Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Comstock embodies Sonoma wine country living

Merlot vineyards at Comstock Wines

The success of the 2004 film Sideways made California Merlot unpopular for a while. But the dip in that red’s reputation might have made helped clear the way for the winery and tasting room at Comstock Wines (1290 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-723-3011, comstockwines.com, tastings $20-$50). The photo above looks out the back of Comstock’s tasting room to old Merlot vineyards. (That’s a blue heron flying over the vines.) Many more vines were sacrificed to clear ground to build the winery, tasting room facility, and wine club residence. But not too many. Founded in 2012 using much older vineyards, Comstock still makes an outstanding Merlot that shows the restraint of the cooler Dry Creek Valley climate but bursts with black currant and violets.

pouring tasting at Comstock WinesCurrently producing about 6,000 cases per year, Comstock sells all but a few cases at the winery or to the 500 members of its wine club. (A small allotment goes to a few area restaurants.) By the way, all proceeds from the sale of the remaining stock of Comstock’s excellent 2012 Zinfandel ($42) go to aid the victims of the Sonoma wildfires.

Comstock offers a lot of tasting options. On the first Sunday of each month, visitors can opt for the Sunday Brunch White Flight ($40). Sips of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are paired with your seasonal brunch bites. We caught the Wine and Pizza Pairing, offered the second Saturday of May and July-October or by appointment ($50, or $40 for wine club members.)

Pairing wine and pizza


We had always thought that pairing wine and pizza was our own little secret, not to be divulged in the polite company of wine folk. But Comstock is full-on Sonoma casual—and Healdsburg-based pizza oven company Mugnaini (mugnaini.com) has elevated the simple pie to high culinary art. The cooks at Comstock have come up with some inventive toppings that help bring out the characteristics of the wines.

pear pizza at Comstock WinesOur favorite combination was the 2015 Russian River Valley Viognier with a restrained pizza brushed lightly with peach-bourbon sauce and slices of ginger-soaked pears and topped with crumbled chevre. The Viognier shows orange blossoms and candied peach on the nose, and the slight tartness of the wine cut through any sweetness of the toppings.

Another outstanding pairing brought together a red pepper and prosciutto pizza with a glass of 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. The salty notes of the prosciutto were an especially good complement to the dark bramble fruit that dominates this Zin. The sweet red peppers accentuated the coriander, clove, and toasted spice notes of the mid-palate.

That’s definitely our idea of a pizza party! Visitors electing the pizza pairing, by the way, are invited to play on the winery’s bocce court after lunch.

Aptly named Bella fashions lovely Zinfandels

Bella's caves sit under Lily Hill vineyard

Coming up the driveway to Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves (9711 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 866-572-3552, bellawinery.com, tastings $15), two things are immediately evident. The wine caves tunnel into the side of the hill, and the vines planted above them in the Lily Hill vineyard are squat and gnarled and twisted. Like so many vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, they represent old-growth Zinfandel. In fact, much of the vineyard was first planted in 1915. Although Bella has a few plots of other grapes, mostly for blending purposes, the winery focuses on handcrafted small-batch Zinfandel. It also purchases some grapes from equally obsessive growers.

[Barrels in caves of BellaBella’s Zinfandels often earn mid-90s scores from Robert Parker, and it’s easy to see why. These opulent wines are undeniably powerful but they are also exquisitely balanced and nuanced. Bella ages them in a mix of French and American oak, but the cooper’s hand is light on these wines. Only about 20 percent of the barrels are new. As a result, the wood and wine marry well during bottle aging before the wines are released.

A standard tasting at Bella samples six wines for $15. We tasted two wines each from 2013 and 2014, then a 2015 and a 2016. Every one of them was excellent, but three stood out for their strong expression of their individual vineyards.

2013 Maple Annie’s Zinfandel

Although 2013 was a great year for Zinfandel in the Dry Creek Valley, viticulturalists had some challenges. The end of the growing season turned very hot, and dry-farmed Zinfandel vines shut down. Bella supplemented its Zin grapes with Petite Sirah and Carignane in some of its wines that year, as both varietals develop intense ripeness in the heat. But this small bottling relied entirely on Zinfandel berries from a special block in the Tom and Tina Maple’s vineyards on the Dry Creek Valley bench. The Maples hand-tended the block, removing more foliage than usual to get intense ripening before the extreme heat hit. The wine is spectacular. It bursts with a bouquet of black cherry and blueberries. It is full and juicy in the mouth. Eucalyptus and sweet red cherry linger on the palate. It sells for $48.

