Waterfalls, Wine and Vineyards
Cooking with Anna and Michael Olson
Imagine a long weekend of wine tasting, eating, visiting one of the most famous and stunning natural features in the world and cooking alongside a famous TV chef or two; well, that’s exactly what I enjoyed on a recent trip to Niagara in Ontario, Canada a few weeks ago. My feet never touched the ground and my fellow travellers and I were treated to four days of outstanding food, wine and truly memorable experiences. You can read all about the food side of the trip in my first post here: Foodie Ontario: Butter Tarts, Peaches & Farm-Gate Markets, but today’s post is all about cooking with Anna Olson and her husband Michael Olson, with notes on some of the vineyards we visited as well as photos of our visit to Niagara Falls with Hornblower Niagara Cruises and Niagara Helicopters. And, there’s also a FABULOUS recipe (from Anna) at the end of this post for Maple Syrup and Walnut Scones, that I helped her make in her colourful home kitchen.
We visited numerous local vineyards, as well as cooking with local produce at Niagara College, in a bit of a “cook off” competition – but the highlight of the weekend was a boat trip to the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, via boat and helicopter, as well as cooking and dining with Anna and Michael in their beautiful Victorian home in Welland. The boat trip on the Hornblower to the Falls was breathtaking – the boat gets you as close as possible to the thunderous flow, spumes of water and mist that is the magnificent Niagara Falls. Within the Niagara Great Gorge, we sailed past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and then into the very heart of the famous Horseshoe Falls, all clad in yellow plastic capes – although the rest of the guests onboard had rather fetching red capes that flapped around in the wind like bird’s wings! I was soaked to the skin, and my shoes were filled with water, but it was all worth it for the staggering views of the Falls as well as the photos I managed to take.
After viewing the Falls by boat, it was time to take off in a helicopter – and fly OVER the falls before continuing the journey by air to our luncheon venue at Vineland Estate Winery. Vineland Estates Winery produces 47,000 cases of wine annually, the majority of which is made from estate grown fruit. Many of the varietal wines are labeled under the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellation. And, although their Rieslings are consistently rated amongst the best in Ontario, they are also known for their excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and their signature Meritage. Vineland’s wine portfolio is reflective of the cool climate varietals most suitable to Niagara, and after tasting several of their wines with lunch, all paired perfectly with the tasting menu, I was particularly taken with their excellent Game Changer Rose wine, which was crisp and elegant with fruity notes of citrus and a distinct taste of sweet strawberry compote, it was certainly a game changer for me!
After a fun packed morning of boat and helicopter rides as well as a sybaritic “Long Table” lunch at Vineland, it was time to head off to do some food shopping, before cooking with Anna and Michael Olson in their home. And, there was more wine tasting to be had too, at 13th Street Winery, with estate grown, hand-crafted wines. Located next to a popular Farm Gate shop and Bakery, (Witty Farms and 13th Bakery Marketplace) this winery offers exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of Niagara while also providing a place for guests to congregate and escape; to relax and discover; to experience and learn. All of the wines produced by 13th Street Winery are made from fruit sourced exclusively in the Niagara Peninsula with 85% or more coming from their own vineyards. The first vines were planted there in 1976, and in subsequent years they have planted Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Gris and now own more than 40 acres of estate vineyards in the VQA Creek Shores appellation of Niagara. The winemaker is the very charismatic Jean Pierre Colas, who hails from Burgundy in France, and who talked us through our “degustation”.
Having already enjoyed some excellent wines at Two Sisters Vineyards the previous night, I was starting to understand and enjoy local Niagara wines, and their clean, fresh taste. However, there was no more wine for now, well not at any vineyards anyway, as we made our way to the Olson’s home where Michael treated us to a magnificent Barbecue dinner, and we all took turns to cook alongside Anna in her TV studio kitchen; we helped prepare Peach Blueberry Sticky Buns and Maple Walnut Scones for next day’s breakfast. Dinner comprised a Niagara Antipasti table with local cheeses, cured meats, pickles and preserves – then Michael finished preparing and cooking Grilled Maple Vinegar Chicken Wings, Grilled Beef Steaks with Chimichurri and Michael’s Signature Back Ribs with Peach BBQ Glaze. The accompaniments were just as innovative and tasty, with Anna making bowls of her Corn Blueberry Toss, Sweet Potato Salad with Pumpkin Seed, Onion & Lime,Autumn Apple Succotash, Mike & Tina’s Heirloom Tomatoes and Grilled Bread with Salmorejo. There wasn’t much room for dessert, but it was hard to resist Anna’s Blackberry Meringue Tarts and home-made Plum Sorbet with Peaches Foster.
