Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eating My Way Through...Calgary Stampede 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. Every year this week many Calgarians dust off their cowboy hats, break out their Wrangler jeans and turn Calgary into a western party called the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede features the largest kick-off parade in North America, Grandstand rodeo events like Chuckwagon Races and Bullriding, a large carnival with midway rides, nightly concerts and various exhibits, and other special events throughout the city including concerts and free pancake breakfasts.

Usually, I am what people consider a "Stampede Scrooge". Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent source of exposure and income for the city with many tourists flocking here and spending lots of money on the grounds. It was also a great way to bring the community together during our massive flood last year, and many amazing stories of humanity came out of ensuring the Stampede would go on, "Come Hell or High Water". There are many reasons why the Stampede is an awesome week-long event; too many to list here. But for someone who despises large crowds, boorishly drunk people (when I'm not drinking-ha!) and lineups over 30 minutes long, Stampede isn't really my thing. With all of this said, there is one midway feature that gets me excited enough to brave the crowds, drunks and lineups, throw on my cowboy hat and denim and scream out "Yee-haw!"

The Food.

Each year, the Stampede releases a list of the new, unique and sometimes weird new foods on the midway. Here is the link to this year's list. After salivating over the majority of the foods, my friends and I decided to find as many of these featured items as possible without bursting, and eat our way through the midway.

1. Red Velvet Mini Donuts
Of all the featured food items this year, the most talked-about sweet treat seems to be the Red Velvet Mini Donuts. My summer student insisted that I cover this one, and it was one of the first stops of the day. Warm, moist red velvet donuts with a light glaze of cream cheese icing served on a stick for convenience while walking around. They were wonderfully soft and not overly sticky, but I personally prefer "Those Little Donuts" that are deep-fried in front of you and served with cinnamon sugar on top.


2. Crocodile, Python and Kangaroo Sliders
I'm always looking for something new to try, and different meats is always on that list. I was able to sample 3 more with the sliders package at the Gourmet Burger vendor close to the Indian Village. For $12, you get 3 sliders with your choice of the meats listed above and Ostrich served with a tomato slice and a handful of chips. My personal favourite was python. It has a mild, unique flavour that is sort of like pork. The crocodile slider tasted like chicken and the kangaroo slider resembled venison as it was a little gamey.
Want something more mainstream? Gourmet Burger also offers up a full menu of burgers with both regular and unusual toppings such as the Monkey Burger, which comes with Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana!
 

3. Creole Cajun Chicken Po'Boy
The word "Po'Boy" alone gets me excited; how can you go wrong with a sandwich full of delicious meat and creamy sauce served in a baguette-like bun? Unfortunately, the vendors found a way for this sandwich to fall flat. It wasn't anything more than a glorified chicken sandwich on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. Yahoo to the flavourful coleslaw and the spiciness of the breaded chicken.
Rope in Instead: The Turkey Dinner Poutine from the same vendor. It's a mishmash of both worlds, and it's also a great base if you plan to hit the beer gardens for awhile.

We also ate some food that wasn't on the featured list this year but have become tried-and-true favourites:

4. Deep-Fried Cheesecake and Deep-Fried Snickers Bar
This is everything it promises: a snickers bar breaded, deep-fried and served on a stick. They are both gooey, melty delicious treats, albeit a bit messy to eat. Perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth! The picture below is of the cheesecake.


5. The Quebec Poutine, La Poutinerie
La Poutinerie takes this Canadian treasure to the next level by adding different items into the mix. I chose the Quebec Poutine which includes maple syrup with the traditional ingredients. It added a wonderful dimension to the savoury and salty flavours and the portion size was enough to leave you full without feeling too full.

We were also pleased to find out that some of the beer gardens allow minors until 8pm! It was a great chance for parents to imbibe with a beer or 2, and my daughter enjoyed a fruit smoothie while watching her daddy ride the mechanical bull! Win-win!

Although Stampede is almost over this year, there's still a chance to get down to the grounds and try some of the weird and wonderful foods on the midway. Maybe this year I'm not such a "Stampede Scrooge" after all. Happy eating and happy Stampeding!







Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The World Cup...of Wine Too?

Starting tomorrow, the majority of the world will shift their eyes to Brazil, intensely fixated on the matches of their chosen football teams, fiercely focused on the scoreboards and standings for the next month. I'm usually not part of this vast majority-that is, until this year.

