Wine event eclipsed by mother nature           

Totality meets wine country Ontario – that could be the alternative title to this post.

I live in Toronto and I wasn’t overly excited about the idea of the eclipse. At least, not until I got an email from Cave Spring Vineyard in early March about the Solarbration they were having at their Vineyard Tasting Room.

I’m on a lot of winery mailing lists and Cave Spring’s announcement was the first to hit my inbox – and it sounded like fun: a box lunch catered by RPM Bakehouse (one of my favourite cafés in Jordan Village), a glass of wine, a pair of eclipse glasses (for viewing, not of the drinking kind) and live music. As soon as I got the announcement, I asked a friend who agreed that it sounded fun, and I booked two tickets.

The Niagara region had pre-emptively declared a state of emergency – but that was mainly to help with crowd control right at the Falls. Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is in Beamsville and it’s up on the ridge of the escarpment, so fewer crowds than going directly into Niagara Falls.

We figured it might take a couple hours to get there, but traffic wasn’t much worse than normal. And, when we were in Beamsville a bit earlier than expected, we stopped in at another nearby winery first. They were busy for a Monday morning and it was fun to hear others talking about where they were headed to view the eclipse. One couple I knew from wine events said they were headed to Sue Ann Staff (a bit further along) and another couple behind me were talking about Cave Spring’s event. It was fun to know others would be enjoying the region – eclipse or not. (It turns out many of the main Ontario wine regions were in the path of totality and there were winery events – formal and informal – at many.)

Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is a beautiful glass building with a nice patio. Because March weather is unpredictable, they set up dining tables inside the building. They had limited the number of people and they did a lovely job – name cards and everything! It turns out indoor dining was a good idea, as it was quite overcast and cooler than I expected.

After lunch we headed out to the patio. As I said – it was quite overcast but there were a few blue patches far off – so most of us just hoped that the blue skies might head our way in time. It took a few minutes to figure out where the sun might be (behind the clouds). I was looking more toward the horizon toward the south west. Thankfully others were looking more up, and soon I too located the elusive sun. It was so cloudy that regular sunglasses were sufficient for the first bit – when the moon shadow made the sun look like a crescent.

Every now and then we’d try the eclipse glasses and as the clouds moved, you could see a snatch of the sun and moon. I had NO idea how dark the eclipse glasses were. Unless the sun was visible through the clouds, you would swear the glasses were opaque! But, we kept watching through them – and hoping… And, low and behold, as totality occurred, the cloud cover thinned enough that we could see exactly what we came to – the bright ring of the sun glowing behind the full moon. We were a small crowd, but you couldn’t help but clap – at the sight and at the good fortune that the clouds moved just at the right time.

Because of the clouds, the day was pretty dark to begin with. I think it made it even more surprising that we noticed how much darker it got during totality. And because I had read something about looking at the horizon looking behind you, I did turn my head (toward the north) and it looked like day break. I snapped a quick photo of that (quite unfocused) – just to remember what it looked like.

Anyway – though I’ve never had anything less than a good time at an Ontario winery – this was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime highlight. Mother nature deserves the credit, but a big thank you – and well done – goes to Cave Spring Vineyard for hosting a great event!

SIAL Canada 2023 – (New-to-Me) Ideas and Products

Walking around SIAL Canada was a bit like wandering through a westernized souk – so much to take in and marvel at. A world where you’re generally familiar with many things but at the same time many items are different enough that they seem new to you.

So, in today’s blog I’m going to write about some products that I found particularly noteworthy. In the few instances where I’m confident they’re new to the market (for example, if they were exhibiting in the Start-Up area of the show), I’ll note that.

Canadian Lobster Oil – This product is brand new and it is amazing. The flavour is delicate and subtly lobster-y. It was developed by Chef Jérôme Ferrer of Europa, a Relais & Châteaux restaurant in Montreal. Chef Ferrer roasts hundreds of pounds of lobster shells to distill the flavour of lobster to which he adds a soupçon of ingredients including carrots, maple syrup, spices, Labrador Tea Leaves, and Dune Pepper. He then infused this magic essence into Canadian canola oil to create this uniquely Canadian product.

Chef Jérôme Ferrer

It’s reasonably priced (it will retail for about $20 for 375 ml.) and thanks to the high smoke point of canola oil, its cooking uses are limited only by one’s imagination. I can’t wait to try it as a drizzle on pizza, soup, salads, risotto, and so on. The first thing I’m going to try it in is homemade mayo!  

