Wine lovers get a taste at the Wines of Ontario booth

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo Hits Toronto

Hundreds of different wines available for sampling - along with a healthy smattering of beer and spirits. Dozens of food tasting stations. A few unexpected oddities (what a speed dating service has to do with either food or wine, I'll never know). Put them together in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and what do you get? The 11th annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, is what.

Your friendly neighbourhood Terroirist was invited to the Premier VIP Evening to see what it was all about; who am I to refuse such an invitation?

There is lots to love about the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, but also plenty to put you off - if you're looking to have a good time, you'll have one; if you're not, you may find yourself a bit miffed. On the plus side there's lots to taste and drink - from the easily available Yellowtail Shiraz to the more exotic, such as the Krimsekt 1998 a Ukrainian sparkling Riesling. Add to that food from the 360, Edo, and others, and you're in gourmand heaven. The downside is certainly the cost - not only will you be charged $15 to get in ($55 on the VIP night) but you'll have to buy sampling tickets at 50 cents a pop if you want to try anything. White 50 cents a ticket may seem cheap, most samples ran between two and six tickets a piece, with some samples going for as much as 15 tickets. Foodie heaven isn't cheap!

In this corner: public cooking classes

Not that you asked, but if you want my advice: go. Take a few friends, and a MacKenzie King each, and have a blast. Wander around the show from station to station, trying anything that suits your fancy (many wines available for tasting have never made it to LCBO shelves, but are available for purchase at the show).

You'll be best served however, if you seek out the oddities - there are lots of small booths around with products that I've never heard off, or things that you'd probably never really get a chance to try on its own. Two of the best were the Merchants of Green Coffeebooth, offering tasting demonstrations of organic, fair-trade, freshly roasted coffee (and free!), and the Ozawa booth, specializing in a variety of sakes. Be sure to try the Shochou, a Japanese rice sake vodka, which clocked in at 25% ABV, and has delicious sharp notes of rice, earth, and red liquorice. Also worth a gamble is the Sake Grape Cooler, which was equal parts sweet, sour, and bitter, and would be a treat on a the first hot day next year.

If Ontario is your style, the Mountain Road Winery is a must see. They had one of the most lushious Cabernet Franc Icewines - as well as the darkest - that I've ever tried, and their Reserve Chardonnay, was a perfect example of well balanced - and not overpowering - oak. The viticulturist was there, and he was more than happy to answer even the most obtuse questions I had for him.

As a final note, one of the more worthy events at the Expo are the tutored tastings. Many are sold out by now, but there are a few seats left open in some of them. Well worth the money if you want to really learn about what you're drinking.

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