Monday, August 29, 2011

something to think about

I don't know much about Cognac, but last week, over a meal, I was privy to a little impromptu education from Pierre and Jennifer Szersnovicz of Courvoisier, and I'm here to tell you: Cognac (especially food pairing possibilities) is something to think about.

But let's start at the beginning. The Cognac region of France is just north of Bordeaux where Ugni Blanc grapes get fermented into a wine and then distilled into a brandy (very basically). Because one grape is responsible for most of what comprises a Cognac, the differing soils of the region play a big role in what ends up in your glass. So do the ageing and the blending processes.

Courvoisier has just released two bottles of age-declared Cognac. This is a nice antidote to the traditional and confusing age indicators on bottles of Cognac (VS, VSOP, XO), but as Pierre and Jennifer explained, they are doing this now because after tracking and ageing brandy for so long, this is an optimum time for Courvoisier to showcase some of the terroir of the region. The 12 Year bottle ($89.95) is sourced from the Borderies region of Cognac while the 21 Year ($349.95) bottle showcases what good can come from the chalky soils of Grande Champagne (not to be confused with the Champagne region where sparkling wine is made). Indeed each bottle holds its own unique flavour profile. The younger of the two has a lighter, floral freshness to it while the elder is deeper with warm spices, dried fruit and notes of honey.

Try it with food: The charcuterie we started lunch with was a little bit spicy for the Cognac, but the grilled shrimp and scallops in my salad brought out a creaminess in the lighter and fresher 12 Year Cognac. I think this bottle would also pair well with most Asian dishes, anything with a little ginger to compliment the fresh spiciness of the Cognac. Creamy pesto, chicken alfredo, or a lemon roasted chicken would also work. The deeper profile of the 21Year Cognac would go well with heartier fare; duck à l'orange would pick up nicely on the dried orange peel aromas, or roasted figs (maybe in a tart), or alongside some young bocconcini with a drizzle of honey. Roasted lamb with a coffee, or chocolate infusion - lets face it, if you're serving a $300 bottle of Cognac with supper, it has to be special (I'm thinking Christmas). Or you could try a dessert: roasted hazelnut, chocolate and apricot tart. Dave and I had this over the weekend with Cognac and a splash of orange liquer.

To snifter, or not to snifter: There are two types of glasses from which to drink brandy. The snifter allows for a larger exposed surface of liquid that translates into more aromas being released; a tulip shaped glass (which is how I drank the Courvoisier) has less surface but really concentrates the aromas at the lip of the glass. If you don't have either of these glasses on hand, don't let that stop you. A white wine glass will do just fine.

Cognac in cocktails: Something else to think about. Check out recipes at the Courvoisier site. (But rest assured we'll be doing a little experimenting in our kitchen over the next few weeks!)

Get tasting: With Canadian winter looming, Cognac is a good alternative to sparkling wine as a party-starter, or to simply warm yourself on a snowy evening. If you are interested in learning more about Cognac, in a structured environment, Groovy Grapes hosts workshops. Here's what they have to say about their latest:

We had a great turnout for our first Underground Tasting Club Cognac tasting last night at Social and the response was so good we'll be offering private group Cognac tastings for team building, client appreciation or private groups at home.

Roasted Hazelnut, Chocolate and Apricot Tart
-inspired by Smitten Kitchen... and Cognac

I followed Smitten Kitchen's recipe for a crumbled nut pastry:

1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts
3/4 cup butter, cut into small chunks
1.5 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of salt
-preheat the oven to 350F
-place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes
-once they've cooled, grind the nuts in a food processor
-add the rest of the ingredients and blend until you get a crumbly texture
-press half of the crumb mixture into a tart pan and bake for approx 15 minutes
-set aside to cool

Make the chocolate
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsps orange liquer
-melt the two ingredients over low heat
-spread over the tart pastry
-set aside to cool

Make the apricot spread
2 cups dried apricots
1 cup water
-stew the apricots and water until the fruit is soft
-blend to a paste in the food processor
-spread this over the cooled chocolate
NOTE: or you could just buy some apricot jam

-sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the apricot and bake for about 10 minutes
-allow the tart to cool before eating

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a full glass

I met Bridget at a party and before long we were shouting at each other from across the living room. While everyone else was indulging in beer, and rum cocktails, I noticed she was drinking a full-to-the-brim glass of red wine, and so our conversation eventually turned to related topics. I discovered that Bridget's favourite wine is Pinotage. No one has ever told me that their favourite wine is Pinotage. A bottle of Pinotage is the kind of thing that can divide a room in two: there are those who will hate it, and those who will will love it, but rarely there's someone like Bridget left standing alone; someone who considers it their all-time favourite.

Pinotage is the signature grape of South Africa where it was created in the early 1920s by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. This type of genetic manipulation is not unusual in the wine world. Morio-Muscat is the child of Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner; Muller-Thurgau in Germany is a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royal; Ruby Cabernet which grows in the Central Valley of California is a mix between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. Grapes are bred to take advantage of characteristics in hopes that they will do well in a given climate. In the case of Pinotage, the aromatic profile of Pinot Noir was crossed with the more robust and warm climate tolerant Cinsault. Many people find that it can have aromas of paint or rusty nails. Hence the reason for some critics.

Sadly, Bridget has now moved away. But before she went she left me with this bottle of her favourite to try. It's from a Vintages release a few weeks back, but there's still plenty left on the shelves ($13.95).

Before I even had my nose in the glass I was smelling coffee, dark chocolate and smoked meat - salami to be exact. This is no shrinking violet of a wine. There's a hint of sour cherry under those powerful aromas that gives way to sweeter, riper red fruit. Stewed plum? Blueberry? All that coffee translates to a real mocha flavour on the palate after which the wine finishes off with an abundance of juicy, red fruit and a silky texture from some fine tannins. No rusty nails here.

We don't see much Pinotage on the LCBO shelves. Perhaps that's why people are so divided about it. It's easy to try something once, get a bad product and then with no memory of anything redeeming, file it away in the memory bank as 'unlikeable'. I wonder if wine drinkers in South Africa have a much better attitude about Pinotage.

After a long, hot summer of cold whites and refreshing rosés, it was nice to pour a big, bold glass of red. Bring on autumn I say, and fill that wine glass to the brim!

Thank you Bridget.

Monday, August 22, 2011

it doesn't have to be complicated

Take a conventional red wine, in this case Valpolicella, and add it to the skins of grapes that have already had the juice pressed out of them, but not before they were dried first, in this case Amarone, and voila, you have Ripasso - a very clever way to create a  medium bodied wine in a region where the sun doesn't always get so powerful as to create it that way naturally. The Veneto wine region of Italy fans out from the ancient port city Venice where the weather can be cool.

Some Ontario wineries are now experimenting with this technique: Foreign Affair Winery, Colaneri Estate, Reif Estate, and they are doing it very well.

This isn't a particularly complex wine, but if you're just throwing burgers on the barbeque and you need something to wash them down, a bottle of this Ripasso is perfect. At $13.80 it's a good deal. It would also pair well with any tomato based meal, such as these tomato and olive stuffed peppers - which is what we had last night.

I'd say this is a juicy wine with good acidity and very little tannin. It's brimming with cherry fruit backed up by some tobacco, vanilla, and milk chocolate notes, and there's a hint of cinnamon on the fruity finish.

Word: the term 'classico' on an Italian bottle of wine denotes that the wine was made in the original production zone. Amarone and Valpolicella are made with Molinara, Corvina and Rondinella grapes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

not so ducky

I want to tell you about me and duck. There was a time when I cooked duck without a thought in the world. Mostly I did it in a pseudo-Chinese food style whereby I would serve it with pancakes and hoisin after a long, slow roast. Sometimes I had it with grilled eggplant and peanuts, or tossed cold, in egg noodles. Those were my carefree duck-cooking days. Then my father got sick.

When he was dying, one of the things my father wanted was a duck meal. He told me how he wanted it, with gravy made from the pool of fat in the bottom of the pan. We fought over this, and since I was the one making the bird, I did what I wanted: I attempted a duck l'orange. It was terrible. The bird was tough; the orange sauce was bitter, and there was no beloved fatty gravy for my father. It was one of the last meals he ate and I'll always be saddened by the fact that I didn't just make the damn duck to his preference.

For years I haven't been able to face a duck, a whole duck.

Then, last fall when we were picking up chickens at Debbie's farm I noticed a few white, fat ducks waddling around the yard. Before I could think about it much, I ordered two and since then they've been in my freezer. Well, it's been almost a year and time's up. I either cook them, or dispose of them.

One evening, we were planning to drink some Californian wine that our lovely neighbour Lisa brought home for us, so I offered to bring duck. I bravely gave the birds a quick poaching, I spatchcocked them by removing the back bone, rubbed them with salt and spices and set them to dry in front of a fan afterwhich they roasted for about an hour in my oven. Hmmmm. They were tasty (my cherry sauce was good), but tough: not what I'd hoped for.

