Wine. I love it. You probably love it too (presumably, since you clicked on a post about wine).
One of the major benefits of living in Toronto is its proximity to not one, not two, but three major Ontario wine regions: Prince Edward County, Niagara, and Lake Erie. I’ve had the chance to winery-hop in the past with events like Wrapped Up In The Valley and Sip & Sizzle in Twenty Valley and Niagara-On-The-Lake respectively, but this
year harvest I decided to kick it up a notch. I went to not one, not two, but three wine events all within an 8 day span that will henceforth be known as Portjam Wine Week!
Niagara Wine Festival, Niagara Region
The Niagara Wine Festival (NWF) spreads wine, food, and music events over three weeks in September (and morphs into the Niagara Icewine Festival for the month of January). Since the weather was unseasonably warm late into September, I grabbed a friend and headed to the region for some wine tasting with food pairings. Good weather and wine has the makings of a winning day trip right there!
Ontario wine festivals have a pretty cool thing going with the Discovery Pass (a.k.a. passport or touring pass). What is the Discovery Pass, you ask? It’s a pass that will give you access to all wineries during a festival for the measly sum of 40$CAD. That’s all participating wineries, which for the NWF, means 40 different vineyards (oh yes, you read that correctly). Pretty awesome, right?
While I love me some wine, this was a day trip so we decided to forgo the Discovery Pass and do individual tastings. At 10$ per winery, you really can’t go wrong. With so many wineries to choose from, we focused on Niagara-On-The-Lake as the region du jour. Starting at the only winery to channel the French château aesthetic by way of Ontario, we sipped on Château des Charmes 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate in the rose-laden English gardenesque backyard. We traded the peaceful quiet of the Château for the lively fun of the family-owned Pillitteri Estates, where we sipped on glasses of 2012 Viognier paired perfectly with the chicken and bacon quesadillas grilled on the barbie. Rounding out the afternoon was the 2014 Peller Estates Private Reserve Baco Noir. In other words, it was the perfect way to spend a warm September Sunday.
LCBO Taste Local Event, The Burroughes Building, Toronto
After a full two days sans wine (gasp!), I stumbled upon an event that brought it back into the limelight, via Twitter targeting marketing: the LCBO Taste Local event. The event brought wineries from Ontario’s four wine regions to promote (what else) local wine appreciation. And appreciate we did. Weaving through Prince Edward County, Lake Erie, Niagara, and Twenty Valley regions sampling wines, cheeses, dips, spreads, ceviches and crostinis (below) in one evening left us satiated, educated, and ready to buy some bottles on the way out. Can you resist these bushels of wine?
Major win, LCBO.
Pick, Stomp, Taste, Flat Rock Cellars, Twenty Valley
The last event of Portjam Wine Week is actually the one that got the whole thing started. When I found out that there was a winery hosting a grape stomping event, my bucket list senses started to tingle. Yes, it had been something I had been interested in since trying to register for a chemistry of winemaking class in college, and there it was staring me in the face, waiting for me to reserve a spot. So I did. Naturally.
One of my favourite things in life is to observe a person who is so entirely in his or her element do their thing. The owner of of Flat Rock Cellars, Ed, was exactly the kind of host you could want for a morning of talking terroir, picking and stomping technique, and tasting the grapes in his beautiful vineyard with views of Lake Ontario, and (because we were extra lucky that day), the Toronto skyline.
Our stomping victims were to be the Riesling grapes in “Nadja’s vineyard” (named after the owner’s mother). We snipped bunch after bunch of grapes until our boxes were full, dumped them in the barrels and then the fun began! Imagine stepping on squishy grapes. You’d think they’d be slippery and feel funny exploding underneath your feet, and you’d be right. The juice is cool and a surprising amount is produced from a few pounds of grapes. It was like a kid’s dream!
We rinsed our sticky sweet feet (I swear they were sweet!) and then headed to the tasting room for a lesson in tasting and pairing. Three glasses were put in front of us: one containing a dry 2013 wine from Nadja’s vineyard, another semi-dry 2013 vintage from the Flat Rock Estate vineyard, and finally, a totally sweet 2015 vintage of the grape juice we just pressed. (Yes, we drank them all) My favourite was the glass of 2013 Riesling from Nadja’s vineyard, but after sipping on its pre-fermentation equivalent, I couldn’t stand it! The sweetness of the grape juice made the dry wine too bitter for my taste. So take note: wine, when paired properly, is divine. And vice versa? Avoid!
The Great White New World
Canadian wineries may not be as old as those in the Old World (France, Italy, Germany), and its cold climate may not be the most obvious place to house a vineyard, but we got the limestone and that pesky climate we vilify seems to work for our wines – and I’m not talking about ice wine only (although if you haven’t tried Cabernet Franc ice wine, you really need to get on that!). From my dry-wine-loving point-of-view, Ontario has a lot to offer its residents (and the world!) in the wonderful ways of wine. If you find yourself in or near southern Ontario, head out to the countryside to see the wide flatlands of Niagara and rolling hills of Twenty Valley perfectly lined with vine, slow down for a bit, grab a glass of Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay, or Zweigelt, or…) and savour all that this beautiful region has to offer. You just might be very pleasantly surprised by what you