The Forgotten Grape of the Loire

The Lignage grape was virtually extinct several years ago.  The last known vine was situated in the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) nursery at Montpellier, France.  Today, the number has increased but there are still well under a thousand vines in existence.

Photo credit: theglamorousgourmet.com

The revival of Lignage is part of a wider project overseen by a local group, the Union for Genetic Resources of Centre-Val de Loire (URGC).  URGC’s goal is to revitalize old grape varieties linked to the local area prior to the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s. 

Phylloxera is an insect that can damage grape vines by feeding on the plant sap from the roots. It is often described as an aphid-like sucking insect.

Officially, the project is experimental at this point so the Lignage varietal is not listed on any appellation documentation.  Lignage’s history in the region dates back to 1427. It was also known as Macé Doux,  Macédoux, Massé Doux and Lignage de Blois. By the mid 1800s it had become well established in a winegrowing zone known as the Côte des Grouëts.

The variety is similar to Pinot Noir in that it produces a light-coloured red wine.  Having purple skin and a green flesh it can also be made into a white wine.

Not much is known about the wine that Lignage produced but according to written accounts the grapes produced a fine, delicate, lightly coloured red wine with fine aromas and a low alcohol content.  More information should be known by 2024 when the first trial wines are expected to be produced. It is anticipated that by 2028 the varietal will return as an official vine and be available for more extensive planting. 

I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to try Lignage at some point in the future.

Sláinte mhaith

Ontario Wine Get-Aways

If you ever have the desire to relax and immerse yourself in any of Ontario’s wine regions, an overnight stay at a winery may prove to be ‘the icing on the cake’.  If you would like to consider pursuing this idea, here are some Ontario wineries, organized by region, that offer accommodations at the winery.

NIAGARA REGION

13th Street Winery (Escarpment and Area)

1776 Fourth Avenue

St. Catharines, Ontario L2R 6P9

Celebrating over 20 years of winemaking in Niagara, 13th Street Winery’s mission is to create exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of Niagara. They provide a unique blend of wine, food and art. You can experience the tasting bar, wander the sculpture gardens or relax with a glass of wine.

For accommodations, there is a choice of two contemporary houses, both offering private, luxurious accommodations. Both are set amongst the vineyards on the winery estate. Each house sleeps up to eight guests and include a fully equipped kitchen, living room, expansive deck and 3 ½ baths. The Cottage has 3 bedrooms and the Farmhouse has 4. Both are available to book on Air Bnb.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • King’s Court Estate Winery
  • Creekside Estate Winery
  • 16 Mile Cellar
  • 13th Street Bakery & Farmhouse Bistro
  • The Deck at Creekside Estate Winery
  • Inn on the Twenty
  • Alvento Winery Vineyard Villa

Alvento Winery (Escarpment and Area)

3048 2nd Avenue

Vineland Station, Ontario L0R 2E0

Alvento Winery was established in 2001.  It offers visitors a unique boutique wine country experience. This 13-acre vineyard features an authentic 19th Century barn with a renovated tasting room, as well as unique, luxurious accommodation in the four-room, picturesque Bed & Breakfast.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Di Profio Estate Wines
  • Harbour Estates Winery
  • Honsberger
  • Zinc Bistro at Di Profio Estate Wines
  • The Harbour Patio at Harbour Estates Winery
  • Inn on the Twenty
  • Accommodations at Vineland Estates

Cave Springs Winery (Escarpment and Area)

3836 Main Street

Jordan, Ontario L0R 1S0

Cave Spring is located in the centre of Jordan Village. The wines capture the terroir of this prime sub-appellation. Visitors may enjoy an intimate, seated experience in the tasting room, featuring curated wine flights paired with local charcuterie.

The Estate House at Cave Spring Vineyard is a stunning Victorian-style farmhouse located at the heart of the vineyard. Nestled high on the Beamsville Bench of the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Lake Ontario, it offers some breathtaking vistas of Niagara wine country. It is a fully equipped, self-catered rental with many of the region’s top estate wineries within a 15-minute drive and hiking on the Bruce Trail literally on your doorstep.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Di Profio Estate Wines
  • Honsberger
  • Stoney Ridge Estate Winery
  • 2027 Cellars
  • Inn On The Twenty Restaurant
  • Jordan House Tavern
  • Inn on the Twenty
  • Alvento Winery Vineyard Villa

Commisso Estate Winery (Escarpment and Area)

564 Kemp Road East

Beamsville, Ontario L0R 1B2

Commisso Estate is a 32-acre estate winery and Bed & Breakfast located on the 75-year-old Commisso farm at the top of the Niagara Escarpment in the heart of wine country.  The winery focuses on premium, small-lot VQA wines, particularly Appassimento wines and big bold reds.  Situated amidst lush vineyards and breathtaking gardens it is also the perfect venue for corporate events and private functions.

