it if they were able to use Dillon’s excellent gin to continue the local theme. Just a thought!

For dinner, they were fantastic about managing my food restrictions (I don’t eat red meat). The chef even made a portion of the prosciutto pizza vegetarian so I could indulge. It was delish – covered in fresh arugula and very light and fresh. My favourite was the vegetarian pizza, however, which had goat cheese, leek, red pepper, grilled artichoke, tomato, red onion, black olive and fresh marjoram. I could have eaten the entire pizza on my own – and it would go really well with a glass of Ontario Riesling.

The beet salad was another of my favourites – full of flavour and with just enough walnut dressing to create a fantastic contrast. I would definitely want to have this dish again. The Mediterranean salad was also very good – I love a salad with feta. And the linguine with shrimp was another great dish – not too creamy, so it felt lighter than some pasta dishes.


There were several meat dishes that I couldn’t try, but the entire table seemed impressed – especially with the potato puree with smoked paprika that came with the pan roasted lamb sirloin. Everyone was going crazy for those potatoes.

For dessert they offered a flourless chocolate cake. I'm not a huge fan of flourless cake, but that's really a personal preference. I'd want to try a different dessert on my next visit. 

All in all, I was very happy with my meal at Bywoods and thrilled that they had so many options for me (I love when I’m not stuck just eating chicken again). I can’t wait to go back with Shawn and see what Ontario wines they’ve added to the menu.

For more information on Bywoods: https://www.facebook.com/Bywoods 

Thanks to Bywoods Restaurant for including me in this event. While the meal was complimentary, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wine and Cricket Pairings

One of the best feelings in the world is finding a perfect wine and food pairing. That said, I never thought I’d find myself looking for a pairing that worked well with chocolate covered crickets! But now that I’ve had the chance to try this very, very unique pairing, I think I’ll have an answer should anyone ask me what wine goes well with crickets.

The opportunity for my cricket tasting came about because I was invited to an event for Argentina’s Trapiche Wines. The first half of the night was a chance to taste the Pure Malbec from the winery’s line. For that, we enjoyed a lovely reception at Toca in the Ritz Carlton. We tried the Malbec with cheese, dark chocolate and (for those who eat red meat) small chunks of rare beef.  It was lovely and I really enjoyed the Malbec – especially with the chocolate. I’m a sucker for a good Malbec and this was one I would definitely like to enjoy again.

Winemaker Sergio Case spoke at the event and I had the opportunity to chat with him a little at the tasting. He was able to tell our table more about winemaking in Argentina and a bit about his history. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about their methods of production, as I hope to visit Argentina’s wineries in the future. 

After that tasting, we moved on to the iYellow Wine Cave to experience a much more unique pairing opportunity with Trapiche’s Extravaganza red blend. For this, local restaurant Sliced had prepared some truly unusual pairings – frog’s legs, duck tongue tacos and chocolate covered crickets. As a quasi-vegetarian, I passed on the frog’s legs and duck tongue (though I understand those who had them were very impressed), but I had no real reason to turn down crickets. Well, besides the obvious reason that crickets are icky.

And, to be fair, these were super icky. They weren’t actually covered in chocolate – more sitting on top of the chocolate on a homemade donut. And while the chocolate did mask the taste, it couldn’t hide the crunch – or the sight. I did brave a few bites, so I can tell you that Extravaganza does pair quite nicely with chocolate and crickets. In my opinion, the Pure may actually have been the better bet for this off-the-beaten-path delicacy, but I also just really like Malbec.
This was such a fancy and fun event – not at all the traditional wine tasting. Everyone was chatting throughout the night and truly excited about the wine and what went well with the food. Kudos to the organizers for trying something different.  The Pure Malbec and the Extravaganza red blend both retail for $15.95 and are available at the LCBO in Ontario.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winemaker Profile – Estelle Lourens – Flat Roof Manor


I‘m a sucker for a wine label featuring a cat. I suspect wine marketers know there are more than a few of us out there, as there’s never a shortage of feline images at the LCBO. And so when I saw that cats figure prominently on the labels of South Africa’s Flat Roof Manor wines, my interest was piqued. The cat images in this case were inspired by a legend that came along with the 350-year-old estate the grapes are grown on.

At her recent appearance at the iYellow Wine Cave, winemaker Estelle Lourens didn’t go into the details of the legend (though I wish she had), but she did tell an audience of wine lovers a whole lot about the Flat Roof wines we were tasting that evening.

Estelle, who was studying biophysics before winemaking became her passion, walked us through two very different wines from the Flat Roof Manor line – the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot. Flat Roof grapes are grown on the Uitkyk Wine Estate, a well-respected and long-established South African winemaking operation. But the team there wanted to try something new – including growing some grapes not well-known in South Africa.

