Archive for the ‘Niagara’Category

Tawse and Redstone prove Niagara wine’s a natural

Tasting wine at Tawse Winery in Niagara
Toronto financier Moray Tawse is a lifelong lover of both red and white Burgundy. A happenstance tasting of a great Chardonnay from an obscure (and now defunct) Niagara winery changed his real estate shopping plans back in 2001. Rather than seeking out vineyards to buy in Burgundy, he turned his attention to the fledgling Twenty Valley, which comprises vineyards in Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan in the town of Lincoln and extends eastward to the city of St. Catharines. A wine geek’s heaven, this region is a patchwork of different soils and subsoils. The Twenty Valley chicken clearly crossed the road because it preferred the terroir on the other side. Now Twenty Valley is home to more than 50 wineries. (For details, see Niagara’s Twenty Valley web site at www.20valley.ca or Visit Niagara at www.visitniagaracanada.com.)

In 2001, Moray Tawse bought his first 9-acre property, and in 2005 opened Tawse Winery (tawsewinery.ca). Tawse has expanded to five vineyards encompassing 200 acres and has been named Canadian Winery of the Year four times.

Tawse Winery in NiagaraTawse wines are organic and biodynamic. (The winery has both Ecocert and Demeter certification.) A regular farm menagerie assists in the vineyards. Sheep graze on the lower canopy of the vines, while horses crop the upper canopy. Chickens strut up and down the rows, eating bugs and picking out weeds around the trunks and between the vines. Architectural ingenuity helps make the winery (see below) all the more sustainable. Taking advantage of a hillside location, every operation is gravity-fed. Burgundy-based Pascal Marchand—a rock star among flying winemakers—advises Tawse Winery on every step of the process. Niagara College-trained Paul Pender makes the wines and oversees the vineyards.

Tastes of Tawse


All the certifications in the world mean nothing if the wines don’t live up to it. But they do. In fact, the Tawse wines as a group are outstanding. They vinify more than 90 wines each year, including 13-14 different Chardonnays from slightly different terroir.

We tasted the 2012 Estate Chardonnay—a barrel-fermented white made in the style of a Maconnais. The oak is well-balanced as a background note, letting the apple and melon notes come to the fore on the palate. It retails at $38. We also tried a 2015 Limestone Ridge Riesling ($24). It’s a perfect wine for light meats sauced with acidic marinades or rubs—roast pork with applesauce, for example, or chicken lemon pasta. The aromatic Riesling dominates but in this cold year, there’s a distinct green apple acidity in the mouth. The vineyard is planted over two types of soil. Grapes from the limestone northern half go to Tawse. Grapes from the red clay southern half go to Redstone (see below).

The 2011 Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir ($49) is the Tawse flagship red. The vineyards were 9 years old when the grapes were picked, and the wine shows great promise as the vines mature. The nose of violets and black cherries gives way to a rounded, fruity wine with a suggestion of pomegranate, menthol, eucalyptus, and warm spices on the palate. It is classic cold-climate Pinot Noir—lean and elegant as a greyhound.

Redstone Winery in Niagara, owned by Moray Tawse

Redstone, brawny sibling to Tawse


When Tawse began expanding his holdings in 2009, he bought some vineyards planted in the red clay soils of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation (still part of the Twenty Valley region). The first vintage in 2010 was so radically different from the Tawse wines that Moray Tawse decided that the vineyards needed their own winery and own identity.

So Redstone Winery (redstonewines.ca) was born. Moray Tawse took the opportunity to build a new winery with a big tasting room and a fine restaurant, making Redstone especially visitor-friendly. The integrated operation raises its own lamb, chicken, and duck and buys beef, rabbit, and venison from nearby Ontario farms.

Wines show Canadian cheekiness


Redstone tasting bar in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseAs the red-clay soils of the property are ideal for late-maturing Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery’s identity is tied to the Bordeaux reds. Redstone also produces a powerful Syrah, a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as well as some Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Like Tawse, all wines are certified organic and biodynamic.

sparkling rose at Redstone in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseWines here range from a frisky sparkling rosé available only at the winery to a robust Rhone-style Syrah ($40) that practically cries out for roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary sprigs. The Reserve Chardonnay ($30) hails from the south half of the Limestone Ridge vineyard shared by Tawse and Redstone. Winemaker Rene Van Ede is Australian, and his wines have that Down Under rowdiness. This Chardonnay tastes like a New World rambunctious cousin of Chablis. It has a fruit forward expression of lemon, sweet apple, and a notable toasty oak. The lush texture lingers a long, long time.

We also sampled the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($40). An elegant expression of Cabernet that could use a few more years in the bottle, it is a little closed right now. Swirled in the glass, it gives up a distinct black pepper aroma on top of ripe blackcurrants and dark cherry. The nose suggests a jammy quality not present in the mouth. Slightly puckery, it has layer after layer of dark fruit still restrained by its tannins. Give it a year or two and it should drink like a bodyguard in a tuxedo.