The property includes beautiful landscapes, acres of vineyards, gazebos, a pond and other attractions to make any occasion truly memorable. The hospitality suites provide the option for overnight stays and the wine boutique will showcase wines produced from the vineyard as well as feature small-batch wines from local vineyards.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Angels Gate Winery
  • Organized Crime Winery
  • Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery
  • London Born Wine Company
  • London Born Winery Restaurant
  • The Restaurant at Peninsula Ridge
  • Vieni Estates Wine & Spirits Bed and Breakfast

Vieni Estates (Escarpment and Area)

4553 Fly Road

Beamsville, Ontario L0R 1B2

Vieni means “come” or “welcome” in Italian and that is just how they want you to feel – welcomed and at home at Vieni Estates. The winery is situated on a diverse 175-acre estate on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. In addition to their fine wines, Vieni Estates offers traditional Italian-style sparkling wines, Icewines, grappas and spirits distilled from the many fruits of Ontario.

You can stay at the beautifully updated Bed & Breakfast, where every room has a stunning view of the vineyards and 30 acres of protected forest along the Niagara Escarpment.  You can unwind and relax poolside, visit the winery or discover the property and enjoy a picnic by their pond, or hike the Bruce Trail.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Cave Spring Vineyard Tasting Room
  • Rennie Estate Winery
  • Kew Vineyards Estate Winery
  • The Restaurant at Redstone
  • Megalomaniac Food+Drink
  • Alvento Winery Vineyard Villa

Vineland Estates Winery (Escarpment and Area)

3620 Moyer Road

Vineland L0R 2C0

For over 30 years Vineland Estates Winery has offered an unparalleled wine and food experience within a setting of breathtaking vistas and welcoming warmth. Vineland is passionately committed to authenticity and excellence in all things and has been singled out as a top producer of award-winning Riesling and Cabernet Franc as well as locally sourced cuisine.

Vineland Estates Winery operates two accommodation options adjacent to the estate vineyards. The Bed and Breakfast Cottage and Estate Guest House both provide great experiences.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Vineland Estates Winery
  • Kacaba Vineyards and Winery
  • Tawse Winery
  • Ridgepoint Wines
  • The Restaurant at Vineland Estates Winery
  • Ridgepoint Wines Restaurant
  • Inn on the Twenty
  • Alvento Winery Vineyard Villa

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY

Casa-Dea Estates Winery

1186 Greer Road

Wellington, Ontario K0K 3L0

This picturesque property was the first winery on Greer Road and is now one of the largest wineries in the County. The 65-acre vineyard is planted with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. They are focused on making VQA wines from 100% County grapes. Enjoy Italian cuisine at La Pergola in the summer. There are also banquet facilities for your dream wedding, including outdoor ceremonies.

Their guest house, the ‘Casa del Silenzio’, is located at the winery, just steps away from the vineyard, tasting bar and patio restaurant. Rent it for two nights (minimum) or a week and experience ‘The County’. Casa del Silenzio also makes the perfect addition to a wedding at Casa-Dea, providing accommodations for the bride, groom and wedding party.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard
  • Rosehall Run
  • Traynor Family Vineyard
  • Sandbanks Estate Winery
  • La Condesa
  • Drake Devonshire
  • By Chadsey’s Cairns Farmhouse
  • Huff Estates Winery

Huff Estates Winery

2274 County Road 1

Bloomfield, Ontario K0K 1G0

In addition to the winery, Huff Estates has an inn and art gallery. You may sample their wines in the tasting room; have lunch overlooking the vineyard and discover contemporary Canadian art in the Oeno Gallery and stay at the luxurious Inn at Huff Estates.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Sugarbush Vineyards
  • Karlo Estates
  • Broken Stone Winery
  • Closson Chase
  • La Condesa
  • Drake Devonshire
  • The Waring House

Three Dog Winery

1920 Fish Lake Road

Picton, Ontario K0K 1W0

At Three Dog Winery they strive to become a gathering place for the community where you not only want to enjoy a glass of wine but gather to dine with friends. On weekends enjoy live music and wood-fired pizza on the patio. Their wines are award-winning, affordable and easy drinking. Just 15 minutes off Hwy 401, they have 6km of hiking trails – plenty of room to walk your four-legged friends.  You can also book your stay at the Vineyard Loft which overlooks the vineyard.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Black Prince Winery – Canadian Vinegar Cellars
  • Amanda’s Vineyards
  • Waupoos Estates Winery
  • Huff Estates Winery
  • The Inn at Lake on the Mountain Resort
  • Hartleys Tavern
  • Three Dog Winery – Vineyard Loft
  • Merrill House

