Friday, November 20, 2009

Report from ... Taste the Season 2009, Niagara-on-the-Lake – November 14 & 15, 2009

This year’s Taste the Season event in Niagara-on-the-Lake was like all the others: each winery puts forth a food and wine pairing for passport holders; its’a winning formula that has been working for years, so why screw with it. Taste the Season is by far my favourite event, matched only by the Wine & Herb Festival and, the more recently introduced, Days of Wine & Chocolate, also events staged by the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The wineries within this union now number 21, so there is plenty to keep you busy and an event like this, to be done right, must be spread out over the entire weekend; so I would suggest booking some accommodations. But if you only have one day to take in the wines and foods here is my guide of where you should go and who you can skip – this year, next year, next event, it’s a whole new ballgame.

The Best Pairings …

Taste the Season is all about the wine and food pairing, some wineries brought out some great wines to showcase, others had wonderful food to pair them with, but the winners here were the wineries who’s pairing was more than the sum of its parts:

The Top 3 Pairings Not to Miss …
Palatine Hills Estate Winery took two seemingly incongruous things and made them work, pairing a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine with either a pork or veggie spring roll (it was your choice) topped with plum sauce. Not sure how this one worked together, or who in the organization came up with the idea, but together these two worked wonderfully together; the wine made the pork pop and the veggie zing – proves that thinking outside the box pays off (but not all the time – you’ll see what I mean, keep reading).

Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery; picture a hunk of what they are calling “Decadent Chocolate Brownie” served next to an Iced Cherry wine. Apart these two are just okay, but together they worked quite the surprise effect in the mouth. The wine brought out the chocolate, making it taste more decadent than it was on it’s own … these two need each other, otherwise it’s just not the same experience.

Cattail Creek Estate Winery; after a messy fish dish at the last event Cattail was determined to “redeem itself”, remarked Roselyn (owner). This time they had sausages infused with their new 2008 Gamay Noir, they served it up on a thin slice of special grape skin baguette topped with sautéed wild mushrooms … now the world knows I am not a mushroom fan, so I had to rely on my counterpart and traveling partner Erica on this one. She reported that the combination really brought out the earthiness in the ‘shrooms (I’m told that’s a good thing). I could tell she liked it cause her eyes popped open. They paired it with the most obvious of wines here, the 2008 Gamay Noir.

Other Don’t Miss Wineries (for their food especially) …

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, a winery known for pulling out all the stops when it comes to their food and wine pairings. They paired a 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay with a sweet roasted pepper, charizo sausage and lobster ragu … nice combianation that was surprising how well it went together. But the ragu was the most memorable … gotta get me that recipe.

Jackson-Triggs paired a 2007 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon with a delicious Cabernet-Braised Pork Belly Casoulet; Erica said that had they served this with a slice of bread it would have garnered five stars (out of five), but instead she coughed up a rare 4½ star rating, they also provided the recipe. I was impressed with the wine, whilst the $12.75 price tag made it a real bargain (look for my review in an upcoming newsletter). The only drawback here was the surly nature of the staff, nobody seemed to be having a good time. Hope you have better luck when you visit.

Pillitteri Estates Winery: presentation was everything here, a hearty beef stew served in a puff pastry shell, or mini-bowl would have been more like it (“vol au vent”) paired up with a 2007 Cabernet Franc. The smell wafting from the room upstairs (where the tasting took place) was enough to make your tummy gurgle with happiness, the taste did the same thing … the wine also delivered.

More Pairings, in Short …
Chateau des Charmes: 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, PEI lobster and Cognac Bisque with a Shot of Crème Fraiche … served in a shot glass this is a one gulp soup, otherwise the crème fraiche makes the soup taste cold; drink as you would any bar shot. Score: 8 out of 10

Reif Estate Winery: 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve paired with a medley of appetizers including Granello cheese, Bresola (cured beef) and dried Niagara tomatoes ... None of the foods truly meshed with the wine, but the antipastos were yummy on their own and so was the wine. Score 8 out of 10.

Lailey Vineyard: The 4 white grape blend 2008 Counterpoint paired with a Chevre and smoked trout pinwheel ... I think the flavours speak for themselves here – in both the wine and the food. Score 7.5 out of 10.

Hillebrand Winery: 2006 Trius Red paired with Trius Pot Pie … Presentation was cute and the pie was quite tasty, but they substituted the lighter bodied 2006 version of the Trius Red in place of the heartier (and advertised) 2007 version … the pie needed something more substantial to make it pop. If you go insist on the more robust 2007 Trius Red and you’ll find it a better combination. Score 7.5 out of 10.

The Group of Seven …
These wineries all get a passing grade of 7, the pairing was good, the wine was good, nothing earth shattering or mind blowing here but you will not be disappointed if you go.

