The little plate of digital evil

This weekend has NOT been good for ye olde diet.

First, M+LK invite us over to their place for dinner, and it turns into the predictable feast: a huge charcuterie board, then grilled pork chops (finished with flaming bourbon), a (surprisingly?) delicious cabbage dish with pancetta, a butternut squash galette, and roasted veggies. Then a tray of desserts so ridiculous it beggared belief. Plus, a seemingly-endless supply of terrific wine, including a Thirty Bench 2010 Benchmark red.

In other news, my hand is scratched all to shit from playing with their kitties, Sam & Dean.

Today we welcomed Jenna (aka Nellie Jr) and a friend over for brunch. Nellie made Caesars and mimosas and cinnamon buttermilk pancakes and breakfast sausage and I needed a serious nap. I woke up just in time to see Josh Donaldson hit a walk-off home run.

Right now Nellie’s grilling up some steaks while a bottle of Two Sisters red warms up in the decanter.

The scale tomorrow will not be my friend.

Herby, goaty business

Beautiful weekends are made even better when your friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake invite you down for the night.

CBJ+M picked us up Saturday morning, and we drove to the Sunnyside Café for breakfast before heading down to Niagara. And by “heading” I mean crawling slowly through traffic jams. Eventually we made it to Beamsville for quick stops at Thirty Bench and Hidden Bench. We also stopped at Kew, and for the first time in four visits got to sit outside on their lovely patio.

We headed on into NIagara, picking up some beer at Silversmith and pie at The Pie Plate, and tasting more wine at the ridiculously grandiose Two Sisters. Finally, we arrived at Brian & Mandy’s for a nice afternoon swim, with poolside sparkling wine and crudités.

Our hosts prepared dinner: a vast pile of meat (steak, pork chops, and sausages) with beet salad and goat-cheese stuffed red peppers, along with bottles of 1999 valpolicella. A strawberry rhubarb pie procured earlier that day topped it all off.

We played bocce by car headlight, and some of us went for another dip. Brian and I were the two last standing, and ended the evening with a little Lagavulin.

The next day started with coffee, then another swim, then a fantastic brunch of bacon and herbed goat cheese fritatta, followed by yet more pie: a peach raspberry pie, to be exact. We played one bocce rematch, and then got on our way.

Stellar weekend, guys.

Wolf cape

This time we made sure the Gardiner would be open.

The last time we drove around the lake to see Matt & Kaylea it was an ordeal. When the main highway out of downtown Toronto is shut down, things get messy. Fortunately there were no such closures this time, so we made good time.

Too good, in fact…we were at their place in less than an hour, and arrived before they were still in the throes of morning. Anyway, we had plenty of time before the event which drew us down to Beamsville in the first place: a structured tasting at Thirty Bench. We knew we’d be tasting the 2008 cab franc and merlot alongside the 2011, but they also added the 1996 vintage of each to the lineup. The tasting began at 11am, but we did our stretches and got ready to taste.

I won’t go too far into the tasting notes, but suffice it to say both 1996s were past their primes. Still, it was fun to taste them alongside the new, more powerful vintages. We knew we’d be buying several bottles of the 2011 cab franc to add to our collection, but it was nice to taste the 2008 again as well. And we were surprised by the 08 merlot…surprised enough that we bought a bottle. Let’s see if it lives up to our memories when we finally crack it.

After Thirty Bench we drove east to Kacaba. Kacaba’s always good for a solid half (or full) case, but they happened to be running an open house so we just jumped into the tour. We tried some tank samples of the upcoming sauv blanc, pinot gris, and riesling (and pre-ordered the first two) as well as some syrah and cab sauv, and met the winemaker and the owners, and chatted a lot with the staff, and bought nearly a case of wine. Despite their absolutely atrocious website, Kacaba is always a wise stop along the wine trail.

Our last stop of the day was Green Lane, a new winery for us. It’s small, and the room was empty when we arrived, so we took our time. We liked the sur lie chardonnay and their cab blend well enough. Not sure it’ll be at the top of my list for future visits though.

After a quick stop for provisions we went back to Matt & Kaylea’s, where Matt began prepping his feast. He distracted our tummies with a board of kielbasa, a cheese ball, and some of his homemade bread. Which was incredible.

The ladies split a bottle of Jordan riesling we’d brought back from Stellenbosch, while Matt and I sampled some beers. We had some Railway City Iron Spike blonde ale (which was ok), and some Dead Elephant ale, also from Railway City (which was a little better), and some Midtfyns/De Molen X Porter (which was horrible…and I love porters), and finally some Deus Brut des Flandres (which was spectacular…I was actually angry at myself for never having tried it before).

And then came dinner. First: a roasted parsnip + celeriac soup with parsley oil, paired with a sur lie chardonnay we’d picked up that day at Green Lane. The main course was pork loin wrapped around apricot, onion, spinach, and rosemary, served with creamy potatoes and butternut squash. That was paired with an Old Third 2010 pinot.

We decided to take a little break, clean up a little, and go for a walk before dessert and the final bottle of wine. Unfortunately somewhere in there I developed one of the worst headaches of my life. As in, it hurt to look at light, or laugh. Eventually I just disappeared into the bedroom, turned off the light, and tried to make my head stop hurting. The rest of the gang drank a bottle of my beloved 2007 Thirty Bench cab franc and dug into the massive lemon square Matt had made especially for Nellie. I missed it all because it felt like a giant hot crab was attacking my temples.

The next morning the pain had lessened — it was like a normal headache now, which was comparatively easy — and I was able to partake of Matt’s excellent breakfast. We surveyed the previous evening’s damage and went out to investigate one more winery: Kew.

None of us had ever been to Kew (it’s new! Kew is new! New Kew!) so this was a bit of an adventure. And I gotta say, it is a beautiful spot up there. They’ve done well with the space, and we all made plans to come back in the summer and take advantage of the patio & fire. The wines didn’t quite blow us away, but many of them were solid, and blessedly there was some variety from the usual Bench wine offerings. They did a blanc de noir sparkling, and a marsanne/viognier mix, and a decent little cabernet blend, and I do believe we took a bottle of each along with a fumé blanc.

Since our Kew visit took a little longer than expected we decided to just call it and get some lunch before heading back. We retired to the Judge & Jester pub, which serves onion rings larger than a Roman legionnaire’s shield and ribs the size of a washboard. Needless to say that was our last food of the day.

Our drive home was uneventful, but our stomachs were full, as is our wine rack now (almost). Another successful trip in the books.

The essence of the devil and the nectar of the gods and the music of the monsters

This past weekend we drove around Lake Ontario (through a Gardiner Expressway closure, no less) to visit Matt & Kaylea — they of the recent epic wedding — to visit some wineries, have some laughs, and eat some of Matt’s cooking. We arrived earlier than planned but later than hoped, checked out their sweet new place, and zipped into Beamsville for some wine tasting.

We attempted a Malivoire visit but the parking lot was so busy we didn’t even stop…we just 180’d in their driveway and left, then 180’d again when we realized we were heading away from stop #2: Tawse. Eventually we got there, bypassing the busy tasting room for the member’s cellar. We tasted through what would become a common occurrence: a cloud of fruit flies. Guess it’s that time of year. Anyway, we got to try several things we, and more importantly M&K, hadn’t tried before. We ended up taking away a case of six special one-off Chardonnays, around which we’re likely going to construct a big tasting or dinner party. Our wine club membership came in handy, as the power went out just as we attempted to make our purchases and the POS system wouldn’t reboot. “Bill me,” I shouted as I strolled out, “I’m a member!” OK, that didn’t happen, but we did get some cut-eye as we walked out past a dozen people waiting impatiently to pay.

