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.