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One of the downsides of working in a winery is that you never take the time to visit other wineries. So, this year, one of my New Year's resolutions is to visit every winery in Niagara. I am going to try to have a specific focus when tasting and for my first tasting I focused on Riesling, my favourite white grape.
Thirty Bench Winery is a small winery on the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation. This area is fairly high up on the escarpment and also a good distance from the lake so that the weather is warmer during the day and cooler at night than the areas near the lake. In addition, as the vineyards are on a slope, the air drains off the slope. This reduces the chance of frost in the spring and fall and also reduces the likelihood of mold and mildew as the air flow dries any moisture off the grapes. This climate is perfect for Riesling as warm days help to ripen the grapes while the cool nights helps to preserve the natural acidity of the Riesling.
Although their vineyard looks like one large area, there are currently three distinct blocks of vines that produce very distinct wines. The block closest to the winery is Wood Post as the posts holding up the vines trellis are wood. This block slopes down from the south to the north and east. A little further east from the winery is Steel Post block where, no surprise, the posts are made from steel. This area also slopes down to the north east. Finally, just over the east edge of the hill is Triangle, as the block is triangular in shape. Triangle gets direct sun in the morning but it would be more shaded in the evening.
The grapes from each area are picked and fermented separately in small stainless steel tanks. The winemaker then selects the tank that best represents flavours of the block. These tanks are bottled as Small Lot Wines and the rest of the wine is used to make the Winemaker's Blend. Tasting these four wines together is a terrific example of the importance location makes in the wines.
Thirty Bench Winemaker's Riesling 2011 – VQA Beamsville Bench - $18.75
This wine has a wonderful nose of golden pineapple, tropical fruit with an underlying thread of wet stone minerality. The flavours of yellow pineapple and lime-lemon sour candy last through the medium length finish. This wine won the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines 2012.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling “Wood Post” Vineyard 2011 – VQA Beamsville Bench - $30.00
There are notes of green apple, lemon and lime peel in the nose and flavours of this wine. This wine has a crisp acidity that reminds me of a cold crisp granny smith apple and is the crispest of the four wines. 276 cases
Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling “Steel Post” Vineyard 2011 – VQA Beamsville Bench - $30.00
The Steel Post Riesling has the quietest nose which has sharp pineapple, tangerine, lemon and lime notes. There surprisingly forward flavours include pink grapefruit that lasts through the medium long finish. 288 cases
Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling “Triangle” Vineyard 2011 – VQA Beamsville Bench - $30.00
The aromas are more forward than the Steel Post but not as pronounced as the Wood Post and include tangerine, mango, lemon and lime with some noticeable minerality. The acidity makes this wine crisper than Steel Post but not as crisp as Wood Post. 291 cases
Many people have been to a tapas bar where there is usually a wide variety of small plates of food available with wines from around the world. However, back when tapas were first served in the Andalusia district of Spain, the tapas would probably have been a simple snack - some meat and cheese with a slice of bread instead of a plate with a few roasted almonds and some olives with the local wine. That wine would have been a dry Fino Sherry or maybe a slight off-dry Amontillado Sherry, wines that are often overlooked.
Sherry is perhaps the most under-rated fine wine in the world. It is available in styles ranging ranges from the completely dry, fresh and slightly salty Fino to the dark, rich PX or Pedro Ximinez Sherry. In addition there are also cream Sherries like the ones that your favourite Aunt likes to sip on Sunday afternoon just before she nods off at family get-togethers.
Sherry, as we know it, was developed as a method of producing wine in a region that is really far too hot for wine grapes. The temperature in the summer regularly exceeds 40º Celsius which would cook the grapes except for the cool breezes off the Atlantic in the evening. The Palomino grape that is grown in the area around Jerez has very little flavour and the wine that it produces is usually described as neutral. It is what happens next that makes Sherry unique.
