Niagara Wine Reviews

Peller tailors wines to the foods prepared at the estate

Lawrence Buhler

What: Peller Estates Winery
Where: 290 John Street East, RR #1, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Tastings: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a variety of winery experiences including tastings, tours, vineyard walks and special events.
Proprietor: The Peller family.
Winemaker: Lawrence Buhler.
Chef: Jason Parsons
Specialties: Peller has made a concerted effort to match its wines to the food created by Jason Parsons. Sauvignon Blanc is a favourite of winemaker Lawrence Buhler but the estate also makes wonderful Chardonnay, icewines, Bordeaux varietals and bubbly spread across three different tiers.
Must try: The Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvee along with the Ice Rose are spectacular bubblies from this winery. Also try the Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and the Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc Icewine 2007. The estate also makes good entry level and mid-tier wines starting in the $12 range.
Availability: Winery, web, LCBO, Vintages and its own Vineyard Estate retail stores throughout Ontario.
Website: Peller Estates

By Rick VanSickle

Lawrence Buhler in the Peller Estates vineryard.
Lawrence Buhler in the Peller Estates vineryard.

It’s the most beautiful marriage of all — chef and winemaker, happily existing in perfect harmony. But, as with most marriages these days, blissful harmony is often hard to achieve and compromises have to be made to make things work.

At Peller Estates Winery, the seemingly impossible has transformed to the possible with the most important aspects of food and wine joining together for the ultimate in pleasure.
Peller made the decision several years ago to tailor its entire program on the union of food and wine. This gorgeous jewel of a winery, set among the peaceful vineyards just off the Niagara Parkway, is a spectacular example of how the chef and winemaker can work together to create a food and wine experience like no other.

• Imagine shucking oysters in the estates’ Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, the very vineyards where the wine comes from that you will be drinking with the oysters?

• Imagine a menu at the Peller Estates Winery Restaurant that is completely driven and inspired by (and in some cases made with) the wines crafted at the estate and each course meticulously matched to the best wine possible?

• Imagine a chef and winemaker who meet regularly to plan out menus and inspire each other — a winemaker who offers food suggestions and a chef who offers wine suggestions?

The barrel room at Peller Estates
The barrel room at Peller Estates

All this and more is happening at Peller. An exploration of food and wine with no borders from a chef, Jason Parsons, and a winemaker, Lawrence Buhler, who just get it and work together to achieve the highest standards imaginable.

Mark Torrance, director of estate wineries at Peller, calls them “two peas in a pod.”

Torrance says “food and wine is at our core” and having the chef and winemaker working in unison towards that ultimate goal has made the experience at the winery successful. “The length of time people spend at the winery is growing and growing,” he says.

Food is so critical at Peller that all involved with the winery made a conscientious decision a few years ago to grow grapes and make wines that were more food friendly. “The freshness of the wines, the acidity in the wines, has drifted up,” says Torrance, who adds, the wines were softer four years ago with the generous use of malolactic fermentation (to give wines their softness in the mouth) and made with less mouthwatering acidity.

Today the wines are fresh, fruity, balanced and, ultimately, go better with food.

The charcuterie plate at the Peller Estates Winery restaurant
The charcuterie plate at the Peller Estates Winery restaurant

To prove his point, Torrance starts bringing food and wine creations to our table at the gorgeous winery restaurant, with views out into the vineyards.

First up is a locally prepared charcuterie plate, with most of the cured meats, jellies and assorted breads prepared on site, which the winemaker matches boldly with the Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvee bubbly. The apricot, honey and apple flavours work brilliantly with the savoury cured meats. “From a consumer’s point of view, this is the wine that puts a smile on everyone’s face,” says Torrance.

Next, chef Parsons whips up a Niagara spring onion soup with roasted onion, wild garlic, lamb, Thunder Oak gouda and horseradish croustade that is paired with the Peller Esate Private Reserve Gewurztraminer 2008. It’s a lovely match with the spicy-floral notes of the wine working smarty with an explosion of strong flavours from the soup.

One of the most interesting pairings was Digby scallop and Aux Champs d’Elise foie gras with the Andrew Peller Signature Series 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

The dish consists of roasted scallop, new asparagus, chanterelle and goat cheese risotto and just the most delicate and textured slice of seared foie gras that showed off the barrel-aged Sauvingon Blanc beautifully. A heavenly match, indeed.

The foie gras at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant
The foie gras at Peller Estates Winery Restaurant

Our final dish was the Prairie bison rib eye with cider glazed rapini, hot house grape tomatoes and potato gnocchi served with a 2004 Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon. A lovely way to enjoy a beautifully aged wine with a perfectly prepared cut of bison.

Peller Estates is a premiere destination for wine lovers because it does things right. The main facility is a busy hive of activity with tours, one of Niagara’s largest tasting rooms and a winery restaurant that offers intimate indoor dining and gorgeous, more casual, dining on the large patio.

The wine program, built and maintained by Buhler, is crafted always with food in mind.

The estate produces about 30,000 cases of wine annually from the estate vineyards — approximately 20 acres of vines on site and another 240 acres elsewhere in Niagara.

Here are some favourite wines enjoyed with Buhler (Signature Series wines are made in small batches and available only at the winery):

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($30, 4.5 stars) — A gorgeous, barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc with grapefruit, tropical fruit, vanilla and subtle toast notes on the nose. This is a bold wine in the mouth with floral notes, spiced fruits, a touch of herbs, and beautiful texture and mouthfeel. Buhler calls this white “a pretty serious wine” and more in line with the style he wants to make at this lever.

Peller Signature Series
Peller Signature Series

Andrew Peller Signature Series Chardonnay Sur Lie 2008 ($30, 4 stars) — Loaded with tropical fruits, toasty vanilla and oak-inspired spices. Lovely creamy pear flavours in the mouth with a touch of minerality in this elegantly-style Chard.

Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($38, 4.5 stars, released at end of summer) — A youthful, tight wine that will reward with time in the cellar. The nose already shows fragrant blackberry, raspberry, oak, toast and spice. It rocks on the palate with thick, rich and concentrated fruits and firm tannic structure. Also try the Andrew Peller Signature Series Merlot 2007 ($38, 4.5 stars) with its array of cassis, black cherry, kirsch, oak and vanilla spice notes. This is a powerful red with a life span that will improve for 10 years plus.

Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc Icewine 2007 ($90 for 375 Ml, 5 stars) — This is one very intense icewine with strawberry compote, raspberry and cherry aromas. It feels fresh on the palate with honey sweetness and highly extracted red fruits that are balanced out by high acidity.