Wine Country

Road trip? He asked.
Bien sûr! I replied. Likely in a terrible accent.

On Canada Day, July 1st, F. and I embarked on a whirlwind road trip that took us from Halifax to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and back again within 6 days. Nearly 4000 kilometers driven, with stops in 5 cities, and countless wonderful meals and memories, it’d be hard to detail this trip in one or even ten posts. That being said, here’s an attempt to give an abbreviated and largely photographic account of the highlights of those exhausting, but fabulous, days.

We only drove as far as Fredericton on the first day, not because it was a convenient or well-timed stop by any means, but because I spent five very formative and precious years there while completing my undergrad at St. Thomas University, and F. knew of my giant soft spot for the city. After a short but sweet visit with my cousin, we ventured downtown to fill our hungry, road-tripping bellies. F. wanted to eat somewhere that was representative of my time spent there in university, rather than check out any new places in town, so off we went to the ever-reliable Snooty Fox. Despite being insanely busy due to its proximity to holiday festivities, we were seated quickly, and our meals and micro-brews did not disappoint. I was less than enthused with our server, who flat out refused to give me a recommendation (does anyone else find this strange?), but the displeasure didn’t last long as we were both in vacation mode and not in the mood for moods. 
The food highlight of this quick stop in Fredericton was the next morning, however, when I got to show F. the Fredericton Farmers' Market. We feasted on some early-morning samosas from Samosa Delight, freshly squeezed orange juice from Sam the Juice Man, and Victoria’s Secret Blend coffee: my three market staples while in university. The icing on this already happy cake was getting to catch up with an old friend from STU while we stuffed our faces with the legendary samosas.

The rest of Saturday was spent in the car. Entirely. Many a messy timbit and Subway sandwich were had by the time we reached Toronto that night!
Sunday – consistenly the best day of my week, every week – began with another round of dim sum with F.’s family in Toronto, which was even better than the last. We hit the road not long afterward for Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we were treated to wine tastings “downtown” and a fantastic production of My Fair Lady, as part of the Shaw Festival. If you're in the vicinity, I'd highly recommend catching this or any of the Festival's other shows. As an added bonus, if you're under 30, your ticket is heavily discounted. (Sidenote: Amazing! I didn't think I would qualify for discounts again until old age! We happily took advantage of my final 2 months in my 20s. F. was too old for the discount. Cough, cough.) 

Waiting for the curtain to raise at My Fair Lady

Once the curtains closed and standing ovations quelled, we found our way down a long country road to our lodgings for the night. The stunning River Bend Inn overlooks the vineyard we were to tour and dine at that night, so after checking in, we put on our Sunday best and walked (walked!) through the fields and up the grand driveway to Peller Estates Winery. While waiting for our tour and tasting to begin, we naturally opted to fill the time with an additional tasting in the Estate's store.

River Bend Inn, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

The lobby of the River Bend Inn from above.
While we waited: Tasting # 2 at Peller Estates. Private Reserve Riesling (2009),
Private Reserve Pinot Noir (2009), Private Reserve Vidal Late Harvest (2010).

After this, we quite literally wined and dined the night away in the Winery restaurant. We spent the following 4 (or was it 5?) hours being dazzled and intrigued by award-winning Chef Jason Parsons' tasting menu, that eventually sent us home across the vineyard buzzing happily on both food and drink. This was tricky in heels, let me tell you!

Because the tasting was blind ("Put all the decisions in our hands and allow us to awaken your palate with an unscripted and inspired culinary journey…"), I asked our server if she could write down the dishes for me, since there was no way I’d remember all the details after that many glasses of wine. Thankfully, she very sweetly complied and here are some of the highlights of our meal. (Check out my Flickr page if you'd like to see even more!)

Our view while eating.  Bliss.
This was not included on the menu, but it was a tasty and pretty spoonful of skate.

Rabbit Boulanger, with mushroom & summer greens and maple foam dressing.
Accompanied by Peller's Riesling "Private Reserve" 2009.
Roasted Red Pepper Gaspacho with cucumber granite.
Accompanied by Peller's Sauvingnon Blanc "Private Reserve" 2009.
Smoked Digby Scallops, with sweet pea purée, pickled white asparagus, and toasted cashews.
Accompanied by Peller's Sauvingnon Blanc "Signature Series" 2009. This was F.'s
favourite dish, and he joked about having to come to Ontario for the best Digby
scallops he's ever tasted.
image 0 0
Ontario Beef Rib Eye, with parsley root purée, herb roasted pearl potatoes
woodland mushroom, and sea asparagus. Accompanied by Peller's Cabernet
Franc "Signature Series" 2008. This was my favourite, by far, and how appropriate
to be eating gorgeous, Ontario beef while in Ontario? With a sumptuous
glass of red, no less?

image 1 1
Strawberry Mousse, with cucumber frappé and cracked black pepper.
Accompanied by Peller's Ice Cuvée Classic "Signature Series." Truthfully, this was

an odd combination for me, as I wouldn't typically think of anything cucumber as dessert.
           But awaken my palate it did! The combination was undoubtedly refreshing. 

image 2 2
Our late-night departure from Peller Estates.

I've been very lucky to dine in some beautiful restaurants over the past few years, and particularly in the past several months, but dining at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant was truly an event: one I won't soon forget. If you'd like to read more about the impact Chef Jason Parsons and his restaurant are having on the industry, in Niagara-on-the-lake, and beyond, take a look here for what City Line has to say, or on the James Beard Foundation's website.

Last but not least, here is our beautiful breakfast, courtesy of River Bend. They had actually closed the breakfast menu (we didn't know they had one; it's not on their website!) by the time we mozied on downstairs, but the chef ever so kindly agreed to make us a dish of our choosing anyway.


image 3 3
English Breakfast
Banana Pain Perdu
I had been on several vineyard and winery tours in the past, but this visit was special. A new experience with a personal investment. The pinnacle of a wildly successful 6 days in a small car going a great distance.
If you haven't already done so, a sunset dinner on a beautiful vineyard, in excellent company, is something any wine- and life-lover ought to do while still on this planet. By all accounts, it was an experience that employed, excited, and indulged all of my senses.

It was, in a word, perfection.

image 5 5
Peller Estates Winery (3 July 2011)




Shopping vacations: St. John’s, Nfld