Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Part Duhhh !

Yes the Ottawa Wine and Food show was a lot of fun and there were some great wines to be tasted but for some people it was not that fun. It left a bitter taste in their mouth like a bad chardonnay.

 So lets get to the ugly part and yes there's an ugly part. Ticket sales and accessing the show was not pretty this year and this is not an isolated incident. It happens almost every year that I've gone and dates back to the days when the event was at the Civic Centre. It's an area that needs immediate improvement or people will simply stop going to the show out of sheer frustration. So let me address this part to the people who organize the Ottawa Wine and Food Show.

First. Buying an online ticket for entrance to the Wine and Food Show is not a lottery. You can't just take peoples money and then make them stand outside for 3 hours while you sell walk-up tickets at inflated prices. There's a level of commitment to the consumer when you sell tickets on line and there must be a reasonable time frame for accessing the show. They have committed their money to go to the show so you must commit to providing access to the show. It's that simple. 3 hours outside on Colonel By Drive in November weather is not reasonable.

Second. If your organization cannot guarantee access to the show in a reasonable time frame, the consumer is entitled to a full refund without a fight. You can't just take the money and run. It's not professional, it's not good public relations for future shows and it gives the Ottawa Wine and Food show a bad name.

I've talked to a number of people at the show and some who have stopped going because they refuse to attend another wine and food show where there's a good chance that they will not get in and lose their money.

Like the old saying goes "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I'll go some place else to drink wine. (or something like that).

Cheers !

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2012 Ottawa Wine and Food Show - Part 1

It was a smorgasbord of wine, beer, whisky and food at the 2012 Ottawa Wine and Food show held at the Ottawa Convention Centre and it was phenomenal once again. I was able to attend one of the wine tastings hosted by Rod Phillips called "Tasting in the Dark" which was both unique and informative.

I also had an opportunity to meet with whisky sommelier Davin de Kergommeaux who hosted a Canadian rye whisky tasting. Davin is a certified Malt Maniac, sommelier and Canadian whisky guru. Davin was doing a tasting featuring some of Gibson's finer rye whiskeys. I wasn't able to attend the tasting as it was sold out but I did chat with him (very briefly) about whisky and his new book Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert

The "Tasting in the Dark" wine tasting was led by Rod Phillips who writes a wine column for the Ottawa Citizen. This was a fun tasting. The room had 60 plus people anxiously waiting for a unique wine tasting experience and they got it. Shortly after Rod's introduction, the lights were turned out and with a few whimpers from the people with Nyctophobia, the sommelier volunteers started serving the wine using night vision goggles. Yes that's right.. night vision goggles. There were a couple of "excuse me" and "sorry" as the volunteers got used to moving around the room using their new form of artificial sight but after 15 minutes with no glasses broken everyone had a glass of wine in hand. The first challenge was to figure out if you were drinking red or white wine. Once you reasoned that out, the next task was to identify the varietal which proved to be the interesting part as people started yelling out wines that in some cases were both red,  white and rose.
Out of the 4 wines served, the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and the French Beaujolais seemed to be the easy guesses as a lot of people were on the same track with those wines. The lights were eventually turned on and Rod revealed the answers to everyone. Like I said, a lot of fun.

 After the tasting I headed up to the main show floor to scout out some good wines. The Zinfandels from California (Ravenswood Old Vine, Gnarly Head and Fancis Ford Coppola) were all excellent as usual. Big and bold.

I did find a few of gems that I thought stood out on their own.

2011 Stanners Cabernet Franc. 100% Cabernet Franc barrel aged in French oak. The usual heavy herbecious aroma of green peppers was not as strong which made this wine more enjoyable. A good balance between fruit and acidity. Very pleasant. Sorry. I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the bottle but here's their website

2011 Cono Sur Bicileta Pinot Noir was smooth, subtle and layered. A great sipping wine or it could be paired with pork tenderloin.

 2007 Ruffino Riserva Ducale "Oro" Chianti Classico was everything a Chianti should be. The barrel aged Sangiovese was smooth and elegant. Loved this wine

Cheers !

