Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Taste the Season - Niagara-on-the-Lake ... November 24 - 25, 2007

Another ‘Taste the Season’ in Niagara-on-the-Lake has passed, successfully I might add. Another adventure in food and wine pairings that proved nobody does it better than the wineries of NOTL for a passport event. This year the price of the passport was a up $10 ($40 from $30) – but as it was explained to me, the wineries get a little of the proceeds of passport sales to off-set the cost of their pairing … and I for one had absolutely no problem with that because the foods being offered this year were a far cry from some the bread and wine pairings I saw during the last NOTL passport event. Of the 17 wineries on the program I visited 15 (missing only Marynissen and Strewn) … and either the food, the wine or both were not only of interest, but were delicious. Once again I present the Taste of the Season Awards – there are plenty of cheers and very few jeers this year:

Best Pairing …

There are thre
e winners in this category … Palatine Hills Estate Winery paired their 2006 Riesling Traminer ($19.00) with Haagen Daaz Mango Sorbet in a dark chocolate cup … the lemon and peach with a slightly sweet flavour (1) of the wine enhanced the sorbet (or vice versa) bringing out more of that peachiness on the tongue. Lailey Vineyard pulled out all the stops by presenting an Apricot Cheesecake paired with their 2006 Vidal Select Late Harvest ($19.95) … this delectable apricot topped cheesecake was brought in from a cafĂ© called The Pie Plate, located in Virgil. The apple, pear and floral notes on the nose were followed in the mouth by soft apple and a slight lemonyness, and a was-it-the-cake-or-was-it-the-wine apricot enhancement. The cheesecake neither overwhelmed not fought with the wine, in fact they both smoothly and seamlessly moved through your mouth – while your buds screamed for another taste long before you finished chewing and swallowing. Finally, Stonechurch went simple yet classy with their pairing: fruit and icewine. The write up in the passport read “Icewine Drizzled Berries and Cream” – but there was no cream and no drizzle; instead they presented their 2004 Vidal Icewine in a dark chocolate cup, a few raspberries and blueberries and a toothpick. The idea was to skewer your fruit and dip them into the icewine. While the blueberries got coated with the sweet wine, the raspberries proved themselves to be a little more fun for this dipping adventure. If you skewered them the right way they acted as a small cup, trapping a drop of icewine inside providing a sweet and sour effect in the mouth.

Best Wine (on its own) …
Plenty of good wine was poured on the weekend, some were over shadowed by their food items while others stood above them … this was the case with the following four wines, which add
ed little to the pairing but on their own were wonderful.

First place … NCT Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95) – a wine so nice I had to try it twice (once on Saturday and then again on Sunday) – before deciding to walk away with 2 bottles. The nose was spicy black pepper and red fruit, while the taste hung around on a lengthy finish all the while delivering pepper, strawberry and other red fruits onto the palate – I found this one to be elegant and very nice indeed … kudos to those who fashioned this one at the Teaching Winery.

Second place
Goes to Hillebrand … they brought out the old standby 2005 Trius Red ($19.95), which is truly wonderful. It’s a wine I have already reviewed and has been poured at at least one previous event; therefore I had to take points off. What I was really dying to taste was the 2005 Trius Cabernet Franc, which has yet to be released in the store, but I am told is amazing – and is the only single varietal Trius made in the short cropped ’05 season.

Third place … We have a tie, between a red and a white; one a little gimmicky, the other more straight forward in both labeling and presentation – both very tasty indeed. Capitalizing on the popularity o
f animals on the label, Konzelmann trotted out the 2006 Red Moose ($14.95) a Reserve Zweigelt. Raspberry and cranberry on the nose, while raspberry, strawberry and cherry dominate the palate. It’s a little tannic straight from the bottle, which is why Konzelmann staff decided to decant it to make it more palatably smooth and approachable now. This wine should do well in the cellar for another 3-4 years. A little more on the traditional side in their approach to labeling is Pillitteri, the closest thing they come to an animal is the cart which adorns their label – maybe one day they’ll put a horse on the label, thus putting the cart before the horse (sorry couldn’t resist). They served a fresh and fruity 2004 Unoaked Chardonnay ($14.00) – plenty of tree fruit in the mouth with a touch of citrus on the finish.

Best Dual Purpose Wine …
Sunnybrook Farm, though their pairing did not come off well, it is their Spiced Apple Wine ($17.30) that was a taste treat sensation. Made with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon this wine can be served hot or cold and is a great way to flavour not only your palate, but scent your house this season with festive and holiday aromas.

Best Food (on its own) …
Had you visited the following four places you could have had yourself a nice four-course meal. Their food outshone the wine; not saying the wine was bad, just not as memorable as the food they accompanied.
Starting at Inniskillin who served up a Cinnamon Scented Squash Soup (paired with the 2004 Montague Pinot Noir). The soup left a yummy warm sensation in the mouth and tummy – and the cinnamon didn’t only give off a scent but was part of the taste as well. Moving on to Jackson-Triggs, where they served your appetizer: Braised Beef Short Rib Stew (with 2005 J-T Proprietors’ Reserve Merlot) served in a tiny pastry boat, one bite and you were done, so getting the flavours of the pairing was hard, but it certainly was a tasty one bite. Your main was served at Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, where you got a snow cone container filled with Bison Steak Frites (along with 2006 Cabernet) – a small shaving of bison (steak) along with super thin potatoes (frites) … no way you could go back for seconds (pity), but it certainly was good. For dessert there was the mandatory stop at Joseph’s Estate Wines for the Peanut Butter Toblerone Cheesecake from Willow Pastries in Niagara-on-the-Lake (matched with a 2002 Cabernet Merlot, or more aptly stated, mismatched). … this treat was too good, and made in bite sized chunks especially for Joseph’s event. Between Joseph’s and Lailey, there was a rush on cheesecake this weekend in Niagara.

Disappointments …

I’m sad to say that the one that stands out most in this category is Peller Estates, serving up a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with a Smoked Salmon Swizzle. First, they milked another pairing out of their Ice Cuvee (icewine dosaged sparkling wine), which they seem to do at every event … and speaking of milk, the soup tasted milky and bland, while the Ice Cuvee seems to be losing its charm, especially when paired with such an uninspiring food/soup. The smoked salmon was wrapped around a homemade bread stick (swizzle), and one member of my party mentioned, “The best part of the visit was the bread stick”. Pretty much sums it up.

A Final Word …

I failed to mention Chateau des Charmes and Reif whose pairings were good but not award winning. This festival continues to improve each and every year, the wineries get more inventive with their pairings and they seem willing to top themselves year-in and year-out. This year there were more wineries I wanted to visit then ever before, because the food matches were interesting … in previous years I would have selected 7 or 8 wineries to visit, this year saw 15 get a check marks as a must try. And where I used to do the tour in a day, I found this year I required the full weekend to truly enjoy the event and the experience. Kudos to the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake for turning Taste the Season into the go to event of the season, they really are leading the charge for inventive and innovative events. Next up is their Wine and Herb Festival in the spring, here’s hoping they keep the momentum moving forward.

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