An event I giddily await is the annual Wine and Herb festival that takes place each May in Niagara on the lake. Thank goodness it’s FINALLY May! A group of 14 of us and the Little Monkey took our thirsty palates and hungry stomachs to visit 13 of the 28 wineries on feature this year for Wine and Herb. Each winery has paired a wine with an appetizer sized dish that highlights a single herb. Got it? Each winemaker chooses a wine they’d like to feature and works with either their in-house chef or one from another winery to highlight a herb that shows off the wine in the best light. Who wouldn’t love having a 2 oz glass of wine along side some food waiting for them at each place they head to? Given that we’d be drinking the ONLY option was to limo our way there. I’ve always prided myself in having great limo contacts and this time we had the pleasurable service of Olympic Limousine who chauffeured us from 9 a.m to 9 p.m. I highly recommend these guys but do keep in mind that most Toronto drivers aren’t too familiar with the Niagara region and rely on the GPS systems to find their way around. This means that on two occasions we ended up in the heart of city when the winery was just down the street from our starting point! DOH! Another issue we had was that while the vehicle was supposed to accommodate 14 passengers, it was a very tight squeeze and two people had to sit on the floor or on a lap. All that said, we’re definitely planning to head back to complete the rest of our wine passport and will be using these guys. The driver was courteous and humoured our group.
So a couple of you are wondering how the baby fit into all of this? We love taking her with us everywhere and luckily for us, our friends like having her around too. I was well prepared for the trip with three bottles (4 oz. each) of room temperature milk and another 4 bottles of cold and frozen milk in a cooler. I took them out about two hours before she’d need them so that they came up to room temperature. I also had three meals for her in the cooler, mashed sweet potatoes, pears and avocado were great options for the day. Between the wineries we’d feed her and that way there was no delays. Time was of the essence as we wanted to hit as many wineries as humanely possible. Change time was easy enough as there was plenty of room in the limo and once everyone piled out and was getting in line for their pairings, the Little Monkey was refreshed. Nap times? Why the friendly Bjorn was just perfect for chilling and exploring wines and for snoozing!
Here are the highlights from our first run :
Quite possibly my favourite combination! The 2009 Black Series Gewürztraminer was paired with a BBQed pizza. The pizza had dehydrated tomatoes that were baked overnight in the in-house oven and the saffron was featured in the aooli that was served on the side. The wine was light and refreshing and the fact that the pizza was slightly burnt and caramelized meant that it paired extremely well (the wine wasn’t overly sweet). We will be going back to pick up a few bottles of this Gewürztraminer as it was by far my favourite and being our first stop, I did not feel compelled to buy any at the time.
Chateau des Charmes
A very lemony scone was paired with the 2010 Generation Seven White. This wine was not new to me as it was featured at an outing a few months back. I must admit that wine was still very sharp and fresh, definitely one for summer lounging. The lemon verbena was the perfect compliment.
Colanerie Estate Winery
The Ice House Winery
Another first time visit! The 2006 Vintner’s Reserve icewine was paired with a cold arugula shell pasta salad. I like the fact that the icewine was paired with a starter or entree option versus a dessert which is the usual go to with ice wines. The ice wine was light (not syrupy as most icewines can be) and was not overly sweet. You could have a few glasses with this one (dangerous.. I know!). The winery is also known for their icewine slushies, definitely very interesting!
I’d like to first highlight that the lovely lady at Inniskillin gets the award for paying attention to us right from the start and giving us a thorough tasting. It wasn’t rushed or rehearsed and we truly appreciated that. The 2011 Core Series Pinot Noir Rose was sadly not to our liking. It had a very light but powerful nose and not much of a finish and while it did pair well with the salty pork and fennel potato soup, we would not be trying that wine again. It was fruity with rhubarb and strawberries on the nose but the finish left much to be desired. I think it would be awesome as a slushy though. I can see a pool party with this slushy on feature in the very near future! I must highlight that they won the best white wine award just the night before, for their icewine. HOLY! That’s one good icewine…I could drink it by the bottle. A must try if you ever get out there.
