Last night HubbyDoug and I took in one of the last Tribe games of the season. As an added bonus, our friends, Nick and Renée took us over to Society on E4th. It was the coolest; hepcats in suits, and dolls in snazzy dresses having cocktails in place that had the feels of an underground speakeasy. Now while I am a girl who likes a good cocktail, before me was a bottle of 2012 Byron Pinot Noir. Nice and bouncy, it was a great nightcap to share with our friends.
But i know i want to come back to try some of their other concoctions, especially, the most intriguing: Absinthe shot.
And i’m gonna wear my snazziest dress.
This past weekend, I was able to bring my friends Terri, Shelly, and Cindy up to Niagara to experience some Canadian hospitality. And to check out the Niagara Wine Festival. After a brief stop to see Niagara Falls, and enjoy a great first night dinner, we began our journey the next day with Niagara Vintage Wine Tours. Gus, our awesome guide, was so friendly and knowledgable, he did an amazing job of filling in the picture at each winery we visited. He also gave a wonderful, anecdotal history of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Our tour (which included lunch at The Charles Inn) stopped at the following four wineries:
- Konzelmann ~ Located on lakefront property, when they opened their doors, in 1984, they were the seventh official winery in Ontario.There are now over 140. They had a great presentation by J.R. who gave a crash course in wine tasting and the proper way to sip effectively. He also talked about how it’s best to allow the wine, especially Icewine, to move to the back of the tongue (with a tiny bit of hang time) to get the full flavor and texture. It was amazing how much more depth there was to the samples we tried.
Four Blondes Pick: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pilliteri ~ One of the world’s largest producers of Ice Wine, Pilliteri is steeped in history and family tradition. The Carretto, featured prominently in the awards room and pictured on many of their labels, is a Sicilian cart that provided transport for families and their belongings or moving their goods to and from market. The barrel cellar/events room is one of the coolest I’ve seen. A stunning concrete table, about 500” long is surrounded by 23 stainless steel chairs on the walls above. the chairs are specially engraved to commemorate significant dates in the history of the winery. Style definitely meets substance as this is a fully functional cellar, maintaining a constant temperature of 12 degrees C with increased protection against light and no vibration to disturb the ageing process. Shelly and I thought it was so cool, we fell behind in the tour and almost got a tardy. But Gus took pity on us and helped us catch up to our group. We joined them just as Francine, our winery guide began our tasting. We sampled quite a few and with such a variety of Icewine, including a Sangiovese and Cab Sauv, it was difficult to choose just one.
Four Blondes Pick: 2010 Exclamation Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 Cab Franc Icewine.
- Between The Lines ~ After lunch, the skies cleared and we headed to the big red barn that houses this smaller, young winery. BTL has a lot of heart and maintains a preference to keep things small but real. Their wine is only available at the winery or via delivery (only in Canada) or at select farmer’s markets in Niagara and surrounding Ontario regions. I found the wines we sampled a bit young tasting but I believe they have great promise. Cellaring for a couple of years could just bring out the depth and complexity that I tend to look for. I like what Greg and Yannick are doing here, and the commitment they have to stay smaller and focus on creating a great product rather than mass produce and lose what’s unique. They’re headed in the right direction.
Four Blondes Pick: 2012 Lemberger Reserve
- Marynissen ~ Our last stop was the home of wines chosen by former Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien to be served at official state dinners. It also boasts the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. We tasted a few wines ranging from the Unoaked Chardonnay to their notable Gamay Noir. A very pretty boutique winery, it was a quaint stop to round out our tour.
Four Blondes Pick: 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, which Cindy thought was, “very nice for the region.”
Peller Estates ~ This winery was not on our tour but we stopped in to round out our day. Beautiful and stately, Peller was a winery the girls spied as we drove into the old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and mentioned that they wanted to look inside. There was a big country hoe-down going on and while we thought about sticking around to try the mechanical bull, we had dinner reservations so… Four Blondes Pick: the Riesling Icewine, fresh and crisp, it was an different alternative to traditional the Vidal.
Four Blondes Big Pick: 2012 Wayne Gretzky Estate No 99 Vidal Icewine. The delicate floral vibe on the nose and liquid amber, honey and butterscotch taste was heavenly.The rich, velvet-y mouthfeel was also incredibly pleasing. If this was in the Stanley Cup playoffs of Ice Wine, this number 99 just won the shootout.
The Niagara Wine Festival continues today and wraps up September 27 and 28.
Thomas Wolfe once wrote, ‘you can’t go home again.’ Well, in fact, you can. And if you’re really lucky, you can bring some great friends with you.
With the dog days of summer nipping at our heels, my friend, Shelly, and I decided to take a little road trip. The past few weeks had been incredibly busy for us and we needed to find a place that we could just relax, decompress, and sample some wine. Shelly was already familiar with Thorn Creek Winery, having planned an event with them last year but it was new to me ~ not that I ever need any arm twisting to check out a winery.
Located in Aurora, OH and only 30 minutes by car from downtown Cleveland, Thorn Creek, is a sweet ride to rustic charm, beautiful gardens and some nice wine. Established in 2005, owner David Thorn envisioned what would become the Thorn Creek experience; old world European ambience, blended with a casually elegant vibe.
Before we ordered our wine flight, we took a little tour of the gardens and winery. Down stairs was a beautiful event space that juxtaposed a smaller nightclub feel with the warmth of a winery cellar due, in part to the wooden casks that lined the walls. Outside, the gardens unfolded almost labyrinth like, winding casually from an old English courtyard, through a lanterned brick pathway to a tented waterfall garden wedding space.
