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Finding My Favorite Wine With LCBO’s goLocal Promo

27 Sep

LCBO goLocal wine Ontario

I’ve always loved the idea of Ontario wine – that is, the idea that our province is home to a wine-producing community that wine aficionados from around the world recognize alongside some of the old-world giants like France and Italy. Unfortunately, try as I might, I’ve never quite managed to fall in love with Ontario wines. Many of the local wines I’ve bought from LCBO shelves just haven’t done it for me, for several reasons: I’m a red wine drinker, and while Ontario produces both reds and whites, it’s usually the rieslings and chardonnays that get the accolades. And as much as I enjoy reds, while I haven’t met many Cabernet Sauvignons or Tempranillos I didn’t enjoy, the Cabernet Francs and Pinot Noirs that dominate Ontario vineyards haven’t dazzled my palate.

Niagara winery wine Ontario

These were the preconceived notions I took with me on a recent media tour of the Niagara wine region to mark the start of the LCBO’s goLocal campaign. I joined several dozen food and wine writers on a Via Rail trek to St. Catharines, where we were split into two groups, each group boarding a different shuttle bus to explore different wine producers. This year marked the twentieth consecutive year of the LCBO’s annual fall promotion of Ontario wines, and the theme of its 2011 campaign – find your favourite – seemed apropos considering my apprehensive attitude toward local wines. We were going to be given the opportunity to taste our way through more than a dozen whites, reds and sparkling products from the Niagara region, and I was determined to leave with a better understanding of our province’s wine industry and, hopefully, to have found a few bottles that I loved.

barrels wine Ontario

Over the course of the day, my group met with winemakers from Hillebrand Estates, Trius, Vineland Estates, Peller Estates, Angels Gate, Henry of Pelham and Diamond Estates (producer of the Dan Ackroyd line of wines). Being given the chance to connect with the producers, listen to them talk about their passion and knowledge for winemaking and the Niagara region, and taste a number of their wines back to back made me realize just how lucky southern Ontarians are to live so close to such a vibrant wine-producing region. This is key to really understanding local wines, because while standing in your LCBO and trying to choose an Ontario wine from a wall of products and labels you’re not entirely familiar with can be intimidating, spending a few hours immersed in the land that bears these wines and having the experts walk you through the differences between each grape, blend and vintage can help you zero in on something you’ll enjoy.

tasting room Niagara wine Ontario
Hillebrand Estates winery tasting room being prepped for a busload of food writers.

The wine that ended up having the biggest impression on me was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Trius. This was a surprise to me, in that I didn’t expect to enjoy a white wine this much. But the bright, fruity flavour and really fresh grape bouquet won me over. My runner-up pick (a bottle of which made its way home with me) was 2009 Angels Gate Gamay Noir. AJ McLaughlin, the company’s VP of sales and marketing, commented that Gamay Noir was a grape that didn’t necessarily have the same cachet as some of the more well-known Niagara grapes, but that it produced a “good crossover wine” that often appeals to white drinkers who aren’t big on red wines… or in my case, a red drinker who tends to avoid whites.

Angels Gate Winery Niagara Ontario
The Angels Gate winery in Niagara.

The LCBO goLocal tour reminded me that a visit to Niagara is easily achieved, from Toronto at least, and is a great way for wine lovers to learn more about what makes Ontario-produced wines so special. I may have started the trip as a skeptic, but I definitely left as someone who’ll be a bit more inclined to consider the local racks at the LCBO.

Check out lcbogolocal.com or winecountryontario.ca for info on Ontario’s growing regions, wineries and standout wines.

On the Menu

14 May

 

Jenny and I have been lucky enough to attend a bunch of great food-related events in and around Toronto, most of which we’ve found out about from contacts we’ve made through Communal Table. Since this means people we know have started to look to us for what’s going on in Toronto’s food scene – and we don’t always remember unless we have it written down – we figured it’d be a good idea to start up a periodic listing of cools events we’ve found out about.

