Celebrating Robbie Burns Day

This year I celebrated Robbie Burns Day at home with friends, haggis and of course whisky.  It was more of a celebration of Scotland than Robbie himself.  Not too long ago I toured around Scotland while tasting my way through as many distilleries as possible.  I quickly fell in love with the country.  The hospitable people, the beautiful country side and of course, the delicious food and drink made my trip unforgettable.

Exploring the town of Oban, Scotland in 2008.

So in celebration of Scotland my party and I started off the evening with a couple bottles of Innis & Gunn while I prepared dinner.  In proper tradition we ate haggis, purchased from a Toronto butcher Sausage Partners, with mashed rutabaga and braised brussel sprouts.

Haggis from the butcher.

After dinner I made something less traditional but delicious, oat bread puddings with peaches and cream.  I paired dessert with Auchentoshan 12 year old single malt whisky from the low lands.  Auchentoshan is triple distilled (Scotch whisky is usually only distilled twice).  This process gives the whisky a very clean and fruity taste.  The whisky exhibits malty aromas with orange rind, nectarine and a touch of honey.  It was the perfect pairing.

12 year old Auchentoshan, home made canned Niagara peaches in vanilla syrup, Oat bread puddings.

Oat Bread Puddings with Vanilla Peaches and Cream

1 stale baguette
1 egg
1 cup of oats
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of whipping cream
1 jar of peaches preserved in vanilla syrup

1. Cut the baguette into bite sized pieces.
2. In a large mixing bowl mix the baguette, oats, sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg and milk.
3. Allow the bread to soak up the wet ingredients.  If the bread is still dry, add more milk until the bread is wet, but there is no excess liquid in the mixing bowl.
4. Generously butter ramekins  (a muffin tin will work too).
5. Fill each ramekins with the bread mixture leaving 1/3 inch space at the top of the ramekins.
6. Bake in the oven at 350°C for approxiametly 20 minutes or until the bread puddings have risen and are golden on top.
7. Remove the puddings from the ramekins and plate.  Pour cream on the plate.  Top puddings with peaches.
8. Enjoy!

Serves 5.

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Ice Syrup

I was recently introduced to a new product called Ice Syrup, created by my old friend and long time Niagara-on-the-Lake grape grower, Steve Murzda.  Ice Syrup is essentially unfermented icewine juice.  The berries are left to freeze on the vine until the required -8°C temperatures set in.  The frozen grape clusters are harvested and pressed.  Rather than fermenting the juice to make alcoholic wine, the über sweet juice is concentrated further by evaporation.  Once bottled, the Ice Syrup is ready to use for a variety of culinary purposes.  Already, top chefs are endorsing Ice syrup.  Susur Lee  refers to Ice Syrup as “an exceptional and innovative Canadian product.”  Ice Syrup is available in two grape varieties; Vidal and Cabernet Franc.

Over the holidays I had the chance to get creative with Ice Syrup.  The results were delicious.  Here are my recipes and wine pairings:

Chicken Livre Pâté with Cabernet Franc Ice Syrup Currant Sauce
Pair with a good quality sparkling wine, or better yet, sparkling icewine.


340 g chicken livers
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup sliced shallots
1 thick bunch of fresh thyme
3 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 generous pinch ground nutmeg

1/2 cup of dried currants
1/3 cup of Cabernet Franc Ice Syrup
Fresh sprigs of rosemary


Soak currants in the Ice Syrup at least six hours before serving.

Rinse chicken livers; trim and pat dry. Set aside.

In large skillet, melt half of the butter over medium heat; fry shallots with the bunch of thyme, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to food processor or blender.

Add remaining butter to skillet; saute chicken livers over medium-high heat until browned but still slightly pink in center, about 5 minutes.  Add chicken livers to the food processor.  Discard thyme.  Return skillet to heat.  Add brandy, flambe, scrape the brandy and drippings into food processor.

Add cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg to liver mixture; puree, scraping down side occasionally, until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least four hours.

Cut the baguette into thin slices to make crostinis.  Bake in the oven at 250°C for approximately 20 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Turn slices over and bake until the other side is golden.

Arrange crostinis on a serving platter with the pâté and Cabernet Franc Ice Syrup and Currant Sauce.  Garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Vidal Ice Syrup Glazed Pork Tenderloin on Brussel Sprout Hash
Paired with 2003 Cave Spring Riesling. (Any good quality Niagara Riesling will work well with this dish.) 


1 pork tenderloin
1/3 cup Vidal Ice Syrup
2 cups of brussel sprouts
2 medium sized carrots
1 onion
2 medium white potatoes
2 slices of bacon
1/4 cup of chopped almonds
fresh thyme
3 king oyster mushrooms (optional)
salt and pepper to taste


Remove pork from the fridge.  Allow to come to room temperature.

