The 63rd Annual Niagara Wine Festival returned last month, running for three weekends from September 13 to 28. I usually attend one of the first two weekends, but this time decided to attend the final weekend of the festival. Considering the bad luck we had with weather and the annual Fall closing of the Gardiner Expressway last year, I was a little worried what might happen this time around, with no fall back date. Sadly, the Gardiner was once again closed this weekend. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect - sunny skies and hot - as it felt like the Summer we never had. The weather more than made up for the crappy drive out of the city.
GreenLane Estate Winery. This was my first visit to their "new" location, which they moved to about a year ago, and I must say is quite the step up from their old digs on South Service Road. Our first wine of the day was their 2012 Rosé - an off-dry wine that was a nice prelude to the main course. While our delicious Lake Erie Perch tacos were being freshly prepared on the grill, we were also poured their latest new release - the 2013 Winemaker's White. Slightly off-dry, this crisp, white wine with lively acids paired beautifully with the Perch tacos that were stuffed with sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, and chives, all drizzled with a chili and lime sour cream and wrapped in a soft, flour tortilla. When paired with the taco, the wine's sweet flavours shone through, while the lively acids from both the wine and taco resulted in what felt like a party in my mouth. Very enjoyable overall while sitting on their lovely outdoor patio - we could have sat there all day.
Our second stop of the afternoon was in the fermentation room at Vineland Estates Winery for pairings of chicken wings and wine. I've paired wine with wings many a time at home, but was intrigued with this winery's Icewine pairing. First, we paired the Kansas City "Big Smoke" Chipotle wings with the 2013 O'Leary Cabernet Merlot (#307744, $14.95) - a fine, comfort pairing that nicely balanced the flavourful wings with the dry, somewhat fruity, red wine that had good tannic structure. The second wine we tasted was their gorgeous Select Late Harvest Vidal (~$19, 90 pts). Very flavourful and with balanced acids, this sweet, dessert wine paired beautifully with the sweet & spicy Habanero Bourbon brown sugar wings. If you've never tried pairing sweet wines with spicy foods, I would highly encourage you to try it - as it is quite the unexpected treat.
The third stop was at a very busy Creekside Estate Winery - so busy that the parking lot was full and we had to resort to parking on the grass (sorry about that!). Likely due to the growing popularity of Niagara's Grape & Wine Festival, waiting for clean glasses seemed to be a developing trend today. After clean glasses finally arrived, we tasted the 2011 Laura's White (#121764, $18.95, 87 pts) while waiting for freshly baked French Onion tarts - caramelized onions and black olives deglazed with red wine and served on a puff pastry. By the time the tarts arrived, we had already moved on to 2011 Laura's Red (#117960, $19.95, 88 pts). This red wine paired well with good acids, medium-level of tannins, and a flavour profile that complemented the tart. I believe the tart would have also paired well with Laura's White.
We then made our way outside to begin a tour of the winery. Our host, David, led us to the vineyards located just west of the tasting room where they grow Sauvignon Blanc for their Reserve line - grapes which we actually got to taste on this day! The tour brought us through their crush pad, grape sorter and de-stemmer, and finishing off in the underground barrel cellar. We returned to the tasting room at the conclusion of the tour to taste a few more wines, including a couple of my favourites of the day - the 2012 Reserve Viognier and 2011 Broken Press Syrah (reviews below).
Our last winery visit of the day was at Konzelmann Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was a very festive atmosphere on this day as the winery was celebrating it's own Wine Fest with outdoor live music and food trucks. It was very busy, so we headed straight inside to pick up our generously-sized creamy apple-spiced cheesecake on a graham cracker crust and topped sweet caramel drizzle. This delicious cheesecake was paired with their yummy 2013 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal - a medium-sweet dessert wine with fresh acidity that balanced the sweetness and cut through the creaminess of the cheesecake. Not bad way to finish off a Saturday!
PondView Estate Winery. We arrived before noon, which was the perfect time to enjoy lamb in a creamy curry and savoury spices, combined with potatoes, onion, cilantro and served over basmati rice. It was paired with their 2011 Bella Terra Barrel Fermented Chardonnay ($25.95, 89 pts), the same wine I tasted last September. I approached this food and wine pairing with great enthusiasm, but came away somewhat disappointed. The Chardonnay held up well to the red meat, but the lamb curry was very dry and lacked flavour. Last year's food pairing was much more enjoyable. On the plus side, food portions were once again quite generous.
