Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hamburg, Germany's Heart Attack and Wine

Having spent a week exploring the Mosel Valley in 2013, Shawn and I expected it would be easy to find good German wine during our recent visit to Hamburg. We were surprisingly off point on that one. Not that there isn’t good German wine to be had in the city, which we are both quite smitten with, it just wasn’t quite as easy to come across as we hoped.

Almost all of the restaurants we visited during our three nights in the city had no wine list  at all and a house wine that was both cheap and Italian. Shawn had no issue with this, since he was happily choosing between dozens of ales and lagers on the ten-page beer lists many offered instead. I had researched potential wine-based restaurants and did enjoy the wine at one, but Shawn said it felt like he was at an awkward business dinner with exceptionally slow service. He had a point.
So when I saw the sign for Heart Attack and Wine during a walk along the Hamburg waterfront, I was primed for disappointment. Instead, I found a perfect German wine oasis. Part wine shop and part wine bar, Heart Attack and Wine is the type of place where you can buy a glass of wine and sit outside enjoying the sunshine or pop in to grab a reasonably-priced bottle to go.

With a name taken from the Tom Waits song “Heart Attack and Vine,” this place has a hip, urban quality, but also comes across as friendly and relaxed. I happily quizzed the proprietor about the German wines he suggested. We tried four wines altogether (two half glasses each) and the selections were a good fit for wine geek vacation patio sipping.

Shawn and I are both fans of German Riesling, but we are also excited by the many other grape varieties growing in the region. In this case, the Riesling was a favourite for both of us, but we also really enjoyed the Muskateller. I liked the 2014 Juliusspital Silvaner so much, I bought a bottle to bring home.

For wine fans planning a visit to Hamburg, I highly recommend stopping in. It’s a great addition to a trip to the waterfront and is just a few blocks away from Hamburg’s famous fish market.

Do you have any favourite wine bars in Germany? Share them in the comments or on social.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Concession Road Restaurant and Wine Program

Beef tartare at Concession Road in Toronto
Last year, I had the opportunity to try Pukka on St. Clair West and was impressed with how they are elevating Indian cuisine and incorporating a serious wine program. When I learned the owners had opened a new restaurant – Concession Road – on the same St. Clair West strip in Toronto, I was eager to check it out. Luckily, I got the chance at a recent blogger dinner.

And it didn’t disappoint – Chef Masayuki Tamaru has elevated French cuisine with a global twist and the results are delicious. As always, I’m told I missed out on the best items because I don’t eat red meat, but I actually sampled a large amount off this menu - there were lots of options featuring chicken, fish and/or vegetables - and confess to enjoying each bite.

Absinthe service at Concession Road in Toronto
Zweigelt and Rose wine bottles
Concession Road also boasts a stellar wine and cocktail program. Their absinthe service is unique and fun – a little bit of ceremony and fuss that goes a really long way. And the cocktails are complex, well-made and tasty. But I'm all about the wine list and this one certainly didn't disappoint. As with Pukka, top Toronto sommelier Peter Boyd has put together a well-curated wine list that holds something for every taste and budget.

“It’s a concise list, built from Masayuki’s menu, with some wines chosen for customer familiarity and ease, but with a few more novel options, like Marche Pecorino or Austrian Zweigelt, for the more adventurous,” explains Boyd. “Given the fare from the kitchen, it was important not to load up with a lot of heavy wines but, of course, we made sure there were a few heftier choices for those who prefer fuller-bodied wines.”

Steamed Portuguese rockfish at Concession Road in Toronto
And, for the most part, this is a menu that screams out for delicate sipping. The shrimp bonbon with citrus salad and red pepper gastrique is light and bursting with flavour, the steamed Portuguese rockfish with tomato beurre blanc and fresh dill is melt-in-your mouth lovely.

Vegetable stuffed chard at Concession Road in Toronto
I was a big fan of the ‘JFC’ Mennonite-farmed fried chicken, buttermilk mash, tomato and preserved lemon mayo, as well as the vegetable-stuffed chard with vegetable sauce, chive oil, beet crisps and toasted pumpkin seeds. All of these dishes were flavourful and well-made – perfect for a lively dinner with friends (like this one) or a romantic date night. For me, I’d want a versatile white or rosé with this meal (and luckily enough, that’s what was served), but there are plenty of bottles and by-the-glass options to explore.

