*By Jennifer Steele*
Wine selection is a very subjective topic and can be as individualistic as how you take your morning coffee. So deciding what to serve guests at a dinner party can be a daunting task: red or white? acidic or sweet? light, medium or full body? what pairs best with the food being served? But what I came to realize after a trip to Stratus Vineyards is that there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to wine. Not really, anyhow. Of course there are guidelines to help make more advised decisions, but in the end what matters most is your personal taste. That being said, I was still interested in learning how elements such as fat, acid, salt, sugar and protein can balance, counter balance and enhance wine so I headed to the Food & Wine Lab at Stratus…
I sat down to a beautifully set table surrounded by rows of grape vines as far as the eye could see while Hospitality Associate, Ben Nicks, discussed the goal of the Food & Wine Lab: to combine stellar wines with various foods to see how the different elements chemically react so wine drinkers can make better decisions that reflect their palates. Together, in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake, we spent an hour sipping wine and experimenting with different foods to understand my own preferences…
We started with the 2016 Riesling. At first sip, the wine tasted acidic (Rieslings are known for their high acidity). After taking a bite of lemon and proceeding with the second sip, the wine tasted surprisingly fruity. That’s because the acid in the lemon neutralized the acid in the wine revealing its fruity notes. I then tried combining the Riesling with an apple slice and discovered that its sweetness neutralized the fruit in the wine leaving a sour sensation on my palate. So, based on what you prefer, you can modify your meals or wines to get the desired taste.
Next, we tasted the 2008 Stratus White with a soft cheese and learned that the fat content of the cheese protects the palate from tannins and acid. This neutralization of acidity pushes fruit flavours to the forefront and leaves you with, well, a fruity taste. In my opinion, the wine tasted much better when paired with cheese. Sausage, with its protein and fat content, acts much the same way. I also learned that salt doesn’t change the balance quite as much, but rather tones down the intensity of the acidity. So seasonings and sauces like soy, which is high in sodium, can be used in this regard.
While drinking the 2012 Stratus Red, we introduced black pepper which brought out a spicier flavour in the wine. Likewise, spicy foods will accentuate the level of spice in wine. Who would have known?! Not me! But I’m glad I learned this as I’m not someone who’s overly keen on spicy sensations. So, if you’re having a spicy dish and want some balance, you’ll need a wine with low tannins and acidity — perhaps something fruity with a low alcohol level.
I really enjoyed the Food & Wine Lab at Stratus and found they did a great job of making the subject approachable so even those new to the wine world felt welcome. Their interactive and friendly style made it lots of fun too — an experience that would be a wonderful social outing for a group. If you plan to check out the lab, be sure to take a tour of the winery and taste their full range of wines. There is quite a diverse portfolio with ten reds and six white grape varietals, not to mention, the best red icewine I’ve ever had!
After spending an insightful and entertaining day at Stratus, I took a 5-minute drive down the road to Queen’s Landing. The chic boutique hotel is the most ideal and convenient location for anyone exploring the Niagara wineries.
The habourside property is literally steps away from the marina, spectacular waterfront and many restaurants and cute shops. The area is bursting with historic gems and sites worth exploring. The hotel has an onsite restaurant with panoramic views of the Niagara River, outdoor patio, gym, indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi. The cozy and charming setting (think Georgian opulence with modern amenities) has you set to complete the perfect getaway.
A huge thanks to Stratus and Queen’s Landing for hosting us. As always, reviews and opinions expressed are our own. The Food & Wine Lab at Stratus is approximately one hour in duration and can be booked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For Queen’s Landing bookings, visit www.vintage-hotels.com/queenslanding.