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 - Taste the Season – Nov. 18, 2006

03 Jan 2007
Hitting 10 Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries in one day may seem like a lot, but in actual fact it’s probably just enough when it comes to this event. “Taste the Season” is not about drinking to excess, it’s about pairing food with wine and collecting recipes for those upcoming holiday get-togethers. Truthfully you probably could hit all 17 wineries on the passport program, but that would cause you to rush through the wineries and then tasting becomes more of a chore than an experience. 10 allows you a leisurely pace, if you start at about 11 in the morning; if you have time at the end you can throw in a few extra for good measure. Keep in mind that if you rush through and only do the tastings prescribed you might miss some excellent finds along the way. I hear you asking, Grape Guy what are you talking about? Let me highlight a few of the day’s pairings, wines and finds.

Best Food Pairings:

Hats off to Marynissen for pairing a lovely 2002 Cabernet Merlot alongside Pappardelle with Shredded Beef Brisket – seemed like a simple dish and those serving it had no trouble admitting it. “We wanted something you could make quickly and easily and not have to go and search out your ingredients.” Plus soaking the brisket in the paired wine was inspired marketing, because if you liked the recipe you were more apt to buy the wine.

Second place goes to Stonechurch pairing their newly released 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon with Beef Carpaccio Marinated in Cabernet Sauvignon on a Toasted Crostini … the two married well together – in the same way that the Marynissen did, because of the wine and food working harmoniously in the recipe and in the glass. I’m sad to say the Cab Sauv was of mostly foreign grapes … though truly delicious. Congrats to Terence van Rooyen for a wonderful wine – I look forward to seeing what he does with the domestic grapes.

Not so good Pairing – but thanks for the food:

This is a toss up between Hillebrand and Joseph’s Estate … both of them decided to go the sweet route with the food and dry route with the wine – with the potential disastrous results. Hillebrand had some wonderful Bittersweet Truffle Cups with Cinnamon, a taste sensation for the mouth, I could have gone back again and again to sample more – but the 2003 Trius Cabernet Franc (a good wine on it’s own); was no match for these fine desserts. On the other hand Joseph’s served an incredible Brie Baked Cheesecake with Cranberries (from Willow Bakery in NOTL) … the Cheesecake was lovely, sweet, soft and scrumptious – the Cabernet Franc did little to lift the flavours of the food. Though I am not knocking the wine, it too was quite nice on it’s own, but together they did not marry up well.

On the other Hand:

The only winery that did right by the sweet stuff was Lailey – pairing their 2005 Select Late Harvest Vidal with a wonderful Apple Strudel (from the Pie Plate in Virgil). Both complimenting the other in this harmonious marriage of taste and sinful pleasure – it is up to you to decide which is which.

Forget the Food – the wine stands alone:

At two wineries I can’t even tell you what the food was that they paired the wine with (thank goodness for the list) - that’s because the wine was a stand-alone sensation. Both Reif Estates and Jackson-Triggs paired their wines with a meat themed dish – Roasted Beef Tenderloin en Croute with Olive Tapenade and Prosciutto & Roasted Plum Panini respectively, but I remember not the taste of the food. Reif’s 2002 Meritage though I remember distinctly. A relatively balanced Meritage when it comes to grape distribution with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% each for the Merlot and Cab Franc. Time in the bottle has smoothed out this wine, but not to a point where it has lost all flavours – in fact it still could rest for a few more years and develop further complexity. There is some spice, vegetal notes and tannin that linger in the palate and don’t forget to pay close attention to the sweet cherry mid-palate. Delicious; definitely worthy of it’s $26.95 price tag.

Jackson-Triggs also served up a Meritage, their 2004 Proprietor’s Reserve, which is heavy on the Merlot side (45%) followed by Sauv (40%) and Franc (15%) … but it was the steal of the day at $13.99. Great black fruit and spice taste with a little bit of tannin – but it’s ready to drink right now. As was pointed out during the tasting: “this is a great every day wine, especially for the price.” No argument here.

We came for the food and wine pairing – but were thrilled with something else:

After the Meritage at Jackson-Triggs we were compelled to go downstairs and try a few more wines. The only 2002 they had left was a Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Merlot – which drank well now but has many good years left in it, $24.95. And their newly released VQA 2004 Shiraz (Ontario grown) – is wonderful taste-wise – the nose has yet to find it’s way but the taste is awesome. This coming from the winery who brought you the wine of the year with it’s B.C. Shiraz (VQA), keep your eye on what is coming from JT and Shiraz – they know something and we’ll all benefit.

Chateau des Charmes continues to put out some great wine – their 2002 Estate Bottled Cabernet Merlot is wonderful (look for a full review in an upcoming newsletter); and their Paul Bosc and St. David’s Bench 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon also continue to turn heads. The have unearthed a few more bottles of the St. David’s Bench version (they are in limited re-release on the shelf) – otherwise that wine is completely sold out – so call the winery if you are looking for that one. Their newly released 2005 Gamay Noir ($11.95) is also quite lovely – good fruit flavours that you’d expect from this Beaujolais grape with some slight heft and good tannins, even without benefit of oak ageing. Finally, the 2005 Estate Bottled Riesling is wonderful … a special review is on the website.

Reif also impressed with a 2004 Reserve Merlot ($23.95) that showed strong characteristics of Cabernet Franc, green pepper nose and taste, though a few hours of opening dissipated the powerful pepper on both the nose and taste to a dull roar. The mid-palate became sweet with hints of cherry and cloves … I think they have a winner with this one – though for the time being decanting is a must.

Pillitteri and icewine are becoming synonymous … their 2004 Sparkling Vidal ($60) comes in a half-sized “champagne” bottle and it tastes like icewine that tickles the tongue (with fizz) – and because of that it seems to dissipate the sweetness a little; which would seem hard to do with a wine that clocks in at 20 on the sweetness scale. Great golden colour, fine little bubbles, a light taste that lacks the kind of cloyingness you get from icewine and a great honey and apple finish. I am told that the Riesling version is even better – maybe next time.

Finally, Lailey Vineyard’s 2005 Riesling is wonderful, good apple and citrus. Winemaker Derek Barnett continues to impress with his dry Rieslings that will age a good 5 to 7 years. Though I tried one of his Southbroook 1994 Semi-Dry Rieslings (in 2006) and was blown away by its’ staying power – the fruit flavours were still there and so vibrant in the mouth, even a day after opening, and that 12 year old Riesling had no signs of going flabby any time soon. So I think Mr. Barnett may be a little conservative in his estimate for ageability.

Summing up the Season:

Well that does it again for another year at “Taste the Season” (which runs through to Nov. 25-26, tickets still available) – some great food, some great wine and a really fun day … if you don’t get a chance this year, take advantage of it next year, it really is worth the day – or the weekend if you want to do all the wineries. Thanks to the organizers and to Second Harvest, the charitable partner of this event, they help organize and sell the tickets and benefit from the wineries generosity. So if you’re not in it for the food and wine, remember it’s for a good cause – and that, if nothing else, will make you feel good about the day ... but I’ll bet the food and wine gets you too.

If you attended taste the season – and have a favourite food and wine pairing, a favourite wine, or just a really good story … let’s hear it. Log On … Log In … and Share.

Report from - Gourmet Food and Wine Expo–Toronto Nov. 23, 2006

03 Jan 2007
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.

Currently Available:

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.

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