Hegui and I would never be satisfied with a vacation without finding an opportunity to go wine tasting. We had a real adventure last fall at Tarara Winery in Northern Virginia when we went to visit family in the D.C area. So why not in Ontario? My colleague and friend, Suma, grew up in Buffalo, so was all over the plan long before we departed.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is most famous for Ice wine, a rare and extremely unusual sweet ambrosia that originates in Germany. Owen Bird sings poetically of this drink in his German Riesling manifesto, Rheingold. Of course, we didn’t need a book to get us to Inniskillin: Suma was already in the know.
I didn’t realize this but the Niagara peninsula has a long history of fine wine production. Inniskillin was started in the Seventies, which is right around the time things started really happening in Napa Valley. The wine region is situated quite close to Niagara Falls, so a trip to one could obviously become a visit to both. That’s what we did, at any rate: wine tasting last Tuesday followed by a visit to the Falls on Wednesday.
The winery itself is lovely. They’ve a collection of beautifully remodeled and new buildings all clustered near one another surrounded by fields of grapes. It seemed especially exciting seeing the red and white Canadian flag waving in the wind as we drove up. You really felt that you’d gone somewhere new!
We didn’t take the tour though that did look a lot of fun. They also have an elegant restaurant, which we skipped as well. Instead we tasted a selection of both the still wines and Ice wines. Inniskillin offers tastings of the still wines for one Canadian dollar each. The Ice wines must be purchased as a group tasting and was a bit more expensive. Since we figured we wouldn’t be back anytime soon as we’re based in San Francisco, we splurged on the library Ice wine tasting flight for $35 Canadian.
2009 Winemakers Series Two Vineyards Riesling: This wine was a very pale transparent yellow with a nose of sweet peach and nectarine. It tasted of tart green apple, unripe peach with a minerally finish.
2008 Legacy Series Riesling: This was a transparent pale yellow that had tart yellow stone fruit, like peach and nectarine on the nose. It had a sweeter (though not really “sweet”) and more creamy texture than the first Riesling. This wine tasted almost “fizzy” with nectarine, sour apple, pepper and mineral notes.
2007 Winemakers Series Two Vineyards Merlot: This wine was a dense purple black. Hegui unflatteringly found the nose to be of “chicken pooh.” The thick tannins puckered our lips. The wine was smooth and very earthy full of dark red fruit. We liked this one and had it on several occasions while in Toronto.
2007 Reserve Series Cabernet Franc: This was a transparent brownish red with a mocha and tobacco nose. The wine had a pleasing supple mouth-feel with medium body. We noted lots of red berries. It had a creamy finish with supple tannins.
2008 Winemakers Series Two Vineyard Cabernet Franc: This was a transparent purple red. We noted cedar and dried herbs with medium body that was smooth. Was there a hint of sour cherry? The wine was pleasant.
2007 Legacy Series Cabernet Franc: This one was a dark brownish purple with a nose full of berry, ginger root, baking spice and dried herbs. The wine seemed a little rustic compared to the others. Hegui thought there was a distinctly “baking soda aftertaste.” This was our least favorite.
Now for the Ice wines! Not all of these were based on Riesling. One was a cabernet franc ice wine and two were based on vidal blanc, a hybrid of ugni blanc (AKA trebbiano) and seibel. “Matthew” served us these wines. He told us that they can sometimes successfully age up to thirty years!
1998 Riesling Ice Wine: This was transparent with a beautiful golden color. It had a dark brooding aroma of aging wood. The flavor was quite complex with ultra-ripe stewed apricot. It had beautiful structure. This is an exciting wine.
1986 Vidal Ice Wine: This was an opaque pale brown to caramel colored wine. We smelled ash, cooked prune, Italian plum, clove and nutmeg. The wine had notes of prune, sour cherry and spicebox.
1996 Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine: This was a transparent caramel color. We noted apricot, very ripe guava and peach jam on the nose. This had a smooth long finish with caramel on the attack followed peach and apricots.
1995 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine: This was a cloudy brownish caramel color. It smelled of very ripe grape. The wine tasted sweeter than the other three. It had a creamy texture that was also thick and almost syrupy. We noted applesauce and some caramel.
Inniskillin was a great winery to visit, especially if you don’t have a lot of time and want to make the most of your experience. They offer a full range of wines, some of which are available for purchase in Toronto through LCBO. For the more rare ones, a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake is a must!