Best Niagara restaurants

By Michael Lowe

The annual Grand Tasting at Cuvée is now history. This 2017 edition showcased not only a vast number of wines, but local chefs churned out some amazing dishes to pair with them. Here’s an overview from a food guy’s perspective.

 Covering food at an event like this has its challenges. A large turnout, a great thing from the organizer’s perspective, almost always means jostling for a place in line. It also means having to hustle to squeeze everything into the two-hour or so time frame, always risking missing a plate or two in the process.

Note: See favourite wines of Cuvee here and Ontario grape and wine champions named here

Luckily, a couple of the restaurants on show had sample plates set out during the media only tasting (wine only) prior to the 7:30 p.m. floodgates opening.

OLIV Restaurant at Strewn Winery offered colourful plates of ginger-lime poached shrimp, rum-soaked pineapple, blood orange, pickled onion and pepper slaw (photo below).

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I had highlighted two varietals on my list for the night – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Creekside’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc stood out during the media tasting as my choice for the dish. OLIV’s second plate consisted of roasted beets, goat cheese, lemon-scented yogurt (photo below) and was one of the most versatile for pairing — good choices were Sue Ann Staff’s 2015 Loved By Lu Riesling and Thirty Bench Wine Makers Double Noir 2015, a Pinot and Gamay Noir blend.

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Another pre-Grand Tasting photo op was courtesy of Benchmark Restaurant and Canadian Food and Wine Institute. Reuben sausage strudel with Marie Rose sauce (tasted much later) was a delight (photo below). Like a two-bite Reuben sandwich wrapped in Swiss cheese and puff pastry, this was one dish, once the rush came, I came back for twice.

Niagara food

Benchmark’s butternut squash with goat cheese ravioli (photo below) proved a surprise match with Cattail Creek’s Small Lot Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. The earthy sweetness of the squash and tang of the goat cheese respectively played well to the wine’s forest floor undertones and bright acidity.

Eat in Niagara

Actually, our first taste of the night was from Chef Andrew McLeod of Bolete. It’s always good to see the representation of new restaurants at Cuvée and chef McLeod’s presence was a right choice for the organizing committee.

His citrus-cured Albacore tuna with avocado (left, below photo), with its soft, rich texture and perfectly executed balance, matched nicely with Peninsula Ridge Wismer Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016.

Bolete’s pork hock terrine with Jerusalem artichoke relish (right, below photo) had me dashing off for a taste of Pinot Noir — two, actually. I had a hard time choosing a favourite between Adamo Estate’s Lowrey Vineyard 2014 and 2027 Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard 2013.

Over at Trius Winery Restaurant, Chef Frank Dodd was carving whisky glazed pork ribs with white bean cassoulet (photos below). The smoky ribs were a natural with the bolder reds like Ravine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 and Kacaba Vineyard’s Silver Bridge Syrah 2013.

Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Winery treated guests to a couple of beautiful choices. Chef Justin Lesso’s creamy salt cod pâté with puttanesca sauce (at left, below) and his caponata of roasted eggplant and zucchini with whipped ricotta (at right, below) both paired beautifully with Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2015.

The host chef, Scotiabank’s own James Price, served a succulent, sloe berry and lavender-brined roast duck with watercress/parsnip puree and red wine reduction (photo below) — back to the Pinot Noirs for me. The dish was a treat for the palate — earthy, delicately floral and savoury.

The Grand Tasting, true to the name, offered some amazing taste sensations. Covering the event with what seemed like a record crowd, and record number of wines on show, seemed like a daunting task, but I do like a challenge.

We wrapped up the weekend with a couple of stops enjoying Cuvée en Route on Saturday morning. A trio of wines, first at Riverview Cellars and then at Reif Estate Winery, paired with artisan cheeses, (photo above) seemed like a fitting end to this year’s celebration.