Chianti - That's a word 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.
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 simply, fruit 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.
Now that Mother Nature has hinted at spring, it's time to get out and about and visit some wineries over in Niagara. Most people think of going over to Niagara in the summer as it's more comfortable for walking around, the vineyards are prettier and you don't have to worry as much about the weather. But, early spring is actually better for visiting most wineries as there are fewer people in the tasting rooms and the staff have more time to talk to you about the wine, the winery and the vineyards. You will also find, if you take the winery tours, that there is ongoing work in the barrel cellars and, as the tour guides are less busy, the tours take a little longer and you actually learn more about the winery.
The west end of the Niagara region has a number of small to medium sized wineries that are quite individual. Two unique wineries that I have visited and can recommend are The Good Earth Food and Wine Company and Malivoire Winery.
The Good Earth Food and Wine Company has been around since 1998 although the wine was a relatively recent addition. Good Earth is housed in a rustic building on a farm on Lincoln Avenue in Beamsville. The tasting room is fairly small but you will notice a large and inviting Bistro off to your left as Good Earth is a restaurant, cooking school and winery all in one. The Bistro is open for lunch from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm until May 31st. After that, they will also be open for dinner but you will probably need reservations over the weekend. I haven't eaten there yet but I will soon.
When I was there tasting, I tried a number of their wines with Christine who has worked there for a number of years and is extremely knowledgable and passionate about their wines. The wines are all “small lot” wines which are grown in small vineyards, hand pruned, hand picked and crafted in small batches by the winemaker.
Note:If you are following your GPS to get there, don't be surprised when you are told to “Turn Left” onto the South Service Road off exit 68 from the QEW. It looks completely wrong but it will get you there.
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. Note that the 2008 vintage of this wine is currently on sale at the LCBO for $15.25. The LCBO product number is 317925.
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.