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.

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