Wineries at the Cuvée Grand Tasting 2015

I’ve blogged a bit about some of the chefs who will be serving at the Cuvée Grand Tasting on Friday night (Feb. 27th) – but of course, the evening is also about celebrating Ontario wines and winemakers. So, I thought it only fair that I report on the 52 (!) wineries that’ll be there.

Though the list features wineries mainly from the Niagara region, the Lake Erie/Pelee Island region is represented by Coopers Hawk Vineyards and Pelee Island Winery.

Here are the wineries that will be there. Note that the Cuvée organizers have not released information about the wine winery will be pouring – but it’s supposed to be the winemakers’ favourite. (I’ll report on what they’re serving as soon as the list is released.

2015 winery partners 

  • 2027 Cellars Ltd.*
  • Big Head Wines
  • Cave Spring Cellars
  • Chateau des Charmes Wines Ltd.
  • Colaneri Estate Winery
  • Coopers Hawk Vineyards
  • Cornerstone Estate Winery
  • Coyote’s Run Estate Winery
  • Creekside Estate Winery
  • Domaine Queylus
  • EastDell Estates by Diamond Estates Winery
  • Flat Rock Cellars Ltd.
  • Foreign Affair Winery
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery
  • Inniskillin Wines
  • Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
  • John Howard Cellars of Distinction – Megalomaniac
  • Joseph’s Estate Wines Inc.*
  • Kacaba Vineyards Inc.
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery
  • Lailey Vineyard Winery
  • Lakeview Cellars by Diamond Estate Winery
  • Le Clos Jordanne Wines
  • Legends Estates Winery*
  • Magnotta Winery Estates Ltd.
  • Malivoire Wine Company
  • The Marynissen Estates*
  • Mike Weir Wine Inc.
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery
  • Nyarai Cellars
  • Pelee Island Winery
  • Peller Estates
  • Pillitteri Estates Winery Inc.
  • Pondview Estate Winery Ltd.
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery*
  • Reif Estate Winery
  • Rennie Estate Winery
  • Ridge Road Estate Winery
  • Riverview Cellars Estate Winery
  • Rockway Vineyards
  • Southbrook Vineyards
  • Stoney Ridge Cellars Ltd.
  • Strewn Winery
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
  • Stratus Vineyards Limited
  • Thirteenth Street Wine Corp.
  • The Thirty Bench Wine Makers
  • Trius Winery at Hillebrand
  • Two Sisters Vineyards*
  • Vieni Estates
  • Vineland Estates Winery Ltd.*
  • Westcott Vineyards

*these are wineries that were not at the Grand Tasting last year.

Tickets are still available for the Grand Tasting ($200, with a Cuvée en Route pass thrown in for added fun the rest for the weekend). (Rumour has it that tickets will be available at the door, but to avoid the possibility of disappointment, it’s best to buy your ticket in advance on-line.)

For Chef Parsons, it’s all in the technique …

In talking with some of the chefs that will be cooking at Cuvée 2015’s Grand Tasting (Friday, Feb. 27th) I was struck by how calm they are about cooking for hundreds and hundreds of guests. What I also found interesting was the different factors they considered when designing the dishes they’ll be serving.

When cooking at Cuvée, It goes without saying that the goal is to impress (or, as Chef Del Priore put it: the Wow factor). But that’s not the only factor the chefs mentioned as being important. Using unique ingredients was key for Chef Downes. (I think it’s safe to say that his choice of pickled tongue fits the unique ingredient criterion!) Local ingredients – and the challenge of sourcing them in the dead of winter – was a consideration Chef Midgley mentioned.

MVI_2441-001For Chef Jason Parsons, Executive Chef at Peller Estates Winery, the choice of cooking technique also played an important role in deciding what he’d serve. When he learned he’d been invited to participate in Cuvée this year, he quickly decided that sous vide was the way to go. The technique, which Parsons admitted can sound like boil-in-a-bag, allows the chef to bring the food to a certain temperature and then maintain it without overcooking or changing the taste or texture. As a result, it’s a great way to ensure that every guest gets a serving that’s cooked to perfection, regardless of whether they are the first person served or the 700th person served.

Parsons and his team will be serving two dishes at Cuvée: a sous vide salmon and a wild boar sausage.

Here’s a short video of Chef Parsons talking about Cuvée – and extolling the virtues of sous vide cooking!

