Red Carpet Stars

Well another year of TIFF has wrapped up and Toronto has seen many stars walk the red carpet for their film premieres.

But besides the usual suspects there was another celebrity in town. Famous in his own right, 2-star Michelin Chef, Oliver Glowig was also here. He rolled out the red carpet for a special chef’s table dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s TOCA restaurant and Lis and I were lucky enough to be two of the eight people invited.

The food was a delight to the senses, with bright, vibrant colours that were a feast for the eyes. The sizzle as the swordfish hit the grill signaled another delicious dish was coming and watching the chef hand make the ravioli let you know only the freshest ingredients were being used. As six courses were presented over the evening the flavour explosions brought a taste of Italy to our mouths thanks to the skill of Chef Glowig and his amazing team.

For every course there was a terrific wine pairing and one of the delights of visiting TOCA means you get to try something you won’t always find at your local liquor store.  We started off the evening with a deliciously light sparkling Falanghina Brut DUBL from the Campania region of Southern Italy served by sommelier Taylor Thompson.  Each dish was accompanied by a wine chosen to bring out the flavours of the food and they didn’t disappoint.

Getting rave reviews was the “Ravioli Capresi” stuffed with caciotta and marjoram, served with a cherry tomato and fresh basil sauce. Maybe it was  because Chef shared the secret of how the delicate ravioli were made but I’m pretty sure it was because they tasted truly amazing.  Some of the eight at the table were even willing to give up dessert for another crack at this dish and I was in total agreement.

While chef Oliver Glowig has now flown back to Italy to handle the affairs of his own restaurant in Rome, you can enjoy the menu he created for TOCA any time at Toronto’s Ritz Carlton.

Wine Meets Art at Mission Hill

Gallery

This gallery contains 35 photos.

A visit to Mission Hill Family Estate  in Kelowna makes you feel as relaxed as a floating yoga class. Stepping through the gates,  you feel  a sense of  peace paired with refreshingly crisp rose. Just writing about it brings me back, … Continue reading

Weekend Wine Picks from Canada, California and an Italian Best Buy

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One of the many things I love about a long weekend…there is one more day to drink wine. I have a rule (with the odd exceptions) not to drink Monday-Thursday except on a holiday weekend. Sitting in the backyard sampling wines and listening to good music is one of life’s great pleasures

 

 

California ruled my Friday night visit.

aug31wine 014Diamond Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Napa Valley is the LCBO’s wine of the month. For good reason. Winemakers described 2012 as ideal and excellent conditions and this full-bodied cab – perfect for the barbecue –  delivers. $23.95

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My next Californian – Jekel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Arroyo Secco, Monterey County.  My husband and I loved this wine –  we love big wines and this was full-bodied, fruit forward without oak trying to steal the show.  Good value at $19.95

 

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Raise a Glass to BC and Niagara.

The second visit left me  tipping my hat to VQA wines from BC and ON. The Sperling Pinot Noir 2012  from the Okanagan Valley was a show stopper.  It was delicious this afternoon  and will only improve with age. $27.95

 

 

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Creekside Estate Winery Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – fresh and inviting on this warm weekend. At $17.95, great value.

 

 

 

 

aug31wine 021Best Value Wine: My wine find for the weekend was a modest unassuming wine tucked away on the bottom shelf of the tasting room. Tormaresca Neprica 2012  from Puglia over delivered.  A blend of Negroamaro, Primativo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes – clearly not for the faint of palate. What can I say? At $14.95 in Vintages, I bought five. Ok –  true confession – the next day I bought a case.

 Enjoy your weekend. It may not be a long one, but hopefully this will save you time at the LCBO giving you more time to savour.

Cheers

 

 

That’s What Wine Friends are For

Attachment-1Meet a few of my wine buddies. We cook together, laugh until we cry together and we drink a lot of wine together. 92 bottles  to be exact when we spent a week at the beach this summer unnamed(don’t be judgey – there were 10 of us – that means just a little over a bottle  a day..each).

maine,sicily,etc-aug2014 084My vacation plan was to photograph each bottle and put together a holiday wine slideshow. By Day 2, I just couldn’t keep up.

Most of the  wines ranged from $7.00 – $28.00 – Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and even a few Chardonnays. And  one night each couple paid homage to The Goddess of Wine and brought one special bottle for a beachfront wine tasting.

 The Goddess of Wine

The Goddess of Wine

The contenders::

Ruffino  Romitorio de Santedame 2001 Tuscany IGT $60.00wow cali Mistral

Le Mistral 2010, Monterey County Red Blend  $28.00lucente

Salco 2004, Tuscany IGT 
$55.00

La Vite Lucente 2011  $29.00

Byron Pinot Noir  Santa Barbara County 2012  $19.99

The bottles were all covered with brown paper bags. The advantage to short term memory loss is I could put them in the bags, leave them for an hour and I had no idea which was which.ian and sandra

Each team of two had a homemade tasting mat with circles from 1-5. You can also download one online http://winefolly.com/tutorial/wine-placemats/. We were all told the names, varietal and price of each of the five bottles.  These are not cork dorks by any means. They do like their wine though.

the winnersThe winning team got to do  their little victory dance (congrats Maria and Phil), and we all got the chance to taste some really great wines without spending a fortune.

