More Taste the Season in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Yesterday I was down in Niagara-on-the-Lake for my second round of Taste the Season. Like last week, a girlfriend and I made a day of it.

Also like last weekend, our first stop was less than inspiring. I was looking forward to stopping in at The Lakeview Wine Company because it’s been awhile since I was there and they re-built the tasting room. (It used to be a modified construction site trailer that they inherited when they bought 20 Bees Winery.) The new building is quite spectacular and worth seeing, especially if you remember their previous digs.

Gnocchi at Lakeview Wine Co.

Unfortunately, the Taste the Season pairing was not as exciting as the new building. In fact, the butternut squash gnocchi was a bit of a disaster, despite the effort. The caterers had set up a lovely prep station and they were sautéing the mushrooms and carefully plating each with a lot of love. Lakeview chose a nice wine to pair the gnocchi with – their 2016 FRESH Riesling Gewürzt blend. The crisp, refreshing wine was quite nice – and very reasonably priced ($12.95) – but the gnocchi was hard (you had to stab it with a fork to pick it up). Disappointing, to say the least. But, there were plenty of other places to try, so I was sure the day would improve.

My plan was to visit wineries on or near Niagara Stone Road – the highway that runs through the heart of the region. So, our next stop was Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. Though it opened earlier this year, I hadn’t yet stopped in. The Gretzky brand is part of the Peller family of wines and it’s been around for a number of years, but the venue is new. Also new is the addition of a line of whiskys.

 

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

The winery is a two-winged expanse situated on a can’t-miss-it location along one edge of one of the (newish) traffic circles on Niagara Stone Road. Everything about it is designed to impress. The first thing you notice as you walk up to it is the beautiful copper and stainless steel still that’s visible through the two-story window in the front of the building on the left. Our guess was that the Taste the Season event was going on in the other building. But, before going in, I wanted to poke around toward the back, to see the buildings from a different perspective.

Outdoor bar at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery
Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

I’m sure glad we did, as there are some delightful surprises there: an inviting bar that looked cozy enough to enjoy a drink even in the dead of winter – especially since it’s next to an ice skating arena they’ve built – a very nice touch! Though it was too warm for ice at this point – you know it’ll be a big draw once the temperature drops. Honestly – you can’t help but think that’s just the kind of arena Walter Grezky probably set up every winter in the back yard for Wayne and his friends …

As for the Taste the Season offering at Gretzky’s – well, they were serving their 2016 No. 99 Baco Noir ($15.95) paired with white bean, smoked paprika and ham hock cassoulet. Apparently, the cassoulet was prepared by the well-known restaurant at Trius – one of the other Peller wineries. As the server was getting ready to serve us, she made sure to mention there was bacon in, asking us if we were ok with that. Sadly, the bland white bean soup they served bore no resemblance to cassoulet. I couldn’t believe it was from Trius’ well-known restaurant. The wine was alright, but nothing to write home about and certainly no way to know whether it would pair well with real cassoulet.

Smoked salmon cones at Trius Winery at Hillebrand

After the shockingly bad offering from the Trius kitchen, I was curious to see what they were serving up as part of Taste the Season at Trius Winery at Hillebrand. So, we stopped in there next. Well, talk about night and day. As you can see from the photo – at Trius they were serving exquisite miniature cones filled with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and pickled red onion paired with their 2016 Trius Chardonnay ($15.10). The petite cones were to die for and the unoaked Chardonnay was perfect with it. It’s hard to believe that the same kitchen that turned out that little bit of heaven made that tasteless white bean soup at Gretzky’s. I guess it happens…

Our next stop was Pillitteri Estates Winery – one of the few places featuring dessert. They were serving a cinnamon candied pecan crusted pumpkin cookie paired with their 2015 Canada 150 Select late Harvest Vidal. Though I didn’t much care for the texture of the cooking, the wine was terrific and it paired well. The wine is an exceptional late harvest and a terrific value ($15 for 200 ml). Of all the wines I enjoyed as part of the 2017 Taste the Season event, I think this wine offered the best value and would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys a dessert wine.

