Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Bassus Pinot Noir from Utiel Requena exudes elegance

Bassus and lamb at Alia in Winthrop

Regular readers might recall our summer series on the wines of D.O. Utiel Requena. By and large, those wines represented intriguing expressions of the Bobal grape. The wine we’re talking about today was an outlier. Made by Bodegas Hispano+Suizas (bodegashispanosuizas.com), Bassus is the only 100 percent Pinot Noir wine carrying the D.O. Utiel Requena imprimatur.

Alia in Winthrop is BYOBAs we tried to figure out what kind of food would go with it, we came across Alia Ristorante (395 Shirley St., Winthrop; 617-539-1600; aliaristorante.com) in Winthrop—a peninsular village east of Boston’s Logan Airport. Best of all, Alia (as the chalkboard sign outside indicates) is a BYOB restaurant. Chef-owner Saeed Lahyani named the place for his hometown on the outskirts of Casablanca in Morocco. He has a pretty impressive culinary resume, including 16 years at Boston’s legendary Locke-Ober restaurant.

Saeed Lahyani at Alia in WinthropUnlike haute Locke-Ober, Alia is very much a casual neighborhood restaurant. As befits Winthrop, it is a nominally Italian spot. Lahyani offers a lot of pastas and Italian-American classics. But he had one dish on the menu that caught our eyes when we thought of drinking a Pinot Noir from the hot dry region of Utiel Requena.

Loubna Ghoulam lifts cover on lamb tagine at Alia in WinthropWe had heard other diners sing the praises of Alia’s lamb ossobuco. From their description, we realized that Lahyani had crossed a Milanese ossobuco (traditionally made with veal) with a Moroccan lamb tagine. When we arrived and discovered that we could add couscous for a small surcharge, it only confirmed our guess. A nice thick lamb shank and roasted root vegetables hid beneath the conical cover of a tagine brought to the table by our cheerful and enthusiastic server, Loubna Ghoulam.

Hands-on winemaking


Bassus, it turns out, could be called a truly handmade wine. The grapes are picked around dawn in 15-kilo boxes and whisked to a holding room in the winery. They spend three days chilling at -4°C (about 25°F). Each box is then manually destemmed. The grapes are placed in 400-liter American oak barrels with open tops and allowed to macerate for four days while chilled to 8°C (46°F). Once fermentation begins, the cooling inserts are removed from the barrels. As the fermentation continues, the cap is punched down every day. After about 15 days, the barrels are poured into a bladder press and the wine is very gently pressed. It spends a minimum of 10 months in new French oak. The bodega filters the wine very lightly before bottling.

We were drinking the 2014, which is the current release. It shows a bright cherry color with violet fringes in the glass, though browning is just barely perceptible. The nose shows notes of violet, cherry, blackcurrant, and anise. It comes off full, round, and harmonious in the mouth, revealing a touch of menthol and some bright vanilla of the French oak. The tannins are mature and complex, giving the wine just enough grip to complement the waxiness and rich meatiness of the lamb. The warm finish combines fleshy Pinot Noir fruit with a background caramel note. At a suggested retail of $19, it holds its own as a unique expression of the grape.

29

09 2017

Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Cave Spring Cellars barrels
Jordan Village compresses the Niagara Peninsula experience into a single stop. In just one kilometer along Nineteenth Street, the downtown packs in lodgings with character, a bakery, restaurants, a tavern, and just enough boutique shopping to stave off retail withdrawal. This being Niagara, there is, of course, also a winery.

Cave Spring Cellars (cavespring.ca), in fact, is the centerpiece of the community.

The Pennachetti family began buying land on the Beamsville Bench in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade, they had become visionary viticulturalists. Conventional wisdom held that only the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake was warm enough for European wine grapes to thrive, but the Pennachettis began growing Riesling and Chardonnay with considerable success.

In 1986, Len Pennachetti and family members joined forces with winemaker Angelo Pavan to found Cave Spring Cellars. Today they have about 164 acres of vineyards—about 135 acres on the Beamsville Bench and the remainder closer to Lake Ontario in the Lincoln Lakeshore viticultural subdistrict. The original plantings set Cave Spring on its course: the winery specializes in varietal white wines with a special emphasis on Riesling.

