Sunday, December 6, 2009

Niagara-on-the-Lake: One Gluttonous Affair

The thing I love most about Thanksgiving are the endless, mouthwatering plates of food. I had quite the non-traditional Thanksgiving this year and took a three-day trip up to Niagara, Ontario. Every year, millions of tourists travel to Buffalo and Niagara to admire their world-renowned waterfalls, but lesser known is the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), a mere 20 minute drive from Niagara Falls. There's something magical about this place. The crisp air, historic buildings, and plentiful vineyards that line this quaint little town evoke a sense of longing for some sort of lost past. Wine and vineyards aside, NOTL is also a great breeding ground for gourmet food. We ate at restaurants that were absolutely fabulous (quality in line with top NYC places), bought delectable treats at downtown gourmet shops, and drank/ate our way through NOTL for Taste the Season, a heavenly-sent event for foodies alike. Below I've included some highlights of my trip!

On NOTL Ice Wine...
Niagara-on-the-Lake is probably best known for
its ice wine, a prestigious dessert wine made from grapes that are picked while still frozen on the vine. The water freezes, but the sugar does not, which results in a highly concentrated and sweet tasting wine. Ice wine was first introduced in Germany in the 1700s, and the founders of Inniskillin Winery introduced the first batch to Niagara in 1984. Today, most of the wineries in NOTL produce icewine, and during our winery hopping, we sampled quite a few different bottles. Though each had its distinct taste, they all exhibited the same sweet aroma that is characteristic of ice wine.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine from Konzelmann Estate Winery

View of Inniskillin Winery

On Taste the Season...
Each November, 21 wineries of NOTL get together and host a gourmet event where each prepares a specific food and wine pairing, and attendees can buy a "passport" and make their way through the wineries.
Thanks to a wonderful grape guy who offered a great review on his experience, we planned strategically and prioritized the best pairings to maximize our success. It was pretty insane (and required my partner in crime's excellent driving skills), but we managed to hit 18 out of 21 wineries in only one day! After much debate and reflection on the pairings, we decided that the top three contenders were Coyote's Run, Cattail Creek, and Konzelmann.

Winner: Cattail Creek Estate Winery
2008 Gamay Noir paired with Gamay-Infused Sausages topped with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms
served on a Grape Skin Baguette

The gamay-infused sausage was unbelievably delicious - a spicy, yet earthy taste from the wild mushrooms. The hot sausage slice was served on a crispy grape skin baguette, and the Gamay Noir really brought out the flavor in the meat and mushrooms. We loved the consistent gamay theme throughout the dish, from the sausage to the bread and wine.

Second Runner-Up: Konzelmann Estate Winery
2007 Sparkling Riesling Methode Cuvee Close paired with Salmon-Zucchini Twist crowned with 'Bleu Turtle' Salsa and Chive Cream Cheese dollop on Artisan Corn Bread

This was a very logical pairing - smoked salmon with a light Sparkling Riesling. I suppose the long title is a bit ironic, giving the simplicity of the pairing. The Riesling added a hint of freshness to the salmon-zucchini twist, which was served on top of a mini corn bread muffin. My only complaint was that the corn bread was a bit on the drier side, but the bubbly Riesling made up for it!

Third Runner-Up: Coyote's Run
2008 Unoaked Chardonnay paired with Sweet Roasted Pepper and Lobster Ragu

The chardonnay was crisp and clean, and the lobster ragu extremely rich and flavorful. The ragu was prepared by Stone Road Grille, an excellent local restaurant that serves a to-die-for charcuterie plate. Although the ragu was heavy on the salt, the chardonnay brought a delicate balance to the palate. It's also interesting to note that in some cases, white wine can actually go very well with beef!

On Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake...
In addition to the wineries, there are also several gourmet food shops in the downtown NOTL area that have been around for quite some time.

Greaves makes delicious jams out of all sorts of fruits (20+ different kinds!), and the store is so cutely decorated with rows and rows of bottles big and small.

Cheese Creations offered some great stinky and non-stinky cheeses. We tried the Eight Year Old Cheddar from Ripley, ON, and it was oh-so-good, especially after a few wine tastings.

Unfortunately our stomachs were too full for ice cream, so we can't say whether Cows really lives up to this big claim?! If it does, then we'll probably have to head back there in the summertime.

On Accommodations...

For our first night, we stayed at Charles Inn, which is an adorable little establishment that has a rich heritage in NOTL. Coincidentally (or not!), it is also home to one of the best restaurants in NOTL, and of course we had to try it out. Below is the Pan Seared Quebec Foie Gras on a Caramelized Pear Tart and drizzled with Balsamic Honey Syrup. It was absolutely an gluttonous indulgence, but I guess that is what Thanksgiving is all about, right?

I know Creme Brulee isn't new to any dessert fiends, but I must compliment the chef for his wonderfully creamy and rich, but not overly sweet custard. Mmmm.

For our second night, we opted for a more simple experience at Britaly, the top-rated bed and breakfast in NOTL. We were greeted by the adorable hosts, Aldo and Graham, who concocted this amazing breakfast dish below. I was so intrigued by the presentation of the dish, and I don't even know whether it has a name, but basically the top part is an egg-white meringue that lays on raisin french toast and served with caramelized apples and bananas. What more could one ask for?

So after 2 and a half days of eating and drinking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we decided to fast for a week after we got back home to New York. That isn't working too well, and I'm already missing the great food and wine in NOTL. I can't wait to head back there in the summertime, when all the vineyards will be lush and green, but until then, New York has plenty of good food to entertain me.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!



  1. yay! have you had any of the ice wine yet?
    grape skin baguette , that's quite unique!

  2. Where's the Uo review? Hope you're planning on mentioning the charming guys who shared the sushi bar with you.