Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Walnut and Wine Pairings

When I was initially approached about doing a post on California walnuts I wondered if it was a good fit. After all, the proposed idea was that I make a walnut recipe and write about that. Those that know me are fully aware that I am quite possibly the world’s worst cook and that Shawn is the one who makes most of our meals. When I mentioned it to him his reaction was simple – ‘Go ahead, as long as YOU make this recipe.’ So I confirmed that they didn’t mind that I wanted to do my post as a wine and walnut pairing and decided to take the plunge.

Walnuts are a staple in our kitchen, so I figured this was a good fit for our family. They’re a nutrition powerhouse and they’re super tasty, so it’s a win-win. Shawn uses them in our salads all the time and they make a great quick and easy snack. 

When I received the recipes to choose from, I was relieved to see that many of them looked super easy. I decided to make the Cajun-Spiced California Walnuts (click the link for the recipe) and the Maple Candied Walnuts. They seemed like good, healthy snack options and I figured if they turned out well I could whip up a batch for our New Year’s Eve party.

So what was the result? Well, turns out that both recipes were actually as easy as they look – I managed to make both batches in less than an hour and the results were tasty! These are both recipes that I would make again and that I’d happily serve at our holiday party. These could even make a fun and affordable homemade gift if you created some pretty packaging.

Now, for the wine pairings! As most of my readers know, I’m a confirmed wine newbie. I don’t claim to have any expertise with wine. And other than a growing passion for all things vino and a desire to learn everything I can, I’m still finding my way. That said, I’m really excited to try to pick some pairing options and I hope you don’t hold it against me if they aren’t perfect – I bet there are many actual experts who would be happy to help if these ones don’t work out. In fact, I know John Szabo’s Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies is available in bookstores now for just that purpose.

So here are my picks:

Cajun-Spiced California Walnuts paired with Huff Estates 2011 Off-Dry Riesling, Sandbanks 2010 Shoreline White or Vineland Estates 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling. I think a white Riesling, with a little sweetness would go well with this spicy, salty snack.

Maple Candied Walnuts paired with DiProfio 2010 Late Harvest Vidal or Karlo Estates 2009 Van Alstine Port.  I think a very nice dessert wine would be a good balance with these sweet treats.

I’d love it if you’d share your own thoughts on what to pair with these snacks – I know there are some of you who are food and wine pairing wizards!

For more great holiday recipe ideas using California walnuts you can visit.

Some photos of my cooking adventure:

Mixing the spices
Adding in the California walnuts
Starting to look pretty good

Ready for the oven
The finished Cajun-Spice Walnuts
California Walnuts just waiting to be candied
Stirring in the maple syrup
Adding the sesame seeds

Looking delicious
Ready for the oven
Maple Candied Walnuts finished

The fine print: California Walnuts provided me with the walnuts, the recipes and a gift card with which to purchase the needed ingredients to make these recipes. All wine referenced is wine that I purchased and none of the wineries I’ve mentioned are affiliated with California Walnuts – I just think they’d taste good together. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wine On Tap

I had heard about Rock Lobster and their pop-up restaurants at Toronto Underground Market (TUM), but I didn’t get to experience them until we tried a lobster roll at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in November – it was great. So when we heard that they were opening a permanent location and that they were one of the first restaurants in Toronto to offer wine on tap – and that the wine was from Vineland Estates – we had to check it out. I’m definitely glad we did

Wine on tap is an interesting concept – it allows the customer to order in the quantities they’re comfortable with (at Rock Lobster you can order by the ounce) and the restaurant isn’t left with any half empty bottles that can spoil. It seems like a win-win for everyone – including the environment. I think it’s an especially smart idea for restaurants that don’t offer a lot of wine selections or who want to make wine an affordable option.

"Vineland Estates is thrilled to be able to offer our premium VQA wines on tap,” said Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Vineland Estates when I asked him about this new initiative. “We believe that offering wines in a stainless steel keg to be poured by the glass is not only good for the environment (no glass bottles), but it also gives restauranteurs peace of mind that half opened bottles of wine in a fridge or left on a counter will not oxidize and spoil.”

Vineland is definitely on the cutting edge with this idea and Brian has been a great spokesperson for why this could be a way to get more Ontario wines into restaurants. “Wine on tap will encourage wine lovers to enjoy amazing VQA wines without committing to purchasing an entire bottle during their dining experience. Wine on tap, its time has come,” he says.

For me, I started with the Vineland Estates Riesling and found it was a nice intro to the meal – it’s a very versatile white, so it pairs well with many of the options on the Rock Lobster menu. The Cab Franc, however, was absolutely fantastic. I had this one with dessert and it was a stunner. When you have only two wine choices on the menu, it’s rare for them to both be of this quality – if wine on tap allows more restaurants to have great wine at a reasonable price, I’m all in favour.

And if you’re in the Toronto area, I highly recommend checking out Rock Lobster. We had the lobster mac and cheese, which is a super tasty comfort food classic and the lobster roll, which is amazing. Shawn ordered the roll and I have to admit I would have happily finished it for him.

The whale tail, which we had for dessert, was one of my favourite desserts ever – it’s sort of like a gourmet beaver tail without the greasy gross feeling that I always get from a beaver tail. Maybe it’s the crème anglaise they use or the Canadian maple sugar – whatever it is, I want it again.

While I was all about the wine Shawn had to try the Caesar, which comes with a half lobster tail. He said it was one of the better ones he’s ever had. I tried a few sips and would have to concur – great presentation for a really good drink.

We’ll definitely be back at Rock Lobster (110 Ossington Street) – especially if they keep serving great Ontario wine on tap.

Toronto Life has a really good review of Rock Lobster (with much better photos) that you can check out here.

A great shot of the wine kegs from Brian Schmidt at Vineland Estates:

More wine keg shots provided by Vineland Estates:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

B.C. Wine Experience

Some of the delicious seafood to sample.
Recently, I was invited to an event at Roots on Bloor Street West in Toronto to celebrate Tourism B.C. It was a fun and fabulous evening featuring the wine, food and music of British Columbia – what’s not to love?

The smoked salmon and crab cakes I had were excellent, but the evening was really all about the wine for me. There were two B.C. wineries featured – Gray Monk and Mission Hill, both of which I had heard great things about but hadn’t tried. 

I started out with the Gray Monk 2011 Pinot Gris, which was my favourite wine of the evening. It was a lovely, light wine with great hints of citrus on the nose.

I followed that up with the Gray Monk 2011 Unwooded Chardonnay, which I thought was quite nice. It’s a full, fruity chard with great appeal – I would absolutely want to have this wine again.

As regular readers know, I tend to prefer whites to reds but I had heard such great things about Mission Hill that I wanted to give them a try. It’s not often that I have the chance to sample B.C. wine, so I was really nice opportunity to sample just a tiny slice of what the Okanagan has to offer.

I tried the 2010 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir, which was a great pairing with the smoked salmon. It has a vibrant nose and a light, spicy flavour – all things I look for in a red wine.

The 2009 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot was one I expected to love. The WSET student I had struck up a conversation with declared it his favourite and I was eagerly anticipating trying it. The nose was one of my favourites, with hints of vanilla and spice, but it was a very full, heavy red and not to my tastes. I think this has more to do with my personal taste in reds than the wine itself – it has scored very, very well and it was a popular choice with my companions.

I had a nice time at this event. It wasn’t a serious wine tasting, but a great opportunity to try wines I wouldn’t normally have access to in Ontario – although I’m hoping that the updates to the rules about inter-provincial wine imports will change that. 

I loved the chance to experience more of B.C.’s culture. Shawn and I were hoping to make it out to Penticton in the spring for the wine bloggers conference and to spend some time exploring B.C. wine country. It looks like we’ll be putting that off for a little bit, but this event reminded me that I need to keep that trip on my bucket list – I know it will be a great one.

Do you have a favourite B.C. wine? I'd love to hear more about the wines you love.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favourite Things - Wine Blog Edition

One of the things I enjoy most is reading a good wine blog. I find them inspiring and informative. I know that my blog, which is written entirely from a newbie’s perspective, might not give you all the wine information you need. With that in mind, I thought it would be a great idea to share some of my favourite wine blogs – all of these are fabulous resources from people who really know what they’re talking about.

