Archive for the ‘Niagara’Category

Afternoon tea gets royal treatment at Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales exterior
We got a quick refresher in British royal protocol when we stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara on the Lake (www.vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales). The stately brick property had been entertaining guests under a couple of different names for more than 30 years before the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) paid a visit in 1901. Thrilled with the royal presence, the property changed its name to the Prince of Wales. We finally figured out that the Duke assumed that title when he became heir apparent to the throne. His father was King Edward VII, the monarch best known from PBS as an unrepentant playboy who took socialite actress Lily Langtry as his mistress.

This time the name stuck and the grande dame of lodgings in genteel Niagara on the Lake remains the Prince of Wales. Located where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, the town was originally a British military stronghold and haven for Loyalists fleeing north during the American Revolution. But it was virtually destroyed by U.S. troops during the War of 1812. Quickly rebuilt, by 1830 it had developed a thriving steamboat business.

Drawing room at Prince of Wales Hotel

The Arcade Hotel, as the Prince of Wales was originally called, was built in 1864 in the prime location at the corner of Picton and King streets. It’s been carefully restored to its Victorian elegance. Yet in keeping with modern, more casual times, the hotel strikes a nice balance between decorum and comfort. That’s especially true in the drawing room (above) where afternoon tea is served daily. The gorgeous space features ornate woodwork, big mirrors, and a glittering crystal chandelier. The overstuffed chairs and sofas encourage a persistent indolence.

Pomp and circumstance of afternoon tea


server at tea at Prince of Wales HotelThe Prince of Wales serves teas from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants in Toronto. The company produces its own blends from teas sourced directly from the point of origin. The first step in the Prince of Wales tea service is to open small containers and sniff the various offerings. Once the tea is properly steeped and poured, a serving tray arrives with a variety of dainty sandwiches along with sweet small cream puffs and macarons.

Of all the goodies, the scones are the star of the show. Their subtle flavor derives from golden raisins that have been steeped in jasmine tea. The scones come to the table hot from the oven. Tea drinkers slather on jam, butter, and house-made crème fraiche to taste. (Chefs at the Prince of Wales found it impossible to get an adequate supply of true British clotted cream, so they devised this more than acceptable substitute.) For those who can’t get enough of the scones, they are also served at breakfast. One morning the couple at the next table ordered a half dozen to split between them. For those who still can’t get enough, the hotel graciously agreed to share the recipe.

scone at tea in Prince of Wales Hotel

JASMINE TEA SCONES


Makes 12 large scones

Ingredients


1 cup golden raisins
2 cups hot jasmine tea
4 1/2 cups (500g) cake flour
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
7 teaspoons (30g) baking powder
1 stick (115g) cold butter (cut into cubes )
2 (1/2 cup) whole eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (250ml) heavy cream

For egg wash
1 egg
1 teaspoon cream

Directions


Soak the raisins in hot jasmine tea mixture. Cover and let cool overnight in fridge. Strain and squeeze out most of the water before weighing. Use 175g, or 6 1/4 oz.

Combine the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Cut the butter in until mealy texture (slightly smaller than a pea).

In a separate bowl, mix together the cream and eggs. Add to the dough slowly while mixer runs. Add in the raisins and mix until combined. Rest the dough in a well floured pan for approximately 1 hour, preferably in refrigerator.

Roll dough to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut to desired width. Brush tops of scones with egg wash. Let rest for another 20 minutes.

Bake at 340°F (170°C) for approximately 8–15 minutes for a convection oven or 15–22 minutes for a conventional oven. Tops should be just turning golden brown and toothpick inserted in one should come out with no dough slick. (A moist crumb is acceptable.) Be sure to open up at least one to ensure the middle is baked enough.

tea at Prince of Wales Hotel


For an overview of travel on the Niagara Peninsula, see the web site of Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

17

08 2017

Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

bottles at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Norma Jean Lowery Harber’s family has farmed the 34 acres of Ravine Vineyard Estate (ravinevineyard.com) in St. Davids since 1867. Indeed, her great-grandfather planted the Niagara region’s first commercial vineyard here in 1869 and the land was in orchards for many decades. Norma Jean and her husband Blair Harber bought the farm from the rest of the family in 2004. They set about creating organic vineyards and an organic winery. Norma Jean’s father had grown wine grapes, and the couple replanted vineyards to focus on the three classic Bordeaux reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) along with Chardonnay, Riesling, and small amounts of Gewürtztraminer.

Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantThe wines are reason enough reason to visit Ravine. As luck had it, we missed the tasting room hours. But we had dinner in the farm restaurant looking out on the kitchen garden and down to some of the vineyards. And, naturally, we drank Ravine wines with dinner. The Harbers practice biodynamic principles in their restaurant gardens as well as in their vineyards. The restaurant focuses on highly local products—including the Berkshire hogs raised on the farm. A smokehouse on the property allows executive chef Ross Midgley to feature dishes with cured pork. The chef also preserves local bounty to extend locavore dining into the less fecund seasons.

Charcuterie and Merlot


Ravine charcuterie plate

In fact, we started dinner with the chef’s charcuterie platter. The meaty anchors were honey ham, sliced coppa, and sausage—all cured downstairs in the charcuterie closet. A pot of heavenly chicken liver parfait was great for spreading on the country French baguette, and the pork country pâté en croute was just unctuous enough to benefit from the tangy pickled fennel and shallots and homemade coarse mustard.

On our server’s recommendation, we drank Ravine Merlot with the dish. Merlot is the most round-heeled of the Bordeaux grapes, ripening to voluptuous fullness even in Niagara’s short season. Ravine’s version is soft and round, but it’s not sloppy. Nine months in French barrique disciplines the fruit.

Carrot soup and Riesling


Carrot ginger soup at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantRavine’s restaurant has a nice touch with its soup of the day. It serves each bowl with a savory sour cream and chive muffin. That was especially nice with a bowl of carrot-ginger soup topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The accompanying wine was the house Riesling. Like the Merlot, it is a fruit-forward wine with a good acidity that brings out the brightness of the grape. Characteristic of the Mosel clones, the aromatics are lightly floral.

Scallop and pasta with Sauvignon Blanc


Scallop and pasta at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantChef Midgley’s sense of food balance paired especially well with winemaker Martin Werner’s rendering of Sauvignon Blanc. The pasta of the day was a delightful tangle of homemade spaghetti with lovage and arugula, a butter sauce, and asparagus. Perched on top was a perfectly seared scallop. The range of textures and flavors in a small dish was striking.

The Sauvignon Blanc was even more striking. Werner treats it like Sancerre, fermenting with both wild yeast and a controlled inoculation, then barrel-aging on the lees. It has pronounced white grapefruit and lemon notes with a surprising creaminess. The crisp acidity cut through the butter sauce and highlighted the herbal notes of the vegetables in the dish.

Chardonnay for the main dishes


entrees at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Ravine ages its standard Chardonnay in small barrels of an assertive French oak. That produces a French-inflected wine with distinctively New World fruit. It is creamy and lightly oaky, lush with the apple and pear notes characteristic of cold-climate Chard. Those properties make it a good all-purpose white to pair with food—much as the Ravine Merlot is a good all-purpose red. We had a brined and smoked heritage half-chicken and a mixed-grains “risotto” made with shiitake mushrooms and an Ontario gouda-style cheese. The Chardonnay’s oakiness was a nice complement to the smoke in the chicken, and its broad acidity counterbalanced the richness of the cheese in the “risotto,” which had intense cereal flavors of its own from the wheat berries and barley.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Ontario food rivals the view at Elements on the Falls

Canada 150 at Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, ON
A big “CANADA 150” sculpture celebrating the country’s 150th anniversary of Confederation had just been installed when we settled into a window table at Elements on the Falls Restaurant (niagaraparks.com/visit/culinary/elements-on-the-falls-restaurant/). People were having so much fun climbing on the sculpture and posing for photos that we were almost distracted from the glorious view of Horseshoe Falls.

The restaurant is one of five owned and managed by Niagara Parks. The agency was established in 1885 to preserve and protect the natural resources of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. Niagara Parks also ensures a good time for all in this legendary natural setting. They oversee everything from cruises and zipline tours of the falls to gardens, golf courses, historic sites, and the Niagara River Recreation Trail. Their guests also eat well at the Niagara Parks restaurants.

We’re often leery of restaurants with great views. Restaurateurs sometimes think that the scenery will lead diners to overlook less than stellar food or that people will pay a premium for the view alone. But we needn’t have worried at Elements on the Falls. Our meal was every bit as good as the view.

Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Elements participates in the Feast ON program (ontarioculinary.com), which promotes fresh food from Ontario province. Chef Elbert Wiersema (above) knows how to make the most of that local produce, fish, and meat. The Dutch-born chef cooked in Paris, London, and Bermuda before landing in Ontario about 15 years ago. He has cultivated a deep appreciation for the foods and wines of his adopted home.

An Ontario feast


Our first dish featured a small fillet of lake perch, fried very crisp and served with a side dish of local wild rice, farmers cheese, and fruit salsa. The mild fish matched the soft flavors of the rice and cheese, while the small cubed fruits gave a piquant counterpart to the crisp skin.

Lamb mixed grill at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Chef Wiersema’s unique version of lamb mixed grill (above) had its own built-in drama. We were each served on a piece of slate where a roasted merguez sausage sat atop roasted heirloom potatoes, green onion, and asparagus. A saskatoon berry sauce made with reduced Baco Noir wine provided a sweet-tart counterpart.

As the plate was served, we were cautioned that the stone sitting on one end was very hot. Indeed it was. Chef Wiersema had selected flat-sided stones from the banks of the Niagara River, then heated them blazingly hot in the oven. The hot stone on each plate was an individual grill where we could cook our lamb sirloin steaks to taste.

The meal concluded with a salute to Canadian cuisine that evoked the very symbol of the country in this celebratory year. A crispy maple tart sat in a swash of reduced ice-cider and was garnished with tart and citrusy sea buckthorn berries. Chef kindly shared his tart recipe. We’re looking forward to trying it during New England maple season.

Maple tart at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

MAPLE BUTTER TARTS

Ingredients

6 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) melted butter

For filling
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 ml) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) Maple syrup
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) melted butter
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1 teaspoon (5 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (85 ml) coarsely chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the phyllo pastry between two sheets of waxed paper and cover with a damp tea towel. Place one sheet on a work surface, keeping the remaining sheets covered.

Brush the phyllo with some of the melted butter; top with a second sheet. Continue stacking the sheets of phyllo, brushing each with melted butter, until you have a stack of 6. Brush the top sheet well with butter. Cut into 12 even squares.

Press the squares evenly into 12 muffin cups.

In a bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk, then whisk in the sugar, maple syrup, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Stir in the nuts.

Spoon the filling evenly into the prepared phyllo cups, being careful not to let the filling come up above the pastry. (They will appear about half full.)

Bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden, about 15 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cool completely.

Courtesy Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Parks

07

08 2017

Vineland Estates Winery: a clone of one’s own

Tasting room at Vineland in Niagara

“These trees are the beginnings of Canada,” David Hulley told us as he welcomed us to the cathedral-like log barn that serves as the tasting room of Vineland Estates Winery (vineland.com). “Trees were being cut down for warships. Some of them weren’t needed, so they were used for this barn.”

The 1877 structure and the landmark stone tower are among several practical and handsome buildings remaining from a 19th century Mennonite homestead. They perch on an elevated slope along the Twenty Mile Bench of the Niagara escarpment. The chinked log-cabin barn certainly makes the region’s most dramatic tasting room. The winery’s setting atop the rise among vineyards makes it among the most picturesque estates in the Niagara region.

The buildings anchor 42 acres of vineyards, including the initial 1979 plantings of the Weis 21 Riesling clone. Vineland founder Hermann Weis hails from Germany’s Mosel wine region and brought the clone that bears his family’s name to Canada. The winemaker and nurseryman was convinced that Riesling would thrive in this particular slice of the Niagara peninsula. The heat sink of Lake Ontario keeps the vineyards cool in summer and warm into the fall. The limestone soils have good drainage, and the slope between the Twenty Mile Bench and the lake encourages good air circulation. After tasting the wines in the rustic barn, we were convinced that Weis was on to something.

At the tasting bar


Pouring at Vineland in NiagaraThe Elevation Riesling is Vineland’s signature wine. It is crafted with grapes from old vines in the St. Urban vineyard surrounding the winery. The 2015 ($20) is an outstanding example of the Mosel clone flourishing in the Niagara setting. The vines are in their fourth decade and produce grapes with impressive intensity, a citrus zing, and luscious fruit with overtones of ripe peach and apricot. Fermented fairly dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine. We also tried the 2008 ($30), which was made in a sweet German auslese style. The same stone fruits are present in the mouth, and the intense acids balance the residual sugars very well. It would be perfect with a game bird stuffing with chestnut dressing.

And now the reds…


Riesling may have been the founder’s passion, but Vineland also found its niche red early on. “In Niagara, Cabernet Franc is king,” Hulley told us. “There are very few places in the world that can make pure Cabernet Franc.”

bottles in tasting room at Vineland in NiagaraBefore trying a reserve Cab Franc, we sampled the 2014 Elevation Cabernet ($28). This elegant wine is a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Franc, one-third Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 15 months in French oak with a light toast. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes powerfully to the cedar and elderberry nose, but Cabernet Franc and its vegetative tannins dominate the mouth. It needs a few more years in the bottle—or a salty piece of meat—to show at its best. A fully mature 2009 Elevation Cabernet ($75) demonstrates a more harmonious marriage of the grapes. The tannins have softened and the fruit flavors have overtaken the vegetative flavors. The lush wine lingers on the palate like a sunset’s afterglow.

Perhaps the best middle ground is the 2012 Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve ($50). It’s mostly (89%) Cabernet Franc with a mellowing touch of Merlot (9%) and just a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon. In a tasting, it shows leather and coffee on the nose and rich black fruits with bittersweet chocolate in the mouth. It makes you hungry for a steak.

At the table


Vineland also opened one of the first winery-based fine dining restaurants in the area. Simply called “The Restaurant,” it occupies an 1845 farmhouse (above) with expansive views across the vineyards. Executive chef Justin Downes grew up in the town of Vineland and studied at Niagara College. Like many Niagara chefs, he has a firm commitment to local products. After the teaser of the wine tasting, we were eager to pair some of the estate’s wines with Downes’ food.

charcuterie at Vineland restaurant in NiagaraThe flagship 2015 Vineland Riesling proved its versatility with our first two courses. The lemon-lime zestiness of the wine balanced nicely with a plate of briny Nova Scotia oysters on the half shell. With that wine, a mignonette was superfluous. Then Downes surprised us with a stunning platter that was almost a study in the branches of charcuterie. It included a marvelously mellow pâté de campagne with just a touch of brandy, an unctuous medallion of pork rillettes, thin slices of duck prosciutto, cured pork loin, and a chorizo with a healthy dose of black peppercorns. The pickled onions and green beans provided an acid counterpart. Once again, the Riesling more than held its own.

Every course was carefully thought out and meticulously executed. One pairing that surprised us was roasted quail with a kale pesto, wild spring mushrooms, a sunnyside-up quail egg, and a dab of ricotta. Downes served it with the 2014 Elevation Cabernet—the same wine we found too closed in the tasting. The salty little quail brought the wine alive. Because the meat had such a concentrated flavor from the browning, it stood up just fine to the wine. Below is the dish—beautiful and rustic at the same time.

quail at Vineland restaurant in Niagara

Overviews

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Fruits, now and forever, in Niagara

Niagara peaches at St. Catharines Farmers Market
Grapes may rule the Niagara Peninsula today. But peach farmers were the first to recognize the potential of the rich soils of the limestone escarpment. When they planted peach orchards in 1825, they set the area on its agricultural path. By 1950, the Niagara Peninsula boasted more than 4,000 fruit farms, with peaches and cherries the dominant crops.

Many former orchards have been transformed to vineyards. But Niagara still supplies about 90 percent of Ontario’s peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots—as well as the lion’s share of plums, pears, and cherries. That’s according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the agency charged with paying attention to such things.

The folks in the area seem to keep an equally close eye. They wait for the succession of tender fruits to ripen and make their way to market. In May, when we visited the St. Catharines Farmers Market (https://goo.gl/S44kN8) in downtown St. Catharines, it was too early for the new crop of tree fruits. Or even for strawberries and raspberries. A few folks were selling their preserved peaches (above) and some cold-storage apples. Farmers were offering asparagus, rhubarb, local honey, cultivated mushrooms, and hothouse cherry tomatoes. By now, the cornucopia is overflowing. Pecks of apricots and peaches vie for table space with watermelons, hanks of garlic, baskets of onions, and big juicy tomatoes.

