Tuesday, 26 May 2015

2015 New Festival of WInes: Saturday Grand Tasting

Glittering evenings of wine, food and enchantment seem too good to be true. They transport you from the ordinary days of life and bring your sense to a higher level. Times like that are almost celebrated if they happen once, let alone twice in a row.

But that’s exactly how my weekend went; a truly sumptuous feast for the senses.

And it’s all thanks to the New Festival of Wines, an annual event of wine, food and good taste all wrapped into two evenings in the heart of Charlottetown, PEI. On Friday night I was introduced to the Wines of Spain and tasted my way through a series of wines in the seemingly endless variety of over 250 on show.

With Hot 105.5 pumping the tunes and getting the energy ready with the perfect mix for a Saturday night party and stopping off at their photo station to take a pre-wine selfie with my night’s best friend (see the glass?), things were, as they say, “ready to roll”.

I believe my lucky number of the night was certainly 49, because Treasury Wine Estates lived up to their name and brought a trove of incredible wines, two of which stole my heart immediately and held onto it for the rest of the night. Being the importer of one of my personal favorite wines, 19 Crimes, they presented a whole new roster that I hadn’t yet experienced!

First was Penfolds Grandfather Port, having been named the top wine producer in Australia for 2014, it’s no surprise that the only way I can describe this Port is to say that it’s the closest thing we mortals will taste compared to mythology’s nectar of the gods. Penfolds is characterized by their excellence and dedication to providing outstanding wines. From my experience with their Shiraz I can say that this is true. The slight nuttiness and warm spices that enveloped me with the characteristic sweetness of port, made this much less a simple wine and more so an event in a glass. Something that’s absolutely not to be missed.

The second wine caught my eye by its’ label, contrasting and mysterious, Angel of the Abyss is a combination of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon that hails from South Australia. A deep and seductive crimson, it wakes the senses with its’ multidimensional nature. Displaying clear notes of dark fruits, it opens up to gentle spice and a kiss of oak. Smooth and substantial in feel, Angel of the Abyss is another reason why I love Australian wines by nature.

Of course, wherever there is fine wine, cheese is not far to follow and there’s no finer cheese on Prince Edward Island than that which comes from our own Cows Creamery. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at all the awards their Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar has won and listen to their fans rave on about their Applewood Smoked and Aged Cheddars. It’s all about pleasing the public and there’s no time or measure that Cows won’t go to, to make sure their cheese is the very best. That dedication comes through in every bite and played as a compliment to some of the finest wine the world has to offer.

One of the Wine Festival’s big winners and top rated with a score of 90+, Numanthia is a Tinta de Toro that’s ripe with the depth of blackberries and displaying complex notes of toasty chocolate it wraps you into its’ textures and solid tannis. The prowess of Spanish wines is eloquently displayed in Numanthia’s all embracing flavors, which makes it a staple in the vast library of wines offered by this expressive region.

Saturday night’s featured food was a selection by the Redwater Rustic Grille’s gifted executive Chef Jane Crawford. Part magician and part artist, she whipped a creative menu of tapas inspired by the street foods of Spain. Of course, it had an entirely gourmet twist, because nothing but the best seems to come naturally to Jane. As complex as a fine glass of wine and perfect when standing right next to some of the most robust wines in the world, Chef Jane has done it again.

PEI Lamb Sausage with Triple Crunch Cumin Beet Relish was the first thing I sampled. Tender, spicy, sweet and everything you love about food with a little extra awesomeness on top. When I’ve come to expect excellence from a Chef, sometimes it’s hard to be amazed, but Jane never ceases to do so.

Mind = Blown

Her Papa Bravas which translates to really delicious potato wedges gone gourmet for us laymen, continued the theme of sweet and spicy. With a creamy, cool aioli meeting an unexpected honey chili drizzle, Chef Jane’s artistry with food was once again able to bring my taste buds to their proverbial knees. I doubt I’ll ever be able to eat potatoes without honey and chili ever again… Thankfully!

Continuing to feed my inner carnivore, Chef Jane served up juicy Duck Meatballs with a date and almond glaze and garnished with chopped almonds. I’m personally a fan of duck, but never would have imagined how the nuttiness of almonds could match so nicely with the delicately sweet nature of duck. Along with her melt in your mouth chicken and beef cilantro aioli kabobs, they’re all masterpieces of the evening.

