Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mosel Valley – St. Urbans-Hof

Every year, Shawn flies to Germany to attend the world’s biggest heavy metal festival. It’s one of his favourite things to do and I am more than happy not to join him – camping with 70,000 people at a giant outdoor music festival? Not for me. However, it’s a great opportunity to tack on an extra week of touring somewhere in Europe and this year I decided to fly in and meet him for a week driving through the Mosel Valley.

What an incredible trip! I can’t say enough about the Mosel Valley – it is truly breathtaking and one of those places I hope everyone gets a chance to experience at some point. We started in Hamburg (the city closest to the concert), drove to Koln (stunning – just wish we hadn’t spent four hours of our day here completely lost) and then drove on to Benkastel-Kues in the Mosel, where we spent three days. We made a side trip to Trier (which wasn’t to our tastes), but otherwise were happy to spend those days exploring Benkastel-Kues.

We were especially lucky that our hotel in B-K, the Burgblick, also has a wine bar. The proprietors are very knowledgeable about wine and were able to teach us much about different styles. I even tried some German reds, which were… interesting! They’re quite tasty, although you rarely see them outside Germany, and I actually found them somewhat similar to Niagara reds in style and character. If you ever find yourself in B-K, I highly recommend staying at the Burgblick – it’s lovely, with a wonderful daily breakfast, beautiful views (we had a view of the castle ruins from our room), and that great wine bar. It’s also walking distance from the Medieval Village, so you can get there easily without having to stay right in the heart (I suspect that would be very loud).

While B-K is full of wine – seemingly every house we passed had a sign up offering wines from their family vineyards – we were lucky enough to have been able to book a private tour and tasting at St. Urbans-Hof. For those unfamiliar, Nicholas Weis and his family have been making wine in the Mosel for generations. Mr. Weis was also one of the first to bring German-style Riesling to Niagara when he founded Vineland Estates. In fact, the grapes for my favourite Ontario Riesling (Vineland’s Elevation) are cloned from Mosel grapes from St. Urbans-Hof.

On a beautiful day in August Shawn and I went to visit. What a stunning place. The building is gorgeous and it is surrounded by acres of vineyards. Not all of St. Urbans-Hof grapes are grown here (they have several vineyards in Germany), but many of them are. We were led through an incredible tasting by one of the staff and it truly was like having a private tutorial on the Mosel region.

St. Urbans-Hof has such spectacular Rieslings and they are all so unique and different. What you anticipate from a German Riesling – crisp acidity, low alcohol, a sweeter style – is there in some of the wines, but in others there were such unexpected characteristics – bone dry Rieslings with beautiful floral notes, older vintages with petrol notes (or a surprising lack thereof). I was blown away by how each wine expressed the terroir in its own individual way and so differently than many of the other wines we had tried.

As a special treat, we were given a tour of the production area and the cellars, which was such an incredible learning opportunity. Shawn and I were impressed by the size of the operation and how even with a modern style, so many of the old world touches were present in the cellars.

This was a once in a lifetime tasting opportunity and it was a highlight of a spectacular trip. I came home with a few bottles of St.Urbans-Hof and such a hugely expanded understanding of German wines from the Mosel area. A huge thank you to Brian Schmidt, Nik Weis, Nicole at St. Urbans-Hof and everyone else who made our visit possible.

You can get some St-Urbans-Hof wines at the LCBO and I highly recommend searching them out. We drove out to Oshawa to scoop up the last bottle of their Kabinet recently, as it was just incredible.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wines of Portugal

My experience with Portuguese wines has been limited at best. It’s not a wine region that we have covered extensively in my wine classes thus far, and besides Port and Vinho Verde I really haven’t had much opportunity to taste wines from this county. Even The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil, which has become my go-to resource when I want to learn more about an area, focuses primarily on Port – covering the non-fortified wines in just a few pages.

That’s why I was thrilled to get an invite to a seminar on Portuguese wine by Sommelier Christopher Sealy at Midfield Wine Bar. The event, which started with a seminar and tasting and ended with a dinner and wine pairings, was a deep dive into the table wines of Portugal and an incredible learning opportunity.

Sealy started off with a seminar covering the history, geography and terroir of Portuguese wines.  The event, which was sponsored by Vini Portugal (Wines of Portugal), was an effort to increase awareness of Portuguese wines, especially among restaurants and agents. I felt, as I often do, incredibly out of my league in terms of overall wine knowledge, but also fantastically grateful to have been included. I know that it was a rare treat to learn so much about a region in the company of those with far more wine experience than my own.

The first tasting flight was done blind and Sealy asked us to pick out the wine we thought was not from Portugal. This resulted in a lively discussion amongst our team, who thought that the wine with the buttered popcorn on the nose and rich, oaky palate was the least likely to be Portuguese. Turns out, we were wrong – that wine was 100% Antao Vaz and was indeed Portuguese – as were all the wines in the flight. Sealy’s deception was a worthwhile one, as it really highlighted misconceptions we might have had about what a Portuguese wine tastes like.

The next flight wasn’t blind, but it was still fascinating. I found all three flights to be a unique experience, as there were so few grapes I had ever tried before. I was also very impressed by the Portuguese Syrah that we tried. This is not a grape that I associated with Portugal before this tasting, but it was a star player in two of my favourite reds of the evening.

