Sipping Sake in Japan

Lantern signs

Words/Pix: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog: http://blog.taiyanbao.ca/life/430786

Milder and lower alcohol content; a less floral but earthier bouquet; trimmer acidity with subtle sweetness are perhaps the reasons why sake has been favoured by Japanese and Asians.  But most wine lovers would agree, sake does complement Japanese cuisine intricately, especially with sushi and sashimi. The refined flavour of sake along with the tantalizing mouth feel caress the raw seafood in our palates charmingly.  No wonder sake is gaining popularity rapidly on the global beverage platforms.

Like most imported goods, the varieties of sake available in Vancouver is limited and usually of average grade. One may have to go to rather high end Japanese restaurants to find true premium sake. Make no mistake; what is available here is only a tiny fraction of the sake produced in Japan. Needless to say, my recent trip to Japan was a seven day affair of non-stop eating and drinking; with sake taking the centre stage.

premiums sake everywhere

We landed in Tokyo at night and the first thing on the itinerary early next morning was to visit the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market.  After over 2 hours of wide-eyed amazement and sometimes disbelief of the magnitude of seafood being handled and traded daily, we sat down in one of the sushi restaurants and had the best raw seafood and beautifully plated sea urchin set for breakfast. Even though it was 9am in the morning, I reminded myself it’s night time in Vancouver; therefore sipping sake was in natural order. There was no wine list to speak of so you just pointed at the display bottles to make your selection and almost immediately sake was served, and to my delight, the authentic way  – in a small square wooden box.  The wooden box emitted a very faint smokiness but somehow added a mysterious character to the sake. While small sake cups, either ceramic or glass, were common, I had come across artistic sets and strange looking shapes and I must admit, they all pushed the experience up one notch. A good way to embrace the arts of sipping local sake for sure!

Sake & sushi

No matter what season it is, slightly chilled sake has always been the norm here; room temperature sake is not unusual either. However, if you prefer your sake warm, please let them know. Mind you, they do serve sake warm, but never hot! Warm sake is usually reserved for utility grade sake while premium grade is preferably served slightly chilled. Almost every restaurant, no matter how tiny, offers sake. And more often than not; serve beer, sake and wine or anything alcoholic in a very casual manner.  Even the young waitress can go to the back, pick up a bottle and pour it for you. Sake sommelier?  I was quite sure they were around, but I did not have the pleasure to meet one during my sake days in Japan.

Sake glasses

Since restaurants of all sorts were everywhere, so were sake: On shelves, by the door, in boxes, barrels;  lined-up in bottles against the wall or by the back exit… Palpably, sake selections were never short; a few of which I was pretty sure I encountered and tasted back home. The price points varied too, but as expected, they were much more wallet-friendly. Many restaurants offer individual (200ml) sizes which they left the bottle on the table. Some were poured directly from the magnum bottle which was lifted right in front of you for your sake by the glass orders. Sake-paired meals should be available somehow somewhere; unfortunately, no one at the front desk or dining room in any of the restaurants spoke good enough English to answer my inquiry.

A display of fine premium sake in Kyoto

Most restaurants serve their sake generously to showcase their hospitality. Not only was the cup or box always filled to the brim; there were the extra friendly and very appreciative way to over-pour so the sake cup or box was actually dripping.  With a dish smartly placed underneath to catch the overflow, this gesture was not just an eye-opener, but  big hugs worth, only if they let me!  Ha, don’t I wish Vancouver restaurants could pick up this smart practice, even when serving beer and wine!

special sake glass

 

 

 

Foodie on Foot – Toronto: Ovest Cucina e Vineria

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CAFE PACIFICA CHINESE NEW YEAR BUFFET LUCKY DRAW:

Thank you for the huge response. The lucky winner Wing Ng has been notified. We’ll be doing another give-away soon – please tune in!

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Chinese blog posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/430615/

Ovest Cucina e Vineria : Pamper your loved one with divine Italian cooking this Valentine

ovest-152

Ovest Cucina e Vineria. 788 King Street West. Toronto. T: 416 214 6161   http://www.ovest-to.com/

Words: Anthio Yuen                  Photos: Jonathan Fan

Opened in November of 2014, Ovest Cucina e Vineria is one of Toronto’s newest Italian restaurants and wine bars in the city’s bustling King West area.  At just a few months old, Ovest has already been met with rave reviews. The anticipation plus perhaps the crisp temperature typical of a winter evening in Toronto or the early onset of hunger, I was eager to go inside and try it for myself.

Greeted at the door by Marco Celio, Ovest’s general manager, who comes from local restaurants Buca and Terroni, gave me a quick tour of Ovest.  The restaurant’s design was inspired by old cantinas in Italy which often served double duty as casual drinking establishments and wine cellars, fittingly so here, giving Ovest a decidedly rustic but modern tone, highlighted by dark stone and wood accents throughout restaurant.

ovest-148

Centering the 4,700 square foot space is a stunning bar and salumi station, adorned with antique wine barrels and presses. A beautiful walk-in glass vineria behind the bar holding the restaurant’s 120 varieties of Italian wine is close by.     ovest-141

Taking his cues from Sicilian cuisine with French and seafood inspirations, Chef Luca Stracquadanio (who comes to Ovest from the Terroni group of restaurants in both Toronto and Los Angeles) wants to create a contemporary menu featuring regional Canadian ingredients.

Ovest’s menu is simple but purposeful.  Each dish features a key ingredient, enhanced by only a select few complementing flavours. As noted by Chef Stracquadanio, “we use simple ingredients, maybe one or two things to allow the true flavour be expressed.”  One should not confuse simplicity of ingredients, however, with lack of complexity. The dishes at Ovest were unique and equally refined.ovest-126

A signature antipasto at Ovest is the Carpaccio De Pesce Spada, or smoked swordfish. Cured and smoked in-house, sliced thinly, and then garnished with fennel, orange and olive oil, the swordfish had a delicate and creamy texture with just a hint of smoke.      ovest-122 The Caprese Di Tonno was another featured antipasto, which is whipped “bufala” mozzarella topped with tuna tartar. While the two came together nicely, the simple puree of basil and olive oil underneath the cheese added a bright, earthy flavour.   ovest-125Carpaccio di Polipo, or Octopus Carpaccio followed offering surprisingly meaty and heavy texture. Thin slices of octopus were drizzled with lemon, olive oil and a salsa verde made with capers and anchovies; then topped with pomegranate.

