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wine and food pairing

Food & Wine

Wine and sustainable seafood pairings? Yes, please!

March 19, 2017
Fondue made with Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc

I’ve been a little MIA on the blogging scene lately, as I try to juggle finishing the first draft of my novel with a busy period at my day job and a whole lot of the fitness stuff that helps me balance all this wine stuff. Sometimes I feel like I have gotten so into writing about wine that I’ve forgotten to talk about the healthy living things that help me keep my life in balance. It’s important for me to remember that this space was always supposed to be about living a happy, healthy, wine-infused life. As I prepare for a busy race season and continue my yoga journey (I’m proud to say that I’ve hit my mat every single day in 2017 so far), that part of my life has definitely been front and centre on my social media and I hope to see more of it here. But don’t worry, there’s still lots of great wine content too!

Matt Dean PettitToday’s post is about an event I attended in the fall (yes, I’m that far behind – sorry) that fits into all three themes of the blog. I was one of a few lucky bloggers invited to join one of my favourite chefs, Matt Dean Pettit, for a sustainable wine and seafood pairing lesson. If you don’t know Matt, he’s the amazing chef behind the now defunct Rock Lobster chain (I really miss that place) and the brains behind Matty’s Seafood (available in grocery stores across Canada). He’s also a fabulous and funny guy who made us all feel really confident and comfortable when it was announced that not only would we be learning about pairing, but also cooking with wine.

Whitehaven Sauvignon BlancThose who know me are well aware that I am NOT a cook. Thankfully, I married someone who is or I would still be existing on those frozen dinners you heat in the microwave and mini-popsicles. I’m not even kidding. This event was all about enjoying sustainable seafood. We had a really interesting session from Ocean Wise, who taught us that over-fishing is the single greatest threat to our oceans and how to choose easy, accessible and sustainable options. I was very relieved to learn that two of my favourite foods—oysters and mussels—are farmed and, therefore, very sustainable. Wine, of course, pairs very, very well with both.

At first, I was a little disappointed when I learned we would be pairing and cooking with just one wine—Whitehaven’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc—but this crisp, refreshing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was actually a strong pairing with every dish we tried. Sauvignon Blanc is a great option with seafood and the ethos of the winery (they’re passionate about sustainability, have a zero waste winery and use sheep in their vineyards), worked very well with the theme of the night.

Mussels cooked with Whitehaven Sauvignon BlancAnd then we cooked! And it was so much fun. Matt is a fantastic teacher and he even had a non-cook like me enjoying my time in the kitchen. We made a wine-soaked mussel dish and then worked in teams to create a fun fondue. Both involved lots of wine being cooked and consumed, which is always a recipe for a great time.

After our cooking class, we got to try all the dishes on the menu prepared by actual chefs in a group meal that showcased the freshness and flavours of the seafood dishes and how well they complimented the wine. This was truly a fabulous event and a great way to learn about sustainability in a fun environment. It definitely has me thinking a lot more about the seafood we buy and consume.

There are some great videos of the event available (and, yes, you can see me attempting to cook in one of them) and the recipe for Matty’s Moules Frites (one of the dishes we made) is available too. Visit the Whitehaven page on Facebook to check them out!

Do you have a favourite wine and sustainable seafood pairing? Share it in the comments or on social.

*I was a guest at this event, but my opinions are my own.


Book Reviews, Wine and Food Pairing

Goodness – Wine Pairings for the Neal Brothers’ New Cookbook

February 1, 2016

Confession – I’m a fan of the Neal Brothers products. We can’t keep their honey-mustard pretzel bites in the house because they’re just too good and I will happily slather my sandwiches with their delicious sriracha mayonnaise if given the chance. I also like the ethos of the company—fresh ingredients, organic and Fair Trade whenever possible and supportive of local charities—so I was very interested in finding out more about their Goodness: Recipes and Stories cookbook when it was released.

Peter and Chris NealGoodness is full of yummy-looking recipes and interesting stories from chefs, entrepreneurs and food champions and would be worth checking out on that basis alone, but this book is so much more. Fifty per cent of the profits from Goodness are being donated to Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC), a charity that brings together people from low-income communities to “grow, cook, share and advocate for good food.”

For Peter Neal, the book was a way to spread the word about Canadian food fighters and support a cause he’s passionate about. “I am on the National Advisory committee for CFCC and in a November 2014 meeting we were discussing ways to raise awareness and funding,” he says. “I had always wanted to write a book to inspire others around entrepreneurship and conscious capitalism. Goodness; Recipes and Stories seemed like a wonderful vehicle to accomplish all of this.”

