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Tastes Untamed — VQA wines and dinner down on the Backhouse farm

By Michael Lowe

Last week an inaugural event called Tastes Untamed was held to help kick off the LCBO and VQA Wines’ Bring Local Home promotion.

This special dinner was all about celebrating local wines paired with superb food in the most suitable setting possible.

The event was a rare opportunity to mingle with some of Ontario’s talented and passionate winemakers in a beautiful, totally appropriate location. We gathered at the farm where Chef Ryan Crawford grows much of the produce used at his restaurant, Backhouse, in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Upon arrival we were ushered to a shady spot where the most unique ice bucket, filled with icy bottles of bubbly awaited (photo above).

Rosehall Run’s NV Ceremony Blanc de Blancs from Prince Edward County really helped set the mood. Crawford’s tractor also allows him to easily transport the wines from one tasting station to another (photo above). The four-acre farm boasts 350 tomato plants alone, along with varieties of kale, radishes, potatoes and much more. Our foray down on the farm began with buttered radishes and golden beets “planted” in edible dirt with goat cheese (photos below). What stood out was not only the freshness, inherent sweetness and earthiness of these treats, but that we were standing right beside the patch where they’re growing.

At the next station we sampled balls of fresh melon with prosciutto and an incredibly vibrant tomato gazpacho (photos below), served on fine bone china plates and teacups, which adds a nice down-home touch. Here we tasted the lively Cave Spring Cellars NV Blanc de Blancs with aromas of apple, pear, bread yeast and stony mineral notes.

Strolling down toward the ravine, there was a waft of wood smoke in the air and the glimmer of lights coming from the trees. Our “dining room” for the evening was set under the trees with chandeliers hung from the boughs and, nearby, Chef Crawford was busy stoking the fire where the balance of the meal was cooked (photos below).

 What follows is a sumptuous meal paired with exquisite wines, and a few surprises. First up was a familiar but favourite dish of mine — “Dip-Dip” egg with spinach ‘caviar’ and brioche for dipping (below, left). Wine paired with this was the Hidden Bench 2015 Roman’s Block Riesling. The egg was followed by a dish, which exemplifies simplicity and thoughtful preparation. Freshly dug potatoes were cooked by the fire and draped with a delicate sauce made from leeks. Balanced with acidity of crème fraîche, some trout roe for contrast, and leek ash to enhance the smokiness, it’s a perfectly balanced dish (below, right). The potatoes were paired with Tawse 2014 Quarry Road Chardonnay.

During the preceding dishes, fresh local lamb from Linc Farm was being tended on the fire. The legs were slow-roasted and loin racks grilled to perfection (photos below).

Accompaniments with the lamb were pasta salad with black walnut pesto and black kale, grilled eggplant with smoked yogurt, beans with garlic mousse, and summer squash and tomato preserve—all harvested from just a few metres away.

Lamb is a favourite of mine, and with all the above mentioned, and cooked over the fire, it was one of the best compositions I’ve had on one plate (photo below). The simplicity, attention to detail, freshness, and just plain good cooking really shone through.

Wines with the main were pretty awesome too — Malivoire 2018 Small Lot Gamay, Bachelder 2015 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir “Old Vines” and Thirty Bench 2016 Small Lot Cabernet Franc. As if those weren’t enough, we are also treated to the Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Cabernet Franc.

As any good meal should end, a cheese plate arrived (photo below). It’s the perfect partner to the many wines still on the table. We go back and forth pouring, tasting, sharing perceptions and comments about this fabulous experience. This is exactly the type of dinner experience I’d like to see more of in this region.

The Bring Local Home promotion goes until Oct. 12 with special tasting opportunities at participating restaurants and wine bars. See list of participating establishments below.


242 Mary St, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Featuring an a la carte food menu with suggested VQA wine pairings.

Chez Nous Wine Bar

798 Queen St E, Toronto
Featuring a set tasting flight of 4 VQA wines – Pinot Noir vs. Chardonnay, PEC vs. Niagara.

The Cove Country Inn & Spa

2 Bedford St, Westport
Featuring a VQA wine by-the-glass menu.

Grand Cru Deli

304 Richmond St W, Toronto
Featuring three different tasting flights (white flight, red flight or Master Sommelier’s flight).