I ordered a pair of Discovery Passes months before the festival, once I knew for sure I was going and had secured a hotel (the new Wyndham Garden Hotel). The $40 pass contains eight vouchers to be used for ice wine-food pairings that cost $10 individually. Why did I buy the passes so early? What if they sold out??
Then the fun began reading about the pairings and selecting a route. I tend to favour savoury foods and I wondered with the wineries only being open six hours and potentially leaving early on the second day, how would we squeeze in eight wineries? Will the roads be difficult to drive even with a rental car with snow tires? Should I have gotten a shuttle pass (another $40) or would I be driving “drunk”? Would the winery route be patrolled by police?
Coming into Niagara-on-the-Lake on the QEW, hitting up Konzelmann Estate Winery on Lakeshore was the natural first stop. Konzelmann is in a cute manor and I called them to inquire about the ice wine offering because some other wineries had stated “No reservations required” , thus, did I need to make some at Konzelmann? The staff who answered my call was so friendly and assured me it was informal generally during the wine festival and there was a lot of room and plenty for everyone.
They were pouring a 2010 Vidal ice wine and pairing it with a PEI lobster bisque topped with fresh cream and a backerhaus crostini. It was lukewarm but nice. We perused the wine boutique and I came away with a bottle of their red Sushi Wine. The sushi wines debuted only a year ago for which they threw a big sushi party. Time/excuse for my own sushi party and I knew we’ll be ordering from Sushi California!
We drive along Lakeshore to Jackson Triggs’ Niagara winery. Like in the Okanagan, their building looks modern and specifically built. As we would experience in later wineries, they were serving their pairing in their dining hall, a bright window-lined room where you could sit comfortably and hang out for a bit.
They were pouring a 2008 Reserve Cabernet Franc (red!) ice wine paired with a piece of Valrhona cocoa and caraway ribs topped with pineapple avocado salsa. The enthusiastic young server described the flavours and how it worked with the bolder red ice wine. The rib was not as tender as I would have liked but the flavour was good. They would have one of the nicest presentations we would see.
We walked into the busy and buzzing wine boutique and saw plenty of people at the multiple counters doing tastings but what was the pairing again and where was it taking place? We’d learn the wineries separated ice wine pairings from their wine shops where the regular tastings take place. We were directed to go outside… brrr!
Four fire pits were going on outside as the two ice wines being poured were paired with marshmallows you roast yourself! I can’t remember what was being poured but the second glass (two samples!) was an oaked (or unoaked?) Chardonnay ice wine. The giant square marshmallows were skewered with correspondingly thick sticks and we eagerly proceeded to roast them at the nearest fire pit.
I roasted mine perfectly and the outermost layer was a dream-crisp like a creme brulee top. Something was special about these marshmallows. Indeed, I would read later they are made fresh, a brilliant creation of winery chef and CityLine personality Jason Parsons, coated with ice wine reduction. No wonder about how it crisped up! I was so happy that it was totally okay to roast the inside layer as well. :P
We enjoyed our second marshmallow and ice wine inside in the large reception area furnished with many couches. The cozy lobby reminded me of the Grouse Mountain chalet but with more refined and cleaner. It felt like a party at a mansion. :-)
The second glass of ice wine made me feel a little warm so we killed some more time trying their offerings from the Icewine Market Menu, a boar sausage and poutine. Have I said it was a really nice place to hang out??
Ahead of the trip, I had a few worries. I worried because I was declining full insurance on the car and the pushy associate at the counter tried to scare me about a full size car’s ability to handle the road to get me to upgrade to a 4×4. Not a chance! Driving was fine even though I had just five hours of sleep. The roads were fine with some slippery patches on the regional roads but nothing bad. I also worried about potentially being drunk. There was no need to worry-the pours of ice wine, which has no more alcohol content than wine, were just about one ounce. And we would visit the wine shop and spend more time”sobering up”.
