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Wine Trip to Niagara

Posted 2006.11.18 1.00 in Wine by Stephanie

So recently, I took a couple days off and went down to the Niagara region for a little tasting tour with my mother. A few months ago she and I did a one-day tasting tour of Prince Edward County – a trip that had some nice moments but was on the whole somewhat disappointing. Several times while out there, I found myself thinking of how much better things were in Niagara. Well after a few months wait, we got to head back to Niagara and we were not dissapointed!

I’ll have some selected tasting notes posted over the next little while. In summary though we visited 7 wineries, tasted about 20 wines, ate two fabulously decadent gourmet meals, and stayed in a wondefuly luxurious inn.

The place we stayed was the Inn on the Twenty – located in Jordan Village, which is just south of Jordan Harbour. It is a quaint picturesque town, with a friendly downtown area. The inn is just across the street from their restaurant, which adjoins the Cave Springs Cellars winery. The winery, restaurant, and inn are all owned by the same family.

The inn was great – huge rooms, 15′ ceilings, queen-size beds on raised platforms. Jaccuzi tubs, separate showers, fireplaces, sofas, a desk… dish of candies, bottles of spring-water, turn-down service at night, with complimentary chocolate truffles… All in all about eight different kinds of wonderful.

And dinner at the On The Twenty restaurant was spectacular – one of those gourmet, fine-dining experiences that its just great to have once in a while. Fantastic delectible creations, coupled with wines from Cave Springs Cellars, it was a real treat.

Inn on the Twenty

The Restaurant on the Knoll

Posted 2006.08.09 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

Our fifth and final stop on our tour of Prince Edward County on Thursday, this is where my mom and I had our dinner. Here then is the Bonus review, of the restaurant and the wine we had with dinner.

We selected it based on the review in one of our little tourist flyers, and the fact that it was located in the Sandbanks resort area which I know is a pretty area. The flyer promised casual but exquisite dining, and it didn’t lie. The Restaurant on the Knoll is part of the Isaiah Tubbs resort.

The enclosed porch offered an excellent view of the West Lake and the dunes, allowing a nice ‘outdoors’ meal without the aggravation of bugs. Casual but exquisite, means the patrons get to dress casual, but the food is exquisite.

The menu was simple and covered a good spectrum of choices, without trying to be everything to everyone. They had a nice selection of appetizers and salads, and a good variety of entrees. In addition, they had three specials – one meat, one fish, and one pasta. They also had a suitable wine-list. Nothing too exhaustive, but for a very rural restaurant, they had enough choices to satisfy most casual or semi-serious wine drinkers.

Dinner was fabulous, both my mom and I really enjoyed it. She had a lemon-herb grilled chicken breast stuffed with spinach and feta cheese, I had one of the specials, a Bison steak served in a forest-mushroom sauce. We both had the same wine with dinner – of course, from one of the local wineries.

The last wine I tasted in Prince Edward County was from Sandbanks Estate Winery – their 2005 Riesling (VQA Ontario). In appearance, a straw yellow in the glass, this wine carried a nice lychee and citrus nose. In the mouth, the wine was light, acidic, and refreshing. It had a short, pleasant finish. At the winery this wine goes for $16.95 a bottle, and that’s not a bad price I think. This one rated an 89 on the Stephanie Scale. This wine made me sorry that we didn’t stop at the Sandbanks Estate for more tastings.

After the debacle of Waupoos, the Restaurant on the Knoll was a fabulous way to end our day in Prince Edward County. The fine food and the nice wine left us feeling great about our day, and contemplating a future return to the County.

The Restaurant on the Knoll

The Restaurant on the Knoll
The Restaurant on the Knoll

The Grange of Prince Edward

Posted 2006.08.08 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

Our third stop of the day on Thursday, was to the Grange of Prince Edward. This picturesque winery is located in a restored 180-year-old barn in what was once the Trumpour farm. They started planting in 2001, and now have about 50 acres of land under vine.

