No, I'm not referring to Beavertails, bacon-on-a-bun or taffy sticks (although you can't fully experience the Rideau Canal without stopping to have at least one of them as you skate by.) I'm talking fine wines, artisanal cheeses and hospitality as warm as a fireplace. A Taste of Winterlude at Clos Baillie.
Out of the dozen or so wineries that straddle both sides of the Ottawa River, the Vignoble du Clos Baillie was the first on the scene. In 1999, Raymond Huneault planted a bunch of cold-hardy hybrids in Aylmer and babied them through long winters until they bore fruit. The undertaking was risky, the process slow, but the end result has been a satisfying success, judging by the accolades and positive reviews that adorn the walls of his log cabin.
This year, as part of Winterlude's gastronomic adventure series, Huneault opened the doors for a midwinter wine and cheese tasting, led by his sommelier, Roger Emard, and featuring products from La Trappe à Fromage.
The cabin's windows beckoned in the failing light of day, extending a warm welcome that was echoed inside by Huneault and Emard in their eager handshakes and full goblets. A crowd of 30 or so had gathered; I had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger Holly Bruns of Wine Out Loud―our "blind date", if you will. La Trappe's Danielle Fournier manned the cheeseboard.
Our first wine was La Seigneurie 2009, a zesty, effervescent blend of Louise Swenson and Vandal Cliché. We lined up for slices of the semi-soft Saint-Paulin and P'tit Bonheur cheeses, along with generous helpings of peppercorn and truffled pȃtés. The Saint-Paulin didn't fare so well, as the wine's high acid left the cheese chalky and tasteless. The Swiss-style Bonheur became salty, although not unpleasant. In the end, the truffled pȃté's fatty decadence was the better match against the tart acidity.
On to the next course: Le Hameau de Baillie 2009, a bright, ruby mix of maréchal foch, sabrevoix, frontenac and st-croix, many of the same vines grown in the Québec City region. Aromas ranging from chemical (burnt rubber, acetone) to fruity (cranberry, cherry) fought for dominance in the glass. Its peppery mouthfeel was as high in acid as the white, with muted tannins and a cherry-pit finish.
This round, we noshed on the Oka-ish Le Cantonnier and a nutty Roubine de Noyan. The fruit of the wine heightened similar flavours in both cheeses, drawing out their sweetness.
Part three: Huneault's crowning achievement, Glacie aux Pommes, is a one-of-a-kind take on traditional iced cider. Not so cloying as its cousins, the Glacie is tart and firm, with tons of tempting maple syrup, wood stain, yeast and Bosc pear aromas. It's a mouthful of liquid apple pie on the palate. Fournier served up the blue-veined L'Hermite cheese (my favourite of the evening), an extra-old cheddar, and samplings of roasted pecans and dried fruit. The cheddar came out on top, but overall, I think the cider on its own was enough of a treat.
Look for Clos Baillie wines at the Hull and Old Chelsea farmers' markets from spring to fall, or in October during the Rendez-vous des saveurs, a celebration of locally crafted québécois delights. The red, white and cider make up the current portfolio, with a rosé and a red icewine reportedly on the way. Orders can be placed online or, better yet, pop in for a visit. Roger and Raymond will have a spot by the fire and a full glass at the ready for you.