Weekend in the County

I was recently the lucky recipient of a gift certificate for Countylicious 2014, courtesy of The County. It arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was for East & Main, a restaurant in Wellington I had wanted to try before but had never matched up with its somewhat limited hours.

A weekend adventured ensued, complete with Saturday wine touring, a Countylicious dinner, and a fantastic Sunday breakfast at the Tall Poppy Cafe.

We spent our Saturday afternoon snaking through the wineries of Hillier, a region with too many options to cover in one afternoon, so we picked ones we had yet to visit. We took home bottles from Harwood, Hillier Creek, Stanners and Trail Estate. Two highlights were chats with wonderful wine making ladies at Harwood and Stanners, which I found was the most fun part of the tasting. I do appreciate that wine makers might want a Saturday off, but tasting is much more enjoyable with passionate people whose own livelihood is tied up in their product. The complimentary cheese pairings at Harwood and the crackling wood stove made it the best stop of the day- it is a great place to visit in the colder weather. I’m most excited to try the Harwood Pinot Noir & St. Laurent blend we took home, and the county Pinot Noir from Stanners.

We spent our evening at East & Main, where the Countylicious menu did not disappoint. $35 pp for 3 courses was very reasonable, and even better when you have a gift certificate. The service was very competent and efficient, and the place was hopping the whole time we had dinner, with a new crowd coming in as we finished. The menu was a bit different than what was on the Countylicious website, but the selection was still really good. For the appetizer I would recommend the french onion soup if they have it- very classic salty broth and cheesy broiled top. The scallop dish is decent too. Perfect November food, especially on a rainy and windy evening. The mains we had were good but not great- I wish I had gotten the lamb, as the veal scallopini I ordered was actually more like schnitzel, and the steak frites was pretty ordinary. But they won me over with the dessert- the banana and caramel bread pudding was really incredible. I can still taste it! Also the apple/berry crumble was nice- but I think the bread pudding was the star of the whole meal. We paired the meal with a bottle of Sandbanks Baco Noir, which matched the meaty main courses well, and added some coffees with dessert. Overall- really good meal with great service too- I will be back (if my timing matches their hours again!).

I tried to book us a B&B that was walkable to downtown Wellington, but everything I tried was either closed for the season or full for the weekend, even booking weeks in advance. I think it was a combo of small inventory + others with Countylicious weekend plans. We ended up staying at a guest suite in one of the small businesses in Wellington. I wish I could give them a shout out, but unfortunately the suite smelled so strongly of second hand smoke, coupled with dog hair around the suite, it really ruined our stay and I can’t recommend them. Allergy disaster! To avoid spending too much time there, we wandered over to the new Drake Devonshire hotel post-dinner. Some of the pluses: amazing waterfront property and neat architecture. The minuses: overly kitschy hipster decor (read: trying way too hard), roaring noise from dining room/bar and poor ventilation in the dining area- you will smell like whatever is cooking. What I hear about the Drake in general is that it is fine but has overpriced rooms and food, geared to a Toronto crowd. Personally, I’m looking for authentic experiences when I am in the County and I don’t see myself hurrying back here. We didn’t even get a drink as planned on Saturday evening, the bar was so loud and smelled so strongly of the kitchen, to pay $15 for a cocktail seemed masochistic. Also- dining host was not attentive (read: could not be found) and front desk staff could barely rip her eyes away from her laptop to acknowledge my existence. Perhaps a Toronto attitude has also been imported? We sat a bit in the lobby, the “eccentric” furniture was surprisingly comfortable. I think the only good reason to come back here would be to enjoy the waterfront in the summer- they have one of the only hotel properties in the County that really maximizes the beach and water.

I woke up early Sunday morning, eager to get the heck out of that smoker’s haven, and we were at the Tall Poppy before most of their staff had started their day! I love that cafe- the food is good, the atmosphere is great and the people are even better. We chowed down on the breakfast menu, honestly, everything I have ever eaten there is good, and given their 7am-3pm daily hours I eat there pretty well every time I am in the area. Also good coffee and lovely baked goods- you will not be disappointed! And it is licensed with very fair prices. It’s probably a good thing I don’t live close enough to show up daily.