Waupoos Estate Winery

3016 County Road 8

Picton, Ontario K0K 2T0

Waupoos is the oldest winery in Prince Edward County and has a wide selection of award-winning wines. The winery features boutique shopping with chocolate and gelato, a petting zoo and fine dining experience in the full-service Restaurant overlooking beautiful Prince Edward Bay. Accommodations are available in the 1900 Century Farm House. The Farmhouse is a beautifully restored century home situated on the 100 acre grounds of Waupoos Estates, with breathtaking views of Prince Edward Bay and the vineyards.  A 2 night minimum stay is required.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Amanda’s Vineyards
  • Three Dog Winery
  • Black Prince Winery – Canadian Vinegar Cellars
  • Huff Estates Winery
  • Waupoos Estate Winery Restaurant
  • The Inn at Lake on the Mountain Resort
  • Merrill House

NORTHERN AREA

Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery (Georgian Bay)

599448 2nd Concession North RR1

Annan, Ontario N0H 1B0

Situated in Grey County, Coffin Ridge has a modern tasting room that opens to an elevated deck overlooking Georgian Bay and the vineyard. Carefully researched winter-hardy varieties flourish here, with hybrids like L’Acadie Blanc and Marquette gaining critical acclaim. Visit the winery to try their Riesling Bone Dry or Back From the Dead Red blend VQA wines.

An overnight stay at the Resting Place will give you access to a gorgeous and tranquil escape from the norm, including a games room, theatre, gym, pool, hot tub and a library as well as various sitting areas overlooking the vineyard and beautiful Georgian Bay. 

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Georgian Hills Vineyards
  • The Roost Wine Company
  • Adamo Estate Winery
  • Windrush Estate Winery
  • Bruce Wine Bar Kitchen
  • Barrhead Pub & Grill
  • Burning Kiln Wilderness Suites

Schatz Winery by Hessenland Inn

72981 Bluewater Hwy

Zurich, Ontario N0M 2T0

Schatz is Hessenland Inn’s winery, located on the Lake Huron Shores nestled between Bayfield and Grand Bend, offers a unique combination of history, innovation, and European elegance.

Also onsite is Hessenland Inn & Restaurant which serves a locally sourced menu.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Cornerfield Wine Co.
  • Dark Horse Estate Winery
  • Maelstrom Winery
  • Alton Farms Estate Winery
  • Black Dog Village Pub & Bistro
  • The Little Inn of Bayfield
  • Burning Kiln Wilderness Suites

LAKE ERIE NORTH SHORE

Burning Kiln Winery

1709 Front Road

St Williams, Ontario N0E 1P0

Rooted in the agricultural significance of tobacco and Norfolk County, Burning Kiln offers a vision of this emerging VQA region’s bright future. The picturesque winery is a repurposed tobacco pack barn overlooking Long Point Bay on Lake Erie, close to some of the best vacation areas and beaches.

You can book a stay at the Farmhouse located at the vineyard. The 1865 home has been fully restored to its original charm.  The house is situated at the highest point of the estate providing picturesque views of the surrounding winery.

WHAT’S NEAR BY

  • Front Road Cellars
  • Smoke & Gamble | Frisky Beaver
  • Hounds of Erie
  • Ridge Road Estate Winery
  • The Combine
  • Barrel Restaurant
  • Burning Kiln Wilderness Suites
  • Vieni Estates Wine & Spirits Bed and Breakfast

Sláinte mhaith

Irish Whiskey Single Malt Vs Single Pot

If you have ever shopped for Irish whiskey you may have noticed the term ‘Single Pot’ on some of the labels.  Is single pot the same as single malt? Not exactly; single malt means all the liquid in the bottle was made from a single type of malted grain at the same distillery. Single pot is only legally produced in Ireland and is made with both malted and unmalted barley. The reason for this is the unmalted barley adds a unique character to the whiskey. The taste of a single pot has more distinct spiciness, more of a weighty, grainy texture and funky cereal flavour that isn’t as present in other types of Irish whiskeys. It has more depth.

To complicate matters further, up until 2011 single pot whiskeys were labeled as “Pure Pot Still.” If you find this description on a label you have come across a “vintage” bottle.

