My Wine & Herb Tour in Niagara

Last weekend, I went with friends (and their family) on their second tour of the Niagara Wine & Herb Festival. This Festival features 28 wineries in the Niagara-On-The-Lake region, where you can taste premium VQA wines paired with different herb-themed food. Held every year, during Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays throughout the month of May, it’s a great way to sample the fine wines & (potentially) local foods in our backyard. A tour passport costs $43 plus tax (early bird is $38) – it can be used throughout the month. To be honest, I am not a fan of Ontario wine – I can take the whites, but the reds are just too “metallic” for my taste. But based on my friends’ rave reviews and my missing out on the fun previously, I was in.

Nine of us plus a baby piled into a stretch limo. We visited 15 wineries within a six-hour period – it was a tight schedule, but organized by my very resourceful friend. Despite being a long weekend, we didn’t have to wait too long at each winery before being able to sample. Here are my highlights based on these categories: 1) Best Pairing, 2) Best Wines, 3) Honourable Mention, 4) Take a pass, 5) Tips. For a more detailed review, check my friend’s blog posting: Part 1 and Part 2.

 

WINERIES WE VISITED

Southbrook Vineyards, Diamond Estates, Hillebrand, Pondview Estate Winery, Pillitteri Estates Winery, Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery, Strewn Winery, Hinterbrook Estate Winery, Josephs’ Estate Wines, Konzellmann Estate Winery, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery, Maleta Estate Winery, Palantine Hills Estate Winery, Stonechurch Vineyards, Niagara College Teaching Winery

 

1) BEST PAIRING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillebrand 2010 Artist Series Limited Edition Gewürtzaminer paired with a vegetarian Ginger Carrot Soup with Coriander. The wine wasn’t as sweet as I expected (phew), and brought out the sweetness of the soup. Nicely balanced.

Maleta Estate Winery 2008 Grape Brain Riesling paired with a Baguette with Brie & a Pineapple Sage marmalade. Tiny winery. The minerality of the Riesling paired so nicely with the sweetness of the marmalade (which was made by the husband; he came out and took a bow). Yummy! I enjoyed the wine, and bought a bottle.

 

2) BEST WINES

I must have found these to be the best wines during the tour as I bought a bottle of each:

Niagara College Teaching Winery was featuring their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc during the Festival – it was alright, but I was more impressed with their Dean’s List 2009 Pinot Noir ($33.15). Cool packaging, very smooth, nicely balanced. That’s all I can remember! :)

Konzelmann Estate Winery was featuring 2010 Late Harvest Gewürtzaminer during the Festival, but I went to their tasting bar and tried the 2010 Rosé. Not too sweet, quite dry actually, with a nice crisp finish. Perfect for spring/summer. And excellent value for $9.95! I bought one for us to enjoy in the limo.

Maleta Estate Winery 2008 Grape Brain Riesling ($17.15) as noted above.

 

3) HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Southbrook Vineyards 2011 Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé paired with Homemade potato chips with sea salt & a rosemary garlic dip. This was our first stop, so I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. The pairing was actually very nice, not one I would have instinctively done on my own.

Palantine Hills Estate Winery 2008 Neufield Vineyard Chardonnay paired with a Cannonball Anise Ice Cream with Caramel. The wine was a bit warm and despite only six months in oak, was heavier than anticipated on the oak. However, I’d say the ice cream pairing was very unique and actually worked quite well. And I hate anise! Now if they could have eliminated the smell of manure by the tasting bar…

 

4) TAKE A PASS

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the experience at these wineries, and would recommend a pass:

Diamond Estates – the Lakeview Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve was too warm; the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve too metallic. They paired the wines with a Foccacia with tomato & oregano; the tomato sauce completely overpowered the wines. It was a busy day and quite warm; the taster wasn’t the most charming.

Sunnybrook Farm Estate – cute little winery that specializes in fruit wine which is unique. However I didn’t enjoy the Peach Blossom wine, and especially didn’t enjoy the Gingered Fig pairing. But one good thing: they recycled their serving plates. Thumbs up for that!