As a Brazilian buddy once told me, “You don’t make friends drinking milk”.

Wine Challenge Favourites:

  • Salco 2004 Tuscany – you can’t go wrong with this one.
  • La Vite Lucente 2011 Tuscany – Another top performer you can always count on
  • Le Mistral  2010- a fantastic California blend,  exceptionally balanced and a fan favourite.
  • Byron Pinot Noir  Santa Barbara County 2012   – respectable but not as appreciated in when compared to the others.
  • Ruffino  Romitorio de Santedame 2001 Tuscany IGT – sadly this one was off.

 

Best Of The Bin

unnamedOk, so before you say anything this isn’t my weekly blue box collection…I’m saving these until I have enough to warrant a trip to the dreaded beer store where you have to return them. But being a lover of red I was sort of surprised at how many white wine empties were in there.  I’m guessing this has a lot to do with the summer season because nothing goes down quite like a chilled glass of white when it’s hot outside.

0011452I know a lot of people go right to the Pinot Grigio when it comes to a light white summer wine but for me I just find it doesn’t have much taste.  I much prefer a nice dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc and one I always have in the house is the WillM Reserve Riesling from Alsace.  It’s dry, has intense citrus flavours and is a perfect match for seafood, poultry or just straight up on its own and for $14.95 you really can’t go wrong.

unnamed-1One I just tried this week and went back to get four more bottles is the Cave Spring 2012 Dry Riesling from the Niagara Peninsula.  I got the first bottle as a gift from a lovely couple I met not long ago and after tasting it knew I’d be enjoying more this summer.  It was a perfect match for the cheese fondue we had on the patio by the fire on Saturday night. Also just $14.95 this VQA product is definitely worth a try.

unnamed-2Even though I said I wasn’t much of a Pinot Grigio fan I did try a bottle I quite liked.  Another gift, so who am I to turn up my nose at free wine and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised by the taste.  Sadly this will only be available to our readers in BC as it comes from La Stella Vineyard in the south Okanagan Valley. At $25 I do find it a bit pricey but it’s a sustainable vineyard where all the fruit is hand harvested, double-sorted, and fermented in small batches.  Also I loved the quote on the back of the bottle – “If music is the food of love; wine is the drink”.

unnamedLast but not least there’s always a good supply of Prosecco in the cellar because a bit of bubbly on a sunny day just makes you smile.  My go to standards are the Bottega at $13.95 and the Il Prosecco at $13.80 and believe me you can’t go wrong with either of them.  Both are a product of Italy and have a gentle-bubbly character so raise a glass of Vino Frizzante and enjoy something crisp and refreshing this summer.

Don’t forget to tell us what’s in your glass and if you’ve made a new discovery you want us to share with our readers.

Wine Bars for the Bucket List

 

A Wall of Wonder

A Wall of Wonder

Rome is to wine bars what Montreal is to hot dog joints and Toronto is to Tim Horton’s. Business people negotiate deals over a glass or two, students study will sipping, and friends get together and savour. Where in North America you head to Starbucks, Italians go to the wine bar.

Paradise in a Piazza

Paradise in a Piazza

 

 

First of all, you can get a decent glass of wine for the price of a Grande Caramel Latte. There is no awkwardness about going into a bar by yourself. And there is no pressure to hurry up and clear the table.  How civilized.

 

 

 

The Hangout of Taste

The Hangout of Taste

Il Ritrovo del Gusto (The  Hangout of Taste) Via dei Coronari 30, Rome

I discovered a lovely wine bar next door to our apartment around the corner from Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most beautiful historical squares. A couple of priests sat in the back sipping on a beer. Five Polish women were laughing in the corner – enjoying the special day after coming here with one million other pilgrims for the Canonization of two popes by two living popes.

 

 

A Papal Procession

A Papal Procession

I sat back, by myself, and enjoyed  the show.   While it was sheer coincidence that I came to Rome the same day as the pilgrims,  I was moved by what was going on outside – the songs, the masses, the celebration of groups from all over the world. They joined the Old Nonno (Italian for grandfather) with a new pair of shoes, the young men who emerged from the shadows with armfuls of ponchos and umbrellas at the slightest drop of rain. This is the Rome I love.

 

 

And I am sheltered from the rain inside this little wine bar that treated each customer as though they were royalty.

steve's pics 312When I was not enthusiastic about  the wine-by-the glass choices on the board, the bartender brought me new choices;  a Cerasuola from Sicily and a  Primitivo from Puglia. The bartender lamented that tourists come in asking for Chianti, Chianti, Chianti – or if they feel adventurous Amarone, Barolo. “These wines need food to be properly enjoyed,” he says. As he tells me and my friends about the wine we are drinking, he offers us a plate of bruschetta to sample some of the local specialties. No charge.

Cul de Sac, Piazza Pasquino, 73, Roma

Cul-de-Sac

Cul-de-Sac

 

A five minute walk away in a neighbouring piazza, a different experience. Cul-de-Sac prides itself in having a great selection of wine. No kidding! There is a short one page menu for food and 3-inch  binder with wine picks. Fourteen hundred choices to be exact, 55 by the glass.

 

A Montrachet outside My Budget

A Montrachet outside My Budget

 

 

From best of local to exclusive bottles such as this 2000 euros (3000 dollars CDN) Montrachet that I passed on. They have something for every palate.

 

 

They have an interesting menu with such offerings as pasta with hare ragu to lasagna and a killer Tiramisu (My husband Steve should know, he has ordered it in every             restaurant in Italy.)  Everything is homemade.

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We were surrounded by business people who work in the area – it is always a solid endorsement when the majority at the tables are local. The beauty of it is you can sit and watch the world go by, or you can catch up with the world with their free WIFI – which is offered at most places now.

 

 

Slowly after a two weeks in this country, I am losing my automatic skepticism that everyone is out to cheat the tourist. Because despite my proud but broken Italian, and my Euro-sneakers, they can spot that I am a tourist in a millisecond.  Offering that extra service is  good business.

Because…I went back the next day – and now I am telling my friends.

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The Wines of Sicily: Le Vigne Biondi

april 2014 381Some of the best surprises come from a little random research. Looking for a winery recommendation,  I searched #Sicilanwine, using my new favourite travel tool Twitter. Stephanie and Ciro Biondi of Le Vigne Biondi tweeted me back instantly inviting me to drop by.  It turned out to be one of the best tasting experiences I have ever had.

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Ciro Biondi met us in the tiny town of Trecastagni.  We followed him to his first vineyard, Chianta
( meaning “to plant”) which was a feast for the eyes.    The vines grow in perfect symmetry up the steep hills surrounded by the spent craters of Mt. Etna..
These vines have been in his family for generations.
april 2014 385As a boy, Ciro played here with his sisters. His grandfather tended the grapes. So did his father until he decided that life was not for him.  Ciro also chose a different path, studying architecture in Florence. But he could not stay away. In 1999, Ciro and wife Stephanie brought the vines back to life.  His father’s reaction, “Your education cost me a fortune. Don’t screw it up.”.
 While talking about the importance of respecting nature, Ciro  leans into a  flowering fennel, sniffs the fronds and picks just enough to make that evening’s dinner. He believes you must allow the earth  to express itself in the wine without manipulation. 
april 2014 388“You don’t own the land, you lease it,” says Ciro.
Located on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, the earth is black from volcanic soil. The quality of the specific terroir has been recognized with the appellation ETNA D.O.C. , responsible for creating rich reds and elegant whites.
Our tasting took place in a modest building in the heart of his Cisterna Fuori  vineyard nearby. A retro fridge last seen on “Leave It to Beaver”, a simple table and four complex wines.
Over a discussion of Sicily, its history, its strengths and its troubles, photos of his children, and his father’s pride when he first tasted Ciro and Stephanie’s wine.  We sampled two whites and two reds, all blends of Sicily’s traditional grapes.

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There is a humbleness when talking about the success of their wines. When I asked him whether he has a winemaker – he says why pay someone to make mistakes when he can make them himself. He doesn’t seem to be making that many.
Biondi is one of the wineries featured in “Palmento: a Sicilan Wine Odessey” by Wine Spectator contributor Robert Camuto. The two became friends, and when he asked to bring a group to the winery including the American wine importer, producer and influencer Kermit Lynch, Ciro naturally agreed.   The group arrived, They tasted. They discussed techniques, terroir, exchanged philosophies. Some time into the afternoon, Ciro learned the group included Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanee-Conti – only the most prized and expensive burgundy in the world. romanee contiBoth share the highest regard for terroir. When de Villaine extended a invitation to visit Burgundy, Ciro and Stephanie jumped at the chance. “I was afraid to ask questions after one of the people in the group asked the head winemaker at Romanee-Conti about the PH level of their grapes. ” The winemaker snapped back  “Do you ask a beautiful woman what her cholesterol level is?”
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The Wines We Sampled:
Outis Etna Bianco

Outis Etna Bianco

Outis (Nessuno) Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2013 – straw-coloured, vibrant and delicious. 

 
Chianta Etna D.O.C. Bianco 2012 the blend of Carricante, Cataratte, Minello grapes looks like spun gold, with a flavour that is rich but not overly oaked.
And then there were the reds – oh, I wanted to take a case of each of these reds home.  
They are the pride of Etna:

 

Cisterne Fuori Etna  D.O.C. Rosso 2011: a blend of Nerello Mascalese and  Nerello Cappuccio grapes.  This is why Homer braved the wrath of Cyclops to travel to this part of the world. 
 
San Nicolo' Etna D.O.C. Rosso

San Nicolo’ Etna D.O.C. Rosso 2012 

St Nicolo Etna D.O.C.Rosso 2012 – the single vineyard blend was simply spectacular. We bought four bottles to take home to Canada. They didn’t make it that far.
Sadly the wines of Le Vigne Biondi  are not available at the LCBO or SAQ, but they are available at Terroni’s, the chain of Italian restaurants in Toronto. SO, I will just have to go back, to Terroni’s or better yet, Mt. Etna.