This winery tied with Carmela Estates, as favorite winery of the day, for me. The staff seemed to know a thing or two about wine, the winery was attractive and pleasant, and the wines were good. This is the only winery where I actually liked something enough to buy a couple bottles.

When asked for a spitoon, they produced a small red bucket that may have been intended to be filled with ice to keep wine cool. Or maybe it was their idea of a spitoon, I’m not sure. They had a bowl of unsalted crackers available to cleanse the palate between tastings, and when my mom asked, they gave her a glass of water without any fuss. Now, the wines!

The first wine I tasted here was the 2005 Trumpour’s Mill Riesling (VQA Ontario). A light straw yellow in appearance, this wine held grapefruit and minerals on the nose. It started off a bit closed, but I think it was merely served a tad too cold. The body was crisp and light, with nice acidity. It held a medium finish, with a good return of the fruits. They were asking $15.95 per bottle, and I must have agreed as I bought two bottles. Rating a 92 on the Stephanie Scale, this was my favourite wine of the whole day.

The second wine here was their 2004 Trumpour’s Mill Assemblage (VQA Ontario). This is a blend of Baco Noir and Chambourcin. In appearance, this wine was a deep purple/red. The nose held faint leather, cedar, and dark vegetals. It was a heavy-bodied wine, with a warmth and light tannins. The finish was moderate and subdued. A good value at $11.95 per bottle, I gave this an 82 on the Stephanie Scale.

The last wine tasted at the Grange of Prince Edward, was their 2004 Cabernet Merlot (VQA Ontario). This wine was a very dark ruby / purple in the glass. On the nose were faint but distinct cassis, peppers, and plums. Wait a minute, peppers? Cab/Merlots are typically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot… I asked, and was told that this was a 40/40/20 blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and Merlot. Aha! Now that makes perfect sense. The cassis / peppers / plums are, to me, a perfect illustration for a Cab Sauv / Cab Franc / Merlot blend. The mouthfeel of this wine was rich, creamy, warm and tannic. The finish was somewhat long but a bit subdued. I think this wine might open up more in another year or so, or if it was decanted. $16.95 per bottle….yeah ok. I can see that. This wine earned an 85 on the Stephanie Scale.

This posting is the fourth out of four wineries visited on our trip to Prince Edward County, but stay tuned – there is one more, bonus post to go.

The Grange of Prince Edward

The Grange of Prince Edward
From the Grange of Prince Edward

Waupoos Estates Winery

Posted 2006.08.07 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

This was the last winery we visited on Thursday, and by far, the biggest dissapointment.

Despite their inclusion in the Wines of Ontario guidebook, the vast majority of their offerings carried no VQA appelation at all. VQA doesn’t mean you’ll like a wine, but it does guarantee that what is in the bottle, is what is on the label. Without it, the bottle could contain anything. The VQA indication is to Ontario wines, what the AOC is to French, the DOC(G) is to Italy, and so on. Worse, the staff at their tasting bar were not only ignorant, but downright rude. This is a winery that I think has good potential in their wines, but their staff and the atmosphere at the tasting bar were simply abysmal.

Rudeness: When I requested a spitoon, I was abruptly informed ‘We don’t do that here.’ When pressed, they did procure a clear plastic jug which I believe was normally used to serve water.

Ignorance: After tasting their first offering, when I requested the second they simply started to pour it into the used glass. Not even rinsing the glass! I asked for a clean glass and was told, yet again, ‘We don’t do that here.’ They did finaly give me a clean glass for my second tasting, but for the third, I had to settle for having the same glass quickly rinsed. They don’t wash glasses there apparently, so however many glasses they start out with in the morning, is all they’re going to get that day.

Rude and ignorant: Although there were three staff working the small tasting bar, they had no time for conversation about wine. I’d suggest that perhaps talking with the customers is something else they ‘don’t do here’, except one of them was very much involved with another visitor – not discussing wine, but flirting instead.

