Tag Archives: wine tasting

Salted Brick: simple honest intentions that make complex flavours

30 Oct
No Filter!

No Filter!

In September,  I had the chance to work in the beautiful Okanagan Valley for a couple of weeks.  The picturesque and almost desert-like interior of British Columbia proved to be a powerhouse for fruit orchards and of course, as everyone has heard, vineyards.  The best part was, almost all the top restaurants sourced locally and stressed (ha!) the slow food movement.  Yeah, I had trouble booking a flight home.

I confess, I had a prejudice prior to my arrival that I would be served mostly vegetarian health-conscious fare (as if you don’t think granola when I say West Coast).  Much to my surprise (and relief), I found the complete polar opposite of fresh kale salad – really great charcuterie!  And one of my favourite places to split a board of locally sourced cured meat  in Kelowna was at Chef Jason Leizert’s Salted Brick.

Located next to the old Paramount Theatre, Salted Brick is a stylish but unpretentious eatery that makes food an accessible event.  Seven days a week they serve up mind-blowing affordable sandwiches to the lunch crowd (get the smoked chicken!  No, wait, the brisket! Ugh, no, the smoked chicken!)  while Wednesdays to Sundays there is dinner service and on weekends only, brunch. Everything is priced extremely reasonably and prepared with such care. Also, with the small seating space close to the food prep and bar, you cannot help the intimacy forged between the diner and the plate creator and that is part of the experience of their locavore’s menu.

As soon as I walked in, I could smell the aroma of cured meats and cheeses.  It was prevalent enough to almost act as an amuse bouche but certainly not overpowering.  My dreamy-eyed look must have indicated I would get a kick out of their ‘meat closet’ because guess where I was seated?  Yup right next to it- I could stare to my heart’s content.  My friends, all of this locally-sourced, free range and hormone and antibiotic free charcuterie was created in house!

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

A lot of glare, but even more meat.

My dining partner and I decided to start off with oysters from Salt Spring Island.  They were creamy, briney, and matched perfectly with a mystery house-made hot sauce.

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Oysters from Salt Spring Island

Next came two giant boards which we unabashedly demolished.  Local cheeses and in-house cured meats.  Paradise!

Cheese board

Cheese board

 

Meat board

Meat board

The cheese pairings ranged from traditional to whimsical.  The charcuterie board was out of this world good; with each bite we proclaimed we found our favourite until we tried the next one.  Our server felt like a pal who casually wandered by and made sure we were having a good time.  We were never rushed, and with the beers and wine flowing, food to share, and a great atmosphere, we were shocked to find 3 hours had passed!

Salted Brick emphasized my belief that dining is an intimate event to be enjoyed with friends and the creators of your meal.  It also bridged the gap between food source and my plate – I could read about the farmers they sourced the meat from and see, with my own eyes, the curing room at the back of the restaurant.

Simple honest intentions and complex flavours – thank you Salted Brick.

 

Edit: I mentioned this was accessible to most wallets and I forgot the prices we paid for the above but just to give you an idea, they do offer a Family Dinner priced at $25/person!  And this is the ridiculously delicious sample menu: 

Bouillabaisse

Squash Ravioli, Brown Butter, Parmesan

Pork Cheeks, Mushrooms, Buttered Kale, Apple Sauce

Goat Cheese

Apple Tart Tartin

Salted Brick on Urbanspoon

 

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iYellow Wine Club: Muscadet Magic

4 Mar

Bridget is a new contributor to YYZ. An ambitious home cook whose new year’s resolution was to attempt new and exciting dishes in the kitchen, she will be contributing cookbook reviews to YYZGourmand in the coming months. A frequent visitor to the Niagara region, she is also an oenophile with an enviable wine collection. 

