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Getting Your Viggy On

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In recent years the Virginia wine industry has adopted Viognier as the state grape. And, as we are wont to do, wine bloggers took to exploring it, and giving it a nickname – “viggy”. (Hattip to Lenn Thompson, SwirlSipSnark and Drink What You Like – not sure which of you coined the term – claim it in the comments, y’all!)

Many of my favorite wineries down south are producing beautiful viogniers, and MissWineOH loves to share so that others will fall in love with all this slightly misunderstood grape has to offer. While this wine originates in the Rhone Valley and is best known as the grape found in Condrieu, Virginia is where I first experienced the floral nuances and bright acidity reminiscent of evenings with a glass of chilled white wine in a garden of southern flowers. You should not confuse this with midnights in gardens of good and evil, though there may have been some of that as well in the distant past. On this particular evening on a Cleveland rooftop, we gathered a group of  friends and colleagues, and 6 viogniers from around the world, and then paired them with some great summer dishes – and it was very good.

The Line Up:

Pillitteri 2010 (Canada)
Tarara Winery 2010 (Virginia)
Gerard Bertrand Réserve Spéciale 2010 (France)
Ferrandiere NV (France)
D’Arenburg 2006 – The Last Ditch (Australia)
White Knight 2008 (California)

The Menu:

All of these dishes were selected to pair with Viognier, without pairing with a specific wine’s flavor profile. I would also recommend seafood (shellfish or meaty fish), pork, or pasta dishes. These crisper wines would be beautiful with an alfredo sauce. The talented Caitlin Ziegler (@thatcaity) is a budding chef, and my daughter – and she did all the hard work that went into creating the food for this event.

Brie with Apricot Marmalade (if I can coerce the marmelade recipe from @thatcaity, you’ll get it on WineOH recipes!) 

Spinach Dip with Chunked Challah Bread

Fruit Infused Pasta Salad

Summer Squash Tart

Curry Chicken Appetizers

White Chocolate Lemon Cupcakes – with lemon garnish.

My thoughts: 

This tasting was inspired by finding a bottle of D’Arenburg, 2006 The Last Ditch at Viaduct Lounge in the cooler case, which I promptly absconded with at a decent price on an evening out with friends. This wine was probably the least viognier like of all of them – crisp with oak and cedar undertones and very little floral on the nose – almost like an unoaked chardonnay in profile. I wondered at first if I was tasting a pinot gris. Perhaps the age played a part in that flavor profile, but it was a very different style than the other wines. Try newer releases of this one. (2008 – $17)

The White Knight was playful and yet crisp – delicious lavender, orange and peach on the nose, with a smooth mouthfeel and bright acidity. I like the honeysuckle and slightly spicy finish on this wine. Its unique as a viognier on my palate, but a great wine. ($12)

Tarara showed as what I’d call “classic viognier” to me, but I’ll acknowledge a bias toward Virginia wines. It was one of the three I could identify immediately. (the other two being those above) The floral notes on the nose call to me, with melon and a buttery mouthfeel rounding out a pleasing finish with just a hint of wood. I wouldn’t call it an oaky finish, the taste is too subtle for that. I would say it was a stand out for me – very pleasing. (not sure this is still available)

Gerard Bertrand was a label I found at a trade tasting a few months ago and is readily available at an under $13 price point. It brings strong hyacinth and orange on the nose, with continuing citrus mid palate. Dry, with a bit of a short finish, not complex, but a great sipping or dinner wine at the price.

Pilletteri produces a viognier that was all pear and melon and then a slightly spicy finish. I expected a bit more oak based on some of the other Pilletteri wines I’d tasted – but this one is a perfectly beautiful specimen. A buttery mouthfeel and some vanilla on the nose, but I found no notes indicating aging in oak. ($18.20 CAN)

Ferrandier was a last minute addition to the party, and I was happy that I added it. This viognier from Domaine de la Ferrandier is out of the Pays de’Oc region of France. Its aged two to three months on the lees with a highly aromatic floral nose, full mouthfeel and strong pineapple and peach finish. Beautiful classic viognier which rightfully earned its place at the top of the lineup. It also comes in at $11.99 retail. 

All of the wines were served at about 65, and were wrapped in opaque plastic and numbered. While I knew what the lineup was, they were randomly numbered, so not even I knew which was which without tasting first.

The Results:

Our guests were asked to taste each one and then vote on each with a chip. Green (like) Red (don’t like) and White (on the fence).

And the winner, well…. that turned into a tie – with a very close second.

Ferrandiere and Pillitteri took top honors – with Tarara coming in close (by 1 vote)  – the others did well, as in none fell solidly into the “omg, I won’t drink this now, much less ever again” category – and all received at least 2 don’t likes. There were a few minds changed as participants went back and tasted a second time – there may have been an attempt at ballot stuffing, but that was promptly halted by one of our felines chasing a shadow, instead of playing with the chips.

