Nov 30, 2010

Ontario's Turn to Sparkle

With holidays around the corner, my thoughts turn to sparkling wine. 

Sparkling wine isn’t just for celebrations, but when it is time to celebrate, do you really want to drink anything else?  Take a page from Madame Bollinger, as she famously said of Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and I drink it when I am.  Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.

Seeing the multitude of choices at the LCBO, I turn into a little girl in a candy store.  Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Lanson, Taittinger – thoughts of my holiday budget leave my head!  But wait, how about Ontario sparkling wine?

I feel sparkling wine is the new “it” wine for Ontario wineries, and we do it extremely well!  Because we are a cool climate wine region, our grapes have a naturally high acidity, which is the key to making sparkling wine. And because our grapes aren’t the most expensive in the world, our sparkling wines often cost less than half the price of a bottle of “real” Champagne!  All of a sudden you’re thinking, “Hey, I can now afford to drink like Madame Bollinger!”  With that said, here is my list of favourite Ontario Sparkling Wines currently available at the LCBO:

  1. 2006 Château des Charmes Rosé Sparkling ($28.95)
  2. 2007 Flat Rock Cellars “Riddled” ($24.95)
  3. 2006 Fielding Estate Winery Sparkling Riesling ($28.00)
  4. N/V Peller Estates Ice Cuvée & Ice Cuvée Rosé ($31.95/$35.20)
  5. N/V Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut & Rosé Brut ($29.95)

And an honourable mention to Hillebrand Winery’s Trius Brut ($24.95) for coming from the most unbelievable must-see underground sparkling wine cellar in Canada!

I wish you the very best of the holiday season, and I look forward to hearing what was in your glass!

Nov 15, 2010

Should You Judge a Wine By Its Label?

I love perusing wine labels in the LCBO & Vintages.  They come in all sorts of different sizes and styles.  Some are all business – just the facts – while some are cute, some are pretty, and some just catch your eye.  Then you start thinking of the marketing behind them.  If it has an animal on it, should I completely disregard it as a “novice wine”?  Conversely, if I see a “serious label” – straightforward, no-nonsense, no design – should I expect it to follow through as such?

When “critter wines” first began to infiltrate the wine market, I gave them a try.  I then quickly stopped giving them a try.  The ones I tried were never my style of wine, so I lumped them all together and said, “I don’t drink anything with an animal on it.”  For years I followed this rule: I would read intriguing reviews about a wine, go to the LCBO/Vintages to buy a bottle or two, see an animal on the label, and end up not buying it. 

Then I started to notice that the non-critter-labeled wines I was buying didn’t necessarily dictate a higher quality of wine.  Unless you have the same taste in wine as a wine writer, it’s really a crap shoot when you go to choose a wine, so why not go for something that looks cute, or pretty, or catches your eye?  Although I must confess, I still haven’t got to the point of purchasing a bottle with a free tube of lip gloss, a silhouette of stilettos, or any women’s apparel, for that matter.

Nov 8, 2010

Ontario Makes Great Wine!

Ontario has, in fact, been making great wine for decades, but a lot of Ontarians are still oblivious to that fact. Many know about the award-winning and world-famous Icewines, but what about our fantastic Chardonnays, Rieslings and Pinot Noirs, for example? They’ve won prestigious titles, too, but still the phrase “Ontario Wine” continues to be uttered with such disdain.
Well, I'm here to tell you that we’ve come a long way, baby! I acknowledge that our vinous history can trace its roots back to Chateau Gai and Baby Duck, but every country has wines in their closet at which they cringe (California White Zinfandel or Blue Nun, for example).
Even now, there are low quality wines from almost every wine-producing region in the world gracing the shelves of your local LCBO. I’m not saying that every Ontario wine is the next Chateau Margaux or Screaming Eagle, but I am saying it’s time to stop making blanket statements like, “I don’t drink Ontario wine.”
Trust me; you’re missing out on a great thing!
To back up that assertion, I proudly offer below 10 under-$15 Ontario wines you can find in the LCBO (which I also imbibe). Please let me know what you think of them!

1.       Cave Spring Riesling Dry ($14.95)
2.       Southbrook Triomphe Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95)
3.       Inniskillin Late Autumn Riesling ($12.95)
4.       Tawse “Sketches of Niagara” Rosé ($14.95)
5.       Cattail Creek “Serendipity” Rosé ($14.20)
6.       Château des Charmes Cabernet Franc ($13.95)
7.       Peninsula Ridge Cabernet ($12.95)
8.       Henry of Pelham Cabernet/Merlot ($14.95)
9.       Trius Cabernet Franc ($14.95)
10.  Southbrook Cabernet/Merlot/Shiraz (14.95)

Oct 29, 2010

Sheila's Tequila Pairings

I love a challenge. We hosted a tequila dinner last night, and I had been given the mission of pairing tequila cocktails with each of the four courses.  Now, I’ve paired a lot of wines with different foods, and I’ve even done a beer pairing, but this was a whole new ballgame.  Thank goodness for Google.  I quickly found out that pairing tequila is like pairing wine: match the weight of the food with the weight of the cocktail, enhance flavours or contrast flavours, and nothing pairs well with artichokes.  During the dinner I was asked to discuss my pairings, and I was a little nervous to see their reactions, but it quickly dissipated when I was met with nods of encouragement and smiles.  The highlight of the pairings was a twist on a Cosmopolitan called the Cosmoquila.  Fitting, as Eight Wine Bar is located in the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

I think that’s one of the reasons why I love being a sommelier; every dinner is a different challenge, whether I’m pairing dinner with wine, beer or tequila.  Just to tease you, here’s the dinner we served (which all of the guests loved).

1st Course
Bean and Lobster Chili
with Avocado Yogurt and Charred Corn Salsa
El Jimador Brisa – El Jimador Blanco, lemonade, pomegranate juice

2nd Course
Roasted Duck Breast
with Grapefruit and Tequila Chutney, Purple Potato Purée,
Corona Battered Crispy Onion Rings
Cosmoquila – El Jimador Blanco, triple sec,
squeeze of lime, cranberry juice

3rd Course
Drunken Piglet “Make Your Own Taco”
served with Pickled Onions, Jalapenos and C’est Bon Goat Cheese
Herradura “Agave” Margarita
Herradura Reposado, triple sec, fresh lime juice, agave nectar

Mango Flambé with Tequila Brown Sugar
Served on a Spicy Pancake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Café Cortado – Herradura Reposado, coffee liqueur, half & half

Oct 21, 2010

Early Wine Memories

My dad tried to make wine once.

(Did I mention I was raised in small town Alberta? Not exactly wine country, so it was a Saskatoon berry wine he was attempting to make.)

I still remember the smell of fermentation coming from the basement. I think once it was in my senses it never left, and it was probably what inspired me to become a sommelier.

It's a decision I've never regretted, and I look forward to sharing more memories, insights and tips in the days and weeks to come.

Blogging is new to me so I'm not really sure where I'll be going with this... Your comments, suggestions and questions are always welcome!