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Views from the Ontario Vines

with Fred Couch

Sip & Sizzle

This year Sip & Sizzle replaces the former Wine & Herb passport event. Twenty-six Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries participated in this inaugural event. Passport holders could visit the wineries on Friday as well as on the weekend. Fridays are usually quieter and you have more opportunity to speak with the staff about the wine and food samplings. For the most part, the wineries followed the theme. There were a lot of "sizzles" and, unfortunately, a few "fizzles".

We had heard from someone who attended the preview tasting for this event that the food sample at Niagara College Teaching Winery was their favourite. We were looking forward to trying the balsamic marinated grilled asparagus wrapped with house-cured maple bacon. When we arrived at the tasting room, there was not a barbeque or grill in sight. What we were presented with was a plate of cold, limp asparagus wrapped in an undercooked, fatty piece of bacon. The 2009 Dean's List Pinot Noir that accompanied the asparagus was starting to show it's age. This was our least favourite pairing of the event.

Another disappointment was at Pillitteri Estates Winery. The grilled pineapple served with gelato was good but they matched it with the 2012 Pinot Grigio which did not have enough sweetness to go well with the gelato. It would have been perfect if they had paired the pineapple and gelato with a late harvest wine.

Joseph's Estate Wines served a surprisingly delicious 2009 Chenin Blanc with a "grilled" tomato and goat cheese tart. But, we suspect that the tomatoes didn't see too much of the grill the day we were there.

But enough of these slight glitches. Let's move on to some of the highlights.

 

When we arrived at Small Talk Vineyards (formerly Stonechurch), we could see the chef (middle photo) firing up the barbeque. Now this was more like what we expected. The passport description was "pizza on the grill - chef's choice". He served up a delicious ham hock, cheese and tomato pizza that was perfectly matched with the 2012 Faux Pas - a Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc blend. Five out of five sizzles for Small Talk!

Although it's been a cool Spring in Ontario so far, a few wineries were able to set up their tasting outside. At Ravine Vineyard (top left), tables and chairs were set up on the patio and we were able to get charcoal grilled lamb Spiedini (skewers) hot off the barbeque. This went perfectly with the 2011 "Sand and Gravel" Cabernet Franc.

If there was an award for the most generous portion, it would definitely go to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery (top right). The 12-hour smoked pulled pork on brioche could have been lunch rather than a tasting. If the brioche had been toasted, this dish would have been perfection. The 2012 Merlot was a great accompaniment to the pulled pork slider.

The next winery on our tour was Inniskillin (bottom left) and guess what they were serving? Yes, the food sample at Inniskillin was a pulled pork slider as well. While not as ample as Riverview, the chef stepped in up a notch by adding a smoked poblano (pepper) relish and black cumin slaw. The 2012 Niagara Estate Meritage went nicely with the pulled pork.

As we entered Konzelmann Estate Winery (bottom right), the grill was sizzling with Ontario venison & pancetta patties. Once grilled to perfection, they were made into a slider and finished with caramelized onions. With the 2012 Shiraz, this pairing was right up there on our list of favourites.

 

 

I always thought that the expression "shrimp on the barbie" was an Australian saying. I found out that this was made up by an advertising agency for the American market. Anyway, Diamond Estates (top left) put the shrimp on the barbie for this event, grilled it with pineapple and served it on a skewer with their 2013 "Fresh" Moscato. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we could eat and drink outside overlooking the vineyards at Diamond Estates.

Southbrook Vineyards (top right) were, also, able to hold the tasting outside on their patio. A very tasty piece of Cabernet Franc smoked flank steak was presented with grilled mushrooms and charred tomato vinaigrette. The wine to go with the steak was the 2012 "Triomphe" Cabernet Franc Rosé.

I previously mentioned Joseph's Estates Wines (bottom left photo) and Pillitteri Estates Winery (bottom right photo).

 

Between the Lines Winery (left) offered grilled pork encrusted with herbes de Provence on a crostini. The 2013 Rosé went really well with this dish.

As we were visiting the various wineries, one of the most talked about tastings was at Pondview Estate Winery (centre top). A freshly grilled chili spiced beef skewer was served on top of toasted quinoa, cilantro & sunflower seed salad with cranberry and buttermilk dressing. We couldn't decide which we liked best, the beef or the salad both were so good. The 2012 Cabernet Franc Rosé went well with both. We have to agree with those we met that this was one of the favourites.

Vignoble Rancourt Winery (centre bottom) grilled up a beef slider and topped it with red wine honey mustard and a fresh vegetable relish. The 2009 Noble Rouge, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot with hints of red berry fruits and pepper, was a good choice to go with the burger.

Palatine Hills Estate Winery (right) took a different approach with pulled pork. Instead of putting it on a bun as a couple of the wineries had done, they wrapped it in a tortilla with a garlic aioli. One of the benefits of visiting the wineries on a Friday, there's a chance that the winemaker will be around. We were lucky enough to meet up with winemaker, Jeff Innes, who led us through a few of his yet to be released wines including the 2012 Cabernet/Merlot, a delicious oak-aged Chardonnay and the 2013 version of the Gamay Noir Rosé. This was a nice bonus to the Sip & Sizzle event.

 

Strewn Winery (top left) always has a nice presentation. It's probably because there's a cooking school on site which focuses on the relationship between food and wine. This event was no exception. A trio of grilled vegetables was set up to try with the 2012 Gewürztraminer/Riesling and we could determine which we felt best went with food sample. The trio included a smoky chipotle sweet potato dip on a tortilla chip, blackened peppers and grilled Indian spiced cauliflower. Surprisingly, each went well with the wine but I have to admit that my favourite was the sweet potato dip which wasn't quite as spicy.

Hinterbrook Winery's (top right) sizzle was a smoked balsamic Mennonite Sausage topped with crisped parmesan asparagus spears. This food sample was prepared by OliV Tapas which operates an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop inside the winery's tasting room. The 2013 Rosé was a good choice for the different flavours of the food.

Coyote's Run Estate Winery (bottom) paired mesquite grilled chicken chipotle antojitos with an avocado drizzle with their 2012 Cabernet Merlot.

Cattail Creek Estate Winery (no photo) had a barbeque set up right outside the front door so we knew we were in for a freshly grilled treat. This was my wife's favourite - grilled apricots stuffed with marinated cheddar wrapped in bacon served with their delicious 2011 Estate Series Chardonnay M usqué . Fortunately, winery manager, Roselyn Dyck was in the tasting room the day we visited and was able to provide us with a recipe so we can try these delicious bites at home.

With just a few exceptions, all the wineries did a great job considering this was the inaugural Sip & Sizzle event. For information about next year's event and other events put on by the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, check out the website at wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com

 

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