Uncork Ontario – Shawn from Uncork was one of my first wine friends on Twitter and his blog has been a huge inspiration to me. I love how his reviews are informative and interesting – I often turn to his site for ideas on what wineries to visit and what wines to try. He is passionate about VQA and a great resource for what to drink in Ontario. I also suggest checking out his Uncork Ontario app.

Wines in Niagara – If you want the latest news on what’s happening in the Niagara wine region, you read Rick’s blog. This is a great resource for VQA fans and a blog that I never miss. Whether he’s charting the progress of Vineland Estate’s Grape X, promoting the cause of independent wine shops or breaking the news of another Niagara winery sale, Rick is on top of what’s happening in Ontario’s biggest wine region. Another plus? Rick is a great writer, which means his work is always compelling to read.

Wine Sisters – I love the Wine Sisters. Their blog outlines what they’re drinking and offers great suggestions for holiday dinners or summer sippers (it’s not all VQA for those who like to venture outside Ontario with their wines). I also love that they tackle practical issues that the newbie wino can appreciate – their blog on the importance of a wine budget resonates with me whenever I’m considering a wine splurge.

T.O. Wine Man – Mark’s blog scared me a bit at first because he really knows wine – and that means some of his posts are a bit intimidating for a newbie. As my knowledge has grown, I’ve really come to appreciate his posts. I like how much information he provides and how he really does know his stuff – I enjoy his perspective on wines and I now look to him for opinions on what to buy.

What's your favourite wine blog? I would love your suggestions for even more can't miss bloggers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gourmet Food and Wine Expo 2012

Sandbanks Winery French Kiss
This year marks my third visit to The Gourmet Food and Wine Expo – one of my favourite events in the city. For those of you who read my first blog post about the show back in 2010, you’ll see that I’ve come a long way in terms of my understanding of what I’m drinking!

Shawn and I started the day with   Caesars at the Mott’s Clamato booth. It seemed like a good option for an early Sunday visit to the show. For those who haven’t attended the Expo before, the samples are small so you can try a few things without it getting too out of hand.

After our introductory Caesar we moved on to the wine. I loved how the show had such an emphasis on Ontario wines and VQA this year. There was a good showing from many wine regions, but Ontario was front and centre with a large section of the floor reserved for the Wine Country Ontario booth (featuring personal favourites like Vineland Estates and Creekside Estate Winery) and other Ontario producers could be found throughout the convention floor.

We started our wine tasting at Sandbanks Winery’s booth. I love Sandbanks Rosé and was excited to try some more of their wines. John from Sanbanks is a great Twitter friend, so it was also fantastic to finally meet him in person.

I tried three of their wines over the course of the afternoon – Riesling, LOVE, and French Kiss. I’ve had the Riesling before and enjoyed it – it’s a dry white with a hint of citrus. LOVE was new to me, I’ve never had a Cassis Aperitivo and I certainly enjoyed it. This is a blend of white wine and organic Canadian cassis from Île d'Orléans. It’s a nice alternative to ice wine and a sweet, but not too sweet, dessert wine option. I’d definitely buy that one. French Kiss Cabernet Merlot is a lovely red – this is an easy-drinking wine and I have to admit I was a little disappointed when my glass was empty.

Lighthall Vineyard's Gewürztraminer
I ran into Nadia Dubeau (another Twitter friend) in the fine wine section of the show, where we sampled Lighthall Vineyard’s 2011 Progression Sparkling and 2011 Lighthall Gewürztraminer – both of which I enjoyed. I wasn’t familiar with Lighthall’s wines, but I look forward to visiting them the next time we’re in Prince Edward County.

Other show highlights included finally trying Rosewood Wines Mead Royale, meeting Noteworthy Wine’s Bill Wittur (another Twitter friend) and trying his Zantho Weine’s Sauvignon Blanc, as well as enjoying a sample of Forty Creek Whisky’s fantastic Cream Liquor. I also loved the chance to chat (and sample) some of my personal favourites from Vineland Estates and Creekside Estate Winery.

A little bite of Le Dolci deliciousness
The food was a major highlight this year. At past Expo’s I haven’t always loved everything I’ve eaten – this year I absolutely did. From the amazing raclette cheese from Switzerland to the incredible gelato from The Mad Italian, we discovered some great food. My personal favourite? The amazing chocolate cupcake we devoured from Le Dolci – so melt in your mouth amazing I can’t wait for my next one. It was also great to finally meet Lisa, Le Dolci’s wonderful owner.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s show.