Heat oven to 400°C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop bacon, onion, carrots and potatoes in equal sized pieces (1cm x 1cm). Evenly distribute on the baking sheet.  Season with thyme leaves.  Bake for 20 minutes stirring and turning over the hash occasionally.

Wash brussel sprouts, move any loose or yellow leaves.  Slice all brussell sprouts in half.  Add brussel sprouts and almonds to the hash mixture, coating the vegetables in bacon fat.

Season pork tenderloin with salt and pepper.  Place in baking dish. Pour the Vidal Ice Syrup on the tenderloin.  Bake in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on desired colour of the meat.  Continuously baste and turn the tenderloin with the Ice Syrup and juices in the roasting pan.

Slice the king oyster mushrooms in half and score the flat sides.  Sear the mushrooms in butter.

Remove the meat from the oven and baking dish once cooked. Allow the meat to rest 5 to 7 minutes on a cutting board.  Reserve the Ice Syrup liquid in the baking dish.

Remove hash from the oven. Season with salt and pepper.  Plate the hash.

Slice the tenderloin diagonally, place slices over the hash.  Garnish with the mushrooms.  Finish the plate with the reserved Vidal Ice Syrup glaze.


Chocolate Lava Cakes with Strawberries and Cabernet Franc Ice Syrup
Paired with Grand Marnier.  


5 tbsp butter
3.5 oz dark baking chocolate
2 extra large eggs
1 extra large egg yolk
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt

2 tbsp Cabernet Franc Ice Syrup, plus more to garnish
5 medium sized strawberries
1 orange


Melt the butter and chocolate together over a double-boiler. Stir to combine. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture is light yellow in color, and the sugar is dissolved. About 3 minutes.

Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Sift in the flour, cocoa, and salt. Fold in with a spatula until combined. Spoon into 4 buttered 5-oz ramekins, and tap on the table to settle any air bubbles. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Dice the strawberries into equal sized small pieces. Mix in a bowl with the Ice Syrup. Carve four orange twists. Reserve for garnish.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Bake for 15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Turn the cakes out on to plates.  Spoon strawberry and Ice Syrup mixture on to each cake.  Pour additional Ice Syrup over each cake.  Garnish with orange twists.

Posted in Canadian Wine, Dinner Parties, Icewine, Mushrooms | Leave a comment

Last Minute Sparklers

The celebration of the year 2012 begins tomorrow.  Most people will be popping bottles of bubbly.  Here are my quick recommendations for something affordable, classic and local.  Happy New Year to everyone!


The Affordable
NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Penèdes, Spain
$14.95 LCBO 00216960, 750ml

This wine packs in so much value!  Cava is made in the traditional method but with local Spanish grapes.  This wine has a pale straw colour and aromas of apple, peach, white grapefruit and toast. The palate is crisp, with some waxy and fruity flavours.  Pop a few bottles for New Year’s Day brunch.  It’s delicious straight up but is also great for sparkling cocktails such as the Mimosa and Poinsettia.

The Classic
NV Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rich, Champagne, France
$37.95 Vintages 00739904, 375ml

This 375ml bottle of Champagne is perfect for a romantic celebration for two! The Réserve Cuvée from Pol Roger is appropriately named “Rich”. The warm gold colour of the wine is highlighted with copper hues. The bouquet has prominent aromas of hazelnuts, coco and rustic crusty bread, followed by notes of strawberries and cream. The mouth feel is full and luscious but balanced with a backbone of acidity. Linger over a glass while watching snowflakes fall this winter.

The Local
NV 13th Street Cuvée Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada
$24.95 Vintages 00147504, 750ml

Elegant packaging from Niagara’s 13th Street Winery wraps up this festive sparkler. The clear bottle shows off the delicate salmon colour. The nose has distinct savoury aromas of a great Niagara rosé, a balance of sour red fruits such as cranberry and pomegranate mixed with herbal notes of pine and rosemary. The palate is crisp and dry with a vivacious mouse. This wine couldn’t be more suited for New Year festivities and the many hors d’oeuvres served throughout the celebration.

13th Street Brut Rose



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Chilean Carignan

Chile is known for many grape varieties.  Carignan is not one of them.  Over the past season, I’ve had the opportunity to taste three offerings at trade tastings.  I had been pleased with each wine.  The flavour profile is distinctly different from other Chilean red wines.  The Chilean carignans exhibited aromas of game and animal, purple flowers such as violets and dark savoury fruits.  There was a certain rusticity to the wines.  And on the palate they weren’t juicy, but more refined and structured.  These qualities I would consider more typical of “old world” wines, compared to the more approachable fruit forward and generally agreeable “new world” wines.

Carignan is an old grape variety originating from Spain, though it’s best know for it’s role in the south of France where it is most often used a blending component because of it’s high acid and tannin content.  It is rarely used for single varietal wines, and it often blended with softer grape varieties such as grenache and cinsault.  Over the last century it has been the most planted grape variety in France, areas of the Meditteranean and California, because of it’s work horse ability to produce high yields for ordinary wine.  The sea of  mediocre wine produced by carignan has encouraged some growers to rip out the vines in replacement with higher quality varieties.  In Chile, the examples I tasted were from single vineyards and very old vines (some close to 100 years old).  The estates growing carignan have taken the approach of quality over quantity.  These wines are worth seeking out for the wine drinker looking for something “new” and less ordinary.

The set up at The Wines of Chile luncheon at 99 Sudbury Place, Toronto, November 8th, 2011.

My excitement for Chilean Carignan was confirmed when Christopher Waters, founder and editor of Vines Magazine and host of the recent Wines of Chile luncheon, chose an example to pair with charred strip steak with salsa verde and king oyster mushrooms.  As Chris introduced the wine he noted that Carignan wines bring new life to the Chilean wine scene.  They won’t be blockbuster wines that will stand out in the sea of Cab Sauvs and Merlots, but for a niche group of wine buyers and drinkers, these wine tell a new story of interest for those who choose to seek these hard to find wines.

The menu and wine pairings at the Toronto Wines of Chile Luncheon, November 8th, 2011.

To experience Chilean Carignan, try some of these examples (available through private wine agents in Ontario):
2009 Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan $17.95
2009 Undurraga T.H. Carignan, Maule Valley $29.98

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Celebrating The 2011 Harvest

After a labour intense harvest of fourteen plus hour days, little sleep and physical fatigue the best way to celebrate is with a party!  Glenn Symons, the proprietor of Lighthall Vineyards in Prince Edward County, did just that this past weekend.  I was invinted to attend having helped out with the Pinot Noir and Vidal crush.  The pre party began in the late afternoon with a small gathering to enjoy an assortment of cheeses and home made chacuterie paired with two very special bottles of wine.  A one ton bin with the lid on was used as the communal table as we shared the terrine de canard, rillet of lapin and chicken liver pâté with truffle salt and a selection of Quebec and French cheeses.  The wines Glen shared were a 1999 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or and a 1989 Château Guiraud.   The Vintage Champagne and Premier Cru Sauternes are certainly not everyday wines.  I was fortunate to participate in such a grand celebration.   Everyone indulging in the experience appreciated the unique experience.  Many sighs of enjoyment and comments or pairing suggestions could be heard as plates and bottles were passed around the table.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment of celebration in the warm November sun.

Chef Sebastian happily awaiting the grand wines to be opened.

Prince Edward County wild boar on a spit.

Once the first course was over the big celebration began.  More bottles were opened.  The giant spit bbq was fired up to warm up the 100lb wild boar that had been slaughtered at the farm the a couple days before and left to marinate in a stainless steel tank of pinot noir bouquet garni. Chef Sebastien served up cups of local organic squash soup.  As the sun went down and a chill set in the air, a giant bonfire pit of pruned canes was lit.  More guests arrived; families, friends, local grape growers, vineyard workers and vitners, all happy to share in the celebration with food, drink and plenty of 2011 harvest stories.  Eventually the boar was carved and everyone gathered around the stand up “harvest table”, multiple one ton bins lined up in a row.  Once everyone’s bellies were full, lots of drink was enjoyed around the fire to stay warm long into the night. What a party.

Enjoying a glass of wine in the vineyard at sunset.

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2011 PEC Pinot Noir Crush

Now that I’m living in Toronto, I admit I miss living in wine country, close to the vines and wineries.  This time of year I was feeling additionally far away from the exciting hustle and bustle of harvest and crush.  Thankfully my good friends Glen and Dave at Lighthall Vineyards in Prince Edward County allowed me to stay with them on the farm for a few days to help out with the pinot noir crush.

Lighthall Vineyards is a new winery in The County.  Glen bought the vineyard 2008 to establish the small premium winery focused on chardonnay and pinot noir.  The vineyard has a longer history, it was one of the first vinifera plantings in The County and has produced some premium grapes and wines, including earlier vintages Huff Estates Sparkling.  Eight acres of pinot noir and chardonnay grow on the rocky, limestone rich County soils.

Rows of pinot noir and the stony soils at Lighthall Vineyards.

