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Category Archives: wineries

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! 

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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. 

Tiny Bubbles, in my wine….

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pardon the Don Ho flashbacks….

Mr WineOH and I headed over to Lago for a Bubbles tasting with a Northeast Ohio wine group. What better way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon than sipping on some bubbles and meeting new friends!

Our hosts were Mindy and Alice from WineTrends, an Ohio distributor – so all of the sparklings we tasted are available in the Cleveland Metro area. John from Lago was gracious enough to open the doors early for the group – and provide us with appetizers. This restaurant specializes in northern italian cuisine and has a nice by the glass list. They also have a lovely patio with live music on warm days.

Now, on the the Bubbles!

zardetto prosecco label We started with Zardetto Prosecco – this one is aged in stainless steel.  Any sparklings produced in Italy after 2009 must be from Prosecco to be CALLED Prosecco, otherwise, it is called Glara –  much like the limitations placed on french wines, including Champagne. See more about that here.

The Zardetto is 95% Prosecco and 5% Chardonnay – we found crisp acidity and green apple flavors. Its floral on the nose, and soft on the palate. We got to this one a bit warm, which presented as flat. This one is bone dry, compared to other proseccos you’ll find. At $12.99 – I place it high on the QPR scale.

Loosen Sparkling Riesling label Dr. L Dr. L Sparkling Riesling was next on the menu – 100% pure Riesling from one of the most accessible German producers. The Dr. L is another stainless steel sparkling, called “Sekt” in Germany and is produced using the Charmat method. The secondary fermentation is done in a pressurized tank, producing smaller, longer-lasting bubbles; as opposed to Methode Champenoise, where secondary fermentation is in the bottle. If you are curious about this process, read more here.

The Dr. L was definitely bubble heavy, almost too heavy on my palate. Even the finish had a strong effervescence. I got stone fruit on the nose, and some banana on the palate. It is an interesting and affordable sparkling at $11.99.

Laetitia Pink Sparkling labelWe then headed to the Arroyo Grande Valley in California, tasting Laetitia Brut Rosé – this one is produced in small batch tanks – medium bubbles and elegant fruit, mostly strawberry – showing off the Pinot Noir base, and a niggle (that’s a technical term) of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. If you like pink bubbles, you’ll like this one, as it’s an easy sipper, though I could see it an easy pairing with chicken or fish. Selling at $19.99, I’d put it midrange on the QPR scale.

Taltarni Brut Tache label Next on the trip was Victoria,  Australia, with Taltarni Brut Taché. Made from 54% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier – this sparkling is elegant, floral and has just the right amount of bubbles for me. according to the winemaker’s notes, the pink hue is achieved by adding a hint of red wine liqueur to the finished wine at disgorgement. Strawberry and floral on the nose, I got less of the Pinot Noir in this one. The mouthfeel was luscious and the complex yeast characters typical of well made sparklings were obvious. At a local price of $29.99, its a bit lower on the QPR scale, but I found it online for around $23. I think its worth that price.

We had to spend some time with the French bubbles of course, which means the prices get well…. pricey!

ayala zero dosage brut champagne

The Ayala Brut Zero Dosage was the first of the French champagnes, and is a lesson in how champagne is made. Champagne spends many months, sometimes years maturing in bottle on its yeast lees.  At the end of this time, the wine is ‘disgorged’, meaning the yeast lees are removed.  A final ‘dosage’ – a wine/sugar solution – is added immediately afterwards, which gives the wine the level of dryness/sweetness required by the cellar master.

This is a zero dosage champagne and with no residual sugar, an extremely dry wine.

40% pinot noir; 40% chardonnay; 20% pinot meunier – a delicate effervescence, distinct fruitiness and a long finish.

This was my favorite of the tasting… but as MamaWineOH would remind me. I can walk into a store and fall in love with the most expensive item, without looking at the pricetags.

This champagne retails at $49.99.

champagne j lassalle

The Champagne J Lassalle was the grower champagne of the event. It is grown and produced by three women at this family owned Champagne house in Chigny-Les-Roses in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France. This is a Kermit Lynch import selection, and one of impeccable taste. A blend of 60/40 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it is a distinctive Premier Cru Champagne. Fruity and soft, dry and beautifully structured with a long finish – a champagne to truly sip and enjoy. This bottle would work perfectly for any special occasion and is available from fine wine merchants in Cleveland. It retails for $49.99.

The tasting was lovely, and bubbles are a great way to spend an afternoon. I love Lago Restaurant in Tremont – but there was not a lot of thought put into the pairings on the appetizers. One of the apps was heavy onion – which can do some serious damage to the palate, particularly when tasting the delicate flavors in champagne.