The only downside to our early start on Sunday was that no stores or wineries were open by the time we were heading out, so instead of a slow meander home through Bloomfield and Picton, we had a speedy trip back home, complete with a stop for cheap gas on highway 49.

So, the moral of the story is that you have until November 23, 2014 to get in on Countylicious, and if you miss that, remember that Wassail runs the last 2 weekends of November and the first weekend in December. Plenty of time to do a little Christmas shopping in the County! There’s a bus tour every Saturday during Wassail for $15 and you just might find me back again in a few weeks.

Advertisements

Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia

2012 Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia, $9.95. LCBO#380972.

Recently someone, a creative sort, asked if I make things, and all I could think of was cooking….and then I thought “Well I do have a blog. I might neglect it but it is creative…right?” And then a conversation ensued on the virtues of drinking good cheap wine and sharing that with the universe. After that I came across a new $10 possibility at the LCBO and knew it was time to stop making excuses about work exhaustion and share a nice bottle with fellow cheapskate wine drinkers.

I am a lover of Luccarelli Primitivo, and am a bit sad to see that it has moved from $9.80 to $10.95. So I picked up its Negroamaro cousin, because it still lives in the $10 zone. I really don’t know much about Negroamaro, but apparently it is a popular grape in southern Italy and is similar to Primitivo. I wasn’t able to compare the 2 bottles side by side as my LCBO was sold out of the Luccarelli Primitivo, but I would say they are both deep in colour, fruit forward, but nicely balanced in flavour.

The Negroamaro has a really smoky nose, and so much berry-cherry quality that it feels like a California wine to me, which is great, because I love big California reds. It is a little bit restrained on the finish, with some nice acidity, and the alcohol is at 13%, which is potent but not overwhelming.

All in all, I would most certainly buy this again, and given that it is hard to say if the Primitivo is better, I might grab the Negroamaro because it is $1 cheaper.

Overall, I give this wine 9/10 for taste and 5/5 for value.

Argento Bonarda

ARGENTO BONARDA 2013, $9.95. LCBO# 292458.

ARGENTO BONARDA 2013, $9.95.
LCBO# 292458.

It is high time for a $10 wine post, and this Bonarda is a winner. We are fans of Argento’s Malbec (here’s a link to my past review). We usually keep it on hand for weeknight dinners and casual gatherings, and one day I noticed the Bonarda next to it in the LCBO. It must have been on sale, and I thought “never heard of that grape but why not?” and I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure which I like better, the Malbec or Bonarda, because both are so nice and also economical. Interestingly, they are Argentina’s 2 most planted grape varietals- points to Argento for doing the local grapes so well.

The Bonarda is a lovely deep plum shade that promises good flavours and then delivers. It is medium/full bodied, full of berry fruits and is also a bit smoky with oak. It makes me think of California style reds, which I also love. Dry, but not too dry, nice with red meat, BBQ, and dark chocolate.

Spring is in the air and backyard parties are right around the corner, so pick it up for a BBQ potluck and I know your friends will be happy.

Overall, I give this bottle 9/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

20 Bees Shiraz

20 BEES SHIRAZ, $11.95. LCBO#146837.

20 BEES SHIRAZ, $11.95.
LCBO#146837.

Round #2 of my Wine of the Month Club: The January delivery included a bottle of 2012 20 Bees Shiraz. I have to say I was not excited to see it- I have had 20 Bees Baco Noir and one glass was more than enough for me. I also find their labels and winery name to be overly cute. And Shiraz in Canada? I don’t know- I really like Australian Shiraz (in fact we had a killer bottle last week- 2011 Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa, $20, amazing value, none left at the LCBO, sob, drink some for me if you can find it).