Joseph’s Estate Wines – reviews were mixed prior to our arriving. The 2007 VQA Riesling (Off-Dry) was paired with a Lemon Thyme square. The wine was very acidic and dry; the lemon overpowered the square, I couldn’t taste the thyme. I was disappointed.

 

5) TIPS

  • If you’re in a big group, a hired limo is a great way to go. That way you don’t have to worry about a designated driver or getting around.
  • Check your map carefully; don’t trust the GPS. Our limo driver got us lost a few times (arch!) which wasted precious wine-tasting time!
  • Remember to nibble on food/snacks, and drinks lots of water throughout the day. If you do a tour like we did, there is a lot of wine consumed (we were drinking in the limo as well, en route to the wineries).
  • You can’t do all 28 wineries in one day – because the passport is valid for an entire month, you can spread the visits over a weekend or a few weekends. Furthermore, you can share the passport.
    • For example, I shared a passport with someone else. She used it on the first tour; I used the passport on the second tour. This requires planning, because once the book is stamped by a winery, you not supposed to return for the free pairing.

 

All in all, it was really fun and I will definitely return. I recommend it as a fun thing to do..but I still don’t love Ontario wine – sorry!

 

 

Marriott Desert Springs Spa – Divine!

I was recently in Palm Springs, CA – a beautiful oasis nestled in the middle of the desert and mountain ranges. I have been extremely fortunate to have family who really enjoy visiting Palm Springs, so I’ve been quite a few times. No visit would be complete without an afternoon at The Spa at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort. 74855 Country Club Drive, Palm Desert, CA. The spa was recently renovated, and is absolutely fabulous! Who does not love the spa?

 

 

Photos are from the spa’s website. Sorry they are small – I didn’t take any pictures when I was there as I was focusing on relaxing! 

 

FAB

* The salt water spa pool & outdoor hot tub overlooks the golf course (beautiful view)

* Aromatherapy Hammam room

* State-of-the-art showers with 6 heads

* 4000 sq ft. gym with all the equipment you need. Plus, each cardio machine has it’s own TV! Amazing…

*Spa bistro (love their smoothies)

* Women’s only relaxation room (with a ton of awesome gossip magazines)

* I love their facials

* Towels galore

* Locker rooms are very, very clean. Staff are constantly making sure the amenities are top notch.

 

RAG

* $$ for their services (60 min facial = $140 USD)

 

They do have a steam room, sauna and whirlpool (women’s only). I would assume they offer the same in the men’s locker room.

Summary: if you ever find yourself in Palm Springs, the Marriott Desert Springs Spa is a must!

 

 

Porter: Flying with ease & in style

I know many of you have flown Porter airlines already, but I felt it deserved a shout-out as a fab way to travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAB

* Free shuttle to/from the Island airport from downtown Toronto (runs every 15-20 min)

* Lounge in Toronto & Ottawa with free WiFi, iMac’s on-site for surfing, specialty coffee maker, free newspaper, free juice/pop. Love the cappuccino!

* Free booze included in-flight i.e. Steam Whistle beer or wine

* Drinks are served in real glass/ceramic cups – not only classy, but more environmental!

* Free snack in-flight

- Fly around breakfast, lunch or dinner time, and you sometimes get something more substantial (i.e. sandwich)

* Love the stewardess’ uniforms (Pink Tartan)

* I enjoy their quarterly in-flight magazine re-porter, especially the “spot the difference” puzzle

* Fares go on sale all the time

* They continue to expand their routes

 

RAG

* You can’t get cocky – you still have to leave yourself enough time to catch the ferry and cross security. Giving yourself an hour before departure is often not enough time (especially during peak times). Trust me, I’ve missed a few flights because of this…

* Porter lounges have not been set up in key cities like Montreal

* Only do short-haul destinations

 

Summary: honestly, the benefits are most enjoyed by those who live in downtown Toronto. If you haven’t tried it out yet, you must. Porter is absolutely fab!