Il Gelato di Carlotta in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Gelato: Fruit with Italian cool


Purists contend that there is nothing better than a sun-warmed peach fresh off the tree. We can hardly argue with that juicy sweetness. But Il Gelato di Carlotta (gelatodicarlotta.com) has achieved spectacular success combining fresh Niagara fruits with the Italian flair for making gelato. Florentine Carlotta Cattani, who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, launched the gelateria in 2013 with her husband and her two Italy-based brothers. Their first shop was in Niagara on the Lake (above). It proved so popular that they have expanded to the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls and the Vaughan Mills shopping mall north of Toronto.

Carlotta trained in Bologna to master the fine points of making gelato. She’s very particular about what goes into her frozen treats. She uses all natural ingredients and never resorts to preservatives or artificial colors or flavors. Her pistachios hail from Sicily, her hazelnuts from Piemonte, her coconut from Sri Lanka, and her mangoes from outside Bombay. But the peaches, strawberries, raspberries, plums, and pears are all grown by Niagara farms and orchards. Her simple, respectful treatment only enhances their goodness.

Greaves storefront in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara’s own jampot


Greaves Jams & Marmalades (greavesjams.com) beat Carlotta to the punch. The company opened on Queen Street in Niagara on the Lake in 1927 to make and sell jams, jellies, marmalades, and other condiments. From the start, Greaves has employed Niagara fruits and vegetables. The company has also adhered to a strict ban on pectin and preservatives. Production has moved to a larger facility, but uses the original recipes. Indeed, the original shop still sells the wares. Greaves’ own line of 35 jams, jellies, and preserves line the shelves along with products from other manufacturers and tableware and serving pieces. It’s a lot to choose from. We decided to stick with classic strawberry jam and peach jam. They should make great toppings for the delicious scones that we are going to try to recreate using the recipe given to us by the Prince of Wales, the small town’s most gracious hotel. We’ll be publishing that recipe soon.

28

07 2017

Tawse and Redstone prove Niagara wine’s a natural

Tasting wine at Tawse Winery in Niagara
Toronto financier Moray Tawse is a lifelong lover of both red and white Burgundy. A happenstance tasting of a great Chardonnay from an obscure (and now defunct) Niagara winery changed his real estate shopping plans back in 2001. Rather than seeking out vineyards to buy in Burgundy, he turned his attention to the fledgling Twenty Valley, which comprises vineyards in Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan in the town of Lincoln and extends eastward to the city of St. Catharines. A wine geek’s heaven, this region is a patchwork of different soils and subsoils. The Twenty Valley chicken clearly crossed the road because it preferred the terroir on the other side. Now Twenty Valley is home to more than 50 wineries. (For details, see Niagara’s Twenty Valley web site at www.20valley.ca or Visit Niagara at www.visitniagaracanada.com.)

In 2001, Moray Tawse bought his first 9-acre property, and in 2005 opened Tawse Winery (tawsewinery.ca). Tawse has expanded to five vineyards encompassing 200 acres and has been named Canadian Winery of the Year four times.

Tawse Winery in NiagaraTawse wines are organic and biodynamic. (The winery has both Ecocert and Demeter certification.) A regular farm menagerie assists in the vineyards. Sheep graze on the lower canopy of the vines, while horses crop the upper canopy. Chickens strut up and down the rows, eating bugs and picking out weeds around the trunks and between the vines. Architectural ingenuity helps make the winery (see below) all the more sustainable. Taking advantage of a hillside location, every operation is gravity-fed. Burgundy-based Pascal Marchand—a rock star among flying winemakers—advises Tawse Winery on every step of the process. Niagara College-trained Paul Pender makes the wines and oversees the vineyards.

Tastes of Tawse


All the certifications in the world mean nothing if the wines don’t live up to it. But they do. In fact, the Tawse wines as a group are outstanding. They vinify more than 90 wines each year, including 13-14 different Chardonnays from slightly different terroir.

We tasted the 2012 Estate Chardonnay—a barrel-fermented white made in the style of a Maconnais. The oak is well-balanced as a background note, letting the apple and melon notes come to the fore on the palate. It retails at $38. We also tried a 2015 Limestone Ridge Riesling ($24). It’s a perfect wine for light meats sauced with acidic marinades or rubs—roast pork with applesauce, for example, or chicken lemon pasta. The aromatic Riesling dominates but in this cold year, there’s a distinct green apple acidity in the mouth. The vineyard is planted over two types of soil. Grapes from the limestone northern half go to Tawse. Grapes from the red clay southern half go to Redstone (see below).

