Posts Tagged ‘merlot’

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).

Bobal brings friends to the barbecue

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

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

watermelon salad and pincho skewers

Finding the right food


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

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

PINCHO POWDER

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

30

07 2017

Grigoletti makes superb wines a family affair

Grigoletti vineyards in Nomi, Italy
Slender and willowy, Bruno Grigoletti reaches his big hands into the canopy of a grape pergola and starts ripping out the extra foliage. In his late 70s, he works at a pace that would exhaust a man a third his age. Bruno manages a dozen family vineyards. They total about 15 acres (6 ha) in and around the commune of Nomi on the west bank of the Adige river, 9 miles (15 km) south of Trento. Some of the heat-loving varieties grow at the edge of the village in the alluvial soils of the Adige. But the most striking wines come from steep vineyard plots on the limestone hills behind the village.

Grigoletti brunoBruno prunes the white grapes—mostly pinot grigio, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc—three times across the summer. He then cuts out foliage a few weeks before harvest to improve air circulation and maximize sun exposure. Some special plots of white grapes and all the red grapes—merlot, marzemino, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and schiava—get an extra pruning across the summer to keep their yields in check.

Although this end of the Adige valley lies far north in Italy, the southern end is strongly influenced by Lake Garda. The lake effect makes it warm enough to raise lemons and olives. A warm wind siphons up the valley, extending the growing season around Nomi and providing warmth and moisture to go with the intense summer sunlight. Vineyard managers work hard to keep yields down and acids and sugar up.

Vineyard management is just the beginning. Azienda Agricola Grigoletti is a true family affair. Bruno commands the vineyards, and his son Carmelo makes the wine and runs the cellars. Marica, Carmelo’s wife, runs the tasting room and sales. They produce about 50,000 bottles per year of a dozen wines. Ten are table wines and two are sweet wines they call their “Meditation” series.

Grigoletti winery signI can heartily recommend them all. But I confess a special affection for Marzemino and for the four “selection” wines. Marzemino is a native grape, probably an offspring of Teroldego. It’s best known outside the region through a reference in the opera Don Giovanni. The rake calls for a glass just before he is cast into hell. (The librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, probably drank Marzemino when he grew up a few miles away.)

Most of Marzemino Trentino D.O.C. that I tasted at the big Trentino tasting in May (Mostra Vini) were an almost opaque dark plum color with a gentle warmth and very little tannin or acid. Grigoletti’s version is a cut above. It shows pronounced red fruit on the nose and a dried fruit aftertaste that’s very pleasant with food.

At the moment, North Americans must visit Italy to try these wines. But if Grigoletti breaks into distribution on this side of the Atlantic, the four “selection” wines will lead the way. They stand on their own with anything similar in the world.

L’OPERA

L’Opera chardonnay (9€ at the winery) comes from a mountainside vineyard where the vines are all at least 25 years old. Most of the soil is dolomitic limestone with a thin covering of topsoil, but part of the vineyard overlays a band of gravel. The grapes are soft-pressed and the juice is fermented in stainless tanks. The wine rests on the lees (with regular stirring) for six months. L’Opera is never touched by oak, but the influence of the lees and and high mineral content of the soil gives it an intensity and backbone usually associated with barrel aging. This is a chardonnay with pronounced fruit (golden apples more than pineapple or banana), a honey-like viscosity. and a well-defined structure. It mates well with ocean fish and mild young cheeses.

RETIKO

Retiko (11€) is Grigoletti’s complexly flavored white blend—70% chardonnay, 30% sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc is very aromatic in this part of Trentino, almost mimicking riesling and gewürztraminer in its intensity, though the flavor is much more like lychee. Carmelo ferments the wine directly in large barrels made of French acacia (black locust). That gives the developing wine access to oxygen without picking up the vanilla and other flavors from oak. He leaves it on the lees for another five months (with regular battonage) and then rests the wine in bottles six months before release. It’s clearly a sister wine to L’Opera, but with a more sprightly personality and a prickly acidity that makes it a good complement to veal carpaccio.

MERLOT ANTICA VIGNA

Grigoletti makes Merlot Antico Vigna (13€) from vines that are 60 or more years old. During the harsh economic times after World War II, merlot was “the family bread.” In those years, the Grigolettis overcropped the grape. But they have narrowed the historic pergolas and have retrained many old vines to wire. That drastically reduces yields and concentrates flavor and sugar. Carmelo makes a simpler merlot for ready drinking. But the grapes from the old vines are fermented in wood, then spend six months in French oak barrique, and two years in the bottle. The resulting wine tastes of cherries and bramble fruits with a pronounced spiciness. It is merlot in a very Trentino style—warm and round and slippery in the mouth due to soft tannins. Drink with a country salami, grilled lamb, or aged cheese.

GONZALIER

Carmelo Grigoletti with a magnum of Gonzalier Gonzalier (16€) is Grigoletti’s meritage. It contains 50% merlot, 25% each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. They harvest most of the grapes a month later than the rest of the family vineyards. That is always tricky here, since they run the risk of rain. Gonzalier is fermented in oak and aged in a mix of oak and cherry barrels. Vineyard management is key, and the wine displays none of the green pepper aromas common in unripe Trentino cabernet. Carmelo has elected to make Gonzalier velvety and fruity with just a hint of vanilla and spice, and has kept the alcohol level to 14 percent. Every few years, he will blend three vintages to create magnums, available only at the winery for 65€.

Grigoletti welcomes visitors to the tasting room and store at Via Garibaldi, 12 in Nomi Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call them at (011-34) 0464 834 215 or visit the website at www.grigoletti.com.

18

06 2016