Willow Park Wine and Spirits is so much more than just a beautiful liquor store with an exceptional selection (though it is certainly that). Willow Park is an institution. They have an incredible team of expert connoisseurs to help you pick out exactly the right liquor, beer or wine for any occasion, they have speciality products that no other store has… they have an onsite kitchen and put on incredible festivals, galas, information sessions and tasting events. I’ve gone to festivals with vendors and wineries from all over where I have learned so much about products (and had more than enough to drank in a safe location close to home) and I’ve discovered pairings that I never would have imagined at tasting events.
So, last Thursday, for the second time that week, I roped Bryan and Darci into coming to a crazy fun and informative event with me. They like it when I force them into things.
When we arrived for the event at 7pm on the dot, we showed our tickets and were immediately ushered downstairs to the basement to select our seats. (And don’t they do a great job of making the basement look appealing!?) As a note, I recommend arriving 10-15 minutes before the event begins – there is no assigned seating for tasting events and, trust me, you want to be together with your group and near the front to get the full experience.
As we filed through the door and immediately began scoping for the best seats, we were handed a very special reception cocktail – the Kevin’s Bacon, created by Senior Product Consultant, Michael Bigattini just for us. (PS: If you ever can take an event run by Michael, do it – he is both knowledgeable and hilarious in equal turns.) Featuring Bacon-Infused Jack Daniels, black tea and maple syrup, the Kevin’s Bacon was an ideal drink for summer, light and perfect for all the BBQs I’m planning to throw on my patio… thank goodness Michael gave us the recipe!
Each seat was set with a tasting guide – ostensibly to make notes in, but it mostly just seemed like a great way to tantalize us with all the pairings we were about to try out!
We also were each supplied with 5 different glasses filled with a range of alcohol options, an “empty space” (temporarily filled with popcorn) for a warm drink that was yet to be brought up and a few of our food pairings that could be served cold. The excitement was mounting and the space was filled with chatter but as soon as Michael began to share his enthusiasm for the pairings he had put together, we were all captivated.
We first sampled Hot Pepper Bacon Popcorn with Chocolate Drizzle paired with the Howe Sound Diamond Head Stout. I had actually just posted on Instagram about how I didn’t care for stout… but this lightly hoppy oatmeal stout really was a perfect pairing with the popcorn. The stout mellowed some of the heat in the popcorn and brought out the notes of the chocolate. Plus… who can complain about popcorn popped in bacon grease!? I kept thinking I would save some for the drive home but that was not to be.
Pairing Number Two! Chocolate Dipped Bacon Skewer with a created-by-Michael Mexican Hot Chocolate. This was voted the best pairing by a show of hands and though it wasn’t my pick, it was tasty. There was also something just so decadent about using the bacon as a stir stick for the hot chocolate. Darci felt that the cinnamon in the hot chocolate overwhelmed the other flavours (I find that cinnamon is one of those love it or hate it flavours), while I found this pairing just a liiiiittle too rich. Blasphemy, I know!
Number Three: Salted Maple Bacon Truffle with a Manhattan. Did you know that the Manhattan was created for Winston Churchill’s mother, a society lady who loved her booze just as much as her son did? I sure didn’t! For extra points, here is an absolutely terrible picture of me looking real skeptical with my Manhattan:
And why do I look that way? Because, and I quote: “In this drink, the cherries are the mix – they’re the only non-alcoholic… wait, they’re brandy-soaked”. But it turns out, I do appreciate a quality Manhattan with quality ingredients. Also, I appreciate brandy-soaked cherries.
This pairing featured the incredible and not at all healthy “Dude’s Magic Bar” (pretzels, chocolate chips, bacon, peanut butter chips, potato chips and dulce de leche)… Bryan’s pick for the best pairing. Bryan loves both peanut butter and being a dude. The Magic Bar was paired with the Granville Island Lion’s Winter Ale, a beer described by Michael as “vanilla-y and special”. (Can I please mention again how much I loved Michael’s enthusiasm for absolutely everything we consumed?) I already like the Lion’s Winter Ale and I loved how the mellow flavours made the Magic Bar seem not quite so terrible for you.
During this pairing, we received the overview of how to properly taste wine. Unfortunately, by that point, Darci and I had already devoured both our wine and our Bacon Cannoli, so we just kept pretending with empty glasses. We are all class, all the time. The wine, by the way, was the Chateau Trillol from the South of France – a 50% syrah blend with notes of cherry, black currant, raspberry and black & white pepper. Michael described it as a “food-driven” wine with a good acidity to act as a palate cleanser to cleanse away the richness. I bought this wine.
And finally, the pairing that Darci and I voted as the best pairing – Chocolate Bacon Pull Apart Bread and the Zenato Amarone. I have absolutely no notes about why I loved this pairing so much, but a ton of notes about the wines from the Valpolicella valley of northern Italy. (Only three types of red wine can come from this valley, Amarone is the highest end type.) I think this really exemplifies why I love the Willow Park events – yes, I got to enjoy delicious food and dranks, laugh at some clever humour… but I also gained some very special knowledge about wine that I can maybe use to feel superior in the future.
By the way, red wine should be served at “cellar temperature” (17-18 degrees Celsius) not strict room temperature.
Anyway, the night wrapped with us finishing up any nibbles or dribbles we had left, receiving a coupon for 5% off up in the store and tasting the plum & rootbeer bitters that were used in the Manhattan. (When you taste bitters, you put a drop on the back of your hand. It is still VERY strong. Bryan said we had to taste it for the blog, but I think he just wanted to prove he could do it.)
Check out the Willow Park events page for more of their amazing upcoming events – I will be hitting up the Cupcakes Pairing event next… maybe I’ll see you there?!