We’ve just had a bit of a whirlwind visit from brother #2 and his better half. They arrived Thursday; that night we had dinner at Batch and attacked our wine inventory.

On Saturday we armed ourselves with umbrellas and coffee and drove around the lake to hit some wineries:

  • First: lunch and a tasting at Redstone, and wow what a burger. Can’t wait to go back there when their patio is open.
  • A tasting appointment at Pearl Morissette with the lovely Melissa. It was just the four of us and one other couple, who ended up with the patented Dan’s Shortlist Of Wineries To Visit Whilst In The Okanagan.
  • A quick stop at 13th Street.
  • An even quicker stop at Tawse, which was much too crowded. Pretty sure I’m done with that place for a while.
  • A much more in-depth visit to Back 10 Cellars, a first for all of us. We sat and tasted their entire lineup, and Nellie and I left with 4 bottles. I’ll be curious to see if the second taste justifies the enthusiasm we had on the spot.
  • A big haul from Hidden Bench: a dozen made up mostly of 2012 Terroir Caché and La Brunante. After the buying was done and the wine was shlepped to the car, we sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a glass in the shade.

We arrived back in Toronto, dropped the car, relaxed for a bit, and then went to dinner at Patria. We were a little slow getting into it (it’d been a long day already) but quickly picked up the pace. And what a feed it ended up being:

  • Pan Con Tomate (bread + tomato)
  • Aceitunas (house marinated olives)
  • Pimientos de padrón (blistered peppers + sea salt)
  • Sátiles (dates + ibérico bacon + manchego + guindillas)
  • Selección De Embutidos (ibérico lomo + ibérico chorizo + jamón serrano + salchichón)
  • Pulpo (octopus + olive oil + paprika)
  • Bombas con salsa brava (chorizo + aioli + spicy piquillo sauce)
  • Albondigas (wagyu meatballs + spicy tomato piperade + onion + manchego)
  • Brussales Bravas (brussels sprouts + spicy tomato + aioli + chorizo)
  • Paella De Bogavante (lobster + gulf shrimp + chorizo + peas)
  • Desserts (churros, chocolate pudding, mousse, etc.)

We struggled home, barely able to walk. I was still full the next morning when we woke up. After a while we did head off to Hank’s for brunch while Nellie slept in, then to the market, then back to Fahrenheit, and then off to Wvrst. Unfortunately Wvrst was already rammed in preparation for the Germany/Italy game and we couldn’t find a decent table. We left there and walked to the new(ish) Bar Hop, finding a spot on their fantastic rooftop patio. Well, three spots: we gingers had to keep moving out of the sun. We drank excellent beer and cider and had a very decent lunch — I’d heard troubling things about the food at the new Brewco, but my pork belly steamed buns were fantastic.

We swung back to Spadina to get some Quantum coffee and Soma chocolate, then trundled home. It was still beautiful outside so we drank gin + tonics on the balcony and enjoyed the day. Eventually Nellie started cooking, and over the next 5 (?) hours we ate seared Yellowfin tuna (with a Five Rows Pinot Gris), a small rack of lamb (with a Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc), and two ribeyes  (with a Church & State Quintessential Bordeaux blend from the Okanagan). At that point we were done all around…too full, too tired, too richly-fed over the past 48 hours. We all kind of threw in the towel.

They left this morning, and hopefully their flights home went smoothly. As for us, we took advantage of the sunshine in our last few hours of long weekend, having beers and lunch on the near-empty Bier Markt patio.

Come back anytime, guys.







Cover photo by Allan, used under Creative Commons license

In which I use a brief interlude between flights to contemplate subtle changes in how we use our spare time

Spring is usually a pretty predictable time for us. The sun comes out and so do we: we drive down to Niagara once or twice, we buy a Hot Docs festival pass and invade the patio at the Victory, we clean off our balcony, etc. But this spring? There’s been nothing predictable about this spring.

We were supposed to go to Miami, but we bailed on that when last week’s trip to Berlin and next week’s trip to Turkey came up. We had to abandon an almost-planned trip to Halifax this weekend for the Nova Scotia craft beer festival. We didn’t even buy a Hot Docs pass, marking the first time in…I don’t know, maybe a dozen years that we haven’t seen at least one documentary. We haven’t been to Niagara at all. Our balcony still looks winterized (though, in truth, winter practically just ended) as we haven’t had time to set it up, even on weekends.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I like being busy, and I’ve been lucky that travel and change has found its way into our lives these days, but I do rather miss a few of these things.

