Days of Wine & Chocolate – Niagara on the Lake
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think ‘February’ besides Valentine’s Day, Flowers, Cupids, Cards, Roses, Lovers, Candy, Hearts and getting Lucky… hehe! Well its Days of Wine & Chocolate.
We decided to purchase “The Days of Wine & Chocolate” Touring Pass for Niagara-on-the-Lake where 23 wineries paired some type of delicious chocolate with a vintage that is usually not found at the LCBO. The Pass for this event is a little different: For $45 (plus taxes) you get to enjoy all the 23 pairings! What a sweet deal, (pun intended). When you purchase your pass it is valid for the entire month of February. So if you’re a local, all the better, as it’s pretty hard to visit 23 wineries in one weekend, it can be done but… we wanted to enjoy not only the chocolate pairing but also, other wine vintages… WHY NOT? We were there anyways, lets taste what their pouring.
With all that being said, we started to do our homework. We read what everyone was pairing and since we both had the Friday off, we set out to visit 5 of them this day, and picked another 5 to do the following Friday.
We have always enjoyed visiting Palatine Hills Estate Winery especially because they do not sell their wines to the LCBO. So, you never know what gems you’re going to find and thus the reason we decided to start here. They were pouring their NV Neufeld Vineyard “Prestige” Sparkling wine, and they paired it with “Gourmet dark-chocolate-drizzle popcorn”. You probably never knew that sparkling wine and popcorn make a fabulous combination, did you? Oh Sparkling Wine can put anyone in a happy place… and add chocolate and/or popcorn!!!! Mmmm…
After our pairing we headed over to see what they had on the tasting bar and we were served by the Hospitality Manager, Jill, poured us a fantastic older vintage 2007 Merlot. So cool when wineries will pull out a back vintage from the cellar. As you know, we have a soft spot for Cabernet Franc’s, and Jill uncorked their “2011 NV Cabernet Franc”. This is an amazing wine with lots of tannin, perfect with cheeses and a charcuterie board!
For our second stop we decided to pop into Nomad at Hinterbrook Winery; this winery has been going through a rebranding, so you might have seen it available at the LCBO as “Nomad”. This wine definitely will stand out on any shelf, as their label is completely blank, and you get to d esign what you want on it! Pretty creative, but onto what’s inside the bottle. Hinterbrook Winery was pairing “2013 Cabernet Sauvignon” with “Pandora’s box of chocolate assortments”. This wasn’t a bad pairing however; we were expecting something a bit more creative. This is the winery that has a Franc Blanc and a few years ago, we fell in love with this… it sells out quickly mostly due to its uniqueness.
Next on our tour was Reif Estate Winery. We ran into Sarah who we had met a few weeks earlier at the downtown icewine festival. She was serving their “2014 Pinot Noir with a Pork Belly “Snickers””. This was a very creative pairing showing that you can add chocolate to other things such as meats. The Pinot Noir complimented the pork perfectly. We must say that Reif lucked out on hiring Sarah because her personality, customer service and passion for the industry flow naturally. You’ll love her! We love her! If we were to give out awards for customer service – She would be a top contender. Kudos to you, Sarah!
Riverview Cellars Estate Winery was our next visit. If you have never visited Riverview, you’re really missing out. This winery is much larger than it looks. They have so much selection of wines and treats in their boutique for everyone’s palate. We sampled their “2013 Pinot Noir with seasoned pulled pork on a chocolate crostini with chocolate balsamic drizzle”. Great taste bit of bite with a sweet finish! The cool thing with pairing a Pinot Noir, this wine is very versatile and can compliment pork dishes, as well as pairing with turkey. We took a quick stop at their tasting bar, as we seen a “2013 Salvatore’s Reserve Syrah” that we just had to taste. Awesome Syrah, this will pair perfectly with a peppercorn steak in the future.
So onto our last stop of the day, Pondview Estate Winery. This winery produces some amazing full-bodied red wines. Their pairing was a “2013 Cabernet Sauvignon with succulent ribs smothered in a delicious chocolate concoction”. If you’re a rib lover like us, this is the pairing for you. The sticky BBQ sauce complimented the cabernet sauvignon perfectly. We spent some time with Pat at the tasting bar. She poured their “2014 Cabernet Merlot Reserve”, which we just had to walk away with a good 4 bottles of this amazing vintage and I believe at time of posting this blog – we no longer have any left… Revisit required.
Well this was just part one of our adventure through February’s Days of Wine & Chocolate…
Well here we are, week #2 of our “Days of Wine & Chocolate” and we once again looked over the delicious pairings, and set out to accomplish 5 wineries today.
Yup, you heard us right, we decided on 5 wineries (you’ll understand more later). Now, listen to how our day went. The weather was unseasonably warm. Looking over our map of where we wanted to visit, we thought we would head over to Small Talk Vineyards as it was closest to our home.
If you have never heard of Small Talk Vineyards, you definitely need to check them out. They have the coolest labels going, and the winery itself is cute and colorful. Our first pairing of the day was “2012 “Recap” Syrah with a Chocolate truffle pie of mandarin cream cheese, chocolate cookie crust and dark chocolate topped with whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped mandarin”. Pretty cool pairing to start us off, the dark chocolate paired very well with their full-bodied Syrah. While here we also picked up 2 cool vintages, the first was “For the Host”; the varietal on this vintage is Sauvignon Blanc. The second vintage we picked up was “Goodnight”, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend. This is sooo good!!