“A good bottle of wine is an empty bottle.” –Pierre-Jean Sauvion

Pierre-Jean Sauvion is a fourth generation winemaker of the Maison Sauvion from the Nantes region of the Val de Loire (Loire Valley). Beyond being the self-proclaimed “façonneur de plaisir” (pleasure maker) of some of the wines featured at the iYellow Wine Club event, he was the center of attention from the moment he opened his mouth to speak. The Château du Cléray Sauvion, where Pierre-Jean cultivates his passion, is one of the oldest estates and cellars in the area.

photo 2 (1)

The event was hosted at iYellow Wine Club’s wine cave. In case you’re wondering, “wine cave” is code for basement. Was it the dark basement out of a horror movie? No. Was it the wine cave of my dreams? No. Perhaps I’ve seen too many wine caves on Pinterest. I will admit part of my distaste for the subterranean space came from having to find it down a dark alleyway. I don’t even like walking down some streets of the city at night, let alone searching for a doorway shrouded in darkness. Some people like that sort of “exclusivity” – I like an accessible street entrance, preferably on a street with a lot of foot traffic.

Wine cave or wine basement?

Wine cave or wine basement?

I have attended wine tastings in the Niagara region. These wineries aim to educate your palate and entice you to purchase their product. While the iYellow Wine Club presented a huge selection of wines to discover, I was disappointed that we weren’t able to purchase a number of the wines that they featured. My favourite of the night – Chateau du Cleray Muscadet 2004 – is not available through the LCBO.

While we enjoyed our evening, the event felt unbalanced. Pierre-Jean walked us through a tasting of five wines as we all crowded around a large table decorated with cheese platters and spittoons. In short, his wines were crisp and aromatic (my thoughts on the wines can be found below). It was a really big crowd, almost uncomfortably tight. The tasting was missing the finesse and flow of a well-orchestrated event.

I loved Pierre-Jean’s playful and passionate discussion of his wines. I probably could have listened to him all night. But part of the joy of drinking wine with others is to enjoy and discuss the wine with the people around you. There was too much going on and his tasting tended more toward a lecture than a sensory experience. Capping the size of the group would have been better for the structure of the tasting and kept the personal aspect of wine that I enjoy so much.

After the tasting, we mingled and had the chance to try an additional four wines. All in all, I think there were too many wines to taste for such a short period of time. I felt rushed. In addition, I thought the link to the oyster part of the theme was lost. The oysters were brought out after the formal tasting was over. Based on the crowd around the shuck-er (sic), I had my oyster with a sample of pinot noir. Given that I had just overcome the hurdle of my first oyster, it was disappointing to not be able to try the pairing as it was intended.

The event was poorly organized. iYellow Wine Club promised a magical night of tasting muscadet paired with oysters. Instead, I was bombarded with too many samples of pretty good wine (and not enough oysters) in a crowded basement!

Some food! But where are the promised oysters?

Some food! But where are the promised oysters?

You may not have a basement of your own (or you may live in one), but with these tasting notes, a few substitutions, and a trip to the market for some oysters  – you’ll be able to recreate the experience at home.* Here is the line up from the event:

Chateau de Montgueret Crement (sic) – LCBO $19.95 (I am pretty sure Crement is Cremant and that they had a typo on their sign…)

Tasting Notes:  None (sorry!)

Chateau du Cleray Muscadet 2013 – will be available via LCBO in spring time

Tasting Notes: Cloudy/dull appearance (wine has not been filtered and the lees remain), smells of green apple and citrus, long finish on the palate.

Sauvion Muscadet Carte D’or 2012

Tasting Notes: Citrus fruit scent with floral undertones, light and crisp with slightly acidic aftertaste.

Chateau du Cleray Muscadet 2012 – LCBO $13.95

Tasting Notes: Beautiful tropical fruit/citrus fruit scent, slightly sweet finish.

Chateau du Cleray Muscadet 2004

Tasting Notes: Smells of dry fruits and nuts, richer flavor with a dry finish on the palate. My favourite of the night!

Chateau du Cleray Muscadet 1995

Tasting Notes: This wine spurred discussion around the table, with scent associations of anything from mold to soy sauce –a complex wine with a nutty, creamy, dry flavor – Pierre-Jean suggests it is best paired with sweet breads…I suggest you skip it entirely!

