Wine and Steak

The pursuit of excellence is at the heart of everything.

In that spirit, may I direct you to where the highly esteemed David Lawrason will enlighten you about his forthcoming series of wine lectures. He has teamed up with Canadian Living wine columnist and critic, Anne Martin, to present a spring series of seminars focused on wine value. Called “Where in the World are the Best Wine Values”, it’s a series of eight tastings on Wednesday nights in March and April at a newly renovated space at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. Guests can sign up for one, some, or all. Themes include South Africa (David has just returned from the Cape full of enthusiasm for the products of the world’s most picturesque wine country), Argentina and Southern Italy. Describing the series he explains, “It’s something new and affordable for those who just refuse to give up on exploring and enjoying wine in tough times.” I recommend you join him there asap.

The same must be said for the extraordinary event now taking place at Allen’s, Toronto’s most accomplished Irish-American saloon, up there on the Danforth. I wrote about this two years ago (blimey, how time flies!) and now it is upon us again, the ultimate experience for those who crave the taste and texture of steak. The proprietor of Allen’s, John Maxwell (who will be in my league of nine gastronomical superheroes when the Final Battle is fought to free the palate and the intellect of mankind from the hands of the sly priests and the professors whose mouths are gorged with sawdust, and the merchants who sell blades of grass – the awful people of the Fomor, in other words, as identified by Mr Stephens) has again revived his Steak Festival, which lasts until February 22, 2009.

For those who have never indulged, this is Canada’s (perhaps the World’s) most telling and convivial forensic exploration of the quality of beef. On the menu are striploins, rib-eyes, bone-in rib steaks, tenderloins and prime rib from specific farms – many different breeds of cow, the creatures raised and then finished on many different feeds, the meat aged for many different lengths of time. Forget the laboured old comparisons of Canadian beef and USDA Prime (whatever that is – though Maxwell includes one decent example as a sort of scapegoat) – this is truly interesting. Here is a wagyu-Angus cross from Patrick McCarthy’s farm in Camrose, Alberta, hormone- and antibiotic-free, fed hay, barley, wheat, corn and oats, the meat aged 28 days. Compare it with its antithesis, the lean-as-venison James Cagney of all beef cattle, a Dexter steer from Ron and Adele Service’s Black Walnut Lane farm in Millgrove, Ont., also hormone- and antibiotic-free, fed on grass, hay, corn and corn silage, aged 24 days. You get the picture – and there are 20 other unique steak experiences to compare. Maxwell has met the individual animals in question and can vouch for their pedigree. I strongly suggest you gather a group of aficionados, mosey to Allen’s, gather around a big table and order one or two of each steak. You will go home with an unprecedented knowledge of the best steak Canada has to offer.

But what will you sozzle while conducting all these experiments? The wine list that Maxwell has assembled is a museum-quality manifesto of what Ontario can achieve. Dozens of rare Ontario masterpieces including such treasures as Chateau des Charmes Equuleus 2001 ( not a typo – it is the 2001) and Reif Estate Tesoro 1995 are assembled for your pleasure and education. He has even thrown in a couple of ringers from out west – Nk’Mip 2002 Pinot Noir and Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Meritage Reserve 2002 – to make the point.

February is so weird, such a zigzag-crazy month anyway, why not become a master of Canadian beef and wine? You will never regret the expertise you acquire.

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