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Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake: Days of Wine and Chocolate

Wine and chocolate. A dream pairing, right? Well… yeah, unless you’ve been rather ill and told that you need to give your innards a bit of a rest from rich food…. Ahem.  Not ideal when Neil and I had been planning to go up to Niagara-on-the-Lake over the recent Family Day weekend to indulge in a weekend of wine and chocolate – the third weekend of Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake’sDays of Wine and Chocolate”.  The idea of the weekend is that you explore wine and chocolate pairings, touring the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Each stop features a premium VQA wine matched to a chocolate selection.

I’d been looking forward to this for a long time, had booked a room for a couple of nights at the Shaw Club and was in desperate need of some R&R, as was Neil.  Thanks to the kind folks at Loud+Clear we were provided with two “passports”and, even though I was not up to much indulgence, we headed off anyway, figuring that Neil could be my palate for the weekend (such a hardship, right?).  We’d had such fun at the spring “Wine and Herb” weekend in May and I had been wanting to check this event out since last fall’s media preview of WONOTL’s Taste the Season and Days of Wine and Chocolate.

Neil wrote up his notes for me of some of the noteworthy pairings so I’ll intersperse this with my photos. A note here – all pictures in this post were shot on my iPhone (and some edited in Instagram) so apologies for the less than stellar quality. But I am sure you get the idea….  Take it away Mr Neil:

“February’s Days of Wine and Chocolate attempts to pair those two, with a nod to St. Valentine’s Day.  Overall, I have to say the pairings were “fine”, but not overwhelming.  Unfortunately many lacked creativity, both in terms of the chocolates themselves, and the pairings.  Many of the chocolates were rather large pieces of milk or dark, with a token addition (raisin, currant, pecan, et cetera).  So right from the start, the chocolate itself was unbalanced – unable to highlight its flavour.   Add this to the wine, and the pairing attempts were more often than not lost amidst chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

Not that this is an entirely bad thing.  Many of the Willow chocolates were quite nice, and the preferred match was predictably late harvest or Ice Wine offerings.  In some cases these worked perfectly…but after your sixth sweet wine with chocolate, your palate is screaming for something a little different.  At Marynissen Estates they asked if we’d be interested in chocolate-inspired for 2013, as opposed to just chocolates.  A resounding yes!

Marynissen Estates 2008 Solstice paired with milk chocolate "sugarplums" (chopped dried fruit and nuts)

Of the sweet selections, Inniskillin nailed it with their Cabernet Franc Ruby Reserve Icewine paired with triple chocolate biscotti with hazelnuts; this in fact was an added pairing from their planned 2009 WMS Cabernet Franc (which also worked).

Jackson Triggs paired a milk chocolate caramel pecan square with their 2007 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc Icewine.  A fine wine, but the pairing with a Riesling version might have worked better; or switch to dark chocolate.

We had a few other fine ice wines…but the pairings were so-so.  We either liked the chocolate or the wine but not the pairing.

Konzelmann 2010 Vidal Special Late Harvest with Milk Chocolate "orange"

This, like many of the chocolates was just too large of a chunk of all chocolate. So sweet.

Cattail Creek 2008 Select Late Harvest Meritage with dark chocolate butterscotch crunch

A slightly thinner chunk of chocolate studded with butterscotch, this was much more our style in terms of amount of chocolate.

Strewn 2009 Cabernet Select Late Harvest with Dark chocolate almond raisin

Again, chocolate with some added dried fruit and nuts.

20 Bees Late Harvest Vidal and 20 Bees Buzz and Bubbles sparkling wine with white chocolate with a pomegranate filling

Points here for attempting to do something different – and the only winery we visited with white chocolate.  The pairing, though, was overly sweet – a truffly ganache-filled white chocolate flavoured with pomegranate needed something a little less sweet than a Late Harvest Vidal mixed with bubbly…

On the savoury side, Ravine offered their 2010 Sand & Gravel Cabernet Franc with salted pretzel dipped in milk chocolate.  The white pepper in the wine married to the salt of the pretzel nicely.

Lailey paired their 2010 Pinot Noir (still a tad young, in my opinion) with dark chocolate and juniper berries.  The strawberry and spice of the wine worked well – but the chocolate should have been more juniper, less chocolate (again, one tiny juniper berry lost in a sea of chocolate).

Hillebrand paired their 2010 Trius Cabernet Sauvignon with dark chocolate infused with (the same) red wine.  Again, it worked…but chocolate over-rode all else.  (We also paired with the just-released Trius 2010 Red – a better match, in my mind.)

