There was a cornucopia of culinary royalty at the 20th annual Taste Canada Awards Gala/Les Laureats des Saveurs du Canada held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto last month.
The red carpet was rolled out to honour Canada’s finest cookbook authors, publishers and food bloggers with 24 Gold and Silver awards given out. Categories ranged from Culinary Narratives, Single Subject Cookbooks, Regional & Cultural Cookbooks to Health & Special Diet, General Interest and Health & Special Diet blogs.
Following the ceremony, locavores were treated to a gala celebration of innovative Canadian fare whipped up by some of Ontario’s top chefs and restauranteurs. The sampling stations featured a fabulous array of indigenous Canadian cuisine with a focus on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. The good folks at Niagara College Teaching Winery were also on hand to share some of their best student wines including the 2016 balance, a clean, classic un-oaked chardonnay, and on the red side, The Dean’s List 2012 Meritage –a robust, made-in-Ontario blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
It was a thrill to sit amongst cookbook royalty during the awards ceremony, but I was at Taste Canada on a mission!
I was keen to meet the assembled collection of awarded chefs – to taste their most inspired Canadian dishes – and importantly, to get their take on how to best pair their gastronomy with wine. For this special occasion, they’d be out to impress, charged as they were with telling the story of Canada through food.
Before we explore the food offerings, a couple of thoughts on wine and food matching.
First, don’t stress! Food pairing has a way of paralyzing us with fear (or at least it did me when I started to study wine). Yes, there are a few tricky food ingredients – most notably those with high acidity and elevated sweetness – but the best advice I can give is to trust your own palate. We all have differently constructed taste receptors with different thresholds and sensitivities, so the best way to understand your tasting idiosyncrasies is through trial and error. Do the heavy lifting: eat/drink/repeat. Keep in mind that with some 10,000 grape varietals out there, there is NO one “definitive answer” on the subject.
Wine pairing is fundamentally about balancing tastes, and that starts with understanding the major ingredient(s) and textures in a dish. Is the lead ingredient bitter, sweet, salty, sour (acidic) or umami? Umami – referred to as the “fifth” flavour component – is a taste receptor that’s often described as savoury, with meat, broth, anchovies, Parmesan and Marmite all offered up as examples (yep – a pretty broad swath). Textural elements – like butter, oils and fats – often align with mouthfeel and palate weight, and are important wine pairing considerations, especially for fish, cheese and meats.
The trick here is to assess your dish in terms of weight and then match the intensity: lighter, delicate flavours work best with a delicate, light bodied wine – like a Sauvignon Blanc. Richer dishes, with sauces and more substantive flavours are great with more lush, full-flavoured wines – like Chardonnay. Bold flavours like ribs and steaks go perfectly with bold, big bodied and full flavoured wines like Bordeaux Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Here’s a great link on the spectrum of light to full-bodied red and white wines styles to help you match intensity.
At the end of the day, EVERYONE will have a different opinion on what works best with a particular ingredient or food. The bottom line is, does the wine make the food taste better? Does it sing in your mouth, kick-start those saliva glands and elevate those endorphins? Sometimes, the best you can achieve is a palate-cleanse, but when you land on a made-in-heaven pairing, it’s delightfully rewarding. A lemon-pepper, veal picatta with an equally zesty Gruner Veltliner or lean, Chablis makes the world a better place….at least for awhile.
Ready to Taste Canada with me? Read part 2……
Note: Feature image – photo credit – Taste Canada Awards