Cuvée Culinary Partners: Pop-up (Gourmet) Restaurants

Chef Ross Midgley, Executive Chef at Ravine Vineyard Estates Winery, has an interesting way of describing what it’s like to be one of the chefs at Cuvée’s Grand Tasting (Feb. 27th) – it’s like having a pop-up restaurant for one night.MVI_2439

A neat way of looking at it, eh?

In a recent interview Midgley, who is new to Ravine but certainly not to the Niagara culinary scene, explained that doing Cuvée is a nice change from the ala carte service he and his staff do at Ravine. One thing that isn’t different about cooking for an event as large as Cuvée is his interest in using local ingredients as much as possible. So, with that in mind, he designed the dishes he’ll be serving that evening.

At Cuvée he’ll be serving two dishes: individual Traditional Quebecois Tourtière with St. David’s sweet pepper relish and a seafood dish featuring lobster and scallop sausage with a butter sauce.

Here’s a short video of Chef Midgley talking about Cuvée.

 

Another Day of Wine and Chocolates

Despite the sub-zero temps, a fellow writer and I bundled up and headed down to Niagara-on-the-Lake for Days of Wine and Chocolate.  You know it’s going to be a good day when your first stop involves bubbly — and Peller Estates’ Ice Cuvée Classic never disappoints. The traditional method bubbly pairs very nicely with the dark, rich sea salt caramel infused Valrhona dark chocolate truffle they are serving up for the event. IMG_2440

We then popped next door to the Two Sisters Vineyards — one of the newest wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  It’s only been open for a few months, but you’d never know it when you walk it. It’s definitely built with the idea of being a destination winery. They have a restaurant on site: Kitchen 76, which gets its name from the fact that the winery property is 76 acres. IMG_2450

For Days of Wine and Chocolate they are serving their 2011 Eleventh Post, a red blend, paired with a roasted mushroom crostini with gorgonzola and a drizzle of their chocolate-infused “Agrodulce sauce”. Though the crostini was just a nibble, it was a sophisticated melding of tastes that reflects well on the culinary talent in the kitchen. IMG_2446

 

 

 

 

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Our favourite pairing of the day was at Reif Estate Winery– they are serving a chocolate chicken tortilla soup that has a little heat on the finish. The soup pairs very well with their 2011 Merlot. IMG_2456

We stopped in at PondView Estate Winery because I was interested in learning about Burnt Ship Bay wines, which were just released at Vintages. I knew there was some connection between Burnt Ship Bay and Pondview, but I wasn’t sure whether Burnt Ship Bay is a virtual winery that Pondview hosts.

It turns out that the winemaker behind Burnt Ship Bay Estate Winery is Fred Di Profio, who is the winemaker at PondView and Di Profio Wines (which is owned by Fred’s parents). Unfortunately, for licensing reasons, Burnt Ship Bay wines are not available for tasting at PondView.

Anyway, once I got the info I was looking for about Burnt Ship Bay, we turned our attention back to what PondView is serving for Days of Wine and Chocolate. I have to say, when I read they are serving a chocolate coated strawberry, I was kind underwhelmed. The choice didn’t seem that creative or special.IMG_2460

IMG_2461Well, the strawberries were not just special — they were spectacular — in taste, as well as in attractiveness.  Apparently the strawberries are made by a local company called Strawberry Obsessions.  For this event PondView is serving their 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve paired with strawberries that are first dipped in milk chocolate and then dipped in dark chocolate, and then drizzled with caramel and dusted with sea salt. Both of us agreed that the strawberries were the culinary highlight of the day.

We decided to end the day as we had started — with some bubbly and a truffle. Trius Winery at Hillebrand had just what we were looking for. They are serving their Trius Brut Rosé paired with a dark chocolate and bacon truffle.

 

IMG_2462Days of Wine and Chocolate continues on weekends (Fridays – Sundays) this month.

 

And now, for something completely different…

Cuvée’s Grand Tasting is the opportunity to enjoy Ontario wines you may not have tried before, or that you may not have too often. Turns out, it’s also a chance to enjoy food you may not have too often – at least if you stop by Chef Justin Downes’s food station.

MVI_2437-001Chef Downes, the Executive Chef at The Restaurant at Vineland Estates, will be serving two things: pickled tongue sliders and a spin on a niçoise featuring fresh rare seared tuna with octopus salad. You read that right – pickled tongue!

