Taste the Season – Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

As a friend mentioned the other day, November is kind of a buffer month – it’s a time to re-charge before the busy holiday season and, for many of us, time to start to think about what we might serve – both in terms of food and wine – at our holiday get togethers.

With all this in mind, the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have a holiday tradition called “Taste the Season” – it’s one of their popular passport programs and it runs every weekend (Fridays through Sundays) in November.

I was given two passes to the event by the tourism folks and a girlfriend and I spent Sunday popping in to different wineries to sample their food/wine pairings. It was a dreary day, which might be why most of the places we stopped in at were not overly busy. Mind you, that was great as far as we were concerned because it meant more of an opportunity to speak with the folks at the wineries about the recent harvest, and about the wines and food.

The choice of which wineries we visited was based strictly on our route. We started at Niagara College Teaching Winery, which is right off the QEW. I hate to say it, but I was very disappointed with the pairing there. They were serving their 2011 Dean’s List Pinot Noir ($17.15) with a grilled zucchini, tomato, and Havarti tart. It sounded so promising, but was a total disappointment because the tart was stone cold. It’s true, it was early, so they had just opened, but no wine would taste good with the fat of the cold pastry dough. Too bad…

Fortunately, the day improved quickly at our next stop – Chȃteau des Charmes. They too were serving a Pinot Noir (their 2015 Estate Grown & Bottle Pinot) ($16.95). They paired it with a delicious smoked chili spiced meat ball served in a lovely little bamboo cup with some tomato fondue and parmesan cheese. (The food was catered by Vintage Inns.)

Taste the Season at Ravine Vineyards

Our next stop was Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – always one of my favourite spots. The served their 2014 Sand & Gravel Redcoat ($18.95) paired with a beef stew with a parmesan pastry. I was surprised when they served the wine in a plastic throw-away glass, but I figured it’s because of the numbers of people that come through for the tasting. The server – clearly concerned about the presentation – gave us a card offering a complimentary tasting flight at the tasting bar where, he assured us, “they use proper glassware”. We promptly went over to the other room and one of the wines I chose to (re)sample was the Sand & Gravel Redcoat. I’m glad I did – though I enjoyed it well enough in the plastic cup, in a real glass is was quite nice. In fact, that’s the wine I ended up purchasing.

Taste the Season at Marynissen Estates

Another stop we made was Marynissen Estate Winery. They were serving a 2015 Gewürztraminer ($16.00) with a warm corn and red pepper bisque. The server made a point to tell everyone that it wasn’t a particularly sweet Gewürzt – I guess many folks are put off Gewürzt because they associate it with sweetness. I didn’t care much for the wine – I actually found it a bit too dry for – but the soup was delicious. Indeed, when we were re-capping the day, my friend and I agreed that the soup was our favourite of all the food samples.

Taste the Season at Inniskillin

Inniskillin Wines gets kudos for an innovative pairing: their 2015 Vidal Icewine ($29.95) paired with aged cheddar grilled cheese with a garden tomato chutney on top. I think it’s a terrific idea to show people that icewine isn’t just for dessert. They also get high marks for a very simple, but effective presentation. Though the server didn’t know we’d be taking a photo – he made sure that the name of the winery was visible on the napkin. (Nicely done!)

Taste the Season at Peller Estates

Our last stop was  Peller Estates. They were serving their 2016 Private Reserve Gamay Noir ($19.95) with a smoked pork and duck terrine. That pairing a true standout. The wine on its own was light and refreshing (as you’d expect from a Gamay) and it balanced the richness of the terrine quite well. (It was my friend’s favourite wine of the day, by the way) Also, there was a young chef (I’d guess a chef-in-training) serving the terrine and he happily answered my questions about the difference between terrines and pates. It’s opportunities to speak with folks from the wineries that are familiar with food and wine that make these events really enjoyable.

The Restaurant at Peller Estates

We ended the day with a long, late, relaxing lunch as the Restaurant at Peller Estates, which was lovely.

If all goes according to plan, I will be headed down to Niagara-on-the-Lake next weekend with another girlfriend to see what some of the other wineries are up to.  Stay tuned – or better yet – head out with some friends and enjoy Taste the Season yourself.


Out and about at Days of Wine and Chocolate

It’s Family Day weekend here in Ontario – a long weekend designed to give folks a mid-winter break. Most years, that means a weekend of snow-filled activities. With an unusual early spring thaw (temperatures topping  10°C – over 50°F), I’m sure lots of folks had to change their plans.

