Wednesday evening turned out to be an excellent party. It was another Visa Infinite gathering, this time much less formal than the last event at George, and we held it in the Market Kitchen, that interesting second-storey event space above the St. Lawrence Market. Manning the stoves was Jamie Kennedy with two of his sous-chefs. Charles Baker brought his eponymous Riesling (definitely an archetype of the grape’s Niagara Benchland expression) and Geoff Heinricks provided two extraordinary wines – his Keint-he Pinot Noir and his Keint-he Pinot Sauvage, a unique wine made from botrytis-affected Pinot Noir that ended up coral-coloured, not sweet but by no means dry, and incredibly complex with all those curious, beguiling stone fruit and truffle-honey aromas that noble rot creates. With two winemakers and one eloquent chef on hand there wasn’t a great deal for me to do except introduce people and let them tell their always fascinating stories.
While guests gathered, we sipped Henry of Pelham’s elegant Cuvee Catharine rosé bubbly while Jamie and his team sent forth such treats as tourtiere strudel with mustard pickle, crisp apple with pork belly and cider mignonette, smoked fish cake with wild leek tartar sauce, marinated eggplant on sourdough bread and a vegetarian ceviche on a potato crisp. Meanwhile, the Dairy farmers of Canada set up a tasting table for three awesome cheeses – Le Baluchon from Quebec, Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue from Thornloe, Ontario and Empire Cheddar from Campbellford, Ontario.
Chef Kennedy’s first course was a miniature bowl of jerusalem artichoke soup (so simple – just a purée of jerusalem artichokes, onion and chicken stock) with a j-choke crisp on top and a tiny drizzle of bright green parsley oil and bright red pepper oil. With that, we poured JK Chardonnay, a wine Jamie helped create at Rosehall Run winery in Prince Edward County, close to his farm. Rosehall’s winemaker was interested to bring a chef’s sensibilities to the art of blending the various lots of Chardonnay from the vintage (different clones, different oak programs, some unoaked). The final cuvée was gorgeous, richer and more layered than some of the guests were expecting. I think the only place to find it now is at Jamie’s restaurant, Gilead Bistro (4 Gilead Place – which is an alleyway running south off King Street, east of Parliament – 647 288 0680). He closed the place down for a couple of weeks in January to redecorate. I haven’t been since but trusted friends say it looks very charming and romantic after dark with candles twinkling and the day’s menu chalked on a blackboard. Check it out at www.jamiekennedy.ca.
We tasted Charles Baker’s Riesling next – tangy, not quite bone dry, with notes of grapefruit and an elegant minerality at the end, a wine that is going to be very different but no less delicious a decade from now. With it, Jamie paired small fillets of Georgian Bay whitefish coated with red fife flour and pan fried, braised leek and crisped potatoes from his own farm in Hillier, Prince Edward County.
The main course was beef, also from the chef’s farm. He follows a very natural way of raising his cattle – no antibiotics, no corn or feed, nothing but the grass that grows beneath their hooves and hay. He also keeps them three years – twice as long as most commercial beef. It was superb beef, full of flavour and amazingly tender. Jamie braised the shoulder and roasted the prime rib and dressed them with a dark jus and a sharp parsley ravigote that did its job of bringing the dish to life. The Keint-he Pinot Noir was another impeccable match, an unfined, unfiltered Burgundian style Pinot finished in French oak. It was the first time I had tasted it and I was really impressed by its balance, intensity and drinkability. Geoff Heinricks was the true pioneer of modern winemaking in the County, moving down there in the mid 1990s. He wrote a great book about the experience – A Fool and Forty Acres – and has since written a number of practical treatises of invaluable use to those who have followed him into the County’s viticultural scene. It was fascinating to get a double taste of Hillier terroir from the beef and the Pinot Noir, both products of the same soil, grown about two miles apart.
Jamie Kennedy delivered a two-part finale to go with the Keint-he Pinot Sauvage – a slice of pear over which he melted some rich, unctuous, yellow Cape Vessey semi-soft goat cheese from Fifth Town dairy, also in the County. The little edge of bitterness and salt on the rind of the cheese caught something in the wine and a light went on somewhere on my palate. The other element was an apple tarte tatin with a very thin crust and some maple and black walnut ice cream. This time it was the acidity in the apple and one or two crunchy walnuts on the side of the plate that found a friend in the wine.
For anyone interested in experiencing the terroir of the County (and one example of the Niagara bench) the evening was a gentle eye-opener, the quality of wines, beef and produce absolutely first class.
We’re doing another evening next Tuesday the 25th at Susur Lee’s new place, Lee Lounge, on King Street West. At least I hope we are. The brown paper is still up in the windows, the Lounge unopened and Susur is currently overseas… Not to worry. He will be there in person and the whole thing will be amazing. The last few tickets are worth scrambling for at www.visainfinte.ca.