Friday, September 7, 2007

Food and Wine Tasting

A good friend came to visit from Calgary and right after we picked him up from the airport, we headed straight to Ontario's top tourist destination...Niagara Falls. Big mistake. It was the Labor Day holiday, a long weekend on both sides of the border, so Niagara Falls was PACKED! Agoraphobia, here we come! But we had trekked all the way, so we decided to grin and bear the maddening crowd. We even rode the Maid of the Mist (first time for us!) and the kids had a blast getting soaked.

My favorite part of the trip was a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We wanted to visit more wineries but the traffic was so bad that we only had time to do one. We decided to do the Art of Food and Wine at Peller Estates. This particular tasting combined different wines with different foods to demonstrate how food and wine can clash or complement. For this tasting, we were given a sauvignon blanc, an unfiltered merlot, and a vidal ice wine. And for our food, we had a cucumber mint soup, smoked beef ribs on rice with artichoke hearts, and for dessert, an oatmeal cake with brown sugar cream cheese frosting. You can see from the picture that the servings were pretty tiny. But for $12, you can't really expect much bigger morsels, I suppose.

The sauv blanc was crisp and light and it really enhanced the grassy notes of the soup. The freshness of the cucumber came through even after we had sipped the wine. Excellent pairing. Of course, our host asked us to try the soup with the merlot. Bleh. The merlot was definitely too strong for the soup.

Next up was the meat and merlot pairing. The merlot we were given was very rich and full-bodied. Lots of tannins and very robust. This was definitely not a sipping wine. In fact, I didn't quite like it when we first took our sips. Our host asked us to try it first with the soup. Not good. But when we had it with the smoked beef, the proteins in the meat broke down some of the tannins and smoothed out the wine a great deal. Gone was the mouth-puckering bite and the background flavor of fruit, mostly berries, began to come through. Amazing what the right food will do to a sip of wine and vise-versa.

For dessert, we had an ice wine, which is Ontario's biggest wine product. The grapes for ice wine are harvested in the dead of winter, when the freezing temperature concentrates the sugar in the fruit. The resulting wine is very sweet, almost syrupy. And the first time you try it, it's actually quite a shock to the palate. Our host, though, put it quite nicely. She says that a sip of ice wine at the end of a meal is like the clash of a cymbal in a symphony. Done with restraint, it gives that necessary oomph, that point of emphasis, that fleeting high. But repeated cymbal clashes deafen the ears like a whole glass of ice wine overwhelms the taste buds.

All in all, it was a lovely experience. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Just not on Labor Day weekend.

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