Friday, May 23, 2008

Perfect Pairings

What do you get when you match wines from 18 different wineries with 18 herb-infused culinary pairings? I set out to find the answer last weekend when my family and I took part in the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake's Wine and Herb Festival.

While I do enjoy a nice glass of wine, I have to admit that before I visited the wineries (we visited 17 out of the total 18 in a two-day period), I mostly bought my wine for cooking. Sure, I bought the odd rosé and last year I even bought a bottle of some tawny Port after sampling some at my wino brother's house. But before last weekend, I just wasn't able to taste much of a difference between wines. Not so, now.

We began our journey at Jackson-Triggs, who paired a sage-infused savoury cheesecake with their 2005 Proprietors' Reserve Meritage. Since it was my first pairing, I didn't form much of an opinion, although I did learn the ritual: sniff, swirl, sip, bite, sip.

The magic really started a few tastings in. The first "wow" moment I had was at Peller Estates, who paired their Ice Cuvée with gazpacho with chervil. Once I sipped the Cuvée with the taste of the gazpacho in my mouth, I was sold on the experience: a perfect pairing can, apparently, make all the difference.

Peller Estates

The best pairing of the festival, in my opinion, was offered by Reif Estate winery. It was a savoury-sweet pizza made by The Pie Plate bakery in Virgil, a nearby small-town. Pear and goat cheese pizza glazed with a lavender-Rosé Gamay jelly, paired with -- you guessed it -- Rosé Gamay. It was so fantastic that almost everyone in my family picked up the wine, the jelly, or both. I was in the latter category. I can't wait to try to recreate it! I'm hoping my clone will be perfect.

Pear and Goat Cheese Pizza with Lavender-Rosé Glaze

I also appreciated wineries that made pairings with warm food. It was cold, windy, and rainy outside, and although the wine was definitely speeding up the warm-up process, some nice warm food helped, too. Lailey Vineyard -- who ushered us into the dark wine cellar filled with enormous casks -- made warm rosemary sausage with some sort of red wine sauce; Inniskillin made dill Coq au Vin; Coyote's Run cooked made-to-order lemon basil shrimp skewers. Yummy.

Threatening Weather

I also paid $2 for an enormous sample of Cattail Creek's Barrel Fermented Vidal Icewine (whose goat cheese, honey, truffle oil and savoury crostini was amazing!), and I'm on the brink of salivating just thinking about it. It's definitely the best ice wine I've ever tasted -- but since that doesn't mean much coming from a wine novice -- my family, who go on these tours once or twice every year, loved it too. It was amazing -- creamy, almost, thick like honey. As far as samples go, it was priced incredibly well, too. A bottle cost $50, so my sample was probably worth closer to $7 or $8.

Often, though, I was just impressed by how gorgeous the wineries were, not to mention the little towns in the Niagara Region. Some of the estates were
massive and they all had their own charm, big or small. Take these two, for example:

Hillebrand's Gorgeous Estate

Reif Estate Winery

Overall, it was a packed schedule with a stellar line-up. I can't wait to go again next year... and next time, I'm giving myself a big enough budget to buy that $50 icewine.

While in the Niagara Region we also visited Anna Olson's bakery, so stay tuned for that!

(For more information about the Wineries of Niagara Wine and Herb Festival, or for a full listing of the wine and herb pairings, please click here.)


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