Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

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.

25

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

On a hot day, good Vouvray lifts a salade Niçoise

Marie de Beauregard Vouvray at backyard picnic
The mercury was pushing 95°F (35°C) and the dew point was well into the sticky zone. When we brought a chilled bottle of Vouvray to checkout at the wine shop the clerk sighed. “Hooray for Vouvray!” she said. To which we could only add, “Amen.”

Chenin Blanc doesn’t get a lot of respect in the wine world. It makes naturally sweet, loosey-goosey wines that go well in picnic baskets. But a good Vouvray, like the 2015 Marie de Beauregard from Saget La Perrière, shows how polished Chenin Blanc can become. The chalk and flint of the soils from the vineyards in La Roche Corbon outside Vouvray city come through quickly on the nose. Pears and acacia honey dominate the first tastes, followed by a hint of candied fruits and a spicy lemon zing. The intense acidity of the wine carries all those sweet fruits nicely. The finish is soft and almost yeasty, like a good champagne. We suspect that comes from fermenting with the natural yeasts after chilling the must to precipitate out the pectins and solids. The wine retails at $13-$17, depending on your local merchant. Suggested retail is $20, and it’s worth it.

SALADE NIÇOISE


Serves 4

It was too hot to cook indoors, so we settled on a salade Niçoise. Our favorite local fishmonger, New Deal Fish Market (www.newdealfishmarket.com), had just cut up a nice bigeye. We bought about 12 ounces of trim for half the price per pound of steaks and cut them into 1.5-inch cubes. Lightly painted with a little olive oil, they grill up nicely over hardwood charcoal at 20-30 seconds per side. (There should be four sides if you cut them correctly.) We have evolved our version of this classic summer salad from a 1972 kitchen bible called Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook. It’s worth seeking out in used bookstores. Or you can go with an Amazon merchant.

salade Nicoise to accompany Vouvray

Ingredients


3 cups diced cold boiled potatoes
3 cups haricots verts, blanched 3-4 minutes and chilled in ice water
16 pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup simple French dressing (see recipe below)
Boston lettuce leaves
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
12 ounces fresh tuna, cut into cubes
olive oil to brush kebabs

Directions


tuna kebabs for VouvrayLight charcoal grill.

Mix potatoes, green beans, olives, and French dressing together.

Line serving platter with lettuce. Pile potato-bean-olive mixture on top. Ring with tomato and egg wedges.

Place tuna cubes on bamboo skewers that have been soaked 1 hour in water. Brush with oil.

Grill tuna skewers 20-30 seconds per side, turning gingerly with tongs. Place skewers atop salad and serve with glasses of cold Vouvray.

BASIC FRENCH DRESSING


Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients


1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaf
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions


Line a small saucepan with a dish towel. Place small nonreactive bowl in pan. (This stabilizes the bowl so you can whisk and pour at the same time.) Place all ingredients through vinegar into bowl and whisk thoroughly to mix. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to whisk. Mixture should emulsify and become thick. Recipe can be scaled up proportionately but becomes tedious to whisk as volume increases.

13

07 2017

Finca La Beata shows Bobal at its meatiest

Finca la Beata Bobal with oxtail burger

Regular readers know we’ve been doing a survey of Bobal wines from the Utiel Requena region of Valencia. As we contemplated a dish to eat with the 2013 “Finca La Beata Bobal” from Dominio de la Vega (dominiodelavega.com), we faced a quandary. The sheer weight of the bottle signaled a Very Important Wine. (Empty, it clocks in at 1.2 kg/2.7 lb.) When it arrived at our door, the weather was cold and dank; now it’s hot and steamy. Based on the other Bobal wines, we suspected that it would cry out for very beefy beef.

Manzanilla oxtail burgerBut steamy summer is not the time for rabo de toro, the classic Spanish braise of oxtail. Then we remembered that Andalucían superchef Dani García used oxtail in the scrumptious burgers that we loved to eat at the bar of now-shuttered Manzanilla in Málaga (at right). These days the burgers at Bibo in Marbella and Madrid (www.grupodanigarcia.com/en) are made with aged beef loin. We look forward to trying them.

