By F.G. Couch ©
The subtitle of this event could have been “The Sweet, the Savoury and the Unusual”. When this passport event started in 2009, one of the complaints was that there was just too much chocolate. Those who attended at the beginning will remember that each winery served a sweet chocolate with different flavourings to match the wine. By the time you did a few wineries, the chocolate only theme got a bit boring. One winery server told me that some people would save their chocolate for later and just drink the wine. That defeated the whole purpose of matching chocolate with wine. One of the well-known wine writers in Niagara has, for many years, suggested that maybe it would be better if the wineries mixed it up a bit but still keep the wine and chocolate theme. Last year was the start of the introduction of a savoury, chocolate-inspired treat to match with the wine. When I reviewed the Days of Wine and Chocolate last year a couple of wineries offered something savoury and this was a welcome change. Well, I was pleased to see that over one-third of the wineries kicked it up a notch this year.
Twenty-six wineries participated this year over four weekends. A purchased passport could be used anytime and as an added feature this year, passport holders could also visit the wineries on Friday as well. This was a great way to beat the weekend crowds and gave us more time to chat with winery staff or, in some cases, the winery owner. With few exceptions, this year's event was a great success.
As a rule of thumb, a wine should be sweeter than the dessert it accompanies. One exception to the rule would be to pair a sweet dessert with a sparkling wine. Four of our favourite pairings fit this rule perfectly. Our first stop, to pick up our passports, was Diamond Estates (top left) and what a start! They served a profiterole filled with berry chocolate mousse. This was paired with the Lakeview Cellars Orion fortified wine (port-style).
If there was an award for the most generous portion, it would have to go to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery (top right) . A good-sized portion of chocolate layer cake with granache went well with the 2012 Cabernet Franc Icewine. The cake was sweet, moist and delicious but didn't overpower the Icewine.
Inniskillin (bottom left) also decided to serve a 2012 Cabernet France Icewine to pair with a delicious white chocolate custard tart with poached rhubarb and cocoa nib. It was hard to choose a favourite from the selection of sweet offerings by the wineries but this combination was right up at the top of the list. Because it was topped with the poached rhubarb, the custard tart was not overly sweet. It was a perfect match with the Icewine.
Lailey Vineyard (bottom right) made the right decision to serve the 2012 Vidal Select Late Harvest with a lemon curd tart brushed with white chocolate. Because of the tartness of the lemon curd, the Late Harvest had just enough sweetness to make this a perfect pairing.
One of the pairings that received mixed reviews was at Trius Winery. Originally, milk chocolate hazelnut truffles were going to be served. For some reason, it was decided to substitute a milk chocolate hazelnut fudge lollipop with a 2012 Barrel Ferment Chardonnay. Although this was described as fudge, it was more of a caramel. The Chardonnay was great on its own but just didn't go with the fudge. This might have been better with the Trius Brut Rosé.
Another disappointment was at Between the Lines Winery. The dark chocolate bacon brownie had more of a dry cake consistency than what I would expect from a brownie. The bacon which was baked into the brownie had a stale taste. However, the 2012 Pinot Noir served with it was delicious.
Not to leave the sweet category on a “sour” note, there were a number of other interesting things to try:
Peller Estates Winery – Ice Cuvée Rosé with Valrhona dark chocolate truffles filled with a liquid red velvet cake.
Coyote's Run Estate Winery - 2012 Five Mile Red serve with dark chocolate bacon truffles rolled in pretzels.
Konzelmann Estate Winery – 2012 Pinot Noir with “hot smores” (oven baked crunchy graham crackers with creamy marshmallows and rich milk chocolate).
Southbrook Vineyards – Chocolate Framboise bread with pudding and Bioflavia. Framboise is a deep, rich raspberry wine and went really well with the bread pudding. Bioflavia is a powder made by Southbrook from organic grape skins. It has a high concentration of anti-oxidants and can be used in a smoothie or in baking. Since Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery wasn't on the passport event this year, Southbrook was the only winery serving a fruit wine.
Strewn Winery – 2010 Two Vines Cabernet-Merlot with a dark chocolate bark with a savoury cheese rosette.
One of the first chocolate-infused savoury dishes that we tried was at Niagara College Teaching Winery (top right) . A tasty chocolate-braised pulled pork shoulder on crunchy potato chips was paired with a 2010 Merlot. There was just a hint of chocolate in the pork so it was not overpowering. If there was one downside, it was that the food wasn't served with a fork. It was a bit messy eating the pulled pork. That aside, it was a delicious pairing.
Château des Charmes (top right) combined a 2010 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc with Cab Franc brined duck breast, creamed dark chocolate, blackberry gastrique on a peppercorn scone. The slightly sweet and sour of the food went really well with the wine.
Pondview Estate Winery (bottom left) also went for a sweet and sour flavour with a classic antipasto-style Italian eggplant “caponata” enhanced by unsweetened dark chocolate. This paired perfectly with black currant and bitter chocolate flavours of the 2011 Bella Terra Cabernet Sauvignon.
Reif Estate Winery (bottom right) kicked it up a notch with a Mayan chocolate chili served with a 2007 Merlot Reserve. I have to admit I found the chili just a bit too spicy for my taste but my wife loved it.
One other savoury dish that would have been outstanding if the portion hadn't been miniscule was at Hinterbrook Winery. Chocolate-glazed short ribs were matched with the 2011 “Deeply Red” which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Come on, Hinterbrook, would it cost that much more to serve a decent-sized portion of food to try with the wine?
When we first saw that Pillitteri Estates Winery (top left) was serving crisp prosciutto covered in chocolate and caramel, we thought this was not going to be a good experience. It sounded like a very strange combination. However, we were quite surprised. The sweetness of the chocolate and caramel was offset by the saltiness of the crisp prosciutto. The 23 Bubbles Sparkling Rosé (100% Pinot Noir) went really well with the sweet/salty combination.
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery (bottom left) got everyone's attention by serving an “All Day Breakfast”. This consisted of house-cured bacon, dark chocolate pancakes with Valrhona (cocoa) butter. But don't expect coffee with this all day breakfast. It was served with the J-T 2011 Reserve Merlot which was perfect with the pancakes.
The most unique and I have to say, most disappointing, was from Small Talk Vineyards (formerly Stonechurch Vineyards). It didn't seem that any thought was given into coming up with this offering. A very small and overly spicy piece of Chorizo sausage was served on a baked crostini with a chocolate drop on top. The 2010 “RSVP” Chardonnay-Riesling-Sauvignon Blanc blended wine did nothing to cool our mouths from the hot sausage. It was a good thing this was the last winery visit of the day because the taste lasted well into the evening
It wasn't part of the Days of Wine and Chocolate passport event but the Great Estates of Niagara (Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs) each had an extra feature for visitors to try. For only $10 (complimentary for their wine club members), you could try a cheese fondue at Jackson-Triggs or chocolate dumplings at Inniskillin. Freshly baked bread, prosciutto wrapped bread sticks and granny smith apples were provided to dip into the warm cheese fondue. The 2012 Chardonnay went perfectly with the creaminess of the cheese. At Inniskillin, they prepared chocolate dumplings filled with a pork mixture and soya sauce on the side. Surprisingly, a Cabernet Franc Icewine went really well with the dumplings.
All in all, we had a great time touring the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake and participating in the Days of Wine & Chocolate. For information on next year's event and other events held by the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake be sure to visit the website at wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com .
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Photos by © F.G. Couch