Thankfully the wine was amazing. We started with the Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon, which is not a traditional pairing for duck, but this bottle is a very warm climate version of the grape and tasted rich and fruity and not very tannic. The cherry sauce helped it along just fine. Then we switched to the Littorai Pinot Noir which was a great pairing: although still full-bodied, a little more delicate on the palate with a hint of earthiness and some juicy, tart fruit.
And there was this great appetizer that Lisa made to fill us up. We had a few glasses of Cava with it, but I think Sauvignon Blanc would be even better.

Broad Beans and Pecorino
-adapted from Delicious Magazine, Australian Edition
2kg fresh broad beans, lightly pounded
1/3 cup olive oil
3 rosemary sprigs
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbs roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
100g Pecorino Sardo or Pecorino Romano, shaved

-poach the beans in warm water and remove the tough outer skin, or just use frozen beans
-sautèe the garlic and rosemary in olive oil just until it becomes tender
- add the beans and gently mash
-at the last minute mix in the flat-leaf parsley
-garnish with the cheese
-spread on baguette

I hope that wherever he is now, my father is eating juicy, fat-dripping, luscious duck, but it seems that I still have a way to go with duck.

Monday, August 15, 2011

eating around

Sometimes we get to eat other peoples' food and I'm always excited to pick up new recipes or ideas. On Thursday I had serrano ham croquettes at Kate's, and last weekend Dave and I ate spicy fish sandwiches with our friends Peter and Rachel.

Rachel started us off with a roasted tomato and eggplant thingie that we spread on toast, and Peter made these amazing cocktails.

Tanqueray gin with watermelon. That's it. I'm not much of a watermelon lover. Give me a choice between bacon and watermelon and I'll take the bacon any day. But this is a great summer drink. Peter simply blended up some watermelon adding gin until he was happy. I now have a new appreciation for watermelon; all it needed was a little gin!

Then we did everything backwards and had a bottle of red wine before an off dry Riesling/Gewurztraminer with the fish.

But first, a lesson in wine words.

Not elegant wine: full-bodied with tongue-singeing alcohol; powerful, one dimensional fruit with so much oak you might imagine you are sitting in a sauna, and then just as you thought you were tasting a hint of something interesting like spice or liquorice, it's gone in an instant leaving you flat. 
Elegant wine: Syrah from Lailey Vineyard.

Even the label is elegant. This bottle has been sitting in my cellar for a year and it fared just fine. It's got a slight earthiness to it alongside pepper, cherry and anise on the nose. Fine, silky tannins are balanced by some gentle acidity followed by a long, fruity finish. I thought we'd have this with food, but it deserved to be sipped on its own to simply appreciate it.

We ended with Rachel's walnut cake and some port.

Eating around is good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Jabulani. It's a word - in Zulu, it's a place, it's a wine, and it's just down the lane from my house. Almost.

I like to spend time fantsizing that I live in wine country. In this dream I wake up to the sound of crickets, drink coffee on a low set porch while listening to the breeze rustle the trees, drive to work past fields of grapes. Aside from the obvious answer of having local wine conveniently available, there isn't any practical reason for this fantasy. My local LCBO is not that far from my front door and has a good selection of Ontario wine (I said good, not exceptional). So why do I want to live next to rows of fruit hanging on vines? I suppose it's mostly romantic. And I suppose any wine lover has this same fantasy: sipping a glass while gazing at the very vines that produced the fruit that produced the wine.

Well, if I live long enough, it seems, the Ottawa Valley will be wine country one day. Global warming has something to do with it, but so does ingenuity, tenacity and passion. I asked Tom Moul the owner (along with his wife Janet) and winemaker at Jabulani Vineyard and Winery why he chose a field just outside of Richmond, Ontario to make wine. His response was because it's unique. This is a man who has been making wine in South Africa since he was fourteen. Not exactly comparable climates: North Eastern Ontario and South Africa. But he's making it work.

Cold climate hardy hybrids are planted on the eleven acres at Jabulani and the wine Tom and Janet are serving up is indeed unique... and good! I particularly liked the Frontenac Gris/Vidal blend: a refreshing, citrusy drink that would make a great apperitif. The barrel fermented Chardonnay is a luscious, buttery treat. Marquette gets blended with a few different varieties, but the Marquette/Shiraz blend marches right up to your palate and shouts pepper; balanced by ripe, dark fruit and silky tannins I was surprised to find that it's 15.5% alcohol. Big and balanced is what comes to mind.

 Nothing I came home with cost more than $20.

Here's a fantasy for you: take a lovely drive in the country to a place where you find yourself sitting at a wine barrel, under an umbrella next to fields of grape vines while Tom graciously pours sips of wine into your glass. Jabulani: the place really does exude 'a spirit of happiness' as the Zulu meaning of the word predicts.

