On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from - Hamilton Food & Drink Fest - April 1, 2007

06 Apr 2007
“You’re obviously not from Hamilton,” said the Lakeport rep to me when I asked him where Lakeport calls home.

“How do you know that?”  I asked.

“Because we’re from right here in Steel Town,” replied jovially.  Lakeport was just one of the 50+ exhibitors at this year’s (2nd Annual) Hamilton Food & Drink Fest held at the Hamilton Convention Centre … and from all reports it was bigger and better than last year.  Barb from Reif Estate told me “I heard some exhibitors didn’t come back this year, but I don’t know why, this show is amazing.”  And in those four words she pretty much summed up the feelings of both exhibitors and attendees at this year’s event; a mixture of good local restaurants, an array of Ontario wineries from both Niagara and the Lake Erie North Shore; some area breweries and a smattering of agents, who brought with them the international flair of spirits and wine.

Kicking off with Wine:

First stop was Mastronardi (who seem to be a fixture at all the events lately) – I tried their 2002 Merlot ($29.00 – winery only) for the fourth time.  This rich full-bodied red is mellowing out quite nicely with age, the fruit and wood are really integrating well together.  This truly was my favourite red of the day.  Reif Estate was pouring their terrific 2005 Gamay Rose ($10.95 - #669366) which will be perfect for the summer ahead:  light and dry with strawberry and raspberry on the taste.  Coyote’s Run slipped me a glass of their general list 2005 Unoaked Chardonnay ($14.95 - #26740) a crisp, light and lively affair mixing good fruit and tropical notes on both the nose and taste.  Finally, I bumped into Robert of EastDell fame (see brunch at EastDell), he poured two Diamond Estate (EastDell’s parent company) wines:  the EastDell 2003 Cabernet Merlot ($14.95 – #620187) which had some dark fruit and earthiness with just a hint of tannin to it – I would recommend another year on it’s side should smooth this baby right out; and a Birchwood 2006 Gewurztraminer/Riesling ($10.85 - #572156), this’ll be a summer party/patio pleaser for sure with apple and lychee on the nose, honeyed apple and pear on the taste - I even picked up a little lime – very refreshing.  You should be seeing, and serving, this at the cottage.

Internationally Speaking:

Also in attendance were some of the agents from around Ontario, they brought international wines and spirits to this mainly local themed event.  Of particular interest was a fruity, easy-going Italian number from Cecchi, Bonizio Sangiovese Di Maremma ($12.10 – #613299), a well-priced pizza wine with minimal tannin, great value.  New to the LCBO is the Twin Fin 2003 Shiraz ($13.95 - #34132); it follows along the same line as the other Twin Fin offerings (Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv), fruit forward and ready to go.  There’s some red fruit and spice on this Shiraz, making it easy drinking and a sure BBQ season favourite for summer get togethers.

Want Food with That?

A few stand out restaurants from the show were KOI (Hamilton), whose coconut shrimp had everyone raving.  Any booth I stopped at to ask for food recommendations always started with. “The coconut shrimp at KOI is to die for …”.  My Thai (4 locations: Burlington, Hamilton, Brantford, Ancaster) served up a delicious fresh spring roll – mine was a little heavy on the coriander, but delicious nonetheless.  And, surprise, surprise, the Hamilton Convention Centre caterer was serving up the most amazing mini-burger I have ever tasted, topped with Asiago cheese, sun dried tomato mayo, fried red onions and red peppers … absolutely delicious.

Bring on the Suds:

Finally, the afore mentioned Lakeport let me try a few of their more interesting beers … the Honey Lager is good for you honey beer fans (of which I am one) and the Wee Willy offers up good body and some toasted caramel flavours.  I asked about their “new” red beer which they told me is expected to be on shelves at all Beer Stores by the end of the week of April 2 – but unfortunately they had none to try (my brother told me as I was writing this article, that he’s been drinking it for awhile now, so what give?).  Lakeport (for those who don’t know) is the 24 for $24 company, good beer at a fair price and was just bought by Labatt’s last Thursday March 29, 2007) – though the promise is business as usual.  Hope so cause they sure live up to their claim.

I must say that the Hamilton Food and Drink Fest was a rousing success for all who attended, and from talks with exhibitors they enjoyed being there too.  The elegant and intimate setting with live music at one end and cooking demonstrations at the other, and all manner of food and drink in-between was a welcome change from the boisterous big room events.  One ticket seller told me they had 2200 people go through the fest on Saturday (12-8), which seems impressive for a show of this size.   The ticket seller also lamented that they may have to take up two rooms next year to accommodate all the people.  My feelings are as long as they are able to maintain the atmosphere they can expand all they like.
One small note to next year’s organizer:  the only thing I would definitely recommend changing is the glassware … while a great little memento, it did little to help showcase the wines that went into it; a standard ISO glass would have performed better – a small glitch in an overall very impressive show.  Long may the fest go on.

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