Cocktails at Concession Road in Toronto
Concession Road is a great stop for wine and food lovers in Toronto – for me it’s more than worth the trip out to St. Clair West (and a reminder I need to get out there more often).

Have you been to Concession Road or Pukka? What to you think of the suggested pairings? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

* While my meal was complimentary, all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Excellent Ontario Cabernet Franc Options

Ontario Cabernet Franc Wine Bottles
* This is a cross-post that also appears on Uncork Ontario's 30 Days of Blogging Series - check it out for a deep dive into the Ontario wine scene.

It’s quiet at Archive Wine Bar on the afternoon of André Proulx’s recent Ontario Cabernet Franc tasting. Each of us seems slightly awed by the 47 bottles of Ontario Cabernet Franc lined up across the entire length of the bar – bottles sourced from wineries in almost every region in the province.

There is sipping, swirling and spitting, then furious note-taking as we try to capture thoughts on each wine. Are there hallmarks of the grape that are unique to the region? Does Ontario Cabernet Franc differ significantly from other Cab Franc’s we’ve tried from around the world?

Discussion happens in fits and starts – someone suggests we have to try a certain bottle, noses are turned up at another, I spill wine (of course I do), winemaker styles are compared, new wineries mentioned. It’s the sort of day made for wine geeks – a chance to really, truly explore one of the best grapes grown in this region, a grape that grows well in a cold-climate and produces some top notch bottles every year.

Bottles of Ontario Cabernet Franc wine
As a student of wine, this is an incredible opportunity and one I appreciated immensely. Cabernet Franc was the grape that pulled me into the Ontario wine scene, but I had never experienced the nuances of the wine in such a strong way before. This province is making some truly great wines right now and tasting side by side was the best way to learn about them.

Cabernet Franc is a wine that works best with food and I’d highly recommend any of the wines below to accompany your meal – especially something that goes well with the wines earthy notes. Steak, mushrooms, roasted chicken? All would work well, in my opinion.

Cave Springs 2013 Dolomite Cabernet Franc
So what wines made my heart sing and should send you straight to the winery to source a bottle? Here are a few of my favourites:

Cave Springs Cellars Dolomite 2013
– A fruit-forward nose with strawberry, cherry and a bit of green pepper. Ripe berries and spice on the palate. A long finish that left me wanting more. 

Chateau des Charmes 2012 Cabernet Franc
Chateau des Charmes 2012 – This one elicited much conversation about how it punches well above its weight in terms of quality for price. A very well-made wine with raspberry notes on the nose and a palate pleasing peppery fruit finish. At $13.95 it’s an absolute steal.

Dean's List Cabernet Franc wine
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2012 Dean’s List – They make some pretty amazing wines at the Niagara Teaching Winery and this Dean’s List pick is a great example of some of the winemaking talent coming from the school. There’s some real heat on this one, good tannin and lots of cherry and raspberry notes. A reminder that I need to visit again soon.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Cabernet Franc wine
Norman Hardie Vineyards 2013 – One of two wines that we tasted blind, this had lots of smoked meat and red fruit on the nose, great acidity and a unique smokiness on the palate. Very different than the other wines I favoured, but very good. Best with food.

Pondview Estate Bella Terra Cabernet Franc wine
Pondview Estate Winery 2012 Bella Terra – My favourite of the day, I confess to drinking a glass (or two) of this with dinner that night. It held up just as well when I went back for another glass the next day. Raspberry, licorice, smoke and pepper on the nose, this has sweet, ripe fruit on the palate alongside earthy vegetal notes. Can I just write “nomnom” and hope you’ll get how much I liked this?

Southbrook 2013 Triomphe Cabernet Franc organic wine
Southbrook Vineyards 2013 Triomphe – Cherry, raspberry, smoke and earth combined on the nose and palate into a very enjoyable, eminently drinkable wine.
Southbrook 2012 Whimsy Cabernet Franc organic wine
Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Whimsy – Dark cherry, plum and anise on the nose, well-balanced body and palate-pleasing fruit. I’m really liking what Southbrook is doing with Cabernet Franc right now (evident since they’re the only winery with two bottles on the list this time).