Following the antipasto, Chef Stracquadanio brought over two main courses: Gnocchi Con Astice, which is black squid ink gnocchi with fresh lobster and Merluzzo, or black cod. The gnocchi came tossed with large chunks of lobster, tomatoes and a light bisque made of the lobster. The dish was intense and rich and definitely one to indulge for lobster lovers. The pan-seared cod, with crispy and smoky skin, was served on a bed of earthy-sweet lentils.

ovest-130

The dessert was another high note of the evening—a thin chocolate praline, topped with chocolate crème and pistachio, wrapped in a chocolate “nest”. The dish was visually stunning and texturally appealing. The chocolate crème was smooth and dense, almost mousse-like, while the praline and pistachio added bits of crunch. The nest itself was very unique, looking actually like a birds nest but made with very thin strings of chocolate. ovest-133

Overall, Ovest provides a relaxed but upscale dining experience, perfect for those looking to embrace a different approach to Italian cuisine. A great atmosphere for the upcoming Valentine’s, be it an intimate one for the two of you; or a happy get-together for friends and families.

 

 

 

Everyone’s welcomed – Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, 2014

HK Wine & Dine Festival

Words: Henry Yuen      Pix: S. Yuen

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, there was this annual “Trade Fair” where all kinds of businesses lined up in one place to showcase their wares. Apparel manufacturers displaying the latest fashion trends; food companies promoting newest products; international brands demonstrating the next must-have appliances; there were household supplies, hard wares, gadgets, toys games and much more. Young ladies in beautiful tailored-made uniforms standing in front of the stalls, encouraging people to  try, test, taste and buy.  Adorned by flashy flirting signs, musical performances and non-stop actions, the fun-filled annual event was something both adults and kids looked forward to every year.

Spectacular opening night performance

Similar yet more vibrant atmosphere and high energy were felt as I walked around the   Wine and Dine Festival in Hong Kong on their opening night; a wine glass in hand, I was elated to be there! The original plan of holding this much-anticipated event in Central was altered due to the demonstration taking place in that area. Kudos to the super organizing power and determined efficiency of Hong Kong Tourism Board and the team of organizers who turned things around as if with a magic wand. Upon entering the site, I was awed by how elaborated the just-erected site in this replacement outdoor venue was! Glittering with lavishing stages, tasting rooms and different themed zones, hard to believe it was all set up in a matter of days. Held at the runway of the old Kai Tak Airport with record attendees, this food and wine event have been fully embraced by the locals and visitors alike, despite the last minute location change.

The Wine & Dine Festival attracted these groups of folks: Those who came to sip the wine, those who came to sample the food, and of course, those who enjoyed both the food and the wine; and those who simply there to cherish the gleeful festivity!

Hong Kong has been well-regarded as a food and wine paradise; the month-long Festival provided a very approachable platform even for first time comers. There is a Chinese saying that you work to keep your stomach full, clothing and lodging come secondary.  Indeed, food has always been an integral part of the Chinese social fabric.  No surprise that the last minute change in venue did not hinder the popularity of the Festival; in fact, the Kai Tak location helps raised the allure as those who are yet to step on it welcome the opportunity to come take at its Cruise Terminal look.

Hong Kong’s affluent wine culture is no doubt the backbone of the huge success of the Wine & Dine Festival. As the wine-drinking society matures in Hong Kong, wine with food, wine on its own, wine for gift-giving has become more or less a social trend, a lifestyle mean and a wind-down tool to ease the everyday hectic paces.

The fabulous setup and the long lineup at the food and wine booths avouched my thoughts and observations. A tasting zone dedicated to the ever popular Bordeaux is a true manifestation of the superiority of the Bordeaux wine reputation in the heart of the Hong Kong wine circles. Not just any French wines but only those from Bordeaux – the allure, charisma and status of a Bordeaux label lives forever in their heart! The very considerate Everyday Wine Zone is there to showcase arrays of wallet friendly wines, a perfect introduction to the new and novice drinkers indeed.  The Discovery Zone where wine merchants brought in rare, unknown and hard to find wines is, needless to say, draws in wine lovers of all levels. The Party Wine Zone focusing on sparkling wines, sweeter and dessert wines are enjoyed on their own or served in various cocktail concoctions. The Country Zone that features wines from popular wine producing regions of the world plus some emerging Eastern European countries such as Georgia and Romania is for exploration and great learning experience.  To top it off, the Riedel Grand Tasting Pavilion with a list of impressive high end wines is the see and to-be-seen arena where folks clamour for and where veteran wine lovers who are there to compare tasting notes and purchasing powers.

Everyday French wine

While there is no doubt people still gravitate towards Bordeaux wines, it is good to see that other wine regions are gaining recognition and consumers begin to realize their wines are well worth their attention and curiosity. The “Drink nothing but Bordeaux” mantra is fading and most people look for value rather than just reputation.

I had a frank discussion with a Mr. Choy  of MegaWill Wine, a wine merchant at the Festival who confessed the Bordeaux popularity and status is not a novelty among those knowledgeable wine folks anymore. When he imports Bordeaux wines, instead of exclusively high end labels, it will now be those Bordeaux labels that are more price-friendly to the drinking public. It is difficult to make a lot of money importing high-end wines since only a shrinking group of elites still clings to that mantra. Due to the geographic proximity to the Asian Pacific countries, Australian and New Zealand wines are equally popular. California wines are also welcome due to the palate acceptance of full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel etc.

Henry & Mr. A. Choy I was amazed by the large number of wine merchants prying their trades at the Festival. I guess the ever increasing drinking population and the relaxed tax rule on wines in Hong Kong readily support more entrants to the wine trade. A case in point was that at one of the Discovery Zone booths, there was this young gentleman Mr. Wing Yau urging us to try his wine. As it turned out, he was the winemaker of a plum wine made locally in Hong Kong. Under the umbrella of Hong Kong Royal Wine Ltd, only a few hundred cases were produced and he hadn’t had time to line up any distributorship or enlisted any restaurants to put his wine on their wine lists.  It was no doubt a relatively new venture for him. Ask where he got the idea and impetus, his answer was it was his love of wine which drove his interest and desire to make wine. “It would be fun to try and make my own wine!” He said so with a grin. Consistent with the self-assurance of most folks in Hong Kong, he welcomed the challenge and was not deterred by the steep learning curve facing him. That’s the spirit of the Hong Kong people that we adore and I wish him the best of luck in his new endeavour.

Henry & plum winemaker Wing Yau

While most tasting events in Vancouver charges a higher admission fee, the wine tasting portion at each booth was free. You can taste all the wines you like and would not get drunk by spiting. Spitting is in fact encouraged. Whereas the Hong Kong Food and Wine Festival charged a very low admission fee of about $3-$4 Canadian but each tasting cost a ticket. More expensive wines cost two or three tickets each. As a result, it was difficult to taste a multitude of wines unless you buy a lot of tickets. And you tend not to spit since there was no spit bucket provided. The expectation was that you would finish each glass since you’re paying for it. I guess it makes perfect sense since a low admission fee could lure even casual fans who are free to choose and decide how to spend their dollars by either drinking a little or a lot.

