Wednesday, August 19, 2015

New York’s Finger Lakes Region

Sunset at Damiani Wine Cellars
I often tell people that Evan Dawson’s Summer in a Glass is the only wine book that ever made me almost miss my subway stop. It’s an engrossing read about the mavericks and originals who are taking on one of the most complicated regions in North America and making wine along New York’s Finger Lakes.

As Shawn and I drove down Hwy 14 and Seneca Lake came into view on our left, I had finally arrived in the place that had so enchanted me as I tore through the pages of that book. I had vowed to visit just one chapter in, but it was the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference that had finally made that promise a reality. Looking out over the lake and its extraordinary beauty, I couldn’t believe it had taken this long.

Two local favourites
In August, more than 200 wine bloggers from around the world descended on the Finger Lakes, ready to sniff, swirl and spit (and maybe even sip) some of the best wines the region has to offer. For many of us, it was our first time trying wines from the area, which sells the majority of its product within New York State. Inviting us to visit and experience the region seems to be part of a larger plan to finally put the Finger Lakes on the world stage. Based on some of the wines I tasted, there are winemakers in the area who are more than ready to take that step.

Shawn and I spent five days there, heading in a bit early so we had time to explore on our own before the official start of the conference. Only a four hour drive from Toronto (give or take given the unpredictability of wait times at the border), the Finger Lakes is easy to get to for Ontario residents and well-worth a stop for wine and food aficionados.

The view from Ginny Lee Café
Sitting on the patio overlooking Seneca Lake while having lunch at the Ginny Lee Café, which shares a property with Wagner Vineyards on the lake’s east side, I couldn’t stop staring at the oasis of vineyard and blue water in front of us. We had gotten lost looking for Forge Vineyards, a winery Evan Dawson had recommended and which we later learned is housed in Hector Wine Company’s Building, but that’s another story. Shawn was hungry and frustrated, I was overwhelmed with options. Wagner came into view offering wine, a brewery and a restaurant – we were sold.

Now, with a glass of their dry Riesling in my hand (a very good representation of how well that grape grows in the region), a delicious turkey sandwich in front of me and that view spreading out as far as I could see, it was hard to comprehend how anyone ever leaves.

The locals will tell you that, as with Ontario wine country, the winters make it easier to understand. Those winters have broken more than a few winemakers' hearts as vine loss is a fact of life in this cool (should read cold) climate region. At Fox Run Vineyards, where we’d stopped the day before, marketing and events manager Marisa Indelicato, had explained that they anticipate a certain percentage of loss each year and work from that. Sometimes it’s more than expected and, thankfully, sometimes it’s less.

Fox Run Vineyards

As with Ontario, there have been some cold years of late. Those have been tough, but they have often come with good growing seasons. Making wine in this region is not always easy, there are a seemingly endless list of complications – many of which were explained to us at a conference session where professor Alan Lasko from Cornell University presented on the region's soil, climate and weather patterns. I was struck by how similar the terroir is to Prince Edward County and was not surprised to learn that ‘hilling and de-hilling’, the burying of vines for winter, is also common in the Finger Lakes.

But sitting on that patio at the Ginny Lee, sipping that dry, delicious Riesling on a hot, sticky August day, I can see why winemakers persevere here. Why they make it work. Shawn and I will be sharing even more of our Wine Bloggers Conference experiences with you over the next few weeks and I hope you too will see why this wine region is worth exploring.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lighthall Vineyards' Progression Sparkling

I recently interviewed Lighthall Vineyards' winemaker, Glenn Symons. He had a great story about the history of his Progression sparkling wine--a personal favourite--which was too long to include in the original post. I thought it would make a great story all on its own so you can find it below in Glenn's own words:

I had planted a large number of Vidal vines in 2009, with the intention of developing a late harvest and icewine line of products from Vidal juice, primarily as an export product.  I had an acquaintance that had been importing large volumes of these products into China, and had assured me he would find a home for as much as I could produce.  As things go, he fell out of the market in 2010, and my sales channel dried up prior to getting the first harvest off the vines, so I was left with one of the largest plantings of Vidal in PEC without a home for the product.

