Exploring Local Wines

We're more than halfway through the LCBO's Go Local campaign, celebrating Ontario wines. In the words of Suresh, who's blogging for the LCBO:
goLOCAL is the largest annual promotion of Ontario wines, in partnership with the Wine Council of Ontario. It is an exciting period for anyone wishing to explore Ontario's culinary identity.
With this spirit in mind, I got a few friends together to try out three examples of Ontario wines to see how they stand up as "party wines".

The three wines we would be tasting were Diva Malbec-Merlot, Diva Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, and Aleksander Chambourcin; all from 2009, and all under $15 at the LCBO. The only grape that was completely unknown to me was the Chambourcin, so I was very excited to try that one. In order to test the wines in a party environment, there had to be, of course, food to nibble on. We had 4 different Ontario and Qu├ębec cheeses left over from my birthday party, Ontario blue grapes (Are these the same as Concords?), two kinds of Raincoast Crisps crackers, and some special chocolate.

A quick note about the munchies, as this is about the wine, after all. I'd never had blue grapes before and they were surprising, in a good way. You know that grape flavour in candy, like Jolly Ranchers, that you've always thought of as artificial? Well, it seems the candy makers are emulating the flavour of these little gems. When you pop one in your mouth, it immediately bursts with an intensely sweet grape-iness, that gives way to a tangy, pulpy centre similar in texture to a lychee. The only downsides are extracting the seeds from the thick centre and the skin is quite chewy. But you gotta try these.

Lesley Stowe's Raincoast Crisps, out of Richmond, BC, are thin, extra crispy "crackers' that are essentially thin slices of small-batch produced artisanal breads crisped up in the oven. We tried the fig and olive, and the salty date and almond flavours. The date and almond variety was a standout favourite, both on its own, and with cheese.

Seven weeks ago, a new chocolate shop opened on Roncesvalles, in the midst of construction chaos. The Chocolateria hand makes all of their chocolates, and offer a dizzying selection of delicious sounding confections. After about 20 minutes of oohing, ahing, and gnashing of teeth, we went with the Espresso Butter Crunch. I'm looking forward to returning to this shop and trying everything.

OK, onto the wines and how they played with others. We started with the Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc. None of us are really white wine fans, and sadly, this wine didn't convince us. Although the smell was almost honey sweet, the taste was full of that crisp, high acidity so characteristic of Ontario whites that I am not a fan of. If you do like that sour apple flavour, then you'd probably enjoy this wine. The acidity was tempered somewhat by the creaminess of the Eventural cheese, and not at all by the Niagara Gold. It definitely was not a good combo with the grapes. The tough, tannic skin of the fruit just flattened the wine right out. However, when I tasted it with the salted date crisp, just on it's own, it was much improved. The mildly melba toast flavour and salt gave enough umami to stand up to the acid. With this in mind, I think the wine would be best with rich, briney seafoods like oysters, mussels and clams, or maybe with pork - sausages, ham or proscuitto.

Unsurprisingly, my favourite of the three was the Malbec-Merlot. Both of these are big, fat, fruit forward red grapes that I enjoy immensely. There's a strong funk of old cheese, must and earth on the nose, but the black cherry notes and very dry finish make this an easy drinker that does well with or without food. The Niagrara Gold, flattened the character a bit, but on the plus side, alleviated the tannins on the finish. The Eventural heightened the sweetness, but the Blue Haze just overwhelmed with it's mold. In combination with the 5-year old cheddar, the wine became more plummy, with some bitterness on the side. Interestingly, the cheddar on the salty date crisp makes the wine take on an almost watery quality.

Finally, we moved to the Chambourcin. Straight out of the bottle, I got a whole whack of different notes on the nose: blackberry jam, tar, cigar, and acetone, which settles into a deep earthy smell after a few minutes in the glass. With all that going on, I had high expectations for the taste. I'm still not sure what to think of it, but my party-mates enjoyed it. Of the three, it was Alanna's favourite. On the tongue, I got sour cherries, wood and must. In retrospect, I would have tasted this second, as, after mouth punch of the Malbec-Merlot, the Chambourcin felt a bit flat. The cheddar brightened the sharp, sour cherry notes. Definitely the best combo of the night was this wine with the espresso butter crunch. The bitter notes of the espresso and dark chocolate added complexity to the wine. Even before this discovery, we realized this wine needs food that's rich and deep to bring out it's best qualities. We're thinking steak or duck would be fantastic with this.

The Go Local campaign runs until October 9, so Ontarians, head to your local LCBO and give one (or more) of the many featured wines a try. You can also check out Spotlight Toronto's 30 Days of Local Wine for more insights and information into Ontario wines and winemakers.


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