25

07 2017

Niagara cheese assumes a local accent

Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company in Niagara
Niagara College has played a big role in the Niagara peninsula blossoming as a foodie destination. The school is turning out talented graduates with a commitment to making the most of the region’s bounty. The college’s offerings run the gamut from culinary and hospitality programs to winemaking, viticulture, brewing, and distilling. The college even operates a teaching brewery as well as Canada’s only commercial teaching winery. As we traveled through the region, we met many of its talented graduates and interns who intend to make their careers in the region.

But in the pantheon of food and drink, one thing is missing. “There are no courses on cheesemaking offered in the area,” Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company told us.

Szebeny is a partner in the operation that was founded in 2005 and calls itself “the first small, modern Niagara creamery in generations.” Upper Canada Cheese Company (uppercanadacheese.com) makes and sells its cheeses from a modern building with retro train station style in the town of Lincoln. They also stock other artisanal cheeses and local products such as honey, pickles, preserves, and maple syrup that offer an overview of the local food scene.

Guernesey cow in NiagaraSzebeny learned her craft in France and Quebec and now trains the company’s other cheesemakers. They are fortunate to start with an extraordinary ingredient—milk from a herd of Guernsey cows. The brown and white cattle graze contentedly at Comfort Family Farm, about a 20-minute drive from the facility. The protein- and cream-rich milk “is more flavorful,” said Szebeny, “and we can make more cheese per liter.” Upper Canada makes cheese every second day, starting with about 2,000 liters of milk.

Variations on a Guernsey theme


Upper Canada Cheese Company cheeses in NiagaraThe company first introduced Niagara Gold, a washed-rind semi-firm cheese that is aged four to five months. Modeled on Port Salut from the Loire Valley in Brittany, it has similar buttery flavors, a nutty nose, and earthy flavors in the mouth. Comfort Cream, a Camembert-style soft cheese, was “named after the farm,” Szebeny said. Intensely buttery, it has a long tangy finish with an air of fresh mushrooms.

The Guernsey cheeses have been very successful, but the cheesemakers wanted new challenges. “If you are a cheesemaker you like to experiment with different milks,” Szebeny explained. “So we got some goat milk.” And the result is Nosey Goat, a semi-firm washed-rind goat cheese and Nanny Noir, a Camembert-style cheese rolled in vegetable ash before aging.

Szebeny also developed a fresh cheese that the company calls Guernsey Girl. It’s a cheese style particularly popular in eastern Canada. With a nice salty flavor and a squeaky bite, it holds its shape when fried or grilled. “Grill it and it becomes caramelized and brown on the outside and gooey on the inside,” Szebeny said.

When we visited in May, Upper Canada was close to releasing its first cheddar, which had been aged for eight months. Clearly excited about the release, Szebeny noted that “it’s the only Guernsey cheddar that I am aware of.”

We look forward to what they’ll do next.

23

07 2017

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

07 2017

Château des Charmes: French connection pioneers

vqaontario.caChâteau des Charmes from York Road, St. David's
We couldn’t visit the Niagara wine country without paying homage to Château des Charmes (fromtheboscfamily.com/chateau-des-charmes). In 1978, founder Paul-Michel Bosc planted the first all-vinifera commercial vineyard in the region. He was determined to prove that the grapes of Burgundy and Bordeaux could flourish in cold-climate Niagara.

Bosc represents the fifth generation of family winemakers. Raised in Algeria, he earned a degree in viticulture and oenology from the University of Burgundy. After evacuation to France at the end of the Algerian war in the 1960s, he took his young family to Canada.

Château des Charmes vinesUnlike some Niagara pioneer wineries, Château des Charmes remains a family operation. It has expanded to four vineyards covering 280 acres (110 ha). They lie in the Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench sub-regions of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The handsome château-style winery sits just west of the village center of St. David’s, about 8 miles (13km) south of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The impressive family home sits across York Road—an estate winery in the French tradition.

Château des Charmes makes more than two dozen wines, most of them single varietals. They range from a fresh and cheeky Aligoté (a Burgundy white grape) to several sparkling wines to a very rare Cabernet Sauvignon botrytis red and an equally pricey Cabernet icewine. But the winery’s strength lies in outstanding table wines and that’s where we focused our tasting.

Château des Charmes "Four at Four" tasting

French grapes, Niagara tastes


Several tasting options are available at Château des Charmes. One of the most interesting is the “Four at Four” option. Offered weekdays at 4 p.m.. it includes a tour of a vineyard, the winery, and the aging cellars before heading upstairs for a tasting of four wines with food pairings. Our guide, Galina, a winemaker in the Republic of Georgia before moving to Canada, brought a wealth of technical expertise.

Our particular lineup started with a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) paired with Douanier, a mildly pungent Quebec cheese with morning and afternoon milk separated by a thin line of ash. Made in a cold-climate style akin to those from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the wine has an intense concentration of fruit with pronounced notes of lychee and pineapple petrol. The acids cut through the unctuous mouth-feel of the cheese in a perfect pairing.

