Wineries of Niagara on the Lake: Great wine and fresh herbs

Wineries of Niagara on the Lake wine and herb weekendLast weekend, Neil and I headed off to Niagara on the Lake to indulge in a weekend of wine and food – the first weekend of Wineries of Niagara on the Lake’s “Wine and Herb” wine and food pairings – a casual spring celebration of great wine and fresh herbs! This program allows you to spend a weekend in May exploring the neighbourhood of 26 wineries with a Wine & Herb touring pass. As you tour, each stop features a different herb-themed food pairing matched to a premium Niagara VQA wine selected to highlight the flavour and aroma of the herb.

Thanks to the kind folks at Alderson and Company we were provided with two “Wine and Herb” passports.  We managed 14 wineries over two days which I think was not bad; we tried to hit some new or unknown-to-us wineries and headed back to some favourites from last fall’s media preview of WONOTL’s Taste the Season and Days of Wine and Chocolate.  A caveat here: Neil tastes wine properly, as in, he spits. He uses those spittoon things. When you are visiting multiple wineries and there is only one driver, it helps.  It was amazing how few people we saw following his lead.  In any case, it’s a useful trick.  So please don’t think we were rolling from one winery to another!

In no particular order, here’s what we managed…

2006 Wildass Riesling
Dauphinoise Potato “Terrine” with Sorrel and Lemon Cream

This was absolutely incredible. Sorrel doesn’t have a particularly strong flavour in food but we tried some of the leaves and they taste like the weeds I used to make “Barbie salads” with when I was a little girl. On the stack of potatoes, it was a nice sharp, fresh burst that blended perfectly with the creamy potato and sour lemon.  Bonus? It’s gorgeous! Stunning.

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
2009 Sauvignon Blanc
“Cheese & Crackers” CO2 Goat Cheese Chive Gel

I was a little skeptical of this one but it actually worked really well.  The goat cheese was infused with CO2 and it really made the rich creaminess seem much lighter and less rich.  Double bonus here – it’s fun to serve and looked stunning in its little disposable bamboo serving dish!

Stonechurch Vineyards
2008 Sauvignon Blanc
Coriander Chicken Salad

Not the most memorable dish of the weekend. The chicken was mixed with lentils and the “coriander” was actually a fresh cilantro pesto. A little on the bland side.  I was expecting it to be something using coriander seeds or the ground variety – more Asian or Middle Eastern.  Stonechurch got points though because they have a cute logo 😉

Pillitteri Estates Winery
2007 Bottle Blonde
Smoked Duck and Mango Thai Basil Kabobs

Actually my least favourite pairing of the weekend. The wine (referred to a number of times by the young lady pouring it as “Bottled Blonde”) was overpoweringly perfumey (it’s made from five different varietals) and I didn’t think it was a great match for the smoked duck (which looked and tasted like ham) with the bland mango rolled inside.  No basil to be seen or tasted.

Niagara College Teaching Winery
2008 Pinot Noir
Turkey Cheese Cranberry Strata

Apart from this wine bottle having the cutest label ever, this wine and food pairing knocked it out of the park.  The strata was unbelievably good.  An Anna Olson recipe (similar to this one), this was Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner in one satisfying bite.  I will definitely be remembering this next time I have celebratory leftovers and I can see it is a very versatile recipe, lending itself to lots of different interpretations.

Marynissen Estates Winery
2007 Cabernet Merlot
Ploughmans Lunch

Actually more a “Vintner’s lunch” this was a tasty bite of bison and elk salami with roasted red peppers and parmigiano cheese on a fresh baguette.  Couldn’t much taste the summer savoury herb but they got points for a wonderfully warm welcome and super cute (and environmentally friendly) packaging!  We even got a sneak peek behind the scenes to check out the maturation room.

Konzelmann Estate Winery
2009 Merlot Reserve
Open-Faced Sirloin Sandwich with Tarragon Mustard Cream and Brie

Tarragon is a herb I have been cooking with a lot lately, especially in the French Fridays with Dorie recipes so I was interested to taste this.  Again, the taste was very subtle, kind of overpowered by the mustard-brie cream and the tasty morsel of beef, so no matter.  I am a huge fan of serving beef like this – you get all the flavour but you still have room for other tasty hors d’oeuvres!

