Monday, November 24, 2014

Favourite and notable wines from Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

I drank more wine than ever before at this year's Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Nov. 20 to 23. My focus was on white, rose, sparkling and fruit wines, and here are the glasses that stood out from the dozens I sampled.

Red Tractor Riesling, a Niagara wine which presents crisp apple aromas and flavours with a bit of citrus and provides a bit of sweetness in the finish, is available through Sideroad Twenty Cellars.

Mike Weir Wine Sauvignon Blanc VQA is a very pale-coloured, subtle wine from Beamsville, Ont. that has some tropical fruit elements. It's better than his golf game has been (outside of one tournament) over the past few years.

Brumont Gros Manseng Sauvignon is an aromatic and flavourful French wine that includes the Gros Manseng grape that I wasn't familiar with before. It's quite pale and the blend combines dryness with a rich fruitiness. At $12.95, it's a very good value and was one of best discoveries of the show.

Santa Rita Reserva Chardonnay is an unoaked Chardonnay made about 15 kilometres from the Chilean coast. It has a rich, complex bouquet, a full-bodied flavour and sells for $13.95.

Cornerstone Estate Winery 2013 Strawberry Festival is a beautifully sweet dessert wine bursting with strawberry flavours. It's a four on the sweetness scale and has an alcohol content of 12 per cent.

The Dreaming Tree is a Californian Chardonnay created as a collaboration between winemaker Steve Reeder and musician Dave Matthews. Just like Matthews' music, there's little distinctiveness to it and I don't need to sample it again.

Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 is an excellent, rich, full-bodied New Zealand wine with a tropical aspect and very pleasing finish. It's available from the LCBO for $14.95.

Oyster Bay Rose Cuvee is a New Zealand sparkling rose made with 80 per cent Pinot Noir and 20 per cent Chardonnay grapes that wouldn't be a bad choice for December holiday celebrations.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi White Zinfandel 2013 is a subtly sweet Californian wine that nicely blends crispness with fruitiness. It's quite nice and its 9.5 per cent alcohol content is light for those occasions when you want a wine but don't desire much of a buzz from it.

I was told that Mayor de Castilla Verdejo 2013 is the top-selling Spanish white wine and, at $10.95, it comes in at a nice price point. It's made with 100 per cent Verdejo grapes and is a bright, easy-drinking wine with a rich bouquet and bold flavour.

Codorniu Selección Raventos Brut Rose is a pink Spanish sparkling wine with persistent bubbles and a rich, fruity bouquet of berries and flowers. It finishes dry.

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was another favourite New Zealand wine. It's quite fruit-forward with a rich bouquet of grapefruit, flavours including pineapple and stonefruit, and a nice, lingering finish.

Muskoka Lakes Cranberry Blueberry Wine 2013 is a rich, dark red, 10-per cent alcohol blend that's relatively sweet, but with some tartness. I preferred it to the Muskoka Lakes Cranberry Wine 2013, which was more tart and essentially tastes like a 9.5-per cent alcohol cranberry juice.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is a California central coast wine with complex floral aromas, rich, concentrated flavour and an easy finish.

I've always wanted to visit Pelee Island and after enjoying six wines at the Pelee Island Winery booth, that notion of spending a day or two at Canada's southernmost community has been reinforced. I started with its sweetest wine, Island Time Semi Sweet Riesling Vidal, made with a 90 per cent Riesling/10 per cent Vidal blend, which had notes of apple and apricot and an easy finish. The 12.5-per cent alcohol Sauvignon Blanc is mellow and medium-bodied. I'd certainly have the pale, straw-coloured Gewurztraminer Riesling 2013 again, especially with spicy food. The Pinot Grigio has a slight bronze hue and a hint of peach in the aroma that delivers a nice fruitiness. The Eco Trail Chardonnay Auxerrois 2012 has a floral bouquet with a crisp and clean finish. The bubbly Secco has green apple and pear flavour elements that I wouldn't mind celebrating with come Dec. 31.

J.P. Chenet Chardonnay du Monde 2013 provides a hint of vanilla in the aroma and a slight nuttiness in the flavour. The French winery also produces an interesting Ice Edition which isn't an ice wine but is meant to be served over ice. It's bubbly and pale yellow with a tropical citrus fruit nose and a taste that's creamy and smooth on the palate.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Liqueurs and cocktails at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

I drank fewer liqueurs and cocktails at this year's Gourmet Food & Wine Expo than I did in the past couple of years, but here's what I sampled at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Nov. 20 to 23.

Amaro Lucano is an Italian aperitif made with a blend of more than 30 herbs that can be enjoyed on its own or as part of a cocktail. I tried an Amore Amaro cocktail made with the aperitif, elderflower liqueur and grapefruit juice, and garnished with an orange slice. It had a pleasing orange-red colour and its mix of herb and citrus was quite refreshing.

Jack Daniels' Winter Jack Apple Whiskey Punch is a 15-per cent alcohol liqueur with a lovely mix of apple, cinnamon and clove in its aroma and flavour. I first tried it over ice and then heated. I preferred the former, but either way it makes a comforting winter sipper.

Forty Creek Cream Liquor blends fresh dairy cream with Forty Creek Whisky to create a rich and smooth drink with just the right amount of sweetness when served over ice. I would definitely enjoy this 17-per cent alcohol liqueur with coffee as well. Be patriotic and give this to a Baileys drinker, knowing that you're supporting a Canadian distillery while you're doing it.

Dr. McGillicuddy's Apple Pie is extremely sweet, but with a cinnamon zing. This is too sweet for me on its own, but I think I might like it if it was paired with the same company's Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.

I can't really classify MerloCola as a cocktail, but I'll include it anyway because it will have a segment of the market to itself when it hits LCBO shelves for $9.95 a bottle in February. It's comprised of 70 per cent Merlot wine combined with cola and is inspired by a Spanish cocktail called the Calimocho. There's a balance between the bitterness of the wine and the sweetness of the cola, but I had no desire to have another one after being given a glass of it.

Beer time at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Perhaps my biggest revelation after spending three days and sampling 90 drinks at the 20th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was finally finding a few gluten-free beers that didn't suck.

Gluten is part of my diet, so I'll never have a need to drink these four beers, but it's good to have some that I can confidently recommend to those who have issues with it.

Belgium's Brunehaut Brewery grows organic barley on its own farm, and sources its other ingredients locally. It's also developed a unique way to filter out the gluten during the brewing process.

My favourite of its three beers -- which I signed a petition to get into LCBO stores -- was the Organic Blond. There's a hint banana in this 6.5-per cent, cloudy gold beer with a mildly bitter finish. The top-fermented Organic Amber is also 6.5 per cent and uses two types of malt. There's a caramel flavour, but with little sweetness. The third beer is the eight-per cent alcohol Organic Tripel that pours with a nice head over a cloudy gold base. There's a slightly yeasty aroma and the malt is definitely evident, if not overpowering.

The other organic and gluten-free beer I enjoyed was Mongozo Premium Pilsener, which also comes from Belgium. It's a gold, five-per-cent alcohol beer with a classic crisp and clean pilsner flavour that's brewed with organic barley malt, organic hops and Fairtrade-certified organic rice.

Collective Arts' Rhyme and Reason has become one of my favourite Canadian IPAs over the last year, and the brewery's new State of Mind Session IPA is a nice, lighter counterpart. There's a citrus and hop aroma and a very good grapefruit flavour infused through the gold beer.

Nickel Brook Maple Porter is made with maple syrup that blends nicely with roasted malts so the maple isn't overpowering. The six-per cent alcohol beer has a clean finish.

Innis and Gunn Limited Edition is an ale matured in casks from the five malt whiskey regions of Scotland. I've never been that big on Scottish ales, but this amber 7.4-per cent beer has a slightly spicy aroma and flavour in combination with vanilla that gives it a smooth character. I would like this in small amounts.