So what do the results tell you?

Everyone’s palate is different. It’s a combination of good food, good wine and good company that makes your experience a memorable one!

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Niagara Wine – Caroline Cellars Winery

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Caroline Cellars Winery is a 36 acre vineyard started in 2000, and opened as a tasting room in 2002. The winery’s namesake (Rick Lakeit’s Mother) is memorialized in a portrait above a lovely stone fireplace in the tasting room.  Luckily, the air conditioning was on for our 95+ degree day visit, but I could imagine it being quite cozy on a winter day.

The soils are primarily sandy loam, characteristic of the  Niagara Lakeshore. The winery is producing a full selection of vinifera wines – whites and reds – and they carry a Baco Noir for my fellow baco fans. There is also quite a selection of fruit wines and ice wine available. The Lakeit family (Rick Lakeit, winemaker) is producing some excellent vintages, and Justine, the Retail Manager is a great face and tweeter for the winery. You can follow them on Twitter at @carolinecellars

Highlights of the tasting:

Their 2008 Tanked is an unoaked chardonnay with melon, pineapple and mango notes. It boasts a full mouthfeel and crisp finish. A good stainless chardonnay at a $9.50 price point!

The 2009 Gewurtztraminer is a refreshing white with very little sugar – though you do get the honeysuckle and orange on both nose and palate. A good wine for Asian cuisine at $14.70.

Caroline also has a very unique Plum wine, and if you are a fan of sushi, but not saki, I’d recommend this to pair with a sushi feast. A surprise flavor for certain, but the winemaker balances it well, and $11.50 per bottle, its a great value.

The Lunch Menu

The winery boasts a beautiful wrap around covered seating area, perfect for summer sipping, and their restaurant serves a wonderful lunch Friday-Sunday. We enjoyed a flatbread pizza and some awesome crab cakes. 

The friendly staff also has a special connection with one of my favorite Virginia winemakers, Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery. Jordan is one among an increasing number of excellent winemakers from Niagara College in Ontario. Both Niagara College and Brock University have impressive oenology and viticulture programs, as proven when we met several graduates during our visits. I was also pleased to discover that a large number of those award winning winemaker graduates are women. Cheers to Girl Power in the vineyards! 

Niagara Wine – Reif Estate Winery

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Reif Estate Winery is one of the original wineries in NotL – founded by Ewald Reif in 1983 and situated within yards of the Niagara River. Klaus Reif took over in 1987 after graduating from the Geisenheim Institute in Germany with degrees in both Oenology and Viticulture. Their winemaking history goes back 12 generations, so one must assume its in the blood. With 125 acres, this winery is just off the Niagara Parkway, so its popular with the bike riders and “hen parties”. However, they do have an interesting and well appointed back bar where they do tasting experiences – pairings, blind tastings, and special tastings – for a slight upcharge from normal tasting prices. Its worth the extra dollars to not fight the crowd at the tasting bar.

Borrowed Image – so you can see the Room, and not the crowd.

Going back to my Virginia roots, we tasted the Vidal. This is a wine I’ve had a fondness for when its on the dry side, and their 2011 does not disappoint. A fruit forward and balanced wine, the vidal has crisp acidity on the finish. A bit of Grapefruit and peach on the mid palate makes this an easy drinking summer wine that can be paired with any light summer dinner, or sipped on during a steamy day. At $9.95, its one of the best Vidal values I’ve seen.

The Gamay Noir has an enticing blend of raspberry and cherry on the nose. I really enjoyed the pepper finish and its a well balanced wine with smooth tannins. Gamay is flourishing in Niagara, and Reif does an excellent job with it. $16.95 retail.

The First Growth series are harvested from the oldest vineyard blocks and are created for extended cellaring. The 2007 Merlot presents with leather and plum – the finish is very dry with puckering tannins. Even at 5 years old, this wine should be decanted now, and can easily cellar another 5-10 years to integrate those tannins. This one retails at $50.

Their Riesling TBA (Totally Botrytis Affected) is everything a Sauterne should be, right here in Canada. The naturally occurring “Noble Rot” flourished in the vineyard in 2009, so the grapes were harvested and placed in a kiln to encourage growth of the bacteria. The result is a tangelo and truffle nose with lemon on the palate. Beautiful, and $50 retail.

The tasting room is well staffed with educated associates, and their enterprise is well organized, even with the sheer number of folks visiting. The winemaker was spotted weaving his way through the crowds on this busy Saturday, and it seemed everyone we spoke with was in some way related. After producing wines for almost 30 years in Canada, the family tradition continues. 

Ontario Wine – There’s Gold on that Peninsula

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#Writers Note# This article will be added to as additional winery profiles are written. Stay tuned!