Inniskillin Wines
2009 Riesling
Inniskillin Tom Yum Soup Ontario Edamame Enoki Mushroom and Lemongrass

A classic pairing – spicy Asian food with an off-dry Riesling.  This was a most excellent match – the soup not so spicy that it overpowered the wine and with little gems of edamame and enoki mushrooms to be found on the bottom of the cup/bowl.

Hillebrand Winery
2009 Artist Series Gewürztraminer
Spring Lamb Sausage with Organic Mint Yoghurt

Ok this was one we were super dubious about yet it actually turned out to be one of our favourite pairings of the weekend.  Lamb? With Gewürztraminer? Really?

But the lamb sausage cunningly contained a small amount of harissa, giving it a little bit of kick, making it work perfectly the the Gewürz and the yoghurt-mint sauce was a lovely cooling element to counter the harissa.  Now that I know how to make lamb sausages (post coming this weekend for Charcutepalooza), I will definitely be adding spicy lamb sausages to my list of summer BBQ foods. Paired with a Gewürz…..

PondView Estate Winery
2009 Cabernet Franc
Pulled Braised Beef Short Rib served on a Slice of Roasted Potato

This was an interesting play on a pulled beef sandwich (actually reminiscent of my own one bite steak with a frite and shallot jam) – the potato slice was perfectly roasted and not at all soggy as it might have been. I didn’t taste the rosemary at all though but it’s a dish that I could consider trying to recreate, perhaps using Dorie’s wonderful beef short rib recipe.

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery
2009 Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc
Grilled Chicken Springroll with Cilantro

An interesting twist on a cold spring roll – more like a chicken salad than the innards of a cold roll, this was tasty and easy to eat – often those cold rolls are served as hors d’oeuvres but they fall apart as you are eating them. Not this one – it’s more robust than that. Inspired.  Bonus? You could actually taste the cilantro in this one.

Château des Charmes
2008 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’
Woolwich Goat Cheese with Arugula Pesto Toasted Crouton with Sea Salt

This was an interesting one – the goat cheese and arugula pesto worked beautifully, unfortunately, the crouton had way too much sea salt on it and it was just way too salty.  Not sure the pairing was perfect either – the ladies pouring this wine were suggesting it’s also pizza wine, which makes sense. Reminiscent of a Chianti.  Bonus? This wine comes with an interesting back story (from the Château des Charmes website): In 1982, Château des Charmes’ founder Paul-Michel Bosc, while conducting pioneering clonal selection research at his vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, noticed a single Gamay Noir vine that exhibited some interesting and unique characteristics. Most noticeably, the vine shoots grew in an upright (“droit”) position. Propagation of this single vine began immediately and culminated almost two decades later in the granting of international Plant Breeder’s Rights to Château des Charmes. “Canada’s first vinifera” was born. Gamay Droit produces grapes that ripen on average about ten days later than Gamay Noir with higher sugar levels and greater colouring matters. The result is a red wine with more body, alcohol and flavour concentration. 2584 cases produced. Harvested October 7, 2008.

Colaneri Estate Winery
2009 Fumoso Bianco
Manicotti with Italian Skewers

One of Niagara’s newest wineries and family owned and run, (and staffed by a mum on Mothers’ Day!), Colaneri offered “patio wine” and food to go with.  Manageable manicotti (as in, again, not falling apart and able to be eaten with one hand!) and lovely Italian-flag coloured skewers of bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and olives.  The crisp fumoso bianco was not my favourite wine of the weekend but had it been a little warmer and had we been sitting on a patio, I might have thought differently.  It does seem like an “outside” wine!  Colaneri gets points for operating under renovation and providing us with one of the warmest welcomes we had all weekend!

