Good wine, good food, sunshine and laughter. Toss in a weekend getaway in Prince Edward County, and you couldn't ask for a more perfect Mother's Day.
I love planning these trips. Mum is still fighting against the forward march of technology by refusing to use a computer, so I get to surf hotel sites and restaurant menus and tour itineraries. What's that about the trip being better than the destination? Well, I tend to luck out with both.
This time around, we chose the County, mostly for proximity, partly to replenish the dwindling stock in my cellar. Huff Estates Inn and Winery was home base for our over-nighter; we checked in just in time to ditch our bags and catch the winery's "Customer Appreciation Day" in full swing. The tasting room was packed with folks sipping and noshing, chatting and laughing. A grizzled fellow on acoustic guitar plunked out songs like "Blackbird" in the background.
The sun was glorious. Two spots on a pre-warmed bench opened up, so we took our glasses and settled in, eagerly looking for the next platter of nibblies. Chef Michael Hoy treated us to a fabulous spread of fiddleheads with pesto on crostini, trout gravlax, vegetarian sushi, herbed cheese 'truffles', proscuitto-wrapped asparagus spears ... and then more. And more.
Tummies full (and head a bit fuzzy after a glass of Huff Vidalsecco) we headed out for what we thought was going to be an informative yet relaxing tour of wineries in the Hillier portion of the County. We were giddy at the sight of a stretch limo pulling up in front of the inn (I believe my exact words were "Get the EFF out of town! A limo? Really?") but ended up being tacked on to a bachelorette party in full swing. Not quite the set-up I was expecting, but we made the most of it.
Our two stops were at Sugarbush and By Chadsey's Cairns. The latter I'd been to before, but the former, a self-proclaimed "garagiste" operation, was new to me. It had only been open since 2007, and yes, they really did have their tanks, presses and bottling operations in the garage. It's small-scale, and determined to stay that way. I liked their mentality about wine names: Red, Not Red, Almost Red. Nice and simple. The Not Red, in particular, was a good quaff (see my review below).
The afternoon was brief, but maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Naps and showers were desperately needed if we wanted to clean up in time for dinner. Huff has a great system set up with partnering restaurants and the local cab company that shuttles guests to and from dinner. A brilliant call on Huff's part, completely nullifying the two-fold risk of getting lost in the dark (and I tells ya, it gets dark out there) or driving after one too many.
I picked Blumen Garden Bistro strictly because their website advised at least three hours' notice if you wanted the beef tartare. I figured anything you had to order in advance had to be good, so off we went. The non-descript bungalow-style building set back from the road looked pretty unassuming and didn't prepare us for the funky, contemporary interior. I started salivating right away.
The tartare was scrumptious, but just a smidge heavy on what tasted like Worcestershire. Like I was going to complain, though. Mum had grilled shrimp with lemon risotto, a creamy dish spiked with citrus zest and oozing with cheesy goodness. The crowning moment came in a bowl of braised pulled rabbit over hand-rolled gnocchi and mushrooms. This is their most popular dish, and it's easy to see why: moist, tender meat accented with earthy oyster caps and pillowy rolls of potato mash. I took long, silent moments with each mouthful. How could I not? Mum's steak was glorious, but it was the Lacey Baco Noir she had with it that really stole the show. (Mum insisted on adding that stop to the next day's itinerary so that she could pick up a few bottles. Twist my arm ...)
Tummies refilled, more wine drunk, more laughs, until we rolled out sometime after 10 to pour ourselves into featherbeds for a luxurious night's sleep. (One not punctuated with requests for a bottle, diaper changes or nightmares. Bliss, I tell you.)
The next day was a blur, as we ran a marathon to three wineries before realizing there wasn't any room left in the cooler. (Mom: "Did I really buy all that?") Time to pack up.
I'm already compiling a list of places I need to visit on my return trip, hopefully sometime this summer. That's the beautiful thing about having wine country so close to home - a few hours, and you're already there.
Huff Estates 2009 Vidalsecco - Done in a prosecco style, this off-dry sparkler was crisp and zesty, with just enough residual sweetness to balance out the minerality in the finish. Excellent with herbed goat cheese truffles.
Huff Estates 2008 Chardonnay - Unoaked and showing voluptuous tropical fruit aromas and flavours, with a full-bodied, mouth-coating texture. Thumbs up from Mum.
Huff Estates 2009 Merlot - Pleasant, fruity nose, followed by a dry but still fruity palate. Firm structure and well-balanced.
Sugarbush 2008 Not Red - Blend of chardonnay, Riesling and gewurz. Candy-sweet nose, but the acidity brings out notes of citrus and sour apple on the palate.
By Chadsey's Cairns 2009 Off-Dry Riesling - Only the slightest whiff of petrol on an otherwise glorious wine. Elegant and refined, with firm acidity that doesn't pucker the mouth.
Lacey Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris - Light salmon/peach colour, with a lively line-up of peach, floral, spice and chalk aromas. Lingering finish of pleasant acidity.
Lift Haus 2009 Cabernet Franc - Inviting scent of rich, ripe berries with a hint of herbaceousness for good measure. None of the 'green' of Niagara cab francs, this is all about the fruit. It shows off with a classy feel and supple finish, both hard to come by with this varietal (in Ontario, anyway).
Norman Hardie 2010 Melon de Bourgogne - No surprise that this stuff sells out so fast. OMG. Floral and flinty on the nose, it's soft but crisp, viscous yet refreshing, savoury and sweet all at the same time. I think this will end up being my fave aromatic white of 2011. (Can't wait to try some with a plate of oysters at Whalesbone, where the Melon is their "house white".)
Norman Hardie 2009 Pinot Noir - Maybe I'm biased, but Norm is easily the king of County pinot. This vintage is showing young, fresh-picked berries, a fragrant approach and subtle threads of the rocky soil's minerality.