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Aye Alice ... Tis Whisky

   I used to think that scotch whisky drinkers were a bunch of old men sitting around in big leather chairs smoking cigars, sipping scotch out of expensive crystal glasses, chortling over bad jokes and talking about the stock market. Lately, I've noticed that drinking scotch has become much more mainstream. A younger crowd is diving into the scotch whisky market with enthusiasm and they're not drinking their father's scotch. They are looking for a better scotch and have done their homework on the Scottish distilled malted barley business.

  One of the easiest ways one can start learning about whiskies or increase their knowledge about scotch whisky is to attend a whisky tasting like I recently did in the lovely village of Carp at a local cafe called Alice's. One of my fellow somellier's, Dustin was hosting a scotch whisky tasting at the cafe.
  The best part of attending a whisky tasting is that you get to sample a good selection of whiskies without having to max out your credit card at the LCBO. Only to discover that you only like one or two of the whiskies and the rest of the bottles sit in the back of your cupboard with those extra Thanksgiving napkins with the cartoon turkeys on them.

So Dustin's plan was to start us off with a mild 17 year old single malt scotch called Glencoyne which is made just north of Glasgow. It has a relatively low peat content so our tastebuds would not be overwhelmed with the first glass. The whisky is aged in sherry casks and some of that sweet sherry comes to life when a touch of water is added.
The next scotch was an 18 year old single malt from the famous Glenfiddich distillery in the heart of the Highlands. Smooth and layered with a slight sweetness and spice from the Oloroso sherry casks that the whisky has been aged in.

We moved on to a 10 year old single malt called Springbank which is from the Campbeltown area. A nice little scotch with a hint of peat at the end.
From there we tried a Taliskers scotch  from the Island region which is on the west coast of Scotland. I found this scotch to be a little sharp on it's own and it seemed to have better flavour with a touch of water.

 We ended the night with 2 scotchs and an incredible little dessert called bacon shortbread cookie with chocolate drizzle. Yes, that's right ... bacon. At first  it sounded like a weird baking accident but that little cookie was so good it had everyone asking for seconds.
  The Bowmore 18 year old single malt from Islay definitely had some peat going on but it had a really nice caramel flavour to it.
  The final scotch was a 9 year old single malt called Port Charlotte PC9 from Islay. If you like that peat flavour in your scotch this is the whisky for you. One person aptly described the initial taste as "crunchy".

Not bad for an evening of laughter, discussion and I increased my knowledge about Scotland and scotch. I tried six whiskies for a decent price and now I know which one I will buy the next time I have friends over.

Cheers !

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thanksgiving Wines

Yes !! It's that time again. Gobble, gobble

Golden turkey, real cranberries (not the canned stuff), mashed potatoes with gravy drizzled on top and stuffing, ... glorious stuffing. Finish the meal off with pumpkin pie or butter tarts and I can already feel my pants stretching to the next size. Wrap the whole evening up with some exceptional wines and you've got yourself one of those memorable Thanksgiving celebrations.
People frequently ask me to suggest wines for holiday meals and one of the most common questions is "What's kind of wine goes with turkey?" That's a good question but try not to zone in on just the turkey part. Think more about the entire meal that's being served. Sure, you're the one cooking the turkey and it's the centre piece of the meal but your sister is bringing turnip casserole, your mother is doing her sweet potatoes, your brother is providing appetizers and Aunt Martha is bringing that green jello salad with the floaty things inside that looks like a space creature from a 1940s sci-fi movie. Add in the mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy and you've got a lot of different flavours, spices and textures on your palate.
Most of the dishes involve cooking with butter or fat in some form so you'll need a crisp wine to help cut through the fat. Also, there's a plethora of herbs and spices in each dish which can quickly overpower a light weight wine.

Here's my picks for Thanksgiving.

Errazuriz Estate Reserva - Sauvignon Blanc (2011), Valle de Aconcagua, Chile

Like most Sauvignon Blancs this light yellow with a tinge of green wine has good acidity (6.1g/l) which gives it a nice crisp finish capable of handling the richness of a turkey dinner. Aromas of tropical fruit and Bartlet pears stands out with some leafy tomato and grassy-ness (is that a word?) in the background. A medium bodied white wine.
Price - under $13 - LCBO

Finca El Origen - Chardonnay (2010), Mendoza Argentina

An Argentinian chardonnay with a nice balance of crispness and fruit with a smooth finish. Aromas of peaches and vanilla with a creamy texture and citrus flavours.
Price - under $11 - LCBO

Some other suggestions for turkey time.

