Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

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).

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.

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07 2017