Tasting the season (and chocolate!) in Niagara wine country


We’re lucky, living in Toronto, with wine country right on our doorstep.

A 90 minute drive from the city, and you are in the heart of the Niagara region, where Neil and I were fortunate enough to find ourselves this past weekend, as guests of  Tourism Niagara and Wineries of Niagara on the Lake.  We spent the day touring a selection of the region’s wineries, sampling the Taste the Season and Days of Wine and Chocolate programs which run in November and February respectively.  We were not able to attend the first day of this tour which showcased the Icewine Festival events which take place in January.

Taste the Season has been hailed as the ‘go to event of the season’ and is a popular touring and tasting program celebrating the season’s bounty. It’s also a great time to explore unique wine and gift selections or stock up for all your holiday entertaining.  You buy a “tasting passport” and spend a day or a weekend touring 22 wineries where each stop features a premium VQA wine and a delectable food pairing.  A limited number of passes are available for each of the four weekends in November and this event sells out fast!

We sampled Stratus‘ offering, an apricot and green peppercorn terrine of pork…

paired with their 2008 Wildass Red. The ripe red fruit (cassis and blackberry) of this wine was a spectacular pairing with the sweet and salty combination of terrine and apricots.

Over at Southbrook Vineyards, we tasted (amongst other fabulous offerings) their 2007 Cabernet Merlot Shiraz paired with Stone Road Grille’s cassoulet with cabernet bread

The fat-cutting tannins in this wine worked beautifully with the duck. This is an easy-drinking wine 🙂

Both Stratus and Southbrook are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and, in fact, Southbrook is gold-certified.  According to the Canadian Green Building Council, LEED is a third-party certification program and an internationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. It provides building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance.  LEED encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.

Taste the Season is a wonderful way to experience the best of Niagara’s food and wine and this year, they are celebrating their commitment to sustainable winemaking thought a partnership with Carbonzero.  The whole event is carbon-neutral as a portion of the cost of each “passport” will be used to purchase carbon offsets which will help improve the quality of air in the Niagara Region.  The wineries are also more than happy to discuss their sustainable practices with you.

During the Days of Wine and Chocolate program in February each stop will feature a premium VQA wine matched to a decadent chocolate selection, from classic flavours to unexpected surprises by Willow Cakes and Pastries. The Touring Pass entitles you to one pairing at each member  winery and is valid for any of the event weekends in February.

We sampled the offerings at Ravine where Alex had us sample three wines and choose our favourite pairing for a white chocolate strawberry truffle. Most of us (ahem) got it right…

What would you choose?

The 2009 Gewürztraminer?  The 2009 Redcoat? or the 2008 Cabernet Franc Rosé. (correct answer? The Gewürz. I liked it with the Redcoat too. Actually I liked it with everything LOL!).  The predominant nose of rose petal played beautifully with the nose of strawberry.  According to my resident wine expert (Neil) “smell accounts for the largest percentage of taste perception (not actual taste buds), so it seemed a complementary match.  While dry, it also seemed slightly off-dry, which worked well.”

Over at Coyote’s Run, we tasted a milk chocolate with a cashew centre, paired with the Red Paw Pinot Noir.

A surprising pairing, considering that mostly when we pair wine with chocolate, it’s dark chocolate. This worked well, the acidity from the raspberry-cherry notes cutting through the higher than dark chocolate sugar content  and made me re-consider future wine and chocolate pairings.  Apparently it took a lot of “research” to come up with this pairing 😉

Château des Charmes had the tricky assignment of pairing a white chocolate pistachio-encrusted truffle.

The overly sweet white chocolate might not have worked with a lot of wines but the crisp green apple notes of the Sparkling Brut chosen for this pairing really worked well to cut through the sugar.  Would make a fine end to any meal.

Thanks so much to Liz and Tourism Niagara and Wineries of Niagara on the Lake for a wonderful sample of Taste the Season and a sneak peek of Days of Wine and Chocolate and to Rudy from Niagara Classic Cabs who drove us around (in a limo!) for the day so that we could truly enjoy our wine.

