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.
Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 VQA Niagara Peninsula - $24.95
The young man at the tasting bar described this as JT's "American Style" Pinot Noir. It is certainly fruit forward with aromas and flavours of raspberry and sour cherries front and centre with notes of sage in the background. The tannins, while noticeable on the finish, were not overwhelming but I feel that this wine could certainly age for 3 or 4 years.
Hillebrand Showcase Clark Farm Pinot Noir 2012 VQA Four Mile Creek -$29.95
The grapes for this wine were picked on September 17, 2012 and the wine spent three weeks fermenting on the skins to get the colour and tannic structure before it spent 11 months in French oak barrels. The wine is luscious! It sits on your tongue like a puddle of satin and gives off aromas of raspberry, strawberry and warm cherry compote with subtle earthy undertones. The acidity and tannins are so well balanced that you have to really focus to notice them but they will support several years of ageing if you can resist drinking this wine.
André Delorme Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2011 - Vintages #366427 - $19.95
The aromas of red and black cherry, vanilla from the oak barrels, raspberry and dark strawberry over fresh dug earth spill from the glass as you pour this medium red wine. It's light bodied in your mouth and acidity highlights the fresh cranberry flavours that start to come out. As you swish this around your mouth, the tannins are firm enough to suggest that you could age this a couple of years or, as the label suggests, drink this now with red meat or soft cheeses.
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.
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.
Some of my favourites include the following:
San Filice Il Grigio Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2010 – $50.00 estimated
This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo and Mazzese so I really hope it was my nose that fell in love with the complex aromas of cherry, vanilla, oak, tobacco and liquorice and not my brain telling me that it should be better. The wine itself was a delicious, medium bodied mouthful with flavours that lingered long after swallowing. The LCBO has a few bottles of the 2009 Riserva version of this available under product number 716266 at $26.95
Castello Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Vigna La Prima 2010 - $80.00 estimated
The aromas of bright red cherry, black plums and blackberries that spilled from the glass were followed by more mature aromas of forest floor in the autumn, anise and mushrooms. The wine itself is beautifully balanced so that no one feature calls for your attention – the flavours, acidity, tannins and alcohol are all in sync. Even when you swallow, the finish slowly fades on your palate.
Fattoria Viticcio Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione Beatrice 2011
The components of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon work well together with the cherry and plum flavours of the Sangiovese blending with the darker black currant like flavours of the Cabernet. Smooth on the attack, I found a little more acidity on the finish than I was expecting. Note that the LCBO has a similar blend for $18.95 available. LCBO # 224311
*My age group remembers Elvis Presley and the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan.
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.
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.
Tawse Winery Rosé VQA Niagara Peninsula 2012 - $15.95
Tawse is a modern winery that has been built on a hillside so the wine can be moved through the winery using gravity. The grapes are carefully grown using biodynamic techniques that focus on producing the grapes as sustainably as possible. The wine is a pretty salmon pink with aromas and flavours of strawberries, fresh cherries and watermelon. The crisp acidity makes this clean and refreshing from start to finish.
Ridgepoint Winery Rosé VQA Twenty Mile Bench 2011 - $14.00
This rosé is made from Pinot Noir with a little bit of Chardonnay to lighten the wine. The salmon – strawberry pink wine has bright aromas of watermelon, red raspberry and strawberry while the flavours remind me of cold deep red watermelon. There is a just enough of tannin on your gums after the long strawberry candy finish to give the wine some structure so it will stand up to some light barbequed foods.
Malivoire Wine Company Moira Vineyard Rosé VQA Beamsville Bench 2013 - $21.95
The juice had skin contact with the Pinot Noir grapes for only a couple of hours so that this wine is almost colourless. Given the pale colour, the intensity and complexity of the aromas and flavours is startling. These is a blend of strawberry, cherry and watermelon overlaid with really interesting herbal notes. There are notes of crisp red Macintosh apple skin on the finish. This wine will be available in a couple of weeks.
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.
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.
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.
Malivoire Wines was started in the mid 90's when Martin Malivoire wanted a break from being a special effects director for the movie industry. He purchased the first vineyard in 1995 and started working on the winery shortly after that. The winery is a collection of Quonset huts that look like they are spilling somewhat haphazardly down a hill. Once you get inside, however, you realize that they were very carefully planned.
The winery was one of the first “gravity-feed” wineries in the Niagara region. The grapes are delivered at the top of the hill to the crush pad. Once crushed, the juice flows by gravity down to the fermentation level, then down to the the aging tanks or barrel room and finally, after bottling, the store is at the bottom of the hill. The wine doesn't need to be pumped anywhere which many winemaker's feel is gentler and easier on the wine.
There are a number of other unique wineries and all of them express their personalities in their wines. Many of the wineries are not open in the early part of the week so I would check before going over. The best resource for this is the Wine Country Ontario web site at winecountryontario.ca There is information about most of the wineries along with phone numbers and open hours.
The Good Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2012 VQA Twenty Mile Bench - $17.95
This is an awesome Sauvignon Blanc with aromatics and flavours of white and pink grapefruit with subtle notes of tangerine playing in the background. There is little bit of residual sugar in the wine so that the medium acidity makes this wine refreshing without being mouth puckering. I would suggest a light salad with orange, grapefruit and tangerine wedges, walnuts and C'est Bon's Fresh Goat's Cheese.
The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2010 VQA Niagara Peninsula - $21.95
Another winner, this Pinot has aromas of dark raspberry, freshly fallen leaves on a forest floor during a fall walk and top notes of cherry liquer. Medium bodied, the wine has soft tannins which make it quite easy drinking. I found that on the finish, the barrel aging has left hints of vanilla coke in the background to make the wine even more interesting.
Malivoire Chardonnay 2011 VQA Niagara Peninsula – LCBO #573147 - $19.95
This Chardonnay has a soft creamy oaky nose with yellow apple, fresh cut honeydew melon with an underlying buttery note. Flavours of ripe yellow apples, lemon spread and mango pudding play across your tongue. Although I generally prefer my oak-aged Chardonnays to be 5 to 7 years old, I would drink this one now as it's so good.
Malivoire Gamay 2012 – VQA Niagara Excarpment – LCBO #591313 - $17.95
Gamay has always been on the the signature wines for Malivoire and this one does not disappoint. Aromas of blackberry, spice, black pepper and dark plums roll from the glass and reward you when taste the wine. There is a pleasant tartness to the fruit while the tannins are such that you can drink this by itself or challenge it with a nice burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions.