Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Urban Element – California Wines

OH MY GOD I love the Urban Element. I think I'm officially obsessed. I just got home from the California Wines tasting and what an experience! I've always wanted to take a wine tasting class but I've always been afraid the people would be too pretentious (I'm just assuming that's what it would be like because I know nothing). To be honest, I adore wine, but I'm not smart at all when it comes to describing them or appreciating the effort that goes into making them. Since I've been there before, I figured I'd be comfortable enough to venture down the wine path, and I was right! Not only did I feel comfortable asking every question I had, but I also had the best time ever savouring the food that went along with it. Ok, so I know it's not all about the food, but in my mind, it is. It's that added bonus. And not all wine tasting courses offer that luxury. Chef Candice Butler made it that much more special!

I'll start by talking about the host. What a magnificent man. He was so full of energy that even after a long, exhausting day of stressing at work I didn't once yawn. I'm a big yawner. Especially when I have to listen to someone else talk for a period of time. This man kept me on my toes, just dying to learn more. He was so charismatic and honest and really, REALLY knew his shit. Pooch Puciloski from Sacramento, California is a certified wine educator who has been running the wine competition at the California State Fair for 20 years. I would do anything to go to Sacramento and take one of his classes. He literally makes learning fun. Combine that with something you're interested in and it becomes magical.

As soon as we arrived we were coupled with a 2002 Schramsberg sparkling wine from the Napa Valley. Moments later a smoked salmon rosti with a dill, whipped cream cheese and Chelsea Boucanerie smoked salmon was served to enhance the experience. Talk about the wine, picked by hand, made by hand, began. I learned that a sparkling wine has a second fermentation that takes place to make it “sparkling” and that it is quite labour intensive – explains the price right!?

Then the questions began. The majority of wines are best up to 5 years for reds and 3 years for whites. We tend to keep wines too long, which can compromise their flavour. Once a bottle is opened, storing it in a smaller container (with less air) and in the fridge, can make it last longer. It slows down the oxidation. If you're doing it with a red and need to bring it back to room temperature, simply put it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Try it out and continue adding 3 second spurts until it's perfect. Microwave + wine, who knew!?

Next came a delightful white wine (I'm not a huge fan of whites but this could change me) – 2007 McManis Viognier. This is where the real tasting began. I've never done this before so it was really quite exciting. First we tried the wine. Then we sucked on a lemon and then tried the wine again. Bread. Wine again. Then we had some salt; back to the wine. More bread. Wine. Sugar and then some more wine. With each step we focused on the feeling in our mouths and the flavours that came from the wine. The lemon for example, smoothed out the wine and made it less acidic. Doing this allows someone, who knows little about wine (me!), to figure out what foods to pair the wine with.

Then the next dish came. I have to say, this is by far, the absolute best tart I've ever had, and went so beautifully with the wine. A caramelized onion and blue benedictine tartlet with spiced nuts. Sooooo heavenly.

The questions kept coming (and so did the wine and food!) Wine is best kept at a consistent temperature. Heat, light, vibration and fluctuation of temperature are all bad for wine.

A roasted heirloom tomato strata with chèvre and arugula and basil oil came next, paired with a 2006 Noceto Sangiovese from Shenandoah Valley. This wine is the perfect example of a California winery making an Italian wine. I would have thought this was my favourite; until the next one arrived...

Smelling is the most difficult thing to do for a human as we always associate smells with imagery. Which is what can make picking the smells out of the wine so difficult. We kept smelling this next wine as a group and yelled out what we smelled as we sensed it. As soon as you heard someone say something you caught the scent. Then you found your own. In order to get good at this you have to do it often, and write it down! It's most fun when done in a group. Like we did with the 2006 Noceto Barbera, which was amazing. Everything about it reminded me of some of my favourite evenings at home with friends and a heavy red. I loved this wine! They served this one with a wild Le Coprin mushroom risotto with sage oil.

I mentioned that my father gets headaches when he drinks certain wines. He has always blamed it on the tannins. I learned tonight that that is a myth. But that it is possible the wine is causing an allergic reaction, producing histamines. Taking an antihistamine tablet can reduce the headaches. I can't wait to tell him!

The 2007 McManis Petite Sirah was by far my favourite wine of the evening. They served it with a mouthwatering venison pot pie, topped with celeriac mash and served with home made red pepper jelly. Flavours of apple, juniper berries and thyme melded in. So comforting. The combination of wine and this dish made me want to curl up in front of a fireplace and finish the bottle.

Our final dish was a sliced hanger steak on a creamy, herbed polenta with salsa verde and it was paired with a 2006 Chiarello Bambino Cab Sauvignon. Yummm.

I can't rave enough about my evening. Every time I've gone there I just have the best time ever. I'd have to say the learning experience and interaction from this event was probably one of the best of all. I love that we have a spot like this in Ottawa. Everytime I go I just keep thinking of the other people I know who would enjoy it so much and whom I'd love to bring (I actually just got a gift certificate for a friend as a wedding gift – I would LOVE something like that!)

So worth checking out!



Anonymous said...

I want to live your life.


Rachelle said...

Wow! Do I EVER feel special now! I must admit, loving something this much and being surrounded by such amazing chefs in the Ottawa area really makes it easy.

Anonymous said...

How do I always miss these at UE? I would have loved to have gone to this! And your words and pictures make it all the more appealing.


Rachelle said...

I'm going to be keeping my eyes open for the next time "Pooch" comes back to do a wine evening. I'll be there in a heartbeat. I signed up for another event there at the end of October that I'm really looking forward too as well, East Coast Kitchen Party! with Steve Vardy from Black Cat and Josh from the Whalesbone. Should be really fun, and being from the east coast, definitely can't pass it up!

treesaw said...

Great post Rachelle! You really outdid yourself on this one. Sounds like such a great night!

Rachelle said...

we need to get the girls together and do one of these. it's so much fun.