Savoury success was also found at Coyote’s Run, with their 2008 Meritage alongside a dark chocolate wafer with blueberries.

Amongst the others…

Niagara College Teaching Winery 2008 Dean's List Chardonnay with milk chocolate cashew brittle

Joseph's Estate 2007 Merlot Reserve with a dark chocolate mint

Points here for a subtle chocolate (and a pretty one).

Riverview Cellars 2009 Fontana Dolce sangria with milk chocolate candied orange peel

Not quite the “orangette” we were expecting when we read “chocolate candied orange peel”… Nice sangria though!

Palatine Hills 2006 Cabernet SAuvignon Proprietor's Reserve with a "dark chocolate almond meringue"

Errr… no. This is not a meringue. It’s a macaron filled with (not enough) dark chocolate ganache.

Lastly, Stratus won major points for going completely off the charts, and pairing their 2008 Stratus Sauvignon Blanc with chocolate aux herbs de Provence.  The vibrant grassy nose of the wine played off the herbs, and the grapefruit and fermented peach played off the chocolate.  Inspired.

All in all, a fun visit to 16 wineries (bear that in mind. 16 wineries – even over two days = 16 chocolates. As in, a box of chocolates. It’s a lot of sugar).  Some excellent late harvest and ice wines to be had – if not the most inspired pairings; some delightful savoury attempts; and only a couple of major disappointments on the wine front.  I look forward to less chocolates, more chocolate inspirations, for 2013.”

Thanks Neil – I have to say, from the little I sampled, *I* felt like it was a sugar overload.  But it’s a fun weekend trip and it does give you the chance to visit wineries you might not otherwise go to.  If you go, plan wisely. And bring (savoury) snacks and water in the car with you.  I wished we had brought soda crackers to cleanse our palates.

Days of Wine & Chocolate touring passes are $30 per person (plus applicable taxes) and can be used any of the event weekends (next weekend is the final weekend for this event).  Touring passes can be purchased online or by calling Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake at 905.468.1950.

Disclosure: I received two complimentary “Days of Wine and Chocolate” passports courtesy of Loud+Clear.  I was not otherwise compensated for writing this post and all opinions are 100% our own.

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19 Responses to Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake: Days of Wine and Chocolate

  1. Nancy/SpicieFoodie February 23, 2012 at 09:14 #

    How fun! I wish I could have been there with you. Chocolate and red wine are my weakness :)

  2. Paula February 23, 2012 at 09:42 #

    Now this is a wine tour that I would love to go on!

  3. Stephanie February 23, 2012 at 11:20 #

    I was following this on instagram and I’m still jealous! I’m not really a chocolate person but I love wine tastings.

    And jealous of your pet fish.. so so jealous.

  4. merry jennifer February 23, 2012 at 11:51 #

    I was following along when you posted photos on Instagram. It looked like a wonderful experience, even if some of the pairings were off. I just wish you’d felt better so that you could have really enjoyed the food and drink more!

  5. Meg @ Sweet Twist February 23, 2012 at 12:23 #

    Sounds like an awesome time! That gives me inspiration to host my own party.

  6. Jill Colonna February 23, 2012 at 16:57 #

    Oh, I do wish I could have been there to enjoy such an incredible tasting. You certainly got through a lot! Wowzer. They do sound remarkably sweet. Wish I could have tasted but I love the sound of Ravine’s Sand & Gravel Cab with the pretzel chocs. Palatine Hills – is that a macaron or a meringue (sorry, Scottish joke)? Lol.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite March 3, 2012 at 21:44 #

      Seriously! I mean 5 years ago maybe people would have been confused by something called a macaron but now? No excuse!!

  7. Kimmy @ Lighter and Local February 23, 2012 at 20:24 #

    1) I have always wanted to do the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. 2) This is a perfect excuse. I probably won’t make it this year, but here’s to a perfect excuse for the trip NEXT year.

  8. Mr. Neil February 24, 2012 at 07:09 #

    I should add…nothing wrong with the “sweet” per se: most of the ice wines were incredibly well-balanced acid with sweet. (One was a poor late-harvest effort, who shall remain nameless.) It was just the repeated quantity with repeated chocolates…

  9. penny aka jeroxie March 4, 2012 at 07:19 #

    16 in 2 days…. that is a lot to cover. Chocolate definitely needed!

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