Friday, November 28, 2008

Report from ... Niagara-on-the-Lake Taste the Season - November 22-23, 2008

This year my foodie (Erica) and I decided to visit ALL the wineries taking part in Taste the Season (17 in total) to better judge the event’s offerings. Usually we pick and choose, or miss a couple of wineries along the way, but this year there was going to be no excuses, ALL had to be visited … each wine tasted … each food tried – no matter whether you liked it or not (which meant my mushroom-phobia had to be put on hold for two days). The debating came afterward as we made our lists and inevitably chose our winners. Below, this is how we saw it:

Best Food and Wine Pairing …

Lailey … Turkey en Croute with Spiced Cranberry Compote – paired with 2006 Pinot Noir (Niagara Peninsula). The folks at Lailey managed to encompass an entire turkey dinner in one mouthful. It tasted exactly like turkey dinner with all the fixin’s, including the cranberry sauce and stuffing … and the beat turkey pairing wine washed it all down. Delicious. Normally, I would have taken off points for trying to slip in a mushroom unannounced, but this was far to good for such pettiness.

Best Foods (Top 3 ) …

Number 3 … Coyote’s Run – Smoked Duck Breast with Black Paw Vineyard Cabernet Jelly on Brioche. This was flavourful and light, a mix of sweet and savory, and the light pastry just added to its enjoyment. (As we later found out the pastry or lack thereof can make or break a dish).

Number 2 … Inniskillin – Holiday Scone with Dried Cranberries and White Chocolate. Originally there was suppose to be Niagara Gold cheese and Prosciuotto in this treat and no chocolate; but Inniskillin made a last minute change to the program because they weren’t happy with it (“The change was made to add the white chocolate topping [because] upon second tasting [the filling, when paired] with the wine appeared too salty.”). And good thing they did. It was like a thick Christmas cookie topped with chocolate icing – there was also hints of vanilla that added to its enjoyment.

Number 1 … Jackson-Triggs – Pulled Beef Brisket Crostini. J-T saw me coming with this one, my note was simple yet said it all, “mmmm”, nice sauce, tender beef, all soaked in Reserve Merlot and other herbs and spices. This truly was a meat lover’s paradise. One staff member told me that, “it’s so easy to make, but shhh, don’t tell anyone.” Well I am sure that nobody who tried this thought it was complicated so I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag on this one. It’s a simple fireside, crock-pot dish, and sometimes those are the best.

Bubbling Under … the debate continues … Erica and I debated about where to put Chateau des Charmes on the list. We both thought their Cassoulet Tart with beans, pork and duck was delicious, but it should have been served warm, not cold, and that’s what knocked it out of the top three, but it still deserved special mention in the Food category.

Best Wines (Top 3) … The foods and wines seem to overlap, sometimes the food enhanced the wine and sometimes they did not seem to go. You’ll notice that two of the wineries from the Best in Food category get mentioned herein … special mention once again goes to Chateau des Charmes for their 2006 Gewurztraminer; it was just that the following three shone just a little bit brighter on this day.

Number 3 … Inniskillin – 2007 Gamay Noir. This was all cherry in the glass – the cherry nose had lots of cherry backing on the palate … fruity, light, chillable, and very nice. Erica is not a red wine fan but she thought this one was delicious. If you have non-red drinkers in your clan this might be one that just might get them on-board.

Number 2 … Coyote’s Run – 2007 Cabernet. I had this a few months ago when it was just being released and it’s still a beauty in the bottle, and should be ageable for the next 5-8 years (minimum). Smoky, peppery and black fruit oriented, red drinkers should love this wine ... the number of bottles walking out the door on this Sunday afternoon is testament to that.

Number 1 … Palatine – 2007 Fume Blanc Proprietors Reserve. This little honey offered up a piece of summer during the coldness of winter. A nose that’s grassy, pear and grapefruit with the merest hint of peach; while the palate had pear, citrus and grassiness with some barrel elements showing through in the form of spice and smoke, but it was nothing to barrel you over with. In the end it was the smoothness on the palate, elegance in the glass and light refreshing nature of the wine that won us over. Too bad winter is coming cause this is one for poolside.

The Highs … The Lows … and the Somthings In-Between …

They can’t all be gems, so here is a list of the high points, the lowlights and the middling rangers.

Highs …

Marynissen – “great homemade fare”, “comfort food”, “something from grandma’s kitchen”, all terms we used to describe their Macaroni Casserole with Spiced Beef and Tomato Sauce; it warmed the belly and made you feel like going home and making yourself a pot. Another simplistic dish that worked.

