Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto - Road Trip to Niagara

A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to take a trip to Niagara with fellow blogger Sasha, her mother, her mother's friend and our dear friends Shannon, Lisa and Lisa's husband Jeff. Lisa, Shannon, Jeff and I drove down on the Friday night and stayed at the lovely Hilton Doubletree in Niagara Falls. The next morning we drove to meet Sasha and her party at Inniskillin. You can read about Sasha's impressions of Inniskillin in her article.

After Inniskillin, we headed to Lailey where the wonderful Derek Barnett guided us through his beloved winery. Derek's passion for winemaking was clear to us from the very beginning. His enthusiasm and verve were evident the whole afternoon!

Derek and I really bonded over our mutual passion for local, sustainable eating and drinking; as well as our passion for Ontario wines and pairing them with food. For those of you unfamiliar with Canadian wine, there is a reason why; most of it never sees its way out of the country or into a Canadian liquor store! Lailey is a small winery that sells most of its wine out the door; only a few varieties (such as the VQA Pinot Noir) ever see the inside of an LCBO liquor store, and the bottles that do can only be found in the Vintages section as production at these boutique vineyards is so small, the price can become high for retail. Lailey specifically trains their vines to curtail and control growth, which also makes it expensive for them to grow the grapes.

After our tour, we got down to some serious tasting. Derek first brought out two Chardonnays for us to try; the 2008 Brickyard and the 2008 Canadian Oak. I absolutely did not realize how different the soil can make in the taste of wine, but it was clearly demonstrated to us at Lailey! Though grown in the same year, the Brickyard grapes were grown in red clay soil and the Canadian Oak grown just a few dozen metres away in looser, more aerated soil. Most of our party preferred the citrus notes of the Canadian Oak, however I and a few others preferred the smoothness and textures to the Brickyard. Derek is determined not to sacrifice flavour for alcohol or sugar content; either of which can overwhelm delicate flavours; especially in whites.

Our next tasting was a revelation to me. Derek brought out two Pinot Noirs for us to compare; again from the same year but different soil. The 2008 Pinot (which is usually the Lailey wine most likely to be found at the liquor store) was ruby red in colour and quite lovely and jammy; a wonderful wine all around thoroughly enjoyed by our party.
My revelation came with the 2008 Brickyard Pinot Noir. Right away, the colour was more of an earthen red and I could see the difference the red clay soil made. Honestly, I could have sat at that table all day without drinking - simply smelling that wine. I just looked at Derek and smiled. It was like vanilla and violets in a glass; it tasted like I would imagine the colour purple would taste in food form. I told Derek that the wine reminded me of the African Violets my Granny used to keep when I was a child. All of a sudden, Derek got the biggest smile on his face, lighting up like a child on Christmas morning who knows he got a bike under the tree.

He asked if I wanted to try other reds and I readily agreed. All of a sudden, wine was coming at us with the enthusiasm of a man who knows he's found an appreciative audience; people who appreciate his art.
So began my journey; and the journey of our table. Next came the revelatory 2007 Meritage, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite Lailey red by far; the notes of violets and vanilla were a bit stronger here and I ended up buying a bottle. To me, this was joy in a glass! This wine begs for lamb or a steak to go with it, or just to be sipped before a fire or on a sunny patio.

Before this trip, I had never tried an aged wine (I know, I'm a bad foodie!) and had told Derek that as we were discussing the Pinots and how the flavours change with aging. The dear man brought in a 2002 Merlot with gorgeous jamminess and vanilla hints, a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon which was redolent of potatoes, grass, earth and ocean. It sounds odd, but it was absolutely delicious!

Next came what we were actually meant to be tasting that day; the icewines. Another revelation to us all. Along with the other vintage red wines he brought out, Derek was generous enough to bring out the very last bottle of Lailey's 2001 Riesling Icewine. It had a tropical aroma with dried fruit flavours like fig and dates. It had this beautiful amber colour with a thicker consistency from the aging. Lisa rightly described it as drinking liquid gold.

From there, we went from an aged icewine to a relatively young one; the 2007 Vidal icewine. It was a deep yellow gold colour and had an amazing aroma and flavour of lychee and peaches. I also picked up a couple of bottles of this one. I still haven't decided if I should drink it or age it!

I had no idea before this trip that aging icewine was an option, but Derek explained that the fruity tropical elements give way over time to more dried fruit flavours, and the colour goes from gold to amber.

Last, but certainly not least came something special I had never tried; a red icewine. We tasted the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon icewine which had a lovely cheese aroma with jammy and berry-like tones to it; strawberries, blueberries, cherries. An amazing new experience and I know many of our party loved this one as well.

We were so lucky to have this unique experience at Lailey; this was certainly not an ordinary wine-tasting. Derek's knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for his product and region were such a joy to behold. Thank you so very much to Derek and all those at Lailey who gave us such a special afternoon. I will never, ever forget it and will hopefully be back at Lailey with my family later this year to stock up!


  1. Your wine tasting notes are wonderful - these wines were truly fabulous and I love how you have captured our experience tasting at Lailey in this post.


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