Once a month, Wayne Gretzky Estates throws a dinner party where they pair 3-course meals with both a wine and a whisky cocktail pairing. After each course, every diner places a secret vote (via sacred voting popsicle sticks) for either the wine or the whisky cocktail pairing. When we were invited to visit, the score of dinners-past was tied between these two rivals.
As a stand-alone happy hour drink, I’d take cocktails over wine any day. So I thought I knew exactly how I would vote. Much to my surprise, my feelings towards these drinks are very different when they’re side by side and in front of food. Because come on, who orders both a glass of wine and a cocktail at the same time with their meal? I was a lucky gal that night.
The first course was a hearty chorizo minestrone soup with a crunchy baked biscuit cheese straw, house Berkshire prosciutto and a ball of fresh mozzarella. The textures of this finger food is a timeless pairing in itself.
Shooting for the cocktails in round one, “Indiana Jones and the Fennel of Doom”, has a name that spoke to the nerd in my heart and vintage champagne glass that spoke to the hipster in my eyeballs. And the taste? A cool and refreshing breeze from muddled basil, mint and fennel with a little spice from the whisky. Estate mixologist, Zac Kvas, passionately told us a whole story around how he matched the flavours to our food and why he named it what he did. There was something very culinary about the approach to pairing flavours. It makes me think cocktails don’t always get the respect they deserve.
Wine pairings in general on the other hand, is a tradition so deep that every dish is one infographic away from its perfect pairing. That night, the appetizer was paired with a Wayne Gretzky Estate Chardonnay 2013. Crisp, light, and refreshing. It was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the lavender from the cocktail workshop earlier that evening. As much as I love the thought and creativity behind the cocktail, there is something undeniably right about the simplicity of a good wine and food pairing.
The main course was a whisky caramel pecan crusted lamb shank, 6 oz. grilled lamb sirloin and merguez sausage. Not pictured above but the course also came with some icewine marinated red cabbage, white bean and chorizo cassoulet, heirloom carrots and some amazing onion rings.
Playing for the wine team was the Wayne Gretzky Estate Series Red 2015. Maybe I’m just a child trapped in a grown-up body, but despite a table with double the usual glassware, there’s something comfortably casual about chilling with red wine and a fist of onion rings over chit chat at a communal table. The juxtaposition of fine dining with down-to-earth trimmings was a nice surprise.
The cocktail pairing, “My Mint of the Lambs”, was self-assemble concoction of whisky and cherry in a smoked glass. Complex and boozy but tasty. My pick for round 2? If scoring was based purely on taste complimenting ability, it would be the wine. If it was based on how much the drink adds in terms of excitement and pensive thoughts over food, definitely the whisky.
We had our dessert outside by the whisky bar next to roaring fire pits. A creamed whisky cheesecake bar, a “caramel popcorn, dark chocolate and toffee pear” and an unassuming strawberry marshmallow. The trick is to roast it in the fire. Even in Ontario wine country, a trip outside the city, is never complete without some flames.
The wine was Wayne Gretzky Estate Vidal Icewine 2016. The whisky selection, and the shining winner of the night, Wayne Gretzky Cream Whisky on ice. It was essentially their own version of Bailey’s. It’s labeled as a “Canadian cream liquor” made of “fresh Ontario cream”. I love cake and all but I wouldn’t mind if this were my only dessert on a night out.
Some fancy set-course meals are never enough food or booze to be called a real dinner. This is not one of those. When you visit Wayne Gretzky Estates for the dinner pairing you will eat, drink and be merry. If you’re lucky, maybe it’ll be cold enough for a round on their skating pond after you dine. If educational pursuits are more your thing, there’s always the cocktail workshop or winery/distillery tour and tastings too.
219 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON