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Holiday Cheer

Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

December 21, 2016
Pommies Cider Gift Pack

So we’re furiously getting ready for the holidays at our house and most of our gifts have been purchased, but I know there will be one or two last minute things that pop up (they always do). So if you have to brave the long pre-holiday lines at the LCBO or a liquor store near you, here are some great gift ideas for that one you forgot was on the list!

Pommies Cider Holiday Gift Pack – When I grab a cider, it’s usually from Pommies. This Ontario cider company won my heart years ago and I still gravitate to them when it’s on the menu at restaurants. We have more than enough glassware, but for a new-to-cider drinker, this is a really fun option. Shawn and I both swear that drinks taste better with the right glass and this is a jam-packed gift set with four ciders and two glasses.

Thornbury Spiced Apple Cider is a great last minute holiday giftThornbury Cider – Need something smaller, but still want to go with cider? Create a DIY gift with Ontario’s Thornbury Cider. One festive Spiced Apple Cider and one glass, plus some cinnamon sticks to add to the holiday feel and ‘voila’ you have the perfect hostess gift to head off to that holiday party.

Otazu Premium CuveeOtazu 2012 Premium Cuvee – If you show up at my house with a good bottle of wine, you won’t be turned away this season. Otazu Premium Cuvee has great earthy notes and lots of spicy bramble on the nose. A food-friendly Spanish wine that would pair well with red meat, this is great for winter sipping and a pretty fantastic hostess gift when you’re heading to a party.



last-minute-3Mercat Brut Nature Cava – Bubbles are my go to for pretty much everything, especially when I need a last minute gift I know people will enjoy. This Spanish Cava was a favourite at a recent sparkling tasting I attended and is a nice, dry option that won’t break the bank. It will definitely be appreciated as a hostess gift or at your holiday brunches. I have a bottle set aside for holiday sipping and will gladly welcome anyone who shows up with more.

What are your go-to options for gifts when you’re racing against the clock? Share them in the comments or on social!

* The ciders featured were samples I received and the wines were tasted at events where I was a guest. All opinions are my own. Seriously, bring me some more Mercat.

Spirits and Cocktails

Fun Summer Sipping Suggestions

July 13, 2016
Social Lite sugar-free vodka coolers

It’s hot in the city these days, so Shawn and I have been experimenting with some alternative options for patio and cottage sipping. We have to balance a lot of things—he prefers beer, I don’t like to drink anything super sugary and neither of us has the time to make anything super complicated.

This year, we’ve had the opportunity to sample a few options that we wanted to share with you for days when wine may not be at the top of your wishlist (I rarely have those days).

Ernest Cider from OntarioErnest Cider – I like to have the occasional cider as an alternative to beer or wine. It’s a great option at pubs or restaurants where the house wine sounds dodgy, and with so many great Ontario craft options, I usually have some interesting selections to choose from. Ernest Cider impressed me with its adorable packaging, but I was much more interested in what was in the can and that was quite good too. A little sweeter than the bone dry cider I usually prefer, this had a more natural sweetness from the addition of local honey and some cane sugar so it wasn’t a sugar bomb. Shawn and I both enjoyed this one, as the apple really comes through and the carbonation is nice and crisp. We’d both have this again on a patio.

Giffard 1885 Creme de Violette gin gimletSocial Lite Vodka Cocktails – I like a cocktail once in awhile too, but I don’t like having sugar-sweetened drinks if I can avoid them. Social Lite understands that not everyone wants something sweet, so this Toronto-based company developed their line of sugar-free cocktails to appeal to health-conscious sippers like Shawn and I, who want a convenient cooler without all the sugar. First things first, these are not sweet, so if you’re hoping to replace a sugary cooler, this will throw you off. For us, it took a minute to adjust to the flavour, as both the lime and ginger and the lemon cucumber mint flavours seemed a bit bitter on first sip. But once your palate adjusts, they are a really nice sipper. We both preferred the lime and ginger (I’m not a cucumber fan at all, so this is more about my preferences than the quality of the drink) and are thinking these will be our cottage coolers of choice moving forward.

Giffard Lichi-Li Martini is a fun pink sipperGiffard Liquers Crème de Violette and Lichi Li– So first I tell you I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and then I suggest syrups? Yep. Because with a liqueur you can get a pop of flavour without a huge amount of sugar and I like the ability to play around to make a slightly-sweet drink that will be fun and summer-ready. Shawn can’t handle lychee scent or flavour at all (he asks me to keep my lychee martinis on the other side of the table at restaurants), so I was on my own to try this one. And I liked it. I made a Lichi Martini with 1.5 oz vodka, ½ oz of Giffard Lichi-li and some fresh lime juice to taste. I found it a little strong, so I cut it with a bit of diet ginger ale. The drink was pink and fun, but not too sweet..

With the Crème do Violette, I made a Violet Gimlet with 2oz of dry gin, ½ oz of Giffard Crème de Violette and 1 oz of fresh lime juice (they suggest lime cordial, but I wanted something with less sugar). It was pretty good, but a bit strong, so we again cut this with a bit of diet ginger ale to taste. Shawn and I had fun making these easy-breezy cocktails and I look forward to playing around with these syrups even more over the summer!

Chateau des Charmes Cuvée d'Andrée 2014 RoséChateau des Charmes – 2014 Rosé Cuvée D’Andrée – I couldn’t resist adding in a wine to this list because my honest-to-goodness go-to summer sipper is usually rosé and this is a really good one. With strawberry, lemonade and oranges on the nose and lots of ripe fruit on the palate, this Pinot Noir rosé is bright pink and bursting with flavour. We have already gone through two bottles and the summer is only just starting. It’s perfect for a night out on our patio, pairs well with just about everything and is a fun option to bring to a barbecue—especially at a $16 price-point.

So what are you sipping this summer? Do you have a go-to cocktail without all the sugar? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social!

*We received these products as samples, but our opinions are all our own.

Food & Wine

Wine and Tea – Pluck Tea’s Unique Blends

April 18, 2015
Pluck Teas Founder Jennifer Commins

There is only one item more plentiful in our house than wine—tea. My cupboards truly runneth over with little bags and jars of loose leaf tea. I think tea, like wine, appeals to the part of my brain that likes to combine flavours and textures to create a unique drinking experience. As with wine, loose leaf tea has the potential to be truly magical.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Pluck Tea, a Canadian company creating blends that take tea to the next level. There’s nothing worse than enjoying a lovely meal at a restaurant and having a wine list full of inexpensive plonk, or a tea list that consists of cheap bags of orange pekoe. A brilliant glass of wine can bring a meal to life, and a splendid cup of tea just makes everything better.

Pluck Teas’ founder, Jennifer Commins, gets that. A tea sommelier, her company is founded on the idea that tea should be special. She uses the best quality teas from around the world, combined with local ingredients to create what she describes as, “one-of-a-kind tea blends as distinct and unique as a well-aged wine.”

Pluck Teas Southbrook Blend
The Southbrook blend

And to make the wine connection even stronger, Jennifer has partnered with wine companies on at least two of her blends: Niagara Icewine, which combines Ontario Icewine with a peachy base of white tea, and Southbrook Berry Blend, which is made using grape skins from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara.

Pluck’s decision to partner with Southbook was what first caught my eye – the delicious burst of fruit flavour this tea brings to my mug sold me completely. I loved how Pluck captured some of the unique qualities of a fruity red wine in a fantastic cup of tea. I was equally impressed with the Spirit Tree Crab Apple blend, which combines green tea and cinnamon spice with fire-roasted apple pressings from the Caledon-area apple cidery.

“Pluck is always on the lookout for local growers to supply delicious products that can be integrated into our teas,” says Jennifer. “In the case of Southbook and Spirit Tree, not only are these products delicious, but in both cases Pluck is able to rescue a by-product of their core (pardon the pun) business: grape skins from Southbook and apple pressings from Spirit Tree.

“I approached Bill at Southbrook in the early days after steeping up some of their BioFlavia product (finely ground grape skins) and he was able to divert whole dried skins to Pluck for our production. In the case of Spirit Tree, they reached out to me directly with some samples of apple pressings in hand and we created a Spirit Tree holiday blend. Beyond the ingredients themselves, both of these companies are run by fantastic people who truly ‘get it’ when it comes to sustainability. I feel very fortunate to work with them.”

Pluck Teas and Southbrook wine work so well together
Jennifer and Bill at Southbrook

The feeling is mutual for Southbook’s owner, Bill Redelmeier. “We at Southbook really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Jennifer at Pluck Tea. Her total devotion to maintaining high quality standards, and creating compellingly delicious beverages, aligns perfectly with my own goals,” he says. “We also identify with her spirit of independence, and pluck, in competing in a market dominated by multi-national brands, by focusing on building relationships with our local community.”

Pluck Teas Earl Gray Cream
I’m a sucker for a great Earl Gray

The fact that Pluck takes advantage of ingredients that might otherwise be wasted makes them even dearer to my heart. The company is built on an ethos of sustainability. “At Pluck, everything we do is guided by “Tea for Good.” Supporting Ethical Tea Partnership members, sourcing locally, and upcycling by-products of the local food industry all support this mission,” says Jennifer. “As we grow, I will be seeking out more and more Canadian grown ingredients to integrate into our line. We also offer a buy-back program for restaurants, where we purchase sealed teas left over from their previous supplier and donate them to The Stop—a local community centre and food bank.”

I know many of my fellow wine-lovers are also mad about tea, so I encourage you to check out these wonderful wine-inspired blends (even the ones with no connection to wine are quite fabulous). They are bursting with delicious flavours and you can feel good about supporting a company that is helping the local economy and the world around us. Pluck Tea is available via their website (the best selection), at Chapters/Indigo stores and in other select stores and restaurants across Canada.

Have you tried Pluck Tea? What was your favourite?

* Photos featuring Jennifer provided by Pluck.