Friday, June 26, 2015

Food Pairing Friday with Andrew Hanna

Whenever I get a copy of the CellarBuilder newsletter from John Hanna & Sons Ltd, I know I'm going to be hungry reading it - the newsletter is full of great wine and food pairing suggestions. Not surprising from a company that really knows their wine.

This week's Food Pairing Friday selection is from Andrew Hanna, a third generation wine importer and Director of Sales and Marketing at John Hanna & Sons Ltd. The company is one of Canada's oldest and most respected sources for fine wines and spirits produced by families - not factories.

Andrew was inspired by a recent visit to Spain and his pairing story will make you dream of a trip to the region.

Andrew's Pairing:

Having returned - a week or so ago - from a whirlwind tour of northern Spain hosted by Rioja rock-star La Rioja Alta S.A., you’ll pardon me if my mind remains seduced by tasty tapas and on-point pintxos.

Each time I visit Spain, I am taken by both the creativity of leading culinary minds and the amazing quality of the raw materials they’re blessed to work with.

I visited La Rioja Alta S.A. to join in the celebration of this venerable wine producer’s 125th anniversary and was thrilled to have a chance to explore the farms and facilities they own across four important Spanish wine producing districts: (i) Albarino country in Rias Baixas, (ii) serious brooding reds wine territory in Ribera del Duero, (iii) somewhat more generous and modern red wine terroir of the Rioja Alavesa, and of course, (iv) the iconic cellar worthy reds found in the Rioja Alta portion of the Rioja D.O.Ca.

It was on a travel day - between Rias Baixas and the Rioja Alavesa - that we had some time in Bilbao to explore this heretofore industrial port City, perhaps most famous as home to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum.

Shortly before this cultural indulgence, I sat with a group of leading wine importers, distributors and industry professionals for an incredible foodie indulgence at a small restaurant near the gallery.

Amongst the inspired culinary treasures presented that day was a dish - and wine pairing - that will remain forever etched on my palate for both its sheer deliciousness as well as the technique and skill involved in its preparation.

On display was a simple (but perfectly cooked) oven roasted cod served on red pepper confit and topped with chive beurre blanc. The electrifying colours and appearance of this dish stood in stark contrast to its delicate flavours and textures - and, like many of my most profound food experiences, I was left enchanted by the quiet confidence of a Chef prepared to allow the quality of a scant few ingredients speak volumes.

Next to this stunning fish, we enjoyed a glass of Lagar de Cervera Albarino. Now if you haven’t tried Albarino before, I’d advise you to take immediate remedial action to correct this, as these coastal Galician whites are amongst the most satisfying and sneakily complex white wines you can find, anywhere. Imagine a hypothetical blend showcasing the explosive aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling all within a bone dry frame, and topped off with unique and compelling mentholated “alpine garrigue” notes of pine, eucalyptus and spearmint framing the cool, refreshing and complex finish.

Not surprisingly, these coastal whites are picture perfect pairings for light seafood and fish dishes for the bright acidity, deep concentrated core of citrus fruit and delicate herbal complexity. The next time you’re thinking about fish, I’d encourage you to give some thought to a glass of Spanish Albarino; I think you’ll find it to be a tasty addition to your dining table.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his pairing! To learn more about John Hanna & Sons, visit or I'm sure he can find a perfect food pairing to suit your tastes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

California Wine Fair 2015

One of my favourite wine events is always the California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York. The line-up of great wines never fails to impress and it’s a wonderful opportunity to taste through a large variety of wines in a casual, but informative atmosphere. Shawn and I were thrilled to check out new vintages from some of the wineries we visited in California last year and to discover some new favourites.

While there was no way to taste through all the wines presented, the photos below represent some of the ones we most enjoyed. Many are available through the LCBO and all are available via agent.

It was a little too far for Shawn and I to get to the Francis Ford Coppola winery when we visited California, so it was nice to taste the 2013 Sophia rosé at the event. This wine has a surprisingly good price-point at $19.95 and is a nice fruit-forward option for summer patio dining.  Plus, the bottle is really pretty (yes, I'm a sucker for a nice presentation).

Prior to our trip, I hadn't really considered California Sauvignon Blanc all that much - I was more likely to grab a bottle from New Zealand. But having tried several over the past year, I'm definitely a convert. The St. Supéry 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was a great example of how good California Sauvignon Blanc can be - crisp, refreshing and very well-balanced. This wine was a highlight of the event for me. It's currently only available via agent in Toronto, but I hope that will change soon.