We had an equally productive (expensive?) stop at Hidden Bench, where among the half dozen we purchased were two bottles of 2010 La Brunante, their flagship Bordeaux blend which they’ve only made twice before. The tasting room was so busy we didn’t even bother tasting…we knew what we wanted. We swung by Fielding after that for a few quick samples and some Kaylea snark, and left with a paltry three bottles. Matt & Kaylea didn’t do too badly either, picking up eight on the day:

After Fielding we’d had quite enough of sample pours, and returned to M&K’s. Matt began prepping dinner as we sampled a few Beer Academy beers we’d brought with us  (German mild ale = good; peach wheat = gross) and before long we were attacking a charcuterie board (which included some of the best Buffalo mozzarella I’ve ever had) and a bottle of really nice Italian sparkling whose name escapes me but which almost certainly contributed to the fuzziness of this picture:

Before we knew it we were into the soup course, an unreal homemade butternut squash number, paired with a special treat indeed: a 2000 Thirty Bench Chardonnay. It had the same few suspect early sniffs as the 1999 Closson Chase Chardonnay we shared last year, but turned into creamy, rich goodness which got along so well with the soup they might as well have just eloped.

Here we took a brief intermezzo to let some food settle, wash a few dishes, drink a bottle of Tawse Lauritzen Pinot Noir, and watch Matt and Nellie nearly die from eating a fresh habanero pepper. Matt’s solution to this was as follows:

That didn’t work, obviously. Finally I convinced him to drink some cream, and things righted themselves enough to move on to the main course: beef bourguignon. This we paired with another outstanding choice from their visit to Thirty Bench: a 2007 Cabernet Franc, perhaps my favourite red. We listened to a bizarre rotation of music, but finally settled on Of Monsters And Men long enough to get us through all the beef and mushrooms. Then came dessert, a beautiful roasted Italian plum ice cream with cinnamon and my dad’s maple syrup. A Fielding Rock Pile Pinot Gris purchased earlier in the day went nicely with dessert. Note that there are no decent pictures of either of these, as I annihilated them before I thought to snap a pic.

Matt and I were very definitely done for the evening, and after a few more hours of talking and finishing off the beer, started to crash. The music took a turn for the worse (Culture Club? the hell?) and the ladies began dancing and then unwisely drank an entire bottle of Rosewood Merlot, leaving us with a respectable lineup of fallen soldiers on the day:

None of us were terribly quick to jump out of bed the next morning, obviously, but neither were we poorly. Whatever shakiness we might have felt was quickly erased with some delicious Fahrenheit coffee and a stellar Matt breakfast of eggs, pork chop-sized hunks of peameal bacon, and English muffins. Good thing too: we had more tastings to do! Once we’d all showered and poured Nellie into the car we set off toward the bench.

Malivoire was considerably less busy than it had looked the day before. After a misbegotten stop out front for cheese and some dodgy-looking white, we got into the reds inside. We left with a very good Pinot and a standout Cab Sauv and a mouthful of fruit flies. Next up was Megalomaniac, about which I’ve always been ambivalent, and so remain. Next was a completely new stop for all of us: Vieni. I’d never heard of it but Kaylea, being the plugged-in type that she is, guided us there. It’s a very large property, but very new, and a little scattershot with the wine lineup, but that should improve with age. Nellie picked up yet another bottle of sparkling, and I was happy to pick up an Aglianico, which they claim is the only one made in Canada. It’s certainly the only one I’d ever seen. I am, in fact, drinking it right now as I write this blog post.

Our final stop of the weekend was Thirty Bench, where I’d hoped to fill a hole in our vertical collection of Cab Francs. Turns out they didn’t make the vintage we’re missing…so I suppose we’re not really missing it. We also picked up a Pinot without tasting it, it having been recommended to us to do so by miss Kaylea.

We left there and, realizing it was late afternoon, decided to grab lunch at Syndicate, a nearby gastropub. Unfortunately we didn’t do the math on just how late it was until we’d already ordered — we didn’t have much time to return the car given that the Gardiner was still closed. The rest of the meal turned into a bit of a frenzy, after which we dropped Matt & Kaylea back at their house and sped away, making excellent time all the way around the lake to the west end of Toronto before getting jammed up. We took alternate routes and side streets and a few ill-fated turns and in the end got the car back only six minutes late, which was pretty damn good.

