Posts Tagged ‘chardonnay’

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).

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

Warm wind makes fine Letrari wines in Vallagarina

Letrari vineyards in Isera
Every afternoon at 3 p.m., warm air sweeps north from Lake Garda into the Vallagarina, the low hills around Trentino’s southern portion of the Adige River. Vineyard owners call it “L’Ora,” or “the hour,” and swear that you could set a clock by it. All through the summer, this steady breeze provides warmth and aeration to the grapes. It drives up the sugar concentration and sweeps away potential fungal infections. The warm, dry wind makes the Vallagarina one of the best places in Italy to grow heat-loving grape varieties. The big reds from Bordeaux flourish here. So do the classic grapes of sparkling wine: chardonnay and pinot noir.

Lucia LetrariThe Letrari family has been making wine in Italy’s Trentino region for the last few centuries. The modern Letrari winery (www.letrari.it) was founded in 1976 by Leonello Letrari and his wife Maria Vittoria on the family lands in Borgetto all’Adige. Daughter Lucia (right) graduated from the region’s prestigious Institute of Agriculture and Enology in San Michele al Adige in 1987. She now runs the family winery, and her son is already working at her side.

Casa del Vino

The Letrari tasting room is a bit off the beaten path. As a result, Lucia often holds business meetings at the Casa del Vino della Vallagarina (Piazza San Vincenzo, 1, Isera: tel. +39 (0) 464 486 057; www.casadelvino.info).

Casa del Vino della Vallagarina Part restaurant, part enoteca, part wine shop, the Casa del Vino is an essential stop for a wine tourist. It is in the heart of the mountain village on the wine route known as the Strada del vino e dei sapori del Trentino (www.tastetrentino.it). It has a few hotel rooms starting at 90€ per night.

Impressive sparkling wines

Letrari produces a dizzying array of wines, but Leonello was a pioneer in making sparkling wines. The family still prides itself on sparkling wines made from high altitude chardonnay and pinot noir.

The very impressive Brut Riserva—60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay—was surprisingly good with a beef carpaccio topped with paper-thin swirls of sweet golden apple. The wine spends a minimum of 48 months on the lees. That produces a creamy head, notes of toasted bread, and a lingering taste of fruit. The prickliness of the tiny bubbles was a nice counterpoint to the raw beef. That wine, however, was only a warm-up for Letrari’s Riserva del Fondatore. This deluxe wine spends 96 months in contact with the yeast, developing a complexity comparable to high-end Champagne.

Letrari lunch canderli Letrari’s Dosaggio Zero is made without adding sweetness for the second fermentation. Tart and dry, it has a delicate apple-pear fruitiness. It mated nicely with a plate of canderli, breadcrumb dumplings laden with local herbs and served with cheese fondue. The yeastiness is less pronounced, since it only spends 24 months on the lees. The tart delicacy makes it perfect for pairing with cheeses and shellfish. With just a hint of brassiness like rice wine, it would be good with sushi. It’s also great this time of year as a picnic wine.

27

06 2016

And the winning Champagne is…

Barons de Rothschild blanc de blancs with raspberry tart

What was our best bubbly of 2015? We’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy some spectacular sparkling wines, from a range of proseccos to an elegant pink Franciacorta to several cavas and crémants that we simply drank without taking notes or photographs. (Even wine and food writers are entitled to a day off.)

Barons de Rothschild brut But the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild (www.champagne-bdr.com) really took us through the seasons. We started off in warm weather with the non-vintage brut, which is the company’s anchor champagne. It’s blended with 60 percent chardonnay (mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 40 percent pinot noir (principally from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and Bouzy). It has a Rumpelstiltskin straw-gold color, a faintly yeasty aroma, and fine and persistent bubbles, The full mouth feel and abundant acidity make it an excellent food wine, even with something as complex and spicy as mole amarillo. (Mexico did have a French emperor for a while, after all.) The BDR brut retails around $80.

BDR rose Come fall, we moved along to the non-vintage rosé, which might be our favorite sipping champagne of BDR’s non-vintage portfolio. It is produced from 85 percent chardonnay (again, mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 15 percent pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims. Some of that pinot noir juice goes in with the chardonnay at first fermentation, and some is fermented as a red wine before being blended together. The blend marries in the cellar for at least three years before dosage, then another six to nine months after disgorgement. The result is a wine with strong fruit and floral characteristics, with undertones of raspberry, rose petals, and sweet-tart wild strawberries. The color is a salmon pink, which accentuates the spiral of bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the top. We like watching the dance of the bubbles. How long do they last? They’re still prickling the tongue when we empty the last glass. The BDR rosé retails for around $105.

For our money (about $115), the blanc de blancs is the most elegant of BDR’s non-vintage champagnes and the perfect wine for the winter holidays. It is crafted entirely from chardonnay grown in the signature Champagne crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Vertus. It is a little paler than the brut, slightly more acidic, and infinitely more sophisticated. Although it has a citrus-like freshness, some of the flavor notes include raw almonds and white peaches. The bubble profile can only be called creamy. It’s great by itself, but we think it’s the perfect pairing with a fresh raspberry tart (as shown above), since the bubbles cut through the unctuousness of the butter crust and pastry cream, while the acidity and mineral notes accentuate the flavor of the raspberries.

31

12 2015