In choosing what he’d serve, Downes, who has been at Vineland Estates for 14 years, wanted to offer up something out of the ordinary and tongue certainly is that! Mind you, he’s served tongue for quite some time at The Restaurant at Vineland Estates and he says it’s gone over quite well.

Given the number of people who attend Cuvée, I wondered whether serving hundreds of people presents particular challenges. Downes explained that it’s not that different from serving in the restaurant because he and his team simply plate them and serve them one-at-a time – it’s not like trying to serve 500 hot entrees all at the same time as you would a sit-down banquet.

Here’s a short video of Chef Downes talking about his plans for banging it out of the park this year at Cuvée. (He also offers a pretty scrumptious description of those sliders and the tuna and octopus dish!)

The Wow Factor

Cuvée is all about showcasing the best of Ontario wine and food, and the Grand Tasting on Friday night (Feb. 27th) is undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend. It’s a given that the wines will wow – the winemakers are pouring their favourites.

Getting the wow factor right in the food department is a bit trickier, but a welcome challenge for the 13 chefs who will be serving up their special creations at the gala. In the next few posts I’ll talk a bit about what a few chefs who will be at Cuvée have to say about the event.

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Chef Giovanni Del Priori of Criveller Cakes

“Cuvée is one of my favourite events,” says Chef Giovani Del Priore of Criveller Cakes. “It’s work, but I enjoy it. People are beautifully dressed, it’s very glamourous, the whole atmosphere is special. It’s a chance for us to showcase our work,” says Del Priore, who will be responsible for all the desserts. Del Priore, a veteran of Cuvée, is delighted to be returning. (To ensure and promote variety, the general rule is that chefs are not invited back for a few years. But, the Cuvée organizers have made an exception for Del Priore and his Criveller Cakes team — no doubt because they do such an amazing job.)Criveller Cakes IMG_2408

Chef Del Priore talked about the challenge he and his team face. “We have one of the largest stations – only the Fallsview Casino’s station is bigger. The reason ours is so big is because pretty much all the guests eat dessert, while they might not try something at all the stations – most people eat at least one dessert,” says Del Priore.

Last week a friend and I dropped in on Criveller Cakes and Chef Del Priore showed us around and talked about Cuvée. Click here to watch a short video of Chef Del Prioe talking about Cuvée. Warning: your mouth may water and you may find yourself craving chocolate.

Days of Wine and Chocolate Event is Underway

I played hooky from my real work today and a girlfriend and I stopped in at some wineries for the first day of the annual Days of Wine and Chocolate event. The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have been running this February event for some time but this was the first time I’ve been.

En route to the wineries we stopped in at Criveller Cakes in Niagara Falls – a fabulous European pastry and chocolate shop. While there, we sampled a few decadent desserts, so when we were choosing the wineries we’d stop in at, we made sure we stopped at a few that had pairings that didn’t involve dessert.Criveller Cakes IMG_2408

We stopped at four wineries – two that were featuring pairings with savory nibbles, and two that were featuring pairings with dessert items. Rancourt Winery served their lovely, oaky 2013 Chardonnay Reserve paired with Lobster Bisque with White Chocolate Shavings. The oak in the Chardonnay paired very well with the rich bisque.Rancourt Winery's Wine and Chocolate Pairing 2015 IMG_2429

Stratus was serving their 2010 Tollgate Fume Blanc paired with Roasted Fennel, Beet, & Dark Chocolate Salad prepared by Treadwell’s. One of the few tastes I really do not like is licorice – and fennel is basically a licorice-flavoured plant. So, let’s just say I was ambivalent about whether to stop in at Stratus. But, I do love Fume Blanc (and it’s not a particularly common wine these days in Ontario), so I thought I should be open to the idea. Well – I’m sure glad I did.

Stratus Wine and Chocolate Pairing 2015 IMG_2431The wine was gorgeous and the appetizer was exceptional. The roasting seemed to take away the (dreaded) licorice flavour and the sugars in the beets. The vinaigrette had little nuggets of chocolate, and a week bit of crunch and a lovely finish that brings the whole thing together. This pairing is one of the best I’ve had at such events. Don’t miss it – even one of the ingredients turns you off – the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ravine Vineyard's Wine and Chocolate 2015 Pairing IMG_2427Ravine Vineyards is serving their not-yet-released 2012 Sand & Gravel Cabernet Franc and they are pairing it with a light, tasty Chocolate Mint Opera Cake. The pastry chef at Ravine did a lovely job with the opera cake – just a hint of mint. This too was a surprisingly tasty pairing.