The second stop of the day was at Pillitteri Estates Winery for some comfort food and wine. But first, Jeff Letvenuk - Marketing and Media Manager, took us on a very interesting tour of the winery that traces its roots back to 1965 as a small fruit farm. Our tour began in the Awards Room, where Jeff introduced us to the Caretto - an original Sicilian Cart brought from Italy by (founder) Gary Pillitteri's mother. This Caretto is intricately painted and designed and is now considered a family heirloom as it has been passed down many generations. As we moved outside to the vineyard, we stopped at the Wall of Icewine showcase that displayed the many Icewines that Pillitteri had produced over the years, including their first ever Icewine - a gold medal winning 1988 Vidal Icewine. Today, Pillitteri is the largest Estate producer of Icewine. After walking among the vines, we proceed to the fermentation room and cellar. En route, it was fascinating to see Gary keep one of the original cherry trees that was on this site prior to his arrival in 1965. The wine barrel cellar is a gem of a private space that is used exclusively by the family. All throughout the tour, from the name of the tasting rooms to the intricate details found in the chairs inside the barrel cellar, we could see that family was very important to Gary.
After we finished admiring the cellar room, we headed back upstairs and outside towards the patio to enjoy Chef Collin Goodine's famous 'baked potato' poutine. I paired my poutine with Pillitteri's heavily oaked 2010 Cabernet Franc ($20.20, 87 pts) - a pairing that was comforting in a very comfortable setting. The poutine was delicious, while the red wine's balanced acids complemented the sour cream and fries quite well. We also tasted some fabulous, premium+ red wines from Pillitteri's lineup - reviews and recommendations are below.
Niagara College Teaching Winery was our third stop of the day. Here, we enjoyed a freshly baked Smoked Onion and Upper Canada Niagara Gold Cheese Tartlette, which was paired with their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (#121715, $18.95, 87 pts). The tannins from the Cab helped cut into the creaminess from the cheese and kept everything nicely balanced. Sundays tend to be quieter in Niagara, and today was no exception. We ended up sitting outside on NCT's lovely patio for quite some time, sampling a few wines while the autumn sun basked in the sky.
The next stop was an unplanned visit to Vieni Estates. This winery has been on my radar for the last year, but I never quite made it to the site. Furthermore, a conversation with Oenoapp prior to the weekend had me seriously considering a stop, time permitting. Vieni was serving a roasted garlic, butternut squash lasagna, layered with mozzarella, parmigiano and pecorino cheese, which I paired with their tasty 2012 Chardonnay (reviewed below). The lasagne was thinly layered, but tasted great and felt like it was homemade. It was generously portioned and paired well with the Chardonnay, leading to a very satisfying experience overall. Manager Steven DiMora was kind enough to give us a quick tour of the facilities, while giving us some insight into their future plans which include a made-in-Ontario Amarone-style of wine that I am definitely looking forward to tasting.
Legends Estates Winery for a different take on lasagna - homemade vegetable lasagna cupcakes that were creamy and colourful. These lasagna cupcakes were a good size and really did look like cupcakes, topped with cheese and crunchy vegetables. It was savoury and paired well with a variety of their white wines, including the 2013 Semillon ($16.95, 87 pts) and a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve ($19.50, 86 pts) that is holding up quite well at 4 years old.
Aside from waiting for clean glasses and treats to be freshly baked, it was a very enjoyable weekend in Niagara with no hiccups and great weather. I noticed that portion sizes for nearly all the food items were generously (and appropriately) portioned. By the end, my stomach was joyously satisfied and did not feel the need to stop at a Tim Horton's. As for the wine, the quality keeps getting better and better. Red wines from the 2012 vintage are showing great structure and complexity, with very good ageing potential. I was pleasantly surprised by Creekside's Syrah and Viognier, as well as some of the higher-end wines from Pillitteri.
Lastly, thank you to all the wineries for your excellent hospitality - it was very much appreciated!
