Niagara redux

We did our quasi-annual day trip to Niagara today — the first and last time ever we do this on the Labour Day weekend — QEW traffic having transformed the day trip into something approaching five hours of driving (not to mention a bad decision that had landed us right in the middle of CNE Lakeshore traffic before we even left Toronto).

Traffic having been uncooperative, we had to scratch a few places from the schedule that we’d intended to visit — we wanted to go back to Peninsula Ridge to try them out again after having been a bit nonplussed there some years ago, and also possibly try out the new-ish Fielding Estates winery also in the Beamsville area. These were supposed to be fillers before lunch at Vineland Estates, but as things turned out we arrived at VE some 45 minutes after our reservation time, and some 15 minutes after they’d stopped serving lunch.

What Vineland has between lunch and dinner is a sort of “light” menu — mainly cold dishes and few hot dishes that don’t require too much hard thinking from the kitchen to prepare. We split a salad and a cheese plate as starters and I had the Cumbrae lamb burger with tzatziki sauce (I think there was also supposed to be feta, but not being a feta fan really I didn’t miss it) while J. had a cold charcuterie plate. J. is a charcuterie fan and greatly enjoyed her plate, and I was very happy with my burger. One of these days we want to do dinner there.

After Vineland we rambled over to Niagara College which has a teaching winery and wine shop at their  industrial-looking campus at QEW and Glendale Rd. It’s not the kind of place you go for ye olde wine countrie atmosphere. We had earlier enjoyed their 2005 unoaked Chard, $15 and good value for money, so we were curious what else they had on offer. We tasted and bought bottles of the 2006 unoaked Chard, the 2006 Pinot Noir, and the 2005 Cab Franc (also a Gamay, probably 2006, which we passed on). All smooth, likeable wines with reasonable varietal character (esp. the Pinot for its price), maybe a bit confected though, all under $20. We’ll see how we like them outside the winery.

They had a interesting educational program going — small tasting glasses with samples of actual peaches, pineapple, raisins, soil, tobacco etc. to compare with the wines. A neat idea to combine with a tasting maybe. They’ve also hired a graphic designer for their labels, which are now kind of cute and more likely to catch the eye on an LCBO shelf than the previous utilitarian design.

From NCT to our last winery destination, Coyote’s Run, was a study in contrasts. Coyote’s Run has their 2006 reds out. Somewhat to my surprise, 2006 was (for them, at least) a relatively lean year weather-wise. (I remember walking back from work during a week of ultra-hot days in the summer of 2006 but then that was only a week…) Their reds are generally at 11.5% and delicate rather than forceful. They’ve reintroduced the Red Paw-Black Paw distinction which they abandoned for the 2005 vintage (not enough crop I think — evil 2005 winter?), reflecting the two kinds of soil they have on their property. Among the reds they had a Black Paw Pinot and Cab Franc as well as Red Paw Pinot, Cab Franc, and Syrah. We weren’t too sure about the Pinots this year, so we passed entirely on the simpler (and cheaper) Red Paw but we decided to take a risk on the Black Paw, at $36 by far our most expensive purchase. Picked up a Cab Franc in both Paws — our server says she liked the Red Paw better and somewhat to my surprise I was inclined to agree, at least at the winery. It will be fascinating to compare them. Finally, somewhat to our surprise, we decided to take a risk with their new Red Paw Syrah — first vintage from these vines, mainly black pepper at the moment to my nose, fruit uncertain.

So a study in contrasts — smooth, likeable, well-priced wines from NCT; a bit of living dangerously at Coyote’s Run. We shall see…