While we’re not planning to run this listing on any sort of defined weekly schedule – at least not initially – we will offer up a look at what’s “on the menu” once in a while, as we get wind of interesting happenings. Here’s what we’ve heard about recently:

86’D at the Drake Hotel:  Cheese Rave
Monday, May 16

Food-related fun is the focus of Monday nights at the Drake Hotel’s 86’D events, hosted by local food personality Ivy Knight. Each Monday evening features music, food cook-offs pitting local chefs or amateur cooks against each other over a themed dish (think battle pate or kimchi), and great drinks from the Drake’s bar staff. This coming Monday’s 86’d is all about cheese, as attendees sample different varieties in recognition of the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

iYellow Wines of Niagara on the Lake
Wednesday, May 18

We’ve told you about the iYellow Wine Club in the past, and they’re back with another event aimed at helping people learn about and sample a selection of wines. This one will feature owners and winemakers from 26 different Niagara Region wineries, each sampling two of their newest VQA release wines. In addition to tastings, the event will include food from Oliver & Bonacini and three educational wine seminars. And here’s something cool – for every ticket you buy to the Wines of Niagara on the Lake event, you’ll get a free ticket to one of iYellow’s wine events taking place later this summer.

Recipe for Change
May 26

FoodShare is a Toronto organization with a mandate of ensuring good, healthy food for all. They offer school programs to improve the food knowledge of young people, a Good Food Box program to deliver quality produce to people all over Toronto, and focus on working to change food policy, among other activities. The Recipe for Change event is a night of great food, wine and beer from some of Toronto’s best chefs, as well as local wineries and craft breweries. Proceeds from the event help fund FoodShare’s programs for students. Jenny and I are excited by the list of chefs and dishes scheduled, and we’re planning on being there.

Donate a Can Project
Until May 28

Until May 28, the organizers of this initiative will donate a can of food to Second Harvest for every LIKE they get on their Facebook fan page, as well as a can of food for every follower they get to their Twitter account @donateacan. Sounds like a great initiative, and an easy way for everyone in Toronto and elsewhere to help feed people in need through Second Harvest.

The Winner Is…

8 May

Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Congratulations to Karen Mwachikobe, who has won two passes to the Cheese Fair and Artisan Food Market taking place June 5 in Picton, Ontario as part of the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival. This looks like it’s going to be a great event, and it should give you and your husband the opportunity to sample an amazing variety of cheeses from all across Canada, as well as local wines and beer.

The details for the Cheese Fair and Artisan Food Market can be found here. But remember, there are many other great events happening as part of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival weekend. Go here for the full schedule and to purchase tickets to any of the other events.

Tasting Beringer Wines with iYellow Wine Club

19 Feb

iYellow Beringer

Jenny and I both love wine, and like we do with food, we enjoy exploring different grapes and regions. Neither of us have any formal training in cooking, but I think we know enough about food and combining flavours that we’re comfortable experimenting, rather than being guided by a recipe. We know substantially less about wine than we do about food and cooking, but we generally prefer reds and like certain characteristics (full-bodied, and earthy or spicy rather than full-on fruity taste), and we experiment with different wines that fit these guidelines – experimenting, in this case, means hitting the LCBO and picking something that’s gotten good reviews and has interesting-sounding tasting notes.

While we’re usually able to find some great wines using this method, it’s nice to occasionally have the opportunity to learn about different wines in a more formal setting. Earlier this month, I checked out a wine tasting event put on by Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club. The event was called I Heart Beringer, and provided the opportunity to taste seven different wines produced by this California company.

iYellow Beringer pour

I’ve been to a couple of larger wine shows over the past few years, which allow visitors to taste a huge variety of different wines from all over the world. These kinds of events are great for discovering several new grapes in one place and learning about wine-producing regions (who knew the former USSR member country, Georgia, is actually the world’s oldest wine-producing country – a fact I learned at a recent wine show). But it can be difficult to mentally process the good from the not-so-good after an hour or two of running around tasting wines.

iYellow Beringer Wine Tasting

iYellow’s Beringer event brought together around 200 people in a casual, fun setting at a downtown art gallery, and allowed us to focus our taste buds on a series of wines produced by one company, all from grapes grown in California’s Napa Valley. The Beringer wines being poured were 2009 California Collection White Zinfandel, 2009 Founders’ Estate Pinot Grigio, 2009 Founders’ Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Founders’ Estate Chardonnay, 2008 Founders’ Estate Merlot, 2008 Founders’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Founders’ Estate Syrah. I tend prefer cabernet sauvignon, and this was the one that stood out for me the most. But I really enjoyed the opportunity to taste these all at once and to be able to compare Beringer whites and reds from the same vintages.

Ange Aiello
Ange Aiello, founder of iYellow Wine Club

Ange Aiello (get it… iYellow) started iYellow Wine Club in 2006 after moving to Toronto from the Niagara region to provide people with the opportunity to learn about wine in an approachable, fun and casual environment. I talked to a couple people at the Beringer tasting who said that they generally avoid the bigger wine shows and educational events because they feel intimidating, but that they enjoyed the laid-back vibe of the gallery, with tasting stations set up around the venue and a DJ spinning tunes.

iYellow runs several events over the year, including tastings, wine education events and tours of Ontario’s wine regions, with prices starting around $35 a head, which seems like a pretty reasonable deal to me for wines, food and some valuable education.

