Category Archives: wine

Ice(wine) Ice(wine) Baby

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Last Saturday, my wife and I took a day trip. This may not seem like a big deal, but for two people with no driver licenses and two dogs, getting away together for a whole day is a rarity.

The occasion was a bus tour to the Niagara Icewine Festival, with visits to a couple of wineries as well, presented by the fine folks at the iYellow Wine Club. Even better, we got to go for free as media guests in order to research an article on iYellow and their tours for Taste T.O., making it well worth the nominal expense of hiring a dog-walker for the day.

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Building my Awareness of Somewhereness

This article was originally written in May 2007 for Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

“People need to remember that wine is a beverage.” This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but between the collectors and investors spending thousands of dollars on vintage bottles that may not even be drinkable, and the confusing and arcane assortment of grape varietals, growing regions and sub-appellations, it’s easy to see why many people (including yours truly) are somewhat intimidated by the world of wine. It was confessing this intimidation to one of the winery representatives at the Somewhereness: Old Soils, New Wines event this past Monday that led to his statement quoted above, and it’s a statement which really sums up much of what Somewhereness was all about.

Held in a large conference space in the lower level of the MaRS Discovery District, Somewhereness brought together five young, independent, ecology-minded wineries from the Niagara region to pour samples of their offerings in a casual and welcoming environment. For wine novices like my wife and I, it was a great opportunity to not only taste some fantastic wines from our own backyard that we might not have discovered otherwise, but it also allowed us to meet the people behind the wines and learn a bit about the terroir that is so important in the creation of good quality wines.

One thing we weren’t able to do, however, was take informed tasting notes about the wines. While my experience from beer tasting is a good foundation, I still haven’t quite cracked the code when it comes to detecting all of the nuances in fine wine. But then again, going back to the “wine is a beverage” mantra, maybe I shouldn’t be trying so hard! Whatever the case, in the absence of full scale notes, I’ll offer instead a bit of information about each of the wineries, along with my brief wine-newbie thoughts about what they were pouring.

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Gourmet Food and Wine Expo

This past weekend, the wife and I went down to the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo at the Toronto Convention Centre. It was our first time attending this annual event – we’d considered it in past years, but because we’re cheapasses, we were scared off by the relatively high admission charge. This year, however, we were armed with a 2-for-1 coupon and decided to give it a shot.

All in all, we were pretty underwhelmed. Sheryl has given her impressions in a post to TorontoBits, and I’m pretty much in agreement with her assessment. As she notes, there was a lot about the event that wasn’t particularly “gourmet” in nature. For example, the wine-in-a-bag pictured to the right certainly doesn’t say “gourmet” to me. And I was especially offended to see Bright Pearl amongst the food vendors, as the food I was served at their booth at the Taste Of Toronto festival back in September was high on the lost of the worst things I’ve ever put into my mouth.

That being said, we did manage to find a few palatable food options, even for finicky pescetarians like ourselves. The grilled sardines and fish cakes from Cataplana weren’t bad, and it’s hard to go wrong with oysters from Rodney’s (although the ones we were served could’ve been cleaned a bit better – nothing ruins a nice oyster more than grit between your teeth). But the highlight was definitely the sushi from EDO which was fresh and tasty, and one of the few food items on offer than wasn’t sitting in a steam tray for hours. Speaking of which: The other item available at the EDO booth was a small Kobe beef burger, but Kobe beef or not, anyone willing to plunk down 7 bucks for a burger that was cooked hours before and kept warm in a steam tray is a frickin’ idiot.

As for the liquids – well, as I’ve stated before, I’m really not much of a wine guy, so I walked past most of the wine booths with a mixture of confusion and fear. We did try a couple of wines that I liked, including this year’s Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais nouveau and some other red wine that made Sheryl feel all melty and fluttery. I also had some fantastic scotch that I completely forgot to write down the name of, but I recall being told that it was a private label release of an 8 year old Lagavulin that sells for about half the price of the regular stuff. It had been a long time since I’d had a scotch, and this reminded me of how much I enjoy it.

On the beer side of things, I started with some Christoffel Blond, a favourite of mine that was being served up the Rubaiyat import agency. At the Embrujo Flamenco booth, I tried a sample of Ambar, a fairly standard pale lager from Spain. And at Black Oak, our pal Ken was serving up this year’s batch of his seasonal Nutcracker Porter which was in fine form – rich and spicey, just how we like it.

The final verdict: This event may be great for wine lovers, but for the occasional wine drinker going more for the food and beer, it’s a disappointment. Especially if you’re paying the full admission price of 15 dollars, plus buying a stack of sampling coupons for a buck each and dropping 2 or 3 of them for each sample. It’s definitely not a cheap way to spend an afternoon.

Newsflash: Beer Goes Well With Cheese!

Many newspapers and websites across Canada that get a feed from the Canadian Press ran a fluff piece recently about a shocking new food and drink activity that is “becoming all the rage in some trendy corners”: pairing cheese with beer (gasp!) rather than wine! (It also mentions scotch, but since this is ostensibly a beer blog, that’s what I’m focussing on.)

Now, I’ve always argued that good beer is much more conducive to many food pairings than wine – but then again, I’m not much of a wine guy, so that’s really just me talking out of my ass. But it seems that executive chef Lee Humphries at FigMint Restaurant and Lounge in Vancouver agrees with me:

While wine seems like a natural to have with cheese, the likelihood of a mismatch is much greater with wine than with beer and scotch, says Humphries.

“Beer and scotch work really well with cheese because the flavours are so complementary,” he explains. “Many wines just overpower the delicate nature of cheese, making wine pairings that much more difficult to perfect.”

And it’s not just chefs who think this – the scientists are in agreement that wine & cheese don’t work well together:

Bernice Madrigal-Galan and Hildegarde Heymann of the University of California, Davis, presented trained wine tasters with cheap and expensive versions of four different varieties of wine. The tasters evaluated the strength of various flavours and aromas in each wine both alone and when preceded by eight different cheeses.

They found that cheese suppressed just about everything, including berry and oak flavours, sourness and astringency. Only butter aroma was enhanced by cheese, and that is probably because cheese itself contains the molecule responsible for a buttery wine aroma, Heymann says. Strong cheeses suppressed flavours more than milder cheeses, but flavours of all wines were suppressed. In other words, there are no magical wine and cheese pairings.

It’s curious to note that Humphries thinks that wine overpowers cheese, while the science-types argue the opposite. But either way, it’s obvious that wine and cheese just don’t get along as well as people like to think, and they should just split up now so beer and cheese can get together. I mean, they make such a cute couple. It’s inevitable, really. Wine should just accept it and move on.

Anyway, this story comes along at an interesting time for me, as I’ve got plans afoot with a local cheese guy that may lead to some fun stuff in the new year. More on that as things develop…