Friday, July 25, 2008

Day Two--So Much Wine, So Little Time (But We Made The Most Of It)

Sunday dawned pleasant and partly sunny. We lingered over breakfast and decided that we had no real agenda other than to visit Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery in nearby Beamsville. Our charming innkeeper Tim had thoughtfully printed out directions ("straight from Google!") from the front door of the inn to the drive of the place. We packed up our cooler and snack bag, piled into the car, and set out.

The winery is in a lovely setting complete with a pond and honking Canada geese, for whom we stopped (and then made Ali get out and chase from the side of the road. One of them hissed at her and stuck out its tongue. They are really mean.). The building itself is stately and gorgeous. We were the only visitors, so we were able to get very personal service. We tasted their wines, but of course we were anxious to get to the meads, of which they produce two. The traditional mead is their Harvest Gold dry; the other is a varietal called Mon Cherie, which is a rosé mead made by adding cherries. None of us had ever tasted mead before, so we had no idea what to expect in aroma, taste, appearance...anything. And it was different than we thought in all of those categories! First, I expected it to be a little thicker, kind of like syrup since mead is, after all, fermented honey. I also expected it to smell like honey and nothing else. Finally, I expected it to taste very sweet and sugary, but still like wine.

It was none of those things! The mead was just the same viscosity as wine or water. It had a sort of floral smell overall, then a bit of a honey note. (The Mon Cherie did have that bouquet of cherries also.) But there was also a sort of musty, lavender smell. Finally, the taste: I almost cannot describe it. I'm not even sure I like it! It's a bit musky, floral, a touch of vanilla in the finish, but not an overwhelming amount of honey, nor was there the expected sweetness. The Mon Cherie had the cherry note, but it was not a primary note. It was the oddest sensation, to drink "wine" and not have the sensation of "grape" or "fruit." Rick bought two bottles of it, though, so I will have time to culture my palate a little and see what I think. In addition to the mead, we bought a bottle of their Meritage. This is a variety of wine I had been tasting with intent to purchase at each winery, but I had been mightily disappointed until Rosewood. Meritage is a red wine that kind of reminds me of a "Gentlemen's Club", in that it evokes a paneled study, leather-bound volumes, a good cigar, and a big marbled steak. It's oaky but not too tannic, has a little bit of plumminess and almost a cocoa finish. So! Our big Mead Adventure accomplished, we inquired about wineries in the vicinity. "There are tons right along this road!" said our tasting guide. "There's one right next door; didn't you see it?"
We had, but because it was made of material and had architecture so similar to Rosewood, we assumed it was part of their winery. It was, in fact, a place called Angels Gate.

I won't spend much time on this winery because we didn't spend much time there, and I don't recommend you do, either, if you are ever in The Bench area. It's beautiful, yes, but it's not very welcoming and although they had a positively orgasmic Old Vine Chardonnay there (at $25 a bottle, steep if you are buying a case, I think, and too good for just one or two bottles, thereby making it just too darn pricey) their Gamay Noir is what I need to warn you off of. When I went to taste it, the smell of it was downright nauseating. It smelled exactly like what a wet load of laundry reeks of when you've forgotten it in the washer for a day or two on a hot day--that sort of wet, used, three-day old dishrag smell. Funky, mildewy...urgh. I gently said to the girl, "Could you smell this, please? I think something is amiss." The girl smelled it and sort of wrinkled up her nose a bit. Then she called on another girl, and this girl (who was all of 25), after hearing a brief explanation, poured a sample, swirled it, and took a whiff. She looked at the other girl, looked at me, and said very patronizingly, "That's what it smells like. There might be a bit of bottle shock, but it's fine." What a load of bullshit. Bottle shock makes wine tasteless or a bit lackluster and watery. It doesn't make them stink like wet dog. Besides, if a winery is serving brand new wine at a tasting bar before it is past the danger of bottle shock, then they have no idea what they are doing, and I am not confident in their product or their staff. I said, "Oh. Well, thank you then." We ended our tasting immediately. And left. But I will say this: that Old Vine Chardonnay was incredible--smooth, butterscotchy with a hint of vanilla and a bit toasty. Heaven. But one bottle would just make me crazy for more, and it's too pricey.