Niagara College – talk about a cheesy treat: Goat Cheese Lollipop with Local Pear Chutney; the real star of this taste sensation was the chutney made from local sourced pears. This was an admirable gesture on the part of the College – with local area canning plants closing and farmers limited to where they could sell their produce the College made a conscience decision to help out as much as possible in their restaurant ... by buying as many pears as they could conceivably use.

Strewn – I liked the wine, Erica thought the food was good – and I even nibbled a corner. Neither one of us are mushroom fans (me less than her), but this mushroom based dish (Mushroom Terrine with Roasted Garlic and Herbs) was not overly “mushroomy”, in fact we found it quite pleasant … though I have to fully admit I did not finish mine – afterall it was still mushrooms.

Middlings …

Hillebrand and Konzelmann tied for top middling spot. I quite enjoyed the Fall Fruit Crumble with Chantilly Cream (Hillebrand), while Erica enjoyed the Cheese Quiche with Fresh Herbs Roulade complete with dill and butternut squash (Konzelmann). Though she expected more from Hillebrand – finding the Crumble to be standard fare; while I found the dill in the Roulade overpowered the taste profile of the Quiche – but then again according to some sources I have read, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, so I guess I was never meant to eat it in the first place.

Peller occupies our second place on the middling rungs because of their over-usage of their Ice Cuvee wine – the sparkler with a dosage of icewine. They parade this wine out at every event. Yes it’s good, but Peller makes other great stuff too, why not pour the Ice Cuvee Rosé for instance, now that’s new, unique and tasty. Otherwise the Cured Salmon seemed to match well with the bubbles.

Reif – we were all ready to enjoy the Lamb Fricassee with delicious smells emanating from the pot, but by the time we swallow the mini-tart that held the stew we had lost the meat flavour and were overwhelmed by the sweetness of the pastry. I rarely say this, but the tart should have been a little blander in nature so as to more fully enjoy the taste of the delicious fricassee. Erica was more put-off by the sweetness than I, but then again my sweet tooth is bigger.

Stonechurch – their smoked salmon roll had lots in it: avocado, asiago, alfalfa, artichoke, pine nuts, fish roe – I got it all, well the pine nuts and fish roe anyway, Erica got none of what was promised (except the smoked fish) – plus this roll needed something to rock upon like a cracker or a pastry. Big bonus points to Stonechurch here who finally went all VQA for the event. Hallelujah, praise the Lord.

And The Lows …

After Cattail wowed us during the Wine and Herb Festival in the Spring we were expecting much goodness to come from here; but instead, the Beet Cured Lake Trout proved to be a real let down. Their reasoning for sticking with it was the notion that they did not want to change what had already been printed in the guide, noble to say the least; but in this instance they should have taken a page out of Inniskillin’s book and switched it up a bit, sure you should stick with the trout, but doctor it a bit.

Pillitteri went the rather boring and bland route with a Chicken Terrine with Pear and Riesling Compote. The pairing did not work (even though it was Riesling wine matched with a Riesling based dish) and the chicken had little to no taste. Too bad, this winery usually delivers something of interest to the table; guess you can’t hit a homerun everytime.

Last year Joseph’s led the dessert pack with a cheesecake that was to die for and made you long for seconds (heck I know some folks who would have bought a second passport if it meant another piece); so this year the stakes were high, maybe a little too high; instead of a memorable follow-up to wow the crowd they paraded out a rubbery, barely choke-down-able quiche that left a bad taste in the mouth, no matter how much wine you drank to wash it down.

Finally, low man on this year’s totem pole is Sunnybrook with their Mayan Chocolate Walnuts – they sounded interesting on paper but in truth they offered very little in the was of appealing flavours, textures or enjoyment.

Despite the few lowlights the Taste the Season event remains one of the highlights of the holiday season and, for my money, one of the best event of the year. I have to tell you that I really look forward to touring the wineries every November to taste what is being offered and judging afterward (and during) is a lot of fun. Who knew that a pastry’s sweetness could be the catalyst for a 5-minute debate or that a simple apple and pear crumble could be wolfed down with gusto by one and shunned by another; that chocolate nuts would not be appealing or that a full turkey dinner could be achieved in a single bite. That is the beauty of the Taste the Season event and will continue to be for years to come. Save a weekend in November next year and we’ll see you on the trail.

1 comment:

Randy said...

I would love to hear your review of the event this year if you were there last weekend, we are headed there this weekend and I am struggling to figure out my game plan! How do you advise getting around to the various wineries in order to hit all 21? I want to drive bit don't know how much we will actually be consuming. I don't intend on spitting very much, ahem.... Anyhoo! Does the event include any sort of tasting or touring of the vineyards, or is it strictly the pairings? If it is just the pairings, is there enough time to add in separate tastings and still hit the majority of the vineyards? I would love to hear your insite on this so I can plan my trip with a little more knowledge. Thanks so much!