It's interesting to note that there are many winemaking countries that qualified for the World Cup this year: Chile, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, USA, Greece, the list goes on. You'll find a winemaking country in the majority of the Group Stage matches. Since I have no real affinity for any specific team, I'm going to follow along-and drink along!-to the winemaking countries by uncorking a bottle to celebrate team wins by Chile, Australia, Italy, France and the USA (let's face it, if I drank a bottle in honour of every winemaking country that wins a game in the tournament, you might as well throw me into rehab!). Those are my top 5 choices. However, if Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany or Greece make it to the Quarter-finals, I will cheer them on at that point too. In order to pace myself, I've scheduled out the games I will celebrate-drinking multiple bottles mid-week really isn't responsible when you're a parent and work full-time. So here's my celebratory schedule for the Group Stage:

Fri June 13: Chile vs Australia, 4pm MST
Sat June 14: England vs Italy, 4pm MST
*due to a French-themed dinner party I am hosting that night, I will drink the Italian bottle on Sunday the 15th if Italy wins
Sun June 15: France vs Honduras, 1pm MST
Mon June 16: Ghana vs USA, 4pm MST
*Liver break for 3 days. I'm getting old!*
Fri June 20: France better win so I can celebrate hard at a French wine festival I already have tickets to that night!
*If Italy wins their game vs Costa Rica, I will drink on Sat June 21
Sun June 22: USA vs Portugal, 4pm MST
*If Portugal wins, I'm drinking port! 
*2 day liver and probably wallet break*
Wed June 25: Ecuador vs France, 2pm MST
Thurs June 26: USA vs Germany, 10am
*If Germany wins, I'll toast them instead 

All bottles opened for a win will be tweeted. I'll revisit the rules for the 2nd stage when the standings are finalized. 

Best of luck to my top 5 picks, my liver and my wallet, although this will definitely make football more fun! Cheers! 





Thursday, May 8, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Okanagan Merlot and BBQ Meats

Spring "officially" began on March 20th, and although the winter season has dragged on into May, we've also seen a few short bursts of Spring-like weather. This has given my husband and I the chance to light up the barbecue and pair our grilled meats with some of the 2011 Merlots and Merlot blends from British Columbia.

The 2011 growing season is said to be one of the coolest on record in the Okanagan. Cool and wet conditions kicked off Spring and continued into the early summer. A late August heat wave allowed more hang time for the grapes to achieve physiological ripeness, and the time frame for harvest lasted a few weeks. According to the BC Wine Institute, Okanagan Merlots typically show a flavour profile that includes raspberries, plums, black cherries, licorice, oranges, coffee, toffee, chocolate, even fruit cake! They are also known to be medium to full-bodied, with moderate to assertive intensity. Here are a few of the standout wines we tasted:

Intrigue Wines is a relatively new winery in the Okanagan, but they are making their name known through their 2011 Merlot, which is consistently sold out on their website. Mellow and smooth, with soft tannins well integrated into the palate of ripe cherries, plum and smoke. Light in body and easy to drink, it will pair well with pizza, grilled chicken and ribs. The wine was also an excellent counterbalance to a Cuban cigar after dinner due to it's smoky finish, according to my husband!

Tinhorn Creek released a Merlot that is also fruit-forward with notes of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Bright and juicy, with refreshing acidity and a long, vibrant finish. This wine was great on it's own while watching the sun set on the deck, but would also play nicely with grilled chicken salads.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Series Merlot starts with a pronounced nose of plums and cloves, leading into a polished palate of raspberries, cherries and more spice. Well structured and rich with a sultry, smoky finish. This wine is an excellent accompaniment to steak and prime rib. Perhaps the best Canadian Merlot I have ever tasted, and has me back on the proverbial Merlot bandwagon!

Merlot has always been a great sidekick to Cabernet Sauvignon, softening it's bold tannins and adding fruitiness to the palate. This is no exception for Cab-Merlot blends in the Okanagan, and the two varietals continue to compliment eachother - both in bottle and with food.

Sumac Ridge's 2011 Cabernet Merlot has the approachable charm of a Merlot combined with the body and structure of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of plum, blackberry and green bell pepper linger on the palate through the long, smooth finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with grilled pork and vegetable kebabs. A fun wine to share with good company over animated conversation.

The Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Merlot contains notes of fresh strawberries, blackcurrant leaves and green beans, intertwined with mouthwatering acidity and grippy tannins. This lively, intense wine would be great with everything from grilled bison burgers to venison. Excellent value for money at a price of $20 CDN.