The price was right at $30 for this tasting. I’d just as soon have had a bit of brie and crackers to nibble with the bubbles though.

Winery Adventure – Markko Vineyards

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Markko Vineyards - front entrance

A regal entrance into one of Ohio’s oldest and most successful wineries.

Markko Vineyards isn’t the easiest place to find. There is no big sign indicating “Winery Here” – in fact, there are no signs at all. I got a bit turned around on the back roads off of I-90 because of some bridge work (now completed) – but if you follow the directions from the Markko website, you’ll get there fine. And you should. You should make an appointment for a tasting, and go out and try these wines in Conneaut, Ohio. Arnie Esterer, owner and winemaker, has a theory. “Our wines are good. If they like good wine, they’ll find us,” so he’s not worried about drawing a crowd. He’s been at this for over 40 years, and he knows what he’s talking about – his wines are divine.

Markko WineryThis is not a “destination winery” and not one to appear on the cover of a tourist magazine, but the wines are worthy of The Beard House and the New York Times. There is a small tasting room with a table for 12, and old growth tree shaded deck. Perfect for one of their Perch and Riesling lunches.

Back deck at Markko

I chatted with Arnie and his son, opening bottles here and there, while we talked  about this incredible adventure they’ve been on. The goal when Arnie Esterer and Tim Hubbard started was to show the potential of Vinifera in the Lake Erie region – it wasn’t an AVA yet in 1968. They were looking for the terroir, and by george, I think they found it.

Markko has 16 acres under vine, and every bottle produced comes from estate grapes, producing about 2100 cases annually. When Markko got started they planted Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir under the guidance of Dr. Konstantin Frank (a New York winemaker). Later Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Merlot were added to the plantings. Over the last 44 years, Arnie has become known as pioneer in Ohio winemaking.

Once Arnie came back from testing the wines they intended to bottle that day, we started the tasting with his Chardonnay.

2007 Chardonnay Select Reserve, bottled in ’09 (I tasted in 2011, so it’d been aging in the bottle 2 years) This spent 2 years on oak, but the flavor of the chardonnay grape shines through. Apple and pear on the palate, buttery on the finish. I am in no way an oaky chardonnay fan – much prefer them stainless steel, but WOW. Beautiful. ($33) – This one was paired at a MissWineOH event with chicken salad toast points and fresh garden salsa crostinis.

2004 Chardonnay Reserve This spent 7 years sur lee on American oak. Yes, you read that right – 7 years. This one had less of the fruit on the palate, but the butter was certainly present. I’d call this a perfectly oaked Chardonnay. (2005 is $30, I don’t think the 2004 is available)

2007 Chardonnay Lot 0703 Three years on oak, and fined with egg whites. Pleasant fruit, crisp and aromatic. Slightly more obvious oak here. ($24)

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve A beautiful field blended Cab, smooth tannins and well balanced. Blending consists of 5% each of merlot, cab franc and chambourcin. Gorgeous. ($33)

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Having tasted the 07, I grasped just how Markko wines are meant to be aged. The 08 had more prominent alcohol, and was slightly more tannic. It is also a drier red, but has the same full mouthfeel as the 07. Similar field blend.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve The smoothest of the Cabs. Very fruit forward, the complexity of the field blending shows with fun layers of the chambourcin and cab franc peeking through. This wine, while aged similarly to the others in its oak barrels, did not have the oak intensity – beautiful wine, and any of the Cabs could lay down for many years. ($36)

2008 Johannesburg Riesling Grassy and slightly floral on the nose stone fruit on the palate, slight effervescence that makes this a great wine to pair with spicy dishes. (currently not available)

2007 Riesling Reserve More grassy and slightly petrol on the nose, with honey on the finish. This one also has that effervescence. ($30) I paired this at a special event with a pumpkin cupcake. Beautiful wine.

Arnie did not stop being an innovator when he planted vinifera in Ohio in 1968. He also devised a trellis system for organic grapegrowers and planted American, French and Hungarian oak trees on his 100 acre property.  The intent was to be able to harvest these (now 40 year old) trees to be sent to a cooperage to become Markko barrels. That harvesting begins this year. Winemaking innovation and excellence is  a hallmark at Markko.

I arrived with the intention of doing a bit of a tasting and picking up a bottle for an event I was doing. I stayed about 2.5 hours, and had I been dressed differently, I might have been conscripted to help cork their wines. They were bottling that day, a fun thing to watch, an incredibly labor intensive process to complete. They use a pump system and hand run equipment to bottle and seal.

