A limousine, a helicopter ride over one of the world's best known waterfalls, Segways, and best of all, eating and drinking your way through Ontario's rich wine country. How is this my life?! Thanks to an invite to participate in an LCBO-sponsored tour of Niagara's vineyards, it wasn't just a Bond marathon-fevered dream.
To help get the word out about the wealth of great wines available in our own back yard, ahead of the LCBO's fall "People Are Talking" Go Local campaign, I was part of a group of bloggers and food/wine/travel writers visiting four wineries. Once we arrived in Niagara, our first stop was a literal overview of the area in my first ever helicopter ride. What an incredible experience! And a hell of a way to see Niagara Falls. There was even a rainbow.
After that exciting start, we made our way to Château des Charmes, where Michelle Bosc greeted us with a refreshing glass of their Brut sparkling wine. After a brief stroll through the vines, where Michelle told us the history of the estate, we sat down to taste in the great outdoors. My favourite was the 2007 Cab Merlot, with a nose of polish, cedar and blackberry, and tasting of big, fat berries and pepper. The most interesting I found was the 2010 barrel fermented Chardonnay, which was warm tasting with a light, almost bourbony sweetness and slight, especially for a chard, acid at the back of the tongue.
Rounding out the tasting, accompanied by fenugreek gouda, Benedictine blue, C'est Bon chèvre and Fleur de mont cheeses, were the CDC 2010 Aligoté, 2009 Riesling, 2009 Gamay Noir and 2009 Vidal Icewine. All these are available now at LCBO, excpet the Icewine, which comes out in Vintages on September 8, and range in price rom $12.55 to $25.95.
Next up was lunch at Trius at Hillebrand. Eating al fresco, highlights of the menu from Chef Frank Dodd were the Wellington County beef ribeye with riesling sauerkraut and the sour cream tart with bench raspberries and sorrel ice cream. It was nice to end the meal with a dessert that wasn't super sweet, especially as it was paired with the 2010 Trius Vidal Icewine. We also tried the Brut Rosé, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (smelling strongly of jasmine and overripe peaches), and the 2010 Merlot. Of course, being a dyed-in-the-wool red lover, my favourite was the Merlot. It smelled of wood shavings and chocolate cherry, with an herby taste and soft berry finish. This one definitely benefits from decanting.
At Henry of Pelham, co-owner Daniel Speck greeted us with a glass of their Cuvée Catherine Brut Rosé. While half of us got a tour of the property and a tasting in their cellar, the other got to zip around the property on Segways, switching at the halfway point. I'm just going to put it out there that I've added Segway to my Christmas wish list.
But, back to the wines. We tasted their 2011 Pinot Grigio, 2007 Pinot Noir, Reserve and 2010 Baco Noir, Reserve. This was my kind of wine lineup, with even the white being one of the varietals I can enjoy. The knockout wine was, without a doubt, the baco. Right up my alley with a nose of candy corn and peanut shells, it was characteristically big, juicy and chewy with flavours of pine, tobacco and cherry, finishing off very cleanly.
Then it was off to Peninsula Ridge for dinner with our host, owner Norman Beal. Chef Pierre Bourget selected items from their regular menu, so we could experience what a regular meal at the restaurant would be like. Some people teased me for loving the Grilled romaine heart Ceasar so much, but it wasn't something I'd ever had before. Grilled lettuce? Who knew? But the slight char on the greens was wonderful with the salty proscuitto, capers, Asiago and anchovy. My other favourite dish was the dessert - a Ratafia poached pear wrapped in phyllo pastry, filled with spicy chocolate ganache, sat in a pool of confit fennel sauce. Nothing wrong with pear and chocolate together.
As we left the restaurant, we looked out across the lake to our final destination... home. Full and happy after a fun-filled day, I couldn't recommend more highly taking a trip out to Niagara wine country to sample the incredible wines and food available. With over 80 wineries in 4 main appellation and 12 sub-appelation regions, there's plenty to explore in some of the most spectacular landscapes you could encounter. And harvest season is just around the corner, so there'll be lots of activity. To help you get started, visit the Wine Country Ontario site. Go now, go local.