So, I opened the bottle with low expectations on a freezing cold Wednesday night. But my snobbery turned to a smile as we paired it with beef tacos- great match. The wine is what the critics say: dry, light-medium bodied, not overly complex, and a little fruity with a peppery finish. This would be good BBQ wine in the summer.

That said, I don’t know that I would buy it again. The price is reasonable, the wine is fine, it’s just not what I’m looking for in a Shiraz. It was an interesting bottle, not something I would typically pick up on my own, so I will give the Wine Club a pass on this one. But there are a lot of $12 red wines I would buy before this one.

Overall, I give this wine 7.5/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Cave Spring Riesling Dry

Riesling Dry

2012 CAVE SPRING RIESLING DRY, $14.95. LCBO#233635.

This year, my resolution is to drink more wine and blog about it. Tough goal, right? To ensure some inspiration, I joined a “Wine of the Month Club” this December which brings new bottles of VQA Ontario wine to my door each month. The club is run by Winery To Home and the critics are David Lawrason and Tony Aspler. I am doing the $45/month version, which includes one white and one red bottle; there are varying price and quality levels, but I thought I would start with the basic one and see how things go.

My December delivery (just pre-Christmas, what a lovely gift to oneself!) included a bottle of 2012 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling Dry. I have long been curious about Cave Spring, there is something very clean and crisp about their name and their wine labels, but not being a big Niagara drinker, I hadn’t bought a bottle yet. We shared the bottle with friends who enjoy Riesling, particularly dry varieties, and the review was a big thumbs up.

It is definitely as described by the critics: light, fresh, some mineral and citrus. Dry, but not overly so. It went very well with a charcuterie spread, particularly prosciutto and sharp cheese, a nice contrast in flavour. A surefire crowd pleaser- would also do well with seafood.

I think $15 is good value for this bottle, and I’m happy to see the local LCBO has lots on hand. So far so good with the wine club- I’ve been introduced to a new wine and winery, and have a new go-to party wine. I plan to pick up more of this bottle soon.

Overall, I give this wine 9/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia

Luccarelli Primitivo 2010, $9.80. LCBO#253856.

Luccarelli Primitivo 2011, $9.80. LCBO#253856.

The new year calls for a return to wonderful $10 wines and I have a good one to share. Primitivo is a favourite varietal of mine, and I love that you can get a great Italian bottle for a good deal.

This one does not disappoint and is very typically fruity and ripe, full bodied, dry but not too dry, and just generally fun to drink. We had it with steak but it was delicious solo too. I think it might also be good with chocolate but it didn’t last long enough to find out.

This vintage is sold out in most major Ontario cities but there are still quite a few bottles in rural Ontario areas. Maybe you’ll luck out and find a few bottles (or maybe you live elsewhere and your wine shop has lots of this gem). And trust me, you’ll want more than one.

Overall, I give this wine 9/10 for taste and 5/5 for value.

Trapiche Astica Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon

https://i1.wp.com/www.lcgroup.pe/images/productos/astica-sauvignon-blanc-semillon_a.png

Trapiche Astica Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2011, $7.95. LCBO#359083.

I’m long overdue for an affordable wine post or two, so I thought I would follow up my January tasting of the Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec with one of their white wines. I was happy with the value of the red, and so this week, whilst browsing the LCBO shelves for new finds under $10, this $8 beauty stood out. Always on the hunt for crisp, dry, refreshingly affordable whites; this one fit the bill.

It is citrusy, a bit herbal and grassy, with a touch of sour green apple, and none of the sweet apple-y tones that tend to turn me off cheap whites. Great alone, also nice with the fish we had for dinner, and would be lovely in a white wine spritzer (a drink preferred by me and cruise loving divorcees the world over). I’m not ashamed to admit my spritzer love- it also happens to be my favourite under $5 drink at a pub- laugh if you will. It’s the perfect hangover prevention recipe since you are forced to hydrate as you imbibe.

