Monday, October 6, 2008

Report from ... Niagara Wine Festival - September 20-21, 2008

In the past I have a score the Niagara wine festival (and their other festivals: Icewine, New Vintage) passport / discovery program on a scale of one to ten, based primarily on the dollar value of what was being offered. Most wineries charge $10.00 without a passport and therefore it seemed logical to use that as a yard stick in the value ratings. With the passport last year you paid $30.00 for five experiences and thus the rating was graded at a break even point of $6.00 (the price you paid per experience if you obtained a passport – 30/5=6). This was changed to six experiences during the new vintage festival this past spring, thus changing the scoring and price paid per experience to $5.00 as the break even point ($30.00 divided by 6 experiences equals $5.00 per experience).

Before I get into who did what this year let me say that if you are not acquiring a passport and paying the $10+ at any more than one winery you really are wasting your hard earned cash - the passport is well worth the expense and offers good value if you are making a day or a weekend out of wine country during this event. Next, I must admit that I did not get to as many wineries as I have in the past, I visited about eight to ten wineries during my weekend excursion and found that each winery was delivering up the minimum requirement of $5.00 worth of value to their passport holders; therefore ranking wineries using my old scale seemed redundant, because all wineries would have been hovering at or above that $5.00 threshold. So this time I decided to rank on innovation and allure of what was being offered.

This year the theme seemed to be “grape stomps” (Flat Rock and Wayne Gretzky) and cheese offerings (Creekside, Fielding, Magnotta, Inniskillin) – all good things for sure and what they were offering equaled up to the prerequisite of $5.00; but they were far from innovative and unique. Special mention should go here to Chateau des Charmes who offered up tastings of their unique grape varieties (Aligote, Chardonnay Musque, Viognier and Gamay Noir Droit). I also noticed that Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries had a bit of an edge on over their elsewhere-in-Niagara counterparts - I chalk that up to their Wine and Herb and Taste the Season ventures, which get the winery's thinking outside the wine and cheese box. Wineries that showed real innovation and unique experience pairings were …

5 – Magnotta … for $5.00 you got 4 wines, 3 cheeses, 2 kinds of nuts along with cranberries and a slice of bread, yes there was cheese here , but the other accompaniments made it well worth it.

4 – Coyote’s Run ... the Coyote paired up with Treadwell’s Restaurant to bring you a pulled pork nibbly that, minus the cilantro, was a out of this world - on the other hand, I am a real slut for pulled pork.

3 – Konzelmann … who would have ever thought of pairing all-dressed potato chips, cheese popcorn and red nibs (licorice whips) with wine - the folks at Konzelmann pulled off this back-to-school-ode-to-university-students-special spectacularly.

2 – Peller … my mother once made a Mexican dish called Chocolate Chicken, after that I never wanted to see any kind of meat and chocolate in the same sentence again, let alone on plate - Peller changed all that with a delicious and delectable chocolate venison stew.

1 – Hillebrand … hands down, this year's winner was Hillebrand Winery who paired up and served three treats with three wines on a wooden barrel stave alfresco in their courtyard, all were inspired by the notion of the hundred-mile diet. The presentation was fabulous, the foods unique and the pairing just seemed to work, and even when they didn't the ambiance and food took over. Good job.

It's important to point out that this year's number one and number two positions have a winery restaurants, which gives them a slight advantage over their non-restaurant owning counterparts.

See you all on the trail at Icewine time … (January 16-25, 2009).

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