Tasting the wines


Pouring at Cave Spring Cellars Provincial liquor stores and some wine shops sell the wines, but about half the portfolio is only available in the Cave Spring Cellars tasting room in Jordan. The 1871 building was constructed as a vinegar works with thick limestone walls that keep the interior naturally cool both above and below ground.

All kinds of tasting options are available, but knowing that we’d be eating (and drinking) at the restaurant next door, we opted for a simple tasting of the “Dolomite” series. Only available at the winery, these limited-release wines are grown in the shadow of the Niagara escarpment in the transition between the Beamsville Bench and the Lincoln Lakeshore.

The 2015 Riesling “Dolomite” (retails for $18 Canadian) is the flagship of this group. It is a superb example of a Mosel clone of Riesling in cooler areas of Niagara. The floral nose leads into a nice fleshy mouthfeel followed by acid fruit notes of lime, lychee, and grapefruit. It is bright and vigorous—a terrific food wine.

Cave Springs wines at On the Twenty restaurant

Eating and drinking


Cave Spring was the first winery in the Niagara region to open a sibling restaurant. Located in the same building as the tasting room, On the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com/dining/dine-on-the-twenty) restaurant is perfect for exploring the food-friendliness of the Cave Spring wines. Chef Jason Williams is home grown. Niagara-born, he trained in the Niagara College Culinary program and worked under some of the region’s leading chefs.

heirloom beets at On the Twenty restaurant at Cave Spring Cellars Williams draws on the local bounty to build menus that complement and enhance the wines. This salad of roasted heirloom beets with a scoop of whipped goat cheese and a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette was a striking example of sweet early-season beets balanced by the light tang of the goat cheese and the dark, ashen quality of a smear of burnt honey. The house rosé (a light treatment of Cabernet Franc) tasted as if it had been conceived as a component of the dish.

venison carpaccio at On the Twenty at Cave Spring CellarsSimilarly, the venison carpaccio with dollops of egg yolk puree and parmesan emulsion is a very mild dish, even with the black pepper and crushed juniper berries on the edges. Trusting to the menu’s pairing suggestion, we had it with the Gamay. We’ve written before how this grape becomes very expressive in Niagara, and Cave Spring’s version is no exception. The fruitiness and soft tannins played very nicely with the spice on the edges and the unctuous meat.

Time for bed


Inn on the Twenty, sister to Cave Spring CellarsAfter dinner, it’s a short walk across the street from the restaurant to the Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com), another property in the Cave Spring family. A former sugar mill has found new life as a stylish lodging with 24 suites that blend traditional furnishings with a confident use of color. (There are also several rooms in adjacent buildings). All the suites have fireplaces and some have hidden private patios. Breakfast at the Inn on the Twenty is included in the rates. If you’d like a bottle of Cave Spring Cellars wine in your room when you check in, be sure to ask when you make your reservations.

We’d suggest the Blanc de Blancs Brut, which has a delicious yeastiness from spending three years on the lees.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca). For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging in the area, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

10

09 2017

Sweetest season calls for wines to match

Prosecco with insalata caprese
North Americans used to love sweet wines. We used to love them so much that we became ashamed of our preference for residual sugar. For the last few decades, every casual wine drinker on the continent would insist, “Oh, I only drink dry wines”—as if that preference made them more sophisticated. Leaving aside the fact that residual sugar in a wine can be a highly subjective experience, anyone who always insists on bone-dry wines is really missing the boat.

So it’s a pleasure to see that Piemonte-based Italian wine giant Zonin (www.zoninusa.com) is bringing the full line of its Castello del Poggio wines to North America as part of its “Hello Sweet Life” campaign. Since Zonin took over the estate based in Asti in 1985, Castello del Poggio has maintained the high quality of its Barbera d’Asti and Dolcetto Monferrato while also developing a full line of red, white, and rosé sweet wines.