Our last stop was Jackson-Triggs. They are serving their 2012 Grand Reserve Shiraz paired with a Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Smoked Almond Cream. The Shiraz is very nice and it pairs well with the cake – but the cake was less delicate than other desserts we had sampled today, and I thought it had a bit too much cinnamon. (The spice might have been in the red wine reduction that they drizzled over the cake along with the smoked almond cream, rather than in the cake – it was hard to say.)

Jackson-Triggs Wine and Chocolate Pairing IMG_2436Days of Wine and Chocolate continues on Fridays-Sundays (11Jackson-Triggs Wine and Chocolate IMG_2434-5 p.m.) all month.

Gotta love February!

So – I know it’s the dead of winter here in Ontario, but I’ve always loved February. Honest. My friends and family figure I love it because it’s my birthday month. Well, sure, that’s part of it. (My dream birthday present growing up was a day off from school because of snow!) But it’s not just that. I love the fact that it’s a no brainer in terms of what you wear – it’s cold so you bundle up, right? Simple! And of course, smack dab in the middle is Valentine’s Day! If that doesn’t appeal to your heart (even if you’re single) – well, you may as well stop reading this …IMG_2110

Anyway – if the reasons I’ve already mentioned aren’t enough to win you over to the “loving February side”, the wineries of Ontario go all-out in February to get your mind off winter. The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, for example, are hosting their Days of Wine and Chocolate (more on that in a minute) on weekends throughout the month and on Feb. 7 and 8 the wineries in the Lake Erie/Pelee Island region (EPIC, as it’s known) are having their Festival of Ice, and at the end of the month is Cuvée (which I’ll be writing more about in coming posts).

As well, various wineries are hosting winter-themed events. Here’s just a sample of what you’ll find: Georgian Hills hosts an Après Ski tasting of their Vidal Frozen Wine and chocolates and roasted marshmallows ($20/person), on Saturday afternoons there’s Raclette at Malivoire with The Cheesy Guys ($10/person and it includes tasting of 3 wines – great deal!), Peninsula Ridge’s lovely restaurant is featuring a very reasonably priced ($24.95) Surf & Turf dinner every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. As well, many wineries are hosting Valentine’s Day dinners. So – really – what’s not to love about February?

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Days of Wine and Chocolate

As mentioned, 27 wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region are hosing Days of Wine and Chocolate on Fridays-Sundays in February (ending on Sunday, March 1) from 11-5 p.m. The passports ($35/person; $30/person for designated driver passports) are good throughout the event, which means you can enjoy wine and chocolate all month long. Tickets can be purchased on line and at participating wineries.

Here’s the list of the wineries and what they’re serving:

  • Between the Lines2013 Cabernet Franc paired with a Raspberry Filled Chocolate Truffle
  • Cattail Creek Estate Winery2008 Select Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Nutella Crunch Cream Cake
  • Château Des Charmes 2011 Cabernet Franc, Estate Bottled paired with a Spicy Double Chocolate Cookie Bar Topped with Cassis Dark Chocolate Truffle & Dried Berries
  • Coyote’s Run Estate Winery2012 Cabernet Merlot paired with a Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake
  • Diamond Estates2008 Lakeview Cellars GMR Sparkling paired with Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
  • Hinterbrook2012 Cabernet Franc paired with a Cabernet Franc Chocolate Cake
  • Inniskillin Wines – 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine paired with a Chocolate Soba Noodle Salad with Cocoa and Soy Cured Duck
  • Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery — 2012 Grand Reserve Shiraz paired with a
  • Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Smoked Almond Cream
  • Joseph’s Estate Wines — 2010 Late Harvest Vidal paired with a White Chocolate Almond Biscotti
  • Konzelmann Estate Winery — Konzelmann Merlot paired with a Nutella Cheesecake
  • Lailey Vineyard — 2012 Merlot paired with a Flourless Chocolate Brownie
  • Niagara College Teaching Winery2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with a Roasted Butternut Squash with Chocolate Mole
  • Palatine Hills Estate Winery2011 Lakeshore Red paired with a Caramel Brownie
  • Peller Estates Winery — Ice Cuvée Classic paired with Sea Salt Caramel & Valrhona Dark Chocolate Truffles
  • Pillitteri Estates Winery2012 Rose paired with Dark Chocolate Pecan Bark Topped with Caramel & Sea Salt
  • PondView Estate Winery 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve paired with Milk & Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Drizzled with Caramel and Sea Salt
  • Rancourt Winery2013 Chardonnay Reserve paired with Lobster Bisque with White Chocolate Shavings
  • Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – 2012 Sand & Gravel Cabernet Franc paired with Chocolate Mint Opera Cake
  • Reif Estate Winery2011 Merlot paired with Chocolate Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Riverview Cellars Estate Winery 2012 Rosso Cabernet Merlot paired with a Chocolate Cronut
  • Small Talk Vineyards 2011 Riesling Icewine Cocktail paired with Pineapple infused white chocolate
  • Southbrook Vineyards — Triomphe Cabernet Franc paired with Bresaola dusted in thyme and cacao nibs
  • Stratus Vineyards — 2010 Tollgate Fume Blanc paired with Roasted Fennel, Beet, & Dark Chocolate Salad
  • Strewn Winery2010 Merlot Terroir paired with Herb & Pepper Crusted Pork Tenderloin on Crostini with Red Currant & Chocolate Glaze
  • Trius Winery At HillebrandTrius Brut Rosé paired with a Dark Chocolate and Bacon Truffle
  • Two Sisters2011 Eleventh Post paired with a Roasted Mushroom Crostini with Gorgonzola, Arugula and Agrodulce sauce