Crispy Cod from the Neal Brothers Goodness CookbookI bought a copy of the book at a recent Toronto launch party and then quickly set about making one of the recipes. OK, Shawn set about making one of the recipes – but you knew that already, right? We went with the Halibut Crunch by Peter and Chris Neal, which is an easy and delicious take on breaded fish. We made our version with cod, since there was no halibut available at our fish shop and chose Neal Brothers Srirachup Kettle Chips and Sriracha Mayonnaise to make the topping. Shawn and I both like spicy food, so this was the perfect version for us, but the recipe can be adapted to whatever your tastes.

We both agreed this recipe was super easy and the results really tasty. This is the sort of simple, filling dish that can be paired with a salad for a lazy dinner after work. The chips give the breading a great kick of spice and a burst of crunch and the mayo brings it all together in a delicious bite. No need for tartar sauce here – it’s built right in. For a wine pairing, we went with dry bubbles that cut through the spice cleanly. We chose the Veuve Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne, an affordable French sparkling that won’t break the bank for a casual meal and works really well with the level of salt and spice here. I liked this brut sparkler both on its own and with food—it was refreshing and crisp with just enough fruit on the palate and very strong bubbles that held up well.

Veuve Ambal Sparkling French WinePeter Neal is also a wine lover (and a partner in Hanna Neal Wine Merchants), so I asked him for his favourite wine pairings for recipes in Goodness. “I loved Lil Macpherson’s braised lamb shanks with a beautiful Rioja – Marques de Murrieta,” he says. “I also loved Palmer & Co. Champagne on New Year’s with Jamie Kennedy’s marinated wild sockeye salmon.”

Those both sound like mouth-watering options too! I was curious about Hanna Neal Wine Merchants and the work they do, which is currently focussed on Spanish wines. “We feature some beautiful and iconic Riojas from producers such as Marques de Murrieta, as well as lesser known value wines from areas such as Alicante and Emporda,” says Peter. “We are starting to work with a producer who makes the best value Cava in my opinion, La Perelada, and also hope to start presenting organic and biodynamic wines to the LCBO, but they need some nudging!” Hopefully not too much, as it would be great to see another organic option on store shelves soon.

The Neal Brothers Goodness Recipes and StoriesIf you’re looking for a good mix of recipes with varied levels of complexity Goodness is a great option (there’s lots for newbies or more experienced chefs here). It’s an easy-to-use cookbook for a great cause and full of dishes that call out for wine pairings. Shawn and I have marked a bunch of pages and are thinking the Beet Caprese by Chef Rocco Agostino will be next on our list to make and we’re excited to experiment with wine options.

You can order your copy of Goodness: Recipes and Stories on Amazon or find it at a local retailer.

Interested in another Spanish wine and food pairing? Check out this suggestion from Peter Neal’s partner at Hanna Neal Wine Merchants, Andrew Hanna.

What are your favourite wine and food pairings? Share them in the comments below or on social.

Thanks to The Neal Brothers for providing some of their products to help Shawn and I experiment with this recipe (and a few wine and snack food pairings). The bottle of Veuve Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne was also a sample. I bought my copy of Goodness at full price because CFCC is a really important charity and this is a great way to support them. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wine and Food Pairing

Icewine Festival 2016 – Ice, Ice, Baby

January 28, 2016
Peller Estates Icewine

The incredible 10 Below ice bar at Peller Estates is not to be missed

Missing the annual Icewine Festival in Niagara is simply not done in our household. Even with my current life unsweetened (I’ve pretty much given up candy and desserts in favour of wine as my indulgence of choice), I wasn’t willing to miss this year’s fest. And I’m so glad we made the trip. Every year the festival seems to get better with the wineries developing more innovative (and delicious) pairings to go with some of the world’s best Icewines.

For those who haven’t made it out yet, you still have one more weekend (January 29/30/31) to explore all that the area has to offer. And, believe us, it’s impossible to see it all in just one day. Shawn once again played DD so I could sip and savour at eight different wineries. I’ll have a full review of my experience at Pillitteri Estate Winery in an upcoming post, but below you can find out more about the pairings we enjoyed on this year’s trip.

Pillitteri Estate Winery – Kerner Icewine paired with a homegrown Niagara Apple Fritter drizzled in a cinnamon Icewine caramel sauce—I was a little hesitant about this pairing because I sometimes find sweet on sweet a bit too much, but this was a delight. The fritters were very light in flavour, so they made a great pairing with the sweeter 2012 Kerner. Pillitteri is one of, if not the first, winery to make a Kerner Icewine and it is indeed a treat – there were caramel, pear and vanilla notes and a lovely acidity that cut through the sweetness. This was perhaps my favourite festival-featured Icewine and is a must-try for wine-lovers looking for a unique varietal.