At present there are only a couple of brands out there making Single Pot Still Whiskey for commercial purposes. The category became less popular in the 20th century when Scotch began to dominate the marketplace.  However, with the resurgence of classic drinking habits in the 2000s, it’s becoming more popular.

The more popular single pot whiskeys include:

  • Redbreast 12 Year Old – It is a brilliant amber colour with complex aromas of floral, honey, sweet fruits and lime.  It is full-bodied and robust with a creamy mouth-feel and flavours repeated from the nose followed by an enduring finish reminiscent of butterscotch.
  • Green Spot – With clove, apricot and oak toast aromas and flavours of cedar, clove, apple and ginger. The long finish has spicy notes of clove, nutmeg and ginger.
  • Yellow Spot – Matured in three types of oak casks, it has aromas and flavours of caramel, spice, honey and ripe tree fruit. Nutty, dried fruit and toasted oak notes linger on a long finish.

Irish whiskey single malts include:

  • Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt – Aged ten years in used bourbon barrels, it has aromas of ripe pear, toasted oak, caramel, citrus peel and white pepper. On the palate it is warming with a light sweetness and medium body. Flavours of tree fruit, caramel, citrus and toasted almonds play on a long finish.
  • Writers Tears Copper Pot – It is deep gold in colour with orange accents. There are aromas of citrus, honey, apple, vanilla and malt, as well as flavours of caramel and citrus peel along with oak and pepper.  It is medium-bodied and fruity with a long-lasting finish.
  • The Sexton Single Malt – It is bright golden in colour with warming aromas of toffee, marzipan, citrus, allspice and hints of dark chocolate. There are flavours of dried fruit and oak which is a result of ageing in Oloroso Sherry casks.  The finish is smooth and supple with a kiss of sweetness.
  • West Cork Single Malt – Matured in bourbon barrels and finished in calvados casks, it has notes of dried fruit, vanilla, pear, almonds and apple. A medium-bodied and fruity palate leads to a long finish.
  • Teeling Single Malt – It is aged in five distinctive wine casks creating fruity aromas with hints of toffee, vanilla, herb and floral notes. It has flavours of caramel, spice and tropical fruit with a lengthy finish.
  • The Temple Bar – It is distilled in copper pot stills and matured in American oak barrels resulting in a well-balanced dram. There are aromas and flavours of zesty citrus, cinnamon, honey, nutmeg and vanilla. It is full-bodied and flavourful with a lengthy finish.

The descriptions of each of the whiskies were paraphrased from the LCBO website descriptions.

I have tried all 3 single pot whiskies and many of the single malts and my favourite is the Green Spot single pot.  Unfortunately, it is only imported from Ireland once or twice a year so it is only available on a very limited basis.

Redbreast is produced by the same distillery that makes Jameson.  When I visited the Jameson distillery in Dublin a few years ago I was told that Redbreast is created in the traditional style of Irish whiskey as it was made over a hundred years ago. It is said to be popular with Irish Whiskey traditionalists. 

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Prices On the Rise

The price of wine has remained fairly stable during recent months and has not been impacted in the same way as the price of gas and food.  However, this is soon about to change.

Photo credit: mlive.com

As you have seen at the gas pump, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has caused a surge in gas and oil prices.  These increases have impacted the cost of wine industry supplies.  Increases of 20% to 45% have occurred on the cost of bottles and boxes over last year.  The war has created a great deal of volatility and unpredictability to the glass bottle industry.

Oil prices have surged 70% in the past year and with transport costs rising, barrels, bottles, cases and wine labels are all more expensive.  But so far the consumer has not felt the impact.

Very high Inflation is severely impacting the price of supplies such as glass, corks, labels and cardboard. Labour and energy costs have skyrocketed.

With grapes being harvested only once a year and wine reaching the market through a rather complex multi-faceted distribution network, price pressures have not yet reached store shelves. However, when they do, the effects of inflation, which is currently around 6%, supply chain issues (see Dry Times Ahead from January 22), a small 2021 global grape harvest and a surge in demand will mean consumers should prepare for a significant increase in wine prices.

Historically, wine isn’t as volatile as other consumer goods, so has been less subject to price fluctuations. From 2004 to 2021 inflation increased at a rate of 2.11%, while wine prices only rose by 0.73% during the same period. 

Wine producers have been doing their best to deter price increases especially given the impacts from the COVID pandemic which they are now struggling to recover from.  Unfortunately, costs are continuing to increase and many distributors have already absorbed the higher transportation costs. Operating expenses have reached the point where they can no longer be absorbed by producers.