Monday, August 8, 2011

two things together

I have two things to say: Sriracha shrimp and Australian Riesling. That makes two things that go together very well.

I don't always think of Australia as a go-to place for Riesling, but in the South of the country - where the weather can get a bit cooler - Riesling is fairly widespread. Places like Clare Valley and Eden Valley make world renowned wine from the grape. This bottle is a blend of grapes from throughout Southern Australia and is like biting into a crisp, cool spring day with lots of lemon, lime, green apple and mouthwatering acidity ($14.95). It was a great supporting partner to our supper.

Sriracha Shrimp
Shrimp - as much shrimp as you desire, peeled or unpeeled (we like to peel the skins away)
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tbsps olive oil (or you can use melted butter which adds a lovely depth of flavour)
3 tbsps finely chopped mint (or basil, oregano, cilantro - whatever you have on hand)
salt and pepper to taste (I like it a bit salty)

-mix all the ingredients in a large bowl
-toss the shrimp in a few tablespoons of the sauce
-bbq the shrimp
-then toss the cooked shrimp with the remaining sauce
-pour a BIG glass of Riesling and enjoy

Thursday, August 4, 2011

niagara, vicariously

When I discovered that my sommelier friend Julie Stock, and her sommelier husband Doug Dolinski (they both work at Savvy Company here in Ottawa) were going to Niagara, I was incredibly jealous. I asked her if she'd jot down a few notes, take a few pictures, so that I could live vicariously through her wanderings, here. Well, they are back from lots of nice weather and great wine and here's what Julie has to say:


Cherry and peach trees, grapevines - miles of them, wineries galore dotted with the odd golf course, farmhouses, B and B’s are the memory of the past week in the Niagara Escarpment. When Holly suggested I write a guest blog on Doug’s and my recent travel, I immediately responded positively although it’s hard not to write a journal, so much to see and taste!

For wine lovers, the Niagara Escarpment, Twenty Valley, Niagara-On-the-Lake locales are an oenophile paradise. While the wineries offer the usual vitis vinerifa varietals: Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir etc., many have ice wine and their own rosè. Between sipping and sampling en route - as dedicated sommeliers and wine nuts we visited over 20 wineries - we attended the Cool Climate Chardonnay event held at the Tawse Winery (July 23) where 56 wineries featured their “Chards.” For the ABC folks (anything but Chardonnay), Chardonnay still remains the most widely produced VQA in Ontario.

Every winery we visited, left something memorable; whether it was the enormous stainless steel tank named Budda, at Creekside Estate Winery, or the labels on the Organized Crime Wines, telling a pictoral story of Mennonites feuding over an organ (catch the play on the word?) or the new Colaneri Winery, at 37,000 square feet, the largest winery in the region still under construction, shaped like a Roman coliseum in a hugely impressive “C” representing the Italian family and their winemaking heritage.

The viticulture was amazing at Featherstone Winery where we witnessed sheep chomping away at the grape leaves so the grapes will be exposed to sunshine which in turn, speeds up their ripening. These little sheep meander up and down the rows of vines, and it was quite humorous watching them chew the leaves. Needless to say I took pics.

Many of the wines at these boutique wineries are unavailable at the LCBO so we brought a few home. One purchase was a Featherstone rosè and have since found it to be a great patio-to-table “spirit”. An enchanting cranberry colour, all the ripe berry flavours, bone dry with tart acidity that practically jumps out of the glass. We have since enjoyed this with grilled shrimp, zucchini and our always tomato basil salad which makes a divine summer supper.

We have previously travelled the Twenty Valley and the sense of anticipation with old and new wineries never ceases to amaze and never disappoints. The people are friendly, knowledgeable and their eagerness to share the harvest makes for a magnetic welcome. We’re already talking about the wineries that we plan to visit next year. I’ve always said, you never have to look further than your own backyard in Ontario to find great wine. Cheers, Julie

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Summer was made for long weekends. And inexpensive, cold white wine was made for summer. And clear, cooling lakes were made for swimming after drinking too much inexpensive, cold white wine.

This bottle of Cavallina was made in Sicily, where I'm sure they know about the necessity of cooling down in the midday with a cold glass full. A blend of Grillo (a grape that is grown widely in Sicily and is used to make Marsala) and Pinot Grigio, it's very aromatic with tangerine peel, mineral, pink grapefruit, grass, apple, and floral aromas; a little soft on the palate with a tinge of perky bitterness on the finish ($7.35).

Oh, and there's campfire food. That was made for eating with that inexpensive, cold white wine.