For more info on upcoming iYellow Wine Club events, check out www.iyellowwineclub.com

(Special thanks to iYellow Wine Club and photographer Patrick Sijis for use of the images.)

How to Make Store-Bought Fruitcake Taste Delicious in 5 Easy Steps

9 Dec

Fruitcake alcohol cheesecloth

I love Christmas. I love the traditions, and the fact it involves hanging out with family. And, of course, I love the food – with one exception: fruitcake. I know I’m not the only person who shares a hatred of fruitcake. There are many of us fruitcake haters. And yet, there it is every year at Christmas, sitting there, taunting us. Dry, mealy doorstops, or moist, overly sweet doorstops, filled with little gross bits of candied who-knows-what.

I’m sure that, somewhere, there is a 12-step program for fruitcake haters. But I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. And until I do I know I’m going to be faced with Christmas after Christmas of bad fruitcake being offered to me by good people. I could continually refuse every offered piece of fruitcake and risk offending some of the people I love most. Or, I could take matters into my own hands. I’ve decided to try doing the latter this year.

My problem with fruitcake isn’t so much fruitcake itself. I have actually enjoyed a few homemade fruitcakes. But mostly, the omnipresent fruitcake at Christmas is the store-bought type. Most of these are terrible, but this year I thought ‘what if I could take a terrible product and actually make it taste reasonably delicious?’ This got me thinking of the fruitcakes I’ve enjoyed, and what made them taste so good. The answer, I’m convinced, is alcohol. And so, last weekend I decided to take two store-bought fruitcakes and, using alcohol and some tips and tricks picked up through various online sites, turn them into tasty, alcohol-soaked treats.

Here are my 5 easy steps for making store-bought fruitcake taste delicious:

    Fruitcake brushed alcohol

  1. Brush: Unwrap your store-bought fruitcake. Place it on a work surface and, using a toothpick or another thin, sharp tool, poke small holes all over the surface of the cake – top, bottom and sides. The holes, apparently, will help the fruitcake absorb all the delicious alcohol you’re about to douse it with. After you’ve covered your cake in holes, pour a small amount of alcohol into a bowl; I used about 1/3 of a cup for a small cake. As for what alcohol, rum or brandy is pretty traditional for soaking fruitcake, but almost anything will work. I had two cakes, and used madeira on one and marsala on the other. Dip a pastry brush into the bowl of booze, and brush alcohol across all surfaces of the cake. You’re glazing it more than soaking it at this phase.
  2. Cheesecloth soaked in alcohol

  3. Soak: Measure a length of cheesecloth long enough so it can be wrapped around your fruitcake two or three times, then immerse the cheesecloth into the bowl of alcohol. Soak the cheesecloth thoroughly in the alcohol.
  4. Cheesecloth

    Trying to tame the cheesecloth...

  5. Wrap: Pick up the soaked cheesecloth and gently squeeze out some of the alcohol so that the cloth is wet, but not dripping. Lay soaked cheesecloth out on a work surface, then wrap the fruitcake in the cheesecloth, folding the cloth around the cake as many times as you can (two or three times). Wrap the cheesecloth-covered cake tightly in aluminum foil. If you’re doing several fruitcakes in different kinds of alcohol, make sure to label them by alcohol type. Store the fruitcake in a cool, dry place.
  6. Fruitcake wrapped in cheesecloth

  7. Reapply: Every week or so, unwrap the foil and sprinkle the cheesecloth-covered cake on all sides with more alcohol. Any of the websites and recipes I’ve looked at have said you can repeat this step weekly for up to several months – the longer you age the fruitcake, the deeper the flavour. I started my fruitcake experiment on December 4 and I want to eat them by Christmas, so I’ve decided to apply more alcohol every 5 days or so until then.
  8. Fruitcake labelled Madeira

  9. Wait: From everything I’ve read, this seems to be the key step. As mentioned in step 4, the fruitcake apparently tastes better the longer you wait. Makes sense: more alcohol applied, more alcohol soaking-in time, more delicious alcohol infused cake.

