How many ways can you pair wine with chocolate? Well, if you asked the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake around Valentines they would have told you that there are at least 28 ways and that you could have tried them all with the Wine and Chocolate Passport.
In the eight months that Local Lux has been up and running I must say I’ve been greatly looking forward to this event! I mean, who doesn’t love the combination of wine and chocolate? I certainly do! Apparently so do my mom, my brother and my mother-in-law who joined me for a weekend adventure. We were oh so lucky that on day 1 we were chauffeured around by the incredible Lou of Southampton Limo (talk about traveling in style)!
As always, I’ve marked my favourite wines and chocolates with a ✪.
The sun was shining through the bare branched trees into the sparkling snow as we walked the path up to Chateau Des Charmes. One of the many things I like about this winery is that there is always someone at the front door to welcome you into the grande entrance. There really is something to be said for a warm welcome. I’m looking forward to visiting with them in the near future to learn more about the Bosc family and sample their delicious vintages.
- In my Glass: 2009 Canernet Franc ✪
- On my Plate: Butter Chocolate Pate with Pecan Crunch ✪
My best memory at Coyote’s run was during The Pinot Affair when I tasted their Red Paw Pinot. I am slowly but surely getting to know more about this winery and their vintages. Three things that always captivate me when I visit are 1) the view of the vineyard when you look left on your way up the stairs to the wineshop, 2) the blackboard in the front entrance that greets you with whatever great specials and events are happening that day and 3) the “Thank You for Visiting” sign that greets you on your way out the door.
- In my Glass: 2011 Five Mile White
- On my Plate: White Chocolate Dipped Lemon Shortbread Cookie ✪
This was the first time that I have visited Diamond Estates and it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. It was odd to walk into – what used to be 20 Bees – and see a little trailer jam-packed with too many wine labels to count. East Dell, Dan Ackroyd, Lakeview, 20 Bees and many others that escape me. The young salesman serving up our chocolate and wine combination explained that Diamond Estates is a large conglomerate that buys up wineries, closes down all the buildings on-site to avoid overhead and then has the grapes from those sites shipped to the facility on Niagara Stone where they are sorted and bottled and labelled. Hmmm …
- In my Glass: 2010 Lakeview Cellars Cabernet Merlot Reserve
- On my Plate: Dark Chocolate Cup
Everytime I drive up the lane-way towards The Ice House Winery, it reminds me of an old lake house my family and I used to visit for a week at a time in the summer while I was growing up. The garage door built into the front even reminds me of the entry to the boathouse. What great memories I have of those summers with my family! Inside, The Ice House Winery is sure to please and it is full – top to bottom – of many delicious icewine varieties for you to try. My favourite is their Vidal icewine slushie.
- In my Glass: 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Series Northern Ice
- On my Plate: N’Ice Decadence – Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Northern Ice Cab Sauv
Until Wine and Chocolate I hadn’t taken the opportunity to explore all of Inniskillin. Like events past, Wine and Chocolate was hosted in their special events room. I love the high bar that lines the left-side of the room as you walk in – it’s so grande! Not to mention all of the windows to let in the crisp February sunshine. I was excited that my mom and brother had the chance to be wined and dined (literally) by Carol – who I believe is Scottish – at the bar. Her hospitality and explanation of the custom-made icewine glasses at Inniskillin certainly add to the experience. Although Inniskillin Winery somewhat lacks the charm that other small, family-run wineries have to offer – I seem to always enjoy my visit as I find the staff genuine and the grounds beautiful (and historical apparently). I would love the opportunity to learn more about this winery.
- In my Glass: 2008 Vidal Icewine
- On my Plate: Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
Since living in Niagara I’ve stopped at Jackson Triggs only once – well, now twice. It isn’t that I wasn’t interested, it’s just that – in my experience – the place is always so full of people there’s barely room to maneuver! The day we visited during Wine and Chocolate was, thankfully, not crowded at all. We had the pleasure of exploring their wine boutique, sitting in front of the warm fire of their impressive fireplace in the foyer and sitting aside the sunny vines to enjoy our glass of wine and absolutely delicious goodie. This coming summer I’d love to get a ticket to a concert or two – you can’t see it from the road but Jackson Triggs has a posh concert shell in the back and has hosted the likes of Sarah McLaughlin.