The greatest impact will be seen on imported wines.  The cost of shipping containers and freight has increased by more than 100%.  Adding to the problem is the impact of the small harvests in France’s Burgundy, Loire and Provence wine regions.  The only saving grace will be the competition within the wine industry which will keep the increases moderate.

The high consumer demand for wine is also having an impact on price.  In particular, wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Rioja and Napa will be most affected. Wines from these regions may increase by 20% to 25% within a year.

Domestic wines will be impacted as well though probably not to the same extent as imported wines.  It is expected that these wines will see a minimum of a 10% increase in price.

Will this inflation last?  Some financial experts don’t think so while others are convinced it will.  In either case the most optimistic timeline is that the current conditions will remain throughout 2022 and 2023.

In any event it is believed that competition will keep runaway pricing in check. Wine is different from most other consumer goods in that there are options available at every price point and there are a lot of wine choices available.  This will help keep wine prices as low as possible.

Sláinte mhaith

Argentina’s Bonarda Grape

Bonarda grapes are pretty much unique to South America’s Argentina, where, after Malbec, it is the country’s most produced varietal.  It was first introduced in Argentina in the 1800s.  It is not the same grape as the Bonarda from Italy.  The Argentinian varietal is actually named Douce Noir, which originated in Savoie, France.

Photo credit: NatalieMaclean.com

It was initially used to add colour and a fruity flavour to Argentinian-produced blends.  However, it has since been found that it can stand on its own as a single varietal.  The key to using Bonarda on its own is to use grapes only from the more mature vines. There are plantings that are over 100 years old.

Bonarda grapes mature well in oak barrels and the resulting wines are characterized by complexity and spice with great structure and medium-full body.  The wine will have hints of plum, cherry and fig.  The colour is deep and dark. There is a medium level of tannins which allow it to be cellared for five to ten years, though it is ready to drink when it is released from the winery.

Bonarda will pair well with grilled pork, roast chicken or even grilled salmon.

If you haven’t tried it before, Argentina’s Bonarda is worth seeking out at your local liquor store.  Who knows, it may become your next favourite medium-bodied red wine.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine Barrels

A wine barrel has become one of the most recognized symbols associated with wine. As a society we have romanced the wine barrel to the point where we have turned it into tables, benches, planters and candle holders.  Case in point, I have two barrels in my wine cellar as leg supports for a table and I have a candle holder made from a barrel rib on my bar.

Photo credit: winemag.com

The Romans discovered that oak could be more easily bent into the traditional barrel shape than palm wood; the oak only needed minimal toasting and a barrel could be created much faster. Oak was also the most abundant in the forests of continental Europe and its tight grain made it waterproof.

The Romans learned that oak has a tendency to soften and smooth the flavour of wine and provide it with a more complex taste.  Slight toasting of the wood added scents such as cloves, cinnamon, allspice or vanilla, as well as flavours such as caramel, vanilla or even butter.

Today wine barrels are made from a variety of materials; European oak (often referred to as French oak), American white oak, stainless steel, aluminum and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic.  These barrels typically come in 3 standard sizes:

  • Bordeaux type – 225 litres
  • Burgundy type – 228 litres
  • Cognac type – 300 litres.

Barrel aging is the main element of what is referred to as the élevage process, which is a French term meaning “raising” or “upbringing”. This is what occurs to the wine between fermentation and bottling.  The wine’s élevage can last for a few months to many years, during which time the wine’s flavours integrate and mature.

The winemakers’ choices during the aging process include how long to age the wine for and how much to manipulate it. which has a major impact on the taste of the finished product. One of the most important choices is what type of barrel to age the wine in.

When oak barrels are manufactured they are toasted over a fire to either a light, medium, or dark toast level. New barrels with a light toast will give lots of vanilla and caramel notes, while a darker toast will give smoky, roasted aromas.

An oak wine barrel’s age and size affect the amount of oak flavor that will be transmitted to the wine. Smaller barrels impart more oak flavor because they allow more contact between the wood and the wine. Oak barrels lose their flavour compounds with use so they must be replaced every few vintages.

In addition to adding oak flavours, new oak aging changes the tannin structure of red wines. Tannins from the wood barrel transfer into the wine, giving it a stronger structure. This contributes to a wine’s aging capability, or longevity in the bottle. The wood also helps stabilize the tannins from the grape skins, giving them a silkier texture.

After a few years of use, the oak will no longer provide flavour or tannin to the wine. The older barrels still allow for slow oxygenation, so they can be used to age wine that needs to mellow without the addition of oak flavouring.

