Friday, January 20, 2012

Report from ... Wrapped up in the Valley - November 2011

While I was out hob-nobbing with the wineries, winemakers and pairings of Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Taste the Season event back in November, the folks in the 20 Valley were putting on their own food and wine extravaganza ... Once again I turn to the intrepid photographer, wino, bon vivant and man of leisure Fred Couch to bring us up to speed on what happened this year during "Wrapped Up in the Valley"

"Wrapped Up in the Valley"
by F.G. Couch

Each November, there are two passport events in Niagara – “Taste the Season” in Niagara-on-the-Lake and “Wrapped up in the Valley” in the Twenty Valley area.  For one set price, passport holders could visit 23 wineries in the Twenty Valley.  (24 wineries were supposed to participate but before the event, we heard the news that Wayne Gretzky Winery was closing for good.  However, the brand will continue and the wine will now be made by Andrew Peller Limited).  A food and wine experience is offered at each winery.  The Grape Guy has already reviewed this year’s “Taste the Season” and he asked me to do a review of “Wrapped up in the Valley”.  Unfortunately, November is a very busy time with back-to back wine shows in Ottawa and Toronto so I was only able to attend the one passport event this year.  From all accounts both events were a great success and all events were sold out or close to being sold out.  If my sources are correct, “Wrapped-up” sold 500 tickets for each of three weekends – a record number!

As an added bonus, and for no additional charge, passport holders could visit The Watering Can Flower Market in Vineland to make their own holiday arrangement.  My wife and I made our way to Vineland early in the morning before the wineries opened.  I had no idea what I was doing but with the assistance of one of the Watering Can’s employees, managed to put something together that had some semblance of a plant arrangement!  We proudly put our arrangements in the car and headed for the first winery stop of the day.
Over the weekend, we were able to visit 20 of the 23 wineries.  We were joined by friends from Toronto and we all agreed this was a wonderful event and well worth the $35 (plus HST) passport price.  Most of the food and wine pairings were spot on and most wineries did a great job in presenting the visitor with a unique experience.  However, there were a few disappointments!  Every winery except one served the wine in a glass.  Cave Spring Cellars had plastic cups for their 2009 Chardonnay Estate.  When we commented on this, the server said that they were having a lot of tours, functions and a wedding that day and didn’t have enough glasses.  Well, I’m sorry, but the winery knew that they could possibly get 500 visitors for this event and should have made arrangements.  Even the smaller wineries were able to serve their wine in a proper glass.

The award for the smallest sample of food goes to Stoney Ridge Estates Winery.  The mushroom and goat cheese in puffed pastry was smaller than a quarter and it was gone before you had a chance to taste in properly let alone with the 2009 Excellence Pinot Noir!  Now, we weren’t expecting lunch at the wineries, but this serving was just ridiculous.  Another disappointment was at Tawse Winery.  The notes said that they were serving “locally grown grilled vegetable & goat cheese lasagna”.  I was looking forward to this, but, instead we received something indescribable on a cracker.  It sure didn’t look anything like lasagna.  I’m not sure what happened.  The redeeming feature was the wine – a 2009 Estate Chardonnay.

Enough of the negatives – ‘tis the season, etc., etc.  Some of the highlights were at wineries where thought was given to the food and wine pairing, the presentation was unique or the pairing was, shall we say, interesting!

Our first stop on the tour was 13th Street Winery.  A delightful pairing of the 2010 Red Palette with a Fall Mushroom Soup garnished with savory garlic & herb croutons was served. 

GreenLane Estate Winery served their 2010 Pinot Gris-Riesling with a Gourmet Mac & Cheese topped with smoked pulled pork, aged white cheddar, ricotta, sautéed asparagus and mushrooms.  This was served piping hot and an ample portion.  One of my favourites of the day!  Well done, GreenLane.

One of the most interesting pairings of the weekend was at Sue-Ann Staff’s Winery.  Sue-Ann’s mom was busy at the griddle, preparing a Quebec Swiss & mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich with a slice of Granny Smith apple in between and an onion marmalade on top.  This, of course, was paired with one of my favourite Sue-Ann wines, the 2008 semi-dry Riesling.  This was not your typical grilled cheese sandwich made with Kraft slices!

Two wineries served chili – Harbour Estates with their 2006 Petit Verdot, Malbec blend and Hidden Bench (owner, Harald’s secret recipe?) with their 2008 Terroir Cache Red Meritage. 

Special mention goes to Flat Rock Cellars – the 2008 Chardonnay was paired with a butternut squash & bacon soup topped with goat cheese; Megalomaniac 2008 Bravado Cabernet Sauvignon match with a country-style pate with homemade preserves (from August Restaurant in Beamsville); Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery – the 2009 Top Bench Red with a duck confit on cranberry focaccia with squash bruschetta – all delicious!

The event wouldn’t have been complete without some desserts and dessert wines.  Vineland Estates Winery paired their 2006 Vidal Icewine and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine with Blue Cheese – a wonderful pairing.  The Vidal Icewine had a rich, orange colour and I had to look at the bottle to make sure it was, in fact, the Vidal!

I’m not a big fan of mead (honey wine) but I am a fan of desserts.  Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery served the 2008 Mead Royale with a harvest honey cake covered in a “blanket of Mead Royale frosting”.  I could have easily been persuaded to have seconds it was so good.

Fielding Estate Winery was offering a choice of their 2010 Chardonnay or a 2009 Pinot Noir to go with an apple cider butter tart square from August Restaurant.  We asked for a sample of each so we could decide which wine went best with the square.  The unanimous decision was that the Pinot Noir was the best match.  Unfortunately, the dessert was too sweet for the Chardonnay.  A better match would have been a late harvest or an Icewine.

And so ends our tour of the “Wrapped up in the Valley” participating wineries.  But, all was not over.  Passport holders could pick up a box of 12 chocolate truffles prepared by “Toute Sweet” in Jordan.  Each truffle contains a different wine.  What a nice bonus to end a wonderful weekend and, hopefully, we can keep them long enough to share with our guests over the holidays.

A sampling of some of the truffles prepared by “Toute Sweet”, Jordan

Passports sell out quickly so if you’re planning on attending next year, check out the websites early for both
“Taste the Season” – and
“Wrapped up in the Valley” –

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