On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Report from - Ottawa Wine and Food Show–Saturday Afternoon, Nov. 4, 2006

03 Jan 2007
For a different perspective of the show I decided to attend in the afternoon (2:00pm) … the throng was gone, there was more elbow room, the moving around was easier, and exhibitors had more time to talk about their wares. Many who had been there before informed me that this is the calm before the storm, “by 5 o’clock it’ll be crazier than last night; this show is amazing.” I was also informed that they had sold out on Friday night and were turning people away at the door – not surprising considering the lineup I saw the night before – and Saturday should be no different. When I left the show for the day two hours later, the lineup was already forming – it was gonna be another busy, but fun, night.

So what kinda finds were found on day two of the Ottawa Wine and Food Show. On Saturday afternoon I decided to focus in on the “Cellars of the World 2006 – International Wine Competition” winners and medallists (a full list of which can be found at http://www.playerexpo.com/WineShow/Visitors/Competition.htm). Canada placed extremely well in these competitions, let’s look at a few of the deserving winners.

Starting with the Gold Medal (outside of Canada) winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine (8.50-11.99)’ category, a delicious 2004 Mosseland Divinum Riesling ($11.95) with green apple aromas and citrus and apple on the taste … this wine ranks about a two-or-three on ye olde sugar code and is lovely. I tasted an array of Mosel and other regional German Riesling, but this one truly did stand out.

Back to Canada for the Gold medal winner in the ‘Off-Dry White Wine ($12 and over)’ category. Flat Rock Cellars continues to impress me and their 2005 Riesling ($16.95) is no exception. This wine is so true to Rieslings from Germany it’s amazing – wonderful exotic fruit nose with apple citrus tastes that linger in the mouth far longer than their German counterparts (which I had just tasted) – wonderful. I am told that their $19.95 Nadia Vineyards Riesling is even better; I’ll be off to the winery to try that one real soon and will report back to you on it.

Speaking of German wines and winemakers, Konzelmann (from Canada) told me a funny story about a lady who informed them she hated “that Canadian crap” but loved German wines – especially theirs. The sales rep proudly informed her that although their winemaker is German, the winery itself and the grapes they use are definitely Canadian – she slunk away quietly. But Konzelmann was not just sticking up for Canada at the show or “putting ignorant wine snobs in their place”, they took home a few awards themselves, the most impressive of which was their Gold for their 2004 Select Late Harvest Vidal ($22.95). Wonderful apricot, honey and pear on the nose with honey, pear, apple and cinnamon as it passes over your tongue – pure sweet enjoyment. A little pricey for a Late Harvest but very enjoyable – pick up a bottle for the holidays and enjoy it in front of the fire with friends.

Staying with the sweeties, a little place called La Face Cache out of Quebec was showcasing a wine they called “Neige” (snow). It’s an apple wine that they make in an icewine-style from Macintosh and Spartans. In a nutshell, the apples are picked in October and the juice is brought outside when it gets cold enough to freeze … thus crystallizing the water and leaving the pure sweet apple juice and sugars behind, which they then make the wine from. They have three varieties: stainless steel, oaked and December harvested (true to icewine standards) – made from special apples designed to hang longer on the tree. It is this (Frimas) that won best fruit wine in Canada at the recent Canadian Wine Awards from Wine Access Magazine and announced last month. Sounds like a must try (only the stainless steel Neige was available for sampling). They export their nectars to 16 countries – alas Ontario is not one of them (of course this is a play on words – being in Ottawa I thought it proper to make a political joke about Quebec wanting to be it’s own country). The LCBO has rejected them 3 times – I’d like to know why; this stuff is delicious.

Moving right along to the Silver Medallist of the ‘Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc ($12-19.99)’ category, Ironstone Vineyards 2003 Cabernet Franc ($16.95 – Vintages December 9, 2006) was much fruitier than expected, with good punch in the tannins department. Not your typical Niagara Franc, the green pepper is gone, replaced with red fruit, spiciness, nutmeg, cinnamon and oak flavours. This one is a must pick-up upon its release in December.

Time to move away from the medal winners to finds of the day. The wildly popular Perez Cruz winery out of Chile – who made a splash at the LCBO last year with their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (now a Vintages Essential) is releasing 3 Reserva Limited Editions in late November through vintages … namely a Carmenere, Cot (Malbec), and Syrah – each retailing at $24.95. I tried the Syrah ($24.95 - #589812 – Nov. 25 Vintages) and it was wonderful. Blackberries, cassis and smoke on the nose, with dark fruit, chocolate and pepper on the plate.