The packaging is beautiful – the delicate pink-hued oil is in a fashionable glass bottle that’s sealed with a generous crimson wax top. It’s clearly packaged for gift giving and for showing off on one’s table. It’s so new that they’re still working on the distribution – but keep an eye out for it in gourmet stores near you.  

La Presserie Premium Cold Pressed Cocktail Mixers – this product won the Bronze SIAL Innovation 2023 Award. (Interestingly, this Scarborough-based company’s Cold Pressed Plant-Based Dressings and Dips won the Bronze Award for product innovation at SIAL 2022 in Montreal – clearly they’re doing a lot right.) The frozen cocktail mixes come in six flavours, including my favourite: mojito. Each 213 ml. bottle is enough for two cocktails – you simply defrost the concentrate in the fridge and fill two tall glasses with ice. Then you pour half the bottle in each glass and add about 1.5 oz of whatever type of liquor you want (rum in the case of a mojito), then top it up with some club soda and voila – you have a sophisticated, complex-flavoured cocktail with almost no effort. (Or, if you prefer a non-alcoholic cocktail just substitute club soda for the liquor.)  

These mixers were a huge hit at the show – and rightly so. La Presserie is well known for its cold press products – things like juices, smoothies, and dressings. They don’t add water, refined sugars, or artificial ingredients. So, if you taste the mojito mix on its own, it pretty much tastes like the perfect mix of just lime juice, mint, and agave. You can find the cocktail mixes at select grocery stores (I think the person I was talking to mentioned Longos) and other food stores, as well as on-line.

Enercheez – this snack product has been around for some time, but I’d never seen it or heard of it. Their booth was among the Dairy Farmer’s of Canada section so I knew it was cheese-related but when I saw it, I thought it was popcorn that might be cheese flavoured. As soon as I picked up a piece to pop it in my mouth, however, I realized it was too heavy to be a piece of popcorn. 

This clever product is, in fact, dehydrated cheddar cheese! Mountain Munchies Inc., the BC company that makes it, promotes it as a high protein, zero carb snack. It has no preservatives or additives. You can eat it out of the bag, or you can use it to add crunch to salads or in soups (instead of croutons), for example. For cheese-lovers and folks on the go, it’s a convenient way to bring cheese with you without having to worry about keeping it cold. What a terrific – and delicious — idea! It’s available on-line and at an interesting variety of stores (for example Mountain Equipment Coop, select Sobeys, and many other places)

Freezo – I like cold coffee drinks so I was drawn to this powder that’s for the consumer to make frozen coffee frappes at home. Freezchino was created over 15 years ago but it was for the food industry only. During pandemic lockdowns folks were looking for a way of making coffee frappes at home, so the company adapted the product for home use. Just add ice cubes, milk, and Freezo to your blender and blend for a couple minutes and you have a delicious creamy concoction. It’s new to the market (it was in the Start-Up section of the show) and the classic and lite version are available on-line.

HealTea – This product won second place in the Start-Up Pitch Competition. HealTeas are herbal drinks in individual servings (355 ml cans). It’s meant as a convenient, healthy alternative beverage for folks on the go or for those who just want something different. I like tea and when I saw the name, I thought it’s just canned herbal iced tea. As soon as I tried it, I realized it’s not canned ice tea – it’s really very different and quite delicious.

I don’t know how they came up with the flavours, but they hit on really great combinations: Ginger and Camomile is probably the most traditional; they also have Nettle and Rosemary; and Peppermint and Dandelion. I tried them all and enjoyed them all – though I think my favourite is Peppermint and Dandelion. They have found the perfect balance of herbal flavour with a bit of maple syrup and lemon juice and each is only 35 calories. All the flavours are available in sparkling or still, which I think is brilliant. They are available on-line and in select grocery stores.

Siip – this Toronto-based start-up won first prize in the Start-Up Pitch Competition. The husband and wife who created this product used to have a soup restaurant in downtown Toronto. They realized some of their restaurant customers were taking a serving of soup back to their office to enjoy later in the workday as a healthy snack. So, they set out to create an instant broth that folks could have at home or at the office.

