It’s a soggy summer’s Friday night at The Rectory Café on Toronto Island, a brief interregnum between showers. Spirits are lifted on the outdoor patio, however, as Nupur Gogia of Island Vines is hosting a farm-to-table wine dinner. The evening is a fitting tribute to the bounty that Ontario farms and vineyards can offer, and one of several events that Nupur is hosting this year. The first course appears from Chef Scott Cooney’s Rectory kitchen: A large salad of baby kale, green lentils and Portobello mushrooms in orange vinaigrette, topped with lightly grilled smoked duck. The flavours are subtly and perfectly balanced, from earthy through to sweet and savoury. To accompany, Nupur pours an astonishing 2013 Chardonnay Cuvée Dix-Neuvième from the bad boys of Ontario wines, Pearl Morissette. It’s a remarkable, complex wine with rich floral notes, a creamy vibrancy and just the right touch of acidity. I could have sipped it all evening, and I make a note to order some from their website. It matches the salad perfectly. Our main course is sous-vide-baconwrapped pork tenderloin, stuffed with gala apple and goat’s cheese. It’s garnished with caramelized Brussel sprouts and fingerling potatoes in a lightly sweet maple butter sauce, delighting with myriad sweet and umami flavours. Pinot and pork are natural partners, so Nupur is back—this time with a 2014 Stanners Vineyard Barrel Select Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County. Nupur is passionate in her belief that Ontario should focus on cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir. And this Pinot speaks eloquently. It’s very much Old-World style—lean, elegant and nicely balanced—with perhaps a nod to a slightly fruiter New-World approach. Dessert arrives: Local strawberries and house-grown rhubarb in a crispytopped tart. The highlight—Nupur has selected another winner in the form of a 2010 Redstone Cabernet Franc Icewine from the Niagara Peninsula. I recognize Sweet rosehips, a fragment from my childhood memories. The wine is luxuriously rich, with a nice touch of acid to give it structure. Lovely. Nupur, a diploma graduate of the prestigious Wine & Spirit Educational Trust, is an engaging, knowledgeable and very approachable wine educator. In addition to wine dinners, she offers wine tastings paired with cheese and charcuterie that can be arranged around the harvest table at her Toronto island home or at the lakefront Shaw House. She also performs home presentations for small groups. I smiled sweetly and she rewarded me with a little more icewine. Rain? What rain? Islandvines.ca Wellington Made At the Toronto Green Living Show, I stumble upon a small stand run by Shelly Walsh, the owner and founder of Wellington Made. Founded in 2013, Shelly’s idea was to work with local farmers to capture the goodness of Ontario fruit in an exquisite collection of products such as syrups, elixirs, chutneys and confits. She happily shares samples of her wares, which she suggests may even help with positive aging. Hmmm? I try the rich and complex whiskey-infused maple syrup—then follow with various exotic elixirs of elderberry, sea buck thorn and redcurrant. There’s also a quince confit and a range of chutneys. My favourite—and I buy a couple of bottles—is the intense blackcurrant elixir. It’s wonderfully versatile, promising to enhance everything from cocktails to ice cream and yogurt. It can also be used with oil and vinegar as a salad dressing. Shelly’s website has a recipe for an “el diablo” cocktail incorporating tequila, lime, ginger beer and, of course, the elixir. I’ll have to try that. Currently distributed mostly in southwestern Ontario, Shelly is working on distribution in Toronto. I don’t claim to know anything about the contribution of her products to happy aging but, for now, I’ll place my bets on her cocktail recipes. Wellingtonmade.com Acropolis Organics’ Olive Oil With world demand surging and a limited supply of olive oil, there are reports of adulteration and outright fakery. However, I’ve discovered Acropolis Organics’ olive oil and, for now at least, seem to have my oil risk mitigated. Handharvested organic Koroneiki olives are cold pressed without filtration in a mill on the Tsiriotakis family’s Cretan estate.The finished product is bottled there, too. And the family are rightly proud of their light, slightly fruity oil with a pleasant mild peppery bite. Acropolis Organics has an interesting Toronto connection. Panagiotis Tsiriotakis was born here, but returned with his parents to the family estate in the village of Vouves, Crete, as a boy. He grew up learning everything there is to know about the olive business. After obtaining a business degree in London, UK, he returned to Toronto and in 2003 founded Acropolis Organics. Acropolisorganics.com Fever-Tree Ginger Beer In the English village where I grew up, when the temperature reached a sizzling 70°F, it was tradition to bring out a fiery home brewed ginger beer. I was never quite sure if this was a reward or a punishment. I can’t resist when I find that Fever- Tree, purveyor of my all-time favourite tonic water, is now selling ginger beer with a blend of ginger from three different terroirs: Nigeria, Cochin and the Ivory Coast. With some gin, a little lime juice, a few ice cubes and Fever-Tree’s ginger beer, I decide it’s time to recreate the Waldorf Astoria’s classic Foghorn cocktail. What an aptly named drink! It starts with a wave of aromatic, effervescent ginger followed by an assertive and lingering peppery drink, perfectly balanced with just enough sweetness. There’s an amazing lingering length, perhaps reminiscent of a foghorn’s eerie echo. What an amazing zingy refresher for those who want something a little different. Fever-tree.com Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Pieter Badenhorst, the winemaker at Fleur du Cap, was in Toronto recently to promote his wines. In the process, he shattered my experience of reasonably priced but unexciting South Africa wines. Pieter grew up in a family of wine growers and graduated from the University of Stellenbosch vinology program. Justly, he bubbles over with infectious enthusiasm about his reds. Fleur du Cap works with a core range of farmers, many of them sixth- or seventh-generation grape growers. The grapes are specially selected and hand harvested from a widely diverse water-scarce geographic area, ranging from sea level to locations at 1,000 metres above. Pieter tells me that because of the hot African sun, his wines are cellared in a hollowed-out Mountain where they can mature in moderate temperatures. I was particularly impressed with the Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Only the best of reserve wines are unfiltered. This deeply coloured wine was aged for 18 months in French oak. I’m hoping for the aroma of Christmas cake that Pieter suggests I look for. I do find rich dark fruit, but my nose isn’t quite as festive as his, it seems. That fruit does come through, however, in this wonderfully complex wine with well rounded tannins and excellent length. At the time I tasted it, the wine was not stocked at the LCBO but I’m told it’s coming—just in time for Christmas. Fleurducap.co.za Mackie’s Potato Crisps French fries are called chips and come with fried fish. And chips are meant to be crisps. Mackie’s of Scotland has refreshingly refused to pander to our nomenclature and has stuck with “crisps.” A eureka moment comes when I open the bag. These chips—sorry, crisps—actually taste of potatoes. There is a delicate earthiness about them that is merely enhanced by the other flavours. And they are indeed “crisps,” lacking the usual residual oiliness. My favourites: Mature Cheddar and Onion (well-balanced sharp and savoury flavour), and the sweetly tangy Crispy Bacon. These are so good that I might even try Mackie’s unapologetically Scottish-heritage offering, Haggis and Cracked Pepper. Mackiescrisps.co.uk Homefront’s man about town is suave, debonair, charming and, best of all, extremely curious. He hunts, sleuths, discovers, explores and tells all.
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