Later that evening while Nellie watched the Emmys I took stock of everything we’d bought:

  1. Tawse 2011 David’s Block Chardonnay
  2. Tawse 2011 Muhl Vineyard Chardonnay
  3. Tawse 2011 Eastman Vineyard Chardonnay
  4. Tawse 2011 Lenko Vineyard Chardonnay
  5. Tawse 2011 Hillside Vineyard Chardonnay
  6. Tawse 2011 Celebration Chardonnay
  7. Hidden Bench 2009 Terroir Cache Meritage
  8. Hidden Bench 2009 Terroir Cache Meritage
  9. Hidden Bench 2009 Felseck Chardonnay
  10. Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
  11. Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
  12. Hidden Bench 2011 Nuit Blanche
  13. Fielding 2007 Chosen Few Red
  14. Fielding 2011 Viognier
  15. Fielding 2012 Lot No. 17 Riesling
  16. Malivoire 2010 Mottiar Pinot Noir
  17. Malivoire 2010 Stouck Cabernet Sauvignon
  18. Megalomaniac 2011 Bubblehead Sparkling Rose
  19. Vieni 2010 Aglianico
  20. Vieni 2012 Sparkling Rose Brut
  21. Thirty Bench 2010 Pinot Noir
  22. Thirty Bench 2011 Chardonnay

Rounding out the haul was a gift from Matt & Kaylea: a 2002 Thirty Bench Benchmark Red. Zoinks! We’ll build a meal around that soon.

It was fun, but it may prove dangerous having these particular friends less than an hour (Gardiner hell permitting) from our home.


About halfway up to our friends Matt & Kaylea’s cottage last Friday we got a text from Matt telling us to meet them in Norland. Turns out he’d forgotten his key to the cottage, so we were to meet them at the Riverside Inn and wait for a backup key to arrive via family. So we did…and in so doing stumbled upon the theme for the weekend.

We entered the inn around 5pm on a Friday, and found it completely empty. Not a soul in the place except wait staff. We asked for a table, thinking we’d have our pick. The hostess asked if we had a reservation. Kaylea replied that, “No, we’re just freeballin’ it.” Matt and I looked at each other…uh, what now?

FREEBALLIN’ [free-bawl-in]
1. Usually used to refer to males who are without underwear.
2. The act of not wearing underwear.

We were pretty sure she didn’t mean to use that term. And it turned out that no, indeed she didn’t…she thought it indicated that we were winging it, no real plans, just having fun. In any case, the server understood and Matt and I had a giggle and we each had a pint of Cameron’s and then got down to the business of retrieving the key and making our way to the cottage. But freeballin’ had become the mantra.

We got to the cottage (after almost hitting a wild turkey on the highway) and realized very quickly that, unlike last summer, there would be no swimming. No canoeing. No watching a gorgeous sunset from the dock.

The shitty spring we’ve been having meant that we’d be spending our cottage time indoors. Luckily, we had provisions.

Like, say an Ontario rainbow trout with asparagus and smashed potatoes (prepped by Matt), and a bottle of Semillon-Sauv Blanc. That was the nice, light setup for the main event of the evening. Like last summer when we brought a 2001 Closson Chase chardonnay (which I’d won at auction) to the cottage, we brought two wines for a side-by-side comparison: a 1999 Thirty Bench cabernet franc (won at the same auction) and a bottle of the recently-released 2010 vintage.

That cab franc is pretty much my favourite red wine full stop, but I’d never tried anything older than 2007. And while the 2010 is just as good, the 1999 was something else entirely. A little less muscular than the newer vintage, but so much more refined. Tremendous stuff. I managed to start a whole twitter debate about who the winemaker was, finally receiving the correct answer right around the time that we emptied the bottle and noticed his name written on the label. Oops. The night gets a little fuzzy after that. I remember Matt saying “We are good at drinking.” I remember Nellie saying, “Matthew, NO.” And I remember them not being related. I also remember an epic struggle with an overzealous smoke detector at 4am.