JP Chenet Chardonnay 2012 – LCBO $10.95

Tasting Notes: My only note for this wine was“unmemorable” …there are definitely better chards out there!

JP Chenet Pinot Noir 2012 – LCBO $12.95

Tasting Notes: Light-to-medium-bodied and fruity red that will not stand up to food.

Calvet Chtx St Germain 2012 – LCBO $15.25

Tasting Notes: Medium-bodied, uncomplex red with a smooth finish.

Calvet St Emilion 2011 – LCBO $19.45

Tasting Notes: Full-bodied flavor, scents of dry red fruits, and a beautiful deep colour. My favourite of the three reds, we will definitely be picking one of these up the LCBO!

*Talkative and handsome winemaker not included.

2nd Annual iYellow Ice Fest: Nice Try

15 Feb

We Canadians are a hardy and resourceful lot.  We embrace the cold, ice and snow, and stubbornly do things no one else would do at temperatures low enough to freeze the hardest of liquors.  Things like golfing in the snow.  Admittedly, this is a rather daft bastardization of a pleasant summer stroll in the park, but it could be fun with the help of a little rye and a tail-happy golf cart.

When we first arrived at iYellow Wine Club’s second annual Ice Fest, held in Liberty Village, we thought it could actually turn out pretty well.  I applaud the organizers for being very Canadian in holding the event outdoors. However, we quickly realized that subzero wine tasting is extremely one dimensional – most wines just tasted like, well, wine.  Some of the weaker whites didn’t even make that cut.  Hints of cherry, leather or minerality gave way to overpowering notes of everything that had flash frozen in your glass.  Forget about sniffing the wine and inhaling a lovely, subtle oaky scent.  Every attempt to smell a sample just led to more nose hairs turning into icy stalactites.  Even a few stand heaters strategically placed beside the tasting booths would have gone a long way to solving these problems.

I was hoping that the food would provide some consolation, but sadly this was not the case.  Burrito Burrito, the Mexican fast food joint that was fenced into the event, did a decent job of pumping the crowd of people through at a decent clip.  However, they shouldn’t have been pumping what looked like glowing radioactive waste into their tacos and calling it “cheese”, when their clientele was made up of wine club members with allegedly refined palates.

I rarely leave food uneaten (because I am a glutton), but Burrito Burrito’s tacos were so inedible that abandoning them to stand outside in a polar vortex drinking frigid grape juice seemed like a much better option.  Disappointingly, the only other source of food was a chocolaterie serving up chocolate-covered strawberries, which simply did not satisfy the “hit the spot” requirement that goes hand-in-hand with an all-you-can-drink event.

I hope that future Ice Fests aren’t as icy as this one, because Torontonians should get a better understanding of some our province’s greatest wines.  They should also be able to choose from food options that are commensurate with the quality of those wines.  They should be able to taste the wines and savour the subtleties that the winemakers have painstakingly crafted, without having their samples and their palates blunted by blustery winds.  Clearly the iYellow Wine Club couldn’t control Mother Nature, but it could have done a better job of responding to her frigid fury.

2.37/5 brown thumbs down.

When the Ritz isn’t “Ritz-y”

26 Mar

Does wine tasting in a conference room dull the taste of what should be sunny Californian Chardonnays? Even if said conference room is in the Ritz Carlton in Toronto?

I’m afraid that it does.

A friend gifted me a class to the iYellow Wine School Winter sesssion. We picked a date and decided to go together as, she put it, “an excuse to hang out more and have fun”.

I must preface this critique with a disclaimer: wine tasting is not out of the norm for either of us. I’ve had the pleasure of living in France and going on wine tastings in the Rhône Valley. Oh, and in Italy my favourite spot to wine taste was in Orvieto. All in proper caves à vin.

Knowing this, one might call me privileged  I know that I am, and I am happy that I’ve had the chance to do these things, why be ashamed of things that I have enjoyed? But, this all tainted my feelings about my class with the iYellow Wine School.