Thorn Creek’s approach to winemaking includes purchasing select grape products from other wine growing regions around the country; then marrying those qualities with grapes native to Ohio. For our wine flight, we chose Up the Creek, which included Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Aurora Cream Red, and Aurora Cream White. We paired our wine samples with seasonal strawberry lettuce wraps and some amazing braised short rib sliders, which brought more depth to our wine selections.
My pick: the Pinot Grigio, which had a great honey-like vibe and texture. It paired beautifully with the strawberries, goat cheese and chocolate dusted almonds. Shelly liked the Cab reserve, which we had in addition to our flight. She found it had a slight pepper-y finish on its own but when paired with the sliders, awakened a more full bodied warmth.
One of the things I enjoy about life in Cleveland is the incredible variety of urban and rural experiences; both are cool in their own unique way. Nearby destinations like Thorn Creek give the experience of being at a Napa winery getaway without feeling like you’ve really left the city.
Well, I did. It was another fantastic day in the Cleve, I was communing with nature on my patio so I cut a few pieces of Sartori MontAmore cheese to pair with my 2012 Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc. It had a creamy, sweet/savoury vibe that brought out the refreshing vegetal quality in the wine. I won’t deny it, I supplied it ~ and it made the second day of summer even nicer.
It was bright, sunny, hot (yes) and crystal clear here in the Cleve. And like the summer romance that vanishes by Labor Day, I chose to make the most of it while it was here. I wanted a little glass of Chard to toast a beautiful late afternoon but nothing was cold (stupid fridge ~ for not knowing what I needed before I knew what I needed). Bah! And so I did something one should never do with any white wine ~ I opened it anyway and tried to chill it with some frozen whiskey stones. Desperate times called for somewhat desperate measures. How did they fare? About as well as you can imagine … notsomuch. While they created a nice little bubbly effect on the glass, they didn’t help cool the temp to drinkable. But then again, they’re not really designed for wine.
Well, live and learn. And in future, I’ll make sure I always have a couple of bottles on the chill. Because that’s so much cooler for me if I do.
Spicy hot days and cool evenings can produce some fantastic wine. With vineyards planted as far back as 1524, Baja, and in particular, the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico has been producing some wonderful vintages.To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I could’ve chosen a traditional shot of Tequila, blended a Margarita or at least poured an icy Corona. But I remembered a bottle of wine that we bought on our last trip to Cancun. And I was instantly transported back to savoring a glass as we enjoyed a shimmery golden sunset. Pop goes the cork.
A Little History Lesson
In the earliest days of the Spanish settlers in Mexico, they brought with them grapevines since they believed, as many of us still do today, that wine was nutritional, healthy and quite fun to drink. There was little need to convince the Mexican people of this; the Aztecs had been already cultivating the wild Cimarron grape from which juice was extracted, mixed with fruits and slightly fermented to create a beverage known as acachuk. As decreed by Hernan Cortes in 1524, settlers were ordered to plant a thousand grapevines for every one hundred natives in their service.
The expansion of viticulture in the Baja region occurred largely because of the Jesuit priest Fray Eusebio Khun who in1683, founded several missions which began cultivating indigenous grapes and making wine for religious ceremony held at each of the missions. In 1697, Father Juan de Ugarte became the “founding father of Baja’s viticulture.” On one of his trips to Guaymas, he brought back some ‘vitis vinifera’ vine cuttings to be cultivated, since the endemic grape varietals didn’t meet the Spanish criterion for wine grapes. Over the years, ministry and laypersons worked together to increase the volume of wine production as well as the expansion of vine growing regions to where they launched new outreach missions. The divine was happening to the vine. And yes, that was a really bad pun, and so you must drink some good wine to cleanse your brain.
The Baja wine region includes:
- Santo Tomas Valley ~ founded in 1791 and located 18kilometers from the Pacific Ocean maturity temps of the grapes vary between 14 – 36 degrees celsius
- Guadalupe Valley ~ founded in 1834 it is by far the largest area of wine development. Located 30 kilometers north of Ensenada, is 320 meters above sea level and is the most topographically diverse ranging from granite to red clay. Low temps at night and high daytime temps make for an area that has the most favorable environment for maximum grape development.
- Ojos Negro Valley ~ It was so named due to the two oval swamps that looked like black eyes. These marsh areas have all but disappeared due to underground depletion but what remains is a diverse vegetative environment with highly cultivated irrigation systems to accommodate for the higher levels of rainfall.
- San Vicente Valley ~ Located 90 km south of Ensenada with an altitude of 110 meters above sea level, San Vicente has unique vineyards where the grape maturity temps from a minimum of 10 degrees celsius.
Much of Mexico can be too hot to produce very flavorful wines; the heat has a tendency to push the grapes into ripeness before full flavor can be developed. The Guadalupe Valley has a unique microclimate of mineral-rich soil and sea breezes that gently cool the heat; bringing the grapes into a robust maturity. Our wine for tonight is Pitxos a combination of an 07 Grenache, 05 Syrah and an 06 Merlot from Bodegas de Santo Tomas in Ensenada. And while I wouldn’t normally pair a blend like this with chicken, the heat from the spices I’ll use might just be a good juxtaposition. Since I had to do a product shot, I did have a sample. On its own, it’s very rich with black cherry overtones, mild to moderate spice, a definite alcohol vibe (probably from the hot climate), and zippy currant on the finish. And I can say that it travelled quite well (we bought it in ’11); withstanding a plane ride home and undisturbed cellaring since then.
Wines from Mexico are available in the US from Wines from Baja.com.
Whatever your choice of drink to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy and safe Cinco de Mayo.
Que tengas uns noche buenisima!