Perhaps I should go sit on the balcony now rather than write a blog post.

[UPDATE: shortly after this we walked to Bier Markt, drank some wheat beer, then ate some gelato and sat in St. James Park. So that’s more like it.]


Cover photo by Allan, used under Creative Commons license


Between 10:30am yesterday and 10:30am today we (Nellie, myself, and CBJ+M) drove to Niagara, stopped at five wineries (Leaning Post, Hidden Bench, Kew, Tawse, and Southbrook), a brewpub for lunch (Merchant Ale House), a brewery (Silversmith), and a pie place (The Pie Plate) before arriving at our friends’ place in NotL, where demolished a cheese board, drank some excellent wine, ate an enormous roast (the afore-mentioned four-boner), enjoyed a chilly fire, played some Wii tennis (!), slept it all off, ate some breakfast, and drove home.

Hidden Bench is where we did the most damage, but Leaning Post was the big find of the day. None of us had been before, but we all really liked their wines. Also, Ilya and Nadia were incredibly nice. Great first stop on the way into wine country.

Here’s what we brought home, and a few pictures from the day:

  • Hidden Bench 2011 Tete de Cuvee Chardonnay (x3)
  • Hidden Bench 2011 “La Brunante” (x2)
  • Hidden Bench 2012 Nuit Blanche
  • Hidden Bench 2013 Locust Lane Rose
  • Kew Blanc de Noir
  • Leaning Post 2013 “The Fifty” Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Leaning Post 2013 Gamay
  • Leaning Post 2013 Foxcroft Vineyard Riesling
  • Leaning Post 2012 Keczan Vineyard Syrah
  • Southbrook 2009 “Married Young” Cabernet
  • Southbrook 2012 “Minerality” Chardonnay
  • Tawse 2010 David’s Block Cabernet Franc


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.

No, not Bellie…Nellie

Since our wine rack was looking a little sparse, we tootled down to Niagara to pick some up. We hit Kacaba (warning: maybe the ugliest website I’ve seen in a decade) and Vineland and Tawse, where they were pouring samples of their 2011 Pinots alongside the 2010 vintages from the same vineyards. We stopped at Southbrook and had lunch at The Garrison House (warning: that site autoplays Gordon Lightfoot). We picked up bottles by Le Clos Jordanne, Stratus, Lailey, Ravine, and Five Rows.

We weren’t just picking up for ourselves either. We gathered a case along the way for friends who’ve recently bought a beautiful home in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and who graciously hosted us for a dinner of soup and short ribs and copious amounts of wine. Then there was some throwback Wii Sports, and then some sleep — and thank god, because I’d been sipping wine since 10:30am. By around the same time the next morning we were on our way back to Toronto, fighting the wind on the Skyway and some Jays fan traffic on the Gardiner, but nothing too serious.

It was a quick there-and-back, but we came back with a fine haul:

  • Five Rows 2012 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Five Rows 2012 Pinot Gris
  • FiveRows 2012 Pinot Gris
  • Kacaba 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
  • Kacaba 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lailey 2010 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Village Reserve Chardonnay
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay (x2)
  • Southbrook 2010 Whimsy Lot “I” Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Southbrook 2011 Winemaker’s White
  • Stratus 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Stratus 2009 Chardonnay
  • Vineland Estates 2011 Elevation Bo-Teek Vineyard Chardonnay
  • Vineland Estates 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Vineland Estates 2007 Reserve Fumé Blanc

Niagara part II: in which service wins the day

Having the Gardiner Expressway closed for repairs is a mixed blessing. It makes the trip west out Toronto much more painful (Lakeshore can just suck it) but it appears to make the QEW less clogged. At least, that was our working hypothesis last Saturday.

And why were we heading west on the Gardiner and QEW last weekend?



This wasn’t an overnight trip, this was a day trip. A quick down-and-back to fill the rack, driven in no small part by the release that day of Hidden Bench’s 2009 Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay. We made return trips to 13th Street, Foreign Affair, Hidden Bench, Stratus, Tawse, and Thirty Bench. We also tried three for the first time: Di Profio (which now hosts Nyarai), Marynissen, and Organized Crime. I must say, for all I’ve heard about Marynissen, I wasn’t very impressed. It had a very ‘fire sale’ feel inside, possibly because the new owners have told them to have one. Not sure. None of their wines jumped out at us, but the deal for two cases of Cab Franc — $140 — was decent value.  $5.83/bottle of (admittedly, a very weak) Ontario Cab Franc is a decent option for everyday house wine.

The real highlights of the day were Hidden Bench (where I was selling fellow tasters so hard I might as well have been wearing an “I ♥ Felseck!” tshirt), 13th Street (where the awesome Lindsay looked after us, and whose winery should probably coin the phrase “pastoral cool”), and Tawse (where we expected to run in, grab two bottles, and run out, but instead spent time in the cellar with the delightful Catherine serving us all kinds of interesting pours and eventually up-selling us on their wine club). The service really stood out on this trip, but I expect nothing less of those three locations.

We even managed to squeeze in a lunch at Stone Road Grille. We probably should have stopped at Southbrook for a Treadwell pizza, or had a bite on 13th Street’s deck, but it’s hard to pass up the grille.

Here are the friends we brought home with us to live, less the two cases of Marynissen:

And here it is in word form:

  • 13th Street 2010 ‘Essence’ Syrah
  • 13th Street 2008 Premier Cuvee Sparkling
  • 13th Street 2011 Viognier
  • 13th Street 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Di Profio 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (x2)
  • Foreign Affair 2009 ‘Abbraccio’ Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Hidden Bench 2010 Felseck Riesling
  • Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Caché Red Blend
  • Hidden Bench 2009 Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay (x3)
  • Nyarai 2010 ‘Cadence’ Red Blend
  • Nyarai 2011 Viognier
  • Organized Crime 2008 ‘Download’ Red Blend
  • Organized Crime 2011 ‘The Mischief’ White Blend
  • Organized Crime 2010 Fumé Blanc
  • Organized Crime 2008 Syrah
  • Stratus 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tawse 2003 Bench Reserve Chardonnay
  • Tawse 2009 Laidlaw Pinot Noir
  • Tawse 2010 Laundry Vineyard Cab Franc
  • Tawse 2009 Spark Chardonnay
  • Thirty Bench 2011 Steel Post Riesling
  • Thirty Bench 2011 Triangle Riesling

That should last us a week or two.

(7 x 7 – 1) = 48 = we need a bigger condo

“It’s always exciting for Niagara wineries when you come to town!” –Rick VanSickle

It’s been more than eight months since we last visited the Niagara wine region, and guiding our friends CBJ+M around seemed like a perfectly good excuse. Last weekend we decided to see what kind of fun we could get up to with thirty hours and an Autoshare Prius.

We decided to keep it to a very respectable five or six wineries per day (what?), and give them a mix of small and large wineries. Within reason, mind you; we can’t deal with the crowds at Jackson Triggs or Inniskillin or what have you. We started with Southbrook, then did a tasting at Ravine before eating lunch there (next to Jason Spezza), then moved on to Five Rows and Colaneri.

Five Rows (whose website I would link to except that it seems to be infected with malware) might have been the highlight of the whole trip. It was only our second time there, and it was as every bit good as the first. We had a great chat with Wilma Lowrey; we recounted our first visit and she told us no end of stories while pouring us wine. We learned the history of their labels (best: their ‘Single Press’ ice wine) and bought an 08 and 09 Cab Sauv. She actually gave us bottle #1 of the 09 (they hand-number the labels of all their bottles so customers can record them on their website) and we can’t wait for the day we’re able to open it up.

After that stop we did a 180 and hit Colaneri, the palatial and showy winery a little further west. Sure, it looks like a Disney-fied Tuscan villa from the outside, but we’d heard they were making good wines lately. I thought the wine was okay, but the tasting room rammed with tourists (and Jason Spezza again!) was hard to deal with after the personal, intimate experience we’d had at Five Rows. Nice bathrooms though. We grabbed a bottle or two and moved on.

Our penultimate stop was Kacaba, where they were happy to have interested, paying customers at the counter and not party-goers trying to scam multiple samples. Us, we left with a case. By this point we were running out of afternoon, so we zipped up to Vineland Estates to hit their tasting room. Again, we quickly became staff favourites for not asking bizarre questions or trying to scam free tastings. We delved into the Pinot family: Grigio, Blanc, Meunier.

