Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Niagara Escarpment Wineries - Winter 2013

My boyfriend and I make a point to get up to Canada, just over the border along the Niagara Escarpment, to check out the Niagara Ice Wine Festival each winter. 

This year, while we sampled some ice wines, we focused on checking out as many "new to us" wineries we could, and sampled everything! We found some incredible wineries, met some wonderful people and had great conversation about food and wine. 

I'm not even close to a wine critic, but I'll give you my take on flavors and taste. I won't go through all the color, clarity, complexity, balance and finish notes, but will mention what we liked so you can sample them when you get a chance. As a point of reference, I gravitate towards white wines and my boyfriend is a fan of reds. In the time we have been dating though, almost three years, we've come to appreciate the opposite and my palate is beginning to change. One thing we can agree on, we both love Rieslings, so much of what we buy are Rieslings.

My reviews below are also about the overall atmosphere and experience at each, which is almost as important to me as the wines. Enjoy! 

Legends Estate Winery: We started off our day at Legends Estate Winery. They are situated right near the water, and even though it was a cold day out, the sun was shining so we walked around the grounds. The location is beautiful and a gazebo situated right near the water makes it a great spot for summer visits. 

The winery itself is a small space with one tasting area. There was one other couple wrapping up a tasting when we arrived so we looked around as they paid and then began our tasting. Most of the wines we tasted we good and we settled on a bottle of Truth & Dare (one white, one red). The packaging of the bottles was fun (see bottom picture of all the wines)- Truth is green, Dare is red). I'm not a huge fan of reds, but I enjoyed this one. The girl taking care of us was pleasant and asked if we were from Buffalo because of our accent. We just laughed.

Good start to our day! 

The Good Earth Food & Wine Company: Our second stop of the day was to The Good Earth Food & Wine Company, and from the moment we pulled up the driveway, I was in love. The grounds house a few different buildings. One building serves as a cooking school, and the other (pictured below) is the winery and a restaurant. The tasting room is small, but absolutely beautiful. As opposed to many typical tasting areas that are set up as a bar, the tasting room has small circular tables with a hole in the middle for the chilled wine to sit. The owner of the winery greeted us and did our tasting herself. She could tell we enjoyed wine, so we sampled everything. They had two Rieslings to sample and we were told people were split down the middle on which they preferred. For us, it was the 2010 (I didn't care for the 2009 at all). The best wine there, and my favorite wine of the day, was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Wow. It is the perfect summer night wine with a very crisp flavor that went down a little too easily. We are planning on building a fire pit in our backyard this year. This wine will be perfect for our first night enjoying it! Absolutely outstanding.

The wines are priced a little higher than other wineries in the area, but they were worth it, the tasting alone was outstanding, and I'm already kicking myself for not buying more than one bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc.

We didn't eat in the restaurant, but the menu looked fantastic and they have pre-fixe menus throughout the year that we will definitely go back for. The cooking classes seemed pricey (most of the classes you just watch, and they are not hands on), but from what we heard, they are extremely popular there. 

This winery alone is worth the drive over the border! Make it a "must" stop next time you get to Canada! 

Vineland Estates WineryWe are not strangers to Vineland, it is our favorite place to visit every year, and the only repeat winery we visited. Unlike most years we have gone, the tasting room was not very busy and our favorite wine expert, Joe, was not there. While the girl who took care of our tasting sort of rushed us through it, it was great to get back there and sample some of our favorite wines again. We ended up walking out of there with four bottles of wine; 2 bottles of the 2011 St. Urban Elevation, 1 bottle of the 2010 Semi Dry Riesling (one of my all-time favorites), and a bottle of the 2011 dry Riesling which we sampled for the first time. For a drier Riesling, I thought it was fantastic (and I'm more of a semi dry girl). The flavors were crisp and I really enjoyed the finish. 

Vineland is an absolutely gorgeous estate with a restaurant housed in a separate building as well as a small chapel for weddings. The tasting room is large and they have a nice storefront area with all the wines and accessories.  If you go upstairs they have a small cheese shop which is wonderful!

Thirty Bench Wine Makers: From the outside, Thirty Bench Wine Makers has a very rustic feel to it. On the inside the space boasts big windows that overlook a gorgeous estate and wood throughout. In addition to the tasting bar, they have a VIP tasting area with small stations for you to get a more in depth tasting. The storefront area is small, but they have very cool handmade wood serving dishes, trivets and more.

