Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Present

So nice to be treated over the holidays to great dinners with family.

Christmas day dinner was hosted by Therese and Dave, and what a feast! Turkey on the barbecue with all the trimmings, plus a delicious Quebecois dish of pieds de cochon ragout (pig's feet stew... it sounds much better in French but is delicious in either language!)

Later in the holidays we enjoyed a traditional roast beef dinner at Brenda's and Bills's, with perfect mashed potatoes and gravy, and desserts by Gordon.

Today it is off to my Mother's and brothers' place for more revelry, I'm guessing an amazing lasagna and some favourite comfort food dishes.

I feel so very lucky this time of year, getting together to share these meals and to see how much the kids have grown. Even absent family members become present as we share memories, old jokes and stories.

Christmas Present... the gift of this time and this moment and these people, how truly blessed I am!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice Tasting

What a wonderful way to spend the Winter Solstice, tasting wine with some of my most favourite women...

We got together to sample some great flavours and enjoy each other's company. Everyone brought a bottle and we sampled our way through sparkling to fortified wines.

A great afternoon!

The following tasting notes were synthesized from everyone who left their comment sheets behind - Judi takes the prize for most scrupulous note-taker!

Cave Spring, 2007, Ontario Canada, Estate Riesling $18 - Judi's pick

Tasting notes: “Light-hearted.” Almost clear in appearance with an aroma of apples. Tastes like apples and peaches with a touch of green pepper and grapefruit, spiced lightly with anise. Mild citrus finish is clean and crisp.
Other: Goes nicely with almonds; a nice sipper in hot weather; serve with roast poultry or lobster.

Santa Margherita 2007, Italy, Pinot Grigio $16.95 - Nicki's pick

Tasting notes: Clear, white gold in appearance; aroma a bit like gasoline; taste is mineral and oily with a fast finish. Would go nicely with chicken served along with a white cream sauce.

Pelee Island Winery 2007, Ontario Canada, Pinot Grigio $11.95 - Nicki's pick

Pelee Island is the same latitude as Rome so is the site of some of Canada’s best wines. Tasting notes: Pale yellow colour; slightly chemical aroma; hits the palette hard but has a nice peachy taste; mildly acidic finish.
Try this one with white fish; it also goes nicely with fruit.

Argento 2008, Argentinia, Pinot Grigio $9.85 - Liz P's pick

Tasting notes: Brash personality. Appearance of pale straw with yellowish-green hues; aroma of grapefruit with the taste being somewhat acidic, fruity, reminiscent of grappa. The finish is a bit rough.
Other: Would probably work nicely with Thai food or veal.

Forrester 2004, South Africa, Petit Chenin - not available in Canada - from Bev's South African wine tour

Tasting notes: “Bold personality.” Warm, golden yellow colour in the glass; aroma of honey with slight petroleum note; taste is very nicely balanced, a bit buttery, with hints of peach and pineapple accompanied by a somewhat woody and sweet taste. Finish is very pleasant.

Other: This wine would make a nice accompaniment to foccaccio or go well generally with rich foods. Vintner Forrester rescued this French grape from extinction and is also known for getting Blacks to work in his wineries, somewhat of a rarity (for more info)

Ravenswood 2006 California, Zinfandel $17.95 - Liz C's pick

Tasting notes: Garnet colour; heady fruit aroma; taste is spicy, peppery, berries/dark cherries and a dry finish.
Other: Someone didn’t like the smell but liked the taste; it was suggested this young, wine would benefit from ageing to mellow the taste; light for a zinfandel; would go with pizza, burgers, thick red sauces. suggest it be decanted.

Kim Crawford 2004, Hawkes Bay, Merlot $19.95 - Liz P's pick

Tasting notes: Deep garnet or ruby red in the glass; spicy and fruity aromas; taste a nice blend of black currant, pepper, and cherry, with a touch of pickle juice. Jammy finish.
Other – would go nicely with lamb.

Solaz 2006, Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon $10.95 - Virginia's pick

Tasting notes: Deep red in the glass; earthy aroma with a hint of caramel; taste of sweet black currants, a bit jammy; moderate tannin on the finish.
Other: This blend of 80% tempranillo and 20% cabernet sauvignon is a great buy!