It was interesting to note that most of the Merlot wines we tasted had a smokiness on the palate, which added a beautiful complexity to the wines. They were also very expressive of the varietal, showing the traditional notes of plum and fresh berries. Despite the early season growing challenges, the wines were well structured and married nicely with all the grilled meats we paired with them. If you love Merlot, why not include a bottle, or 2, or 3 from the Okanagan? It will be sure to impress both you and your guests alike. 

Cheers! 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Add Some Green to your Glass for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, and the country's culture and customs. Because it is also known as a Christian feast day, food and drink tend to be at the forefront of the celebration; especially drink. St. Patrick's Day falls under the season of Lent, which means no meat on Fridays, sacrificing a luxury in the name of the Lord, and in some cases, no drinking. However, these restrictions are lifted on March 17, allowing everyone to participate, which may encourage some views that this day represents heavy drinking. Traditionally, pubs fill up quickly and green beer flows like the water cascading down Niagara Falls. Other traditional drinks include Irish Whiskey (i.e. Bushmills), Irish Cream Liqueur (mmm, Bailey's!), and for those who don't want food colouring in their beer, Ireland's trademark Guinness does the trick.

But what about us wine drinkers? Is there a way we can celebrate with wine? Yes! Here are some ways us wine lovers can add some green to our glass, without the food colouring:

1. Drink "Green Wine"

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese semi-sparkling white wine that translates into English as "green wine". This translation is meant to describe the wine as young, and not in reference to the colour. Vinho Verde wines are full of citrus flavour, with mouth-watering acidity and low alcohol. They can also show notes of tropical fruit, lighter stone fruits like apples, and in some cases a bit of a barnyard aroma. Vinho Verde wines are great values and many are found in Canada under $20. They also pair well with fish and chips!

Vinhos I recommend: Twin Vines, Gazela, any Vinho Verde made exclusively with the grape Alvarinho.

2. Wines that Think Green

Many wineries throughout the world highly value sustainability in the vineyards. Organic and biodynamic wineries are on the rise as environmental concerns become mainstream. No chemical treatments are used in organic viticulture, and all wines have to be registered with a certification body in order to be classified as organic. Biodynamic wineries base their vineyard management on planet and star cycles, and winegrowers use holistic concoctions to mitigate pests & diseases. Organic wines range in prices from inexpensive to premium, but there are many good quality wines on the market that do their part for Mother Nature without costing you a lot of greenbacks!

I recommend: Villa Teresa DOC Prosecco-why not add a little bubbly to the celebration?

3. Wines that Taste Green

This is where the red wine drinkers come in. There are many varietals in the wine world that pack a vegetal punch with hints of asparagus, peas, and grass to name a few. Some of the most common varietals include:

-Cabernet Franc
-Sauvignon Blanc
-Cabernet Sauvignon
-Pinot Noir
-Gruner Veltliner

Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon would both pair well with Irish stew, and Gruner Veltliner marries well with potatoes. Bonus points for finding bottles that have Irish names, places or language on the label!



You don't have to be a beer drinker or a whiskey lover to participate in St. Patrick's Day. The day is for celebrating Ireland's customs, culture and St. Patrick's contribution to Christianity. Everyone is welcome to celebrate no matter what they drink as the day is meant to be fun and friendly. And as an Irish toast once said:

"May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances.
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Petite Sirah: A Star of California's Vineyards

You've heard the trademark Hollywood rags to riches stories about the girl next door leaving home and moving to California to try their hand at acting, getting their first major role in a movie after some bit parts and becoming a blockbuster star. A similar story can be found in the wine world. Petite Sirah has made a name for itself in Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin Valley; currently starring in it's own bottles, which is a big change from the tiny roles it used to play in blends. Here is the rags to riches story of Petite Sirah, one of California's boldest grapes with an almost cult-like following.

Originally named Durif, the grape was born by experimentally crossing Peloursin in an eastern French lab around 1868. For a long while, Durif had no idea who it's father was, but many years later found out it was likely Syrah. The grape did quite well in France in it's early years, proving to be strong enough to resist the the downy mildew epidemic running rampant through the vineyards at that time. However, Durif did not do well in frost and was also sensitive to the scorching summer sun. The grape needed a change of terroir to really flourish and show it's true potential.