Chardonnay has long been a flagship wine of Château des Charmes. The 2015 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay ($15) is a real steal. It’s an homage to Paul Sr.’s Burgundian roots. A nicely balanced wine with a good fruit expression and just a touch of oak, it could easily pass for a Macon-Villages. The pairing with ginger shortbread helped to bring out the vanilla and the round fruitiness of the wine. It is notable that the winery also makes a stainless-steel Chardonnay Musqué, using the extremely aromatic 809 clone of the grape. The winery also produces two more complex single-vineyard selection Chardonnay wines.

Real reds from 43°N


We also tried a 2014 Cabernet Franc ($30) from the St. David’s Bench vineyard. This is a stellar Cabernet by any standard. The vineyard nestles against the chalk hill of the Niagara escarpment far from Lake Ontario, so it retains a lot of heat late into the fall. The wine is hand-crafted in the vineyard throughout the growing season, with a lot of attention to pruning and tying up vines to guarantee maximum sun exposure. As a result, the grapes achieve both very ripe sugars and very ripe tannins, avoiding the green pepper flavors of lesser Cabernet Francs. Judicious aging in French oak extends the complexity. It was paired perfectly with dark chocolate, but we think it would be spectacular with Mexican mole poblano.

For the love of Gamay


We had expressed a particular interest in Gamay Noir, as Château des Charmes was a pioneer in the varietal. We’re already on record saying that Niagara may be better for Gamay than its home in Beaujolais. We tried both the 2015 Gamay Noir ($13) and the 2015 Gamay Noir “Droit” ($18) paired with prosciutto. The regular Gamay was typical of the region—full of bramble fruit (especially blackberries). It’s a perfect barbecue wine.

But the “Droit” is an extra-vigorous clone isolated in the Château des Charmes vineyards and registered as Canada’s first native vinifera grape. This is the wine that the big guns of Beaujolais-Villages wish they could make. Intense elderberry fruit on the nose and in the mouth is matched by fully ripe tannins that give the wine some significant body. This Gamay drinks like a light Burgundy. We have set a bottle aside for later next month when the yellowfin start running off Cape Cod and we can get local tuna steaks to toss on the charcoal grill.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

18

07 2017

Niagara Peninsula: the next great foodie destination

Red rose and white on the Niagara Peninsula
We went for the wine, but we stayed for the food. Serious winemaking with vinifera grapes began in the Niagara Peninsula in 1975. When we last visited about 15 years ago, Niagara icewines were world class and table wines were making tremendous strides. An Ontario wine dinner in Toronto last fall (hungrytravelers.com/ontario-wine-country-becomes-world-player) convinced us that Niagara has matured as an important producer of good wines. So in late May we packed up the car and drove across Massachusetts and upstate New York. We spent a week exploring this bucolic peninsula that sits about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.

Niagara wine region map
Most of the wineries lie in a band of soils and climatic conditions between the limestone ridge of the Niagara escarpment and the south shore of Lake Ontario. As the map above shows, the main communities in this region are (from west to east) Lincoln, Beamsville, Vineland, St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. David’s. (You can download a full version at mtc.gov.on.ca/images/regions_maps/Region02.pdf.) The fertile wine country barely extends more than a dozen miles south of the lake. The great tourist destination of Niagara Falls lies a few miles farther south.

wine route sign in NiagaraBlue roadside markers with a stylized cluster of grapes seem to beckon: “This way to the wine!” If there were any doubt, they’re labeled “Wine Route.” Come to a crossroads in wine country, and the signs may not tell you the name of the road. But they will tell you which wineries are somewhere along the route. According to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca), more than 90 wineries fall within the Niagara Peninsula appellation. Most of them encourage visitors.

Tasting and grazing through Niagara


The rural area is so compact that you can pick a base anywhere and drive everywhere else. We spent our time partly based at Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com) (right). room at Inn on the Twenty in NIagara
It’s in Jordan Station, a village of Lincoln. We spent another segment at the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel (vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And, we must admit, we also visited Niagara Falls because, well, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. And the Canadian side is one fabulous linear park on the high embankment. For full details on lodging and information on other attractions, see visitniagaracanada.com.

Sculpture at Good Earth in NiagaraThe eating is usually good in wine country throughout the world. It’s better than good in Niagara. This region is so rooted in agriculture that we wondered if some locals possess the DNA for chlorophyll production. From farmers to chefs to servers, Niagara folk have a profound appreciation for the gifts of the earth. Chefs fully embrace the trend toward local sourcing, and some of them go a step or more beyond. At the best restaurants, dining is so purely local that it’s almost like eating on the farm. A few places, in fact, are surrounded by fields, fruit trees, and grapevines—as this whimsical 2011 Fork in the Road by Floyd Elzinga attests. It sits at the edge of a vineyard at the Good Earth Food & Wine Company (goodearthfoodandwine.com) as you enter the wine shop and bistro.

Just as Niagara vineyards have perfected the art of making cold-climate wines (citrusy Chardonnay, berry-licious Gamay, red-pepper ripe Cabernet Franc, and honeyed Riesling), the chefs welcome the challenges of indigenous cold-climate cuisine. Despite global warming, periodic visits by the polar vortex keep Niagara honest. The food speaks of the lower Rhone valley in summer, but it shares more with Copenhagen and Dublin the rest of the year.

Watch this space for details.

15

07 2017