Book Reviews

Famous Last Words Toronto

September 12, 2017
The cocktail menu at Famous Last Words in Toronto.

Joining a book club was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It gives me the opportunity to read fascinating books I might otherwise have missed out on, the women in my group are amazing and on top of that, I discovered Famous Last Words — a book-themed bar in Toronto.  Famous Last Words takes reading seriously — their cocktail list is novella-sized and each drink is named after a well-known novel, their bar is made of Scrabble tiles and the book theme carries through all their decor. But for book clubs the best part might just be the signature cocktail they make when you reserve a table for your group discussion.

On our first visit, we had two books to discuss — Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which is about the power of creativity, and Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People, which is a dark and nuanced literary novel — and the bartender did not disappoint. For Big Magic we had a fun yellow cocktail that changed colours when you added bitters and for The Best Kind of People we had a custom take on a dark and stormy, both perfectly paired with the books. For the record, I got a lot from Big Magic (not everyone agreed) and if you’re a writer or artist, it’s worth checking out. And The Best Kind of People was a brilliant, twisty read that everyone agreed was well-written and interesting.

Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat GirlFor our recent visit, we had read Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was a book I found extremely powerful. It’s a literary novel about one woman’s struggles with her weight and the way it infuses every part of her life. For this one, the bartender made us a vodka-based take on a cleanse with lemon and a hint of habanero. It was spicy and tart and a pretty good compliment to a complex and compelling read.

Not a drinker? Famous Last Words has that covered in style — they have an extensive YA menu, featuring mocktails based on Young Adult classics. Our group loved The Hunger Games and it’s nice to see so much craft and care going into all the drinks available. We felt totally comfortable that those who choose not to have a cocktail would still have a great experience with us.

A "Cleanse" themed cocktail at Famous Last WordsFamous Last Words is worth seeking out whether you want to take your book club out on the town or just want to have casual drinks in a relaxed and unique atmosphere. They host events throughout the year and be sure to call ahead if you’re bringing a group and hoping for a custom concoction!

Planning a visit? They’re at 392 Pacific Avenue in Toronto.

Thanks to the amazing Amy who suggested this post. She’s a book club regular, a dance class bestie and a FODMAP expert – be sure to check out her site, The FODMAP Formula if that’s a diet you need to follow.

And, for the record, this is not a sponsored post. I just really like this bar and think you will too.

 

Food & Wine

Summer Wine Adventures

August 20, 2017
Chateau des Charmes Old Vines Riesling

How is it that August is more than half over? I feel like I’ve barely had a moment to really enjoy summer and it’s already starting to slip away. Looking back, though, there have been some pretty fabulous summer wine adventures over the last few months and I’m excited to share a few of those with you today!

B.C. Wine Time

Checkmate Little Pawn ChardonnayIt’s not easy getting B.C. wine in Ontario – especially not the best of the best, which is typically produced in lots too small for the LCBO to bring it in and far too expensive by the case to have it shipped to you. That’s why the recent Trailblazers & Terroir event in Toronto was such a treat. Four B.C. winemakers shared their stories – and their wines – in a structured tasting that featured some of the top B.C. wines. Many of them will be popping up in better restaurants soon and the opportunity to enjoy them by the glass is worth taking. My personal favourites were the Checkmate Winery 2014 Little Pawn Chardonnay with its cream, green apple and lemon on the nose and rich, creamy palate featuring notes of orange, vanilla and a hint of baking spice. I found the oak perfectly balanced and this would be a delicious food-pairing wine. I was also impressed by the aromatic and floral CedarCreek 2016 Platinum Viognier, which had big, bold flavours and would go very well with anything spicy.

Martin's Lane Pinot NoirFor the reds, it’s hard to choose. I loved the earthiness of the Martin’s Lane 2014 Pinot Noir, which would be a lovely wine to pair with anything mushroom-based. I also really enjoyed the CedarCreek 2013 “The Last Word” red blend, which features Merlot and Cabernet Franc with just a hint of Malbec. There was cherry, bramble and spice on the nose and a nice blend of earthy, spicy fruit on the palate.

Overall, I enjoyed all the wines featured in this tasting and will continue to be wistful in my hopes that B.C. wine becomes more available here one day.

Easy-Drinking Ontario

Coyote's Run Pinot NoirI had the opportunity to sample a number of Ontario wines recently and I’m happy to share that there are some great options available as we head into the fall. My personal favourite? The Chateau des Charmes 2014 “Old Vines” Riesling with petrol and pear on the nose and pear, green apple and just a hint of creaminess on the palate, this was eminently drinkable and an example of just how good Ontario Riesling can be.

I immediately wanted to try the Coyote’s Run 2016 Pinot Noir as soon as it arrived because I love Ontario Pinot. With its earthy nose featuring wet soil, black cherry and bacon this is a very food-friendly wine. It has lots of savoury notes that lends it well to mushroom-based dishes and hearty fall pastas. The Coyote’s Run 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is very typical of Sauv Blanc on the nose (fresh cut lawn, green apple, a few tropical fruit notes) and gooseberry and yellow apple on the palate. I found it a little acidic for my tastes, but Shawn enjoyed it.

Almanac White BlendWe were also able to sample the Grange of Prince Edward Almanac Red and Almanac White recently. These entry-level wines are an affordable introduction to PEC wine. The red blend is a little heavy on the Gamay for my tastes (not my favourite grape, I know, I know), but it’s well-made and easy-drinking. The white blend was more to my personal tastes and is a nice patio wine – perfect for late summer patio drinking.

Boxed Wine for the Win?

Bota Box Cabernet SauvignonRecently, the LCBO started stocking international boxed wines and that’s seen an overall improvement in quality that’s well-worth noting. Because it’s usually less expensive wine, it’s not always going to be a go-to for me, but I get that for some people cheap, sweet and hot are selling points (and I’m not kidding when I say that at all – I work with a few of them), so I wanted to highlight two I recently tried that were pretty decent. The Radio Boka boxed wine from Spain was actually quite enjoyable. For a party, it’s a great value and while it’s sweeter than I prefer, I think it would go over really well with a crowd that’s not as wine snobby as yours truly.

And Bota Box invited me to a truly fun event where I got to try a few glasses of their boxed Cabernet Sauvignon under the stars while enjoying BBQ and an outdoor viewing of The Princess Bride. It was a lot of fun and a reminder that you can still have a great evening with a picnic wine that might be a little sweeter and hotter than your palate prefers. I have recommended both of these boxes to friends whose tastes run in this direction and I don’t think they will disappoint.

What have you been sipping this summer? Do you have a favourite boxed wine? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social.

Food & Wine

Rosé All Day

July 28, 2017
2016 Seriously Cool Rosé

I was sitting next to two people at a restaurant recently and it was impossible not to overhear their conversation as they discussed their wine selection. “They have rosé – I love rosé!” Not surprisingly, they both got the rosé, while I sat there wondering what exactly they were expecting in that glass and whether it would live up to their expectations. They had asked the waiter about choosing their wine – no wine list was consulted – and rosé is not a varietal, so it was impossible to know if it would actually suit their tastes. It can be crisp and dry, sickly sweet, a balanced off-dry or anything in between.

I also love rosé, but I would have had A LOT more questions. My favourite rosé wines tend to be from the South of France. I love my pink wines very crisp and very dry. I love to pair them with light, summer dishes or to sit back on the patio with a glass of good rosé and a fun summer read. It’s my jam, as long as it’s not too sweet or, well, jammy.

Remy Pannier Rosé d’AnjouThat’s not to say I can’t enjoy a well-made off-dry (slightly sweeter) style – sometimes summer events just call for those. I recently tried the Remy Pannier Rosé d’Anjou at a tasting and was very impressed with this affordable French find ($15.20 at the LCBO). There was strawberry and lime on the nose and lots of sweet, candied strawberry on the palate. We tried this both at room temperature and chilled and while the nose was more muted when the wine was served at a lower temperature, I found the fruit much more vibrant. A pleasant sipper for those looking for a well-made and affordable off-dry option.

Ontario also has some pretty great options for rosé, although it’s always wise to ask questions about what’s going to be in your glass. Because, like with any region, there are going to be differences in quality, taste profile and brix level. Want a super sweet summer sipper? Girls Night Out has you covered. Want something more subtle? Let me help you out!

Two Sisters Vineyard 2016 RoséTwo Sisters Vineyard makes some on Ontario’s best wines – and that shows in their price points. If you’re looking for a bottle under $20, this is not the winery for you. That said, I consider their 2016 rosé well worth the money. With watermelon, cherry Lifesaver and a bit of citrus on the nose, this wine smells like summer. And with hints of watermelon, peach and strawberry on the palate, it tastes a bit like summer too. A well-made wine that will be perfect on your patio.

Another Ontario favourite in our house is Chateau des Charmes (CDC) and their always impressive collection of rosé wines. We received a sample of their 2014 Rosé sparkling wine, which is made in the traditional method with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, and Shawn liked it so much that he picked up a bottle for our anniversary in June. This is everything I love about pink bubbles – crisp, refreshing with notes of summer fruit on both the nose and palate. And given the quality – two years on lees, disgorged by hand – you’re getting a very well-made product at a very reasonable price ($29.95 at the LCBO). We expect to pop a lot more CDC corks this summer.

