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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! 

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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. 

We Might Have Lost our WITS, but We Found Excellent Wine

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MissWineOH and company were asked to participate in the #WITS2012 Twitter Tasting event in conjunction with WineTwits, so we piled onto the rooftop deck with much anticipation. When the wines arrived, we were ready to pair, taste and tweet about four wines from California.

Wente 2010 Morning Fog Charndonnay was the first wine of the evening. This was paired with a romaine lettuce salad that I first experienced at Hillebrand in Niagara this past weekend. I don’t think I did Chef Dodd’s dish any justice, but it was pretty darn tasty. You can find my recipe here.

The Morning Fog lifted the dish to a beautiful profile with green apple on the nose, and soft citrus notes as it eased into a finish. As y’all know, I am not a fan of the oaky chardonnay, and it was obvious the oak was judiciously used to provide a light buttery medium mouthfeel. At $12.99, (slightly higher in Ohio) this will be a versatile crowd pleaser, as it paired seamlessly with the romaine, prosciutto, crab salad and caeser in the dish. 

Our second wine comes from Hahn Family Wines and home to my favorite wine banned in Alabama (Cycles Gladiator) – the 2011 Pinot Noir quickly became a crowd favorite. With strong berry and cherry flavors on the nose, with a hint of black currant, this pinot finishes with notes of marshmallow. I will attribute that to the winemakers use of caramelized oak on the wine. I am not at all saying the wine is sweet, though your tastebuds may argue with that point initially. The structure of the tannins and medium mouthfeel hold up well with a variety of dishes. We served a Cardamom Salmon spread over plain bagel chips (recipe here) and had trouble pulling away from this pairing to move on to the next wine!

Our third wine was the Garnet 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir paired with a Black Quinoa and Spinich with Basil Pesto. Garnet Vineyards has been making cool climate pinots since 1983, and the current winemaker Allison Crowe joined the tasting to give us her insights into the wine. While the Hahn pinot was overwhelmingly the favorite of our guests, I truly enjoyed the subtlety of this wine. Strawberry and Vanilla with a smooth enticing spice finish off with elegant oak and “drink right now” tannins that makes this CArneros Pinot Noir a go to red around MissWineOH headquarters. This wine is on the higher end of our wine buying for dinner, at $19.99 (and is not available in Ohio) but go get this wine, I loved it. The quinoa dish got lost in the structure of this wine, so the recommendation is to add a pork tenderloin or for a vegetarian twist, a well seasoned tofu, on top of the quinoa. You can find the recipe here.

The last wine was a bit of a struggle for us. Franciscan Estate sent us their 2008 Magnificat, a Mertiage blend. I had opened this a bit ahead, and aerated each glass, but it seemed either very tight in the bottle or slight off. After multiple aerations (and a later decanting) it was sadly determined that the wine was corked. We paired this complex red with a well seasoned Meatballs and Marinara, and those came out beautifully. That recipe is here. I’m not one to give up on a wine, so I’ll be looking for a bottle in the area to try. We’ll let you know how that works out. Based on the comments from tasters in the twitterverse, I’ll recommend this wine. The 2007 is listed at $50.00 per bottle, so a special occasion/cellar wine for us.

Many thanks to the wineries, our MissWineOH who participated on a school night, and the folks at Wine Twits for organizing it all.

Have you tried these wines? Or the recipes? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Sipping!

#Writers Note# The four wines for this tasting were received as samples courtesy of the wineries and WineTwits. Thank you for letting us participate.

What to do when you have too many strawberries, and a bottle of Viognier

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On a hot summer evening, I’m loathe to make anything too complicated for dinner. But on an evening when it is cool enough, I have no choice but to get creative. I just can’t seem to help myself.

That’s how I came to pull a bottle of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc|Viognier from the cooler. There was a crate of strawberries in the refrigerator from the Tremont Farmers Market, one of the best neighborhood markets I’ve seen, and they were calling out for attention, paticularly once the Viognier had a chance to sit in the glass for a bit.

Pine Ridge Vineyards is located in the Central Valley region of California – they’ve been making wines since 1978, and are known for their Bordeaux blends. Today, the Estate’s 200-acres span over five renowned Napa Valley appellations – Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Oakville, Carneros and Howell Mountain.