They were also interested in moving into the international market – an endeavor which might not be as easy with wines under the Uitkyk name (I’ll let you try and figure out how to pronounce that). So Flat Roof Manor was born and the cats began dancing across their wine labels.

Pinot Grigio is not a grape that’s common in South Africa, and hearing Estelle talk about the challenges of cultivating the grape and turning it into an internationally-accepted wine is fascinating. While this wine is not typical of other Pinot Grigios I’ve had, I did enjoy it. It has a nice, fruit-forward nose and a good balance of citrus and acidity. It was interesting to learn about the use of carbon in this wine and the challenges of figuring out how to extract the colour from the red grapes, while not taking out the flavour.





The next wine we tried was the Merlot. There’s no new wood used in this wine, which has helped Estelle create a version that's softer and easy-drinking. Merlot is admittedly not my favourite grape (please, no Sideways comments), but this one was well-made. I think it would be a good fit with a red meat pairing.

The team at Flat Roof has also been growing a Malbec that is available in B.C. and Alberta and a Shiraz that is currently South Africa only.

As always, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear from a winemaker about the decisions made when creating these wines. The process of making wine is one that I find completely fascinating and I always jump at these invitations to hear winemaker talks. I'm so glad I was invited to attend this event.

Have you ever tried a Pinot Grigio from South Africa? What did you think?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard

The pond at Buttonwood
Yes, I am woefully behind with my blog posts, it's true. But as I know several wine-loving friends who are planning trips to California, I thought it was high time to start telling the stories of some of my favourite winery visits during our recent trip to the state. I’ll start with Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard and you can expect updates on Daou and Hope Family Vineyards to come very soon!

On the Friday evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference, each of the 300+ blogger and industry reps attending were whisked away to one of ten surprise winery visits. Our mini-bus driver gave us a few hints as we drove through beautiful Santa Barbara wine country and we were all thrilled when we learned that our destination was Buttonwood Winery.

Zingy - one of the fabulous Buttonwood wines
We had tried one of Buttonwood’s wines at that afternoon's speed tasting, but seeing this location in person is spectacular. The winery is set on 106 acres of gorgeous land (39 acres are vineyard). We started our visit with a hilltop toast, overlooking the beautiful grape vines surrounding us. Our host, winemaker Karen Steinwachs introduced Brander winery owner, Fred Brander, to provide an overview of the proposed changes to the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which they are hoping to get approved very soon. I find the AVA issue an interesting one, though I have to admit I need to educate myself more on it.  I found a good explanation of the changes on the Brander Vineyards site, which some of you may find helpful in understanding this: http://www.brander.com/we-need-more-avas-2/

The incredible Brander Sauvignon Blanc line-up.
After the spectacular views, we walked down to the winery for a delicious course of appetizers and wine tasting. The wines, all from the Santa Ynez Valley, were very high quality, although I was really blown away by the Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted through their recent vintages with winemaker Fabian Bravo and was so impressed. I am hopeful I can find them in Toronto, as I’d really like to have these again.

Wines from Solminer
I also really enjoyed the Solminer wines I tried – this is a newer (and smaller) winery, so they do not currently have distribution in Canada. I hope that changes soon, as I think they are well worth seeking out. Shawn and I are already planning to visit the area again in a year or two and Solminer will definitely be on my ‘must’ list, as the wines were so well done.


Anna and David deLaski of Solminer
Over an incredible dinner catered by The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, and held in Buttonwood’s beautiful barrel room, I was able to try Buttonwood’s 2013 Syrah Rosé, which was a wonderful compliment to the meal. Over a delicious peach cobbler (made with peaches grown on Buttonwood’s farm), I tried a lovely dessert wine from Rideau Vineyard – a unique and delicious blend of Riesling and Viognier. This was my first California dessert wine and I was impressed.

Seriously, how could you not want to visit Buttonwood?
I cannot speak highly enough of our wonderful visit to Buttonwood. I know that I'll want to visit again when next we’re in California – the wines are well worth trying and the location is breathtaking. I also had a wonderful conversation with winemaker Karen Steinwachs, whose passion for winemaking is infectious. You must visit if you are in the Solvang area - this is a winery that won't disappoint.

For more information on Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard: http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com/
For more information on Solminer Wines: http://www.solminer.com/
For more information on Brander Vineyards: http://www.brander.com/

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Upkeep Updates

As some of you have noticed, the blog has been on a bit of a break over the last few weeks. I had hoped that all my recent life changes would have minimal impact on my blogging, but that clearly wasn't the case. I've had less time to write and when time did arise, I'll confess to just being way too tired to focus on writing anything worthwhile.

