Friday, January 18, 2013

Report from … Wrapped Up In the Valley – November 17, 2012

Recently I reviewed Niagara on the Lake’s November offering: Taste the Season – an event I have been going to for a number of years.  This year I was invited to do the round of the Twenty Valley “Wrapped Up” Tour, which features 24 wineries from Peninsula Ridge in the West to Henry of Pelham in the East.

Even before we began two things impressed me greatly: 1) There was a gift for all attendees – this year it was a box of shortbreads – this is something Niagara-on-the-Lake used to do, and when talking to long-time visitors of that event many still remember and miss their glass ornament (the usual gift) fondly.  2) Was an email on the Friday night before the tour began on Saturday informing all participants of any changes they might find along the way (ie: both Creekside and Good Earth had changed their wines due to dwindling supply and an update about road closures in the area).  This was very helpful to both the wineries and myself because I didn’t have to ask why a certain wine was not being poured and gave the winery an interesting talking point if it was brought up; plus, who wants to have their tasting-day interrupted by one of those guys holding a stop sign..  

We (my wife Erica and I) judged the pairing for the Valley the same way as we did the Niagara event: on a scale of 1-5, where one was poor and 5 was excellent.  We scanned the list of potential pairings and each chose our top 5 that we were most looking forward to – between the two of us 8 wineries made this list:  Angels Gate, John Howard – Megalomaniac, 13th Street, Cave Spring, Creekside, Flat Rock, Harbour Estates, Di Profio Wines and Sue-Ann Staff … these are the wineries we had the biggest Jones for, and thus had their bar raised even before we walked in the door – that’s the problem with high-hopes.

I would have to say that most wineries put on a really good pairing – of the 24 wineries participating 17 received a grade of 3 (average) or above.  But, if you were one of the prized-8 listed above you could not just be “average” you had to go beyond.

Words of Wisdom on the Peninsula Ridge Chalk Board
The Eight Wineries of Expectations …

Angels Gate Pulled Pork
Angels Gate – slow roasted pork slider with green pepper, onion and estate BBQ sauce … met our expectations with flying colours, and those colours included red and yellow peppers too. It just needed a little more BBQ flavour to put it over the top. (Rating: 4)

Megalomaniac – big mouth Merlot marinated pulled pork slider in mini-pita with fresh sprouts … I’m seeing a theme of pulled pork here, but I have high expectations for my pulled pork, this one met it but didn’t go over the top. (Rating: 4)

Flat Rock Cellars – caramelized onion tart with goats cheese … another fine bite here with a nice ratio of tart to filling to pastry. (Rating: 4)

13th Street's offering, pretty but ...
13th Street – Montreal smoked beef and caramelized onion, served with a mini Yorkshire pudding … odd bite served as one mouthful, but was it the texture or the taste that wasn’t quite right?  That’s a debate for another day. (Rating: 3)

Cave Spring Cellars – duck confit pot pie … once again the Cave goes for a tartlet stuffed with goodness, and unfortunately they didn’t hit the mark, though this was better than last time when the tart totally over-ran the filling flavor; they just need to tweak the ratio – talk to Flat Rock. (Rating: 3)

Di Profio Wines – pistachio crusted pork tenderloin with greens … had this not been on our top expectations list it would have rated higher I am sure, it was good it just lacked the wow factor we were looking for. (Rating: 3)

