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!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Taste Of My Vaca-hic-tion--The First Two Cases (Or So)


Now that I've gone and told you that I crossed the border with over 50 (FIFTY) bottles of wine, some of you are curious as to just where I got all this vino, and if all I did on this little vacance of mine was to simply go meandering about the Ontario countryside, swishing and not spitting.

If only!

Of course, I jest.

Our primary focus when we jaunt off to Canada is The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, (NotL from here on out, because it is such a bitch to type!). Click that hotlink when you get a chance and check it out; there are short previews of a couple of the plays available to watch, lots of information and plot synopses, and the Festival runs through Nov. 2nd. There are many great deals on tickets available, especially for students and those 30 and under. We saw two productions this time, Mrs. Warren's Profession and Belle Moral, which is a new play submitted under the newly-expanded rules of The Shaw. Heretofore, The Shaw Festival only put on those plays written during the era of George Bernard Shaw, but now they have decided to include plays that are set during the era of GBS. Both plays were extremely well done, but we vastly preferred Belle Moral, due to the preachiness, long-winded speeches, and lack of comic relief in MW'sP.

Our second reason for the trip was to score some more of Caroline Cellars' Pinot Cherry wine. We discovered this gem on our last trip up to NotL in December. And we REdiscovered it on Independence Day when we had our now infamous Liquid Dinner To Celebrate The Birth Of Our Nation. It's a gorgeous light red with a cherry finish that is lovely when barely chilled. Caroline Cellars was one of the first wineries we hit on Saturday in NotL because I wanted to be sure we could get a case. While we were there, of course I thought it prudent and only polite to taste all of their offerings. They also had a terrific new rosé, very aromatic and pretty, so we bought some of that as well, and headed out to our most favorite winery of all. This one actually was the sole reason for our road trip back in December. I know, how sad.

I had emailed Rosi at Cattail Creek that we were coming, and she emailed me back immediately. She was thrilled that we were on our way--they had a bunch of new reds she wanted us to taste with her. But she was sad to inform us that our all-time favorite wine, the 2006 Off-Dry Reisling--an award-winner for them!--was completely gone. (Ha ha! Not for us! We still have almost a case! ) We zipped over there for a huggy reunion and got down to serious business. Rosi does very generous pours...of all the wines...and we bought another case. This time a split of half Chardonnay and half Gamay. The Chardonnay....oh my. So buttery and lightly oaked and smooth that it was like biting into a piece of morning toast. Mmmmmmm. And the Gamay was like a round, plummy Beaujolais, only crisper, with a small spice note in the background.

This was our third tasting because we had started at another winery to allow Jared's girlfriend Ali to go on a full tour of a winery. By now, I've had...oh, let's just say a lot of wine. I've only dumped probably two. And we've already bought 28 bottles. It's amazing how it just adds up!

Then we simply had to go to Reif Estates Winery to visit our buddies, Carol and Dawn, two sisters in the wine boutique and tasting bar there. We met them in December and they fell in love with Jared and wanted to fix him up with Carol's daughter. (They also shamelessly flirted with Rick, which is understandable--they are in his demographic. All women over the age of 55 adore my husband, and the older they get, the more they love him. In this case, it is absolutely okay because it means free wine tasting. I'm no dummy.) Astonishingly, we see both ladies and they remember us immediately without us even saying anything! Carol is now the manager of the boutique/tasting bar, and she tells the bartender "Give these people anything they want" and shoots them The Look. We taste everything on the tasting menu at no charge. Both ladies stop by often and chat and flirt. Carol tries to fix Ali up with the young man in charge of our tasting in order to free Jared up for her daughter "who is on Facebook, by the way." As we leave, Ali is presented with a free box of icewine chocolates by Carol, who explains, "Since I was a little bit mean." Rick and I buy...oh, I forget, but I think two...three bottles...? Some. (Just kidding. We got a couple of bottles of their Gamay Rosé, which is not only pretty to look at, but has a very beautiful bouquet of strawberry and rhubarb. The finish is not tannic at all, and it is only mildly sweet. As you can tell, we're going in for light reds a bit, and rosés.)

At that point, basically, I was hammered. I'm not going to lie. We had taken along some food in the car, but I had drunk quite a bit of wine, and because we had gone back to very familiar wineries with staff we had developed a relationship with (or as Jared so eloquently put it "we rolled VIP"), we had been treated to some...extremely generous pours. We decided to call it a day after we ran into one last winery merely to pick up a bottle of wine that the vintner likes to call Darth Vader--it's a sinisterly dark and smoky 2003 Cabernet that, for some reason, I really enjoy even though I normally do not like big oaky reds. Rick and Jared have a major aversion to this winery, and admittedly, I'm not a fan, either. It smells musty and doggy, and seems sort of like it's for The Old Folks. Just gives off a really odd vibe. But that Cab--nice.