We gave a couple of the “Sweet Life” wines a try with dishes that take advantage of the fullness of summer. As you can see in the top photo, we have a delightful glut of ripe tomatoes. (Those with green shoulders are ripe—they’re just green-ripe tomatoes of a variety we grew from Spanish seed.) So we are in the midst of Caprese salad season. Since most of our tomatoes also have strong acid profiles, we wondered how they would fare with a Prosecco DOC demi-sec. Beautifully, as it turns out. The pronounced flavor of the Glera grapes in Castello del Poggio’s version really accentuates the milkiness of the fresh mozzarella. Retail is $10-$12.

Moscato a real peach of a dessert wine


Moscato with peach tartThe Asti region has been known for Moscato Bianco wines since at least the 14th century. And hip-hop clubgoers, we’re told, have made sparkling Moscato their drink of choice ever since Jay-Z launched a boycott of Cristal a few years back. Of course, Martini & Rossi long ago ensconced its Asti Spumante as a Christmas season sparkler.

The Castello del Poggio Moscato we tried was a still wine—rich with the Moscato flavor, about 7% alcohol, and markedly sweet. The Bianco version of the Moscato grape tends to maintain a pleasant acidity, even when fully ripe. The acidity gives the Castello del Poggio Moscato some presence; it’s not just a sweet and simple sipper. The wine also shows notes of nectarine, muskmelon, and dried apricots.

While we know from experience that a wine with that profile can be excellent with wintry roast meat dishes (sort of like a liquid chutney), we decided to try it with the other fruit in abundance right now: peaches. We made the simple peach tart shown here. The crust is about one-quarter almond flour and it has an almond-scented frangipane in the bottom. The topping is simply sliced fresh peaches with a light glaze. Almond and Moscato (or Muscat) are a classic pairing, and the juiciness and slight bitterness of the peaches only amplified the harmonies. Retail is $10-$12.

22

08 2017

Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

bottles at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Norma Jean Lowery Harber’s family has farmed the 34 acres of Ravine Vineyard Estate (ravinevineyard.com) in St. Davids since 1867. Indeed, her great-grandfather planted the Niagara region’s first commercial vineyard here in 1869 and the land was in orchards for many decades. Norma Jean and her husband Blair Harber bought the farm from the rest of the family in 2004. They set about creating organic vineyards and an organic winery. Norma Jean’s father had grown wine grapes, and the couple replanted vineyards to focus on the three classic Bordeaux reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) along with Chardonnay, Riesling, and small amounts of Gewürtztraminer.

Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantThe wines are reason enough reason to visit Ravine. As luck had it, we missed the tasting room hours. But we had dinner in the farm restaurant looking out on the kitchen garden and down to some of the vineyards. And, naturally, we drank Ravine wines with dinner. The Harbers practice biodynamic principles in their restaurant gardens as well as in their vineyards. The restaurant focuses on highly local products—including the Berkshire hogs raised on the farm. A smokehouse on the property allows executive chef Ross Midgley to feature dishes with cured pork. The chef also preserves local bounty to extend locavore dining into the less fecund seasons.

Charcuterie and Merlot


Ravine charcuterie plate

In fact, we started dinner with the chef’s charcuterie platter. The meaty anchors were honey ham, sliced coppa, and sausage—all cured downstairs in the charcuterie closet. A pot of heavenly chicken liver parfait was great for spreading on the country French baguette, and the pork country pâté en croute was just unctuous enough to benefit from the tangy pickled fennel and shallots and homemade coarse mustard.

On our server’s recommendation, we drank Ravine Merlot with the dish. Merlot is the most round-heeled of the Bordeaux grapes, ripening to voluptuous fullness even in Niagara’s short season. Ravine’s version is soft and round, but it’s not sloppy. Nine months in French barrique disciplines the fruit.

Carrot soup and Riesling


Carrot ginger soup at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantRavine’s restaurant has a nice touch with its soup of the day. It serves each bowl with a savory sour cream and chive muffin. That was especially nice with a bowl of carrot-ginger soup topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The accompanying wine was the house Riesling. Like the Merlot, it is a fruit-forward wine with a good acidity that brings out the brightness of the grape. Characteristic of the Mosel clones, the aromatics are lightly floral.

