Sunday, August 21, 2011

Less is...more!

Less is more. We’ve heard our parents and their parents say it for years. But it was on my recent family trip to France where I really started to understand the meaning of this statement. In addition to the smaller cars (which two adults and 2 kids got around fine in for 2 weeks), and the smaller (yet stinkier!) portions of cheese, I discovered that no matter where we went to eat, the wine glasses were very, very… small. How could a country born and raised on making great wine, for many centuries not want to swirl and twirl, observe and flaunt their wine in giant, polished goblets like our Californian friends to the south?

Enjoying a first glass of Burgundy in Paris

At first, I thought it was just the roadside cafés who wanted to spare the risk of having larger, top-heavy glasses balancing on their small, wobbly tables. But restaurant after restaurant, bistro after bistro, I was schooled in the way of enjoying “French” wine. The point, in my humble observation is that wine (for the most part) in France is really not meant as a course on its own, but rather to enhance a meal. Here in North America, though we’re so used to placing our drink order before we even peruse the menu, we’ve already gulped down a glass of wine before we even try our food. Wine has almost become a meal replacement in some way. Perhaps this is why more and more new world wines (North American, South American, Australian…) tend to be more fruit-forward, full-bodied, stand-on-their-own kind of wines. The earthier, more acidic and tannic wines associated with old world wine makers are more focused on what they do to the food they are trying to compliment, versus what they do to your senses on their own.

While I still love my new world wine, I’ve been making more of an effort to search for those that strike a balance between the right amount of fruit and body to hold its own as an appetizer, while having the modesty to take second stage to the main meal. A couple of my recent finds include:

Anne Amie, Cuvée Pinot Noir, 2008 from Oregon a beautiful example of new world Pinot Noir, done by the PN masters in Oregon and $27 at the LCBO.

Vina Mayor, Toro, 2007 from Spain - (ok, Spain isn’t really “new world” but…) 100% Tinta de Toro grapes, perfect for a barbecue and reasonably priced at $20 at the LCBO.

But while I’m learning to hone my new found appreciation for the “subtler” side of wine, I feel I need to come clean: I still LOVE my giant, polished wine goblets. I love the swirling, and twirling, and sniffing, and observing – and while I don’t always openly do this in public (for lack of being completely ridiculed at my local family restaurant), this is *my* experience with wine. So perhaps I’ll just have to taken one less piece of cheese, forego the hor d’oeuvres or take a smaller cut of cake, in lieu of a larger drop of wine.

Posing in front of the Domaine du Mauperthuis vines (left), and pouring myself a taste at the Vignoble Jaumouille, both in the Loire Valley

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Battle of the Sexes

Appetizers, Hors d’Oeuvres, Tapas, Small Plates… all of these expressions describe experiences of multiple flavours, textures and sensations, in bite-size portions. Regardless of who you are, we all love the possibility of trying new flavour combinations without having to commit to the full-meal deal. This is probably why this “mix ‘n mingle” type of finger food has been viewed by so many as an aphrodisiac for both men and women, and the perfect cocktail party pleaser. 

I recently completed my Food & Wine Pairing course, and the final culminating task was to find the best wine pairing with a food of my choice – to be judged by a panel of chefs and sommeliers. My choice in food? An appetizer. But not just any old appetizer… the “perfect aphrodisiac” appetizer, aimed to please both men and women. A daunting task… maybe. Fortunately, one of my friends took the course with me and helped shape this final task.

Pre-Battle Considerations
Many men will say that that if they had to choose an aphrodisiac food, they would pick the more savory and meaty dishes as their first choice, while historically sweeter foods, such as chocolate have been deemed the love-boosting choice for women. Other natural aphrodisiac choices for both men and women have included avocados, figs, cranberries, oysters, basil, pistachios, bacon, and red wine (of course!).

On a mission to find the coveted aphrodisiac appetizer, and to pair it with the best matched wine, (and in an effort to satisfy both sexes!), we wanted to test a number of appetizers and wines that highlighted the very best of both the savoury and sweet characteristics in our menu items.

Unsure as to which dish would work best, we decided to host a party with our meat & potato-lovin’ husbands where we experimented with a number of appetizers. We then chose three wines based on some of what we had learned with food and wine pairing (let me inject the 2 golden rules of wine pairing here: 1) always ensure that your wine is sweeter than your food, and 2) choose wines that compliment the strongest flavour on the plate).

See what we served!

The Line-up
We prepared five appetizer dishes:

 Gorgonzola & Pear Foccacia
 Mozzarella with Italian Picadillo
 Caramelized Onion & Gruyère Crostini
 Cranberry & Brie Kobe Beef Sliders
 Gorgonzola Stuffed Figs
 Chocolate Covered Bacon

And uncorked three wines to try with each:
• Prosecco (La Spinee, sparkling white Italian, Veneto, Italy)
• Late Autumn Riesling (Inniskillin, Niagara, Canada)
• Late Bottled Vintage Port (Taylor-Fladgate, Douro, Portugal)

The Battle
In a true battle of the sexes, who better to experiment with these wines and dishes than our husbands? With much food and wine on the menu, we needed little convincing to gather our men for this task. The bigger job, however was getting their agreement to eat slowly, savour eat bite, sip their wine, and take notes on what the wine did to the food and what the food did to the wine. Again, alcohol was involved, so we were able to get past that hurdle fairly quickly.

The Final Verdict
At the end of the evening, both men and women voted the Chocolate Covered Bacon and the Late Autumn Riesling as the winning pair. Truthfully, I was kind of surprised that I actually liked the odd combination of chocolate and bacon, and I was even more surprised that we all chose the sweeter white wine (instead of a sweet red wine) to go with these “muddy pigs” - yes, that's what folks in the south refer to this menu item. When we first discovered this recipe and began telling friends and family about our endeavour, we received such strong reactions to the bacon and chocolate concoction. In essence, this menu item started to become the conversation piece of the evening – even before the party got started. Now that’s some serious party planning!

I guess my key learning out of this course was that certain food and wine pairings – and even the opposite sex – can still surprise me from time to time.

Try it for yourself!
Recipe for Chocolate Dipped Bacon

1 16 -ounce package of bacon, thick sliced, cut crosswise into thirds
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate (72%) or more, chopped
¼ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. Arrange bacon pieces in a single layer in the prepared pans. Sprinkle lightly with brown sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until crisp. Transfer bacon to wire racks; cool (up to 2 hours).

2. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. In a small double boiler, cook and stir chocolate over low heat until melted. Dip bacon pieces halfway into the chocolate, letting excess drip off. Place on the prepared baking sheet. While still warm, sprinkle with the pistachio nuts.

3. Chill until chocolate is set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Official... the Leaf is Gilded!

It's official!  After months of learning about starting a wine agency, the ins and outs of dealing with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, forming a business partnership, racking our brains for a business name, creating a website, making contacts in the industry... I'm happy to launch Gilded Leaf Wine & Spirits.

Now the tough work begins.

We need to find wineries to represent, and start our journey up the steep (and I would imagine sometimes slippery) learning curve.  There are so many ways to represent a winery and their products... distributing directly to the LCBO, supplying restaurants and private clients, participating in wine clubs and wine fairs... the list goes on.  So many possibilities!

I'll continue to blog about my learnings in the business, and especially as I begin my next course on Food & Wine Pairings - can't wait!  The scale will officially be removed from the bathroom until well after this course is complete.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out my website at:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Jesus Juice Here

One of the featured wines in a recent vintages release is the South Australian Shiraz, The Formula, 2005 by Small Gully Wines. If you can snag a bottle of this stuff, I recommend trying it. I'm going to warn you, though, it's a *tad* stronger than some of the other wines you may have tried lately. At 16.7 percent alcohol by volume, one of the first aromas that hits you is... well.... alcohol. Once you get past the initial memory of Jack Daniels, aromas of dark chocolate, black cherries, and sweet spices start to emerge… almost Christmas Cake-like.

There has been a rising trend towards wines being created with higher and higher levels of alcohol. This might be due to the fact that more wine makers are giving in to the trend of producing much more fruit-forward wines, using very ripe grapes. The riper the grapes, the higher the sugar levels, and the higher the resulting alcohol. Alcohol is created when sugar and yeast ferment... so the more sugar you have in the juice (called must), the greater the potential for higher alcohol levels.

One theory for the demand for fruitier wines is that this "new generation" of wine drinkers tends to drink wine both with and without food. For centuries before this one (and possibly up until more recently), people drank wine as part of their meals. Folks living in the new world wine regions are now adopting more of a "drink when I want, where I want" culture (my peeps!). If you aren't pairing your wine with your food, your palate will start to demand more flavours to compensate for that lack of "mouth harmony" (yeah, I just made up that term).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Last Supper?

Faced with certain death and given the choice of a final meal, what would be your last supper?

My next course on Wine & Food Pairings doesn’t start until October, but I am already mentally preparing for the mission of matching wine with food. But rather than taking on the somewhat intimidating task of pairing “the” perfect wine with exotic, fusion-esque dishes, I’ve turned my attention to the simplest, yet most satisfying plates – think: comfort food, and the various wines that bring out their best flavours.

For example, what wine would you pair with grilled cheese? I suppose the snobbiest of wine snobs would answer that question with another question: which cheese are you using? My answer: Um… does process cheese count? I think this will have to be further investigated in my next course. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever had wine with grilled cheese. Milk has always done the trick for me. But I do know this much: wine goes great with bread and cheese! So I will beg the question and come back with an answer in the coming months.

Back to our last supper question…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A High Glass Affair

It's official.  I’ve reached new levels of wine snobbery. In my last Grape Varieties class, we had a Riedel Crystal wine rep come talk to the class – a.k.a. a really great way to market your product to self-professed wine snobs! Doug Gerro, certified sommelier from C.A. Paradis in Ottawa was a fabulous guest speaker, and it turned out to be one of my most enjoyed classes, yet.

I mean, ok we all know that there are different wine glasses for specific wines – each one professing to bring out the very best aromas and flavours of a particular kind of wine. However, for the most part I’m with most of you: if the glass is clean, and large enough to hold a sufficient amount of the evening’s pick, I’m happy.

I must say though, I was blown away by what I learned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mind the Gap

Wow. I’m just back from a long weekend in Boston where I bought an eclectic mixture of wine (8 bottles of red and white from Italy, California, France, Spain and a little winery in the Adirondacks of NY), and once again I am shocked – stunned, really – at how much selection our friends to the south have when it comes to wine (and how they purchase it!). While some Canadian provinces have privatized liquor boards, most including Ontario have government controlled boards, with strict checks and balances on what wines can be represented, bought, sold and drunk within the provincial borders. So imagine my sheer glee when I came across the Brix Wine Shop in downtown Boston – a store specializing in only wines, and mostly imports. (Brix is the new world method for measuring the amount of sugar in a grape, and thus the resulting alcohol level). I was even more pleased to find out that I was walking into this cute, cellar-like store at the perfect happy hour of 6pm, where the financial district workers were merrily trying the “vin du jour” at the daily wine sampling.

It got me thinking.