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“Taste the Season - 2014”

By F.G. Couch

In the past, this would have been called a "passport" event.  However, modern technology has caught up with this annual event in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Instead of a passport, you purchased a bar-coded ticket online.  As you visit the wineries, your ticket is scanned.  In most cases, this worked without a hitch, but, at some wineries the scanner did not work and the ticket number had to be put in manually.  So, I'm not sure if this was a time saver or not.  The other problem with this new approach was that the "ticket" didn't list the 26 participating wineries and their food and wine pairings.  The list, however, could be printed off from the website.

The advantage of this event over similar events in the Niagara region is that you are able to visit the 26 wineries over four weekends in November.  This means there's no rush to visit all the wineries in one weekend.  Another advantage is that the wine and food pairings are available on Fridays as well.  Friday is, usually, a much quieter day and gives you more time to speak with the staff and perhaps a winemaker.

Our tour of the participating wineries started out on a downside.  The event is advertised as "locally inspired VQA wine and food pairings".  However, at Small Talk Vineyards, instead of the 2013 Riesling as listed in the brochure, they served a mulled apple cider blended with Pinot Noir.  This was neither a wine nor VQA approved.  I'm not sure why they changed it up but I suspected that it was because the Riesling would not have paired well with the very spicy Dutch cookie.

The only other disappointment was at Joseph's Estate Wines.  The Nutella opera slice made by Willow Cakes and Pastries was delicious.  However, someone decided to pair this with a 2008 Gamay Rosé.  This wine was old and tired and was the only wine we could not drink.  A better match would have been a sweeter Late Harvest or even an Icewine. Most Rosé wines are not meant for ageing so I'm not sure why Joseph's would pour a six year old wine.

Fortunately, there were lots of great pairings to try.  Some of our favourites (in no particular order):

Konzelmann Estate Winery served a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon with a "Surf and Turf".  This consisted of Alberta braised beef in Yorkshire pudding topped with Atlantic lobster.  The Cabernet was a perfect match for the braised beef.

We were a little confused when we arrived at Riverview Cellars Estate Winery.  The original listing indicated that the food was to be a vegetable tart.  It seemed that offering was from a past event and hadn't been updated.  Anyway, we had a very delicious golden beet salad with a yogurt dill dressing topped with roasted hazelnuts.  This went perfectly with the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. 

Palatine Hills Estate Winery paired a 2012 Cabernet Merlot with a spiral of beef on infused quinoa with raspberry preserve and Merlot reduction.  The tart sweetness of the raspberry preserve didn't overwhelm the wine and it was a good combination.

We were quite surprised when we visited Hinterbrook Estate Winery this year.  In the past, we were always served such a small portion of food that it was very hard to determine whether the food was a good match with the wine.  However, this year (maybe because the winery is under new ownership), the portion was a decent size.  We were served a slow-cooked shredded steak on a fusilli compote with a 2011 Cabernet/Merlot. 

One of only a couple of sweet pairings was at Niagara College Teaching Winery.  This was a yummy spiced pumpkin cheesecake with a chocolate crust and ginger cream.  The 2012 Dean's List Prodigy Icewine went perfectly with the cheesecake.  When we arrived at the winery, there was quite a long lineup for the pairing.  However, while we were patiently waiting, we were served a sample of the 2012 "Balance White".  Time seems to go much quicker with a glass of wine in your hand - a nice touch.

We arrived a bit late at Between the Lines Winery and there wasn't much food left.  The server, however, managed to get enough food for the few of us stragglers.  The listing advertised that we would be getting a "venison" goulash.  We were told that they couldn't get the venison so they used beef for the goulash.  We weren't sure if they just ran out of venison or they decided to use beef from the outset.  Either way, we enjoyed the goulash with braised red cabbage with cherries and buttery spaetzle.  The wine to match this dish was a 2012 Lemberger. Between the Lines is the only winery in Niagara that produces wine from this grape.  It is also called Blaufränkisch in other parts of the world.

There was quite a lineup at Pondview Estate Winery but the wait was worth it.  We were served a delicious 5 bean chili with pulled pork and ground beef on a mini ciabatta bun.  The food was paired with the 2012 Bella Terra Cabernet Franc - a winning combination.

Although I don't usually eat chicken, the description of the food at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery sounded too good to pass up.  "Chicken and Biscuits" was served on the outside patio.  Even though it was cold outside, there were heaters on the patio and the food was served piping hot.  The dish consisted of farm chicken stew with foraged mushrooms, autumn vegetables and a puff pastry biscuit.  The accompanying wine was the 2012 Chardonnay.

The pairing at Inniskillin Wines seemed very strange - a 2012 Vidal Icewine with a caramelized onion tart with goat cheese and thyme.  However, this was, surprisingly, a very good match.

The Château des Charmes Brut sparkling wine was served with a brown butter roasted squash and Dijon mascarpone strudel.  The squash added a sweetness to the strudel which went very well with the Brut.

They say that presentation is everything and Coyote's Run Estate Winery had one of the best presentations.  The charcuterie sampler included cacciatore, soppressata, Genovese, parmesan and foccacia with a tomato basil chutney.  The matching wine was a 2012 Cabernet/Merlot.

At Stratus Vineyards we were able to try the 2011 "Kabang Red" wine.  This is an "explosive" blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  The food to go with this wine was very good tourtière prepared by Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine.

Another winery that always has a good food presentation is Strewn Winery.  The 2007 Riesling came with a seasonal trio of aged Ontario cheddar, harvest vegetable terrine and a fig, pear and orange compote on cured meat. 

Be sure to check the website for details of next year’s event.  You will not be disappointed.  For more details about other events in Niagara-on-the-Lake: Wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com/
Photos by © F.G. Couch


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