Food & Wine

Wine on Tap – Learning about FreshTAP

November 20, 2015
Wine on tap wine taps

I’ve written about wine on tap a number of times on the blog. It’s one of those trends I hope becomes the norm at restaurants across Canada. Why? Because it’s environmentally friendly, you are always assured of a fresh pour and it makes good economic sense.

And with FreshTAP coming to Ontario, the opportunity to have local wine on tap has expanded greatly. This is a way to keep local wines cost-effective for restaurants and for patrons – something I’m definitely in favour of.

With wine on tap there’s zero waste when it comes to wine—there’s never a need to throw out a bottle that’s been open too long, nothing is ever corked and the wine is always fresh. The kegs, which hold the equivalent of 26 bottles, are good for 20 years and the program ensures that they are cleaned to the highest standards using a 15-stage sterilization program, and installed using exacting specifications.

Vineland Estates Winery in NIagara
Vineland Estates

I recently had the chance to talk to Allan Schmidt of Vineland Estates, who has been instrumental in bringing wine on tap to the province. Vineland Estates was actually the first winery in Ontario to make wine on tap a priority and they are leading the charge with FreshTAP. Allan had seen the process in Manhattan and was impressed with how it was being used for even very expensive wines. After looking into it more, he realized it was a great fit for Ontario.

“The slogan sums it up,” he says. “Smarter, fresher friendlier. It’s smarter because it reduces restaurant costs, fresher because it reduces the chance of oxidized wines normally associated with wine by the glass programs, and friendlier because of the waste reduction for the restaurant and the planet.”

The wines available on tap at a recent event

Restaurants are already excited about the prospect, as it makes service easier for them and is a cost-effective option. And Ontario wineries have been signing up quickly. The laws in Ontario mean that only VQA wines can be served on tap, but so far that hasn’t affected interest from wineries.

For Fielding Estates Winery, wine on tap works well. “FreshTap is a great system for both wineries and licensees that have invested in the system,” says Fielding winemaker Richie Roberts.  “On our end it’s a great alternative to traditional packaging because the wine tastes exactly as it does coming from tank. Even as the wine level in the keg gets lower, it’s well protected by a layer of inert gas, the exact same as when we work with large-scale tanks in the winery.

“Customers get to taste the wine exactly as we intended, without any risk of faulted wines from closure issues or a bottle being open for too long,” he continues. “In addition, we eliminate almost all the packaging associated with traditional wine bottles. The keg is returned after use, sanitized, and used again. This reduces both the shipping weight and amount that is recycled. From a restaurants’ perspective, wines on tap are a great alternative to having bottles kicking around for by-the-glass pours. Wine stays fresher longer, there is never any wasted wines, and the packaging takes up much less space behind the bar. Restaurants that we are working with are extremely happy with the results, which is encouraging for both FreshTAP and Fielding. Personally, I‘d love to see wines on tap continue to grow.”

And while most of the wineries currently signed up for FreshTAP are from Niagara, Allan sees the program expanding to include other wine regions very soon. “We have already had enquiries from Prince Edward County,” he says. “However, this year there is a shortage of wines available due to the cold winter damage from the last two years.”

And for those who worry that wine on tap will be coming out of beer taps, fear not. The system is designed to be wine friendly and taps are set up using a completely different set of standards. A restaurant can’t simply use wine kegs in their beer system – FreshTAP is created specifically for wine and installed by a team that ensures quality is paramount. They know if the system is set up poorly and the wine doesn’t taste great, the program can’t be successful.

There are also only certain wines that will work for kegging. Since wines don’t age or develop in kegs, they have to go in at the exact time they are ready for drinking. That eliminates some wines as good options for the program, but ensures we will always keep up the tradition of aging amazing reds and other special wines in bottles.

“All wines benefit from storing in stainless kegs, just like a winemaker stores them at the winery,” says Allan. “But aromatic white wines retain their youthful fruit forward style far longer in a keg then in a bottle exposed to air ullage.”

With more than 100 restaurants currently adopting the program, it looks like this is a trend that’s here to stay. I’m definitely hopeful and looking forward to seeing more wine on tap programs offering VQA when I’m out for dinner.

Have you tried wine on tap? What did you think? Want to try it? You can find venues serving wine on tap here.

Spirits and Cocktails

Station Cold Brew Coffee Cocktails

November 16, 2015
Station Cold Brew and Jameson

Over the summer, Shawn fell hard for Station Cold Brew Coffee. While I gave up coffee in January, he remains a connoisseur. So when he tried Station’s cold brew and Jameson Irish Whisky combo at the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival, he was hooked.

Since then, he’s become a regular drinker of Station’s all-natural and Canadian made cold brew. We buy the coffee concentrate and keep a jug in the fridge. Even with fall’s chill moving in, cold brew is still on the menu. He prefers it for mid-day sipping and with no bitter aftertaste and less acidity than most coffee, it’s an overall smoother experience.

He also spent some time this summer experimenting with cold brew coffee cocktails. These were perfect for cottage sipping and remain great cold weather alternatives. Here are some of his fun experiments:

Station Cold Brew Coffee and Bailey's

Station Cold Brew ready to drink coffee and Baily’s: Approx 5oz to 1.5oz Baily’s or to taste, ice (Vanilla and Cinnamon Bailey’s used here, any type is fine).

Station Cold Brew coffee concentrate, Grand Marnier, whisky and milk:
2oz coffee concentrate, 4oz milk, 1oz each Grand Marnier and whisky.
Station Cold Brew Coffee Cocktails

“Iced Irish Coffee” – Station Cold Brew ready to drink coffee and whisky topped with whipped cream.

Station Cold Brew Coffee

He advises playing around with either the coffee concentrate or the ready-to-drink option to create versions that meet your own tastes.

And let’s say you’re looking for a hot coffee option for a cold winter day?

Matt Jones, whisky ambassador for Beam Suntory, offered a few great tips.

“Bourbon and coffee go well together, Canadian Club Maple as well. Just add a dust of cinnamon and nutmeg here and there, whipped cream, and even make a bourbon vanilla whip cream. So many ways to go. There is also Bourbon/Canadian Club Maple Frappé, which is just shaken coffee with our whiskys and cream over ice,” he says.

Are you a cold brew fan? Or you prefer your coffee the traditional way? Do you have a coffee cocktail you love? Share it in the comments or on social.

CC Maple


Food & Wine

An Affordable Red Wine Round-up

November 12, 2015

As the weather turns cooler, many people start to gravitate towards bigger, bolder reds. I confess that I drink white (and rosé) all year round, since it’s all about what wine goes well with what we’re eating. But I do find there are nights when a glass of red wine feels like a chunky knit sweater – perfect for fall.

So what have Shawn and I been drinking so far this season? Here’s a red wine round-up of some wines you might want to consider for affordable fall sipping.

Root: 1 – 2013 Carmenere – Colchagua Valley

Root: 1 – 2013 Carmenere – Colchagua Valley – This wine was recommended by one of my favourite wine lovers, Kari Macknight Dearborn (@slowoeno)It’s a reasonably-priced Carmenere from Chile that’s bursting with red fruit and spice. For $13.95, it’s a great price-point and Shawn and I have been finding it an easy go-to for the hearty and earthy meals we love in the autumn or even just when we want a glass at the end of the day.

Colio Estate Wines 2013 Hat Trick NHL Alumni Cabernet Merlot

Colio Estate Wines – 2013 Hat Trick NHL Alumni Cabernet Merlot – Ontario – Pairing up with the NHL Alumni Association, Colio Estate Wines has scored a wine that will appeal to hockey fans across Canada. This is an easy-drinking, relaxed wine that has big red fruit flavours and a hint of vanilla. While I probably won’t break this big, bold red out for fancy dinners, I would definitely have it again for a relaxing evening in. Shawn and I both liked Hat Trick more than we expected and I suspect he may request it again for Hockey Night in Canada viewing. At $14.95 it’s highly likely I’ll agree.

Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz

Jacob’s Creek – Double Barrel Shiraz – South Australia – Red wine finished in aged whisky barrels? I went into this tasting thinking I was going to be drinking something with a smokiness brought on by the barrel age, but I was completely wrong about that. I tried this at an event put on by iYellow Wine Club, which meant I got the chance to talk to Jacob’s Creek representatives about the wine and what aging it in whisky barrels actually achieved – turns out, it’s got much more to do with texture than taste. This tasted like a Shiraz that had been aged far longer than it actually had. It’s very drinkable right now, with the tannins at a much more subtle stage. While I got a few smoky notes on the nose, that didn’t play out at all on that palate, instead I got lush strawberry, dark chocolate and dried spice notes. It was the smoothness and mouthfeel, which they attribute to first aging the wine in French oak before moving it to Scotch whisky barrels for finishing, that really impressed me. For $19.95, this is a good value red worth checking out.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery 2011 Merlot

Golden Leaf Estate Winery – 2011 Merlot – Norfolk County – When we visited the wineries of Ontario’s Southwest this summer, I was excited to see so much vinifera. At Golden Leaf Estate Winery, I was particularly impressed with their Merlot, which was well-balanced and full of bold flavours. While the vines in this region are still relatively young, wines likes these make it clear that in the right hands they can produce very good reds. This one is winery only and retails for, I believe, $19.95. Certainly worth it to see how a local producer is putting his own stamp on Merlot.


Montecillo Crianza 2010 Tempranillo Rioja

Montecillo Crianza – 2010 Tempranillo – Rioja A good food wine, this 2010 Tempranillo from Spain had cherry, plum, menthol and smoke on the nose with some chocolate notes on the palate. Shawn and I had this on a cool evening at the cottage and were wishing we’d opened it with the steak he made on the barbecue instead. Lesson learned. Available at the LCBO for $14.95.

Angel’s Gate Estate Winery 2011 Mountainview Pinot Noir

Angel’s Gate Estate Winery – 2011 Mountainview Pinot Noir – Beamsville Bench – The biggest splurge on this list, Angel’s Gate Winery’s 2011 Pinot Noir is well-worth it at $26.95. Complex, well-balanced and beautifully structured, this wine is layered with nuanced flavours. With earth and smoke mingling with cherry and spice on the nose and a lovely, medium body weight, this is a great option for when a lighter red wine is called for. The finish is medium-long and it has a nice subtle cherry and spice combo on the palate. If you’re looking to spend a little more for a very high-quality wine, this is my pick. Available at the winery or order online (I recommend a winery visit, as it’s one of the prettiest places in Niagara).

Do you have a red wine pick for the season? Share it in the comments or on social.

* Some of these wines were received as samples or tasted at events, others I purchased. Either way, opinions are all my own.

Wine and Food Pairing

Chef Dez – Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque – Food Pairing Friday

November 6, 2015
Chef Dez
Chef Dez – Photo Provided

When I was working in the music industry, one of my favourite projects was partnering with Chef Dez on a series of country music recipes. Dez is a fabulous chef with a sense of fun and a lovely spirit and his recipes captured the spirit of some of Canada’s best county artists. A culinary instructor and food columnist, Dez has competed on Chopped Canada and hosts a series of culinary travel experiences across the U.S., which I highly recommend checking out.

I was thrilled when he agreed to participate in my Food Pairing Friday series with a delicious sweet potato bisque recipe that’s not only hearty, but healthy too. This is a perfect recipe for this time of year and just what you need to warm you up well into the winter – I think his pairing suggestions are spot on too.

Shawn and I are thinking this would be a great option for cool fall evenings and as a starter at the big Christmas dinner we always share with our families.

