Kerri Henman - winesconstantly.ca

Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

Favourites,Wine

January 20, 2008

Surprise, surprise …

OK, yes, part of the surprise is that I’m posting!

But the ‘surprise’ topic of this posting is really that it is about some lovely wines I discovered over the holidays. I was surprised by a few products – by their price points, by a supplier that I usually avoid like the plague, and by the reaction garnered by one lovely little sparkler.

I’ll start with the bubbly – always good to kick things off with bubbles!

You’ve probably seen the ads all over for Fresita – a strawberry-flavoured prosecco. It’s fun; it’s more like pop than wine, but it doesn’t cross the line into candy. Fresita is light and fruity – tastes like *real* strawberry, not fake strawberry – and it’s so refreshing. I really hope this sticks around for summer, because it will become a staple for the backyard. It’s $13.95 a bottle …. great value, highly drinkable.

I attended an ‘after hours’ sale at Club Monaco (yay, cashmere!), and they were offering sparkling wine as refreshment. And yes, shopping with bubbles does make it SO much more fun! Usually, the wine offered at these events is not great, so I was quite surprised by my first sip. It was really lovely! It was Bottega Vino Dei Poeti Prosecco – only $12.95 a bottle!! Good complexity, just a tiny bit of yeast on the finish (which I love), and gorgeous fruit flavours. Crisp apple mostly, with a bit of pear, and some subtle ‘white fruit’ notes in the mid-palate (could be lychee?). This is the kind of bubbly you should always have in the house; either to make visitors feel special, to celebrate Tuesday, or just to open on a Sunday morning because you feel like making Mimosas. Yummy.

And last – but not least!!!!! – one that caught my attention at the New Zealand Wine Fair in May…. Soljans Fusion Sparkling Muscat. I was given a glass at the wine fair, and the rep who did probably regrets it. It was all I wanted to drink that night. When it hit the shelves at Vintages, I was all over it! Muscat is a very rich, floral grape, and as a wine can be quite heavy. But when it sparkles – it’s so different; if you’ve ever had a sparkling ice wine, it’s closer to that than to your usual bubbly. The nose is rich, lush – it’s orange zest and a bit of clove, brushed with honey. That’s what you taste as well, with the bubbles keeping it from being too heavy or overpowering. The honey comes forward, and there’s a taste of golden delicious apple, but the orange zest gives the flavour a roundness that makes it an outstanding dessert wine. Sticky toffee pudding would LOVE this. Best part? I served it to someone who is notoriously difficult to please, and they loved it! Unequivocally; no ‘better if…’, no ‘it’s not as good as..’. None of that. Just “where do I get this?”. Yay! Sadly – that’s the bad news. It’s a Vintages product. There’s still some on the shelves, but it’s running out. Summerhill and Queen’s Quay are your best bets if you’re in Toronto; Mississauga and Waterloo are your only options outside of Toronto, with the exception of one lonely bottle at Bank & Walkley in Ottawa. It is available through consignment – Glen Ward Wines represents it here. At $18.95 a bottle, a case isn’t outrageous, especially if you share it with a friend.

Now – on to the whites!

Well, okay, one white ….. I stayed true to the faves over the season, for the most part – including indulging in a bottle of Mondavi Fume Blanc for a seafood feast on Christmas Eve. $24.95, but worth it! It was on Christmas Eve, actually, that I tried a new white from KWV. I’ve had KWV in the past, and generally avoid it. I am just not a fan. But waiting in line at the LCBO (yes, I was dumb enough to go to the LCBO on XMess Eve!), I spotted a KWN Chenin Blanc. Now, I love Chenin, I really do, but I wasn’t sure I loved it enough to give the KWV a try. At $7.90 a bottle, though, I figured Id give it a try.

I was SO pleasantly surprised!

It was all the things I love about Chenin – bright, fresh, citrusy, with some great lime notes. It was just so good … AND it’s a KWV! Shocker. Did I mention it’s only $7.90????

Reds had a few surprises in store, but one came with a dose of disappointment.

We opened a 1999 Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon on New Year’s Eve – served it with grilled loin of vension. OH WOW, it was good!! Lush, juicy, mouth-filling; nice tannic characgter that paired beautifully with the game. Loved it. The disappointment? Can’t get it any more. Sob!

We also opened two bottles of Casillero del Diablo Carmenere…. yummy yummy yummy! We had duck, horse and ostrich with it; the wine handled all of them really nicely. I though it went best with the ostrich; the sweetness of ostrich and the spiciness of the Carmenere were a great match. We’re definitely doing that again! At $12.95… we can afford to do it a LOT! The Carmenere is gorgeous. It’s got some great fruit character – blueberry and dark cherry, with just a hint of plum, and there’s some smoke and spice on the finish that adds interest and takes it out of the ordinary. I don’t think I’d open a bottle of this ‘just because’ – it’s really more of a food wine. But it’s a *good* food wine.

Speaking of food … I should go worry about dinner tonight ….!

Events,Wine

March 11, 2007

Winterlicious ….. it’s about time ….. !

So, I’ve fallen behind in my posts (as Paul keeps reminding me…..!), but I suppose it’s better late than never.