The Twitter community, who always seem to be there when I need my spirits raised, were quick to point out that sometimes we all need to hit the pause button. It's true. And now I'm back and feeling recharged and refreshed!

But despite the short blog hiatus, I've still been doing lots of wine-related things. I thought this post could be a re-cap of some of the ones I'd like to share.

What I've Been Drinking:

Photo from the Palatine website
Ages ago, Shawn McCormick from Uncork Ontario suggested that I would like the Palatine Hills 1812 Chardonnay and I filed that info away until I came across it. I found a bottle at the LCBO this month (at an extremely reasonable price-point) and decided to bring it to a recent corn roast with my husband's family. The wine was a hit with both myself and the guests who tried it. It's an unoaked chardonnay with great acidity and paired perfectly with roasted corn, potato salad and all the great fixings that come with this sort of family get-together. I often turn to Twitter and great friends like Shawn for suggestions on wines to try and this was a perfect example as to why.
For more info on Palatine Hills: https://www.palatinehillsestatewinery.com/ 
To read Uncork Ontario: http://uncorkontario.com/



 I recently learned about Canada Braai Day from a rep for the Distell Group in Canada. They offered to send over some info and I was intrigued. As the media release explains, braai is Afrikaans for barbeque and the custom has become so popular in South Africa that it now has its own holiday. I have really enjoyed learning about South African wines and culture of late and I thought it was a fun idea to try and bring this tradition to Canada. Braai Day was yesterday (September 20th) and to celebrate, I raised a glass of Savanna Cider from South Africa. It wasn't as sweet a cider as I usually like, but it was nice to try my first South African cider and Shawn, who prefers a dry cider, really enjoyed it. I hope to have some South African wine this weekend to extend the celebration - I've become quite a fan of the region recently.

There's a website that explains Canada Braai Day and offers up recipes and other info for how you can celebrate this weekend or in the weeks to come: http://braai.ca/

What I've Been Reading:

Recently, the topic for Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter was wine books. This is a subject I have plenty to say about, as I have acquired an extensive collection of wine books over the last few years. The chat offered many excellent suggestions for books every wine lovers should own and I was pleased to be able to offer many of my own options. I wanted to share two of my recent favourites here: Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup and The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. Both of these books took me on a journey though fascinating parts of wine history. Wine & War looks at how the French tried to keep their vineyards and wine from falling into German hands during WWII and The Billionaire's Vinegar looks at one of the most extraordinary cases of alleged counterfeit wine ever. These two books are perfect for the wine or history buff in your life and both had me staying up way too late trying to squeeze in just a few more pages before bed.

For more info on Wine & War: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/wine-and-war-the-french/9780767904483-item.html?ikwid=Wine+%26+War&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=5

For more info on The Billionaire's Vinegar:  http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-billionaires-vinegar-the-mystery/9780307338785-item.html?ikwid=Benjamin+Wallace&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Interested in Ontario wine? Join Ontario Wine Chat (#ONWineChat) on Twitter Wednesday evenings at 10:00 p.m. ET.


What I've Been Eating:

As a quasi-vegetarian (no red meat for this girl), I'm always looking for delicious options that will work for my diet. I've been working hard recently to make sure I nourish my body with good food, so healthy options are key. If I want to have a glass of wine, I need to pay that #winetax with good food, exercise and healthy living. One of my new favourite places to find interesting vegetarian options is Yam Chops at 705 College Street in Toronto. I attended an event there a few months back and I am still craving their un-tuna. Shawn and I also loved their meatless spaghetti sauce and their chutney. They don't serve wine, but you can find plenty of options to practice your vegetarian pairings at this place.


 For more info on Yam Chops: http://yamchops.com/

  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Winemaker Chat with KWV's Izele Van Blerk

Izele's Twitter picture captures her spirit so well!
When I read that South African winemaker Izele Van Blerk was training to become a professional tennis player before an injury led her back to South Africa to study winemaking, I didn’t get the connection right away. But when I had the opportunity to talk to her, the transition in professions made total sense.

“There’s a competitive side of sports and winemaking, but also the passion and the drive,” she says. “The energy during harvest time, is like a tennis match in the heat of the third set. It’s harvest time, it’s crunch time, you need to pull it through, it’s long hours, it’s hard work. Like sport, it’s also practicing, practicing, practicing.”

And Izele is certainly getting a lot of practice as a winemaker for KWV, one of the five biggest wineries in South Africa. She started with the company as an intern and has moved up quickly to become one of their winemakers. She is responsible for a large range of the company’s biggest sellers and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to taste through her 2013 releases at the iYellow Wine Cave recently.

