Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Niagara Wine Festival

The wineries of southern Ontario are sponsoring their annual Niagara Wine Festival from Sept. 19th to 28th, 2008. The ten-day festival features more than 100 events, including winery tours and tastings, Niagara cuisine, and live music.

Festival events take place at both area wineries and Montebello Park in St. Catharines, Ontario. Wineries host special tastings, tours and courses on food and wine pairings. Most of the live music will be at Montebello Park, where dozens of wineries will be on hand to offer samples of their best wines. My wife and I spent an afternoon at Montebello Park during last year's festival and had a wonderful time.

One fun thing you can do is to buy a Discovery Pass at one of the wineries for $30, which entitles you to a variety of special tastings and treats at all of the wineries of southern Ontario. I purchased the Discovery Pass one year and had a great time touring the wineries.

Click here for a downloadable festival guide that tells you everything you need to know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Meet the Winemaker at Chateau Buffalo

Chateau Buffalo is hosting a Meet the Winemaker event on Fri., Aug. 29th, from 4 to 8pm. The guest of honor will be Duncan Ross of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery along the Niagara Wine Trail (USA).

Arrowhead Spring primarily grows European wine grapes such as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. They employ low yield practices to increase the intensity of their fruit and produce the best wines they can. They also use organic and biodynamic vineyard practices to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

This is a great chance to meet a local winemaker and sample some great wine. I plan to be there myself. Chateau Buffalo is located at 1209 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, NY. Call 716-873-0074 for further details.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Twilight Wine Tasting at Old Fort Niagara

The Premier Wine Group is sponsoring a Twilight Wine Tasting at Old Fort Niagara in Lewiston, NY, on Sat., Aug. 23rd, at 6:30pm. Participants will be able to sample 30 wines from Niagara County and the Finger Lakes region.

The servers, musicians and even the food will have an 18th century flavor. Meats, cheese, pastries, fruits and soups of the era along with other delicacies from area restaurants will be served. You can dance in an 18th century fashion and tour the fort's latest exhibits.

The evening will end with a musket and cannon salute and a lantern-lit dessert tasting. Tickets are $40 per person. All proceeds will go to the Old Fort Niagara Association Reservation. Call 716-745-7611 for reservations.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Winemaking Along the Niagara Escarpment

At Wine Day Michael VonHeckler, owner and winemaker at Warm Lake Estate, gave a very interesting lecture on the characteristics of the Niagara Escarpment that make it suitable for producing excellent wines. The Niagara Escarpment is basically a 400-600 ft. cliff that extends for more than 650 miles from New York through Ontario to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. It is the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges to form Niagara Falls and was formed by the unequal erosion of rocks of varying hardness.

Like the region of Burgundy, the soil along the Niagara Escarpment is clay over limestone, has a pH of 7.5, has excellent air and water drainage, and contains illitic soil components. In spite of Buffalo's reputation for being too cold and for receiving too much snowfall, it turns out that the unique shape of the escarpment creates a convection flow that results in the highest and steepest portion of the escarpment receiving just the right amount of heat for growing wine grapes. There is also the right amount of soil along that portion of the escarpment as well.

According to J. S. Gladstone (Viticulture and the Environment, 1992), Pinot Noir grapes must be grown in a region with at least 2102 degrees days Fahrenheit per year. (One degree day = daily high temperature minus daily low temperature minus 15.) The portion of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara County, NY, has an average of 2098 degree days F/year, giving it the potential to produce very good Pinot Noirs. Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, has noted that the land along the escarpment is very similar to Volnay in Burgundy and suggests that in the right places similar quality wine could be made.

In spite of the Niagara Escarpment's apparent suitability for growing excellent wine grapes, as of 1996 there were very few wine grapes being grown in Niagara County. By contrast, on the Canadian side of the escarpment, there were 100 wineries with 18,000 acres of wine grapes, employing 7,000 workers and making a $3.5 billion impact on the economy.

Michael VonHeckler saw a golden opportunity and in 2002 opened his winery, focusing on Pinot Noir. Michael was also instrumental in getting the Niagara Escarpment labeled as an American Viticultural Area in 2005. There are now 12 wineries along the Niagara Wine Trail, with 12 more in planning or development. It will be interesting to see what kind of wines the area produces as it continues to grow and develop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Carr Valley Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar

Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese has done it again. He has created another unique and interesting variety of flavored American cheddar: Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar. One of Sid's newest creations, it has already won a Bronze Award at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.

Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar uses a robustly flavored white cheddar. The sweetness of the cranberries contrasts nicely with the spicy, smoky flavor of the chipotle peppers. Carr Valley's website describes the cheese as having the flavor of Texas barbecue sauce. One writer described the cheese as a "mouth party." It is at the very least a good cheese to bring to a party.

As a general rule, I do not buy cheese-with-stuff-in-it because of the inferior quality of most such products. The "stuff" is typically added because the cheese-without-the-stuff would be exceedingly uninteresting. On the way to a party last week, however, I took a chance with Carr Valley's Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar because I knew Sid Cook was behind it. I was not disappointed. I recommend this fun variation on ordinary cheddar.