Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thursday, or Thereabouts - September 19, 2013

Days of wine and...
       well, more wine!

Niagara-on-the-Lake 2013
It's an annual event for us, set to complement our wedding anniversary and I'm pretty sure that out of 38 such celebrations there have been at least 25 drives over the Burlington Skyway through Stoney Creek and on to Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan Station, then over the Welland Canal and into Niagara-on-the-Lake. We always take up residence in NOTL, this year at the Shaw Club Hotel - see last week's post about breakfast - and set off from there on a wine tasting and buying tour. It used to be a very simple itinerary, one that did not require much planning at all, but in thirty-eight years wine has come of age in Niagara and the list of wineries is nothing short of eye-crossing. According to the current Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide, there are 42 wineries in the Niagara Escarpment and Twenty Valley and another 33 in the NOTL region.
So this trip takes some planning, about four days of planning. I research wine awards and wineries, I inventory our wine cellar to see what we need, and I review the tasting notes I've made (if we hated it, I'm not buying that wine again and if we loved it, I want more). All of this research comes with me and I take my papers with me into every winery we visit; not so much as to impress the staff as to signal that I am seriously interested in more than just sampling some wine - I'm there to buy. I do not profess to have wine connoisseur's palate or experience. I'm often at a total loss as to how to describe the kaleidoscope of flavours I taste in a wine and I've never experienced the length and breadth of flavours extolled by a winemaker. There is great rejoicing when I discover that the winemaker and I agree on just a single note. In other words, I am an amateur, albeit an organized one.
To be fair I really should write a post about each one of the eight wineries we visited this year, but honestly I don't have the time and I'm not sure I have the audience either. So here are some notes on the ones that impressed us this on this year's tour:

Kew Vineyards 2013
Kew Vineyards - the new kid on the block, very new.
The tasting experience was accompanied by a cheese board, a selection of 3 (or was it 4?) lovely cheeses and bread to go with them. The pace was unhurried, aided no doubt by the fact that we were the only ones there at the time, and wonderfully civilized. And the wines? From some of the oldest vines in the region, planted in 1975 (the year we were married), the riesling and chardonnay are lovely, but the 2012 Marsanne Viognier is the jewel in the crown - outstanding! Thank you Liisa, for taking the time to showcase your wines and winery in such a professional and approachable manner. See you next September!

The Foreign Affair 2013
The Foreign Affair Winery - a new winery for us, though not a new kid.
This winery made it onto the list because we wanted to explore their exclusive amarone style wines, fermented from dried (appassimento) grapes. Warm, rich sensory memories of sipping great Italian wines in Venice and Rome came to mind. Noelle was our tour guide for the tasting and she, like the staff at Kew, knew her wine, from vineyard and grape to process and final product. Check out the 2008 Chardonnay, 2010 Temptress and 2011 Dream. Thank you Noelle for leading us into this amarone world and for letting us taste a $110 bottle of wine. We didn't buy it but we did bring home 9 bottles of Foreign Affair wine.

Tawse Winery 2013
Tawse Winery - had not been here in a couple of years.
Tawse has garnered several awards in the years since our last visit, not the least of which is the Canadian Winery of the Year for three straight years (2010, 11 & 12). I'm really sorry I didn't record our tasting guide's name (the bill says 'serve 55'), but she gets kudos for deviating from the official tasting menu, to offer us a wine that she felt would be of more interest to us. In other words, she listened to us, and she was right; the 2011 Gamay was wonderful and we took home 3 bottles. We also bought 6 other wines including the 2011 Lenko Chardonnay which at $44.95 wins the prize for the most expensive bottle of the trip. This gal also tasted the wine from the newly opened bottle before offering it to us. Might not seem like a big deal, but single bottles of wine can go off making for a very unpleasant experience and winery staff often don't take a moment for this important step. Well done! We'll be back.

Cattail Creek - an honourable mention (over 4 years since we were last here)
There are some great reds going on here, especially the 2011 Gamay Noir. Also a 2012 unoaked (stainless) chard got our attention. The young gal behind the counter was honest - she admitted to not liking a particular wine (we did agree with her that anything over a 2 is really too sweet) and for her honesty she deserves credit. It tells me she actually knew the wines instead of just knowing about them. She didn't rhyme off memorized winemaker's notes before we'd even tasted the wine. This is a pet peeve of mine because I never taste all those things in a wine and it makes me feel stupid when my taste buds don't measure up. Also I'm likely to smile and nod, put my wine glass down and leave. Anyway Cattail Creek staff: Nice, really nice! Keep up the good work.

Okay folks, I've got to get back to work. There are 88 bottles of wine (down from the 91 trucked home last year  - we're cutting back I guess? LOL) to be catalogued and slotted into the cellar. Thank you Niagara wine country for an idyllic five days. Same time next year.

(text and photos ©2013 April Hoeller)


  1. That last photo of the grapes is beautiful. What type of camera do you have.
    In a way, I disagree with you about the person behind the tasting counter at Cattail. You give her credit for being honest, but someone employed by a winery should not give her opinion about a wine that she doesn't like. Let the taster decide. She should just let the taster know that they might find the wine a bit on the sweet side and leave it at that. If she was employed by me, she wouldn't last too long.

    1. Thanks for your input :-)
      I ought to have given a little more context for the visit to Cattail Creek. A discussion we initiated about icewines - one either loves them or hates them it seems to me - evolved into a consideration of sweetness in wines in general and what level was tolerable. Two was our consensus. My point being it wasn't as out of place a comment as it might seem, in fact we had finished tasting all we wanted (and there was no one else in the winery at the time). I stand by my thumbs up for the staff.
      And the camera? Nothing fancy, just a Lumix DMC-TZ5, several years old now.

  2. Thanks for the reply. If it was a discussion after your tasting, then it's not inappropriate to give one's opinion. From your blog, I assumed it was during the initial tasting of the wines. I heard about someone who was hired as editor for a well-know wine magazine. In his first editorial, he said he didn't like Sauvignon Blanc and you would never see a good review on this wine in the magazine. Shortly after that editorial, he was fired. That's why it's best to keep personal opinions to the right time and place. I take a lot of photos of wines and wineries and have an expensive Nikon camera but your shot of the grapes seems to be much better quality than I can get. Well done.

  3. take it from me 'anony'...april is well known for her clean, perfectly lit, sharp shots...i'm an artist, and drool over her photos wanting to paint them all...i have done one (grapes), am working on another at present...

  4. Yes, I have to agree. The photos are really good and sharp. I might have to trade in my expensive Nikon for a cheaper one!

    1. I swear it's the Leica lens on the Lumix that makes the difference.
      I have a Nikon D70 too, but honestly it's just too bulky. I love that I can get such great photos from a camera I slip in and out my pocket.