We figured that was enough wine for one day (we had 24 bottles already; guessing CBJ+M had about 10) so we drove the few clicks to Black Walnut Manor, our B&B. We were greeted warmly, taken to our rooms and prompted to come have wine and cheese and cantaloupe jam by the pool. So we did. We said hi to the other guests and played with their dogs and took long, cooling swims and felt pretty goddamn happy, thank you very much.

For dinner that night we returned to Vineland Estates, and ate on their patio under that huge tree, overlooking the vines and trees and lake in the distance. I had east coast lobster bisque w/ vanilla chantilly; Upper Canada ricotta gnocchi w/ Cumbrae smoked chicken, grilled zucchini and rich cream; and marinated lamb loin w/ sous vide lamb sausage, celeriac and salsa verde. Nellie had the lobster bisque; fresh linguine w/ roasted peppers, sea asparagus, eggplant caviar and Toscano shavings; and Cumbrae beef tenderloin w/ blue haze, smashed mini reds and Shiitake reduction. Most of us split a bottle of Vineland’s 05 Cabernet; alas, I was driving and couldn’t have much. None of us had room for dessert; in any case it’d grown sweltering hot outside around the second course, so I was ready to head home to some air conditioning and chilled wine. We spent a few minutes on CBJ+M’s deck, drinking the Pinot Grigio we’d picked up at Vineland that afternoon and trying not to wake the other guests with our talk of Gordon Lightfoot and Stan Rogers.

The next morning, after another swim, we inhaled Carole’s unbelievable breakfast, featuring sausage and ricotta-stuffed french toast made from a chocolate croissant. Followed by a sticky bun. Even for a guy with an industrial-strength sweet tooth it was pretty rich, but I’d asked for it in a tweet about a month before, so I couldn’t very well back down at the moment of truth. I must say though, my oatmeal this morning was a sad replacement indeed.

We had five more wineries to hit, so we said goodbye and went on our way. We stopped at Tawse so they could ooh and aah at both scenery and wine, and then drove up the hill to Megalomaniac for more scenic views and a tour of the cave. We snapped them back into quiet low-key winery mode with a visit to Daniel Lenko (where we snapped up another case), and finished them off with stops at Hidden Bench and Fielding. By this point the trunk was full to bursting; we either had to come home or start carrying boxes on laps.

We stopped at Good Earth for some lunch — inside, alas, since the fly epidemic remains. After that it was a pretty uneventful ride back to Toronto, except for the last few kilometres when we drove into yesterday’s miniature monsoon season on the Gardiner. There was standing water being shot every which way by speeding cars, waves crashing over the median…it was nuts. It took us a little longer to drop CBJ+M and unload our wine at home than we’d planned, but that’s the joy of Autoshare. A few clicks of the Android and we had an extra hour. Once we dried off we took stock of the new additions, and set about trying to find them a home in the various fridges and racks.

Here was the final haul, not including the bottle we got for Nellie’s mom and a gift for another set of friends:

  • Colaneri 2009 ‘Unita’ Cabernet Franc
  • Colaneri 2010 ‘Cavallone’ Pinot Grigio
  • Daniel Lenko 2007 Signature Chardonnay
  • Daniel Lenko 2007 Old Vines American Oak Chardonnay (x2)
  • Daniel Lenko 2007 Viognier
  • Daniel Lenko 2008 White Cabernet (x4)
  • Daniel Lenko 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Daniel Lenko 2008 Unoaked Chardonn(g)ay
  • Daniel Lenko 2009 Reserve Riesling (x2)
  • Fielding 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Fielding 2010 Viognier
  • Fielding 2011 Lot 17 Riesling
  • Fielding 2011 Pinot Gris
  • Fielding 2011 Gamay
  • Five Rows 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Five Rows 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Five Rows 2009 ‘Single Press’ Icewine
  • Hidden Bench 2008 Felseck Vineyards Chardonnay
  • Hidden Bench 2009 Felseck Vineyards Pinot Noir
  • Hidden Bench 2009 Nuit Blanche
  • Kacaba 2007 Reserve Meritage
  • Kacaba 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Kacaba 2008 Cabernet Franc (x3)
  • Kacaba 2008 Syrah
  • Kacaba 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (x3)
  • Kacaba 2011 Reserve Riesling (x2)
  • Kacaba 2011 Rosé
  • Megalomaniac 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Megalomaniac 2011 ‘Pink Slip’ Rosé (x2)
  • Ravine 2009 Sand & Gravel Sauvignon Blanc
  • Ravine 2010 Piccone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc
  • Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Chardonnay
  • Southbrook 2011 Connect White
  • Tawse 2010 Sketches Riesling
  • Vineland Estates 2008 Pinot Blanc
  • Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Grigio (which we drank Saturday night)
  • Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Meunier

