Kerri Henman - winesconstantly.ca

Favourites,Wine

December 13, 2010

Vino Volo saved me from an assault charge….

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No, really.  They did!!!

OK, so we all know that “service industry” is becoming a misnomer.  Nowhere was this more apparent than on a recent flight with Delta Airlines.  We were late leaving Toronto, en route to Orlando, via Detroit.  When we got to Detroit, there was a mad dash from one terminal to the other, trying to make the connection.  NOW – sense would have deemed that Delta ask the gate agents to hold the connection.  Or, I don’t know, let the gate know that we were coming – at a run – to make the flight.  But NO.  Nooooo, six of us got to the gate, to see the plane still there, but they had shut the doors, and would not let us board because, as we were told, “We knew your plane had landed, but we didn’t know if you were coming straight here.”
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Events,Wine

February 28, 2010

Food, glorious food ….!

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In a week where Toronto finally got a hit of winter, what better way to escape than to take a little trip to the Med?

This dinner was postponed from January. The company was definitely worth the wait; from the day-after reactions, they all seem to feel that the dinner was worth the wait, as well. Which pleases me more than I can possibly tell you!

Wines of the Med was the suggested theme for this evening … Spain, Portugal, Italy. As soon as I knew that, I knew what I wanted to serve for dessert, and immediately had half a dozen ideas for pairings. But more on that later….

As usual, the evening started with a sparkling wine and an amuse bouche. There are so many wonderful sparkling wines from the Mediterranean regions, I hardly knew where to begin. Cava, Prosecco, …. but really, I knew what I wanted. A fun, happy, pretty little wine that you can not possibly drink, and be in any kind of bad mood whatsoever. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I went with Moscato! The bottle I chose was Bottega Petalo il Vino – one of the few Moscato that I’ve seen some under a champagne cork & cage. Moscato is a very light wine – this one’s only 6.5% alcohol. It’s lightly fizzy, refreshing, slightly sweet, and completely addictive. And it’s an affordable addiction – Moscato is usually in the $15-$25 dollar range. Petalo is a classic example of Moscato – it’s got a beautiful, soft floral nose, delicate bubbles, and a lush, mouth-filling burst of peaches, melon, floral sweetness and a lingering finish of rose-scented honey. It rings in at $14.95 – a total bargain.

To pay homage to the floral notes in the wine, I paired it with prosciutto and melon roses. Using a vegetable peeler, I shaved strips of canteloupe, and rolled them into roses with a mild, sweet 18-month old prosciutto. There was a vegetarian version, too – melon with shaved strips of cucumber, that I lightly pickled with a sauvignon-blanc vinegar. The melon notes of the Moscato played so beautifully with the canteloupe, which of course pairs so beautifully with the ham, that it couldn’t help but be a successful pairing. The wine really balanced out the richness of the food; they complemented each other so well – I was very happy with this.

Originally, I’d thought the second course would be paired with a pinot grigio. Then, I got to the shop. And lo….. there it was. Masi Modello. A wonderful blend of Garanega, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanco grapes, it’s a little herbal, crisp and nicely citrusy, with well-balanced acidity. Tasty. Easy. Uncomplicated. You really can’t ask for anything more from a wine at this price point ($9.95!!).

Inspiration came hard for this menu, and I was thankful to be reminded of this dish when I made it as a side last week. It’s a sautéed pepper and onion salad, with caraway, lemon and chili. I lightened up on the chili (maybe too much?), but the caraway came through so well. It wasn’t overpowering, and it really brought out the herbal notes in the wine. It’s a nice, light, workable dish that could be tossed with pasta; you could add shredded chicken or grilled shrimp; you can serve it as a side, or as a vegetarian main (it really is substantial and filling). I loved the subtle citrus notes in the salad (peppers sautéed in Meyer Lemon Grapeseed Oil) – they merged so well with the wine, that it was hard to tell which was supporting the other. I might have added more garlic, but might that have made it too much for the wine? In any case, I was very pleased with this pairing.

And now for the bombshell …..

I was looking for a nice Med rose. Nothing too pricey, something tasty, something that I could pair successfully with a nice tapas dish. One wine kept coming up, which I rejected out of hand. Then I read about it on a respected site. So – I decided to give it a try on my own. WOW, was I surprised! It was so *good* …. the nose was enticing – spicy, with soft berry notes. That was reversed on a palate bursting with rich berries, lifted by subtle, spicy, earthy notes. It was so well balanced; not too sweet, with a clean finish, and just a hint of effervescence. You can not imagine my shock that I was getting all of this from a bottle of Mateus.

YES. Mateus. THAT Mateus. The pink stuff your grandparents drank when they wanted the ‘good’ wine. It’s still Portugal’s number one wine, and there is a reason for it. It’s tasty, people. Deal with it. Oh yeah, and it’s only $8.95!

I hid the wine before I served it. I didn’t want anyone to have a pre-conceived notion of what they were drinking; I wanted them to judge the wine in the glass. A few minds were changed.

I wanted something earthy to serve with this. Of course, mushrooms came to mind, but they were my main, so that was out. After a lot of research, and hemming and hawing, discarding and re-examining, I decided on a frittata with spinach and brie. Originally, the recipe called for mushrooms, but I substituted sliced potatoes. It was soooooooo gooooood!! I added a handful of watercress, to give it a bit of bite, and used a lot less cheese than the recipe called for (no, I didn’t take out any brie … puhlease). I am definitely serving this again, at a brunch, or a late afternoon lunch. And the *look* on everyone’s face when I told them what they were drinking? Priceless! And a fantastic pairing.

The main course turned out to be very apropos for the weather – I put together a rich, hearty mushroom ragout with roasted garlic and onions. I put it in a baking dish and laid puff pastry over top; voila. Instant comfort food for a snowy February day!

I had this wine in mind almost immediately. I used to work for its agent here in Canada – when it first hit the market, I was stunned at the quality it offered for the price point. Believe it or not – it’s gone down in price in the past two years, but the quality has gone up (in my humble opinion). If you want a deep, full-bodied, satisfying red – and you don’t want to pay more than $15 – look no further than Los Molinos Gran Reserva. Last night, we had the 2002 vintage – it’s the one currently on store shelves. It is beautifully aged, with a deep brick-red colour, an intense nose, and a long, smooth palate. The finish begs you to have another glass. It’s marvellous!  You will never believe that you only paid $14.70 – this wine drinks like a $35 bottle.

The mushroom ragout really needed something big to stand up to it. Los Molinos fit the bill perfectly. It was strong, but not overpowering; rich and heady, with just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the ragout. This is a pairing to curl up with in front of a big roaring fire. Or …. that fireplace DVD. Whatever.

Ahhhhhhhhh, dessert. Is it wrong, that it’s my favourite part of dinner, a lot of the time? This dessert has been planned for a long time. Mini eclairs filled with butterscotch whipped cream, drizzled with dulce de leche, then sprinkled with vanilla salt. On the side, an almond brittle infused with orange zest. Many, many, MANY thanks to Andrea at Selsi (in the St. Lawrence Market – you’ve GOT to go!) for allowing me to purchase only what I needed. And it was good that I bought more than I thought I would need, because the salt got passed around, and we were all just eating it straight.  Sooooo tasty ….

The eclairs were very good – light, creamy, caramelly goodness, and the salt picked it up and made it something new and interesting. The look on J’s face when she realized there was orange in the brittle – classic. But after all, I chose the dessert wine with her in mind, so I did tweak dessert for her, as well.  The brittle was gorgeous paired with the port – I used raw sugar for a deeper sweetness, toasted almonds, and blood orange zest.  It took three batches to get the balance right, but the result was worth it.