The 2011 Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir ($49) is the Tawse flagship red. The vineyards were 9 years old when the grapes were picked, and the wine shows great promise as the vines mature. The nose of violets and black cherries gives way to a rounded, fruity wine with a suggestion of pomegranate, menthol, eucalyptus, and warm spices on the palate. It is classic cold-climate Pinot Noir—lean and elegant as a greyhound.

Redstone Winery in Niagara, owned by Moray Tawse

Redstone, brawny sibling to Tawse


When Tawse began expanding his holdings in 2009, he bought some vineyards planted in the red clay soils of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation (still part of the Twenty Valley region). The first vintage in 2010 was so radically different from the Tawse wines that Moray Tawse decided that the vineyards needed their own winery and own identity.

So Redstone Winery (redstonewines.ca) was born. Moray Tawse took the opportunity to build a new winery with a big tasting room and a fine restaurant, making Redstone especially visitor-friendly. The integrated operation raises its own lamb, chicken, and duck and buys beef, rabbit, and venison from nearby Ontario farms.

Wines show Canadian cheekiness


Redstone tasting bar in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseAs the red-clay soils of the property are ideal for late-maturing Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery’s identity is tied to the Bordeaux reds. Redstone also produces a powerful Syrah, a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as well as some Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Like Tawse, all wines are certified organic and biodynamic.

sparkling rose at Redstone in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseWines here range from a frisky sparkling rosé available only at the winery to a robust Rhone-style Syrah ($40) that practically cries out for roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary sprigs. The Reserve Chardonnay ($30) hails from the south half of the Limestone Ridge vineyard shared by Tawse and Redstone. Winemaker Rene Van Ede is Australian, and his wines have that Down Under rowdiness. This Chardonnay tastes like a New World rambunctious cousin of Chablis. It has a fruit forward expression of lemon, sweet apple, and a notable toasty oak. The lush texture lingers a long, long time.

We also sampled the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($40). An elegant expression of Cabernet that could use a few more years in the bottle, it is a little closed right now. Swirled in the glass, it gives up a distinct black pepper aroma on top of ripe blackcurrants and dark cherry. The nose suggests a jammy quality not present in the mouth. Slightly puckery, it has layer after layer of dark fruit still restrained by its tannins. Give it a year or two and it should drink like a bodyguard in a tuxedo.

25

07 2017

Niagara cheese assumes a local accent

Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company in Niagara
Niagara College has played a big role in the Niagara peninsula blossoming as a foodie destination. The school is turning out talented graduates with a commitment to making the most of the region’s bounty. The college’s offerings run the gamut from culinary and hospitality programs to winemaking, viticulture, brewing, and distilling. The college even operates a teaching brewery as well as Canada’s only commercial teaching winery. As we traveled through the region, we met many of its talented graduates and interns who intend to make their careers in the region.

But in the pantheon of food and drink, one thing is missing. “There are no courses on cheesemaking offered in the area,” Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company told us.

Szebeny is a partner in the operation that was founded in 2005 and calls itself “the first small, modern Niagara creamery in generations.” Upper Canada Cheese Company (uppercanadacheese.com) makes and sells its cheeses from a modern building with retro train station style in the town of Lincoln. They also stock other artisanal cheeses and local products such as honey, pickles, preserves, and maple syrup that offer an overview of the local food scene.

Guernesey cow in NiagaraSzebeny learned her craft in France and Quebec and now trains the company’s other cheesemakers. They are fortunate to start with an extraordinary ingredient—milk from a herd of Guernsey cows. The brown and white cattle graze contentedly at Comfort Family Farm, about a 20-minute drive from the facility. The protein- and cream-rich milk “is more flavorful,” said Szebeny, “and we can make more cheese per liter.” Upper Canada makes cheese every second day, starting with about 2,000 liters of milk.

Variations on a Guernsey theme


Upper Canada Cheese Company cheeses in NiagaraThe company first introduced Niagara Gold, a washed-rind semi-firm cheese that is aged four to five months. Modeled on Port Salut from the Loire Valley in Brittany, it has similar buttery flavors, a nutty nose, and earthy flavors in the mouth. Comfort Cream, a Camembert-style soft cheese, was “named after the farm,” Szebeny said. Intensely buttery, it has a long tangy finish with an air of fresh mushrooms.