Rancourt Winery Gewurztraminer Icewine paired with Wicked Thai SoupRancourt Winery—Harvest Barn Wicked Thai Chicken Soup with Gewurztraminer Icewine—On its own, I found this 2013 Gewurztraminer just a touch too sweet at first sip – the candied fruit notes were definitely pleasant and the wine was well-balanced, but not quite to my tastes. Paired with this absolutely brilliant soup, though, it was pretty perfect. Shawn and I both agreed that this soup was just fabulous—lots of heat and Thai flavours and plenty of chicken and rice to fill your belly. And the contrasting flavours between the soup and the Icewine just worked so well. A reminder of how much an Icewine can be elevated by a great pairing.We were very glad we made this stop.

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc IcewinePeller Estates Winery—Cabernet Franc Icewine with a roasted Icewine marshmallow—I admit that I gravitated towards more savoury pairings this year, but the Icewine Festival feels incomplete without one of Chef Jason Parsons’ Icewine marshmallows. These sweet treats are perfection roasted over one of the fires in Peller’s outdoor area (although both Shawn and I smelled like campfire for the rest of the day). The pairing here is almost secondary to the experience, though. The 2013 Cabernet Franc Icewine is good quality, very approachable and well-made, but the pairing is too sweet-on-sweet for me.

But Peller is a can’t miss for this Festival, they go all out and it’s such a fun experience—I highly recommend taking the time to visit their 10 Below ice bar. It costs a bit more, but standing in this incredible room made completely of ice is a one-of-a-kind way to experience Icewine (it’s open year-round currently, so this weekend isn’t your last chance).

Inniskillin Reisling IcewineInniskillin Wines—Chicken and waffles, spread with Icewine butter with a Riesling Icewine—The chicken and waffles called my name and it’s hard to resist visiting one of the best-known Icewine producers in the world. At Inniskillin you can see the Icewine vineyards right outside the winery, which is a nice touch, and you will taste your Icewine in one of their exclusive Icewine glasses. And, yes, in my opinion the glasses do elevate the tasting experience. The 2014 Riesling was well-structured with lots of honeyed pear and apple notes. The chicken and waffles were quite tasty, although I would have liked some more heat to cut through the sweetness and play with the great acidity on the wine.

Konzelmann Estate Winery—Atlantic seafood chowder with Vidal Icewine—Vidal is a classic Niagara Icewine grape, so I was happy to get to taste this 2011. It was a delicate and pretty Icewine with lots of peach, pear and mango notes—a very classic style. The chowder portion was small, but very flavourful with lots of seafood pieces and good spice. My only quibble was the fishy taste when I got a bit of Icewine just after a piece of  seafood. But overall, great. And the Observation Deck at Konzelmann is a must-do—a stunning view of the vines in winter that will leave you breathless.

Ravine Vineyard Vidal Icewine with chicken meatball and cornbread pairingRavine Vineyard—Homemade spicy chicken meatball in a molé sauce with Rossco’s cornbread and a Vidal Icewine—We had never been to Ravine before, but this won’t be our last visit. It’s such a fun and friendly property and this pairing was delicious. The meatball was juicy and well-cooked and the cornbread had a nice sweetness that off-set the spicy/sweet molé sauce. With their nuanced 2013 Vidal Icewine, this combo brought layers of flavour that came together nicely. Yummy.

Megalomanic Winery Riesling Icewine MartiniMegalomanic—Three Icewine based martinis—This was a must-do stop on our list when I heard about the martinis. What a brilliant idea. Shawn and I rarely buy a bottle of Icewine because we just can’t get through the whole thing before it goes off. Megalomaniac solved that problem by showing us four different ways to serve Icewine with a twist. The visit started off with their new sparkling Riesling mixed with their 2014 Coldhearted Riesling Icewine, then I sipped through three more small samples of martinis mixed with their Icewines. From citrus, cherry to chocolate, the drinks ran the gamut and each showed creativity in layering flavours. I will definitely be making one or more of these again soon.


Redstone Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc IcewineRedstone Winery—Braised venison and dark chocolate chili with 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine—We had hoped to make it to Mike Weir Winery, but just ran out of time. Stopping at Redstone to check out this beautiful new winery instead was certainly not a hardship, though. The 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine is delicious and well-made, with a mix of strawberries and spice on the palate. Since I don’t eat venison, Shawn was more than happy to enjoy my portion too and steal a sip of Icewine to let me know that the spice on the chili was perfect with the wine . He didn’t find that the chocolate came through strongly, so couldn’t compare those notes, but overall he thought it went very well together. This well-cooked chili was his favourite food of the day and I was a little jealous that he got to enjoy two whole bowls.

After our epic winery-hopping, I was ready to get back on the road towards home, but we’re already looking forward to next year.

Did you visit the Icewine Festival this year? What were your favourite pairings? Share them in the comments or on social!

Interested in our past Icewine Festival experiences? Read about my visits to the 2015, 2014 and 2013 festivals!

While we received complimentary passes to attend the festival, all opinions are our own.

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