Friday, February 22, 2008

Mastronardi Estates

So on my wine tour a few weeks ago I stopped by Mastronardi Winery. They are located just up the street from Colasanti’s on Mersea Rd. 3. The Mastronardi’s originally bought the property off of Colio (it was the original CEV vineyard) to turn it into Greenhouses, but they discovered they enjoyed the challenge of growing grapes so they started up their own winery instead. They have hired Lyse Leblanc (formerly of Leblanc Estate Winery) to make the wines and she is doing a great job. The first I would recommend is their Sparkling wine a’Dorah. It has very tight bubbles with lots of toasty bread and complexity (Plus my Daughter Madeline loves Dora… The Explorer… and before the age of two she seems to be taking to wine too). If you are fonder of still wines, their Chardonnay has a nice balance of oak and fruit and their Meritage is full of blackberry and tobacco. The wood is balanced and it has a refreshingly clean finish. They also make a Zweigelt that is a good simple easy to drink table wine with a hint of foxyness to it. Overall they are doing a great job and with the experience of Lyse in the barrel room, Mastronardi’s is a winery to watch.

Next weekend I am heading to Niagara with the family for Cuvee. A festival put on by the Wine Council of Ontario. I am looking forward to experiencing all the latest wines from across the province and on Saturday I have been invited to an ‘Experts Tasting’ put on at Brock University exploring the ‘Art of the Blend’. I am looking forward to this as I believe in my experience that wines from this area show best when blended together. I will bring you up to speed on the events next week.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Joy of Cork

So I have waited until the last minute to write this column because I am spending “Family Day” with Stephanie, MJ and Madeline and I planned to open a special bottle I have been saving for a special occasion—a 2004 Meritage from Sprucewood Shores. The 2004 was Tanya’s first vintage and the Meritage won a GOLD medal at the All Canadian Wine Championship last year. It was in such demand that they sold out on their Grand Opening Day. I showed up at the winery a month later looking for some and had to use all my powers of persuasion to pry a few bottles out of what was supposed to be their library stock.

I was looking forward to opening this bottle as I just tasted the 2005 Meritage a few weeks ago. It is a very pretty wine with a bright cherry & cedar nose with red liquorices and balanced tannins. A touch of the peppery Lake Erie North Shore Terroir came out as it opened. I was looking forward to enjoying the 2004 with a steak and sautéed mushrooms. I opened the bottle and poured some into our wineglasses. As I brought the glass up to my nose with the expectations of more cherry and cedar notes, I had to stop. Wafting out of the glass was the unmistakable aroma of nail polish remover. Now acetate is not an uncommon smell in wine, I opened up a 2003 Amarone from Italy two weeks ago with the same smell and numerous other similar bottles in the past.

The thing that all the wines I have tasted with this distinctive smell have in common is a faulty cork. If you have ever heard someone refer to a wine as ‘corked’, ‘corky’ or ‘faulty’, this is what they are referring to. In addition, if you have ever wondered where the tradition of tasting the bottle of wine before serving it to guests came from, it has a lot to do with avoiding the embarrassment of serving a ‘corked’ wine to guests.

According to most wine experts, anywhere from 5-12% of all bottles of wine are corked—almost 1 bottle per case! To me this is one of the most disappointing parts of having a wine cellar—not being able to enjoy that special bottle that you have been saving, on the special occasion.

Now what should you do if you encounter a faulty bottle? If you find it at home, you can return the bottle to the LCBO for a full refund. If you are in a restaurant, politely inform your server that the bottle is corky and they should bring you a new one. I will share a story of a time that I had a corky bottle at a restaurant.

About a year ago Stephanie and I took a long weekend in January and went down to visit some friends in Pittsburg. On the way back we stopped overnight in Cleveland and went out for dinner. We happened to come upon a Restaurant called the Blue Point Grill. When I was looking over the wine list it said that they had won a number of Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence and that they have 20 trained sommeliers on staff (wine experts). I asked the waitress if she was one of the sommeliers (which she was), and I challenged her to pick the wine for us. I told her off the cuff that my restaurant had a Wine Spectator award as well (not to brag, just so she didn’t try to bluff me off with an inferior bottle of wine). Anyway our waitress brought out a bottle wrapped in a napkin to have some fun and play name that wine, which I did--- corked! It was no problem as she just went and got another bottle. (Not that it is important to the discussion of corked wines but just to brag a bit, to the amazement of our waitress I did recognize the second bottle as a Spanish wine).

