I’ve been doing a lot of travelling this year — three personal trips and two business trips in the last 10 months. So I’m feeling like a seasoned veteran of self-check-in terminals and security and airports — one who, mind you, is now quite content to be probably spending at least the next few months at home.
But one of my recent jaunts was to a conference presented by the Broadcast Educators Association of Canada (BEAC), a wonderful organization of which I am proud to be a member and to have served on the executive for a few years. This congregating of media professors is an annual highlight for me, and this year’s line-up of speakers, presenters and panelists, not to mention the brilliant instructors whose wisdom and insight and friendship I treasure, was the best ever. I learned so much, and I’m so grateful, yet again, to have had the opportunity to attend.
In the past, the conference moved each year from a western location to an eastern one. But the BEAC board decided awhile back to choose "destination" host cities in order to encourage more delegates to attend.
So this year’s conference was in Ottawa. And while, as I said, the event itself was magnificent, so, I was reminded, is the city of Ottawa itself.
Since tomorrow is Canada Day, and Ottawa is this nation’s capital, I thought the tie-in was a natural. While I wish I’d been able to sample more Canadian products when I was there, I did have some great wines while touring about during after-conference hours. So if you’re heading there at any time, here are some places — and some beverages — to check out.
One can’t, of course, go to Ottawa without seeing the Parliament Buildings. I’d been there as a kid many years ago (and I couldn’t resist going back again during this visit), and had toured the floor of the House with my family and our then-MP, the late Walter Dinsdale.
A trip through the hallowed halls of government is an absolute must. The structures are beautiful and the guides couldn’t be more helpful. The view from the Peace Tower is breathtaking, and so is the sense of history captured within those walls. (Wine wasn’t an option on Parliament Hill, at least not for me. But I bet there are more than a few bottles stored in more than a few drawers inside those myriad rooms. Just speculatin’ is all ...)
Anyway, perhaps the next most popular attraction on the Ottawa list is the Byward Market. An historic farmers' market and shopping district by day, and a favourite gathering place by night, the Byward Market offers pretty much anything anyone could want. It was there that I spent the bulk of my non-conference time, and where there were plenty of fabulous restaurants and, happily, some great wines to be discovered.
First stop for a beverage on Day One was The Social Restaurant and Lounge in the Courtyard. I had a lovely Chardonnay — the 2010 Butterfield Station from California. I paid $11 for a really small glass, but it was truly delish. Chilled to exactly the right temperature, the aroma was of citrus, and the taste was buttery with a bit of oak. I was also thrilled to note Rockbare Shiraz on the wine list — I’d had the Rockbare Chard some years before — it was great, and a real steal for the price. Sadly, though, I checked, and the LCBO doesn’t carry either one. But if the Shiraz is anything like the Chard, it’d be more than worth checking out if you like big red wines and you happen to pay The Social a visit.
(I just realized that, because the weather was very warm in Ottawa, and I ate predominantly fish, most of what I drank was white wine. So that’s why there’s a preponderance of those mentioned here.)
If you’re at the market, make sure to check out Stella Ostaria, an Italian place with a wonderful rooftop patio. It was here that my chums and I had martinis — I voted them the best I’d ever had.
Without question the most stellar meal was at Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro, in the cellar of The Fish Market. Spectacular mussels, splendid salmon and sensational halibut — I can’t recommend this establishment highly enough. And while I enjoyed the J. Lohr 2009 Chardonnay from California with my meal, Vineyards features more than 300 wines — 80 by the glass — as well as 200 imported beers and an extensive scotch selection. Live jazz with no cover charge to boot — Vineyards is a sure-fire winner.
The Delta, where the conference was being held, was under construction during our time there. But that didn’t impact what the hotel had to offer. I was thrilled by a late-night glass of the 2009 Estrada Chardonnay from California — creamy, enough citrus to be interesting but with more green apple and pear on the palate, and just the right amount of oak for my taste.
On the last day, I again wandered down past the War Memorial — another iconic place that should be visited — to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (ditto) where I thought I HAD to have a glass of wine. I would have — had the lounge (appropriately, I thought, named Wilfred) been open. But it wasn’t. So I headed back up some side streets and eventually came across The Cock and Lion Alehouse and Pub. Another glorious day called for an outdoor aperitif, and I selected the Casarsa Chardonnay from Italy. With citrusy flavours and delicate floral overtones, this light beverage was perfectly serviceable on a hot sunny afternoon in Ottawa. And finally, this was one the LCBO carried — there, it’s $13.15 a bottle. I paid $6 a glass.
Whether you’re in our nation’s capital, at home on the deck or at the lake with friends, if you’re looking for Canadian wines with which to toast our country tomorrow, I’d suggest the Sandhill Chardonnay or Merlot, and/or the Quails’ Gate Chard, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir, all from B.C. And I’ve got lots more info on Quails’ Gate products in an upcoming column.
Happy 145th birthday, Canada!