The pinot noir was scheduled to harvested October 7th 2011.  On the 6th Glen and I spent the day taking grape samples from the vineyard to check the brix, total acidy and pH, making sure all the equipment was ready for the next day, talking with other vitners about the 2011 crush and preparing a game plan.  Friday morning Dave and I were up at six am to get the picking crew together.  Dave was responsible for picking crew and driving the tractor during the harvest.  It was essential that the crew knew the importance of selecting only the best clusters, avoiding any that had developed botrytis from rains earlier that week or any under ripe clusters.  While Dave was busy out in the vineyard, Glen and I set up the crush pad.  The destemmer needed to be elevated onto blocks in order to fit a bin underneath to catch the berries, the glycol system needed some tweeking for the cooling plate and then we waited. It was very exciting when the first bin came in! The grapes looked great.  We quickly got to work weighing the grapes, and then bucket by bucket we put the grapes through the destemmer, eventually I had to climb in the bin the scoop the rest of the grapes out.  Once the first bin was unloaded and the grapes were destemmed, we lifted the second bin with  fork lift over the cement fermenter to drain out the juice, and then lowered the bin enough to scoop the berries into the fermenter.  It was a very labour intense process.  By the time we had one bin destemmed and the berries in the fermenter, another bin of whole clusters were arriving on the crush pad to do it all again.  It was lots of fun sticky work that lasted well into the night.

Lighthall Winery. On the crush pad left to right, stainless steel tanks, press and destemmer.

A bin of hand harvested pinot noir waits on the scale to be destemmed.

After all the grapes had been harvested, destemmed and left to cold soak in the cement destemmer we rewarded ourselves with pizza and beer.  The wine still has a long journey until bottle.  In the meantime the 2009 Pinot Noir Réserve Particulière is available in the wine shop.  Here are my notes on this wine:

2009 Pinot Noir Réserve Particulière
Medium ruby colour with a definite purple hue. On the nose very pure aromas, loads of sour purple and black fruits such as blueberries, plums and boysenberries, integrated warm baking spices and hints of chalk and earth. On the palate, the wine is dry with adequate acid and fine tannin structure matched with savoury flavours of sour fruits, spice. Moderate alcohol and a lingering finish.  A classic County Pinot Noir.  Very good wine that would pair well with wild boar belly or medium rare duck breast with a black currant sauce.

Posted in Canadian Wine, Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County | 2 Comments

Canadian Tartiflette and Chardonnay

In an effort to eat more meatless meals (for environmental reasons), as well as to always embrace local produce and goods, I arranged a comfortable meal at home using a traditional French dish.  Tartiflette may be more easily recognized as a scalloped potato dish.  In France Tartiflette is finished with slices of Reblochon, an earthy, yeasty smelling cheese from Haute-Savoie.  The semi firm cheese has a natural rind and is suited as a table cheese or melting cheese.

Inspired by this French dish and the local Ontario produce in my kitchen, I went to purchase a few missing ingredients.  Instead of Reblochon, I chose to use the Quebec made cheese Oka with similar qualities to Reblochon.  And instead of a traditional mondeuse (only a very small amount of of this grape variety is grown in the area of Savoie) or a white Burgundy or Savagnin from the neighbouring wine region of Jura, I chose a local Chardonnay from Niagara.

The meal and pairing were a success!  Complete Canadian comfort food.  See the recipe and tasting notes below.

Canadian Tartiflette with Ontario Chardonnay.

8-10 medium sized Ontario white potatoes
1 Ontario cooking onion
1 cup of whipping cream
1 tsp (+) of nutmeg
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

4 hand fulls of Ontario green beans
2 tbsp olive oil
1 dollop of butter
cracked sea salt

Serves 4

1. Thinly slice the onion and sauté in olive oil until soft in a large frying pan.
2. Add thinly sliced potatoes.  Sauté until for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Evenly distribute half the potato onion mixture in the bottom of a baking dish 20cm x 20cm.
4. Season with salt, pepper and half the nutmeg. Add a few slices of Oka.
5. Layer the remaining potatoes and onions.
6. Season again, pour the cream over and finish with a generous layer of Oka.
7.  Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.  Finish under the broiler for a few minutes until the top is golden brown.
8. Let the dish rest while preparing the side.

1. Boil the beans in salted water for one to two minutes.
2. Drain, the beans and return to skillet with melted butter and olive oil.
3. Toss and warm through.
4. Season with sea salt.

Pairing: 2009 Lailey, Canadian Oaked Chardonnay, Niagara On The Lake, ON

Tasting Notes:
Clear light gold colour. Medium expression. Aromas of oak, butter, caramel, Bartlett pears. Highlighted by nuances of babies breath and flint. Bold flavours of spice, lemon rind, melted butter and stone are supported by ample alcohol and acidity. It’s delicious. I’m happy I decanted it to get the most out of this well made wine.

Posted in Canadian Wine, Chardonnay, Dinner Parties, Niagara Peninsula | 2 Comments