Eating my way through the Distillery District Christmas Market

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The holidays are just a license to eat and to buy treats for friends that we hope will share them with us.  Sunday’s sunny weather brought many people out to Toronto’s Distillery District to eat and drink to keep warm. There are only about two weeks left for the annual Christmas market.  If you’re going on the weekends, get there before 2:00 p.m. so that you can shop and then settle down in one of the many good restaurants for lunch and cocktails.

Montreal’s Wienstein and Gavino’s

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Being in Montreal for the holidays is always an occasion to discover a fresh place to eat. This year I was introduced to Wienstein and Gavino’s. A delightfully authentic Italian restaurant on Crescent at St. Catherine Sts.

A cavernous three-story space with a wrap around main-floor bar is grandiose with vast seating.

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Communal tables in the bar make for cozy group gatherings. There is a well-stocked wine bar next to the open kitchen and brick pizza oven is on the second floor. An intimate chef’s table is also available in front of the kitchen.  The main seating area is on the third floor with great views of the entire restaurant.

You are welcomed with complimentary warm loaf and olive oil and fresh basil.  The Italian menu features classic pizzas, pastas and mains that are honest and authentic.

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Specials are featured each evening includes a salad, a main and coffee or tea. I also like to have a bit of  green in my cocktails, in this case a pretty good mojito. A variety of traditional sauces such as Gigi (tomato sauce, cream, prosciutto, mushrooms, basil) Al Sole (Olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, butter, white wine, basil, cherry tomatoes) and Gamberi Macchiato (shrimp, garlic, chili peppers, butter, white wine, parsley, cherry tomatoes) are among list of fourteen that are on offer with your choice of pasta.

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Smoked salmon with penne is my comfort food.  The cream sauce is light and with a respectable portion of salmon.

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One of the featured pizzas is spinach, feta and red peppers. The thin crust is carefully done, crispy and thin and perfect from the oven.

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The desert menu, has classic Italian treats like Tiramisu, chocolate Nociola gelato or particularly rich chocolate cake with is accompanied by Nutella.

Wienstein and Gavino’s has a nice wine list, cocktails and drinks are reasonably priced. The wait staff are quick and attentive, water glasses filled regularly, meal arrived well time and still hot.  While this restaurant has great seating capacity, it’s best to make reservations for the evenings as every table was filled by 8:30 p.m.  W&G is as intimate for two as it is for a table of eight, there are enough options for everyone – all authentic and fresh.  Make your way there on your next visit to Montreal.   Bon appetit!

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Fresh Italian on the Patios at Pastizzia

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It’s time to catch up on my summer’s eating adventures.  We now find ourselves in September, but no matter how many weeks we believe we may or may not have left of outdoor eating, keep enjoying until you can’t.  Across the street from St. Lawrence market is Pastizzia with its great patios, yes, two patios and fresh modern Italian food.

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Cool and modern, it’s a nice respite from a morning of shopping.  The bar is spectacular in the evening for the 30 foot tall wine chandelier.  A private upstairs room is available for functions.

I opted for two appetizers so that I could capitalize on dessert. I started with the fresh and clean Barbabietole salad is red and yellow beets, pistachio mascarpone, arugula and lemon olive oil dressing. Beets are sweet and soft.  The pistachio mascarpone adds a texture to the overall salad.

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The Calamari Fritti is crispy and is accompanied by a sweet pepper & chill lime dip. Two small dishes on a hot afternoon is satisfying, because, well, dessert is always on my mind.

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The Caramella is a caramel and amaretto sticky toffee pudding topped with almond slivers and vanilla gelato. It’s everything you want on a plate for dessert.  The toffee pudding is a sponge of caramel soaked sweetness.  Nuts and gelato, well, you can never get enough.  A not to be missed item and you certainly don’t want to share any. Just sayin’.

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Lots of tables at both patios, but I would suggest reserving or getting there early.

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Challenge yourself, get to as many patios as you can, but certainly get to this one first! Bon appetit, friends!

For details click on map:

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Grapemasters, bringing the best Spanish grapes to Ontario winemakers

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I was happy to jump back into the spring season with a lively conversation about the making of Spanish wines with Certified Grand Master Winemaker, Charles Fajegenbaum, owner and consulting wine maker purple grapesfor Grapemasters.

Charles, who also runs Fermentations at 201 Danforth Avenue, has a loyal and steady clientele of wine connoisseurs and hobbyists. Recently, Charles announced that after many years of effort and research, fresh, frozen crushed grapes from Spain’s Catalonia area will be finally available in Ontario.

“People thought I was crazy going to Catalonia and shipping crushed frozen grapes back to Canada but I wanted to offer my clients with an opportunity to make their own wine with a higher calibre of grape than those trucked in from California’s wine regions,” says Charles.

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Joan Pujades (left) Charles Fajgenbaum (right)

In 2012, Charles met Joan Pujades, owner of Mas de la Caçadora in the Montsant Appellation in Catalonia. The two hit it off instantly and soon Charles was helping to hand-harvest 20 tonnes of some of Spain’s premium wine grapes, destined to be de-stemmed, crushed and frozen before being shipped back home, where they are held in freezers until required. The result is a product that rivals fresh grapes with the added benefit that the product is available to be made into wine at any time of the year.

The Montsant Region has a long winemaking history.  It is a region known for its perfect grape climate and family run vineyards and wineries.

Some of the wines: Sampled included two wines from Joan’s, Mas de la Caçadora winery.  The Rosa La Guapa Red,  a coupage of 90% Carignan, 5% Grenache Noire and 5% Merlot. Fermented in open oak barrels then, after it has been pressed, it is covered for a further 10 months.  Rosa La Guapa is an intense, full-bodied wine.

Quom of 40% Merlot, 25% Carignan, 25% Grenache Noire and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 9 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  It is lighter than a California Cabernet.  A lively and full-bodied with an intense red cherry color.

The third wine, Temperanillo from Grapemasters. A dry but fruity medium to full-bodied wine. A refreshing red that pairs well with many foods, however something a little piquant, like spicy sausage, or of course, a zesty Spanish cheese like Manchego is ideal.

A Grenache Noir Clos 2012 was also part of the tasting.  Grenache Noir forms the backbone of many fantastic wines, including Chateauneuf du Pape or is used as a complimentary blending grape with Syrah or Carignan, or even completely on its own where it typical flavors of cherry, currant and licorice show through.  It is far richer in character than typical California Grenache.

Charles has entered wines made from his Spanish must in various competitions and the feedback has been very encouraging.  In 2013, a Tempranillo/Merlot blend scored a bronze and a Grenache Blanc/Macabeo scored silver.  At the Ontario Provincial Competition in 2014, where 14 wines made with the frozen must took medals.

“No other ‘make-you-own-wine’ establishment is doing this,” says Charles.  “And my clients have welcomed the flexibility the must gives them in being able to make world-class wine at any time of the year.”

To understand Charles’ journey to getting the best frozen Spanish must, take a look at this short video:

“We have a great partner in Mas de la Cacadora, whose wines are also available in Canada through 30.50 Imports,” adds Charles.  “30.50 Imports distribute the Mas de la Caçadora offerings to the restaurant and hospitality industry in Ontario. This is another plus for our clients who know that our frozen Spanish must comes from the same vineyard whose wines are being sold to recognized establishments.”

So, if you’re a winemaker looking for a new product to make your own wine, or if you’d like to find out more about wine making but don’t know how or where to start, make your way to Fermentations.  Charles is the expert that you seek to answer all your questions and get you started.

Click on the image for more information on Grapemasters.

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On the Danforth? Try the Louis Cifer Brew Works

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A few weeks ago, I found myself on The Danforth on the cold Thursday night after the previous day’s impromptu snow storm. Cold and looking for a new restaurant to try, of course, I fumbled on the recently opened Louis Cifer Brew Works. An enormous two level space that was former home to a few restaurants over more than twenty years.

