Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Champagne Day

Friday, October 26th was Global Champagne Day. Such a fun idea! And it was celebrated in full spirit on Twitter, as the #champagneday hashtag filled up my feed. I wasn't able to indulge, as I was running the Toronto Women's 5K the following day, but I was certainly enjoying it vicariously. And I did celebrate the next day with one of the mini-bottles of pink Henkell.

One of the things I'd most like to learn about is champagne. I know that Henkell isn't exactly 'the good stuff', but they have mini-bottles, which is perfect for me. Shawn doesn't often want to split a bottle of champagne, so that gives me an option if I'd just like a glass. It's also perfect for mimosas.

But I feel like I'm missing out. I hear people extoll the virtues of really good champagne and I think how much I'd like to try that. Without a partner in bubbly crime, however, that seems more than a little overly indulgent.

Our anniversary bubbles
With an anniversary on the horizon, though, I might be able to convince Shawn to give it a go. For our one-year wedding anniversary a few years ago I invested in some mid-priced pink bubbles from Vintages, so with the anniversary of the day we re-met five years ago coming up perhaps the time is right to try again. I only wish I could remember what we'd gotten back then. This was before I was smart enough to photograph the bottles.

So what do you recommend? What's your favourite champagne? Have you tried any bubbly that blew your mind? I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Orchard Croft

When we started looking for a B&B for our recent Twenty Valley trip I was a little surprised to discover that all of my first choices were already booked. It was several months in advance of when we wanted to visit, but already smart visitors had snapped up the best accommodations.

One of the B&Bs I spoke to suggested I try one of the newest places in the area - The Orchard Croft. When I called, I was disappointed to learn that there wasn't an en suite available for both nights, but owner Ildiko was able to offer us another arrangement that allowed us not to share a bathroom for either night of our stay. We were thrilled.

Pulling up to the house, it looks surprisingly like all the other houses in the area - having seen the website I had anticipated something quite fancy. Instead, we got a lovely, homey place which was far more suited to our tastes. The Orchard Croft is a warm, welcoming space on a spectacular patch of land - a working peach orchard!

Our first night we stayed in the Champagne Suite, which is large and spacious with a wonderful en suite, including a jacuzzi bathtub. We didn't try the tub, but the walk-in shower was fantastic.

The bed is large and super comfortable - we had a wonderful night's sleep here - and I especially enjoyed having a relaxing area with a chair by the window and a nice little table and chairs where we could sit and chat (or open a bottle of bubbles).  
There's also a lovely fireplace in the room, although it was far too warm to use it during our stay.

Ildiko is a wonderful host and she was happy to help us decide on wineries to visit and to assist us in working out the details of our stay. She offers many additional services, including on-site massage therapy, dinners and Hungarian cooking lessons. We didn't have time to indulge in any of these, but we would certainly consider that for future stays.

Breakfast was served in the dining room, which has a fantastic view of the orchard. It also has a  unique and pretty mural on the walls - I thought that was a great touch and made the B&B feel very special.

The food itself was very interesting - and different each morning. Ildiko loves to add Hungarian touches and I found her muesli fantastic. We had a sweet bread with peaches the first morning and then the second morning we had Hungarian eggs. Those were a bit too spicy for my husband, but I enjoyed them.

For our second night we stayed in The Riesling Suite, which is smaller than The Champagne Suite, but still very nice. You can hear the train going by this room, but I actually didn't find it a problem at all - I slept right through any that went by after 11pm.  Both Shawn and I slept very well both nights we stayed here. There was a wedding party that arrived very late on the Saturday night and we didn't even hear them!

We liked many things about this B&B - especially how Ildiko invites you to enjoy the TV in the common room and her tea service when you arrive back from your day. This was such a nice touch after a long day of wine tasting and shopping.

The Orchard Croft is a great addition to the Twenty Valley area. I look forward to staying here again.

A few more images from our stay:


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Di Profio Wines

When we were choosing wineries to visit during our Niagara trip, I knew that I wanted to make time to visit Di Profio Wines. I always enjoy chatting with Joe Di Profio on Twitter and I was interested in seeing the difference between a very new winery (DiProfio opened its tasting bar this year) and some of the older wineries in the area.

We arrived at opening on Saturday morning and were greeted by Joe Di Profio Sr. He and his partner Carollynn Desjardinas are the heart and soul of Di Profio Wines, although it's certainly a family affair. Their son Fred is the head winemaker at Di Profio and son Joe Jr. is also involved, though from a distance as he currently lives in Halifax.

The Zinc
Carollynn arrived shortly after Joe on the day of our visit and gave us a great overview of the history behind Di Profio. It's certainly a unique story - she and Joe had worked in education and administration before retiring and had never really entertained the idea of opening a winery. As they considered their options for retirement, though, their son kept bringing up the idea. After  finding the wonderful vineyards they now own, they decided to take a chance.

