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:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show

More chocolate? What can I say? I couldn't resist when Audrey from Tasty Tours Toronto invited me to come out and experience the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show - especially when she mentioned that it would involve wine and chocolate pairings. 
The show, which is held at Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall, is a whole lot of fun. There's lots of chocolate treats and some very fun activities, including a chocolate-eating contest.

But it's Wine Wednesday - so let's get to the wine!

When I arrived in the early afternoon the wine and chocolate pairing classes were already booked solid (they went super quick), but Jenn from Peller Estates was kind enough to provide me with a quick tasting in between classes so that I could fill my readers in on their great wine options.

First up was my personal favourite, the Ice Cuveè Rosè, which is a pretty pink sparkling mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc with a touch of Cabernet Franc Icewine and Vidal Icewine added in after 12 to 14 months.  This was a great bubbly that wasn't overly carbonated with just the right amount of sweetness. I loved the strawberry hints on the nose.

The second wine was the Andrew Peller Signature Series Chardonnay 'Sur Lie' 2009. I was struck by the deceptively fruity nose on this medium to full-bodied Chardonnay, which is barrel fermented for 12 months in 100% French oak barrels. I expected it to be sweeter, but it's actually quite dry. This would likely be a fantastic pairing wine - I'd love to enjoy a bottle with dinner (or some chocolate).

The third wine was the Private Reserve Merlot 2010, which is aged for 23 months in 70% American oak and 30% French oak barrels with full malolactic fermentation. It has great smoky flavours of black tea and spice. This red has great mouth feel.

We ended on a sweet note - as one should at a chocolate show - with the Cabernet Franc Icewine 2010. Jenn noted that this is a fantastic option for mixing into a martini or for after a meal. It's an interesting ice wine because it's not especially cloying - the acidity cuts the sweetness so that it doesn't overpower. This is one I would definitely want to have again.

A big thanks to Jenn and Peller Estates for allowing me to sample their wines - I look forward to visiting their winery on my next trip to Niagara.

But that wasn't the only wine action at the show. While there was no other wine to be sampled, there were plenty of chocolate options to pair, including Brix chocolate which bills itself as the chocolate for wine. It's certainly got great flavours and I loved that it had pairing suggestions right on the label. Definitely something to consider for your next wine tasting, especially if you're looking for an alternative for cheese (or something to have in addition to it).

The Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show had all sorts of interesting options - chocolate mustaches (perfect for Movember), chocolate tea (absolutely delicious) and chocolate spa treatments (they looked like a lot of fun). This is definitely a great show for chocolate lovers, although I caution that you should be prepared for lines and crowds - there are a lot of chocolate lovers in the city!

More photos from the show:

Lots of chocolate books were on display.

I didn't try any of this coffee, but the chocolate tea from Herbal Infusions was amazing.

The chocolate eating contest was so much fun!

Amazing Movember 'stache from Laura Slack.

Loved seeing these old school melts from Old Tyme Confections.

Nothing better than a chocolate shoe!

Loving chocolate skulls.

The Tasty Tours booth.

Thanks so much to Audrey at Tasty Tours Toronto and Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show for the media pass, as well as Peller Estates for the tasting. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tasty Tours Toronto

A personal favourite quote on living a happy, healthy life is from Iris Murdoch: "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." Those words were very much on my mind when I was invited to write about Tasty Tours Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Chocolate Tour. I am not a chocoholic, in fact, I will often skip over chocolate goodies in favour of fruity or caramel flavours. This is because I think that in order to be worth the splurge, you must be having really good chocolate.

Audrey, Tasty Tours Toronto's owner, embraces this idea and has scouted out some of the city's best chocolate experiences to share with those who take her tour. I definitely didn't feel like I wasted any calories on this experience, which is a good thing indeed.

There were several things I really liked about the Tasty Tours concept. First, I think there's something to be said for exploring your own city. I have lived in Toronto my whole life and I worked in the Trinity Bellwoods area for many, many years. Yet I had only been to one of the stops on the tour previously. We often take our own city for granted and this was a great opportunity to find some new places right at my fingertips. It also encourages the support of local businesses, something I believe very strongly in.

