Monday, May 25, 2009

Wine and Powerwalking

Have an [insert appropriate adjective for a day of remembrance] Memorial Day my Yankee friends. I envy you your long weekend, even though I had one last week.

Really, I think every weekend from mid-May to Labour Day should be a long weekend. Think of the money companies would save!

The rest of this is all about my weekend drinking wine and eating finger foods. Move along if you wish.

Regardless of the normalcy of my weekend's length, I made the most of it. I headed over to Niagara-On-The-Lake for their Herb and Wine festival. No, not that herb. Although I admit it would have been interesting if someone had paired a Gewurztraminer with some brownies or cookies...

The thing about visiting wine country is it's hard to not return with wine. I added 12 bottles to my fridge, and that was due to extraordinary restraint. I could have picked up a discounted case of pre-release Chardonnay, but Hillebrand's staff put me in a less-than-happy mood when, as a wine club member, I asked when their collector's room would be open (they were running a class at the time), and was told "in a few minutes". Half an hour later, the class let out, I asked again, and was told another half hour. Fuck that. If they'd told me an hour when I first asked, I would have left, checked out some other wineries, maybe a restaurant, and returned.

Which wasn't the first time a major winery in the area annoyed me on the trip. Peller (Hillebrand's sister) acted like I was some schlub off the street when I came in on Saturday. Granted, I looked like some schlub off the street, having been walking from winery to winery that afternoon (15km later, I collapsed on the hotel bed), and it was sunny and warm. Regardless, being ignored by the tasting staff until I waved them down, and the look of incredulity about my membership wasn't welcome. They redeemed themselves the next day via their chef's friendly attitude as we tried his black pepper ice cream on a pickled peach and horseradish compote, which paired nicely with their Ice Cuvée.

But the smaller wineries impressed. Marynissen, Cattail Creek, Lailey (although they also annoyed me when I first came in, 10 minutes after they stopped serving the Wine and Herb pairing for Saturday), Joseph's, Palantine Hill, Strewn, and Maleta were standouts.

Of the medium and larger wineries, Stratus blew me away, Southbrook, Konzelmann, and Peller all had impressive offerings.

The biggest disappointments were the rest of the big boys. Jackson-Triggs was as unexciting as possible, Hillebrand was uninspired and uninspiring, Inniskillin wasn't terrible, but did nothing as a pairing (although I did buy a bottle of the Klose Cabernet Sauvignon), and Château des Charmes was fine, but was more of an ad for their aligoté jelly and the Anna Olson's crackers than it was a pairing experience.

A full list of the 21 wineries and their offerings is here, they're only running one more weekend, so if you want to go, this is your last chance.

My personal favourites in terms of pairings were Cattail Creek, Startus, Palantine Hill, Peller, Joseph's, Marynissen, and Lailey. There are a lot of whites (only 4 reds) in the program, but you can of course taste any of their other available wines while you're there, and a lot of them are worth it.

If nothing else, it was another eye-opening Niagara trip. When they started making wines there, they were unbearably sweet, mostly white, and until they started making icewine, seen as unimpressive. Since then, they've improved their process and quality immensely. Complex flavours, dry whites, natural sweetness, and some real effort by some creative vinters is producing some excellent wines. The 2007's are out now, and everyone there agrees that it was probably the best year they've ever had for wines. Good chance to stock up.

No comments: