Welcome to the 1st edition of Sips & Samples – pairing great Ontario wines and my favourite iconic albums… with a little food thrown in.

I have so many delicious Ontario wines to share! As I first set out to develope this new born idea it was Canada Day and my mind was staunchly focused on burgers, BBQ and all things Canadian… how can that not mean The Tragically Hip?

Now for wine – the unrivaled match for BBQ burgers in my mind comes from a big winery with small town appeal. Konzelmann Estate Winery is by no means a hidden gem in Niagara – it is well travelled and currently sits at #1 of the top things to do in Niagara on the Lake on Tripadvisor.

I have quite a few go-to bottles here – Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Barrel Aged Chardonnay, as well as a super fun Peach Wine that’ll liven up any BBQ or patio party you attend this season.

Today, it’s the 2015 Shiraz I want to look at.

SIPS: KONZELMANN 2015 SHIRAZ

I am often bored and put off by the larger wineries of Niagara (although we just had amazing service at Peller last week), but your experience here will be different.

The staff are lovely and on busy days you won’t feel rushed or discouraged from asking questions. The view from the observation deck is selfie worthy and they often have food trucks and entertainment in the summer. They even have a “junk food” and wine pair tasting that I am hot to try (think Fuzzy Peach candies).

Perfect to pair with all things grilled, their Shiraz is a medium bodied red unlike the Aussie-style Shiraz most people have become accustomed to.

I loves me a full bodied red, but this wine has greater versatility because of the incorporation of red fruit like black cherry and a kiss of sweetness from the vanilla. It has a prevalent smokiness that further marries it to the BBQ and finishes with a hearty supply of white pepper lingering on the palate – probably my favourite part of this vintage.

This wine works on so many fronts which is evident in its popularity among critics and everyday wine drinkers alike. With extremely well integrated tannins, this wine benefits from being very lightly chilled – maybe 5 minutes – and pairs with burgers, steak burritos, or any light red meat you can grill…

… or maybe a little chocolate?

If you are planning a Sips & Samples night, open your wine before you get all set up for your burgers and let it breathe.

GORD DOWNIE: CANADA’S PHILOSOPHER POET or THE DR. SEUSS OF MUSIC?

I wanted to write this article about the Hip’s great music, but it is almost impossible to begin without mentioning Gord Downie and his well of creative beauty.

He is a rare front man in his ability to be both endlessly entertaining and to rally an entire country to patriotism. The infectious charm of Gord Downie that I’m drawn to are his lunatic tendencies – there is almost sage wisdom in his mania. He rallies us all behind him and makes it a proud thing to be Canadian. We are all weird and eccentric – born of forests, lakes, campfires and loons.

It’s no question that millions are touched by news of Gord’s inoperable brain tumor, but his haunting, hilarious, off kilter, ethereal lyrics and performances will live on.

I began gathering some of my own favourite lyrics, but the list was epic – songs that couldn’t be separated into sound bites because they were so perfect in their entirety. Instead I offer you the one line that has stuck with me for over a decade for whatever reason…

“Your imagination’s having puppies” – from “Something On” (Phantom Power).

I have no idea its meaning and I doubt that matters. Gord’s words make me feel as if I’m moving through a dream – lucidly crossing reality and beyond – my thoughts and his and all of ours blurring. Reading people’s attempts to analyze them is reminiscent of feebly trying to decode David Lynch’s body of work. (Mulholland Drive was a mind fuck!)

Here is a social media response from another gifted Canadian musician and poet, Sarah Slean. Her words say it just about as well as anything I can come up with:

“I grew up with this man’s wildly original, astonishingly beautiful lyrics. I remember marveling at their evocative imagery, their tenderness, their wit and strange elegance…And his performances, transcendent.

 He has always possessed a distinct, unique artistic voice – a *unique artistic voice*!! What a treasure this is! What a rarity!I am so sad to hear the news of his illness today. He is a towering figure in Canadian music – a true poet, a real artist, an original. Praying for you and your family, Gord. Thank you for the immense beauty you have brought into the world…”

Gord’s performances are intoxicating. His energy is boundless and his tenacity is contagious.

I am often reminded of the stream of consciousness performances by Robin Williams – impossible to pin down, define or recapture. On a whim he grasps whatever impulse floats by, guiding us all through his beautiful mind.

With songs like Lake Fever, Bobcaygeon, At The Hundredth Meridian, Fifty Mission Cap, there is no question we’d ever lose these boys to a more lucrative American market.

We all feel connected to Hip anthems for one nostalgic reason or another – mine (like many), is Bobcaygeon.

I spent a magical summer swimming and wandering through Bobcaygeon with my first boyfriend. I listened to that song every single night for three years driving home from my first bartending job – streets blanketed by snow and silence, feeling like the only one in the world – alone with Gordie’s voice and a promise of summer’s return.