The Guernsey cheeses have been very successful, but the cheesemakers wanted new challenges. “If you are a cheesemaker you like to experiment with different milks,” Szebeny explained. “So we got some goat milk.” And the result is Nosey Goat, a semi-firm washed-rind goat cheese and Nanny Noir, a Camembert-style cheese rolled in vegetable ash before aging.

Szebeny also developed a fresh cheese that the company calls Guernsey Girl. It’s a cheese style particularly popular in eastern Canada. With a nice salty flavor and a squeaky bite, it holds its shape when fried or grilled. “Grill it and it becomes caramelized and brown on the outside and gooey on the inside,” Szebeny said.

When we visited in May, Upper Canada was close to releasing its first cheddar, which had been aged for eight months. Clearly excited about the release, Szebeny noted that “it’s the only Guernsey cheddar that I am aware of.”

We look forward to what they’ll do next.

23

07 2017

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

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07 2017

Château des Charmes: French connection pioneers

vqaontario.caChâteau des Charmes from York Road, St. David's
We couldn’t visit the Niagara wine country without paying homage to Château des Charmes (fromtheboscfamily.com/chateau-des-charmes). In 1978, founder Paul-Michel Bosc planted the first all-vinifera commercial vineyard in the region. He was determined to prove that the grapes of Burgundy and Bordeaux could flourish in cold-climate Niagara.

Bosc represents the fifth generation of family winemakers. Raised in Algeria, he earned a degree in viticulture and oenology from the University of Burgundy. After evacuation to France at the end of the Algerian war in the 1960s, he took his young family to Canada.

Château des Charmes vinesUnlike some Niagara pioneer wineries, Château des Charmes remains a family operation. It has expanded to four vineyards covering 280 acres (110 ha). They lie in the Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench sub-regions of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The handsome château-style winery sits just west of the village center of St. David’s, about 8 miles (13km) south of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The impressive family home sits across York Road—an estate winery in the French tradition.

Château des Charmes makes more than two dozen wines, most of them single varietals. They range from a fresh and cheeky Aligoté (a Burgundy white grape) to several sparkling wines to a very rare Cabernet Sauvignon botrytis red and an equally pricey Cabernet icewine. But the winery’s strength lies in outstanding table wines and that’s where we focused our tasting.

Château des Charmes "Four at Four" tasting

French grapes, Niagara tastes


Several tasting options are available at Château des Charmes. One of the most interesting is the “Four at Four” option. Offered weekdays at 4 p.m.. it includes a tour of a vineyard, the winery, and the aging cellars before heading upstairs for a tasting of four wines with food pairings. Our guide, Galina, a winemaker in the Republic of Georgia before moving to Canada, brought a wealth of technical expertise.

Our particular lineup started with a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) paired with Douanier, a mildly pungent Quebec cheese with morning and afternoon milk separated by a thin line of ash. Made in a cold-climate style akin to those from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the wine has an intense concentration of fruit with pronounced notes of lychee and pineapple petrol. The acids cut through the unctuous mouth-feel of the cheese in a perfect pairing.

Chardonnay has long been a flagship wine of Château des Charmes. The 2015 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay ($15) is a real steal. It’s an homage to Paul Sr.’s Burgundian roots. A nicely balanced wine with a good fruit expression and just a touch of oak, it could easily pass for a Macon-Villages. The pairing with ginger shortbread helped to bring out the vanilla and the round fruitiness of the wine. It is notable that the winery also makes a stainless-steel Chardonnay Musqué, using the extremely aromatic 809 clone of the grape. The winery also produces two more complex single-vineyard selection Chardonnay wines.

Real reds from 43°N


We also tried a 2014 Cabernet Franc ($30) from the St. David’s Bench vineyard. This is a stellar Cabernet by any standard. The vineyard nestles against the chalk hill of the Niagara escarpment far from Lake Ontario, so it retains a lot of heat late into the fall. The wine is hand-crafted in the vineyard throughout the growing season, with a lot of attention to pruning and tying up vines to guarantee maximum sun exposure. As a result, the grapes achieve both very ripe sugars and very ripe tannins, avoiding the green pepper flavors of lesser Cabernet Francs. Judicious aging in French oak extends the complexity. It was paired perfectly with dark chocolate, but we think it would be spectacular with Mexican mole poblano.

