Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Report from ... The Pinot Affair - October 15-16, 2011

You'll have to excuse me for missing this event.  I hadn't been home for the past 6 weeks and the house just needed some attention ... inside and out .. and heck, I just needed some R & R on a weekend (feet up, glass of wine in the hand, a movie or two).  Thankfully the intrepid Fred Couch, who has passed a few of his musing about events along to me in the past, was nice enough to share his experience of the Pinot Affair held in Niagara October 15-16, 2011.

“The Pinot Affair”
By F.G. Couch

An inaugural event for the Niagara area this year called The Pinot Affair.  For one weekend in October, lovers of the Pinot Noir grape could visit eight wineries for a unique tasting experience.  Four wineries were located in the Beamsville Bench area (Hidden Bench, Malivoire, Rosewood and Tawse) and the other four in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Coyote’s Run, Le Clos Jordanne (at Jackson-Triggs Winery), Lailey Vineyards and Inniskillin).

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate on the weekend of the event and many of the wineries had to change from having the event in the vineyards to an indoor venue.  Everyone did an excellent job considering this last minute change and all of the wineries offered a unique experience.  Since Pinot Noir is such a food-friendly wine, all but one winery served their wines with food.

Our day started with a sit-down seminar at 10:00 am at Malivoire with winemaker, Shiraz Mottiar.  Shiraz poured barrel samples of the 2010 vintage and tried to demonstrate the difference between two vineyards (Estate & Mottiar) and two methods of fermenting the grapes – in older oak barrels and stainless steel.  We then had a chance to try our own hand at blending using the four different wines.  This was followed by sampling the finished wine from the 2009 vintage.

We then went on to Tawse Winery where we were able to try the 2010 Pinot directly from the barrel.  This was followed by a tasting of two of the 2009 vintage wines accompanied by delicious canapés provided by August Restaurant, Beamsville.

There was a bit of a mix-up with the reservation process at Rosewood Estate Winery so we had to postpone our visit until the next day.  This meant that we had to visit five wineries on Sunday – a really tough job but someone has to do it! [ed. note:  5 wineries?  A tough job?  Try doing 26 over the course of a weekend ... geesh, amateurs].  Our day finished with a great food and wine tasting at Hidden Bench.  This ranked as our favourite event of the day.  So good in fact, that when I went back the next day to take a photo for this article, gracious hosts, Retail Manager, Meg McGrath and owner, Harald Thiel, invited us to participate in the food and wine pairing again.  The food and wine was so good how could we say no?

The Hidden Bench offering (described below)

This delightful presentation at Hidden Bench included two Pinots – the 2009 estate-grown and the 2008 Locust Lane Vineyard.  The third glass contained möst, a partially fermented wine, traditionally served from pitchers with charcuterie, bratwurst and sausage plates.  So to uphold this tradition, Hidden Bench presented a very delicious food plate with sausage, an assortment of cheese and a spoon of Harald’s own beef bourguignon served with crusty bread.  This experience rated 5 out of 5 stars!

The next day we were able to return to Rosewood to participate in their event which included a demonstration of the “pump-over” process.  This process is used for large batches of wine instead of “punching down the cap” which brings the grape skins in contact with the juice to extract colour and tannins from the skins.  We then proceeded to the barrel cellar for a sit-down tasting of the 2007 Pinot which is now sold out at the winery, the 2009 Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve with natural fermentation.  After the tasting we were served charcuterie and cheeses from local suppliers.

After our second visit to Hidden Bench, we went on to our next reserved event for a tasting of Le Clos Jordanne wines at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery.  At a sit-down tasting we were told about the four distinct vineyards – Talon Ridge, La Petite Colline, Claystone Terrace and Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard.  The 2009 vintage from each vineyard was poured.  A “favourite” wine could not be selected by the group because they all were so different and all very good.  The wines actually changed in the glass after sitting for a time and they were much different with the accompanying food.

Jackson-Triggs doles out Le Clos Jordanne wines - "another 5 star experience"

The food presentation at Jackson-Triggs rated right up there with Hidden Bench.  This included a mushroom quiche, duck pâté, salmon tartare and two cheeses served with crusty bread.  We were then served a tasting of the 2008 Talon Ridge to compare with the 2009.  As if this wasn’t enough, we were then invited to the tasting room where we could try the 2007 La Petite and Talon Ridge Pinots.  This was another 5-star experience!

Feeling quite content, we moved on to Lailey Vineyard where winemaker, Derek Barnett, poured us the following Pinots from the excellent 2009 vintage – Niagara Peninsula (now, unfortunately, sold out), Canadian Oak, Brickyard (my personal favourite), Old Vines and Lot 48.  Knowing that our group appreciated really fine wines, Derek raided the library and treated us to a sample of the 2007 Old Vines Pinot.  The website said we would be given an opportunity to “punch down the cap” but because of the weather, I assume that plans had changed.  Besides, with all the wines consumed, I’m sure some of us might have fallen in the vat!  During the tasting we could help ourselves to the charcuterie and cheese selections offered.

Moving on to Inniskillin Winery just down the Niagara Parkway from Lailey, we were directed to the barrel cellar.  I have to admit this was the most disappointing event of the Pinot Affair.  I was surprised because their sister winery, Jackson-Triggs put on such a great tasting.  There was not a lot of room in the barrel cellar.  Four of us had to stand because there were only four seats available.  Only two wines were served – the 2009 and 2003 Pinots from the Montague Vineyard.  It was interesting to taste the difference six years of ageing made on the wine from the same vineyard.  The food was a pork rillette prepared by Estate Chef David Penny.  The presentation just did not compare with Jackson-Triggs or Hidden Bench.  I would give this 3 out of 5 stars.

Seeing is believing, the dirt at Coyote's Run

Our last stop of the weekend was Coyote’s Run Estate Winery in St. David’s.  This was supposed to be an outside event but the winery was able to set up a very informative experience inside one of their buildings.  In fact, it was very seasonal with straw on the floor and harvest displays.  We were led through the winemaking process by first trying the just-picked grapes and then the juice from the pressed grapes before fermentation.  Then we were told about the influence that “terroir” has on the wines including the soil from which the “Red Paw” and “Black Paw” is made.  We then could taste the finished Pinots with a selection of delicious canapés.  We then went into the tasting room where we could try the 2009 “Rare Vintage” Pinot.

What the Coyote served

With the success of this year’s event, I’m hoping this becomes an annual “Affair” and that a few more wineries that are producing excellent Pinots in Niagara come on board.  I would rate this inaugural event a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Congratulations to the organizers and participating wineries. Well done!