One of the first things that strikes you when you get to Canada these days is how expensive things are. That is because like us they use a $ sign for prices. In the investment business, $ is reserved for the Greenback, and Canadian is labelled C$. Otherwise it would be a mess trading currencies.
But the good news is there is a 30% discount on the Canadian Dollar. When TB was a teenager he remembers it at a 6% premium. We stayed at the beautiful Frontenac Hotel in Quebec. Old, charming, and we were put in one of the newly refurbished rooms…it was huge! Quebec feels so French, and it is quaint. Highly recommended and there are some very nice restaurants on the main street of Old Quebec near the Parliament and the hotel.
Driving back, we re-entered the U.S. in New York and then went over to (note ‘to’ not ‘over), Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. We took the Maid-o-the-Mist for an up close and personal view of the falls. Spectacular…and WET! From there we high-tailed it to the Canadian side via the Rainbow Bridge to find our hotel, the Marriott Fallsview, closest to the falls and our 9th floor room was perfect. For about $30 more (Canadian), we could have upgraded but we felt that was the best height to see the falls, and it was. A beautiful light show at night as both of the falls changed color. Leaving our drapes open we could see them from the bed, or we could have chosen the in-room Jacuzzi! Adding to the pleasure is a restaurant right next door to the hotel, The Keg. Don’t let the name fool you, it sure did me, but it was a very nice, not too expensive restaurant on the 5th floor of the hotel next to ours. It had the second best view of the falls…after our room of course!
The next day, we left Niagara and quickly found ourselves surrounded by vineyards…very nice ones too. The area is Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to more than thirty wineries. Our server the day before had recommended the Colaneri Estate Winery and it happened to be our first stop…and what a stop it was. We turned off the highway and a couple hundred yards down the road took a driveway to the left. At the head was what appeared to be an entire Tuscan Villa…beautiful! So now, not only were the wines good, but the estate was impressive…very!!!The Colaneri family came over from Italy (near Rome). There are two sons who now run the business and amazingly they married two sisters.
They make 18 different wines: 11 whites and 7 reds. How do you make red wine when it never gets much above 70 degrees? They pick the grapes at their peak, then move them to a huge building that has wire crates. This provides airflow to the grapes and allows them to ripen further. It is an Italian process known as ‘Rapasso’. I tasted all of them and they are amazing. Colaneri makes three ice wines (Cab Franc, Vidal, and Riesling, all between 9.2-10.8% alcohol, and 200-250 grams residual sugar!). Also amazing is the fact that it took six years to build the Villa so far and it will take another six to complete! Now that’s passion and dedication…and as I said to my tasting room guide, “looks like the old saying, ‘if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune.'” With a straight face he said, “no, start with a huge one!”
From there we drove to the best known winery in the area, Inniskillin, famous for it’s Ice Wine. I tasted them all and they are amazing wines…they are the model to shoot for by the other wineries, and also the most expensive. Actually, though, buying at the winery in Canadian dollars put them way below the price in the U.S., ranging from $42-80. One is a sparkling Cab Franc, one a Riesling, and the make two Vidal’s, one of which (and my favorite) aged in wood for 30 years! By the way, those prices are for 375ml bottles, not the standard 750ml, but they are worth every penny.
While there I heard that Inniskillin was sold and is now owned by Jackson-Triggs, who makes very nice ice wines at a fraction of the cost of Inniskillin. It is easily obtained in the U.S. Researching the comment however, when I returned home, I found that they had operated under the same owner, which explains the common quality, but following a series of mergers both were sold to…drumroll please…one of the largest wine producers in the world, Constellation Wines. Constellation has been hard at work buying up some of the best estates. Who are they? They were nobody until the purchased Robert Mondavi in 2004 (the peak of Mondavi nearly coinciding with the release of the documentary, Mondovino. Constellation’s only wine was Richard’s Wild Irish Rose – most frequently found on skid row. If it was in a liquor store, certainly not a wine shop, it would be on the bottom shelf. So Constellation bought respectability, and to this writer at least, Mondavi – first visited by this writer in 1969, and the only winery I ever assembled a vertical selection of cabs from (1966-2000). I sold one case at auction, and the other donated to the University of Nevada, Reno where it topped their wine auction. Mondovino did no favors for the Mondavi (hmmm was the name translated ‘World of Wine” or Mondavi versus the wine world? Just asking!
From there we drove to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where we had lunch. There are several good restaurants there and if you don’t stop, you will regret it as there is a huge void from there on.
After lunch we stumbled on Stratus a very modern looking industrial type building, with an uber-modern tasting room. Here, as in all the wineries we visited, the staff knew their wines – unlike so many U.S. wineries. It seemed that most of them, if not all, had been working there for years. I should add that I asked at every winery I visited if they used organic (or are organic-certified), sustainable, or biodynamic methods and virtually all practiced sustainable farming (as did most of the ones in New York!), which puts them ahead of California, and sadly, light years ahead of Bordeaux where toxic chemicals are employed, even in the classified wineries and worse, lab testing has shown residual elements in wine tested from every winery!
Every aspect of being environmentally-friendly was employed, and beautifully I might add. Not only were the vines treated with as few natural fertilizers, etc., but the entire building was built with recycled wood and steel products, and even more impressive, even their tractors were run on bio-diesel! Stratus is Leeds-certified as sustainable. Their wines showed this attention to detail. They produce a full range of wines from the usual suspects to their Stratus Red, a blend of the Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec -seldom used in Bordeaux now, plus Tannat from Southwest France). A stunning, well-made wine with very complex flavors and big enough to hold up, and improve, for many years.
In addition, their whites include Stratus White (Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier). If the blend sounds like a ‘mouthful’ that’s because it is, bursting with flavors and nuances. Their ice wine (Viognier/Semillon) was very good, less on the sweet side with just 12 grams residual sugar, 14.3% alcohol (!), but the star of the show for me was their 2012 Botrytis Affected Semillon – wow! If you have never tasted a Botrytis wine you are in for a pleasant surprise. Only in years with the right moisture conditions late in the season does it exist. Amazing fruit bursts forth and this one, aged for more than a year in French Oak (60% new), is a keeper.
Next stop was Cave Spring Winery located in town in Lincoln, Ontario. That is the tasting room with the vineyards and winery a short distance away. They make a full range of white’s and reds, including sparklers and ice wines. I particularly enjoyed their Riesling, bursting with fruit flavors…tutti fruiti, comes to mind but not that cloying sweetness!
The last winery we visited is off the beaten path but Karen MacNeil mentioned it in The Wine Bible. I was there for one thing: their Gamay, which she says is the first really good one made outside Europe…that is a huge comment, pinot lovers as this Burgundian grape is off that style. Not a true Burgundy but soft in the mouth and a good every day wine.
From there, we began to wend our way home again, crossing into the U.S. over the bridge to Detroit from Windsor, Ontario on the Ambassador International Bridge. This aging bridge will soon be replaced by the Gordie Howe International Bridge, named after the hockey great of the Detroit Red Wings.
By the time we reached home we had driven over 4,700 miles in just under three weeks, we stopped along the way in Evanston, Illinois to stay with our friends then up to Wisconsin for the incredible tasting dinner at the Union House restaurant (see Vol. 1, No. 24). We never had to use an umbrella on the entire trip, but when we crossed the Mississipi into Minnesota, we had torrential rains for the final hour and a half home. Lucky, not only that we experienced the full beauty of the changing of the colors to Fall.
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