This was the second year of this event so I expected a lot more "sizzle" than last year. As usual, many wineries gave a lot of thought to the presentation of the food and wine pairing but some were just disappointing. This year the event was spread over five weekends in May (including Fridays) so there was ample time to visit all 25 participating wineries.
Best food presentation:
Peller Estates Winery served a delicious BBQ smoked beef brisket with roasted garlic & horseradish aioli on a grilled tortilla. The food was presented on a china plate and the matching wine was the 2012 Meritage - a perfect combination.
Most disappointing food presentation:
Jackson-Triggs usually does a good job with the food presentation at these kind of events so I'm not sure what happened this year. The food description sounded great and we were looking forward to trying the "miso-grilled Ontario beef ribs with scallion & ginger salsa". What we got was a very small piece of chewy meat served on a rather large styrofoam plate with no garnish on the plate. The wine, however, was very good.
Most "fun" experience:
Palatine Hills Estate Winery had the only sweet dish and went all out in setting up their Ice Cream Shoppe. The bacon on a maple ice-cream cone was my kind of dessert. Surprisingly, it went really well with the 2012 Riesling probably because there was enough residual sugar in the wine to match the sweetness of the ice-cream. Top marks for being innovative!
Most unpleasant experience:
Sometimes at these passport events it's hard to predict the number of people who will arrive at one time. Obviously Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery was not prepared for the rush of people when we got to the winery. The BBQ grilled chicken was not properly grilled and came off the barbecue still white. To make matters even worse, the 2013 Gewurztraminer was sitting in the sun and was served warm.
Best food and wine matching:
It's hard to pair a wine with asparagus. A wine that is oaky or too tannic just won't go. Two Sisters Vineyards (a newly opened winery in Niagara) made the right choice in choosing the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc to go with this charred asparagus salad with aged pecorino.
"Sip" but where's the "Sizzle"?
I'm not sure how a winery decides on what food to serve at one of these events but the description for Sip and Sizzle says, each winery will serve a "unique grilled food and VQA wine pairing". Lailey Vineyard served a leek soup shooter and Reif Estate Winery's dish was a tomato and melon gazpacho shooter topped with sheep's feta. To be fair, I think the tomatoes in the shooter might have been charred but it was not the exactly the "sizzle" I expected.
Most "unique" wine tasting:
Although the lamb meatballs in saffron-almond sauce at Southbrook Vineyards were delicious, the accompanying wine was the highlight of this tasting. Whimsy Anniversary is made from Chardonnay grapes harvested in 2001 and 2002 and slightly fortified with a neutral grain spirit. The wine was then kept in barrels for over six years, bottled in 2011and aged a further two years in the bottle before being released. This wine is similar to a Madeira or sherry. It was a very interesting tasting!
The best change:
Joseph's Estate Wines always had a reputation of serving and selling older vintages. I once asked a tasting room employee why. She told me that Joseph wouldn't put out the current vintages until all the older ones were sold! Whenever we attended a passport event, the wine was over-the-hill, the food was uninspiring and they were always burning a scented candle in the tasting room which overwhelmed the bouquet of the wine. Well, I'm happy to report that Joseph's has new owners and this year's experience was a complete turnaround. The wine served was a 2012 Cabernet Franc which went really well with a bison slider with aged cheddar and tomato on a homemade brioche bun. This was a wonderful tasting and no longer are they burning the scented candles. Top marks to Joseph's this year.
The best "sizzles":
Konzelmann Estate Winery served baby back ribs with Icewine and Forty Creek Whisky infused BBQ sauce accompanied by Niagara maple baked beans. The matching wine was their 2012 Merlot which paired perfectly with this barbequed treat.
Another great barbequed item was served at Coyote's Run Estate Winery. The Ontario peach wood-smoked pork skewer with a creamy yoghurt & cucumber dip was perfectly grilled and served outside in the winery's vineyard pavilion. There was plenty of tables so we could sit down with the food and enjoy it with the 2013 Five Mile White.
I would rate this event 4 1/2 stars out of 5. If all wineries had kept to the theme, I would have given the 2015 version of "Sip & Sizzle" top marks.
For information about next year's Sip & Sizzle and other events put on by the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, check out the website at http://wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com/.