Yes it’s that time of year again… no, not St Valentine’s Day/ weekend/ month as I have variously heard it referred to over the past week, but Days of Wine and Chocolate though Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Some of you might remember that Neil and I headed there last year and whilst we enjoyed the weekend, we did feel a little “chocolated out” at the end of it. We loved the idea of pairing wine with chocolate, however last year we found many of the wineries simply did just that – paired a wine with a chocolate, as opposed to chocolate-themed dishes. Also, last year there was not one savoury pairing which left us on a big sugar high. We were excited to see that this year, as opposed to a “chocolate selection” this year the wineries were pairing their VQA wines with “chocolate-infused dishes – from classically sweet flavour combinations to unexpected surprises” and yes, there did seem to be a couple of savoury offerings in there!
A few people following me on Instagram this weekend wondered how we managed so many wineries (16 in all). The trick is to not drink or eat everything you are offered – Mr Neil and the spittoon were fast friends! and we split many of the dessert offerings between us. Drink lots of water in between and when you are done for the day, go and buy baguette, cheese and fruit to de-sugar your palate
So here you go – in the order in which we tasted… and with a few observations from both me and Mr Neil…
Peller Estates Winery – Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvée paired with Candied Bacon and Chocolate Sponge Toffee.
This was an interesting pairing – but needed more salt! The candied bacon was fairly light-on and the chocolate a little thick making the toffee bite a little cloying. But definitely a step up from the chunks of chocolate we were offered at so many places last year. A promising start (and I mean, who doesn’t like a little Ice Cuvée at 11am ?).
Lailey Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Merlot paired with Chocolate Surprise (actually a chocolate-espresso cookie).
This worked exceptionally well (though the cookie was LARGE – we shared one between us as we knew we had a few more stops along the way!). The cookie was not overly sweet and paired well with the mocha/ cassis tones in the wine.
Reif Estate Winery “The Magician” 2011 Pinot Shiraz paired with Chocolate Chili Corn.
Not our favourite pairing – Neil found the wine unbalanced, I found it acidic – and the idea, though a good one of pairing a peppery, spicy wine with a chili flavour in the popcorn, didn’t quite work for us. On its own, the popcorn was really good, and I don’t even like popcorn!
Inniskillin Wines 2008 Vidal Icewine paired with Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
A hit for sure – the salt and the sweet of the truffle paired exceptionally well with the Icewine.
PondView Estate Winery 2011 Select Late Harvest Vidal paired with Banana Chocolate Tart (we also got a taste of the Vidal Icewine)
I really wanted to like the banana tart but it was too much chocolate ganache hiding a tiny piece of banana in the crust rendering it overly sweet. Sweet dessert and sweet wine = sweet overload. The Icewine worked better than the Vidal, for sure.
Cattail Creek Estate Winery 2008 Select Late Harvest Meritage paired with Lindt Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
Southbrook Vineyards 2007 Matchmakers Cabernet Merlot Shiraz “ChocoLoco Chicken Mole”
Finally – a savoury pairing! We were dubious because of the use of quotation marks – wondered whether it really would be a proper mole, but as soon as we walked in the doors of Southbrook, we knew it would be. An exceptional mole (we wanted to buy a whole bowl, the little tasting was not enough!) with just a hint of spice paired with a spicy, peppery, chocolately Cab Merlot Shiraz. Though it was a heavy wine, this dish stood up well to it.
And the view as we enjoyed our “lunch”…
Yup is sure was cold outside but we were toasty warm with our mole in our bellies!
Small Talk Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Tarts
I’d kind of imagined this to be a chocolate ganache tart studded with hazelnuts so was a little disappointed to see it was more like a Nutella-type tart but it was a nice bite, for sure. A small bite was enough though, as it was fairly sweet. We liked the wine, not so sure about the pairing of a dry wine with a cloyingly sweet dessert – we actually preferred the wine on its own, sans sweet treat.