A brew house that has a big list of beverages and gastro-pub fare – a little something for everyone.   Their craft beer includes IPA (Indian Pale Ale), lager, blondes and hoptails.  The bar menu includes Bourbons, whiskies and tequila.

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Two levels make for lots of space to host events. With Steel Dan and Doobie Brothers playing, it wasn’t overly noisy that night, even though there was a party of about twenty people on the second level.  Enough quiet tables for couples and family friendly.

The jumbo wings from the Shareables menu were crispy but a little dry.  It probably would have been a good ideaa to ask for more blue cheese sauce, which is quite good, but not enough.  The Rosemary Fries are crispy and aromatic with the accompanyin roasted garlic aioli.

I always gravitate towards fish dishes, no matter where I am.  The Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon did not disappoint.  It is served with green beans and roasted potatoes over a sweet corn chowder. The chowder is rich and smooth complementing the fish.  It will be hard for me to visit Louis Cifer again and not order this dish.

Creme Brule, yes, another one of my go to desert on a wintry night! Sweet and creamy, I happily devoured ever spoonful

For a cold night, it was busy – lots of good-looking burgers, sandwiches and fish and chips have flown by me as I enjoyed my salmon.

Warm atmosphere, comforting food and enough craft brews to take you through the winter, are good reasons to go to get yourself to The Danforth.  Happy Eating!

Louis Cifer

 http://www.louisciferbrewworks.com/contact/

 

Summerlicious 2014 – Bodega French Restaurant

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Going to Bodega is kind of my own personal signal that summer has officially started.  For the past four years Bodega French Restaurant the first stop on my Summerlicious itinerary.   So why is Bodega my favourite?  Well, there’s a few things.

First, it’s in Baldwin Village on the very quiet and quaint Beverly St.  This wonderful little enclave of restaurants north of Dundas feels like a getaway from the usual downtown core. The interior of Bodega is cosy and is the popular spot for couples, but as I dine alone quite a bit, the patio is a great place for single dining and people watching.

Second, Bodega’s Summerlicious menu is one of the best values on the list of restaurants.  For an extra $3.00 to the Summerlicious $20.00 lunch menu you can get a glass of house wine.  An option I always take. The multigrain bread is homemade and served to you slightly warm, a great start with my glass of white. Rabbit terrine is a regular feature of the Summerlicious menu and a choice I look forward to every year.

The crispy skinned duck leg confit is savoury and tender.  The grilled Stealhead is a rustic dish of trout atop a bed of quinoa topped with mustard sauce. Third, the service is very attentive.  A very hard-working efficient wait staff make sure thatBodega Patio3 water glasses are refilled, orders arrive at the same time and are hot and well-timed.

I whiled away the afternoon with my wine watching the lunch crowd slowly leave.  I am firm believer that there’s always time in your life for traditional French food, don’t you? Enjoy the Summerlicious 2014 opportunity to try the menu because there are only a few days left.

http://www.bodegarestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

The Great Canadian Wine Match: BBQ Edition

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In May 2013, we launched the first People’s Choice Wine Awards with The Great Canadian Wine Match. Thousands of wine lovers from coast to coast (and around the planet) voted for their favourite Canadian wines online and via social the-great-canadian-wine-match-2013-lomedia.

This friendly (and increasingly social 😉 competition brought wine drinkers and wine makers together to celebrate the best of what we produce in this country, and garnered considerable media recognition for both nominees and winners.

We’re building on that success this year with The Great Canadian Wine Match: The BBQ Edition, pairing Canadian wines with your favourite grilled or barbecued foods, including grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. Get ready now for your Canada Day barbecue!

National Television Finals

This year nominations and voting for nominees will be done like last year, and open to anyone. The regional finalists in each food category will be judged blindly by wine lovers. The winners will then be announced on CTV’s Canada AM.

We’ve Got Prizes!