Yak milk wine

With over one hundred and fifty booths and more than ten wines at each booth, it was impossible for me to try too much wine without spitting. In the end, my exercise involved studying each label carefully before selecting and sipping which called for lingering a lot longer at some booths. That was something I didn’t mind at all since the food and ambiance was good and the conversations were enjoyable. Not having to worry drinking and driving, thanks to the free shuttle bus that took us back to the subway station conveniently, definitely elevated the pleasure.  My first Hong Kong Wine & Dine experience was a great one, no matter how I looked at it. I have no doubt the wine trend in Hong Kong will only get better overtime and the public will appreciate and embrace the wine arena more profoundly!

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens wines

Words: Henry Yuen         Pix: S. Yuen

Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/415536/

Back in 2012, I wrote a story regarding the wines of Fort Berens, a pioneer winery in Lillooet up Fraser Canyon region where experimental test planting dated back to 2005. We tasted Fort Berens’ first vintage of 2011 from their initial commercial planting in 2009. I remembered very well because for a brand new winery growing grapes in a relatively unknown region, their wines were surprisingly good even back then.

Fast forward to now and deservingly so, Fort Berens Meritage has been awarded this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence, on top of other awards, a solid proof of how exceptional their wines are. I gave them two thumps up in terms of quality and value. With 20 acres under their helm, Fort Berens Estate Winery best exemplified that BC still has pockets of untapped terroir suitable to growing premium grapes outside of the 5 established growing regions.                  The winery

This time, we were able to taste some of their award-winning wines while touring the brand new facility  – a modern, sleek and hi-tech looking winery.  As we travelled through the winding lanes of Fraser Canyon through Hope, lined with mystic mountains along the Fraser River, it was difficult to imagine these hill side patches of pastures would grow grapes. When we approached Lillooet where the mighty Fraser River met the Thompson River, the valley opened up on both sides and the clouds disappeared quickly leaving the sun to warm up the entire valley. We could see this sagebrush region with dry greyish vegetation on sandy soil welcomed the long and hot summer sun with Alpine breeze cooling the nights; it in fact was ideal for the vines to flourish!

The newly built winery and tasting room features modern amenities to handle the production logistics. Situated upon the knoll overlooking the beautiful 20 acres of vineyards below, the view is breathtaking. There is room to grow but the present focus is on producing quality and delicious wines – let the wines speak for themselves! Led by a dedicated team of progressive and youthful staff to manage the vineyard and winemaking, Fort Berens is in good hands to provide the consistency wine lovers come to expect of quality BC wines, at a friendly price range too!

Fort Berens wine barrelsTasting notes:

Cabernet Franc 2012: Packs a lot of blackcurrants with a bit of clove on the nose, the entry is smooth with black fruits and berries to brighten the palate. Nice treatment due to 12 months in both American and French oak and another 12 months of bottle aging to provide the roundness.

2011 Meritage: A nice blend of 47% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc sourced from both the estate fruits and the Sundial vineyards in Oliver. Aged in both American and French oak barrels, this wine is smooth with aroma of dry cherries and currants. The mouth feel is juicy and a bit of herb and spices to provide the balance. No wonder it is an award winning wine.

2013 Chardonnay: With lots of citrus and Asian fruits aroma, there is an enticing subtle flinty note indicative of the mineral rich sandy soil of the Lillooet area. 30% is fermented on French oak barrels and the rest in stainless steel tanks, this wine is further aged 9 months in French oak before bottling to provide that hint of buttery smoothness expected of oaked Chardonnay.

ChardonnayFour Seasons hosting Fort Berens Dinner

 

 

 

Foodie on Foot – Hong Kong

Words: Stephanie Yuen    Pix: Henry & Stephanie

A recap of our footsteps during our latest visit in Hong Kong, as heard on our food, wine & travel segment with Deborah Moore on AM1470 past Tuesday.

An evening flight landed us at Lantau Airport at 10:15pm. It did not take long at all for us to zip through immigration and customs. Thanks to the superior transportation system of Hong Kong, when we arrived at Mei Food Estate, it’s only 11pm. A 5-min taxi-ride took us to our hotel, Heritage Lodge located within Jao Tsung-I Academy.

Patio

The fascinating history of The Academy was the main reason why we chose to stay here; very friendly room rate was the number 2 reason; Ginkgo House the restaurant where senior power jiving at its best was the other deciding force.

Heritage Lodge(翠雅山房)

http://www.heritagelodgehk.com

Reception area

There are five 2-storey buildings housing 80+ rooms. Clean, tidy and comfortable, the rooms and facilities are comparable to any 3+star hotel, but at a much wallet-friendlier rate. Located at the upper deck of the compound, the lodge is 2 long flights of stairs from the restaurant and the Academy. Shuttle bus that takes riders to the main road, the MTR station at Mei Foo and the entrance to the Academy runs till 9:30pm daily.

Jao Tsung-I Academy (饒宗頤文化館)

800, Castle Peak Raod, Kowloon, Hong Kong. http://www.jtia.hk

An iconic project under the “Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme” of the Development Bureau of the HKSAR Government.

Antique brick buildings and a zen lotus pond

A lush green urban oasis lies atop Lai-Chi-Kok Hill, the compound has played significant roles in the social history making of Kowloon Peninsula. It was a customs station in 1887, a transfer shelter for Chinese labourers recruited by the British Empire to work in mines in South Africa from 1904 to 1906 that later on became a quarantine quarter.  A decade later, it was used as a prison and in 1940’s, it became Lai-Chi-Kok Hospital. In the year 2000, it was the home for the psychiatric rehabilitation centre.  Finally in 2009, the name “Jao Tsung-I Academy” and its cultural status was recognized and officially granted.  Today, the hide-away Academy is the gateway to tranquility, natural beauty and cultural events. It houses a gallery, workshops, exhibition halls, lecture rooms, activity rooms and a theatre and offers free guided tours.

Gingko House (銀杏館)

http://www.restaurant.org.hk

An ordinary looking restaurant with extraordinary missions and a fabulous food philosophy and practice, Gingko House is an integral part of an amazing senior project strategically designed to provide inspiring opportunities for seniors to maintain and enhance their healthy living and to energize the well-beings of their minds and souls after retirement. The senior project is the turning wheel fabricating jobs, providing training and dispatching resources for seniors. A majority of the staff are capable citizens who used to work in key positions. The project invites them to be productive and to belong. Their ability and willingness to contribute, no matter the age, subsequently lead them to regain their confidence and self-respect. With a central kitchen, an organic farm, two Gingko House restaurants and catering service, participating seniors wake up every day to a friendly environment to communicate and learn; to work and be involved in the community. Though situated within the compound of the Academy and share a mutual support with each other, Gingko House is owned and operated independently. With a unique background – physically, historically and culturally; both the Academy and Gingko House are well-regarded and frequently visited by local communities and foreign groups, especially those in the arts and culture field.

Stuffed gluten puffs with light curry sauce

With the organic farm supplying Gingko House and the catering arms, the restaurants thrive on their healthy menu offering; super-friendly and attentive attitude. Having the legendary Sir Run Run Shaw’s very own chef Mr. Low who won Sir Shaw over with a plate of ‘Canned Spicy Pork Fried Rice’ who now works as the Executive Chef for the restaurants and the catering service, superb food quality with a healthy conscience has been the main reason why folks of all walks and ages become regulars here. Gingko House opens for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

HK$38 salad & soup buffet at Gingko House

Highly recommended:

1/ Salad and Soup Buffet

2/ Chef Low’s Fried Rice with XO sauce

3/ Dong-Bor Style Ribs

4/ Stuffed Gluten puffs stuffed with mushrooms (vegetarian)

5/ Hot drinks: Lemongrass Tea and Organic Pu-er Tea

Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival, 2014(香港美酒佳肴巡禮)

This is a trade and consumer event that takes place in November of every year. Usually held at Central, Hong Kong, this year’s event was relocated to the Cruise Terminal at the old Kai Tak Airport. Glittering with neon signs, the outdoor venue gave the Wine & Dine Festival a new look and vibrant energy. With non-stop entertainments, 270 stalls, hundreds of international wines for sipping and purchasing; global gourmet cooked by master chefs on the spot, the 3-day extravaganza attracted record-number attendees.

HK Wine & Dine Festival

Shum Sui Po Foodie Tour (香港風味行深水埗)

www.hongkongfoodietours.com

Operated by Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours,this 3¾-hour tour was led by a young lady who spoke fluent English. Besides tasting generous portions of nostalgic food: fresh from the oven jumbo Pineapple Bun, fluffy and steamy plain Rice Rolls, 5-spiced brined Goose meat and Pork Hock slices, Tofu pudding, Hand-made noodle with shrimp roes, Chinese cookies in 6 different eateries, the tour guide also took us on a history walk and talk into the livelihood and many facets of this blue-collar district.

Foodie Tour 1st stopTofu pudding with barley

Made In Hong Kong Restaurant

Shop L1-13, Level 1, APM, Millennium City 5, Kwun Tong

www.madeinhorestaurant.com/index.html

A delightful and well-run café-mall restaurant that has no doubt impressed both the locals and visitors such as myself with its open-floor dining room, well-designed décor and professionally-trained staff. The indigenous Hong Kong style café menu offers array of food items familiar to those who grew up in Hong Kong in the 60’s and 70’s. Tasty and well-presented grubs, good price points and generous portions are the reason for line-ups out front.  The rare-found Chicken A La King caught Henry’s eyes and appetite at first glance, silkily creamy but not heavy atop nicely-buttered rice showed the chef’s attention to details. My fully-loaded sizzling hot plate of mixed grill with just the perfect amount of red-wine jus, was served with well-executed baby beans, snow peas and broccoli.   Chicken A La King - Creamy with full-flown flavour

My sizzling plate of mixed grill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tai-O Eco Tour (昂坪與大澳遊)

http://www.discoverhongkong.com/

360 degree of breath-taking viewThe exhilarating 6-hour tour began with the 5.7km cable-car ride across the sea to Ngong Ping Village where the Tian Tan Buddha, Asian’s 2nd largest outdoor Buddha statue, followed by an exploration of the 800-year old Fishing Village Tai-O which took us back in time where living was simple laughter generated by sweat, blood and tear. In an inland log house, the owner showed us how to prepare duck egg yolks for sun-drying and how to make a sweet soup by grinding white and black beans in a clay pot using a big guava stick the fisherman’s way. Needless to say; the owner had a pot of ready-to-eat sweet bean soup set aside for us to indulge.  fish maw and angular squash

We took a boat ride to look for white dolphins beyond the levee but found none, however, the beautiful South China Sea view and the dolphin search put us into lunch mode. The 5-course lunch featuring local seafood in a neighbourhood restaurant meant non-pretentious home-style cooking which rhymed in perfectly with the sea village setting.

fishmongers selling just-caugh fish

268 steps takes you to the huge Buddha statue

Foodie on Foot – Kobe, Japan

Kobe ChinatownWords & Pix: Stephanie Y

For serious foodies, Kobe means one word – BEEF! It indeed was the renowned Kobe beef that drew us in.  We were lucky enough to experience two Kobe beef encounters, for snacking and for a late lunch; all took place in Kobe Chinatown bordering Motomachi, the most crowded, noisiest and tastiest part of town.  Both encounters were sensational and needless to say expensive, the three grades were $3000-yen apart (C$30), glad to say every bite was worthy.

Kobe beef encounter #1

Kobe beef bowl

It was the young man yelling and waving a cardboard with the food pictures and the phase “Kobe Beef” that stopped us, we then noticed the line-up in front of the street corner where an  open kitchen was located.  The kitchen was the restaurant and the street was the dining room – our definition of true street food! Approximately 40gm of Kobe beef was served in burger form; sliced, sauteed and put on rice; or strip of loin, grilled and cut on rice.  Y$1200 gave you the AA-equivalent grade, $1500 AAA-grade and $1800 champion-grade. Our chosen AAA-grade beef was grilled to our desired doneness, medium rare, sliced to ¼” thick, served with chopped green onion and the beef jus on rice.

Kobe beef encounter #2

Kobe Beef restaurant

In a tiny but comfortably arranged restaurant offering nothing but Kobe Beef  that were grilled and served like steak. Though there’re only 25 seats, the restaurant was one of the quieter eateries in this neighbourhood. Perhaps not too many folks were willing to cough up that kind of money for a piece of steak; or likely because the restaurant charged 5% on top for paying with your credit card, even when the bill was a 5-digit one.  The “set” came with a bowl of soup made with the beef jus, a nice salad and a bowl of rice.  The same three grades applied here and the price ranges similar but since this was a real western-style restaurant, the dollar figures tripled.  For Y$8800, Henry chose the 120gm Champion grade which came certified. I was not quite ready to pay C$88 for a steak dinner hence opted for the next grade which still cost me $5500 (C$55). Both beef dishes came with pan-fried vegetables and were beautifully plated.  Along with the salad, the soup, the beef sets were substantial enough.

Beef-biting notes:

Champion-grade Kobe beef is without a doubt, heavenly! Supreme marbling knits in the al dente mouth feel. The ‘oh mine’ thrill upon entering the mouth echoes with the crisp yet moist; meaty yet buttery euphoria your palate will remember for a long time. Each bite gives you the first bite umami that keeps making love to your senses.

Kobe beef

AAA-grade Kobe beef worked fine medium rare since a little bit of chewing will expand the flavour profile and enjoyment. The thick slices of beef carried a melt-in-your-mouth texture but charred outer layer and the tender core layer combined to create a demanding depth.

If your wallet does not object, go for the champion grade and order it ‘rare’ – the only way to embrace the divinity of  the flavour and texture granted to Kobe beef to the fullest. We both agree the 120gm set of Kobe beef is good enough to satisfy the indulgence, however, the qualitative pressure beef bowl is produces as good as the well-plated beef set in the restaurant. But of course, if you so desire, do go all out.

Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls

a rack of wine bottles

Words: Henry Yuen   Pix: S. Yuen

Summer and early fall means trips to the Interior. Back when our sons were younger and heavily involved in sports, we used to go there on a regular basis: Tournaments, camping, touring and fruit indulging. When the kids no longer tagged along and admiring the gorgeous views a given, we change our itinerary to dining and drinking .  Winery tours, wine-tastings and cuisine indulging in winery restaurants often top our list. In fact, this time of the season; with the hot sun tapering down and the lake breeze blowing softly; proves to be easier and more pleasant for folks our age.

Lake & vineyard view

Voted by USA Today as the number two finest wine regions in the world, the Okanagan is described as “Drop. Dead. Gorgeous!” The publication states, “British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley came in at a strong #2, its loyal fans reminding voters of the area’s lush landscape of mountains and rivers.  The Okanagan offers excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation in between tastings.” The exact reasons why more and more folks from all over the world come to pay a visit or plan a wine vacation to Okanagan.

Quail

With vineyards and wineries spreading alongside lakes and hillsides, you may find yourselves wondering which vineyard to start? Where to go to fully utilize the time while up there? Well, we can take a good look at these two areas that house 24 and 12 wineries separately.

Poplar Grove boasts modern design beauty

Up on the hill in Penticton is the Naramata Bench and under the Naramata Bench Wineries Association banner are 24 wineries. Once an area filled with orchards and farms, now tranquil vineyards perched upon the hill and extend to the edge of local roads. Land is precious in the Okanagan and seldom laid waste for the purpose. Dotted with beautiful wineries, modern tasting rooms and top-rated restaurants, this Bench gives visitors fun-filled reasons to explore the wineries and the terroir.   There are acclaimed wineries to newly-established ones; wines made by achieved winemakers to growers-turned enthusiasts; elaborated premises to true-to-nature type of operations. Their wines are distinct; and so are their setups and capacities. But one thing they do share – embracing and trying their very best with what Mother Nature has granted to the vineyards and wineries of Naramata Bench.

OK Resort

Further south in the heart of the Okanagan is Okanagan Falls. “The heart of wine country” is the lowest part of the valley and lots of heat and the perfect terroir for vineyards. From Lake Skaha to Vaseux Lake are twelve wineries including Blue Mountain Vineyards known for its interesting grapes and remarkable wines. Together they form the Okanagan Falls Winery Association.  Lush landscapes lend terroir beauty to the vineyards, certainly another pocket of wineries worthy of an exploratory visit or a weekend getaway. Caressing winds and cooling moisture from the lakes; warm days and cool nights, encouraging a number of vineyards to naturally progress from orchards of yore. Some vineyards have been operating since the seventies, providing maturity to the vines that inevitably helps produce great wines lined with complexity and concentration.

Lakeside hotels and cheerful motels are welcoming. You don’t need to stay far from these two wine regions at all to taste some great wines thus saving you more time for other activities or simply relax a bit before conducting another winery visits.

For detailed information of both winery associations and all their winery members please log onto: http://naramatabench.com and http://ofwa.ca

Hello Sonoma!

California CS vines

Words: Henry Yuen          Pix: S. Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/357811/

Last year, we spent a two-day holiday in Napa and we kept saying we needed a few more days towards the end. This time, we spent a total of five days in both Napa and Sonoma and once again, we told ourselves we needed another week. The fact is no matter how many times we have been, we still anxious to take in as much as possible; quite often, we leave with the same feeling it is too hasty and that we probably miss a few things here and there.  I guess this is a common feeling California most famous wine regions have on visiting wine lovers; that a holiday there almost always seems too short regardless how many days you have. Under the California sun, there are indeed many things to do; place to visit and interesting stories to tell, both indoor and outdoor; no holiday ever seems long enough.  Getting up each morning brings in the anticipation of another day of food and wine exploration.wine bars & tasting rooms everywhere

Are we complaining? Certainly not! Who would complain about all the wine tastings and delicious meals at rustic towns full of histories! Spending time in galleries and quaint shops looking for one of a kind artifact, fashions and jewelleries, and feeling the vibe of the nightlife of bustling towns are all bonuses.inviting wine bars

Though it is impossible to even scratch the surface of the over 600 wineries combined and pockets of tasting rooms here and there, the wines at Sonoma were as impressive as her natural beauty. What we did was to take our time at each tasting and not feel obligated to rush to the next winery. This turned out to be a wise strategy as we enjoyed each stop a lot more and got to know some of the wines and their stories better.

We did a loop start from the southern part of Napa and headed north from downtown Napa to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga where we managed to stroll relaxingly and dined like the locals. From there, we drove to Sonoma region touching on Geyserville, Healdsburg, Sebastopol and back down south to Petaluma. It was really an enjoyable road trip as the weather was a charmer and lush green was everywhere. Heading south from Geyersville to Petaluma, Sonoma was picturesque with rolling hills, farm houses, uniform vines and lazy farm animals grazing on endless fields.Rodney Strong Vineyards

I am a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon so let’s get that out of the way. First up on the tasting list were a series of Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong Vineyards. With over 1000 acres planted in the Sonoma County that practices sustainable and carbon neutral farming, Rodney Strong Vineyards has a few tiers of well-crafted Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the terroir of Sonoma well. The 2011 Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and bold with plum and cherries aroma and a hint of smokiness due to the 17 months in oak. The 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon also from Alexander Valley is sensational, smooth on entry with a hint of licorice and cocoa. Both are ready to drink now but will improve for the next five to ten years. Not to be missed is the Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Single Vineyard, Alexander Valley. This big, powerful cab is rich and velvety with delicious dry plum and cherries on the palate and a smooth finish due to the 25 months in 49% new French oak. Ready to drink now as well but will hold up superbly for special occasions to come. R.S. Cab Sauv

To further appreciate their efforts in terms of crafting well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, we were led to the cellar for some barrel sampling of the 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Gorgeous aroma of dry cherries and black fruit with a silky mouth feel, the 2012; still waiting for the winemaker’s final attention before bottling; will definitely be amongst Rodney’s top lineups upon released.  Barrel labelOther Cab tasted included the Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. A forward, smooth Napa Cabernet with exquisite aroma of dry plum, a hint of mint and herbs. On the palate, it has lots of black fruits, currents and a big finish. If you want to find a good representation of what Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is all about, this is it. Another Napa Valley product is the Honrama Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, also a full-bodied cabernet that is round with lots of black currents and plum aroma and will go well with a thick slice of juicy rib eye. For fans of intense oak treatment in their wines, the Farm Collective Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 would be a good choice. Black fruits, spice and vanilla give way to smoky and cedar earth aroma. A few years in the cellar would tame the oak intensity to render a more balanced profile. The Renteria Vineyard Salva Tierra Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 has a smooth entry and balanced mouth feel with enough black fruit sweetness and a long finish. The Benzinger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2009 portrays lots of dark fruit and dry plum on entry with a hint of cocoa and leafy aroma.