Scallop and pasta with Sauvignon Blanc


Scallop and pasta at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantChef Midgley’s sense of food balance paired especially well with winemaker Martin Werner’s rendering of Sauvignon Blanc. The pasta of the day was a delightful tangle of homemade spaghetti with lovage and arugula, a butter sauce, and asparagus. Perched on top was a perfectly seared scallop. The range of textures and flavors in a small dish was striking.

The Sauvignon Blanc was even more striking. Werner treats it like Sancerre, fermenting with both wild yeast and a controlled inoculation, then barrel-aging on the lees. It has pronounced white grapefruit and lemon notes with a surprising creaminess. The crisp acidity cut through the butter sauce and highlighted the herbal notes of the vegetables in the dish.

Chardonnay for the main dishes


entrees at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Ravine ages its standard Chardonnay in small barrels of an assertive French oak. That produces a French-inflected wine with distinctively New World fruit. It is creamy and lightly oaky, lush with the apple and pear notes characteristic of cold-climate Chard. Those properties make it a good all-purpose white to pair with food—much as the Ravine Merlot is a good all-purpose red. We had a brined and smoked heritage half-chicken and a mixed-grains “risotto” made with shiitake mushrooms and an Ontario gouda-style cheese. The Chardonnay’s oakiness was a nice complement to the smoke in the chicken, and its broad acidity counterbalanced the richness of the cheese in the “risotto,” which had intense cereal flavors of its own from the wheat berries and barley.

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).

Summer love: Chinon and ratatouille

our ratatouille
August brings a near-embarrassment of riches. After a wet summer with good heat, our garden is in overdrive. What we don’t grow we can buy in abundance at the farmers markets held daily here in Cambridge. We have to remind ourselves that one does not live on insalata caprese alone. In August, there is also ratatouille.

Such elemental foods deserve a special kind of reverence. British health and fitness guru Nick Barnard runs Rude Health (rudehealth.com). It is a food and drinks company that goes way beyond all the wholesome foodie fashions to get back to basics. His new book of food philosophy with 130 recipes, Eat Right, is published by Kyle Books (kylebooks.com). You can buy it here on Amazon. It’s our favorite kind of “cookbook.” It deals less in rote directions than in ways to treat ingredients.

So with our tables and counters overflowing with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, we turned to Barnard’s recipe for Quick Ratatouille. It’s an oven technique that takes five minutes to prepare and about 45 minutes to cook. On the first cool day, we started chopping. The recipe is at the end of this post. The results are above. By the way, we substituted three slender Japanese eggplants for the one large eggplant the recipe specifies. Barnard also offers an alternative version with a tomato-onion sauce (directions included). We’ll try that next time.

Chinon, the Loire summer red


Chinon bottle and glass for HungryTravelersRatatouille is a powerful dish—the summer equivalent of a hearty winter stew. While a number of soft reds complement it well, probably the ideal wine for a ratatouille dinner is Chinon. This Loire Valley red is Cabernet Franc on its home turf. The AOC regulations permit as much as 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Saget la Perrière Marie de Beauregard Chinon 2015 that we uncorked is pure Cab Franc.

Purple reflections grace the otherwise garnet-red pour. Blackcurrant and blackberry dominate the nose with just a trace of menthol and vanilla from the nine months the wine spends in the barrel. In the mouth, the wine is full and rounded with good fruit slightly restrained by soft tannins. The classic sharp spice of the grape shows mostly in the smoky aftertaste, which reminded us of toasted coriander seed. It held up to the gorgeous ripeness of the ratatouille vegetables. As a sipping wine, it would benefit from another year in the cellar or opening a few hours before dinner. Retail varies $17-$20.

QUICK RATATOUILLE


Serves 4 either as a side or with some crusty bread and butter

Ingredients


1 large eggplant, purple or freckled, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
5 large, firm, and ripe tomatoes (heirloom ones are a good choice), cored and chopped medium– coarse
3 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
2 red or orange bell peppers, trimmed, seeded, and chopped (more coarsely than the other vegetables)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and finely diced
2 bay leaves
Thyme sprigs
1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
A small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped, to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

One-dish method

Put the prepared eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and red or orange bell peppers into a roasting pan or baking dish.

