Thursday, January 31, 2008

Niagara Icewine Festival January 26 and 27, 2008

Rating the wineries ...
I toured around the Icewine Festival Wineries using the passports to get us a shared tasting at ten wineries – with 2 passports between us we are able to share in ten “pairing” (5 for each passport). The passport cost is $30.00, therefore break even value for passport holders is $6.00 (30 divided by five = $6.00) ... but if you were not a passport holder you had to pay $10.00 for each the tasting/pairing. Here is how my ten wineries stacked up, in reverse order from worst to first. Take note that I give two points just for pouring icewine - the rest is up to the thought and/or imagination the individual winery’s put into their pairing.

10) Inniskillin (0 / 10) - what a snafu of this was - Inniskillin is renovating their old tasting bar and so everything is being held in the new space. Wall-to-wall people, nobody directing traffic flow ... folks were lined up three deep at the tasting bar and ten deep at the icewine pairing station. The pairing sounded and looked delicious, but we never got close enough to try it. We waited ten minutes in line and got nowhere. Some, like ourselves, ended up walking out muttering to themselves what a nightmare this was ... considering that this was the second weekend of the festival you'd think somebody would've work this out better, like filtering people off to a back room. Inniskillin, a usual favorite, gets a big fat goose egg for laying their lack of organization and poor traffic management on the passport holding patrons. They pissed off a lot of people on this one. Inniskillin left us feeling like the bottles on the left, very cold.

9) Konzelmann (3 / 10) - resting on the laurels of their Canadian Wine Awards win for best Icewine (Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine), they poured this delicacy into a tiny edible dark chocolate cup, twice the size of a standard thimble ... the wine was delicious, but $10.00 for that, you've got to be kidding me .

8) 20 Bees (5 / 10) - the first time they've participated - the brochure made the pairing sound enticing "Icewine Stingers”, like some kind of cocktail - but in fact it was a pairing of various nibblies paired up with their red and white icewine: almonds, dried fruit, wild boar sausage, whipped cream cheese with sour cherry topping on a cracker. E for effort on this one, but a good first effort, so I’m willing to cut them some slack.

7) Rockway Glen (6 / 10) ... The icewine / icewine truffle combo is pretty standard fare, but Rockway took it one step further by paring their 2001 Select Late Harvest and their 2001 Icewine with a homemade truffle, which had the consistency of, and tasted like some of the best fudge I've ever had - yum.

6) Lakeview Cellars (7 / 10) ... innovation came in the form of a half cup of butternut squash soup paired with Gewurztraminer Icewine -not sure that the pairing worked but the soup was delicious.

5) Strewn (7.5 / 10) ... by all rights, and by my two point icewine pouring criteria I mentioned at the top of this article, Strewn should've picked up eight points -they poured four icewines: 2006 Riesling, 2003 Vidal, 2004 Cabernet Franc, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - of which the Franc won out with the Riesling a close second. But while the amount poured was substantial there was nothing to put in your mouth, other than the wine, a cracker, piece of bread or cube of cheese would've been welcome.

4) Jackson-Triggs (8 / 10) ... if you count everything to J-T was doing they’d have rated a ten out of ten, but in giving my score I could only consider the Discovery Passport pairing: Ermite blue cheese on a crostini topped with tomato jelly and an Icewine truffle, all paired up with their 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine - both good pairings and delightfully playful in the mouth. They also had a library tasting of their 1995 Vidal Icewine for an additional $5.00 ... a sizeable Smores snack and 2 icewines sampled for $10.00 ... and/or a platter of gourmet nibblies paired with either three Reds/whites /or Icewines for $15.00; you could have spend a good two hours wandering around and dropped $30.00 in samples and wine. Everything we tried was wonderful and those platters are available year round (some are standard while others are seasonal).

3) Coyote's Run (9 / 10) ... count on Coyote’s Run to give you something truly unique: crostini topped with Ermite blue cheese, black fig and drizzled with honey - sounds odd but tasted delicious, paired with their 2003 Icewine - sad part was two bites and it's gone.

2) Fielding Estate (9.5 / 10) ... in actual fact I have Fielding tied for first place, but when push came to shove, our winner won out for a reason. Fielding provided a choice of 2006 Riesling Icewine or 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon table wine (for those not into the sweet stuff) paired with the beef "stew" - but to me stew is thick and this was really more like a beef soup. But what made it worth its $9.50 was the bowlful of soup you received and the good-sized hunk of baguette they served with it … really this was more like a lunch than a sample.

1) Reif Estate (10 / 10) ... had you stopped by Reif for desert your day would've been complete. Two words describe their offering: decadent and delicious ... the Ermite blue cheese showed up again, but this time it was a fair-sized wedge served without any fixins’, and right alongside was a toonie-width, inch high wheel of blueberry cheesecake wrapped in a vanilla crumble - all paired with their 2006 Vidal icewine to; sure you had to line up for it – but the line moved quick and the two minute wait was worth it - heavenly.

Bottom line: Fielding for lunch, Reif for dessert, Coyote’s Run for snack, and J.T. for everything else.

Now, let's fix this passport program – article coming in the February 14th newsletter.

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