I am pleased to announce I am giving away a pair of passes to Taste the Season for the weekend of November 27/28 (valued at $88.50 CAD plus taxes).  Each pass allows you a sample of wine and the paired food at 22 wineries.  To enter, simply email me with “Taste the Season touring pass giveaway” in the subject line and I will choose a winner through Random.org on Sunday November 21st at 6pm EST and announce the winner on Monday, November 22nd.

The passes are only valid for that weekend so you must be able to use them on those dates.

* Did you see my World on a Plate, Destination: Umbria video? I would love your vote to move on to Round 8 of Project Food Blog where we have to bake with pumpkin.  I have some pretty fun ideas…  Voting open 6AM Pacific Time on Monday, November 15th until 6PM Pacific Time on Thursday November 18th.  Simply click here (note: link no longer live) to read the post and vote.   Many thanks for your continued support.

*I’ve been featured in an article about the five Canadian-based bloggers who are still in Project Food Blog – you can read it here.  Go(h) Canada!

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46 Responses to Tasting the season (and chocolate!) in Niagara wine country

  1. Jan @ Family Bites November 17, 2010 at 17:37 #

    You’re right – I am interested. Sending email now. Oh, and the photo of the wine glasses ( the tunnel vision one) is fab!

  2. Paula November 17, 2010 at 17:53 #

    Honestly, I have no palate to discern one wine from another. I would fail miserably at a tasting. This was another wonderfully informative post and I would have loved to have done a sampling of all the chocolates offered! LOL

    Great giveaway by the way. I’d send you and email to enter but I’m not available to travel that weekend. Good luck to all the other entrants.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:04 #

      Well I am learning all the time too… It helps to go on trips like this and learn from the experts and my in-house sommelier is also pretty useful!

  3. Mindy November 17, 2010 at 18:14 #

    What a lovely day!

  4. Nancy@acommunaltable November 17, 2010 at 18:22 #


    Beautiful photos and a wonderful description of the event – I “almost”:-) felt like I was there!!!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:04 #

      Glad to whisk you off to Niagara – even if just through this post. It’s a lovely area…

  5. Daydreamer Desserts November 17, 2010 at 18:36 #

    I loved all your pics Mardi, what a fantastic experience, thanks for sharing! =)

  6. Elena November 17, 2010 at 18:44 #

    Loved the write-up and the great photos that go with it. Our Oak Room is pretty photogenic but you’ve captured things from such an interesting perspective. Great eye!

  7. Suzie the Foodie November 17, 2010 at 19:37 #

    What a lovely article for such a fantastic event! Mardi, your photos are breathtaking. Impressive.

  8. Alison November 17, 2010 at 19:38 #

    clearly this is not an original thought, but I love your pictures! The pairings all sound wonderfully inspiring and I might need to take a little trip to the cellar just now…

  9. Jazz Rules November 17, 2010 at 19:52 #

    That photo of never ending glasses is epic! It almost looks photoshopped! Well done.

  10. Jen Laceda November 17, 2010 at 20:06 #

    I sent you an e-mail – I hope I win!!!! I need new material for my blog! LOL!!!

  11. cat November 17, 2010 at 20:19 #

    oh, i wish i could enter the contest! and i agree with the other posters – your photos are particularly lovely in this post. 🙂

  12. Belinda @zomppa November 17, 2010 at 21:53 #

    Beautiful photos! That chocolate would be good paired with anything!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:06 #

      Well yes, I am a firm believer in that chocolate goes with everything too but when paired with the correct wine, it’s really interesting.

  13. Laetitia November 17, 2010 at 22:12 #

    WOW! Those pictures are beautiful! it’s hard to tell what our situation will be in 8 months time but we’re hoping to make a little trip to the Niagara-Ontario wine country region next june. My roommate from college is getting married in Toronto and we might just fly into Buffalo and road trip the rest of the way, depending on how much time off we can take then… I’ll hit you up for suggestions if that happens.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:07 #

      Oh if you are in the region you definitely need to look into some wine tasting. And when you’re in Toronto, you definitely need to meet up with me!