It was definitely time to pack it in. We were seeing a play that night, and we had to get cleaned up, find a restaurant, and get some dinner. We had succeeded in our Plan For The Day, which was to get a case of Pinot Cherry, take Ali on a winery tour, and go back to visit Rosi and her new reds at Cattail.

On Sunday we had the Entire Day To Do Wineries, and we had A MISSION. We had heard of a Winery & Meadery in a town about 40 miles away. For years, I had read about and taught about knights and lords and ladies drinking mead. I wanted to try it! Sunday would be the day. And while we were there, we'd investigate the other wineries in that area, known as "The Bench".
I'll take you with me in the next post. Bring a bottle of your favorite--excuse me, that'd be favourite--vintage, and a lovely glass.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back To Life; Back To Reality

It's over. I have returned. I vastly overpacked but wore all three pairs of shoes. My wardrobe was appropriate, but my hair (thanks to an abundance of humidity) looked terrible every single moment except for the first evening's play, where I considered asking them to keep the house lights up so that everyone could appreciate it--my hair, I mean--but decided it would be vain. After all, the audience had gathered there to see a professional performance of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, not my coif.

On the way to Canada, the following dialog took place:
Me: Hey, did you see that?
Rick: What?
Me: There was a guy standing on top of that water tower!
Rick: Did he have a gun?
Me: No...
Rick: Then don't worry about it.

Approximately three blocks from our house, we discovered that we had left for our four-hour trip without amassing any CDs to listen to. Rick said, "Oh, don't worry. I grabbed some out of my truck." There was a long moment of silence as Jared and I absorbed this news. I turned to the back seat and exchanged a horror-laden glance with him. "What?" Rick said defensively. "Nothing," we assured him. But we knew what we were in for. Rick's musical taste is...eclectic in the extreme. And his CD collection consists of burned discs of not names, but graphics like a blue Sharpie cloud scribbled on it, or a red Sharpie cloud scrawled on it, or the dreaded blank CDs which are like reaching into a grab-bag and drawing out a prize wrapped in tissue paper: you have no clue what might be inside. Thus, we immediately instituted a Two-Skip Invocation Rule, whereby anyone in the car can invoke two skips. If a song comes on that a listener cannot abide, he or she can simply state "Skip", and Rick (who has audio system controls on the steering wheel--I know, how cool is MY NEW CAR!?) will simply skip that track, no questions asked. Well, let me tell you...we had a wild, unconventional potpourri of Earth, Wind & Fire, Keith Urban, Carl Orff, Wang Chung, Eminem, Wayne Wonder, Seal, Edwin Starr, The Cars, oh...the list is endless and incredible. He tried to sneak some Kid Rock and Alan Jackson in there, but I invoked. Oooh, baby, did I invoke. All I can say is, thank heavens for Blue Cloud Disc. Wait...or was it Red Scribble? Never mind.

Things got a little sketchy at the border coming home. I am all about BORDER SECURITY. I really am. And I realize that, perhaps, four and a half cases of wine seems like a lot for just four people after only a long weekend. I do. But really, isn't asking, "What are you going to do with 50 bottles of wine?" kind of...dumb? And disingenuous? And did the Customs Officer have to preface his question with "Oh my God! That's like...fifty bottles!" Geeze.

Trying to make me feel bad.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ready To Pack It In For A Few Days

Sigh. Is there anything more vexing about getting ready for a little vacation than packing ? I detest it. One has to be a veritable seer in order to do it effectively. "What might the weather be like? (Yes, I've heard of, but that isn't foolproof, you know!) How many pairs of shoes will I really need? Can I get away with wearing this dress twice since I'm going to two different theaters? What might I feel like wearing? What if I spill something, tear something, lose a button on something, bloat and feel too fat for something? Can I both walk a fair distance and feel presentable in these shoes? Will this sweater match more than one outfit? "


Thank heavens I'm riding to Canada and not flying. This means full-size toiletries and unlimited amounts of them. Contact solution, shampoo, styling gel, lotion, deodorant, makeup, toothpaste...I MIGHT JUST GO GET WAREHOUSE-SIZED INDUSTRIAL DRUMS OF THESE THINGS BECAUSE I CAN! The airlines can go screw themselves. Hard.

I also have to think about Road Food: this part of the trip can be critical. No way am I allowing snacks like Cheetos or Doritos or melty chocolate stuff in my still-pretty-new-and-therefore-unsullied car. I must choose wisely. Also considered must be the perfect balance of savory and sweet, salty and not-so-salty. And I cannot have tons of room taken up by a bigass cooler, either. And--Road Food becomes Room Food. Must remember that.

