Cover photo by sersen, used under Creative Commons license

Blackball: blackballed!

A while ago we joined the new wine club for one of our favourite wineries: Pearl Morissette. It’s called the Black Ball Wine Society, named after their Riesling, so named because of a story involving the VQA. We got early access to some new wines (which I bought) and will certainly take advantage of more early ordering in years to come.

A couple of days ago I got an email telling me that Pearl Morissette had “paired with 11 phenomenal Toronto restaurants to offer you a preview of our just released 2012 Cabernet Franc Cuvée Madeline”. All you had to do was show your society card and they’d give you a glass. Now, I have six bottles of that Cab Franc at home, but I still thought this was a cool idea. One of the restaurants on the list was Richmond Station, which I love, so I hit it on the way home. Sat at the bar. Got some food. And laid out the card.

My server looked totally confused, but she handled it well. “Okay,” she said, and disappeared upstairs to find someone who knew what this card was. The wine director (I think her name is Julia? Can’t quite remember.) came down and explained to me that, uh, unfortunately Pearl Morissette hasn’t dropped off any Cuvée Madeline yet. So no perk for me. Alas.

Fortunately, it didn’t hurt my meal at all. I started with an exceptional glass of 2013 Sohler Pinot Gris Grand Cru, and layered in the smoked chicken bratwurst w/ fingerling potato salad, cucumber relish, onion ring, grainy mustard, and dill. Then I had the special, a seriously delicate and delicious duck breast, paired not with Pearl Morissette Cab Franc, but with Pearce-Predhomme Pinot Noir.

While proposing the Pinot, Probably-Julia had also opened a Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis Pinot/Franc blend for comparison. I went with the P-P Pinot, but wanted some dessert, so I ordered a glass of that Métis which had so kindly been opened earlier. That, paired with a little coconut chocolate fudge, made for a brilliant end.


Cover photo by sersen, used under Creative Commons license

The California experiment

Pearl Morissette is one of my favourite Canadian wineries, but until a month or so ago I didn’t know they were also producing wine in California. I found out when I saw an announcement about a dinner at hot new Toronto restaurant Alo, featuring these California wines from PM. It was such a hot ticket (and Alo is such a small restaurant) that the event sold out in minutes, but they scheduled a second seating and Nellie, Kaylea, and I got tickets.

Winemaker Francois Morissette was there to speak about each of the California wines, and a few surprise Ontario wines as well. All the wines were predictably delicious, but we were just so impressed with how he’s found a balance in the Californian wines: using all the advantages of the hot (but not too hot, based on their vineyard locations) without the overbearing, overwrought, over-oaked tendencies too often found in California bottles. These are California wines made with the restraint of a Burgundian winemaker.

The menu, as best I can remember provided by P-M…thanks Milt!:

  1. Pan au lait with fleur de sel
  2. Matsutake mushrooms, turnip, celery, chicken skin
  3. Carolina gold rice, foie gras, bonito
  4. Yorkshire rack of pork, romano bean, artichoke, mustard
  5. Beef brisket, king oyster mushroom, parsley, garlic
  6. White chocolate cremeux, toasted oats, quince (Note: Cori Murphy is a bad-ass pastry chef)

The rice + foie gras dish sounds like it should have been terrible, but it was goddamn delicious. And I hate foie gras.

The wines:

  • Blackball Riesling
  • 2012 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2012 Baranoff Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Caldwell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Niagara Viognier
  • I know I’m missing another Ontario wine. I just can’t remember what it was, goddammit.

All in all, an outstanding meal. I really want to go back Alo now, and we’ve already ordered some of the California wine.

After dinner we still wanted more wine, so we decided to meet up with more friends at Archive. The girls started drinking sparkling; I stayed on the Pearl Morissette with the 2012 “Dix-Neuvième” Chardonnay. I lost track of what everyone got, but after we shared a bottle of Cab Franc from Saumur I was out of there. The rest of the group partied well into the night.

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.