In a typical Hollywood story the star is "discovered" by an influential person who can see their "star power". For Amy Adams it was Stacy O'Neil. For Durif it was Charles McIver of California's Linda Vista Winery, who imported the grape as Petite Sirah, possibly misspelled from Petite Syrah. Fortunately the name caught on, and Petite Sirah adapted well to the more temperate climate. It didn't take long for other wineries to notice the grape, and by the turn of the century Petite Sirah was one of the most widely planted varietals in the state. However, the grape was so powerful and tannic only small amounts were used in blends to add structure and colour. This would continue for decades until 1961, when Concannon vineyards made the first bottle of 100% Petite Sirah. This turned out to be the grape's "big break" as other wineries followed suit, and Petite Sirah gained many devoted fans thanks to this trend. Although other varietals have found their way into the limelight from the 1970s to today, many wineries continue to produce bottles made exclusively of Petite Sirah, and websites like psiloveyou.org/ advocate the awareness and support of these wines. Petite Sirah has found a true home in California, and plantings have also been recorded in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Cellar owners would love P.S. as the wines tend to age very well, upwards of 10 years. Patience is rewarded when aging this varietal.


Stag's Leap Winery's 2010 Petite Sirah shows the powerful tannins, inky dark colouring and juicy palate that are trademark to the varietal. Full-bodied and complex, the bouquet contains notes of black fruit, tobacco and cedar. This wine was best after decanting for 4 hours. Pairs well with grilled lamb or roast beef, and will age beautifully in the next 7-10 years.


Stargroves 2008 Petite Sirah is approachable now, with an elegance and refined structure consistent with the Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. Supple tannins are harmoniously balanced with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherries, tobacco and rubber linger on the palate through to the long and lively finish. Surprisingly drinkable on it's own, and also pairs well with red meats and hard cheeses. Decant for 1-2 hours.

Petite Sirah has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in Eastern France to thriving in the California limelight. If you enjoy dark, bold, tannic reds, this varietal will not disappoint! So treat yourself like the star you are and try a bottle today!



    


Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2013

Happy New Years!

This past year was a busy one on my wine journey. From Gruner Veltliner to Gaja, I was able to taste wines from many different regions. There were some surprises on the way; the biggest one being my new-found appreciation of Chilean wines. Traditions were also continued, like The Pinot Noir Project and a return visit to the Okanagan in the summer. My experience with WSET Advanced classes gave me a ton to learn and taste. Here are some of my favourites from 2013 , with the country and region of origin for each wine also listed. Anything with a (v) means the wine is a great value at under $20 CDN:

Top Whites
It seems like 2011 was a good year for white wine producers all around. The Pfaffenheim is priced at just over $20 CDN, making all four of these wines an excellent value.
1. Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2011-Chile (v)
2. Rabl Gruner Veltliner 2011-Austria (v)
3. Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2011-Alsace, France
Honourable Mention: St Urbans-Hof Old Vines Riesling 2011-Mosel, Germany (v)

Top Reds
There wasn't any consistent red wine trend for me this year; however, I did develop a fondness for Italy's southern reds like Nero d'Avola and blends using the grape. With the exception of the Tedeschi Amarone (a beautiful splurge at $50), these wines are priced between $22-$33 CDN.
1. Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France
2. Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella 2005-Italy
3. Donnafugata Sedara 2010-Sicily, Italy
Honourable Mention: Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon DO Pirque 2008-Chile

Top Sparkling Wines
Those who know me know that I will always splurge on Champagne when I can. This year I was fortunate enough to taste some premium Champagne thanks to the WSET Advanced classes. There are plenty of excellent value sparkling wine options in the world, and Martini & Rossi's Asti fits the bill at $15 CDN.
1. Dom Ruinart 1998
2. Pol Roger 2000
Honourable Mention: Martini & Rossi Asti (v)

Top Sweet Wines
Once again, I was fortunate enough to try a premium Tokaji thanks to the WSET classes. Chateau Guiraud's Petit Guiraud retails at $30 CDN for a 375ml bottle and the Rutherglen Muscat is an excellent value at just under $30 as well.
1. Hetszolo Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2001-Hungary
2. Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud 2010-Sauternes, France 
3. Rutherglen Muscat-Australia

Top Rose Wines
There are plenty of good quality sparkling rose wines that are good values because they do not come from the Champagne region. The Louis Bouillot is made using the same grapes and method as Rose Champagne, and priced just over $20 CDN! 
Still: Quail's Gate 2012 Rose-Okanagan, Canada (v)
Sparkling: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose N/V-France
Honourable Mention, Sparkling: Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose N/V-Burgundy, France

