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!

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