Oak influences both red and white wines by adding the aroma of:

  • Vanilla
  • Caramel
  • Baking spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg
  • Coconut (especially from American oak)
  • Dill (especially from American oak)

Red wines may also present additional aromas of:

  • Smoke
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Toffee
  • Burnt sugar

Steel barrels, on the other hand, add no flavour to the wine.  Steel simply stores the wine for a few months while it stabilises and the grape flavours integrate. Steel barrels also don’t let any oxygen come into contact with the wine. This kind of aging helps wines retain the fresh fruit aromas that disappear when exposed to oxygen.

Stainless steel aging is used for wines that would not benefit from the addition of oak flavours or the softening effect that oak has on tannin. It is used for white wines not having tannins to manage. Stainless steel is the usual choice for aromatic and semi-aromatic white grapes including:

  • Albariño
  • Unoaked Chardonnay (often aged in oak as well)
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grüner veltliner
  • Pinot grigio
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon blanc

For red wines, stainless steel is a good choice for lower tannin, fruity grapes such as:

  • Baco Noir
  • Gamay
  • Grenache

Red wines aged in stainless steel are straightforward and juicy, with no oak flavours obscuring the flavours of the grapes.

Stainless steel aging is significantly less expensive than using oak because unlike oak barrels, steel barrels can be reused indefinitely and are much easier to clean. Stainless steel aging also takes less time than oak aging which saves winemakers crucial space in the wine cellar.

Since oak barrels can be used only two or three times for the purpose of adding flavour to the wine, the cost of buying new barrels is built into the higher prices of oak-aged wines. Some producers try to mimic the flavours of oak aging by adding less expensive oak chips to wines that are aged in stainless steel vessels. Oak chips add vanilla and spice notes but have no effect on a wine’s texture like oak barrels do.

Sláinte mhaith

Tastings and Rankings

Although the subject of my writing today is on whisky, the same thoughts apply to wine reviews as well.  The beverage is different but the prejudices, influences and considerations remain the same; food for thought.

Photo credit: etsy.com

Taste is subjective; remember the saying “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”?  My own opinions as to preference will vary within reason depending on my mood.  I suggest treating these articles as a curiosity and entertainment, not as gospel.   I read some of the reviews to see how the writer’s opinions may compare to my own.  For the article to have any kind of validity, the author needs to reveal what selections were sampled and how that list was determined.

Before assessing the writer’s results, you need to be aware of any bias the person may have.  If comparing peated whisky with non-peated whisky, the writer may allow a personal bias of whether they are a fan of the smokiness of peat be an influence.  On the other hand, if a group of whiskies were being ranked based on the sweetness and/or peatiness, without comment as to personal preference, that can be valuable to a reader in matching their personal preferences.

Double-blind tastings where the reviewer is unaware of what whiskies are being sampled, as well as the order in which they are presented is best.  That way personal prejudice may be better avoided.   For example, Zach Johnston of uproxx.com was quoted during his review, Scotch Whiskies Tasted ‘Double-Blind’ And Power Ranked, “I had no idea what this was (Johnnie Walker Blue Label). I do feel that had I known it was in the lineup, I’d had sussed it out and ranked it higher. So, this is a pretty good example of how double blinds really push the envelope.”  This is a good example of how a whisky’s reputation or price point can bias opinion on how good a whisky is.

Should price be a consideration?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  In the example above, Johnnie Walker Blue was ranked 6th of the 8 whiskies tasted. It carries a price tag in excess of $300.  The 5 whiskies ranked higher ranged from $100 to slightly under $300.  However, the whisky that ranked last was also by far the least expensive, priced at under $85. 

It is important to make sure that the reviewer is comparing apples to apples.  It hardly seems fair to compare a simple 10-year-old malt with a price point in the $80 range with a 25-year-old that was aged in an ex-bourbon or ex-sherry cask, in the $250 and up price range.  After all, for a difference of $200 or more, there should be a differentiating factor, otherwise why would you pay the extra money?

Finally, if the reviewer is from outside of Canada, the selection list isn’t often completely relevant.  Many of the whiskies are often not available to try.  Therefore, from a practical standpoint, a comparison or ranking of a good sampling of whiskies may be reduced to a comparison of only 2 or 3, depending on accessibility.

However, after all is said and done, reviews do provide a new perspective for consideration and thought.

Sláinte mhaith

Dinner for the April Long-Weekend

Photo credit: lcbo.com

With COVID restrictions lifting, friend and family gatherings are once again permissible.  In the event you are planning to host a spring celebration, here are some of the standard menus that have been paired with complimentary wines.

