After a sensational week in Toronto, interrupted by a daylong visit to Prince Edward County for wine tasting, the Esteemed Spouse and I wended our way south and east from the T-Dot to the Niagara Peninsula. The mission: have our first tasting experience of one of Canada’s great viticulture areas, and meet up with some friends from Cleveland for dinner and a night of theater at the Shaw Festival.
I don’t mind saying that the Seven Days of Toronto were, ahem, not light on food and drink, and the drink was mostly wine. By the time we arrived at our pedestrian hotel hard by the highway (a price/convenience decision, but it was a nice, quiet hotel with a good breakfast), both of us weren’t all that interested in wine tasting. We were far more interested in walking around the charming, if kitchy, downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. NOTL, as all the guidebooks abbreviate it, has quite a few buildings in its historic district that date from just after the War of 1812.
Add a lakeside park with a view of Toronto in the distance, and 30 minutes passes agreeably (if one stays out of the shops.)
It was warm, the sun shone (as it had with awesome frequency throughout our trip, save a day here and there), a light breeze stirred the trees, and we were hungry. The gad-about the historic district took on a more urgent air, as we searched for a reasonably priced food source that would offer more than a pub, but less than a 4-diamond dining experience (which we would enjoy the next night.)
We settled in at Epicurean Bistro, mainly on the basis of a gorgeous patio off the street and under tree shade (and a reasonable menu). My roasted pickerel and Esteemed Spouse’s poached Ontario chicken breast were lovely, light and delicious. The accompanying wine from local Cattail Creek, a Sauvignon Blanc, suited both meals, was more than reasonably priced, and offered a nice respite from a day of travel. Entirely satisfactory.
The next day, we slept in and meandered around by car, searching for the elusive tourist areas of Therold, Ontario, based on a brochure. We found a cool old church and kirkyard filled with history next to a couple of lovely little lakes. We like driving around and seeing new places.
In the afternoon, despite feeling still a bit “wined-out” , we went to Caroline Cellars Winery for a taste. We tasted eight wines:
2006 Momentum White is a blend of Vidal, Pinot Gris and Sauv Blanc that starts sweet (not our usual preference) but dries out brilliantly. Apples and citrus tugged my palate into a pleasing balance, and the finish was tart and delicious. A terrific wine at a preposterously excellent price. Would we could have bought a couple of cases!
The 2008 Gewürztraminer featured the customary spicy nose, and tasted of orange blossom and rosewater. A somewhat different Gewürz from those we drank many years ago at the very onset of our wine interest, I wished for a bit of cheese to see how it would change in the mouth.
Caroline Cellars prides itself on making drier whites — the entire Niagara region, as with other cold climate wineries (especially around the Great Lakes) is renowned for ice wines, the dessert course standby. the 2008 Enchantment blends Riesling and Gewürztraminer but it’s not sweet – I was surprised, and pleasantly so. A faint rye toast aroma greeted me, with a bit of spice; following on lychee fruit, jasmine and a solid acidity. Thai food anyone?
The Rosé was pretty in the glass, with a pronounced orange/sherry color , but quite sweet on the palate.
Reds from cooler climes are pretty tough to get right, but Caroline’s 2006 Chambourcin, a one-off production they say won’t be repeated, is almost lush, dry, velvety, with a long finish of black and green pepper. Only the lack of big tannins belies the source!
The 2006 Merlot (really about as big a red as one can reasonably expect in Niagara) starts with ripe cherry and quickly sweetens at the finish. Its body is more like a classic Burgundy. The 2004 Merlot, however, offered a supple mouthfeel, earth on the nose, strong tannic character and dark fruit. We bought two 1.5l bottles immediately. Bargain!
2008 Marechal Foch finished out our tasting. Sour cherry, green pepper and high acidity suggest letting this bold fellow rest a-cellar a while.
The tasting experience is modern with rustic edges — a long tasting bar ensures quick service, and the sommelier is knowledgeable. Salud!
Dialing up an 8-spot at Caroline’s with a big dinner at Hillenbrand Winery coming up in the early evening (prior to curtain time) tempted us to cease our tasting labors, but we couldn’t say no to just one more stop: Stratus Vineyards.