Anna and Michael were the perfect hosts and the evening was filled with wonderful food, wine and company – after helping Anna prepare some of the breakfast recipes for next day, we sat down to a sumptuous feast of locally sourced food and wine……..the atmosphere was convivial and the food kept on coming throughout the evening, before some of us took a trip down to the cellar to see Michael’s vintage meat slicers in his “culinary man cave”. Anna and Michael very kindly shared all of the recipes we cooked, prepared and enjoyed at their home, and I will be sharing them here over the next few months, starting with Anna’s outstanding recipe for Maple Walnut Scones today, which I helped make with her – if you want to read more about Anna’s special “lamination” procedure that gives the scones such an amazing flaky finish (see my photos) GG from Glamorous Glutton has shared some photos of me, and a drawing of how it is done in her post here: ONTARIO CANADA AND SHOPPING OLSON STYLE.
After a night of the finest Niagara food and wine, we are all invited back to Anna and Michael’s house for breakfast; breakfast comprised: Coffee, Tea, Fruit Smoothies, Watermelon Juice (which was lush!), Peach Blueberry Sticky Buns, Maple Walnut Scones, Olson’s Eggs Benedict which is Poached Eggs on Scallion Waffles with Roasted Peameal Bacon and Tomato “Hollandaise”. It was a perfect way to start the day before we set off for the local market, where we were all given money to buy ingredients for the “preserves” we would be making at Niagara College in a Masterchef style fun competition! After the preserves were “judged” by Anna and Michael, we enjoyed a simple lunch of local farmers’ sausages in bread buns with coleslaw and the preserves we had made, followed by cookies and ice cream.
The day ended on an icy note……in the best possible way as we were invited to Inniskillin Winery, home to Ice Wine, and one of my favourite tipples! I showcased the tasting menu we had in my last post – An evening of ice wine and fine dining, and as well the locally sourced food, each course was paired with their ice wines AND their table wines; they offer four different styles of table wines: Niagara Estate Series – These VQA wines are made from vinifera grapes from select vineyards that express the varietal styles and exceptional flavours of the grape types grown throughout the Niagara region. The whites are unoaked, with light or no oak aging on the reds. Reserve Series – Grapes are selected by our winemaker from specific lots of premium vineyards throughout the Niagara Peninsula to make exceptional, limited edition VQA wines. These selections reflect the finest assemblage of each grape variety from different vineyards. Discovery Series – These wines showcase the innovative, artisanal side of the winemaker’s expertise, experience and curiosity. Unique grape varietals, blends, small lots, outstanding vintages and signature styles are emphasized to create exclusive and rare wines…..AND Montague Vintage Series – These VQA wines have their roots in specific vineyards that offer distinct characteristics unique to the soil, climate and vineyard techniques. Truly terroir driven, they will only be produced in years where the vintage is exceptional.
It’s amazing how we managed to fit all of this into a few days, but we persevered and managed to drink most of the wine and enjoy all of the food, as well as visit the Niagara Falls and all of the markets and farm gates! I hope you have enjoyed this second post about my trip across Canada, my next posts will be published soon, and will cover: My time in Quebec and The Eastern Townships, travelling on the ViaRail train across Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg, Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley and Whistler, so do keep popping by. My full itinerary is here:
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Main Hashtag #ExploreCanada
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Disclaimer and thanks:
I was the guest of the Destination Canada, Keep Exploring Canada, Niagara Tourism, and Ontario Tourism, as well as various hotels, provinces and restaurants that I will mention in my individual posts: all my flights, transfers, train journeys, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
This trip could not have been possible without the following people and organisations, as well as others already listed above:
A HUGE thanks to Anna and Michael Olson our wonderful hosts