Kilkanoon 2006, South Australia, Shiraz $? - Christina's pick

Tasting notes: Opaque red in the glass; smoky aroma but with a hint of freshwater; hardy full taste with a strong blackberry note; sharp finish.
Other: Generally Australian wines are very fruit forward and the sweeter they are, the younger they are. This shiraz would go well with grilled red meat.

Tomassi 2006 Italy, Ripasso Valpolicelli $19.99 - Therese's pick

Tasting notes: Ruby red appearance; aroma of plums and leather; nicely balanced with a faster finish than you might expect from a big red.
Other: Ripasso is an Italian red wine from Valpolicella made by fermenting young wine with the unpressed but drained skins and lees left over from making Amarone.
Ripasso normally has a lighter taste than Amarone wines, which makes it easier to combine with food, and is often less expensive.

Cantina Di Negrar 2005, Italy, Amarone Della Vlpolicella $35.05 - Diane's pick

Tasting notes: Deep red appearance; aroma of ripe red fruits; tastes full, nicely balanced, complex with a silky finish.
Other: Grapes are harvested perfectly ripe in the first two weeks of October, by carefully choosing bunches having fruits not too close to each other, to let the air flow. Grapes are allowed to dry and shrivel (rasinate). This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavors and is similar to the production of French Sauternes. The pomace left over from pressing off the Amarone is used in the production of ripasso Valpolicellas.

Taylor Fladgate 2000, Portugal, Port, $36 - Debra's pick

Tasting notes: Deep ruby red colour; dried fruit and spice aromas; sweet, rich, dried fruit flavours; full- bodied vintage character port with a long finish. Try with sharp cheese to balance the intensely sweet taste.

Colio Estate Vineyards 2005 Ontario Canada, Late Harvest Vidal $12.85

Tasting notes: Bright golden colour; ripe apricot and honey aromas; rich, mouth filling fruit with balanced acidity and a long finish. Try with blue cheese and pear, or drizzle over ice cream.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

I really enjoy how strongly the characters are drawn in Allende's novels, and this is no exception. From the main heroine who travels from Chile to San Francisco, disguised as a boy - to the madame with a heart of gold - to the spinster aunt - these women are nobody's fool.

Except maybe, fools for love. All of them have scars to prove it. The author brings an exciting decade of history alive, making the time of the gold rush seem as current as modern day.

What I appreciate most in this story is the quest for true love and where it leads the seeker. In the end you may not find what you're looking for, but the journey itself becomes the revelation.

"What is truer than truth? The story," says Allende in this clip on You Tube labelled 'Tales of Passion.' Watch this 20 minute clip and you'll see for yourself that Allende is hilarious, warm and smart - a strong, sexy mature woman delivering a sound argument on the virtues of feminism.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Sometimes you pick up a book because of the jacket endorsement, and sometimes because it has a great cover. This one had both.
The novel had high praise from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, and the well-written but not as well-known The Last American Man. "I can't remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one..... Treat yourself to this book, please - I can't recommend it highly enough."
Also a Heather Reisman pick.
This was an enjoyable read. The historical fiction offered plenty of interesting facts about the occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War. The love story was pleasing, even if it was a bit predictable.
The story is told through a series of letters, a handy device, because it allows the reader to hear many different voices and first-hand accounts, providing a lot of texture as events unfold.
I have to admit it was fun to see which books ended up being which character's favourites, it provided an interesting lens to gain deeper insight into their personalities.
This novel will probably make a lovely Hollywood movie someday, a romantic-historical-comedy-with-bits-of-tragedy-and-a-happy-ending.
All in all, a confection, a nice light read and a story well-told, but not something that is going to change the way you look at the world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Not Just About Price - Part Two

Bon Appetit magazine recommended 20 favourite wines for $10 or less.

Great - I love a good wine, cheap. So I checked the LCBO shelves and was surprised by two things: price and availability. First off, only five of the twenty recommendations could even be purchased in this province.

