So, you don’t have to be on a career break to go wine tasting, but all that world travel does give you a good excuse to explore and discover new and unexpected wine regions. It’s a personal favorite activity of mine. I went biking while wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina. In Spain, while filming our series, I went down to the Alicante wine region to sample some lesser-known wines. And, of course, there’s always time to pop open the cava!
Beyond the better known wine-producing countries, sometimes the lesser-known wine producers will surprise…like Ontario, Canada.
Two hours by car outside of Toronto, I headed out with my friend Janice from SoloTravelerBlog to Niagara-On-the-Lake, the center of wine production in Canada. We spent the late morning and early afternoon at Greenlane and Southbrook wineries. Much of the time I kept trying to get my mind around the idea that there could be good Canadian wine. And, what we found in the morning was really good. Janice has a great write-up about our education in the vineyard on her blog.
Afternoon Matinee, Then Dinner in Niagara on the Lake
Niagara on the Lake was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shaw Festival. And Janice and I had tickets to see My Fair Lady, based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, thanks to the Niagara Tourism Board. In high school show choir we did a medley (definitely not a Glee-style mashup) of songs from My Fair Lady. As I watched the show, I couldn’t help but sing along to myself in sotto voce.
Despite having a huge pizza from the Southbrook winery for lunch, I was hungry after the show. We headed out to The Old Winery restaurant, a couple of miles off the center of town. The restaurant’s decor was dominated by dark woods and leather chairs accented by modern finishes making it elegant, yet warm and friendly. One look at the menu and I knew what I had to have, the braised pork chop. Janice’s pistachio-crusted scallops served on a bed of lettuce looked pretty scrumptious too. I probably should have ordered the lighter dish, but after one bite of that lovely chop and mango salsa, I wasn’t too concerned with the quantity of food I had eaten all day.
Ice Wine For Dessert
Our final stop was to the largest estate ice wine producer in the world, Pillitteri Estates Winery. I had no idea what ice wine was or how it was made. I mean, I was just learning that you could cultivate wine-quality grapes in Canada. And then there’s the little detail that I am not a sweet wine drinker. I like my wine dry and bold.
First made in Germany around 2000 years ago, ice wine came to Canada in the 1980s. And, the country now accounts for 75% of the world’s production. And, most of that comes from Ontario. Other than Canada, China is a huge consumer market for the sweet dessert wines. And, South Korea and Japan are big markets for Pillitteri too.
Pillitteri is now the world’s largest estate producer of ice wine. That’s quite and achievement for a winery that was founded in 1993. While touring around, I got to meet the founder, Sicily-born, Gary Pillitteri. It was brief but we talked about the carretto, or cart, that he brought over with him in 1948 and is the central feature in the company’s logo.
After touring the vineyard, we made our way to the tasting room. Harvested in the dead of winter when the temperatures reach a crisp -8 Celsius, these wines come alive unexpectedly. The grapes are pressed while still frozen and the juice is put into fermentation while it is still partially frozen. Fermentation takes quite a while, about four months. Having to keep the wine at 12 degrees Celsius slows it all down.
So, what does they taste like? They reminded me of port wines. Sweet, but without the kick at the end. The finish is much smoother than the Port wine that I’ve had before. I have to say, I could see myself finishing a nice night with a glass of this! While I couldn’t take a bottle home with me, when I come across ice wine again, I will definitely leave room for this little nightcap.