A visit to Napa and Sonoma would not be complete without tasting luscious California Zinfandels. At Rodney Strong, we tasted the 2012 Estate Zinfandel Knotty Vines, Northern Sonoma Valley. This is a smooth Zinfandel with juicy red fruit aroma. The 2011 Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley has ripe black fruit and herb aroma and enough depth due to the 8 months in French oak. The Cline Cellars 2011 Big Break Zinfandel is a delightful Zinfandel with a full-bodied texture that packs blackberry, cocoa and spice aroma.  The 2011 EOS Reserve Rossini Zinfandel, Napa Valley is full-bodied with raspberry and earthy aroma that ends in a long finish. The Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2011 is a well-crafted luscious wine with supple and smoothness on entry and lots of dark fruits aroma that lingers. Those average 90 years and older vines have a huge stamp on them and are truly significance of the best Zinfandel California has to offer.

While at Rodney Strong, we couldn’t resist tasting a few Pinot Noirs too. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is medium-bodied but packs lots of fruity aroma and a silky, toasty finish. The 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley is crafted with the best fruit from the Valley and is elegantly soft due to the 100% French oak treatment.  The posh mouth feel easy has lots of cherries, licorice and dry herb aroma. We also tasted the Red Lava Vineyards Lake County Reserve Syrah 2004. Equally attractive, it is also full-bodied with a smooth entry and enticing cherries and spice aroma with a hint of oak. Another interesting encounter was the Cline Cellar 2012 Ancient Vines Mourvedre where the vines are 100 years old giving the wine the added depth and concentration. Across the street from Cline Cellar is the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards with its lineup of Italian grape varietals. The grandfather was the one who invented the famed Jacuzzi bathtub that we spa in. I particular liked their 2011 Lake County Primitivo with its balanced mouth feel and bright fruit aroma on a smooth finish. Russian River Valley Pino Noir

All in all during the trip, I had enough Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy my big Cab craving for a while.  As for the California whites and Rosés, let’s say they are the perfect excuse for another California trip!

 

 

 

Delicious Montreal

PoutineVille

Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen

A recipe-development project took me to Montreal two times within 3 weeks. For a west-coast dweller whose icy-cold encounter limited only to a hockey arena, I found it difficult to even walk a block in the -15C temperature. Having been in Montreal during warmer days imprinted a certain image of this old city in my mind, trotting along gloomy streets of downtown in the rigid cold allowed me to observe another side of this lovely city. Sullen but quaint, Montreal invited me to experience a different feel but cozy dine-in meals. Glad to share them with you here.

French: Auberge Solmar Sauvagi

111-115 St. Paul Es , Montreal H2Y 1E7 (514) 861-4562

From outside looking in, everything about this restaurant told me this was a fine-dining establishment. The décor, service and furnishings all proved that, but not the price point!

I chose and highly recommended the 2-course dinner with oven-fresh warm bread plus tea or coffee included. Depending on the main you chose, the price ranged from $18 to $23. I ordered Braised Lamb which cost me $20.95. The arrival of a basket of hot bread and a big dish of soup was a comforting start on a cold evening. The unpretentiously-plated and generously portioned lamb drenched with classic flavour and the slow-cooked meat texture was simply tender and flaky. But my favourite of the eveing was the fruit flan dessert dressed with fresh strawberries and dusted with icing sugar. At $7, the overall value of this silky and juicy flan was better than some of the $10 dessert in Vancouver.

Fruit flan

Poutine: Poutineville

3 locations:

1348 Beaubien E. Montreal (514) 544.8800

1365 Ontario E., Montreal (514) 419-5444

99 Place Charles Lemoyne, Longueuil (450) 332.9977 – The one we went to.

Not a fan of French fries, poutine – French fries with gravy and cheese curds has never been on my desired food list. However, being in Montreal, the capital of poutine, I had to give it a try. Poutineville happens to be one of the famed poutine restaurants whose menu offerings are quite amazing. From Mediterrean-inspired salad to cheeseburger, General Tao Poutine to Vegetarian poutine, the selections could be overwhelming. Diners can put add-on vegetables, meats and sauces to personalize the poutine. But as I see it, it doesn’t really matter what topping you order; the outlooks are more or less the same, but locals regard them as a good lunch choice.

Crushed Poutine

Interestingly, I found myself enjoying my colleague’s place loaded with cooked and pressed then deep-fried, crunchy skin-on tiny potatoes listed on the menu as ‘crushed house special’. These babies I could munch with a ice-cold beer!

Indian: Resto Darbar (near Hotel 10)

2027 St. Laurent, Montreal (514) 982-3724

A cozy corner room

I was going to walk around in the neighborhood to look for a European restaurant but was hindered by the freezing air attacking my nose and lung after walking only half a block. Hungry and cold, I decided to walk into the first restaurant encountered which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The exterior of Resto Darbar was not eye-catching at all but once I stepped inside and saw how beautiful the dining room was, I knew I chose the right place.

fully loaded thaili 2For $13.95, I had Thali Viande, a traditional platter with my choice of main (Lamb Biryani), 2 vegetables, a tandori chicken drumstick on a bed of lettuce salad, hot-to-the-touch naan and pappadam. Herbs and fresh spices are the soul behind Indian cuisine, with the two vegetables, the chicken and the lamb all displaying distinct flavours that kept me going for more, even when I was over-the-top full, I left fully loaded, warm and contented. Resto Darbar infused the right amount and right balance to capture the essence of Indian cooking to perfection!

B) Urban Tea Merchants presents Sakura Tea Service

1070 W. Georgia (at Thurlow) 604-692-0071

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It is all about the presentation! Colour-coordinated, dainty and engrossing savoury and sweet creations – do pay attention to the artistry and knifing skill of each piece. Indulge with two choices of tea for perfect pairing: White Spring and Sakura Sakura.

Caviar lovers beware! Urban Tea Merchants just launched their ‘Caviar Service’. Yes, Caviar!! For this, a glass of chilled bubble to start will be fitting!

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Niagara Wine Regions

IMG_5384Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans

Words: Henry Yuen    Pix: Stephanie Yuen

My wife and I visited Niagara Wine Regions for the first time recently.  We were so taken by their natural beauty and by how country-like and nostalgic the areas were; we left with a fantastic impression and the promise to a return trip in the Summer time.