2014 Big River Ranch Zinfandel

The Big River Ranch vineyard is an Alexander Valley benchland property overlooking the Russian River—a warmer district than the Dry Creek Valley. The Zinfandel vines here were planted in 1906, making them some of the oldest surviving Zin vines in the Alexander Valley. (The region grows such great Cabernet Sauvignon that many growers have ripped out the old Zinfandel vines.) The concentration in 2014 was so intense that the wine is almost opaque. The spicy nose (root beer and anise!) gives way to big round fruit without tasting jammy. Tannins are soft and silky. The wine is priced at $45.

New plantings on Bella's Lily Hill vineyard

2015 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel

The Lily Hill vineyard, much of which arches above Bella’s wine caves, was first planted in 1915. Some blocks (as shown in the photo immediately above) are more recent, dating from 2001. A few of the blocks within the vineyard also have old Syrah and Petite Sirah vines. In 2015, Bella incorporated 2 percent each of these grapes with 96 percent Zinfandel in a field blend before fermentation. The resulting wine has the herbal and dark fruit nose of old-vine Zin. It comes on with a mouthful of black cherry and bramble fruit and finishes with a smoky taste of toasted coriander. At $45 it’s steal for lovers of powerful, balanced Zinfandel.

04

12 2017

Kokomo Winery lets grapes do their thing

Kokomo tasting room
The small red industrial building on the Timber Crest Farms property that houses Kokomo Winery (4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-0205, kokomowines.com, tastings $10-$25) is deceptively modest. The winery was founded by Erik Miller in 2004, who named it for his Indiana hometown. The vineyards date much, much farther back. Some Zinfandel plantings on the estate are more than 150 years old. Partner Randy Peters, a fourth-generation grape grower, has tended other vineyards here since 1974. He grows about 70 percent of Kokomo’s fruit in all three Healdsburg appellations: Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.

We say the building is modest because the wines are anything but. Miller’s philosophy of winemaking is terroir-driven. “The special thing about wine is that it showcases a particular piece of land showing the nuances of the soil, climate, elevation, and, above all, a sense of place,” he says. He parses the wines by varietal and vineyard, which results in small runs of exquisite wines with distinct personalities. The total production of about 8,900 cases sells almost entirely to the winery’s wine club and at the tasting room. In other words, to taste these outstanding wines, you need to visit.

Sampling a bit of Kokomo


Kokomo sparklingWe started with a hello glass of sparkling 2013 Blanc de Blancs—a pure Chardonnay from the Peters vineyard. Crisp and full-bodied with nice toasty notes on the nose, it was an exemplar of California sparkling. We weren’t surprised at the quality. It’s a consistent medal winner and scores in the 90s from the various wine publications.

With limited time, we sampled some still wines that demonstrated Kokomo’s range. The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from the Timber Crest Vineyard confirms the wisdom of letting great fruit do its own thing. The grapes were picked at different ripeness levels to capture both acidity and tropical fruit. The wine was fermented and aged partly in acacia wood, which affords the micro-oxidation of oak without imparting the flavor of wood. It is a great sipping wine and very complementary to a local brie we nibbled alongside it. Retail is $22.

Friendly reds


Erik Miller’s wife Kimia calls the 2015 Pinot Noir from three different vineyards her “five o’clock wine.” Very soft and delicate, it has rose notes on the nose and a touch of black pepper in the mouth. It finishes with a full, food-friendly acidity. Retail is $44.

Kokomo erik millerZinfandel is so variable in the Healdsburg region that Kokomo produces four different variations. (The photo at right, courtesy of the winery, shows Erik with a bottle of Zin.) We tasted the 2015 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. Made from a blend of grapes from two vineyards, it showed the intense concentration of fruit grown in the third straight year of record drought. The nose is full of black fruit and cocoa. The tannins are exceptionally smooth, making this full-bodied red a great food wine. Retail is $36.

Cabernet also has several local expressions, and we were delighted with the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Ruth’s Vineyard in the Alexander Valley. This version is silky and elegant. The nose shows pronounced notes of eucalyptus and those giant blackberries that Californians call boysenberries. The new French oak comes through in the mouth but full Cabernet fruit dominates, evoking hints of black currant. Spectacular!

02

12 2017

Wine country wildfires skipped Healdsburg

Vineyards and olive near Healdsburg

We had planned to visit Healdsburg in California’s Sonoma County long before the terrible wine country wildfires broke out in early October. We settled on the town because it sits at the junction of the Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley, and the Dry Creek Valley wine regions. Among them, they produce some of California’s leading Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. The Russian River Valley subregion of Chalk Hill is also famed for its Chardonnay. And where there’s good wine, there’s also good food.

After seeing the dramatic news coverage of the wildfires, we considered canceling. But prevailing winds spared most of the area around Healdsburg while scorching other parts of Sonoma and Napa. Healdsburg pitched in by housing and feeding the firefighters who finally got the blazes under control. Lodgings also gave temporary shelter to some of the people who lost their homes.

The vast majority of Northern California wineries received little or no damage. The photo at the top of this post shows some post-harvest vineyards and a pre-harvest olive tree. (That’s morning fog hovering over the Dry Creek Valley—not smoke.) Around Healdsburg, nearly 98 percent of the grapes were picked before the fires began.

We decided to go, and saw only a little fire damage on hilltops during the 70-mile ride north from San Francisco airport. As we explored the countryside around the town, we encountered one lush vineyard after another with big healthy leaves changing colors. The spectacle gives our New England fall foliage a run for its money. The vineyards, by the way, helped save the region from even worse damage by acting as firebreaks.

Wine posters at Sonoma Wine Library in Healdsburg

Healdsburg is wine central


Centered around a green town square with a cute gazebo, the town of Healdsburg makes a rich base to explore wine country. As the vintage posters at the Sonoma County Wine Library (139 Piper St., Healdsburg, 707-433-3772, ext 0416) above indicate, California has long been the “Wine Land of America.” But the posters also hark back to an era of generic blended wines—long before the California specialization in high-grade varietal wines. And they certainly predate the marketing of Sonoma County wines with their specific geographic areas noted on the bottle.

wine tasting room in HealdsburgBecause it lies at the convergence of so many different wine terroirs, Healdsburg is practically an open-air enoteca of Northern California wine. If your principal interest is a quick education in the potential of the Russian River, Alexander, and Dry Creek AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), you can park your car at one of the inns, B&Bs, or hotels and explore on foot. There are more than 20 winery tasting rooms in the blocks immediately surrounding the town square. Branch out a little and you’ll find another dozen or so within walking distance.

We sampled some of the wineries in the surrounding countryside and had some great meals in town. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reporting on Healdsburg as a wine tourism destination. Stay tuned.

For details on attractions and lodging in the town, visit www.Healdsburg.com.

28

11 2017

Huber’s shows a farm can do it all

Huber's farm stand

At roughly 650 acres, Huber’s Orchard, Winery, & Vineyards (19816 Huber Road, Borden, Indiana, 812-923-9463, huberwinery.com) is the largest farm in Southern Indiana. And with 90 acres under cultivation with grape vines, it’s also the largest wine-grape producer in the state.

But what matters most to the Hubers is that the farm has been family-owned and operated since 1843. That’s when Simon Huber emigrated from Germany and settled on 80 acres in Southern Indiana. Now into the seventh generation of Huber oversight, the operation has grown and diversified. But, says Dana Huber, the family has not lost track of its roots. “We are farmers first. Our main goal is to keep the farm in the family.”

The farm was mainly a PYO operation through the 1970s, she explains. In 1978, the winery opened in a renovated dairy barn. Today, the farm is a popular destination with a Farm Park (complete with miniature tractor rides) for families, a farmstand, a bakery, casual restaurant, ice cream shop, and tasting room. The Hubers opened the state’s first distillery in 2000 and tours of the winery and distillery are usually offered twice a day.

Field to food


caramel apples at Huber's farm standBut what’s best about Huber’s is the bounty of the land—and the many ways to enjoy it.

The farmstand (at top of the post) offers the succession of vegetables and fruits from spring through fall. Fruits alone include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Nothing beats a just-picked, perfectly ripe piece of fruit. But that’s no reason not to also enjoy some strawberry or peach ice cream. Or blackberry or blueberry bread. Or strawberry rhubarb pie. Or sweet peach or strawberry wine. Or blueberry port or peach brandy. You get the idea.

The Hubers grow 10 varieties of apples that ripen from mid-August through mid-October. Some apples are cast in red crackle, others in caramel (above). The fruit finds its way to the farmstand, but also into caramel apple nut bread, apple pie, apple cider donuts, and homemade apple cider. That’s not to mention Razzy Apple sparkling wine and Huber’s own apple brandy.

Fruit in the bottle


The winery and distillery are a big part of the operation, creating more than 70 wines, dessert infusions, fortified wines, and distilled spirits. That makes the tasting room in the upper loft the best place to end a visit. Dana’s husband, Ted, has been growing wine grapes for nearly 30 years. In 2013, Huber’s Winery became part of the Indiana Uplands designation. Unlike European wine region designations, the AVA (American Viticultural Area) specs describe the geography but do not limit yields or specify permitted varietals.