Throw in the garlic and herbs, pour over about 1/2 cup of olive oil, and sprinkle with lots of salt and some grindings of black pepper. Jumble it up to coat everything thoroughly with the oil, adding more oil if need be to keep it moist. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, turning over the vegetables from time to time.

Remove the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves and serve sprinkled with the freshly chopped parsley.

With a tomato and onion sauce

If you like onions in your ratatouille, in addition to the above, peel and dice 2 medium onions medium-coarse. Smash, peel, and finely dice 3 of the 4 garlic cloves. Peel the tomatoes if you wish or just core and chop them coarsely without peeling.

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over low–medium heat and add the onions. Allow them to sweat a little and soften but not color, then add the chopped garlic and continue to cook for a minute, no more. Add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Assemble the rest of the vegetables in the baking dish as above, and tuck in the remaining clove of garlic. Pour over the tomato sauce and stir, adding as much olive oil as necessary to moisten everything generously.

Roast.

11

08 2017

Vineland Estates Winery: a clone of one’s own

Tasting room at Vineland in Niagara

“These trees are the beginnings of Canada,” David Hulley told us as he welcomed us to the cathedral-like log barn that serves as the tasting room of Vineland Estates Winery (vineland.com). “Trees were being cut down for warships. Some of them weren’t needed, so they were used for this barn.”

The 1877 structure and the landmark stone tower are among several practical and handsome buildings remaining from a 19th century Mennonite homestead. They perch on an elevated slope along the Twenty Mile Bench of the Niagara escarpment. The chinked log-cabin barn certainly makes the region’s most dramatic tasting room. The winery’s setting atop the rise among vineyards makes it among the most picturesque estates in the Niagara region.

The buildings anchor 42 acres of vineyards, including the initial 1979 plantings of the Weis 21 Riesling clone. Vineland founder Hermann Weis hails from Germany’s Mosel wine region and brought the clone that bears his family’s name to Canada. The winemaker and nurseryman was convinced that Riesling would thrive in this particular slice of the Niagara peninsula. The heat sink of Lake Ontario keeps the vineyards cool in summer and warm into the fall. The limestone soils have good drainage, and the slope between the Twenty Mile Bench and the lake encourages good air circulation. After tasting the wines in the rustic barn, we were convinced that Weis was on to something.

At the tasting bar


Pouring at Vineland in NiagaraThe Elevation Riesling is Vineland’s signature wine. It is crafted with grapes from old vines in the St. Urban vineyard surrounding the winery. The 2015 ($20) is an outstanding example of the Mosel clone flourishing in the Niagara setting. The vines are in their fourth decade and produce grapes with impressive intensity, a citrus zing, and luscious fruit with overtones of ripe peach and apricot. Fermented fairly dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine. We also tried the 2008 ($30), which was made in a sweet German auslese style. The same stone fruits are present in the mouth, and the intense acids balance the residual sugars very well. It would be perfect with a game bird stuffing with chestnut dressing.

And now the reds…


Riesling may have been the founder’s passion, but Vineland also found its niche red early on. “In Niagara, Cabernet Franc is king,” Hulley told us. “There are very few places in the world that can make pure Cabernet Franc.”

bottles in tasting room at Vineland in NiagaraBefore trying a reserve Cab Franc, we sampled the 2014 Elevation Cabernet ($28). This elegant wine is a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Franc, one-third Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 15 months in French oak with a light toast. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes powerfully to the cedar and elderberry nose, but Cabernet Franc and its vegetative tannins dominate the mouth. It needs a few more years in the bottle—or a salty piece of meat—to show at its best. A fully mature 2009 Elevation Cabernet ($75) demonstrates a more harmonious marriage of the grapes. The tannins have softened and the fruit flavors have overtaken the vegetative flavors. The lush wine lingers on the palate like a sunset’s afterglow.

Perhaps the best middle ground is the 2012 Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve ($50). It’s mostly (89%) Cabernet Franc with a mellowing touch of Merlot (9%) and just a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon. In a tasting, it shows leather and coffee on the nose and rich black fruits with bittersweet chocolate in the mouth. It makes you hungry for a steak.

