Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Sipping Suggestions

After such a long, hard Ontario winter, I'm thrilled to finally pull off some layers and start to enjoy the lighter wines that are a hallmark of summer. This is when I start to pull out crisp Rosés, refreshing Rieslings and a lot of red and white blends. Summer wines are to drink on the patio or savour at the cottage, to down with greasy barbeque or simple salads. 

Below are a few wines I've tried recently and think make good summer sippers. These reflect a few different quality and price points, so I hope there's something for all your summer needs - from elegant wines for a romantic evening to well-priced crowd pleasers for your big backyard bash.

When I tried this 2011 White Cabernet Rosé during a recent visit to Daniel Lenko's winery I was blown away by how nuanced it is. The nose leaps out of the glass with pear, strawberry and fresh fruit notes, but when you sip, it's not as sweet as the nose would lead you to believe - it's very dry and refreshing. This is the perfect summer wine for the wine aficionado in your life - elegant, well-crafted and unique. Lenko's wines are something special and well worth the splurge. This one is available at the winery or can be ordered online.

Creekside Estate Winery always has a pretty fabulous selection of relaxed, summer-friendly wines. This year, my pick for the season is their 2012 Pinot Grigio. Admittedly, Shawn and I visited the weekend before their new releases, so I wasn't able to sample their always reliable Rosé, but the Pinot Grigio was a hit with us. With its lovely gold with hints of silver-pink colour, lemon and strawberry on the nose and citrus, peach and apple on the palate, this is a very good option for patio weather.  If you happen to be visiting Jordan, Ontario I'd advise dropping by the winery for a glass on their beautiful patio.

When it comes to sparkling wines, you know my heart belongs to Lighthall Vineyard's Progression and, well, Champagne, but sometimes you need bubbles at an under-$20 price-point. Cavas Hill Brut 1887 Cava is a good option at around $13. I had this one at an event recently and it was a easy, refreshing sparkler that fit the relaxed vibe of the evening. This is a very appealing choice for brunch mimosas or sparkling cocktails where you want a solid sparkling that won't break the bank.  One of the pairings that evening was an excellent creme brulee from Sliced Gourmet and I was surprised at just how well the pairing worked - something to keep in mind, as I rarely pair sparkling with dessert. My photos from the event are a little dark, so I've borrowed this bottle shot from the site - I hope they don't mind!

Inception Deep Layered Red is a Shiraz-dominant blend from South Africa that's bursting with sweet and spicy flavour. This isn't a subtle wine - it's a life of the party wine that's easy drinking, on the sweet side and a lot fun. This is my new guilty pleasure pick - one to pull out for that raucous summer barbeque or a night with friends around the cottage fire. Inception is new to Ontario and launching in Canada before it hits shelves around the rest of the world, expect to see lots of it at the LCBO soon. 

One of my favourite summer wines is Vinho Verde - it's a refreshing white from Portugal that is perfect for a relaxing lunch on the patio. Alianca's 2012 Vinho Verde is a nice example of the grape. Shawn and I tried this one on a recent movie night and enjoyed the peach and citrus notes on the nose and the refreshing apple on the palate. While this particular Vinho Verde was a little too acidic for my tastes, I highly recommend you check out the varietal over the summer months. I'd like to try this one again with a Mediterranean lunch - I think it would be a much better pairing.

I've mentioned Three Dog Winery a number of times on the blog, so you know I'm a fan. Their Doghouse White is a great summer wine. It's a white blend made from Ontario Vidal and Riesling. It's crisp and refreshing with balanced acid and nice minerality. This one is great with seafood or spicy foods - two things that make up a big portion of my warm weather menu.

Place in the Sun is a herbaceous red blend from South Africa with, blackberry, currant, anise, green pepper and an earth on the nose.

There's much more fruit on the palate than I expected, fresh red fruit with some earthiness/smoke to it. Medium-long finish, medium tannin. Very drinkable. This would be a nice pairing with red meat and it was really nice with the 80% Camino dark chocolate I tried it with. The rich, creaminess of the chocolate matches well with the flavour and tannin in the wine.

So those are some of my summer wine choices. What are yours? Feel free to leave them in the comments or share them on my Facebook or Twitter feeds!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Winemaker Interview – Antonio Fattori

The night before harvest, winemaker Antonio Fattori confesses, he’s always a little bit nervous. Even though his family has been making wine for generations and he knows that all the pieces are in place, every year he has the same feeling. “The night before, I feel like a beginner. I feel my stomach is strange, I can’t sleep. Then when you start, everything goes well and you know what to do, but the night before is always like the night before your exams in university.”