The stay at this quaint little town of Niagara-On-The-Lake, a historic town with lots of characters, was equally lovely. Only about an hour’s drive from Toronto, Niagara-on-the-lake took me by surprise – I would never imagine one could get away from all the hustle and bustle of Toronto in such a short time.  It’s like entering into another world where all of a sudden everything stands still for a moment waiting to embrace you. With its heritage buildings, neat and unique arts & craft shops, tree- lined mansions and top rated restaurants, the town itself is like a movie-set. The picturesque country side and scenic trails along Niagara River take your breath away.  We stayed at this charming sea-side “Harbour House” that welcomed guests with country-style warmth and pampered everyone with cozy décor and top-notched hospitality which included home-style buffet breakfast daily. The town, the scenic drive and the leisurely stay were key elements making this Niagara Wine Tour memorable and exceptional. But most impressive were the wines I tasted!  IMG_5331

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Our first wine stop was a relatively new winery in Beamsville, the Good Earth Winery possesses the look and the feel of a charming country farm house. With their first vintage planted in 2008 in the 55 acres of orchard-converted vineyard. The short distance to the lake that brings breeze and adequate moisture benefits the vineyards. The soil profile is predominately sandy and loam on flat surface. Proprietor Nicolette Novak greeted us with open arms as if we were her next door neighbours. The extended warm welcome included a delicious lunch at her bistro, starting with a wine tasting with Nicolette in the tasting room/wine shop.IMG_5258

IMG_5279The Good Earth wines:

2010 Chardonnay: Well-balanced wine with enough citrus and weight on the palate.

The 2010 Riesling: Has adequate acidity and sweetness for a crispy finish.

The Betty’s Blend: Predominately Chardonnay; with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to round out this wine with stone fruit and bake apple aromas and a delicate smooth finish.IMG_5269IMG_5274

Reds sampled with our lunch:

2012 Gamay Noir: Lovely aroma with lots of fruit on the palate.

2010 Pinot Noir:  A lighter body structure with good presence of black fruit bouquet and a smooth finish.

2011 Cabernet Franc: Infused with subtle tobacco and red berries aroma and a balanced finish due to 12 months in oak treatment.

After a hearty home-style but nicely plated luncheon, we headed for Rosewood Estate Winery, the only winery in Ontario to operate as both a winery and a meadery. Greeted by William Roman, Operations Manager & Beemaster whose family founded Rosewood. With European heritage, they brought with them expertise in both areas – grape growing and beekeeping. But it was their foresight to establish their operation in the Niagara region that made it all happened. Fast forward to today with the first planting in 2003, the winery is producing award winning wines and the mead wines are equally impressive and delicious. With 10 acres in the Beamsville Bench and another 20 acres in the Twenty-Mile Bench, Rosewood is producing over 7,000 cases with hand pruning and zero irrigation. Vineyard management emphasis on the production and caring of quality grapes. Being a third generation of beekeeping, they understand how to take advantage of the beekeeping operation to benefit vineyard health, such as helping grapes to set during blooming season. Harvested honey is used to make top rated mead (honey wine) and other products.  After a tour of the operation and especially the eye-opening and educational session on beekeeping, set in the most natural environment in the back valley, we could not help but appreciate what Rosewood has been doing. Our heightened anticipation took us into the tasting room which showcased their efforts and products very well.IMG_5293

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Rosewood’s wines:

2012 Reserve Riesling: An off dry version with a hint of melon and honeydew that is crisp, juicy and with a slight hint of minerality.

2010 Merlot: 100% Merlot with 14 months in a combination of American, French and Hungarian oak. The nose is luscious with lots of berries and good tannins on the palate. Definitely a fruit forward wine to fully express the terrior of the Beamsville region.

We don’t know much about honey wines but what we tasted were delicious and could be substituted for any late harvest wines to pair with desserts. The 2010 Harvest Gold is un-oaked with refreshing aroma of peach and pear. The uniqueness of this wine is that it is produced from wildflower honey to give it the floral fragrant and unique taste profile as compared to other regular honey wines. Besides dessert, it is a mead wine that can also pair well with some spicy dishes and soft cheeses.

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IMG_5296After checking into the charming Harbour House right beside the river, we headed to Charles Inn for a sumptuous dinner. A Victorian mansion with 12 guest rooms, the restaurant is a return to the 19th century nostalgic room with a menu offering classic dishes using local ingredients. We’re quite surprised by how young but creative Chef Spirling was! After dinner, we retreated back to the Harbour house and relaxed in front of the fire place for some “R&R” time in our cozy suite This classic and luxurious inn has all the amenities to pamper guests and make them feel welcome and looking for a return booking.

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The next morning, a short drive took us to the Stratus Vineyards. We noticed some grapes were still on the vines and was told some harvesting was yet to be done, thanks to the permitting weather development and the micro climate in that area. A modern facility with high expectation, Stratus is a winery that is progressive in their daily practice while simultaneously stressing sustainability and good vineyard management. With 55 acres planted since 2000 on 62 acres of land, the focus is on low yield to produce better fruits. They average about 10,000 cases annually that weights in quality rather than quantity. The pump-free winery operation is designed to utilize gravity to render tenderness during transportation and processing with minimal bruising. To avoid pumping of the juice, elevator is used to move the tanks and containers after hand sorting so there is very limited impact. 100% French oak usage  with 12 to 24 months aging is the norm and the barrels are retired after just two vintages.

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Stratus Vineyard’s wines:

The 2009 Stratus White: A blend of Semillion, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Gewürztraminer. With the 1st vintage in 2000, it has developed good acidity with bright Asian fruits aroma and a gentle, pleasant dry finish.

2009 Stratus Red:  This luscious red with aroma of berries and anise is a blend of 42% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Tannat and is equally impressive.  On the palate, there are plum and black currents with a slight hint of mint and herb to round out this medium bodied red with delicate oak treatment.IMG_5379

IMG_5390The 2009 Stratus Cabernet Franc: A classic Niagara cool climate and low yield (1 ton/acre) Cabernet Franc with lots of cherries and berries aroma. The 20 months with 47% in new French oak adds tantalizling smokiness with a hint of spice. A Cabernet Franc done really well that is fruit forward and with balanced tannins. A good candidate for the cellar!

The 2012 Stratus Icewine Red has sweet nectar with aroma of peach and stone fruit, sensational on its own.

A short drive away is the Ravine Vineyards on 34 acres with 19 acres under vines. Owned by the same family since 1867, it is an organic vineyard with responsible and sustainable vineyard management. We noticed there are no windmills and no bird bangers on site indicating the St. David Bench area has adequate air flow for the vines to flourish. There were still Riesling and some Cabernet Franc on the vines telling us the relatively long growing season allows the opportunity to manage the vines for hand harvesting under the best possible condition. At the characteristic tasting room, we had the opportunity to taste some of the signature lineup and were impressed.IMG_5394

 

IMG_5391Ravine Vineyards’  wines:

2011 Cabernet Franc: Medium-bodies with lots of red fruits and well- structured tannins.

2011 Meritage: More refined and nicely-structured with a well-balanced effort.IMG_5392

We also tasted both the 2010 and 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon where the different vintages offering slightly different intrigue and taste profile. The lineups for the white wine are also well-represented.

