A Vine Celebration: The 120th Anniversary of Nino Negri Wines

In October, I traveled to Italy with great excitement to participate in Nino Negri’s 120th Anniversary celebration.  As I drove through the historic wine region of Valtellina, I was captivated by its breathtaking beauty and eager to participate in this year’s wine harvest. Valtellina is a serene valley at the foot of the Lombardy Alps, on the Italian-Swiss border. The “vine”, the heart of this difficult mountainous terrain, has found perfect growing conditions here. The vineyards are protected by two high mountain chains, the Retiche Alps and the Orobie Pre-Alps. Exposure to the sun at high altitude, as well as a significant […]

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Wine and Books: Holiday Gifts – Breakfast Television

This past Thursday, we chatted about book and bottle pairings as holiday gifts on Breakfast Television. Words and wine seem like a natural pairing to me … here are my favourites. What are yours? 1. Books are Beautiful The publisher selected 30 classic works of literature and assigned each a beautiful colour. Then the editors organized them in a rainbow of words so spectacular that you’re going to want to line them up on your shelves and just look at them.         Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut, South East Australia, Australia: Green apple fresh with zesty […]

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Taste Ontario! Defies Wine Stereotypes

Two Taste Ontario! events featured large tastings of Ontario wine recently. There wa strong representation of provincial wineries pouring a wide range of styles largely from the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Ontario vintages. You’ll find 100+ wine reviews from our team here, along with which stores have the wines in stock now. You’ll get a sense of the strong attendance and energy in the room from the video below (click on the arrow to play it). I was particularly impressed with the riesling, chardonnay and viognier wines I tasted. Meanwhile, Ontario Pinot Noir may have its best year ever in 2013.   Several of our team members enjoying […]

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Hot Child in the City: Beckta Restaurants Ignite Ottawa Dining

Note: I’m finally posting this story online: it was originally published in Ottawa Magazine, the sister publication of Toronto Life, back in 2003 when Steve Beckta opened his first restaurant on Nepean Street. Why now? Two reasons. First, the story still gives you an insider peak backstage at a top-notch restaurant and what’s like to be in a small, hot, high-performance kitchen. Second, Steve is about to move from his original location on Nepean to Grant House at 150 Elgin Street, which was built in 1875 and is undergoing a $3.5 million renovation (pictured above) for a November 19 opening. […]

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Backstage at the Hottest Dining Ticket in Ottawa

Continued from Part 2: Steve Beckta Restaurant Pastry chef Rebecca Macmurdo isn’t listening to the banter; she looks as though she’s trying to defuse a bomb hidden under the caramelized bananas. She works with small, deft hand movements, her face is inches from the plate. She’s responsible for both desserts and canapés, she is the first and last person to touch every diner’s meal. “I like prep,” she says cheerfully as she sets up her line of ingredients—golden beets, baby heirloom tomatoes, micro greens, beet and sugar jellies and caramel crunch. Later in the afternoon, I venture downstairs to another […]

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How do You Define Restaurant Hospitality? Take it with a Grain of Sea Salt

Continued from Part 3: Steve Beckta Restaurant At 5:30 p.m. Beckta greets the first guests, chats amiably for a few minutes, and then hostess Anique Montambault escorts them to their seats. Soon, the early guests are floating through their conversations on their first glass of wine. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the first wave of canapé and appetizer orders hits Macmurdo. The servers buzz around her “pass,” the eye-level counter where she puts up the amuse bouche canapés and salads as they’re ready. It’s the narrowest point in this river of activity where the pace either flows or chokes. Ripples of […]

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Why Do Restaurant Reviews Dismiss Wine?

Continued from Part 4: Steve Beckta Restaurant Tonight, though, there are no kids in the place; and the adults have moved beyond their starters to the main courses. In the kitchen, the first ripple hits the entrée station. Vardy, now standing between Fraser and cook J.P. Filion, tapes his wristwatch to the beam of his station. “How long you looking at Ross?” Vardy asks. “Five minutes,” Fraser replies. He’s searing foie gras, which will be topped with a caramelized blini made by Filion and then Vardy will finish them both with apple butter. In minutes Fraser and Filion contribute their […]

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Firing on All Burners: Juice Monkeys Thrive in the Heat of Service

Continued from Part 5: Steve Beckta Restaurant Anne DesBrisay was also happy to broadcast her enthusiasm—though she privately admitted later that given all the hype that had attended its opening, she had been nervous reviewing the restaurant. She was relieved though to find that it was indeed “a clear cut above, in all kinds of ways, but mostly in its service department.” “Beckta can only do good for this town in terms of raising the bar on service standards,” says Ottawa Citizen restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay. “The trend toward chef-owned restaurants is growing (yipee), but it means the chef’s in […]

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Sommelier to Restaurant Owner: Steve Beckta Keeps the Fire

Continued from Part 6: Steve Beckta Restaurant When I step back through the wall of heat into the kitchen, Quinn is telling Vardy: “They loved the béarnaise—they ordered the steak just for the sauce. But they thought the steak itself was a little salty.” “Tell ‘em to go to hell,” says Vardy smiling. In fact, Vardy and all the staff take customer feedback seriously. They’ve adapted a number of dishes because of such comments, and made other changes too. For instance, the tasting menu, rather than just listing the food and wine, now explains why certain wines were paired with […]

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