Roast Beef

The reds from Bordeaux France are a good match for the robust flavour of roast beef.  Bordeaux consists of a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and often lesser amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and sometimes Carmenère.  Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon will also pair well.  Younger wines will have more tannins and fuller flavour so they will be better suited for to stronger cuts of beef.

Baked Ham

Pinot Noir is typically paired with glazed baked ham as its supple flavour will not overpower the ham while its fruitiness will offset the saltiness of the meat.  Smoked ham will pair well with a Grenache, French Syrah, or even a California Zinfandel.

Roast Lamb

The stronger flavour of lamb will overwhelm the gentler wines so it is better suited to bolder reds such as a Spanish Tempranillo, South American Malbec or Australian Shiraz.

Salmon

The oily richness of salmon needs to be complimented by a wine containing sufficient acidity. One of the most classic pairings for salmon is Pinot Noir or a French red Burgundy wine.  However, Grenache, French Beaujolais, Chardonnay, French White Burgundy, Torrontés, Sauvignon Blanc or Dry Rosé will work equally as well. 

Turkey

Turkey has been traditionally served with white wine, however there are some reds that will compliment your dinner equally well.  If you choose a white, a dry Riesling will work well.  The alternative is to select a Pinot Noir or a French Burgundy.  All of these wines have enough acidity while not overpowering the turkey.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you are serving on the holiday weekend, most importantly take this opportunity to enjoy the company of friends and family as we don’t know what new COVID variant and restrictions lurk around the corner.

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Cooking with Wine

Cooking with wine was first introduced by the Romans but it is French chefs who have been credited with refining the techniques.  Even though other cultures have used wine in cooking, it is the classic French methods that have prevailed.  These include braising, deglazing, marinating and poaching.

Photo credit: WinesOfCanada.com

Braising with Wine

Braising will help to take a modest cut of meat and make it become extra special.  You can use simple cuts such as beef, lamb or pork shoulder, beef or lamb shanks, chicken thighs, beef brisket or various stewing meats. You can even use this process with vegetables.

Braising meat in butter or oil sears it to create a dark golden flavourful crust.  Wine and stock are then added and the meat is then left to simmer.  The acidity of the wine tenderizes the meat while the alcohol cooks off.

Bold flavourful red wines such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon are best for braising as they will provide good flavour, complexity and richness to your dish. 

Deglazing with Wine

Deglazing a pan with wine is one of the easiest ways to make a sauce. Start by pan-searing chicken, pork, beef, lamb or even eggplant to brown them as described in braising above.  Once seared, add wine to the pan to loosen the caramelized brown bits.  The wine reduces and becomes concentrated in the hot pan.  In addition to helping to make a tasty sauce it helps to clean the pan.

Deglazing works best with meats and vegetables that are thick enough to brown before becoming overcooked.  Be careful not to rush the process in order to prevent charring.  A generous amount of oil in the pan will help with the browning.  Any excess can be poured off prior to adding the wine.  To give the sauce more length and flavour, stock, cream, chilled butter, sour cream, water or jam may be added.

Depending on what’s on the menu, either red or white wine may be a suitable choice.  When selecting a red however, it is important to select one with lower tannins.  Otherwise, when the wine is concentrated it will become bitter. A Pinot Noir or Gamay is always a good choice.

Marinating with Wine

Wine will infuse flavour into whatever meal you are preparing. The acidity in the wine will break down meat tissue and tenderize it.

Marinades usually consist of an acid (wine, lemon or lime juice or vinegar and oil) as well as flavour additives, such as maple syrup, soy sauce, brown sugar, herbs, spices, sesame seed oil or mustard.

The wine to use in the marinade should be selected in the same manner as you would when pairing a wine to enjoy with the dinner itself.  The meat, fish or vegetable being prepared should determine the wine selected for the marinade.  For darker meats like beef or lamb, red wine will complement their flavour.  White wines are better suited for fish, poultry or vegetables.

That being said, keep in mind that the wine needs to have enough acidity to tenderize the dish.  Either the description on the wine label or the store shelf should provide the necessary information.  If not, the store staff should be able to assist you in making the appropriate selection.

Poaching with Wine

Poaching simmers delicate foods like fish and poultry in a flavourful liquid.  The acid in wine, lemon or lime juice or vinegar helps cook the food and enhances its flavour.  The poaching liquid needs to be well seasoned and the food is often served with a sauce to give additional flavour.  The food being poached should always be simmered and be completely submerged to ensure it cooks evenly.