Tawse 2013 Growers Blend Cabernet Franc wine
Tawse Estate Winery 2011 Grower’s Blend – Earthy nose with smoked meat, tar, vanilla and smoke. Ripe fruit with hints of vanilla on the finish. A very good wine now, an even better one in a few more years.
Vineland Estates Winery 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc wine

Vineland Estates Winery 2010 Reserve
– Smooth on the palate, good body, lots of ripe, red fruit and hints of pepper on the nose. Drinking well now, drinking better in five years.
What do you think of these choices? Do you have a favourite Ontario Cabernet Franc? How would it stand up side by side with other Ontario options?

Many thanks to André for organizing this amazing tasting experience – you can (and should) read André’s blog here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Things to do in Corning, NY

Glenora rose wine and sorbet from the Finger Lakes
Sitting in Riverfront Centennial park, in the Gaffer District of Corning, NY, dipping my spoon into a second helping of an incredible sorbet made from Glenora Estates rosé, I was definitely in my happy place. Is there anything better than a cool treat on a hot summer night? I’d argue that making that treat with rosé was the cherry on the sundae. The sorbet was from Dippity Do Dahs, a popular local ice cream store, and Shawn and I were attending an event in the park to welcome the Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.

Corning, NY was the location of this year’s conference. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the bottom of Seneca Lake (where the wineries are situated), so it’s not the closest city to wine country, but it’s near enough to make wine touring very easy. It’s also a really lovely place to visit. We stayed at the Radisson Corning in the Gaffer District, which is a hub of local shops and beautiful parkland.

Sculpture at The Corning Museum of Glass
While the Conference keeps attendees very busy, Shawn and I made a point of exploring this area and spending some time in what might have been the most welcoming city I’ve ever stayed in. Thanks to all the local businesses for making us wine bloggers feel so very welcome.

Hand + Foot – A quick scan of the restaurant options in Corning can be overwhelming – there are a lot of places to eat! Hand + Foot impressed us with their eclectic menu, so we decided to give them a try. The food was fun, filling and jam-packed with flavour; the wine, beer and spirits menu was extensive and well-curated and the staff were just lovely. Owner Dan Morton has made a point of putting together a beverage list that works perfectly with his menu and we were thrilled that he took the time to help us pick the right beverages for our meal and fill us in on the best local and international options available. I think we recommended this place to everyone we met over the weekend and Shawn and I are both looking forward to eating here again in the future.

Dippity Do Dahs – As mentioned above, this place stole my heart with its rosé sorbet – and I may have gone back to sample another flavour or two. A family-run business with some of the best ice cream I’ve tasted, this is a must-do on Market Street and the perfect end to a busy day of wine tasting.

Volo Bar – There was plenty of wine on hand at the conference, but at a certain point both Shawn and I were ready for a break. Volo was just steps from our hotel and had the nicest group of people behind the bar. They drew us in on Thursday night by offering free tastings of local wines (which I enjoyed while Shawn opted for a local beer) and we had to come back to try their excellent cocktails on Saturday. While I was spitting most of my wine, I will confess to drinking every drop of their excellent Moscow Mule.

The Corning Museum of Glass – When we were offered a tour of The Corning Museum of Glass, I was happy to agree (glass is beautiful), but I was thinking it would be a small museum and a quick walk-through. I was completely wrong. This museum is enormous - and stunning. Their new contemporary art wing is a dazzling display of elaborate glass sculpture against sweeping white walls, and the sheer size of the entire museum is staggering. Our host, Kimberly A. Thompson, the museum's Public Relations Specialist, said the average visit is four- five hours and I can completely understand why. This is a must-see that will impress even the most museum-jaded in your group. And, if like many people I’ve met, you toured it twenty years ago – go back. You will be pleasantly surprised to see just how much this museum has grown.

I suggest leaving an entire day in Corning to fully experience the museum (including the edge-of-your-seat drama of the glass blowing demonstrations), have a meal at a local restaurant and spend some time walking through the Gaffer District. It makes a great hub for your wine touring and is a short drive from several National Parks and NASCAR locations.

