“Bottom Drops” Wine Tasting at deVine’s

Thom, Mack and I met up at deVine Wines & Spirits on Thursday night for their “Bottom Drops” wine tasting. Though Mack and I enjoy wine, the extent of our knowledge goes as far as recognizing our preferences. Thom, more of a vodka and rum man, wanted to learn more about wine as well – so we thought an informal tasting would make a good Christmas gift, and a nice group outing.

Mack and Thom

We were told the evening had sold out of its standing-room only 80 tickets, but once the crowd had been assembled, we didn’t believe that the room was actually that full. Regardless, each $25 ticket granted us seven wine samples, access to a supply of good cheese and bread, and an option to purchase any of the evening’s wines at a 10% discount.

At deVine’s

The evening was introduced as a counterpoint to their pricey “Top Drops” series ($110 per ticket), where all wines sampled were priced at over $100 a bottle. All “Bottom Drops” wines were under $25, though Nick, who led the night’s activities, had tweaked the price of at least one bottle to make it fit the cost window.

“Bottom Drops” selections

While I’ve been to tasting events like the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival and Sip!, this was my first “guided” tasting. I have to say I enjoyed it very much – the colour Nick lent to the wines, from the history of a particular grape, to the nuances of a growing region, enhanced the experience. I particularly enjoyed his anecdote about the carmenere grape, which he had dubbed the “Jurassic grape”, owing to the fact that many thought the varietal was long extinct.

Wine

My favourite (not surprisingly), was the honey-sweet Roumieu dessert wine, while both Mack and Thom liked the 1999 Crianza best, and subsequently picked up a bottle each. The evening was a lucrative one for deVine’s – it seemed like every attendee bought at least one bottle to take home.

The entire tasting lasted about an hour and a half, which was the perfect length of time for a weeknight – and with the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, I thought  deVine’s was a great venue to learn a little more about wine.

There are ample places to enhance your wine education in Edmonton – here are just a few if you’re looking:

Unwind with Wine: Moriarty’s Bistro & Wine Bar

I’m very happy to see that Edmonton is finally getting its wine bar groove on. Moriarty’s Bistro & Wine Bar and LIT Wine Bar (on Jasper Avenue and 104 Street) are joining the fray that already includes Bibo and TZiN. While LIT is still in the works, Moriarty’s opened at the end of December, and after the Winter Light gala at City Hall last week, Mack and I popped over to check it out.

Moriarty’s Bistro & Wine Bar

Moriarty’s is the third business in two years to occupy the space that used to house Ching’s Asian Dim Bar and Mimi’s (10162 100A Street), right across the street from Hundred. I hope the space isn’t cursed, because I do think downtown could use another place for a glass of wine, and Moriarty’s, at least from our first visit, is a great addition to the core.

Wine

Moriarty’s is owned by the same people who run Sherlock Holmes and the Rose & Crown, but you wouldn’t know it from the interior. The black and white colour scheme is sleek and elegant, with one wall lined with cozy white leather banquets (where we chose to sit). The plastic black chairs that made up the bulk of seating options didn’t look too comfortable, but they were aesthetically pleasing. I loved the oversized light fixtures, and large black mirrors on the walls.

Interior

Moriarty’s is the fourth establishment in Edmonton to install and utilize an Enomatic wine system (Vinomania, The Bothy and Hardware Grill are the others). The system allows wine to stay fresher longer, meaning wines served by the glass can be preserved for a longer period of time. We both selected a glass of wine from the Enomatic menu, with eight options to choose from. I won’t even pretend to be a wine connoisseur to say that I can taste the difference between a freshly opened bottle and one with a life lengthened by nitrogen gases, but I think the technology is neat.

We weren’t particularly hungry that day (having sampled some food at the gala), but opted to order something to share. The menu wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped for (particularly after our server told us the chef trained at the Hardware Grill), and consisted of pizza-like flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and a handful of appetizers. We ended up with the leek and house-roasted ham French tart, recommended by our server.

The server told us the phyllo pastry was made in-house, which was a welcome surprise. Buttery, flaky and rich, it was definitely not an everyday dish, and accompanied with the crunchy shredded leeks and ham, it was wholly satisfying.

