I’ve had the great pleasure of participating in a number of winery passport events; they are delectable and a joy to experience with friends and this Taste the Season was no exception. Yet, let me tell you, among all that fun is also a lot of work when you have the added responsibility of covering the event for an audience. Never mind all of the pre-event prep, the day of requires that I drive to the winery, park at the winery, tweet that I’m at the winery, walk inside to the tasting area, be served the food and wine, position food and wine properly, take picture with big camera, take picture with phone, edit in Instagram, post to Instagram, think up witty tweet, tweet, make sure tweet also posted to Facebook page, take a bite of food, smell wine, sip wine, sip wine again, tweet about sipping wine, walk around, take more pictures and then somehow, SOMEWHERE in there, take a moment to enjoy the company and take it all in. Trust me when I say, it’s WORK!
And so, for this Taste the Season, I decided that my only responsibilities were going to be to unplug from social media, take a few pictures and take it all in. Not to hop too far ahead, but, it was wonderful!
With my Nikon left at home and my fairly new LG G4 in hand I had the immense pleasure of being picked up at my doorstep by a wonderfully charming friend (she’d pre-warmed my seat!!) – hello Susan! – who was a NOTL Wineries passport event virgin. My preference is to have a game plan for what wineries I wanted to visit but this time around, true to the unplugged theme, we decided to go with the flow and see which wineries we felt like stopping at in the moment.
Here’s a little snapshot of our adventures – and wherever you see a “❄” it’s because it notates one of my favourite pairings.
CHÂTEAU DES CHARMES
Brut Sparkling Wine, Méthode Traditionelle
Spiced Pumpkin Pie
This Bosc family winery is one of my favourites in the region. I most certainly enjoy their wine yet there is something about the charm of their winery that makes the experience of drinking a glass of red (my go-to) that much more satisfying. Their pairing reminded me of an autumn wedding – sparkling and spice. Hmm … there you go brides-to-be, I’ve created the perfect theme name for your big day come fall 2016. As much as I love this brut, I ended up leaving with their Platinum Award Winning 2012 Gamay Noir Droit. Oh, and I absolutely love the look of empty wine bottles as Christmas tree decorations, although my tree is a dwarf compared to the one standing tall in the lobby of this fine winery.
RAVINE VINEYARD ESTATE WINERY
2012 Sand & Gravel Redcoat
Harvest Beef Bourguignon with Cheesy Puff Pastry
Where do I even start with Ravine? The wine, the restaurant or the market with it’s fresh bread, pastries and meat and cheese counter? This winery has never failed to satisfy me and this visit was no different. The pairing was warm and savoury yet my absolute favourite part of it was the flaky crunch of the wee cheesy puff pastry perfectly nestled within my bowl of bourguignon (I love the way that word rolls off of my tongue and that it makes me think of one of my favourite foodie movies, Julie and Julia). Naturally I left with a bottle of the Redcoat (one of my favourite weekday reds) and a hunk of aged farmhouse cheese – perfection!
COYOTE’S RUN ESTATE WINERY ❄
2013 Five Mile Red
Peach Wood smoked Pork Loin layered on a Crostino and garnished with Caramelized Red Onion Jam
The pairing at Coyote’s Run was my favourite of the day for sure. I’ll be honest, it didn’t look like a masterpiece but it just goes to show you not to judge a book by it’s cover because when that smoked pork married with the five mile red my taste-buds started doing a dance — Susan may have actually started dancing (she’s just that kind of person).
Now, I have to admit … being unplugged meant that I had to rely on my memory and it has officially failed me on the name of the wonderful man who created this peach wood smoked pork loin. However, thanks to the internet (and about 3 minutes of searching) I can say that his name is Nathan Young of In the Smoke Cookery and Catering (who is also now running The Deck at Creekside) and that I’d like to eat more of his culinary creations … I will make that happen sooner than later I’m sure.
Oak Aged Vidal Icewine
Hubbard Squash Biscuit, Icewine Bacon, Smoked “Casey Blue” Cheese
Inniskillin was the only winery who had icewine on their Taste The Season menu and I most certainly could not let Susan participate in her first passport event and not experience the sweet sensation of syrupy goodness sweep across her taste-buds. Not to mention they had created icewine bacon as a component of their delicious pairing which, let’s face it, you don’t pass up even if you’ve been to more passport events than you can count. There really isn’t much more to say except that, yes, it tasted as good as you’re imaging and, no, I wasn’t able to find a way to take any icewine bacon home with me – a travesty I know.
