Oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and…ancient on the planet.
– Miles in the movie Sideways, October 2004
If you remember the movie "Sideways", Miles was on a mission to drink great Pinot Noir. He looks down on most other wines but saves his greatest disdain for Merlot so what is it about Pinot Noir that Miles loves?
Pinot Noir is said to be an ancient grape, one of the oldest known to be planted. A grape that is thought to be Pinot Noir was described in the first century CE by Roman agricultural writer Columella. Despite it's long history, Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow. Pinot Noir grapes grow in tight bunches that resemble pine cones. As the grapes have very thin skins, the bunches are quite susceptible to rot and mold.
Due to the thin skins, Pinot Noir wine is rarely dark or tannic. When red wine is made, all the colour and most of the tannins come from the skins so the skins, seeds and pulp are left in the juice until the desired colour and tannin levels are reached. Other grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, are naturally much darker and have thicker skins so the resulting wines will be a deeper colour and have more mouth-puckering tannins.
Lately, in Niagara and other wine growing areas, winemakers have been taking advantage of this and have been using Pinot Noir to make Rosé wines. The winemaker simply leaves the skins in the fermenting juice for a few days and then drains out the pink wine and lets it finish fermenting without the skins.
Stylistically, there is a difference between Burgundy and New World Pinot Noirs. Burgundy tends to be characterized by complex, subtle aromas and a texture that is not too heavy and is satiny smooth on the palate. New world Pinot Noir, on the other hand, tends to be more fruit forward in it's aromas and flavours with somewhat more noticeable tannins and acidity.
Due to the lighter aromas and flavours of Pinot Noir, many people find it more enjoyable than a Cabernet, for example, when just having a glass of wine. I also find that it pairs with many foods that are too light for a big red but too heavy for many whites. For example, grilled or planked salmon works very nicely with Pinot as does turkey. Whenever I serve turkey, I always serve a 5 or 6 year old barrel fermented Chardonnay and a 3 to 4 year old Pinot Noir with it.
Where are good Pinot Noirs from? It depends on the style you like. I have had excellent Pinot Noirs from Ontario, Oregon's Willamette Valley, New Zealand's Central Otago and Sonoma's Russian River. However, you should also try some actual Burgundy as a great burgundy can leave you a little breathless.
You have the chicken ready to go on the grill with a light barbecue sauce to finish it, the spinach salad with fresh strawberries, almond slivers, red onions with a raspberry vinaigrette and the potato salad are in the fridge. Then it hits you – the wine! Generally you go with a white for the chicken but the sauce will overwhelm any white but even a light red will be too big for the sauce. Go halfway and choose a Rosé!
Many people shy away from rosé wines as they remember when most Ontario rosés were simple, fruity and overly sweet wines. However, the majority of the rosé wines made in Ontario are now more European in style, crisp, dry but still fruit driven.
Rosé wines are made just like red wines. The grapes are picked, destemmed and crushed and then the juice, grape pulp, seeds and skins are put into the fermenting tank and yeast is added to start the fermentation. If you have ever looked at the pulp and juice of a red grape, even a Thompson seedless, the pulp is green and the juice is clear. All the colour in red wine, or a rosé, comes from the skins. Once fermentation has started, the alcohol starts to pull the colour from the skin. If you are making a traditional red wine, you let the wine ferment on the skins for several days. However, if you are making a rosé, you simply remove the wines from the skins and pulp after a few hours or a day and then let the light red, or rosé wine finish fermenting in a tank.
Some winemakers will make both rosé and a red wine from one batch by removing some of the juice from a red wine fermentation after a few hours to make the rosé and letting the rest of the juice finish fermenting as a red wine. This actually benefits the juice that is left on the skins as it intensifies the colour of the wine.
Many of the rosé wines made in Ontario are made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Gamay Noir while others are blends of juice from several different types of red grapes. There are also some white wines being made from red juice by not allowing any skin contact at all.
Rosé wines fill that gap when you aren't sure if you should select a white or a red however, like a white, they should always be served chilled. Try some over the summer. I'm sure you'll find at least one that you like.
I love exploring wine and chocolate pairings. There are so many ways to match wine and chocolate that you could probably try a different form of chocolate every day in February. I have a few suggestions to get you started!
I tend to favour dark chocolate as I like the bitterness of the chocolate so I usually pair it with a fruitier red wine as the slight bitterness of the tannins in the wine are masked by the bitterness of the chocolate. Because of this, Merlot has become my “go-to” wine for pairing with chocolate. However, last week we were having an outstanding 2011 Cabernet / Syrah wine from Kacaba Vineyard with dinner. The Syrah adds more dark fruit and some black pepper and somewhat smokey notes to the Cabernet. I saved some wine to go with the chocolates we were having for desert. We had brought these chocolates back from Mexico so even though they were the colour of milk chocolate, they weren't as sweet as many chocolates. The pairing worked really well.
