Sunday, June 29, 2008

Report from ... New Vintages Passport Program and Grille – June 21-22, 2008

Time to tour around the wineries of Niagara again – this time it’s the New Vintages Festival – a festival devoted to what’s new in wine from Beamsville to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This time out the passport program’s winery experiences expanded from 5 to 6 – a mild seemingly mild improvement, but one that ratchets up the value, now each winery costs you $5 for the experience, if you have a passport (though it still costs you $10 individually), this makes the passport a better value and worth purchasing. Last time out (Icewine Festival 2008), 4 of the ten wineries visited delivered equal or less value for the cost of their ticket ($6), I ranked wineries on a 1-10 scale (6 being the break-even point). This time, because the wineries ended up on a relative equal scale for value – meaning I didn’t feel ripped off by anybody (remember $5 was the cut-off value); instead I am giving out some “Best” awards: Best Wine, Best Food, Best Pairing, Best Cheese, Best Wine Serving Only, Best Value … plus a few others.

Once again my foodie (Erica) accompanied me on the journey of a dozen wineries and together we went through the list of 30 participating wineries and picked out our preferred twelve – we tried for a m
ix of wineries we have gone to in the past and ones we have not been to in awhile. They were: Fielding, Legends, Magnotta, Creekside, Caroline Cellars, Coyote’s Run, Inniskillin, Palatine Hills, Peller, Pillitteri, Reif and Vineland.

And the winners are:

Best Wine – Pilliteri squeaked this one out with their 2007 Pinot Gris, beating the Inniskillin 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine based on it’s vibrant fruit and refreshing
palate – a perfect summer wine (full review will appear in an upcoming newsletter).

Best Food – Three wineries placed in this category with Palatine and Pillitteri taking second and third. But the best taste sensation of the day was Reif, who provided a
n array of sushi that was just oh-so good.

Best Pairing – This award takes into account the food and the wine and how it went together … Pillitteri served
both a red and white (see above) with a combination of shrimp and beef – tasty indeed. But the winner in this category are the folks at Palatine, who pulled off a salmon tartar with unoaked Chardonnay … we definitely wanted more.

Best Cheese
– Of the 12 wineries we chose 2 had cheese as their incentive to visit. Coyote’s Run was nice but Caroline Cellars had the addition of the Cheese Guy – Gurth Pretty – who knows his cheese like John Szabo knows his wine (if you don’t know John he is Canada’s only Master Sommelier). They paired a red (Merlot) and white (Sauvignon Blanc) with four different cheeses, selected by Gurth, and he was also there to explain them. Hands down presentation wins on this occasion.

Best Wine Serving Only – Again, of the 12 wineries 2 were just doing a flight of wines. Creekside took you through their new ’07 line-up, so far (Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Pinot Noir Rosé) along with two bonus wines: 07 Reserve Chardonnay and 2006 Broken Press Shiraz (or was that Reserve Shiraz – the pourer was not 100% sure). Vineland did their Riesling comparison – 4 Rieslings in different styles or from different vineyards. Hard to give an award here for best because of their uniqueness … so both wineries can share this one.

Best Value - This was an easy decision. While Legends could easily take the award for best spread with their dips and dunks and spreads, Magnotta takes best value hands down – serving up 3 wines with three very different salads.

Best Homemade Effort – Can’t fail to mention Fielding here, who strong-armed an employee into making some of the best “Savoury Cookies” I have ever tasted – you could keep the strawberry accompaniment and just pass over those cookies. Yum.

Finally, the Trying to Hard Award goes to Peller – who paired up their Ice Cuvee Rosé sparkling and Meritage Private Reserve Rosé with a stuffed button mushroom and marinated quail … it was just a disappointing and sorry sight to see on the plate – all we ended up doing is feeling sorry for the little birdie – and neither one of us is anywhere close to a vegetarian.

The Grille – Saturday June 21, 2008 – Niagara College

This year’s Grilles was once again held at Niagara College but in a different configuration than last year; partly due to the threat of inclement weather. Last year it was a multi-tented affair with the main stage set up in the open air on the lawn. This year, with Anna Olson taping for her Food Network show “Fresh” and rain forecasted, much of the event was held in the College hallway and greenhouses, with tents attached for extra space.

As it turned out the rains did not come, and the biggest complaint of the evening was “after awhile those greenhouses get hot”, so much so that people had to step outside to cool down (it was still about 20 degrees outside in the evening). Seems like a minor problem to have. But greenhouses are suppose to be hot, that’s why they are also known as “Hot Houses”, and with people having to move outside, that meant that there was never too big a throng milling about inside. That kind of flow allowed people to move through the areas easily, get their wine and food and move on.

I would personally like to see them move this event around to a different winery every year, like they do in the Lake Erie North Shore with their New Vintages Festival (August 10 at Mastronardi Winery), that way not only do we get a change of venue each year, but a different winery gets to sell their wines to the masses assembled – due to our arcane wine laws only the host winery can sell their wares (don’t ask).

Some Wines of Notes at the Grille:

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