Views from the Ontario Vines

with Fred Couch

Taste the Season 2016

This year twenty-four Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries participated in Taste the Season.  At each winery participants received holiday-inspired wine and food pairings for a one price pass.  The pass could be used anytime over four weekends in November including Fridays.  This made in easy to spread the tastings over a few weekends rather than trying to visit all wineries in one weekend as with other winery pass events.

I have to admit I had a hard time trying to figure out how some of the winery pairings fitted the theme “holiday-inspired”.  I was not sure why tacos and burritos would have been chosen so I checked the internet to see if these were traditional Mexican Christmas dishes.  To my surprise, I found out that burritos are, in fact, served during the Christmas season in Mexico. 

I thought it would be interesting to see if any of the other pairings fit the theme in other countries.  For example, Two Sisters Vineyards served a rabbit ragù on a parmesan polenta square.  I found out that rabbit is a traditional Christmas dish in some regions in Italy.  Between the Lines Winery served rindergulasch, spätzle and rotkohl (beef goulash, buttery noodles and wine-braised red cabbage).  Rotkohl is traditionally served in Germany with a Christmas goose.  Between the Lines served the dish with their unoaked Red Barn Cabernet Franc.

Many countries serve turkey as the traditional holiday meal.  These include Lebanon, the Philippines, Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom and, of course, Canada and the United States.  To fit the theme, Strewn Winery served a seasonal sampler which included turkey & cranberry sausage, double-smoked cheddar cheese and a sweet potato & maple puree in a phyllo cup.  The matching wine was a 2013 Merlot.

The third course of a traditional Swedish Christmas often includes meatballs.  For its themed pairing, however, Palatine Hills Estate Winery served an Italian home-style cooked meatball and sea salt pizzelle (Italian waffle cookie) with Napolitana sauce and balsamic glaze. This was delicious served with the 2012 Cabernet/Merlot.  One of the advantages of visiting the wineries on a Friday is that sometimes the winemaker is there.  At Palatine Hills, the winemaker gave us a sample of the 2012 Meritage.  This was one of the best Bordeaux-style blends I’ve had from the 2012 vintage in Niagara.

“Three Stews All in a Row”.  That could have been the theme of our visit on the second Friday of our Taste the Season tour.  We started out a Niagara College Teaching Winery.  Their pairing was a red wine braised stew with the 2011 Dean’s List Meritage -  a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This would be perfect on a cold winter’s day sitting around the fire.  Unfortunately, the stew was served in a Dixie Cup which wasn’t conducive for a photo.

We then moved on to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.  The pairing was a harvest stew of Redcoat braised beef and seasonal Niagara vegetables topped with a flaky cheddar biscuit.  The accompanying wine was the 2014 Sand & Gravel Redcoat – 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot.  The stew was served piping hot and the wine was a perfect match.  This was my favourite pairing.

The third stew was at Between the Lines (see above).  I used a little writer’s license when I said “all in a row”.  Yes, the stews were all in a row but not the wineries.  In between, we went to Château des Charmes.  While they weren’t serving an actual stew, the pairing was a braised short rib Wellington with green peppercorn aioli (I have to admit that I passed on the aioli).  The wine was the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon – estate grown and bottled.

I was surprised that there were only two sweet pairings.  I would have thought that there would have been a lot of sweet dishes that would fit the theme.  For example, we once visited Flat Rock Cellars during the holiday season and they did a version of a mini Christmas pudding which was delicious.  However, only Reif Estate Winery and Lailey Winery chose to do a sweet.  Reif served a sugar plum Christmas cookie with a 2015 Baco Noir.  The red wine went surprisingly well with the sweetness of the cookie.

What to say about Lailey?  Since the new owner took over, we have always been disappointed with our visits there.  This year was no different.  They served a miniscule, overly spiced pumpkin cookie topped with a small amount of orange cream cheese frosting.  Didn’t someone tell them that the theme wasn’t Halloween?  The matching wine was interesting – a “dry” late harvest Riesling from the 2013 vintage.  I’m so used to a sweeter late harvest wine from Ontario that this wasn’t my favourite and it did not go well with the sweet cookie.

There were a number of soups and chowders served this year.  I don’t eat seafood so I had to pass on the dishes at the following wineries:  Inniskillin Wines – East Coast clam chowder served with their Vidal Icewine and Riverview Cellars – Creamy broccoli seafood soup matched with the 2013 Reserve Gewürztraminer.

Of the other soups, I really enjoyed the buttery, sweet, roasted carrot soup topped with fresh coriander at the newly opened Hare Wine Co.  The matching wine was the 2014 Crown Land White – a blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Stratus Vineyards pairing was Pâté de Campagne with green peppercorn and blackberries from Whitty Farms.  The wine was the 2013 “Kabang Red” – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Syrah.
I tried to find out if pâté de campagne was a traditional seasonal dish in France but, surprisingly, there were many stores in the UK selling this as an appetizer before Christmas dinner!

Overall, this year’s Taste the Season was a success.  We look forward to next year’s event.

For information about next year's Taste the Season and other events put on by the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, check out the website at


Photos by © F.G. Couch            

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- photos by Fred Couch additional photos


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