We’re also turning up the heat this year with prizes, including a Grand Prize of a Summit Series Weber Grill valued at $3,200, awarded by random draw of the 36 finalists. There will also be 25 runner-up prizes of Weber Grill cookbooks and BBQ utensils open to everyone who participates, and chosen by random draw.

What else is different this year?

There are six regional categories this year rather than just four: Western Canada, Niagara, Southwestern Ontario, Prince Edward County, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

How do I nominate a wine?

Go to the nomination wall for one of the six Canadian food categories: grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. Simply enter the name or product code of the wine. You can find product codes here. Once your nominated wine has been approved, you’ll receive an e-mail and can start voting right away.

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Who can nominate wines?

This is the people’s choice awards for wine, so you don’t have to be a wine expert to participate. As the people’s choice awards for Canadian wines, the competition takes a grassroots, “bottoms up” approach to get us rallying behind our favourite bottles from coast to coast.

You can nominate a wine from any province or region, and not just the one in which you live. Although the focus is on Canadian wines, you don’t have to be a Canadian resident to take part, as there are people around the world who love Canadian wines.

Which wines can be nominated?

The Great Canadian Wine Match is open to all wines made from 100% Canadian fruit that are vinified and bottled in Canada by a commercial winery. The wines must be available for sale to the public via at least one of the following outlets: retail stores, online, consignment, direct mail order and/or the winery in at least one Canadian province or territory between May 1, 2014 and May 1, 2015.

There are no restrictions on price, vintage, bottle size or style: red, white, rosé, sparkling, late harvest, dessert/icewine and fortified wines may be nominated.

Fruit wines and ciders are also eligible. These are wines made from fruit other than grapes such as apples, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cassis, etc.

Why should I nominate a wine?

Share your passion for Canadian wines with others by becoming a champion for one or more wines. Have fun tracking the votes for your wine daily, discover new food pairings for your wine and others, and enjoy some friendly regional rivalry with those who have nominated wines from other parts of the country.

If you’re a wine, food or lifestyle blogger, this is also a great way to get recognition for your site since your nomination will link to your profile, site and social media accounts.

As a winery or wine agency representative, why would I want my wine nominated?

Just getting your wine nominated will give you exposure on Canada’s largest wine web site, and provide a strong call to action for wine lovers to try your wine and become champions for it.

Bottle award decals will be available for all nominees and winners, indicating the food category in which the wine was featured i.e. Great Wine for Grilled Chicken.chicken 2

 

How are the winning wines selected?

Six Canadian wines in each of the six Canadian food pairing categories will be selected at the end of the nomination voting round on May TBD, 2014: one wine from Western Canada, one from Niagara, one from Southwestern Ontario, one from Prince Edward County, one from Quebec and one from Atlantic Canada, based on the most votes in each region.

So there will be a total of 36 wines in the finals, as no one wine can be a finalist in more than one category, nor can one person be a finalist in more than one category, though both can be nominees n multiple categories.

What’s the cost of entry?

It’s free to both to nominate and to vote for wines.

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How many times can a particular wine be nominated?

A wine can be nominated only once in each of the six categories: grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. The first person to nominate the wine in a category becomes the champion for that wine in that category.

The same wine can be nominated in all six categories.

When can I nominate a wine?

You may nominate a wine anytime until May TBD, 2014. It’s good to nominate your wine as early as you can to garner as many votes as possible during the voting period. However, it’s also still worth recognizing terrific wines with a nomination at any time.

How many wines may I nominate?

You can nominate one wine in each of the six Canadian food categories:grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. If you would like to see a second wine nominated in a particular category, encourage a friend to nominate it.

What if the wine I want to nominate isn’t listed on your web site?

You can submit new wines to be posted on the site. Once they are approved and posted on the site, you can then nominate them for the competition. Be sure you include a picture of the bottle when you submit it.

Other than picking the wine, is there anything else I should do?

Be sure you have your picture posted on your profile. This can be a traditional head shot, a graphic or avatar.

