Words by Tara Pepper

Bobby and I have been going to the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Center in November for years. We don’t get there every year; more like every other year. It’s always a good time and we come away with some new finds to enjoy over the next year.

We head out early on Saturday morning and take the GO train. It opens at noon, but we aim to get there earlier to avoid the incredible crowds that the show draws later in the day. I have a difficult time in crowded spaces, so we even start checking out the booths at the opposite end of the convention hall while everyone else starts at the first aisle. Hey—it works for me!

The show is not only wine and cheese; it also has lots of beer, spirits and incredible food to sample. And it’s not inexpensive either, but it’s worth it. We tried all kinds of things this year. I think the highlight for me were the oysters from Rodney’s Oyster House. They were fresh and delicious, and shucked right there in front of you. I had them with just a touch of red wine vinegar and shallot mignonette sauce and fresh lemon; Bobby opted for some of their special sauces. We started with three each and then had to go back for three more. They were amazing!

Other notable food tastes I have to mention would be the lobster and truffle mac and cheese from the Frankie Fettucine food truck and an incredible hand-rolled shrimp and avocado sushi roll that was very tasty but I can’t remember where it was from. So many things to try, so little time!

Those who know me know that I’m not a huge beer drinker but I do have my favourites, and I found a couple of new ones at the show. I loved the Lions Winter Ale from Granville Island Brewing. It could easily become my new fave. It’s a deep amber ale with complex layers of vanilla, toffee, chocolate and a slight nuttiness that was to die for. I had a sample and definitely wanted more, so it’s off to the LCBO for me today!

The other one that I enjoyed was from the same company: the English Bay Pale Ale. It was smooth with a slightly sweet caramel flavour and a mild hoppy bitterness on the finish. I think it would pair nicely with barbequed meats.

I didn’t really sample many spirits, however, there were some interesting vodka concoctions like cucumber, chocolate and chocolate mint from Iceberg that were surprisingly interesting. I may try to make my own cucumber version; I think it would be delicious in a Caesar and how hard can it be to marinate cucumbers in vodka for a while before you serve it? I’ll let you know how it turns out!

For wine, I wanted to focus on Italian and French this year rather than my usual Californians. My very favourite wine is an Italian amarone, and that can be expensive, but we found the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico by Cantina di Negrar for $36. It’s a great buy and an excellent, full-bodied and smooth wine. I loved it.

For something a little less pricey but still delicious, try the Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore Ripasso “Le Roselle” from the same company at $16. I’ll be rounding out my wine supply with this one. It’s medium-bodied and fruity, and would go well with pasta. I can taste it already!

Another ripasso on my list was the Enzo Vincenzo from Cantine Sgarzi at $15; equally as great as the Negrar.

I think my all-time favourite French red has always been from the Ch?teauneuf-du-Pape area, although I’d forgotten about it lately because of my focus Californian wines. The La Fiole du Pape from Brotte is an excellent, medium-bodied, fruity offering at $35, which is a great price for a good Ch?teauneuf.

Another find was the Fleurie Cuv?e les Vieux Granits by Ch?teau du Chatelard at $21. It was ripe and fruity with a mineral taste—very interesting on the palate. I’ll definitely experiment with food pairings on this one.

Lastly, I enjoyed the Ch?teau de Courteillac blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) at $13. It’s an easy-drinking wine, round and fruity with a robust but smooth structure; it would be great with cheese.

Of course, I had to stop for some California tastes too and found a couple of new bottles. I love California Zinfandels—they’re my go-to staple in my wine cellar—and the Kunde Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley at $23 was a winner. I also found the Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel at just $14; a great value and an easy-drinking wine. The De Loach Pinot Noir at just $15.50 was surprising, as was the J. Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paso Robles region at $40. I definitely have some more tasting to do when it comes to these great wines. Aw gee, life is so hard sometimes!

There you have it: our day at the show in highlights. Maybe we’ll go again next year—and maybe we’ll see you there?

’Til next time,