|Posted on December 3, 2014 at 10:55 AM|
Yeah, it is that time of the year again folks. No matter which holiday you particularly celebrate in your family it is the holiday season. Our Thanksgiving is long over here in Canada (we have it back in October for any of my American friends) but, in my house, American Thanksgiving is a chance for my hubby and I to sit back, watch football all day, not worry about cooking a huge meal and enjoy our time with friends and family. It is also the time we start thinking about Christmas gift ideas and what we are going to serve in December for our variety of celebrations. In our family we have a bunch of birthdays as well as Christmas and New Year’s so there are a lot of parties in the month of December and, as a result, we make sure we have lots of wine and other libations around.
The first thing you want to make sure you have on hand is plenty of bubbly. After all, this is the time of the year when everyone is in a celebratory mood and, for most, that means popping open a bottle of sparkling wine. You will not find any Champagnes on this list but rather some excellently produced local Sparkling wines from around Ontario. Despite the fact that Ontario is a cool climate wine growing region, there are not a lot of wineries that spend a lot of time on sparkling wines. A bunch of them have one or two but there is a winery in Prince Edward County whose sole focus is on making sparkling wine. They use a variety of methods to make their sparkling wines and they produce a range that bring a lot of variety to the table. Hinterland Wine Company located on Closson Road in Prince Edward County currently has 3 wines available for purchase – from their Rose Sparkling priced at $22.00 a bottle made using the Charmat method and named for a spectacular sunset the owners once experienced while helping harvest grapes at a friends vineyard to their $25.00 a bottle 2014 Ancestral named for the way monks in 1531 made some of the first sparkling wine and ending with their $39.00 Methode Traditionelle 2011 Les Etoiles which is the second release only for this wine. All of Hinterland Wine Company’s portfolio can be viewed on their website (http://www.hinterlandwine.com) where you can also place orders for delivery direct to your home or work.
There are a couple of other wineries in Ontario that make some unique bubblies that I also want to suggest. Instead of using the traditional grapes for sparkling wine – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – Sue Ann Staff chose to make her to sparkling wines using Riesling grapes. Let me explain why that makes a difference – Sparkling wines made with the traditional grapes generally have flavours of toast, nuts and yeast but with a Riesling based sparkling wine the flavours you are used to in a regular bottle of Riesling come flowing forward. If you enjoy citrus and other fruit flavours in what you drink, chances are really good that you are going to enjoy a Riesling based sparkling wine more than a bubbly made with the traditional grapes. Now, Sue-Ann went one step further when producing her sparkling wines. When sparkling wine is made, during the second fermentation, sediment is cast off and collects in the base of the bottle. Before the final bottling and labelling, that sediment has to be removed from the bottle without losing any of those bubblies that have collected during the second fermentation. This is a long and time consuming process but when it is done, the sediment has made its way into the neck of the bottle and needs to be disgorged from it. To do this, the sediment is frozen and removed from the neck of the bottle and there is a small amount of wine that does come out at the same time. To top up the bottle, a small amount of wine is added and this is called the dosage. Sue-Ann took two different approaches to the dosage – one of the wines was topped up with the same wine that is in the bottle while the other one was topped up with a small amount of her 2007 Riesling Icewine which will give the wine a slight sweetness to the finish. Both of these wines can be found on her website (http://www.sue-annstaff.com/collections/sparkling) and are available for delivery throughout the province.
When it comes to dessert wines, Icewine is king and Ontario is more than known for making this elixir of the gods. When it comes to our wineries, there are only a couple that specialize in making icewine and, naturally, it makes sense to look at the winery that is the largest producer of icewine in this province – Pillitteri Estates Winery. Lots of wineries in Ontario make icewine from Vidal, Cabernet Franc and even Riesling but Pillitteri Estates has expanded well past the traditional to include Icewines made from Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese. I doubt there are many people who have ever tried a sweet wine made from a grape popular in Italy like Sangiovese but it is definitely worth the try if you want to mix things up. All of Pillitteri’s Icewines can be found on their website (http://www.pillitteri.com/store/productlist.cfm?category=6&showall=0&perpage=24) and can be ordered for delivery anywhere in Ontario if you are not able to make the trip down to Niagara on the Lake in the next couple of weeks.