That Fattori, a seasoned winemaker, still feels this way even just one day of the year is comforting for this wine student. Having the chance to interview him and taste through his wines together during a recent visit to the iYellow Wine Cave is an extraordinary opportunity, though I feel a bit out of place. I am learning about wine as fast as I can, but there are very few instances when I truly feel confident in my knowledge or sure in what I’m saying. I still feel most at home talking about Ontario wine, so to have the chance to interview this wonderful Italian winemaker is a challenge for me. Hearing him tell this story of his harvest nerves is a comfort and, I think, a good analogy for wine – no matter how well you know it, you’re never completely sure of what you’ll get.

 Fattori wines are well worth seeking out.

The Runcaris 2012 Soave has peach and lemon notes on the nose and is a crisp and refreshing white with good minerality. It would make a nice aperitif for the summer.

The white blend, Roncha, a blend of 50% Garganega, 20% Pinot Grigio and 20% Trebbiano of Soave is a nice blend of sweet with a little spicy. Fattori wanted to create a wine with its own characteristics, which he has, and the label, which features a 15th century map of the area where the grapes were grown, speaks to that. There is a connection between the history of the land and the wine.

Fatorri explains that the location of the vineyards is perfect for the white grapes he grows. They are at the foot of the Alps, with a fresh stream nearby. There is a very low temperature in the morning, even in the summer, and then the heat increases quickly before dropping again at night.  The volcanic soil is essential to the minerality, freshness and aroma of the wines.

The red grapes are also well-placed for the qualities Fatorri hopes for in his wines. The Col de la Bastia 2011 Valpolicella, which is rich and very drinkable at this age, has sweet and delicate tannin and a nice mouthfeel. This is one that I would pick up to enjoy with dinner right now – it could age a bit longer, but it's drinking just fine today.

The Amarone, a 2009, should age well, it’s a bit young right now, but the potential is clear.
Fattori and I chat about aging wine, and I learn quite a bit from him. He explains the difficulty in predicting if a wine will age well. There are characteristics that can help you understand that a wine is one to be cellared, but you can’t know for certain how long. He explains that he recently had an Amarone from 1964 that tasted very nice and an 85 or 86 that did not. You can age a wine for 40 years, he explains, but sometimes it’s gone. “Sometimes wine is suffering in the bottle,” he says. “A wine that we think won’t be might be beautiful, but another we think will be and it isn't.  You can be really surprised.”

As a wine student, these conversations are fascinating. I think it’s a great lesson, though, as we all learn the elements that make for good aging in wine – acidity, fruit, tannin – but the magic of wine is that unknowable quality. It’s that maddening mystery that sucks us down the wine rabbit hole.

My favourite wine of the tasting? I fell in love with the Col de la Bastia Valpolicella Ripasso with its rich, layered flavours. I look forward to having the chance to drink it again soon.

Fattori also has a new sparkling available in Ontario – Ca D’or – I haven’t had a chance to sample it, but after discussing it with Antonio, I’m intrigued. I’ll be looking for it at the LCBO soon.

For more information on Fattori wines:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pukka – Wine and Indian Food Pairing

Butter chicken and basmati rice
If you haven’t yet read Beppi Crosariol’s recent Globe and Mail article on pairing wine with Indian food, I highly recommend you do so. It’s one of the most informative pieces I’ve read on the topic and it was my introduction to the innovative wine program at St. Clair West restaurant, Pukka. 

Let’s face it, most of us tend towards beer or, in my case, water, when we’re having Indian food. Pairing wine with food is complicated enough – with a table full of wildly varied Indian dishes being eaten family style, how do you even know where to begin when selecting wine? Which dish goes with which wine? Is there one that will pair well with all of them? 

The fact that Pukka is even trying to make wine and Indian pairings a part of the experience was enough to interest me in a visit – that they have the brilliant sommelier Peter Boyd curating their wine list added it to the ‘must try’ list.

After two recent visits, I am more than impressed with what Peter and owners Derek Valleau and Harsh Chawla have accomplished with their wine program. Not only is their wine list extensive and extremely well curated, Peter has begun a series of events where diners can discover more about the process of pairing wine and Indian food. This is a unique opportunity to learn how one of the city’s top sommeliers is tackling this fun challenge, and it's well-worth the ticket price.

