Super Sensory Experience at Reif
What an amazing experience I had Saturday evening enjoying a delicious dinner, al fresco, in the Wine Sensory Garden at Reif Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was an event that channeled all of the components of human senses (touch, vision, auditory, smell and taste) into one exhilarating form. After being presented with a choice of either the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc or the just released 2009 Pinot Grigio, I began the sensory journey in a most familiar method by exploring and enjoying the varied nuances of the glass of wine in hand via observations and deductions made with the eyes, nose and mouth. But this initial glass of wine was just the jumping off point for the journey as other opportunities to awaken one’s senses beckoned us on.
The primary component of the Reif Wine Sensory Garden is the varied plantings of aromatic and enticing herbs and greenery. Ranging from chocolate mint (which, when crushed, filled your nose and brain synapses with the experience of eating a chocolate coated dinner mint) to curry plant (transporting me instantly into a South Asian restaurant), and a multitude of scented geraniums, sage, lavender, various other mints, oregano and other herbs. Not only was my nose employed in this exploration, but the feeling of the various leaf textures between my fingers was a great tactile experience. Then, there was the visual diversity of the plants themselves and how they were landscaped. To add to all this — the wine, aromatic surroundings and absolutely perfect weather — was yet another element. Efficient servers began to serve wave after wave of tasty hors d’ oeuvres to tempt our palates (warm mini lemon thyme biscuits with Mario Pingue’s shaved Bresaola and parmesan, endive spears with whipped chèvre, toasted walnut and drizzle of lemon thyme infused honey).
The highlight of the whole evening was, of course, the delicious three course meal (prepared by chef Robin Howe) that was paired with three of Reif’s wines. As each course and accompanying wine was presented, we had the opportunity to hear from Roberto Di Domenico, Reif’s wine maker, as he presented his own interpretation of the sight, smell, feel and taste of his liquid creations.
The first course consisted of pan roasted salmon wrapped in prosciutto and rosemary which, in turn, were delicately placed on a spring pea and crème fraîche purée and surrounded by a Pinot Noir reduction. When it comes to the world of seafood, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of salmon (it sometimes seems that too many restaurants believe it is the only edible thing that swims in the ocean). But this prosciutto wrapped morsel was like no salmon I have had in years. The prosciutto added a great textural and underlying smoky element to the perfectly roasted pink fish. The bright green pea and crème fraîche purée added a refreshing herbaceous touch. The matched wine was the 2007 Pinot Noir. Now before you go off on your “no red wine with fish!” tirade, this was an absolutely stunning pairing. This Pinot, while exhibiting robust sour cherry and cranberry, had an underlying earthy element (like a cool forest floor) that matched well with the cured prosciutto.
The main course presented us with a galantine composed of roasted free range chicken and pistachio-lemon mousse in a Cabernet Merlot, roasted tomato, garlic and oregano jus. The textural and flavour elements of this dish were sublime. The roasted tomato and oregano infused jus, combined with the lemon and pistachio mousse, provided a somewhat mediterranean zest. The 2008 Cab Merlot served to balance this dish. The wine was great mix of bing cherry and ripe field berries with a lasting finish.
Finally, the dessert consisted of individual upside down pineapple cakes with a dollop of pineapple sage and Icewine sweetened, whipped Chantilly cream. What a delicious way to wind things down. The upside down cake was moist, and the pineapple was a strong presence without being overpowered by sweetness. Even the addition of the Chantilly cream served as a perfect supporting role. The 2007 Vidal Icewine was smooth and subtle. There was enough acidity in this lip smacker to help bring the apricot and acacia honey to the forefront.
To top it all off, the conversation at our table throughout the evening was fluid, fun and interesting, covering a myriad of topics from tastes in wine and food to politics, travel, etc. Many thanks to Andrea, Roberto, Robin, Keith, and everyone else who made this a fabulous evening.