Cooking with Chef Dez – Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque

The autumn season brings cooler weather and transforming leaves. It earmarks the beginning of how our vision of food and celebration starts to change. With the dog days of summer behind us, we are no longer as worried about our bathing suit images, and the calendar lineup of commemorations are welcoming us with open arms. For many, this means indulgences in comfort foods to warm the soul, satisfy our hunger, and highlight the gatherings of family, friends and loved ones.

Eating is a huge part of the social aspect of our lives, but this does not always have to signify an abandonment of healthy choices. There are many ways to pacify our desires with foods that are still very nutritious, without leaving us feeling void of pampered appetites.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque is the perfect recipe to accomplish this. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene (recognizable from their orange colour) and are high in vitamins A and C. Their moist sweet texture is ideal for mimicking richness, when in fact there is no added fat in this recipe whatsoever.

Many are confused by the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and this is due to the misinterpretation of the North American grocery industry. Sweet potatoes have orange coloured flesh, while yams are starchier, less flavourful, and have paler flesh. The names here are usually mismatched with each other, but in Europe, for example, the names are assigned accurately.

The steaming process of the diced sweet potato, instead of boiling, is important. Boiling of potatoes, or any vegetable, will cause nutrients to be lost in the discarded water, and the boiled product will take on excess water. Water has no flavour and thus will hinder the taste of the final product. Steam is hotter than boiling water and will provide faster cooking times without being as invasive.

Although this soup is great served as a meal itself, it is a remarkable first course to introduce a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey, cranberries, and all the trimmings. The addition of nutmeg and cloves gives it a warm earthiness and highlights the incredible natural flavour the sweet potato has to offer. The elegance of the presentation is heightened when beautifully garnished with swirls of sour cream and a sparse scattering of freshly chopped parsley. With the autumn air surrounding us, this soup will help to soothe our cravings of comfort food while helping us watch our waistlines… at least with the first course!

The perfect wine pairing for this soup is a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling with a sweetness code of 1 (or 2 if you so desire). The touch of sweetness in these fragrant white wines goes divinely with the characteristic flavour of the sweet potato, but it also offers diversity. If you were using this soup as a first course to a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey & cranberries, these wines would continue to compliment the rest of the meal as well.

With the recommendation of these wines, I would like to pass on a tasting tip. Traditionally white wines are supposed to be served chilled, however this does not mean ice-cold from the refrigerator. A glass of white wine should only have a slight chill to it, as the cold temperature actually hinders the flavour complexity. The closer it is to room temperature, the more fragrant and intricate the wine will become.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez
Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez – Photo Provided

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez

Makes approximately 6 portions as a first course

1kg orange sweet potato, peeled, diced 1cm
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
3 to 4 cups skim milk

For Garnish
1/4 cup no-fat sour cream
1 tbsp skim milk
Fresh parsley, finely chopped

1.    Steam the diced sweet potato over boiling water for 20 minutes until fully cooked and tender.
2.    Discard the water, and place the cooked sweet potato into a heavy bottomed pot, off the heat.
3.    Add the brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and white pepper to the sweet potato and combine thoroughly with a potato masher, ensuring no lumps.
4.    Once fully mashed, start adding 2 cups of the skim milk slowly while continuing to mash with the potato masher. Switch to a whisk, turn the heat to medium, and blend in the remaining 1 to 2 cups of skim milk (depending on how thick/thin you want it), mixing thoroughly.
5.    Stir occasionally over medium heat until completely heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
6.    While soup is heating, combine the sour cream with the tablespoon of milk.
7.    Portion the soup into bowls and drizzle small amounts of the sour cream mixture on each portion. Drag a toothpick back and forth across the surface to create a beautiful design.
8.    Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Many thanks to Chef Dez for sharing this with us! I hope it inspires you to visit his site for more recipes and food insights. Do you have a favourite fall/winter recipe? Share your favourite pairings in the comments or on social.