Now it’s time to get to the whites and reds that should be making it onto your table or bar over the holiday season. These are the wines that should be paired up with your Christmas meals or poured alongside the cocktails you will be serving when friends and family drop by. I have grouped these together by region so, if you live in these areas specifically it is easy for you to find the ones where you live. Alternatively, if you are not close by, feel free to drop by their website and order some of these wines for delivery. From the SouthWestern Ontario region, be sure to check out the 2010 or 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon available from Muscedere Vineyards (http://www.muscederevineyards.com) . If you are planning to serve a variety of red meats during a holiday dinner, both of these wines pair perfectly with beef, venison and lamb holding up to heavily spiced foods. While you are in the area, be sure to drop by Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards (http://www.coopershawkvineyards.com) and pick up some bottles of their 2012 Touche. This wine is a blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer making it a great white wine to start an evening out with or to serve with a variety of appetizers if you are hosting a cocktail party. Of course, I also highly recommend this if you have had a long day at work or had to battle the crowds at the local mall trying to get your holiday shopping list completed.
Let’s make our way to the Niagara Peninsula. There are a ton of options here but rather than taking one of the well established wineries that has been there for years, I thought it would be a great idea to look at some of the newer wineries in the region. First off, in the Niagara Bench area, take a look at the wines from Leaning Post Wines. Originally a virtual winery, Leaning Post Wines has moved into a permanent building in the Stoney Creek area just past Hamilton making it one of the first wineries you will encounter when you enter the region coming from the Greater Toronto Area. Owner and winemaker Ilya Senchuk is definitely not a newbie in the area as well having spent previous vintages at Daniel Lenko Estate Winery and The Foreign Affair Winery as well as abroad. He has a vast portfolio available for sale which can be viewed at http://www.leaningpostwines.com/our-wine/ but the wines that I gravitate towards personally are the 2013 Riesling and the 2010 Pinot Noir. Both very food friendly wines and both would be perfect on the dinner table for any family celebrations you encounter during this month. Moving a little further down the Peninsula to Niagara on the Lake, we find Small Talk Vineyards (http://www.smalltalkvineyards.com). Those who know the Niagara on the Lake area may recognize the location as being the past home of Stonechurch Vineyards but that is where the comparisons end. Small Talk Vineyards focus on every day, easy drinking wines that you can open up when people drop by for the evening, a bustling holiday party or just after a long day of shopping or Santa Claus Parades. The names on their wines are conversation starters in and of themselves and they really do describe what you find in the glass. Take “Burning Ambition” for example – what would you expect to find when you take that first sip of that wine? Personally, I think something a little spicy, something adventurous but something that works well with “others” or, in the case of wine, with food. Burning Ambition is a combination of the 2012 vintages of Riesling and Gewurztraminer which are wines with a kick of spice, a lot of food friendly flavours and wines that bring a lot to the table and spark the drinkers imagination. Looking at their red wines you see one called Recap. To me, a wine named Recap represents the best of the best and although there is no description of the wine on the website, it does say it is a 2007 Cabernet Franc which would indicate the winemaker wanted to wait for this wine to reach perfection before removing it from the barrel and bottling it. This area of Ontario – Niagara on the Lake specifically – does very well at producing grapes like Cabernet Franc so rather than blending their Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which would be the norm, Small Talk Vineyards decided to let the Cabernet Franc stand on its own to show the true identity – actually, the terroir – of the region. While this wine may be a little pricier then the rest of their wines, at $25.00 a bottle it is definitely worth it and actually a great value for a wine that was aged as long as this one in the barrel.
Our final stop in the province is Prince Edward County. In “The County” I have certain wineries that I inherently head to and then there are the new discoveries that I like to add in each year. This wine region is the youngest in the province and it is still growing so there is always something new to try. Let us start out at the south eastern end of the region at Exultet Estates (http://www.exultet.ca). Exultet Estates has had a major focus on Chardonnay over the years with the oldest vintage still available for sale stretching back to 2009. Over the years they have added Pinot Noir, with those particular two grapes counting for the largest amount of production amongst all of the Prince Edward County wineries. Their expanded portfolio now includes a Pinot Grigio, a Rose and a white version of Pinot Noir called Mysterium. Honestly, out of all of Exultet Estates’ wines, 2013 Mysterium is my absolute favourite. All the flavours that make Prince Edward County Pinot Noir great but in a white form which, for those who love Pinot Noir, can play a real mind game with us. Personally, start out with Mysterium and then add some of Exultet Estates’ Pinot Noir to the table to pair with your turkey folks. The flavours will remain the same but you will be expanding your wine repertoire by pairing a red wine with a white meat.
