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

23…is that a winemaker's two dozen?

Coming to Niagara back in May might have been a mistake. I fear I’m hooked now.

Friday after work Nellie, T-Bone, The Sof and I drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake to begin a weekend of good food and flowing wine. After fighting off traffic we had a drink and some lobster poutine at the Shaw Club hotel’s bar, then left for our dinner reservations at Stone Road Grille. We’d enjoyed it so much last time that T-Bone wanted to try it too. Lucky for her, it was even better this time. All four starters — my scallops wrapped in duck breast bacon, The Sof’s poutine (he is from Montreal, after all) and the sweet corn, chantrelle and lobster risotto that Nellie and T-Bone each had — were fantastic. The mains — perfect flank steak frites for me, T-Bone’s shepherd’s pie with lamb, Nellie’s halibut with sea asparagus and The Sof’s duck confit — were also top-notch. We all took the easy way out and just did their suggested wine pairings, but they really did work perfectly. None of us had room for dessert; most of us had dessert wine, but then they brought out some cotton candy (!) for us to share, so…sweet overload. Quite a meal. We wisely decided to walk it off, but then foolishly decided to drink a bottle of Megalomaniac cab sauv when we got to the hotel. Ah well. When in Rome.

Saturday morning we again ate on the beautiful patio at the Shaw Club, then began the wine touring. We started with Stratus, whose wines were good and whose tasting room is gorgeous. Like, I want to live there gorgeous. Next was Southbrook, where our pouring needs were attended to by the most delightful Scottish lady. At this point we were getting hungry so we drove to Port Dalhousie where we had reservations at Treadwell. Our lunch there was excellent: a charcuterie plate to start, then fish & chips, soup, sandwiches and wine, all of it local. Oh, and our patio seats overlooked the water. So, yeah…pretty nice. But no time to rest, we had more wineries to visit.

We stopped at A Foreign Affair, then Alvento, then the beautiful cellar at Tawse, then the room at Megalomaniac tucked into a hill. By this time our trunk was full of wine and our energy levels flagging, so we checked in to our little inn, the Black Walnut Manor. The owners poured us another glass of wine (mercy!) and put out some brie and crackers and red pepper jelly and we sat and ate it on the deck under an enormous tree and felt sooooooooo relaxed. We sat by the pool and dipped our feet and played with dogs and wanted to stay forever or make them an offer to buy or maybe just have a nap or whatever. But we were happy.

A more casual dinner was in order, and luckily the proprietor was able to sneak us into About Thyme at the last minute. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but had good food and a great wine selection. Nothing about anyone’s meal was too remarkable, except Nellie’s steak with an atomic pile of mushroom poutine and my first experience tasting NYARAI‘s wines, but it was a very solid meal. It also provided a very relaxed atmosphere, conducive to us crashing immediately after dinner following the 2km walk home. I, for one, slept like the freaking dead.

The next morning was my happy place. I awoke at 8 to find juice, tea, nectarines and a newspaper outside our door. I adjourned to the balcony with laptop and wi-fi in tow, enjoying the fresh air. I luxuriated in my warm, quiet morning  until it was time for breakfast, prepared by the owners. Sitting with the four other guests (two different couples, both from Cincinnati oddly enough) we were treated to pancetta & melon, chocolatines and broccoli + cheese frittatas. But enough dilly-dallying: we had wineries to visit.

Zipping west to Beamsville, we started at Rosewood. Next was Thirty Bench, just across the street, where we loaded up on the cab franc. Then quick visits to Fielding and Hidden Bench (where we didn’t buy anything, but T-Bone did) followed by an experience at Daniel Lenko. Actually, it’d be more accurate to say an experience with Daniel Lenko, as he was the one pouring the wines right at his kitchen table. Sadly he was sold out of his white Cabernet, which was Nellie’s one required purchase for this trip. Major sad face.

Food was next on the agenda, so we took our innkeeper’s advice and visited The Good Earth for lunch. What a recommendation it was: nestled in this beautiful space among the vines and fruit trees, they served us lunch outdoors at a harvest table next to a wood-fired oven. Yet another charcuterie plate to start, and then a pile of meat for T-Bone and pizzas for the rest of us. The tomato, bocconcini and basil pizza was good, but Nellie’s prosciutto, peach and blue cheese pizza kicked ass. The food, the wine, the setting, the people, the day…none of us wanted to leave. And yet, it was time to go. The trunk could hold no more anyway. An hour later we were back in Toronto, wondering where the hell to put all these bottles. Storage issues aside, though, it was just a fantastic weekend. And so, I present the spoils:

This is what we bought:

  • Stratus 2006 White
  • Stratus 2008 Ice Wine White
  • Southbrook Whimsy 2007 Cabernet Franc
  • Southbrook Whimsy 2007 Lot no. 20 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • The Foreign Affair 2007 Chardonnay
  • The Foreign Affair 2008 Riesling
  • The Foreign Affair 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Alvento 2007 Viognier
  • Tawse 2007 Meritage
  • Tawse 2007 Chardonnay
  • Megalomaniac 2007 Narcissist Riesling
  • Rosewood 2008 Pinot Noir
  • Rosewood 2008 Trois Femmes Rosé
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2009 Triangle Riesling
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2009 Gewurztraminer
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2007 Cabernet Franc (x3)
  • Fielding 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fielding 2007 Chardonnay Musque
  • Daniel Lenko 2005 Meritage
  • Daniel Lenko 2007 Old Vines Chardonnay (French Oak)
  • also: a Thirty Bench Merlot, which we intended to give away as a gift, because there will be no Merlot in this house

11 whites, 9 reds and 2 others. Probably a more even mix than I expected. I did not expect to come home with four chardonnays though.