Who’s This Tim Horton Fellow, Anyway?

In recent months, an icon of Canadian food fare has started to raise its profile here in ths U.S.  I’m speaking of Tim Hortons, whose chain of about 3,500 shops, mostly throughout Canada, offers donuts, coffee and sandwiches.  The closest comparison I can think of for those in the U.S. is a cross between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks  —  Tim Horton’ offerings of baked goods are very similar to Dunkin Donuts but the Canadian chain’s menu includes a heavier dose of traditional lunch sandwiches and soups and Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest seller of coffee drinks, although without the complicated varieties requiring the attention of a barista.  As most Canadians of coffee-drinking age also know, the namesake of the company is Tim Horton, one of the country’s most celebrated hockey players, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1950s and 1960s and who, in 1964, opened what was then a modest coffee and donut shop in the suburbs of Ontario.

Last summer, Tim Hortons announced the opening of about a dozen locations in New York City and a few months later cut the ribbon on a location at the U.S. Army’s facility at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  While their stores are dotted all across Canada, in the U.S. they are principally only found in the northeast and not really seen below West Virginia.  But, that may be changing.  Exhibit No 1. is this:  a couple of weeks ago a local branch of RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) in Atlanta held a “Coffee with Tim” promotion in the morning, in which RBC brought in plentiful quantities of Tim Hortons coffee to warm up patrons who may have been wondering exactly who is this Tim fellow and why does he want to have coffee with us anyway.  Clever promotion for both the bank and Tim Horton’s and a nice touch for Canadians far from home.

On my visits to many Canadian cities and towns I’ve frequently stopped in for a cup of coffee at a Tim Hortons because they are so convenient.  I suppose because of their presence just about everywhere there, these shops provide a sort of common comfort food to Canadians across their country, much like McDonald’s (at least more than any other quick service or fast food outlet) does here below the border.   Tim Hortons is so popular in Canada, I once had a Canadian friend tell me that anyone who owns one of these franchises essentially had a license to print money because, in his words, “these places are like gold mines.”

Perhaps, then, the Fort Knox location makes a symbolic statement.  Given the vast size of the U.S. market, I am sure Tim Hortons sees plenty of opportunities here, so I am sure that their stores will be popping up on more radar screens — and other bank branches — in the U.S. before too long.

Ice Wine Taste Test

An article in last Friday’s NY Times (http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/travel/escapes/26icewine.html?scp=1&sq=icewine&st=cse) on Canadian icewines caught my attention both because of the connection to Canada and because I had previously not heard of icewines.  I’ve sampled many wines over the years but am by no means an oenophile, so my being unaware of a notable wine variety is not that unusual.  It turns out that icewine has quite a following and the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and to a lesser extent those in southern Quebec and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, have played a major part in elevating the popularity of icewine on this continent and beyond.

The key factor that distinguishes icewine is that the grapes are left on the vine past normal harvest season and when the temperature is below -8 Celsius (about 17 Farenheit), usually in December or January, the grapes are carefully picked by hand.  At such low temperatures the water content in the grape stays frozen resulting in a significantly higher concentration of juice when the grapes are crushed compared with the process for making other wines.  The yield from each harvest is also correspondingly lower, which translates into the wine being more expensive to purchase.

With this background in mine, a few days later I ventured out to a local wine shop to purchase a bottle to sample.  Although judging by the websites for several leading icewine wineries, there is an extensive range produced, this far south in the U.S. the selection is quite limited and I was only able to track down a bottle after visits to three shops that normally have extensive wine offerings.  At the place I located this elusive wine, Ansley Wine Merchants, they actually stocked two types of Canadian ice wine, Inniskillin’s 2006 Vidal and Jackson-Triggs 2007 Proprietor’s Reserve Vidal.   I got both thinking I would compare the two.  (They also had an Austrian icewine on hand, but the priciness — US $55 for the 375 ml bottle of Inniskillin and US $21 for a 187 ml bottle of the Jackson-Triggs — restrained me.)

A few days later, after letting the wine chill, my wife and I tried each of these two curiosities.   Icewines are generally referred to as dessert wines and I was expecting them to be sweet in the manner of many flavored liqueurs.   Sampling the Inniskillin first, this partly turned out to be the case, but the sweetness was balanced by a brisk acidity, which apparently is characteristic of icewines, so the level of sweetness is not intense to the point of tartness.   The same was true of the Jackson-Triggs, although this particular vintage seemed even sweeter.  I’ve never been good at describing the flavors present in wines, but the makers of both attribute flavors of tangerine, papaya and apricot, which even I can discern.   My wife immediately pronounced the taste pleasantly complex.  Being more of a vodka drinker myself, I was glad to see that an icewine martini was among the serving recommendations and this suited my own tastes better than the straight icewine.

Sweet drinks are not normally to my liking, so I am unlikely to become an icewine connoisseur.  Yet, all in all my introduction to icewine proved to be an interesting diversion and another useful learning experience about an aspect of Canada previously unknown to me.

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