And what for dessert? Churro bites with cinnamon sugar, salted caramel and chocolate pearls, of course! Naughty has never been quite so good and taste so sweet either. These little mosels of deliciousness could be described as miniature donuts made for epicureans, drizzled with decadent caramel and made playful by crunchy chocolate pearls.

Once again, Chef Jane has out done herself, she achieves flavor nirvana as usual, because with Jane, stuff like nirvana is just business as usual.

The Faustino I Gran Reserva was a crowd pleasing Spanish Roja Tempranillo and it enchanted me as well, with it’s earthy nature and warm berry tasting notes. Floral in its’ presence and elegant on the palate, this smooth drinking wine starts powerfully but eases into a comfortably gentle wine as it lingers. It’s no wonder this red had such a broad appeal, it’s quite impressive for an easy-drinking wine and would make the perfect center piece at any meal with discerning and diverse wine drinkers.

Making a return appearance this year at the Festival was another famous festival…I’m talking about the PEI International Shellfish Festival, of course. A lively time of maritime music, and obviously some of the best seafood in the world! They brought along a slew of Island oysters to shuck out for guests to pair with all the white wine their hearts desired. Only thing better than fresh oysters with white wine is a whole festival dedicated to the food that has been a part of Island culture since…forever.

As for me, I’m not quite ready to get shucked in…yet. Even when such a friendly face is the one doing said shucking. They’ve been hunting me down for a couple years now. But who knows, maybe this year’s Shellfish Festival will be the monumental moment when I taste my first oyster and get completely addicted!

Dairy Farmers of Canada brought a spread of cheese perfect for wine tasting! Putting all the best our daily farmers have to offer with ripe, aged, classic and classy cheeses. Canadian milk is perfect in every cheese which can make us proud, especially as Islanders of our Farmers who take pride in their hand in creating these elegant cheeses. Especially that spiced Havarti which is uniquely entertaining with a dry red wine, in my humble opinion.

Of course, not everything was coming up Spain and Australia, there were some other wines closer to home that struck me as well. Especially Geyser Peak, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California that happens to be the equivalent of a worldly, fascinating man. Beautiful, with a jewel like garnet hue, the aromas of espresso, herbs and a slightly sweet nuttiness greet your glass. Deep and gentle, dark cherry, vibrant blue berries and spice are the foremost notes in this Cab Sav with a hint of mocha on the finish.

Sound complex? Good! It is. Just take a look at my photographer hanging out in the Property Guy’s photo booth with her glass and try not to feel too jealous!

Making one last international stop on my visit around the wines of the world, I stopped in France to taste the Gerard Bertrand Tautavel, a Grenache that offers a juicy, luscious body that offers notes of blueberry and cocoa all in one smooth feeling wine. An excellent value for a full-bodied French wine that boasts the complexity of both savory and sweet notes.

And so I say cheers to another amazing duo of Wine Festivals and look forward to next year’s, anticipating the bounty of wines and new collection of deliciously refined memories.

Looks like these happy festival-goers are toasting to another year too!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

2015 New Festival of Wines: Friday Grand Tasting

Last year, I discovered two magical evenings, that with their potency of awesome were able to leave me counting the days down on my calendar until their return. And last night, my wait was over, as the New Festival of Wines brought their boundless selection of fine wines and some delicious treats to the East Link Center. The first Grand Tasting of the weekend, my senses were overloaded with the sheer magic of wine and the passion of the growers and vendors.

Prepare yourself for the best kind of wonder and awe, the room is alive with the kind of excitement and happiness that can only come from a throng of people having the perfect evening. I was obviously one those enchanted festival-goers, filled with the anticipation of discovery. And the things I discovered! That familiar wine glass of opportunity in my hand an guide of over 250 wines as my companion, I was ready to taste a world of wine all in one incredible space.

It was difficult to pick out which wines I should start with, so this year I took a stroll at the Festival's Boutique to get some sage advice. There I found the PEI LCC's own experts, who had not only sampled each wine, but rated them and took notes so that they could recommend exactly what a guest's palate was yearning for. I got some incredible suggestions which lead me to my very first discovery, a wine of Spain, this year's featured region!