In order to avoid discolouration of what is being cooked, white wine is usually recommended when poaching.  Suggested grape varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Final Thoughts

When pairing the wine with what you are preparing, select a wine of the same colour and similar characteristics. Lighter dishes should be paired with a lighter bodied wine while heavier dishes should be combined with medium or full-bodied wines.

No matter what you are preparing and how you are preparing it, keep in mind that you will also want to drink it.  Most recipes don’t require an entire bottle of wine so what’s left should be something that you will enjoy drinking.

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Wine’s “Best Before” Date

Photo credit: CanadianTire.ca

As a follow-up to my blog “To Age or Not to Age” from January 15th, I have put together a list of generally accepted retention times for common varietals of white and red wine. However, proper storage methods need to be followed in order to best achieve these results.  Refer to Wine Storage Options for information on how best to retain wine.

The information provided here refers to the length of time a wine can be retained, not the length of time a wine will necessarily continue to be enhanced.  In certain instances some vintages may be retained longer while others should be drunk shortly after purchase.

White Wine

There are a several white wine varietals that age well. The most renowned is Chardonnay, which gets its ability to age from a combination of higher acidity paired with oak-aging.

Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc in the white blend of Bordeaux. Sémillon has been shown to age gracefully and develop interesting nutty flavours over time.

Riesling is Germany’s aromatic and often subtly sweet white has proven to do well during aging. As it matures it turns a rich yellow colour with aromas of petrol.  It may sound disgusting but tastes wonderful.

White Rioja or Rioja Blanca is a white wine that begins with citrus and mineral flavours but then becomes increasingly rich and flavourful with age.

Chenin Blanc wines from France’s Loire Valley have produced some great choices of wines suitable for aging. There are also some new options from South Africa that are making a name for themselves.

Fortified dessert wines tend to age longer than stilled wines. Sherry, Madeira and some Marsala have shown to improve in flavour over decades.  There are several botrytized white wines such as Sauternes and Riesling that age nicely for up to 30 years.

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Albariño
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris/Grigio
  • Prosecco
  • Dry Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Torrontés
  • Verdicchio
  • Vermentino
  • Vinho Verde

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Alsace White
  • White Bordeaux
  • Oaked Chardonnay
  • Oaked South African Chenin Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Trebbiano
  • Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Oaked Grüner Veltliner
  • Kerner
  • Muscat
  • Oaked Albariño
  • Sweet Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
  • Hungarian Furmint
  • White Bordeaux
  • Burgundy Oaked Chardonnay
  • Chablis
  • Auslese German Riesling
  • White Cotes du Rhône
  • White Rioja/ Rioja Blanca

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • High quality Chablis
  • Beerenauslese Riesling
  • Ice Wine
  • Late Harvest Riesling
  • Sauternes
  • Rutherglen Muscat
  • Vendage Tardive Alsace

Some red wines with high acidity and high tannin are perfect to lay down and age for a few years.   Here are some red wines that are known to age well:

Cabernet Sauvignon has a high range of variability because there are a wide range of quality levels and regions. Look for wines with deep color, a higher level of acidity, balanced alcohol levels and noticeable tannins.

Merlot will age in a similar manner as Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines become softer and often smokier with age. Right-bank Bordeaux wines are a great place to start when looking to find cellarable Merlot.

Monastrell/Mourvèdre has extremely high tannins and colour. In the Bandol region of Provence, France, this grape doesn’t usually fully develop its taste until after at least 10 years of aging.

Tempranillo is one of the best varieties for long-term aging.

Sangiovese is another top-notch grape variety to age long-term because of its spicy acidity. Over time it will mellow out and produce sweet fig-like notes.

Nebbiolo grapes produce wines with incredibly high tannins that softens and seems to sweeten over time.  Barolo and Barbaresco are great examples of wines made with Nebbiolo grapes that age extremely well.

Red Wine

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Beaujolais
  • Dolcetto
  • Gamay
  • Lambrusco
  • Primitivo

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Barbera
  • Cotes du Rhône
  • Garnacha
  • New world Merlot
  • Petit Syrah
  • Most Pinot Noir
  • Crianza Rioja
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Most Cabernet Franc
  • Carmenere
  • Chianti
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Old World Merlot
  • Pinotage
  • Reserva Rioja
  • Sangiovese-based wine
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • Amarone
  • Bandol
  • Barbaresco
  • Barolo
  • Red Bordeaux
  • Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre)
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Douro reds
  • Most Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dulce Monastrell (sweet red)
  • Nebbiolo
  • Red Port
  • Some Sangiovese
  • Some Tempranillo

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