Canadian Wine and Cheese Discussion with Natalie Maclean – Oct 10th

Last Wednesday, October 10th, was a special one for towineman.  I was invited to participate in a very unique wine and cheese pairing discussion which consisted of sampling 9 different Ontario wines, and 6 different cheeses from all across the country.  This post will focus on a summary of that discussion as well as my reviews of the wines including some notes on the pairings with the cheese.  First off however, let’s start with a bit of background on the tasting itself and how it all came together.

In case you are not already familiar with Natalie Maclean, let’s start there.  Natalie is one of Canada’s top wine writers.  In fact she is one of the world’s top wine writers, being named the “Best Wine Writer” at the World Food Media Awards held in Australia.  Based in our nations capital, Natalie runs a very successful wine blog, participates in countless online discussions and videos, has an encyclopedia of wine and food recommendations on her site, and also is the author of Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass.

In partnership with many Ontario wineries and some of the best cheese manufacturers in the country, Natalie managed to pull together 11 bloggers from the wine and food community to participate in a live online discussion on pairing wine and cheese.  The discussion was broadcast live on Google+, a fascinating tool that allows live discussion as well as live streaming.  Each writer, respected in their own right, brought a different perspective and unique opinion to the discussion making for a very robust and entertaining ‘virtual’ round table.

Each of the 11 assembled writers was equipped with 9 Ontario wines, 6 Canadian cheeses, our notepads, and live video.  The result was a discussion that was not only a joy to participate in, but also a helpful tool for the everyday consumer with tips and key facts on all the products we tasted. Here is the video for your viewing pleasure.

From left to right you’ll find: Allie HughesCourtney FloodCorinna Horton; Dan TrckaJason SolankiGaby Israel; Me; Natalie MacLeanNina SyasSara Connelly and Travis Oke

As a participant one of the highlights of this discussion was just how well prepared and knowledgeable everyone was with the products.  Personally I spent about 2 hours prior to the event tasting and evaluating each and every wine and cheese on it’s own, as well as my featured pairing the St. Albert Onion Cheese, with the Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc  (skip to minute 18 in the video).  But that was just my preparation strategy and I was not alone.  Each and every person you find in the video was extremely well prepared.  I encourage you to check out all of their blog sites as each and every one of them will likely enhance your experience with wine and food.

Also to answer a very important question.  NO! True to form I did not waste any wine.  I did have to open all 9 bottles for the tasting and no, I did not get through them all alone.  But with the help of some very willing friends I hosted a private wine and cheese party on Friday night as a follow-up to this more formal one.  Though there is no video evidence and there will not be a follow-up post from that panel discussion.

Here are my thoughts on the each and every wine, including some notes below on pairing the wines with the cheese.
Jackson Triggs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – 2011 
This is what you should expect from an Ontario Sauvignon Blanc.  Fresh with lively acidity, this wine shows vegetal notes with asparagus and grass, plus some nice stone fruit coming through.  There isn’t a ton going on here, but a very refreshing and drinkable sauvignon blanc.
Score: 86, Price: $13.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Series Riesling – 2011 
A pretty simple Riesling this wine shows nice apple flavours paired with good acidity and even a slight mineral undertone.  There is some noticeable effervescence in the glass which aids the pairing with rich fish or cheese.
Score: 86, Price: $11.45

Open Chardonnay – 2011 
If I am searching I notice there is some creaminess, some apple, and even some minerality on the nose, but my appreciation for this wine pretty much ends there. It’s a bit watery on the palate and the acidity is less than I would expect.
Score: 82, Price: $11.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Chardonnay – 2011 
This chardonnay has obviously seen some time in oak as the creaminess and the vanilla come through prominently on the nose.  Almost to the point of smelling like an aged whiskey with less alcohol.  However the vanilla is very over the top and out of balance and after letting the wine sit it was all I could smell and taste.
Score: 83, Price: $10.95

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay – 2009
Here we have a 2009 Chardonnay that is easily balanced and complex enough to sit for another 2-3 years in your cellar.  This wine has a ton going on. Oak, minerality, butter, nuts, and even lemon on the nose and palate.  The acidity is fresh and the finishing taste seems to linger in your mouth for awhile.  Pair with fresh fish, rich cheese, pasta, chicken, turkey……
Score: 91, Price: $30.00

Inniskillin Pinot Noir – 2011 
This Pinot smells as though it has been aged a bit even though it has not.  Fruit comes through with cherry and even some olive notes, then some earthiness as it sits a bit.  The tannins are juicy and the wine is easy drinking.  I don’t get enough of the Pinot Noir silkyness or a long enough finish to rate this wine too high, but a nice easy drinking wine for sure.
Score: 87, Price: $13.95

Open Cab2/Merlot – 2011
I call this a “try hard” wine as it appears to be overtly seeking the traditional flavours known with cab/merlot blends. So much so that is actually lacks in many areas.  I get some blackcurrant and smoke on the nose but it ends there.  The wine is out of balance and there is literally no lingering finish to the wine in your mouth.  Some of the initial flavour you get is long gone in mere seconds.
Score: 80, Price: $10.95

Jackson Triggs Reserve Series Merlot – 2010 
This is a very nice wine a nice buy at $13.95.  Nice ripe cherry on the nose, partnered with some smoke and earthiness even typically associated with a more aged wine.  There is immediate cherry on the palate, then a nice lingering, smokey finish that is beautiful.
Score: 89, Price: $13.95

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine – 2011
Though a half bottle is $70, I publicly declared that this is one of the best dessert wines I have ever tried. This wine has the rare ability to make you stop what your doing and tell everyone around you to be quiet so you can enjoy the moment.  The sparkling nature is perfectly balanced with the icewine while not being over the top sweet.  Just magical.
Score: 94, Price: $69.95 (375ml)


The Cheeses: (Click in the link to learn more about each cheese)

La Fromagerie du PresbytèreBleu d’Élizabeth (no website)
Upper Canada Cheese Co – Comfort Cream
Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co – Alpindon
Laiterie Charlevoix – 1608
Bothwell – Madagascar Green Peppercorn
St. Albert Cheese Co. – Onion Cheddar

The cheeses were all outstanding and I continue to be impressed with the quality of product we have access to domestically.  Within this list of cheese there was representation from right across the country with products from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and BC.  In my opinion the top pairing was hands down the Inniskillin Ice Wine with the blue cheese.  The rich sweet ice wine was the perfect complement to the heavy blue cheese, with enough acidity to cut through the fat.  It was glorious and I think my sentiments were echoed by most on the panel.  The other general theme that you’ll notice in the video is that the Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay got rave reviews as a quality wine, but also an excellent pairing with most of the cheeses offered.  A few other pairings to try include the Jackson Triggs Sauvignon Blanc with the onion cheese or the Jackson Triggs Riesling with either the blue cheese or the Kootenay Alpindon.  Or… just try all the cheeses on their own and I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Final thoughts:
Here is a good time to provide some clarity.  You’ll notice in my wine ratings that there were a few I didn’t like and thus received negative reviews from me.  I am a writer and a critic and I aim to remain unbiased in my views.  From time to time I am not going to like something and I consider it part of my job to let you all know.  I also try to review wines based on quality and not just personal opinion, hence the positive review for the Sauvignon Blanc despite not personally liking the wine.  At the end of the day though you might still like any of the wines above and you are free to agree or disagree with me.  That’s the beauty of it all.  At least you know I am being honest.

Many, many, thanks to Natalie Maclean, all the panelists, and the participating wineries and cheese makers.  It was my pleasure to be a part of this panel and I look forward to the next discussion.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

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