Cheers!

cheers

“Cheers!”

In my mind, this expression should be reserved solely for toasting. When used in different contexts, it has always bothered me for some reason.

Obviously, in the UK, it is commonly used as a way of saying “Thanks”, or even “Goodbye”. But in North America, there are very few situations where “Cheers” seems natural. Unless you are British and/or you have just served me a drink and are using it synonymously with “Enjoy”, it just seems contrived and pretentious somehow.

I am clearly not alone in this sentiment. One blogger on the interwebs went on a bit of a tirade on the matter in 2007. I didn’t even make it through all the comments – half the commenters whole-heartedly agreed, while the other half accused him of being too pedantic or xenophobic.

From what I gather, this expression started gaining popularity on this side of the Atlantic in the early 2000s. All of a sudden, everyone was saying “Cheers” the British way. In bars, servers would say Cheers as a way of saying “Here you go – enjoy!” In those days I attributed this sudden appearance of the expression to the fact that I just hadn’t been frequenting bars much before that point, but now I see that its use outside of drinking establishments was also quickly spreading across the continent. Instead of saying “thanks” or even in some cases “you’re welcome,” people were using the dreaded term. Why don’t you just call me a wanker before hopping into a lorry!? What’s even worse is that these days, you see more and more people signing emails with “Cheers” as a valediction (i.e. closing or farewell) – even in business emails, which I find particularly inappropriate. Even this British blogger agrees: “Americans could use it in English pubs, but should avoid the other situations as it sounds wrong with an American accent. Sorry!”

Not surprisingly, this practice is rampant in the wine business. There are so many wine bloggers who conclude their posts with the telltale sign-off that even in that context (i.e. its original context) it feels like it’s beginning to lose meaning. I’m finding it all very problematic, since I’m often tempted to use it in this blog, but again, it seems pretentious and now so unoriginal.

All this to say, I will say “Cheers” when raising a glass with friends, but I think the English language already has plenty of excellent expressions for giving thanks, wishing enjoyment, or saying goodbye without having to resort to slang from across the pond.

But enough whining, on to wining!

This week’s discovery was the Tessellae Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (or “GSM” in the wine world). Prominently featured in the most recent Food & Drink magazine (page 33, if you have a copy at home), this $17 bottle is being advertised as an excellent value wine. And I have to agree! GSMs are one of my favourites. While this popular blend generally hails from the Côtes du Rhône region in the southeast of France, this particular bottle is from the Côtes de Roussillon appellation, which is further west.

Roussillon

Side note: I took the liberty of highlighting the town where I was born!

GSMs tend to be medium bodied with fruity characteristics (i.e. dark cherry, raspberry) and a bit of spice from the syrah (aka shiraz) grape. The most famous (and expensive) example of this type of wine is probably Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The GSM blend is an excellent, often food-friendly wine that most people will enjoy. As a result, it’s one of my go-to’s as a hostess gift when going to dinner parties where I don’t know what will be served.

The Tessellae definitely fits the bill. It is indeed medium bodied, though the aromas are less in-your-face than your typical GSM. This wine is more delicate, with the aromas needing a bit of coaxing out of the bottle. As a result, open this bottle ahead of time so it has a chance to breathe. You still get the lovely fruity characteristics, such as cherry, raspberry and blueberry, but also some licorice and something slightly floral.

In terms of food pairing, this is not a heavy wine, so not something to serve with a juicy steak. It would be a good match for burgers or pizza. Remember, you never want your food to overpower your wine, or vice versa.

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Photo credit: The Husband

And on that note, instead of signing off with the dreaded word, I will simply say happy wining!

Music & Wine: A Brilliant Pairing

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”
John Keats

….and it doesn’t even have to be French wine (though my father would tell you differently)! But really, Keats is onto something here with the wine, nice weather and outdoor music.

I just got tickets to a music festival in town. It’s ridiculously overpriced and the two acts I want to see are playing at the same time. That said, there’s just something so great about seeing a band you like play live. It is such a thrill that seems to fill you with happiness. Just like drinking your favourite wine.

But what if you could do both at the same time?

I recently learned about a music festival called the Interstellar Rodeo. It attracts some pretty big names from the Canadian music scene, like Kathleen Edwards, Joel Plaskett, Hawksley Workman, Sarah McLachlan and Blue Rodeo. There are also some non-Canadian acts, such as St. Vincent, Vance Joy and Elle King.The concept is brilliant, and right up my alley: each musical act is paired with a different wine! What’s more, there are servers who actually bring the wine to your seat while you watch the show. How amazing is that?? Music festivals always provide excellent exposure to new or lesser-known artists. But this one also exposes audiences to new wines, encouraging them to branch out and try new wines.

What I like best is the description of each artist and the reason for the selected wine pairing. Sometimes it’s a question of the name of the wine or the image on the bottle, which is a perfect match (such as in the case of Vance Joy’s pairing of The Musician, an Australian shiraz-cab to match the Australian musicmaker). Other times the wine pairing was chosen because a certain quality in the wine was perfectly in line with the artist. For example, Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan is paired with the Charles Smith 2012 Eve Chardonnay. The wine pairer explains: “The wine delivers fresh fruit without excessive oak; much like McLachlan, it’s an honest, straightforward, heartfelt and playful take on a popular genre.”