French Terragon seasoned the chicken salad which was buffered by a sweet potato bun. Sadly the 2011 unoaked Chardonnay was bland just like the sandwich. This was a total miss for me and I was disappointed because we absolutely love the setting at Lailey. Hosting us in a cellar makes it the best winery experience overall despite the fail on the pairing.
Marynissen Estate Winery
Two years ago we loved the 2007 Solstice but did not pick a bottle. Woah! Did we ever pine for that and luckily for us, they had a few of them still floating around. Love it! This year they rose to the occasion once again with their choice of food, a zesty sweet basil gazpacho which was paired with a 2009 Chardonnay. The ‘soup’ was crunchy and the perfect offering for us come mid afternoon. The white wine was refreshing but did not leave a lasting impression. Then again, after we found out that the 2007 Solstice was still around, we stopped listening about the current offering. The ladies here were very friendly and absolutely loved having the Little Monkey in for the visit! She might be featured on their facebook page so be on the watch out!
Niagara College Teaching Winery
Our desire to support this winery had us very excited for this visit. Personally I’ve loved their food and white wines and find the reds to be perfect for ageing. This year the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc had a great mouthfeel, just as if you’d squeezed a citrus fruit. The passion fruit aromas was well paired with the 5 spice pork and mango salsa on a crostini. This was our last stop for the day so we spent an hour exploring the wines (many of us picked up quite a few bottles here) and we also stopped by their brewery. We bought a fresh Butlers IPA growler and will most likely be back very soon for more.
Peller Estates Winery
A very pleasant surprise here was the Signature Series Ice Cuvee that was offered. We were not expecting a sparkling but that was great offering that surprisingly was paired with a beef and vegetable stew. Huh? Who’d have thought those pair well? The stew was mild in flavour which was a good thing because it helped bring out notes of papaya, apples and orange in the wine. This would be a great toasting wine when Champagne is not necessarily called for.
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery
We finally spied some desserts on feature! A citrus thyme lemon tart was paired with the 2009 Estate Riesling. The wine had notes of lemon and candy and you know I was all about the sweet and sour. I did however pick up a scent of gasoline. Not sure what that was about. This is another winery that we enjoy sampling and roaming around at, they always have some good reds on hand.
Reif Estate Winery
The 2009 Gamay Noir, one of the few reds on feature through out this year’s Wine and Herb, was quite on the sour side for my preference (especially after all the sweeter whites that we’ve been having). The herbs en Provence was featured in a sweet potato and goats cheese tart that was quite delicious. We love the ambience at this winery and each year we take our group photo by the barrels at the back. This year was no exception!
Riverview Cellars Estate Winery
We finally came by some warm food, a spicy Taco soup that was absolutely delicious. Oh and my favourite herb of all time… cilantro! This was paired with their 10th Anniversary 2010 Bianco which is a Riesling and Gewürztraminer blend. Super refreshing! There was definitely a hint of lemon on the palate that blended in quite smoothly with the food pairing. This was yet another winery where a couple bottles of white were purchased.
Our first stop for the day was at Stratus and they were the only winery to have both a red and a white on offer. The original pairing was their 2008 Wildass Red with a sage infused cheese and potato cake concoction. I must admit that it did not pair well with the red and I was left with a boxed mashed potato after taste. The wine on the otherhand was soft, with a good lingering finish. We were informed that the food paired better with the white and those who chose the white were well impressed and even said that this was their favourite pairing.
Our first visit for 2012 was immensely fun and we will be returning for the second round very soon. 2010 having been the perfect weather for cultivating some bold reds, I must admit that I was hoping to see a few of them on the offer. Unfortunately this was not the case. Most winemakers are still ageing their 2010 reds and in all honesty, I think some wineries have an overstock of 2009s that they’re trying to get rid of first. Stay tuned for part 2 in two weeks time!
Have you ventured out to Wine and Herb this year? What was your favourite?
P.S – You can read about Part 2 here.