By now, you are likely well-aware of my appreciation of the wines of Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles, so I enjoyed the opportunity to taste their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a lovely full-bodied red that speaks to the lovely region from which it hails. I was disappointed to learn that Daou's delicious white Grenache is still not available in Ontario, but perhaps one day. This winery is well worth a visit if you are in Paso.
Another Paso Robles favourite is Hope Family Vineyards. They were not sampling Troublemaker, one of my personal picks from the winery, but the Liberty School wines are a great option for a value-priced California wine and I was pleased to hear they now have some availability via the LCBO in Canada.

Another winery on our California wish-list was Bonny Doon, which makes wines that are always interesting. However, it is the Bircihino line that always seems to steal my heart at the California Wine Fair. Winemaker Alex Krause was in attendance to represent both wineries and, as always, it was a pleasure to learn more about the latest vintages from the always irreverent Bonny Doon and the lovely Birichino. I particularly liked this floral and nuanced Malvasia Bianca. Having recently tasted a Croatian Malvasia that didn't impress, I was interested to see how another winemaker in a different region could make the grape truly sing. Birichino wines are difficult to find in Canada, so I hope we can plan a visit on our next California adventure.

Jordan Winery was a huge presence at the last Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara and it was so nice to see them make an entry into the Ontario wine scene. You may recognize this Alexander Valley winery from their very fun "Blurred Vines" parody on YouTube or from their appearances on Cougar Town (yep, I check out the labels that pop up on the Courtney Cox comedy) and they are wines worth seeking out.

Right now the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are available via agent and I've got my fingers crossed they will pop up on store shelves soon. These are well-made wines from a winery that embraces the experience of wine - no doubt why they're one of TripAdvisor's Top 10 Winery Tours and Wine Enthusiast's American Winery of the Year.

So those were a few wines Shawn and I enjoyed at the show - do you have a favourite California wine? Share it below or in the comments on social!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tutored Tasting – Sauza and Hornitos Tequila

After learning so much at the recent Canadian Club whisky event, I was excited to get an invite to a similar tasting for Sauza and Hornitos tequila. I’ve had tequila only on very rare occasions and, outside of copious references to its potency in country songs, I didn’t know all that much about the spirit.
That’s why this event was worthwhile for me.

We started the evening eating delicious guacamole and Mexican appetizers at Los Colibris restaurant and enjoying a tequila-based cocktail. Personally, I found the cocktail a bit strong and would have preferred something with a bit more fruit and fun, but I know they wanted to showcase the spirit in this.

Following the short cocktail session, we started the part I was really excited about – the tutored tasting with Sauza Brand Ambassador Karina Sanchez Huitron. I enjoyed learning about the different types of tequilas and how they are made, especially how barrel aging impacts on quality and flavour.

I think one of the reasons I’ve never been all that fussed about tequila is because I’ve only been exposed to the most basic forms – margaritas and shots. This session opened me up to the options and versatility of the spirit. Karina also noted that when doing a tequila shot with the Sauza Gold (should you be so inclined) you should substitute the lime for orange and cinnamon. I may just be willing to give that a try, by way of research of course.

Karina walked us through five tequilas – all very different – and then we were able to try each one with an appropriate food pairing. This was easily my favourite part of the night, as it showcased just how well tequila can pair with food. I had honestly been a bit skeptical going in, but each of the well-made bites seemed to fit with the chosen drink. I couldn’t try them all, because I don’t eat red meat, but the ceviche and Sauza silver was a personal favourite pairing, as well as the Hornitos Black Barrel and the fudge brownie. Tequila with dessert? Yes, and it was good.

The Black Barrel was my overall favourite of the night – and that of my guest Paul Dearborn (@whitbywino), who compared it to bourbon. With lots of oak and vanilla on the nose and 18 months in three different barrels, this smoky spirit is good on its own or as a cocktail. The recipe below (courtesy of Hornitos) is one I think I might try soon - tart cocktails are always hit with me:

While I remain a devoted wine lover, these experiences with spirits are always educational and interesting. I can now see myself heading back to Los Colibris or another Mexican restaurant and feeling more confident in ordering a tequila-based cocktail to enjoy with dinner.

Do you have a favourite tequila? Share your story in the comments or on social.

