An Inniskillin Initiation

First things first: happy Canada Day!

On a recent jaunt to visit our neighbors to the north, I was fortunate enough to visit Niagara on the Lake. While I wasn’t there long, I am completely smitten. Niagara on the Lake offers a special charm all its own; a unique blend of New England-esque appeal and a burgeoning wine industry. Think Nantucket-meets-Napa, all wrapped up with the quintessential Canadian congeniality.

Located just below the Niagara Escarpment, the region is often pigeonholed as producing cloyingly sweet, flabby ice wines; an unfair assessment given the full breadth of excellent wines, and the veteran winemakers who call Niagara home. One of the founding wineries in the area, and perhaps most well-known, is Inniskillin, which planted roots in the region (literally) in 1974 and had their first harvest in 1977. Since then, the winery has grown substantially, opening a second location in Okanagan, British Columbia and winning countless awards over the years for table wines and ice wines alike.

Inniskillin outside

Inniskillin welcomes visitors to their flagship Niagara Estate Winery by rolling out the green carpet of rolling vineyards, a revolving menu of gourmet lunch options, and a bevy of table and ice wine tasting options. Never one to be overwhelmed by options, I bellied up to the table wine tasting bar to begin my Inniskillin Initiation.

Starting with the table wines, I tried three white wines, a rose, and two red wines. The star of the show was the 2011 Reserve Series Three Vineyards Chardonnay which immediately transported me to Napa Valley. A lovely, full-bodied wine that showcases beautifully balanced oak nuances, notes of vanilla, and slight pear on the palate. I would absolutely recommend this wine to all my chardonnay fans that like a little oak and a lot of body in their glass.

Because ice wine is serious business in this neck of the woods, Inniskillin has an entirely separate bar in the tasting room to showcase these sweet, aromatic wines. To start the program, our veteran tasting room server poured the 2011 Sparkling Vidal Ice Wine. While sweet, this wine packs a wealth of flavor and acid to structure the wine on the palate. Clean stone fruit flavors predominate, with notes of spice developing later. The effervescence is refreshing and lends this wine a special character, making this a perfect wine to celebrate a romantic occasion, or big news!

Inniskillin

From there, our adventure consisted of a series of still ice wines, made from Vidal, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc grape varieties. Our tasting consultant (Donald – highly recommend him!) demonstrated an illustrative party trick, in which the same wine is poured into two glasses – the Riedel ice wine glass, and a simple non-tapered white wine glass. Full disclosure: I did not need to be sold on the idea that glassware can significantly alter the aroma and flavor profile of a wine (by changing the way the vapors are directed and the liquid rolls over your tongue). But the differences between the two glasses were astounding. Definitely an experiment to try at home, or at your next tasting party!

Perhaps the most unique and expressive wine of the entire tasting was the 2011 Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine. I found the winemaker’s notes to be spot-on with this wine: “peaches and apricot aromas and flavors develop into complexities of marmalade […] ample natural acidity is softened by the oak aging adding a creamy vanilla flavor.” This wine showcases all the fruit a Vidal should, while introducing delicate flavors of vanilla, imbued with a delightful creaminess.  Definitely my favorite wine of the entire tasting.

Overall, the experience was awesome. A visit to Inniskillin certainly demonstrates why the winery has been so successful, and the incredible depth of their offerings as one of the founding wineries in the area. If you find yourself crossing the border, definitely make time for your very own Inniskillin initiation.

Foodie Friday: Spicy Melon Salad

In celebration of summer’s belated arrival, this Foodie Friday post is devoted to a refreshingly simple, yet flavor-packed, appetizer salad. A seemingly odd set of ingredients, this salad never fails to please at summer event,s and full credit for this incredible creation goes to Fusions Cuisine of Northern Virginia. The sweet, juicy melon provides a refreshing, cool background for the interplay of spices between the sambal and onion. The cilantro and mint then follow through to balance the heat on the finish.