For those people who like red with their turkey.
Creekside Estate - Pinot Noir (2006) - Niagara Ontario (under $25 at the LCBO)
Alamos - Malbec  (2010) - Mendoza Argentina (under $14 at the LCBO)

And if you're having pumpkin pie, you've got to try this dessert / wine combination. The creaminess of pumpkin pie with the sweetness and spritz of a Moscato is unbelievable.

McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Moscato (under $14 at he LCBO)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

National Capital Craft Beer Festival - August 2012

  I don't normally don't post reviews on beer but I was particularly interested in the National Capital Craft Beer Festival because it's about a surging niche beer market that is getting a firm foothold within an industry that has been long dominated by a handful of big beer companies...... and also I like beer. 
  In these days of slick advertising, fancy packaging and catchy jingles, it's nice to talk to people who are more interested in the content of their product rather than colour changing cans, huge advertising campaigns or tea and fruit infused beers. I went to the festival with one objective in mind. I wanted to try some unique beers created by individuals who have a real passion for their craft and to talk to them about how they make these unique tasting beers.
 With beer cup in hand, a sheet full of beer tickets and a feeling of being slightly parched, I started my quest around the venue searching for some special beers to quench my thirst.
 First of all, kudos to the organizers of the craft beer festival. They had setup the venue so that all of the beer and food tents were around the perimeter of the park with picnic tables in the centre so if you wanted to stop and take a break or have some food you weren't clogging up the areas in front of the tents. It made navigating all of the beer and food areas easy and organized. Well done !

My first stop was at Broadhead Brewing Company ( which is located on Auriga Drive in Nepean. Their business has been growing so well that they have had to expand operations into a larger footprint to accommodate more equipment. Business is obviously good. I tried their Longshot White Wheat Ale which was very nice. Some cloudiness and a subtle spice with a refreshing citrus crispness to it. A nice start to the day.

 That beer went down fast so it was time to move on to the next tent reminding myself to "stop and enjoy" each beer rather than throwing it back like a teenager at his prom. The next tent was Beaus All Natural Brewing Company ( which is located on Terry Fox Drive in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. I was intrigued by there Weiss O'Lantern Pumpkinweiss white ale which turned out to be an excellent choice. The Pumpkinweiss had an nice orange hue with a smooth creamy finish and it tasted like pumpkin, cloves and citrus. Excellent !

I took a break to enjoy some live music in the main tent and then shuffled over to the Hogsback Brewing Company ( which is located here in Ottawa. I decided to stick with the wheat ales so I sampled their Sunofa Beach Kristal Wheat beer. A bright clear and crisp beer with some citrus flavours and not too hoppy on the finish. All in all a very good beer.

Other stops along the way included the Flying Monkeys with their mildly hoppy wheat beer called Stereovision, Muskoka Breweries which had a great cream ale and the Clocktower Pub was pouring a nice smooth Blonde beer with some mild hoppiness to it. Alas, I was down to my last beer tickets so I ventured over to the Ashton Brewing Company ( to sample their Ashton Cream ale which lived up to it's name. A bright golden colour with a smooth and not too hoppy creamy finish. A nice way to end the National Capital Craft Beer Festival.

I fully plan on attending next years festival but I'm definitely bringing some friends along to enjoy the food, music, sunshine and of course the beer.

Cheers ! 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wine Tastings - DIY - Bordeaux

    I've always wanted to do this style of wine tasting since I began my pursuit of being a Sommelier and I honestly admit that I have a wee-bit of wine envy for the Bordeaux producers from France. They get to blend the great noble grapes of the Bordeaux region into a classic vintage with it's distinctive aromas and flavours. Imagine sitting at a table full of bottles containing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (plus possibly others) and blending them together in endless combinations searching for that magical Bordeaux formula that sets your chateau apart from everyone else. What a life !!
    My "Build your own Bordeaux" wine tasting featured both a red and white Bordeaux styles using red wines from Ontario and white wines from Australia. Each participant was given a sheet with the percentages of wine to be put into each type of Bordeaux. The red wines featured Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from Pelee Island Ontario which is on a similar geographic latitude to the Bordeaux region in France. Each person was given a mixing formula for a Classic or Chateau Bordeaux, a right bank Bordeaux and a left bank Bordeaux along with a tasting glass and three 1 ounce cups to measure the wine portions. For the white Bordeaux, a Semillon and a Sauvignon Blanc from Australia was used to create their personally blended white Bordeaux. I encouraged everyone to assess the aromas and flavours of each wine before blending them together. After blending the wines together, did they like it ? If they didn't, try adding more of what you like to see how much it changes. It's amazing to see how a small amount of Cabernet Franc can really change the flavour of a Bordeaux. A word of advice, use dinner plates under the tasting glass as some people are a little messy when it comes to pouring. It's a real hands on, chemistry type of wine tasting but it's lots of fun.