Cuvée 2015 Chefs Announced

The chefs that will be serving at the Grand Tasting for Cuvée 2015 has been announced and the lineup is better than ever! This year, in addition to chefs from the Niagara region, they’re also showcasing three chefs from the Toronto area.

Here’s the lineup:

  • Ray Taylor of the Fallsview Casino Resort (the Casino always does an amazing job at Cuvée)
  • Alex White of Benchmark Restaurant (that’s the resto at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College)
  • Frank Romano of On the Twenty Restaurant
  • Tim Mackiddie of Le Clos Jordanne, Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin Wineries
  • Rob Webster of Oliv Restaurant (at Strewn Winery)
  • Jason Parsons of Peller Estates
  • Ross Midgley of Ravine Winery Restaurant
  • Justin Downes of Vineland Estates Restaurant
  • David Chrystian of the Centre for Wine and Food Experimentation
  • Trista Sheen of Crush Wine Bar
  • Carlos Deveyra of Woods Restaurant

The chefs will be presenting their signature dishes at cooking stations throughout the event, so you’ll have a chance to watch them in action and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Chef Giovani del Priore of Criveller Cakes will be serving desserts and Italian Ice Cream by Chef Andrew Rigolati will be served.

Tickets for the Feb. 27, 2015 Grand Tasting are available on-line.

Last Weekend of Taste the Season 2014

A friend and I checked out the last weekend of Taste the Season 2014 yesterday. After feeling a bit disappointed last weekend, I’m happy to report that yesterday’s outing was up to the standards that I’ve come to expect of such events.IMG_2199

Most of the wineries yesterday were a lot quieter than the previous weekends of the event – perhaps because folks were out taking advantage of Black Friday sales. Mind you, the fact that the wineries were less crowded might have also been one of the reasons we enjoyed it more than the previous weekend.

IMG_2201I’m also really pleased to say that after ragging about the fact that some wineries were doing a lame job in terms of the effort they put into serving the food they were featuring – yesterday was much better. Indeed – hats off to Strewn – they did a magnificent job. They are running Taste the Season in their Cooking School facilities where they’ve created proper place settings with information about the wine (a 2007 “intentionally aged” Riesling). When guests arrive, a member of the staff pours the wine and carefully describes it and the Canadian-sourced trio of nibbles that are plated on unique-shaped dishes. Well done!

My favourite wine of the day was the PondView 2012 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc, which is on sale for the event. My favourite pairing was at Riverview Cellars, which was serving its 2013 Sauvignon Blanc with a golden beet salad on a bed of arugula.IMG_2209IMG_2207

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is the last day of Taste the Season 2014, so there’s still time for you to get out and enjoy. And don’t forget – many of the wineries are running their own Black IMG_2205Friday-type specials. I took advantage of one such sale at Riverview – they’re offering any three of their VQA wines for $35 – that’s a great deal! I brought home 3 of their 2013 Sauvignon Blancs, which are normally $16.95/each.