First stop: Royal York Hotel, Toronto. All aboard, let the adventure begin! “Wow, this is quite the mode of transport,” comments one of our guests as she boards and surveys the luxury NCT limo bus. We are all stars today with perimeter seating, the aroma of freshly brewed premium coffee wafting through the air, an oversized basket loaded with an assortment of fresh crisp apples and a totally decadent tray of cupcakes awaits.
Our first stop is scheduled at the iconic Inniskillin Winery. The “icebreaker” if you will, excuse the pun, that won the “Grand Prix d’Honneur” award in Bordeaux, France in 1991, for their Vidal Icewine, the first truly significant international medal won by any Canadian winery. At Inniskillin we were greeted by friend and Inniskillin Ambassador Extraordinaire, Public Relations Director, Debi Pratt. Debi has the passion, the knowledge and the personality that make her a natural at her job. We later learned she was Miss Inniskillin 1975! (The year Inniskillin got its license, the first winery in Ontario after prohibition.)
We were treated to a brief visit to the vineyard, where still hanging right there on the vines are four rows of the Vidal grape, Debi’s “media rows” as she calls them. All other grapes have been harvested, predominantly mechanically, which we learn is a good thing. Minus 10 degrees Celsius is the temperature at which the winemaker likes to pick, although VQA regulations dictate minus 8 be the minimum.
Inside the Founder’s Hall, we chat about the Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine Glass, created in 2001, jointly with George Riedel, Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, co-founders of Inniskillin. Later in the barrel cellar, we will witness the impact of this perfect vessel from which to enjoy icewine. To the cellar we descend to a beautifully set table. A “joker” glass (so called in the wine business, just a regular wine glass) on our left with two icewine glasses and a sparkling wine glass beside. Debi begins to explain the significance of the proper glass when we are interrupted by a gallant gentleman, stylishly dressed donning his signature, a perfectly placed hat! Donald, “The Donald”, we like to call him, co-founder of Inniskillin walks in. We welcome Donald with hugs and great to see you, and he begins his passionate recount of the development of, the importance of, and the lessons in appreciating the icewine glass.
Bottom line, the unoaked Vidal Icewine 2010, our first wine, sampled in the joker glass to start is transformed in the Vinum Extreme, with the wine engaging not just the tip of the tongue (the initial contact point for the wine with the joker glass, as well as the most sensitive point to sweetness). The perception of sweet was intensified with the joker, while the Vinum Extreme allowed for the wonderful acidity to come through, showcasing the balance of, and beauty of the icewine.
We were also treated to the Sparkling Vidal 2010 which was totally delicious with a peach and apricot aroma, delicate flavour and “seemingly” less sweet due to the bubbles! Stupendous visit, thank you Debi!
Reif Estate Winery
Our second winery on the itinerary, Reif Estate Winery, has a family tradition in winemaking going back twelve generations. Now that’s experience! An array of five wines to sample will tantalize our palates from a dry Riesling to a luscious Vidal icewine. Hailing from the world renown Rhine River Valley in Germany, wine runs in the veins of the Reif family, with the know-how and experience in understanding cool climate winemaking and making first class wines. In 1987, current President and winemaker Klaus W. Reif took over the reins and now has alongside him Roberto Di Domenico, a graduate of the University of Guelph who’s winemaking philosophy is “letting nature make wine”. This is in step with the philosophy of Klaus, that “over time a vineyard will express its “terroir”.
Keith, our guide welcomes us and begins our tour in the old barrel cellar where we enjoy the story of the string of varying size barrels, made from German oak, although these barrels impart no flavour, due to their age, (circa 1950-1955) they are still used to store white wines before bottling.” Why would you still keep them if they don’t really do anything for the wine” inquired a curious guest, who happens to be in “investing”. We learn the barrels approximate a value of $35,000 each, are actually like a collector’s item, and are truly valued by many.
Out to the rows of vines, where there are eight rows of different varietals planted “Expressly for visitors to be able to see and taste the many grapes,” Keith informs us.
