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Spanish wine

Food & Wine

The Best Wines I Tried in January

February 4, 2016

Welcome to a new monthly column that will feature some of my favourite wine experiences from the month past. A few of these are still available and some have been in my cellar too long to still be on store shelves. Either way, I hope it inspires you to check out wines from these producers. And feel free to share your own ‘best of the month’ in the comments or on social!

I didn’t include any Icewine in this post, although I did try some fantastic ones in January. Check out my Icewine Festival post for an update on what I enjoyed tasting at this year’s fest.

Angel's Gate Winery 2011 Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling WineAngel’s Gate 2011 Archangel Chardonnay Sparkling Wine—I’m always impressed by Angel’s Gate sparkling wines, so it was easy to choose this one for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. This dry sparkling had lots of strong, fast bubbles, citrus and pear notes on the nose and palate and a bit of biscuit on the finish. This worked well with our dinner of stuffed chicken breast and for a toast at midnight.

Inniskillin 2010 Winemaker’s Series Shiraz Cabernet—I picked this up at last year’s Icewine Festival on the recommendation of the tasting room staff that it was drinking well at the moment. So when I pulled it out a year later I was worried I’d waited too long. Luckily, I hadn’t—this red blend is drinking beautifully right now and still has great fruit to cut through the notes of pepper and smoke. Shawn and I were very impressed with how this went with our pizza dinner and for a glass on its own. We wished we had picked up another bottle.

Creekside Winery 2011 Estate ShirazCreekside Estate 2011 Shiraz—Another wine we wish we’d bought more of, this Creekside stunner hit us with a huge burst of black pepper on the nose that quickly morphed into a complex mix of pepper, spice and dark red fruits, all of which I felt followed through on the palate. Shawn would have loved to try this with steak and I thought it was perfect just on its own.

Finca Hispana Castrijo, Rioja CrianzaFinca Hispana Castrijo Tempranillo—This Spanish wine from Rioja has a great label featuring the winemaker, but there’s more to it than that. I don’t typically drink Rioja wines without food because they’re very Old World in style, which just calls out for a hearty diner. However, this is a New World style Rioja – more fruit forward (lots of cherry and dark red fruit) than I anticipated and very enjoyable to sip on its own.  The oak is here in the subtle vanilla notes (this was aged in new oak), there’s some black pepper on the palate and the acidity works well. A nice lazy Friday night wine. This is currently a general list wine at the LCBO, so look for it at a store near you.

What did you drink in January and what stood out for you? Share in the comments or on social!

Wine and Food Pairing

Barsa Taberna – Spanish wine and food in Toronto

January 13, 2016

Nestled on Market Street in Toronto, Barsa Taberna is a little taste of Spain near the St. Lawrence Market and it’s one of my favourite places in the city to eat. Barsa specializes in tapas, little bites of Spanish cuisine that are as fun to pair as they are delicious.

While Barsa is well known for its sangria, which is authentic and lovely on a summer’s day (no soda or other fillers in their version), it also has an interesting wine program. I recently sat down with owner Aras Azadian to try some of their pairings and talk about what makes Barsa Taberna a great option for someone who wants to learn about Spanish wine and food.

2012 Torres Altos Ibéricos Crianza Spanish wineI first discovered the restaurant when I interviewed the winemaker for Radio Boka, a Spanish wine from Valencia. I remember walking down the steps into a stunning room that seemed to resonate a love for Spain and for wine. There is an entire wall made out of the bottom of wine bottles and the walls behind the bar are lined with wines from their list. The space is beautiful and it perfectly compliments the dining experience.

Aras didn’t grow up in Spain, but he did go to business school in Barcelona. And while he was focused on his studies then, he fell in love with the food and the culture. With an MBA in hand, he has gone on to become a vice president at a bio-chemical company working on cancer research, but he also owns and runs Barsa – the reason he always wears a suit and never sleeps, he says with a laugh. One of his goals with Barsa is to bring a Spanish experience to Toronto. At first, he tried more of a Spanish fusion with flavours from around the world, but he has realized that Toronto diners want a more authentic Spanish experience and that’s something he can deliver on.

That he’s able to merge both his careers so successfully speaks to a passion that comes from youth. Aras, and most of the staff at Barsa are under 30. It’s all a part of the unique experience that comes with dining here. And with that youth comes a vibrant and playful style that infuses everything about the experience.

Tuna tapas from Barsa Taberna restaurant in TorontoI start my pairing with a refreshing Cava.  The Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia from Penedes, has biscotti and vanilla on the nose and the bubbles hold together nicely. It’s a complex Cava and works very well with many of the seafood dishes on Barsa’s menu. Aras pairs it with a salmon escabeche done as pinchos (a small bite on toast). The salmon has been cured and is bursting with flavour, which works well – the Cava’s acidity cuts nicely through the salmon’s oiliness and highlights the lovely texture and flavour.

Octopus and purple potato tapas at Barsa Taberna restaurant in TorontoNext up is grilled octopus with charred potato – a skewer that’s full of complex Spanish flavours. Paired with a Telmo Rodriguez Basa, this works quite well. This is a versatile wine option with peach and grapefruit notes on the nose and a rich, full mouthfeel. The wine compliments the richness of the octopus and the salty notes on the purple potato. The wine, which drinks very nicely on its own, is a good option for the many seafood dishes on the menu.

