Tawse, Five Rows, Hidden Bench, Stratus…and now Pearl-Morissette

It’s dangerous having a friend in Niagara. Especially when that friend is gracious enough  to invite you over (for the second time in as many months) to enjoy their pool and join them for dinner, as they did this past Saturday.

Joined this time by our friends CBJ+M, we planned to hit a few wineries on the way down. Our first and most anticipated stop was Pearl-Morissette, the one winery I’ve continually heard that we must visit. We were a little hesitant since I’d heard similar things about Marynissen which turned out to be an utter disappointment, but we had little reason to fear.

Once we actually found the place — there are no signs, no parking lots, no tour buses or bachelorette parties (thank heavens) — we realized we’d stumbled into something pretty special. It’s very much on a working farm, and not fancy…we gathered, in a barn, around a lone board perched atop some barrels. François, the winemaker, guided us through tastings of each of their wines (Riesling, Chardonnay, Cab Franc), starting with barrel samples of the 2012, then the 2011s still ageing in the bottles, and finally the bottled 2010s.  He took the time to explain his adventure with each wine, the struggles and victories and lessons. No tasting, this: we were listening to a craftsman guide us through his past four years’ work. We took twelve — four of each — home, and bought four more for our hosts. CBJ+M took a half dozen as well, and Pearl-Morissette became an instant favourite for all of us. Frankly, we could have called it a day there and been happy.

Nellie and I did have a purpose, though: to stock up on some summer wines. So we stopped at Creekside to pick up some bottles and eat lunch on their deck (the food? excellent), stopped again at 13th Street (which was incredibly busy), and made the day’s final winery stop at Southbrook. We made one final pickup at Oast House Brewers for some saison and country ale before arriving at our friends’ house. Some hellos and tours and cold beers later and we were into the pool, not to depart until it was nearly time for dinner.

Our friends stuffed us with enormous steaks, potatoes the size of footballs, garlic scapes, Penfolds Bin 389 Cab/Shiraz, and strawberry shortcake. Following some electronic competitiveness we all crashed upstairs.

Rain threatened the next day so we kept our return trip plans basic, stopping at Hidden Bench and Thirty Bench for some quick purchases and having a huge lunch at the local pub The Butcher and Banker. We arrived home, sorted our 24 new bottles into their proper homes, and immediately dispatched one of the new arrivals (a Thirty Bench rosé) to celebrate an enjoyable weekend.

Street Fight

What was this email in our inboxes? An event at a brewery? More to the point, a four-course meal? With both beer and wine pairings? Crowds of other people who also like both beer and wine? Bien sûr!

It was like someone custom-made this event for Nellie and I. We bought tickets as soon as we heard about it, and on Thursday rushed down to the Distillery District to enjoy the festivities. This was the second competition (well, third really, but the first wasn’t publicized) between the Mill Street Brewery and 13th Street Winery (hence the name of the event: “Street Fight”) wherein the beer and wine would be evaluated on how well they paired with each course by a panel of judges (officially) and the 60-odd participants (unofficially). Let the games begin!

The staff brought around several sample-sized glasses of beer and wine before the meal even got started. Eventually the appetizers arrived — artichoke and oka cheese fritters with tarragon aioli…tasty! By this time the tables were starting to fill in. Most people were attending in large groups, including the group of four to our right (who we talked to about good places in Ottawa, like the soon-to-be-open Mill St. Brewery, and Les Brasseurs du Temps across the river in Hull), and the group to our left who all work at Opera Bob’s, a pub on the west side of Toronto, and who entertained us for the entire evening. For example, there was a particularly humorous tale about a beautiful Indian lady and some snowballs. Et cetera.

Then the meal really kicked into gear. The first course was two huge chunks of wild boar sausage, paired with a Franconian Bock. And paired beautifully, I might add. By the time I finished mine (and a good part of Nellie’s) I was pretty much stuffed. Then came the main — a huge piece of duck with butternut squash risotto on the side, paired with a Gamay. I’m not the biggest Gamay fan, really, so while I quite liked the duck, I didn’t love the pairing.

I was stuffed, but there was a cheese course to eat. Three cheeses, one of which worked well with the wine (a Merlot; eep!) and two of which went better with the beer (an IPA). So…whew! Great. I’d managed to eat it all, despite being so super-full. All in all a very good meal, so have a good night everyone, and we’ll see you all next t…what’s that? What did you say? More? Seriously? There’s more?!? As in, more food? MORE food?!?

Yep. More food. Very well then. A soldier does his duty. It was an apple & rhubarb crisp and was actually quite good. The wine it was matched with (somewhere between a late harvest and an ice wine) was good, but the vanilla porter was excellent.

So…in the end, we both thought the beer got the better of the wine on the night. The judges, of course, ruled it a draw, but all the opinions I heard around the room leaned toward beer as victor. 13th Street does have some very good wine, but I’m not sure we saw the best of it in this competition. I look forward to them coming out swinging in the next match.