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Hot Dog Party 2.0

A couple weeks ago I was finally able to hold the second instalment of my hot dog party series. In Version 1.0 each attendee had to present their own signature style of hot dog. Notable were the sushi dog, the fish ‘n’ chips dog, the poutine dog, and the “Halifax dog” – a work in progress.

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Two thirds of the participants.

I decided that the next gathering should focus on determining the tastiest hot dog brand. We did a blind tasting of 5 brands:

Nathan’s Famous: the sought-after hot dog from Coney Island, New York. You can find these around town at the Food Wolf, Certainly Cinnamon and Sully’s.

Shopsy’s: of Toronto fame, this brand was bought by Maple Leaf in 1992 but still reigns as the star of Toronto’s famous “street meat”. You can get the guy with the Shopsy’s umbrella on Spring Garden to grill one up for you.

Lester’s: of Montreal, is the official hot dog of the Montreal Steamie. It is also the official hot dog of HFX Foot Longs (I mean, aside from the foot longs).

Larsen “Classic Taste”: of Halifax origin (but owned by Maple Leaf), Larsen is stuff of legend in Atlantic Canada. When Maple Leaf tried to change the recipe, east coasters revolted, forcing Maple Leaf to return to the original recipe. These are found exclusively in Atlantic Canada grocery stores.

Jimmie Dogs: of Nova Scotia’s own Meadowbrook Meat Market. These are the only locally made hot dogs in Nova Scotia – and they have no gluten, animal by-products or MSG. You can find them at Meadowbrook Meat Market at Alderney Landing or Pete’s Frootique.

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Jenna volunteered to grill up the dogs so that the rest of us could remain “blind”. However, by the time she served them she forgot which were which – fortunately, she had kept a written record.

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Two hot dogs from each package were sacrificed for the tasting. They were cut into bite sized tidbits and placed on numbered plates which we attacked with wooden skewers.

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Yeah, we take hot dog tasting notes.

Each participant ranked the hot dogs in order of preference, and this data was ordered and tallied.

The winners were as follows:

1) Nathan’s
2) Jimmie’s
3) Shopsy’s
4) Larsen
5) Lester’s

The consensus seemed to be that Lester’s and Larsen had a very generic hot dog flavour. However, Lester’s also had a noticeable gritty texture that I quite disliked. Now, John of HFX Foot Longs will swear by Lester’s dogs, but he also insists that they are meant to be steamed. Plus, he piles on the most delectable toppings imaginable.

One of the tasting notes for Nathan’s read: “Nice smoky flavour, moist and delicious; a bit on the salty side. Excellent plate appeal”. I must inform you that the Nathan’s were the only dogs that left a greasy trail on the plate. They were also the only dog that made me audibly moan in reverence. However, a couple of the tasters strongly disliked the Nathan’s due to their strong flavour and obvious greasiness.

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After the tasting, we grilled up the dogs of our choosing. Thea chose the Shopsy’s, while everyone else went for the Jimmie Dogs. I wanted to re-evaluate my choices, so I chowed down a Nathan’s, a Larsen, AND a Jimmie Dog. Hey, it’s research!

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Available toppings were Krispy Kraut sauerkraut, home-made mustard pickles, green tomato chow chow, Dave’s hot sauce, dulse seaweed and zucchini relish from Luckett Vineyards – how Scotian is that?

We also had buns from Uncle Bens and 24 Carrots Bakery. I preferred those from 24 Carrots for their high gluten content which gives the buns a sturdy consistency.

While the Nathan’s dogs were delectable on their own and technically placed first in the blind tasting, the Jimmie Dogs garnered more favour as the night wore on. One of the tasting notes for the Jimmie Dogs reads: “Solid balance of saltiness and flavour; tastes of higher than average ingredients”. By the end of the night, the Jimmie Dogs were the clear crowd favourite. The decision may not have been blind, but it was a consensus.

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Hot dog dressed with Lunenburg sauerkraut, Fundy dulse, and home-made mustard pickles from the South Shore!