Charles Smith Eve Chardonnay (paired with Sarah McLachlan)

Charles Smith
Eve Chardonnay
(paired with Sarah McLachlan)

Majella 2012 ‘The Musician’ Cab/Shiraz (paired with Vance Joy)

Majella 2012 ‘The Musician’ Cab/Shiraz
(paired with Vance Joy)

The Interstellar Rodeo takes place in July in Edmonton, AB and in August in Winnipeg, MB. Sounds like a great excuse to head to the Prairies!

When I looked into this concept a bit further I discovered that it is nothing new, and that these sort of events are being organized all over the world. Many wine regions, like Niagara, the Okanagan, and even random ones like Pennsylvania, often put on festivals that involve musical acts to draw in tourism and promote the region’s wines.  Sometimes an individual winery will put on a concert, piggy-backing on the artist’s following as an opportunity to showcase their wines. As an example, Jackson-Triggs in Niagara has an amphitheatre where it holds a summer concert series featuring some pretty great Canadian artists. In my research, I also discovered some larger events where the focus is the music, with wine and local cuisine as the side act. I notice that in almost all cases there is a growing presence of food trucks. Who doesn’t love food trucks?!?

Great shot of a concert at Mission Hill winery near Kelowna (Okanagan, BC). Source: The Calgary Herald

Great shot of a concert at Mission Hill winery near Kelowna (Okanagan, BC). Source: The Calgary Herald

Here is a list of just a few music and wine festivals in North America (in order of proximity to me!):

  • Classical in the Clos, By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery, Prince Edward County, Ontario
    • This small festival took place in August and featured small groups of classical musicians, with food by chef Jamie Kennedy. I’m sorry I missed it!
  • Niagara Wine Festival, Niagara, Ontario, September 12-27.
    • The focus is clearly on the wine, but there are musical acts each night of the weekend.
  • The Music City Food and Wine Festival, Nashville, Tennessee, September 19/20
    • Chefs present their signature dishes, with live music curated by Kings of Leon!
  • Gruene Music and Wine Festival, New Braunfels, Texas, October 8-11
    • “A celebration of Texas, German and New World wines, specialty beer, food and handcrafted items.”
  • Las Vegas Wine and Music FestivalLas Vegas, Nevada, took place last June
    • “A unique festival that pairs wines with the music and promotes a mutual social experience,” this festival focuses mainly on classical music.

This list is by no means exhaustive and would be endless if it included events from all over the world. It makes me wish we had something like this in Ottawa (affectionately dubbed “the city that fun forgot”). But hey, if Edmonton and Winnipeg can do it, I have faith that our nation’s capital can get on the bandwagon too.

Have you ever been to a music and wine festival? Was it as great as I think it would be? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it!

Update: On a similar note, does music make wine taste better? If it does, then concerts with wine become an even better idea! Here’s a fun and interesting article from Vivino that explores different studies on the matter: http://www.vivino.com/news/can-music-make-wine-taste-better?15 

RIBS!

A match made in heaven - or so I thought.

A match made in heaven – or so I thought.

Sunday night, we came home from a day out on the boat, and upon exiting the vehicle were greeted with a heavenly aroma effusing throughout the neighbourhood. It smelled sweet, like fresh-baked maple donuts or cotton candy. We saw smoke emanating from our neighbours’ place and saw that they had their charcoal grill going. We went over to explore and they showed us what smelled so amazing: RIBS. They had been smoking them for five hours, and were just about ready.

They were nice enough to offer to bring some over since they had more than they needed. I was very excited because a) I never make ribs and b)I had a bottle of The Show Cabernet Sauvignon open and I figured this would make an excellent pairing.

THE FOOD

When the ribs arrived, we sat down and tasted them. Oh my gosh, they were AMAZING. Our minds were blown. The husband mentioned that if he weren’t already married to me, he’d propose to our neighbour John, that’s how good they were. The meat was super tender and flavourful, and slightly sweet with a punch of spiciness at the end.

THE WINE

The Show Cabernet Sauvignon* is a great bbq wine from Napa. Though cab sauvs are generally full-bodied wines, I’d say this one is more medium-full bodied. It’s very fruity and spicy on the nose, with evidence of oak (vanilla aromas). On the palate, this dry wine has notes of raspberry and plum, as well as some of the vanilla from the nose. Tannins are medium to high, and the alcohol took a while to dissipate. It’s a wine that should breathe before you drink it.

This is a great wine for barbecued steak, so with my simplified reasoning, I figured that ribs was close enough to steak for this to be a great match.

THE MATCH

I had taken a sip of the wine before dinner, and though we had opened the bottle the night before, it still tasted great. The ribs were so meaty that it took me a few minutes to get through just one. After finishing the first rib, I stopped to take a breather and savour the flavour explosion in my mouth. You know when the food is so good you forget about your wine? I cleaned off my hands and took a sip. It was not good. The wine seemed almost sour. Despite being a medium-to-full bodied wine, it did NOT even come close to standing up to the ribs. Plus the tannins really exacerbated the spiciness of the rib sauce, setting off the taste bud fire alarm. It was almost painful.