Otima. Warre’s very special gift to port drinkers everywhere! It’s a ten-year-old aged tawny port; it’s lighter than you might expect a port to be, but it’s got a lovely raisiny character, with fig notes and a gorgeous burnt-sugar finish.  It is so wonderful and tasty.  Even my sister-in-law, who is not the biggest port fan, likes this stuff.  I discovered it along with a friend at the Gourmet Food & Wine show a few years ago, and it’s been a perennial favourite ever since.  We also discovered – as the baggie went around the table  – that if you let a grain or two of vanilla salt melt on your tongue and then take a sip of Otima, it is an experience you really have to have.

Many many thanks to our hostess for the evening, and my very capable sous-chef. Also, thank you to S, who helped keep the peppers from escaping.  Much appreciated!

And now – our little trip to the Med complete – it’s back to the Olympic hockey final. GO CANADA GO!

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January 11, 2010

A little bit of this; a little bit of that….

It’s (way past) time I got back into this site, so I thought I’d start the New Year with new energy, new wines, and details of a new direction I’ve been exploring.

Recently, I re-connected with someone I went to public school with. Turns out, we both have a big interest in wine, food, good music, and great shoes.

She convinced me to try something new – catering a dinner for a group of her friends, in her kitchen.  I love to cook, so I thought “what the heck?”.   That ‘what the heck’ went through a series of transitions, from “what do I do?”, to “what was I thinking?”, to “how am I going to do this?”, and – thankfully! – wouldn up at “WHY haven’t I done this before?” and “when are we doing this again?!?”

 I was given a budget, a theme, and a list of food no-goes (although I still think that ‘monkey brains with kiwi-mango chutney and goat cheese reduction served on eggplant rounds’ holds some real potential….).  Based on that, I let my imagination go wild, and had a lot of fun with the menu which was:

– Steak tartare, paired with a sparkling shiraz
– Lemon-scented couscous with fresh herbs, paired with a South African chenin blanc
– Warm mushroom salad over arugula, paired with a Northern Rhone syrah rose
– Baked brie with monkeygland sauce, paired with an SA cabernet sauvignon
– Seared ostrich loin, with roast potatoes, paired with an Australian petit verdot
– Soma Dark Fire chocolate truffles, paired with a cherry riesling

Sounds good, doesn’t it??  On with the details …

The steak tartare was Anthony Bourdain’s recipe. I had never made it in my life.  Yes, I like to live dangerously ….!  I admit to being intimidated, but really – it was *so* easy.  I hand-chopped a nice top sirloin steak, followed the directions (left out the cognac…), and it was damn tasty.  I went with a sparkling shiraz, since the theme for the evening was “Wine Oddities”, and I felt sure that a bubbly red would be a new thing for everyone.  The sparkling shiraz was Banrock Station, which is occasionally available in Vintages .  I am desperately waiting for it to come back, it’s incredible.  Slightly spicy, great palate of dark raspberry and a little cocoa, with a gorgeous finish.  And the bubbles just make it fun.  Other makes come through Vintages fairly regularly; if you see one, try it. Avoid Seaview at all costs; it’s just not worth it.

The next course – Lemon-scented couscous with fresh herbs – was a bit of a cop-out, I admit.  I mean – it’s really hard to screw up couscous.  This was my ‘safety’ dish.

I loved this recipe though; a bit of garlic sautéed in butter, then stock added and brought to the boil.  Couscous added as usual, and fresh herbs tossed in at the end.  The heat of the couscous let the aromatics of the herbs out, and it was so fresh and tasty.

The Chenin Blanc was Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc – $14.95 at the LCBO. Stock is available all over Toronto, and it’s a really lovely bottle.  Crsip, fresh – nice acidity, which balanced the herbs and the butteriness of the couscous really well.  I’ve got a couple bottles of this at home now.