The next morning we chugged some coffee and scarfed peameal sandwiches shlepped from St. Lawrence Market the day before and did a quick supply run into town (which was suffering from the same flooding that’s been plaguing the rest of cottage country, though not as severely.). There we picked up a De Souza meritage and a Côtes du Rhône and a mini-keg of Lake of Bays Crosswind, as well as 14 pounds of pork shoulder from the local butcher and a few more groceries. There were sightings of dazzling rubber boots, a ferocious pickup truck, and an awe-inspiring mullet, each more spectacular than the last. Nellie, in dire need of Vitamin Water, felt bad about making Kaylea drive to three different stores to find some. Not to worry, Kaylea said, we’re just freeballin’ it. In fact, she freeballed a traffic light just for good measure.

Back at the cottage, the weather turned even less pleasant as snow squalls hit.

No spring day, this: it was well below freezing outside. There was nothing for it but to bundle up, build a fire, and make some delicious food. First: maple doughnuts. And by “maple” I mean that there was Dickinson Brothers maple in the dough, in the cream filling, and dusted on top.

Around the same time, Matt was busy teaching me how to make sausage. I was less than adept at this, but enjoyed the hell out of it. The first step was to chunk up half of that pork shoulder and add seasoning…

…the run it through a grinder…

…then bind it with water and skim milk powder…

…and then stuff it into the casings and twist it into links.

Et voila: breakfast sausage with Dickinson maple sugar and sage. The recipe came partly from Matt’s brain, a tiny bit from the sugar woods of Nova Scotia, and a lot from this book, our bible for the weekend:

After a quick visit to a nearby maple farm to pick up a few things (and talk a little shop) we got back to the cottage and re-commenced into the culinary activities. Next up was a second round of sausage-making for the lads and a sparkling wine tasting for the ladies.

That’s right: it was colder outside than it was in the fridge. Happy spring! Anyway, we all did a blind tasting of these — turns out I know the difference between Ontario wine regions, but not the difference between Ontario and France — paired with a bunch of cheese and meat we’d brought from the market the day before.

Finally, after a much tougher process for the Texas Canadian hot links (a second grind was needed, and the addition of some maple syrup and sparkling Ontario white called for a name change) Matt took them to the smoker.

We sampled a bit, and declared it a success.


We packaged up the sausages and grilled steaks for dinner to go with the reds we’d picked up earlier in the day. There was talk of playing debit card monopoly, but after a stroll down to the lake and back I just fell asleep on the couch. Matt took up a position on the other couch not long after, having heaved the (depleted) Crosswind keg onto the lawn. Hey, we’d worked hard that day, we deserved an early beddy-bye time. Anyway, it’s not like there was a set agenda. Freeballin’, remember?

The next morning we sampled the fruits of our labours, in the form of breakfast sausage. Mission? Accomplished, with deliciousness. We laid around as long as we could, but eventually had to pack up and go. Nellie didn’t do so well on the way home, but we made it back to T.O. with a fully-fueled rental car and about 20 minutes to spare.

We may not have gotten the weather we’d hoped for, but the food and fun more than made up for it. There were shapeless neon hats and snowman scarves and games of fetch. There was bird watching and data tethering and biomass burning. Most impressively there was handmade sausage and maple-y doughnuts and outstanding wine, but more importantly there were good friends and warm fires and hilarious videos, and all of those adjectives were totally interchangeable.

Freeballin’: better with friends.

Have you heard about big red?

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been ten months since our first trip to visit Niagara wineries. It was there that I started to learn about, and fall for, Ontario wine. Since then we’ve made another trip, as well as a run to Prince Edward County, and the majority of my LCBO purchases in these ten months have been from Ontario. It’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

On Friday a colleague (teasingly) mocked my love of Ontario wine. He claims to like bigger, fuller reds, and suggested Ontario wine was “fine if you like [makes disgusted face] Pinot Noir.” To which I say: phooey.