Employee Notice - wash your feet

Arnie’s son told me during our conversation that they opened a 1973 Chardonnay a week before I’d been there, and that it had aged beautifully. I just wish I’d been around for THAT tasting. These Ohio wines, while not exactly budget friendly, are priced extremely well for the quality and pricing of comparable wines. Don’t let the Ohio AVA fool you. There are serious vintages being made in Conneaut.

Markko’s first vintage was in 1972, and their system works, so they aren’t fixing what’s not broken. Markko wines are available in wine shops throughout Northeast Ohio. I have spotted them in Heinen’s and in Constantino’s. They do have a few budget friendly wines ($9-$20) – and while I haven’t tasted them, I can’t imagine Arnie and Linda would put out a wine they wouldn’t drink. These folks make cellar worthy wines.

Sipping Sweetness – Dessert Style

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Sipping Sweetness – Dessert Style

I am a sucker for a good dessert wine during the holiday season. I’ve been known to open up a late harvest wine while preparing a holiday season meal or party appetizers. While these wines can – and should – be enjoyed any time of the year – they are particularly endearing during this season. Late harvest wine, Icewine, Port and Sherry are all included in this category. While true port and sherry is particular to specific regions of the world – this is a great opportunity to explore varieties from the “Other 46”.

Chocolate Lab from Barrel Oak Winery

courtesy of Vinoshipper

Chocolate Lab, Barrel Oak Winery, Delaplane, VA – $31

Chocolate Lab is my recommendation for anyone who would like to experience something in the “chocolate wine” catagory, but isn’t enthused with the idea of merlot blended with chocolate syrup. This is a totally unique port style wine infused with essences drawn from cocoa beans added to the wine during secondary fermentation. Its not terribly sweet at 5% RS, and its been aged in recovered American oak whiskey barrels. I’ve paired with berry tarts. This is one of a kind and delicious.

Gray Ghost Winery - dessert wine

Adieu, Late Harvest Vidal Blanc, Gray Ghost Vineyards, Amissville, VA – $23-25

This one is produced only in exceptional years, so its not always available, but when it is – wow – a special wine!  With an RS of 11.5%  – although it really doesn’t taste like its that high, it makes for a perfect after dinner sipper. Rich peach, honey, Muscat and apricot aromas compliment a light cheese platter or your holiday pumpkin pie.

Ferrante Cab Franc Ice Wine

Cabernet Franc Ice Wine, Ferrante Winery, Harpersfield Township, OH – $34.99

One of the sweetest ice wines I’ve tried recently is the Ferrante Cab Franc Ice Wine. This one is from select estate grown grapes frozen on the vine. Aromas and flavors of sweet raspberry and cherry. 17% Residual Sugar. While it is definitely a sweet one, the cab franc flavor from Ferrante’s wonderful estate grapes is obvious, and a red dessert wine is still a unique experience at most parties. I pair this one with savory tarts, mince meat pies or créme brule. This is a red wine, but please chill it down for the best experience.

Seven port wine - King Family VineyardsSeven, 2009, Port Wine from Merlot grapes, King Family Vineyards, Crozet, VA $29.95

At the American Wine Bloggers Conference, we encountered some folks in the atrium pouring a Virginia post style wine that I’d never seen. Named for the 7th chukker in polo ~ like the 19th hole in golf, its made in the traditional Porto style with an American twist. This port wine is made with 100% Merlot and is fortified with brandy. Aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for 2 years and bottled as a 500mL – slightly larger than most of these. 3% residual sugar. 18% alcohol.  If you are a port fan, this wine will tickle your fancy.

Hanover Park Winery Port HanoverPort Hanover, Chambourcin port style wine, Hanover Park Vineyards, Yadkinville, NC – $17

As a fan of the Chambourcin grape, I was really impressed with this port when I first experienced it. It is a beautiful example of all of the characteristics of the Chambourcin, a grape showing some serious success in North Carolina  – and showcased in a port style. An easy port wine to pair with an asiago cheese ball or dessert pieces from Lilly’s Chocolates, like the Cinnabunny.

The Virginia and North Carolina wines are available to be shipped to Ohio, and while Ferrante is only available in Ohio, the winery’s location close to Lake Erie, and many other wineries make for a great day trip. I have not seen the ice wine in retail stores in Cleveland, but it may be available if your wine shop carries Ferrante wines.

Do you have a favorite dessert, icewine (eiswein), or domestic port? Share them in the comments!

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