The hot dog party was tons of fun, but I think I’m dogged out ’til next summer! I still want to someday discover the true identity of the yet-to-be realized Halifax-style hot dog. Stay tuned…

What is your favourite brand of hot dog?

Ray’s Falafel

I am terminating my blogging hiatus with my newly acquired time, money, self-determination and a trip to Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine (commonly known as Ray’s Falafel). I have had some time to re-examine why I got into blogging and what I am trying to accomplish. As for Ray’s Falafel: totally classic.

BBQ Chicken combo platter at Ray's Falafel

BBQ Chicken combo platter at Ray’s Falafel

It is a big delicious mess and that is what I’m here to talk about. Ray’s Falafel has won “Best Falafel” so many times in The Coast that the category has been retired. The Scotia Square food court, and Ray’s Falafel in particular, is so awesome that hardly anyone ever talks about it. Everyone just knows.

But do they?

New Haligonians are emerging everyday and forced to navigate the culinary waters for themselves. Undoubtedly, they are bombarded by the unison of voices cheerfully telling them to “Buy Local” and that’s fantastic. Make no mistake, I am totally down with buying local. But then there are the buzz words – “organic”, “gourmet”, “chef-inspired”, “non-pretentious” (which actually sorta means pretentious)… the culinary landscape can be a minefield of “hype”, and the safest route can be the bandwagon.

Sometimes I just wanna bring it back to the basics. A cheap plate of home-made food on a tray in a mall food court. This is Ray’s Falafel.

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I used to eat here all the time when Scotia Square was, for all intents and purposes, my backyard. When you walk up to the counter you’ll be taken aback by how quickly Ray addresses you (usually as “sweetheart”). A word of advice: know what you want, and don’t let Ray out of your sight. If you order a combo platter, he will automatically compose it in a certain way. You will get fattoush if you don’t adamantly request tabouli. Basically if you want to add or subtract anything, pay very close attention and make it clear. Looking into the line-up…

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.. we’ve got (pictured) tabloui, hummus, garlic sauce, banana peppers, pickled cabbage, parsley, BBQ chicken, falafel, a cabbage dish, potatoes, tahini baked fish, lentils & rice, and rice. There are more items to the left (not pictured), of particular interest, fatayer (spinach pies), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), foul (fava & chickpeas in sauce), grilled eggplant and cauliflower, and fattoush (basic Lebanese salad).

Typically, you would order the BBQ chicken or the falafel (there is also kafta) in either wrap or combo-plate form. If you order a plate, expect this: rice, lentils & rice, tahini baked white fish, cooked cabbage, BBQ chicken (or falafel), fattoush, potatoes. If you want anything done differently – make it abundantly clear! For example, I requested tabouli rather than fattoush, and ordered a single falafel on the side. Ray works so quickly that your platter will be finished in a blink, and you’d better hope you’re not a picky eater!

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The BBQ chicken is delicious, and Ray makes batches that he grills up fresh each time (I saw him grillin’). For $7.75 you get a hefty plate of awesomeness. You will be full and satisfied. Everything on the plate is seriously awesome. It ain’t fancy but it’s a local gem of worthy mention.

Halifax is changing. We are seeing more bistros, gastropubs, “interactive eating”, craft beer, and local emphasis. I’m all for it. But I don’t want to neglect the “old local” – the traditional, the “no frills”,  the worthy gems that immortalized themselves in our food culture. My hat is off to Ray’s Falafel.

Ray's Lebanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

HFX Foot Longs

Perhaps I was too ambitious in thinking I could complete a fish ‘n’ chips quest AND a hot dog quest this summer. There is a crispness in the air already, and I still have Part 2 of my fish ‘n’ chips quest to complete. However, I will present to you a cherished summer discovery: HFX Foot Longs.

Have you ever wondered about the hot dog guy out in front of the Seaport Market on weekends, or do you scoff at such peasant food? Hot dogs? Pfft! Well, it is not too late to visit John the hot dog guy, who will change your mind about hot dogs forever.