Asahi Super Dry is a decent but unexceptional Japanese lager that's a staple of sushi restaurants, but I was more impressed with Asahi Kuronoma Premium Black Lager. It's made with roasted barley malt, rice and maize, and you can definitely taste the roasted malt after taking in the biscuit aroma.

Beau's Monkey's Paw is a 5.2-per cent wheat beer that pours cloudy gold with a nice, rich head. It has a classic Belgian wheat beer flavour with a touch of bubblegum, and I'm happy that I got to taste it since the last keg of it was served at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo.

Beau's St. Luke's Verse Gruit Ale is made with lavender, thyme and rosemary, and it has a large lavender bouquet and flavour. It's light copper in colour and pours with a rich, white head. This 5.7-per cent beer is very unique and, although I don't know if I could drink a lot of it, I liked it.

Samuel Adams Fat Jack is an 8.5-per cent double pumpkin ale. It's coloured appropriately but disappoints with its aroma. The pumpkin flavour breaks through in the finish along with some spiciness, but so does the relatively high alcohol content, which deters from the appeal.

I'm generally not a fan of Octoberfest beers, and Samuel Adams Octoberfest didn't change my opinion. The copper-coloured beer has a biscuity maltiness and a 5.5 per cent alcohol content.

Vedett Extra White is an unfiltered wheat beer made with lemon zest and coriander that comes from the same Belgian brewery as Duvel. It's a good summertime beer that's just fine on its own or mixed with Liefmans Fruitesse, a unique beer blend of black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and elderberry juices that's easy-drinking, sweet and very fruit-forward.

Moosehead Boundary Ale is made with Cascade, Chinook, East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops and seven types of malt that combine to make this a much more complex beer than Moosehead or the light Cracked Canoe. You can taste the caramel malt and there's a decent bitterness to this 5.3-per cent alcohol beer.

Innocente Brewing Company is a relatively new Waterloo, Ont. brewery that had six beers at the expo. I started with the high-quality Pilsner, which has a nice gold colour, decent white head and a crisp finish. The Rye Pale Ale was next, and the rye isn't overpowering like it can be in some of these beers, so I enjoyed it more than most. Innocente Golden Ale has a nice gold colour that pours with a rich white head. It's smooth but more generic than the brewery's other products.

The 7.4-per cent Innocente Double IPA is made with a variety of hops and had a hint of bosc pear with a grapefruit finish. It presented complementary bitterness and hoppiness and has me eager to try the promised Triple IPA that will be coming shortly. I finished my time at Innocente with its 11.9-per cent Russian Imperial Stout that was very dark beneath its grey head. The beer wasn't as rich as I expected and a molasses taste competed with a strong alcohol presence that wasn't pleasant.

Lake of Bays' Jake The Snake Imperial Pilsner isn't named after the '80s wrestler, but Hall of Fame hockey goalie Jacques Plante. It has a citrus aroma and a fruit-infused flavour with a bit of honey sweetness. The 7.5-per cent beer will be discontinued. Lake of Bays' Cujo is an eight-per cent imperial golden ale dedicated to NHL goalie Curtis Joseph. The rich colour of this malty beer is its most distinctive feature.

Spearhead Brewing Company's Sam Roberts Band Session Ale is unfiltered and naturally carbonated, featuring a dry finish to its caramel and biscuit flavour. It's won awards, but I don't think it's exceptional.

Wychwood Scarecrow Organic comes from the same brewery that makes Hobgoblin, and I generally appreciate its distinctive bottles and labels more than its beer. That was the case with this 4.7-per cent golden ale that balances citrus fruit flavours with a rich maltiness and a bitter finish.

Oast House Pitchfork Porter is dark brown with a small beige head that has a nice roasty aroma with a bit of coffee and dark chocolate in the flavour. This is another winner from the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. brewery.

Molson Canadian is one of my least favourite beers, and its Apple Cider doesn't rank anywhere on my list of favourites either, but I was impressed by its Stone Fruit Cider that's made with peaches and apricots. It has a very fruity bouquet and flavour and is more distinctive than Canadian's Apple Cider. I can finally recommend something from the Canadian family.