- In my Glass: 2010 Reserve Series Merlot ✪
- On my Plate: Mixed Dried Fruit and Anise Cookie ✪
I’m still on the fence about Joseph’s. On one hand, I like that Joseph still runs the winery and appreciate his commitment to using the grape seeds to make flour and grape seed oil. On the other hand I found it to be quite commercial and a little – well – behind the times in design, staff and overall feel. Being in my late 20’s – every once in a while I find myself in a winery that treats me like I’m 10 years old and know nothing about the subject. Unfortunately, that’s the vibe I got here at Joseph’s. But, my nuturing and loyal nature doesn’t allow me to write them off quite yet, maybe another visit is in order and hopefully my feelings will be much changed.
- In my Glass: 2009 Cabernet Franc
- On my Plate: Milk Chocolate Toblerone Cheesecake
Shame on me for not visiting Konzelmann earlier!! It’s family-run (as is evident by the wonderful display of family pictures in the foyer), the building is absolutely gorgeous and the staff were fantastic! Oh, not to mention the wine!! … After taking part in some wine and chocolate (and sneaking some for Lou) – we hit the tasting bar and had some fun with their whites. It was here that I learned a little Vidal Icewine trick – add one small, simple drop of hot sauce to an oz or two of icewine and taste is SOAR to higher heights. So delicious! Needless to say, we left Konzelmann with a few bottles and I will be returning in the summer for the full experience!
- In my Glass: 2010 Fresco Seco
- On my Plate: Opera Slice
One of my favourites, it was great to visit Lailey again. This winery has such a rich history – the Lailey family boasting the first Grape Queen in Niagara and being the first winery in Canada to produce an Oaked Chardonnay. I heard of late, but cannot confirm – that Lailey recently sold to owners in Asia … I wonder if any of you can confirm or deny. In any case, I suspect that, as long as Derek Barnett is making the wine, there will be at least one bottle of Lailey on my wine rack at all times.
- In my Glass: 2011 Cabernet Merlot
- On my Plate: Chocolate Surprise (Chocolate Cookie)
Bravo to Niagara College during Wine and Chocolate. Surprisingly, it was one of my favourite pairings despite it being 11am and the fact that they served Rose! But, there is something about this Rose that I enjoyed more than most – it’s fresh and crisp and I could imagine myself enjoying a glass or two on the patio in the summer instead of my beloved Riesling.
- In my Glass: 2011 College Rose ✪
- On my Plate: Creme Brule Mousse ✪
Considering Marynissen brags the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in all of Canada, I usually take all of my Niagara guests to this winery if only to experience the history. Unfortunately, they weren’t tasting any of the Cab Sauv at the bar so, along with wine and chocolate, ended up leaving with a bottle of their 2007 Red (for the hefty but worthwhile price-tag of $70). This winery is what I would consider (at the outlook) small, but mighty!
- In my Glass: 2007 Merlot
- On my Plate: Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownie
A girlfriend of mine that I’ve Local Lux’d with before knows much of the wines at Palatine so I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. At first glance the winery is modest looking – almost like an airplane hanger for a Cessna. The boutique is large enough for 12 people (at the most) to stand inside. As part of wine and chocolate we were escorted into the back to a small tasting space intimately lit with an impressive fixture made of bottles and decorated for Valentines. I was interested to learn that their wine was the official wine for Prince Charles and Lady Camilla’s visit to Niagara in 2009 – what an honour.
- In my Glass: 2011 Lakeshore
- On my Plate: Orange Milk Chocolate Mousse
This was my second time to Peller and I was happy to return. This time around the grounds were quiet as the Icewine Festival wasn’t tempting us visitors outdoors. I could have sit at the fireplace in the foyer for the rest of the afternoon. The comfy chairs, bustle of people coming and going, I could people watch with a glass of Peller anything all day long. The wine and chocolate tasting was happening at a secondary tasting bar in the back of the wine boutique. Great strategy (if you ask me) to have guests walk all the way through the store to get to our tasty destination. Well, let’s just say that the strategy worked on me.
- In my Glass: Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvee
- On my Plate: Candied Bacon and Chocolate Sponge Toffee
My mom, brother and I started off Day 1 at Ravine Winery. I love the history of this old/new location – not to mention the marketplace in the back. Before we even hit the tasting room for their Cab Franc and chocolate my mom had purchased a box full of goodies – bread, cupcakes, cookies, cheeses, etc … from the Marketplace. What a divine way to start our morning. And, the divinity continued with our first pairing. I ended up leaving with a bottle of their 2011 Cab Franc – it’s heavenly and certainly didn’t last long!