At the table


Vineland also opened one of the first winery-based fine dining restaurants in the area. Simply called “The Restaurant,” it occupies an 1845 farmhouse (above) with expansive views across the vineyards. Executive chef Justin Downes grew up in the town of Vineland and studied at Niagara College. Like many Niagara chefs, he has a firm commitment to local products. After the teaser of the wine tasting, we were eager to pair some of the estate’s wines with Downes’ food.

charcuterie at Vineland restaurant in NiagaraThe flagship 2015 Vineland Riesling proved its versatility with our first two courses. The lemon-lime zestiness of the wine balanced nicely with a plate of briny Nova Scotia oysters on the half shell. With that wine, a mignonette was superfluous. Then Downes surprised us with a stunning platter that was almost a study in the branches of charcuterie. It included a marvelously mellow pâté de campagne with just a touch of brandy, an unctuous medallion of pork rillettes, thin slices of duck prosciutto, cured pork loin, and a chorizo with a healthy dose of black peppercorns. The pickled onions and green beans provided an acid counterpart. Once again, the Riesling more than held its own.

Every course was carefully thought out and meticulously executed. One pairing that surprised us was roasted quail with a kale pesto, wild spring mushrooms, a sunnyside-up quail egg, and a dab of ricotta. Downes served it with the 2014 Elevation Cabernet—the same wine we found too closed in the tasting. The salty little quail brought the wine alive. Because the meat had such a concentrated flavor from the browning, it stood up just fine to the wine. Below is the dish—beautiful and rustic at the same time.

quail at Vineland restaurant in Niagara

Overviews

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).

Bobal brings friends to the barbecue

Lomalta from Finca San Blas in Utiel RequenaOur previous posts on D.O. Utiel Requena (see here) have concentrated on wines of the indigenous Bobal grape. Finca San Blas (fincasanblas.com) in Requena makes a well-regarded 100 percent Bobal. But the bodega also has extensive vineyards planted in Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Its 2014 Lomalta blends 40 percent Bobal with 30 percent each of Merlot and Tempranillo. The resulting wine is a world apart from the black cherry and resinous spice profile of traditional Bobal.

The Bobal characteristics are largely overshadowed by the other two grapes. We had to double-check the label to make sure it wasn’t an experimental bottling from Rioja, which has had a love affair with French grapes for 150 years. The nose has the pronounced hot-climate menthol of Merlot, and the fruitiness in the mouth confirms the Merlot parentage. But the back of the mouth flavors and finish are pure Tempranillo. The three grapes are all vinified separately, aged separately in new French oak for nine months, and blended just three months before bottling. That approach keeps the grape characteristics quite individual, but it poses a challenge for pairing with food.

watermelon salad and pincho skewers

Finding the right food


We wondered if Lomalta might be a tapas bar wine—served by the well-aerated glass with small bites of spicy food. Having recently acquired Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by grilling guru Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95), we decided to try his “pincho powder” seasoning as a rub for skewers of pork. And since the rub is fairly hot (use it sparingly if you have a sensitive mouth), we figured the best cooling companion would be a salad of watermelon cubes tossed with crumbled feta, chopped mint, and a lime-olive oil dressing.

Our intuition about the wine proved correct. The smoky paprika-saffron-coriander-cumin combo knit the grapes of the wine together into a single, more subtle quaff. The roundness of the Bobal and Merlot softened the heat of the rub, and the spices married well with the Tempranillo’s aromatics and the bite of oak. It was as if the food switched on a light, and the wine woke up to its potential. With the publisher’s permission, here’s the recipe for Raichlen’s Spanish-style rub.

PINCHO POWDER

Ingredients

Raichlen book cover
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup dried parsley
1/4 cup freeze-dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse salt (sea or kosher)
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried garlic flakes
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Crumble the saffron between your fingers into a bowl. Stir or whisk in the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a jar, cover, and store away from heat and light. The powder will keep for several weeks.

From Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95). You can buy it on Amazon here.

30

07 2017

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.

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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).

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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).

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07 2017