If you are want the opportunity to sample over 1500 different wines, spirits and beers along with food from local restaurants and caterers then this is the place for you. The Gourmet Food & Wine Expo is happening November 20 to 23 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto. Along with booths for sampling, the expo features specialty areas like the Mott’s Best Caesar in Town National Competition pavilion, the VIP lounge that features rare premium consignment, vintages and private order wines and a Food Network stage with celebrity chefs (like Lynn Crawford) preparing some mouthwatering dishes.

While I’m not a wine connoisseur (yet), I have attended this show for quite a few years as a way to experience some wines I’ve heard of and always wanted to try. I should point out that this is a very BIG show. Over a weekend, about 45,000 people will pass through the show floor so be prepared to patiently wade through a crowd.

Thursday was the opening night of the expo, which is also called the VIP night. This is the night where the general public can attend alongside the media, corporate sponsors and industry professionals. You may also have the opportunity to sample some premium items that are only available on this particular evening. Just so you know, I attended as part of the public and bought my own entry and sampling tickets so this is an unbiased review.

This year, I opted to be more strategic by looking through the list of exhibitors and consulting the floor plan prior to my visit in order to target specific booths. As I plan to go back to the show on Saturday to sample more goodies, I didn’t rush through this visit. Here are my highlights for Day 1 of the show.

Brassaii Restaurant– Short Ribs

Bourbon-Apricot Glazed Beef Short Ribs, Mashed Potatoes & Crispy Shallots
Bourbon-Apricot Glazed Beef Short Ribs, Mashed Potatoes & Crispy Shallots

Arriving just after six, I felt I needed a bite to eat before I started sampling wine. My first stop was Brassaii, who was making a short rib dish. This was excellent and I can honestly say it was almost perfect. The short rib was wonderfully tender with extremely smooth potatoes and flavourful jus. But for me, the shallots (although nice and crispy) were a bit too salty. I checked with two other people chowing down next to me how they felt about this dish and they loved it except for the salty shallots as well. My easy fix was to scrape off the shallots and continue to devour this dish. Definitely worth trying.

Bouché Père & Fils Rosé Brut Champagne

Champagne Bouché Père & Fils - Rosé Brut
Champagne Bouché Père & Fils – Rosé Brut

I love champagne! If you are also a lover of champagne, this is the best place to sample liquid gold without having to fork out the money for an entire bottle. I opted to venture into the VIP lounge to try an award winning rosé champagne made from 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier. What a treat! This is a dry champagne with a hint of sweetness that is delicate and just right for my palate. If you fall in love with it, you can order this champagne from the exhibitor in time for the holidays!

David Rocco’s Dolce Vita wines

David Rocco's Dolce Vita - Pinot Gricio (L) and Chianti (R).
David Rocco’s Dolce Vita – Pinot Gricio (L) and Chianti (R).

Did you know that Chef David Rocco had his own wine? I didn’t either and found out it was only released in the LCBO as of yesterday. There were three bottles to try: Pinot Griogio, Chianti, and a Prosecco (not pictured). I was leaning towards the Chianti but the exhibitor told me that Pinot Grigio was equally as good just different. Well…I’m not a big fan of pinot grigio. Whenever, I’ve had it, I find the finish a bit metallic in my mouth so I avoid them if possible. But being a good salesman, he convinced me to take a tiny sip. The finish was soft and very pleasant. I was surprised that I really liked it and have decided it will be worth getting a bottle to explore this at a future date. Pinot Grigio may be redeemed in my eyes with this bottle. I moved on to try the Chianti. This wine blend of sangiovese and merlot grapes was pleasant and I though would be a great sipping wine. Might be a great addition to your next wine and cheese party?

Magic Oven – Chicken Nachos

Chicken Nachos
Chicken Nachos

I did a double take when I saw someone walking by with this. Then when I found the booth I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Magic Oven only made pizza. Apparently, their other offerings are very good as well. The chicken in the nachos was cooked perfectly with a hint of heat and is a filling dish. You could also request this item without the nachos and they just give you more meat. Bonus!

Beringer and Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Beringer and Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon
Beringer and Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Lately, I’ve been exploring Cabs and I purposely went to the California Wines area to try the Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. At the booth, I starting chatting with the exhibitor to find out what was so great about this wine and what’s up with the price (retails for $50). He agreed that the price is on the higher end but after a taste I will be a believer. Ha! Before he poured the wine, he brought over the Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. He felt this was another really good Cab at a lower price point (retails for $37.95) and felt I would enjoy them both and add them to my list of favourites. I started with the Beringer and I loved the smell and taste of fruits with a hint of currants. It gets my yummy juices going. I would definitely consider adding this to my table on occasion. But on tasting the Stags Leap, I can only say wow. It is smooth. It’s smooth all the way through until the end. This is the one you you should taste at the show. Yum, yum, yummy wow.

Canyon Creek – Lobster Guaccamole

Lobster Guacamole
Lobster Guacamole

When I started chowing down on this lovely dish, I thought this expo has definitely upped its food game! This may look like a small dish but there are alot of chunks of lobster atop a heap of tasty guacamole. It took awhile to finish this thing and I was not complaining.

Ménage à Trois Wine

Ménage à Trois Wine
Ménage à Trois Wine

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read the label of this wine and decided to try it just because I think its bold and hilarious. After tasting the wine, I stopped laughing. This blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is an nice drinking wine to curl up with on the couch on Friday night or to have with dinner and will now be added to my list of go to drinking wines at home. Seriously. At $16.95 (LCBO price), it’s quite affordable.

I’m glad I was able to learn about some new wines to drink and possibly give as gifts at this show. But there are many more to be tried. Thankfully, there is still time to go back to the Expo this weekend and explore more of the food and drinks so I hope I’ve inspired you to go. Maybe I will see you Saturday at a tutored tasting!