A month ago (!!!!) Paul and I headed out to enjoy Winterlicious. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a fantastic restaurant promotion in Toronto. Twice a year, dozens of restaurants across the city offer special prix-fixe menus for lunch or dinner. It’s a great way to discover new restaurants, and a cheap excuse to go back to your old favourites.

I actually did two Winterlicious spots… on my own, I did Annona, at the Park Hyatt in Toronto, which was – well, it was an interesting evening to say the least. Very up and down. Annona is very comfortable, and the service started out really well. I have to say, I was impressed by the tray that came with my bottle of water. Lemon, lime, and *cucumber*, which is a nice change.

For dinner, the chef offered an amuse-bouche of what was basically a mini pizza. It was very good – garlic focaccia, with roasted tomato and just a bit of mozzarella and fresh basil. Next was gnocchi in a smoked mozzarella tomato sauce. It was good – the cheese wasn’t overpowering, but the gnocchi wasn’t as nice as Gio’s. A little on the stodgy side. My main was veal scallopini with preserved lemon jus, potato gratin, and sautéed swiss chard. The chard was bitter; I know swiss chard is on the bitter side, but this was *really* bitter. To the point of being inedible. But I’d rather have inedible greenery than inedible veal…. and the veal was very, very edible. Nice and tender, the sauce was and creamy tangy but not LEMON-y, it was good. The potatoes were fine – verging on convention food, but fine. A little more butter, a little more pepper would have done wonders. Maybe a bit of fresh chive.

As dessert approached, I have to say, service really started to slip. I waited a loooong time for dessert, and I had to ask for my bill twice. I was on a timeline, and I wound up being late, which didn’t impress me.

I do have to say that dessert was worth waiting for. I could choose two to taste; I went for apple fritters with mayan chocolate ice cream, and chocolate lava cake with caramelized hazelnut ice cream. I’d have put the hazelnut ice cream with the fritters, and the mayan chocolate ice cream with the cake (it wasn’t very very chocolate), but both desserts made up for the middle-of-the-road aspect of the rest of dinner.

At least the wine was good – I had a glass of Kumala Sauvignon Blanc, which I’d never tried before. Very tasty – fresh, crisp. some good tropical fruit, and a nice limey finish. I’ll have that again!

Our second venture in Winterlicious brought us to the Beer Bistro. It was a close call – I’d left reservations to the last minute, and thought we weren’t going to be able to get in, but the floor manager realized that there was space at – GASP! – the chef’s table!! I have *always* wanted to sit there. I was so excited!!

We love the Beer Bistro, no matter what – the food is great, the service is marvelous, and it’s always an experience. The menu for Winterlicious left us with some tough choices, and we were really looking forward to it.

Paul decided to go for the wild mushroom soup with shallots, London porter & truffle cream; he paired it with an English beer, Sammy Smith’s Winter Warmer. The beer was nice – not bitter, a little spicy. And I have never in my life tasted mushroom soup like this – rich, creamy, and earthy with just a bit of sweetness. It almost made me regret ordering the smoked salmon.

Almost.

I had beer cured & smoked salmon, with white beer cream cheese. They make the salmon right there; it’s incredible!! I ordered the St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout – didn’t like it. I found it too bitter, and too heavy, but Paul loved it. The smoked salmon was buttery, flavourful, absolutely out of this world. I will definitely have it again, but I’d like to try Denison’s Weissbier with it – I think the spices and cloves in the beer would go well with the smokiness in the salmon.

For mains, Paul stayed on the mushroom theme. He went for mushroom and goat cheese gnocchi, in a brown ale cream sauce and leeks. Seriously tasty – but again, the gnocchi not a patch on Gio’s. Still and all, creamy earthy smooth tangy goodness in the sauce – awesome.

I had the grilled flatiron steak with caramelized beer onions, redskin smashed potatoes & tarragon butter. It was perfectly medium-rare, one of the best steaks I’ve had in a restaurant. And of course, part of the fun was watching it being made!!

For dessert, we decided to go for a bottle of Quelque Chose – a dark, spiced cherry beer from Unibroue. It paired beautifully with the chocolate mousse I had, and it didn’t go too badly with the apple crumble that Paul went for. The beer is served warm, and it’s really unique. We were given some strawberry Friuli ice cream to have with it, as well. GAWD, I love the ice cream at Beer Bistro – again, it’s all made right there, and it all has beer in it! The Friuli is a Belgian fruit beer, and makes a fantastic ice cream. It pairs really nice with the Quelque Chose; they complement each other well. The only down side of Quelque Chose is that they’re not making it anymore, so what’s left is all there is. Makes me want to go back. A lot.

Another thing that makes me want to go back – a lot! – is sitting at the chef’s table. We were able to see everything going on, talk to the chefs, and the smells were amazing. Seeing the steak tartare being prepared definitely made me want to make plans to go back so that I could try it, and a few other dishes. And beers.

But that’s another post …………!

Wine

January 14, 2007

Better late than never!