Leek and Ham French Tart

Being the only patrons that night had its pros and cons. Our food arrived in no time, but the lack of co-diners made our experience somewhat awkward. Our server was on top of us from the moment we walked in, but given his genuine nature and obvious desire to please, it was excusable. And if anything, his sincerity was much preferred to some of the more condescending service we’ve encountered in the city.

Best of luck to Moriarty’s – I hope to be back for a glass of wine after work soon!

Moriarty’s Bistro & Wine Bar
10162 100A Street
(780) 757-2005

Capital EX 2008

Though I loathe to admit it, I am not immune to the pleasures of Capital EX, even though now most of my enjoyment comes not from amusements, but from immersing myself in the atmosphere.

The midway at dusk

Mack and I started our evening in the cool recesses of the Agricom, specifically at Sip! The event I was most looking forward to, Sip! is set-up to be a showcase of alcohol and food in that order. At the gate, we were handed a small booklet containing a comprehensive list of liquor merchants and the wares they were showcasing, not unlike the pamphlet provided at the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

Sip! in the Agricom

We ended up buying 13 tickets (at $1 a pop), and tried Mojo (an “alternative vodka beverage”), wine from EnSante Winery, Alberta’s only organic-fruit cottage winery (too cool, wine made from alfalfa and rhubarb, among other varieties), and Firecracker Shrimp (cayenne-dipped, phyllo-wrapped, tempura-battered, served with a mango habanero sauce). The chefs at each of the food stations we passed were so eager to tell us not only how their products were made, but why the flavours complemented each other – count me impressed.

EnSante Wines

Firecracker Shrimp

We decided to stick around a little longer when we noticed a few people setting up at the CookTop, a stovetop and counter with an angled mirror installed above for easy viewing (like Home Economics class in secondary school). Sebastian Lysz of Devlin’s (10507 82 Avenue) led the session, and prepared Spring Creek Ranch flank steak and sauteed vegetables. Mary Bailey, an ISG certified sommelier and noted local food writer, spoke about appropriate wine pairings. The best part about watching the demonstration was the free food – we received two wine samples each, and a small plate of steak and vegetables. Based on what we paid for the shrimp, we were sure that quantity of food would have easily been $10. It was darn good steak, too.

Sebastian Lysz cooks

Flank steak, vegetables, au jus

After chowing down, we had just enough time to head to the next hall for a performance of the Birdhouse Factory, a show of acrobats in the same vein as Cirque du Soleil. Besides still wondering why the theme of a “birdhouse factory” was necessary at all, the show was great. It was definitely worth staying through the entire forty-five minutes. My favourite acts were the gymnastic tango and the trio of agile trampoline performers. The soundtrack really did enhance the show – made it more exciting and upbeat, or whatever mood the scene required.

The rest of our evening consisted of wandering the grounds, perusing various exhibits, including the ETS Centennial display, ED Fest (where Raine Maida was performing, alongside his wife Chantal Kreviazuk), Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, and the Family Fun Town.

In the driver’s seat (I stole this caption from Mack)

Art walk

E

ED Fest

 

Scary python (thank goodness for the cage)

Too corny (heh)

Like a memory from my childhood

We also tried our hand at skee-ball, but ultimately decided that we belonged at Chuck E. Cheese.

Shoot for 50!

In our quest to find the most unusual food on the midway, we came across deep-fried Oreos (which actually looked quite sad), deep-fried cheesecake, and last year’s sensation, deep-fried Coke. “Taco in a Bag”, essentially Doritos tortilla chips, ground beef, cheese and other taco fixings in a bag to be eaten with a spoon, was around last year as well, but this was the first time I had seen it. Needless to say, we bypassed all of the above in favour of our summer festival standby – mini doughnuts.

Happy with mini doughnuts in hand

To end the evening, we took in the fireworks at the racetrack, finding a comfortable bench to wait out the anticipatory period. In total, the show was six minutes long – respectable, and both of us were quite impressed with the finale (with pops and whizzes louder with the sound bouncing off of the grandstand). To be fair, we were happy there were fireworks at all – they had been cancelled at our last Capital EX outing the year before.