Pillitteri Estates Winery Taste the Seasons 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fat Chance” Smoked Salmon at Stratus Vineyards

I was keen to stop at Stratus Vineyards, which I generally think of for their reds, because they were featuring their 2015 Stratus Weather Report Chardonnay ($28.00) paired with “Fat Chance” smoked salmon. After the exquisite salmon-based appetizer at Trius, I thought the simplicity of the Stratus pairing might be a bit of a let down. I could not be more wrong. The buttery, melt-in-your-mouth salmon and the light oak of the Chardonnay proved the best pairing of the day. Another reason the pairing was so inspired is it actually represents something simple enough that all of us could serve our guests. Hats off to Stratus for the pairing – and for spreading the word about Imant Malins’ Fat Chance salmon, which is locally-sourced.

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake provided me with two passes to the month-long event. As I’ve said before, I think the passport programs are a terrific idea and a great value. They’re brilliant because you can visit 25 wineries per passport and you have the entire month to use them. Also, they’re fully transferrable so you can share them with different friends.

There’s one more weekend to enjoy Taste the Season. If you don’t have a chance to get out next weekend, mark your calendar for February – they’ll be running the Days of Wine and Chocolate.

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.

 

Winemaker Amélie Boury’s Favourite Childhood Game Really Paid Off

Winemaker Amélie Boury

Like many winemakers, Château des Charmes’ Amélie Boury attributes a love for the outdoors and growing up on a farm as a reason she’s at home in the vineyard. But, she attributes her interest in winemaking to a creative game her mother played with her growing up. The “Nose Game”, as she referred to it, was “a simple game”: her mom told her to go outside and smell things and then come back and describe them to her.

She loved the game so much, as a young girl growing up in France, she initially thought about a career was in the perfume industry. Somewhere along the line, however, she focused her nosing talents on winemaking, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Amélie was gracious enough to show me around the cellar at Chateau des Charmes and to talk about winemaking –  the unglamorous parts and the joy of seeing people enjoy the wine she’s made. Here’s a video of our chat.

Sip & Sizzle through the long weekend — and next weekend

A friend and I popped down to Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday for Sip & Sizzle. A few years ago we enjoyed this event, but I must say, this year the selections are even better. The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Konzelmann Estate Winery had invited me and I had plans to go earlier in the month but I didn’t get a chance to go earlier.

Grilled prawn at Chateau des Charmes

We stopped at Chateau des Charmes, Ravine Vineyards, The Hare Wince Col, Konzelmann Estate Winery, Strewn Winery, Peller Estates, and Two Sisters.

One of the fun things about these passport events is seeing how the wineries interpret the theme. Given the name, it’s easy to assume that the food would centre on something on the BBQ. Some wineries certainly did interpret the theme that way. For example, Château des Charmes is serving a grilled prawn atop a shoot and sprout salad with a garnish of a citrus zest emulsion paired with their newly released, refreshing 2016 Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Halloumi Cheese at The Hare Wine Co.

The Hare Wine Co. served with their 2016 Jack Rabbit White (a Riesling/Vidal/Gewürztraminer blend) with small pita wedge with a (very small) piece of Halloumi cheese marinated in tikka sauce and then melted a bit by frying it on the flat side of a panini press and then topped with a slice of canned peach.

Braised veal cheek rillettes with gnocchi at Konzelmann Estate Winery

Konzelmann Estate Winery served their 2015 Cab Sauv paired with braised veal cheek rillettes with parmesan and potato gnocchi in a grilled butter sauce. When I asked the person serving where the “sizzle” came in, she was a bit stumped. Then I re-read the description and saw that the food was created by a local restaurant called “Grill on King” – so, I guess Konzelmann at least had the spirit of the theme in mind.

Cabernet wild boar sausage at Peller Estates Winery

At the end of the day, my friend could not choose his favourite wine – he enjoyed them all. In terms of food, he liked what Peller Estates Winery served: cabernet wild boar sausage on a ciabatta bun with Quebec maple mustard, fried chili shallots and mustard seedlings served with their 2015 Private Reserve Gamay Noir. I think Peller’s choice of serving a hearty, tasty sausage is brilliant. It was a clear crowd pleaser – especially for the men who were there – and showing folks how well the wine pairs with something many of us will be gilling up this summer makes perfect sense.

Harissa grilled chicken thigh on mixed grains salad at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery

In terms of food – I loved what Ravine Vineyards served: Rossco’s harissa grilled chicken thig on a mixed grain salad. Indeed, if there was one recipe I’d LOVE to get, it’s for the grain salad – so flavourful! I will confess that I didn’t much care for Ravine’s 2015 Cabernet Rosé – but, the food really paired well with it and it brought out the best in the wine.