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When is a hot dog not just a hot dog? First of all, John’s “foot longs” are not actually hot dogs. They are Vienna Frankfurters from Roselane Bavarian, made according to strict German purity laws. These sausages were the precursor to the conventional hot dog (i.e. “Frank” from Frankfurt, or “Weiner”, from Vienna – get it?) They are mild in flavour and have a nice snappy casing.

A foot long from HFX Foot Longs

A foot long from HFX Foot Longs

Perhaps the most exciting part of John’s hot dog cart is the condiments. In fact, John will give you a “condiment tour” where he will give you tastings and explanations of his condiments. John makes his own special horseradish sauce and Scotch bonnet hot sauce from his farm in Malagash. He also concocts a rarebit sauce made from Foxhill quark and a 6 year old cheddar, which is decadent. You’ll also find Boneheads BBQ mustard at his table, along with Fruition’s cashew mayo, el Gallo’s chipotle mayo, and Chef Pike’s hot mustard – all condiments found within the farmer’s market or just down the street. John tells me that “a hot dog is the one piece of the world a child can control”, so he also provides ketchup and ballpark mustard “for the kids” (and confused adults).

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The first time I ventured toward HFX Foot Longs, I overheard John saying something about the Montreal Pool Room (of hot dog fame). It turns out, John used to work at the legendary Montreal Pool Room, where he absorbed the recipe for the “Pool Room Slaw” that adorns every Montreal steamie. John tells me that proper coleslaw technique was a transferable skill in Montreal, and lucky for us – one that he’s brought to Halifax. A Montreal steamie is a steamed hot dog with relish, mustard, coleslaw, and chopped onions. This can all be yours at HFX Foot Longs, as John steams all his meat and bread and even sells Lester’s brand hot dogs (the traditional dog of the Montreal steamie).

Double dog!

Double dog!

In Montreal fashion, John sells “double dogs”, which are just two hot dogs for $5. You can dress them like a traditional steamie, or try John’s gourmet version: hot or sweet mustard, crunchy gerhkins, a pile of Pool Room Slaw, a strip of horseradish sauce, and topped with diced shallots (John says once you go shallot, you never go back).

Hawaiian Dog

Hawaiian Dog

Perhaps John’s speciality is the Hawaiian Dog – a perfect morning snack! Here we have a steamed Lester’s dog with a strip of Getaway bacon, topped with cold pressed Hawaiian pineapple, chipotle mayo and Scotch bonnet hot sauce. Don’t forget the decorative umbrella! This hot dog will one day be Halifamous. It is really, really, good.

HFX Foot Longs also carries local apple cider, veggie dogs and smokies from Sweet Williams. Sometimes you’ll find pretzels or mini donuts. You’ll always find good conversation and a lively atmosphere.

Update: The Hawaiian Dog is done for the season, and the turkey club dog has risen to glory. I just ate one this morning and it totally lived up to the hype. It is a long turkey sausage from Sweet Williams combined with Getaway bacon, topped with sliced baby tomatoes, Pool Room Slaw and tzatziki sauce. Seriously, try one now! … or, ya know… next weekend.

Turkey Club Dog

Turkey Club Dog

Halifax may not have a traditional hot dog culture, but HFX Foot Longs is certainly doing its part to bring the culture to us. I dare you to find me a hot dog purveyor offering so much variety and local quality! According to John, “Nobody tends to buy a hot dog and leave with a frown”.

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HFX Foot Longs on Yelp

HFX Foot Longs on Urbanspoon

Cape Breton Food Tour

Somewhat recently I was touring around Cape Breton with my family, who had asked for my expertise in planning the trip. Instead, I totally sabotaged the itinerary, turning our vacation into a food tour. My mother always says, “Now, I don’t want this whole trip to revolve around food!” (she knows me well). But my father is not the type to say no to deliciousness, and my brother – well, he tends to make appearances when food abounds. Remember, the best way to foil your comrades into embarking on a culinary adventure is to make them think it was their idea. Trip Advisor is your friend. So are locals. If your travel counterparts are wary of your zany food quests, ask the nearest local, “Hey, Cape Bretoners totally love pizza burgers, right?” and their startling enthusiasm will be convincingly effective.

