Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ontario Chardonnay...Seriously Cool!

Credit and thanks needs to go out to Southbrook Winery's Bill Redelmeier for conceptualizing a throw-down to the U.K. of Ontario Chadonnay!

Bill has organized a selection of Ontario Chardonnay to be represented @ an exclusive tasting this May in London England, and I was fortunate enough to be able to pre-sample the wines soon to make the journey. I'll begin with the event, then the wines.

Held @ the Toronto Racket Club on Tuesday afternoon, I steeled myself to get through in enough time to get back to open the bar. I arrived, put my head down, and charged with glass in hand for the wines, working the room in a clock-wise fashion; I was a man-with-a-plan!

FOILED @ the first table, I'm met by Keith Tyers @ Closson Chase! Years ago Keith exposed me to my first blind tasting, striving for me to match pallete with wine knowledge - something that I have valued ever since - so I HAD to stop and chat ;)

THEN @ table #2 I had to speak w. Derek from Lailey about his joining Twitter...I knew then that things looked grim for getting out of there in a reasonable time, as Suresh Doss of Spotlight Toronto, Andrew Hanna, Norman Hardie, Thomas Bachelder, Martin Malivoire, Jamie Drummond & Bill Redelmeier himself all needed catching-up with...suffice to say that after giving-in to my desire to catch-up and socialize with such meaningful people in the industry, I was 2 hours' late @ cafe Taste (thanks for opening the joint, Julye)!

ON TO THE WINES: Though I tasted through 36 wines - all of which deserve mention - I will be leaving the full evaluation to the professional wine writers and simply give my feedback on those that my palette adored the most.

Represented in the 36 was an impressive gamut of styles of chardonnay. Please remember that chardonnay as a grape can bear more variation based upon methods of production, and is enjoyed in a staggering number of flavours, bodies, weights and aromatics. I do NOT present you with an account of all styles tasted, I present you with my top 5 based upon personal preference:

1) Southbrook 1998 Poetica: Rich, warm, gold and patina colours, exceptional depth, balance of acid and core of delightful caramelized fruit. A great example of ageablitity of Ontario whites. This wine was crafted by Derek Barnett (now @ Lailey Vineyard). Grapes were sourced from 'old vine' Chardonnay vines from Niagara River appelation as Southbrook had no vineyards of their own in the 90's. Very masculine in style.
2) Le Clos Jordanne 2006 LCJ Vineyard: Fantastic richness and elegance from this well-rounded wild-ferment chardonnay. Robe is lustrous yellow with bronze. Palette is harmonious, mouthfeel hints of juiciness from lees contact. A wine that exemplifies balance, though fruit is still in its' early years of production. Thomas Bachelder does Ontario proud with his Burgundian methodology!
3) Lailey Vineyard 2008 Old Vines Chardonnay: Sourced from the same grapes as the Southbrook 1998 Poetica (above), and crafted by these vines had an extra 12 years to mature (As both this and wine #1 were both crafted by Derek I'm interested in seeing this wine in 12 years' time!) Robe is rich straw w. flecks of bronze, steel and mineral on nose with nice vanilla notes.
4) Malivoire Wine Company 2004 Moira Vineyard: Another example of vines that are just "coming of age", Martin Malivoire asks for Shiraz Mottiar to develop wines in harmony with the environment (embrace the ladybug!) Robe is 'steely' yellow, nose has rich candied fruit and floral expression. The structure of this wine is exceptional, and I'm very impressed with the complexity. I'm glad this wine made it out of the library to see how the fruit would perform.
5) Norman Hardie 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay: Beamsville (Niagara) fruit lends a succulence that works well with the extended lees contact of Norm's wines - well worth a visit to his winery to learn about his horizontal tanks for this gentle contact! The robe lends itself to visions of lush fruit, green-apple skin tones, with a nose likewise lush and fruity - more tropical - but still with a hint of vanilla. Fleshy mouthfeel (think of biting an aloe leaf) with core of mineral chalk, savoury on finish.