2011 Riesling: Good acidity and deliciously loaded with bright fruit.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc: Packs in a lot of melon and grape fruit aroma, a beautiful patio sipper.

2011 Chardonnay: Well-crafted and has a lot to offer in the finish. This is a nice Chardonnay to represent this region.

2011 Gewurztraminer: Floral and beautiful bouquet with reserved sweetness.

Vidal and Cabernet Franc ice wines:  True expression of the Niagara-On-the-Lake region ice wines that fills the mouth with sensational fruity sweetness and peach nectar that lingers on the palate.

Followed by lunch in their adjacent award winning Ravine Restaurant where European trained chef Paul Harber showcased his craftsmanship. We had more wines to go along with our unpretentious but divine dishes recommended by the very knowledgeable serving staff.

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In the afternoon, we arrived at 125-acre Reif Estate Winery set along the picturesque Niagara Parkway. Reif has established at the very same location since 1977 with the 1st vintage in 1982. The proprietor packs over 300 years of European winemaking experience within the family. The vineyard has drain pipes to channel away moisture to induce stress on the vines which results in more vigorous growth. Being close to the river, the site has 7 windmills to drive the cool air away.

IMG_5405The vineyard management philosophy strives on innovation and sustainability. After a tour of the facility with Klaus Reif, we were led to the well-designed tasting room for a Food & Wine Sensory Experience. Instead of straight forward wine tasting, a wine and cheese session was offered to educate us on the finer details of wine appreciation. Different wine glasses were used and different local cheeses were presented to enhance the appreciation of the wines. The exercise was to showcase; with proper stemware, food flavour and texture to evoke the senses; the joy of embracing the wine appreciation experience.

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Reif Estate Winery’s wines:

2010 White Meritage is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon under cool fermentation to maintain the bright fruit and acidity level. The Meritage served in aromatic glass was paired with a semi-soft cheese from Five Brothers cheese Farm.

2010 Chardonnay Reserve served in balloon glasses were from old vines planted in 1981 with 18 months in French and American oak to give it the luxurious buttery feel and baked apple aroma. This is paired with hand-crafted cheese from the Upper Canada Cheese Company.

The 2010 Merlot Reserve served in magnum glass was fermented on its skin for 12 days and aged in French and American barrels for 12 months rendering lots of plum and dark cherries upon entry that ends with a smooth lengthy finish. This Merlot was paired with old-fashioned cheddar from the Thornloe Cheese Company.

The 2012 Vidal Icewine served in dessert glass was from 26 years old vines and carried a lot of peach and apricot flavour with balanced sweetness and acidity. This dessert wine was paired with an earthy and salty cow’s milk semi-soft blue cheese from Thornloe Cheese Company.

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Highlight of the evening was the dinner at Treadwell’s Farm to Table Cuisine. Local and in seasonal ingredients were the emphasis with all the local farms and producers listed on the menu to give diners a sense of what the Niagara farming community is all about.

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The next morning we woke up to semi-cloudy sky and cool air, rather windy at times. We headed for the Southbrook Vineyards on the main road where a modern, state-of-the-art building and the Gold Level LEED certified winery facility (in2008) greeted us.

IMG_5441The operation was moved from Richmond Hill in 2005 to its current location of 150 acres, but planting is limited to 63 acres to protect natural terroir which is vital to this first certified organic and biodynamic vineyard in Canada. Vineyard management include efforts to induce some resistance to strengthen the vines, applying various natural herbs and substances as pesticides; and the protection of the natural surroundings to enhance the ecosystem. About 13,000 cases are produced annually by observing low yield practices. Owner, Bill Redelmeier, was there to greet us and was gracious to explain his operation and management concepts in detail. His passion for the respect of the land and his expectation of supporting the neighbourhood businesses for the long term common good flowed across. Sitting in the airy and open tasting room, we tasted all three tiers of Southbrook wines crafted with different emphasis.

Southbrook Vineyards’ wines:

The Triomphe include the lineup of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose, Cabernet Merlot and a Red Blend. The 2012 Chardonnay is a cool climate Chardonnay with baked apple and melon aroma and a creamy mouth-feel. The 2011 Cabernet Franc has blueberry and cherries aroma with an earthy and luscious finish. The 2008 Cabernet Merlot is a well-balanced wine with enticing aroma of dark berries and plum. The entry is smooth with a lasting finish.

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The Poetica lineup is not produced every year as only the highest quality grapes harvested would qualify.

IMG_5444The Whimsy are small batches, premium, artisanal wines where winemakers were given the freedom to express their own feelings, passions, expertise and artistic inkling. Their signatures are in every bottle to represent Southbrook Vineyard’s philosophy and strong suit.

 

After lunch at the Inn on the Twenty in another story-like village of Jordan that reminded us so much of a colonial hotel with classic settings and elegant interior designs. With lunch we sampled a selection of wines from Cave Spring Cellars, our next destination.

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Cave Spring Cellars  locates just across street from the Inn. Established in 1986, it is truly a family business where the owners are active in the day to day operation. Now with 145 acres planted, production is in the range of 17,000 cases annually. The soil profile is mainly clay and sandstone with high limestone component that is especially good for Riesling. Old and new French, American and Hungarian medium toasted oak barrels are used in various combinations to enhance the profile of the wines.

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Cave Spring Cellar’s wines:

The VQA estate bottled 2011 Riesling is from 10 year old vines. Bright fruit and melon aroma, this Riesling is crisp and juicy. I like the 2011 Estate Chenin Blanc which is packed with sweetness, grape fruit aroma and minerality. The Pinot Noir is a cool climate Pinot Noir that is jammy and supple on the palate. The Cabernet Franc upkeeps the excellence taste profile of grapes from the Niagara Peninsula Escarpment. The 2008 Riesling Icewine is burst with honeydew and nectarine aroma and on the palate.

IMG_5471IMG_5482After thoughts: It was an amazing trip, an eye-opener that allowed us to witness and appreciate how different Niagara Wine Regions are from those of BC. In terms of the accomplishments and passions of the people in the wine business, we are totally impressed.  With over 17,000 acres planted, Ontario wine regions are growing at a rapid pace. Even though the number of wineries is lower than British Columbia’s 250, the Ontario wineries count of over 140 is expanding with a strong business model of producing quality VQA wines with international fame. We visited different portfolios of small family style operations, each with its own energy and character; and large established wineries with resources and hospitality to provide top-rate guest experiences. Such a short distance from Toronto, Niagara-On-The-Lake is so beautiful, so worth a stroll, if not a vacation. It is a must destination for wine oenophile but for those who are looking for simply a relaxing and pampered vacation, this is definitely a hidden gem.IMG_5322

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