Have you been to Corning? What were your favourite things to do? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Upkeep Updates: What I’m Thinking and Drinking Right Now

It’s been a little while since I did this—I feel like there’s lots to share!

First and foremost, you will likely be reading Shawn’s name a lot more in the future. While I will remain the main voice of the blog, he will be increasing his role. Expect to see his thoughts on craft beer (not my strong suit), food, wine and  more. For example, we have a coffee cocktail post coming up that will feature some of his fun concoctions!

I won’t be sampling his experiments anytime soon, though,  because 1) I’m celebrating nine months coffee-free in September and 2) I’m taking on a Sugar-Free September challenge for the month. Some of you know I gave up refined sugar for a year and a half a few years back. I felt amazing. But then I got back on the sugar train and I haven’t been able to hop off since. And sugar is my Achilles heal. If you told me I could only spit wine for the rest of my life, I’d manage. But give up candy? Can’t do it. So I’m going to. From the day after Labour Day until October 4th, I’ll be avoiding desserts, candy, sweetened drinks, etc. No, don’t worry, I’m not giving up wine, since most of those sugars are naturally-occurring, but I will be avoiding sweet wines. Hopefully this will lead to some lasting and positive changes for my health!

And, because I get asked this question a lot lately, no, I’m not currently enrolled in wine school. I took last year off to manage a much more hectic schedule and that’s left me wondering where to go next. Not that I haven’t been spending my time learning about wine – check out the stack of reading material I’ve been working through in the photo to the right! But I do have to make some decisions about next steps.

Part of me wants to concentrate on getting my WSET or finishing my Wine Specialist course at George Brown, but the other part of me wants to continue home schooling myself. At this point, I don’t think I want to work in wine (this blog remains my very expensive hobby), so putting the time and money into wine school is tough to justify. The wine nerd in me is absolutely addicted to learning and loves the thought of taking more classes, my practical side wants to know what exactly I’ll be doing with all that pricey education. What do you think? Please share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments or on social.

So what have I been drinking? Here are a few affordable options I’ve sampled lately that I wanted to share with you.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of my go-to white wines, so I was happy to try this new release to the LCBO. A best-selling wine in the U.S., this is a crisp and refreshing sipper. While it is not as nuanced as some of the more expensive NZ Sauvignon Blanc on the market, this definitely hit the spot at their launch party on Oliver and Bonacini’s patio (during a very uncomfortable heat wave). Pairs well with oysters and veggies, so a good option for light meals. I enjoyed it.

Brugal Rum – Rum-infused stilton? Learning to make my own cocktails? A recent Brugal Rum event at The Rum Exchange was an opportunity for this rum-novice to learn that this spirit has a lot more to offer than cola companionship. Did you know rum can be paired with cheese? I had no idea. I also didn’t know how rum was made, or that aged rum is a real treat. While this spirit is off my list for September (it’s made with sugar cane), I look forward to trying it again in the future. I left wanting to infuse my own cheese and with some newly acquired cocktail-making skills – I’m guessing I’ll get to put my shaker to use again soon. 

Colio Estate Methode Cuve Close Lily Sparkling – I'm a huge fan of sparkling wine. I think it’s perfect for pairing with a celebration or snack food. Dry sparkling is my go to for movie nights when we break out the popcorn or potato chips and I would happily drink bubbly more often if the price point was better. Colio’s Lily is a good option if cost is a consideration for you too. At $16.95 (LCBO), it's well-priced and it’s a bit sweeter (leaning towards off-dry), which makes it nice all on its own or with a salty snack. It's a fun wine for your everyday celebrations and I’d love to try it with a splash of Blueberry Hill Estate’s blueberry dessert wine – I think that would be a pretty darn perfect Ontario's Southwest sparkling cocktail.

Paul Mas Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot – Shawn and I tried this at a recent fashion and wine event. Combining the spirit of red wine with vineyard-inspired fashions, this was a fun and chic event. It was also a nice opportunity to enjoy a well-priced French wine with friends. Available at the LCBO for $13.95 this is a good entré into the world of affordable French wines and a wine that will pair well with cool weather and warm, cozy sweaters this fall.

What have you been drinking recently? What are your thoughts on my wine school dilemma? Share your thoughts in the comments and on social!