Here is a great white wine available at the under $10 price:
      • Fish Eye 2007 Pinot Grigio (California) US price $8, LCBO price $8.95

Then came the sticker shock:

      • Goats Do Roam Red (South Africa): Rhone style blend US price $10, LCBO price $12.95
      • Brancott 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) US price $10, LCBO price $14.95
      • Banrock Station (Australia) Shiraz: US price $5, LCBO price $11.95
      • Archeo Nero D'Avola (Italy) Italian Red: US price $4, LCBO price $12.95

I thought one of the advantages of being the largest purchaser of wines IN THE WORLD was to pass savings on to customers? Or maybe Italy and Australia just have a "special price" for Ontarians.

I read somewhere that most of the wine selected at the LCBO was about $13-$15. Maybe it's just because they price most of the wine in that category because they know the price point sells.

Well, I'm going to send a note off to InfoLine at the LCBO, we'll see how long it takes to get a response and if and when it comes, I'll share it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Post Secret

The above postcard is an excerpt from Post Secret, a book that features extraordinary confessions from ordinary lives. Actually, there are four in the series now.
"You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything - as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative."
The postcards are mini works of art, the 'secrets' range from mundane to heart-wrenching:

"I save all the staples I pull out at work. they're in a box in my desk."
"I was seven years old the first time I attempted suicide."

In addition to being a book, there is also a website: Just a click away, check it out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's not just about price

Okay, admit it, you are at the wine store and you want something that is just a little bit tastier than everyday fare, something you haven't tried before - so you decide to spend an extra three bucks on a label you don't know, thinking it will all work out in the end. 

That's what I did with this Cannonau di Sardegna 2005, using a few cues that I thought would bring rewards:  just a little bit pricier than every day + '2005' + 13.5% alcohol for that full bodied taste + Italy + 'uncork one hour before serving at room temperature.'  Well, those special instructions must mean it is just a bit more sophisticated than the stuff I drink right after opening. So what if there was no official DOC blessing?  I’ve had plenty of great Italian reds that didn’t bear that distinction.

Maybe this would have tasted better with food or laid down for a bit.  Or maybe it just needed to be poured from a great height...

All I can say is, close your eyes and pucker up! Lots and lots of tanins.

It’s not entirely horrible, I’m not going to stick it in the fridge to use it in a vinigrette or marinade. Overall quite okay, but not worth the few extra dollars.  Not to me, anyway.

Even though I lost this bet, I know I’m still a sucker for the extra price point. I have a feeling the marketers know it too.  But I’m starting to taste the difference of true quality, and won’t be taken in by a jacked-up price alone.  At least, not the second time.

Price is not the only indicator

Okay, admit it, you are at the LCBO and you want a wine that is just a little bit tastier than everyday fare, something you haven't tried before - so you decide to spend just a little bit more on a label you don't know, thinking it will all work out in the end.
That's what I did with this Cannonau di Sardegna 2005, using a few cues that I thought would bring a good taste:  '2005' + 13.5% alcohol for that full bodied taste + just a little bit pricier than every day.  And the 'uncork one hour before serving at room temperature.'
Well, maybe this would have been better with red meat instead of tourtiere.  Pucker up for a mouthful of tanin

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good Value French Wines

Another tasting at the Food and Wine show was 'Good Value French Wines.' To qualify, bottles had to be readily available at the LCBO and cost $20 or less.

These were the labels the sommelier chose for the tasting:
  • Wilm Riesling Reserve LCBO 11452 $15.95
  • Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages LCBO 365924 $17.95
  • E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone LCBO 259721 $18.00
  • Chateau de Gourgazaud LCBO 22384 $13.00 ** really like this one but maybe that was the tasting order (lol) Granache in this one
  • Francois Pelissie Croix du Mayne LCBO 28548 $17.45 *** favourite (see comments above) This was 85% malbec, 15% merlot; grown in Southwest France or Southeast of Bordeaux. Very full bodied.

She also said you can't really get a good Bordeaux for under $20, so she didn't pour any, but said Chateau des Laurets was a good buy at $20.45

However, the next day I went to a Bordeaux tasting and found a few for a good price, actually Mouton Cadet ($14) surprised me, I think it would be a good every day choice, although in the past I have avoided that label.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shades of Blue

For the cheese course last night, eight of us sampled a ten-year-old tawny port with a taste of Stilton Colston Bass, St. Agur, and Danish Blue.
The verdict?

6 votes for St. Agur, 1 for Stilton, 1 for Danish Blue.