Once the wine is made, it is run into 600 litre sherry butts that are filled almost to the top. Airspace is left so that a special type of yeast called Flor can develop. It protects the wine so that it ages properly. After a year of aging, the lightest freshest wines are fortified to 15% ABV and are selected for Fino sherry. Heavier, darker wines are fortified to 17% to 18%ABV and become Oloroso Sherry. The wines are then aged another couple of years. After that, if the Fino has become a little too dark and rich, it is reclassified as an Amontillado. These are frequently sweetened a bit before they are sold.
Simple tapas is perfect with a dry fino sherry served chilled on the balcony or the patio. Get some roasted, salted almonds, Serrrano Ham, Manchego cheese, a variety of olives making sure you include Manzanilla olives, maybe some Chorizo sausage and a bottle of Fino or Manzanilla Sherry. If you prefer an off-dry drink, pick up an Amontillado. Finally get a nice baguette so that you have something to put the meat and cheese on while you are drinking your sherry.
I find that the slight salty tang of the Sherries offsets the saltiness of most of the food. The oiliness of the Serrano ham and Chorizo sausage is cut by the alcohol and acidity of the wine. The flavours of the food are repeated and augmented by the wine. The wine and the food grew up together and they just work.
Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Extra Dry Sherry – LCBO # 242669 - $15.95
The nose of salted almonds and bread gives way to light flavours of dried lemon peel, dried pear with a slightly salty after taste. This sherry is deceptively light in body and texture especially when you consider the 15% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Alvear's Amontillado - LCBO 112789 - $11.45
This Amontillado has aromas of salted nuts, dried orange peel and baked apple on the nose with flavours of dark raisins, dried currants and marmalade. The 17% alcohol cleanses the palate and slight sweetness plays against the saltiness of the olives and the ham.
I love salads. I eat them all year round. I like to pair wines with salads as a nice salad with some salmon or chicken and a nice glass of wine is a great evening meal. Today, I'm going to look at three different salads: a Greek Salad, a Chicken Caesar and a Spinach Salad.
Greek Salads are usually a combination of tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, green peppers, kalamata olives and feta cheese in an oil and lemon juice dressing highly seasoned with oregano and garlic. The major flavours are from the acidity from the tomatoes, the earthiness of the olives, the bright tartness of the lemon juice and the herbal notes of the oregano and garlic. When you think about wines, you would then want a wine with brisk acidity, some earthy notes and some herbal notes. Although this could be a number of wines, the feta cheese, which is usually made from goat cheese, leads me to Sauvignon Blanc. I've always thought that goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc are a great match and the natural herbal notes in Sauvignon Blanc and oregano are surprisingly good.
Caesar Salad is said to be the most popular salad in restaurants. The appeal of a Caesar comes from the creamy dressing made from oil and egg yokes highlighted by the salty tang of the anchovies and Parmesan cheese with flavours brightened by the citrusy tang of the lemon juice. With addition of the richness of a nicely grilled chicken breast and you have a good meal. Add a chilled, lightly oaked Chardonnay with it's creamy texture, apple and pear flavours brightened by some crisp acidity and your meal goes from good to great.
Spinach salad is the simplest of the three, combining spinach, dried cranberries, some toasted almonds, poppy and sesame seeds with a simple oil and vinegar dressing. The dark leafy flavours of the spinach are contrasted by the bright sourness of the cranberries. I find this salad requires a wine with bigger bolder flavours than most whites and the bright berry fruit flavours with the slightly heavier mouth feel allows most Roses to stand up to this salad.
For recipes for these salads you can try the following links although I've never actually made Ceasar salad dressing. There are so many good ones on the market that I buy them.
Some wines that I find go with salads are below.
Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyards Chardonnay 2010 VQA Niagara Lakeshore - $16.95
This wine had been bottled but not labelled when I tried it but John Neufeld, the proprietor of Palatine Hills stuck a label on the bottle while I was there. A youthful lemony yellow wine with fruit forward flavours of crisp green apple and yellow pear flavours in the foreground over the vanilla and oak barrel notes. The creaminess and flavours from the oak ageing would match well with Ceasar Salad with grilled chicken.