We all know MissWineOH is all about the beauty, increasing quality, and friendliness of Virginia Wine. But lets talk about one of the most stunning grape growing areas I’ve had the privilege to visit. Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Just a 3.5 hour drive from Cleveland, for the wine lover, this is a must do vacation on the east coast. A brief stop on either end at beautiful Niagara Falls is a nice break from the wine. Though, if you haven’t had enough, or want to get started, all of the restaurants we went into only served Ontario wine, something you definitely don’t see in the US.

The Canadian Falls area is much more touristy and great for families in need of entertaining their kids.

Niagara Falls, Canadian Side

If you want a more relaxed visit, take in the American side, which is a park preserve, and you can go down near the falls on that side.

Niagara Falls, American side

That’s a LOT of grapes.

And then just 10km north, you start seeing this.

Our visits took us to 12 wineries, several restaurants, and into a wine community that we fully intend to explore again. Our two day trip marked off less than 1/2 of the wineries in Niagara on the Lake alone. For a great wine trip planner visit Wine Country Ontario.

The Niagara Peninsula appellation is the designation for this area, and there are 32 varietals being grown on 13,600 acres. Within the Peninsula, Niagara on the Lake is a regional designation, encompassing four sub-appellations: Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench. While this may seem like a deep dive into naming conventions, it helps to understand this as you visit the wineries throughout Niagara on the Lake, because these designations become apparent in the wine, even in such a small geographic area. I was in wine geek heaven. For more information on soils, climate and other geeky information, visit the VQA Ontario.

And speaking of VQA. When you put your hands on a bottle of Ontario wine, you will find the VQA label on most of them. VQA Ontario is a provincial regulatory authority that administers Ontario’s wine appellation system. It’s primary functions are wine testing, audits, inspections, and compliance. This indicates a standard of quality the wine is upholding (via testing and approval) when it bears that label.

Click on a name below to see our adventures!

Caroline Cellars                              Pillitteri Estates                                 Reif Estate Winery

Pondview Estates                          Riverview Cellars                               Ravine Estates

Chateau des Charmes                   Coyote Run Estate Winery

Thirty Bench Wine Makers         Stratus                                                   Hillebrand

After reading my notes from the wineries, you may think that I loved everything in Niagara. I can tell you that there’s only one winery I encountered where I didn’t care for any of the wines I tasted, but that doesn’t mean they were bad. Just not what we were after.

If you’ve visited these wineries, please add your thoughts – and if I missed one you think I should add to the next trip, I’ve started a list, so please add those in the comments as well!

Niagara Wine – Pillitteri Estates

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Hall of Fame at Pillitteri – Ice Wines

Pillitteri Estates is a must see visit due to their production of IceWine, and the incredible table and chairs in their barrel cellar. They are the largest estate producer of ice wine in the world, with 120,000 case production, 50% in IceWine alone, and exporting to 30 countries.  They have 40 acres under vine on the estate, plus 60 acres in the Niagara Escarpment (the next regional appellation over) – and with family owned holdings included, Pillitteri controls between 250 and 300 acres. The winery also produces several series of wines, from the Twenty Three, the Exclamation Cellar series and The Family Reserve line of individually numbered wines.

Prized Family Heirloom – the Carretto

Pillitteri is conveniently located on a main road just outside of town – and right in the middle of a cluster of wineries.

On the Family Reserve label you’ll find the Carretto, an intricately carved Sicilian cart, painted with the history of Pillitteri family ancestors. It is proudly displayed in the gallery just inside the tasting room. 

The incredible barrel cellar table, measuring 500 inches in length, the beautiful commissioned set of chairs, and why the number 23 pops up all over are best explained here:  

The 2006 Late Harvest Chambourcin is an almost perfect specimen of this grape, and being the Chambourcin fan that I am, I had to try it. The grapes were harvested at 34.6 brix and fermented down to about 13% RS. This would be beautiful as an aperitif, with flavors of apricot and mango. It retails for $25.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine is harvested at 37 brix and carries 21.5% RS, but you’d never know it from the taste (it is sweet, don’t get me wrong!) With smoke and honey on the nose, and strawberry and pepper on the palate. This ice wine is a great reminder of why one should take that sip, let the wine warm in your mouth, and then swallow to get all of the flavors available. It retails for $60.

Other Ice Wines we particularly enjoyed were the 2008 Sangiovese Ice Wine($50) – if it were paired with Creme Brulee, it might be heaven. And the 2008 Riesling Ice Wine ($30) with a great floral nose and balance that made me want to keep sipping. Sadly, we were unable to taste the Exclamation Cellar series or the Family Reserve line due to time constraints and availability – perhaps next trip a few of those will make their way home with us. The Ice Wine alone is well worth the trip, as they do an incredible job. 

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