I thought the Stilton had an amazing after-taste, the Danish Blue had a nice bite, and the St. Agur a luscious texture.
What a feast! Each of four couples brought appetizers + a course, for a decadent 5 course, French-themed meal.
Appetizers included: sundried tomatoes wrapped with provolone cheese, olives stuffed with feta, crab pate with radishes, and an antipasto platter.
Delio's salad combined sun-dried tomatoes and radishes with red peppers and green lettuce for a colourful and refreshing segway to the main course.
Ana and Don prepared the ultimate comfort food: Beef Stroganoff, beets, and beans with carrots and baked garlic.
I did the cheese course, described above, and Liz cooked an amazing French tart that she paired with ice wine and chocolate.
Of course, best of all was the company and conversation.
Thanks to Ana and Don for hosting a great evening!

Saturday, December 6, 2008



Most of the other roses have long since scattered their petals, but this red miniature is hanging on for as long as it can!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Symphony

Alex and I went to the symphony to experience the TSO presenting The Planets by Gustav Holst. I know the word "experience" sounds a bit pretentious, doesn't it, but I don't mean it to sound that way. It's just that the words 'listen' or 'see' or 'feel' just don't seem to fit when you are describing a live performance. Like Alex said, "it just sounds better."

In addition to giving each of the planets a distinct musical astrological personality the opus was also introduced as representing the "arc of a life," with Saturn the Bringer of Old Age being Holst's favourite movement. It was quite war-like, actually, to my ears, like a sudden assault, instead of being something that sneaks up insidiously, which is how I think I would depict it. (Holst was 44 when he composed this, so maybe for him he saw Old Age's approach as something rude that was charging towards him, that should be fought off....). Anyway, my personal favourite was Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, which actually sounded like laughter in parts. You can listen to a portion of the symphony here.

The Planets is Holst's most popular composition, one of the most played of any English composer, but it wasn't one of his personal favourites. Funny how that seems to work.

The TSO was recording the concert so asked people not to clap between the movements, and to please try to avoid coughing at all during the performance. So instead of clapping between pieces, the audience ended up politely coughing during the intervals. Alex and I would just look at each other and laugh.

A great way to spend an evening, enjoying the music with my son.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Double Feature

Rob and I recently went to our favourite theatre in the Beach - The Fox - and saw a double bill. The Duchess, and W. Thanks to whoever did the pairing.

Both films are political, both biographical and both thought provoking.

The Duchess starred Kiera Knightley as the 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire, held hostage in a loveless marriage. She is unable to leave her husband's estate (which comes complete with a mistress in his bedroom), until she bears him a son. Once delivered, she is unable to leave because he threatens to keep her from ever seeing any of her children. Based on historical events, but of course interpreted for the times and highly hypothetical. Who is to say she didn't keep her lover Charles Grey, on the condition she remain discreet?

W was also based on interpretation of events. Not ever a Bush fan, I was surprised at how sympathetic a portrait Oliver Stone was able to render. I actually liked the W shown here, it gave me a whole different perspective on him as the son of a President and the leader of a nation. Although I haven't been converted to the Republican Party as a result, I think my point of view has been broadened.

Historians can argue the facts, but it's likley truth eludes us all, whether we are the biographer, the audience or even the original subject.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Greek Wines

One of the biggest surprises for me at this year's Gourmet Food and Wine Expo was the Greek wine tasting.  Previously I'd just heard people mention 'Retsina' as though it was the wine of absolute last resort.  And there weren't many takers at this tasting, either.

Each glass was quite unique, and very refreshing, made from unpronounceable grapes like Assyrtiko, Ayioryitiko, and Xinomavro.  

It made me realize that more and more of the wines we drink are being made with the popular varieties of grape - people know what they like and viticulture caters to those tastes.  While it is true that the terroir makes each blend taste a bit different, in the end it is still merlot, or sangiovese, or shiraz....  Often imported into the region to replace the native vines.

Greece still has 300+ indigenous grape varieties in existence and the tasting made me want to visit the country just to sample the wines.  Not much Greek wine gets imported into Ontario these days, so I guess this is as good an excuse as any to head to Santorini or Peloponnese this winter!

Google Books