An Inspiring Wine Country Mini-break

Parmesan, Mushroom and Bacon Tagliatelle

On the same weekend every year, we hop into the car giddy as school children, wave goodbye to the ponytails on grandma’s balcony and head for wine country as fast as we can.

Can you think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than with 24-hours of freedom? We got married in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, so we love to return whenever we can–especially on our annivesary weekend.

The Niagara region has been gaining a lot of attention for its award-winning wines in recent years. There are more than 70 wineries in the area and lucky for us it is less than two hours from Toronto. Would you believe that Southern Ontario is the same lattitude as Provence in Southern France? It’s true!

Ridge Road Winery, Vinemount

Our first stop on our getaway was Ridge Road Winery. It’s a boutique winery known for its hand-crafted, award winning wines. But I like this winery for more than its wines. Owners Jayne and Sean have been friends for many years–in fact, my first visit to this property was to visit Jayne’s grandmother when we were in high school. They’ve worked very hard over the past 15 or so years to make this dream a reality and now it’s a thriving business with quite a loyal following of Ridge Road wine lovers.

Sharon (the Sommelier), Jayne and my husband Kevin

Fortunately, Jayne was working that afternoon and so we were able to spend a couple of hours catching up and sampling their excellent selection of wines. (Sean is the winemaker.)  It was easy to settle in and relax in their cozy tasting area overlooking the vineyard. (Jayne designed the tasting room.)

View of the vineyard from the tasting area at Ridge Road Winery

Sharon, a sommelier who works there, helped us to map out our route for the rest of our trip by recommending some terrific new wineries that we should visit.

One of them was Colaneri in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This winery makes you feel like you have just walked into a quaint Tuscan village. Colaneri is known for its appassimento style wines, which are made from grapes that have been dried first to concentrate their flavour. You may be familiar with the well-known Italian amarone wines, which are made using the same process.

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We were running out of daylight, so we headed straight for our favourite place to stay in NOTL, The Charles Inn. The historic inn was built shortly after the War of 1812.

Our tradition on these min-breaks is to have some “house wine” in our room before dinner. We had a bottle of 1999 Brunello di Montalcino that we bought in Tuscany on our honeymoon. My husband still complains that his shoulder has never been the same since he carried all of the wine, honey, pesto, and olive oil that I insisted were essential souvenirs.

The restaurant at the Charles Inn is not to be missed. It is one of my all-time favourite restaurants and the food never disappoints. We enjoyed the tasting menu with wine pairings, which I highly recommend. The appetizer was our favourite: Mushroom and Parmesan Tagliatelle (the inspiration for the recipe in this post).

En route to pick up the girls the next day, we stopped in a couple more wineries recommended by Sharon. One of my favourites was the The Good Earth Winery and Cooking School.

Photos at The Good Earth Winery and Cooking School.
Wouldn’t you love to sit down to a meal at that table?

I was delighted to find this charming self-serve pantry at The Good Earth and couldn’t resist buying some (frozen) double smoked bacon. You just leave a note and drop your money in the ceramic canister inside. How cool is that?

The self-serve pantry at The Good Earth Cooking School where you’ll find flavoured butters, preserves/jams and double-smoked bacon.

Our 24-hours of freedom always comes to an end far too quickly–just like a good bottle of wine! So, I set out to make something with the ingredients that I had picked up along our wine tour: the double smoked bacon and some verjus from Ridge Road Winery.

Double smoked bacon and verjus

In case you’re not familiar with it, verjus is made by pressing unripened grapes and is a wine-friendly alternative to vinegar in salad dressings. It is also a great way to add flavour to sauces. Because it is not fermented, it is not alcoholic, so it is also kid-friendly!

Parmesan, Mushroom and Bacon Tagliatelle

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cups of a medley of mushrooms, chopped (I used oyster and cemini)
  • 4-5 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (I used diced double smoked bacon)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, stems removed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1-2 tbsp verjus (I used 2 tbsp/see notes)
  • 1 lb dried tagliatelle pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, saute onions in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Add cream and cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken slightly. Add grated parmesan and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add 1 to 2 tbsp of verjus (according to taste). Add pasta and stir well. Sprinkle with bacon before serving.

If you prefer a creamier sauce, you can add a few splashes of cream to the pasta. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount of pasta that you make to 3/4 lb.

NOTES:

  • You can substitute lemon juice for the verjus. However, it is important that you use heavy cream, otherwise the cream will curdle/split. I used half and half cream, which worked well because I was using verjus.