Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finding Joy in Red Wine

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller

A family emergency took me back to Ontario last week. Despite the melancholy feel over the visit, I decided to try and find small joys through my loved ones while there. I held my new baby nephew for the first time, did some of my favourite things with my best friend, and spent some quality time with my Dad. And when my father and I get together, wine is almost always involved!

He wanted to restock his cellar for the upcoming holidays. We set out to three of his local LCBO stores, and together, going off his palate preferences, we purchased 15 bottles and tasted a few of his choices. These were some of the hits:

1. Cantina del Dolcetto di Dogliani Superiore 2011
Flavours of ripe cherries, resin and tobacco with a hint of spice on the long finish. The soft tannins are well-structured and combine with focused acidity for a rustic, full mouthfeel. A classic Italian Dolcetto that pairs well with steak and other red meats. Decanting the wine 1-2 hours before serving will allow the red fruit flavours to really shine.

2. Montresor Capitel della Crosara Valpolicella Ripasso 2011
A sultry blend of stewed cherries, raspberries and chocolate. Smooth and structured tannins create a well balanced body with a long, lush finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with mild charcuterie, kalamata olives and mozzarella cheese.

3. Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills (H3) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Deep purple in colour, with notes of blackberry, plum and a white pepper finish. A hint of green olive mid-palate and silky tannins add complexity. A great wine to share with friends over foods such as gourmet pizzas.

When I returned home, I was asked to sample a wine for a 40th birthday party, which was the Bodegas Los 800 Priorat 2010 from Spain. An intoxicating bouquet of dark cherries, cloves and mocha lead into a rich, complex body with silky tannins and a graphite backbone. The long, spicy finish lingers long after your glass is finished. Pairs well with roasted meats like Beef Wellington.

It is inevitable that we will experience sorrow in our lives. How we get through the pain is up to us. Finding and experiencing these small joys is what has helped me get through it all this past year. Family, friends and good wine are all the joys I need to get me through anything.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Look at Sauvignon Blanc in Chile

Those who know me, know I love Sauvignon Blanc. And I also have a fondness for Chilean wines. Put them together and you have some expressive wines with great value. I spent the last month of summer tasting some Chilean Sauvignon Blancs to see how the flavour profiles change with each growing region in Chile.

Although winemaking in Chile dates back a couple hundred years, it was only in the 1990s that the country really landed on the viticultural map. Sauvignonasse was originally planted in some regions, a similar varietal that produces wines of lesser quality; it was mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc. Plantings are being removed with authentic vines replacing them. Chile tends to focus on producing fruit-forward Sauvignon Blancs with tropical nuances and less on the herbaceousness that old world wines tend to showcase.

Coquimbo is the northernmost wine region in Chile, and the Elqui Valley sub-region is becoming known for producing some excellent Sauvignon Blancs. This is likely because of low annual rainfall amounts, which would help control the growth of the vigorous vines. Plenty of access to sunlight and cooling mountain breezes also help to improve the quality of the grapes.

Falernia's 2012 Sauv Blanc is fresh and fruit-forward, full of passionfruit, pineapple and underripe green apple flavours. Hints of anise and a white pepper finish add complexity. The body is strong enough to handle dishes like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.

South of the Coquimbo region and north of Santiago lies the Casablanca sub-region of the Aconcagua Valley. White varietals dominate in the vineyards due to cooling fogs and ocean breezes, ideal conditions for growing Sauvignon Blanc. Mild winters also extend the growing season by approximately one month longer than other winegrowing regions in Chile.

The Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was my personal favourite of these wines, with tropical notes of passionfruit and pineapple up front and a beautiful nuance of sweet peas. Crisp acidity and a hint of minerality rounded out the palate. Well-balanced. Great for sipping on a patio with grilled salmon and mild cheeses.

The Central Valley consists of sub-regions that include the Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule. The Curico Valley is the southernmost region of these, with average high rainfall amounts and nutrient-rich soils. Although Curico does have the reputation for producing inexpensive blends and once was a haven for growing Sauvignonasse, some good Sauvignon Blancs have come from here of late.

One such example is the Montes Classic 2013. Notes of underripe apricots, leafiness and basil lead into a high, mouthwatering acidity that carries on through the finish. This wine has the power and structure I love about a good Sauvignon Blanc. Pairs well with seafood dishes, especially clam and bacon linguine.

Concha y Toro makes a Sauvignon Blanc on their Casillero del Diablo line that sources grapes from their vineyards in the Limari, Casablanca and Rapel Valleys. All regions are well represented here. Notes of pear, lemon and snap peas combine with a delightful hint of grilled pineapple on the finish. The zesty acidity makes this wine great with rich foods like quiches and hors d'oeuvres in puff pastry, but is also light enough to pair well with more delicate shellfish like scallops.

I was surprised to find hints of herbaceousness and leafiness in more of these bottles than I thought I would. Otherwise, each wine truly does reflect the style of Sauvignon Blanc that Chile seeks to produce, with approachable fruit flavours and crisp acidity at a good value. If Chile continues to focus on and improve quality in both the vineyard and in the winery, I truly believe their Sauvignon Blancs have potential to become world-class, like their Cabernet cousins from Puente Alto.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Meatless Monday

Every once in awhile I like to indulge in a vegetarian meal, and Meatless Monday is always a great way to integrate this into dinnertime. This week we had an influx of fresh carrots given to us by our neighbours. I decided to make a soup I have in one of my old cookbooks, called "This Food, That Wine". It's a great cookbook full of recipes that come with recommended wine pairings, and contains write-ups on the major grape varietals, their flavour profiles, and other bits of information.

Click here for more information and to buy the book.

Carrot & Cumin Soup, from "This Food, That Wine"

Serves 6, level of difficulty - easy

6 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

2 cloves of garlic chopped

2 teaspoons (10ml) whole cumin seeds (quickly toasted in a skillet until fragrant,) ground in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder

3 Tablespoons (45ml) canola oil

Salt and a few drops of tabasco

1 cup (250ml) white wine*

4 cups (1 litre) chicken or vegetable broth brought to a boil

Chopped fresh chives (optional garnish)

Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche (optional garnish)

1. In a heavy bottomed soup pot warm up your oil over medium heat. Add your onions and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.

2. Add your carrots, garlic and ground cumin seeds to the pot with the salt and tabasco. Cook this all gently for about 20 minutes giving it a good stir now and then.

3. Add the wine and turn up the heat to bring the wine to a boil.

4. Pour in your hot stock and simmer until the carrots are really tender which should take around 10 minutes.

5. In a blender or food processor, blend the soup until it’s really smooth and creamy. I find it works best if you put the chunks of veg in first and add the stock to blend.

6. You can put your soup through a fine mesh strainer here or leave it a bit more rustic, totally up to you.

7. Serve the soup hot in warmed bowls with a swirl of sour cream and some chopped fresh chives.
As usual, I decided to play with the original recipe. After sweating the onions and garlic in oil, I added 1tbsp of smoky paprika to add more depth of flavour. Because I had no celery, I substituted celery salt for regular table salt. And because I prefer my soups more rustic, I spent less time pureeing the soup in the blender. Make sure you use a dry white wine with noticeable acidity as opposed to an off-dry or sweet one in the recipe. The carrots already add a sweetness; an off-dry wine would make the soup too sweet. We served the soup with caesar salad and spinach & feta "puffs" to round out our Meatless Monday meal!

Recommended Wine Match – Pinot Gris

I love this pairing because the floral aromas in Pinot Gris really highlight the fragrant cumin in the soup. The other important thing is choosing a wine that has enough body, and this wine works beautifully, with its smooth texture and fresh shot of acidity. Be sure to choose a Pinot GRIS, not a Grigio which would be too light. Viognier would be another great choice for this soup.

Since I was playing with the recipe, I decided to try a different pairing this time-I chose the Summerhill Ehrenfelser, 2013 vintage. I have always enjoyed Summerhill's Ehrenfelser; it was one of the first wines that I really enjoyed and would buy on a regular basis, even before I started my WSET journey.

Summerhill's 2013 Ehrenfelser has all the aromatics of a Gewurztraminer, without the oily texture. Notes of honeysuckle, lychee, pear and apricot preclude a spicy ginger finish. Off dry and expressive, with fresh acidity and a hint of effervescence. It pairs well with sushi, tempura, and spiced popcorn, but I also enjoyed it with the soup.

Other Canadian wines that would pair well with this soup include:

Mission Hill's Reserve Pinot Gris
Church & State's Trebella: Viognier, Marsanne & Roussanne White Blend
Cave Springs Riesling

Although I will never become a full-fledged vegetarian or vegan because I love meat too much, I do believe in expanding my cooking skills to all styles of cuisines. Wine pairings are never limited, just as I will never limit myself in the kitchen. My husband has challenged me to cook a bunch of new recipes using dried red lentils I purchased awhile ago, so stay tuned for some more vegetarian recipes and wine pairings!