Delicious salad, which pairs well with sparkling wine
Pukka does Indian food that blends traditional with the unexpected. It’s what I’d consider gourmet Indian – smaller portions, complex flavours, unique twists on traditional favourites. What you really need to know, of course, is that it’s delicious. Both times I’ve eaten there I’ve spent the next few days raving to friends about how much I loved my meal – their butter chicken is, without question, the best I’ve ever had.

Tandoori Chicken Tikka
But it’s not just the food – the entire Pukka experience is what makes it work. The restaurant is sleek and modern, but not intimidating. The service is friendly and consistent. The owners are there to greet you and answer questions. Even without the wine program, it’s the type of place I’d want to go. That they are doing such interesting things with wine is simply icing on the cake.

And Boyd’s pairings are nothing if not interesting. Sipping a lively 2011 Cotes du Rhone from Domaine des Lauribert, I was not expecting to love it with butter chicken or Indian curry, but I did. And, while I don’t eat red meat, it was fascinating to see the table agree that a 2011 Malbec-Syrah from Perlita in Mendoza was a great match with grilled lamb lollipops with turmeric, mint and coriander curry. Red wine and Indian food is something I typically wouldn't do - that will change now that I know how well it works.

Seared Spiced Duck Breast
One of the best things about the wine and food pairing experience at Pukka is Peter himself. Warm, engaging and not the least bit intimidating, he is the type of sommelier who inspires me to want to go back to wine school. He is so smart in his pairings, but also open to new ideas and willing to admit that with wine and food there is a subjective element at play. He keeps his audience enthused with funny stories from his 30-plus year career and reminds us that, while wine is an art, it doesn’t always have to be serious.

Sweet Potato Samosa
With 30 wines on the current wine list (and an expectation that there are more to come), Pukka is a great stop for serious wine folk who want to try their hand at Indian food pairings, but it’s also just fine for those who are hoping to have a beer and some curry. It doesn’t have to be an elegant meal with proper pairings – but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. And, while it’s not on the menu, you can ask to order with 3oz pours, an option I really like that allows you to try several wines without feeling like you’ve overdone it.

And, for those interested, Pukka will be continuing their Spring and Summer Wine Evenings event series through August. This is a fantastic intro for both the novice wine fan or for serious wine students – Peter teaches at a level that is accessible to everyone and there is ample time to chat and learn from those seated around you. The next one is June 9th and you can find the upcoming list here:

For more information on Pukka:
To read the Beppi Crosariol article:

* My meals at Pukka were complimentary, but my opinions are my own.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Terroir Festival 2014

My first visit to County Terroir was a huge success. Brimming with food and wine vendors, the Crystal Palace in Picton was transformed into a celebration of all things local. The enthusiastic vendors were happy to show off the best of the County.
Terroir is an opportunity to enjoy so much of what Prince Edward County has to offer, all in one place. And even though it was very busy, there was none of the claustrophobic feeling you can get at packed-to-the-rafters Toronto shows. Here, the vibe was laid back and fun, even while hundreds filtered through the various indoor and outdoor vendors.
I discovered new favourites from Rosehall Run and Closson Chase, revisited old favourites (hello, Lighthall Progression, I've missed you) and got an opportunity to chat with many of my favourite people from the County. 

And the food was plentiful and delicious. We enjoyed grilled cheese from Urban Herb, green pea cream soup from Agrarian and a wine-infused cupcake from Iced Cupcakery. There was so much more to enjoy and I took home a loaf from Humble Bread and bacon for Shawn from Seed to Sausage. 

Tyler explaining wine storage.

Each year, Terroir offers a number of seminars of interest to wine enthusiasts. This year's line-up included some great sessions, but we only had time for one - Tyler Philp's very informative session on wine storage. I picked up some fantastic tips that I look forward to trying out on my own growing collection. 

Three Dog Winery's John Squair with their Doghouse White

This year for the first time, wineries were able to sell bottles directly to customers. This was because of the newly-launched program by the Ontario Government to allow wine sales at farmer's markets. Because Terroir features even more local food vendors than wineries, they qualify under the new rules. This was a huge step forward and I was pleased to see many people walking out with bottles or cases of local wines. Kudos to the organizers for their hard work in securing this opportunity.

I've learned much during my time covering the Terroir Festival for the blog and I'm grateful to have had the chance to interview so many County wineries. I hope you enjoyed the series and that if you didn't make it out to this year's festival you'll be there next year. It's well worth a trip to the County.