I got to go once again to tour beautiful Niagara again - there's nothing better than getting to see what's happening in our own backyard! I came for the Niagara Wine Festival, but what I ended up getting was a much better treat - some personal tours and tastings at the winery.
First stop was at Tawse, a beautiful facility with sprawling gardens, ponds, and a roomy tasting room with a view of the gravity-flow winemaking. It was a quick tasting of their selection, the favourite of which was the Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008, which was rich with a nice earthiness and great oak integration. At $47.95, a little out of my budget. One of Tawse's signature wines is the Sketches of Niagara Riesling, which you can get in the LCBO. It's a very bright and juicy wine with great acidity and lots of citrus fruit, great for light appetizers, salads, seafood and sushi.
The second stop was Cave Spring cellars - and if you have never been here, GO! In the center of Jordan Village, it is nestled in amongst little boutiques, art shops and the Inn on the Twenty (also owned by Cave Springs) with accomodations, restaurant and spa. Makes me dream of having a wedding there - which they do frequently. With our passionate and knowledgable guide, Brian, we got to tour their century-old cellars (also beautiful for events!) and learned a lot about the old cidery brewing in the facility, about the very unique and varied terrain of Niagara & Niagara on the Lake, the Niagara Escarpment and how it protects the vinyards, and their process for aging the wines and types of barrels used. It ended with a tasting of 3 stunning wines. We tasted two of their CSV reserve wines, the 2008 Riesling and the 2008 Chardonnay. The Riesling had huge acidity and very heavy flavours on the background of peach, honey, and grapefruit, and was obvious that this wine could hold up in the cellar for a few years. The Chardonnay was so elegant, with rich brioche, pear, custard, stuctured minerality and acidity. It was velvet in my mouth, I thought it was my favourite, until the final wine: 2007 Pinot Noir Estate. So rich in flavour for a pinot, it had a cherry background with aromas of forest floor and molasses. LOVE earthy pinots and this one was very complex. Although these wines are on the slightly higer end of $30, most of Cave Spring wines are under $20 and you can find a lot of them in the LCBO. My favourite is the 2009 Pinot Noir VQA... however, it's mostly the 2010 that is available now. If you find one, buy it! Also, the Riesling VQA is a beautiful off-dry wine with peach, honey, apricot, and citrus. I actually brought both to Thanksgiving dinner last year, and it was divine!
After a little lunch (burger!!), our third stop was at Featherstone, definitely the highlight of the trip. This is a beautiful little winery of about 20 acres produces about 6000 bottles a year. They focus on creating high quality wine, most in the $20 range to keep it down to earth, and the tasting room is in the family home. The vineyard is full of animals - there were ducks and chickens running around, and a rooster crowing in the background. They also 'employ' seasonal animals, the sheep, which help to thin out the foilage on the vines and expose the grapes to more sunlight to ripen them. Sadly, their work was done and the last of them were on their way out in boxes. If only I didn't have a 6 hour drive home! Louise Engel, part-owner and in charge of marketing, brought us around the harvesting and fermenting action that was in full swing, talking excitedly about the process and giving us some raw materials tastings. We got to taste the freshly crushed gewurztraminer grape juice (the full experience with lots of floaty bits and a couple of critters) which had that intense lychee-like sweetness and perfume. We also got to taste the partially-fermented riesling, which got it's start a little earlier - YUM!! It was the beautiful beginning of peach and citrus, with a bit of a spritz from the dissolved CO2 from fermentation. I would drink this at breakfast every day - only about 4% alcohol at this point! We also got to learn about their wine-making techniques, which involved a lot of experimentation with different yeasts that her husband and the winemaker, David Johnson, was very into. It was interesting to hear, since I've heard a lot about the importance of yeast selection in brewing beer, but not so much in winemaking. They also talked about preserving the barrels, which were sitting in storage and waiting for the wine to come, as she explained they rarely do reserve wines (i.e. aged more than a year) and focus on producing a high-quality and reasonably priced wines that don't have to be a special purchase. The barrels are still empty because at this point they've only been picking white grapes. In fact, Louise was so excited - with the warm vintage, she pointed out that this is the first year they've harvested anything before Thanksgiving. Typically they are pushing the red wine grapes to mature until the frost comes and they have to pick, but this year they are excited at the prospect of actually being able to choose the ideal time to pick. 2012 will be a fantastic red wine vintage in Ontario! So, on to the wines... I was excited to try the Gewurztraminer, which was devine. The Gemstone (a blend of Baco Noir & Cab Franc) was a very meaty wine that would go great with game meats. The Red Tail Merlot was rich and velvety. I tried the lastest vintage of the Cabernet Franc. The 2010 was released in Vintages on September 15th and sold out the same on almost the same day so I was sad I missed it! The 2011 was still very rough around the edges with a ton of tannin, but I could see it will be delicious in a few years. I ended up buying that wine, with Louise made me promise to keep at least one year, and ideally 3 (I can do it!), along with the Black Sheep Riesling, which is getting amazing reviews in the LCBO and it is widely available. Another rich, fruity, mouth-watering, food-friendly Riesling. Are you seeing a trend in my purchasing? The Black Sheep Riesling is the only wine widely available at the LCBO at the moment, but keep your eye out for new releases in Vintages that will come occasionally (OK, I can do that for you). But if the Cab Franc was any indicator, you will have to act fast! You can also order the wines online to be shipped within Ontario.
The rest of the day was low-key and was quickly coming to an end at this point. We made one more note-worthy stop at Megalomaniac (I've linked to the site but Google is giving me a malware warning, so proceed at your own risk), since it was close by and I had just heard Konrad Ejbich raving about the winery on CBC radio one on Friday. It was very show-stopping winery, with a huge cellar/tasting room built bunker-style into the side of the escarpment, which you had to reach by first weaving your way through the vineyard. They have a small selection of wines that we tried, but by far the best wines were the ones recently picked up by the LCBO (and raved about by Konrad), the Megalomaniac Homegrown Red at $14.95 and Homegrown Riesling at $12.95. Beautiful balance of fruit and savoury oak in the red, and another fresh, fruity, off-dry Riesling at an excellent price.
Alot of these wines are great picks for thanksgiving, as well! The off-dry Rieslings are GREAT food wines and have the body and versatility to stand up to the range of foods on the table. The reds are a good fruity and savoury balance to pair with the rich gravies, root vegtables, and savoury sides. Try a couple of them this weekend with good locally grown food and great company!
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Riesling VQA - ($14.95) LTO $13.95 (on sale this month!)
Megalomaniac Homegrown Riesling - $12.95
Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling - $17.95
Cave Spring Pinot Noir VQA - $17.95
Megalomaniac Homegrown Red - $14.95
Mark your calendars, and please join me with Natalie Maclean, and several other wine connoisseurs at 8pm on Wednesday, October 10th as we pair delicious Canadian cheeses with affordable VQA wines in an event that will be full of fun and a little bit of learning. All the information can be found here: http://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/wine-and-cheese-tasting-on-google-video-hangouts-october-10
If you can, pick up one or 2 or the wines and the cheeses and follow along! Also, follow all the pre-action on Twitter by using the hashtag #CdnCheese. This is my first official crack at being an 'expert' and I am SO excited!