Needless to say, there was nothing offered or available for cleansing the palate between tastings. After all, why bother cleansing the palate when you’re going to be tasting out of a dirty glass? Having got all that out, now how about the wine?

The first wine I tried here was their semi-dry 2004 Geisenheim. I was unfamiliar with this grape but managed to get one of the staff to educate me, it’s an hybrid of Riesling and something else. In appearance, the wine was very pale, almost crystal clear. The nose carried strong aromas of tropical citrus, some faint mineral tones, and a touch of lychee. The wine was also very light on the palate, with a pleasant sensation akin to effervescence, and a nice touch of acidity. The finish was moderate, with some floral tones. Not a bad offering, but without a VQA mark, and coming from such a poor tasting bar, this wine rated only an 88. It could have seen a 90, were it VQA and in a better setting. The $12.95 per bottle they are asking, is about three dollars more than I would pay for a non-VQA wine.

The second wine I tried here was their 2004 Auxerrois (VQA Ontario). The staff were too busy to tell me if this was a blend or a hybrid. In appearance this wine was a light straw yellow. I found grapefruit and other tropical citrus sensations on the nose. The wine had a light, refreshing and acidic body. The finish was warm, moderate length, and interesting. However, this wine only rated an 83, and I don’t think it was worth anywhere near the $15.95 per bottle they were asking.

The last Waupoos wine I endured was their 2004 Gamay Noir (VQA Ontario). An underwhelming wine which ended the visit to an underwhelming winery. Light red, almost an orange/pink colour in the glass, the nose offered subdued fruits, and a cedar / leather experience. The body was light and warm and slightly tannic. The finish was medium-short and did not carry any fruit. This one only managed to get a 78, I’m afraid. They were only asking $12.50 per bottle, which was only about three or four dollars more than I’d pay.

After this, I was only too happy to pay my $1.50 for the tastings and beat a quick retreat from Waupoos. If they’re still around in 10 years, I might be inclined to give them another chance, once the winery has had time to mature a bit — and hire some grownups to staff the tasting counter.

Fortunately, this was not our last stop in Prince Edward County — and happily, our final stop provided us with some very enjoyable taste sensations. Stay tuned for more!

Waupoos Estates Winery

Waupoos Estates
Waupoos Estates Winery

Huff Estates

Posted 2006.08.06 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

The first stop of our trip on Thursday, was the Huff Estates. They have 150 acres under vine, but typical of the Prince Edward County wineries, they are still very young. The winery itself had their grand opening only 2 years ago.

The winery is a very stylish, modern building, incorporating a retail store / tasting room, and a patio for lunches. A small inn has just been opened on the property as well.

The staff seemed friendly, but busy, and did not talk wine with us. When I asked for a spitoon, there was some confusion over whether or not they had one and where it might be. They did finaly produce a galvanized bucket that had an aroma about it foul enough to nearly send me right back home. Once I realized the key was to hold my breath when anywhere near the thing, I was ready to continue. Nothing was offered or available, to cleanse the palate between tastings.

The first wine of the day was the 2004 Merlot (VQA Ontario). What a dissapointment. It was a very light red brick in colour, almost orange. The nose was quiet, with some faint red cherries and something reminiscent of cran, which is perhaps my least favourite berry. It was light and juicy on the palate, and had a short, juicy and faintly tannic finish. I wouldn’t pay $14.95 for this one, and I might even be inclined to send it back were it served in a restaurant. This one rated only an 80 on the Stephanie Scale.

Forunately things improved nicely with the second wine, their 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc (VQA Ontario). Appearing medium purple, with a lightening around the edges, it was already much more appealing. The nose started a bit quiet but soon revealed cassis and peppers, and some faint cedar tones. The body was medium to full, tannic and creamy. A moderately long finish carried mainly the tannic sensation but not a lot of the fruit. For this wine, $14.95 a bottle seemed fair. On the Stephanie Scale, the 2003 Cab Sauv / Cab Franc scored 89.