Chateau des Charmes 2014 Sparkling RoséLast year, we were all about CDC’s Rosé 2015 Cuvée D’Andrée, which is their estate grown and bottled still rosé, which is made from 100% Pinot Noir, so I was excited to check out the 2015 vintage. It didn’t disappoint. CDC has managed to make high-quality wines affordable and this easy-drinking pink sipper is perfect on the patio or on your dinner table paired with summer favourites like salmon or barbecue.

Ravine Vineyard’s 2015 Cabernet RoséRavine Vineyard’s 2015 Cabernet Rosé was a recent purchase after having it as part of the Sip and Sizzle Niagara pairings. This well-made, very balanced dry wine is 100% Cabernet Franc, so the flavour profile is slightly less fruit-forward, but there are still notes of strawberry and tart cherry to keep this summer-friendly. We enjoyed this with slightly-sweet chicken wings recently and were quite pleased with the pairing.

Southbrook Winery sent a sample of their 2016 Seriously Cool Rosé and Shawn and I were eager to check it out. The Seriously Cool range of wines provides a less expensive alternative to some of Southbrook’s higher-end and organic wines. They tend to be well-made and balanced at a price-point that the average consumer can easily afford. They also have one of the most eye-catching labels out there. Luckily, the wines tend to hold up, so you won’t walk out with a wine you chose for the label and end up disappointed in this case. Lots of strawberry and peach on the nose and palate for this easy-drinker, which, while dry, might come off a tad sweet for someone who likes a more austere rosé. Shawn and I both approved, though, as we enjoyed it alongside salmon burgers on our patio.

Whew! A lot of rosé in my glass recently and I’m sure there’s more to come as the summer progresses. Do you have a favourite pink wine? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social!

Upkeep Updates

Upkeep Updates: Summer Drinks Edition

July 9, 2017
Sipsmith Gin Cocktail

Summer is well underway and at my house we’ve been taking full advantage of the recent patio weather to enjoy lighter, easier-drinking wines on our balcony. I’ll follow this post with a rosé round-up, but for this one I thought I’d share some of the other summer sippers that have been filling our glasses as we soak up as much vitamin D as possible.

Fleur du Cap ChardonnayFleur du Cap 2015 Chardonnay – This is a fuller-bodied wine, but with notes of lemon, apple and baking spice. It was a delicious pairing for creamy pasta on the patio one recent evening and it’s a very affordable option if you like a heavier white to compliment your meal. We also enjoyed the opportunity to show off our Drink Guards—these easy-to-clean circles are a great way to keep your vino free of flies and other summer debris. Yep, a coaster would work too but these are fun and colourful and we’ve been using them frequently on the patio and at the cottage.

Sipsmith Gin CocktailSipsmith Gin – I love gin because this flavour-packed spirit is almost always perfect for light, summer cocktails. I had the chance to check out a new-to-Ontario London dry gin at the recent Sipsmith Gin event at The Drake Hotel. Founder Sam Galsworthy was a charming host to a fabulous night of cocktails and creative pairings for this authentic spirit whose team helped sway the British government to allow smaller pot stills and, thus, were at the forefront of a gin renaissance in London.

Sipsmith is made using traditional methods – no exotic botanicals or additives for this spirit – and Sam is extremely proud of that fact. It’s “gin made the way it should be,” he insists and he converted a number of fans to this smooth, mellow gin with notes of pine and citrus on the nose. A great option for cocktails and very enjoyable in a gin and tonic, this may not sway hardcore Hendrick’s drinkers, but it’s a pretty great option for classic gin cocktails – like the traditional gin martini.

Garzon AlbarinoDescorchados Tasting 2017 – The lovely team at WineAlign recently hosted a Descorchados tasting in Toronto to highlight some exciting South American wines. A few summer stand-outs for me included the Garzon Single Vineyard 2016 Albarino. This coastal wine from Uruguay has notes of lime and seawater on the nose and citrus and salt on the palate. It’s crisp and refreshing with a lengthy, almost slightly creamy finish. Tabali’s 2016 Talinay Sauvignon Blanc was also a stand-out for me. This coastal wine from Chilé has pronounced minerality and the nose reminded me of fresh ocean air with a hint of fresh cut Meyer lemon. It’s a more typical Sauvignon Blanc on the palate and is a pleasant, food-friendly sipper.

What have you been sipping this summer? Share your favourites in the comments or on social!

All of these beverages were samples or tasted at events where I was a guest. Opinions are, as always, my own.