I’ve just hit step 4 for the first time today. When I went to apply more alcohol to my fruitcakes they already felt fairly moist, which makes me think that the alcohol is soaking in nicely. It also makes me worry that after two or three more alcohol applications, I could end up with logs of alcoholic mush. Time will tell, I suppose.
I’ll follow up this post in a couple of weeks with the end results of my fruitcake experiment. Until then, if you have a good method for making store-bought fruitcake taste better, let me know in the comments section below. Or, if you have a good homemade fruitcake recipe, feel free to leave it here. I’m not much of a baker, but given the right recipe I might be persuaded to make my own fruitcake next winter.

Holiday Giveaway #2: High-Quality Spanish Olive Oils

7 Dec

Jenny and I planned this holiday giveaway ‘extravaganza’ with two goals in mind. The first was to give a little something back to some of the people who’ve read our blog, followed us on our Facebook page, and just generally made us feel like they’re interested in what we’ve been writing (since blogging can be a pretty lonely activity when you don’t feel like anyone is reading). And the second goal was to give our readers a chance to share in some of our favorite things. As I mentioned last week, we chose to give away some PC Insider’s Report products because I have fond memories of growing up with them in my house during the holidays. And for giveaway #2, we’re offering readers the chance to win something our kitchen is never without: great-tasting, high-quality olive oils.

Jenny and I both love good olive oils. A good bottle of olive oil is like a good wine, with a flavour profile that can be spicy, or citrusy, or fruity. And like a good wine, different olive oils are suited to different foods; some taste great on salads, some are great drizzled on top of grilled meat or fish as a finishing flavour. Some, as we’ve talked about in previous posts, are even ideal to use as a main ingredient in sweet things, such as cakes or ice cream.

Our first-ever post on Communal Table was focused on olive oils, after we were invited to a fun and informative olive oil tasting event hosted by Dolores Smith at Olivar Corp. We loved meeting Dolores and taking in some of her vast olive oil knowledge, and really loved tasting the different Spanish olive oils that Olivar Corp. imports into Canada. So we were thrilled when Dolores agreed to donate a couple of amazing olive oil prize packs for our holiday giveaway.

Thanks to Dolores’ generosity, we have two prizes to give away this week, each consisting of two bottles of high-quality Spanish olive oils from Olivar Corp.

The first prize consists of a bottle each of:

  • Rincon de la Subbetica – an organic Spanish olive oil that is the world’s most-awarded olive oil, with over 70 honours since 2006. This was one of the olive oils I sampled during the olive oil tasting Dolores led earlier this year, and it ended up being my favorite, with an interesting flavour mix of green apple and peppery spice.
  • Dauro – a blend of olives including arbequina and hojiblanca from Spain, and koroneiki from Greece. This one has a delicate taste that is praised in Japanese kitchens for its ability to pair well with wasabi, and has been featured in Nobel Prize Award banquet dinners.

The second prize pack consists of a bottle each of:

  • Full Moon – produced in limited quantities, using only the best Spanish arbequina olives harvested very early, during the full moon. This creates an olive oil that is balanced and smooth, with both fruit and a hint of pepper in the taste.
  • Parqueoliva – another highly-awarded oil, with more than 40 recognitions. This is considered a sister olive oil to the Rincon, with a slightly more intense flavour profile that includes herbs and floral notes, with a slight peppery kick.

To win one of these great olive oil prize packs:

  1. First, click this link and “Like” us to join Communal Table’s Facebook Fan Page.
  2. Second, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to be entered into our Holiday Giveaway #2 and also telling us what your favorite use is for a great olive oil. Please note that you must complete BOTH of these steps to be entered. If you already Like us on Facebook, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to enter and tell us about your favorite use for great olive oil.

**While we welcome anyone who wants to join our Facebook Fan Page, this contest is restricted to Canadian entries only.

    You have until next Monday evening, December 13, to enter. We will draw two names from all entries and those lucky winners will each be sent one of our two prize packs.

    These are great bottles of olive oil, and we’re happy to be able to share them with you, whether you’re as passionate about olive oils as we are or are looking for an introduction into the world of high-quality olive oil.

    Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home. Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

    And The VIP Tix Go To…

    9 Nov

    We want to thank everyone who entered the contest to win VIP tickets to The Toronto Gourmet Food & Wine Expo. (Don’t worry, if you got a bonus entry your name was entered twice)

    We wish we had tickets for all of you, but we just have the 3 pairs.

    All of the names (including bonus entries!) were entered into the pot.

    A little shake, shake, shake.

    And the rest was up to fate!

    And the winners are….

    Congratulations to Jonathan, Tracey and Carly! You’ll each be getting a pair of VIP tix. Enjoy!!

    Check back for more exciting contests in the next little while and thanks again for entering!

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