They created a line of powdered broths that you enjoy by simply adding to a cup of boiling water. Their roasted chicken bone broth has 8 grams of protein per serving and their beef bone broth has 10 grams of protein, plus 5 grams of collagen. They also have a vegan broth that contains 600 mg of adaptogenic mushrooms. It is available on-line and in select stores.

Nomzicles – these are fudgesicles that are made without refined sugar. These delightful 110 calorie desserts are made with only four ingredients: spring water, cashews, dates, and cocoa. They have been around a few years, though I had never seen them. They’re available on-line and at select stores. At SIAL they were being handed out from an adorable, old-fashioned ice box bicycle that would be great at corporate events, street festivals, and farmers markets. (I asked the young woman who I chatted with at the Nomz booth about whether they have used that little bicycle at local events and they have not, though maybe after the success they had at SIAL they’ll consider getting it out to events in the Toronto area.)   

Boobie Latte by Milksta – I saw the pitch for this product at the Start-Up Pitch Competition. It was created by a Canadian certified breastfeeding specialist for women who are nursing and who want to enjoy a plant-based latte without the guilt of caffeine. I couldn’t find the Milksta booth so I didn’t actually try this product – but I thought it was interesting that a company is focused on creating products specifically to help satisfy breastfeeding women’s cravings in a healthy way. The products are available on-line.  

And of course, in my previous blog I mentioned two other new Canadian drinks that I really enjoyed: Piquette, the zero alcohol wine-style beverage, and Copper Rose Vodka.

SIAL Canada 2023 – Wine and Spirits?

Because SIAL is about food innovation, I wasn’t sure if there’d be any wineries or distilleries there. But beverages are important to restaurants and the hospitality industry, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a booth for Benjamin Bridge, a Nova Scotia winery. (They have a few products at the LCBO, but I’ve never seen them at a wine show in Ontario, for example.) They were at SIAL promoting Piquette – a zero alcohol product they describe as a “wine-style beverage”.

Piquette is a light, refreshing carbonated drink with lovely citrus notes. It is packaged in attractively decorated, black slim cans (250 ml). I think it’d be great to take along on a picnic. It’s vegan-friendly and gluten-free, which I know matters to some folks.

The sales rep at the booth when I first tried it explained that to make Piquette they use the skins from grapes after they are crushed for their wines. So, like many resourceful wineries, they’re creatively making use of their inputs and expanding into other market segments.

Today, when I went back to the booth to take a picture, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers (JB), the winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, was chatting with a few people about Piquette. He said that part of the reason they decided to make a non-alcoholic line is because they see the writing on the wall: alcoholic beverage consumption is dropping and they expect it to continue to decline.

JeanBenoit Deslauriers

JB said that they made a conscious decision to not make a zero-alcohol wine. He explained that while there are plenty of tasty zero-alcohol beers, he thinks taking the alcohol out of a product that is only 5%-6% alcohol is pretty easy. But the higher alcohol content of wine means that to get it to zero-alcohol you have to processes it so much you aren’t left with much taste. So instead of starting with wine and taking the alcohol out, they set out to build a beverage from the bottom up – focusing on making something that’s tasty and refreshing.

Though he’s proud of Piquette – JB is careful to point out that it’s not a zero-alcohol WINE.

Here’s a short video of JB sheepishly admitting that Piquette doesn’t “do a very good job of emulating wine.” (You may need to turn up the volume to hear JB as there’s a fair bit of background noise.) I found his confession amusing and as he was describing what Piquette isn’t, my thought was “so what that it’s not wine – it is delicious!” And of course, in the end, JB and the folks at Benjamin Bridge clearly realized they have a winner – even if it’s not wine!

The only hard liquor I saw at SIAL was Copper Rose Vodka, a brand new entry on the Canadian spirits market. The Windsor-based distillery launched earlier this year and they decided to promote their rye-based premium vodka at SIAL Canada. Dan Maddox, one of the founders, explained that the product is distilled 12 times. By comparison, Belvedere – another premium rye-based vodka – is distilled four times.