We always suspected that García’s rabo de toro burger was a mixed grind of oxtail and some part of the shoulder clod, since Spanish beef is often too lean to make good burger. So we followed suit with a rough mix of about 60 percent blade steak (part of the chuck muscles) and 40 percent oxtail meat. It was a perfect match for the big red wine. For a side, we figured a Catalan-style potato salad made with garlicky alioli would do the trick. Directions for making both are below. But first, more about the wine.

Pure concentration of old Bobal

Finca la Beata Bobal 2013Dominio de la Vega makes a lot of cavas that help pay the bills. But winemaker Daniel Expósito is a true believer in the potential of Bobal. He makes three wines entirely from the grape. Dominio de la Vega’s signature is the single-vineyard “Finca La Beata Bobal.” In 2013 (the current release), Expósito made just 3,000 bottles. The winery owns 60ha (150 acres) of vineyards, but the Finca La Beata concentrates the oldest Bobal vines—most more than a century. The vineyard workers keep the bush-style vines pruned to produce only a kilo of grapes each.

Given the natural softness of Bobal’s tannins, Expósito does everything he can to extract maximum structure in the wine-making. The hand-harvested and hand-sorted grapes macerate in 700 liter barrels for at least three weeks. They are stirred by hand to express the skins gently and tasted daily until judged to have the optimal skin extraction. The wine is transferred to French oak barriques (225 liters) for a malolactic fermentaton. It is then finished for 18 months in mild new French oak before bottling in those massive pieces of glass.

Finca la Beata Bobal in glassThe results are spectacular. Poured into the glass, it sparkles with a deep black cherry redness with violet tinges at the surface. The nose is full of warm cinnamon and resinous Mediterranean scrub—especially lavender and rosemary. In the mouth, Finca la Beata drinks with silky smooth tannins and bright notes of cherry and red raspberry. The finish is a little short for such a delicious quaff, but there are just enough tannins to provide a grip on the tongue and back of the throat. It’s a spicy, elegant example of a “big” Bobal—just right for the beefiness of an oxtail burger.

OXTAIL BURGERS

Ingredients


1 1/2 lb. fresh oxtail
1 lb. blade steaks
1/2 pound Jarlsberg cheese, sliced
4 brioche buns
alioli (see below)
fresh leaf lettuce

Directions


oxtail and blade steakStart at least two hours ahead. Using a sharp-pointed filet knife, remove exterior fat from the oxtails and discard. Working carefully, remove meat and tendons from oxtail and reserve. Cut out the gristle that runs up through the middle of the blade steaks and cut into pieces the same size as oxtail meat.

Spread the meat pieces on a baking sheet and place in freezer for about 30 minutes. Grind with a meat grinder (we use an old fashioned hand-crank variety), passing first through the coarse holes, then regrinding through the finer plate. You should have about a pound and a half of premium ground beef. Using a scale, divide into four equal piles. Gently shape each pile into a patty. Sprinkle with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Grill over hardwood charcoal, only turning once. Move burgers off direct flame and top with cheese. Close grill for 60 seconds to melt cheese. Remove burgers to a warm holding plate.

Lightly toast buns on grill (10-15 seconds over coals). Slather with aioli, add burger and lettuce.

Don’t forget to pour the wine.

BASIC ALIOLI

Ingredients


2 egg yolks
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons water
1 cup olive oil
pinch of cayenne
juice of 1 lemon

Directions


Add egg yolks, garlic, salt, and water to a metal bowl. Whisk together until well-blended. Slowly drizzle in oil, a few teaspoons at a time, while continuing to whisk. Continue until oil is incorporated. Add cayenne and lemon juice and whisk smooth. This basic alioli is often further seasoned with smoky Spanish paprika and a few grinds of black pepper.

Use in place of mayonnaise to make potato salad with capers.

23

06 2017