Top Value Wines (under $20 CDN)
This year's value hot-spots are California and Chile. Both regions are producing some powerful, yet smooth and silky wines that rival their Old World counterparts, and are available at a fraction of the price!
1. Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel 2011-California, USA
2. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2010-California, USA
3. Vina Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva 2009-Chile

My Top Food & Wine Pairings
Interesting note: Kendall Jackson shared the photo of their Pinot and burger pairing on both their twitter and Facebook pages!
1. Tarte Tatin with Le Petit Guiraud 2010
2. Pork, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Burgers with Kendall Jackson's 2010 Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir (v)
3. Grilled Lamb Chops with M. Chapoutier 2010 Crozes-Hermitage

Hopefully you'll find this list useful-maybe there's a wine here that you've been wanting to try, or one that piques your interest. I would drink any of these again, and likely will in 2014. Enjoy!







Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at 2010 Vintages in California and BC

Despite all the different varieties of wine I drank this year, I wanted to finish 2013 with my favourite varietal, Pinot Noir. North American wine regions have been known to offer some excellent New World Pinots: Oregon and California are the most popular regions, and both Niagara and the Okanagan are also producing quality wines from this varietal. I decided to focus on the 2010 vintages of Californian and Okanagan Pinot Noirs, to see how rough growing seasons affect the wines. The comparison was done via a 4-wine flight: two Pinots from California to start, and two from BC to finish.

Both California and Okanagan producers were faced with a challenging growing season. Spring arrived late in both regions, with record low temperatures and exceptionally high rainfall in May (BC). Summer finally arrived in California in August, and extremely high temperatures frequently broke records. Winegrowers that chose to expose their grapes by trimming the canopy (leaves) when sunshine levels were low in the spring, were now dealing with opposite conditions and sun burnt grapes. The low temperatures in the Okanagan continued through the summer, and higher than normal rainfall amounts were recorded in the first half of September. The weather finally turned favorable at the end of the month, and a long, dry Autumn settled in to save the crop. Despite the challenging growing season, both California and the Okanagan were able to produce quality wines due to a more meticulous sorting process, ensuring only healthy grapes were fermented. These healthy grapes showed a surprising vibrancy in both colour and flavour profile that translated into the final wines, with elegant structure and earthy tones characteristic of a good Pinot Noir.

The Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2010 is surprisingly complex, featuring a vibrant bouquet of rhubarb, red fruit, damp earth and a subtly steely minerality. Well structured with refreshing acidity and fine tannins, this wine is food friendly but also easy drinking on it's own. An ideal match for a summer BBQ, pizza and fun nights with friends.

La Crema's 2010 Monterey Pinot Noir shows even more complexity with a flavour profile that includes strawberries, white pepper, wet leaves and black olives. There is more earthiness in this vintage than it's 2009 counterpart, which was more fruit-forward thanks to the excellent growing season that year. It also contained the same level of acidity and fine tannins that the Kendall Jackson had, with more intensity. This wine is great for a dinner party and for relaxing the mind after a long day!

The Thornhaven 2010 Pinot Noir showed the highest acidity level of the four wines: a crisp, mouth-watering bite that doesn't overpower the structure and lasts well into the long finish. It has a similar flavour profile to the Californians, with aromas of raspberries, white pepper and forest floor. Smooth and seductive with silky tannins, it will pair well with a fireplace on a cold winter's night and when romance is in the cards! This is also a food friendly wine that would make a fine match for pork dishes.

Lake Breeze's Seven Poplars Pinot Noir 2010 was the most fruit-forward of the flight, with juicy notes of strawberries and raspberries. There was a subtle earthiness in both the nose and palate, but not as apparent as in the other wines. The wine also contains light, silky tannins and a lower acidity level than the others, making this Pinot easy to drink in the Spring or Summer and would pair well with chicken and berry salads.

I found that all four Pinot Noirs in the flight contained higher acidity levels and more earthiness than other vintages, which may speak to the damp earth the grapes dealt with for much of the growing season. There was also a subtle minerality in some of these wines that I haven't seen in other Pinot vintages, adding complexity to the palate. Each wine showed a vibrancy in the flavour profile, reflecting the great care each winery took to ensure the best quality of wine despite the growing season's challenges. With all of that said, each wine shone individually and all 4 are approachable, versatile and food-friendly, all at the mid-priced range ($20-$40 CDN) making them great value.

Just because a growing season is labelled as challenging by winemakers and experts, does not mean the wine will necessarily suffer. As long as great care is taken in the vineyards and during the winemaking process, a good wine can still come out of the surviving grapes-just like the Phoenix rising from the ashes!