But the real find of the day was the new winery venture from Paul Boutinot – a Frenchman who now lives in England who got tired of the same old same old from France. In his opinion French wines were “old, tired and boring” and needed not only a facelift on the bottle, but a tastelift inside. And to boot, good dollar value for decent quality wine (in his opinion there was nothing between the Piat D’or and the hundred dollar bottles that spoke to any kind of quality). Mr. Boutinot now owns 6 wineries around the globe and has so far been able to place approximately 10 wines on the LCBO general list … all at very reasonable prices, all of good quality and taste. Here are a few of those stars that you can pick up today: Bin 233 Merlot (#21162) and Bin 15a Shiraz (#21154) both $10.95 and bottled with Stelvin Screwcap. While I stood at the booth sampling these wines, two ladies came along and asked “When did the French get into the Bin Business with their wines?” It was explained that after years of being poked at by the Aussies, Kiwis, and South Africans, France has poked back. The Bin on the labels are pictures of trash receptacles in Manchester, England with numbers painted on them … a subtle(?) slap at the Aussies quality? But the wine in the bottle is far from garbage. The Merlot has a bit of bite, but goes down smooth and easy, while the Shiraz is fruity and peppery with some spice mingled in – and there is also age potential for both – maybe 2-3 years. Chat-En-Oeuf (#21113 - $12.95) – picturing a cat sitting on an egg, with its tail hanging down (making the egg look cracked) – is of course a play on words and a jab at the French themselves. This Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault blend has good tannin structure with some delicious fruit and spices … making this one a real winner, that can be shelved for another 3-4 years; and is the only wine in the line under cork. The Bishop’s Selection Cotes-du-Rhone Villages (#665596 - $10.95) is also quite delicious with pepper and red fruit, made in a light quaffing style. Finally, my favourite of the bunch (for taste and label) was the $12.95 Lazy Lizard Shiraz (#21188) – this is a seriously fun wine … even the Lazy Lizard pictured on the front label is wearing sunglasses. The lizard is also in reference to the vineyards’ little residents who run around eating the harmful bugs that would otherwise destroy the grapes – thus reducing reliance on pesticides. This light, refreshing, smooth wine has the merest hint of perceived sweetness, although it is ranked at a zero, it tastes like a one – and at that price it’s a steal. As the hours ticked by the crowds began to return and the time I could take with representatives of the wineries got shorter – so I high tailed it out of there before the jostling began.

All in all I would say the Ottawa Wine and Food Show was a rousing success for visitors, exhibitors and organizers. With sell out crowds both nights, great wines and the enthusiasm showed by everyone involved, makes this show a must go for wine and food fans alike – maybe next year I’ll remember to partake in the food aspect of it.

Report from - Shores of Erie Wine Festival - Sept. 7, 2006

03 Jan 2007
The weekend of September 7 thru 9 saw 12 wineries, and approximately 12 restaurants, get together to celebrate The Shores of Erie International Wine Festival ... what they lacked in size they made up for in fun and frolic - what a wonderful time.

The setting is Historic Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario, overlooking the Detroit river; and while I wouldn't jump in for a swim, the scenery, especially the sunsets (that set off colours of purple, orange and red) and the big ships passing by, made for an ideal setting to share a glass (or bottle) with friends and complete strangers ... who soon became fast friends. I shared a bottle of Merlot with some tough-looking biker-types from Lasalle (very close to Amherstburg I was told), who were not only some of the most wonderfully congenial wine lovers I have spent time with - but they were serious enough about their wine to bring their own glassware (Riedels, Spiegelau, Ravencroft, etc.).

On the wine scene, old guards like Carlo Negri, of Colio, poured his bold and brawny ’02 CEV Reserve Merlot to great acclaim, alongside new kids like Colchester Ridge, who’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot is wonderful to sip and savour. Restaurants served up everything from soup to nuts, egg rolls to decadent desserts, vegetarian fare to carnivore extravaganzas.

Chefs and guest speakers, of whom I was one, gave demonstrations and lectures to interested, small (about 50 people) on-lookers … while the bands on the main stage played cover tunes from the likes of Steely Dan, John Mayer, R.E.M. and countless other musical icons.

30 minutes of heavy rain Saturday afternoon forced people to take cover under the tents – where winemakers and restaurant staff made them feel welcome with more wine and food while they waited out the downpour. When it was all done, and the rain was just down to a spitting, all emerged to head back to the benches and grass to resume the party.

This annual event is sure to continue – I was very glad, not only to attend, but be a part of it. Next year, may I suggest making the trek down to enjoy this wonderful, fun-filled event, which will be celebrating year number 3 … bigger and better I’m sure.

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