I think this little Argentinian treat has dethroned my usual South American Sauvignon Blanc go-to bottle- Casillero del Diablo– which is sadly now $11 and stretching my $10-and-under quest. Perhaps it is time to try a few more of Trapiche’s affordable bottles. Stay tuned!

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 for taste and 5/5 for value.

Caliterra Bio Sur Reserva Carmenere

https://i1.wp.com/caliterra.com/downloads/bio-sur-cm-th.jpg

2010 Caliterra Bio Sur Reserva Carmenere, $10.65. LCBO#142711.

The beginning of BBQ season appears to have woken me from my blogging coma. It’s not that I haven’t cooked something tasty, or taken a picture of it, since February. I’ve certainly drank quite a few lovely things as well. But I just haven’t been in the mood to write about it until now. After a long weekend of fabulous weather, we’ve got a fresh new BBQ and I’m full of inspiration. Tonight’s menu included some grilled veggies and cedar planked salmon, but that’s so simple it is hardly worth posting about- the wine was the star of the show.

Kevin was recently given this bottle as a work gift, which always makes me eye it cautiously as I put it in the wine rack. But I shouldn’t have worried, it’s a great affordable bottle, and the smoky oak notes went perfectly with the cedar planked salmon. It is a smooth, dry, full bodied red; dark purple with lots of deep fruit flavours. I plan to grab this one again on the way to a summer get together. Super reasonable price and a great match for anything smoky and flame grilled.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec

2010 Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec, $7.45. LCBO#359075.

I’m writing this post in response to a friend who recently said, “Can you post some more tasty wines on your blog?” Why, yes of course! And, you can always find a list of past $10 wine reviews here, for easy reference.

This Saturday night was full of great conversation, fun ladies, and a rather hilarious ride downtown crammed into a cab like 18 year olds. But before all that came to pass, I was in a rush out the door to start the evening, and grabbed the first bottle of wine I saw. It was one of Chatelaine’s November wine picks, deemed a perfect wintry red.

I didn’t actually know the price while I was drinking it, and have to say I thought it was more than a $10 bottle. The fact that it is $7.45 is amazing. Hello new fave red!

It has a nice balance of spice from the Malbec, and a smooth finish from the Merlot. Easy to drink on its own, it would go well with pasta or pizza too. A bit fruity, dry and smooth; just an easy, tasty bottle.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 for taste and 5/5 for value.

KWV Chenin Blanc

2011 KWV Chenin Blanc, $8. LCBO#18689.

I may being selling my soul to the Walmart of South African wineries with this review, but I have to say that this is the best cheap white wine I have discovered to date.

I bought it on a whim, because I really like Inniskillin’s Chenin Blanc from the Okanagan. It is crisp, fresh, not too dry, perfect in the summer. It is also hard to come by in Ontario, so I usually only enjoy it on a patio in Calgary once a year. A bottle runs about $17, which is a fair price for the quality.

This KWV bottle caught my eye in the LCBO, but the $8 price tag left me sceptical and even feeling a little guilty. How can you grow the grapes and get them all the way to Canada at that price, without some serious worker exploitation? I can’t speak for KWV’s business practices, but if I can’t get a decent bottle of wine all the way from New Zealand for less than $15, how can they produce one for $8? As well, if a Canadian Chenin Blanc runs for the double the price, how good can an $8 bottle be?

But once I sampled some of the KWV, I was sold. All social conscience flew out the window, and all I could think was, I can buy many, many of these bottles, and my bank account will be still be happy.

To date, most white wines I have tried that are under $10 are watery, or sweet, or yeasty or just plain crap. My first sip of the KWV was a blissful change from the usual disappointment.

The wine is crisp, medium bodied and dry. Still fruity and tropical, with some green apple and citrus in there, and is nicely balanced. Very food friendly- I used some to make a sauce for chicken, and it went nicely with the meal as well.

It is safe to say that this wine will have a permanent place in the door of my fridge- ready to take the edge off a bad day at work, to cook with, or to share with a friend.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 and 5/5 for value.