By Michael Lowe
The Cuvée Grand Tasting was held last Saturday night, a shift from previous years when the event was staged on Friday evening. Perhaps it was to entice more attendees—a move that seems to have paid off.
Besides myriad fine wines on show, the event offered one of the most interesting culinary partner lineups I’ve seen at the event.
Note: Also see here for our favourite wines from Cuvée 2019
When the media were given the list of culinary partners this year, I admit to being a tad excited. There were some of Niagara’s best chefs on the list, some returning from past years, some making their first appearance. There were some amazing plates on offer. Here are some of my favourites.
A newcomer this year was Chef John Vetere of Brushfire Smoke BBQ (left-photo above). If you are not familiar with his food yet, make a point to try it soon. He’s a master of the art of smoking beef brisket, not to mention a number of other goodies. Currently he is running the kitchen at Niagara Oast House Brewers in Niagara-on-the-Lake. His coffee-rubbed, 14-hour smoked brisket is becoming legendary in Niagara. Paired with house-made chili onion and bread and butter pickle and a vibrant, fresh chimichurri sauce (right-photo above), it’s a joy to behold, and even better to taste— tender, juicy, meaty, smoky and any fat, if you’re lucky enough to get some, melts in your mouth. I paired it with Kacaba Vineyards 2016 Signature Series Reserve Syrah, a match that, for me, was one of the best of the night.
Chef Matt Payne, the new executive chef at Ravine Vineyard Winery Restaurant, dished up colourful plates of rainbow trout crudo with blood orange pickle and squid ink ‘coral’ (left-photo above). His second dish was succulent pork belly with a tangy cider glaze and smoked apple (right- photo above).
The Restaurant at Redstone Winery, headed by executive chef David Sider, plated two meaty dishes. A braised lamb cromesquis with mint and carrot (left-photo above) was crisp on the outside with a rich, dense texture inside and packed with flavour. A smoked beef short rib was paired with shaved Brussels sprouts and salted huckleberries (right-photo above)—a hearty, one-bite wonder.
Chef Andrew McLeod, chef/owner of Bolete in St. Catharines (centre-photo above), often uses Asian influences in his dishes and that holds true this year. Tuna crudo with togarashi (left-photo above) is served in an airy shrimp crisp, lending textural contrast to the soft, delicate tuna. His kabocha squash and shitake mushroom dumpling (right-photo above) is savoury and earthy — delicious! It paired nicely with Karlo Estates 2017 Pinot Noir.
I have become a fan of Chef James Price, executive chef at the Scotiabank Centre. He always delivers well-executed, detail-oriented cuisine at Cuvée. This year was no exception. I mean, just look at that juicy hunk of beef with its ‘lacquered’ surface (top right-photo above). Cured for 21 days, it is reminiscent of Montreal smoked meat, oozing with tasty juices and made a killer slider inside their own kummelweck roll, topped with smoked salt and caraway seed (left-photo above). Chef Price’s second dish was Lake Erie perch crusted with chickpeas (bottom left-photo above). The fish is simply presented in Wonder Bread but the bread is smeared with house-made, one year old miso butter and smoked shoyu mayonnaise–nice indeed.
Chef Ryan Crawford of Backhouse (left-photo above) presented anelli pasta in an intensely flavoured, rich shrimp head bisque served with butter-poached shrimp. Crawford’s second plate was what I’ll call his now signature dish, Megg’s Egg (right-photo above) — egg white mousse with saffron infused yolk, topped with trout caviar. It’s as beautiful on the palate as it is to look at.
Benchmark Restaurant at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute served a nice spin on a traditional dish, beef currywurst sausage on potato cake topped with curried ketchup (Left-photo above). Their vegetarian option was a toothsome and healthy bite — chickpea falafel with pickles and tabouleh (Right-photo above).
As if the food and wine at the grand tasting was not enough, we took advantage of the Cuvée en Route touring passes included with your ticket. We visited four wineries and enjoyed food pairings at two of them. Foreign Affair showed off three of their big, bold reds (above photos), which really got the appetite going. Kacaba Vineyards served its very interesting 2017 Fume Blanc with fries topped with Gochuyang mayo and a fried egg, courtesy of Zooma Catering (photo below).
Malivoire Wine Company took us through a reverse vintage tasting flight of its Moira vineyard Chardonnay (photo below). Working from the youngest and freshest to the older vintages really showed the wines in their best form.
Our last stop was at Harbour Estates Winery where the test was to determine whether the red or white wine paired best with their beef slider topped with icewine infused horseradish (photo below). Both worked for different reasons—the white enhanced the sauce, the red married with the beef best.
So went our 2019 Cuvée weekend. Filled with great wines, some amazing culinary creations from local chefs and an early springtime tour along the wine trail. How can you beat that?