I still get chills when I hear the opening riffs, transported to the stillness of a nighttime lake.

We are all children, brothers and sisters of this beautiful man and we are happy to call him ours.

As I was listening to my Hip CDs I came across this song that chilled me to the bone. A gorgeous song that I haven’t heard in a while and seems to speak eerily and wonderfully in this last tour of these Canadian troubadours.

“Stay” from Music @ Work

You did the best that you could do
You were a great crew
Who tried to nurture and preserve your faith in you
And with the bureau chiefs and the shrugging spies
You could stay but why? You see a light and then another
And everything you fought for naught is uncovered
You’re not a fighter, you’re a lover
You got no business in here, brother
So stay, stay Is it the worst that you could do?
You were a great you
Who tried to nurture and preserve your faith in you
And with the bureau chiefs and the shrugging spies
You could stay and why?‘Cause you see a light and then another
Everything you thought you sought is uncovered
You’re a fighter and a lover
And there’s no one up above her
So stay, stay All things being balanced
It’s balanced and called balancing
Somewhere beyond everything
And it’s being balanced
Not for the sake of balance
But balancing between the throes of learning
And the entire thing
Entirely
Balancing…

 SAMPLES: THE TRAGICALLY HIP’S “MUSIC @ WORK”

I have seen the Hip on stage somewhere in the double digits,  I have used many an album as a soundtrack for cracking beers by the campfire and I have sung my voice raw in the company of thousands brought together by the unofficial mascots of Canadian music.

I whittled down my choice of albums (Road Apples, Phantom Power and, of course, Fully Completely, were nostalgic favs), finally arriving at my favourite and most conducive to sipping wine at dusk – Music @ Work.

A common thread in the webisphere was that this album on the first few goes was “unlistenable”. Shenanigans! 

I find the most compelling and enduring albums are the ones that take time to grow and organically take hold – like good wine, perhaps?

In this day of playlists and downloads, albums and their carefully thought out progression of songs don’t hold the same poetry they once did. A record was a journey – a bang up beginning, transient middle to a thought provoking end. Nothing used to beat cracking into a record/cassette/CD and throwing one’s self into the flow that artist set out.

Wine and music are both very personal – so for me the luscious cherry, sweet vanilla, inherent smoke and lingering pepperiness of this Shiraz harken back to “Music @ Work” and its inevitable conjuring of a perfect dusk and a content soul.

So here we are – you’ve slightly chilled your Konzelmann Shiraz, scarfed down your perfectly cooked burgers and now you’re nestling into you Muskoka (or Adirondack) chair by the fire, looking out onto the glasslike lake, basking in the haunting cries of the patriotic loon… or simply crashed on the livingroom couch… it’s all good.

If you can make your wine last the almost 50 minutes through “Music @ Work” (don’t share), you won’t regret it. If the album is all about the journey, then allow the Hip to take you along.

This experience is best enjoyed at dusk, carrying you through into the cooler night air.

“Music @ Work” – the title track, amazing single and bang up start to your night. Thought by many to be about the music business, inspiration and the push and pull of writing hits versus honouring your muse. “Avoid trends and cliches…” A hit about writing hits. Gord, you saucy bastard!

“Tiger the Lion” – Some find this a melody-less song and therefore difficult to listen to. That’s the point. With many references to composer John Cage (who I’ve grown to know quite a lot about since Johnny studied his music in grad school), who experimented with music in a very zen way. Music is meant “simply to wake [us] up to the very life we are living” – John Cage.

Embrace its dissonance.

“Lake Fever” – Another beautiful cottage anthem. Time to stoke that fire and grab a flannel blanket.

“Want to be your wheezing screen door
Want to be your stars of Algonquin
Want to be your roaring floorboard
Want to break the hearts of everyone”

“Putting Down” – One of my favs on this album. Some pretty esoteric lyrics here that I wouldn’t dream of deciphering. Just enjoy the ride.

“Stay” – *sigh* Just a beautiful tune with even more beautiful lyrics. “You were a great you”. Wrap your arms around someone you love (maybe your pup), take a sip, gaze up at the stars and settle in.

“The Bastard” – Refill your wine and begin to really savour the pepper developing on the finish.

“The Completists” – Another great melody with evocative lyrics.

“You lured me with your diamond flower
You lured me with talk of still more talk
You lured me with caramelizing power
You lured me a lot”

We’re about halfway through, maybe you need to pee? Take it to the edge of the darkness into the woods, where the music still permeates and the cool air kisses your backside (beware mosquitos).

“Freak Turbulence” – We get a great injection of pure rock as well as Gord’s cheeky humour. Stretch your legs and do a little fire dance… refill.

“Sharks” – Coming in at exactly 4:20… not intentional I’m sure, but fitting.

“Toronto #4” – Gorgeous intro. These are the types of songs that drift across an outdoor venue like Molson Amphitheatre – with the CNE shining in the distance.

Gord says he wrote this right after receiving news of his grandmother’s failing health. Knowing that, the lyrics take on a touching and poignant meaning:

“Did you know you were the rock plug for all of us
Did you know in the conduit of Vesuvius
You were far more unifying than you know
I’m not a judge of suitable
But, you almost had it all.
Now you’ll have to tell me when
Tell me when it’s imminent
So you won’t have to rise and fall alone
Or endure the wonder of survival
The wipe-out loss
The elation of free fall
The rock bottom
The sweet betrayal
Alone.
Alone
Alone
Alone
Hello”

Hold onto someone you love a little tighter.

“Wild Mountain Honey” – A killing rock tune with classic riffs and is even more pungent live.

“Train Overnight” – It’s said Gordie loves WWII history, maybe there’s something to that here. Just a great tune to melt beside the fire to.. or anywhere.

“The Bear” – I’m going to wager this is just a song about a bear, a Canadian beast wandering Algonquin. The sound feels like drifting through the forest and has a unique “music-matopia” to it. We are mist hovering just above the water, swirling through lonely islands dotting a black lake.

“As I Wind Down the Pines” – Drain your bottle (maybe open another?) A very mellow and romantic end to an album. Almost folk in sound. Maybe this will lull you off into a Gordie induced dream or inspire you to pop on another great Hip album…

 

After this I hope you listen a little more often to the whole story of an album. Allow it wash over you and drown you in the artist’s flow. Choose whatever wine or munchie you love the taste of – just make sure to savour this time. xo

FOOL PROOF METHOD FOR A BURGER aka “TIPS”

It became a trend to make burger patties baseball thick and round, rendering them ridiculously disproportioned. There is also great debate on adding breadcrumbs, spices, cheese and herbs. Why not make the best burger EVER with optimum flavour while cutting cooking time and mess to a few mere minutes?

I know it’s tempting, but do not use extra lean meat for this. Lean is perfect or even medium. I go by feel when sizing these – usually a hardball shape is good. Use kosher salt or any coarse grind salt (not your expensive flakes). Lots of pepper is great, but be prepared to cough up a lung upon searing.

Have all your fixins ready to go – this comes together quickly! Build it anyway you like, I only urge you to put your lettuce under the patty. This will prevent soakage.

If you like your burgers monster sized, make 2 patties instead of a thick one. That’s double the salt sear instead of double the juicy ooze. I like my patties pink, so keep them very thin and they won’t take long at all.

That’s all you need to know!

FOOL PROOF PERFECT WAY TO MAKE A BURGER – RECIPE

serves 2 (or one hungry gullet)

Ingredients:

600 grams (give or take) ground beef

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat your cast iron pan as hot as it will go – do this indoors or out – just be warned that if you are inside the room will smell beefy for a good day.

Portion your beef into 2 balls. Place in the pan and press down very hard with a spatula, alternating directions so you get an even thickness. Allow the edges to be craggy – this is where all the crisp goodness will be.

Season the tops generously from a height or a couple feet – this will allow the salt and pepper to fall uniformly. Let sit untouched until caramelized on one side, about 3 minutes. Once you get good colour, flip and press again. You want optimum contact with the pan to get all the crust you can. Season again.

Only leave on as long as you need to get great colour. Remove to a tea towel or paper towel so you don’t soak your bun through.

Dunzo!

THE FULLY COMPLETE BURGER

serves 1

There are infinite ways to top a burger! The standard lettuce is integral for crunch (a healthy portion of sprouts work too), but beyond that it gets personal. I need a whole village of raw onion and an ocean of hot sauce, but that shit don’t fly with everyone.

It’s great to put out a platter of toppings and condiments, a burger bar is a beautiful thing (so is a taco bar, but that’s another story…)

HOWEVER: If you feel good about you palate, I enjoy building it for others. I know, people are specific and immovable about toppings, but unless you take charge they may never know how unbelievable grilled ham, pineapple and sweet onions are. Or how about a lamb burger with tzatziki, olive tapenade, onion and feta?

Try and cover these bases: salty (like bacon), sweet (pineapple or caramelized onion), crunchy (iceberg, sprouts), spicy (hot peps or sauce), acidic/tangy (pickled anything), fresh (cucumber, herbs)

Be adventurous. Be crazy. Channel your inner Gord Downie and get your lunatic on!

INGREDIENTS:

Burger bun – soft and substantial

a couple leaves of lettuce or shredded lettuce

burger patty (or 2)

1/4 cup cheese – havarti or Oka (for a true Canadian feel)

2 – 3 slices maple glazed bacon

1 crunchy dill, sliced thinly

pickled red onion (or raw if you like the stink as I do)

grainy mustard

optional: hot sauce

I leave you with one more from this darling band…

Thanks for the music, boys. xo

Okay… one more… I just couldn’t resist this meltingly gorgeous number. xo

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