The Worst Bites of the Day …

Aure: Looks harmless but ... ick
Before we go on with some of the best pairings of the day and the rest of the Expected-8 (of which two have yet to make this page) I think I should tell you about the worst flavours of the day.  In Niagara only one winery made this list, here in the Valley two unfortunate wineries made this list, both got the same mark but one was worse than the other.  Starting with Vineland Estates, whose long-named concoction included a wild hibiscus flower in syrup, truffled popcorn and blueberries in peach syrup served over chevre … there was just too much going on here, too many flavours to try and process all at once and too many things for staff to remember (like I don’t remember getting any popcorn), it was like they said in the movie Amadeus, “Too many notes” – it just didn’t play like a symphony in the mouth, instead it was more like an ill-tuned guitar. (Rating: 1) … But as bad a flop as that was Aure Wines takes the cake for the absolute worst bite of the day: duck pate with pumpkin bread with cranberry jelly … nothing went right here, in fact we took one bite threw out the rest and wished we could scrape our tongues of the residual flavor left behind.  We wanted water but had none – and the wine just didn’t do the trick either.  Simply put, this was nasty.  I don’t want to belabor the point here but some food combinations should best remain in the thinkers head. (Rating: 1 – because that’s the lowest mark we could give).

The Sheep hard at work at Tawse
Great Bites of Note …

Wineries that made pretty exciting nibbles and earned a rating of 4 out of 5 were: Rosewood Estates (beef tagine with apricots and honey), Thirty Bench (mushroom soup with crème fraiche & foie gras crumb garnish) and Henry of Pelham (dried cranberry arrancini with allegretto cheese and smoked celery) – all touched our taste-buds with excellent flavours.
Sue-Ann Staff's welcoming committee (of one) ...

Exceeded Expectations (we’d go back again and again) ...

Starting with the last two on our expectations list:

Creekside's Stew - love the crumble
Creekside – Cabernet Sauvingon braised beef stew with autumn root veg topped with garlic herb crumble … an amazing well integrated stew that warmed us up on the cold day we visited, and that crumble also contained the wonderful un-advertised flavor of blue cheese; beef and a light touch of blue cheese, how in the world can that be bad?  (Rating: 5)

Sue-Ann Staff – zippy peach chutney summiring [sic] on an innovative grilled cheese sandwich … a very long winded description full of flowery language (ie: “summiring” – typo or special term), but in essence it was this ooey-gooey cheese sandwich I was looking for a few weeks back at Jackson-Triggs – this brought it to a whole new level with lots of cheese and an amazing taste.  Sue-Ann serves you at the dining room table, which also gives everything a very homey feel adding to the flavour. (Rating: 5)

Creekside's Newest Staff Member
Now for the wineries that we didn’t pick as potential favourite but over-delivered on their mini-bites of bliss …

Tawse: looks so simple ... but oh so tasty
Tawse – crispy duck roll with Niagara fruit and cayenne marmalade … Tawse redeems themselves from our last tasting adventure through the Valley with this delightful bite, it’s not what we expected from the description, here they under-promised and over delivered. (Rating: 4+)

Harbour Estates – slow roasted beef and sautéed mushrooms with a Cabernet-Merlot reduction … the Harbour does it again, serving up something we’d love to make at home, good thing they provided the recipe. (Rating: 4+)

The Good Earth Great Debate
The Good Earth – mini-choucroute garnie … “what the heck was this?” we wondered as we got to the winery, turns out it breaks down to being sausage and sauerkraut; a perfect smoky bite combination, especially to a girl her grew up on a farm with German grandparents, my wife was thrilled, it was the one place we split on, she gave it a whopping 5, I said it was worth a 4 … so we’ll split it down the middle at 4+ … “what was that honey? … sorry, yes dear, you are always right dear.”  (Rating: 5)

Overall a great day of touring and tasting and one that should be experienced year after year (because it’ll change year after year) … and the shortbread cookies to take home were a great reminder of the event – at least for the week they lasted in the house.

Other noteworthy foods ...

Thirty Bench makes a mean soup

Rosewood and their Beef Tagine with Apricots and Honey

Mountain Road has it all wrapped up ... in domestic grape leaves

Megalomaniac's hairy-ed pulled pork - those are sprouts I swear.

At Vineland the Hibiscus flower coloured the sparkling wine

Sue-Ann Staff's grilled cheese delight

"Ah Senor, sometimes the bull wins" ... the um, arrancini balls at Henry of Pelham

1 comment:

wino-fred said...

Comparing our two articles, I would say we both agree on the top pairings. I didn't write about the "bad" ones but, there again, we both agree.