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wine travel

Upkeep Updates

Upkeep Updates – Birthdays, Niagara Wine Adventures and More

May 10, 2017
The Reserve 2013 Shiraz Cabernet from Inniskillin

Life has been busy around here! Shawn and I spent a fantastic week in Quebec City and Montreal at the end of April celebrating my birthday, and I’ve been spending lots of time writing, running and practicing yoga. I’ve also joined a book club and have been enjoying my self-imposed wine book hiatus. While I have absolutely loved all the wine-related books I’ve read over the last three years, every part of my brain was ready for a break. My book club just read the excellent American Housewife by Helen Ellis and it was a fabulous opportunity to kick back with a complex, deeply layered and still gloriously funny book and then talk it through with friends over copious snacks and big cups of tea.

I’ve also had plenty of wine adventures that I’m happy to share below in my latest round-up.

Veuve ClicquotBirthday Bonanza

I love to travel and Quebec City and Montreal have the added bonus of feeling like a slice of Europe just a very short flight away. Shawn and I enjoyed some fabulous food in both cities, before indulging in an incredible birthday meal at Garde Manger in Montreal. It’s a bit of a splurge, but I highly recommend this Chuck Hughes-owned restaurant. And what did we drink to celebrate my latest trip around the sun? Veuve Clicquot, of course. Which reminds me that I really want to read the biography of Madam Clicquot currently sitting on my shelf one of these days (see, I can’t completely shake my wine reading ways).

Sip & Sizzle pairing of Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc and a cod fritter.

Sip & Sizzle pairing of Two Sisters Sauvignon Blanc and a cod fritter.

Sip & Sizzle in Niagara

The lovely Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake invited Shawn and I out to enjoy their latest festival – Sip & Sizzle – which is running on weekends throughout the month of May. I like these fests, as they give you the opportunity to try a new and unique wine and food pairing at all of the participating wineries. Shawn and I went to Days of Wine and Chocolate in February (fun, but a tad too sweet on sweet for someone who doesn’t eat a lot of chocolate) and were excited to try the more savoury pairings on this tour. Our favourites were the very flavourful chicken taco paired with the Reserve 2013 Shiraz Cabernet at Inniskillin and the cod fritter paired with Sauvignon Blanc at Two Sisters, but the prawn and Sauvignon Blanc pairing at Chateau des Charmes was also excellent. Ravine Vineyard’s chicken wing with Moroccan rice and their dry Rosé was another fabulous option. You can check out the full listing of pairings and purchase a pass for the event at the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake site and we have photos of all our wine and food pairings on Twitter and Instagram. As always, they have a less expensive version of the pass for designated drivers, which is important and awesome.

Te Awa Left Field 2016 Sauvignon BlancThis and That

There have been a few interesting bottles that crossed my path recently!

Te Awa Left Field 2016 Sauvignon Blanc – Shawn and I kicked back with Dateline and this Sauv Blanc sample over the weekend and we both enjoyed it. It was a good pairing for a lightly dressed chicken salad and it’s a very nice value New Zealand wine at $18.95 (LCBO).

The Negroni at Big in Japan in Montreal – We had a bit of an adventure finding this hidden gem, but Montreal’s Big in Japan bar lived up to the hype. Modeled after a Japanese speakeasy, this bar has no end of ambiance, elegant staff and they make a fabulous Negroni (and, yes, I judge a place on how they make one of my favourite cocktails). Worth checking out if you’re in the city.

Chateau Croix Du Rival 2010 Grand Vin Du BordeauxChateau Croix Du Rival 2010 Grand Vin Du Bordeaux – What do you do when it’s pouring rain in Quebec City and you just can’t stand a minute more of walking around in the downpour? If you’re Shawn and I, you buy a value bottle of Bordeaux ($25.30 at the SAQ) and camp out in your fabulous hotel room at the Hotel du Vieux-Quebec. Maybe it was the seemingly unending rain, the cozy hotel, or just being on vacation, but we both loved this big, bold red (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet and a dash of Cabernet Franc). I wish this rainy day hug of a wine was available at the LCBO because I’d definitely like to have this one again.

And that’s just a few of our recent adventures! What have you been sipping? Share your thoughts below or on social.

* Shawn and I were guests at the Sip & Sizzle event and the Te Awa was a sample. All the others were purchases we made. Opinions are, as always, our own.