My palate doesn’t always jump at the chance to mix savory and sweet in the same dish, but this salad is theater for your tongue. Try it. Trust me.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 1 Honeydew melon
  • 1 Red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Sambal (a chili-garlic paste; find it in your grocery store’s international aisle)
  • ¼ cup Sugar
  • ¼ cup Red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped Fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped Cilantro

Directions:

  • Peel and seed the honeydew, then cut the melon into one inch cubes
  • Add the other ingredients and toss to coat
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper

Suggested Pairing:

This salad has a ton of flavor, so you need a wine that will stand up to it. At the same time, the refreshing nature of the salad deserves an equally refreshing wine. Go with a Moscato d’Asti – it will stand up to the spice without competing with the dish. Try Cardinale Lanata Moscato d’Asti with a bright floral nose, and plenty of white peach on the palate.

 

Cardinale Lanata

Cardinale Lanata

Foodie Friday: The Magic of Meritage

Happy Friday! Today’s Foodie Friday post focuses on the true magic that can take shape when powerhouse varietals are blended together in order to highlight the best characteristics of each one. Bordeaux is perhaps the classic example of how grape varietals can be used to bring out the best in each other; combined in a way that contributes the best characteristics of each grape in order to elevate the final wine’s entire profile. At least, that’s the goal.

In 1988, a collective of American winemakers formed the Meritage Association (which is now the Meritage Alliance), taking their name from the amalgamation of the words “merit” and “heritage” (which, by the way, is how Meritage is pronounced – it rhymes with heritage).  Believing that blending grape varieties to make a better, more expressive wine is one of the highest arts in winemaking, the Alliance was formed to identify high quality wines that cannot be varietally labeled because they do not consist of at least 75% of a single grape variety. The initial mission of the Alliance was to standardize and increase visibility for the American version of these Bordeaux blends.

Meritage

The Meritage Alliance Website

Today, Meritage is still made using the “noble” grape varieties. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc for red blends, and Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle du Bordelais for white wines.

Like Bordeaux blends, Meritage can fetch impressive prices, but that doesn’t mean that high quality versions aren’t available at a more palatable price point. Case and point: Genesis Meritage by Hogue Cellars. This wine from Columbia Valley, Washington is available at $12 a bottle, and packs a beautiful nose of blackberry and fig, with more dark fruit, delicious vanilla, and warm spice coming through on the palate. With its soft tannins and full body, this wine makes the perfect dessert pairing.

Hogue Cellars Genesis Meritage

Hogue Cellars Genesis Meritage

For this Foodie Friday pairing, I’m keeping it super simple (it being the Friday before a holiday weekend – I know you have BBQs and celebrations to plan): pair this wine with Ghirardelli assorted dark chocolate squares. Since these are bite size and come in a great variety, this pairing really lends itself to a backyard party (and won’t overwhelm those who may have already, ahem, overeaten).

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and please don’t forget to take a moment and raise a glass to all our Servicemen and Women who make incredible sacrifices for all of us! Cheers!

Foodie Friday: On a Mission for Morels

This blog is about wine. Devoted to adventures in oenophilia and all great things grape. But every so often, a stunning ingredient steals the show; one that truly makes a meal exquisite. Such is the case today with the magnificent morel mushroom.

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This funny-looking fungus is highly sought after this time of year. Imparting an extremely decadent yet delicate flavor, they are often the centerpiece of springtime culinary creations. Morels appear once a year, magically conjured by some complex formula of ground temperature, precipitation and earthen magic. On a recent hike, we were lucky enough to discover these little beauties just waiting to be plucked for a dish that would make them sing.

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These savory specimens would become the inspiration for what some might call a death-row meal: sautéed asparagus, truffled fresh fettuccini, and filet with a morel mushroom cream sauce. A delightful palette of earthy, uninhibited flavors intermingling to provide what can only be described as a foodgasm.

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Since morels are an ingredient to be celebrated, we thought we’d through off the reins and break the “rules” with the wine pairing. While most red meat recipes call for a structured, tannic red wine, we paired this spectacular meal with a dry Virginia Viognier. The nuanced flavors in the wine complimented the interplay of food flavors beautifully. Neither outshone or overpowered the other, leading to a gastronomically perfect meal. For this edition of Foodie Friday, I give you this morel mushroom cream sauce recipe (paired here with filet) and invite you to use it with, well, anything. Enjoy!

Your Margarita Madness Alternative

They don’t call it “ToKillYa” for nothing.

You remember college, right? When Cinco de Mayo was an excuse to drink margaritas until, well, you couldn’t anymore? But you’re not in college anymore, and much like the rhythm, Tequila is going to get you. So here’s your Cinco de Mayo alternative to the margarita madness. We’ll call it the Saucy Sangria.

Here’s what you’ll need (to make 1 pitcher):

  • 2 shots Elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
  • 1 bottle dry white wine (I like dry Viogniers for this recipe)
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 ripe peaches, cut into chunks
  • 3 ripe green apples, cut into chunks
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • Sparkling water or Prosecco, for topping off glasses of sangria at table

Combine elderflower liqueur, lime, lemon, peaches and apples in a large pitcher. Cover with 1 bottle of dry white wine and chill sangria several hours (make the night before if you’re starting festivities with brunch). To serve, spoon fruits into glasses or goblets, adding a few fresh raspberries in each glass, pour wine over top of the fruit. Top glasses of sangria off with a splash of sparkling water or Prosecco and enjoy!

Bonus: if you’re worried about your Saucy Sangria warming up on your slower sippers, throw some green grapes into the freezer when making the Sangria, and add them in along with the raspberries just before serving!

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

sangria

 

 

Foodie Friday: Cucumber Roll-ups!

Happy Friday, and welcome to a new series here on Cuvee: Foodie Fridays! Each week, I’ll post a delectable dish along with a wine pairing to share with your guests or with your special someone. Starting off easy with an awesome appetizer that is perfect for spring/summer meals: chorizo-goat cheese stuffed cucumber roll-ups.

Just a few ingredients will earn you rave reviews!

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 English Cucumber (the longer kind, usually plastic wrapped in the grocery store)
  • .5 lb Chorizo
  • 1 4-ounce log of goat cheese
  • Toothpicks for serving

Directions for Deliciousness:

  • Cook the chorizo in a skillet (if using chorizo sausage, remove from casing before cooking)
  • Allow chorizo to cool slightly. While still warm, mix goat cheese in with chorizo
  • Put mixture into a bowl and chill in refrigerator (at least one hour, but can be made ahead and chilled overnight)
  • Peel cucumber, and cut it in half
  • Now slice thin pieces of cucumber lengthwise (the easiest way to do this is using a mandolin, but a knife will work with steady hands)
  • Once chilled, spoon a tablespoon of chorizo-goat cheese mixture onto one end of each cucumber slice.
  • Roll the cucumber up around the mixture and secure with a toothpick.

Suggested pairing:

2011 Shenandoah Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier – This wine really does showcase the best of both Chenin Blanc and Viognier worlds. Predominantly Chenin Blanc, this blend has the body and creaminess to stand up to the goat cheese in this appetizer, but is light enough not to overpower the cool crispness of the cucumber. The Viognier adds just a hint white peach. Enjoy!

VA: Viognier Aptitude?

Is Virginia for Viognier lovers?

With 82 of Virginia’s 228 wineries producing Viognier, this vivacious varietal is set to make a name for itself in the state for lovers. In 2011, the Virginia Wine Board decided to designate Viognier as the state’s signature grape, hoping to brand it as a Virginia specialty, much the same way that Cabernet Sauvignon can be associated with Napa or Pinot Noir with Oregon. With such an astounding array of styles and character, Viognier certainly isn’t a bad grape to hitch your proverbial wagon to. Generally, wines from this varietal fall into two main styles: bright, lively and slightly sweet with plenty of stone fruit, apricot and honey, or a full-bodied, drier version that exchanges some of its fruit forwardness for oak and vanilla nuances.  Virginia does them both, and does them both well.

Noticeably absent from the 2013 Governor’s Cup Case, one might wonder if Virginia Viognier is really the standout that the state was hoping for (though just one wine in the Governor’s Case is a non-red, and that was the 2008 Trump Winery Sparkling Rose). Still, here are three outstanding wines that make perfect partners for seasonal spring and summer dishes:

Whether Virginia will achieve global acclaim for its Viognier remains to be seen, but this thick-skinned grape may be just the right metaphor for Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry as it looks to take on heavy hitters from California and Condrieu on national and international stages.

Viognier grapes ripening on the vine.