Ciara: With so many great options available for our first wine and dine review, it was difficult for Katie and I to settle on a restaurant that would set the bar high. We heard great things about One Duke Restaurant’s hot comfort food – served fresh at the corner of James St. South and Duke Street – but had never experienced the restaurant first-hand. When we saw Wine Wednesdays and Wine Sundays on the restaurant’s website, our decision was final. What better place to start this wining and dining adventure than a resto that offers wine deals not once, but twice a week?
Katie: A lover of food and a lover of wine, One Duke was the perfect first stop on our Wine and Dine adventure. Now, while I can answer almost any food trivia (I get really excited when there is a food-related category on Jeopardy), I’m not very knowledgeable about wine. I know when I think it tastes good, I have a pretty good idea when it complements my meal nicely and I know that (in moderation) it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That’s about it. So, when it came to our wine orders, I let Ciara take the menu and do the ordering for us. I sat and sipped and was educated on wine terminology that I had only heard on TV and in movies, but that I was never in any way prepared to use in real-life—like “nose” and “bouquet.”
Ciara: During Wine Wednesdays and Wine Sundays, the restaurant offers a $1-per-ounce deal, with a three-ounce maximum pour. I may have reacted a little too excitedly, because I startled both the waitress and Katie by promptly ordering a flight of four three-ounce glasses… “to share,” I quickly added, so they wouldn’t think I came to get tipsy.
At any high-end restaurant, the going rate for a glass of wine (2-4 ounces) is $6-12, and all four of our wines came to $12. If you’re a young wine lover on a budget, this is the way to treat yourself without breaking the bank.
To get the most out of Wine Sundays and Wine Wednesdays at One Duke, view it as a true wine tasting experience. Study the wine list and try different brands that are out of your comfort zone. One Duke’s wine list is small yet varied. I was pleased to see that most wines were from Niagara-on-the-Lake and Beamsville, along with some options from Italy, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile.
Small details such as including the vintage year beside the name of the wines or brief tasting notes would’ve enhanced the experience. There were also quite a few wines from a big-name winery, Vineland Estates. Because Katie and I were on the hunt for local wines, Vineland made the cut.
Vineland grabbed my attention with two of my favourite grapes grown in Niagara – the widely known white grape, Chardonnay, and the underrated yet increasingly notable red grape, Cabernet Franc. We also chose Pillitteri Estate’s Baci Pinot, mainly because of the unique name and G-Marquis’ Cabernet Sauvignon, a classic red grape.
We lined our wines up in proper flight form from white to red, light to full-bodied. The reasoning behind this standard order is simple—it eases the drinker into each wine, without disruption from sharp contrasts of flavour. Plus, it looks real pretty.
First up was Pillitteri’s Baci Pinot, which is really just a fancy, Italian way of saying Pinot Grigio. This wine was bright and alive on the nose and the palate. Sweet pears and peaches gave way to a light, crisp finish.
Vineland’s Chardonnay was a little less thrilling, with dull oak characteristics that didn’t seem to come alive on the palate. Still, it had redeeming juicy apple notes, making it a safe choice for white wine lovers who aren’t fans of big, buttery and oak-heavy Chardonnays.
Vineland’s Cabernet Franc was more full-bodied and fruit-forward than expected, as the grape tends to be on the lighter, rustic side. Since I’m a jammy fan, it was all good.
Lastly, we sipped on G-Marquis’ Cabernet Sauvignon, which I secretly hoped Katie wouldn’t like because it was one of my favourites. Ripe dark fruits and currents balanced with subtle oak notes, and truly sealed the deal.
Katie: After we each sampled from our flight of wine (which I’m going to do now to impress and intimidate people) we each chose a white and a red. My white wine of choice has always been Pinot Grigio and so I went for the Baci Pinot and Ciara took the Chardonnay. To Ciara’s pleasure, there was no struggle for the G-Marquis and Ciara had her beloved Cabernet Sauvignon and I gladly took the Cabernet Franc.
We started with an order of steamed mussels, a perfect sharing dish. The dish of mussels was placed between us, steam sending a fragrant aroma into the air. The mussels were cooked in a sauce of bruschetta mix, garlic, Italian seasoning and white wine. It was light and balanced and paired with our wines perfectly. We chatted as we picked at the mussels and sipped on our white wine, sometimes eating them on their own and sometimes putting them on a piece of the toasted crostini served on the side. Sharing the mussels allowed us to satisfy our palates without filling our stomachs before our entrees arrived.
Ciara’s main, Shepherd’s Pie served with a side Caesar salad, was comfort food at its finest. One Duke’s Shepherd’s Pie is a meat and potatoes dish executed at a restaurant level. Lacking in vegetables (there is lettuce in the Caesar Salad…) and not light on the rich mashed potatoes topped with cheddar cheese it was heart-warming, yet stomach filling.
Ciara: Just when I thought there was no way I could’ve felt more comforted by my rich, piping hot plate of Shepherd’s Pie, the Cabernet Sauvignon pushed me over the edge with feelings of warm, fuzzy goodness – or maybe that was the alcohol talking over.
Katie: While Ciara had to eventually ask to get half of her Shepherd’s Pie wrapped up to go, there was not a bite of my Normandy pizza left at the end of the night. I heard about One Duke through somebody recommending it to me because of my love for unconventional pizzas. I did glance at other menu options, but my heart was pretty set on pizza. I found the one I wanted, the thin-crusted Normandy topped with smoked salmon, roasted garlic and onions. When it was placed in front of me, I was pretty sure there was no way I could eat all of it—I was wrong. The smokiness from the salmon, the sweetness from the roasted garlic and the bite from the onion made for a perfectly balanced pizza. The first few slices I savoured each bite. Next thing I knew, after an hour of talking, sipping and chewing, it was all gone. Ciara explained that my wines were good pairings because the pizza had so many different qualities for the wines to play off of—the acidity of the Pinot and the smokiness of the Cab Franc complemented the pizza perfectly. She was right; I just never would have been able to express it in words.
Ciara: Because I gave into my excitement of the wine list too soon, I hardly paid attention to the food. Luckily, our orders ended up pairing well with our wines. The general rule of thumb is to match the weight of what you’re eating with the weight of the wine. You also want to be aware of similar qualities in the wine and the dish.
Katie: Despite Ciara getting some of her Shepherd’s Pie packed up and me devouring an entire pizza, we couldn’t resist taking a look at the dessert menu. The menu was filled with classics and we opted for the apple crumble, with two spoons. We took our time, digging into the apple crumble while I continued to sip on my Cab Franc and Ciara sipped on an espresso.
We couldn’t help but notice that the comforting menu paired off so perfectly with the cosy feel of the restaurant. It may have been the red wine and the hot homemade crumble, but you can’t help but feel cuddly in a restaurant with red walls, dark stained trim, lit candles and velvet furniture. Ciara pointed how perfect this restaurant would be on a cold winter day. There would be something quite picturesque about sitting in One Duke’s dining room with snow gently falling outside.
Sure, you might be missing patio weather, but there is something awfully nice about a warm restaurant on a cold day. So, on a blustery day, bundle up and head over to One Duke to sample wines and eat restaurant-quality comfort food. This is a wine and dining experience where your stomach, your wallet (but maybe not your liver depending on how you approach Wine Wednesdays and Sundays…) will thank you.