Here's some examples of the formulas we used to make Bordeaux blends. Since there are no Bordeaux police and the chateaus use their own mix of the essential grapes that make up their Bordeaux, you are free to let your imagination run wild !

Bordeaux Red

Classic Bordeaux - 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Left Bank Bordeaux - 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Right Bank Bordeaux - 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 70% Merlot

Red wines used for our tasting
Pelee Island Cabernet Sauvignon from Pelee Island Ontario
Pelee Island Merlot from Pelee Island Ontario
Pelee Island VQA Cabernet Franc from Pelee Island Ontario

Bordeaux White

Semillon - between 70% to 90%
Sauvignon Blanc - between 30% to 10%

White wines used for our tasting
2006 St Hallett Semillon from Barossa, South Australia, Australia
2011 Lindemans Bin 95 Sauvignon Blanc from Australia

Cheers !

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Done and Done !... maybe

It's all over. Elvis has left the building, completed, finito, done,   ..... or is it ?

The last several weeks have been intense to say the least, blind tastings, creating a wine list for an Ottawa restaurant and a service exam which involved pairing menu selections with a suitable wine, opening a bottle of  wine in front customers and pouring the wine without dribbling it all over the table like a dog marking his territory. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement but I did manage to complete the wine obstacle course without too much collateral damage and my dignity relatively intact.

 I have officially completed the Sommelier program and received my Sommelier pin which means that

A - I  have no real reason to sample a half dozen wines on a Tuesday night
B - "Studying for a wine exam" is no longer an excuse when you're hungover

 Now that I have completed the Sommelier program, the one question people have been asking me repeatedly is " So what are you going to do now that you're a Sommelier?" Well that's a really good question and .... I really don't have an answer yet. What I do know is that I've only scratched the surface of oenology and now the responsibility of making sure that my wine knowledge is current belongs to me so I will have to be diligent in my learning which means ... Yes, you guessed it!!.... more wine.
 So where does my wine research go from here you ask? This blog will certainly continue on with some changes, enhancements and additions. I plan to do more research on wines and add detailed information when a wine is reviewed. Also, I'll be providing some of the wineries notes about how the wine was made and their tasting notes if available plus there will be some winery travel information as well. Wine and food pairings will also be major part of this blog as I will endeavour to suggest some good wine pairings across a variety of dishes. I'll attempt to blend all of this information together with some humour and wit without being pretentious or boring or sounding like an idiot.

Here's my picks for this week.

Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon - 2009 - Lodi / Clarksburg California

Really impressed with this Cabernet Sauvignon. It had predominant flavours of cherry, black pepper and cassis with some nice (not harsh) tannins which gives it that full bodied Cabernet feeling. The wine is aged for 14 months in American oak which brings out that pepper flavour on the finish.
Unfortunately this wine is only available in the US
This Cabernet Sauvignon can be served with everything from a nice plate of aged cheeses to pepper steak. It's fully bodied, rich with flavours and at an affordable price (in the US). My only regret is that I didn't try their Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.

The Original Smoking Loon Chardonnay  - 2010 - California

Like the Donovan song lyrics, "They call me mellow yellow". A bright straw coloured Chardonnay with aromas of peach, pear and creme brulee. It's smooth and oaky with flavours of vanilla, citrus and tangerine. The wine is aged sur lie on the yeast to extract more flavours and stored in french oak to bring out the vanilla and creme brulee components. The vintner blended 79% Chardonnay grapes with 15% Chenin Blanc and 5% Viognier to give this wine a mellow component you wouldn't get in a 100% Chardonnay wine. Nicely done.
Unfortunately this wine is only available in the US
I tried this wine with BBQ shrimp and Maryland crab cakes which have a little zing to them and it proved to be an excellent choice. A nice contrast.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heading for the final turn