A few more photos from the show:

Delicious melted raclette cheese from Switzerland

Sandbanks Riesling

Sandbanks Winery sampling selection

Rosewood Estates sampling selection

A must-try from Forty Creek

Had to add this - Shawn's favourite vodka

A few of Creekside's sampling options

Did anyone else attend the Expo? What were your favourites?

For another great review of the show, be sure to check out Ania's Blog's post!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wine O’Choc

I’m stealing the cute and clever hashtag for this fun event as the title for this blog post – I couldn’t resist because it was just too good. Yes, once again I’ve found myself indulging in wine and chocolate, making this post the perfect ending to my unintentional three-part wine and chocolate series.

I was thrilled to be invited to this evening of pairings at SOMA Chocolatemaker’s King Street location to check out some of Inniskillin’s newest wines alongside SOMA’s always delicious chocolate. To make the evening even more interesting, Inniskillin Estate Chef David Penny was also showcasing some of his appetizers and their respective wine pairings.

This event was more about the fun and fabulousness of wine, rather than a serious wine tasting, but that was very in keeping with this hip, King Street West location. SOMA is one of my favourite places for chocolate in the city and I thought it was a great idea to bring a VQA twist to their products.

The party was set up so that guests could visit 5 different stations, each showcasing a different wine and chocolate pairing:

Inniskillin Oak Aged Chardonnay with SOMA Costa Rican Milk Chocolate 32%

This was my second favourite station – I loved how the Chardonnay made the chocolate’s flavour pop. I bit into the chocolate after the wine and immediately understood this pairing. On it’s own I found the Chardonnay just OK, but as a pairing this was very successful. The fact that I love milk chocolate surely didn’t hurt.

Inniskillin Late Autumn Riesling and SOMA Dark Fire 66%

A good wine with great spicy flavour, this was surprisingly my least favourite of all the pairings. I enjoyed each of the components on their own far more than I enjoyed them together. I think the spiciness of the chocolate might have overpowered the wine a little. Still, I hope to have both again in the future.

Inniskillin Pinot Noir and SOMA Dark Blend 64% Peruvian Dark Chocolate

A delicious, smooth red with a touch of spice, this paired very well with SOMA’s dark Peruvian chocolate. A very good match.

Inniskillin Cabernet Franc and SOMA Madagascar 70%

This full-bodied Cabernet Franc was so good that I went back for a second sample. It was a nice companion for this deep, dark chocolate and, while I liked the Pinot Noir/Peruvian pairing more, I preferred the Cabernet Franc overall.

Inniskillin Vidal Icewine and SOMA Caramel Cream Kiss

The pairing that stole my heart – this was my overall favourite and the best flavour match of the night. The Caramel Cream Kiss is a milk chocolate gananche and the icewine is decadent and sweet with tropical flavour notes. I thought that it would be sweetness overload, but it was actually quite balanced.

After all that chocolate, it was time for Inniskillin Estate Chef David Penny to bring out his appetizers. Each came with a pairing suggestion, but it was difficult to get around to do a proper pairing with each one. Plus, I found it challenging to hold my food, wine glass, tasting notes, camera etc., so I was concentrating on eating and not spilling!

The first dish had duck, so I had to pass (but my companions assured me it was the best of the three). I tried the Pulled Chicken Slider with Red Wine Chocolate BBQ Sauce and, while I enjoyed it, I thought the bun was too thick and chewy. It was hard to really taste the chicken and chocolate, which is a shame. The sauce was so good.

The Celeriac Soup with Porcini Mayan Chocolate Dust was absolutely delicious. I could have easily eaten an entire bowl. The chocolate wasn’t overly noticeable, but this was a delicious soup and went quite well with the Cab Franc (I didn’t get back to the front of the room to pair it with the Chard as suggested).

Overall, I had a really good time at this event. It was nice to chat with fellow wine and food lovers and to explore some interesting wine and chocolate combinations. The team at Narrative PR did a great job putting together an event that brought fabuous VQA and wonderful local chocolate to a new audience.

A few more photos from the event: