Wineries all over the world are inspired by French wines and Ontario is no exception. Most of the grapes we grow in Ontario are French in origin. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are all from various parts of France. However, there are a two wineries in Ontario that are inspired by Italy: Ridgepoint Wines and The Foreign Affair Winery.
Ridgepoint Wines describes itself as producing “wines of Ontario with an Italian Heritage”. When owner Mauro Scarsellone first saw the property it was foggy which reminded him of his native Piemonte where the Nebbiolo grape is used to produce Barolo, among other wines. Ignoring the differences in climate and length of the summer, he decided to plant Nebbiolo. Even though the vines don't produce every year, they produce frequently enough that Ridgepoint's signature wine is their Nebbiolo. Because of this, grape growers who are growing Italian grapes will contact Ridgepoint when they have some to spare. Ridgepoint currently has a Sangiovese and also a Merlot – Cabernet – Aglianico blend. Sangiovese is a major part of Chianti while Aglianico is a very old grape that was brought to Italy by the Greeks and is used to make Taurasi and Aglianico del Vulture.
The Foreign Affair Winery is owned by Len and Marisa Crispino who fell in love with Amarone while living in Italy. Amarone della Valpolicella is one style of Valpolicella wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. Basic Valpolicella is made like most wines but Amarone is made from grapes that have been partially dried which enhances the flavours of the wine and creates a wine with more body. When Len and Marisa returned to Ontario, they decided to produce wines in the Amarone style but they decided to use the grapes growing here, among them, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.
Most of their wines are made using a blend of fresh and dried grapes. Their Chardonnay, for example, is made from 90% fresh grapes and 10% dried grapes. Foreign Affair also produces a Cabernet Franc where all of the grapes were hand harvested and then dried for 103 days. The drying process concentrates both the flavours and the sugars in the grapes so that the resulting wine has very intense aromas and flavours and, since it was fermented until all the sugars were converted to alcohol, the wine comes in at 15.9% alcohol by volume.
The other day I went out for a short drive along Lakeshore Road to do some wine tasting. Now, before you Torontonians get too excited, I mean Lakeshore Road in Niagara on the Lake (NotL) . This area is often overlooked by travelers from Toronto as they come in from the QEW and either head across York Road and down the Niagara Parkway or they cruise down Niagara Stone Road which cuts kitty-corner across NotL.
I started at the west end near the Welland Canal with Small Talk Vineyards which is a new brand from Stonechurch Vineyards. The Small Talk wines are focused on easy drinking wines for social occasions. The labels are a lot of fun as the front label has the “polite” small talk while the back label has “what you are really thinking”. For example, their Good Night Cabernet Merlot has “Time Flies when you are Having Fun” on the front while the back has the comments saved for the car ride home including “That Was Painful!”
Next I stopped at Konzelman Estate Winery, the only winery in NotL that is on the lake front. It has an observation deck just off the parking lot and, once you are inside, there are stairs up the central tower where you have a great view of the entire property. As you enter the spacious tasting room, you can browse their wines. If you turn toward the left side of the room, you will find the everyday wines while the right side is home for the Reserve and Family Reserve wines which are oriented more towards weekends and special meals. All of their wines are available for tasting and you can buy a glass of something you like and site out on the patio to enjoy it.
A stone's throw further east is Hinterbrook Winery, the new guy on the block but don't let this scare you off. They have a good portfolio of wines including a Franc Blanc which is a white wine made from Cabernet Franc which is a black grape. It's a bit of a local legend as every one I know who has tried it just raves about it. Every time I go in, they are sold out of this wine. I picked up their Pinot Grigio which I had with grilled double cut pork chops with farm fresh corn on the cob and yellow beans with fresh peaches for desert. I figured I deserved a good meal after a hard day of tasting.
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 don’t usually drink spirits, cocktails or mixed drinks but when I do, I usually drink Bourbon which is an American Whiskey. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States but Kentucky usually comes to mind as it is the only state that can have the state name on the label.
What is Bourbon? It is an American made whiskey that is at least 51% corn with various proportions of rye, malted barley and wheat. The corn gives the Bourbon it’s usual sweetness and the other grains give different Bourbons their distinctive flavours. Makers’ Mark, which is probably one of the better known Bourbons, uses more wheat than most which gives it a softer texture on the palate and also makes it a little mellower than some.
The grains are ground to the texture of course sand and then they are boiled to extract the sugars. This mash is then cooled down before the yeast is added. Once added, the yeast causes this mixture to ferment into a beer which is about 10% alcohol by volume or ABV. This is then distilled in a column still to about 60% ABV. A second distillation with a pot still, known as a doubler, increases the alcohol levels to 80% ABV. At this point the Bourbon is as clear as vodka but much sweeter in flavour. The colour and much of the final flavours come from the four years of barrel aging in new American Oak barrels that have been toasted or charred on the inside. About 40% of the Bourbon evaporates through the wood during the aging period which also concentrates the flavours. Some distillers will sell “Cask Strength” bourbon at the distillery but it is usually reduced to 40% ABV before sale.
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.
Some foods are fairly easy to pair with wines. With French or Italian foods, for example, you can usually find a wine from the same region as the food and it should match. Foods from regions that do not have a wine history are a little harder. I tend to use trial and error, that is, I like to try two or three wines with meal and see how they work.
The other night we planned on having Indian food but instead of going out, my wife picked up some Indian food to prepare from the grocery store. She picked up Tandoori sauce, a spice mix for Biryani and packaged dilli style paneer makhani and kadhi pakoda. Other than the Tandoori sauce, all of the foods came from India or Pakistan. Now, before you start to think that I'm an expert on Indian food, I have to refer to the packages to remember that each item is called. Over dinner, we refereed to them as the red one, the yellow one and the other yellow one.
The Tandoori sauce is basically a slightly sweet but spicy tomato sauce. We cut up the chicken, added the yogurt and the simmered the chicken until it was cooked. .The Biryani is only slightly more difficult. You saute onions, add the spice mix, meat, tomatoes, yogurt, garlic and ginger paste and then cook and serve over rice. The spice mix has plums and 14 different spices which is why |I don't cook Indian food from scratch. I don't have the spices or the skills to do a good job. Although there is some spicy heat over the sweet spices, it's not overly hot.
The final two items are easier as they are heat and serve. Paneer makhani is Indian cottage cheese chunks cooked in a mildly spicy butter curry while kadhi pakoda is bengal gram flour cooked and onion fritters cooked in a what was described as a “mildly spicy yogurt based curry”. We found that the 4 inch long red chili pepper in the sauce made it really hot.