Harvest time is known to be the best time to visit wine country, so as soon as I felt that first chill in the air, I joined my fellow Ontario food and wine bloggers on the LCBO GoLocal Niagara Wine Tour, a day dedicated to learning and experiencing what makes Ontario VQA wine and Ontario wine country so special.
We began our wine country experience by hopping on the exclusive LCBO GoLocal VIA train (that's right, we got our very own train for the tour! SWAG!) where we got to mingle and catch up with the other bloggers in attendance, while munching on our VIA first class breakfast. During the speedy train ride into Niagara, we were introduced to three guest speakers who educated us on the significance and advantages of producing cool climate wines, understanding terroir in Ontario, and the importance of creating a deeper connection to the wine through visiting wine country.
Although we often associate warmer climate regions with successful wine making, Ontario, as a cool climate wine producing region, is actually at an advantage. An obvious advantage is the length of the growing season, as a cool climate allows for our grape growing season to be extended. A cool climate also allows for the natural sweetness and acidity of the grapes to be released, resulting in a more natural flavour and no need for modification. This leads into Terroir, which, as you have learned from my previous entries on Bordeaux wine, "refers to the vineyard-specific environmental differences (such as soil types, drainage, local micro-climates, and sun exposure). Terroir is the biggest difference as to why the same varietals all taste differently from around the world and even from back to back vineyards." (wines-france.ca). Climate is one aspect of Terroir, but one that, in turn, affects all of the other factors of Terroir, such as soil. Ontario's cool climate results in a fantastic soil for grape growing. Ontario wine makers are now paying close attention to their vineyards terroir, and even the environmental differences from one side of their vineyard compared to the other. Consider the many environmental differences within the Niagara region where you will see all different types of soil from sandy gravel to heavy clay. It's through touring these wineries, and getting to speak directly with the winemakers that you get a much better sense of the wine, as you can experience first-hand all the many environmental factors each winery is working with, as well as get to know the characters and stories that helped create the wine. This will not only give you a better sense of the wine and why it tastes that way, but also helps to build a personal relationship with that winery and specific wine and help to develop a story, because let's face it, wine drinking is about so much more than just tasting the wine. And let's not forget the many fantastic restaurants that our Ontario wineries have created. Many Ontario wineries today are known just as much for their culinary achievements as they are for their wine.
When we arrived in St. Catharines we were split up into two groups, with each group visiting a different winery and tasting a different selection of wines that reflected the theme they were given. The group themes reflect the way in which Ontario wines are going to be organized in the LCBO to help people track down their favourite Ontario VQA wine with ease. My group headed to Coyote's Run Estate Winery with the theme Crisp and Zesty, where we got to meet representatives from not only Coyote's Run, but also Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery and Jackson Triggs Vintners. As we tasted each of the seven wines, the representatives elaborated on the terroir that helped to create the wines we were drinking, as well as told us helpful (especially so for a newbie like me!) tasting notes for each one. The wines from this tasting that stood out the most for me were:
Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
- Peninsula Ridge is known for their Sauvignon Blanc wines.
- This particular one was cold fermented in stainless steel with a wide variety of yeast, with the lees contact for almost a year.
- Flavours of greenery, gooseberry, pineapple, and passionfruit.
Coyote's Run Estate Winery - 2009 Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir
- Red Paw vs. Black Paw refers to the two different types of clay found on the vineyard.
- Traditional maceration and fermentation in small open-top fermentors and aged 14 months in French oak barriques.
- Bouquet of violets, strawberry jam and cedar. Flavours of strawberry, cranberry with a velvety texture and sweet oak tannin.
After all that wine tasting, we had definitely worked up an appetite. I was thrilled to learn that the surprise lunch that was kept secret from us all morning was supplied by two food trucks! Both El Gastronomo Vagabundo and Gorilla Cheese were parked outside Creekside Estate Winery, ready to serve! I could not wipe the smile off my face! After just missing out on El Gastronomo's tacos that I had heard so much about at Food Truck Eats, I was one of the first in line to get my hands on them this time around. I placed an order for their Fish Tacos with local corn salsa, Bajan hot sauce, and sour cream, as well as their Local Heirloom Tomato Salad with watermelon, jalapenos, Upper Canada Cheese, basil pesto, and sumac. Both dishes were off the charts delicious! The fish in the tacos was perfectly flakey with a light and crisp batter, complimented by the contrast of the sweet corn and spicy hot sauce, all wrapped up in a warm and soft homemade tortilla. The tacos were great, but WOAH that salad was one of the best and most unique salads I have had the pleasure of tasting. A flavour explosion in my mouth, I couldn't get enough of this gorgeous salad, jam packed with bold flavours, once again contrasting both sweet and spicy. Of course lunch wouldn't be complete without more wine! Creekside set up a little tasting bar for us where they had a selection of wine pairings based on what we had ordered at the trucks. El Gastronomo 's menu was paired with:
Creekside 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
- Sauvignon Blanc is the varietal that made Creekside famous!
- This wine is classically fresh and zesty with grassy gooseberry aromas with a touch of citrus.
- Bright acidity makes this wine truly refreshing.
Creekside 2008 Shiraz
- Medium bodied with ripe plum and black pepper spice.
- An intriguing mix of elegant and robust.
- Displays the vintage's bright acidity and intense structure, making it cellar worthy for years to come!
The wine tasting continued after lunch where we were once again split up into two groups, with new wineries and new themes! This time my group headed to Malivoire Winery with the theme Ripe and Smooth. Just like at Coyote's Run, we were again greeted by representatives from Malivoire, Strewn Winery, and Cave Spring Cellars. I enjoyed a number of the wines I tasted at the final tasting of the day, but my standout pick for not only the final tasting, but out of all the wines I tasted throughout the day was:
Cave Spring Cellars - 2009 Pinot Noir Niagara Peninsula
- Lighter colour, which tend to be more light in flavour and harmonious when they're young.
- Silky textures on the palate, with light and delicate tannins.
- More angular than the other wines tasted.
- Flavours of strawberry, sweet cherry, and rose.
I can honestly say that I gained more knowledge on Ontario wine in that one day than I have in all the years I have been learning about Ontario wine combined. Sure, this is largely due to my maturation since first visiting Ontario wine country years ago, but our fantastic hosts, representatives, wine makers, and bloggers that were so kind and generous in sharing their experience and knowledge on the subject throughout the day, were absolutely essential in enriching the whole experience. I can give you no better advice than to go and visit Ontario wine country yourself and experience the excellence our province has to offer!
Beastie Boys - Intergalactic
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