Next we move a little bit west in The County to Karlo Estates (http://www.karloestates.com). Unfortunately, just this past week we lost Richard Karlo to his battle with cancer but his pioneering spirit, his love of life and his indelible laughter and smile that would light up a room will live on in his wines and those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him. It gave my family and myself a chance to reflect on the genius found in the bottles of wine he had lovingly worked on for many years and brought to the market with his wife Sherry. Richard’s wines and the winery that bears his name will live on and, whether you want to add them to the wines you will be serving over the coming weeks or as gifts to people who appreciate fun, adventurous and truly delicious wines, Karlo Estates is a definite must stop for your holiday celebrations. Amongst my favourites – I love their Riesling, the Quintus is amazingly delicious and their Van Alstine and Van Alstine White are great finishes to a day of nonstop activity. A trip to Karlo Estates is a unique experience unto its own.
Our final stop is at Lacey Estates which has long been a favourite of mine and my husbands. There are only two wineries in the entire province where we have ever bought wine in quantities of more than one or two bottles – Lacey Estates is one of them for their Pinot Noir and the other is Karlo Estates for both of their Van Alstine’s. Lacey Estates has a portfolio which frequently sells out but with perfect precision, as one sells out they are preparing to release a new wine…or so it seems to those of us who stock our cellars with their delicious products. I do recommend constantly checking their website to see what products they have added (http://www.laceyestates.com/), but here are some of my favourites that are currently available. Normally I would start talking about a wineries white wines before moving on to the reds but I have to say I have always been a HUGE fan of Lacey Estates Baco Noir. The first vintage I reviewed of them of this particular wine used the line “Blacker than Sin” and that description has never changed with any of the subsequent vintages. Without a doubt, their Baco Noir has always been one of my favourites but they also have a lot of amazing wines that I highly recommend getting your hands on. First off, their Gewurztraminer is very food friendly, spicy, floral and fruity and, at under $20 a bottle a serious value for your money. The Pinot Noir is, as always, awesome and could certainly be paired with whatever is going on your table that evening.
Okay, so we have touched on all the wines you will need for the holiday season but what if you have someone on your list who is not a wine drinker…or if you want to add some wine related accessories to a gift or as a hostess gift this season. For those on your list that prefer hard liquor over wine, I recommend taking a look at either Dillons Distillery (http://dillons.ca) in Niagara or 66 Gilead Distillery (http://66gileaddistillery.com) in Prince Edward County to see the variety of products they both carry. Of particular note, the Crimson Rye Whiskey from 66 Gilead or the White Rye, the Rose Gin or the variety of flavoured Bitters from Dillons Distillery. My husband loves to make me Martini’s and he equally loves Manhattan’s…specifically Bourbon Manhattan’s…so, when checking out a place we found during our first anniversary trip, I discovered that they carry a product called Makers Mark Cherries. Talk about the perfect garnish for a Bourbon Manhattan. Here’s the link for their entire website – the stuffed olives they carry bring a little something extra to everyday Martini’s: http://shop.pepperpalace.ca.
A few years ago the rage was to have wine charms for your wine glasses so that everyone could easily identify whose glass was whose during a cocktail party. They are still great to have – they were even a part of my husband’s and mine bombonieres at our wedding – but there is something new. A variety of companies have come out with a marker that allows you to write on glass (or ceramic) and wash it off after the party. I bought a silver and gold one through Yves Rocher recently but there is a US based company called Wine Glass Writers (http://wineglasswriter.com) that has distribution channels into a bunch of the wine shops around the province and also in Alberta. One last unique product under the “accessories” category. Liz Lacey – from Lacey Estates Winery – is an incredible crafter and a couple of weeks ago posted some pictures of some craft projects she had been working on. The item that caught my attention were some wine themed coasters she had just posted on Facebook so I went to her and asked her for details. They are made of fabric but with a stiff fusable back and she is selling them at $8 for 4 coasters. Orders are made directly to Liz through her email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or can be picked up at the winery.
Hopefully you have found some great suggestions through these pages. Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy holiday season.