Bountiful Days of Harvest: Reif Winery Dinner
It had been a rather hectic week of wining and dining with events every evening for the past five days. But since we are not ones to sit still for very long (or say “no” to yet another dinner tasting), so it was down to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Reif Estate Winery on October the 22nd to attend its “Bountiful Days of Harvest” evening hosted by winemaker Roberto DiDomenico and catered by local chef Robin Howe.
The idea behind gatherings like this (typically referred to as “winemaker dinners”) is to allow guests to enjoy the ultimate in wine and food pairings in the company of the person (or persons) responsible for creating the good stuff in the glass. Rief holds these events (open to the public) four times a year to celebrate the goings on in the field and in the winery during each season. And being that this was harvest time we were treated not only to some seasonal local fare, but also a couple fresh-out-of-the-fermenter 2011 “nouveau” wines to kick things off.
While the whole nouveau thing may be getting a bit tired for some of us, Reif added a bit of a twist to things by producing both a traditional red Gamay nouveau as well as a white nouveau(a novel nouveau?) under the tarot-themed “The Fool” and “The Hanging Man” labels respectively. The Kerner-based white (available at the winery only in limited quantities) with its fruity/floral aroma and delicately off-dry palate paired nicely with the raw oysters on the half-shell, pancetta and Thai basil wrapped shrimp skewers, and seared sea scallops on a bed of cauliflower chantily topped with a fig, lemon and caper chutney that were circulated around the tasting bar prior to dinner getting underway.
We were fortunate enough to be seated with Roberto and his wife, Nicky along with effervescent Director of Retail Operations and Promotions, Andrea Kaiser, and a friendly trio that included a soon-to-be-wed couple (and the bride-to-be’s sister) who intend to carry out their nuptials at Reif and wanted to check out the food.
We started with a soup course of Ontario sunchoke and potato bisque with brioche croutons and applewood smoked bacon that got along very well with Reif’s 2009 Chardonnay Reserve. From fruit sourced from a block of vineyard planted in 1981, the wine showed ripe, slightly tropical aromas with hints of butterscotch, baked apple, clove and browned butter. Opulent in structure, it still sported the balancing acidity which is a trademark of cool-climate wines. The finish was long and tinged with mineral and clove notes.
The 2010 vintage, Roberto noted, was a glorious one for Ontario, so the 2010 Cabernet Franc was a welcome match for our main course. This included a succulent herb and spice-rubbed Ontario rack of lamb chop in a Cabernet Franc, blackberry and Reif raisin sauce with a side of potato and white turnip gratin and Fall vegetables. Reif has been making raisins from locally-grown seedless grapes using a retired tobacco-drying kiln for a few years now. Originally done as a fun experiment, the production level of its raisins has risen considerably due to demand from restaurants, gourmet food shops and a growing consumer fan base. Displaying aromas of slightly smoky black currant, the Cab Franc dished up a medium-bodied package laced with dark berry and herbal flavours that trailed off into a long, vanilla-tinged finale. Perhaps just a touch green, but this is a typical characteristic of Cab Franc.
Dietary restrictions forced (and i do mean forced) this writer to all but gaze longingly at the dessert which followed; warm individual apple tart tatins served with a scoop of Riesling/pear gelato and paired with a 2009 Vidal Icewine. My guest, facing no such restrictions, informed me that the the apple tarte was “incredible” (or some such – i had my ears covered and was going, “lalalala”). She also admitted that the icewine was “the best she’d ever had” and in a touching gesture designed to protect me from a possible coma, transferred the unctuous though potentially damaging nectar from my glass to hers. I know this was done strictly with my health and not her pleasure in mind, and I have to admit, it’s sacrifices like this that really let you know who your friends are. I could have used a glass of scotch and a cigar….
Matching fine wines with great food in the audience of equally great company is what life is all about (at least my life – and if you’re reading this, probably yours). If you’re interested in joining Roberto and the Reif team for just this type of thing, visit www.reifwinery.com to check the dates for future dinner events.