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s mixed grain salad — YUM!
Cod potato fritter with grilled zucchini, tomato and basil salad at Two Sisters Vineyards

The other food that I adored was Two Sisters’ cod potato fritter with a grilled zucchini, tomato and basil salad. It paired beautifully with their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. The food was prepared by Kitchen 76, the restaurant at the winery. I’ve not yet eaten at Kitchen 76 because it seems rather pricey (even for NOL) but the fritter and salad were so tasty, maybe next time I’m looking to splurge on a meal, I’ll give it a try.

In terms of my favourite wines, I couldn’t choose just one. But, in whites the Sauvignon Blancs were the winners. That said, I ended up coming home with the well-priced 2016 Estate Grown Sauv Blanc from Château des Charmes ($14.95). The Two Sisters’ version was lovely, but at $34, I took a pass. In terms of reds, Konzelmann’s 2015 Cab Sauv was lovely and quite a bargain at $13.95.

 

If you’ve already got plans for this long weekend, don’t worry – Sip & Sizzle continues this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and next weekend (Friday-Sunday).

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.

Lunch

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

 

Late Summer Visits … Icellars Estate Winery

Icellrs Estate Winery NOL IMG_3645As I mentioned in my last post – last week a friend and I headed down to the Niagara region to visit a few wineries. Our hope was to stop in at a some of the newer ones that we’d not been to. Because it was a Tuesday, I had told my friend that we’d be taking our chances, as some of the smaller – or newer – ones may not be open seven days a week.

Icellars Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake was one that I was interested in, but that is open by appointment – and I hadn’t made one. But, after a delightful visit to 16 Mile Cellar in Jordan, we continued to NOL. We came off the QEW at Glendale (by the White Oaks and Niagara Teaching College) and made our way on York Rd. to Concession 5.

Because I had seen a photo of the winery, from a distance I knew we were headed to the huge red industrial-looking building just beyond Coyote’s Run Estate Winery. There were no cars, but as we got to the door, Adnan opened it and welcomed us.

Given the name, my friend and I figured Icellars probably focused on icewine. We soon learned, however, that the winery name comes from the owner’s last name: Icel. It turns out, the gentleman who welcomed us was Adnan Icel, the owner and winemaker.

Adnan Icel of Icellars Estate Winery
Adnan Icel of Icellars Estate Winery

One of the first things I mentioned to Adnan was how attractive the winery’s logo – a stylized stag – is. With this, Adnan proudly explained that the chose the logo because it represents icons included on ancient drinking vessels from the Hittite region of Anatolia, which is in modern day Turkey. Adnan, who hails from Turkey, was also very happy to explain the 2000 year history of winemaking in Anatolia. He is a very captivating, genuine teacher and it was a fascinating history lesson…Icellrs Estate Winery NOL IMG_3648

Adnan is a mechanical engineer by training, but he has long had an interest in owning a farm. In about 2008, the family decided to grow grapes and Adnan set out to look for a property that is warm, as he is focused on producing big, bold reds. He purchased the 60 acre property on Concession 5 because the temperature in that area is consistently warm. Like its neighbor Coyote’s Run, Icel’s property has both red and black soil.

When I was asking how this year’s growing season has been, his engineering background emerged. He mentioned that he has installed two weather stations in the vineyard and is constantly monitoring the temperature. He even ran into the back and returned with his laptop to show us a graph showing that as of that morning, the August temperatures this year exceeded those in 2012, which was one of the best Ontario vintages.

Though it is a fairly large parcel (especially for a new winery), Adnan intends to keep the production small. He will make a few single varietals – for 2015 he expects to have a single varietal Cab Sauv and a Cab Franc – but he will also focus on blending. And, as another homage to his Anatolian roots, the Bordeaux-style blends will bare names that relate to Hittite history. So, for example, his 2014 Arinna, which is a blend of 66% Cab Sauv, 33% Merlot, and 1% Cab Franc, is name after a major Hittite winemaking city.

Icellars has four wines available at this point: 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Merlot, 2014 Pinot Noir, and the 2014 Arinna, which was my favorite. Though it’s still quite young, it was quite complex. I can’t wait to see how it ages!

Be sure to check out Icellars’ website – it’s rich with information about the history of Hittite winemaking and there are lots of photos of archaeological finds from that region.

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!

 

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.

 

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.