Wine Travel

Viewpointe Estate Winery

March 6, 2017
Viewpointe's award-winning wines

It’s hard to describe the beauty of Viewpointe Estate Winery. As you round the corner and drive up to this estate and see it juxtaposed against Lake Erie, you can’t help but be a bit in awe. It’s just a stunning property – especially on a day as beautiful as the one when Shawn and I visited last year.

Viewpointe12Viewpointe is both a winery and a restaurant, although it’s unique in that the restaurant is all outdoors. This was particularly impressive for us since our visit coincided with an absolutely brilliant thunderstorm that blew up off the lake as we waited for our lunch to arrive – we entertained ourselves while we waited by taking photos of Shawn with enormous storm clouds behind him.

Viewpointe Estate WineryThe covered section of the patio offered ample cover when the storm finally hit and it was absolutely amazing to watch it move across the water as we ate our local perch (delicious) and enormous salad (so very good) and I enjoyed a glass of their very good local Riesling (dry, but fruity – nice acidity, green apple and pear on the palate). Mother Nature might not always provide such striking entertainment, but the patio is a must-do if you’re visiting in summer. Right on the lake, the views can’t be beat and the food here is very good.

Viewpointe Estate WineryWe toured the entire property while we were there and got to see their busy tasting room and ample space for corporate events and weddings (both inside or out). It’s a big estate with lots of options. They opened in 2006 and celebrated 10 years this past November. They are focused on local as much as possible in both the wines and their restaurants, including the weddings and events they cater. All wines are made from grapes grown on site and they are very proud of keeping things regional.

With three separate vineyards, all with different terroir, Viewpointe offers a range of wines, from their easy-drinking Big Bluff red blend (11 months on French oak, big, fruity and Merlot-dominant), to their rich and spicy Cabernet Franc, which has lots of deep red fruit and hints of black pepper. They have a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that is big and oaky with lots of butter, lemon and vanilla on the nose and a nice richness on the palate. This one screams out for big, creamy foods.

After a tour and tasting and our delicious meal, Shawn and I made sure to pick up a bottle of the Cabernet Franc, which we look forward to enjoying one evening soon. I’m hoping Mother Nature might gift us with a storm that night – it won’t be half as spectacular from our balcony in the city, but it would be a wonderful reminder of our visit to this lovely estate.

We visited Lake Erie North Shore as guests of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my tasting and lunch were complimentary. My opinion, including that you should totally buy the Cabernet Franc and order the perch when you visit, are my own. Seriously, the perch is incredible.

Spirits and Cocktails

Wolfhead Distillery – A New Addition to the Windsor Spirits Scene

November 7, 2016
Wolfhead Distillery Coffee whisky is made with real cold brew espresso.

Driving into the parking lot of Wolfhead Distillery on our recent visit to Lake Erie North Shore, Shawn and I were surprised that it was attached to a lumber yard – not your traditional setting for a distillery. But as soon as we walked into this new building, all thoughts of lumber were quickly forgotten – the place was hopping. Only ten weeks after its opening and on a Wednesday night to boot, Wolfhead was packed with a dinnertime rush that was pretty darn impressive.

Wolfhead Distillery in Windsor/Essex, Ontario is one of the region's newest distilleries.And the excitement over this new business is not misplaced. They seated us at the bar for a tasting of their spirits – three whisky and three vodka – and was hard not to be impressed. The vodka is wheat-based and seven times distilled with limestone filtration to remove impurities and impart a bit of minerality and salt.

The plain vodka is very good and would make for an excellent martini, but it’s the grapefruit vodka that impresses me most and I’m not surprised to learn it’s a best-seller. The flavours on this one really pop and there’s not that confected sweetness some flavoured spirits have. It tastes a little bit like good quality ginger ale and would make an excellent cocktail or be fine to drink on its own. Wolfhead believes in using natural ingredients in their spirits and that shows through in the quality. The third vodka, the banana caramel, is more like a liqueur and a bit too sweet for my tastes, but I’m also not a big fan of banana flavours in general.

The whisky, which they had to purchase and then blend since their own will not be ready for several more years, is all Canadian and had more corn, making it closer to a bourbon. Surprisingly, the coffee whisky is a clear winner here. Made with cold brew espresso grounds it is not too sweet and has a nice bitterness from the use of real coffee. The apple caramel whisky is very approachable and would make a nice option for someone who wanted an alternative to American Honey.