Trius Sauvignon Blanc 2011 VQA Niagara Peninsula - $13.75
The fresh gooseberries that I tried last night at my mother's house matched the aroma and flavour in this wine. In addition, I found white grapefruit zest and juice, minerals and herbal notes in this mouthwatering wine. The brisk citrusy acidity would balance the acidity in the salad dressing while the herbal notes would highlight the oregano. Perfect with Greek Salad.
Niagara College Cabernet Franc Rosé 2010 VQA St. David's Bench - $11.95
This Rosé is made from 100% Cabernet Franc which was fermented on the skins for a brief time to pick up some colour and tannins. After that, the wine fermented in stainless steel to keep the fresh fruit aromas and flavours of tart red cherry, strawberry and sweet black cherry. The bright acidity keeps the fruit flavours fresh while the light tannins would stand up to a nice piece of grilled salmon with spinach salad.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email asking if I could pair our wines with Magnum Ice Cream Bars for the launch of a new contest called Magnum Pleasure Quest. In this contest you are asked to describe your dream vacation experience tasting Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Several writers from Toronto had been selected to launch this contest and one part of the mini-vacation they described was to taste ice cream bars and wine at the Chateau.
Now I can honestly say that I had never really thought about matching ice cream and table wines. Ice cream and icewine was as far as I had gone with this so I was actually pretty excited by this opportunity. I went to the grocery store, bought a selection of the Magnum ice cream bars and sat on my back deck sharing them with my wife and talking through the wines that I thought would work.
We make about thirty different wines so I had a good selection to consider.
The next day, I bought the four flavours of ice cream bars that I had decided on and put them in the walk-in freezer at the Chateau as it is colder that the freezer I have at home. I also tried the wines that I thought would pair with the bars. I didn't taste the wines with the ice cream as I wanted the tasting be spontaneous.
The day of the event I got to work about an hour in advance to make sure everything was ready and then waited for the helicopter that had flown the participants over Niagara Falls so they could eat ice cream while hovering over Niagara Falls. Pretty Cool!
After talking a little bit about the history and philosophy of the Chateau, we went upstairs for the tasting. We started with the white chocolate ice cream bars paired with our Brut Sparkling. The Brut is made in the traditional method developed in the Champagne Region in France. It is a blend of two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay gives the wine a nice crispness while the Pinot Noir contributes some fullness in the mouth. The bubbles, combined with the acidity of this wine, act as natural palate cleanser. The thick white chocolate and the vanilla ice cream bar tend to melt and coat your mouth which is then scrubbed clean by the bubbles and acidity. The crispness of the wine contrasted with the richness of the ice cream bar. It worked really well.
Next we tried the Almond ice cream bars with the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. We make three different barrel fermented Chardonnays and this one is the lightest of the three. It is fermented and aged in oak barrels that are not new so that the oak flavours are fairly subtle and, I find, tend to express themselves more as vanilla than oak flavours. The wine also has soft ripe pear and yellow apple flavours that blended well with the almond slivers in the milk chocolate coating.
With the dark chocolate ice cream bar, I had decided on one of our big reds, the St. David's Bench Merlot. I've always liked Merlot and dark chocolate. Big, bold, juicy Merlots tend to have a softer tannin structure than Cabernet and I also find the fruit forward flavours of red and dark cherry frequently have a hint of chocolate or cocoa towards the end of the finish. As I expected, due to the intense dark chocolate flavour of the ice cream bar, the Merlot was great.
We switched to icewine for desert. I selected the double Caramel ice cream bar to pair with our Vidal Icewine. A general rule to pairing desert wines is that the wine should be as sweet as the desert otherwise the desert makes the wine taste flat and uninteresting. Although the double caramel bar is quite sweet, the Vidal Icewine is sufficiently sweet and has flavours that remind me of pears canned in light syrup and fruit flan. Once again |I really liked the combination as did our guests, judging by their comments and that fact that the wines were all finished.
After we finished, our guests jumped into a limo for the last part of their dream mini-vacation and the staff and I finished the ice cream. I love this job....