Views from the Ontario Vines
with Fred Couch
“Wrapped up in the Valley”
There are two passport events going on in Niagara in November – “Wrapped up in the Valley” in the Twenty Valley/Niagara Escarpment area and “Taste the Season” in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Having participated in both, I have to admit that Wrapped Up was by far the better of these two pre-Christmas events. This year, with a couple of exceptions, the 25 participating wineries put a lot of thought into the food presentation and the matching wine.
For one price, participants could visit all of the wineries. Passes could be purchased for one of three weekends or another option was a pass for all three Sundays during the event. A reduced price is offered for the designated driver who wants to participate in the food pairing but not the wine. A “mocktail” or another non-alcoholic beverage was substituted for the wine. Each participant could collect a recipe card at each stop to create their own cookbook.
Best food presentations:
There were five wineries with restaurants participating this year. We expected the food presentation from these wineries would be the best and with one exception, our expectations were met. From left to right in the photo below:
Rockway Vineyards – Chef Olk provided the recipe for duck confit flatbread with caramelized pearl onions, fig jam and baby arugula. This was served with the 2013 Gewürztraminer.
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery –Roast butternut squash soup with duck confit and pumpkin seed oil by Chef Matt Hemmingsen. You can always rely on the Restaurant at Pen Ridge to provide a delicious tasting and this year it was a real winner. We enjoyed the soup which paired perfectly with their 2013 “Falcon’s Nest” Pinot Noir. I was wondering about the name and found that with each bottle sold until the end of the year, $1.00 will be donated to The Niagara Peninsula Hawkwatch.
Vineland Estates Winery – Southern fried chicken with buttermilk waffles and pickled Icewine cabbage by Chef Justin Downes. The matching wine was the 2015 “Castaway Rosé”.
The Good Earth Food and Wine Company (no photo) – Muffaletta with white balsamic pepperoncino jelly by Chef Therese DeGrace. I had to look up the definition of “muffaletta” and found that it’s a sandwich that originated with Italian immigrants in New Orleans. The Good Earth interpretation was made with a Calabrese loaf containing salami, ham, provolone cheese, roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, onions and black olives. This was delicious paired with the 2015 Gamay Noir. I found out afterwards that the muffaletta should have been on a bun but they had such a huge turnout on the day before that they ran out of buns. This is an indication of how popular this event has become.
We expected a much better presentation from the restaurant at Redstone Winery. This is a first class restaurant and could have done much better than to serve their braised chuck steak croquette on a paper napkin with no garnish. Fortunately, the 2013 Merlot/Syrah made up for lack of creativity with the food.
Other Delicious Pairings:
Henry of Pelham – Florentine Tomato and Bread Soup. This would be a perfect soup on a cold winter’s night. The finished soup was topped with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. The 2014 Baco Noir complemented the dark, jammy flavour of the wine.
Hernder Estate Wines – “Chili Chili Bang Bang!!” This chili was one of the biggest portions of food served at this event. It was piping hot, a touch of spice and delicious. Other customers were adding an extra splash of hot sauce to the chili but we liked it as served. The chili went well with the smokiness of the 2015 Baco Noir. Kudos to Chef Mick for this great recipe.
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery – Wrapped up in the Valley wouldn’t be the same without the delicious grilled cheese sandwiches served at Sue-Ann’s winery. This year’s version was made with jalapeño Havarti and roasted red peppers and topped with pineapple chutney. The accompanying wine was the 2015 “Loved by Lu” – a semi-dry Riesling with some beautiful tropical fruit aromatics that went well with the pineapple chutney.
Six wineries chose to do a sweet pairing this year. Our favourite was the Sourdough Apple Cake at De Sousa Wines. De La Terre Bakery provided the recipe for this very moist, tasty, cake loaded with apple slices. The cake was served with a 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine. As an added bonus we could also try a Reserve Tawny (a port-style wine). Both were a perfect match for the cake. As a side note – when the De Sousa family owned the winery, Mrs. De Sousa insisted that the fortified wine be called “PORT” in spite of International regulations. However, now that Diamond Estates owns the winery, I notice that they very prudently dropped the “port” name.
Other wineries that offered a sweet pairing are shown in the photo below from left to right:
Calamus Estate Winery – Double chocolate cherry brownie with sour cherry wine drizzle. Could it have been the cup of Cabernet added to the drizzle that made this brownie doubly delicious? In any case, it was doubly good paired with the 2014 Cabernet/Merlot.
Aure Wines have not been on a passport event for a couple of years so it was a surprise to see them back this year. The pairing was delightful – a melon basil sorbet with crystallized ginger pieces served with a sparkling white Gamay. The sorbet would have made a nice palate cleanser had this not been our first stop of the day. Serving it in a large O wine glass was a bit of overkill. A better choice would have been a smaller glass ramekin. Although not described on the recipe card, the green triangle was a sweet basil brittle – tasty but not so great for the teeth. I’ve never had a sparkling white Gamay so it was interesting to try it. It was quite refreshing and complemented the sorbet.
GreenLane Estate Winery – Vanilla scented crêpes with cardamom cream and caramelized Italian plums. The crêpe was very tasty but the cardamom came across a bit too strong so did not match very well with the 2013 Meritage that was served with it. The Niagara Cabernet Franc ice syrup that was drizzled on top had an interesting flavour but just too sweet to go with the red wine.
Two other wineries served a sweet dish to go with the wine pairing: Fielding Estate Winery – Apple, goat cheese & Honey Tart served with the 2015 Estate bottled Riesling. Rosewood Estates Winery – Savoury Lavender Brownie paired with the 2013 Merlot. Maybe it’s because I prefer a sweeter brownie but this offering was not as good as the brownie at Calamus Estate Winery but interesting to try.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of disappointments this year. Stoney Ridge Estate Winery did not put much thought into their food offering which was store-bought kettle corn mixed with various spices. Some passport holders said they liked it but it was not one of our favourites. The other disappointment was at Mike Weir Winery. We arrived at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon and they had already run out of food. We were looking forward to the Canadian tourtière but it was not to be. Instead they offered a sample of three wines of our choice. This was a nice touch but it would have been much better if they had suggested we return on another day for the food and wine pairing.
We really enjoyed this weekend of food and wine and we look forward to more events in the Twenty Valley.
- photos by Fred Couch additional photos