So, what do to do for Katie's recent birthday?
I've had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time in Niagara Wine Country since last December but still felt there was much more to explore. So off we headed to the Oban Inn for a weekend of winery touring, spa treatments and relaxation.
Our visit coincided with the the Wine and Herb Festival which features touring 21 wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake where each visit featured a different herb-themed food pairing matched to one of the wineries VQA wines.
Nope. Didn't make it to all 21 but I think we did a respectable job by visiting 13 - one of which wasn't on the tour at all (more on that shortly.)
It was a really interesting experience to see how each of the wineries, from giants to mom & pop operations presented themselves and their products. Without exception the passion for the product came through loud and clear at the small wineries and indeed at one of the bigger operations as well. Chateau des Charmes, of all the 'big' shops clearly embraces the locavore spirit of Niagara and their pairing of the sprightly and refreshing Aligote (only winery in Canada to produce this excellent summer white) with a lemon basil infused cracker from Anna Olson topped with Anna's Aligote jelly. Bias alert - yes, Chateau des Charmes (www.chateaudescharmes.com) is a client but even still our experience was great.
From the Chateau it was off to Coyote's Run where the Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc was matched with a chive temptation. (www.coyotesrunwinery.com) Lot's of charm to this small operation and some lovely wines as well. Cattail Creek Estate Winery (www.cattailcreek.ca) treated us to their 2007 Off-Dry Riesling and somehow managed to make it work with their herb treat focused on cilantro (I don't much care for cilantro but they used just a fine wee touch to accent the shrimp). At Maleta Estate Winery (www.maletawinery.com) I enjoyed the 2007 VIEW Pinot Noir and while I know they were matched up with savoury I can't remember the appetizer. Their approach to branding their wines was kind of cool though with their porch sippers and thirst quenchers gathered up under the Grape Brain brand and the higher end products, including their Cuvee winner Brut, flying the View brand. Nice approach and a bit of a surprise from such a little place. Well worth a visit.
On the downside was one of the corporate giants of Niagara (yes, giant being a relative term...we're not talking WalMart here). Hillebrand (www.hillebrand.com) was heaving. While it sure seems to attract a lot of tourist traffic it was highly disappointing in that no one seemed to know where the wine and herb station was nor that the Festival was on. We finally discovered a lonely college student stuck off in a corner serving up the 2007 Artist Series "Limited Edition" Gewurztraminer with some parsley concoction. Well, guess Hillebrand can take the award for longest wine name on the tour and least interest shown in those of us on the Festival tour.
To be fair, they did do a slightly better job that Joseph's Estate Wines (www.josephsestatewines.com) where the purported offering of 2006 Chenin Blanc and a French sorrel treat was no where to be found. Guess being landed with sorrel proved to great a chore.
Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Winery (www.jacksontriggswinery.com) takes first place in the herb pairing contest from my perspective. Again, with Anna Olson as the chef, they served a delightful basil biscotti along with their very flavourful 2006 Proprietors' Grad Reserve White Meritage. This is really lovely spot to visit and the people there create the impression of smallness even though they too are one of the biggies.
Right next door at Stratus (www.stratuswines.com) we got a surprisingly warm welcome in what is a very modern and somewhat sterile atmosphere. They absolutely though nailed the tough bergamot pairing by creating a bergamot infused creme brullee paired with their lucious 2007 Riesling Icewine. This turned out to be quite a nice stop on the tour and frankly exceeded our expectations just based on architecture alone.
More to follow in next edition where I'll reluctantly reveal the name and location of one of the very best restaurant experiences I've ever enjoyed.