You don't have to stick to red wine. One day a small group of us were trying to pair wine with some chocolates we had purchased from Chocolate F/X, a local chocolate factory in St. Davids, Ontario. We had “streusel” chocolate balls which are “dark chocolate enrobed in milk chocolate with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg & icing sugar.” We had tried Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Nothing really worked well. At this point, someone suggested “Old Vines” Riesling. We gabbed a bottle and some fresh glasses and WOW, it really worked!!! The milk chocolate covering was working against the red wine while the cinnamon and nutmeg played off the apple, pear and spicy / mineral notes in the Riesling.
You don't have to stick to dark chocolate. The aforementioned Chocolate F/X also makes a white chocolate bark with dried apricots in it that pairs perfectly with either a Late Harvest Vidal or a Vidal Icewine. Both wines are quite rich and full in the mouth and they tend to have apricot and peach flavours that bring out the flavours of the dried fruit. The naturally high acidity of these wines cuts through the inherent fattiness of white chocolate and leaves your palate clean and ready for more.
Remember that chocolate also comes disguised as food, for example, brownies. I love the rich chocolate flavour and texture of brownies, especially when they have walnuts in them. Pinot Noir has many characteristics that echo the elements found in brownies. Like the brownie, good Pinot Noir has a richer mouth feel than many wines, the acidity of the Pinot brightens the fruit flavours while the softer, silkier tannins enhance the richness of the brownie. A Pinot Noir that I've been favouring lately is the Flat Rock Cellars 2011 Pinot Noir, Vintage Product Number 1545, at $19.95 per bottle. The wine has enough body to offset the richness of the brownie and the bright raspberry / cherry flavours contribute to the chocolate experience. The earthy notes in the medium length finish bring out the richness of the walnuts. It's a great desert!
A more traditional choice than table wine with chocolate is port. As I'm typing this, I have a glass of Sandeman's Vau 2000 Vintage Port (LCBO # 251090) with some dark chocolate covered blueberries at my desk. This is pretty close to a perfect snack. Both the blueberries and the Port have intense, sweet fruity flavours and I'm telling myself that the dark chocolate covered blueberries are filled with anti-oxidants as is the red Port. Apparently, this snack is good for me!!!
If you are interested in trying a variety of wine and chocolate experiences, remember that the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake are celebrate “Days of Wine and Chocolate” every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in February. You can get more details at the Wineries of Niagara on the Lake website. Get some friends together and come to NOTL for a day or for a weekend.
Chianti - That's a name with so many images attached to it! If you are in my age group*, you think of those straw covered fiascos that the beatnik and bohemian crowd stuck candles in for mood lighting while discussing Jack Kerouac and Leonard Cohen. The wine was thin, red and sour but it made you feel worldly. Note that the Leonardo Chianti Fiasco is still available from the LCBO.
Chianti is now generally viewed as a well made wine with flavours of black cherry, plum and vanilla highlighted by bright acidity. Many feel that the aromas and flavours Chianti special are disappearing as producers, trying to appeal to more consumers, make the wines in a more “international style” that included Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blends. While it might have expanded the market, it is harder to taste the wines and say “Now that's Chianti!!!”
Chianti producers have, however, been struggling with their identity for some time. The original area was defined in 1716 in an area lying between Siena and Florence. In the early 1900's, demand started to outstrip supply so grapes grown outside the original area were pressed into production. Producers in the original area felt that wine from the newer areas was watering down their brand and so they wanted to delineate their area more clearly. In 1932, a ministerial decree allowed the name Chianti Classico to be used only for wines from the original area. Wines from this area are also the only ones allowed to use the Black Rooster logo on their bottles.
Over time, the grapes used to make Chianti have also changed. In the mid 1800's, Baron Bettino Ricasoli defined the Chianti recipe of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca, this last grape being white. In the 1990's, the recipe was officially changed to allow a minimum of 80% Sangiovese with a variety of other red indigenous and international grapes although many producers use 100% Sangiovese.
Regulations on aging and alcohol levels have been established to define Chianti Classico Annata and Chianti Classico Riserva. Annata is the young easy drinking Chianti while Riserva has more alcohol and longer aging in both barrels and in the bottle. Chianti Superiore is also defined as a wine with longer aging and higher alcohol but this name is only allowed outside of the Classico region. Then in 2013 the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione was approved. Gran Selezione is designed to be the premium wine as it must be made from the winery's own grapes grown in the finest vineyards. It muser also pass laboratory tests and a rigorous series of tasting panels. The EU approved the classification in February of 2014.
The original release of these Gran Selezione wines came to Toronto on June 16th. Not all of the 35 wines approved for this rating were available for tasting but most of them were. It was a very interesting tasting as these wines are supposed to be the best of the best from Chianti Classico but there was a great deal of variety in the wines. Most were excellent but some were, frankly, uninspired. Most of the wines that have been approved so far were not specifically grown to meet the new regulations. They were existing Riservas that happened to have the right amount of aging and alcohol so I'm looking forward to seeing how this category evolves over the next three to five years.