Our hostess served us a delicious breakfast of salmon quiche, savory potato cakes, and balsamic-glazed garden tomatoes. We tried to work her espresso machine, but missed one of the instructions, so it was too watery – maybe next time we’ll make some with her stovetop Italian coffee maker (like ours). After breakfast, we headed to Peller Estates Winery, one of the closest (and largest) ones. We signed up for the 10:30 “Winemaking Excellence Tour”, so we could learn about the actual process and taste some wines – only $5 too! While we waited (we got there at 10:00), they offered us free samples of their Ice Cuvee, which they said is champagne with a little ice wine (their specialty) added in the last ferment – very tasty!
Our tour guide, George, told us about the history of the Peller family and the estate, which was actually only established in the Niagara area within the last 40 years or so. He explained that this area is especially conducive to grape growing because of the nutritious clay-loam soil (millions of years of soil deposits from the North American midwest…) and the microclimate created by Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment.
The grapes had been having a good year, according to George, lots of rain, but then lately lots of sunshine and warm breezes. We were standing amongst some red grape, I think cabernet sauvignon. He explained how in mid-September they’ll harvest the grapes using a harvesting machine that straddles two rows of trellises and knocks the ripe grapes with paddles onto conveyors. Peller has very large vineyards, and also gets more grapes from other local vineyards they contract with. He said the winemaker had chosen this year to make the ice wine from the grapes we were looking at just then. This means they’ll leave these ones on the vine (protected from the birds by netting), and then in January or February, they’ll wait till the grapes have been exposed to -10 Celsius for 4 hours, and then harvest them and carefully extract the drop or two of nectar that remains after the water has frozen. That’s why ice wine is so expensive – but then again, you only sip it.
Next stop was the wine cellar, where they’re aging the past 2 years’ vintages in French or American oak barrels (then they’re blended to acheive the taste the winemaker wants).
Here’s where we had our “structured” wine tasting. George first gave us each a sample glass of their Pinot Gris, and explained about the five S’s of wine tasting …
Sight – tilt the glass to the side (careful to only hold the stem of the glass, so as not to “influence” the temperature with the heat of our hand) to observe the clarity of the wine (cloudy or sediment is bad). Swirl – to aerate the wine and release the aromas. Sniff – to sort of initialize your palate to receive the wine (I never knew why people do that, but now I can really see that it helps). Sip – just a tiny sip to again get your palate ready for the wine. Then (with the white wine only) he had us take another sip while sort of whistling inward – this was to bring the wine to more parts of our mouths I think. Savor – another sip, this time with a chewing motion for 5 counts – to really detect the various flavors in the wine – we were tasting apples and pears in the Pinot Gris. Then we were allowed to actually drink the rest. Next we sampled their 2004 (I think) Merlot (very oaky and plummy – my favorite), and then one of their ice wines (almost rhubarby finish).
We really learned a lot, and now will be able to appreciate other wines (and our own) more. At the wine boutique, we bought a bottle of the 2002 Signature Series (unfiltered) Merlot, which George had said would be expected to be at its peak flavor in 2010, so we’ll cellar that. We also bought a vacuum sealer for our opened bottles.
Then on our way out the door, the customer service woman asked us if we’d be willing to do a survey if she put us out on the patio with glasses of champagne, so since we were in no hurry, we did that. It was quite a long survey actually, but worth a relaxing glass of bubbly in the summer sunshine.
Then it was on to the next winery…