Since I started my wine education, I’ve found that the opportunity to taste a large selection of a country or region’s wines has been invaluable. It can be so hard to really understand the characteristics of an area’s wines without tasting a considerable amount of the wines from there. In this case, while we only tasted through twelve, they were so new to me that I was able to really grasp how they compared to other similar styles I’ve tried. I was impressed by the diversity and also the qualities of these wines – the great minerality and acidity in the whites and the rich, complexity of the reds. While not every wine was one I’d want to have again, there were some fabulous picks at each price point.

This event was also special because it ended with an opportunity to try some of the delicious selections from Midfield’s menu with Portuguese wines. It’s really nice to be able to judge how a wine will stand up with food and many tastings don’t offer a really substantive opportunity to do this. Sealy, who is a co-owner of Midfield, truly understands the importance of wine as an accompaniment to a meal.

I was thrilled to be included in this event. Even though I tend to be the quiet one at these tastings (a shocking fact to those who know me), I love any opportunity to listen to those who understand wine discuss it. I learned so much from Sealy, from those on my team and from everyone in the room who was willing to share their opinions. A great event with a fantastically well-considered format.

Learn more about Midfield Wine Bar (which I highly recommend for wine lovers in the city) here: 

Learn more about the Wines of Portugal here:

Interested in trying some of the wines we tasted? These ones should be available via the LCBO (or will be soon):

1. Mar da Palha- Quinta da Chocapahla - Syrah / Touriga VR Lisboa $18
2. Character Pintas - Wine and Soul - Douro DO $27
3. Chryeaia - Prats and Symington - Douro DO $75
4. Nostalgia - Quinta Touquinheira? - Vinho Verde DO $22 
5. Dao Branco Reserva - Alvaro Castro - Dao DO $16

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

U.S.A. Rice Recipe Challenge

One of the fun parts of blogging has been taking on the occasional recipe challenge. I love these. For someone who rarely, if ever, cooks, these challenges are a great opportunity to learn something new and stretch a bit creatively.  Shawn also loves when I do them because he can watch me do the cooking – although he still gets called in to assist fairly often.

Usually, I try to do a wine pairing for whatever I make. That’s gone well for the most part, but when I received the recipes for U.S.A.Rice I realized that might be problematic. You see, while I do eat some meat, I won’t cook with raw meat. Yes, I know that’s weird, but we all have our things, right? Shawn is rolling his eyes right now if he’s reading this.

So I could have made this and paired it with a Riesling: 

Or this and paired it with an unoaked Chardonnay:

Or this… well, I actually bought the stuff to make these, but they looked kind of hard to make and then I thought they might be too sweet to pair with an Icewine (the dessert should be less sweet than the wine). Super sweet desserts are not easy to pair.

Instead, I decided to make Brown Rice Power Bars. They looked like something I’d like to eat and they seemed reasonably easy to make. I also thought it was kind of cool to make something so different with rice. It’s definitely not my go to ingredient when I decide to cook up some squares! This left me with a challenge, though, as to what wine I could pair with this. It’s kind of a breakfast-y type dish, so I was thinking about a sparkling wine or maybe a Moscato. But then I was reading about Halloween wine pairings on The Daily Sip on Bottlenotes and they mentioned that a big California Cabernet would go well with peanut butter treats – and these are super peanut buttery, so I think that would be my choice if there was ever a chance I’d want to pair these with wine. To be honest, I think they pair best with a big glass of milk.

But onto the cooking! You can find the recipe here, as well as a photo of what they look like when someone other than me makes them:

I chose an organic brown rice from California and Bob’s brown rice flour from Oregon – we’re big fans of Bob’s products, so that was an easy choice. I usually cook rice in the microwave (hello, Uncle Ben’s), but I decided to challenge myself and make this on the stove top. I was a little freaked out to discover it takes an hour to make on the stove, but I was in this to learn, right? And once Shawn talked me through the whole math part of figuring out the ratio of water to rice I was good to go. And the rice turned out really, really well. I made more than I needed and it was great with dinner.

These bars have a lot of stuff in them, including brown sugar, which is not something we would normally eat. I’d actually like to try and make them without that as I found them a bit too sweet for my tastes. I also thought maybe it would be better if the instructions suggested chopping big pieces of the trail mix – mine had whole dried apricots and Brazil nuts and that threw things off. Yes, I could have just done it anyway but remember when I said I don’t cook? Chopping is high on the list of reasons why.

Anyway, I mixed all the ingredients – including two cups of cooked rice – and then baked them for 30 minutes. They smelled fantastic. And they tasted really great too. They were super moist, which I actually think is because of the rice – not something I was expecting at all. And, as long as you choose a glutton-free baking powder, this recipe is glutton free.

The ingredients

The rice is ready - and super delicious even on its own.

Mixing it all up - who knew you could make squares with rice?
Ready to bake.

Hot from the oven
Ready to eat - and super tasty.
So another fun recipe challenge under my belt. It may not be the best item to pair with wine, but it was a lot of fun to make and I bet these would be a great breakfast treat for guests on a wine tasting weekend.

Rose Reisman has a video on the U.S.A. Rice Federation site that will give you some tips on cooking rice and you can also find lots more great recipes there:

The fine print: U.S.A. Rice provided me with the recipes and a gift card with which to purchase the needed ingredients to make this recipe. All opinions are 100% my own.