COVID Wine Life: Fine Vintage Ltd. Food & Wine Pairing Online Course

5 06 2020

By Peter Vetsch

Living pandemic life feels strangely like becoming a new parent for the first time.  You rarely leave your house.  There are places you suddenly just can’t go.  At times you feel like your very will to persist is being sucked from your body.  And you need to find other ways to pursue your interests, in those slices of time not taken up by survival interest and existential pondering.  When my first son was born back in 2011, he was a less-than-ideal sleeper, and there were only so many late evenings that I could spend watching bad TV, waiting for the next wake-up, so that my wife could get a few uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness.  My need to find a better way to spend that time led to this blog, which is now 9 years old and over 600 posts strong.  Now my kids sleep fine (except when they don’t), but during our current times of COVID-19 distancing, that same feeling of isolation weariness started to arise.  It was promptly banished, and my similar hope of avoiding stagnation was satisfied, by a virtual trek through the online Food & Wine Pairing certification course offered by Fine Vintage Ltd.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

I was highly familiar with Fine Vintage already, having already taken my WSET 2 and 3 classes through their excellent Calgary-based school, one of 18 locations they have across Canada and the US.  Founded by Master of Wine James Cluer (who memorably was a substitute teacher for one of my WSET 3 class days), Fine Vintage has enlisted some of the most respected names in the Calgary wine industry, Matt Leslie and Jennifer Book, as course instructors.  But what if you can’t currently sit in a classroom and share wine with 30-odd strangers in the name of wine education?  Fear not – they now have COVID-friendly solutions too.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

Fine Vintage has assembled a series of online wine certification courses to help fill the void while the in-person sessions are on pandemic hiatus.  Compiled by James Cluer himself, along with fellow MW Phillip Goodband, they do not result in any formal WSET classification (the WSET, or Wine & Spirits Education Trust, is an independent education and qualification body based in London that only governs over its own licensed courses) but do culminate in a final exam and a Fine Vintage certification.  There are three ascending levels of wine courses, an introductory course on spirits, and the course in which I have been immersed over the past few days, the Food & Wine Pairing Online Certification Course.  This is a 4-6 hour crash course (including the exam, it took me just shy of 5 hours total to complete) about the basic principles and some of the more advanced concepts behind properly matching food and wine.  It costs $99 USD to register and consists of 8 different modules that can be completed in stages at your leisure, from the sanitized comfort of your own home; from my experience, the collective content is easily worth the registration fee. Read the rest of this entry »





The Ultimate Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown

26 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

The event was almost a year in the making:  a one-versus-all challenge for pairing supremacy, putting the food-matching skills of eight local wine enthusiasts to the test against a backdrop of one of the more ubiquitous (and delicious) foodstuffs to grace a pantry.  Through extensive research and experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, we sought to answer the question: what wines pair best with the most common flavours of potato chips?  And who could best elevate a chip flavour with a pairing match that ticked all the right boxes?

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Here’s how our game was played.  After some market research, we first agreed on the top chip flavours that would participate in the competition:  BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, All Dressed, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Ketchup, Jalapeño Cheddar, and Bacon.  (A couple notes on these flavours:  1. “Plain” is not a flavour.  It has to HAVE a flavour to BE a flavour.  2. Americans, I don’t want to hear any complaining about All Dressed – it is a pantheon chip and no chip-based contest is complete without it.)  We were then each randomly assigned a chip flavour as our pairing muse and were tasked with finding the perfect pairing for that chip.  When we gathered together, we tasted through each flavour one at a time (again in randomly drawn order) and graded each potato chip/wine duo out of 10 on the strength of the pairing only:  the individual merit of each wine and each chip were disregarded, and the only question was how well they meshed together.  The top average score out of 10 took home the prize (which was nothing, other than eternal bragging rights and a pervasive sense of wellbeing).

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I should add before diving into the results that potato chip and wine pairing is WAY harder than you might think (and that the bulk of the articles that you can Google on this point almost surely did not go as far as to actually taste their recommended pairings with their chips), as once you put glass to lips with a bowl of chips you realize it does not quite unfold as expected.  With very limited exceptions, potato chips are crammed full of bold, potent, concentrated flavours meant to pack a punch, which can lead to them overwhelming many a potential pairing match that might otherwise be complimentary from a flavour perspective.  Chips also contain an array of particularly exaggerated spicy, sour, sweet and/or salty notes that can pose pairing challenges on their own, let alone in combination (or, in the case of All Dressed, which features ALL of these flavours at once, in accumulation).  A successful chip pairing wine is either one that has the firepower to match the lab-tested amplitude of Old Dutch’s natural and artificial flavours, or one that can do enough to comfortably neutralize them and provide some palate relief without getting lost itself.  Neither are easy targets to hit.

Below I will set out (in the order that the tasting took place) each brave contestant in this inaugural PnP Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown (complete with Twitter handle), their assigned bag of fried potato destiny and their vinous gladiator.  Then I will include a brief explanation of basis for the pairing and the thought process behind it in each competitor’s own words, before assessing how it all worked out in practice.  Finally, I will reveal the outcome of the pairing in question, both on my personal ballot and in the overall official group tally.  You will see that my scores tend to be lower than the group’s across the board, which is more a personal reaffirmation of the difficulty of the mission on my end, a confirmation that a perfect processed potato pairing can be elusive.  Without further ado — let’s eat some chips. Read the rest of this entry »





Tips & Tricks: Pairing Wine With Chocolate, Part 1

2 10 2011

How you know you’ve made it as an amateur blogger:  when somebody sends you free chocolate.  Me, as of this week?  Made it.

The (few) perks of writing a free blog.

One of this site’s dozens (OK, dozen) of loyal subscribers is Victoria Kaye, an Ontario-based marketing guru, freelance writer and distributor of the Xocai lineup of chocolate products.  Victoria is a blogger in her own right, regularly churning out insightful posts about her unique choco-wares at her site XoXoXocai.  I took particular notice of this site not only because it shares a platform affiliation with PnP (holla WordPress!) but also because it so happens that Victoria and I started up our respective blogs within a week of each other at the start of March 2011…as I’m continually reminded, it’s a small world full of strange coincidences.  Victoria actually first stumbled across Xocai chocolates as a guest at a wine tasting, and since then has been wanting to delve further into the intricacies of pairing wine with chocolate; the chocolate package I received was conditional on my attempting to respond to this very issue.  Well, chocolate received and mission accepted!

Wine and chocolate is a pairing that seems to have been universally sold as a match made in heaven (if Hallmark cards, romantic getaway packages and any Valentine’s Day episode of any TV show in history are effective barometers of these kinds of things).  In reality, however, I have a hard time envisioning there will be even a handful of wine styles that will truly form a mutually-enhancing match with most types of chocolate.  Even before I started looking into this in detail, I thought that chocolate had two key characteristics that would severely restrict the number of wines that would taste good with it:  it’s sweet and it’s distinctive.  Dry wines generally don’t match up well with sweeter foods, and foods with individual and assertive flavours automatically narrow their pairing options because they’re incapable of simply being a blank canvas that can be fleshed out by multiple different wine choices.  There are assuredly some truly symbiotic wine matches for chocolate out there, but my guess is that they’re few and far between.  Of course, that’s not going to stop me from trying to find them.  The goal of this post is to narrow down what to look for in a potential chocolate pairing, after which I’ll go buy a few likely candidates, recruit some willing volunteers, then take a bullet for all of my dear readers by eating a lot of chocolate and drinking a lot of wine to find out what tastes good with what.  The results of my strictly-for-science tasting night will be posted shortly after its completion (i.e. as soon as I come out of the sugar coma). Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell…and Is Kraft Dinner the Perfect Wine Food?

20 03 2011

Old-vines Monastrell...or Mourvedre...or Mataro...or whatever.

Super interesting Sunday night wine tonight:  the 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell from the lesser-known Jumilla wine region in eastern Spain.  This wine comes from grapes grown on 40+ year old vines; the older the vines, the less fruit they produce, but the more concentrated and complex that fruit is (the wonders of Mother Nature), which is why producers trumpet Old Vines if they have them.  Monastrell is a grape of many names, all of which strangely start with M:  apart from its Spanish name, it is known as Mourvedre (and sometimes Morastel) in France and Mataro in Australia.  I don’t know if there’s any kind of movement afoot to create an Esperanto-like universal world wine language, but if there is, I would sign the petition.  What makes the Juan Gil interesting is that Monastrell/Mourvedre/Mataro is usually a blending grape that gets added to wines made predominantly of other varietals in lesser quantities to boost the blend’s colour and structure; very rarely does it get to be the star of the show in a bottle of wine, but this Juan Gil is 100% pure Monastrell, front and centre. Read the rest of this entry »








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