The first stop on our Cape Breton food tour was Big Spruce Brewery.

Big Spruce Brewery

Big Spruce Brewery

Big Spruce Brewery is Cape Breton’s first microbrewery, and Atlantic Canada’s first organic farm-based brewery. That’s right! They grow their own hops! The brewery is near Baddeck (on the way, and just a tad off the main road). Since it was Beer Fest weekend, the brewery told us that they may close early. We stayed positive and showed up anyway, and sure enough, beer was to be had! We bought a growler of Kitchen Party Pale Ale to enjoy in our hotel room in Baddeck.

My success in convincing my family to eat pizza in Baddeck was uncanny. We I already had plans to eat pizza in Sydney, strictly for pizza research. However, Tom’s Pizza ranked highly on Trip Advisor, and there is just something relaxing about bringing a pizza to your hotel room to enjoy with your local craft beer, after a long day of driving.

The Ton's Special at Tom's Pizza in Baddeck

The Tom’s Special at Tom’s Pizza in Baddeck

The next morning we stopped for coffee and oatcakes at the Herring Choker. This place is so great we actually stopped in here again on our way home. It is really just a simple cafe & deli, but with delicious home-made bread, scores of cheese, Just Us! coffee, and what I had been told are the “best oatcakes in Nova Scotia”. On my first visit I had a kid’s sandwich (i.e. normal sized) with provolone and local Horyl’s salami on home-made oatmeal bread (yum!).

IMG_8941 On our return trip I picked up a veggie sandwich with generous slices of blue cheese on the same lovely oatmeal bread. As for the oatcakes, they were thin, crisp, and made from butter (not shortening). I’m not sure how something so simple can be so awesome, but other reviewers tend to agree: The Herring Choker is a great place to grab a bite.

You can probably guess that we planned to drive around the Cabot Trail that day, and indeed we did. Instead of going to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, my curiosity landed us at the Margaree Salmon Museum. This tiny museum is $2 to enter, and lacks the fancy placards of a government-run museum. I assume the friendly and informative woman there was a volunteer, and I sure did learn a lot about fly fishing (for which the Margaree River is famous).

Margaree Salmon Museum

Margaree Salmon Museum

One of my requests was to eat Acadian food in Cheticamp, so the Restaurant Acadien seemed to fit the bill.

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Clockwise we have the meat pie, the potato chiard with fried bologna, the fish cakes and the Acadian sampler. We were particularly impressed with the starter of home-made bread with molasses. This was a nice little Acadian lunch experience. If you go, get the fishcakes (better than my mom’s – sorry mom!) and some butterscotch pie!

Of course, the Cabot Trail has some beautiful views, which is why National Geographic featured it in its “Drives of a Life Time Series”.

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The day did clear up eventually, and we had a beautiful patio dinner that evening at Chanterelle Inn. I was hard pressed to pick a “nice” restaurant for the family. Every city and town boasts of its fancy restaurants, but really, they are all sort of the same. Not so at Chanterelle Inn. We almost drove right past this quaint little inn, named after the wild mushrooms that grow around the property. It was so quiet and peaceful on the enclosed patio that overlooks the scenic landscape. Quiet, that is, until our poor server dropped our bottle of Tidal Bay, smashing it along with a couple of wine glasses. The owner came out to assure us, something about his poor grandson, who we think was discreetly ushered back into the dish pit.

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We definitely enjoyed our meals. I was thrilled that my roasted haddock came with a freshly picked chanterelle crumble! The best executed dishes, however, were the desserts. My brother had a cheesecake tart, and my parents split the bread pudding. Not being a dessert fanatic, I settled for a coffee, and a few stolen spoonfuls of this and that.

We checked into our hotel in Sydney that evening, and a waterfront walk turned into a pint of Big Spruce Regatta Red. When in Sydney, Governor’s Pub is definitely the place to be.

