Views from the Ontario Vines
with Fred Couch
Days of Wine and Chocolate
Since two of my favourite things are wine and chocolate, the Days of Wine and Chocolate event in Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the events I look forward to each year. Twenty-three wineries participated this year. For one price, your could visit all the wineries over the course of four weekends (including Fridays) for a delicious food and wine pairing.
There was a nice variety of sweet and savoury treats this year. With only a couple of exceptions, most of the wineries put a lot of thought into the food and wine matching. We managed to visit all 23 wineries spread over two Fridays and one Sunday. We always hear stories about some people visiting all the wineries in one day and can't imagine how they're feeling at the end of the day not to mention the amount of alcohol they've consumed. It also doesn't give the participant time to speak with the staff (or winemaker) about the wines or the pairing.
Here is my "top ten" list in no particular order: “Days of Wine & Chocolate - 2016”
Peller Estates: What could be better than a chocolate brownie with a red wine to match? This was a quinoa flour peanut butter brownie with peanut butter mousse. The accompanying wine was the 2013 Cabernet Franc and went well with the richness of the not too sweet chocolate.
Vignoble Rancourt Winery: Besides wine and chocolate, I really like pulled pork so this combination at Rancourt was one of my favourites - cocoa infused pulled pork slider with a Merlot sauce and served with the 2012 Merlot.
Pillitteri Estates Winery: This was one of the most fun tastings. Each participant was give a bag with all the fixings to make their own S'mores. On each table was a small burner so you could toast the marshmallow. If you love S'mores, you would have really liked this pairing with the 2012 Merlot. "Can I please have s'more!"
Niagara College Teaching Winery: They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I think I better put this tasting into words. The food was described as "Chocolate Moose Dropping Beef Bites". Once you got past the thought of eating moose droppings, this was a delicious, though a bit overly spiced, chocolate-infused beef meat ball. It went really well with the 2011 Dean's List Meritage. One of the staff at Niagara College described to us how the "moose droppings" looked fresh from the kitchen. Well, you get the picture!
Two Sisters Vineyards: For me, Merlot and chocolate is a match made in heaven and this pairing was no exception. The 2010 Merlot was served with a flourless chocolate cake square topped with crusted pistachios and a poached "estate" cherry.
Strewn Winery: The food offered at Strewn sounded a bit strange - a sweet potato and black bean patty with arugula and chocolate jalapeño balsamic vinegar. However, it was quite tasty. The 2013 Cabernet Franc would have gone really well with the food but, to me, the balsamic vinegar was a bit sharp for the wine.
Château des Charmes: Popcorn & wine? Why not? Especially if it's this delicious 2012 Rosé Sparkling, méthode traditionelle. The popcorn was a Valhrona white chocolate-stained kettle corn and was a perfect match with the wine.
Inniskillin Wines: The food, a chicken mole quesadilla with habanero crème fraîche, would have been much more enjoyable if the tortilla had been a bit softer. I'm not sure if the tortillas were supposed to be crisp or they were sitting around too long. However, it was very tasty with the 2012 Cabernet Franc Sparkling Icewine. With a price tag of $120 for a 375ml bottle, it was a real treat to be able to sample this wine!
Trius Winery: This was another perfect wine and chocolate tasting. A double chocolate marshmallow cupcake was served with a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. After trying a number of chocolate and red wine pairings, I've come to the conclusion that the best match with a red wine is a dark chocolate that is not too sweet.
Riverview Cellars: For some reason, Riverview decided to change the food from a sweet to a savoury offering. The day we were there we were given a sundried tomato antipasto on a chocolate crostini with a balsamic chocolate drizzle. The accompanying wine was a delightful 2012 Pinot Noir. As I found with the tasting at Strewn, the balsamic vinegar was a little too sharp to go with the wine but otherwise a good match.
Unfortunately, there were a few not so pleasant experiences this year. One of the wineries served chocolate covered bacon which they called "pig candy". I've had very delicious chocolate covered bacon in the past and it was served crispy. This bacon was undercooked, soft and not very appetizing. The other problem with this winery was that there was no interaction between the customer and the staff member serving the wine and food pairing. He didn't describe the wine or the food. I wanted to try some of their other wines but there was no suggestion that we try another wine so we just left.
The 2014 Grand Reserve Chardonnay served at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery was very good on its own. However, it didn't go well with the white chocolate mousse with cinnamon-braised pineapple and ginger snaps. The mousse was fine on its own as well but the combination did not work. We think it was because the cinnamon and ginger just overpowered the wine.
There was another winery where we were completely ignored even though the winery was quiet on the Friday we visited. Someone finally came over and we told him we were doing the wine and chocolate event. He didn't seem to know much about what was going on and had to read the pairing from a card on the tasting bar. Again, no interaction between the customer and the staff member! If a winery is going to participate in these kind of events, their staff should be trained in customer relations, interact with people, tell them what other wines are available for purchase at the winery, etc.
In spite of these few exceptions, we had a great time on our visits and would definitely recommend the Days of Wine and Chocolate as one of the best events in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
For more information about the wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake and upcoming events, visit the website at wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com/.
Photos by © F.G. Couch co founder Ontario Wine Society
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