The favourite dish of the night was no doubt the warm mushroom salad.  After a few “Ohhhhhhhhhhh”s, silence descended as everyone tucked in.   The salad was fairly easy; it called for four varieties of mushrooms (I used two), the dressing was a nice blend of shallots, olive oil, champagne vinegar, s&p, all emulsified – simple but tasty! – and it was all toped by a really good reggiano cheese.  

I was really looking forward to this pairing – northern rhone syrahs are earthy and rich, so I thought it would go well with the mushrooms.  Sadly, this was probably the least successful pairing.  The salad was delicious… and so was the wine! …. But they didn’t play well together. I should have gone with a richer wine, or a lighter dish.

The wine was the Queen of Syrah Cool Climate Syrah Rose, $12.95.  On its own, I really did like it.  There was a subtle earthiness to the finish, but the palate was a clean, bright red fruit party.  I’d like to try this with a cold duck salad; I think the cherry notes would really highlight the duck very well.

OK – I’d like to once again thank April-Dawn for being such a good sport when I had some fun with her.  I had asked for food no-goes – allergies, preferences, whatever. She had a bit of fun, and said “No monkey brains!”.  However – she neglected to rule out Monkeygland. And the smartass in me jumped on it.

First of all – let me say that no monkeys are harmed in the making of Monkeygland sauce!  It’s a tomato/onion/fruit chutney from South Africa, and it’s delicious.  I used it as a glaze for baked brie in puff pastry, and paired it with Viljoensdrift River Grandeur Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was $10.95 when it was available in Vintages, but is available on consignment through Eleanor Cosman of Bokke Wine Imports (www.bokkewines.com).  WHAT a fabulous Cabernet – lush and spicy, with a beautiful finish.  Gobs of fruit, a little hint of licorice; incredible value, this wine.  You’d never guess it was in the $10 range, since it drinks like a $25 bottle.

The main course was ostrich (and tofu for the veggies that were present!).  I dressed it simply with a little bit of paprika and smoked salt, then seared it and brought it gently to medium-rare.  The wine was Pennyfield Basket Pressed Petit Verdot, $22.00 at the LCBO in Vintages.  Sadly – none left in Ontario, but if it comes back, I am jumping on this one.  I love Petit Verdot – it’s a nice change from a shiraz.  It still has deep red fruit, a bit of spice, and a long, solid finish, but it’s not as heavy.  Still wonderfully rich, this one has great flavours of raspberries and violets, with some spice and coffee in the background.  There’s a nice cedar note to the finish; a sharp, earthy tang, which really shows off its savoury character.  Delicious!

And finally – Soma Dark Fire chocolate truffles, paired with a cherry Riesling.  Dark Fire is a chocolate with cinnamon, chillies, ginger, and other spices in it.  It’s fantastic!  Handmade by Soma in the Distillery District – so worth the trip!  Jessica had a cherry Riesling dessert wine that she’d been saving; what a pair!  The acidity in the wine balanced the spiciness of the chocolate, and with the cherry notes …. fantastic!  Sadly – the wine isn’t available any more. If I were going to do the truffles again (and I will ….) I’d probably head to Crown Bench (www.crownbenchestates.com)and pick up either their Hot Ice, or their Ginger Ice wine.  Both are wonderfully rich and honey-sweet, but the Hot Ice is infused with peppers. Delicious with thai food, or rich chocolate desserts.  Ginger Ice would be a nice balance, and bring out the ginger notes in the chocolate – I don’t think I’d go far wrong with either one.

 On the whole, the evening was a real success.  I learned a lot about portion size (I live in mortal fear of anyone leaving my table hungry …!), and I had a blast.  So much so, that we’re doing it again!  I’ve already got dessert planned…. a nice little trio of orange-scented creme brulee, almond cookies, and a dulce-de-leche whipped cream filled profiterole, with caramel and vanilla-scented salt. This will be paired with a fantastic and affordable ten-year-old tawny port.  Stay tuned for the result!