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Pairing Ontario VQA wines and chef-inspired foods — virtually

By Mike Lowe

Wine Country Ontario hosted an event recently called VQA at Home Chef Sessions. Almost as if it’s the new normal, we seem to have embraced and accepted technology as a way to connect with others.

This food and wine experience underscores the commitment to finding new ways to market products, to learn and to share ideas.

For this session, there were four courses, each paired with three wines. Billed as the “Terroir Edition”, the wines came from the various sub-appellations of the Niagara Region with others from across Ontario. The event format is a virtual session where chefs create dishes paired with Ontario VQA wines.

After registering for the event, recipes are made available and wine samples mailed out to the participants who can choose whether to cook the dishes along with the chefs. I chose to cook along with the hosting chef duo of Olivia Simpson and Ricky Casipe and wines, which were presented and described by co-host Magdalena Kaiser (left-to-right, top photo).

Ontario wine

 The well-written, detailed recipes were easy to follow, although most required at least some prep before the event. We began with a twist on a Greek favourite, flaming cheese Saganaki, using Brie cheese and Ontario whisky (photo above).

I modified the recipe based on what I had available, using homemade sourdough for a crostini instead of the deep-fried saltines, and flaming the cheese with a relatively new Canadian whisky from Tawse Winery. The first course wines were Big Head 2020 Chenin Blanc, Ravine Vineyard 2020 Sauvignon Blanc and Oxley Estate Winery 2020 Pinot Gris. I checked the Oxley Pinot Gris as my favourite match.

Next dish up was duck liver pâté with wine gummies and tahini to create a sort of spin on a PB and J sandwich. Not having the time to make my own pâté, I sourced duck liver mousse from Chef Ryan Crawford at Ruffino’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake and used some leftover red pepper jelly.

The result (photo above) was very much like a PB & J sandwich. The wines were Westcott Vineyards 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Château des Charmes 2019 Gamay Noir and Lakeview Wine Company 2019 Vidal Icewine. My pick was the Vidal Icewine with the Gamay a close second.

 Butternut squash, cooked two ways came next. Half was roasted, to be used as a base for the dish, while half was simmered in coconut cream with ginger and a touch of apple cider vinegar then pureed. The term for the squash cooked in coconut is “ginataan” which means cooked in milk. I substituted mixed greens with peppery arugula for the herb salad in the recipe topped with toasted pumpkin seeds (photo above). The wine pairings were Redstone 2019 Limestone South Vineyard Riesling, Rosewood Estates 2019 Gewcci (Gewürtraminer), and Organized Crime’s 2020 Sacrilege (skin fermented), which you can read about in Rick VanSickle’s post here. For me, the best match was the citrus and zesty acidity of the Riesling, although the Sacrilege was close behind.

The final dish featured crispy skin rainbow trout on pan-seared romaine lettuce with sauce gribiche and Toscana cheese (photo above). The boiled egg for the gribiche was substituted in my version with a homemade pickled egg. The featured wines were Huff Estates 2019 Catharine’s South Bay Chardonnay, Adamo Estate 2017 Wismer Foxcroft Chardonnay and Honsberger Estate 2020 Chardonnay Musqué. After some back-and-forth tasting and deliberation, I rather liked the Musqué with this dish.

The session was easy to follow but if you’re cooking you will need to cook whatever you can ahead of time. There were approximately 200 people participating in the session with many questions ranging from the grape varieties used in the Organized Crime Sacrilege to food ingredients sources and preparation technique. It was a fun and informative event geared to almost anyone interested in food and wine pairing.

Details on upcoming events can be found here.