...MANY accolades however go out to the others represented, and I anxiously await the results of these wineries being showcased in London - Good luck representing not just your wineries, but Ontario as a region :)

Jeremy Day - Wine Geek
cafe Taste

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Now an introduction...

...As promised after my last (and first) posting on our blog, I'm going to give some background on cafe Taste. People should know where they're spending their cash... **credit to Sheryl Kirby of for generating this Q&A**

TasteT.O.:How did you get started? What is your background in food and wine? Are you self taught or did you train somewhere specific?
Jeremy Day: My background begins at age 5 when my parents moved me to a farm in a rural area two hours Northwest of Toronto. Being on a farm, we were self-sufficient - we grew our vegetables, raised our chickens, pigs, ducks and cows, and with everything on a small scale (no more than a dozen of any type of livestock at a time) we worked organically before a time when that meant something. We even made our own cheese, sausages, jams, bread and flour!
Everything was 'free-ranged' and we worked naturally with the land, raising crops to feed ourselves and our livestock. When I came to Toronto and began work in the hospitality industry, I at first embraced the 'big city' and its convenience - it was years before I simply felt 'ill' from being bereft of my 'natural' upbringing and went back to eating healthy and working towards sustainable local practices. This is what I bring to opening cafe Taste - local produce featured around the EXPERIENCE of treating oneself - In Europe, each cafe features local wines and cheeses. It is part of the daily ritual Europeans have to treat themselves - to live - by enjoying a glass of wine, a chunk of cheese and some bread each day. In North America, we do NOT treat ourselves each day, instead we seem to "Live to Work" as opposed to "Working to live". cafe Taste is meant to promote the latter - come by to Live.

TasteT.O: Why Parkdale as opposed to somewhere that might be more receptive to the concept of a wine bar? How does the neighbourhood respond? Is your clientele mostly local or people from out of the hood who make cafe Taste a destination?
Jeremy Day: Ah! Why NOT Parkdale??? See, my point, my vision for this place IS that wine & cheese is for everyone - they are two of the oldest portions of culinary history - growing with culture and civilization over several thousand years. WHY does North America make wine service pretentious and unapproachable? Wine should not be put on a pedestal, it should be enjoyed by the people! My concept is "opulence for the common man", great product at a discounted price. I made cafe Taste so that people do not shy away from the higher end products because of their mark-up.
The neigbourhood responds well, albeit slowly. At first people didn't know what to think, with wine bars being somewhat trendy and opening across Toronto, it was clear from the start this one was different - no high-end decor, no servers with ties, and an extensive cheese selection (up to 30 cheeses to match the 30 wines by the glass). Over the last 4 years word has spread, and even seem to have inspired other restaurants to offer more cheeses with their wines.
cafe Taste seems to straddle being a neighbourhood hang-out and a destination spot. We get lots of private bookings as an experience for groups - wine tastings, birthday parties, etc. A few weeks ago we had a group from Cambridge in for the evening. It is unfortunate that on those nights when we're closed for a private gig that I have to turn-away my neighbourhood regulars.
RESERVATIONS are STRONGLY recommended so that we can assure people won't be turned away in case of a private tasting!

TasteT.O.:Tell me a bit about your wine selections and how you came to compile your wine list? Do you update it frequently?
Jeremy Day: I update it quite often - about every 6-8 weeks. I compile based upon what I've tasted, and what Ontario has to offer. My mandate is to source locally, primarily to reduce our environmental footprint, but we have such an incredible resource with the Ontario wine regions, it would be criminal to not make use of them! I do include wines from outside Ontario, but they have to have either exceptional taste or flavour profile that the wine list requires, or have some manner of historical note that appeals to me - preferably both!

TasteT.O.:The food menu is pretty simple - is this out of choice or necessity? Are there kitchen facilities to expand the menu at some point in the future, or do you prefer to focus on the wine at this point?
Jeremy Day: Actually, it is both. Though I wished to have a more extensive menu available, it was always intended to be a cheese-based. As we were limited in kitchen facilities, it worked out to our vision of cheese trays, fondue, and cheese salads. As far as cooking philosophy, "Simple. Fresh. Tasty" is our mantra. Good, preferrably locally-sourced ingredients and uncomplicated recipes to allow natural flavour profiles to carry through and match with our wines. What I'm doing is simplicity itself: enjoy a glass of wine with a chunk of cheese and some bread, nuts & olives. There isn't too much call right now to go outside our vision, though for 2010 we're ramping-up specials crafted by Food Geek David Berman

...Also as promised, the sappy part...As stated above, my dad raised me in a rural 'total farm' experience.