- In my Glass: 2011 Cabernet Franc ✪
- On my Plate: Chocolate Pecan Tart
If you are even an occasional Local Lux reader you probably know that Pillitteri is dear to my heart. It was a great pleasure to bring my brother to one of my favourite wineries and to have him enjoy himself so much. Naturally, we made our way through almost every wine on their tasting menu (and some that aren’t). My brother ended up leaving with a bottle of Protagonist, myself with some 2007 Cab Sauv Icewine and “my” fusion and my mom couldn’t help but indulge in two bottles of the Gewurztraminer Icewine. We would have also bought some Kerner but we already each have a bottle …
- In my Glass: 2011 Vidal Icewine ✪
- On my Plate: Chocolate Caramel Indulgence Cupcake
I’ve been curious about visiting Small Talk ever since I saw it on the list of places to discover. Having never been to Stonechurch before I didn’t put one and one together until we pulled into the driveway. As it turns out, Stonechurch is rebranding not just with new labels (which are gorgeous I might add) but also with a new name. There are a few wine boutiques that I really enjoy the look of – Stratus being two that come to mind right away. Now – Small Talk will be added to the list – the white walls and shelves peppered with the colourful labels, bright chalkboards and fireplace are etched into my mind. Oh, and the wine was great! I left with a bottle of their “Top Secret” – I’d tell you what’s in it but that’s classified.
- In my Glass: 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ✪
- On my Plate: Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Tarts ✪
If you asked me to describe what Reif looks like, I’d tell you that the building reminds me of a chalet and makes me want to drive to The Blue Mountains to go skiing. The wooden directional signs point to different grapes in the Vineyard and reminds me of the signs on the highway in Italy that point you to the many different cities in the Northern region. Once inside the wine shop it feels like what I imagine a wine shop in Narnia might look like with wood, glass and mirrors. But the tasting room in the back reminds me of only one thing – wine. The lights are dim, the room is lined with barrels of fermenting wine and candles are lit; it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. It’s one of my favourite rooms in the region.
- In my Glass: “The Magician” 2011 Pinot Shiraz
- On my Plate: Chocolate Chili Corn
A week or so after my mom, brother and I were out and about, my mother-in-law came to town to join me for the Hinterbrook 2012 Vintage Preview. Naturally, it being the last weekend to use my Wine and Chocolate passports, we indulged in a few stops on our way back to the house.
Hinterbrook is one of my new favourite Niagara wineries joining the list with Rosewood, The Good Earth, Pillitteri, Kacaba and Stratus – to name a few. The Nickel family are hospitable and friendly and sure know how to make everyone who walks through their front door feel welcome. I recently wrote a piece about my time at their 2012 Vintage Preview called Beyond the Stream.
- In my Glass: 2010 Merlot ✪
- On my Plate: Cafe Royale
There is something about Sunnybrook Farm that I really love. Odd as it may sound, it all started (for me) with their perfect shade of blue painted outside and how it looked against the snow and holiday lights during Taste the Season. Then, when I learned that they were a fruit winery and made pear wine (my favourite fruit), my bond with this winery was sealed. Needless to say I was pleased to learn that they were serving their Pear Blossom wine – it’s crisp and cool and different from any other wine I’ve indulged in before.
- In my Glass: Pear Blossom Wine ✪
- On my Plate: Triple Chocolate Biscotti and Pistachios
I wanted to be sure to stop at Strewn because they are one of the only wineries that served chocolate in a savoury form. And, I wanted to show my mother-in-law their impressive cooking school facilities. Something I’ve noticed about Strewn that I like is they always think “outside the box” when it comes to their pairings. This time around was no different.
- In my Glass: 2010 Gerwurztraminer Terroir
- On my Plate: Nacho Topped with Black Bean, Tomatillo and Spicy Dark Chocolate Mole
Our final stop was Trius – aka Hillebrand. I cannot believe that I have yet to eat at their restaurant considering all the amazing things I continue to hear from friends and family. I think I’ve mentioned this in past pieces but I’ll say it again – Trius was the very first winery in Niagara that I ever visited. Hubby and I actually spent one of our wedding anniversaries doing their Red Blending experience – it was great fun!
- In my Glass: Trius Brut Rose
- On my Plate: Caramel Chocolate Pop Crunch
As it turns out – most of the chocolates (if not all) for the Wine and Chocolate passport event were from Willow Cakes and Pastries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I imagine it is a dangerous shop to walk into with some spare cash and a chocolate or carb craving … For that reason, and because I couldn’t have eaten another piece of chocolate if I wanted to, we didn’t stop at Willow on any of our three days out and about. But, I do have plans on stopping there sooner than later.
I’d suggest spreading this passport event out between as many weekends possible. By the end of the event I was absolutely cringing at the idea of digesting one more morsel of chocolate anything! Thankfully – it passed sooner than later and wine and chocolate are back on my menu anytime.