I like vodka in a cocktail, but it’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed straight up. Indeed, as I was chatting with Dan, I was trying to think of a polite way to decline trying it, as I was worried my face might reflexively contort in some odd way if I didn’t like it. But Dan and Melissa Roberts, the other co-founder, were so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

Melissa Roberts and Dan Maddox of Copper Rose Distillery

I have to say, the Copper Rose Vodka went down very easily – it is excellent. I can only imagine what it would be like in a cocktail! And I’m happy to report that its price point is equally impressive. Dan explained a bit about their business model and how they sell the by-product from the distillation process for bitters. Because of this, the retail price is really reasonable: $39.00. (It is not yet available in the LCBO but it is available for purchase on-line.)

Trends in non-alcoholic beverages was a hot topic at SIAL and I’ll write more about it in a coming blog, so stay tuned.

Digging Stratus Vineyards’ Roots

This weekend the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are hosting a new event called Dig our Roots. Unlike the popular passport programs, the idea behind this event is to learn more about the unique properties of the appellation from the roots up. For the event, each winery designed its own unique “experience” around the general theme. Stratus Vineyards put together a tutored tasting with the intriguing title: Tried and True, Quirky and New.

Stratus, which opened in 2005, is best known for its luscious blends – the signature Stratus Red and Stratus White, as well as its more moderately priced Wildass Red and Wildass White. To create the blends, winemaker J-L Groux started playing around with growing some grapes you don’t find too often in the region (for example, Tempranillo and Tannat).

These experiments proved rewarding in many ways. Besides providing varieties that add colour and depth to their magnificent assemblages, Stratus has also released some as single variety wines. The tasting was designed to showcase some of these varieties.

Ben Nicks at Stratus Vineyards

Ben Nicks, senior wine consultant, led the fascinating seminar. From the comfort of the large private tasting room that overlooks the vineyard, Nicks explained the unique geography of the 55-acres. The show-and-tell wasn’t limited to the wines – to show the different strata that lies below the surface, he showed us an oversize glass vase containing a cut-away sample of the vineyard’s soil.

Soil Sample from Stratus Vineyards

He also described some unusual aspects of the winemaking processing. For example, he explained the difference between domestic yeast, wild yeast, and the process they often use (for example, with their Chardonnay), which is to simply rely on the yeast that naturally adheres to the grapes.

It was also fascinating to learn about why and how they aerate wines during the fermentation process. I had heard Nicks describe micro-oxygenation before and how they use a hydrosieve and I was interested in hearing more about it. After the seminar he was kind enough to take my friend and me into the production area for a look at the sieve. He even let me shoot a short video of him describing how it works. You can find the video here.

And of course, during the seminar we tasted some wine – six different varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay, Cab Franc (Stratus’ most widely planted variety), Tempranillo, and Tannat. And, to reinforce the fact that winemaking is an interesting combination of art and science, they provided facts and figures about each wine, including the year the vines were planted, the number of blocks planted of each type, the specific harvest dates for each, and the exact number of days each spent in oak.

An aptly-named event

Hats off to Stratus Vineyards and to the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the innovative Dig our Roots event. It’s clear that the experiences created under this aptly-named title are meant to provide wine enthusiasts with a unique way of learning about the appellation – from roots to bottle.

For a taste of the seminar, click here for a short video of Nicks introducing the event and Stratus Vineyards.

Winter, Wine, and Chocolate – these are a few of my favourite things!

To some, February is the last hospitable month in Ontario. (I say “to some” because, well, it’s actually one of my favourite months!) But, the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake have the perfect antidote to those who think the only good thing about February is that it’s only 28 days long – The Days of Wine & Chocolate. The Passport program runs every weekend (Friday-Sunday) in February. As the name implies, the 20 participating wineries have paired one of their wines with something that has chocolate as an ingredient.

N/V Brut Sparkling Methode Traditionelle with bread pudding at Chateau des Charmes

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake invited me to attend and so a girlfriend and I hit the road yesterday, despite the snowy forecast. It so happened that I took this friend last year, so I tried to find some places she had not been to. On our drive down, I mentioned that I had been thinking about the route we might take to make it a bit different from last year. She didn’t seem to care – she was just excited to be spending a day in wine country. That’s the right attitude for sure!

The day ended up being so fun and relaxing. The wineries were quieter than they might otherwise be for such an event – but that meant that we had more opportunities to chat with winery folks, which is one of best things about visiting Ontario wineries. You can learn so much and most folks you come across are only too happy to chat.

