Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour

Let's just get this out in the open: Canada is a culturally relevant place (to some people), and my mother was our designated driver. That being said...

Oh my goodness, I had so much fun! We started at 11 am, tasted somewhere between 20 and 30 varieties at around 12 different vineyards, and explored the historical town (tourist center) for an hour or so. Niagara's wine circuit is affordable, convenient for anyone living in northwestern Pennsylvania / southwestern New York, and they had so many delicious options I didn't really know where to begin.

Neither did mom, Rose, or Whitt, for that matter. We started with the first place we saw - a small shop called Grape Brain - and sampled a few whites and their Rosé. Everyone loved the Rosé; I think we all bought a bottle. Whitt and I were in wino (oenophile, for you persnickety types) heaven. Our next stop introduced us to Niagara's legendary Ice Wine, and concluded my tour of the wine menu for beverages over 4 on the sweetness gradient. Whitt loved it, I thought it was worse than Brice's under-aged Riesling (does that make him a pedoenophile?), and I refused to drink anything without "noir" in its title.

Well, the noir conviction didn't last, but excluding a few disappointing Chardonnays I stayed in the 0 - 3 red column. My first breakthrough was at a little up-and-coming place called 20 Bees. It's a Baco Noir, it's delicious, and my only regret is not buying a case. At under $9 / bottle, it would have been well worth the investment. This wine was so delicious - it had all the dark earthiness of my favorite pinot noir (bonus points for those of you who remember which it is!) with none of the bitterness or aftertaste associated with the lesser pinots I've consumed over the years. With my parents. In culturally relevant settings.

If you are very, very lucky, I will share this legendary bottle of awesomeness with you. And my parents. In a culturally relevant setting.

I suppose now is a good time to explain the cough-syrup they call "Ice Wine." If you don't care, just skip this paragraph. Ice Wine is made when the grapes are frozen and the temperature drops to about 8 degrees Centigrade. They only yield about 2 drops of juice per grape, making the cost astronomical. Well, ok, not impossibly so. The bottles are about half the size of a normal bottle, and they cost between $25 and $100. Samples ranged from free (hurrah!) to $7. For one ounce. Yeah, it's (allegedly) that good. Personally, I think it tastes like cotton candy vomit covered in sugar fairy droppings. Anyways, Niagara is the only place they can produce it with any regularity / alacrity, so they’ve got quite a reputation for it.

After the first third of our day, Whitt and I were convinced that "spit" vs. "swallow" was the best joke on the wine circuit, and we were all about the swallows. What can I say? Being around my Lady elevates the giddiness and decreases the sophistication. We probably would have stayed all week if they would have let us - but luckily Rose had a family to get back to.

The other impeccable beverage of the day was a red raspberry wine made without a grape base. It was a little too expensive for me to buy a bottle, but if I had the money I would have seriously considered it. I think the vintner was a place called Sunnybrook Farms? Yes, it sounds distasteful, I know. We made many jokes at the establishment's expense. Good thing I had courage, though, because it was worth it!

Whitt and I broke away to do some shopping in the historic (read: tourist) part of the town, and we browsed a fairly nice dress shop before I unceremoniously dragged her into the book store. I picked up a copy of The Prince, mostly because I'm tired of listening to Dr. Smith talk about it with only my cursory knowledge to evaluate his theories. Then one of my favorite things happened: I made a snarky remark about Oprah, and bam! The shop owner was our best friend. He spent an hour telling us about his one-man mission to help Cuba, all sorts of stories about his travels and the people he met in the streets of Havana, recommended a couple of films for Whitt and I, told us about his plans to retire there in a few years, and sparked a debate about social justice and the pros and cons of communism. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It made me want to go to Cuba! Damn American sanctions. I’m sneaking over in a floating bathtub, you’ll see.

We resumed our wine tour, I bought a bottle of Gamay Noir Reserve, sampled the worst Merlot ever created, and we had lunch at a so-so Italian place called Alfredo’s. I think Whitt’s Mediterranean pizza looked like the best option on the menu. If you ever find yourself there, give it a try. Everything else – including the house chardonnay – was mediocre. I would probably not return.

Then it was 2 hours at border control, another two hours on the drive home, and a shared bottle of Rosé with Whitt’s family. In completely different news, I miss my Whittakers terribly and want her back. You have been warned.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A New Look

I've been letting it "grow" on me for a few days, and I've decided this one is a keeper. Welcome to the bright and fluffy Iridule (that storm with the mushroom cloud was depressing me). Messy new banner courtesy of Jackson Pollock.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Chautauqua Institute

My family and I drove up to the Chautauqua Institute last night and saw a first-rate performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We arrived early, ate at a horrible place (I blocked out the name) near the firehouse and south gate (there, I’ve given enough information to avoid it), and went inside to wander around before our show. It really is a beautiful location, but then again, gated communities usually are. Walking around I saw fliers for a lecture series on the 12 labors of Hercules, intermediate chess lessons, an ad for their community opera house, and a wine tasting class. And the worst news? I missed every single registration date. Each year I promise myself I’m going to get more involved at the Institute – maybe learn something worthwhile that they don’t offer at MC – and every year I forget. But not next year! This “Cultural Season” may be over, but I’m really going to enroll with some of their programs next year. Really!

This was my first performance of AMND, and the show was much better than I expected. Not fantastic (the way I had imagined it), but decidedly above average (as stated: better than expected). I think the only improvement they could have made was getting Hermia and Helena to enunciate as they spoke. Both women conveyed their meanings flawlessly through body language, but much of the actual language of the play came out garbled and slurred. I’ll spare you the plot, since most of you know it, and cut to the staging.

The theatre itself is designed like an inverted ark (Noah’s, not Indie’s), and some of the angles made me think an M.C. Escher fan formatted the final draft. Aside from being rather small, the rustic, “bare bones” look of the auditorium worked quite well, especially for Shakespeare. It certainly wasn’t as elaborate or historically accurate as the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, but it was easy to imagine we were rough Elizabethans gathered around the apron for a Tuppence show. Seats with cushions, oh my goodness! (Tickets to anything at the Institute cost more than two cents, by the way.) We had a great atmosphere, helped along by an elaborate set (for Shakespeare… that seems to be the qualifier of the day, doesn’t it? “For Shakespeare!”) and effective lighting.

They covered the stage with a healthy dose of white light, but it reflected off the pale green walls of the “palace” to make a misty, almost frosty look. Then the walls rotated and a drawbridge-like portal opened in the back wall, giving us a full moon, twilight sky, icy trees, a rope swing (for acrobatics), and a soft covering of snow. It also added the convenience of a trap door without cutting a hole into their high-end stage floor. Now, if you haven’t read the play (recently, carefully, ever… it’s B.Y.O.A. day again) you might be wondering why they put frost in the middle of a midSUMMER night’s dream. Well, it makes perfect sense. Titania and Oberon – actors doubled from Hippolyta and Theseus – are the rulers of the fairies, their marriage is a bit strained, and it’s turned the seasons on their ears. See, winter in summer. To borrow from Dostoevsky, “These things do happen!”

The fairies all wore white, silver, and various glitters to tie into the frosty theme, and the bickering lovers wore pastel ball gowns and tuxedos. Even though their costumes were updated – I suspect mostly due to budgeting constraints, though how much can a toga cost? – the tradesmen were all dressed in a fusion of Elizabethan and Steam Punk styles. I want, I want!

Suffice to say everyone enjoyed it, and my father kept raving about the antics of Puck, Bottom, and Oberon well into our drive home.