We recently had the honour and excitement of hosting our first event for a friend’s 30th birthday. While we each had done educational sessions on our respective beverages in the past, this was our first crack at a joint tasting lesson—and it went off smashingly!
We decided on a slightly different set of match-ups beginning with two cheeses and ending with birthday dessert—raspberry pie in this case as the birthday boy isn’t a fan of cake.
Now, normally we wouldn’t give it all away in one blog, but we thought we’d share this one in celebration of our first successful “event” and as a little gift to those who’ve already been following along.
Cheese: Alex Farm 8-year old Canadian cheddar
Wine: Pelee Island Winery Ontario VQA Pinot Grigio 2012
REGION: Pelee Island, ON
SOIL: Toledo clay with a limestone base found two to ten feet from the surface.
CLIMATE: Warmest in Canada, with a growing season (by heat units) matching northern California, warmer than Burgundy, France. Lake winds off of Erie help regulate temps and keep away molds and fungus.
THE GRAPE: Pinot gris is a variant of pinot noir, and makes pale yellow to brassy-coloured wines. It’s actually a grey-purple grape (hence the name, gris), so sometimes they leave the wine to macerate on the skins to impart some colour. Unlike pinot noir, however, it does well in cooler climates (such as Ontario), which is why it is grown often in Alsace, the northwest region of France on the German and Swiss borders.
THE PAIRING: This is a light, fresh wine with enough flavour and bright, zesty acidity to compete with the richness of the aged cheddar. It’s also a good one to start the evening off because it won’t overwhelm your palate. I also like it because it’s affordable ($13.95 at the LCBO) and a good choice for a light mid-week meal in the summer on the patio or with cheese and crackers on the dock.
Beer: Wellington Russian Imperial Stout
REGION: Guelph, ON
BREWING DETAILS: Known as a craft brewer of English-style real ales, Wellington Brewery is (as of 2009) Canada’s oldest independent microbrewery. Using British equipment and hops, along with Canadian malt and know-how, Wellington prides itself on brewing traditional beers. No gimmicks here!
THE PAIRING: As a case in point, their Russian Imperial Stout is something a tsar would love. Much like the stouts exported from England to Russia in the 1800s, this beer is big, bold and malty, with a smooth dark chocolate colour, aroma, and taste. With the aged cheddar, the contrast of the roasty malts and the meaty, salty aged cheddar make for a tasty and familiar pairing.
Cheese: Fleuron creamy blue by Les fromagiers de la table ronde (Laurentides, QC)
Wine: 2011 Featherstone Cabernet Franc VQA
REGION: Twenty-mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, ON
SOIL: Deep clay with limestone and shale sub-soil
CLIMATE: Cooler than Pelee so better for cooler-climate grapes such as Riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, etc.
THE GRAPE: Cabernet franc is one of the major black varietals grown worldwide and is most often used in Bordeaux-style blends (with merlot and cabernet sauvignon). I like to think of it as a nice combination of the two grapes—it has the structure cabs are known for, which lends long life to wines, and the round, full flavours found in merlot. It’s a grape that wineries in Canada are trying to perfect on its own (as with baco noir) because it ripens better in cool climates than c. sauvignon.
THE PAIRING: Most people think port with blue cheese, which is the classic pairing but I didn’t want to get into the port so early on in the evening. The rich, leathery fruit of the cab franc stands up just as well to the blue and again, has the acidity you need to cut through cheese.
FUN FACT: This winery practices biodynamic farming and as part of that, they have spring lambs help with pruning of extra shoots in the vineyard.
Beer: Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom IPA
REGION: Bracebridge, ON
BREWING DETAILS: Muskoka Brewery prides itself on being an all natural independent Canadian craft brewer — no shortcuts here. This cottage country brewery has been in production since the mid-90s and recently upgraded to a bigger facility, making it easier to find in stores.
THE PAIRING: Mad Tom is a cottage country IPA that will jolt you right out of your lawnchair. This wonderfully bitter brew has added Chinook and Centennial hops added to the fermented beer (a process called dry hopping). The extra hoppy bitterness makes it a great partner for a strong, creamy blue cheese. This is a complementary pairing — the herbal hops flavour mixing with the earthy blue cheese aromas, while the bitterness cuts through the fattiness of the cheese to cleanse your palate between bites.
Dessert: Home-baked raspberry pie
Wine: 2010 Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Autumn Riesling VQA
REGION: Beamsville & Twenty-mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ON
SOIL: Clay loam over shale
CLIMATE: Generally mild with a nice, long growing season. Days in summer can get very warm with breezes off of both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to regulate temperatures and keep vines cool in the evenings. This helps to maintain acidity. However, vintages vary greatly from year to year.
THE GRAPE: Ontario is internationally recognized for its Riesling and Cave Spring is one of the oldest wineries in Niagara, and has spent a long time perfecting it in a variety of styles. Like pinot gris, it’s not a completely white grape but is more of a bruised grayish blue-purple so that’s why it has more of a brassy colour than other whites like chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Riesling is a cool-climate grape that is known for its ability to make any style of wine—from very dry to very sweet. It’s very aromatic and when aged can develop a sort of “petrol” or rubbery smell.
THE PAIRING: This wine is made from hand-selected (and picked) bunches from a couple different vineyards on the escarpment which are left late on the vine into the early part of frost. But it is not an ice wine so it maintains it’s freshness—making it a nice fit for the sweet-tart raspberry pie.
Beer: Koningshoeven La Trappe Tripel Ale
REGION: Koningshoeven Abbey, Netherlands
BREWING DETAILS: This is the only Trappist beer brewed in the Netherlands. In order to be classified as Trappist, the beer must be brewed by Trappist monks. Although the abbey has expanded production since its inception in 1881, the beer is still brewed using all natural ingredients and water from the abbey’s well. The beer is top and bottle fermented. (Top meaning the yeast is most active at 18 to 20 degrees Celsius and bottle meaning extra sugar and yeast is added during bottling so the fermentation process continues in the bottles, giving it a unique nose.)
THE PAIRING: When you’re pairing beer with a dessert, one way to make sure that the sweetness of the dessert doesn’t overpower the beer is to match sugar with sugar. That means you want a big beer with a high alcohol content – go big or go home, basically, which is what we’ve done here with this 8% tripel. Here, the bittersweetness of this fruity beer can stand up to and find balance with the pie.