I hated it.

I had to wake-up @ 7 am to feed animals and milk cows before going to school each day, then return home just to do it again. I rebelled against dad's views about self-production when I visited other schoolkids who lived in nearby towns and saw how they bought their food from stores. Money COULD buy leisure and 'happiness' from the strife of working on the farm...

...I now find myself very much my fathers' son, and consider myself lucky to have had the upbringing I did under his tutelage. I had not seen my father for 10 years, as he had moved to BC to retire from farming. I was busy creating cafe Taste, and always had something that got in the way of a venturing out to see him...I realize now what that was:

...I visited him last weekend, as news arrived he is very ill and he will now never be able to see what I created here. I sat with him for an afternoon before he slept and told him about what I had built. I realize now that cafe Taste is an altar to everything he instilled in me, and the reason for my not visiting was my desire to have it flourish and have him come see something he inspired before he died. I am thankful and proud to have had you in my life growing-up, dad. I love you.

...As an aside, take the opportunity to tell loved-ones what they mean to you. One never knows if they may be taken from you.

Jeremy Day - Wine Geek

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time to Blog

I'd like to begin my first blog thanking David (our Food Geek) for paving the way and writing our first few forays into allowing people to keep tabs on what what's cooking (literally) down here @ cafe Taste.

Over the years people have asked me to blog our wine tastings, our initiatives, even our story of how cafe Taste came to it begins:

This month we strayed from our usual Tutoured Tasting and instead of doing wine & cheese, we honoured the Emerald Isle and did a Whiskey tasting! This was "Whiskey 101" and gave first an overview of the origins & composition of whiskey, followed by the basics of each type. I chose entry-level examples that displayed not only the characteristics of the basic types of whiskies, but also one's that are on my shelf :) Cost was $40 (taxes & gratuity incl.) and got each guest 7 ounces of whiskey paired with cheeses, chocolate and nuts.

First-up was Irish whiskey - generally the more subtler of whiskies, distilled 3 times for richness. I chose Bushmills Black Bush paired with Quebec's Le Sauvagine cheese.

Second was Canadian whiskey (known as rye) - distilled twice with extra depth, smooth and fantastic for cocktails. I was happy to feature local Niagara winery/distillery Kitling Ridge's Forty Creek, and paired it with an Ontario asiago from Thornloe.

Third & fourth were Scotch whiskies (blended & single malt) - distilled twice and aged for a minimum of 2 years, for this we needed to go into some history of the why's and when's of blending vs. single malts and their characteristics, but for that you'll need to attend a tasting ;) Poured were Te Bheag & Balwhinie Double Wood paired with Blue Haze & 70% chocolate.

Fifth we poured American whisky (yes, there's no 'e' in American whisky) - distilled only once and aged for only a minimum of a year, these whisky's (Bourbon's, Sour Mash, etc.) are generally of stronger character AND alcohol (they can be released as 'cask strength') - liken them to American foreign policy ;) Poured was Knob Creek paired with a 7-year aged white Ontario cheddar.

As with all of our Tutoured Tastings, once the lessons and evaluation was complete we turned our attention to what remained in the bottles and the tasting became a hedonistic one!

...there may have been some wobbling ;)

I'd love any feedback to this, my first post on the Blog David began for us here @ cafe Taste, and welcome criticisms or accolades. Let me know what you'd like to see on our blog!

Till I post next (which btw will be some background about why cafe Taste exists...WARNING: there will be some sappy moments as I'll be talking about my dad) I raise my glass of Kacaba 2005 Cabernet to yourselves; the people for whom without cafe Taste would mean nothing.


Jeremy Day - Wine Geek