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.
Another year and another Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo is in the books. Held at the Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto, it showcases wines from around the world with a theme region taking center stage. The question that is asked so often is does Toronto have too many wine shows? My answer is more of a question than a downright answer: is there such a thing? But seriously, Toronto seems to have a wine show for every region, locale, distributor and importer and yet the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo brings them all together under one roof for a weekend of good food, good wine and a playful atmosphere. Sure there were a few problems that were glaring: like why the featured wine region, “Best of Niagara”, was buried so far at the back of the hall? And why was it decked out like some backwater-hicksville display with white picket fencing and lamp posts; when compared to the high-techness of Chile, chic-uniformity of France and cool-classiness of California? Finally, why were the Wines of Australia notably missing from all but the VIP night on Thursday? Does Australia feel they have Ontario all locked up and don’t need to show off there wares at one of the biggest shows of the year? Quite the act of hubris if I do say so myself. But all-in-all the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo proved to be another successful showcase for some of the best wines out there currently and ones that are coming to an LCBO/Vintages store near you. Without the Aussies there it allowed other regions to shine.
Category: On the Road with the Grape Guy
Let’s start by looking at some wines from South Africa that have a story to tell. Robertson Winery is actually a co-op with many different growers under their umbrella. Every year they hold a competition to determine who is making the best single vineyard expression of a specific varietal. The winner gets their wine made as a premium offering, single vineyard designated, under the Robertson Winery label. The rest of the wines go into a final blend, or house style wine. The three available this year through Vintages are stunning examples of good quality and fair priced wine. The 2003 Prospect Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (#687814 - $18.95) is delicious and juicy, made in an old-world style, that could use some more time in the bottle to soften it up a bit. The 2004 Wolfkloof Shiraz (#626341 - $19.95) is full, lush and ready to drink now. But the best value is the Retreat Sauvignon Blanc (#933085 - $14.95) with grapefruit and grassy notes, a true expression of the grape and great flavours in the mouth … this one is a winner from start to finish. The whole line of wines are ones to be searched out and purchased immediately.
Looking elsewhere in Vintages: Vina La Rosa’s La Capitana Merlot, from Chile, is a delicious version for those who like their merlot on the fuller richer side with just a hint of oak flavouring (#655209 - $14.95). And just released this past Saturday (Nov. 25) – the Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Select (#947887 - $21.95) has great chocolate notes that make you come back to the glass for another taste again and again – best of all the smell is there too – it’s one of those wines you’re afraid to drink because it smells so good but the taste might let you down – this one delivers on both counts. Yummy.
General List Gem:
Also from Chile comes this Carmenere gem from Santa Alicia, a juicy, ripe and delicious expression of the grape at a great price $10.45 (#309302). Make sure it’s the 2004 vintage, and you won’t go wrong putting this on your table or even giving it as a unique gift this holiday season (who else gives Carmenere?). Back to South Africa, the general list Shiraz from Robertson Winery ($12.20 - #610949) is great value for an every day sipper.
Delicato’s 2005 Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.95) is coming back to Vintages this spring. It’s delicious sweet berry flavours make this wine another winner from this award winning California winery.
There were lots of wine available through consignment only methods (which means they are not in the LCBO and must be purchased from their agents, and you usually have to order a minimum of a case), but none seemed as worthwhile as this bargain from Chile. Vina La Rosa winery (again) – has a lighter every day drinker called La Palma at $12.99 for both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a great value. The merlot was simple, easy drinking, with wonderful black fruit flavours. No oak is used in the making of this wine so the berry flavours really show through – and it’s micro-oxigenated (simply put – they add oxygen to the wine to make it ready to drink now instead of having to shelve it a few years). The Cabernet Sauvignon undergoes the same treatment but it’s a little more complex on the palate and proves to have a bit of a bitter finish, a few more months in bottle should take care of that. Buy both – drink the merlot first and wait for the Sauv to come around.
The Hostess with the Mostess:
Finally a big thank you to Kimberly, who made attending the show easy for a few of our readers and myself. She was the one who provided us with the tickets we gave away and the information updates that kept us abreast of what was happening this year at the show. Thank you to Kimberly, your staff your staff and all those who helped to make this years’ Gourmet Food and Wine Expo another rousing success.
Christmas Eve Day, a beautiful bright sunshiny day, Holly Cole must be singing directly to us as we pulled into the driveway at EastDell – and she definitely had her description right; 7 degrees, not a cloud in the sky; who could believe Christmas was quite literally a day away. Where’s the snow, the wind, the cold temps? (A million miles away in Denver, so I hear) What a nice day to check out EastDell’s restaurant “The View” for their Christmas brunch – a special holiday version of their usual Sunday affair. And I could not think of two more deserving people then the two that have put up with me during those formative years: mom and dad. But my reasons for bringing them were twofold. 1) a nice holiday gift … and 2) there are no tougher critics in the world. Dad is the cook and gourmand of the family and incredibly valuable at helping to identify those dishes that I can not figure out. Mom loves a day out in wine country … so off we went for a 12:30 seating.
Category: On the Road with the Grape Guy
“The View” restaurant is aptly named ... it gets it's name from the floor to ceiling windows that encase the restaurant overlooking the vineyards of EastDell – of course in winter the view isn’t as lush and green as say the spring or summer, or as colourful as fall – but on this beautiful “winter” day as the vines lay dormant, the grass was still green and we could see clean across the vineyards to Toronto across the lake.
We were greeted by Robert (manager and sommelier) who showed us to our table, made sure we were comfortable and helped us pick out a nice wine that would pair well with a majority of the foods on the buffet tables. The 2004 Birchwood Estate (sister winery of EastDell) Gewurztraminer/Riesling was a unanimous choice by Robert and two other servers I overheard making wine recommendations at nearby tables. A delicious apple and mineral concoction with hints of lime on the nose; and apple, lychee and mango in the mouth – all wrapped up with a touch of sweetness. It paired wonderfully with everything we put in our mouths.
The buffet tables are laid out in an L-shape and are broken down into hot and cold sections, there’s something for everybody. If you have not had anything to eat in a while you might want to stop reading here and grab yourself a little bite, or else at the very least, I’m about to whet your appetite. On the cold side of the L there was a mayonnaise penne pasta salad, which was hugely overshadowed in tasteby the balsamic and sun-dried tomato tri-coloured fusilli version. A summer mixed green salad (what I lovingly call “weed salad”); teriyaki-glazed salmon, crudités, samosas with cheese and spinach; potato salad, tomato salad, croissant and a cream of potato and leek soup (which was the only dish on the buffet that my father did not identify). All wonderful starters for the hot mains that occupied the other half of the L.
The “hot L” had your typical breakfast time fare like sausages, bacon and pancakes along with Alistair (the self-described “omelette slave”, who’s British accent gave the act of ordering an omelette a more refined and dignified feel) whipping up delicious egg combinations to your specifications, which included a wonderful 5 cheese blend, veggies and other egg-includable-stuffings. But it was the non-typical fare that proved to be the bigger hit. Beef stroganoff; chicken cacciatore; mussels in white wine; blitzes filled with ricotta and spinach topped with a puree of tomatoes and cream sauce. Seafood and veggie Creole and a potato pancake (for the Hanukkah crowd) mixed with parsnips and cabbage. There was also your first taste of Christmas bird at the end of the buffet, cut to order – usually it’s prime rib that ends off the hot side, but due to the festive season turkey took the honours.
But nothing could compete with the holiday dessert table that was on display across from the main buffet table. I got to meet the pastry chef while I was there, a short skinny guy named Shane, who swears he samples everything he makes. Now I make it a hard and fast rule never to trust a skinny pastry-chef, but I am told Shane rides his bike to work everyday (even in bad weather) to keep his “girlish” figure, so I’ll break my rule this one time because of the spread he had arranged. There were the prerequisite cheese and fruit trays but beside those we found gingerbread men made with fresh ginger, black forest trifle with vanilla custard topping, round shortbread cookies half dipped in coloured chocolate and decorated with Smarties. Dark chocolate mousse in mini volovante (puff pastry) cups, also Smartie topped; persimmon tartlettes, banana bread drizzled with yellow chocolate and maple bread pudding with chocolate chips and walnuts. And how could I forget the spiced Bavarian laced with nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Robert (with a big smile) asked Shane how many of these items he had picked up from the grocery store on his way in – Shane looked appalled as he shot back “I most certainly did not.” All of the desserts are made by hand from the Bavarian to the banana bread – Shane also slaves over the melting of the chocolate, which he also uses to create the icewine truffles.
If all of this sounds good, trust me it tastes even better. And most of it is available every Sunday of the year … the restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner and Robert is hoping to host some special events in the new year – so keep a watchful eye open for those. The View is not a placed to be missed – the food is extraordinary, homemade, and uses local ingredients. No matter what time of day you walk in the door you’ll be treated to an absolutely astonishing meal, served by wonderful professionals in a stunning environment; and of course a selection of local Diamond Estates wines (Birchwood; Thomas & Vaughan, Lakeview and EastDell). And now, as I run out of adjectives to describe this incredible spread, I trust you’ll take my advice and get out there to take in the scenery and a meal. Bon appetite.