On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from - Taste the Season – Nov. 18, 2006

03 Jan 2007
Hitting 10 Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries in one day may seem like a lot, but in actual fact it’s probably just enough when it comes to this event. “Taste the Season” is not about drinking to excess, it’s about pairing food with wine and collecting recipes for those upcoming holiday get-togethers. Truthfully you probably could hit all 17 wineries on the passport program, but that would cause you to rush through the wineries and then tasting becomes more of a chore than an experience. 10 allows you a leisurely pace, if you start at about 11 in the morning; if you have time at the end you can throw in a few extra for good measure. Keep in mind that if you rush through and only do the tastings prescribed you might miss some excellent finds along the way. I hear you asking, Grape Guy what are you talking about? Let me highlight a few of the day’s pairings, wines and finds.

Best Food Pairings:

Hats off to Marynissen for pairing a lovely 2002 Cabernet Merlot alongside Pappardelle with Shredded Beef Brisket – seemed like a simple dish and those serving it had no trouble admitting it. “We wanted something you could make quickly and easily and not have to go and search out your ingredients.” Plus soaking the brisket in the paired wine was inspired marketing, because if you liked the recipe you were more apt to buy the wine.

Second place goes to Stonechurch pairing their newly released 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon with Beef Carpaccio Marinated in Cabernet Sauvignon on a Toasted Crostini … the two married well together – in the same way that the Marynissen did, because of the wine and food working harmoniously in the recipe and in the glass. I’m sad to say the Cab Sauv was of mostly foreign grapes … though truly delicious. Congrats to Terence van Rooyen for a wonderful wine – I look forward to seeing what he does with the domestic grapes.

Not so good Pairing – but thanks for the food:

This is a toss up between Hillebrand and Joseph’s Estate … both of them decided to go the sweet route with the food and dry route with the wine – with the potential disastrous results. Hillebrand had some wonderful Bittersweet Truffle Cups with Cinnamon, a taste sensation for the mouth, I could have gone back again and again to sample more – but the 2003 Trius Cabernet Franc (a good wine on it’s own); was no match for these fine desserts. On the other hand Joseph’s served an incredible Brie Baked Cheesecake with Cranberries (from Willow Bakery in NOTL) … the Cheesecake was lovely, sweet, soft and scrumptious – the Cabernet Franc did little to lift the flavours of the food. Though I am not knocking the wine, it too was quite nice on it’s own, but together they did not marry up well.

On the other Hand:

The only winery that did right by the sweet stuff was Lailey – pairing their 2005 Select Late Harvest Vidal with a wonderful Apple Strudel (from the Pie Plate in Virgil). Both complimenting the other in this harmonious marriage of taste and sinful pleasure – it is up to you to decide which is which.

Forget the Food – the wine stands alone:

At two wineries I can’t even tell you what the food was that they paired the wine with (thank goodness for the list) - that’s because the wine was a stand-alone sensation. Both Reif Estates and Jackson-Triggs paired their wines with a meat themed dish – Roasted Beef Tenderloin en Croute with Olive Tapenade and Prosciutto & Roasted Plum Panini respectively, but I remember not the taste of the food. Reif’s 2002 Meritage though I remember distinctly. A relatively balanced Meritage when it comes to grape distribution with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% each for the Merlot and Cab Franc. Time in the bottle has smoothed out this wine, but not to a point where it has lost all flavours – in fact it still could rest for a few more years and develop further complexity. There is some spice, vegetal notes and tannin that linger in the palate and don’t forget to pay close attention to the sweet cherry mid-palate. Delicious; definitely worthy of it’s $26.95 price tag.

Jackson-Triggs also served up a Meritage, their 2004 Proprietor’s Reserve, which is heavy on the Merlot side (45%) followed by Sauv (40%) and Franc (15%) … but it was the steal of the day at $13.99. Great black fruit and spice taste with a little bit of tannin – but it’s ready to drink right now. As was pointed out during the tasting: “this is a great every day wine, especially for the price.” No argument here.

We came for the food and wine pairing – but were thrilled with something else:

After the Meritage at Jackson-Triggs we were compelled to go downstairs and try a few more wines. The only 2002 they had left was a Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Merlot – which drank well now but has many good years left in it, $24.95. And their newly released VQA 2004 Shiraz (Ontario grown) – is wonderful taste-wise – the nose has yet to find it’s way but the taste is awesome. This coming from the winery who brought you the wine of the year with it’s B.C. Shiraz (VQA), keep your eye on what is coming from JT and Shiraz – they know something and we’ll all benefit.

Chateau des Charmes continues to put out some great wine – their 2002 Estate Bottled Cabernet Merlot is wonderful (look for a full review in an upcoming newsletter); and their Paul Bosc and St. David’s Bench 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon also continue to turn heads. The have unearthed a few more bottles of the St. David’s Bench version (they are in limited re-release on the shelf) – otherwise that wine is completely sold out – so call the winery if you are looking for that one. Their newly released 2005 Gamay Noir ($11.95) is also quite lovely – good fruit flavours that you’d expect from this Beaujolais grape with some slight heft and good tannins, even without benefit of oak ageing. Finally, the 2005 Estate Bottled Riesling is wonderful … a special review is on the website.

Reif also impressed with a 2004 Reserve Merlot ($23.95) that showed strong characteristics of Cabernet Franc, green pepper nose and taste, though a few hours of opening dissipated the powerful pepper on both the nose and taste to a dull roar. The mid-palate became sweet with hints of cherry and cloves … I think they have a winner with this one – though for the time being decanting is a must.

Pillitteri and icewine are becoming synonymous … their 2004 Sparkling Vidal ($60) comes in a half-sized “champagne” bottle and it tastes like icewine that tickles the tongue (with fizz) – and because of that it seems to dissipate the sweetness a little; which would seem hard to do with a wine that clocks in at 20 on the sweetness scale. Great golden colour, fine little bubbles, a light taste that lacks the kind of cloyingness you get from icewine and a great honey and apple finish. I am told that the Riesling version is even better – maybe next time.

Finally, Lailey Vineyard’s 2005 Riesling is wonderful, good apple and citrus. Winemaker Derek Barnett continues to impress with his dry Rieslings that will age a good 5 to 7 years. Though I tried one of his Southbroook 1994 Semi-Dry Rieslings (in 2006) and was blown away by its’ staying power – the fruit flavours were still there and so vibrant in the mouth, even a day after opening, and that 12 year old Riesling had no signs of going flabby any time soon. So I think Mr. Barnett may be a little conservative in his estimate for ageability.

Summing up the Season:

Well that does it again for another year at “Taste the Season” (which runs through to Nov. 25-26, tickets still available) – some great food, some great wine and a really fun day … if you don’t get a chance this year, take advantage of it next year, it really is worth the day – or the weekend if you want to do all the wineries. Thanks to the organizers and to Second Harvest, the charitable partner of this event, they help organize and sell the tickets and benefit from the wineries generosity. So if you’re not in it for the food and wine, remember it’s for a good cause – and that, if nothing else, will make you feel good about the day ... but I’ll bet the food and wine gets you too.

If you attended taste the season – and have a favourite food and wine pairing, a favourite wine, or just a really good story … let’s hear it. Log On … Log In … and Share.

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