We mostly focused on the white wines here and enjoyed the flight of Rieslings. They have three different Rieslings (all prepared different ways), and then a mix of the three. As we sampled each of the three, we really enjoyed the 2011 Small Lot Riesling. In addition, the 30 Bench Riesling (the mixture of the three) was great and really produced the flavor that I thought was lacking in the other two. The mix was a lot cheaper than the individual ones, but we wanted a little of each to take home. 

We found this winery on a whim, just noticed it as we were driving down the street and decided to stop. I'm glad we did! 


Megalomanic Winery: When we were looking for this winery, we almost missed it. It's hidden, basically underground with just a small, hill-like structure sticking out. There is a long winding road to get to it, but once we were inside we were amazed. The space is incredible! When you walk in, you are at the storefront, a small area with all the wines for sale and a cash register. The tasting room itself is huge, although tastings are only done at one small bar area. The tasting room is also where the wine is made, and stored and there are barrels throughout the space and the fermentation tanks used to make the wine. There are beautiful chandeliers throughout the space and a nice running waterfall in one area. 

The wines were outstanding! We walked away with a bottle of the 2011 Narcissist Riesling and the 2011 Homegrown Riesling. Each had very different distinct flavors that, from start to finish, were a treat for my palate. They also had a fantastic Riesling ice wine, and I've always been partial to Vineland's, but this one was better. Next time we get up there, I'm definitely going to splurge on a bottle! 

Ridegepoint Wines: When I started putting this blog together, I forgot we even went to this winery...that's how memorable it was. From the moment we walked in the tasting room, I felt like I was being talked down to, and rushed through everything. This winery was the only place we had to actually pay for the tastings (most will waive it if you buy a bottle), and the lady who took care of us was not pleasant or helpful. The only positive from this winery, I did find a red wine I enjoyed; the 2011 Cabernet Merlot. While it was on the drier side, I found it full of flavor. I am looking forward to enjoying a nice steak with it this summer.  

Rosewood Estates Winery: Rosewood is a fun winery, with a beautiful tasting room. The winery is also home to many beehives, and in addition to more typical types of wine you see, they produce a wine called mead (which is wine made with honey). I loved the layout of how the store was set up - all the wines were in wood containers that were shaped to look like a honeycomb. Throughout the winery they had cute wine quotes and the grounds outside were beautiful as well.

The lady who took care of us was so personable and gave us a good history of the winery and mead. We tried many different wines and they were all good. We both absolutely loved the 2011 Mima's Block Riesling. We were excited to try the Mead wine and really enjoyed it. It definitely has a very different flavor than other wines and the honey and fruit flavors in the 2008 Mead Royale were great. It is sweet, and usually served as a dessert wine. We also purchased some honey (in an adorable bear glass jar) and the cutest little honey dipper. We've since tried the honey and it is absolutely fantastic! 

Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery: This winery was our last stop of the day, and as far as the overall "experience" goes, this was our favorite winery of the day (and after the great time we had at Good Earth, I thought it was impossible to top).

The winery is also the home of the owner, Sue Ann Staff. She purchased the estate from her ancestors and renovated it, although many original features are still noticeable throughout the home. 

The tasting room is her kitchen. Her actual kitchen that she cooks in! It has a very modern feel to it and is very inviting and comfortable. The lady working that afternoon was so full of knowledge and we spent a long time talking with her about the wines. Unlike the other wineries of the day, there was absolutely no wine we tried here that I didn't like. Everything was fabulous. The wines are priced a little higher than most, but they were truly outstanding. We left with a bottle of the 2011 Riesling Baco Noir (a combination I didn't think I'd like, but LOVED), 2011 Riesling, and the 2010 Baco Noir. 

After our tasting was complete, the lady working showed us around the lower floor of the house and it's beautiful! What a location. 

Our Sunday along the Escarpment was absolutely wonderful. It is one of the best day trips for wine lovers in the Buffalo area (and beyond). There are many limo/bus packages offered from various companies that would be a perfect way to explore with friends, family or for a special event. Check out my blog on The Ice Wine Festival from last year for more ideas of places to go! 

Many people have asked me why I haven't blogged about the wineries in Niagara County yet, while I've mentioned Niagara on the Lake a few times. To be honest, I have been to the Niagara County wineries a handful of times, but have only fallen in love with a few. Maybe it is because Niagara On The Lake has soooo many to choose from, that I gravitate towards there, but I honestly think the quality of the wine, and the location, makes them better overall. This summer though, I'm planning on getting back up to the wineries in Niagara County, and will blog about them! 

Our haul for the day: 18 bottles of wine and some honey!

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