Saturday, October 29, 2011

sip & Savour Ontario Wrap Up

That's it folks! After months of preparation, sip & Savour Ontario 2011 has come to an end. It's amazing how something that you can put so much time and energy into can fly by in a wink! After a week of recuperation and me time, I now owe you a little sip & Savour Ontario wrap up to fill you in on all of the excitement that took place from our Exclusive Blogger Preview Event, to the big event sip & Savour Ontario, and lastly the Ontario Wine Awards Niagara winery tour that was organized as a thank you for the Ontario Wine Awards (sip & Savour Ontario's partner) sponsors.

Prior to sip & Savour Ontario, an Exclusive Blogger Preview Event was held at Longo's stunning new Maple Leaf Square location in their beautiful Corks Beer and Wine Bar test kitchen and lounge. This preview event was set up exclusively for some of Ontario's influential food and wine bloggers to give them an opportunity to learn more about sip & Savour Ontario and learn firsthand from our talented hosts, renowned wine writer and Order of Canada recipient Tony Aspler and Longo's Chef David Ashlee, how to pair Ontario's VQA wines with local Ontario produce. The event began with a sparkling wine reception in the lounge where our bloggers got to greet and mingle with one another while sipping on Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée Rosé, the Sparkling Wine Award gold medal-winner at the 2011 Ontario Wine Awards. Guests were then ushered into the fully equipped test kitchen where Tony took over to talk a little about the history of sip & Savour Ontario and it's new partnership with Houselink Community Homes, an organization that provides a home, community, and opportunity for people living with mental illness. Houselink representative Brain Davis then took the stage to elaborate on Houselink, while Luke Bowden from Houselinke delivered a candid and moving speech about his own personal experience with mental illness and the significant role that Houselink played in helping to guide him to be in the place he is today. With mouths watering, David Ashlee eagerly began preparing the three dishes that he was pairing with our Ontario VQA wines that day, while providing the guests with helpful tips and tricks and Tony interjecting with notes on the wine. The menu and wine pairings were as follows:

First Course
Salmon Ceviche Green Tea Crepes Stuffed with Avocado Jicama and Wasabi
OWA Gold Medal Winner White Wine of the Year Château de Charmes 2008 'Old Vines' Riesling Estate Bottled

Second Course
Frenched Lambchops with Stuffed Grape Leaves in a Red Wine, Shallot Reduction
OWA Gold Medal Winner Cabernet Franc Award Kacaba 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve

Third Course
Chilled Cucumber Soup with Icewine Mascarpone Whip and Blue Cheese Shortbread Cookie
Konzelmann 2008 Vidal Special Select Late Harvest

Sure, I was expecting to taste some yummy food that day, but Chef Ashlee went above and beyond "yummy" with his absolutely delicious and expertly paired menu of unique, skillful, and local dishes. As each dish was served you could hear a chorus of satisfied "mmm's" around the room as the guests took their first bites. Coming from someone who was involved in making the Preview Event happen, I have to say that I was totally blown away by the execution and attention to detail that both Chef Ashlee and the Longo's team brought to the table that day. What a pleasant experience that was. I expect this won't be the last time we'll collaborate with them. We ended the event by sending off our guests with a bottle of Ontario VQA icewine and Ontario goat cheese provided by Longo's, and hopes that our bloggers would spread the word about sip & Savour Ontario and the importance of Houselink. For more photos of the Exclusive Blogger Preview Event click here!

Only a few weeks after our Exclusive Blogger Preview Event, the big event, sip & Savour Ontario was held at the unique space at Steam Whistle Brewery. The event featured 29 Ontario VQA award-winning wineries, with representatives each pouring numerous wines to give guests a true feel of the winery, terroir, and people behind the wine. Scattered about the space were stations set up by six of Ontario's top chefs who had created delectable local food pairings to go along with the wines being served. Click here to see the entire menu from the evening. An exciting addition to the event were two gourmet food trucks El Gastronomo Vagabundo and Cupcake Diner (the much anticipated Gorilla Cheese was sadly a mysterious no-show) to draw attention to and support Ontario's growing food truck movement. Throughout the evening guests were invited upstairs to take part in four live cooking demos presented by Maria Carino from Houselink, Chef Keith Bundock from As You Wish Catering, Chef Adam Hynam-Smith from El Gastronomo Vagabundo, and Chef David Ashlee from Longo's, with each demo paired with a specific wine being poured. With Houselink as our charitable partner, there was also a silent auction that was held throughout the event, giving guests the opportunity to bid on an array of exciting items, packages, and tours that were kindly donated to raise funds for Houselink. All in all the event was a wonderful success, drawing in a great crowd and raising awareness of Ontario's food and wine excellence and Houselink Community Homes. Click here to see more photos of the event!

To wrap up all of the excitement, a private Niagara winery tour, tasting, and luncheon was held for the Ontario Wine Award sponsors as a thank you for helping to make the awards possible, and, in turn, allowing sip & Savour Ontario to be possible. The informative tour began at Niagara Teaching Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake where we were taken into one of the beautiful tutorial rooms and got to taste the OWA Sparkling Wine Award gold medal-winner Peller Estates NV Ice Cuvée Rosé, a sparkling wine that is topped up with a dosage of Ontario icewine, giving the sweet drink a distinct and unique strawberry flavour. As we were taken into the vineyard, we learned all about the teaching program and just how hands-on the students are able to get in producing the wine. It was great to hear that the winery takes advantage of the unique opportunity that Ontario has to produce icewine, by allowing their students to take part in picking and producing icewine as well. Right in the midst of the harvest, it was so cool to be right in the action watching this years Cabernet Franc grapes get picked. To warm ourselves up from the vineyard, we headed back inside to taste a selection of Niagara Teaching College wines and then proceeded to the wineries Benchmark Restaurant to enjoy a delicious and comforting meal prepared and served by the students at the college. The menu and pairings were as follows:

Hand Cut Bitter Greens Salad with Scallion-Ginger Vinaigrette, Toasted Hazelnuts, Crumbled Smoked Bacon, and Caramelized Niagara Pears
NC Semi Dry Reisling 2009
Good Earth Rose 2009

Spinach and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Supreme with Sweet Potato Galette, Seasonal Vegetables, Caramelized Onions, and Red Wine Jus
NC Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Fielding Pinot Gris 2010
NC Cabernet Franc 2008
Les Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir 2008

From there, we hopped back onto the Niagara Air Bus and headed over to the stunning Tawse Estate Winery, where winemaker Paul Pender received the OWA 2011 Winemaker of the Year award for his hard work and creativity. We were taken inside to see the process in which the wine is aged in the steel vats and learned about the natural approach they take to their winemaking, utilizing the topography of the vineyard and estate to allow gravity to guide the wine within the facility. We then went down into the cellar where more wine was tasted and we were lucky enough to get to meet the man himself, Moray Tawse.

Tired, tipsy, and in need of a cozy blanket, the tour had come to an end, and proved to be a great treat and learning experience to top off this whole sip & Savour Ontario adventure! Thank you to everyone who helped to support sip & Savour Ontario! Your participation is helping to support the continued education and funding for Ontario's talented and passionate winemakers, farmers, and chefs as well as Houselink, an organization that I have come to have a great deal of respect for. This was such a wonderful learning experience for me and I can't wait to do it all again next year!

Listening To:
The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter.MP3

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