Listen up, kids: there is some excellent Ontario wine out there, some of which are substantial enough to be mistaken for Australian or Californian. Granted, a lot of them are pricey, but there are certainly affordable ones out there as well. Here are some suggestions for people who actually want to give it a try:

  • My favourite Ontario wine, and maybe my favourite wine overall: the Thirty Bench Cab Franc ($40). This wine also just won the top prize at Cuvée 2011, Ontario’s ‘wine oscars’. If $40 is a little rich for your blood, then the Thirty Bench Red blend ($24) carries quite a bit of the Cab Franc and is more accessible, and nearly as full-bodied.
  • If the Cab you want is not Franc, but Sauv, then Thirty Bench also does an excellent one of those for $40. However, biodynamic producer Southbrook also does a fantastic one in their Whimsy line ($35). Meanwhile, the Strewn Cab Sauv is just $20.
  • I was never a big fan of Syrah, but Southbrook’s bottles turned me around. Peppery, substantial, but still easy to drink…well worth the $25. If you’re looking to spend less, the Creekside Shiraz costs $16, rates a healthy 88 points and can be found in practically any LCBO.
  • The Tawse Meritage ($58) almost knocked me over when I tried it in their tasting room. A bottle of it is sitting in my cellar, waiting for a special occasion. For a lower-cost, equally-ass-kicking Meritage I really, really wish I could tell you to go buy the 07 Hidden Bench Terroir Caché ($35), but as far as I can tell it’s sold out. We’ve drunk two bottles of it to date, and — because we were greedy and opened it a few years too early — had to decant it for hours before drinking it. Now our final bottle is lying in wait for at least two more years, and I’m not sharing.
  • And yes, Ontario does have good Pinot Noir. And I like Pinot Noir. But I didn’t really like it until I tried the real — in my opinion — local champs of the grape: Le Clos Jordanne ($25-$75, depending on the vineyard) and Norman Hardie ($35-$39). Flat Rock does a great lower-cost bottle($20) too.
  • If you’re not particular about varietal and just want a serious red, I can recommend either the Stratus Red blend ($44) or the Chateau des Charmes Equuleus ($40). If that’s too rich, the Creekside Laura Red ($20) is a worthy substitute.

I’ve missed plenty, but hopefully that’s enough to convince a few people that there really are some great Ontario reds available at a variety of prices. Besides, drinking local never hurt anybody!

"Better a drop of the extraordinary than an ocean of the ordinary."

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve lived in Toronto since 1997 and I’ve never seen Niagara Falls. One of the natural wonders of the world ninety minutes away and I’d never gone to see it. I’d also never visited the Niagara wine country, but that’s a little less shocking since it was only a few years ago I began to care that there was a wine region nearby. So, we thought we’d cure both ills at once. We took the day off, rented a car and set sail.

The weather wasn’t bad when we left Toronto, passing Mississauga and Oakville (first time past highway 403 woo!) and crossing the lovely skyway bridge to…to…oh my GOD Hamilton is ugly. Ugh. I closed my eyes until we reached Beamsville. We stopped there as I had it on good authority that there are three fantastic wineries there, practically next door to each other: Fielding, Hidden Bench and Thirty Bench.

As we walked into Fielding (whose tagline constitutes the subject of this blog post, by the way) Nellie said that it felt to her like going to church. We’ve never tried a Fielding wine we didn’t love, and their building is rather like a cathedral. The staff was awfully nice, very helpful and fairly convincing: we tasted nine wines, and left with bottles of the Lot 17 Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Meritage, and White Conception.

Hidden Bench, just around the corner, was different: smaller, quieter, more intimate. The lady working the tasting counter took a chunk out of her day to talk all the about the wines, the history of the winery and the vines. Their wine tasted so clean that we ended buying three bottles: a Fume Blanc (which Nellie realized later we’d drunk before) and two bottles of their Terroir Caché Meritage. We’ll drink one soon, and stash one for a few years.

We loved Thirty Bench for two reasons: the clever tasting notes (see above) and the more structured tasting. We’d enjoyed the benefits of near-empty tasting rooms at all three spots, but at 30 Bench they brought us to the comfy tasting bar and threw seven (!) samples at us. We settled on their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and left startled that we’d so far collected more red than white.

The lady at Hidden Bench had recommended a spot called August for lunch, and when a local with good taste recommends a spot for lunch, you go. We weren’t disappointed; my pasta with andouille sausage in a pesto sauce was very good, as was Nellie’s salad. Happily she was able to get a glass of Daniel Lenko white Cabernet to go with it, and I had a glass of Creekside Pinot Grigio. All was right with the world.