Overall, even though we didn’t make it to every winery, it was a fun weekend.  We could have spent a lot more time (and money) had we taken the opportunity to taste wines other than the Wine and Herb pairings but since this weekend was also about a little R+R (much much needed after the past few months), we just took it fairly easy (and I know dad and mum are laughing right now thinking that 14 wineries is hardly taking it easy but it was a leisurely afternoon and morning drive that didn’t feel rushed or “too much” at all).  I would highly recommend if you are in a position to do so, to check out these fantastic events from Wineries of Niagara on the Lake – a wonderful way to discover VQA wines and local chefs. Stay overnight in Niagara on the Lake to make the most of the passports – you definitely cannot do it all in one day!

Click here for more information and to order touring passes. The touring pass may be used any of the following weekends in May – 
May 14/15, 21/22, 28/29 from 11 am to 5 pm.  Passports are $43 plus applicable taxes.

34 thoughts on “Wineries of Niagara on the Lake: Great wine and fresh herbs”

  1. The passports were a great value, between the tastings and all the nibbles! I need to add Niagara to the list of wine regions to visit.

  2. I guess my work was done in advance re “wine pairings” for this post, hmmm? 😉

    Apologies no more detailed wine notes in the above – have been too busy at work to give much to Mardi – but she’s covered it well. (And I know this isn’t really a *wine* blog.)

    The intriguing part about a “themed” weekend like this is that, regardless of your level of wine knowledge or “likes”, it is a grand experiment in tasting a wine, and then tasting the wine WITH FOOD. There were some very good wines on their own. Then some that were elevated by the food pairings. One or two were diminished. Another one or two were overpowered by the food (or vice-versa). It’s a great way to explore sensory evaluation and wine pairings – and what works for your own palate.

    From strictly a wine standpoint, the Wildass Riesling Library Release was a standout value. I had to contain myself to only pick up three (the boot was getting fairly full at this point). Compare this to a new bright current Riesling – you’ll be amazed at how whites can age gracefully. Great value as well.

    I’d also give mention to NCT Winery. People may hear the word “teaching” and think “oh, student experiments” – but their PN was a fine example, and I tried a couple other wines there and was impressed.

    Only two or three truly dud wines (for me) on the weekend – but in all fairness they were not so much faulty, as going after a decidedly different palate.

  3. Mardi, what a wonderful write-up from what truly must have been a lovely wknd. I’ve never done the wine tours but I have seen the Niagara on the Lake region and it is so beautiful and picturesque.

    I tend to agree with your Mom though in thinking that 14 wineries in and evening and afternoon is a lot especially when you are keeping notes, taking photographs etc. to share the experience so eloquently with your readers later. Thanks for thinking about us and sharing this experience with us.

  4. I love tastings like these; discovering not just new wines but great small bites; though I have to agree with you, that Potato “Terrine” with Sorrel…it just looks and sounds perfect.

    I used to turn my nose up at spitting…I so hate it when people spit in general, but I’ve taken advantage of the option when I’m doing some tastings. Most specifically if the wine isn’t all that appealing to my palate and I’m the one doing the driving!

  5. This has officially put me in a complete vacation mode! All those decadent wines and snacks. I really love the manicotti and italian skewers – it’s adorable and I’m sure it tasted amazing. Some pairings sound very unique – wish I could visit and try these out some day!

    • Love the Finger Lakes region – very beautiful. I’ve suggested this to Mardi for a long weekend trip…ideally in September/October. See the Kodak Estate on the way, Moosewood for lunch…mmmm.

      I think I stayed in Hastings and Calistoga when I was last there – if my memory is holding out.

  6. Funny, in all the time I’ve spent in the Niagara region, or passing through on the way to Toronto and north, I’ve never gotten to stop in Niagara on the Lake. It’s on our list of trips in the next couple of years.

  7. I’ve been there and it’s beautiful!! It was about ten years ago, though… time to go back! Looks like you had a fantastic time… I’m drooling for some wine now.

  8. What a terrific time you must of have. I love touring the winery’s when they have big events like that. OK the truth, I love touring winery’s even when there are no big events like that one. 🙂 All the food looks terrific!

  9. This is one event I am firmly jealous of your attendance at. I have plenty of wine trips of my own coming up but I wonder if they will match in terms of creativity and vareity.

    Thanks for the detailed report. We’ll be hitting the Finger Lakes in the fall to do some recon before the WineMaker conference there next spring. Can’t wait!



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