Thank-you to Sauza Tequila for inviting me to this event.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

House of Mandela Wines

I started writing about wine because it is my passion. Since then, this blog has also afforded me many opportunities I would never have had as just a wine student. I was reminded of how incredibly lucky I am to have these experiences recently, while attending an intimate lunch in the iYellow Wine Cave with Dr. Makaziwe and Tukwini Mandela from House of Mandela Wines. Yes, that Mandela.

Why was it so inspiring? I think because it reminded me that wine can (and should) be used towards the greater good. Nelson Mandela’s family is continuing his legacy of creating positive change in the world and using wine as a vehicle to tell their story and help their country. Those are big ideas to take away from a tasting and I left the event wondering what more I could be doing to make a difference.

In town to talk about the release of a selection of their wines at the LCBO and across Canada, it was truly an honour to spend a few hours talking to these incredible women about how they are using their wine business to help South Africa.

Our group assembled at Nelson Mandela Blvd. in Toronto
House of Mandela Wines, which is primarily fair trade, started in June 2010 with a desire to celebrate South Africa and make a change in the industry. Currently, while a large percentage of those working in the wine industry there are black, few of them have an ownership role. House of Mandela wanted to see more diversity and empowerment. They don’t own a vineyard or even a winery, but source the grapes from local farmers and use them to make high-quality wines with a mission to make a difference.  While the wines create work and bring economic change in the country, they also go towards the greater good – a portion of the proceeds go to three different charities.

And the wines serve as a continuation of their family’s powerful story. All of the imagery on the bottles represent the story of the House of Mandela and their tribe – from the labels inspired by Nelson Mandela’s shirts to the bee image on the bottle top, a family totem. The wines also tell the story of South Africa, which is infused in all they do. They hope that when people drink the wines they will think about their own family legacies and how they can positively contribute to the world. I know they certainly got the wheels turning in my mind.

And how were the wines? They were quite good:

While not all the wines are currently available at retail in Ontario, House of Mandela has a large and diverse portfolio and I hope to see more of their wines at the LCBO soon.

The Sauvignon Blanc, which is available via the LCBO, is lovely and easy-drinking (not to mention well-priced at $12.85). The tropical notes make it a nice pairing with seafood.

The rosé has strawberry, melon and grapefruit on the nose. It’s Merlot-based, quite dry and has good fruit on the finish.

The Shiraz has plum, smoke and pepper on the nose, white pepper on the palate and a touch of oak from its six months in barrel.

The Cabernet Sauvignon has cherry, tar, smoke and raspberry on the nose, a good length on the finish and cherry and raspberry on the palate.

I’m not usually a fan of Pinotage, but the coffee was subtle on this one, with more cherry and earth on the nose. I picked up a lot of red fruit on the palate and a bit of smoke.

Do you have an inspiring story of wine being used for the greater good? Share it in the comments below or on social.

A huge thank you to the iYellow team for including me in this tasting.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Food Pairing Friday With MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co.

MacKinnon Brothers - Photo Provided
When Shawn and I attended the Toronto Food & Drink Market in April, one of his favourite vendors was MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. from Bath, Ontario (near Kingston). The samples from their booth had him looking forward to trying more of their local craft beers.

You can learn more about the brothers and the story of how they built their brewery from a former straw barn on their website (the ongoing photo blog is a lot of fun) and it’s worth checking your local LCBO to see about availability. Shawn and I have added Bath to our list of places to visit, as we’d love to learn more about the area and another great local craft brewer.

In the meantime, Daniel MacKinnon, Brewmaster, shared his favourite paring and it’s a perfect option for summer. Daniel earned his Master’s degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and has spent considerable time studying brewing in Europe.

“My favorite food pairing is a good hefeweissbeir and a hearty German meal.   Sausages (Weisswurst or Oktoberfest), fried potatoes and onions with a mixed green side salad.  Great anytime of the year!

“I made several trips to Germany for both work and pleasure before starting the brewery on the farm.  It was always a good time to sit down with friends over a traditional meal and beer, which often took the form mentioned above.” 

Shawn and I are actually off to Germany in a few months and I’m sure this will be on the menu for dinner one night. In the meantime, he’d happily enjoy a can of MacKinnon with sausages. He’s hoping to try their Wild Peppermint Stout next – made with organic mint hand-picked in Gananoque.

What’s your favourite summer beer pairing? Share in the comments below or on social.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Cathy Ace - The Corpse with the Golden Nose

Author Cathy Ace
Cathy Ace
A wine-soaked mystery set in British Columbia wine country, Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Golden Nose was the perfect book to bring along on my recent visit to Prince Edward County.

Part of the Cait Morgan Mysteries series, the book revolves around the murder of a well-respected winery-owner and includes a cast of kooky wine-industry characters. Full of food and wine imagery, as well as some serious sleuthing, this is a great book for your summer wine country vacation.

I reached out to Cathy (who recently won the 2015 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award for her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair) with a few questions about the book, BC and, of course, wine.
What inspired you to write a mystery novel set in BC wine country?
When I planned the series of Cait Morgan Mysteries I knew she’d be a traveling sleuth because I love to travel myself. I also knew she’d have to visit places with which I was already familiar, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in BC’s beautiful wine region, especially around Kelowna and on the west bank of Lake Okanagan. With a wonderful micro-climate, and opportunities for many different grapes to be grown, it’s not just a beautiful area, but also diverse in terms of terroir and now populated by small wineries. It is also a honey-pot for chefs! It’s an area where field-to-table dining is very popular, and foodies revel in the fruits which grow happily alongside the vines in the region. I wanted to share my love of the place, and the people, and this book gave me the chance to do just that – I hope!

Does Cait's love for wine and food show up in other books in the series?
Oh my goodness me, yes! Cait’s rarely met a food or beverage she isn’t at least prepared to try, and I am happy to admit that I have consumed everything she eats or drinks (by way of research, of course!). There are mystery books by other authors where recipes are included, or the occupation of the sleuth is very food or drink oriented. I don’t go that far, but Cait’s love of nibbling and imbibing does tend to show up in every book. To be fair, she’s more of a gourmand than a gourmet, but that’s just because she can’t afford to eat as much gourmet fare as a gourmand would enjoy!

The Corpse with the Golden Nose with wine bottles
Photo supplied by Cathy Ace
Do you think Cait will visit wine country in a future book? Or might you revisit wine country as part of a different series?
Because Cait travels the world, it’s not beyond the bounds of reason that she might encounter another wine producing region of the world, but I don’t think I’ll be taking her back to Kelowna again. That said, she did spend time at a tequila producing agave plantation near Puerto Vallarta in Pacific coastal Mexico in The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb. Although she’s already “done” France in The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, I like the idea of her visiting the Champagne region. Of course, I’d have to spend a few weeks there myself just to be sure I got the details right!

Do you have a favourite or a few favourite BC wines?
Surprise, surprise – I do! Seriously, because I live just a few hours away, and because it’s such a lovely place to visit and spend time, I find that wine-purchasing excursions are great fun. There are so many wonderful wines to choose from, of course, but I have to admit I am not a drinker of white wines, generally speaking. Thus I veer towards the reds. The Mt Boucherie Family Estate Winery produces a delightful, light, fruity Gamay Noir, which I enjoy chilled in the summer, Blaufrankish pairs very well with lamb and pork, and their Melange Noir gets me through heavier winter meals with a good edge of tannin, as well as being a delightful accompaniment to cheeses – even the strong, runny type, which I love.

I also enjoy a glass of Voluptuous, from Van Westen Wines on the Naramata Bench; it’s fruity, full bodied and works well with or without food. When it comes to bubbles, the Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a fresh and delicious way to enjoy a glass of something that suits family celebrations, as well as any day when you want a little zip, and the rosé is a favourite option in my house. For special celebrations their Cipes Ariel is a worthy adversary for imported wines.

Finally, I cannot speak about the BC region without mentioning Icewine – there’s something incredibly special about sipping a wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine, and have become intensely sweet because of that condition. Once again I favour the reds. I don’t know if it’s still available, but Mt. Boucherie produced a fabulous Pinot Noir Summit Reserve 2002 Icewine and we snapped up a fair few bottles, which is a true indulgence. And their Merlot Icewine from a few years ago transforms any chocolate dessert with which it is paired into heaven. Though Icewine isn’t cheap, it has the ability to elevate the end of any meal into an event all on its own!

Did you get any feedback from the Canadian wine community about the book?
I was delighted when Mt Boucherie said they’d offer my book for sale in their wine store after I did an afternoon signing there. I hope that people who bought the book enjoyed being able to picture the landscape about which I’d written, and where they’d picked up a wine-related mystery.

Thanks so much to Cathy for taking the time to answer my questions about her book.

Do you have any favourite fiction books set in wine country? Share them in the comments below or on social.

Want to learn more about Cathy Ace or the Cait Morgan Mysteries? More info here:
Facebook: Cathy Ace – Author
Twitter: @AceCathy