That settles it, we need a bigger place

Yup, I know we just got back from a 3-week trip and our to-do list is still blazing out of control, but the hell with it…we felt like driving down to Niagara and stocking up on wine for the fall and winter. The weather gods were certainly with us — it was a beautiful, sunny fall weekend. We hit nine (!) wineries on Saturday and had an amazing lunch at Stone Road Grille as well as dinner at On The Twenty, across the street from the Inn On The Twenty in Jordan where we stayed. The soup we had at the former and the duck at the latter were among the best things I’ve eaten all year.

On Sunday we had a bit of a stroll on the Twenty Valley Trail, and then visited seven more wineries, including Vineland Estates — where we ate yet another spectacular meal. After pillaging the region for all it was worth we drove home, dropped the car and produced the final tally:

  • Calamus 2009 Gewurztraminer
  • Calamus 2010 Pinot Gris
  • Cave Spring 2008 CSV Riesling
  • Creekside 2007 Shiraz
  • Creekside 2007 Laura’s Red
  • Featherstone 2010 Four Feathers
  • Flat Rock 2008 Chardonnay
  • Hidden Bench 2008 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay
  • Hidden Bench 2009 Nuit Blanche
  • Kacaba 2008 Cabernet Franc
  • Kacaba 2008 Meritage
  • Lailey 2008 Cabernet
  • Lailey 2008 Old Vines Chardonnay
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Village Reserve Pinot Noir (x2)
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Le Clos Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay
  • Le Clos Jordanne 2009 Village Reserve Chardonnay (x2)
  • Malivoire 2007 Moira Pinot Noir
  • Malivoire 2010 Pinot Gris
  • Megalomaniac 2008 Bravado Cabernet Sauvignon (x2)
  • Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Southbrook 2004 Poetica Chardonnay
  • Staff 2009 Cabernet Merlot
  • Staff 2008 Riesling
  • Stratus 2008 Voignier
  • Stratus 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Stratus 2006 White
  • Stratus 2007 White
  • Stratus 2010 Red Ice Wine
  • Thirty Bench 2008 Cabernet Franc (x3)
  • Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars 2009 Queenston Road Pinot Noir
  • Vineland Estates 2010 Pinot Meunier
  • Vineland Estates 2008 Pinot Blanc

We had two purposes on this trip: stock up for the winter, but also try some places for the first time. Calamus, Creekside, Featherstone/2027, Kacaba, Lailey, Malivoire, Staff and Vineland Estates were all first-time visits for us. Flat Rock and Megalomaniac were more proximity plays since we had to drive right past them to get to others on our list and we knew each had wines we wanted to pick up. Hidden Bench, Jackson-Triggs (for the Clos Jordanne), Southbrook, Stratus and Thirty Bench are practically must-hits whenever we’re in the area. And, in case you’re wondering, Cave Spring only happened because it’s the house winery at Inn On The Twenty and we felt bad leaving without one.

I’d classify most of the new places as good, not great. Only Kacaba really wowed us…their reds were terrific, and very reasonably priced. And it wasn’t even in our original plans for this weekend — several people responded to my tweet announcing our agenda, telling us not going to Kacaba would be a miss. They were right, and we left with two bottles. And there may be a case in our future. I should also point out that we didn’t spend nearly enough time at Vineland tasting their wine; we just tried three in the few minutes before our lunch reservation, but liked two of them enough to buy bottles, so more investigation is probably warranted.

And now, the classic follow-up problem…where do we put all this freaking wine?!?

Trip 1: 13 bottles. Trip 2: 23 bottles. Trip 3: 42 bottles. Trip 4: god help us. That looks like a logarithmic growth curve.

Right, now that we’ve sorted through the pile of bottles and survived a week of Hot Docs / illness, I can write about what a great time we had last weekend!

