Tag Archives: grapes

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.

Seared Sirloin with Grapes, Caramelized Shallots and Port

8 Aug

A few months ago we wanted to test drive our newest cooking tool – a cast iron skillet. Neil had been telling me for a long time how much we needed one and I didn’t really see the point, until this recipe came along. It was the first dish Neil created using the cast iron skillet, and it’s become something of a staple now in our house. It’s quick and easy, but looks impressive. It’s a great dish to make for a dinner party when you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all night but still want to ‘wow’ your friends.

Neil dreamed up this dish on a teeny tiny scrap of paper, as he tends to do when he gets inspired. I love that it came from true inspiration without even looking at a recipe for ideas. The meat itself comes out really flavorful and the sauce just elevates it to another level. The flavors are perfect together. The caramelized shallots balance the sweetness of the grapes making the sauce more rich and savory than just simply sweet.

Grapes and steak – who woulda thunk it?

Seared sirloin w/grapes, caramelized shallots and port:

Season your raw sirloin steak with pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper flakes. Don’t salt the meat until just before cooking, to avoid drawing moisture out. (Actually, there are two schools of thought on when to salt meat, but this is the technique we follow).

Rub the cast-iron skillet with oil. Heat the skillet over high heat for several minutes. When the skillet is very hot, sear each side, a few minutes per side depending on thickness. Turn the steak to sear edges.

We cooked ours to medium rare, more on the rare side. Cook an extra minute or two per side if you prefer medium. Once cooking is finished, remove meat from pan and let it rest for several minutes under a ” tent” of foil, to let juices redistribute inside meat.

Chop 1 large shallot (or a couple of smaller ones)
Cut a bunch of red grapes in half, lengthwise
Grab a bottle of your favorite port and keep it close by… (sneak a sip if desired)

After cooking the steak, add the shallots into the same skillet and cook over medium heat several minutes until translucent. Add the grapes, and cook for a few minutes until they soften and release juices.

Add some ground pepper and sea salt.
Pour in a cup or so of port, cook over medium-high heat for several minutes until port reduces and grapes and shallots get ‘jammy’.

Stir in a pinch of oregano.
Add more port and reduce as needed, so you have a jam-like consistency and the sauce is thick.

To serve, slice the sirloin and plate with a generous amount of the sauce…

Enjoy with a glass of earthy red!

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