Fortunately, for me and my friend Cory, the weather was perfect for a day of winery visiting in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOL). As I mentioned in my last blog, the Wineries of NOL provided me with a couple of passes to the Days of Wine and Chocolate event that’is going on all month. Here are a few of the highlights of the day.

Our first stop of the day was Pondview Estate Winery. They were serving their 2013 Bella Terra Cab Sauv with ribs in a chocolate infused sauce. I have to say – Pondview never disappoints for these events. They always showcase one of their nicer wines and they always serve something tasty. This year was no exception. The ribs were outstanding. The Bella Terra is a lovely wine, but because they were serving in their barrel room, the glasses and the wine were very cold, which was a shame. Regardless, it was a great pairing and both of us agreed that it would be hard to beat.

The only pre-planned part of the day was lunch at Backhouse restaurant. I was keen to try the restaurant because I’ve sampled Chef Ryan Crawford’s charcuterie at different events. Crawford and his partner Beverley Hotchkiss opened the restaurant about 18 months ago and it has been very well received, so I made sure to make a reservation.

I knew exactly where it was (242 Mary Street in a small plaza where Mary Street intersects Niagara Stone Road), but from the outside, the restaurant is easy to miss. And, because the windows are all covered over, it almost looks like they’ve  gone out of business. Indeed, we followed a couple in and we overheard one of them saying to the hostess that he thought maybe it was closed. But, it’s so attractive and welcoming inside, you quickly forget about what the outside looks like!

The host asked us if we wanted a seat at the Chef’s bar or at a table. Normally I don’t like sitting at the bar – but it was clear that that was where the action was, and the seats were very comfortable looking. When I asked what she’d recommend, the hostess said, “Definitely the bar – that’s considered our premium seating”. So we took her suggestion – and boy were we glad we did.Sitting there gave us a chance to talk to the staff and watch as they lovingly plated different things. We didn’t want anything too heavy and since I knew that Chef Crawford is known for his charcuterie, we settled on the Backhouse Plate for 2 and a side order of frites. The Backhouse Plate features a selection of charcuterie, bread, cheeses, preserves, and pickled green beans and pickled sour cherries. It was delicious.

We had a peak at the dinner menu. They have some items a la cart, and a selection of tasting menus that sounded amazing. I’ll definitely be back to try a tasting menu – and I’ll definitely book the seats at the Chef’s bar. We purposely didn’t have dessert at the restaurant because we wanted to try some of the Days of Wine and Chocolate dessert pairings.




We had noticed that Trius Winery was serving S’mores, and that sound fun. Turns out we didn’t read the description that carefully, so we were surprised when it wasn’t a traditional S’more – it was S’more fudge. They paired it with their 2015 Gamay Noir. That turned out to be one of Cory’s favourite wines of the day – and the pairing made both somehow richer.

Another standout in terms of a wine/dessert pairing was at Pillitteri Estates. They were serving their 2013 Cab Merlot with a dark chocolate cup with milk chocolate mousse with a drizzle of Cab Merlot raspberry compote. The lightness of the milk chocolate mousse and the tartness of the compote paired very well with the wine.





Days of Wine and Chocolate — a Passport to Enjoyment

Have you ever participated in one of the coordinated passport events wineries run in a particular region? If you haven’t, you should… And if you have – let’s compare notes about it.

The Days of Wine and Chocolate event is currently going on all this month. The marketing folks at the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake gave me a pair of passports, and a friend and I checked it out on Friday.

The Basics

Passport programs are brilliantly straightforward. You buy the passport (the pass) and then head to your favourite participating winery – or better yet, one you’ve never tried! At each winery, you get a sample of some nibble and a wine they’ve paired with that delectable bite. The pairings are based on the theme – in the case of the Days of Wine and Chocolate you can guess what the theme is….IMG_3981

Planning Your Day?

Because I invited my friend, I felt responsible for planning our day a bit. I know my friend didn’t care – she looked at it as just a great way to spend some time together, which is another great excuse to order up a couple passports!

So, I decided to frame our day around a few specifics – a few specific pairings that intrigued me and a few wineries that I was especially interested in visiting. First, I wanted to stop in at The Hare Wine Company – it’s a brand new winery on Old Stone Road. I also planned on stopping in at Konzelmann Estate Winery – I thought it would be interesting to compare a brand new winery (Hare) with one of the original wineries of the area (Konzelmann). I also wanted to stop in at Lailey – it changed hands last year and I wanted to learn a bit more about their plans going forward.