Governor's Pub - Sydney

Governor’s Pub – Sydney

The next day we spent at Fortress Louisburg, which satisfies a cheesy desire to eat rustic 18th century period cuisine. I was 11 years old the last time I visited Louisburg, and I still remember the pea soup at the “lower class” restaurant. This time we went all high class, and dined on trout, root vegetables, rice and warm rum! Interestingly, the French were unfamiliar with potatoes in the 18th century but rice was imported along with sugar, tea, and rum.

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Trout dinner served family style, at Fortress Louisburg

That night I completed the first leg of my Cape Breton Pizza Quest, and fell in love with local favourite, Napoli Pizza.

Combination pizza at Napoli - Sydney

Combination pizza at Napoli – Sydney

The next morning we ventured to the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay, which involves exploring a real mine! Well, not a real real mine. It was constructed for the museum, but constructed nonetheless just like a mine from the 1920s. Word of warning to you: unless you are really short, your body will be at a right angle for the duration of the tour.

After all that bending and head-to-ceiling contact, I was thrilled to check out a restaurant I saw on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here”. Check out Collette’s Place, home of the “Festive Poutine”. The problem, of course, with these as-seen-on-TV restaurants, is that television has a way of heightening one’s expectations. Was Collette’s Place anything special? No. It was just a diner. I mean, the turkey was real turkey and that’s a good thing, right? Unfortunately, the BBQ sausages featured on the program are a daily special, and today was not my day. Sorry folks, today was meatloaf day. So I had a turkey & bacon sandwich made with French toast. It was good. You know…. good.

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The place was packed, so obviously the locals love it. But it was really just a diner. My mother was unimpressed with her fish ‘n’ chips, but my dad had no complaints about his hot turkey sandwich and coconut cream pie. As I said, it was good.

We had one more stop on our way home (okay, 2 – but I already recounted our return trip to the Herring Choker). I was told that the Cedar House Bakery in Boularderie has some top notch butterscotch pie. This is a bakery & cafe, such institutions being quite common in Cape Breton. We sat down for pie and coffee, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked good enough to make us wish we had eaten here instead of Collette’s. I had been informed that Cedar House makes a nifty pineapple curry chicken stuffed crust pizza. Yes Cedar House serves pizza as well as baked goods and diner food. You gotta multi-task in rural Cape Breton! The pie itself was nice, but we preferred the version we had in Cheticamp.

Butterscotch Pie at Cedar House Bakery

Butterscotch Pie at Cedar House Bakery

Cape Breton is known for its Acadian & Celtic heritage, its highlands and great salt water lakes, its world class golf and fly fishing, its history of coal mining, its fiddle music, and its crazy Capers! But there is no better way to know a place than by its food, and now I can say that I know Cape Breton a little better. ‘Til next time.

Cape Breton Pizza

Recently, I have become attuned to the chorus of transplanted Capers declaring that pizza is much better in Cape Breton than it is in Halifax. There are a couple problems with this sentiment. First, it requires Halifax to have a homogeneous pizza style. Second, it requires Cape Breton to have a homogeneous pizza style. The last time I found myself immersed in such a story, I was living in Calgary (which sort of does have a style), and my Windsor friends were singing praise of the pizza in Windsor, Ontario (which also has a style). Now, I know for a fact that Halifax is not pizza-consistent. You simply cannot reduce Halifax pizza to that awful slice you had at pizza corner.

A slice of Pizza Corner in Halifax.

A slice of Pizza Corner in Halifax.

But the statement: “Pizza in Cape Breton is better than pizza in Halifax” begged me to examine the quality and homogeneity of Cape Breton pizza. For my purposes, I assumed that by “Halifax pizza” we are talking about the hand-tossed, sweet sauced pizzas popular among starving students and drunk people (think Xtreme Pizza and Alexandra’s). I fantasized hypothesized that Cape Breton has a unique pizza culture, with its own regional style of pizza. With this prospect of discovery on my mind, I went on a quest for pizza in Cape Breton.