  14. penny aka jeroxie November 17, 2010 at 22:16 #

    Fabulous Giveaway! Just wish I was there to take it…

  15. ayngelina November 18, 2010 at 11:47 #

    When I get back to Toronto I really need to spend more time in Niagara as I love Gewürztraminer.

    P.S. you have more vote on Project Food

    • Mr. Neil November 18, 2010 at 18:21 #

      Alas, while the climate here should suit G quite nicely, I’ve had more disappointing examples than pleasing. It still seems to be a bit of a gamble around here.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:07 #

      ayngelina – It’s funny, this was the first time in 10 years living in Toronto that I have really spent a concentrated amount of time in the region. It won’t be my last.

  16. Carolyn Jung November 18, 2010 at 11:59 #

    I’ve been to many parts of Canada, but have yet to get to Toronto. It’s on my must-see list, precisely for the reasons you mention — the food and the glorious wine.

  17. Meghan@travelwinedine November 18, 2010 at 12:12 #

    This looks like a magical event! And you covered it beautifully, as always!

  18. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction November 18, 2010 at 14:58 #

    Even though I know nothing about wine, I always enjoy your wine posts because I love the photos. Beautiful!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:08 #

      Well I am very much a newbie at the wine writing but I always enjoy learning new things 😉

  19. Andrea@High/Low November 18, 2010 at 16:08 #

    Status is one of our fave Cdn wineries and we loved dining at Stone Road Grille when we stayed in Niagara. Have the most lovely meal there, capped off with the largest candy floss ever!

  20. lo November 18, 2010 at 17:47 #

    Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous.
    And by that I mean the wine… the landscape… the photos… everything. I love coming here and reading all about your adventures. I love the fact that climates like Toronto’s are taking advantage of their ability to grow delicious grapes & make fantastic wine!

  21. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella November 18, 2010 at 19:57 #

    What a delicious event! And I love ice wine -I have very fond memories of indulging in this lovely sweet wine in Canada 😀

  22. Anna Johnston November 18, 2010 at 20:25 #

    Ice wine is one of my favourites, great review Mardi and awesome pics!

    • Mr. Neil November 19, 2010 at 08:44 #

      Try a red icewine: notably Cabernet Franc. Chateau des Charmes does a very nice one – as do a couple others.

  23. K A B L O O E Y November 18, 2010 at 22:16 #

    That sounds like a terrific event — too bad the commute would be a tough one for me. Ah, well. Makes the odds better for the local folks. (Hi, Jen L.) Mardi: you took some really cool photographs, especially the wineglass to infinity one and the lovely one with the glasses in front of the window. Oh, and that first pairing, which sounded like it might have been my favorite, it featured a wine called “Wildass?”

    • Mr. Neil November 19, 2010 at 08:43 #

      It’s a pun. On the label they have a burrow, so people THINK it’s the animal reference. But it’s not.

      The owner of Stratus is known for being a huge fan of French “assemblage” styles. But they take it a step further, and have some crazy combinations and experiemtn all the time.

      So this name comes from the “wild assemblage” of the winemaker = “Wildass”.


    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite November 20, 2010 at 07:10 #

      Yes Carrie that commute might kill you but if you guys are ever in the region, I am sure Neil would be happy to play wine tour guide!

  24. culinaryneophyte November 19, 2010 at 00:52 #

    Your photos are amazingly gorgeous! Love it!

  25. Jen H November 20, 2010 at 13:38 #

    So bummed I’ll be back in Boston for your giveaway, I totally would have entered. Great photos and it sounds like you had a great time too!

  26. Conor @ Hold the Beef November 21, 2010 at 06:55 #

    Next time you must remember to pack your Conor. They come in handy on trips – opening drink bottles, opening lolly bags, closing drink bottles, eating lollies. The list goes on and on.

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