Views from the Ontario Vines
with Fred Couch
“Days of Wine & Chocolate - 2018”
A record 26 wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake participated in this year’s Days of Wine & Chocolate. It would have been 27 wineries but, for some reason, Two Sisters Vineyards pulled out at the last minute. For a one-price pass, you can visit all 26 wineries over four weekends in February (including Fridays) for a food and wine pairing. This gives a great opportunity to spread the wineries over a number of days so you can better enjoy the experience without rushing from one winery to another.
Over half of the wineries served a sweet food pairing with their wine. The rest was a mixture of savoury or a sweet/savoury combination.
Some of our favourite savoury dishes:
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery – The J-T 2016 Grand Reserve Pinot Noir was served with a delicious smoked chicken and chocolate cheddar panini with mushrooms and preserved cherries. The wine had flavours of cherry and spice and was the perfect complement to the panini.
Niagara College Teaching Winery – The food sounded strange when we first read about it – dark chocolate and red wine house made beef salami with elderberry jam. However, it was very tasty and went well with the wine, the 2017 Tom Thomson Algonquin Red – a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes, barrel-aged in French oak. We were intrigued by the label (Algonquin Park – 1915) that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of Tom Thomson’s death.
Rancourt Winery –I don’t eat seafood but when my wife saw that Rancourt had the lobster bisque prepared by the Harvest Barn again this year, we had to stop by. Her verdict? Delicious! To fit into the wine and chocolate theme, the bisque was topped with white chocolate shavings. The flavours of the bisque were perfect with the 2014 Chardonnay Reserve. I was served a caramelized onion cheddar cheese so I could try the wine as well.
Strewn Winery – The pairings arealways interesting and educational at Strewn. This year they presented a savoury chocolate trio – a mushroom with chocolate sauce and balsamic; cocoa & spice dusted pork; and a dark chocolate-dipped potato chip. The exercise was to determine which food went the best with the 2014 Merlot. Our least favourite was the mushroom. The balsamic was just too strong and overpowered the wine. The best match was the pork with the Merlot. The protein of the pork and the spice mixture softened the wine’s tannin making it smoother. The third pairing was interesting with the saltiness from the potato chip and the sweetness of the chocolate. This combination managed to bring out the fruitiness of the Merlot.
Two wineries served chili. They were different from night and day. The chili from Inniskillin Wines was served as a dry blob as if the mixture had not been stirred or not enough liquid was added. We did not enjoy it. On the other hand, the spiced chocolate beef chili at Trius Winery was delicious and we enjoyed it with the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Some of our favourite sweet dishes:
Three wineries served brownies with a matching wine. The two we liked the best were from the Hare Wine Company and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. Both were completely different in taste and texture.
The Hare Wine Co. – A red wine fudge brownie topped with maple-candied bacon was matched with the 2015 Crown Land Red (Cabernet Franc). How to describe the brownie? One way would be “rich and decadent”. The brownie was moist and the saltiness of the bacon cut down on the sweetness. Surprisingly, the wine went really well with the brownie because of the notes of black cherry, vanilla and spice. The dessert did not overpower the wine.
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery – A winter spiced chili brownie was paired with the 2016 “Sand & Gravel” Cabernet Franc. It’s interesting to note that the three wineries serving brownies matched them with a Cabernet Franc. I did an Internet search and it seems that Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the best wines to pair with dark chocolate. The brownie served at Ravine was more traditional – more cakey than fudgy. The chili was light and not noticeable at first but with a sip of the wine, the spiciness of the wine and the brownie blended for a very pleasant tasting.
Joseph’s Estate Wines Inc. – 2014 Merlot Forté was matched with a Tuscan chocolate panna cotta. This was a pleasant surprise. I expected the panna cotta to be overly sweet but it wasn’t and the raspberry and cream topping added to the flavours. Forté is a fortified wine done in a Port-style. It didn’t overpower the dessert so they went well together.
The food at Coyote’s Run Estate Winery fits into the “sweet and savoury” category. It’s was our favourite pairing of the event. The food was chocolate-covered bacon drizzled, with white chocolate, lightly dusted with sea salt and cracked black pepper. The bacon was crispy and the saltiness complemented the sweetness of the chocolate. The 2016 Luminous was a fitting accompaniment to the bacon. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. At $13.50 at the winery, it’s a real bargain. We found out that a student from Niagara College (Canadian Food & Wine Institute) prepared the chocolate-covered bacon. This was a delicious pairing.
As with any event of this type, there are always a few disappointments, but this year the good pairings far outweighed the disappointing ones. Overall, this was another great event put on by the wineries. I look forward to next year’s Days of Wine and Chocolate. What’s not to love?
For more information about the wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake and upcoming events, visit the website at http://wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com/.
Photos by © F.G. Couch