On we drove (don’t worry, I was sipping and spitting, not drinking) to Niagara on the Lake. We checked in to the one hotel I could find in NotL that didn’t fit the dictionary definition of “frou-frou”: The Shaw Club. Beautiful hotel, beautiful room, just top-notch all around. Highly recommended if you’re staying in that town. That town, by the way, is a little too precious…a walk up and down the main strip was like one long gift shop. On the stroll back to the hotel we decided to stop in at the Olde Angel Inn and get at least a bit of the local quaffing culture. Despite my tasty Amsterdam Two-Fisted stout, I was miserable as a headache was hitting me with both barrels. We went back to the room to relax before dinner.

Dinner was at Stone Road Grille, the de facto NotL dining champion according to Chowhound. The joint was packed when we arrived and, despite the fact that we’d made reservations a month ago, we had to wait half an hour for a table. My mood might have been soured had the host not been a bizarre combination of charming and unhinged…if I didn’t know better I’d swear he was from Newfoundland.

Anyway, the meals. In a word: superb. I started with — and I’m quoting from the menu here — the scallops wrapped in smoked duck breast bacon, sweet onion puree, mache salad, icewine salmis vinaigrette, paired with…well, with the giant glass of Fielding Pinot Gris the host had poured me while we waited. Nellie had a truffle and asparagus risotto paired with a 13th street sparkling white. Nellie declared it the best risotto she’d ever tasted. As for me, I don’t even really like scallops and I loved this.

My main was the Charlie Baker fried chicken with buttermilk potato puree, braised leeks, sauteed greens and bubbly sauce, while Nellie had the grilled flat iron steak frites with sauce béarnaise and garlicky beans. We sought out a wine that would work with both (!) and settled on a 2007 Southbrook “Whimsy” Cabernet Franc. And wow, did it work. We were still enjoying it when our strawberry & rhubarb clafouti arrived.

Perhaps the oddest part of the night was when we asked for a cab. Despite being warned by T-Bone about the scarcity of cabs in the city, we were hopeful…and we were to be disappointed. The nearest one was 30-40 minutes away. So, much to our amazement, the semi-crazy host pulled around in a giant purple minivan and offered to drive us home. Weird, but pretty cool too. More than made up for the long wait for a table, and also made for a great laugh the next morning.

Day two started with an excellent breakfast at the Shaw Club’s restaurant before checking out and driving south to see Niagara Falls itself.

Never mind the schlocky shops on the way into town, the outrageous cost of parking, the mind-numbing tackiness of the gift shops you’re forced through to gain a vantage point…the falls are amazing. I could probably stand at the river’s edge all day and watch the water plunge over, but not today…it was freezing, and spitting rain. We stayed long enough for me to really soak it in, get some pictures and get even wetter from the spray, and then walked back to the car. A sudden storm burst just long enough to soak us as we ran to the car. It wouldn’t be the last time.

We did have a break in the rain long enough to visit Ravine Vineyards, another recommendation. Their tasting room wasn’t quite open yet so we had some tasty treats at their bakery first. Once the sun was over the yardarm we picked up a bottle each of their 2006 Cabernet Franc and their Redcoat blend, and got some recommendations from their staff about the next stop on our tour.

Southbrook‘s beautiful LEED-certified building suits their organic and biodynamic wine. We’d already decided to pick up a bottle of the Whimsy, since we’d loved it the night before, and while we expected to walk out with their rosé, we instead left with a bottle of their “Fresh” white blend, which won us both over during the tasting.

As we’d pulled into Southbrook the weather had turned vile. Rather than visit one more we decided to take nature’s hint and just hit the road. When the rain comes in sideways, it’s time to go home. It was tough going just outside of Niagara on the Lake because of the driving rain, and then on the Skyway as we passed Hamilton the wind actually blew our car halfway into the next lane. All the dreary, windy driving made us both sluggish, so we dropped the wine, dropped the car, helped an Australian man figure out how to adjust the seat in his rental and happily deposited ourselves on our couch and admired our new wine collection.

13 bottles of wine, 3 great meals and a wonder of the world…not bad for 28 hours.