A grapefruit vodka mojito at Wolfhead Distillery is a fun option at dinner.The Wolfhead team has invested a lot in their business, we take a tour of the distilling area and the equipment, imported from Italy, is high-quality and speaks to their seriousness. They are also very passionate about the water they use in their distilling process and there’s no expense spared in that part of the process. Right now the focus is on small blends and they are all hand-bottled and labeled. This is a craft operation, with a focus on making high-quality spirits that can be sipped alone or in a cocktail.

At the end of the tasting and tour, my favourites are the premium whisky (the plain) and the coffee whisky, as well as the grapefruit vodka and I purchase both flavoured spirits to experiment more with them at home.

Ahi tuna at Wolfhead Distillery's restuaraunt is a great dinner option.We’re seated for dinner shortly after the tasting and I order the drunken shrimp and scallops (made with Wolfhead vodka, of course) and Shawn has the ahi tuna. I also order one of the mojitos, made with Wolfhead’s grapefruit vodka. It’s a great cocktail and a lot of fun, but with no mint or rum, it’s not really a mojito – with that caveat, I highly recommend trying it.

The food is very good and the quality high, the flavours pop and each dish is vibrant and delicious. You can see why the restaurant is packed on a Wednesday night after only being open such a short time. And many patrons are moving from the dining room to the adjacent store after their meals, which is another good sign – sales of the spirits are brisk. This is a fun and friendly place for a meal or tasting.

Since our visit in August, Shawn is almost out of coffee whisky and I think we’re both hoping to see it appear on LCBO shelves soon for easier access.

*I was a guest of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my meal was complimentary, but my opinions are my own. And I bought two bottles of Wolfhead spirits, so I definitely really, really liked them.

Wine Travel

Oxley Estate Winery

October 10, 2016
The grounds at Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North Shore.

I was speaking with someone on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) about how much I had enjoyed interviewing Oxley Estate Winery’s owner Ann Neydon Wilson and they said, “Don’t you just wish you were related to her?” And it was so true. From the moment she greeted us at the winery and ushered us out to the gorgeous patio at Oxley’s restaurant, you felt like she would be the most fabulous aunt ever. She tried to coax Shawn into trying dessert more than once, told us all about their lovely neighbours, had us laughing about her experiences booking hip, young bands for their events and just made us feel like old friends and not tired bloggers from Toronto on an epic LENS adventure who she’d literally just met.

Oxley Estate Winery in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region.If you visit Oxley and meet Ann, you will probably want to hug her when you leave – even if you just met her – and that’s sort of how I felt about Oxley overall. It just feels comfortable. The patio is so pretty and the tasting room is modern and fresh, but it’s the kind of place where they sell $5 jars of relish and the staff seem genuinely happy you’re there.

We didn’t have a meal here, as we were completely booked for meals on our whirlwind tour and I’d just tasted through the Oxley portfolio with Ann’s husband Murray at a recent Toronto event (you can read about that here), so this was really just a chance to see the space and have a fabulous chat with Ann. It was awesome.

Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann – one that they gave up corporate careers to pursue, but things seem to be coming together nicely. While they’ve struggled a bit with their vines through some rough winters, they’re starting to see the grapes develop and the wines are proving popular.

Ripper Red wine from Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North ShoreThe restaurant, which wasn’t even in the original plan, is a big success. They had planned to just be a country winery and Ann thought she’d add on a small kitchen so they could do some catering. In talking with others in the industry, though, she was persuaded to put in a larger kitchen – just in case. When they opened the winery, just in time for that year’s “Explore the Shore” event, they weren’t really ready, but they had hired a chef to make some food and the compliments on those offerings were so prolific that they decided to consider a restaurant. It was a good idea – even on the blisteringly hot Thursday afternoon when we visit, the patio and indoor seating are quite full, and if you’d like dinner it’s best to book ahead.

It’s been a few years since that frantic opening – when 3000 people stopped by on the first weekend, far more than the fledgling winery had expected – but enough time for them to realize they could have a successful business on their hands. That said, they’re still not at a place where they’re resting on their laurels. Wine is a tough business and while the restaurant helps, they are also growing root stock to sell to Niagara and for export as a secondary income stream. Like North 42 Degree’s lavender farm, the root stock provides a back-up revenue stream that is a wise idea in the fickle business of wine.

And continued growth for Oxley is on the horizon. Since they bought the original property, they’ve gone on to buy the neighbouring farm and are hard at work creating a space that draws from their own wine tasting experience. They wanted to develop a fun community, with a great spirit and make Oxley the type of space they liked to visit when they were touring. On this warm summer day, under a bright yellow awning, chatting with a lovely woman who we kind of wish we were related to, it’s hard not to think they’ve succeeded at that.