Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment. Cheers! - Bethany

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tough day at the office: wine tastings and gourmet food

Some people ask me about my experiences as a professional in the field. They all look at me with mock sympathy: oh, how rough it must be to sit around drinking wine all day. I used to think that way too, especially when I'd read Natalie's or Rod's articles about having to taste hundreds of wines in a day for a competition. You're still DRINKING WINE, how bad can that be? Then I had my first professional, strictly business tasting. In a word: blagh.

There's a valuable lesson to be learned here: every single glass of wine isn't going to be a good glass of wine. This morning's bumpy run through a flight of Canadian samples (the stuff that gives Canada a bad name) was a learning experience, if nothing else. It reminded me that, as a sommelier, I have to be the one with the skills to recognize quality and be able to make recommendations to clients. That means having to taste about five bad wines for every good one.

This morning's wines were either a) poorly made, b) stored the wrong way or c) faulted: some were oxidized, some were horribly unbalanced, others were simply "meh" but not good enough to make the cut. (And I can assure you, we have a *very* demanding client. Nothing but the best.) We also tried a few from a BC winery that is currently in receivership, and we immediately knew why as soon as the smell hit us. Yikes!

There were two that I did actually like, despite the general consensus that they weren't quite up to snuff; they were certainly good enough to me. Both from Burrowing Owl, in the Okanagan Valley, the first was a 2006 Cabernet Franc, filled with all sorts of jammy, spicy goodness, and just a hint of green peppercorn. Strong, grippy tannins, with a modest berry finish. The second, a 2006 Meritage, was like the Cab Franc plugged into an amplifier and cranked up to the "metal" setting. A complex nose of berries, chocolate, mint and peppercorn, firm tannins (without being too aggressive) and a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG finish.

My palate was relieved of duty around noon for a delightful lunch at Fraser Café. You'll recall my first go with the Fraser brothers wasn't that hot, but they redeemed themselves this time around with a glorious noodle bowl of roasted quail, wild mushrooms and delectable herbs and greens. I was giddy to see they had the Ironstone Symphony on their menu - how could I possibly pass up on a glass of that?

For dessert, my dining mate led me next door to Jacobson's, a gourmet food shop. Oh my, the selection! Preserves and jams, international cheeses, fresh breads, ready-to-heat meals, candies and chocolate and truffles. I picked out some Dufflet pastries (freshly made, flash-frozen and shipped in from their Toronto headquarters) for my colleagues back at the office; the Kahlua Toffee Bar and Sweet D's were big winners. I knew I would be coming back again.

Beechwood is a haven for the discriminating foodie. Across from Fraser's is Da Bombe, a Mecca of decadent desserts; down the street you'll find the Bread and Roses bakery, a purveyor of organic and gluten-free goods; on the corner of Mackay is one of Ottawa's three Clocktower Brew Pubs, with its homemade brews, upscale bar menu and a wide, inviting patio; and if you haven't satisfied your sweet tooth enough, there's always Piccolo Grande, one of the best places for gelato in town. Travel a little ways down to where Beechwood meets up with St. Laurent and you'll find The Works (its new digs since moving out of the tiny space now occupied by the Fraser boys).

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