The wines we are about to sample, will show us a good diversity starting with a dry Riesling, a Cabernet Franc, as well as a Riesling icewine, a Cab Franc icewine and a Vidal to complete the tasting.
A comparison of the Cab Franc to the Cab Franc icewine ensues, with Keith alerting our senses to the evolution of the fruit with the intensity and the richness enveloping our palate, well balanced with good acidity. A little hunger pang in our bellies now, all this sampling is activating the gastric juices, we are ready for our “Sweet and Savory” experience, a scrumptious heap of delectable pulled pork, resting in the freshly baked bun, served with a Vidal Icewine sauce. Magnifique! Thank you Keith, thank you Reif!
Colaneri Estate Winery
Our final destination is the beautiful Colaneri Estate Winery – www.colaneriwines.com, where family members will greet us. Colaneri is one of the more recently opened wineries, steeped in Italian tradition, a Romanesque-style grand winery specializing in Appassimento, Recioto and Ripasso style wines. As we approached our final destination and disembarked, we were immediately taken back to a different time, a different place. In front of us, set among sprawling vineyards stood a grand building, Romanesque in style and reminiscent of a modern day coliseum. The design of the winery built as a large semi-circle represents the C, for Colaneri, the namesake of the winery, and also allows for a panoramic view of the beauty of Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country. Our guests are very impressed, having never seen anything quite like this, truly unique to the region.
We were met by two engaging, lively and very good looking family members, Christopher and Tara Colaneri. We learn a little about the history of Colaneri, grandparents Joseph and Maria came to Canada in 1967 and acquired the 40 acre vineyard planted to “not so good wine grapes” as Christopher explains, “Labruska, but that worked at the time because they were bought up for Welch’s grape juice.” In 1989, the grapes were all pulled and in 2004 replanting began but this time with vitis vinifera grapes, or the noble grape varieties we all know and enjoy today. In 2010, the family owned and operated Colaneri Estate Winery opened its doors to the public.
Unique to Colaneri is their approach to the selection of many of the wines they elect to produce, with each family member given the opportunity to choose a grape varietal they would like to be represented by. Each label is then specifically designed to suit the family member.
Inside, now for our tasting, cruiser tables are set up against a backdrop of small twinkling lights, stars draped across the ceiling, set up for a former event. The sun is setting now and the view, stunning, we are ready to taste the fruit of this already award winning winery, and wines of winemaker Andrzej Lipinski. The majority of the wines are made in the style Appassimento, with a few also made in Recioto and Ripasso styles.
A few of the wines we experienced were paired with a variety of foods. Tara’s goal, she explained, “was to show that dessert wines could accompany all types of food, not just cheese and dessert.”
To start, as we have already learned, each family member has a varietal, and each wine tells a story. Tara’s choice, her wine Stellucha, or Little Star, is a Riesling, which are known for their minerality, the grape appealed to her inner strength, as a dancer; we believe the grace of the grape suits Tara as well. The label, a dance pose as she looks over her shoulder, envisioning her mother watching over her. The wine is aged in French oak barrels, is fruity on the nose with peach and citrus and good minerality. Delish.
The appetizer station offered up an antipasto skewer paired with a Gewurztraminer Recioto. With pronounced lychee, floral and honey in the nose, several guests in our group were astounded how well it went with the spiciness of the skewer. A little sweetness goes a long way with a little heat and spice!
A less well known wine to our guests, the Chenin Blanc Recioto was the partner for the absolutely delicious and “belly warming” Stracciatella Soup, this wine had pineapple, pear and honeydew and was the favorite for many.
Finally, who would think Sauvignon Blanc with dessert, although this was the Recioto, lush, with pineapple on the nose and tropical fruit on the palate. To be paired with our send off, our final caloric intake for the day, a coffee and chocolate/yogurt gelato. In a word: WOW!
All of these wines of course have stories, have personalities, and we would urge you to include this unique, warm and award winning winery on your next visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and save room for the reds, those we will have to explore another time. Cheers!
For more information visit www.thewineladies.com