Around the same time, Hinterland Wine Company was setting up to offer Charmat-method production for other wineries.  As it turns out, Vidal carries a marked acidity through late periods in the growing season, which makes it ideal as a base for late harvest and icewine production (where the acidity helps balance the sweetness of these types of wines).  Higher acidity levels also make Vidal juice ideal as a base for sparkling wines!  Through fortuitous timing, Hinterland had a spot in their busy production schedule just in time for my first Vidal harvest, so the 2011 Vidal wine (after initial fermentation at LHV) went to Hinterland for Charmat processing, yielding the first vintage of Progression.

It has become one of my most popular products for a number of reasons. First, since Vidal is a very hardy varietal, we often get higher yields when compared to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that we grow, and so the cost of production tends to be lower, which allows us to keep the final price of the wine lower than the other more premium products.  Second, there is a higher demand for sparkling wines in the marketplace, with very few producers.  Third, Charmat-produced Vidal sparkling allows for the delicate floral and mineral flavors typical to PEC-grown Vidal to shine through, without being lost to bottle-aging with yeast such as with traditional method production.  Overall, the Progression is a unique, fun, refreshing, easily quaffable wine, that is available at a very reasonable price, all made from estate-grown fruit.  And it is now made from start to finish at LHV.

You can find Progression at the winery, via their website, through The Cellar Sisters agency or you can enjoy it at one of the many restaurants now serving it throughout Ontario.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

‘Wining’ Your Way Through Woodinville by The Traveling Winers

One of the best parts of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference (which I'll be doing again this August) was meeting so many other bloggers who were as passionate about wine as I am. Three of my favourite people were from The Vineyard Trail in Oklahoma, who write about their collective adventures 'wine trailing' across the U.S.

I know many of my readers are as interested in wine travel as I am, so I'm excited to share this guest post about Woodinville, Washington from these 'winers'! If you like it, please visit their website and check out some of their other extensive wine travel pieces.

Shawn and I are off to Europe this week - so there will be no post next Wednesday. Be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter in the meantime!

‘Wining’ Your Way Through Woodinville 

by The Traveling Winers


Impromptu trip to Seattle, Washington….what to do, what to do? Well, of course, the first thing that pops into The Traveling Winers' heads is to go wine trailing. We can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon.

A quick Google Maps search of the area with the local attraction search term ‘wineries’ unveils a number of choices readily available for our choosing. So choose we did and Woodinville became our destination.

 

JM Cellars

 


In the early 1900's, the property was once a very prosperous dairy farm.  The then owner gave seven acres of the land to his daughter and her husband, who were both horticulturists.  Their land, called Bramble Bump, was their passion, and they filled it with all variations of amazing and rare plants and trees.  To this day, the current owners  have barely made any changes as they want to preserve the beauty that was carefully planted so many years ago. 

JM Cellars produces a very nice quality selection.  From their 2012 Chardonnay, which won 33rd in the WORLD from Wine Enthusiast, to their 2012 blend named Bramble Bump Red (makes you just want to give it a whirl), to their 2012 Klipsun Syrah, which they describe as having "a hint of bacon fat with a lasting finish." All of their wines were quite tasty and worthy of shelling out some bills to take a few bottles home.

Mark Ryan Winery

The tasting room is located in a small strip mall. It has these cool double wide garage doors, pulled open to invite wine-lovers to come on in, sit back, relax and taste some wine. We found the wooden floors, and motorcycles and skulls decorating the garage and bottle labels, to be an interesting combination. Mark Ryan explains the combination with "Well, they're fun, aren't they?" Mark also says that “Traditional is stuffy” and he just wants to make wine fun and approachable.  We think he has succeeded.

Mark’s wines are original, both in flavor and nomenclature. With names like Numbskull, The Chief, Lonely Heart, Dead Horse, the Long Haul, Lost Soul, Wild Eyed and Crazy Mary.  Kind of makes you want to taste them all. Some of our favorites were the Long Haul, which was quite dry, oaky and full of spice, and the long-finished Lost Soul. While we had our favorites, all of Mark's wines were amazing.

Sparkman Cellars

In the same strip mall, we found Sparkman Cellars.  This establishment is truly a family affair as is evidenced by the listed owners, Chris and Kelly Sparkman and their two beautiful daughters, Stella Mae and Ruby Leigh.   The overall feel is 'family, fun & friendly'.  They strive to be fun and unpretentious, and claim that "everyone gets a hug!" Sounds like a place that would be fun to come spend a couple of hours with friends, doesn't it? 

