Featured, Wine Travel

Lake Erie North Shore – A Wine Lover’s Getaway

August 22, 2016
The patio at Viewpointe Estate Winery is a gorgeous place to enjoy a glass of wine.

Planning a few days away to explore the wines of Lake Erie North Shore (LENS)? Shawn and I were recently invited to check out the area and we highly recommend it! Over two days, we visited four wineries, a distillery and a wealth of other local venues. From the bountiful local fruit stands to the delicious restaurants (many offering amazing local perch) and beyond, this is a gorgeous part of the Ontario’s Southwest and well worth visiting.

Below, is a short version of what we discovered on our trip. I’ll have even more info in future posts where I go in depth into our winery visits and winemaker chats.

A glass of local Chardonnay and a fish hoagie at Billy's Taphouse in Windsor/Essex.We started out from Toronto on a Wednesday morning and made it to Billy’s Taphouse in time for lunch. Billy’s is a great option for local craft beer and wine (I tried the Colchester Ridge Estate Winery Chardonnay), along with locally-sourced ingredients (they have their own garden). They have an extensive menu of delicious pub-style fare and a relaxed and fun atmosphere.

 

John R. Park Homestead in Essex, Ontario is a great stop for lovers of history and local food.The John R. Park Homestead was our second stop and a huge surprise for me. Pioneer homesteads and wine trips seemed like a weird fit, but after a few minutes chatting with curator Kris Ives, I was completely sucked into the experience. The Homestead itself is a fantastic way to step back into the past and truly immerse yourself in pioneer times and the staff and students in period costumes do much to make this as realistic an experience as possible. We enjoyed visiting the blacksmith shop and learning about the process of making authentic textiles with a student expertly working a loom, but it was the foodie experience that had me hooked. This is a locavore’s dream with a working orchard from which they make authentic pioneer-style cider and they recreate pioneer recipes from items grown on site. While walking through the extensive grounds Kris mentioned their pick and sniff tours, where school children learn about the many things grown on site and I thought that would be a brilliant tour for wine students wanting to better understand the aromas of so many of the scents that are found in our wines.

While we were sad to leave the homestead, we were excited to move on to winery stops at North 42 Degrees Winery and Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. North 42 Degrees is under construction right now, with their new tasting room and restaurant set to open in November 2016. I had the chance to taste through their wines and interview winemaker, Martin Gorski, so watch for a full report on North 42 Degrees and all our winery stops coming up soon. We did enjoy a visit to their Serenity Lavender store, though, where we picked up a gorgeous bar of lavender soap.

Serenity Lavender shop in Essex, Ontario has lovely lavender soap.At the gorgeous Sprucewood Shores property, I toured and tasted with co-owner Steve Mitchell and learned much about their planned expansion and got to taste their new apple wine (a surprising winner in the fruit wine category for me).

Blimey's British Store & Gift Shop in Harrow, Ontario.We ended an intensive day of exploration at the brand new Wolfhead Distillery, where the restaurant was absolutely slammed (pretty impressive for a 10-week old business on a Wednesday night), but they made room for us to enjoy a delicious dinner and tasting experience. We both very much enjoyed our entrees (I had the drunken shrimp and scallops and Shawn had the ahi tuna) and I loved the unique mojito they make with their grapefruit vodka. There’s nothing minty about it, but it’s a fun and refreshing cocktail for a hot night.

On day two, we headed out early to check out the shopping in Harrow, Ontario with a special stop at Blimey’s British Store & Gift Shop. The couple who own Blimey’s are just the loveliest people and they have created a space that embodies what they love about England and the surrounding areas. The shop features a wealth of British goods, as well as an extensive grocery section, but it also has French glassware, Scottish jewelry and lots of Irish touches too. Why? Because they liked the products. The shop is so genuine and full or truly lovely things, I couldn’t resist picking up a wooden duck with rubber boots from England and a box of delicious Irish tea. Shawn had fun picking out some fun things from the grocery section too and there were dozens more things we wished we could bring back with us. We will definitely make a special stop at Blimey’s when we’re next in the area and I have no doubt there will be lots of British and European items to tempt us. This really is a must-stop shop.

Sweet Retreat ice cream in Leamington, Ontario serves Kawartha Dairy ice cream.We headed to Viewpointe Estate Winery next and driving up to the winery I let out an audible gasp – it’s stunning. Right on the shores of Lake Erie, the winery comes into view as you turn into the driveway and with the sun shining on the water it was just breathtaking. The tour and tasting were fantastic (more to come soon) and lunch on the patio was just delicious. We were treated to a special show direct from Mother Nature when a storm came in across the water while we were eating. We stayed dry under the canopy and were able to watch the storm drench the area and then disappear just as quickly as it rolled in. A wonderful treat during lunch on a crazy hot day.

From there, we visited Oxley Estate Winery – another beautiful property with a warm and inviting restaurant. We had a wonderful chat with owner Ann Neydon Wilson under the pretty yellow canopy, which I’ll share in a future post.

The seating area at Sweet Retreat ice cream in Leamington, Ontario is so pretty!On a hot day, an ice cream break seemed in order, so we headed to Sweet Retreat in Leamington where I quickly fell in love with the gorgeous décor and Shawn was won over by the Kawartha Dairy ice cream they served (it really is the best). On top of the dollhouse-adorable indoor décor, Sweet Retreat has a fabulous backyard with a koi pond, Muskoka chairs and all sorts of nooks and crannies for little ones (or big kids to explore). A delicious and delightful stop.

We ended the day at our delightful bed and breakfast, The Iron Kettle (more on that soon too), and were thrilled with all that we were able to achieve in our two days of wine tourism in the Windsor/Essex area of Ontario’s Southwest.

As always, Shawn played designated driver – a must if you’re going to spend time tasting (and especially if you’re not spitting). Be sure to stay safe and keep this in mind when planning your wine trail adventure!

Have you been to the LENS region? What were your favourite stops?

*While our trip was complimentary, our opinions are (as always) our own.

 

 

 

Book Reviews

Champagne, Uncorked By Alan Tardi

August 15, 2016
Champagne Uncorked by Alan Tardi

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When I started taking wine classes, I was instantly enchanted with Champagne. The unique terroir, the traditions of the region, the exacting process of making the bubbles so perfectly, it all drew me in. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of trying several Champagnes, but never Krug, the subject of this book by wine and food writer Alan Tardi. After reading Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World’s Most Celebrated Drink, I feel like I need to rectify this very soon.

Champagne Uncorked by Alan TardiTardi immersed himself in the world of Krug over the course of a year – an entire vintage production cycle. Along with this hands-on experience of every aspect of producing Krug Champagne, he interspersed the history of this famous Champagne house. It’s a little like the recent documentary, A Year in Champagne, with a lot more history and a stronger sense of the personality of the author.

I felt throughout the book as though I’d like to have a glass of Champagne with Tardi one day. He doesn’t come off as stuffy and affected, but as genuinely passionate about his subject and not afraid to admit that, even after years of wine writing, he’s still a little unsure in some wine-related situations – like when he was suddenly asked to add his opinion during a rapid-fire tasting to help choose the blend. I’m sure I would have been immobilized in that moment (especially given my pokey nature as a taster) and it was comforting to know that Tardi was a bit thrown, though he recovers quickly.

I quite enjoyed this book, taking away a wealth of new knowledge about Champagne, the House of Krug and the changing world of Champagne production (in particular as ownership of many big houses shifts away from families to large corporations). I would highly recommended this one for wine-lovers and bubble obsessives alike. I liked it so much that I’ve already added Tardi’s other book, Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo, to my reading list.

Like wine books? Check out all my recent book reviews!