So keeping on schedule we headed over to Diamond Estates Winery. This is going to be a beautiful winery when they open up their new retail boutique this coming May. Soon as we walked in, we were happily greeted by Victoria, who we had met at the Icewine Festival in Niagara Falls last month. She put together their “2014 FRESH Possibilities Sparkling Rose with fresh fruit skewers and chocolate fondue”. This was delicious, mmm… bubbles and fresh fruits with a lovely milk chocolate fondue. This Sparkling Rose is wonderful and lives up to the name of FRESH Possibilities because we believe this Sparkling would pair well with so many possibilities. We tried a few of the large selection of wines Diamond Estate Winery has to offer, and probably because we had some syrah at the previous winery, we were tempted and fell in love with their “Lakeview Cellars” 2013 Syrah. Once again, if we offered awards (perhaps in the future we will) for Customer Service, Victoria would be up their competing for first place.
Because time can escape you when you’re tasting great wines and getting great service we kept an eye on our watches, we headed off to Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. We both haven’t been to every winery in the area yet, so we try to make it our mission to visit each one, so we can offer our opinions when asked. John was pleasantly surprised at Ravine as they were featuring their pairings in the wine cellar. We were served by Alex showcasing their 2014 Sand & Gravel Redcoat with Rossco’s roast chicken meatball in a dark chocolate mole sauce. Oh! this one had some spice to it! The blend on the “Redcoat” is 45% cabernet sauvignon, 40% cabernet franc and 15% merlot. Very easy drinking red wine, we had to grab 2 of these guys! (Should have grabbed more… reason for a revisit) We also had the opportunity to take a peek in their production area, so anytime you’re able to get a peek into where the magic happens; it’s exciting.
Next we decided to visit a winery that’s a little off the path called Coyote’s Run Estate Winery. This winery has recently been sold, so we looking forward to seeing what the new owners vision is. Our pairing was their “2013 Black Paw Cabernet Sauvignon with dark chocolate and bacon brownie”. Who doesn’t like bacon, are we right? One of the cool things about this winery is the soil in which the vines are growing in. We added a photo for you to see the difference. The soil can really change the way a wine tastes in the end. But thinking ahead to summer, we purchased 2 of their white wines, the first being “2015 Pinot Grigio” and second was “2015 Lambert Vineyard Riesling”. These both will be delicious sitting on a patio on a hot summer’s day.
With the day being so warm, crisp and sunny we moved onto the fifth winery of our adventure. We showed up at Chateau Des Charmes and tried their pairing of “2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay” with a “Ginger Cookie with a white chocolate drizzle”. Kind of unique, as this was the first winery we visited using a white chocolate. Perhaps a future visit is in order to taste some of their bubbles that we have heard are delicious.
It was still early in the day so we decided to head back into Niagara-on-the-Lake to another winery that we had yet to visit. We stopped into Lailey Winery; we were curious to sample their Fume Blanc and as it would turn out, their pairing was “2013 Sauvignon Blanc Fume with a lemon tart topped with a chocolate deco”. Was a cool pairing, and the wine was definitely unique.
One of the great things about the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake is that they are not too far apart from each other, so we headed over to one of the larger wineries in the region, Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant.
If you have never visited Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant, you are truly missing out. Their Chef Jason Parsons creates the most unforgettable dishes around. In the boutique Christa was pairing “2014 Private Reserve Merlot with chocolate hazelnut macaroon: praline mousseline, praline crumble, cocoa nibs”. Simply delicious! Christa was a ‘fun, down to earth and easy to talk to’ person; she was even demonstrating some of the largest decanters we have ever seen, and the uniqueness of each one.
As we made our way back to vehicle, we realized that we really haven’t visited Two Sister Vineyards together before, or even sampled their wines. So, seeing it directly across Peller’s vineyard, we made a quick stop into the winery. The building looks huge from the outside, and the structure is beautiful. It was pretty quiet in the boutique with a few other guests sampling wine at the main bar. We enjoyed our pairing of “2012 Eleventh Post Meritage with eggplant caponata crostini with chocolate agrodolce sauce”.
Thinking we should start to wrap up our day, as we had only planned to visit 5 wineries, but we still had a good hour before the pass ended at 5pm. knowing we had a busy weekend ahead of ourselves, we pulled into Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery. If we had the time, it would have been great to check out their public tour, but we will return again to do a tour. They were pairing “2014 Grand Reserve Red Meritage with chocolate and fennel cheesecake”. What can I say; a rich full-bodied Meritage paired with chocolate and cheesecake, in a word, “heaven”.
To finish our day and to close our experience of The Days of Wine & Chocolate we thought we should try to do an icewine pairing. We noticed that Strewn Winery was pouring just that! Strewn is a pretty cool place if you have never visited them before. They have Canada’s first and only Winery Culinary School. Their pairing was their “2011 Cabernet Franc Icewine with a savory chocolate sampler trio: pulled pork with cocoa on a tortilla chip, roast rhubarb with white chocolate shavings; Thai peanut butter ball in a dark chocolate”. All three were perfect pairings. While we were here we thought we would sample some of their wines. Strewn Estate Winery has 2 tasting bars where you can taste their “drink now” wines or their cellar series at their “Terroir Bar” where you will find big, bold and beautiful, full-bodied wines that you hide in your cellars, and just let time develop these wines perfectly. We picked up two vintages for the cellar, “2012 Merlot Strewn Vineyard Terroir” along with “2012 Cabernet Franc Terroir” series. We didn’t purchase an icewine today, as we are still cellaring a few 2005/2006 Strewn icewines in our wine rack.
Well we have to say that today was definitely an adventure. We don’t think we have ever visited 10 wineries in one day. We still came home with over a case of wines for the cellar. Sorry to the few wineries that we were unable to visit this time, we’ll see you soon!
We walk away from this Touring Pass with some newly gained knowledge on how chocolate can be paired with meats, different foods and wine. And I’m sorry but anything that can be paired with chocolate, AND WINE – I’m friggin’ in to!
We hope you enjoyed our journey through “The Days of Wine & Chocolate”!
Til next time, have a great day and great wine