Improvements continued, with the 2004 Cabernet / Merlot Reserve (VQA Ontario). It was quite dark red brick in appearance, although slightly orange towards the edges. The nose was classic Cab, with strong cassis and faint leather or cedar. The Merlot was also very much in attendance, with a dark cherry aroma, and some faint florals underneath. I found it to be a medium-bodied dry wine, with a spicey tannic bite. The finish was nice and long, with a hot, dry cherry sensation. Perhaps a bit ambitious at $24.95 a bottle, but still a very nice wine with which to wrap up our visit to Huff Estates, I gave this a 90 on the Stephanie Scale.

Although I didn’t ‘taste’ it, they also had a nice 2005 Ros&eacute Cabernet Sauvignon which my mother enjoyed so much that she bought a bottle. I had a quick sip and it did seem light and refreshing.

Stay tuned! Two more wineries to go, plus a bonus.

Huff Estates

Huff Estates
Huff Estates new Winery and Store

The Stephanie Scale

Posted 2006.08.05 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

Just a quick word about the scale I use when I taste and rate wine.

I am using a scale which is more or less the same as that used by and published by a number of professional wine critics. The scale is from 50 to 100. Points are awarded based on Appearance, Nose (smell), Body (mouthfeel), Finish (aftertaste), and Overall (or potential, for cellaring).

I very rarely rate anything above 95, and even a 93 is hard to reach. I have yet to find a wine that I would give a perfect ‘100’, but I have given a 99. About the lowest rating you will see here is an 80. I have rated wines as low as 60 but I wouldn’t waste time doing a write up of something so bad.

Here’s a simple scale that provides a fun reference for my ratings:
100 – I’ve died and gone to Heaven.
99 – If I could drink only one wine for the rest of my life, this is it.
95 – I want this served at my wedding, and maybe my funeral.
90 – I’d serve this with pride to my parents, my fiance, my boss, and my boss’s boss.
85 – I’d keep this onhand for all occasions, special or ordinary.
80 – I’d keep a few bottles around, for everyday drinking, and won’t worry if I open it then don’t want it after all.
70 – If I got it as a gift, I’d pass it on next X-mas to someone I didn’t particularly like.
60 – Yuck! Get it out! Get it out! Ptooey!
50 – Why is there a dead mouse floating in the bottle?

A final word about the Stephanie Scale: I am an amateur wine critic, but I am a serious amateur. I take my tasting seriously, and I have almost 300 wines recorded in my log so far. However, I don’t claim to know anything beyond what I’ve read and what I’ve been told. My tasting notes are my own opinion, and what I like and don’t like is entirely based on my own preferences. If you find my tasting notes to be helpful, then that’s great. If you find you like what I hate, and you hate what I like, well that’s what makes the world interesting. If you don’t like my tasting notes, or you disagree with anything I say… feel free to go start your own blog and make your opinions known there.

What’s the big deal about the Spitoon?

Why do I make a fuss about whether or not they have a spitoon? Think about this: I consider a good wine tasting day, to cover 12 to 18 tastings. A proper pour for a proper tasting is about 1 oz. If I swallowed every wine I tasted, that amounts to between 4 and 6 glasses of wine!

This is neither practical or acceptable, for two reasons. First, if my senses are dulled and blurred, then I cannot accurately taste and rate the wines I experience later in the day, after getting ripped on the wines tasted earlier in the day. Second, I’m driving!

Ontario law limits wineries from pouring more than four tastings per customer, because four (1 ounce) tastings amounts to one glass of wine. But they don’t limit you to how many wineries you can cram into your day. Plus, if you lunch at a winery you may well have a glass or two with your meal.

The point is, if you’re serious about tasting, and responsible about not driving while intoxicated, you have to spit. And I feel very strongly that any winery that is offering tastings, must have spitoons available.