I also had the list of what each winery was serving and I had marked some that I thought might be especially interesting. One of the impressive things about the Days of Wine and Chocolate theme is how creative the wineries are with incorporating chocolate into different food. For example, cocoa aioli on a smoked meat sandwich, chocolate drizzled popcorn, a dark chocolate and bacon brownie, dark chocolate mole sauce.

The Hare Wine Company

The Hare Wine Company has only been open about three months. I had perused their website before we left and it had a lot of interesting information about the loyalist history. But, you never get a sense of what the winery is aiming to be from a website – you need to see it in person to get that.IMG_3994

Sommelier and assistant cellar master Alina Trefry was excited to tell us about the winery and their plans. I had passed it before and was amazed at its size – not exactly a roadside stand. Alina explained the architecture and how well planned it is – everything from space to let food trucks into the courtyard, to the fact that the displays are all on wheels so they can move them around for different events and weddings and such. Here’s a short video of Alina talking a bit about the winery.

I had read that the building is crafted from re-claimed building materials and Alina confirmed that. As well, someone had given me a heads-up about one of the unique side rooms, so I asked about it. Indeed, they have a private tasting room off the main hall whose walls are made of old barrels. If you visit the winery and they aren’t too busy, ask if you can see it – the three dimensional effect is very neat!

They have 12 acres under vine: half are planted with Riesling and half with Vidal. They also locally source other grapes. They have four different series of wines in different price ranges – from their Jack Rabbit series ($14-$16 range) to their Noble series, which currently features a $120 Cab Franc appassimento blend. Here’s a short video of Alina describing the Noble series.

For Days of Wine and Chocolate they were serving the 2013 Crown Land Red with Ecuadorian bitter dark chocolate with freeze-dried strawberries. To be honest – when we read the description, it didn’t appeal to me OR my friend. But, we were there and it would have been rude to turn it down.IMG_3987

Well, what a delicious surprise. The chocolate and the Cab Franc were Delicious. Alina said the chocolate was made for them by a local chocolatier and, it featured a dusting of raspberry powder n addition to the freeze-dried strawberries. The whole thing – the chocolate and wine – creates an explosion of sweet and tart. I was hoping the chocolate was available for purchase at the winery, but it wasn’t. But, Alina was happy to share that it came from Willow Cakes and Pastries (Mary and Mississauga Streets in Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Lailey Winery

Our last stop of the day was Lailey Winery. As I mentioned, I knew that the winery, which used to be called Lailey Vineyard, has changed hands. The new owners are John Chang and Allison Lu. Besides the subtle name change, the first thing you notice that’s different is the totems – there’s one outside and one inside. The new owners also own wineries in BC and, as the woman who served us explained, the totems are meant to greet visitors and as a connection to the new owners’ ties to BC.

The other immediately noticeable difference is that the tasting room has tripled in size. When I mentioned that, our server explained it’s because they now get a lot of buses and it’s easier to accommodate groups.

Owner Allison has taken over the winemaking. (Derek Barnett is now working out of Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County.) Many of the wines on the shelves – including the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Fume that was featured in the Days of Wine and Chocolate pairing – are vintages that were crafted by Barnett.

Despite the reference to fume in the name, I didn’t pick up much smokiness in the Sauvignon Blanc. They paired it with a petite lemon tart that was to die for! Again, I asked who made the tarts and I was told they sourced it from the Watering Can in Vineland (3711 King Street) – definitely a café that would be worth checking out.

It will be interesting to watch how Lailey Winery will change. Rumour has it that they’ll focus primarily on icewine and that much of their production will be for export. We’ll see… Meanwhile, for the many folks who loved what Derek produced, stop in to stock up before it’s all gone.


The only other pre-planning I had done was finding a place for lunch. I had a short list of places I had wanted to try. One of them was The Old Winery Restaurant on Niagara Stone Road. When I happened to ask someone at Konzelmann for lunch suggestions, he mentioned that one. So, that’s where we went. The menu’s diverse, the prices reasonable and the food and service were good. In short – it’s a place I feel confident recommending.

Grilled Chicken saltimbocca, Prosciutto, Fontina, Tapenade on a Kaiser
Grilled Chicken saltimbocca, Prosciutto, Fontina, Tapenade on a Kaiser

I’ll be heading down to NOL again for Days of Wine and Chocolate, and so stay tuned.  Oh – and watch for a separate post about Konzelmann – we did their Junk Food Pairing tasting, which was great!

Lamb burger with a greek salad
Lamb burger with a greek salad


Ontario Wine Society brings some of PEC to Toronto

Last night’s Ontario Wine Society event at Quince Bistro was fun. It was a walk-around tasting featuring the wines from three excellent Prince Edward County Vineyards and a selection of finger foods from Qunce:

  • The Grange of Prince Edward County — with Maggie, one of the winemakers there (and daughter of winemaker Caroline Granger) there to talk about what she was pouring;
  •  Trail Estate Winery – with Alex Sproll there to tell us about what he was pouring and about the newish winery; and
  • Traynor Family Vineyard – with Mike Traynor, winemaker/owner was there to tell us about what he was pouring and how things are going at the very new winery.

    Mike Traynor-Winemaker
    Mike Traynor — Winemaker/Owner of Traynor Family Vineyard

All the wines were very good representations of Ontario wines. It was interesting to hear how the past few harsh winters and springtime freezes have impacted the PEC wineries. As a result, many are ending up sourcing at least some of their grapes from other growers — typically in the Niagara region.

So, with the exception of the wines from The Grange, where all their wines are from their estate grown grapes, some of the wines served by Trail Estates and Traynor Family Vineyard were not necessarily made with PEC grapes. (Of course, it’s also worth noting that both of these wineries are still quite new, so it’s no wonder they have to look elsewhere for grapes in order to have wine to sell.)

If I had to pick a favourite from each winery, I’d choose: The Grange’s 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve, Mike Traynor’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, and Trail Estate’s 2013 Cab Franc-Cab Sauv blend.

A Warm Welcome

A friend and I headed down to Beamsville for a wine and cheese tasting at Tawse Winery. I booked the tasting about a month ago and was really looking forward to it. It was only $10 and I thought it would be a great excuse to get together near the holidays and an opportunity to do something different.IMG_3261

Unfortunately, two days before the event, something came up so my friend had to cancel. She felt bad because she felt she had stuck me with an extra ticket. I told her not to worry, as I was quite sure I’d be able to find someone else to go with me — even on short notice. I was right. I phoned another friend and she was only too happy to fill in.

IMG_3259It’s unseasonably mild here, so we left early, figuring we’d make a few stops before the tasting. Megalomaniac is just up the road from Tawse and the last time I was there, they were expanding their retail premises, so I wanted to stop and see the new digs. Boy was that a great decision!

Turns out, they are hosting a Holiday Open House this weekend. They had different tasting stations set up throughout their huge tasting room and it was all complimentary. Guests start with their Bubblehead — it’s a traditional method sparkling Pinot Noir. Then they directed us to their main tasting bar for their reds — four regular and two premium reds. (My favourite was their 2012 Big Mouth Merlot.) Then it was on to whites, and even a few icewines. In total, 11 wines were available for tasting. As an added bonus, they were offering specials if you bought two or more bottles.IMG_3256

If you’re on any winery mailing lists, no doubt over the past few weeks you’ve been getting notices about holiday promotions (lots of free shipping, which is especially nice if you’re doing a lot of entertaining over the holidays) and holiday open houses. I hadn’t really thought about making time to stop in at any — until today. Now I realize that besides avoiding the crazy mall parking lots, the open houses are a lovely way to get into the holiday spirit. It’s relaxing and a great chance to find some wonderful wines to serve your guests this holiday season or to give to those on your list.


Canadian wineries you’ll find at i4C

International Cool Climate Chardonnay – i4C for short – starts Friday (July 17th). Of the 58 wineries on the list, an impressive 27 are from Ontario. (And, as long as we’re waving the Maple Leaf, it’s worth nothing that there are 4 B.C. wineries participating too – bringing the total of Canadian wineries up to 31.)

If you can’t make it to any of the weekend-long events, the organizers have you covered with the Summer of Chardonnay Passport ($25). The passport lets you enjoy special Chardonnay tastings through Labour Day at 23 of the Ontario wineries that will be at i4C.