Because I don’t eat red meat, it was harder for the Barsa staff to find a good pairing for a traditional Spanish red – Tempranillo. But this team knows their wine and food pairings and chose a lighter style from Rioja, the 2012 Torres Altos Ibéricos Crianza. While this was a little heavier than some of the more Pinot Noir-esque Spanish wines, it worked well with the seared albacore tuna dish. Served with warm couscous, the tuna was seared perfectly and the Tempranillo was a pleasant surprise. Red wine and seafood doesn’t always work well together, but in this case it was quite good.

Spanish vermouth with creme brulee at Barsa Taberna in TorontoFor dessert, Aras suggested Casa Mariol Vermut Negra, a Spanish vermouth that tasted more like Sherry. It paired well with the cinnamon and orange in the crème brule dessert. While the fruit compote topping was just a little too sweet for the vermouth, the crème brule itself was a good match – just the right level of sweetness to hit all the best notes in the vermouth.

With an evolving wine list (expect a Chardonnay from Northern Spain to appear on the wine list soon, as well as a Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon), Barsa is a great option for wine lovers looking for a Spanish-style night out. While Aras can’t bring in all his favourites from Spain, he is putting as many as possible on his wine list. They’re also hosting a number of fun evenings out, like Flamenco Thursdays and Pass the Table’s unique Spain Via Sommelier events. Pass the Table provides exclusive experiences that allow anyone to have an ‘insider’ experience at a restaurant and are a great option for wine lovers wanting to really experience the restaurant. Aras is hoping to create a few other wine-inspired events in 2016 so that more people can come out and experience Spanish wine alongside food from the country.

You can learn more about Barsa Taberna’s menu and events on their site and check out Pass the Table’s list of fun foodie events at

Wine and Food Pairing

Food Pairing Friday with Andrew Hanna

June 26, 2015
Andrew Hanna, Toronto Wine Agent

Whenever I get a copy of the CellarBuilder newsletter from John Hanna & Sons Ltd, I know I’m going to be hungry reading it – the newsletter is full of great wine and food pairing suggestions. Not surprising from a company that really knows their wine.

This week’s Food Pairing Friday selection is from Andrew Hanna, a third generation wine importer and Director of Sales and Marketing at John Hanna & Sons Ltd. The company is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected sources for fine wines and spirits produced by families – not factories.

Andrew was inspired by a recent visit to Spain and his pairing story will make you dream of a trip to the region.

Andrew’s Pairing:

Having returned – a week or so ago – from a whirlwind tour of northern Spain hosted by Rioja rock-star La Rioja Alta S.A., you’ll pardon me if my mind remains seduced by tasty tapas and on-point pintxos.

Each time I visit Spain, I am taken by both the creativity of leading culinary minds and the amazing quality of the raw materials they’re blessed to work with.

I visited La Rioja Alta S.A. to join in the celebration of this venerable wine producer’s 125th anniversary and was thrilled to have a chance to explore the farms and facilities they own across four important Spanish wine producing districts: (i) Albarino country in Rias Baixas, (ii) serious brooding reds wine territory in Ribera del Duero, (iii) somewhat more generous and modern red wine terroir of the Rioja Alavesa, and of course, (iv) the iconic cellar worthy reds found in the Rioja Alta portion of the Rioja D.O.Ca.

It was on a travel day – between Rias Baixas and the Rioja Alavesa – that we had some time in Bilbao to explore this heretofore industrial port City, perhaps most famous as home to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum.

Shortly before this cultural indulgence, I sat with a group of leading wine importers, distributors and industry professionals for an incredible foodie indulgence at a small restaurant near the gallery.

Amongst the inspired culinary treasures presented that day was a dish – and wine pairing – that will remain forever etched on my palate for both its sheer deliciousness as well as the technique and skill involved in its preparation.

On display was a simple (but perfectly cooked) oven roasted cod served on red pepper confit and topped with chive beurre blanc. The electrifying colours and appearance of this dish stood in stark contrast to its delicate flavours and textures – and, like many of my most profound food experiences, I was left enchanted by the quiet confidence of a Chef prepared to allow the quality of a scant few ingredients speak volumes.

Next to this stunning fish, we enjoyed a glass of Lagar de Cervera Albarino. Now if you haven’t tried Albarino before, I’d advise you to take immediate remedial action to correct this, as these coastal Galician whites are amongst the most satisfying and sneakily complex white wines you can find, anywhere. Imagine a hypothetical blend showcasing the explosive aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling all within a bone dry frame, and topped off with unique and compelling mentholated “alpine garrigue” notes of pine, eucalyptus and spearmint framing the cool, refreshing and complex finish.

Not surprisingly, these coastal whites are picture perfect pairings for light seafood and fish dishes for the bright acidity, deep concentrated core of citrus fruit and delicate herbal complexity. The next time you’re thinking about fish, I’d encourage you to give some thought to a glass of Spanish Albarino; I think you’ll find it to be a tasty addition to your dining table.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his pairing! To learn more about John Hanna & Sons, visit or I’m sure he can find a perfect food pairing to suit your tastes.