If they don’t, then frankly that just tells me that they are ignorant or inexperienced, and if they haven’t had serious tasters visiting them, it suggests that what they have on offer isn’t worth serious consideration.

Carmela Estates Winery

Posted 2006.08.05 0.00 in Wine by Stephanie

The second winery we visited on Thursday, was a nice little winery situated near the Sandbanks area. They have just under 30 acres under vine. Situated in the middle of the estate is their store / tasting room / restaurant, all one building. A separate building served as a banquet hall, and a third building was a guest house, available for vacationers.

The building was very new and clean, with a nice open feel about it. The only thing that seemed a little peculiar was the restaurant was incorporated right into the store / tasting room, such that there were four or five tables in the same area as the displayed merchandise. The tables were to one side of the room and merchandise to the other, but it did seem like it would feel a bit odd, having a meal while people were shopping right next to you. Fortunately they also had tables outside on a patio, and in an upstairs loft that looked down over the store, and out through windows over the vinyard. The view from the loft was very pleasant.

We had lunch in the loft area, the food (a cheese tray and a salad) was simple but with a touch of class. It was quite good, and there was more than we could finish.

Now, the tastings! The staff here did not seem to have time to really talk with us about their wines, so I can’t comment on how knowledgable they may have been. This is the only winery we visited that was able to provide a proper spitoon when requested, and did not panic or make a fuss about it. A small dish of (salted) crackers was available, to cleanse the palate between tastings.

The first wine I tried was their 2002 Riesling (VQA Ontario). It was a light pale straw yellow in appearance. On the nose I found florals, some mineral tones, and finally some tropical citrus sensations – all typical for Rieslings. The 2002 was vinted to be a semi-dry, and I did find it quite juicy on the palate. Unfortunately it lacked the acidity which to me is critical, to balance the sweetness. The finish was short, a bit fruity, and refreshing. At $12.95 a bottle, I think it is priced about right. On the Stephanie Scale, I give it an 87.

Wine number two was their 2005 Terroir Twist (VQA Ontario), a blend of Estate-grown Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. The appearance was a pale straw yellow. On the nose I found faint corn, some citrus and lychee, and a bit of apple. It came across somewhat bitter on the palate, rather light, with a texture leaning towards watery. The finish was better, with some acidity, and a return of the fruitiness that had been present in the nose. $17.95 a bottle it is a bit above what I would pay for it, but it was an interestesting blend to taste. This wine rated an 89 on the Stephanie Scale.

The third wine I tasted was their 2005 Cabernet Franc (VQA Ontario). The Cab-Franc is one of my favorite red varietals and we have quite a few great examples here in Ontario. This one looked a light, bright red in the glass, which was a little surprising to me, for such a young Cab Franc. The nose was full of dark green peppers and spicey vegetals, very typical of the Cab Franc grape. On the mouth, it was warm, full-bodied, somewhat creamy and a bit tannic. The finish was moderate and fruity, with some lingering tannins. Despite the light appearance this one might do better with another year behind it; it has the tannins and fruit to last a wee bit, I think. $24.95 a bottle, in my opinion it was a tad high. On the Stephanie Scale, I also give this one an 89.

The last wine I tried at Carmela Estates also proved to be my favorite there. This is the wine I had with lunch. The 2003 Gamay (VQA Ontario) was a very nice, deep dark purple in appearance. The nose was very fruity and evoked sensations of berries and juice. Medium-bodied, it had a nice blend of creaminess and acidity which felt good on the palate. The medium finish was nice, with a little bit of tannins and a welcome return of the berry fruitiness. A real deal, at only $14.95 a bottle. The Gamay earned a 91, on the Stephanie Scale.

Summary: This was tied I think for my favorite winery of the day. Carmela Estates’ wines were acceptable, the area was nice and picturesque, and the staff weren’t rude or ignorant.

Stay tuned, there’ll be more tasting notes to come!

Carmela Estates Winery

Riesling 2002
Carmela Estates Riesling 2002