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or gone into rehab. I'm on the final push towards the finish line which is the last course to completing my Sommelier program and it's a little intense. Creating a wine list for a local restaurant is not an easy task. Finding the wines that pair well with the menu, associated wine agents, building the wine list and inventory all wrapped up in a short time frame and I'm starting to sweat like a teenager on a first date with a huge pimple on my nose. Now don't get me wrong, it's really interesting doing the research by "pouring" through different wines, researching the restaurant, sampling menu items and assembling a unique reasonably priced wine list for the restaurant. Luckily I'm not doing this on my own. I have two very enthusiastic classmates working with me on the project which allows each of us to focus on specific tasks and do quality work without worrying about missing content.

 How difficult is it, you ask? Next time you're in a restaurant take a few minutes to go through the menu and try pairing the wines on the wine list with some of the appetizers or main courses. Don't cheat and take the easy ones like steak with Cabernet Sauvignon or pork chops with Pinot Noir. Try something that's a little different like oysters or a pasta dish with grilled sausage. Is the sausage spicy? Is the pasta sauce tomato, oil or cream based? All of these flavour factors combine to give you a unique mouth feel and taste that needs the right wine to compliment the food. It's all about balancing the food flavours with the wine aroma and taste. Now try pairing your wine selection with one of the appetizers or starters. Does it pair or do you need to select a different wine. It's not as easy as it looks and it often requires a lot of sampling.

Here's my picks for this week

 Sledgehammer Zinfandel - 2008 - Napa Valley

A bright ruby red Zin with aromas of blackberry, smoke and sweet spice. This big bold wine is aged in Hungarian and French oak which gives it the sweet spice flavour. Like the Clos du Bois Zinfandel, the Sledgehammer vintner also adds Petit Syrah (8%) for an extra bit of punch and colour. An excellent zinfandel for just sipping with friends or it can be paired with hearty dishes like big juicy BBQ hamburgers with all the toppings or your favourite pizza
Price - under $18 at LCBO
I like this wine because it's big and bold but not overpowering for a Zinfandel. At 13.5% ABV the wine doesn't leave you with that hot sensation after one sip. Smooth with some spice.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Good and Bad Wines

 People ask me why I only write about good wines and don't mention the ones that are stinkers or dogs and believe me there are more than a couple bad ones on the market. There's a couple reasons why I don't like to talk about wines that are not "up to par".
 First, my appraisal or review of wines is not the definitive word on what is good or bad. Everyone has different tastes and expectations from a wine. You have the final word on whether you will purchase that product again or recommend it to a friend.
  Second, I always refer back to some good advice my mother gave me when I was a wee lad growing up. She said. "If you haven't got anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all".

 So if I'm not going to tell you which ones are bad wines, how do you know when you've selected a "dog of a wine"? How does one know what is a good or bad wine. Well... you could take the Sommelier course and become more knowledgeable about wine or I can give you a few tell tale signs of a bad wine.
  • Wine should be balanced. It should not be too acidic or fruity, not too tannic or flabby and certainly not too sweet or too dry. Think of the wine sitting on a scale. If your white wine is too fruity the scale starts to tip in one direction and that's all you taste. You need another aspect of the wine to come forward like acidity (crispness) and tip the scale back in balance.
  • The aroma of the wine should be layered and not dominated by one smell. Every time you take a sip and your nose goes into the glass, you should smell different aromas and not just one.
  • The taste should linger but not hang around forever like that annoying college buddy who comes over for "a beer" and doesn't leave till the next morning.
Keep these signs in mind when you try next wine wine and see if you can tell if it's good, bad or somewhere in between.

Here's my pick for this week.

Castillo de Monseran - Granacha - Carinena Spain - 2010

What a nice surprise! I bought this wine on sale for $7.95 so I wasn't expecting a lot but this medium bodied Granacha really delivered the goods. Aromas of blackberry and dark fruits with some vanilla in the background. This ruby red Granacha which is related to his french cousin Grenache has a nice fruit flavour of blackberry and some dark chocolate.
Price under $9 (LCBO)
 I like this wine because it's an easy drinking wine an pairs well with beef ribs or some hard cheeses.

Cheers !!