Here’s a list of Ontario wineries participating in i4C 2015:

These are the B.C. wineries participating:

2015 Ontario Wine Awards

The 2015 Ontario Wine Awards were announced earlier this month. The OWAs were started by Tony Aspler in 1995 to showcase Ontario VQA Wines. There are 25 different categories judged and this year 79 Ontario wineries entered.OWA Logo Darker-no year-1

In addition to the separate categories they choose an overall red and white wine of the year, as well as naming a winemaker of the year, a label design category, and a wine journalist award.

Here’s the complete list of winners:

Sparkling Wine Award

  • Gold: Huff Estates 2010 Cuvée Peter F Huff
  • Silver: Colio Estate N/V Lily Sparkling
  • Bronze: Konzelmann Estate N/V Methode Cuve Close Rosé

Dry Riesling Award

  • Gold: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2013 Riesling
  • Silver: Stanners Vineyard 2012 Riesling
  • Bronze: Two Sisters Vineyards 2013 Riesling
  • Bronze: Flat Rock Cellars 2014 Nadja’s Vineyard

Semi-Dry Riesling Award

  • Gold: Flat Rock Cellars 2014 Riesling
  • Silver: Vieni Estates 2013 Riesling Semi-Dry
  • Bronze: Kacaba Vineyards 2014 Reserve Riesling

Dry White Varietal Award

  • Gold: Inniskillin 2013 Reserve Viognier
  • Silver: Cornerstone Estate 2011 Stoned White
  • Bronze: Pillitteri Estates 2013 Viognier

Gewurztraminer Award

  • Gold: Trius 2013 Showcase Outlier Gewurztraminer
  • Silver: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2013 Small Lot Gewurztraminer
  • Bronze: Pillitteri Estates 2013 Gewurztraminer

Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris Award

  • Gold: Konzelmann Estate 2013 Pinot Blanc
  • Silver: Konzelmann Estate 2013 Pinot Grigio
  • Silver: Kacaba Vineyards 2014 Jennifer’s Pinot Gris
  • Bronze: No Bronze Awarded

Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Award

  • Gold: Peller Estates 2013 AP Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc
  • Silver: Niagara College Teaching Winery 2013 Balance Sauvignon Blanc
  • Bronze: Jackson-Triggs 2013 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Oaked Chardonnay Award ~ Under $20

  • Gold: Flat Rock Cellars 2012 Chardonnay
  • Silver: Magnotta 2013 Chardonnay Limited Edition
  • Bronze: Keint-he 2013 Voyageur Chardonnay

Oaked Chardonnay Award ~ Over $20

  • Gold: 16 Mile Cellar 2011 Civility Chardonnay
  • Silver: Huff Estates 2012 South Bay Chardonnay
  • Bronze: The Foreign Affair 2010 Chardonnay
  • Bronze: Ravine Vineyard Estate 2013 Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay Award

  • Gold: Konzelmann Estate 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Silver: Kacaba Vineyards 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Bronze: Two Sisters Vineyards 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay

Rosé/Blanc de Noir Award

  • Gold: Henry of Pelham Family Estate 2014 Rosé
  • Silver: Flat Rock Cellars 2014 Pink Twisted
  • Bronze: John Howard Cellars of Distinction 2014 Rosé

Gamay Award

  • Gold: Vieni Estates 2012 Gamay Noir
  • Silver: 13th Street 2013 Gamay Noir Sandstone Vineyard
  • Silver: Château des Charmes 2013 Gamay Noir, Estate Bottled
  • Bronze: No Bronze Awarded

Pinot Noir Award

  • Gold: Huff Estates 2013 Pinot Noir
  • Silver: Domaine Queylus 2012 Pinot Noir
  • Bronze: Stanners Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir Four Mile Creek

Red Hybrid Award

  • Gold: Pelee Island 2013 Baco Noir Reserve
  • Silver: Hernder Estates 2012 Baco Noir
  • Bronze: Henry of Pelham Estate 2013 Baco Noir
  • Bronze: Sandbanks Estate 2013 Baco Noir Reserve

Cabernet Sauvignon Award

  • Gold: Trius 2012 Showcase East Block Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Silver: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2012 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bronze: GreenLane Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Franc Award

  • Gold: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2012 Small Lot Cabernet Franc
  • Silver: Trius 2012 Showcase Red Shale Cabernet Franc
  • Bronze: Pillitteri Estates 2012 Exclamation Cabernet Franc