Konzelmann Estate Winery: 2007 Sparkling Riesling paired with a salmon-zucchini twist crowned with ‘Bleu Turtle Salsa” and chive cream cheese on Artisan Corn Bread.
Comment – Corn cake was too dominant which took away from the lively, fresh topping … less corn cake and you have a winner here. Good news, no turtles were harmed in the making of the salsa.

Niagara College Teaching Winery: 2006 Shiraz paired with black currant, pepper and venison medley along with artisan bread.
Comment – This is a stew, a tasty stew, but it needed something to jazz it up.

Southbrook Vineyards: 2008 Triomphe Merlot paired with Mini Beef Burger Sliders.
Comment – The burger was cold and there was little hint of the advertised “apple chutney topping”, the bun proved to be a little gritty; but overall good a effort that’s very fixable … heat up the burger and you’ve got yourself a winner here.

Strewn: 2008 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon paired with creamy mushroom medley in Puff Pastry.
Comment – There was a lack of presentation here, it was a bowl of mushrooms with a triangle shaped puff pastry – the pastry was in the mushrooms not the other way around. If you like mushrooms you’ll like this.

A Couple of Quick Stops …
If you have the time to experience Stonechurch and Maleta swing by. Maleta has a nice Icewine Sponge Cake, made by assistant winemaker Mike Komar’s mother, paired with a Sparkling Old Vines Riesling (they poured the 2006, though advertised the 2007*). Stonechurch is serving up a 2007 Merlot with “Shrimp Cocktail” not exactly a typical presentation of this appetizer classic (shrimp with a smidge of cocktail sauce on a cream cheese slathered piece of bread, with cocktail sauce in the cream cheese) … both of these pairings are a quick in and out nibbly.

An Unfortunate Special Mention …
Due to a family emergency Marynissen was unable to present their advertised pairing this weekend, instead they substituted their Tapanade … reports say the Satay Beef skewer is amazing (the usual); but the Tapanade did nothing to enhance the wine or the reputation of the winery. Many folks I spoke with on the tour described it as possibly the worst pairing have had all day. I’ll leave this one open to those who tried it and give Marynissen a pass. Next weekend should be better.

Bottom of the "barrel" - so to speak …
These four wineries did not add any thing special to the passport program, pairing-wise, and can be avoided if you are on a tight one-day schedule, if you wanna have your own opinion please stop on by and let me know your thoughts. Presented here in reverse order.

#18 of 21 … Peller Estates: 2007 Private Reserve Chardonnay with St. Honore Cheese an Truffle Mushroom Tart.
Comment – The tart was cold, bland and rubbery … maybe warming it up a bit would help, maybe; this is surprising because Peller has a kitchen on-site..

#19 of 21 … Joseph’s Estate Winery: 2006 Gewurztraminer/Riesling with Almondine Tart and Poached Pear.
Comment – Loved the crunchiness of the tart but where was the pear flavour, two micro-thin slices of pear does not constitute pear flavour – usually Joseph’s does a lovely job when they have a dessert pairing … not this time.

#20 of 21 … Inniskillin: 2006 Olympic Vidal Icewine with French Onion Soup and Niagara Gold Crouton.
Comment – The usually reliable Inniskillin dropped the pot on this one. Remember I told you about the good part of thinking outside the box; well this is the other side of the coin on the passport program this year. It was a nice try to think outside the box here, but this time they didn’t quite hit the mark. Even after I tried to liven up the soup by splashing icewine into it it still didn’t awaken this bland, boring and uninspired combination.

#21 of 21 … The Disappointment of the Day:
Stratus: 2006 Wildass White with Sweet Potato Profiteroles.
Comment – Speaking of bland, boring and uninspired, this was a shocker … After such a brilliant beginning (ranking #1 at the Wine & Herb) we get to see how far the mighty have fallen, on the other hand, maybe it was beginners luck. The food had no taste, it was a sweet potato mousse served in a frozen éclair roll. There was no sweet potato flavour, and the pastry it was served in was also bland and tasteless; as the old saying goes: “two blands don’t make it right”; not even the wine could save this pairing. I chewed, swallowed and it was like I hadn’t put anything in my mouth. Stratus once again served their pairing outside, on the patio overlooking the vineyard, this time I suspect it was a way to distract you from what they were serving … and why would you highlight a wine line (Wildass) you can’t buy or try in the store? Sorry Charlie, J.L. and the rest of the Stratus team, this pairing was a real loser … let’s hope you make a come back at the next event.

*Daniel Pambianchi contacted me and said it was indeed the 2007 Sparkling as they have been sold out of the 2006 for some time - I have to admit I did not check the bottle and just took the employee's word for it being a 2006 vintage wine.

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