Have you read Champagne Uncorked? Do you plan to? Share your thoughts below or on social

*While I received a review copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

Wine Travel

7 Finger Lakes Wineries to Visit

August 2, 2016
The View from Standing Stone Vineyards in The Finger Lakes.

Last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference took place in the Finger Lakes, one of New York’s must stunning areas and a wine region well worth visiting. With summer and fall wine touring top of mind, I wanted to suggest a few Finger Lakes must-stops for wine lovers looking to explore the area. Technically, this is six wineries and a distillery, but that didn’t fit nicely into the title so I hope you’ll cut me some slack there–the distillery visit is definitely worth it.

Hermann J. Weimer Winery in The Finger Lakes makes incredible RieslingHermann J. Weimer Vineyards – This was on our must-visit list, as I had heard good things about the Riesling Weimer is best known for. The experience certainly didn’t disappoint. This is a lovely winery and, while not as show-stoppingly beautiful as some of the most exquisite properties, the wines will take your breath away. If you love Riesling, in particular German-inspired Riesling, this is the place for you. They make several different styles, from sweet to off-dry, to dry and they are very reminiscent of the Mosel, including the 2013 Reserve Dry, which reminded me of a Kabinet.

Standing Stone Winery – This property is absolutely stunning, with a gorgeous lake view. The winery itself is quite modest, the staff are friendly and the wines are good. We tried an absolutely lovely Reserve Saperavi, which comes from 20 year old vines that produce this lovely, big and rich wine with great balance. If you’re not familiar, Saperavi is reminiscent of Sangiovese. If the reserve is too rich for your blood, they also offer a non-reserve version that is not quite as lush and intense, but is quite good and very reflective of the style. Shawn and I brought home a bottle last year that we plan to open soon. We also enjoyed Standing Stone’s 2013 dry Riesling.

Wagner Winery and Brewery in The Finger LakesWagner Vineyards—Sitting on the patio enjoying lunch at Wagner’s Ginny Lee Café, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Finger Lakes. Looking out over the water, sipping a glass of Wagner’s lovely dry Riesling and enjoying a hearty and affordable lunch, you can see why this is a popular stop with both locals and tourists.

A cocktail from Damiani Vineyards and Finger Lakes DistillingFinger Lakes Distilling—While we both love good wine, Shawn and I are always interested in checking out local distillers. Finger Lakes Distilling makes a range of vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon on site, as well as brandy and liqueurs. The staff were great here, though it can get very busy on the weekends and over the summer. You can taste through several of the products they make on-site and the prices are fair for craft products. We had the opportunity to try several of their spirits as cocktails during the Wine Bloggers Conference and were quite impressed.

Damiani Wine Cellars – We had dinner at Damiani as part of the conference (it was catered, as the winery does not have a restaurant on-site) and it was a beautiful venue to watch the sun set over Seneca Lake. Damiani is right next to Finger Lakes Distilling, so there’s no reason not to pop over to taste their terroir-driven wines and check out the view after picking up some whiskey.

Fox Run Vineyards in The Finger LakesFox Run Vineyards—Fox Run Vineyards has a lovely café and cheese bar on-site, as well as a wealth of wines to taste through. The winery staff are knowledgeable and happy to run you through their wines, though be warned that this is a busy spot, especially on weekends and during tourist season, so plan accordingly if you want a laidback tasting experience. Their patio is a nice option and Shawn and I enjoyed a salad while sitting out and enjoying a lake view (a theme of this trip).

Anthony Road Wine Company's award-winning red wineAnthony Road Wine Company—The last stop we made on our way home, Anthony Road Wine Company impressed us with their gorgeous views, beautiful property and impressive wines. Even though we were nearing exhaustion at this point in our trip, a walk through the grounds and a few minutes on their patio had us feeling so exhilarated to be in The Finger Lakes and enjoying such a vibrant and beautiful wine region. We can’t wait to go back.

There are many other wineries to visit in this region, making The Finger Lakes a great option to visit again and again over the years.

Spirits and Cocktails

Fun Summer Sipping Suggestions

July 13, 2016
Social Lite sugar-free vodka coolers

It’s hot in the city these days, so Shawn and I have been experimenting with some alternative options for patio and cottage sipping. We have to balance a lot of things—he prefers beer, I don’t like to drink anything super sugary and neither of us has the time to make anything super complicated.

This year, we’ve had the opportunity to sample a few options that we wanted to share with you for days when wine may not be at the top of your wishlist (I rarely have those days).

Ernest Cider from OntarioErnest Cider – I like to have the occasional cider as an alternative to beer or wine. It’s a great option at pubs or restaurants where the house wine sounds dodgy, and with so many great Ontario craft options, I usually have some interesting selections to choose from. Ernest Cider impressed me with its adorable packaging, but I was much more interested in what was in the can and that was quite good too. A little sweeter than the bone dry cider I usually prefer, this had a more natural sweetness from the addition of local honey and some cane sugar so it wasn’t a sugar bomb. Shawn and I both enjoyed this one, as the apple really comes through and the carbonation is nice and crisp. We’d both have this again on a patio.

Giffard 1885 Creme de Violette gin gimletSocial Lite Vodka Cocktails – I like a cocktail once in awhile too, but I don’t like having sugar-sweetened drinks if I can avoid them. Social Lite understands that not everyone wants something sweet, so this Toronto-based company developed their line of sugar-free cocktails to appeal to health-conscious sippers like Shawn and I, who want a convenient cooler without all the sugar. First things first, these are not sweet, so if you’re hoping to replace a sugary cooler, this will throw you off. For us, it took a minute to adjust to the flavour, as both the lime and ginger and the lemon cucumber mint flavours seemed a bit bitter on first sip. But once your palate adjusts, they are a really nice sipper. We both preferred the lime and ginger (I’m not a cucumber fan at all, so this is more about my preferences than the quality of the drink) and are thinking these will be our cottage coolers of choice moving forward.

Giffard Lichi-Li Martini is a fun pink sipperGiffard Liquers Crème de Violette and Lichi Li– So first I tell you I avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and then I suggest syrups? Yep. Because with a liqueur you can get a pop of flavour without a huge amount of sugar and I like the ability to play around to make a slightly-sweet drink that will be fun and summer-ready. Shawn can’t handle lychee scent or flavour at all (he asks me to keep my lychee martinis on the other side of the table at restaurants), so I was on my own to try this one. And I liked it. I made a Lichi Martini with 1.5 oz vodka, ½ oz of Giffard Lichi-li and some fresh lime juice to taste. I found it a little strong, so I cut it with a bit of diet ginger ale. The drink was pink and fun, but not too sweet..

With the Crème do Violette, I made a Violet Gimlet with 2oz of dry gin, ½ oz of Giffard Crème de Violette and 1 oz of fresh lime juice (they suggest lime cordial, but I wanted something with less sugar). It was pretty good, but a bit strong, so we again cut this with a bit of diet ginger ale to taste. Shawn and I had fun making these easy-breezy cocktails and I look forward to playing around with these syrups even more over the summer!

Chateau des Charmes Cuvée d'Andrée 2014 RoséChateau des Charmes – 2014 Rosé Cuvée D’Andrée – I couldn’t resist adding in a wine to this list because my honest-to-goodness go-to summer sipper is usually rosé and this is a really good one. With strawberry, lemonade and oranges on the nose and lots of ripe fruit on the palate, this Pinot Noir rosé is bright pink and bursting with flavour. We have already gone through two bottles and the summer is only just starting. It’s perfect for a night out on our patio, pairs well with just about everything and is a fun option to bring to a barbecue—especially at a $16 price-point.

So what are you sipping this summer? Do you have a go-to cocktail without all the sugar? Share your suggestions in the comments or on social!

*We received these products as samples, but our opinions are all our own.