Merlot Award

  • Gold: Kacaba Vineyards 2010 Reserve Merlot
  • Silver: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2012 Small Lot Merlot
  • Bronze: Jackson-Triggs 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot

Syrah/Shiraz Award

  • Gold: Jackson-Triggs 2012 Delaine Syrah
  • Gold: Magnotta 2013 Shiraz Limited Edition
  • Silver: No Silver Awarded
  • Bronze: Jackson-Triggs 2012 Grand Reserve Shiraz

Meritage and Cabernet/Merlot Blends Award

  • Gold: Thirty Bench Wine Makers 2012 Benchmark Red
  • Silver: Calamus Estate 2012 Meritage
  • Bronze: Wayne Gretzky Estate 2012 Estate Series Cabernet Merlot

Late Harvest Award

  • Gold: Peller Estates 2013 Private Reserve Late Harvest Vidal
  • Silver: Pillitteri Estates 2014 Select Late Harvest Vidal
  • Bronze: Trius 2013 Showcase Late Harvest Vidal

Vidal Icewine Award

  • Gold: Château des Charmes 2012 Vidal Icewine, Estate Bottled
  • Gold: Sue-Ann Staff Estate 2012 Vidal Icewine
  • Silver: No Silver Awarded
  • Bronze: Konzelmann Estate 2010 Vidal Icewine
  • Bronze: Jackson-Triggs 2012 Grand Reserve Vidal Icewine
  • Bronze: Marynissen Estates 2013 Vidal
  • Bronze: Inniskillin 2013 Vidal Icewine

Vinifera Icewine Award

  • Gold: Inniskillin 2012 Riesling Icewine
  • Silver: Hinterbrook Estate 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine
  • Bronze: Vieni Estates 2011 Cabernet Icewine
  • Bronze: Willow Springs 2012 Riesling Icewine
  • Bronze: Jackson-Triggs 2013 Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine

Appassimento Red Award

  • Gold: Pillitteri Estates 2010 Riserva Famiglia Cabernet Franc
  • Silver: Reif Estate 2012 Kiln Dried Syrah
  • Bronze: Angels Gate 2012 Bin XCV

Blended Red Award

  • Gold: The Foreign Affair 2012 Petit Verdot
  • Silver: Kacaba Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Syrah
  • Bronze: EastDell Estates 2011 Black Label Cabernet Shiraz
  • Bronze: Inniskillin 2012 Reserve Shiraz Cabernet

Red Wine of the Year Award: Pillitteri Estates 2010 Riserva Famiglia Cabernet Franc

White Wine of the Year Award: Peller Estates 2013 AP Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc

Best Label Design Award

  • Gold: Sue-Ann Staff Estate 2013 Fancy Farm Girl Foxy Pink
  • Silver: Two Sisters Vineyards 2012 Vidal Icewine
  • Bronze: Trius 2013 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Wine Journalism Award: Evan Saviolidis

Winemaker of the Year Award: Emma Garner — Thirty Bench Wine Makers

Sip and Sizzle May 2015

Sip and Sizzle is an annual passport event that over two dozen wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake hold in May. As the name implies — the idea is to inspire folks for the summer barbeque season with a sample of something from the grill and a great Ontario wine. I love the idea and this year the wineries seem to have taken the idea to heart more than in the past, as they have truly tried to serve something that has a BBQ component.

Niagara Teaching College Sip and Sizzle IMG_2624Niagara College Teaching Winery was my first stop and I loved the sign that they had out front with some terrific ideas for Mother’s Day. They are serving their 2010 Dean’s List Pinot Noir with smoked salmon rillette on grilled zucchini. I was curious as to what this would look like and the appetizer was just beautiful. The grill marks on the zucchini are not visible in the photo, but they were perfection and the perfect bed for the rich smoked salmon mouse mound. The wine, one of the older vintages featured in this year’s Sip & Sizzle, went very well with the salmon. Niagara Teaching Winery Sip and Sizzle 2015 IMG_2627






Having started with a Pinot Noir, I decided to stop at Between the Lines to try their 2012 Pinot Noir, which they paired with a grilled tortilla served with pulled pork and a tropical fruit salsa. Perhaps it was the pairing, but I preferred the 2012 Between the Lines Pinot Noir to the Niagara College’s 2010 and it was a bargain at $15.95.