We found their wines to be well structured, approachable and easy to drink.  A few of our favorites were the 2013 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc (very unique flavor tasting of grapefruit and guava), 2012 Ruby Leigh (black cherry, and a touch of pepper), and the 2012 Hallelujah Port (pure heaven, so had to buy a bottle!). Also of note is their Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon, which every year is celebrated by Chris dressing up as Elvis.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

 


This winery, the oldest in the state of Washington, captures well the essence of a French countryside estate. Housed on 105 wooden acres, it is exactly what you would expect from a brand that is so well known.

They have a free tour and tasting experience, where you not only get a glimpse of their white wine production, but can also take a walk down memory lane among their photographic collections. The tour ends with a guided tasting and is very nicely done.

Sometimes it is simply not just about the wine, which by the way, was excellent. It is also about the ambiance. And at Chateau Ste. Michelle there is an abundance. Sprawling grounds offer the visitor the opportunity to stretch their legs, the lovers a quiet secluded spot to have a private picnic, the children a place to, well, just be kids and the person missing European culture, a brief escape.

Learn more about the Traveling Winers' adventures: http://www.thevineyardtrail.com/



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Wines of Westcott Vineyards

Walking into the winery at Westcott Vineyards, you are transported back to the past. With their beautiful, rustic décor and vintage photos, it’s postcard pretty. And if the beauty of the place isn't enough of a draw, a chance to sample their wines certainly makes a visit worthwhile.

A small-batch winery, the grapes are overseen by Viticulturalist Alain Sutra of Bordeaux France and Assistant Vineyard Managers Sonny Nguyen and Garrett Westcott, then turned into wine by Head Winemaker Arthur Harder. Here, they take pride in quality over quantity.

Arthur, who Shawn and I had the chance to chat with during our visit, has been making wine since 1981. He grew up in Vineland Station and  studied chemistry at Ryerson before moving to Germany. There, he studied viticulture for 14 years, while working for two small wineries. He brings a European sensibility to Westcott and works to create vibrant wines that bring terroir to life.



The wines:


 

The Violette Brut sparkling wine is 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay and is nicely balanced with lots of limestone and citrus. This dry, refreshing sparkler would be a good start to any meal or celebration.

The 2013 Lillias Chardonnay, which will be poured at the upcoming i4C Chardonnay event in Niagara, is unoaked, but has a hint of mallow on the nose and pineapple on the palate. An easy-drinking summer Chardonnay.

The Delphine 2012 rosé is a blend of Cabernet Franc (85%) and Pinot Noir. Full bodied and food friendly, it’s got earthy strawberry on the nose and a fruit-forward palate. Shawn and I are excited to have this one on our patio this summer. I also absolutely love the flowers on the labels of the first three wines - striking and tasteful.

The 2012 Estate Chardonnay is barrel fermented and the oak works well here. A good wine for food pairing, this is lovely on the palate and I’m a fan of the buttered popcorn notes on the nose.

The 2012 Chardonnay Reserve is a limited release of only 100 cases and is made from a selection of four barrels. 2012 was an amazing vintage, explains Arthur, a once-in-a-lifetime vintage in many ways. This wine is nicely oaked, with buttery notes and vanilla on the palate. There's citrus, muted melon and vanilla on the nose. I would highly recommend it.

The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir is a big Pinot, with a smoky/spicy nose and lots of tannin. This still needs some time to age and should be drinking beautifully in 5-7 years.

The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir spent 1.5 years in barrel and has a mix of root beer, earth and spice on the nose. With a long, peppery finish with notes of red plum, this is another that could use a bit of age, but will be worth the wait.

Shawn and I so enjoyed our visit to Westcott, which is nestled in the 20 Valley near Sue Ann Staff’s winery. Just a year old, I suspect it will quickly become a popular destination for fans of high-quality Niagara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Learn more about Westcott Vineyards at their website.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sea Witch – What Wine to Pair with Fish and Chips

The fact that Sea Witch on St. Clair West isn’t licensed didn’t stop me from saying ‘absolutely’ when I was invited to a blogger dinner at the restaurant last month. It's not a good fit with my healthy diet, but I love fish and chips and this was worth the splurge. And, like many similar restaurants, they offer take out. If I wanted to do a wine (or beer) pairing with my order, I’d just have to grab it to go. Sea Witch also plans to be licensed within the year, offering a small selection of wine and beer for those who want to enjoy their meal with a pairing.