For the love of Gamay


We had expressed a particular interest in Gamay Noir, as Château des Charmes was a pioneer in the varietal. We’re already on record saying that Niagara may be better for Gamay than its home in Beaujolais. We tried both the 2015 Gamay Noir ($13) and the 2015 Gamay Noir “Droit” ($18) paired with prosciutto. The regular Gamay was typical of the region—full of bramble fruit (especially blackberries). It’s a perfect barbecue wine.

But the “Droit” is an extra-vigorous clone isolated in the Château des Charmes vineyards and registered as Canada’s first native vinifera grape. This is the wine that the big guns of Beaujolais-Villages wish they could make. Intense elderberry fruit on the nose and in the mouth is matched by fully ripe tannins that give the wine some significant body. This Gamay drinks like a light Burgundy. We have set a bottle aside for later next month when the yellowfin start running off Cape Cod and we can get local tuna steaks to toss on the charcoal grill.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

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07 2017

Niagara Peninsula: the next great foodie destination

Red rose and white on the Niagara Peninsula
We went for the wine, but we stayed for the food. Serious winemaking with vinifera grapes began in the Niagara Peninsula in 1975. When we last visited about 15 years ago, Niagara icewines were world class and table wines were making tremendous strides. An Ontario wine dinner in Toronto last fall (hungrytravelers.com/ontario-wine-country-becomes-world-player) convinced us that Niagara has matured as an important producer of good wines. So in late May we packed up the car and drove across Massachusetts and upstate New York. We spent a week exploring this bucolic peninsula that sits about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.

Niagara wine region map
Most of the wineries lie in a band of soils and climatic conditions between the limestone ridge of the Niagara escarpment and the south shore of Lake Ontario. As the map above shows, the main communities in this region are (from west to east) Lincoln, Beamsville, Vineland, St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. David’s. (You can download a full version at mtc.gov.on.ca/images/regions_maps/Region02.pdf.) The fertile wine country barely extends more than a dozen miles south of the lake. The great tourist destination of Niagara Falls lies a few miles farther south.

wine route sign in NiagaraBlue roadside markers with a stylized cluster of grapes seem to beckon: “This way to the wine!” If there were any doubt, they’re labeled “Wine Route.” Come to a crossroads in wine country, and the signs may not tell you the name of the road. But they will tell you which wineries are somewhere along the route. According to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca), more than 90 wineries fall within the Niagara Peninsula appellation. Most of them encourage visitors.

Tasting and grazing through Niagara


The rural area is so compact that you can pick a base anywhere and drive everywhere else. We spent our time partly based at Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com) (right). room at Inn on the Twenty in NIagara
It’s in Jordan Station, a village of Lincoln. We spent another segment at the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel (vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And, we must admit, we also visited Niagara Falls because, well, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. And the Canadian side is one fabulous linear park on the high embankment. For full details on lodging and information on other attractions, see visitniagaracanada.com.

Sculpture at Good Earth in NiagaraThe eating is usually good in wine country throughout the world. It’s better than good in Niagara. This region is so rooted in agriculture that we wondered if some locals possess the DNA for chlorophyll production. From farmers to chefs to servers, Niagara folk have a profound appreciation for the gifts of the earth. Chefs fully embrace the trend toward local sourcing, and some of them go a step or more beyond. At the best restaurants, dining is so purely local that it’s almost like eating on the farm. A few places, in fact, are surrounded by fields, fruit trees, and grapevines—as this whimsical 2011 Fork in the Road by Floyd Elzinga attests. It sits at the edge of a vineyard at the Good Earth Food & Wine Company (goodearthfoodandwine.com) as you enter the wine shop and bistro.

Just as Niagara vineyards have perfected the art of making cold-climate wines (citrusy Chardonnay, berry-licious Gamay, red-pepper ripe Cabernet Franc, and honeyed Riesling), the chefs welcome the challenges of indigenous cold-climate cuisine. Despite global warming, periodic visits by the polar vortex keep Niagara honest. The food speaks of the lower Rhone valley in summer, but it shares more with Copenhagen and Dublin the rest of the year.

Watch this space for details.

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07 2017