The biggest surprise of the day came at Palatine Hills Estate Winery. They deserve kudos for their creativity in terms of how they got the grilling element in — it was bacon. I know, bacon may not seem too unusual, but it was the crumb topping on a cone of Avondale Maple Ice Cream! Yuck, you say? Well — I say, give it a try. It was delicious!  And then, they get even more credit for pairing it with their 2012 Riesling. It was a fabulous combination.  It is sure to surprise and delight!  Oh — and they even did a great job with the ice cream shop theme at the tasting booth. Well done!!Paletine Hills Winery Sip and Sizzle 2015 IMG_2634

Those are just some of the highlights of the day.  There were many other tasty combinations — but the best thing to do is go out and explore for yourself. And don’t worry — there’s no way you’ll get to all of them today — but the passport is good for Fridays-Sunday for the whole month — so you can always go again and stop at the ones you don’t get to today!


Cuvée’s Grand Tasting: A Sensory Thrill

IMG_2482Well, once again this year, the Grand Tasting was excellent. My sister came in from the States and it was terrific to be able to buy a ticket at the door. My sister had never been to a wine gala and, though I told her the crowd would be well dressed, I think she was surprised at how many people were in black tie attire. (I have to say – the women looked spectacular – the men, well, let’s just say they weren’t as consistently formal as the women.)IMG_2487

Walking into the Grand Ballroom was like walking into a beautiful dream. The room, which is basically black, was magically lit with vibrant purple and white lights shining on different food stations with chefs in their crisp white jackets and toques. And, in every direction you look there were magnificent floral arrangements.

Throughout the room there were seven oasis-like stations with six to eight wineries at each. Each wine station featured wineries pouring only reds or only whites. That made it easy to compare, and it also made it easy to find a wine to pair with whatever you were eating.

IMG_2473The 13 food stations (as well as a Canadian cheese station) were interspersed between the wine stations. At each station a myriad of chefs were carefully plating each dish. It was wonderful watching them lovingly layering each component. It’s clear that today’s chefs take the old adage that you eat with your eyes very seriously. They also take their ingredients seriously and because they were right there, you had the unusual chance to chat with them and ask them how they prepared the dish, or why they chose each component.IMG_2471







Hands down the biggest surprise for me and my sister was how delicious Chef Downs’ pickled tongue slider was. The tongue was cooked to perfection and the combination of the pretzel bun, the horseradish aioli and the fried egg was amazing. Chef Downs’s other entrée – rare seared tuna, chilled octopus salad, and pickled kumquat with chili-lime vinaigrette – was also a delightful surprise to me because it featured one of my favourite ingredients: sea asparagus. (You don’t see that too often around here.)IMG_2485

I also adored Chef Parsons’ wild boar sausage with braised leek, gold fingerlings, Sir Laurier cheese (one of my favourite Canadian cheeses) and black garlic gratin. My sister’s favourite entrée was Chef Tim Mackiddie’s fried veal croquette, which was served with snails sautéed in garlic and icewine. And both of us loved Chef Taylor’s pepper crusted bison tenderloin, served on a bed of parsnip puree with some king oyster mushrooms on top.

IMG_2483And of course, the desserts were the grand finale. It was hard to choose between the white chocolate-coated cakes, the Croque en Bouche, the truffles, and the torts. Fortunately, Chef Del Priore was only too happy to let you have all that you like. (My favourite was the white chocolate cake with the hazelnut filling.) Chef Vergalito’s gelato was also a hit – who ever heard of mojito flavoured gelato? Yum!








As you might expect when each winery is pouring the winemaker’s favourite, there were many lovely wines, and some interesting stories behind the selections. Josephs Estates’ winemaker, Katherine Reid, had an especially interesting reason for choosing their Chenin Blanc 2011. She explained to us that the 2011 vintage is the last one there will ever be from those vines because they were damaged over a couple of winters and they ended up tearing them out.

Pillitteri Estates Winery was pouring their Riserva Famiglia Appassimento Cabernet Franc 2010. This is the first appassimento style Pillitteri has made and given that they only label wines from their very best vintages “Riserva Famiglia”, you know that this is a very special wine.