In all, it was a nice way to spend a summer evening in Edmonton. Mack’s pictures are here.

Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival 2007

After missing last year’s event, I made sure I marked off the date for the 2007 version of the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

I had some time to kill before having to meet up with Janice and May, so took some time to admire the view from the terrace of the Shaw Conference Centre. It was a beautiful fall day, and though the leaves had all but fallen from the trees, our river valley was looking glorious bathed in the warm autumn sun. I was able to capture a few shots of two hot air balloons just taking flight from a field near the Muttart Conservatory:

Picturesque

Up, up and away!

Just after five, the girls arrived, and we headed into one of the halls already buzzing with activity. After having our tickets scanned, we were handed a wine glass on our way in, and picked up a small program listing all of the vendors present. Pretty soon, however, we figured out that it was easier and more fun to simply wander the aisles without attention paid to labels and names.

The floor

Unlike the Taste of Edmonton, this festival charges a $15 admission fee. For what purpose, I still can’t figure out, as I can only imagine the hundreds of dollars each winery would have been charged to set up a booth. Tickets were actually a little cheaper though – 50cents each, with wine and food samples priced at a minimum of 2 tickets, but up to, as far as we could see, 20 tickets. May and I both snagged a few coupons from the local paper, so between the three of us, managed to redeem them for 60 free tickets, and only needed to purchase $20 dollars worth to supplement them. I’m sure for most patrons of this event though, being economical wasn’t on their minds – it looked as if most of Edmonton’s upper crust was present that evening (Hello, Louis Vuitton!).

Though wine (and spirits) should have been the main attraction (hence the name of the festival being wine & food and not food & wine), we necessarily gravitated towards the food vendors. We hadn’t had a lot to eat prior to meeting, so we figured some food in our stomachs would make the alcohol easier to process.

The Little Potato Company had the best deal hands down, selling samples of Piccolo Potatoes with Fresh Cream and Dill for just 3 tickets, and as a bonus, distributing two small bags of potatoes along with it, free of charge. The Grill had one of the most popular items on the floor – Blue Cheese Stuffed Mini Burgers. Presentation was of utmost importance at this event, and would put most at the Taste of Edmonton to shame. For example, B-Bim-Baab was offering mini portions of their namesake, hand garnished with sections of pickled carrots, bean sprouts, egg, and grilled beef. Of course, although there were some reasonably priced items to be had, there were also some duds – a small plate of butter chicken and rice was $5 from Khazana, while a combination plate from the Haweli booth was a startling 19 tickets.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mini Burgers from The Grill

May poses with her Lobster Cakes from the Century Hospitality Group

For us, wading through the overwhelming number of wine merchants was a chore – as all of us are relatively new to the appreciation of wine, we didn’t really know what to sample. The importance of marketing to a wine label’s success was evident on this night – brands such as Funky Llama and House Wine (hee) distinguished themselves in part because of their stand out names. I was happy to see a few brands that I had noticed on past trips through liquor stores, and seized this opportunity to inexpensively give them a go.

Janice receives her first pour of the night

The 2006 Fat Bastard Rose from France was a bit weak for my taste, while the 2005 Voga Italia Pinot Grigio wasn’t bad. The 2005 Artezin Zinfandel from the Hess Collection was too rich for me, and definitely boasted of a dark, black cherry taste the purveyor had mentioned. Mystiq, a Cognac-based fruit cocktail, was a refreshing departure from wine, and was sweeter than the similar but more well-known Hypnotiq. My last sample turned out to be the most expensive of the evening, a 2003 Private Reserve Chardonnay from the Canadian Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery. At $5 for the 2oz. pour, the wine was well worth it – smooth, and with nary an aftertaste.

Cheers!

We didn’t make it out of the hall until nearly 7:30, in part due to the increasing number of people touring the aisles as the night wore on. I will be back next year, ideally with a knowledgeable oenophile in tow, and make sure to again arrive early, and keep an eye out for coupons in the paper.