GREENLANE WINEMAKER'S WHITE 2013 - (D) - $16.95
This white wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling with floral, lime and green apple aromas of medium intensity. It's light-bodied with crisp, refreshing acids, and tropical fruits notes on the palate, along with pleasing, mineral-driven aroma replays. Finish is lightly spiced. Score: 86 pts
GREENLANE CABERNET FRANC 2012 - (XD) - $23.95
Medium+ intensity aromas showing a very complex nose of red berries, currants, bramble, coconut and vanillan. Medium+ bodied with nice aroma replays and light brettyness. Very good acids, while firm tannins are silky smooth, yet could use some softening. Finish is medium-long. Score: 88 pts
CREEKSIDE RESERVE VIOGNIER 2012 - Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David's Bench (XD) - $29.95
Aromas of medium intensity with notes of elderflower, honeysuckle, and elegant peach and mineral. Full-bodied palate that is creamy and slightly oily, with very nice aroma replays. Acids are nicely balanced, while the spiced mid-palate continues on the lengthy finish. Score: 89 pts
CREEKSIDE BROKEN PRESS SYRAH 2011 - Queenston Road Vineyard, VQA St. David's Bench (#202127) (XD) - $39.95
Includes 5-8% Viognier. Highly aromatic with meaty, black peppercorn, and blackberry aromas with hints of floral and mushroom. It's palate is medium+ bodied, showing elegant aroma replays and taut tannins. Very nicely balanced, mouth-watering acids and long finishing. Would cellar this 2-3 years. Score: 91 pts
KONZELMANN SPECIAL SELECT LATE HARVEST VIDAL 2013 - (#359216) (MS) (375mL) - $20.95
Highly aromatic nose of apricots, peach, and honey which replay on the medium-sweet palate, along with some lime zest. It's medium-bodied with balanced, fresh acids and excellent length on the finish. Score: 90 pts
PILLITTERI EXCLAMATION CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 - VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake (#) (XD) - $50.20
Highly aromatic with plenty of cassis, blackcurrant and camphor notes. On the palate, it's full-bodied with very nice aroma replays joined by some wood flavours. Has mouth-watering acids, and smooth, sinewy tannins that are very nicely integrated. Lengthy finish has dark chocolate and wood nuances. Score: 91 pts
PILLITTERI FAMILY RESERVE TRIVALENTE 2005 - VQA Niagara Peninsula (#) (XD) - $98.20
Blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot that is highly aromatic with a savoury nose of barnyard, tilled earth, dark berries and plum. It's full-bodied with crushed red & dark berries, dark chocolate, and elegantly balanced (French) oak on the palate. Very good acids, smooth integrated tannins and lengthy finish. Score: 92 pts
PILLITTERI RESERVE CABERNET FRANC ICEWINE 2012 - VQA Niagara Peninsula (#) (S) - ~$70?
Gorgeous, highly intense aromas of strawberry, cherry and hints of caramel with very nice aroma replays. Crisp, balanced acids keep the sweetness in check. Long, smooth finish. Score: 92 pts
NIAGARA COLLEGE TEACHING WINERY (NCT) DEAN'S LIST CHARDONNAY 2010 - VQA St. David's Bench (#040659) (XD) - $27.95
Nose somewhat closed but showed interesting butterscotch, sweet pear, bubblegum and pineapple aromas. Medium-to-full bodied and creamy mouthfeel with pineapple, bubblegum, and oak spice flavours on the palate. Good acids, while the finishing long, smooth, and toasty. Score: 89 pts
NCT CABERNET FRANC 2010 - Donald Ziraldo Vineyard, VQA St. David's Bench (#) (XD) - $19.15
Medium intensity nose showing elegant oak, bramble, mulberry and pomegranate aromas with good fruit/oak balanced on the palate. It's full-bodied with astringent tannins that could use at least 2 years in cellar. Finish is long and warming. Score: 88 pts
NCT DEAN'S LIST CABERNET FRANC 2011 - VQA St. David's Bench (#) (XD) - $28.15
Aromas of medium-high intensity with elegant oak, crushed red berries, black cherry and plummy notes. It's medium-to-full bodied with crushed red & blue fruits, tilled earth, and vanillan spice flavours on the palate. Good acids and a long, warm finish. Score: 89 pts
VIENI CHARDONNAY 2012 - VQA Vinemount Ridge (#) (D) - $22.95
Low-to-medium intensity nose featuring pear and apple aromas, along with a whiff of smoke. Full-bodied with sweet ripe fruits, apple, coconut, butterscotch and pineapple flavours. very good acids. Spiced mid-palate continues on the long finish. Score 88 pts
VIENI CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE 2010 - VQA Vinemount Ridge (#373308) (XD) - $22.95
Medium-high intensity aromas with savoury notes of barnyard, tilled earth and black currant. It's full-bodied with nice aroma replays. Balanced acids to go along with smooth, integrated tannins and long finish. Score: 89+ pts
LEGENDS ESTATES PETIT VERDOT RESERVE 2007 - VQA Niagara Peninsula (#002776) (XD) - $22.95
Aromas of medium+ intensity with crushed blackberries, mint/eucalypt and earthy nose. It's full-bodied with lovely aroma replays and good balance throughout. Has very good acids and firm tannins. Finish is elegantly spiced and lengthy. Score: 89 pts
LEGENDS ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE 2012 - Lizak Vineyard, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore (#) (XD) - $21.90
Highly aromatic nose showing grilled pepper, earthy, black cherry, and cassis notes, while the flavour profiles echoes the aromas very nicely. The palate is full-bodied with firm tannins and mouth-watering acids. Will be better in 2-3 years. Score: 90+ pts