The finale of our not-very-exotic summer vacation was a visit to Prince Edward County. While we did walk some trails and visit some galleries, mostly, we were there for the wine.
Best wine tasting experience: Karlo Estates
Which is interesting, because right before going there, we were warned by other visitors that the person doing their wine tasting wasn’t very knowledgeable and, for example, didn’t particularly like red wines.
But we got a very well-informed dude leading through a series of five of their wines, all accompanied by suitable matching food! (Like olives, Cheddar, almonds.) It was challenge for him, as it was busy and he had to manage various groups all at different points in the tasting, but he was up to the task.
So, maybe the advice is to visit the winery in the afternoon rather than the morning.
Another neat thing is that they offer kinds of wines not available elsewhere in Ontario. Their rose, for example, is made with the Frontenac Gris grape, that is not even recognized by the VQA. But it was very good, and as rosé’s often are, quite reasonably priced at $16. Though relatively sweet (sugar level 2), it didn’t seem cloying. “Exuding flavours such as strawberry, citrus with a spicy finish and a hint of cinnamon.” the tasting notes say. That could be about right.
They also work with the Bordeau-style grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (Did you know you could get Malbec in Ontario? I didn’t.) The blend of these is available as a wine they call Quintus ($35). When one of the individual grapes is having a good year, they will bottle and sell that on its own. Currently, the petit verdot is approaching that status. Though not quite ready for bottling, we were able to taste it as well.
And… They make port! And it’s really quite good, very smooth going down. $29 for a 500 ml bottle.
Runner-up: Rosehall Run
It was just a straighforward wine tasting, not a whole guided experience with snacks, but they were very knowledgeable and accommodating here. (Like, printing out a copy of the tasting notes for me.) Our favorite of the wines we tried here was the off-dry Riesling ($17.75), but we also enjoyed the 2008 Pinot Noir ($19.75) and the 2009 Sullyzwic Rosé ($14.75). The Globe and Mail said “Rosehall makes some of the best-value wines in the County.”
Also worth noting for more unusual wine offerings is The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards. We restricted our tastings here to three premiums offerings, and ended up purchasing two of them: The nice Champagne-style Brut 2008, a sparkling wine mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, $29, and the late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a pleasantly sweet dessert wine that was made almost accidentally by forgetting some grapes on the vine. It’s $24.75. (I also enjoyed a glass of sparkling rosé—actually, Pinot Noir—from this winery at one of the restaurants. That one may not be available for general purchase.)
Best winery dining: Wapoos Estates
We say this despite not being huge fans of the wines, which all struck us as ultra-dry and quite different from the ones made at the other end of the county. But, they were quite food-friendly, and the food was just delicious. We stopped in here for lunch on the way in the way in, so we didn’t have anything too fancy, but everything was super-fresh (like the tomatoes in the gazpacho), made in-house (like the tortilla in the smoked pork sandwich), and with nicely balanced flavors.
Plus, it was just a beautiful day, maybe the best of our vacation, and they have lovely grounds there. So it was nice to be sitting out looking at water and views while sipping some wine and eating good food.
Despite not being too bowled by the vino, we did get one bottle of Baco Noir here.
Runner-up: Norman Hardie
Pretty easy win for Norman, as it’s the only other winery we dined at. All they offer here is wood-burning oven pizzas. I had the special of the day, which was a lemon-scented one. Which seems weird, but was quite nice. However, Jean’s Margherita, which is part of the general menu, was better, thanks to the delicious tomatoes.
It’s quite a casual dining experience on a patio, with communal tables. Fortunately, we had another nice day, so that was perfectly enjoyable.
Norman Hardie makes somewhat expensive wines, so I had thought this was a way to have some without a tasting and feeling the temptation of buying up bottles. That worked out. I had a glass of the Chardonnay, which didn’t taste at all how I expected. Not oaky at all, I guess. I finally concluded that I quite liked it. Jean had a 2009 Pinot Noir. It was also quite enjoyable, but again, that’s not the best of Pinot Noir years, so there it is.
Also worth noting is the East and Main Bistro in Wellington. That’s a restaurant, not a winery, but it’s a very good one, and the wine list is mostly Prince Edward County wines, many available by the glass. We complicated our lives by ordering items that were impossible to find a matching wine for (pickerel for me and osso bucco for Jean), but managing by me starting with a glass of that afore-mentioned sparkling rosé, then switching to join in on the bottle of 2010 Sandbanks Baco Noir, because it was just delicious, whether it really matched fish or not.
Favorite overall winery: Sandbanks
At least if you go by the number of bottles purchased! They are also quite reasonably priced, which doesn’t hurt. The wine tasting experience there is nothing very special, but you get good service. We especially enjoyed the Riesling and the Baco Noir, of which we bought the 2009 Reserve as well as that 2010. (That will be an awesome year in Ontario reds, by the way.) But we also liked the Cabernet-Merlot and the Shoreline, which is a blend of Chardonnay, Rieseling, and Gewurtz.
Yes, we are very well stocked in wine right now. We might have to have a dinner party or something.