Monthly Archives: October 2011

Niagara Falls: Forget the water; go for the wine…Hillebrand Estates Winery

It’s hard to believe that a week has gone by since I was overlooking the breathtakingly powerful and spectacular Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Niagara is far more than the water or the tourist attractions of the ‘wedding capital’ of North America. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a spectacular wine haven, especially this time of the year: beautiful homes along the water, dazzling fall colors on the trees, warm hues of the vineyards at harvest in contrast with the cool temperatures, and quite frankly some surprisingly good wine finds you might not expect if you’ve not ventured out of the wine country of the U.S. west coast.

This was my second visit to the Niagara VQA, and sadly, I still haven’t had enough time to enjoy the many quaint wineries. There will be many more trips in my future to explore it all, but I did manage to make a couple new ‘friends’ on this trip, and revisited a couple of favorites. Tonight, I think I’d like to introduce you to one of those favorite friends: Hillebrand Estate Winery.

The first wine I opened was their Trius White 2009. I’m thinking this one is going to be the one I pick at Thanksgiving because it just ‘works’. And there’s plenty to be thankful for in this one. In the glass, it holds a very pale straw color…reminds me of the fall fields actually. The nose more than makes up for any lack of color though. Very aromatic with strong floral and lemony citrus perfume wafting out of the glass. As it warms, you pick up a hint of pear or melon in it, but the floral and lemon bowl you over to start.

On the tongue, there’s a crispness to match the cool October air. Refreshing flavors of tropical fruit (I got a lot of pineapple) with that hint of lemon, some melon, and even a little pear flavor. Lots of fruit in this one, but not sweet. Like I said, it’s dry, crisp, and refreshing. This is going to be PERFECT with my roasted bird over the holidays. And apparently I’m not the only one that thinks this blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and unoaked Chardonnay is a winner as it has already received medals at some of the Ontario wine competitions.

The next bottle I opened is pretty much a ‘favorite child’. Seriously, I think it is my favorite Cabernet Franc…period. I tried it on the first visit, brought some back to try with my friends at Wine Flights in Leawood, Kansas, and we all agreed, this is by far one of the best Cab Francs we had ever tasted. This is their Showcase Cabernet Franc 2008. Their Showcase wines are truly that…’showcased’ by winemaker Craig McDonald. These are the ‘luxury’ wines and this one in particular is a Rolls Royce in my opinion. Brilliant ruby red in the glass with a whole host of complexities going on with the bouquet: dark fruits, mint, tobacco, and what I like to call the typical Cabernet Franc ‘funk’. The only way to explain it is to say it’s reminiscent of the way a forest smells after a rain. That smell is PERFECT in a glass of Cabernet Franc!

But not as perfect as the taste.

It is smooth and refined, complex but not overpowering. Those same sweet black fruits shine through with toasted vanilla oak. I will take this wine over a lot of Cabernet Sauvignons, quite frankly…or I guess in this case…’Franc’ly. This wine has received acclaim internationally. It should receive acclaim from your taste buds as well.

Hillebrand also has unbelievably exceptional icewines (which I will be reviewing in the next few days).

Not only are the wines exceptional, but the level of customer service is phenomenal. Keep in mind, I’ve only visited once before back in May (where they treated me like a queen for no reason other than because they wanted to). I walked in with my friends and found the lovely woman (Lynda) behind the tasting counter who had introduced me to the wines the first time. After 5 months and only one brief meeting, she remembered me on the spot. Again, one of the friendliest and most delightful people you will run into. She quickly spirited my friends and I (simply out of the goodness of her heart) up to the VIP room as she had done the time before. Upstairs, it was very busy, but we spotted the gentleman (Jeff) who had introduced us to the Showcase series five months prior. Again, he spotted and recognized us on the spot, and made certain he took care of us personally, answering any questions, and again, going over and above the call of duty. These people treat everyone that walks in like the most important person they have ever met.

If you decide you want a wine experience that is unpretentious, fun, and pure wine heaven, that will give you the royal treatment both in the glass and in your personal interactions, then I highly suggest you consider a wine trip to ONTARIO wine country…and Hillebrand Estate Wineries.

Trius White 2009: $19
Showcase Cabernet Franc 2008: $38.00

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Posted by on October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Fight Italians with Cheap Italians: Licking my wounds with Banfi Centine 2008 Toscana

Alright, it’s true. I thought I was the SuperWoman of wine. I thought I could scoff at the Society of Wine Educators recommendation to study 6-12 months prior to taking my Certified Specialist of Wine exam and do it in 2 months.

I came close. Missed it by three miserable questions.

And who do I have to blame (because I couldn’t POSSIBLY have myself to blame, right?)…the Italians.

Yes, Italy got the best of me. I spent so much of my wino studying time wooing the French, playing with the Australians, being seduced by the Spanish and Argentinians, and of course, surfing California wines, that I paid little heed to the Italians.

Quite frankly, they confused the hell out of me with their Montelpulciano di Abruzzo’s, Vino Nobile di Montepulcianos, and Brunello di Montalcinos that I couldn’t see straight.

So, I figure the best way to regroup and go at it again, is to invade and conquer the Italian wines…in my glass. Tonight, I fight Tuscany with Banfi’s Centine 2008 Toscana.

I half expected to go into battle by pouring a blood-red wine into my glass, but it is a very lovely ruby-red. On the nose, it’s comforting…rich leather and cherries. I want to be angry, but it’s so hard when it smells this good…like a plush leather sofa, calling out to you to sit by the fire, grab some chocolate, and kick back while the wine ‘massages’ your senses.

Then the sip.

I can’t be angry with Italy when it tastes like this.

Cherries, leather, violets, and just a subtle hint of black olives. It’s smooth and supple. It doesn’t knock you over with it’s bold tannins. It doesn’t dry your mouth out. It doesn’t cause pucker overload with tart fruits. It simply woos you with the romance you would expect from Italy.

This lovely blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot is a perfect every day wine for pizzas, pastas, or simply for those days when you’re angry with the world and just need a hug.

Fall into this wine’s ‘arms’. At $12 a bottle, you could carry on a love affair for years to come.

Ah Italy…Now I know why I have been defeated by you…and I succumb willingly

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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


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