Dinner started out with a sampling of their thick, hearty Witch’s Brew chowder. They vary the fish used in the chowder and this one came with pickerel and halibut, which I thought worked well. I love a warm, filling bowl of chowder and this more than fits the bill. While beer is likely the best overall fit for everything on the menu, I'd always rather have wine, so I’d have this dish with an unoaked Chardonnay.

That was followed by a mini halibut fish cake with onion sauce, which was another hit with me (and seemed to be the overall favourite with the group). With great flavour and consistency, I thought this would be pretty darn good with Pinot Grigio.

The onion rings at Sea Witch are enormous and super decadent and deeply fried. They’re also addictively yummy, with a chewy consistency and lots of greasy goodness. I don’t know how anyone could eat a full order (pictured) and have room for anything else. Definitely an indulgence and best to share with a few friends.

I admit I was stumped with what to pair with the rings – I immediately thought beer, followed by a white wine with higher acidity. My food pairing books don’t cover onion rings, sadly, so I turned to the internet and found a suggestion for Alsace Pinot Blanc on a Mashable article by Laura Vitto. I’m game to try it! Have another suggestions? Leave it in the comments or share it on social.

Sea Witch also offers a coleslaw that is made fresh daily. I love coleslaw, but I confess I like mine just a little creamier than this. Still, it goes a long way to cut through some of the fried food and is quite tasty. It’s a good option for a refreshing side that will complement the heavier dishes.


And, finally, the main course! This is the best of the best when it comes to decadent, old-school, fried goodness. The fries are hand chipped (they have someone on staff who pretty much chips all night long), the batter on the fish a lovely, crispy consistency and the halibut soft and tender. Hopefully they’ll have unoaked Chardonnay on their menu when they get their license because it doesn’t get better than that.

 
Sea Witch offers small, homemade desserts too – I found room to try the caramel square (chewy goodness) and it was a lovely end to the meal.

Funky and fun, Sea Witch has a great atmosphere and their simple, traditional menu is full of well-made fish dishes. Be prepared, though, that this is a definite cheat meal and the portions are much larger than pictured, so keep that in mind when ordering.

Some of the fish they serve is Ocean Wise, as they like to use sustainable fish whenever possible. They do have an old school bent when it comes to frying, though, as they fry exclusively in beef tallow. I didn’t know that going in (my fault for not doing my homework), as I don’t actually (knowingly) eat red meat. That would keep me from eating most of what’s on their menu again, but I will definitely be bringing Shawn back and living vicariously through what I expect will be a pretty great meal.

Do you like fish and chips? What do you pair with it?

*While my meal was complimentary, my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival – The Perfect Date Night

Shawn and I have something of a love-hate relationship with big ‘wine shows’, especially those that involve standing in long lines to get in and then again for each vendor booth. So we were a bit leery before we wandered onto Toronto’s Sugar Beach on a beautiful June evening to try the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival (TWSF) for the first time. This laidback, fun event turned out to be the exact opposite of what we’d feared – this is one big festival I can’t wait to attend again.

TWSF is one of the best run events I’ve attended and we had a fantastic time. We both agreed that it was a pretty fabulous date night. First off, Sugar Beach is the perfect venue for an event like this – there was plenty of room for the vendors to spread out and attendees could sprawl out in a beach chair or in the sand to watch one of the bands or just chat with friends. All this space meant it didn’t feel too crowded, even on a busy Friday night. Those of you who have had to fight your way through a crush of elbows and spilled beer to get to a vendor’s booth will understand why this is awesome.

There was also a good variety of vendors, meaning you could try interesting new drinks and find something for everyone. Shawn fell hard for Station Cold Brew Coffee with Jameson Irish Whiskey and I have decided that Pisco Gobernador and pineapple juice is a perfect summer cocktail. I also learned that I never, ever want a smoked watermelon cocktail or sake with cucumber juice again (although some people seemed to love them).