Buried Hope Tempranillo, a seductively warm wine with notes of spice and heat that envelop you from the first sip followed by hints of herbs that are a personal favorite of mine. Its' beautiful, rich color is accented by fruity and toasty aromas that make this a heady offering which set the bar for the entire evening. Experiencing it's significant mouth feel and presence, I felt well introduced to Spain's wines and was left wanting to understand it's complex blends even deeper. Good thing variety isn't a problem here!

My first sweet stop was at the S&S Sweet Creations booth to meet Nancy Morten, the one woman baking wonder behind this detectible shop! With an array of her sweets, it was nearly impossible not to stay at Nancy's table all evening, eating cupcakes, cake truffles and so much more. She's the kind of creative genius that sugar needs to thank for taking it to a higher level. And her sweets took me to a higher level of cakey enlightenment too.

Starting off with a couple of cute mini cupcakes, the double chocolate was rich and sinfully good while the red velvet had a deep cocoa flavor that made it go perfectly with the smooth, balanced cream cheese icing. Can I get a yum? Definitely. It tasted like more and that's exactly what I had... The strawberry cheesecake minis were classically satisfying with a playful strawberry swirl and sweet graham crust. While the chocolate covered strawberry was fantastic and there were some playfully flavored macaron with chocolate, coconut and caramel!

My favorite of these? The Strawberry Shortcake Truffle. A divine creation of impossibly moist shortcake with sweet strawberries and enrobed in thick white chocolate. I swear, if Heaven were to rain anything at all down on me, I want it to be these cake truffles. I savored every. single. bite. I think we're all going to have to watch out, because these are going to be the next big thing in decadence. Honestly, I couldn't help sneaking another one of these before I left, but this time in the white chocolate red velvet variety. Yum~

And after all those sweets, I needed a little something to chase them. And what better than, you guessed it, white wine? Still in the spirit of Spanish Wines, I found a truly amazing Tempranillo. Now, I know what you're thinking, these grapes are used for red wine. Which is true, but in Pago Del Vicario Bianco del Tempranillo, the grapes go naked in this amazing white wine! With their skins peels away, a crystal wine is revealed that displays vibrant and lively semisweet citrus flavors. This special wine is sure to impress with it's presence, flavor and sheer convention defying color.

One of the fun features of the Wine Festival is hopping from variety to variety and so I decide that my next stop would be to a delicious, Australian red that was recommended to me by one the Boutique guides. Angus the Bull is a Cabernet Sauvignon that is deep, rich and complex. The kind of wine that you picture sipping while having some deep conversation. With chocolate, smoke and oak notes, all you intense wine drinkers are going to want to pick up a bottle of Angus The Bull.

Again this year, Liquid Gold is at the Wine Festival, celebrating not just their olive oil and fine food, but of course, the other amazing culinary treat grapes can create... Balsamic Vinegar! Bringing out a selection of their flavorful, pure olive oils and vinegars, Tiara expertly paired them for tasting and even prepared a refreshing sparkling water that I couldn't get enough of! There's truly no limit to what you can do with Liquid Gold's impressive selection of oils and vinegars. Food, drinks, beauty and health. They have it all!

Of course, I can't go without mentioning the yum-tastic (yes, I made that up) food that was hosted by Chef Andrew Smith from Red Shores' Top of the Part Restaurant! Always a favorite, you know I can't keep myself away from his creative and delicious locally fueled fare. A menu of finger foods made to pair with many varieties of the night's wines or even on their own, I couldn't get enough!

The Smoked Fish Arancini with Citrus Beurre Blanc were rich in flavor and yet accented by the bright citrus of the creamy beurre blanc. A tender and creamy risotto interior with a crispy exterior, these made the perfect hor dourves and are superb when paired with sparkling wines and dry whites. Along with these was Bourbon Chicken Paté Crustini with Current Jelly and Candied Pistachios. A sweet and savory delicacy for refined palates, it was a blend of flavors that lent nicely to all of the higher-class wines.

