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


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






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.

A Sampling from Taste the Season

Between the Lines Taste the Season-2014 IMG_2175A friend and I stopped in at six Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries participating in Taste the Season yesterday. It was great to see so many people out and I got the distinct impression that many folks started by sampling the wine that was featured as part of Taste the Season, but they then headed over to the tasting bar to try other wines.

Ravine Vineyards Taste the Season 2014 IMG_2172







My favorite pairing of the day was Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s 2012 Ravine Chardonnay paired with a rich chicken stew with mushrooms foraged by the chef. Delicious!

In terms of notable wines, both my friend and I both liked the 2012 Cabernet Merlot at Palatine Hills and we agreed that it seems like a wine that would be even better as it ages a bit. My friend’s favourite wine was Hinterbook’s 2011 Cabernet/Merlot. My favourite (despite the silly name) was Stratus’ 2011 Kabang Red, which is a blend at Stratus.Stratsu Taste the Season 2014 IMG_2183

It was also great to have a chance to try Lemberger, a varietal that I’ve never tried before. Between the Lines was featuring their 2012 Lemberger.

We also did an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting at OLiV, which is at Hinterbrook. We were both wowed by the infused oils and the different combinations. As one person doing the tasting with us said when we tried the OLiV Italian Herb Extra Virgin Olive Oil & OLiV Garlic Cilantro Balsamic, it was like liquid bruschetta!

Hinterbrook Oliv Shop Taste the Season 2014 IMG_2181Taste the Season continues the next two weekends – and I’ll be heading back to NOL to stop in at some of the other 20 wineries we didn’t get to yesterday.

Taste the Season 2014 Pairings

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake announced the pairings for their Taste the Season event, which starts Novemer 7, 2014 and runs for four weekends in November (Fridays –  Sundays).

Passports are on sale now for $44.25 (totalling $53.39 with the tax and service charge). There’s also a designated driver pass for $35 ($42.94 all in). Passports can be purchased on-line.

I’m planning on popping down to NOL for the event and I’ll do a posting then, but in the meanwhile here’s a list of the 26 wineries and the food pairings for 2014:

2012 Lemberger paired with venison goulash, braised red cabbage with cherries and buttery spatzle

2010 Estate Series Pinot Noir paired with mixed wild mushroom risotto drizzled with handcrafted rosemary oil and topped with shaved parmesan

Brut Sparkling Wine paired with brown butter roasted squash and dijon mascarpone strudel

2012 Cabernet Merlot paired with open faced focaccia charcuterie stack with a tomato basil chutney

2013 EastDell Estates Black Label Barrel Aged Chardonnay paired with creamy autumn potato and sweet leek bisque, made with full country cream and aged white cheddar

2011 Cabernet/Merlot paired with slow-cooked shredded steak and fusili compote

2012 Vidal Icewine paired with carmelized onion tart with Ontario goat cheese and thyme

2012 Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Riesling paired with cold water shrimp jambalaya with house cured taso ham

2008 Caroline Gamay Rose paired with Nutella opera slice

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with slow cooked black angus Alberta beef topped with PEI lobster

2013 Cabernet Merlot paired with rustic pork terrine with maple smoked bacon and cranberry compote

2013 Red Blend paired with sundried tomato and olive tapenade on French bread

2012 Dean’s List Prodigy Icewine paired with spiced pumpkin cheesecake with a chocolate crust and ginger cream

2012 Cabernet Merlot paired with spiral of beef on infused quinoa enhanced with raspberry preserve and merlot wine reduction

2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Franc paired with carmelized onion pulled pork with roasted red pepper and feta compote on a peppercorn and shallot focaccia

2012 Oak Aged Chardonnay paired with chef Collin Goodine’s savoury sage and squash soup

2012 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc paired with 5 bean chili with pulled pork and ground beef on an open-face mini ciabatta bun

2009 Merlot paired with garlic teriyaki oven-roasted chicken wing

2012 Ravine Chardonnay paired with chicken and biscuits: farm chicken stew with foraged mushrooms, autumn vegetables and ravine puff pastry biscuits

2009 ‘Back Vintage’ Riesling Icewine paired with jalapeno pepper flatbread topped with Niagara pear, brie and icewine apricot glaze

2013 Sauvignon Blanc paired with herbed goat cheese and wood oven roasted vegetable tart

2013 Riesling paired with handmade speculaas, a Dutch cookie, with nutmeg, allspice, mace and other delectable spices and brushed almond spread

2012 Triomphe Cab Franc paired with duck confit/pear and brie phyllo tart

2011 Kabang Red paired with Treadwell “Farm to Table” tortière

2007 Riesling (Dry) Library Release paired with harvest vegetable terrine, fig, pear & orange compote on cured meat, aged Ontario cheddar

2013 Trius Cabernet Franc paired with spiced quinoa with chorizo sausage and a vine tomato sauce

Of lemons and lemonade …

Snapshot of Ann Sperling Sept 3 2014
Ann Sperling in the vineyard at Southbrook Vineyards

This week I was out at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Ann Sperling, Director, Winemaking and Viticulture, was kind enough to show me around the vineyard.

