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Restaurant Reviews

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.

Food & Wine

Vineland Estates

October 10, 2012

Grapes at Vineland Estates in Niagara, ONIt’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Vineland Estates – Winemaker Brian Schmidt has been a great help in my growing wine education and Vineland’s wines have quickly become some of my favourites. When we had the chance to finally visit the winery in September it was well worth the wait.

I had arranged a tour in advance and our guide, Stephanie, was a fantastic host. She started off by taking us out to see the grapes, which were so lush on the vines at that point. She also filled us in on a little of Vineland’s history and told us about all of the interesting buildings on the property. I hadn’t realized that there was a B&B on-site, though I definitely made a mental note about that for future stays in the area.

Vineland Estates in Niagara, Ontario

The Carriage House is an absolutely charming little building that sits in between the restaurant and the winery and we were able to peek our heads in as they were setting up for a wedding. What a lovely place for a reception or family gathering. It’s cozy and intimate – a great option for a smaller event.

From there, we headed back to the crush pad. I’ve been following Brian Schmidt’s Twitter feed for ages, so I felt like I was very familiar with this area of the winery already – Brian is always posting photos of the action, as he and his team work to create some of the area’s best wines. I highly recommend following him on Twitter, as his photos really bring to life the process. And, well, he’s a much better photographer than I am!

We moved back inside to take a look at the tanks and bottling area. I loved that Vineland has a bottling operation, as I hadn’t yet seen one on our tours. Many of the wineries in Niagara and Prince Edward County have their wines bottled by trucks – mobile bottling operations that travel from winery to winery. This makes great economic sense in many cases, but I still think it’s interesting to see a winery that is able to bottle its own product too. I just wish we could have seen it in action. Yes, I am kind of a nerd about these things, but after having seen the bottling operation at the Bushmills’ Distillery in Ireland, I’d be interested in seeing it happen in a smaller setting.

At this point in the tour, Brian was able to take some time out from his crazy harvest schedule to visit with us. It was so nice to finally meet him! And especially nice when he suggested we skip straight to the tasting portion of the tour, so he could walk us through some of the wines himself. Brian is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic people you will meet in the Ontario wine industry and it’s impossible not to get excited about VQA when you spend time talking to him. He really is an amazing ambassador for this wine region.

First up was the 2011 Elevation St. Urban Riesling – this was the one that my friends in wine had been buzzing about on Twitter. Paul Dearborn (@whitbywino) had likened this wine to “sour grape freezies,” which naturally intrigued me. And, what can I say? This wine had me at hello. The minute it hit my tongue, the pop of flavour filled my mouth and I was in love. I didn’t get sour grape freezies right then, but I’d say I get it now. It’s that mix of acid and sweetness that just brings to mind sweet and sour summer treats. It’s definitely a wine I wasn’t willing to leave without.

Next, we tried the 2011 O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay. Being that Vineland’s 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay is my go-to wine these days, I expected to fall just as hard for this version. It has a great nose – I love any wine that has an apple undertone – and I really liked the mouth-feel, but I wasn’t sure about this one on first sip. I think it’s because it seemed a bit heavier than the Vineland 2010. This was a great lesson for me, as it showed just how versatile two wines (both unoaked, both by the same winemaker) could really be. I liked this wine, especially after a few more sips, but it felt like a richer, more luxurious style chard – pretty perfect for Kevin O’Leary, don’t you think? I’d try this one with dinner – I think it would be a great pairing wine – and I’d like to spend a bit more time getting to know it.

Brian had to get back to his duties after this tasting break, but I really appreciated him taking the time to meet with us and to showcase two of his newest wines for us.

Stephanie got us back onto our tour route and took us down to see the cellars. It’s pretty amazing to see all those barrels lined up and she was great about answering all my newbie questions about them.

It was also very impressive to see the Vineland wine collection – where all of the winery’s vintages are stored in a lovely wine library. Pretty stunning – and there’s so much history here. Stephanie showed us a bottle from the winery’s first vintage in 1983. I’m not sure if it would be drinkable at this point, but I think it’s fantastic that they have these wines to showcase their history.

Next, we headed back upstairs to finish off our tasting, with Stephanie suggesting the 2009 Chardonnay Reserve to start. I loved the apples and honey on the nose of this wine and it struck me as very drinkable and refreshing. Crisp with a nice kick of acidity, this one is definitely worth it’s slightly higher price tag. Delicious.

I had been very interested to try the 2010 ‘Oh Really’ Rosé, which is a very dry wine. Made from Gamay, this is definitely a very different rosé, but I liked it – a great pairing option. The web description says that it’s a rosé that red wine drinkers will enjoy and I think that would be very true. For me, a confirmed white wine drinker, it was an interesting selection – not sweet at all, but very refreshing.

We finished up our tasting (which, as you can probably tell, was not flights but simply the wines we wanted to try) with the 2010 Cabernet Franc. I have been a fan of #CabFrancTuesdays on Twitter for months and have enjoyed the photos that Brian and Tinhorn Creek winemaker Sandra Oldfield post every week. I’m not much of a red drinker (headaches), but I love the way this Cab Franc tastes – it’s such a great, complex red. I’d definitely recommend this to my red wine drinking friends.

After our tour and tasting I hit the winery for the shopping portion of
the evening. That part was super fun, though Shawn rolled his eyes a bit
when he saw my haul. If we weren’t only three wineries into our tour at that point I suspect it would have been much larger.

Wines from Vineland Estates in Niagara, Ontario

And then it was time for dinner! We opted not to do the chef’s tasting menu, since I have some food restrictions, and ordered from the regular menu. I started with a glass of the Elevation St. Urban Riesling (of course I did) and Shawn had a beer (of course he did).

For our first course, we shared the Estate Smoked Salmon. This is fantastic – the flavours are so fresh and light. We would definitely opt to order two of these next time, as it’s far too delicious to try and split. Luckily, my husband is a gentleman and I got to enjoy the last bite. Delicious.

For the second course, I chose the Upper Canada Ricotta Gnocci, with smoked chicken. This was the dish I was most excited about, but I actually found it a little bit heavy. Not that I didn’t enjoy it (I ate every bite), but it was just a very stark contrast to the smoked salmon.

Shawn had the Roasted Pork Belly for his second course and quite enjoyed it. I don’t eat pork, so I couldn’t try it, but it seemed a bit of a lighter option than the gnocci.


Course number three was West Coast Halibut for me. I loved the ‘crackling crust’ on this fish – it was such a nice, light breading. It worked perfectly for this fish and wasn’t at all overpowering. I’m a bit hit and miss when it comes to eating fish, but this was done just to my taste – light, melt-in-your mouth pieces and no overwhelming fishy flavour. Plus, the sauce and vegetables were a perfect compliment.

Shawn had the Citrus Cured Trout, which he liked very much. I tried a bite, but since I’m not a fan of trout I will stick to his review – he thought it was excellent.

Chef Justin Downes came out to meet us after our main courses and that was a nice treat. I think our enjoyment of his meal was voiced quite well by the fact that we finished every bite.

Vineland’s restaurant is definitely a place for a special occasion meal (it’s on the pricey side), but we felt it was well worth the splurge. While I wish they had a vegetarian option (I would guess they could make that by request), I was otherwise very pleased with everything. Plus, the woman who waited on us was just lovely – great staff always make a huge difference.

Assorted photos from our Vineland trip:

* The fine print. We received a complimentary tour and tasting from Vineland Estates.