Knowing it was at the Ritz-Carlton but not at their restaurant TOCA, I wasn’t expecting it to be in their cave à vin, but I didn’t think it would be a crowded and windowless boardroom either. But it was. And there were many many more people than I’d ever seen at a wine tasting. There were five  (if not seven?!) tables of eight. At least 40 people. 40! All of us under the bright and unflattering fluorescent lights of a conference room. The crowd was a very strange mix of young and young-ish professional women, middle aged men and a few couples. The womens hair was all very shiny and they wore high heels. The men tried to hide their lack of locks and weren’t wearing wedding rings. Surrounded by such a display, the couples seemed smug in their togetherness.

The observations about the people weren’t the first to hit me, at first I liked how organized the operation seemed to be. People knew where to direct us, there were smiles at the door, a clipboard to check off our names. But, after I was initially impressed but their efficiency of having already poured out the wine at our tables on a marked place mat  given us the list of the wines that we would be tasting and a pen for notes…  I was both intrigued and turned off by it. Is this what all wine tastings in the city were? Babysitting for adults looking for thoughts on wine to share on their next internet date? Oh, and where was the cheese? Did they expect me to try 4 glasses of wine without any food?

Turns out they did. No food until the 4 whites were followed by 3 reds. Our «fearless leader into the world of wine» (as my friend and I called the tall slim young man leading our seminar room of wine neophytes) lectured us, forgot to mention that you don’t have to drink the whole glass. I’m pretty sure half the class was drunk, and not just because he forgot that key fact. But also from the lack of food. And it was mid-week and right after work.

Besides that slip-up, the young sommelier/fearless leader was very knowledgeable. No matter how keen and earnest his interest was in wine, to me it seemed more textbook than passion. He was the first person to serve me wine at a tasting with with the clean nails of a city boy instead of someone’s hands who show signs that they helped bring the wine to life. But did he ever lecture with fervour under those florescent lights! Walking back and forth in front of the wine, telling us about climate necessary for certain grapes, asking us how much we would be willing to pay for a certain wine (I had never heard that at a wine tasting before!) and encouraging us to not «be afraid of the New World wines!». His horrible French pronunciation might have grated me more that it would others, but by glass number 5 my friend and I were the naughty ones in the back giggling about his bad puns and wondering loudly if there was going to be some bread.

And so they did finally serve us some bread! With some cheese. And a small cluster of grapes. One platter per table. How generous of you, Ritz-Carleton and iYellow! Ravenous and mostly drunk, the crowd attacked the platter and stopped listening to the poor young sommelier. I got two slices of baguette and some crackers, some cheese (which was actually very very good) and I stole most of the grapes.

After this we were told that we could go down to TOCA and receive a 15% discount on our meal. 15%! Just me or does a percent sound tacky? Why not say something like «a special hors d’oeuvre and dessert selection if you get dinner with us»?! A percentage off at the Ritz restaurant seems similar to a coupon at a mid range restaurants, something you like to take advantage of, but are almost embarrassed to do.

We were also told «Remember to socialize with your fellow wine lovers!». My friend and I looked around. Who were we supposed to socialize with exactly, if not just each other? The men who looked more beaten up by time than our fathers did? Or was I allowed to ask the woman sitting beside me how she got her hair to be so shiny? Was love something that you could get in a conference room after some good, some forgettable and one excellent wine (that you had to request and wasn’t offered to everyone?!)

Instead, after using the washroom (which were better designed and had better lighting than the conference room) we headed over to Gourmet Burger Co. on Adelaide. The only people in their besides the staff, I thoroughly enjoyed the classic GBC burger (and fries!). Remarkably good meat, fresh bun and toppings. With fries that weren’t overly salty. My friend and I spoke of the tasting and wondered if we were part of the yuppie ladies. «No, you don’t wear heels and you let your hair stay curly», she said before biting into her burger.

And then we did what we had wanted to do over wine: talked about our goals, our upcoming trips and how to avoid leering older men. No more iYellow Wine School for us, it seems. But as well travelled wine lovers, we might not be their target demographic.