Seems the harvest in the Niagara region is going to be late this year (by about three weeks) because of the slow start after the harsh winter and the very wet spring and early summer. Fortunately, though some of us city folk have been complaining about the heat this past week, the growers are thankful for it, as it’s good for the grapes.

Walking through the vines, it was surprising how many of the individual clusters had grapes that were green and grapes that were a deep purple. I asked Ann about this and she explained that the reason for the different stages of ripeness on the same vine is because the primary, secondary, and tertiary buds broke in stages over a period that was longer than usual. The result is grapes in different stages of ripening.

Grapes harvested in the Green Harvest at Southbrook — Sept. 2014

She said it’s not unusual to have some green grapes among the ripe clusters and that’s why they go through the vineyard and do a “Green Harvest”. This involves trimming out the green grapes from the other ripe grapes. Normally, when they Green Harvest they just take off the less ripe bunches and drop them.



This year, however, because there’s a fair bit of green among the riper grapes, Southbrook is going to harvest the grapes from the Green Harvest. And, in the spirit of waste not, want not – this year Southbrook will be using them to make verjus.

Here is a short video of Ann Sperling explaining the Green Harvest.

(More) Snapshots from Sip & Sizzle

I was at Sip & Sizzle in Niagara-on-the-Lake again on Saturday. (Hats off to the NOL wineries for making the passports valid on any of the event days and for making them transferrable — that way you don’t have to feel that to “get your money’s worth” you need to stop in to an unreasonable number of wineries on one day or on one weekend! You can double your pleasure by spending time in NOL on different May weekends.)IMG_1685







There’s one more weekend for Sip & Sizzle 2014 and if you haven’t yet been to any of the participating wineries, here are some photos of what you’re missng…IMG_1707IMG_1698

Reif’s Taste the Terroir Experience

As I noted recently, last Saturday a girlfriend and I were taking in Sip & Sizzle and one of our stops was Reif Estate Winery. The winery was hopping but the tasting room/retail area was large enough to handle the crowd, and they had plenty of knowledgeable staff on hand. IMG_2459

To round out our day, we had booked a formal tasting with Archie Hood, one of Reif’s sommeliers. I’ve had the pleasure of being guided by Archie on a tasting at Reif before and I thought my friend would enjoy it. Reif has a few different tastings to choose from and the one we were doing was Taste the Terroir.



The formal tastings are set up on the back side of the tasting bar, which is nice because you have a bit of privacy to chat with Archie, but at the same time you have the relaxed buzz of people enjoying the winery. Archie started by explaining that we’d be sampling four wines paired with four different Ontario artisanal cheeses. The wines – the 2010 White Meritage (paired with Mountainoak Wild Nettle Gouda), the 2011 Chardonnay Reserve (paired with Gun’s Hill Farms’ Five Brothers, which is kind of a gouda/Swiss blend), the 2010 Merlot Reserve (paired with Thornloe Cheddar), and the 2012 Vidal Icewine (paired with Glengarry Celtic Blue Reserve) – were chosen because they’re representative of the terroir on which Reif’s grapes grow.

Archie gave us very specific instructions about the process he wanted us to follow in terms of tasting the wines and then the cheese – I’m not talking about the usual directions about holding up the glass and looking at the colour, then swirling it to open the bouquet, then smelling the nose, and so on. First we were to take a sip of the wine. Then we were to take a nibble of the cheese, chewing it for about 10 seconds. We were to then leave the cheese on the roof of our mouth and then take another sip of the wine, noting how the taste of both had transformed.IMG_2460

I don’t mind telling you I found the process a bit challenging and it took me a few tries before I got the hang of it. (My friend either fared batter, or was too embarrassed to admit finding it tricky.) As we proceeded through the flight, Archie explained different things about the wines, the cheeses and the science of what was going on with our taste buds and about why we were noticing different things. He was also more than willing to answer all matter of questions. For example, I asked about the selection of glassware, especially the fact that the Chardonnay was in a balloon glass.

The most delightful part of the tasting was the Ah-Ha moments each of us experienced. My personal Ah-Ha came when I had a mouth full of wine and cheese and I was clearly trying hard to notice the taste differences and Archie pointed to my mouth and encouraged me to swish the wine around. (I had kind of just been holding it in my mouth.) I did as he said and – oh man – what a difference! After swallowing I commented on it and Archie knowingly nodded. I knew immediately that this new “technique” (however simple it is) is something that would change my way of enjoying wine. Talk about a terrific learning experience!!

My girlfriend’s Ah-Ha moment came when she tasted Reif’s Magician, which Archie served us after learning that my friend and her family normally drink reds. The Magician is a Pinot Noir-Shiraz blend (60/40) with 30% of the grapes kiln dried. The way my friends face lit up on trying the Magician was nothing short of (pardon the pun) magic. When I saw her reaction, I had to spill the beans to Archie: I knew my friend liked reds but that she had a bias against Ontario reds. When she announced she’d be buying some to take home to her family, I knew that she was going to have to re-think her moratorium on Ontario reds. Talk about gratifying…

When we finished, I thanked – Archie for turning what could have been a very straightforward wine and cheese tasting into a memorable experience that I’m sure both of us will remember for a long time.

P.S. Don’t Forget: Sip & Sizzle continues this weekend and the last weekend of May!