Last night, we went out for dinner – something we haven’t done in a while. I’m not talking about out for a burger, or out to the pub, I’m talking about OUT for DINNER. There were four of us; we went to Gio Rana’s Really Really Nice Restaurant, and the only question I have is *why why why* didn’t we do this months ago?!?!?!?!?!?

We had a half hour wait for a table, but they handed us a menu so we could decide if it was worth waiting. It was. We didn’t get past the antipasti list before we knew that it was worth waiting! So, the boys went to the ATM, and the girls ordered drinks. Renee had a “French Martini” – vodka, chambord and pineapple juice. It was pretty tasty! I had a glass of prosecco – I was feeling bubbly. Beer and ginger ale on the boys side… Round two (since the first drinks went down pretty quickly), Renee had another French Martini, while I went for the Black Margarita. OH MY GAWD ….. gold tequila, lime and cassis. It was fantastic. I could see myself sucking back five or six of those babies …. but then you’d be carrying me out of the bar. It would be worth it. Gary – the bartender – is great fun, and very very good.

Gio’s was busy. Packed busy. They don’t take reservations, and it’s first come, first served. The maitre d’hotel was so nice – very friendly, patient, calm, but he was getting it all done; everything from seating to table juggling, to making sure the people waiting got their drinks. When a table was open for us, he gave us enough warning so that we could settle the bar tab before we sat. Zach – our waiter – was just a joy. Poor guy was run off his feet, but smiling, friendly, helpful; everything a really great waiter should be. He was a bit upset that just after he brought the white wine, he was getting called off to do something else, so I offered to pour the wine. I told him “well, it’s part of my day job to do this, so I’m happy to”, and he was half-relieved, half-guilty. But I wasn’t fussed, and I certainly didn’t count it against Zach at all!! The service was utterly faultless, all night.

We did a four-course dinner – antipasti, primi, secondi, and dolci. For starters – Andy had spicy olives, Renee had pan-seared scallops in balsamic jus, I had carpaccio, and Paul had a mozzarella/tomato/basil salad. I tried everything except the scallops (Renee didn’t share, but I can’t blame her – they looked too good to share!). The mozzarella in Paul’s salad was creamy and just sharp enough – the basil turned out to be a nice basic pesto – minced basil with a bit of olive oil, and a dash of salt. Soooooo good! The carpaccio was perfect – tender, sweet, with a gorgeous parmesan and not too much greenery. We had a bottle of Franschoek Chenin Blanc that was so fresh and crisp, our mouths tried to tell us it had bubbles. A beautiful wine (unfortunately, only available through private order by the case) that went really well with the carpaccio, and just as nicely with the salmon that was Paul’s main course.

The primi were all well chosen…. Renee had risotto with shrimp, lobster and scallop; Andy and I both had garlic shrimp on a risotto cake, Paul had gnocchi with gorgonzola and tomato sauce. The gnocchi were the best I have ever tasted – light, fluffy little bits of pasta, not the horrible leaden stodge you so often get. The risotto was a little al dente, but very very nice; not overly fishy, not overly saucy, nicely balanced, and gooooooooood. The garlic shrimp were huge, tender, and perfectly cooked. The rice cake promised to be crispy, but it was sauced, so – it lost the crispiness, but when it tastes that good, who cares?!?!?!?

It was a heated debate as to who got the best main course. Paul’s salmon was perfectly grilled, rich, buttery and very flavourful; my involtini (shredded pork wrapped with ribeye, topped with goat cheese) were rich and spicy, Renee’s osso bucco literally melted in your mouth, but I think Andy was the winner – his steak was perfect. Tender, grilled nicely, tasty, and with the mushrooms on top – well, it was indescribable. We had a selection of sides – roasted peppers with anchovies and pine nuts (heaven), brussels sprouts with bacon, sweet potato mash (that was the favourite, I think), and roasted beets which were much better than I expected. Paul stuck with the white from the first course, but Renee and I broke into a bottle of Kiss Chasey Red (the *cutest* label!). It’s a cab/merlot/shiraz blend, and one of the nicest reds I’ve had in a while. Not too dry, medium-bodied, great fruit character, and a nice spicy tang from the shiraz. Yummy!

We got a great treat for dessert – Zach surprised us with a tasting plate. Pistachio cheesecake, chocolate espresso torte, and a creamy, fluffy, rich, to-die-for tiramisu. The chocolate torte could have caused a fight, had Paul not decided to go for the cheesecake. The cheesecake was sooooooo good, even the diehard cheesecake hater was tempted into a bite, and admitted that she liked it! What’s not to like, was all I thought – it was light, and creamy, and nutty, and the crust was sweet and crumbly. Heaven. *Heaven*, I tell you! The torte was a chocoholic’s dream – flourless, rich, but not tooth-achingly sweet. DEFINITELY what I’m having next time.

Make no mistake – there will be a next time. Several ‘next times’, in fact, because I can’t remember when we ate this well, had this much fun, got such great service, and all for a relatively reasonable final tab. The damage was $300 – that’s four people, four courses, two bottles of good wine, and Andy and I went for the priciest of primis. I reckon Paul and I could get out of there for $75, if we did three courses, and wine by the glass.

And if we did, it would probably still be as awesome an experience as last night was.

Okay, I’m hungry now …………