The wine selection wasn’t as strong as the spirits, but Creekside Estate Winery had some very good wines on offer and there was a booth featuring the wines of Twenty Valley. We also tried two wines from Silver Bay, which I wasn’t familiar with prior to the event. I’m looking forward to visiting the winery to do a proper tasting. This wasn’t a good environment for wine tasting and Shawn and I decided to just enjoy ourselves rather than write tasting notes. Sipping a glass of wine together while looking out on Lake Ontario is sometimes better when you’re not talking about malolactic fermentation (sometimes).

One of the best parts of the night was the food. No over paying for tiny samples at this event! There was an area set up with food trucks offering everything from gourmet vegetarian to barbecue. Shawn and I were both impressed with The Saucy Pierogi (we may have gone back for seconds…) and I enjoyed checking out the vegetarian food truck while Shawn tried a pulled pork sandwich. I also couldn’t resist of plate of Oyster Boy oysters (my food kryptonite – my willpower crumbles when I see oysters on a menu). All the food we purchased was reasonably priced for the quantity and the lines moved very quickly.

And huge kudos to the organizers for partnering with Beck Taxi. When we were ready to head home we stepped outside the gates and right into a waiting taxi. This venue was easy to get to and there were lots of safe and easy options for getting home at the end of the night.

While our entrance fee was complimentary, we paid for our own food and beverages and all opinions are our own.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Wines of Germany with iYellow Wine School

Two years ago, Shawn and I spent a week driving around the Mosel Valley, one of the most stunning parts of German wine country. It was an unforgettable trip and I loved tasting through such a varied selection of Rieslings and other German wines. 

My passion for German wines was on display at iYellow Wine Club’s recent Wine School class. Known for their wine events, iYellow also offers a fantastic range of classes that are perfect for those new-to-wine and looking for a quick and fun entrée into a region. Angela Aiello walked us through six German wines – five whites and one red – and provided good information about the various German wine regions and how the terroir affects the wines.

We started with an entry-level Gewürztraminer from Boden, which was quite nice for the price-point. It had all the typical Gewürztraminer characteristics – floral notes, a hint of sweetness and a good mouth feel. Perfect for take-out Thai food or any spicy Asian dish.

We followed that with a Salwey Pinot Gris, not a varietal I’ve had much experience with from Germany. Pinot Gris is like the more complex cousin of Pinot Grigio and I felt like this was a wine that would be better served with food. Lots of citrus, lime and green apple on the nose with high acidity and tart lemon/lime on the palate. An interesting wine.

A Sander Pinot Blanc was up next, another unusual choice for Germany, which was much more floral than I expected. There was still some tart citrus on the nose, but it was more muted overall. This was a lighter wine, with the great acidity that German wines are known for.

The Rieslings followed – very much the hallmark grape of Germany—and a personal favourite. The first wine, a kabinett from Uber, is a style I really enjoy. It was off-dry and fruity. I like kabinett’s especially as a compliment to spicy foods. This one was definitely entry-level, though, so lacked some of the nuances that can make a Riesling truly great.

The second Riesling was Loosen Bros 2014 and was likely also kabinett (the label does not say). An off-dry wine with a fruit-forward nose that had a lovey, complex sweetness. This was much more to my tastes and very much in the Mosel style.

The third Riesling, a 2011 Bollig-Lehnert spatlese was a pleasant surprise. The strong petrol note of an aged Riesling can, in my opinion, be the hallmark of a great wine experience to come. Many of those in attendance had never experienced an aged Riesling before and the gasoline notes on the nose were off-putting, but then the taste experience was a much more pleasing one. It was nice to see people discover one of the fascinating things about German Riesling and to see them enjoying this wine as much as I did.

Our final wine was a rare find in Ontario – a German Pinot Noir. While fairly easy to come by in Germany, it’s rare to see them in Canada. It’s a shame, as Germany has a great climate for Pinot and there are some good wines being made. This one, a 2012 Runkel, likely suffered a bit from being served after sweeter whites, but it had good body and I’m looking forward to enjoying the bottle I recently picked up from the LCBO to get a better sense of the wine.

Many thanks to iYellow Wine School for the invite to attend. Interested in taking a class? Visit their site to for the schedule and to register.