We visited at least six more wineries, and I can't possibly go into detail about all of them, but I will give you highlights of a few of them and their wines:

Mountain Road Wine Company was definitely a highlight, though not for atmosphere, certainly: it was like walking into a small basement studio apartment. When we pulled up, there were two women eating lunch at an umbrella table at the end of the driveway. As soon as we stopped the car, they hurriedly gathered up their things and scurried inside. They were the sole employees! They were so pleasant and knowledgeable, and this winery offers a full tasting of all of their wines, including all of their icewines. This is unheard of at all NotL wineries. Icewine runs about $70 a bottle (on average), so wineries charge to taste it. Not Mountain Road! We tasted all 4 of their icewines. And let me tell you: when I tasted their Cabernet Franc icewine, I had to hold onto the edge of the counter to keep from swooning and moaning and...well, let's just say that they need to put at least an 'R' rating on that stuff. It is incredible. My eyeballs literally rolled back in my head. Rick said, "She doesn't need me anymore." Nice man...he bought me a bottle anyway. They also have a wonderful table wine simply called Mountain Road Red that would be great with Italian food or nibblies--you know, snackies like chips, cheese and crackers, grapes, etc.

Cornerstone Winery is run by a Polish couple, and the draw here is their fruit wines. If you are the type of person who likes the idea of drinking wine, but wishes it was more fruity and...well, less sharpish and aged-tasting on your palate, then these wines are for you. Cornerstone has peach, apricot, cherry, and strawberry wines that were inspired by Wanda, the winemaker's wife, who wanted something different. The strawberry is especially wonderful--the fruit flavor is bountiful and natural. It's like drinking Smucker's strawberry preserves, but not so cloyingly sweet. Next year, Cornerstone will have a port wine available, something I have never seen at a winery in NotL or The Bench.

Thirty Bench is a pretty big player in The Bench area. When we walked in, we were swooped in upon by a "Private Wine Consultant" who offered to take us on a personalized tour and private tasting for ten dollars each. We declined and were summarily shown the tasting area and given the standard Free Tasting of two wines, the house riesling and the house red. But, that was okay because the 2007 Thirty Bench Riesling is lovely. It is crisp, clean, and has a beautiful aroma of pears and citrus. The finish has a great snap of lime. I loved it and bought it.

Crown Bench is an interesting place with a Santa Clausy Hungarian vintner who is at once pretentious and passionate about The Bench area and his wines. He is also crazy knowledgeable about all things oenological. By this time, I'm a bit buzzed, so I'll pretty much talk to anyone and listen to anything, so he was shamelessly flattered. The cool thing here is this guy's icewines: he makes them in seemingly endless varieties and a tasting includes one of your choice. I chose one called "Chocolate Ambrosia" and Jared chose "Hot Ice", which was flavored with chiles. All I ended up buying was a bottle of his Verjus, a gourmet cooking item.

As I said, there were a couple other wineries--maybe three, maybe four--one of them is affiliated with Dan Aykroyd's label--and we bought wine at a couple of them. But these were the highlights of our trip to The Bench.
Now do you see why we brought home more than 50 bottles of wine? Looking back, I'm surprised we didn't end up with much more!


  1. Yowsa! That just proves it. I know nothing at all about wine. My question to you is this- Now that you have all these new favorites which will you run when you only have time for a quick border run?

  2. I don't know anything about wine either. BUT I know that dishrag smell. Ick! I agree that her answer was alot of BS. I would have walked out too. People who think they know more than they do bug me. Especially when I know more than they do. ;) Happy drinking!

  3. I was trying to say before I deleted my comment...

    You make me want to give up breastfeeding and head to wine country! I really miss drinking wine.

  4. I loved reading this and the other post. Reading wine reviews (and food reviews) are always just so enjoyable to me. Yours were just great, and I especially enjoyed this one for the fantastic descriptions. You made me feel like I was there, Nance. I know I would have gone for that Riesling and, I confess, Cornerstone Winery would probably be right up my alley. I just recently learned about ice wines after I checked out the website of a winery whose wine (vidal blanc) I enjoyed at my nephew's wedding recently. Thanks for sharing. I have to agree that now I do see why you came home with more than 50 bottles! ;-)

  5. 50 bottles. Can I come live with you??

  6. a.l.--naturally. i'd consider it a ticket to heaven, rescuing you from texas (home of the Angel of Death and all...!) LOL.

    shirley--saturday was rick's birthday, so we drank a bit of wine on the deck, ending with Cattail Creek's Late Harvest Vidal Dessert Wine. It is no longer available, so we really treasured it. NotL makes some lovely Vidals in general. You need to go! and thanks for the kind words, esp. when these posts were so terribly LONG.

    nina--your wine-drinking days are not over permanently. let me know what kind to save you, and i'll put a bottle on reserve.

    simplypink--i think she probably was following a bit of company protocol, perhaps, but the whole place was trying way too hard to be snooty.

    j.--good question, and it's one we discussed a couple nights ago. NotL is def. our primary spot, so it would be that region, and Cattail Creek has the wines we truly love the most. Jared is in love with Caroline Cellars, and that's probably our #2. But the Bench was interesting to explore.

  7. Hee hee! I love your descriptions!

    I'm not a wine drinker, but if you ever hear of a Mai-Tai-ery kind of vacation, count me in! :)

  8. Oh, Nance... you might do a wine blog, eh? This was even better entertainment than the movie Sideways, lol.

    Mead: I tasted that when I was 20 at a fun medieval dinner in Chiddingstone Castle in southern England. I knew nothing of wine, much less mead, I just remember it tasting "odd." Would love to experience it again, if only out of curiosity.

    Bottle shock: Brilliant term. I am now going to use it in the economical sense to refer to price hikes on my favorite imported white wine, Marqués de Riscal, which jumped, in one week, from 6.99 a bottle to 8.99. It is still a great deal, especially if you like the vinos verdes which can be great value for money, but a two-dollar jump in one week has to be something to do with.... gas prices rising?

    Icewines: I did not know they existed and do not know what they are, but I am going to google my way into enlightenment, lol.

  9. Halley12:09 AM


    I had to bust open a bottle of pinot grigio just so I could really get into the mood to read all about this. I am so envious that your husband enjoys wine with you. It took my husband several tries to learn how to master a wine key. He often teases me about the legs and what not.

    Since you guys are so into to wine, have you ever looked into the Finger Lake area in New York, we vacationed in Chatauqua Lake for years and would drive an additonal 3 hours into that are just to go to the wineries. Bully Hill was always a fave and the people there are so down to earth and really drunk on "table" wine. There are a ton of other area wineries to explore, however I was always soooo drunk by the time we were done at bully hill I don't remember any of the other wineries names, however, the area is beautiful and highly recommended. The Chautauqua area is fabulous and they also have great wineries and are only a few hours drive from our location. They have great Cottages. I don't know if they would compare to NotL, but it might be a "neat" place for you and the hubby to check out.

    Happy Drinking

  10. Halley--I'm very intrigued by the whole Chatauqua mystique: it's got such a rich history and the whole idea of it being such an intellectual community of free-thinkers with its lectures and all has always made it a "Someday Destination" for me. I know the Finger Lakes area is very well-known for its wine also, and every time we pass the signs on our way to NotL, we say we need to make a stop sometime and investigate. Thanks for a particular destination now! (and for commenting again!)

    ortizzle--Oh, the Niagara area is all about their icewines. I'm not normally a huge fan (they're cloyingly sweet, esp. when made from vidal, and most are), but the reds are something special. You don't dare pour them as you would a regular wine; just an ounce is PLENTY. As far as "bottle shock"--it's a real winemaker's term. and while I am honestly not a wine snob, it's time you stepped up a bit into a $10 bottle. if you like chardonnay, have you ever found a label called "cupcake chardonnay?" cute name, but very descriptive in that it has very strong vanilla notes and is extremely drinkable without food.

    ck--I love the whole idea of Mai-Tais. however, they contain rum, don't they? sadly, i am allergic. have you ever heard of anything more tragic? this cuts me out of a lot of lovely drinks. and, PS--any vacation can become a Mai-Taiery if YOU MAKE IT SO. LOL.

  11. Allergic? To RUM?! Oh my. I'm sending you my condolences... and drinking your share of rum. ;)

  12. After reading both of your entries, I wish even more that I could say that I like wine. As of yet, I haven't found a wine that I really like. Perhaps I need to head to NotL for a proper wine tasting!

  13. I know that it's far, but have you ever been to Napa or Sonoma?

    We toured Napa and it was fabulous, but I will admit to not being a huge wine drinker.

  14. gina--we've never been to california, and, in light of, "atmospheric events", i think we'll wait a while. yikes! you guys really are getting sorta biblical out there!

    jenomena--sounds like the strawberry wine at cornerstone is perfect for you!


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