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Grape Expectations: My Niagara Wine Country FAM

Still recuperating from a decadent VisitStCatharines FAM June 18-19, in Niagara wine country, attended by tour operators and meeting and event planners.


The superb lunch served at Henry of Pelham.

The superb lunch served at Henry of Pelham winery.

Still recuperating from a decadent VisitStCatharines FAM June 18-19, in Niagara wine country, attended by tour operators and meeting and event planners.

Leading the FAM was the dynamic Leigh Roszell, of VisitStCatharines.

For a hard-core foodie like myself, the weekend was heaven.

The first night, we began at 13th Street Winery, in St. Catharines.

We gathered in the airy Gallery Room to sample four wines: Cuvee Rose Brut 07; White Palette 2009; Chardonnay Sandstone 08; and Gamay Noir 08.

Paired to each vintage was a different, bite-sized creation: Mini-crab cakes with lemon/tarragon aioli; avocado and smoked-salmon tartare on dill scone; parmesan-crisp tacos with chicken, romaine and garlic mayo; and leek/artichoke quiche with goat cheese.

From there, we travelled to nearby Rockway Glen Golf Course and Estate Winery, to enjoy a splendid dinner of barbecued chicken, salad, mixed veg and dessert squares. Adding to our enjoyment was the breathtaking view of the golf course through enormous picture windows in the spacious clubhouse restaurant.

The next day, we lunched at Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery. In the coach house, we sat at two long tables and enjoyed local roasted bacon, prosciutto, salami and fresh ricotta; pickled onions; salmon tartare; marinated artichokes and juliennned cucumber; panzanella bread salad; and black and green olives.

Capping the weekend was the Niagara New Vintage Festival – Tailgate Party, held in the vineyard of grape producer Schenk Greenhouses. Luckily, the rain held off, and under radiantly sunny skies, we sampled the wares of more than 30 local wineries.

My hands-on favourite was the chardonnay ice wine from Pilliteri Estates.

Complementing the wines were four dishes, each served from its own station:

• spice-rubbed chicken in pink-peppercorn vinaigrette loaded with strawberries and fresh peas (courtesy of The Kitchen House);

• grilled beef drizzled with a smoky, rhubarb-jazzed barbecue sauce and set atop pea-studded macaroni salad (AG at the Sterling Inn);

• juicy pork tenderloin paired with a sauce made from cherry juice and crunchy mustard seed, paired with grilled polenta (Dine @ Vineland Estates Winery);

• smoked pickerel drizzled with tarragon pesto, on a Nicoise-style salad of green beans, potatoes and tomatoes (Hospitality on Hand).

Handing out cheeses were the Dairy Farmers of Canada. On offer were Tre Stelle/Arla Foods’ bocconcini; Quinte Crest, from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese; Pine River Cheese & Butter Co-op’s three-year-old cheddar; and Bleu Benedictin, from Abbaye St-Benoit.

Towards the end of the three-hour-plus event, a team wandered up and down the vineyard, handing out luscious strawberry, and strawberry/rhubarb, tarts.

Perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Visit the New Vintage Festival’s site and VisitStCatharines’ site



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