So if you ever discover aromas of must, mould or nail polish remover, or if you ever have a wine that just doesn’t taste right, feel free to ask for another one or return it to the LCBO for a refund.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What To Pair With a Salad

So here I was in a little of a conundrum last week. I was at a planning meeting for the annual ‘Parade of Chefs’. It is a charity event held every year for the last five years to benefit the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. A number of area chefs get together and each prepares a different course for the meal paired with a wine from an Ontario Winery. In the past we have done the desserts and soup so this year we were given the salad course. To make it challenging and give the event a different twist, every course to be served that night s going to be a different color. Ian and I thought green would be too easy, so instead we decided on a purple salad. It will consist of purple kale, purple romaine, garnished with beets and a blueberry beetroot vinaigrette. Now the challenge is what wine to serve with it. I got thinking and imagining the flavors and I really couldn’t see a white wine pairing well, and a red… well I have to be careful. First, we can’t make the vinaigrette too acidic or no wine will stand up to it (which shouldn’t be a problem as the beetroot and the blueberries combine well enough that we shouldn’t have to use much vinegar), Second the red has to be full bodied enough to match the vinaigrette but not tannic—so I pretty much had to stay away from Cabernets and Merlots. Baco Noir? No too smokey and acidic. Pinot Noir? Maybe, but not enough oomph. Then while I was brainstorming with Mary Jane from Smith & Wilson Mary Jane brought up their Chambourcin. They still have the 2005 on their shelf that has really developed into a beautiful wine. It has a nice round body with sweet round blueberry and strawberry aromas. The tannins are very much in check and just a hint of pepperyness that it will marry well with the salad. Or at least I think it will. I would encourage you to get your tickets to the April 10th event early and taste the combination for yourself. For more information visit or call (519) 336-2538 for tickets.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Wagner Estates… Not Just Fruit Wines Anymore

I made a point of traveling down to Maidstone this week to visit Wagner Orchards and Estate Winery. I have met Harold a number of times at different events and tasted some of his fruit wines in the past, but this is my first visit to his winery. The more I get to know Harold I really admire him. I liken him to George at Smith & Wilson, they are both salt of the earth farmers that greet you in the winery in their tattered farm jackets and overalls, but they both produce very good wines.

The winery is located on their orchard farm spitting distance from the 401. Harold admits that apples are the main focus of his business as in the fall the farm turns out thousands of apple pies, strudel and other baked goods. It is no wonder that he makes some great apple wines. He has a sparkling apple cider that he calls Pug’s Head Cider (I assume after one of his dogs that greeted Stephanie and I at the door). This was a great find as the bubbles were so small and tight that the appearance reminded me of a good vintage champagne. The aroma is distinctively applesauce. The flavors are very light and it has a good crisp acidity. I can see two uses for this wine, for toasting like you would with other sparkling wines, with the light carbonation it could be drank like beer or in place of Strongbow or another of the British ciders.

Before I talk about his two grape wines, I want to mention two other of Wagner’s fruit wines. The Fire House red is a cherry wine that is a very purfumey dry wine that (with Valentines Day next week) reminds me of candy cinnamon hearts. It would go well with spicy food or if you want to try it with a dessert, it goes very well with pumpkin pie (trust me I tried it!). Wagner’s Black Ice is a black current Icewine that is not too sweet. It has a touch of mint flavor followed by black current, black currents and more black currents with a racy acidity.

As I mentioned above, these are the wines that I was familiar with from Wagner’s. What I was surprised to find was his Log House Dry and Log House Red. The Log house dry is a not so subtle Sauvignon Blanc. It has a powerful grapefruit nose with a very warm viscous herbal flavor and a dry finish. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, this is a Sauvignon on Steroids! The Log House Red is a Gamay Zweigelt blend that is round, supple and really drinking well now. It has sweet raspberry and black current flavors with a touch of mild white pepper and balanced tannins.

I will end off telling you about two wine events coming up in the next month. First, Colchester Ridge is hosting an open house on February 9, 2008 from 12-5. They are launching their first Icewine. The 2006 Vidal Icewine is different than your typical Ontario Icewine. It has the stereotypical brown sugar nose with some grapefruit and eucalyptus. What sets this Icewine apart is it has a racy acidity and it is really warm (winespeak for high in alcohol). If you don’t enjoy syrupy sweet Icewines, you may want to give this one a try.

The other event coming up is a Winemakers Dinner with Harold Wagner here at Stargazer on Wednesday March 5 2008. We have paired the five wines I mentioned above with a 6 course meal. The night begins at 7 pm and it is only $65 per person to enjoy the six courses and five wines. I have included the menu below. For Reservations call me at 519-351-9351

Wagner Estate Winery

Wednesday March 5, 2008

On a green apple and celeriac slaw
Pug’s Head Cider
(Sparkling apple cider with a beautiful applesauce nose
with fine light bubbles and crisp acidity)

on a roesti potato with a white grapefruit salsa
Log House Dry
(A Powerful Sauvignon Blanc with a grapefruit nose,
warm viscous herbal flavors with a dry finish)
Diced lamb stewed in honey, cumin and chilies
atop cinnamon basmati with Indian style pickles.
Fire House Red
(a purfumey dry cherry wine reminiscence of cinnamon hearts)
On a blue cheese and red onion gratin with raspberry sage reduction
Log House Red
A gamay zweigelt blend with round & sweet
with raspberries & black currents, mild white pepper and balanced tannins
With a black current ice cream
Black Ice
(Black current Ice wine with mint, black currents black currents & more black currents with a good acidity and not too sweet