Fred is a seasoned wine industry veteran and Joe Sr. had grown up in a wine-making family, so they certainly had a good basis for their new venture. The vineyard they bought came with a large, spacious house, so they've also opened Among the Vines, a charming B&B that sits at the top of their drive - only a short hop away from their new tasting bar, The Zinc.

Already, the wines are showing more than promise.  Their 2010 Cab Sauvignon won Silver and their 2011 Riesling won Bronze at the Intervin International Wine Competition this year. Of course, I had to sample some of these wines!

I started with the 2011 Riesling, which is one of their best sellers. This one has a citrus nose and citrus undertones when you taste. It's a fresh, crisp Riesling and not too sweet. I made sure to pick up a bottle of this one.

Then we moved on to the 2011 Gamay Rosé, which is very unique. This is a very dry wine that is not blended. It has a bit of peppery taste to it, though it has quite a fruity nose. Our lovely host, Sharon, suggested that it's a perfect pairing for smoked salmon and a good option for entertaining.

We then moved on to the 2011 Gamay Noir, which is another of Di Profio's best sellers. This one has a lovely, cherry-tinged nose and a great mouth feel. It would be a perfect BBQ wine.

Our next wine was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a great wine for fall. The tannins are nicely balanced and it has a nice spicy feel. We also picked up a bottle of this wine, as I suspect Shawn will really enjoy it.

To finish, we tried the award-winning 2011 Late Harvest Vidal. I was a little hesitant, as I tend not to like ice or dessert wines, but after hearing Carollynn's story about picking the grapes by hand (very, very cold hands), I decided to give it a try. I'm very glad that I did. Sharon compared this to the juice at the bottom of fruit cups and I think that's certainly a fair comparison. This is an ice wine that's heavy, but not cloying and - a descriptor that will likely make serious wine writers cringe - super yummy. This one I definitely had to take home.

We also had the opportunity to tour the winery while we were visiting. Di Profio doesn't currently offer regular winery tours, but they are more than happy to show you around if they have someone available to take you.

Below are some of the photos from our tour.

Di Profio may be the new kid on the block in Jordan/Niagara, but their wines are already standing side by side with their more established neighbours. We so enjoyed meeting the family and the lovely Cellar Sisters, who were visiting that day. The Cellar Sisters represent the winery as agents, but were there to help with harvest right alongside Joe, Carollynn and Fred.

We will definitely be back to visit Di Profio on our next trip to the area - and we're hopeful that this time we'll be able to snag a room at Among the Vines.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Wines in Niagara's post about Di Profio's opening weekend. Rick VanSickle has some great photos and tasting notes for even more wines.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vineland Estates

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Vineland Estates - Winemaker Brian Schmidt has been a great help in my growing wine education and Vineland's wines have quickly become some of my favourites. When we had the chance to finally visit the winery in September it was well worth the wait.

I had arranged a tour in advance and our guide, Stephanie, was a fantastic host. She started off by taking us out to see the grapes, which were so lush on the vines at that point. She also filled us in on a little of Vineland's history and told us about all of the interesting buildings on the property. I hadn't realized that there was a B&B on-site, though I definitely made a mental note about that for future stays in the area.  

The Carriage House is an absolutely charming little building that sits in between the restaurant and the winery and we were able to peek our heads in as they were setting up for a wedding. What a lovely place for a reception or family gathering. It's cozy and intimate - a great option for a smaller event.
From there, we headed back to the crush pad. I've been following Brian Schmidt's Twitter feed for ages, so I felt like I was very familiar with this area of the winery already - Brian is always posting photos of the action, as he and his team work to create some of the area's best wines. I highly recommend following him on Twitter, as his photos really bring to life the process. And, well, he's a much better photographer than I am!

We moved back inside to take a look at the tanks and bottling area. I loved that Vineland has a bottling operation, as I hadn't yet seen one on our tours. Many of the wineries in Niagara and Prince Edward County have their wines bottled by trucks - mobile bottling operations that travel from winery to winery. This makes great economic sense in many cases, but I still think it's interesting to see a winery that is able to bottle its own product too. I just wish we could have seen it in action. Yes, I am kind of a nerd about these things, but after having seen the bottling operation at the Bushmills' Distillery in Ireland, I'd be interested in seeing it happen in a smaller setting.

At this point in the tour, Brian was able to take some time out from his crazy harvest schedule to visit with us. It was so nice to finally meet him! And especially nice when he suggested we skip straight to the tasting portion of the tour, so he could walk us through some of the wines himself. Brian is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic people you will meet in the Ontario wine industry and it's impossible not to get excited about VQA when you spend time talking to him. He really is an amazing ambassador for this wine region.

