Food Commentaries

Sipping Rose Through The Polar Vortex

I've never understood why people are so reluctant to drink pink wines in the winter. It seems they are more than happy to crack a light, crisp Pinot Grigio or edgy, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc when it's minus 13 and blowing snow outside, but sipping on a richly flavoured, zesty, fruit-rich rosé is out of the question unless they are lounging by the pool at 30C. Fact is rosé wines are red wines with a little less stuffing. They are like the sound of violins compared to viola's. Clearly smaller in some ways but still incredibly diverse and some with really big sound! Rosé wines come in many forms and are often very affordable. During the depth of winter many of these wines are available at really competitive prices since demand slips so much. Just the other day I was in the LCBO and discovered an entire shelf of good quality pink wines from around the world that was discounted by 20 or 30% so needless to say, I am now well stocked.

Good rosé wines are made from the very same red grape varieties that make red wines. They are vinified as they would be for red wines, however instead of several days or weeks of mingling of juice and skins, they spend a mere several hours macerating. The resulting wine is an attractive salmon, onionskin or bright pink colour, depending on the exact variety or varieties used in the wine. Deeply coloured grapes such as Syrah or Cabernet will likely produce more deeply hued wines, whereas thin-skinned pale varieties such as Grenache or Pinot Noir will result in lighter, more subtly-hued versions. I liken it to brewing a cup of tea. The longer the tea bag sits in the hot water, the more colour and tannin (that furry, drying sensation on your gums) that is extracted.
The other nice thing about this in-between wine style is its affinity with so many different foods. Lighter rosés will pair well with salads, especially if they include fresh tomatoes. Medium bodied rosés will pair well with shellfish soups, grilled salmon or light chicken dishes. If you are a red meat eater, then consider a richer, full-bodied rosé to match your grilled lamb chops or savoury Mediterranean beef stew and believe it or not, pink wines love cheese!
Arguably the most famous rosé wines on the planet come from those wine producing countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea. France and Spain make wonderfully rich, boozy, savoury pink wines from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault along with other regional varieties. Look for wines from Tavel, Côtes de Provence and Côtes du Roussillon in France and Navarra or Rioja in Spain. Fruity, fresh and juicy versions can be found in France's Loire Valley where they are made from Cabernet Franc, Gamay and other indigenous varieties. There are plenty of good rosé wines in Italy where they are called Cerusuolo or Rosato and the warm new world countries of Australia, California and South Africa offer countless good examples. While the vast majority of White Zinfandel are fruity, sugary and one-dimesional, there are some pretty good versions to be found from respected producers such as DeLoach and Pedroncelli. One of my favourites Cali pink wines, if you can find it, is Vin Gris de Cigare, a complex and substantial Mediterranean look-alike from Bonny Doon located near Monterey on the central coast.
At the end of the day, you don't have to venture far from your own backyard to find good local rosés where a whole range of grapes are used to make them. Often a blend, you can find excellent Niagara pinks from Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Merlot and some producers will add a splash of white to enhance the fruit character or add complexity. 13th Street Winery is proud to offer two outstanding options - the Pink Palette, a blend of major red and white grape varieties which offers a fruity, just off-dry, easy drinking experience and the awesome BGPP, or Bloody Good Pink Pinot, a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris which is dry, fuller bodied, quite savoury and very cold weather friendly!
So next time you reach for that bottle of same old, same old red or that light, tart white, be a good Canadian, sit on the fence and choose a delicious pink wine. You won't be sorry you did, but you can still say sorry after if you wish.

Holiday Wine & Food Pairing Tips

The holidays are one of the truly great gastronomic times of the year. An incredible array of amazing traditional flavour-rich foods and stunning bottles of wine opened for friends and family. If ever there was a time to ensure the wine and food were well paired, this is it!
Now some will argue that this is the time to not over think things - just pop corks and eat, drink and be merry! That point of view certainly is hard to disagree with, however, as a certified sommelier, wine and food matching is in my blood. It's automatic. The extra pleasure I get from ensuring the food and wine are both in harmony is well worth the few minutes it takes to align the right flavours and textures between the vino and the nosh.
The standard approach to wine and food pairing is to choose whether to complement flavours and textures or contrast them. In order to choose which route to go, you must ask yourself if there is anything food-wise that needs to be contrasted. If I was serving very fatty food like deep fried fish then I would likely want to contrast that fattiness with the appropriate fresh, crisp wine. If I was serving salty food such as oysters or dry-rubbed ribs, the same would apply. With the standard holiday feast of roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed/roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, corn (or whatever vegetable is part of your family tradition) and the all-important gravy and cranberry sauce, you've got an awful lot going on. The key is to look at the most intense and dominant flavours and choose your wine based on these. In this feast, I'd suggest the intensity of the dark meat of the turkey and (pork, chestnut, mushroom) stuffing plus the obvious sweetness of the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes stand out, whereas most of the other items on the table are less of a concern. None of these items is asking for a contrasting wine so I say complement baby, complement!
The basic rules of the game suggest our wine needs to be as flavourful and robust as our food, unless of course we are sacrificing the wine as a general palate cleanser and digestion aid (not a bad idea if you plan to sleep at some point after dinner). The rules also suggest our wine should have enough fruitiness and even a little residual sweetness to pair with the sweet elements of the meal. Finally, we need to keep in mind that with all the afternoon egg nog, mulled wine and late evening digestifs of brandy and malt whisky, we will want to ensure the wine we are serving isn't too high in alcohol and is generally gulpable and refreshing. After adding all this together and then choosing a wine that you actually enjoy drinking, at a price point that is reasonable, we are left with the following diverse options:
Sparkling: Try a fruity, not too dry sparkling red or rose wine like Italian Lambrusco, Australian Shiraz or our own delicious Cuvee 13 Rose.
White: Consider a richer-styled white with adequate fruit intensity and a pleasant backbone of fresh acidity such as Viognier, Gewurztraminer or our own Pinot Gris 2011.
Pink: Even though many feel that pink wines should be reserved for poolside patios and picnics, I tend to appreciate them year round. A juicy, fruity White Zinfandel, off-dry Cabernet Franc or Gamay based rose such as our Pink Palette 2012 will do the trick
Red: The majority of folks will be looking for the perfect red for this imporant meal. Stay away from tannic, overly dry wines or anything super light. Good options which will have loads of bright fresh juicy fruit and supple round mouthfeel include Italian Barbera, Dolcetto or Bardolino, California or Chilean Pinot Noir or the ever-popular Gamay Noir either from Beaujolais-Villages or a great Niagara version such as the Malivoire M series Gamay or our own cream label Gamay Noir 2012.
Any way you slice it, this is one of the finest times of the year for friends, food and family and investing a little time and effort to ensure the wine is well chosen will enhance the festivities that much more.
(Final note: be sure to always have some delicious sweet oloroso Sherry, tawny Port or Malmsey Madeira around the house for all the wonderful shortbread, rum balls, mincemeat tarts, English trifle and dark fruit cake!)

Salmon Gravlax

A northern European delicacy, this delicious salmon preparation is something you can do easily, every time you have beautiful fresh fish. Literally translated as 'salmon in its grave', this savoury delicacy has been produced for centuries when fisherman lightly salted and then buried sides of fish in the sand above the tide line. The resulting curing and light fermentation that took place converted the fresh fish into a dried, firm and flavourful appetizer that would keep much longer than the fresh fish could.

Everytime I come across a beautiful fresh side of in-season, wild Coho, Sockeye or Atlantic salmon, I buy it. It is vitally important that the fish be ultra-fresh. The very first time I made gravlax, it was a success and continues to be easy and delicious each and every time I prepare it. Instructions are so simple: take a side of salmon on the skin, with all pin and other bones removed. Place it in a shallow pan or tray, cover it in a light coating of Kosher or coarse salt and white sugar and mix in any spices or seasonings that you like with salmon. I typically use chopped dill, lemon peel, a little lemon juice, crushed juniper berry, crushed back peppercorns and sometimes a little caraway seed, although this can be strong. It's also nice to grate a little red beet on top of the salmon giving it a gorgeous red stain after the curing. Finally, if feeling adventurous, try drizzling a little good gin or akvavit on top.

Once you've added all your seasoning, cover the salmon with plastic wrap and put tinfoil weights on top in order to compress the salmon, thus 'fusing' the coatings with the flesh of the fish. I use two flat cement blocks wrapped in tinfoil. Put the entire tray with fish and weights in the fridge and allow it to cure for 48 to 72 hours after which time some fluid will seep out of the fish. The flesh will look and feel firmer and the aromas of the herbs and spices will have infiltrated the flesh.

After the curing period, drain all the moisture off the tray, rub off the coating and lightly rinse the excess salt off the flesh then pat it down with a paper towel in order to ensure it is dry. Tightly wrap it with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge until you wish to use it. Slice it very thinly and enjoy alone for breakfast or garnish with any or all of the following:

- lemon juice or zest

- capers

- fresh chopped dill

- finely sliced shallot or red onion

- grated fresh horseradish

- freshly ground white pepper

- drizzled sour cream or yougurt

- toasted pumpernickel or rye bread

- toasted poppy seed bagel

As far as beverage pairings go, this scrumptious dish is delicious with dry, crisp sparkling or youthful, dry white wines, ice cold vodka, gin or akvavit or a cold northern European lager or pilsner, although the ideal pairing will depend to some degree on which seasonings you use. 

Smaklig måltid (that means bon appetit in Swedish)!


Asado, Florida Style!

During a recent visit to Ft. Lauderdale, I had the pleasure of watching my Uruguayan friend assemble an authentic asado. Although there were only six diners, he deemed it essential that the traditional portions be prepared. The result was enough extraordinary meat for 40 people.

