By Michael Lowe
The 9th annual celebration of Chardonnay, i4C+, wrapped up July 19-21 with a number of events including the signature World Tour Tasting and Dinner. This year saw a change of venue for the event — a change that I think was for the better.
It seems that for the last few years i4C has coincided with some of the most muggy, sweltering days of summer and this year repeated the cycle.
New for 2019 is the partnership with the Canadian Food & Wine Institute at Niagara College. The two-hour, pre-dinner tasting, held in the courtyard of the campus (photo below), can be a daunting affair with just shy of 100 wines — Chardonnay and sparkling — being poured. When you factor in the additional 37 wines — including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay — poured at dinner, self-discipline and pacing is key.
My first stop is at Adamo Estate Winery‘s table where winemaker Shauna White pours a sample of the aromatic, fruit-forward and crisp Sogno unoaked Chardonnay (photo above). I also stop for a chat with the Queenston Mile team of Rob Power and Yvonne Irvine (photo above, left) and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery winemaker Lydia Tomek (above photo, right). To say it was a very hot evening would be an understatement so the tubs of iced bottles of Chardonnay (photo below) helped get us through to dinner. The shift in venue also meant that for the first time in a few years dinner would be held indoors — the temperature was about to get dialed down considerably.
Also new this year is table assignment — no more scrambling for a spot to sit down. With CFWI in charge the crack culinary team, which also featured chefs from Niagara wineries, was sure to deliver amazing food. To get started there were fresh salads of organic lettuce, rainbow carrots, minted zucchini, fennel and radicchio (Photo below, bottom) and heirloom tomato, cucumber and peaches with basil pistou (Photo below, top).
The family-style dinner included platters of succulent Brome Lake duck confit (photo below) with farro salad, roasted pepper and charred broccoli — hallelujah for the inclusion of Pinot Noir at dinner.
There was also meaty and moist olive oil poached halibut with an heirloom carrot and fennel slaw, new potatoes and green beans (photo below).
To round out an already hearty dinner, there were thick slices of slow roasted porchetta made from the pork loin (photo below). It was accompanied by braised chardonnay sauerkraut, golden beets and topped with a rosemary mojo sauce.
By this time, if you were still hungry, there was the après chardonnay bar featuring desserts from 13th Street Bakery. Craft beer from Ace Hill Beer, more Chardonnay, and coffee from Bean & Barrel Coffee Roasters topped off the night. It was a great event, one well worth checking out. Be sure to get your tickets early next year as it usually sells out.
My weekend wrap-up of i4C continued the next morning with brunch on the patio at Westcott Vineyards. New to Westcott this season are chefs Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson (photos above). You can read more about them at Ricky and Olivia. At Westcott the food is about showcasing local ingredients as much as possible, a mantra that Ricky and Olivia share. We start with some not-so-local oysters before tucking into some very good dishes. The menu changes frequently but our selections for i4C are shown in the photo below. Today our brunch is paired with wines from Westcott and Domaine Queylus and I’m lucky enough to be seated between the winemakers, Casey Kulczyk (Westcott) and Kelly Mason (Domaine Queylus).
Ricky introduces us to a Filipino-style morning bun, or Ensaymada. It’s a warm brioche bun served with chèvre and Niagara apricot (photo below). It’s paired with Westcott 2017 Reserve Chardonnay and Domaine Queylus 2017 Réserve du Domaine Chardonnay. If I had to choose my favourite for the pairing, I preferred the way the Queylus matched with the apricot component.
Of the four choices for main dishes, I opt for the fried chicken and pancake (Photo below). Tender, buttermilk fried pieces of chicken breast are served with a beautiful, savory chive pancake. A drizzle of local honey and a generous pat of sweet Emerald Grasslands butter are perfect to play to the flavours of the Westcott 2016 Reserve Chardonnay.
This is my third trip to Westcott’s patio but my first time experiencing Ricky and Olivia’s food. During an after brunch chat with Ricky he mentions that the menu is set to change Aug. 1. I think visit number four isn’t far off.