On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from – Stoney Ridge Winemaker’s Dinner and Sneak Peak 01/27/2007

08 Feb 2007
When I recommend going to an event it’s usually an annual affair, wine show or recurring seminar – rarely do I recommend a conceptual idea without being specific; but winemaker’s dinners are different.  Each dinner is unique and can never be duplicated for a number of reasons.  The food is never the same, the wine is never the same and the ambiance of the locale is never the same.  A winemaker’s dinner is a unique experience unto itself, which is why I whole-heartedly recommend you treat yourself to one at least once in your life.  I say that because I know if you go once you’re sure to go again.  What makes these dinners truly unique is the pairing of wine and food, something you might strive for at home and on occasion may get close to a good pairing.  At one of these dinners you have two professionals:  the winemaker, in the case of my dinner Liubomir Popovici, chief winemaker of Stoney Ridge, and Rob Trout, head chef of Peninsula Ridge … teaming up to bring you wine and food pairings that will not only compliment each other, but in most cases, blow you away as to how well it can be done.

Starting off with the hors d’oeuvres of pineapple ginger satay chicken and tomatoes & goat cheese tarts with basil while sipping on the first 2006 wine released in the marketplace by an Ontario winery … the 2006 Beamsville Bench Reserve Riesling – crisp acidity with white peach, hints of citrus and minerality on the nose, the sweetness level is a 2 and tastes like white peach with a touch of honey in the mouth.

We moved into the newly renovated barrel cellar for the first course of the evening, which saw the 10 year old 1997 Old Vines Reserve Chardonnay paired up with a pear and fennel soup with blue cheese and walnut oil drizzle – the combination was sublime; a sweetish soup paired with an older chardonnay that had apple, pear, almond, hazelnut and asparagus on the nose – following through with the same on the taste and a longggggg finish.  There are precious few of these bottles remaining – so if you’re a fan of older Chardonnay, now’s the time to be opening this one (or begging Stoney Ridge to sell you one).  The wine and soup paired like nothing I have had before, and worst of all, nobody would give me the recipe.

Moving onto the pork tenderloin with bacon mustard cream, which was served alongside the 2004 Reserve Merlot.  Now Ontario Merlots are a difficult pairing, especially when young – because Ontario Merlot takes a good 5 years to truly mature into a suitable drinking wine … but this one is coming around nicely – a spicy character with blue and black berries and some cassis, cedar and vanilla on the nose.  The taste was black raspberry, vanilla and a cedary finish.  The pairing worked …hats off to Liubomir for this risky move that paid off … or should I be thanking chef Rob Trout for the excellent food that probably would have gone well with an over-the-hill Pinot Grigio served in an old boot (thankfully we had the benefit of Stoney Ridge’s excellent wines served in etched stemware instead).

Ending our meal was the 2005 Igloo – a late harvest Cabernet Franc that has been barrel fermented and aged.  Candied strawberry nose with a little tartness on the taste; it went well with the Strawberry mousse in brandy snaps with strawberry and thyme compote.  Not an inventive or earth shattering pairing strawberry with strawberry, but sometimes simplicity makes sense, especially after the first two wines went so well – no sense risking the possibility of a busted dessert pairing.  Stoney Ridge, and Liubomir, proved once again the longevity of their wines and the knack they have for pairing them with good food.

Winemaker’s dinners are an experience, and when they work – like this one did – the food and wine pairings are ones you will talk about for a lifetime … that soup and Chard will always be at the top of my list.  Who do I have to bribe for the recipe and a bottle?

Special Sneak Peak …

Before dinner Liubomir took all in attendance down to the production area and gave us a sneak peak, or is that taste, of 4 soon-to-be-released (late February) 2005 line-up.

Starting with the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay … made with a shot of Chardonnay Musque for added complexity.  18 months in oak has treated this wine well with vanilla and pineapple on the nose along with other tropical fruit nuances … soft in the mouth, this wine really tastes wonderful now but has the potential to age a further 5-plus years.  If it has the legs of the 1997, in ten years dinner guests will be blown away by its majesty.  The medium-long finish really stays with you both in the mouth and in your memory.

Next up, the 2005 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir was truly something to experience.  Not often do you get this kind of deep colour in Pinot, but ruby red was the colour of the day for this one.  A red fruit nose and taste with hints of oak and dusty cocoa like tannins.  This is a limited soon-to-be-released wine that was made using one (yes I said ONE), French oak barrel – that’s it … we’re talking 25 cases of this superb wine is available … and the ageing potential on this one’ll be 10 years-plus easy, and considering the speed last year’s version sold out, you’d be wise to place your order for a bottle or two now.

The piece-de-résistance (my attempt at French on my Anglophone keyboard) will retail for around $39.95 but has a pre-released price of $34.95; so I would recommend you call or get yourself down to Stoney Ridge to order yours cause only 270 cases have been made of this precious liquid … I’m talking here about the Fox Vineyard 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc, c’est magnifique (more French).  I have long said Franc is Ontario’s grape and with an example like this I am proven right again.  The grapes came in at an unheard of 26 brix (incredible sugar levels for Ontario red grapes – we usually struggle for sugar levels and are lucky to see 22 or 23 – but 2005 is proving to be a very good year for red wine).  A dark fruit nose and chocolate taste all wrapped up in a dark fruit blanket … a sweet mid-palate, wonderfully smooth tannins and good acidity makes this a winner with a capital “W”.  Finish that off with a medium-long finale and 14% alcohol and you have another ten plus year wine to enjoy for years to come.  Serve it along side the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay at the 2017 dinner (may we all live long enough to enjoy it) … Yooza!  If I could afford it, I’d have a case upended in my cellar and make it a yearly ritual to open this one.

Stoney Ridge also made an ’05 icewine made of Franc, which was drinking like strawberry jam out of your glass – sweet, thick, very nice.  Franc icewine is truly one of my favourites.  Liubomir also let slip that a 2006 Chenin Blanc icewine is in store for next year’s release – should be very interesting.

This sneak peak was a wonderful addition to the night’s festivities and I highly recommend pre-ordering these highly anticipated and soon-to-be-quickly-sold-out wines.  Let me put it to you this way … last year the Pinot Noir sold out in 3 months and they had 10 times the amount they have this year.  Capisce?  And that 270 cases of Cabernet Franc won’t last long either … I can’t seem to praise that wine enough now, so imagine what I will be saying in ten years from now – wouldn’t you like to have a bottle on your shelf when that review comes out?

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