For those of you that have never enjoyed Argentinean asado a la parrilla, it is essentially the grilling of several cuts of muscle meat and assorted offal from beef, lamb and pork over hot coals. Each item is placed on the grill in sequential order to ensure that by the end of the grilling, when the last item is finished, all items are cooked to perfection and ready to serve. Interestingly, my friend did not season the meat at all before grilling and all salt and pepper was added by each guest to their liking.

Our story is best told in photos so enjoy.

First: the beginnings of an amazing fire in his custom built brick oven with a grill that he can raise or lower to control the amount of heat being applied at any given time. The art is in ensuring you know exactly the heat on each section of the grill so all the meats and offal will grill at the right pace. This requires a perpetual moving of coals and controlling of flame.

When the embers are ready, the first cut of meat goes on - bife angosto, or roast of striploin. Notice how it is placed in the top right corner of the grill so it will enjoy the longest, slowest grilling.

Next comes the costillas (short ribs) and entrana gruesa (whole thick skirt)

 the lomo or whole beef tenderloin. As this cut is so lean and tender, it won't take long for it to cook so it goes on near the end.

...then finally, we add the morcillas (blood sausage), chorizos (spicy garlic pork sausage) and mollejas (whole sweetbreads - thymus gland) and finish the cooking. Our host also added four whole boneless chicken breasts, in order to accommodate the preferences of one of our guests.

All this was served with a fine composed salad and we drank an excellent 10 year old Piedra Negra Malbec from the Lurton brothers project in Mendoza and a stunning 8 year old Sardon del Duero from Abadia Retuerta in Spain. My friend insists on cutting all these meats with the traditional tools, so he brings out his collection of hand made knives.

Dessert is a whole peeled and cored pineapple which has been rubbed all over with butter and brown sugar, is wrapped tightly in tin foil and is then baked in the coals like a potato thus caramelizing the sugar and adding a remarkable crunchy, smoky element to the sweet fruit which goes just beautifully with our Pisco, even though that comes from Peru.

This may have all been a bit excessive, but my goodness was it delicious!

Que Festa!




The Salty Food, Tannin and Alcohol Experiment

It's recently come to my attention that one of the most divisive principles of wine and food matching is that of salt and the effect it has on alcohol and tannins in red wines. In the hopes of finding some clarity, I have devised a little experiment.

Clearly, wine and food matching is more of a subjective pleasure quest than an exact science. There are some tasters who are hyper-sensitivite to particular flavour compounds whilst others are more tolerant. Each of these individuals will react to a single wine and food match in very different ways.

It has been widely held that salty foods can cause one's palate to sense higher levels of tannin and alcohol in wines, however recently, it was suggested to me that the exact opposite may be true. One noted MW suggests that the long held belief that fat in red meat tempers tannins in red wines (e.g. Medoc red and lamb), is not true at all and in fact, it is the salty seasoning of the red meat that causes the tannins to appear rounder and softer.

In order to put the salt, tannin, alcohol theory to the test, I tried a very simple experiment. I opened a bottle of what I knew to be an aggressively tannic, young red wine from the Medoc with 13.5% alcohol. I sampled it alone and with plain green Picholine olives, salty fat-free ham, anchovy filet, lightly salted roasted almonds and old Parmigiano Reggiano. I also tried the food with a small taste of 100 proof white rhum from Martinique.

salty foods with wine

With the olive, the wine seemed less astringent (drying) and a touch more complex, however the bitterness of the wine was somewhat enhanced. Same was true with the ham, the almonds (although the flavour match didn't work here) and in particular the cheese, but once again the bitterness was enhanced, this time quite significantly. As you might have guessed the extremely salty, oily anchovy was quite disgusting with the wine as the standard fish oil meets tannin metallic flavour exploded on my tongue. It was hard to tell whether or not the tannins were affected as the flavour was so revolting.

When paired with the rhum, the tolerable (enjoyable) salt of the olives became elevated to such a level that all was ruined. With the slightly less salty ham, the alcohol did seem less hot and the flavour was actually quite tolerable. With the almonds, the rhum's strength all but disappeared on the palate and I was only reminded of the 50% alcohol from the comforting warmth in my chest. I quite enjoyed the rhum and almond and appreciated why the two ingredients often find themselves side by side in countless baked goodies. I didn't bother trying the cheese or anchovy with the rhum as I decided I'd save the anchovies for my next pizza and the cheese for the top of my spaghetti tonight.

Lessons from this wee experiment are three-fold. Firstly, although the theory that salty foods can temper the astringent nature of some tannins seems true, the bitterness of underripe or green tannins seem elevated by such foods. Alcohol on the other hand, seems to be lessened slightly by certain salty foods, but salt can be enhanced in other cases. Secondly, if one ever truly wants to understand any of the basic rules of wine and food matching, one must try similar experiments at home. Finally, and quite possibly the most important leasson is: NEVER EAT ANCHOVIES WITH TANNIC RED WINE FOR FEAR OF REGURGITATING ONE'S OWN STOMACH CONTENTS!

Bon appetit!

Please, we really must know ...

We’re not entirely sure, but he likes to shake things up and he’s not exactly a conformist.

WineFoodMan says “Use Your Senses, Dammit!”