As we drove up to Reif Estate I wondered why I had picked that place. We soon found out when we went behind the wine shop and entered a cellar-like room. The corrugated walls are painted black and the ceiling was high. They were holding their annual pig roast and the pork was being handled by two guys from Pig Out! Each of us were given a glass of Reif Estate Vidal ice wine and a spit roasted porketta sandwich with apple ice wine sauce. I also snagged a crisp piece of the skin. The pork was so tender and good even with no additional flavours!
I like the branding of some of their wines, reminiscent of tarot cards. I got a bottle of Hanging Man Kerner which is sweet and
a little earthy. (Update: while the Kerner tasted earthy to me when I tasted it after having ice wine and the sandwich, I brought it with a wine tasting where the earthy taste was then missing.)
Our fifth and last stop for the was Inniskillin, otherwise if we went to a sixth winery, we would only have two vouchers for the next day… balance! They were pouring their 2012 Riesling ice wine and paired it with lobster chili which we enjoyed in their Founder’s Hall. It was a bit like a bean minestrone with lobster claws visible. It had a fennel and caraway taste that I thought paired extremely well with the ice wine.
I don’t know if it was the impending Chinese New Year looming up or just how luxe it looks, but I loved the deep red labels. We saw the ultimate luxury wine item (for me)-sparkling ice wine! So pricey!
I’ve found it at the Wine Rack but going to Inniskillin was going to the source to get my beloved East West Discovery Series wine. They had a new label! So I had to get more! I couldn’t find the Chardonnay and got the only other white (a Gewurztraminer-Reisling) and a bottle of Cabernet-Merlot (other choice was Cabernet-Shiraz).
On Sunday, after a simple breakfast at Blue Line Diner which is attached to an amazing warehouse of hockey merchandise, we were off to use the last the vouchers of the Discovery Pass!
The last time I passed by Chateau des Charmes it was closed for a private event. And I wanted “dessert” following breakfast. If you hadn’t noticed, most all of the first five pairings were with savoury food items.
They were pouring a Vidal ice wine and pairing it with bite sized caramelized maple cheesecake. The cheesecake bite was perfect and the maple taste was so intense and also nutty.
The reception was nice and warm and when we discovered CV had misplaced her Discovered Pass, were so nice to give her the pairing anyways. We visited the wine shop where I picked up a small bottle of Chardonnay (i.e., 375mL).
Had I been to Southbrook before? Oh yes, it was our first stop during my 2011 visit, the sleek and one with the awe-inspiring periwinkle blue wall. Way to set yourself apart!
In a bright and beautiful dining hall, they were pouring a 2006 Cabernet Franc ice wine and pairing it with a grilled cheese with Niagara pears, smoked ham, aged Montforte sheep cheddar and ice wine syrup. What a nice bite, even though I wasn’t hungry anymore. Their red ice wine, with only one other to compare with, was much less sweet, and CV enjoyed it most. To me, then, it was a bit like port.
In the wine shop, I was sold in their organic stance. Aren’t grapes part of the Dirty Dozen? (Yes.) I wanted to get a bottle of Connect for an upcoming wine tasting party, just because. Instead, I got a pack of Bioflavia/Pluck Berry Blend tea with powdered grape skins. Then I also picked up a bottle of their organic and biodynamic ice wine!
Down to our last winery, so it was Pilliteri which has an extensive collection of different ice wines. I almost passed the winery since it looked more like a farmer’s market, a single story and long structure with a red roof. The grocery side didn’t look familiar but the wine shop did.
Pilliteri brought in a Beavertails truck to create their pairing: 2007 Chardonnay ice wine (their sweetest) and half a Beavertail topped with lemon, cinnamon and brown sugar. It was CV’s first Beavertail! What an appropriate way to cap off the weekend with a really nice and complex tasting ice wine and Canadian treat.
The Chardonnay ice wine was so good but corresponding pricey, so I bought a late harvest Riesling ice wine with purportedly the same flavour notes.
That rounds out the lovely weekend which I call a complete success. Entire Discovery Pass used, new wineries discovered and great memories created. :)