In terms of our favourite wines that evening, my sister loved the Rennie Estate G Assemblage 2012, an appassimento style Bordeaux blend. My favourite wine of the evening was Kacaba Vineyards’ Cabernet France Reserve 2010.IMG_2506

And, just when we thought we had had had we could eat and drink, they opened a side room for the Apres Cuvee party. The after party featured a live band and two additional wine stations serving a variety of Ontario bubbly and Icewines. And, for those who had had enough wine, this year they also had stations serving Ontario craft beer.IMG_2510

What the Winemakers Served at Cuvée

IMG_2476The idea behind the wines served at the Cuvée Grand Tasting is that each winemaker serves his or her favourite. If you weren’t able to attend the Grand Tasting last night – don’t worry – you can stop in at any of the wineries and try them – and buy them – there.IMG_2467






Here’s a list of what each winery was pouring last night:

  • 2027 Cellars Ltd. – Wismer Vineyard “Fox Croft Block” Chardonnay 2012
  • Big Head Wines – Chenin Blanc 2013
  • Cave Spring Cellars – Riesling CSV 2012
  • Chateau des Charmes Wines Ltd. – Merlot 2012, St. David’s Bench Vineyard
  • Colaneri Estate Winery – Insieme 2012
  • Coopers Hawk Vineyards – Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012
  • Cornerstone Estate Winery – Cabernet Franc 2012
  • Coyote’s Run Estate Winery – David Sheppard Vintage 30 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
  • Creekside Estate Winery – Broken Pass Syrah 2011
  • Domaine Queylus – 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve 2013
  • EastDell Estates by Diamond Estates Winery – EsatDell Estates Black Label Riesling 2013
  • Flat Rock Cellars Ltd. – The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2012
  • Foreign Affair Winery – Petit Verdot 2012
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery – Chardonnay, Speck Family Reserve 2013
  • Inniskillin Wines – Riesling Reserve 2013
  • Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery – Grand Reserve Merlot 2012
  • John Howard Cellars of Distinction – Megalomaniac – Megalomaniac Grounded Reserve Merlot 2010
  • Josephs Estate Wines Inc. – Chenin Blanc 2011
  • Kacaba Vineyards Inc. – Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery – Cabernet Merlot Family Reserve 2012
  • Lailey Vineyard Winery – Impromptu 2012
  • Lakeview Cellars by Diamond Estate Winery – Lakeview Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2013
  • Le Clos Jordanne Wines – Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2012
  • Legends Estates Winery – Semillion Terroir 2013
  • Magnotta Winery Estates Ltd. – Enotrium Gran Riserva 2011
  • Malivoire Wine Company – Stouck Meritage 2011
  • The Marynissen Estates – 2013 Pinot Gris
  • Mike Weir Wine Inc. – Chardonnay 2013
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery – Balance Pinot Noir 2013
  • Nyarai Cellars – Cadence 2011
  • Pelee Island Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot Vinedresser 2012
  • Peller Estates – Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013
  • Pillitteri Estates Winery Inc. – Riserva Famiglia Appassimento Cabernet Franc 2010
  • Pondview Estate Winery Ltd. – Bella Terra Pinot Gris 2013
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
  • Reif Estate Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012
  • Rennie Estate Winery – G Assemblage 2012
  • Ridge Road Estate Winery –  Riesling 2014
  • Riverview Cellars Estate Winery – Angelina’s Reserve Gewurztraminer 2013
  • Rockway Vineyards – Wild Ferment Red 2012
  • Southbrook Vineyards – Triomphe Chardonnay 2013
  • Stoney Ridge Cellars Ltd. – Riesling 2013
  • Strewn Inc. – Strewn Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir 2012
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery – Fancy Farm Girl Frivolous White 2012
  • Stratus Vineyards Limited – Stratus White 2012
  • Thirteenth Street Wine Corp. – Gamay Noir Sandstone Vineyard 2012
  • The Thirty Bench Wine Makers – Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012
  • Trius Winery at Hillebrand – Trius Grand Red 2012
  • Two Sisters Vineyards – Cabernet Franc 2010
  • Vieni Estates – Chardonnay Reserve 2012
  • Vineland Estates Winery Ltd. – Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012
  • Westcott Vineyards – Estate Chardonnay 2013

And remember – Cuvee continues all weekend with:

IMG_2469Cuvee en Route – a passport tasting program with over 30 wineries serving special themed tasting flights.

Cuvée en Route Dining – with the following restaurants serving special prix fix menus created especially for the weekend:

  • Benchmark Restaurant – the restaurant at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute, which is on Niagara College’s campus.
  • Peller Estates Winery Restaurant
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery Restaurant
  • Trius Winery Restaurant
  • Kitchen76 – the restaurant at Two Sisters Vineyards