An event recap by David Lawrason
A full house of fifty WineAlign guests gave a long ovation after a five-course dinner at EPIC Restaurant in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Thursday night. They were treated to one of the best wine and food pairing evenings in my recent memory, and in the process got to know the affable Marco Piccoli, the winemaker for Jackson-Triggs Ontario VQA wines.
Co-hosted by WineAlign, the evening showcased five top-of-the-line Grand Reserve wines by Jackson-Triggs, each paired with a course by EPIC’s chef Joshua Dyer.
The Royal York’s EPIC was a fitting locale for the event as it was the first downtown, fine dining restaurant in the city to embrace Ontario VQA as its core wine list, back in 2001. That was the year, by the way, that the Canadian Wine Awards (now the WineAlign National Wine Awards) were launched, at The Royal York Hotel.
Marco Piccoli, who was raised and schooled in Italy, talked constantly about the quality, diversity and potential of Ontario’s best wines, and at the end of the dinner, he encouraged the guests to continue to bring VQA wine to their tables on all occasions. “It absolutely works with food as well as any wine in the world” he said.
At this point a guest asked if any of the wines contained off-shore fruit, a good question, I thought, from a consumer perhaps more familiar with Jackson-Triggs “International Canadian Blends”. Marco Piccoli replied simply that these were all VQA wines, and that means they are 100% Ontario grown.
Over a flute of Jackson Triggs 2010 Entourage Grand Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Marco spoke of his childhood fascination with wine thanks to his father’s home winemaking efforts in his home in Udine in Friuli, an important white region in northeastern Italy. He also recalled reading about Canadian wine in school texts during his college program – which covered the subject in less than two pages. A chance meeting with Donald Ziraldo, then of Inniskillin who also was raised in Udine, encouraged him to come to Niagara for a season in 2005, and he has never left.
The first course of the evening carried on with the sauvignon blanc, as the Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was niftily paired with a sweet pea and crab soup. Cool as a cucumber. Piccoli, who admitted being a fan of sauvignons in his native Friuli and makes a similarly restrained but fresh style in Ontario, considers it one of the best white varietals for Niagara. Production at J-T has jumped to 40,000 cases a year.
Course number two matched an excellent truffle-scented mushroom and ricotta ravioli with Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate 2011 Grand Reserve Shiraz – an elegant, lighter weight shiraz with well tuned pepper, fruit and earthy notes. Piccoli recalled having no expectation for the syrah grape in Ontario when he arrived, but with subsequent experience since Jackson-Triggs first bottled syrah in 2004, he now thinks it is one of the best red grapes for Ontario.
The third course was the greatest surprise and perhaps best match of the evening: butter poached lobster claw in a chili spiked broth served with a brilliant, pure and exacting Jackson Triggs 2012 Grand Reserve Gewurztraminer. The lychee/mandarin fruit played beautifully against the chili broth, and rich texture of the wine was ideal with the lobster. Piccoli explained how the difficult gewurz grape is ideal in Niagara, but that it requires determination to grow and make it well.
The main course presented a tender cornish hen served à la coq au vin, matched with Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Merlot 2011. Again, a refined melding of flavours and textures as the wine presented classic Niagara lightness and freshness. Piccoli explained how merlot – despite its sensitivity to winter cold – has become a mainstay in Niagara’s ‘Bordeaux’ reds, both solo and blended with cabernet varieties.
The dessert course showcased a lemon lime curd with the 2008 Jackson Triggs Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Riesling Icewine – again a brilliant pairing picking up on the maturing almost marmalade citrus notes in the wine. Here Piccoli’s passion for ice wine clearly showed through, calling it Ontario’s greatest wine and explaining that his original curiosity about Niagara was piqued by the fact that Ontario – which makes a drop of the world’s wine bucket – had become globally famous thanks to this one style.
It was a great finale to an evening that surpassed all expectations.
Note: Our winemaker events do tend to sell out quickly. If you are interested in attending a future event then we advise that you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.