Hinterbrook Winery 2010 Merlot paired with Café Royale
By this point I was getting a little overloaded on the sugar (though with a couple of exceptions we didn’t have more than a bite of each treat, knowing how we felt last year…) and a little tired of creamy, chocolately bites but this one actually did work well because it was not too sweet. An excellent pairing with the wine – the cake blended perfectly with the wine so in your mouth, it was like an alcoholic macchiato ;) The Merlot’s berries and mocha tones worked so well with the dark choc-coffee cake.
Strewn Winery 2010 Gewürztraminer Terroir paired with Nacho Topped with Black Bean, Tomatillo and Spicy Dark Chocolate Mole
Hurrah, another savoury pairing! We could have both used WAY more than the tiny bites we were offered of the nachos – loved this pairing too, the not overly spicy notes of the nachos worked well with the bone-dry Gewürz – they explained to us that they deliberately kept the spice down with the nachos because the wine was a 0 on the sugar scale.
Stratus Vineyards 2011 Wildass Red paired with Double Fudge Cherry Cake
Stratus is one of our favourite wineries down in NOTL and they are often our favourite pairings – (see Days of Wine and Chocolate 2012 and Wine and Herb 2011) and this was no exception. One of the best wines of the day – red berry notes, nearing a fruit compote paired with a not overly sweet cake – this hit it out of the park.
And the last winery for the day on Saturday…
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery 2010 Reserve Series Merlot paired with Mixed Dried Fruit and Anise Cookie
Both Neil and I could have used a little more anise in the cookie and the large, dry white shortbread didn’t match particularly well with the Merlot but it wasn’t a bad match. The side covered in the chocolate was a better match – a smaller cookie covered entirely in chocolate might have worked better? Perhaps as it was winery 12 of the day, our palates were a little beyond tasting?
The next day….
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery 2011 Cabernet Franc paired with Chocolate Pecan Tarts.
This was one of my personal favourites of the weekend (nothing like starting a Sunday morning with a glass of wine and a pecan/ choc butter tart…). A robust Cab Franc with a fair bit of fruit but a hint of a vegetal note (Mr Neil says “green bell pepper”), it paired well with the tarts (which were one of the best “stand-alone” desserts of the weekend), maybe that vegetal note married well with the pecan? In any case, a winner.
Colaneri Estate Winery 2008 Virtuoso Pinot Noir paired with Mocha Semifreddo Drizzled with Chocolate
Sadly of all the wines sampled over 2 days, this was our least favourite. I found the wine almost medicinal in both the nose and the flavour. We found the (ice cold) dessert completely overwhelmed the wine with overly strong notes of almond (accentuated when you took a sip of the wine) and lots of caramel and not a lot of chocolate. Definitely not a pairing that worked for us, but according to another winery, one of the ones that people were raving about. The best wine, as they say, is the one you like to drink….
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery 2011 Five Mile White paired with White Chocolate Dipped Lemon Shortbread Cookie
Both the wine and cookie shared some of the same flavour profiles – citrus, tropical fruits – so this was a great match. We confounded the server with our refusal of the 2nd cookie (they were huge, one was plenty to share).
Château des Charmes 2009 Cabernet Franc, Estate Bottled paired with Bitter Chocolate Pâté with Pecan Crunch
Another not-overly sweet dessert that worked well with its paired wine. And gorgeous to boot!
With that, 16 wineries under our belts (so to speak), we headed home. Pleased to see that this event has evolved from last year to become more of a wine and food pairing event than simply wine and chocolate. I can’t wait to see what happens next year – more savoury dishes, perhaps?
Days of Wine and Chocolate runs for one more weekend in February 2013. Touring passes are $35 per person (plus HST). Passes are valid any event weekend in February and entitle the holder to one VQA wine and food pairing at each of the 28 Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake. A designated driver pass valid for food offerings and non-alcoholic drinks only is also available; limit one designated driver touring pass per purchase.
Touring passes can also be purchased online, at any of the 28 Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake or by calling 905.468.1950.
Disclosure: I received two complimentary “Days of Wine and Chocolate” passports courtesy of Loud+Clear. I was not asked to write this post nor otherwise compensated. All opinions are 100% our own.