You may also want to say why you like the wine you’ve chosen on its review page. Find the wine, then click on its name. Beside the bottle shot, click on “Add My Review.”

This doesn’t have to be a formal tasting note and score. You can simply say why you like this wine with Canadian grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. However, this isn’t necessary to nominate a wine.

Wine, food and lifestyle bloggers may also want to blog about their choices to provide more background on their selections.

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How do I vote for a wine?

Click on the voting button in the top right corner of the box for the wine. You can vote for wines without nominating any wines.

How many times may I vote for a wine?

You can vote for a particular wine once a day in each category. So if one wine has been nominated in all six categories, you can vote for it each day in each of those six categories.

How many wines may I vote for each day?

Until May TBD, 2014, you can vote for as many wines as you like each day in each category, the only restriction being one vote for any particular wine in a category. The reason is that most of us like more than one wine with chicken or beef, so we should be able to reflect those choices and variety in our voting until we get to the finalist stage to pick the best wine in each category.

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How often are the voting results updated?

Votes are calculated in real-time: as soon as you vote for a wine, the total number of votes gets updated. If your vote tips the scales and enables the wine to move up in ranking on the wall, then it will also change position after you vote.

How do I get more votes for the wine(s) I nominate?

Encourage your friends to vote for your wine by sending them the link to the voting wall and share your votes on Twitter, Facebook and Google + daily. After you vote, you’ll see a box with the social media buttons: click on them to share your support for that wine. Use the hashtag #GCWM

Why those six Canadian food categories?

To launch this competition we wanted to focus on six of the most popular Canadian food categories for July 1 barbecues. Future competitions may expand the number of categories.

How do I choose the particular Canadian food pairing in a category?

As there are many ways to prepare each of the six Canadian food categories, we’ve provided tasty, wine-friendly recipes for Canadian grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef, vegetables and dessert. Experiment and have fun. When you make your selection, you can say what type of dish you paired with it.

May I submit a recipe?

Yes, you can submit a recipe as long as the ingredients for the six food categories are Canadian.

What about food from outside Canada?

This competition is focused exclusively on Canadian food. Future competitions may involve both international foods and wines.

How can I have more fun with this?

Organize an informal taste-off party with your friends, where each of you brings the bottle of your choice and you all try them. You can make it a potluck by making some of the suggested recipe pairings or your own.

When will the nomination results be announced?

The results of the nomination round will be announced on May TBD.

When do we vote for the finalists in each category?

Voting for the top six wines in each Canadian food category is from May TBD to June TBD. The vote tallies for each wine in the finalist round start at zero again.

How many times and wines may I vote for in the finalist round?

You may vote once a day for one wine in each of the six Canadian food categories.

How can I learn more about the finalist wines?

The champions for each of the finalist wines in each of the six categories will participate in a Google + video hangout dedicated to that particular category where they will debate the merits of their respective wines. I will act as the neutral moderator, as I will throughout this competition. (I won’t be nominating or voting for wines.)

How often are the voting results updated in the finalist round?

Votes are calculated in real-time: as soon as you vote for a wine, the total number of votes gets updated. If your vote tips the scales and enables the wine to move up in ranking on the wall, then it will also change position after you vote.

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When will the winners be announced?

Winners in each of the six categories will be announced June TBD on a national television show.

What makes this wine competition different from others?

Many traditional wine competitions are judged by experts, such as wine writers and sommeliers, who meet in one physical location on a specific date to taste the wines in isolation apart from food and then report their results when they finish. These play an important role in recognizing our best wines based on their technical merits.

This competition will be judged by wine drinkers themselves, online and over a 5-week period, within the context of the food pairings that these wines are usually consumed. Results will be tabulated in real-time and ongoing, with the full engagement of social media. This competition also recognizes and celebrates our best wines based on their appeal to wine drinkers themselves.

When will the next competition be held?

This competition will be held at the same time next year.

Questions or suggestions?

Please e-mail natdecants@nataliemaclean.com

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