In talking to Izele, you can’t help but be pulled in by her enthusiasm for wine. She is relatively young for a winemaker, but she is already an award-winner. “At KWV all our winemakers are on average 27 to 32, so we’re young, we’re new, we’re excited about the wines and the new styles and the new trends. I think if you get started at a young age, you’re still energetic and competitive and you strive to be the best and your passion is coming through in the wines,” she says.

Despite her young age, she is already an experienced taster who judges regularly in competition. “I think the difference between a good and an excellent winemaker comes down to tasting,” she explains. “Tasting is one of my passions. If I was to ever stop making wine, I would probably become a professional taster because I just enjoy it and you understand winemaking better if you can taste it and you understand what you need to improve. You have to be your biggest critic.”

She also values tasting wines from around the world. In South Africa, she explains most of the wines available are made in the county, but her travels with KWV and work as a judge have allowed her to taste more international wines. KWV also does a Friday event where each winemaker gets the opportunity to present a tasting of an international wine. This has helped give her a better understanding of winemaking techniques around the world.

But there is also a desire to create wines that are unique to South Africa. One of the most interesting is Café Culture, which blends South Africa’s signature wine, Pinotage, with coffee and mocha flavours. “You can drink it in the morning, because it’s coffee,” she says with a smile. “If you really like wine and you really like coffee, it’s a good combination.” KWV even has a special glass for Café Culture because they wanted to show this was definitely a non-traditional wine.

Having tried it at the tasting, I can concur that it is very different – it smells delicious, as they have captured the coffee and chocolate notes perfectly on the nose, but it wasn’t really to my tastes. Others at the tasting, however, really liked it so, as with all wine, it’s a personal preference.  My favourites from the tasting were The Mentors Chenin Blanc and the KWV Cathedral Cellar Brut Methode Cap Classique – a sparkling wine done in the Champagne-style, but with a much better price-point. The entry-level KWV Contemporary Chenin Blanc, while not as nuanced as The Mentors, was very good for the price.

I was shocked to see how quickly time flew during my chat with Izele. Her enthusiasm is infectious and I do think you can taste that in the wine she produces. If the winemaker feels like an old friend only a few minutes into a chat, it seems like she would be the perfect fit to design charming and inviting wines. I look forward to seeing her style develop over the years.

For more information on KWV: http://www.kwv.co.za/

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wine Labels 101 with Two Oceans

Jackie Olivier
I am woefully behind in my blog posts, as I try to find that balance between work, wine school and blogging. It’s been a challenge and I definitely feel remiss in being so late with this post, as it was fascinating to speak with Jackie Olivier, Global Marketing Manager, Premium Wines, Distell Group Ltd., about the launch of Two Oceans’ new labels in July.

Labels have always been of interest to me – before I started to learn about wine, they were often the deciding factor (alongside price) in why I chose a wine. Not the best way to choose a great bottle, but what did I know? So when I had a chance to speak briefly with Jackie at a recent Two Oceans' event, I wanted to know more about why such a well-known brand decided to make such a big change.

The logo hasn’t changed, Jackie explained, but the new artwork really brings out the symbolism of the weather and how it affects the vineyard. The weather in South Africa is very affected by the merging of the two oceans and the sea breezes. The choice to change was about wanting to make sure this message was understood and their research was very positive about the switch. In looking at the new design, which is very attractive, I can see that it was well thought out – not so far from the old label as to confuse the consumer, but a nice refresh that may catch the eye of someone who hadn’t noticed the brand before.

Two Oceans’ is arguably one of the best-known wines in Ontario – I have actually met people who drink it exclusively – so this decision was interesting to me. Familiarity is often why someone chooses a wine and it’s always a bit of a risk to change up something well-known. With such a popular brand, however, it likely pays to freshen things up once in a while. As I sipped their Sauvignon Blanc recently, with its citrus overtones and consistent, easy-drinking style, I could understand the brand’s success. If you want a reasonably-priced wine that is always consistent, this would be a good choice.That the packaging is attractive likely helped many discover the wine in the first place.

And, while their Sauvignon Blanc may be their best known wine in Ontario, Jackie introduced me to the Pino Grigio at their event and mentioned that they may also introduce a Chenin Blanc in Ontario. Given that many consider Chenin a grape synonymous with South Africa, I’ll look forward to trying it. Ontario Chenin Blanc has become one of my go-to food paring wines and I would be interested in tasting what Two Oceans does with the grape.

There is so much that goes into wine marketing and as a wine student it was fascinating to get a little glimpse of how one of the best known brands in the world makes their decisions. Do wine labels ever influence your buying choices?