First up was the 2011 Elevation St. Urban Riesling - this was the one that my friends in wine had been buzzing about on Twitter. Paul Dearborn (@whitbywino) had likened this wine to "sour grape freezies," which naturally intrigued me. And, what can I say? This wine had me at hello. The minute it hit my tongue, the pop of flavour filled my mouth and I was in love. I didn't get sour grape freezies right then, but I'd say I get it now. It's that mix of acid and sweetness that just brings to mind sweet and sour summer treats. It's definitely a wine I wasn't willing to leave without.

Next, we tried the 2011 O'Leary Unoaked Chardonnay. Being that Vineland's 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay is my go-to wine these days, I expected to fall just as hard for this version. It has a great nose - I love any wine that has an apple undertone - and I really liked the mouth-feel, but I wasn't sure about this one on first sip. I think it's because it seemed a bit heavier than the Vineland 2010. This was a great lesson for me, as it showed just how versatile two wines (both unoaked, both by the same winemaker) could really be. I liked this wine, especially after a few more sips, but it felt like a richer, more luxurious style chard - pretty perfect for Kevin O'Leary, don't you think? I'd try this one with dinner - I think it would be a great pairing wine - and I'd like to spend a bit more time getting to know it.

Brian had to get back to his duties after this tasting break, but I really appreciated him taking the time to meet with us and to showcase two of his newest wines for us.

Stephanie got us back onto our tour route and took us down to see the cellars. It's pretty amazing to see all those barrels lined up and she was great about answering all my newbie questions about them.

It was also very impressive to see the Vineland wine collection - where all of the winery's vintages are stored in a lovely wine library. Pretty stunning - and there's so much history here. Stephanie showed us a bottle from the winery's first vintage in 1983. I'm not sure if it would be drinkable at this point, but I think it's fantastic that they have these wines to showcase their history.

Next, we headed back upstairs to finish off our tasting, with Stephanie suggesting the 2009 Chardonnay Reserve to start. I loved the apples and honey on the nose of this wine and it struck me as very drinkable and refreshing. Crisp with a nice kick of acidity, this one is definitely worth it's slightly higher price tag. Delicious. 

I had been very interested to try the 2010 'Oh Really' Rosé, which is a very dry wine. Made from Gamay, this is definitely a very different rosé, but I liked it - a great pairing option. The web description says that it's a rosé that red wine drinkers will enjoy and I think that would be very true. For me, a confirmed white wine drinker, it was an interesting selection - not sweet at all, but very refreshing.

We finished up our tasting (which, as you can probably tell, was not flights but simply the wines we wanted to try) with the 2010 Cabernet Franc. I have been a fan of #CabFrancTuesdays on Twitter for months and have enjoyed the photos that Brian and Tinhorn Creek winemaker Sandra Oldfield post every week. I'm not much of a red drinker (headaches), but I love the way this Cab Franc tastes - it's such a great, complex red. I'd definitely recommend this to my red wine drinking friends.

After our tour and tasting I hit the winery for the shopping portion of the evening. That part was super fun, though Shawn rolled his eyes a bit when he saw my haul. If we weren't only three wineries into our tour at that point I suspect it would have been much larger.

And then it was time for dinner! We opted not to do the chef's tasting menu, since I have some food restrictions, and ordered from the regular menu. I started with a glass of the Elevation St. Urban Riesling (of course I did) and Shawn had a beer (of course he did).

For our first course, we shared the Estate Smoked Salmon. This is fantastic - the flavours are so fresh and light. We would definitely opt to order two of these next time, as it's far too delicious to try and split. Luckily, my husband is a gentleman and I got to enjoy the last bite. Delicious.

For the second course, I chose the Upper Canada Ricotta Gnocci, with smoked chicken. This was the dish I was most excited about, but I actually found it a little bit heavy. Not that I didn't enjoy it (I ate every bite), but it was just a very stark contrast to the smoked salmon.

Shawn had the Roasted Pork Belly for his second course and quite enjoyed it. I don't eat pork, so I couldn't try it, but it seemed a bit of a lighter option than the gnocci.

Course number three was West Coast Halibut for me. I loved the 'crackling crust' on this fish - it was such a nice, light breading. It worked perfectly for this fish and wasn't at all overpowering. I'm a bit hit and miss when it comes to eating fish, but this was done just to my taste - light, melt-in-your mouth pieces and no overwhelming fishy flavour. Plus, the sauce and vegetables were a perfect compliment.

Shawn had the Citrus Cured Trout, which he liked very much. I tried a bite, but since I'm not a fan of trout I will stick to his review - he thought it was excellent.

Chef Justin Downes came out to meet us after our main courses and that was a nice treat. I think our enjoyment of his meal was voiced quite well by the fact that we finished every bite.

Vineland's restaurant is definitely a place for a special occasion meal (it's on the pricey side), but we felt it was well worth the splurge. While I wish they had a vegetarian option (I would guess they could make that by request), I was otherwise very pleased with everything. Plus, the woman who waited on us was just lovely - great staff always make a huge difference.

Assorted photos from our Vineland trip:

* The fine print. We received a complimentary tour and tasting from Vineland Estates.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Creekside Estate Winery

I'm so glad that Shawn and I chose Creekside Estate Winery as the first official stop on our recent Twenty Valley visit - this tour and tasting set the perfect tone for our trip.

The vibe here is relaxed and laidback from the moment you walk in the door. We chose a fairly quiet time to visit, which meant we had lots of time to look around and explore the shelves while we waited for our appointment. They also had Neko Case on the sound system, which is enough to make me like a place based on good taste in music alone.

We were very lucky that Assistant Winemaker Yvonne Irvine (@cellarmonkey) was available to meet with us. Planning a visit during harvest meant that it was up in the air if we'd be able to meet with any of the wine making staff, but it happened that the day we were there wasn't a super busy one. Yvonne was kind enough to take us through a tasting and then for a tour of the winery itself.   Matt Loney (@matt_loney), who handles Sales & Marketing, was also able to join us for a little while before heading off to the Niagara Wine Festival.

 We started off with the good stuff, the 2000 X Blanc de Blancs, which is a very unique sparkling wine. It felt very special to try this - especially knowing that it's the first and only sparkling wine that Creekside has every produced. It's also a ten year old bottle, so it was interesting for this wine newbie to try something so different from traditional sparkling wines. I love that in the tasting notes on their site they refer to it as "picking up some funk" after spending 10 years in the Creekside cellars and, while you can certainly taste the difference aging brings, I thought this funk had a great groove.

The 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc was up next.  Yvonne explained that the 2009 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a French oak ferment (40% new and 60% neutral) and the 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc is unoaked. If, like me, you have to ask what neutral means it's 3-6 years old or more. I have to admit that the 2011 was my favourite from the tasting. I loved the nose on this wine - fruity with citrus - and I felt like the wine lived up to that with lots of fresh, fruity flavour. This was the one that stuck with me after all of the wines had been tasted and we bought more than one bottle.**

We also tried the 2010 Laura's White, which is another wine we liked so much we had to bring some home.  I am a huge fan of blends, so it seemed inevitable that this would be one of my favourites. It also has a sweet, honey-filled nose and a fresh, crisp taste.

And then we went red - starting with the 2010 Estate Shiraz. This medium-bodied red will age beautifully, explains Yvonne. It should mature slowly and less dramatically, so this could be a well-priced option for starting your cellar.

I don't drink a lot of red because I'm one of those unlucky folks who gets headaches from some red wines, but I'd love to be able to enjoy it more often. This one is spicy and fruity and has great mouth feel.
Other reds we sampled were the 2008 Broken Press Syrah, which is a medium-bodied wine with a spicy, peppery nose - an elegant, delicate wine, as Yvonne and Matt described it - and the Broken Press Shiraz, which I also found to be fruity and a bit spicy. I'm still working on my tasting note skills for reds, but I liked both of these. I'd want to try them again. And the story of how the Broken Press label came to be is as unique as the wines - a broken press meant that only a tiny bit of Viognier juice was produced - the options were to stomp by foot or mix with Shiraz. They went with the later option and a unique blend was born. It was so popular that first year that they've done it every year since.    
We also tried a barrel tasting, which was a first for me - it was even more interesting  when Yvonne offered to take us out to show us the barrel we were tasting from. That was the start of a  tour around the winery's inner workings, including an introduction to Creekside's tanks - all of whom are named after famous people - from the Beatles to scientists to philosophers. That's Yoko on the right. I got to do a tank tasting, which was fascinating - at that point the wine is more like juice and although it's too yeasty to swallow, it tastes fantastic. 
After the tanks, we visited the cellars, which are both simple and stunning, if such a thing is possible. I absolutely loved the candle chandelier, which added a powerful, pretty touch. 

A few more shots from Creekside:

A huge thanks to everyone at Creekside Estate Winery, especially Yvonne and Matt, who made our visit so exceptional. We look forward to visiting again soon.

Interested in reading more about Creekside? Uncork Ontario has a great review of a winery visit.

* The fine print. Our tour and tastings at Creekside were complimentary - the wine we brought home (and my awesome new Creekside t-shirt) were all purchased. 

** Rookie mistake - In the original post I mixed up the 2009 Reserve and the 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. It's funny, when I was writing the post I thought 'this sounds weird' but I decided to go with my notes - turns out, they were incorrect.  So sorry for any confusion - I'm learning. :)