Then there was my new favorite soup ever! Chef Andrew's Corn Soup Shooters with Chive Creme Fraiche are so amazing! Creamy, smokey, sweet and more! The perfect texture with a kick of spicy attitude made it so irresistible! Forget the little shooters, just fill up my entire glass! This modern twist on a classic Island favorite was sweet and savory perfected!

On the sweet side, Chef Andrew offered Chocolate Dessert Cups Filled with Raspberry Cheesecake Filling. Divine little cups of delight with velvety raspberry cheesecake and a raspberry on top, nestled in a semisweet chocolate dessert cup. The chocolate is just lovely with the sweet and tart nature of the raspberry and the creamy richness of the cheesecake and in my opinion it's a delightful match to the fruity Rossingnol wines conveniently located right next to the food station!

Speaking of Rossingnol, their Island wines are made from local sources and a personal favorite of mine. I've always loved their Liberty Blossom and Rose Hip liquors, but this year I decided to try something a little different. A sweet taste of the Island, I went for their Maple Wine! The maple is clear and refined and would make a dreamy finish to a mean or as a scrumptious interlude for friends over a pleasant chat.

Oh, and there was one more nibble that I just can't go without praising as I continue going on about the Festival. Glasgow Glen Farm was their with their remarkable artisan cheeses. Some of the very best you'll get on the Island, Jeff McCourt is the genius behind a variety of gouda cheeses that will make you into an instant fan. (I know I've already been a fan of Jeff for years now.) Last night he brought a thoroughly aged mustard pepper gouda, his classic creamy gouda and a new sheep's milk cheese that was impossibly creamy. Not only does Jeff serve up cheese, but at Glasgow Glen itself he serves up some of the finest foods and baked goods you can get your taste buds on! His pizza, bread and cinnamon rolls will make you swoon!

My last red wine of the night, I decided to go with an American offering, a delicious aged Zinfandel. St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel! A blend of vanilla and spice with a hint of strawberry, it was an exceptionally bodied wine that made a powerful impression on the palate. I adored from start to finish as the lingering flavors displayed even more spice. A complex and enticing wine; I adored every single sip.

To me there was another outstanding region of the evening and while Canadian wines aren't necessarily something unexpected, what was, was the wines of Nova Scotia. I've heard they were the up and coming vogue in Canadian wines, but to taste them for myself made me believe they've already arrived. Hanging out with the gentlemen from Benjamin Bridge, I tested not just a couple wines...but the entire table!

Dedicated to the creation of wines that are unique and adaptive to their province, the offerings of Benjamin Bridge are quintessentially Nova Scotian and characterize what makes maritime wines something to savor. A full line of white wines, all created to pair with the foods and lifestyle of Atlantic Canada, my first try was their famous Nova 7. Murmurings amongst circles of wine drinkers and tweets of admiration for this wine was actually what lead me to the Benjamin Bridge table.

With their passionate and charismatic representative, John Wayne Johnson, I was guided through each offering they have.

Nova 7 itself, has a fantastic story which I encourage you to read about on the Benjamin Bridge website. It's a bright wine, that has a touch of sparkle, making if festive, romantic and refreshing. Each year being unique, the 2014 vintage that I tasted was floral on the nose and a soft hue of pink, giving it a welcoming impression in both sight and scent. Tasting notes of citrus and tropical fruit give it an undeniably cheerful presence and elegant finish. Perfect for any occasion or to make anything into an occasion, it's safe to say that Nova 7 was a definite showstopper for me.

Their other three wines also display a purity and honesty that make them stand out to me. They taste like Nova Scotia and that's something that only Nova Socia wines can offer. They cannot be replicated and can only be experienced from this small but robust province. Pairing their Véro and Tidal Bay with seafood and beachy Summer weather is the way to fully take them in. But don't worry, there's enough crisp brightness in each bottle to send you on your own little vacation with each glass. And a true must try, which I feel could sister with Champagne is their Benjamin Bridge Brut, a truly elegant sparkling wine.

To top it all off, after I finished off my glass for the evening, I went over to the Van Houtte Coffee Station and got myself a nice cup of their dark roast. A perfect little addition after enjoying so many sumptuous wines~

Want to know the very best part?
...I'm going back this evening!