I was also happy that this tour involved quite a bit of walking. Granted, the day I joined the tour it was very wet and chilly, but I still liked the idea that we were going to walk off some of our treats as well as give the tourists on our trip a bit of a tour of the area. Even better, these moments encouraged us to chat with our tour mates, which I enjoyed. There were some really interesting people on this tour and I liked that it wasn't just about Audrey talking at us for three hours - she gave us lots of learning, but also the chance to get to know each other too.

The tour starts off with a chocolate lesson, which was quite interesting. This was a chance to sample cacao nibs, as well as more processed chocolate to see the difference. It really is fascinating how one bean can turn into so very many different confections and products. This was also a nice chance to introduce ourselves and learn a little more about why each of the ten people on the tour had chosen to take it.

After that we were able to sample some yummy Italian pastries and treats. I'm a sucker for really good, really chewy chocolate baked goods, so this got a big thumbs up from me. It was also nice that the bakery's chef and pastry chef came out to talk to us and to tell us more about their creations. 

The samples here were quite generous, so it was great that this stop was followed by a walk. I know some people aren't keen on a lot of walking between stops, but I really enjoy that. It makes me feel like at least I'm getting in some exercise to counterbalance all those extra calories.

Our next stop was a personal favourite to me as it was somewhere I've been many times before (no doubt I'll be back again soon too). I've chosen not to reveal the locations we stopped at, since many who take the tour - myself included - prefer not to know before heading out, but you can find that info on the Tasty Tours website if you look hard enough. And this one may be a little obvious for those who are familiar with Toronto's only Japanese grocery. Oh, how I love Japanese candy.

I'm also quite smitten with the Green Tea and Cherry Blossom Kit Kat. It's not an inexpensive indulgence, but that just means I savour every bite. Can't wait to go back again and see what other fun and fancy candy options will be there - they change them up fairly regularly.

For those that like to shop (that would be me), there is ample time on this tour to pick up treats. I was looking for unique chocolate experiences that I couldn't get at other stores, so I definitely picked up some of these Kit Kats and, of course, some Pocky! Japanese candy really is so fun.

We headed off to our next stop (which was much closer) and they provided yet another unique chocolate experience - chocolate with pop rocks. I did get some of that too, but this was a stop where I picked up some other non-chocolate confections. This is a fun element of this tour experience - while all the samples are chocolate, most of the stops offer other sweet treats.

More walking awaited us after this, which was certainly needed. I especially liked that we got to walk through Trinity Bellwoods Park - one of the most beautiful locations in the city. Even in the rain, you can't help but love being there.

And when the end of your walk involves one of the city's best cupcake bakeries? Perfect! We actually sampled their brownies, which are to die for (that perfect mix of chewy and not too sweet), but it was the cupcakes that caught the attention of my camera. I am definitely planning a return trip - and perhaps even a cupcake decorating class. 

Next up was the gourmet stuff - and the first time on this tour that my wine and chocolate passions collided. I'm always up for trying wine mixed with chocolate and this was a great opportunity. Unlike many wine chocolates these aren't filled with wine, but chocolates that have been created with wine or other alcohol as an ingredient. They are incredibly well made, entirely decadent and worth their very high price tag. Luxury chocolate at its finest.

All in all a very fun way to spend an afternoon in the city. A great option for locals and tourists alike - all you need are some comfy shoes and a love of chocolate to enjoy this tour.

Learn more about Tasty Tours at their website:

And you may also enjoy these other blogs about Tasty Tours (Marni and Ian are both much better photographers):

Where Sidewalks End

Some more photos from the tour:

And my big indulgence the next day? Some very tasty non-chocolate treats I picked up along the way. Life is better with macarons. It just is.

Full disclosure: I attended this tour as a media guest of Tasty Tours. All opinions on the deliciousness of these local Toronto treats are fully my own.