Right now, there is laundry in the dryer, dinner waiting to be made, most of my Jaunt Wardrobe laid out on the bed, and what's left of my sanity dangling over the precipice. I hate getting ready to Go Away.

If it sounds like I need this little jaunt, it's because I do. I'm hormonal. I'm snarky. I'm fussy.

I'm sure I'll be fine. See you in a few days.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Barack, Boozing, Guilt, And Cruising...Good Lord, Strap Yourselves Down

Put on your seatbelt, and consider taking me up on the offer of that helmet. It's time for a ride on the Bullet Train Through Nance's Brain. There's no set route, and stops are random and frequent. Here we go:

  • Hey, Barack! Stop wearing The Flag Pin. What is Up With That Lately? One of the big reasons I respected you so much early on was how you calmly dug in and politely told all the zealots to go pound salt about it. About how wearing a flag pin didn't make you a True Patriot. Now you're wearing the hell out of it and, quite frankly, doing some pandering to the moderates and Reagan Democrats, whatever those really are. I have to tell you, I liked you better before. Let's remember the Primary Campaign Barack and get back to Him. And fast. Oh, and those of you who are all about The Flag Pin and The Yellow Ribbon Magnets and The Car Window Flags and all that other Fake Patriot Bullshit? How about you do some real Patriot-ing and do what I do? Donate to the USO. Put your money where your mouth is.

  • Speaking of patriotism, can we please call Fourth of July "Independence Day"? It sounds much more dignified and really speaks to what we are celebrating. I don't call my birthday "Third of May." We don't call Christmas "Twenty-fifth of December" and we don't call Thanksgiving "Third Thursday of November." Besides, to be historically accurate, what exactly happened on July 4, 1776? Look it up; you'll be surprised, I think.

Now I'm getting cranky, aren't I? I promise to stop being so snarky for the rest.

  • Today, I said, "I really need to get the backs of my legs tan. The fronts look fine, but the backs are pretty pale." I was immediately struck by how terrible that sounded. In what shallow, pathetic universe is that even a permissible goal to have? At this very moment, people are saying things like, "I need to take my mother to chemotherapy" or "I need to work on the cure for AIDS" or "I really need to find a job" or "I've got to find a good tutor for my autistic son" and I am saying "I need to work on my tan." I am disgusted by my hideous, skewed summertime priorities. But really, the back of my legs are pretty white and I am going to be wearing sundresses on vacation next weekend. And I will not be fake-baking, so it's not like I'm paying money for the tanning. Do you hear me just now? I am actually justifying my depravity! I'm so sorry.

  • Last night for dinner we (Jared, Rick, and I) had: 5 bottles of wine and some shrimp cocktail. It was a holiday. Don't judge. It's entirely possible that we had something else and I just don't remember. Small triumph--no one had a hangover.

  • It has been about 3 weeks since a shoe purchase. I am very proud of myself and I do think this proves that I have considerable fiscal responsibility, maturity, and restraint.

  • (Yes, I do see the irony of those last two adjectives after the previous bulleted item.)

  • I am getting A Haircut on 8 July. Naturally, in preparation for this event, my hair has looked Fantastic for an entire week now. Previous to this, my hair has been hideous and Uncooperative In The Extreme. I am a teensy bit bored with my hair, though, and I am fighting this feeling with all my might since the last time this happened, this happened. Followed immediately by this. "Just get a trim," I am repeating to myself, mantra-like.

  • Speaking of hair, I don't get convertibles. One went zipping by us on the highway the other day. In it were two teenaged girls with long blond hair whipping in the wind. It was about 85 degrees outside, sun blazing, they were going about 70 mph, and I was stymied by the whole thing. I mean, I absolutely cannot stand wind: when I am in the car on the highway and Rick has his window down and I have mine even a tiny bit down, not only is the wind annoying, but the noise! The radio--forget about it. You cannot hear it unless it is turned up to eleventy thousand decibels and then it's impossible to enjoy. And those girls' hair had to be lashing their faces and getting in behind their sunglasses, whipping them in the is that pleasant? And the heat! Coming up off that asphalt...oh, and let's not forget the road detritus flinging up off the pavement! And bugs! And then, when they arrive at their destination--the aftermath of the ride on their appearance! Yikes. How is it all worth it? Wasn't putting a roof on the car an improvement? A technological advancement? Hmmmm....

Hope the ride-along in my brain wasn't too awfully bumpy. I warned you. And you did have the option of putting on the helmet.

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