Mamiko behind the tasting bar at Inniskillen

One of our favourite encounters of the day was at Inniskillin Wines. That was one of our early stops and our timing was great – apparently a large crowd had just come and gone.  Mamiko – the woman pouring – was an absolute delight. They were featuring their 2014 Reserve merlot with a dark chocolate chili with white chocolate sour cream and green onions. She explained why she thought their chili was so much better than what she makes at home – “the chef here uses lots of wine when he cooks – at home I don’t use as much, but it makes it much better!”

We both really enjoyed the pairing – and the white chocolate in the sour cream was absolutely delicious.

Inniskillin Wines

A great place to learn to skate — the rink at Ravine









My friend had never been to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, so that was on my list of places to stop. It’s a lovely spot. Though it’s quite large, it feels secluded and cozy. Though I’ve been there many times, it seems every time I go there, there’s something unexpected. (Last time it was the beautiful free-range hens and rooster roaming through the fines.) This time it was an ice skating rink nestled in a spot between the restaurant and the vineyard. A staff member was out on the ice with a snow blower, with a family waiting to hit the ice. It turns out the rink is open to the public – free of charge – and the gang that was there were locals who have been there before. (One of moms there explained that one of the kids on the ice had learned to skate there.)  It’s a home-made rink – so if it’s cold enough for ice, it’s open. What fun!

2014 Bella Terra Reserve Cab Sauv with pork back ribs

When we looked at the list of pairings, I mentioned to my friend that I was surprised to see that PondView Estate Winery was serving pork back ribs, as they served that last year, though this year they are serving it with one of my favourite Pondview wines: their Bella Terra Reserve Cab Sauv. My girlfriend had the right outlook – she said, “Well, if there’s something you’re good at – and the ribs are awesome – why not stick to it!” How right she is – so off we went.

Cold fermenting tanks at PondView

Another fun thing about this kind of passport program is that they often host the pairing in different locations in the winery that you might not normally get a chance to see on a regular visit. PondView, for example has set up the tasting in their fermentation room. I’ve been in there before, but this was the first time I saw what looked like ice frozen on the outside of some of the stainless tanks. Naturally, I asked about that. Apparently, the ice crystals are on tanks where they are doing cold fermenting. (Something I’ll have to ask about next time I’m chatting with a winemaker!)

Cozy space at Reif Estate Winery

An inventive — and useful — re-purposing of a wine barrel at Reif







At Reif Estate Winery we got into another back room that I’d never been in before. A big, but cozy space, thanks to the barrel-lined black walls. Very different… (and check out the clever re-purposed barrel).

Lacing up at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery

Another place we made a point of stopping at was Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery. We wanted to check out Wayne’s ice rink – I mean, really… It was a popular spot, as you’d expect. The crowd was definitely more millennial than boomer (my demographic) – so it has a different vibe – very fun and VERY popular. The winery has a separate building where the spirits are. Neither of us are into whisky, but cream whisky is… well, dessert, which we are into. We had to try it. It is quite nice – think Bailey’s Irish Cream, with (to me) a hint of cocoa.

The rink at Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery

Another surprise was that there were a few families with kids. I thought that was unusual, but the little ones were happy – and the wineries all serve non-alcoholic drinks for those with a designated driver passport. In watching the children, it’s clear that they enjoyed trying different things as much as their parents did.

We ended our day back at the restaurant at Ravine. We didn’t have a reservation, but they had room for us and, to our delightful surprise, the were running a prix fixe special that was unbelievable: any appetizer, main and dessert from the regular menu for $35. What a treat! I had smoked arctic char, braised short rib of beef (normally $36 alone), and sticky toffee pudding. My friend had the mushrooms on toast, pork loin, and a chocolate tart. The food was spectacular and the service was exceptional. If you’ve not been to the restaurant at Ravine, I can’t recommend it enough.

On the way home we were talking about the day. In terms of favourites, we especially enjoyed the savory food (Inniskillin, Pondview, and Jackson-Triggs). My favourite pairing was Jackson-Triggs’ 2016 Grand Reserve Pinot Noir and the smoked chicken and chocolate cheddar panini with mushrooms and preserved cherries. My favourite wine was the 2013 Stratus ‘Weather Report’ Red.

There are still two more weekends to enjoy the Days of Wine & Chocolate and you can order your Passports ($45+ tax or $25 for designated drivers) online. I hope you have the opportunity to check it out.

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.