Dana Huber pouring cabernet francWe tried some fruit wines and found the blackberry wine would make a good dinner companion. The Hubers make it nearly dry with nicely rounded tannins and intense fruit. Many of the grape wines are made from French-American hybrids, particularly some varieties popular in cold-climate Michigan and Wisconsin. The Hubers make what we think of as farmstead wines. The vines are heavily cropped and picked very ripe. Fermentation is by the book to wine-school standards. The pleasant winesy reflect the generous soils and climate where they are grown.

Of those we tasted, our favorites were the Seyval Blanc and the Cabernet Franc. The Seyval was smooth and fruity, expressing characteristic green apple and melon. If it had been aged on the lees, it might have gained even more complexity. The Cabernet Franc was also soft and ripe. The tannins that remained were principally green, and they gave the wine an impression of being robust. Aged in oak barrels, it seems to have benefited from the micro-oxidation without picking up excessive oaky flavors.

20

11 2017

1865 wines push Chilean boundaries

Matias Cruzat of 1865 wines

As the planet’s temperature rises, wine regions creep into zones once considered inhospitable for Vitis vinifera. Chile is no exception. Matias Cruzat, the young winemaker for Viña San Pedro’s 1865 brand (sanpedro.cl/en/1865-single-vineyard), casts the newer cold-climate vineyards as “seeking Burgundy in Chile.”

To his credit, Cruzat isn’t imitating the Burgundians. But he has steered the 1865 wines toward a balance between old and new world styles. Bargain-priced in the $12-$18 range, these are nonetheless premium wines. (Viña San Pedro’s entry-level wines sell under the GatoNegro label.)

Cruzat’s reference to Burgundy refers to the newest 1865 single-vineyard wines: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Elqui Valley. “It is really the southern end of the Atacama Desert,” he points out. The region has grown grapes since the late 17th century, but most were either table grapes or muscat destined to be distilled into pisco (the signature brandy of Peru and Chile). As the high-altitude valley began to warm, Viña San Pedro planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. The first vintage from those vineyards was 2014, but 2015 is the first of any size.

I can’t speak to the Chardonnay, but Cruzat’s version of Pinot Noir from the Elqui Valley is a true cold-climate Pinot of the old school. Instead of assaulting the nose with strawberry and raspberry, it smells like a French chestnut or acacia forest. The earthiness of the nose includes notes of mushroom and semi-aromatic spices like toasted coriander, cumin, and a hint of anise seed.

The wine tastes Old World as well. Tannins are soft even though Cruzat ferments with up to 30 percent whole bunches. The wine is light and carries good, rounded fruit with an aftertaste of anise, leather, and a tiny hint of menthol. It would be excellent with poultry, hard cheese, and oily fishes.

Valley signatures to 1865 wines


1865 Leyda Valley Sauvignon BlancCruzat and I tasted a range of the 1865 wines. Each represents an especially good Viña San Pedro parcel in a different valley. He crafts the Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc in a style that stands out from the rest of the southern hemisphere. Instead of the intense sweet red pepper and gooseberry flavors of say, New Zealand Sauv Blanc, Cruzat opts for a fruit-forward style that tastes almost like eating fresh grapes. The petrol qualities of the grape carry through from nose to aftertaste, and the great acidity (despite an alcohol that speaks to very ripe fruit) makes it quite food friendly.

The two big Bordeaux reds in the portfolio—a Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a Maure Valley Carmenère—show striking sophistication at their price point. In both cases, the grapes are hand-picked and destemmed. About 20 percent of the wine is matured in 300-liter French oak barrels, the rest in huge 5,000-liter French oak casks (foudres) that let the wine breathe without imparting wood flavors.

1865 Cabernet SauvignonChile is one of regions where great Cabernet Sauvignon is possible, and even entry-level versions of the wine are often very good. The 1865 Cabernet Sauvignon is full of black plums—big, round, alcoholic (but not hot)—and a mouthful of soft tannins. It will hold its own with beef, but might be better with veal or game birds.

The 1865 Carmenère is a splendid representation of this grape that has become more Chilean than Bordelais, despite having been mistaken for a century for an odd Merlot clone. More structured than the Cabernet, it pays off in the mouth with flavors of ripe blackberries and resinous notes. This is one for after-dinner sipping or enjoying with a mild cigar.

21

10 2017

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).