We’ve been waiting and waiting and our spring just doesn’t seem to want to arrive, so we were pretty happy when we woke up to a bright, beautiful, sunny day last Saturday — perfect weather for our excursion to Niagara wine country, nearly a year to the day since our very first trip. A few quick errands and a stop at the market for the week’s groceries, and we were on our way, just 30 minutes after we had originally planned.

Our mood turned sour, however, when we got to the Discount Car Rental office around the corner from our place. They had given away our car, despite our reservation. It very quickly turned into an episode of Seinfeld where I questioned their understanding of what the word “reservation” meant. They told me it was my fault for showign up 35 minutes late, even though I’ve never heard that policy before and nothing in their emails or rental details said anything about a time limit on the reservation, let alone a time period as short as half an hour. Anyway, I gave up when I realized they a) were entirely unhelpful, b) had clearly given away all cars and c) had absolutely no power do anything to help me anyway. Much cursing and eye rolling later, we left. Ten minutes later we’d booked a nice little Toyota Prius hybrid a few blocks away via Autoshare. Lucky for us, because the staff at the Jarvis Street Discount Car and Truck rental are useless, incompetent, unhelpful twats. Ahem.

Anyway…hooray Autoshare! Only 45 minutes after our target take-off time we were blasting down the QEW, taking advantage of the high-occupancy/green vehicle lane and lack of traffic to make great time to Beamsville. Our first few stops — Hidden Bench, Daniel Lenko and Tawse — were old familiar sites, and were lucrative indeed. Heading east, we angered a long line of bikers pulling into Stoney Ridge to pick up a case of Pinot for my buddy Joe, then drove into the village of Jordan for lunch at Zooma Zooma Cafe‘s patio. The food (ploughman’s lunch for Nellie, chicken sandwich for me) was tasty, but the service was anything but zooma…we waited outside for a long time before getting our bill, during which time my pasty skin got sunburned. No matter; it was a beautiful day and we had more wineries to visit. Next we visited Flat Rock (who have a gorgeous tasting room…we could see our building back in Toronto!) and 13th Street, both for the first time. We then cut through St. Catharines, crossed the Welland Canal and began the drive toward Niagara-on-the-Lake. We stopped at one of our favourites, Southbrook, and finished our touring at an unlikely destination: Jackson-Triggs. Normally we avoid any place with tour buses parked out front, but this was the only place where we could buy wines made by their partner winery Le Clos Jordanne. Here we loaded up, stuffed everything into the car and drove to our hotel, the Shaw Club, a sanctuary from the plague of frilly NotL inns. We strolled around the corner to the Olde Angel Inn for a few pints before returning to the hotel to gird our loins for dinner.

We’d eaten at the Stone Road Grille twice before, and enjoy it so much we’ll likely never pass within 50 miles of NotL without stopping in. My go-to starter — scallops wrapped in duck breast bacon — was gone, so I went off the beaten path and ordered a cheese plate to start, along with a glass of Southbrook Whimsy cab Franc. Nellie had a glass of the 13th street Cuvee sparkling, and then the soup du jour — wild leek and potato — with a glass of Lailey Chardonnay.

For my main I chose the “weekly beast” from the special. I saw “pork loin” and ordered it, not even paying attention to the rest. To my happy surprise what showed up was a great deal of pork loin, a large section of pork belly and a crispy coppa (pork shoulder)…nary a vegetable in sight.

Nellie, meanwhile, had the flank steak with garlicky beans and frites. I’d ordered the same thing the last time we visited, and remember it fondly, but this time there was a twist: an eggshell full of bearnaise sauce which she was to pour over her steak. If I weren’t having a porkgasm at the time I’d have been jealous.

We paired our meals with a bottle of Hidden Bench’s flagship red, La Brunante. Sweet fancy moses, it was tasty, and paired perfectly with our food. Definitely a splurge, but a worthwhile one. We ended our meal with two great flourishes: a six-pack for the kitchen staff (no fooling; it’s actually an item on the menu, and they were so happy they sent someone out to thank us) and a chocolate brownie topped in salted caramel ice cream and garnished with chili chocolate sauce.

At this point we needed a medic. Or at least a walk home. We opted for the latter, and thanked the travel gods for the pleasant weather so that we could work off at least a bit of the sauce, if nothing else.