The Ton's Special at Tom's Pizza in Baddeck

The Tom’s Special at Tom’s Pizza in Baddeck

The first pie of this journey was from Tom’s Pizza in Baddeck. The “Tom’s Special” has a lot going on with pepperoni, onion, mushroom, tomatoes, green pepper, pineapple, hot peppers, and black and green olives. We ordered this pizza at the counter, which stood in front of the open kitchen. We couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the kitchen was female. My Mother somehow deduced from this that our pizza would be made properly, because “women don’t fart around”. The kitchen looked clean, and each woman seemed to be assigned a distinct role, whether tossing the dough, dressing the pizza or slicing the finished product. I’ve never seen such a sight, but it was pretty awesome.

We all felt that the toppings were fresh and of good quality. The crust was enjoyably edible. The pizza was not too greasy, but there was arguably too much cheese (if you are predisposed to making such an argument).

Combination Pizza at Kenny's - Sydney

Combination Pizza at Kenny’s – Sydney

One unique thing about Cape Breton is “Combination Pizza”. If you order a combination pizza in Cape Breton, it will always mean pepperoni, mushrooms and green pepper. On the mainland, I have seen this combination referred to as a “Maritime Classic” (as distinct from “Canadian Classic” – pepperoni, bacon, mushroom), but it is also the magical combination found on Montreal-Style pizzas. It is only the nomenclature that makes each region unique in this respect.

Anyway, my research led me to believe that Kenny’s was the Sydney favourite, overtaking the more famous Napoli Pizza in overall quality. So we got a pizza from each place, which was easy enough as they are literally neighbours in downtown Sydney.

Combination pizza at Napoli - Sydney

Combination pizza at Napoli – Sydney

There was really no comparison between the Sydney pizzas and the Baddeck pizza, but there was some similarity between Kenny’s and Napoli. Mainly, I noticed that long strips of green pepper are placed on top of the cheese, while everything else lies underneath. The crust is slightly thinner than an average Halifax pizza, and the sauce isn’t as sweet.

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My family preferred Napoli over Kenny’s, and Tom’s over Napoli. But my personal favourite was local legend, Napoli. The sauce had a nice basic tomato flavour, and I liked the overall composition and aesthetics. For me, Napoli was a pizza-eating experience, while the others were just pizza.

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Side by side comparison. Left: Napoli. Right: Kenny’s.

My dreams of discovering a homogeneous pizza style in Cape Breton have been dampened, but Sydney, at least, does seem to have a sort of pizza culture marked by “Combination Pizzas”, thin hand-tossed crusts, unsweetened sauce, and long strips of green pepper decorating the cheese. If nothing else, I have discovered Napoli Pizza, which now sits on my list of memorable pizzas.

I wish I could have sampled more pizza, but I only had a weekend to stuff my face conduct my research. I have also been told to try Caledonia and Jeffrey’s in Glace Bay, Fat Boys in New Waterford, Pizza Palace in Whitney Pier, Wabo’s Pizza in Cheticamp, and Cedar House in Boularderie. That’s a lot of pizza! Suffice to say this quest is incomplete. If any Capers want to set me straight, be my guest and comment below!

Nova Scotia Wine Tour 2013

Nova Scotia’s fledgling wine industry is booming, and no visit to this province is complete without a scenic drive through the Annapolis Valley visiting local wineries. The valley is a lush agricultural region, pastoral and sunny. The shores do not boast of beaches and rugged coastline, but of Acadian dykes, and muddy tidal rivers opening into the Minas Basin. There are u-picks and Farmer’s Markets everywhere, selling apples, berries, corn, and ice cream. Wolfville is a cool little university town, and New Minas is the soccer capital of Nova Scotia. One of my fondest childhood memories is discovering moon mist ice cream at Hennigar’s Market, attired in my shin guards and umbro shorts.