This is one you don’t want to serve too cold – at about 55-60 degrees you find bright aromas of citrus and flowers, a somewhat creamy mouthfeel, with bright acidity. I was impressed with the lasting finish with tropical citrus and a hint of honey. And the $13 price is right in the sweet spot. This bottle came from Wine and Design in Tremont.

The strawberries came in with the meal I prepared to go with. Pan baked chicken tenderloins, seasoned with lemon and garlic and topped with a strawberry and fig chutney – accompanied by roasted cauliflower and red pepper was the meal of the night.

With the crisp acidityof the Chenin Blanc and the floral and light honey notes of the Viognier, the wine blended seamlessly with the flavors of the food. You can find the recipe for the strawberry and fig chutney here.

When you walk the aisles of your local wine shop in search of a crisp, but full white wine for your summer dinner. Look at the chenin blancs, or viogniers (or a blend of the two, like this one!) Great summer sipper.

GrilledShane.com, the perfect accompaniment to MissWineOH

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Please welcome GrilledShane as a guest blogger on MissWineOH. This post is part of the Ohio Blogging Association‘s Blog Swap this month. Many thanks to Poise in Parma for organizing and compiling the complete list of swaps.

So, here’s Shane, and all his grilled cheese glory!

Hesitant to partake in the Ohio Blogging Association Blog Swap, all my concerns vanished once it became apparent that I would be paired with a MissWineOH. A better partner, a wine blog, I could not have found to compliment my sandwiches. This has been a great experience for everyone involved and I must thank Tammy for her being such a gracious host.

Bread may be the staple of life…but with cheese it is heaven. Throw in some wine and you have a party.

Everyone remembers the traditional grilled cheese sandwich consisting of American cheese and processed white bread. However, not everyone realizes that a grilled cheese sandwich can (and should) be so much more. That is why I created GrilledShane.com…to educate the world on the amazing possibilities of the grilled cheese sandwich.

As far back as I can remember, my mother would make grilled cheese sandwiches with a special sweet butter that Nanny (my grandmother) used for the same exact sandwich. As I matured and could cook my own grilled cheese sandwiches, I still turned to my mother to make that simple, yet delicious sandwich. The mother’s touch of tradition and nostalgia simply made the gooey cheese and toasted/grilled bread taste all the better…even when still cooked with white bread and American cheese.

That emotional attachment attracted me to the grilled cheese sandwich and led me to become obsessed with a sandwich. Yes, I GrilledShane, am obsessed with the grilled cheese. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Even as someone who creates only vegetarian sandwiches, the grilled cheese sandwich possibilities are as endless as one’s imagination. Discover a new ingredient? Try it in a grilled cheese sandwich and you will be amazed at your new creation. Over the past three plus years, I have included such odd ingredients as mashed potatoes, edamame, nachos, grapes and tofu and each one was more enjoyable than the previous.

Recently, I created 80 new recipes in just a few weeks time, split between savory and sweet creations, for a new GrilledShane cookbook that will be released in November. Although I can’t specifically mention the ingredients I used, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, the versatility of this sandwich became more and more evident as the absurd, but delicious, ideas flowed out of my head.

Now these sandwiches from the cookbook, as well as the many original recipes on my blog, are not only sandwiches to be eaten specifically for lunch. Many could be eaten as a main course to a foodie feast or a great breakfast on a lazy weekend morning or the perfect finish to a multi-course experience.

Obviously, MissWineOH focuses on wines, of which I have very little knowledge. Sure, I know that I prefer white wines over reds, but that is as far as my experience in the wine world goes. However, I do know that wine and cheese is as classic a pairing as peanut butter and jelly. Wrapping the cheese in some unique and flavorful bread and melting it does not change the fact that wine is still the perfect drink of choice when enjoying a unique and gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.

grilledshane is devoted to all things grilled cheese: homemade recipes, news, and humorous anecdotes. Original gourmet vegetarian grilled cheese sandwiches are created with a unique twist. After reading, you will come to realize that grilled cheese sandwiches can be much more than two pieces of bread and one slice of cheese. MELT, a 100-recipe cookbook authored by GrilledShane is to be released just in time for the holiday season, November, 2012.

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