Niagara food

By Michael Lowe

When you match up an Old World, fifth generation Spanish wine producer with a creative Niagara chef something good is bound to happen. So it was at a recent wine dinner held at Bolete featuring Torres wines paired with Chef Andrew McLeod’s creations.

Dining in Niagara

 A group of about 40 gathered for the dinner organized by FWM Canada, a local agency headed up by Daniel Speck, with special guest Miguel Torres Jr. Before dinner, glasses of Torres’ Cuvée Esplendor de Vardon Kennett (photo above) were passed around. This fresh, fruity bubbly is made from pinot noir, chardonnay and Xarel-lo grapes. With its lively citrus notes, underlying nuances of toast and a precise seam of minerality, the wine served as a fine conversation starter. Five courses and five spectacular wines (photo below) were to follow as well as a special treat.

Spanish wine

Dinner commenced with a refreshing treat from the sea — a plump P.E.I. oyster topped with icy watermelon granita (photo below). The fresh melon accent worked beautifully with the floral, tropical fruit notes of Torres’ Vinã Esmeralda 2016, a blend of Moscatel and Gewürztraminer.

St. Catharines dining

The second course featured a fruit-forward Chardonnay, Sons de Prades 2014. Half of the wine was barrel fermented after which 45% underwent malolactic fermentation and further barrel aging. The wine’s elegant mouth-feel was a natural with the texture of poached halibut (photo below). Its freshness and acidity contrasted the richness of romesco (a nod to the wine’s Catalan heritage) coated fingerling potatoes and buttermilk ricotta.

Our next course is beef tartare with fermented red pepper, gherkins and leek “ash” (photo below). Paired with the dish is Torres’ Altos Ibéricos 2014 Crianza from the Rioja region. The classic Tempranillo character of the wine, with its ripe cherry notes and firm tannins are a formidable, and wonderful match with the soft, silky texture of the raw beef.

Course number four marries tender saddle of lamb with rutabaga, carrot and mint. The components mirrored elements of the two wines paired, Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Le Havre 2011 and Mas La Plana 2012, also made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Earthiness and ripe sweetness from the rutabaga and carrot, aromatic notes of mint, and rich berrry flavours did this dish justice. What did not do it justice was the fact that I did not get a good shot of the dish.

Perhaps it was the conversation that ensued when Mr. Torres (picture above) and I touched on a mutual interest, the love of cycling. Trust me when I say that the dish was a magical match with the wines. The difference in wines was astonishing. The Jean Leon showed as a fresher, edgier style — like the son to the Mas La Plana, which struck me as the deeper, darker, more brooding and complex father.

In preparation for the final course, a fluted glass served as the vessel for a special elixir. Torres 15-year-old brandy (photo above), with its complex notes of candied citrus, caramel, raisin-like dried fruit and nutty aromas and flavours was simply sensational. Chef McLeod paired his apple bake (photos below), topped with dulce de leche, with the brandy. The flavours were deeply satisfying — a stunning end to a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

I left with a newfound desire to explore the wines of this world-class wine producer. Already a fan of Chef McLeod’s food, I witnessed his knack for crafting flavours that work with the wines, letting them express their individual character and create an amazing taste sensation.