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Now that I am well into legal drinking age, I know the awesomeness of wine touring. There is something so serene about vineyards, and something so delicious about wine! There are currently 10 wineries in the valley, and most of them are proximate to one another. The best way to visit them is a DIY wine tour, with a designated driver and a GPS. There is also the Wolfville Magic Winery Bus, a pink double decker bus that provides hop-on hop-off shuttle service to 4 wineries. For guided and custom tours, check out Go North Tours and Grape Escapes, both of which are based out of Halifax.

There are lots of options for wine tour providers in Nova Scotia.

There are lots of options for wine tour providers in Nova Scotia.

I’m going to talk a bit about some of the valley wineries: what makes them unique and what are my favourite wines. I am no wine expert, and these are just my opinions. The beauty of wine is getting to discover it for yourself, so this is merely a guideline or bathroom reading material, if you wish. You may notice that I left out Muir Murray, Sainte Famille, and Annapolis Highland. I assure you that this is nothing personal, but that I regrettably lack experience with these wineries.

Avondale Sky
80 Avondale Cross Road, RR#2 Newport Landing

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Avondale Sky’s claim to fame is the church that houses their retail and tasting room, which floated 42km down the Avon River to its current home in Newport Landing. Click here to see that I am totally serious. This is also one of the most beautiful retail/tasting rooms that you will ever visit.

Avondale Sky’s signature grape is the Geisenheim, a Riesling-Chancellor hybrid. I recommend Bliss, which is sweet and fresh with a slight effervescence. In other words, a celebration in your mouth! Another popular wine from Avondale is Lady Slipper, a rosé made from estate grown Léon Millot grapes. This dry rosé is quite drinkable on its own, though its pairing notes suggest “chips and dip, cheese, pork, and nice weather”. I taste raspberry and a touch of cinnamon. Lady Slipper is actually sold out at the winery, but you can still pick it up at various farmer’s markets and the NSLC. I must also praise Avondale Sky’s Tidal Bay, which is one of the best expressions of this appellation wine. It has a crisp citrus quality from L’Acadie Blanc, rounded out with Geisenheim and a touch of Vidal. Summerville, an unoaked L’Acadie, has recently been released, after selling out in 2012. Then there is Pinnacle Hill, Avondale Sky’s award-winning ice wine.

Tastings are free at Avondale Sky.

Luckett Vineyards
1293 Grand Pre Road, Wolfville

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Luckett Vineyard’s claim to fame (other than being owned by Pete Luckett) has to be the iconic red phone booth in the midst of the vineyards. You can actually make free phone calls to anywhere in North America. Luckett is also famed for its patio lunches. The view is incredible! This winery is always bustling, with a market feel to it, and there are cheeses and preserves for sale, as well as wine.

Luckett makes a few fruit wines and dessert wines, such as the rich peach dessert wine I sampled on my last visit. There is also a respectable blueberry wine, a raspberry liqueur, a blackberry port, an ice cider, and a sparkling apple & blackcurrant wine, to name a few. As for traditional wines, Luckett’s Phone Box Red is considered to be one of the better Nova Scotian reds, and the Phone Box White is a decent white blend. But my top pick for Luckett is the 2012 Ortega.

Tastings: $7 for 5

Gaspereau Vineyards
2239 White Rock Road, Gaspereau

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This is easily one of my favourite wineries. The tasting room is pleasantly rustic, and the customer service keeps me coming back. Katie Barbour, the boutique manager, is particularly friendly and helpful.

Gaspereau is known for the Lucy Kuhlman grape. I usually don’t enjoy single varietal Nova Scotian reds, but I was convinced by a taste of Gaspereau’s Lucy to buy a bottle of the stuff. The not-too-sweet 2010 Gaspereau Estate Riesling is made from the Riesling grapes grown on the upper slopes of the Gaspereau vineyard, and the winery also makes two other distinctive Rieslings from nearby vineyards. This is the go-to winery for any Riesling lover. Gaspereau’s Tidal Bay is also one of my top picks for this style – it is slightly sweet from Muscat and balanced with Seyval Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The straight up Muscat and Seyval Blanc are also worth trying, and I’m pretty sure that Gaspereau is the only Nova Scotian winery producing a Pinot Noir. Their Maple Wine is a favourite of my mother’s, and they also make a respectable Reserve Port (i.e. “Port”) which is sweetened with a “local delicacy” (i.e. mmmmmaple).

Tastings: 4 free

L’Acadie Vineyards
310 Slayter Road, Gaspereau

L’Acadie is Nova Scotia’s only organic winery. Not only is it organic, but it also uses biodynamic techniques. The tasting room is small and simple, and traditional method sparkling wines are the speciality. Not being a huge fan of brut “champagnes”, my favourite was the 2009 Sparkling Rosé. This wine is made from Maréchal Foch grapes (which sort of makes it a sparkling red, but whatevs). The available samples vary from day to day, so I didn’t get to try everything this time around. I think when I visited several years ago, I had more freedom to sample what I wanted. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I was quite impressed with the 2009 Alchemy, which is made in the Appassimento style of drying the grapes to concentrate the flavour. It is also worth noting that L’Acadie makes traditional method Organic Cider.

Tastings: $5 for 4, free if you purchase a bottle.

Blomidon Estate Winery
10318 Hwy 221, Canning

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I am quickly falling in love with Blomidon. It all started with the 2011 Crémant, a very drinkable bubbly with a hint of sweetness. It was love at first sip, and a bottle purchased from the Seaport Market for my New Year’s Eve. Then, Blomidon’s Tidal Bay won 1st place at the Tidal Bay tasting party I hosted a couple weeks ago. Most recently, I visited the winery and learned that there is a cult following of the Baco Noir. As I said, I am not usually a fan of single varietal Nova Scotia reds, but Blomidon’s Baco is a definite exception. This is good stuff! I was even more impressed with the rich and balanced 2011 Ridge Reserve – a blend that could fool any palate typically averted to Scotian reds. This winery is nailing reds, bubbles, and Tidal Bay. I’m impressed, to say the least.

Tastings are free with the purchase of 2 bottles.

Benjamin Bridge
1842 White Rock Road, Gaspereau Valley

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Nothing like a glass of Nova 7 on a summer day!

Until recently, Benjamin Bridge was not open to the public. I got to go with my school on a field trip (yay school!) but now the winery is doing private tours by appointment. I believe a minimum of 6 people is required.

Benjamin Bridge makes the most high profile sparkling wine in the province (and also the most expensive). Its Method Classique Rose was one of two Canadian sparkling wines selected to represent Canada’s best at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Its method classique Brut Reserves are said to be strikingly similar to the best Champagnes. All of this prestige is great, but most Nova Scotians associate Benjamin Bridge with the dangerously refreshing Nova 7, a rose coloured lightly sparkling white blend, highlighting Muscat grapes. Nova 7 is wildly popular in Nova Scotia, and no summer is complete without it.

Domaine de Grand Pré
11611 Highway 1, Grand Pré

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Tasting bar at Grand Pré

Among the valley wineries, Grand Pré is the institution. It is located along the main road, and has the most stylized and organized tasting room to receive the public. The style is contemporary and deco. The tasting menu is structured into sampling packages*. Grand Pré is also known for its restaurant, Le Caveau. One of my most memorable meals was eaten here: the lamb shoulder, which is still on the menu, though not the version I had, which was served in a chèvre sauce.

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Local lamb shoulder at Le Caveau

Grand Pré seems to specialize n Marechal Foch, a grape I have mixed feelings about. However, I quite liked the full bodied 2010 Reserve Foch. Grand Pré also makes an interesting blend of Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, and Castel, lightened by the addition of L’Acadie Blanc (2010 Moulin Rouge). I would also recommend trying the spicy Castel, and the fruity 2011 Muscat (one of the best ones I’ve tried). Grand Pré makes some excellent ice wines from Vidal, Ortega, Muscat and Foch grapes, as well as the lovely Pomme d’Or, made from Annapolis apples.

*Regular Tasting: $5, Premium Tasting: $10, All Whites: $5, All Reds: $5

Visit the Winery Association of Nova Scotia for more info.