THE SOLUTION

Theoretically, smooth sweet whites are a typical pairing with spicy food. But I just wasn’t feeling it. I now wonder what would have happened had we simply chilled The Show. Would the slight tweak have helped cool our taste buds? I think a smoother red with less tannin, like a zinfandel, would also have worked.

However, we had none of these wines in the house and the LCBO was closed (why must all LCBOs close at 5 on Sundays? Why??)

The only thing left to do was dip into the beer we had in the fridge. And you know what? It was AWESOME. First, the fact that it was cold helped soothe the burning taste buds. Secondly, it had enough flavour to stand up to the ribs. Innis and Gunn to the rescue! If you’ve never tried this beer, I highly recommend it, and I’m not much of a beer drinker! It’s a Scottish craft beer that is aged in oak barrels, so of course I’m going to like it. It has many of the same oaky flavour components I love in oaked wines: vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and toffee. This perceived sweetness in the beer actually brought out the sweeter elements of the ribs. It was really a mutually beneficial pairing, with the wine complementing the food, and the food complementing the wine. A serendipitous evening, all in all!

Innis and Gunn saves the day!

Innis and Gunn saves the day!

*The Show, which can be found in the general listing section, is on sale at the LCBO until September 13. At $2 off a bottle, it’s a great time to try this wine! Perfect with steak off the bbq (not so great with ribs).

Pig Roast Pairings

Fellow wine lovers!

It has been a busy few weeks! Is it just me, or do busy work weeks lead to increased wine consumption? No? Just me? Oh well, at least it means I have a whole slew of wine insights for you.

Last weekend we headed down to southern Ontario to attend the husband’s cousin’s annual pig roast, in the thriving metropolis of Embro, ON. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when David told me to pack my jean skirt and cowboy hat, I got nervous. I began to expect the worst.

Besides the pig on a spit, it was a potluck. I used to love potlucks. In my student days, if there was free food, I was all over it. But now that my own cooking skills have improved and I am less desperate for food that I don’t have to cook or pay for, I am less interested in dishes of varying degrees of quality.

Even more importantly, if you don’t know what you’re going to be eating, how the heck do you pick out a wine to go with your meal??

As usual, this will have as much to do with your personal tastes as your budget. The first question is, red, white or maybe rosé? Since I knew the staple of the meal was going to be pork, I decided to eliminate red from the options. So that’s good, that only leaves 46% of LCBO wines to choose from!

If you’ve ever been to the LCBO with me, you’ll know that it’s not something I take lightly. Very rarely do I spend any less than 15 minutes in this fine establishment. I’m like a kid in a candy store, and I like to see what’s new, and what’s on sale, and what will go with my meal, and what will I feel like next Wednesday, and what would go with a sunny Saturday afternoon in the backyard, and are there any occasions coming up I need to buy wine for…etc. Needless to say, I could spend hours in there. Have I also mentioned that my decision-making skills are crap? This means that I tend to walk away from LCBO excursions with no less than 2 bottles each time. Which is great because the two-bottle paper bags they give you are fantastic as compost bin liners. You’re welcome.

So when we got to the LCBO Saturday evening, my husband, who knows me and my exasperating LCBO tendencies well, gave me a 5-minute time limit. My desicion-making abilities put to the test, I had to think quickly: something that pairs well with pork, that will go with most other foods that could potentially end up on the hillbilly potluck table and something that won’t take me half an hour to pick out.

That last bit made me park myself in front of a rosé promo section at the end of an aisle. There I found a bunch of rosés all in one place and I didn’t have to roam up and down all the country-based aisles in search of one I liked. Excellent time management, I thought! Especially since rosés account for less than 5% of the table wines in the LCBO general list. And as we already know, I love drinking rosés in the summer, since they go well with food and are easy to drink on their own as well.

I didn’t want anything too sweet, so that meant I was looking for a dry or even extra dry wine. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the LCBO’s sweetness codes found on the bin tags, here they are:

Source: LCBO

Source: LCBO

This sweetness criteria seemed to eliminate many of the rosés in the display. With time running out (I still had to get through the cash), I quickly selected a Spanish rosé made of one of my favourite grapes: garnacha. This dry wine was nice and light, yet had enough fruity flavour to stand up to most foods. For $12 a bottle, it was the perfect wine for a pig roast where most of the revelers were drinking Coors Light. Plus it was an excellent exercise in quick decision-making and self-restraint. I managed to limit my LCBO visit to less than five minutes AND left with only one bottle in my possession!

Gran Feudo rosé, perfect for any BYOC (bring your own chair and cooler) gathering.

Gran Feudo rosé, perfect for any BYOC (bring your own chair/cup/cooler) gathering.

IMG_4761

The pig-roasting contraption. I was very sorry to have missed the spit in action. Note my father-in-law in the background, caught red-handed at the dessert table.

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The food table

The dessert table, with beer backdrop.

The dessert table, with beer backdrop.