April 30, 2013

Fifty Shades of Whisky

Whisky and Italian food might seem like strange bedfellows, but judging by the crowds that turned out at DiVino Wine Studio earlier this month for a whisky and food tasting, the two seem to be a marriage made in heaven.

DiVino's is well known to Italian food and wine lovers in Ottawa. Back when GrapeScot was just an idea, I met Antonio Mauriello at the Algonquin College Sommelier Program, where he was teaching New World Wines. I'm certain that there's no-one in Ottawa with greater knowledge of Italian wine, so it was Ottawa's gain when he opened DiVino Wine Studio, a restaurant, authentic Italian enoteca, and a beautiful spot for seminars, special events and extra special tastings.

A number of customers were interested in whisky so, a few years ago, Antonio asked if I would lead some whisky tastings, where guests could enjoy good company, a little education, and some nice whiskies and tasting plates.
Ottawa is not short of whisky lovers! From humble beginnings with a small group in the private back room, we're now filling the main room for two consecutive nights.

We've poured over fifty different whiskies - in many shades - since the tastings began. While Scotch predominates, I've featured whiskies from the US, Canada, India, Ireland, Japan, Wales and New Zealand; Single Malts, Single Casks, blended malts, aged blends, cask strengths, and many different cask finishes.
Cristian Lepore is the extraordinary chef at DiVino's. Always relaxed, friendly and unfazed in the  busy open kitchen, it's clear that he loves what he does. His style and personality command  great respect from his culinary team, and everything just flows harmoniously. Little wonder that guests at our tastings rave about the food, each plate thoughtfully created to complement or contrast with the whisky.

The format for selecting tasting plates has evolved over time. It starts with my selection of whiskies for the event. I love food - that's a good start - and use a little experience and knowledge to come up with rough pairing ideas - meats, fish, desserts, cheeses, flavour elements, fruits, spices, whatever seems likely to work with the whisky profiles. Then Cristian, aided and abetted by wine director, Eric Diotte, takes it from there, creating fabulous combinations and flavours for each tasting plate, and tweaking them specifically for each whisky.

At the recent tasting, we served Tullibardine Port Finish with chocolate cherry artisan gelato and crispy banana. The whisky has a nice profile but is youthful on its own. When paired with the dessert, however, it turned into a thing of beauty, with the chocolate, cherry and banana aspects in the food and the whisky all singing together in harmony. Spectacular!

Nothing seems to reflect individual palates more than whisky, so it's always fun to select a range and hope that guests will be delighted with more than a few. So far, so good! While we have repeat tasters coming out to DiVino's, the increasing number of new guests is testimony to the growing local thirst for whisky knowledge.

Whisky Tasting Menu April 18 and 19

Glengoyne 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Yellowfin tuna gravlax, orange gastrique and ginger foam

The South Island New Zealand 18 year old Single Malt Whisky
Pecorino Siciliano with tropical fruit compote millefoglie, cayenne pepper infused salt

Glen Grant 16 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Slow roasted piglet, stuffed with fresh herbs and a hint of nutmeg

Tullibardine Port Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Chocolate cherry artisan gelato, crispy banana

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Chocolate orange lava cake, hot caramel sauce

The Distiller's Edition, finished in sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, could only be described as amber in colour!
Come out and join us for the next one. The whiskies are always different and there's a welcoming spot at DiVino's table. You'll leave with a smile, a content tummy, a little more whisky knowledge and an informative handout to archive in your whisky file.

Slainte mhath!