The next morning our breakfast was mercifully light, and we began day two of our winery visits. Our first two stops — Riverview and Pondview — were new to us and pleasant enough, but weren’t that remarkable. The third winery was the real highlight of our day: Five Rows. It’s a tiny craft winery which I heard about only when they won at Cuvee 2011. We met Wes, the winemaker, walking out of the vines as we pulled up. He poured us each of their wines and we loved them all. He took the time to discuss each one with us — time he probably didn’t have as he had work to do and it was clear the rain was coming — and indulged us as we gushed about each. We left with half a dozen bottles, including a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc…and I don’t like even like Sauvignon Blanc. We also got a bottle of the 07 Pinot Noir, and are laying it down for a few years…can’t wait to come back to it when it’s almost passed from memory. Five Rows, to me, was the real find of this trip, reminiscent of our visit to Shypoke in Napa Valley last year. We’re now anxiously awaiting the release of more reds next month.

Our day wasn’t done, though. We sped round the corner to Ravine, to pick up some of their fabulous bottles, to say hi to Alex face-to-face and to have lunch in their restaurant. Nellie’s sandwich (and awesome fries) and York Road white, and my plate of prawns the size of boomerangs were fine all right, but the dessert almost killed us. Lemon tart and chocolate hazelnut ‘splosion:

Rain had blasted down as soon as we were seated, but happily let up just as we sipped our post-meal espresso. I bought some treats for my team who were working through the weekend, and we took off for our last winery of the day: Colaneri. It’s very new, and the winery will be spectacular when it’s done, but for now the wines are quite young. We picked out some tasty ones though; we polished off the Pinot Grigio tonight as I was writing this.

Spent, we set out for home. Along the way we stopped at Joe’s to drop off his wine, and some Dickinson maple products he’d ordered. Full service, that’s us. In return he cooked us up some roasted garlic on baguette, and ridiculously good lamb chops, and panna cotta. At this point our bodies were begging for mercy, and a gym, so we scooted home, dropped the wine, dropped the car (Grazie Autoshare! You rock, whereas Discount sucks possum balls!) and sat our asses down for a while.

The grand result of all this, apart from an inch on our waistlines, was 42 bottles of excellent Ontario vino. Some familiar, some new, all fun to acquire. A prochaine, Niagara.

In case you’re wondering, that’s:

  1. 13th Street 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
  2. 13th Street 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  3. 13th Street 2009 Syrah
  4. Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay
  5. Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir
  6. Clos Jordanne 2007 Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir
  7. Clos Jordanne 2007 La Petite Colline Pinot Noir
  8. Clos Jordanne 2007 Talon Ridge Chardonnay
  9. Clos Jordanne 2007 Talon Ridge Pinot Noir
  10. Colaneri Estates 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
  11. Colaneri Estates 2009 Pinot Grigio
  12. Daniel Lenko 2004 Late Harvest Vidal
  13. Daniel Lenko 2006 Old Vines Merlot
  14. Daniel Lenko 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay
  15. Daniel Lenko 2007 Old Vines Chardonnay
  16. Daniel Lenko 2007 Reserve Riesling
  17. Daniel Lenko 2008 Unoaked ChardonnGay
  18. Daniel Lenko 2009 White Cabernet
  19. Five Rows 2007 Pinot Noir
  20. Five Rows 2009 Pinot Gris
  21. Five Rows 2009 Pinot Gris
  22. Five Rows 2009 Riesling
  23. Five Rows 2009 Riesling
  24. Five Rows 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  25. Flat Rock Cellars 2009 Pinot Noir
  26. Flat Rock Cellars 2009 Twisted White
  27. Hidden Bench 2008 Fume Blanc
  28. Hidden Bench 2008 Nuit Blanche
  29. Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Cache Meritage
  30. Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Cache Meritage
  31. Pondview 2007 Trinity Red
  32. Pondview 2009 Chardonnay
  33. Ravine 2008 Cab Franc
  34. Ravine 2008 Meritage
  35. Riverview 2008 Reserve Cabernet
  36. Riverview 2009 Gewurztraminer
  37. Southbrook 2007 Whimsy Cab Franc
  38. Southbrook 2007 Whimsy Cab Franc
  39. Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
  40. Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
  41. Tawse 2008 Quarry Road Chardonnay
  42. Tawse 2009 Misek Riesling