TWO SISTERS VINEYARDS
2013 Riesling ❄
Italian-inspired Paté on Crostini with Fall Fruit Chutney
Believe it or not this was my very first time visiting Two Sisters Vineyards. I know, I know … how could that possibly be? If you have yet to visit let me tell you that the winery is very grande and right beside Peller Estates. The restaurant – Kitchen 76 – was full (and no wonder because their menu made my mouth water!) and much to my amazement both sisters were there that day! It was a pleasure seeing them at home in their element and refreshing to know that the “two sisters” brand is rooted in an authentic relationship (and not just a marketing tool). I also want to mention that, despite preferring a deep red to white – especially in the colder months, the Riesling served here was just wonderful – it reminded me of my absolutely favourite Riesling from Thirty Bench. Brava ladies!
2013 Gewurztraminer Terroir
Seasonal Sampler Trio – Mini Sausage Roll, Microgreens with OLiv Chili Balsamic, Aged Canadian Cheddar
I consistently appreciate the quaint twist that Strewn offers to these passport events. What do I mean? Well, if you didn’t know it, Strewn has a well-known cooking school that runs out of their winery (they also do evening cooking classes that are a LOT of fun), and I enjoy their desire to use their culinary skills to not only provide a pairing experience but to educate passport holders on the pairing itself. Their tasting room is always setup with a customized place mat at each setting that explains the wine and why it pairs well with the sampler they’ve prepared; Strewn is where wine pairing meets education. Oh, and if you visit during the holiday season you will be able to taste their mulled wine – this year they made it with white instead of red which I found to be pretty innovative.
KONZELMANN ESTATE WINERY
Authentic Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup ❄
I know that the wine is supposed to be the star of the show during these pairings but Konzelmann outdid themselves with an absolutely delicious soup this year. I should have asked for the recipe because I could do with a hot cup of it right now and in the cold Ontario winter days that I know are quickly approaching. The pairing also reminded me of how well Riesling pairs with Thai food and that many of my favourite wine pairings have actually come from the staff at Konzelmann like icewine with a drop of hot sauce and Sauv Blanc with Doritos Cool Ranch chips.
HINTERBROOK ESTATE WINERY
2014 Franc Blanc
Smoked Bacon and Potato Corn Chowder
I’m sad to say that by the time we made it to Hinterbrook they were all out of their smoked bacon and potato corn chowder. Thankfully they still had plenty Franc Blanc and our tasting glasses were treated generously in lieu of chowder. If you aren’t aware, Hinterbrook’s Franc Blanc is a national treasure as they are only one of three wineries in the world that make this wine. It’s incredibly unique and not easily describable but I always seem to catch a hint of licorice every time I take a sip. Because it’s so unique I love gifting this wine to friends and family.
PILLITTERI ESTATES WINERY
2012 Merlot ❄
Sweet Potato and Pork Sausage Ravioli in a Charred Corn Broth with Seedling Salad
Visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake isn’t complete (for me at least) without a visit to Pilliteri Estates. A few years ago, when I was a budding blogger and a fresh wine enthusiast they were one of the first to invite me into their winery to learn about their family, wines, take a tour, and taste their delicious product; they grew my love for Niagara and wine in leaps and bounds. Still, today, their wines are some of my favourite and their “wine family” of friendly staff keep me visiting again and again. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of their soup, their 2012 Merlot really surprised me! I really love a deep, smooth, spicy, complex red wine and usually go for a Syrah or talked-about meritage yet this Merlot grabbed me on my first sip! If it’s possible to take a “double-take” at a wine bottle that would be the proper way to describe my reaction to this wine. And, at $25/bottle I was perfectly happy to come home with this one as well.
Needless to say, after visiting 9 wineries in less than 6 hours we were feeling very happy and very ready to … go shopping! Yes, leave it to us women to build the new Niagara outlets into our schedule for the day. We also, around lunchtime, were sure to stop downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake to take a break, grab some snacks (and gelato) and hit the Christmas Store and Beau Chapeau (the greatest hat store I know).
You know, there is something to be said for taking time to unplug from our devices and to smell the roses (or turkey dinner) around us. Especially during this festive season, when our family and friends are at our fingertips, I think it’s an opportunity to raise our heads from our televisions, tablets, phones and laptops and raise a glass of wine to the beautiful relationships we share with those we love. Thank you to my dear friend Susan for sharing such a wonderful day with me and I hope that all of you take time this Christmas to unplug from the daily grind and open yourself up to tasting and toasting all of the beautiful things this season has to offer.