Wine Clubs

From time to time I have toyed with the idea of joining a wine club, whether it be one associated with a specific winery or an independent one.  Both have their pros and cons.

According to the so-called experts, the best wine clubs give you key features including access to unique, curated wines for special occasions, last-minute gifts or simply to satisfy your own palette.

Wine clubs can help take the guess work out of deciding what to buy or drink, but more importantly a wine club can introduce you to new wines.

There are lots of clubs to choose from and most are accessible online.  At any given time there are as many as 20,000 Ontarians subscribed to wine clubs.  With over 200 wineries in Ontario and an additional 300 across the rest of Canada, as well as several independent wine clubs, it’s good to know all the facts first.

Most Canadian wineries have wine clubs although   there is difference in how the various club subscriptions work. So it’s important to understand things like frequency (when you’ll get your wine) and quantity (how much you’re getting) and what their rules are for opting in and out.

Things that are important to take into consideration are variety of wines on offer, exclusivity, early-access, value and quality.

It is beneficial to join a club that offers its members exclusive and early-access deals. Check to see if there are any savings from purchasing through the wine club versus through your local liquor or wine store, the quality of the wine being offered (award-winning, sommelier tested, etc) and the guarantees provided to its members regarding satisfaction with the product and service.

Some of the largest wine clubs (Peller, Hillebrand, Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Great Estates of Niagara) are a good place to begin your investigation, but some of the smaller, boutique wineries should not be ignored.

Clubs, like kwäf’s ClubK, are not tied to just one winery, but instead offer an array of quality wines, providing the opportunity to enjoy the wines of many wineries. They work with top sommeliers to offer the best wines. Kwaf is Ontario based and curates the best of Ontario wine and delivers it directly to your door.

The Exchange is a wine club that offers wines beyond what is available through your local liquor or wine store.  The Exchange will provide a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. They work with top Ontario wine agencies to find jewels for Exchange members. All the wines are rated at 90 points or more and have been carefully selected by their panel of critics for quality and value.

With an Exchange subscription you become part of a cooperative consisting of hundreds of like-minded wine lovers to ‘Exchange’ a purchase of a full case of a single wine with a mixed case of twelve different wines. The Exchange does everything from the curation, ordering, purchasing, warehousing, repackaging and delivery. The curated case of high-quality wine is delivered to your door once every three months.

With any wine club you should be able to:

  1. Access exclusive discounts
  2. Save time
  3. Discover new wines
  4. Have flexibility
  5. Gain from loyalty and rewards

Before making your ultimate club selection you need to determine whether your drinking habits and style suits the terms of the club. The main things to look out for are to ensure that there are no contracts or obligation to purchase wines; that the company has a large selection and variety of wines; and their prices are less than the retail outlets.

If you are a wine drinker and like discovering new wines, then wine clubs are worth joining.

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The Variable Health Benefit in Red Wine

A recent study of 16 wines from Australia and New Zealand has found levels of healthy antioxidants in red grapes decreased significantly over time.  Researchers say the compound called trans-resveratrol that is found in red wine is proven to have cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic effects.  The more you consume of this compound in your food or beverages it is believed to better improve your health. 

When comparing younger bottled wines to mature red wines as the wine ages the concentration of this important bioactive compound decreases by about 75% over a 16-month period.  This is a significant decrease in the concentration of this health-benefiting compound.

The study published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research found the concentration decreased in some wines by as much as 96%.  Irrespective of which winery the red wine came from or which variety it was, the loss was the same.

The popularity of younger red wines has increased greatly as millennials show a preference for younger wines than their parents do.  The younger generation’s philosophy is buy now, drink now or in a casual situation in a bar or bistro, drink by the glass.

The over 55 age group still consume a lot of full-bodied reds compared to the younger generations who want something that’s vibrant and fresh, not old and with a higher alcohol content.  The increased popularity of younger wine is due to a generational change rather than for health benefits.  The popularity of these wines has grown dramatically in the past 10 years.

However, being a member of the 55 plus crowd, I am a big fan of full-bodied aged wines that have had the opportunity to mellow and become silky smooth in a way that only time can achieve.  I am not saying I don’t like young fresh wines; I just don’t want a steady diet of them.  For example, if I am having food paired with a Pinot Noir, such as salmon or roast chicken, I want to experience the fresh lively taste.

On the other hand, if I am having roast beef, rack of lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, or lasagna, there is nothing better than a well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo.  In certain situations I am willing to sacrifice the health benefits in favour of flavour.

If I am simply having a glass of wine to sip on, I equally enjoy a young fresh red and a mellow aged one. Case in point; we had friends over recently with whom we share an equal appreciation for the Niagara region’s now defunct Coyote’s Run Winery (see my May 26, 2019 post, “The Passing of an Old Friend”). We enjoyed a cherry-red 2015 Cabernet Franc, as well as a smoky dark 2010 vintage of the same varietal. Both were very enjoyable. 

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Day Trip to The County

On the first anniversary of my hemorrhagic stroke I wanted to get away from the ‘scene of the crime’ so my wife suggested taking a day excursion to Prince Edward County.  The County is often compared to France’s Burgundy region in both climate and the grape varietals grown.

The County was officially designated as a VQA appellation in 2007.  It is separated from the mainland by the Bay of Quinte at Belleville and is completely surrounded by Lake Ontario.  The soils and microclimates of the County, coupled with a limestone base, provide an ideal growing environment for cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This island setting is now home to over 40 wineries, a dozen craft breweries, fine restaurants, cheese producers, farmers’ markets and other local food purveyors.

I hadn’t visited the county for a few years and had lost touch with what is going on there.  So to prepare for our journey I checked out the latest reviews of the County wineries, which I combined with some curiosities of my own and developed a list of destinations.  My list consisted of 7 wineries, 6 of which were considered as the County’s movers and shakers of 2020 and the 7th was one that I had an interest in.  The wineries included Closson Chase, Devil’s Wishbone, The Grange, Hinterland, The Old Third, Rosehall Run and Waupoos.

The day didn’t exactly play out as I had planned, at least partially due to COVID-19.  Both Devil’s Wishbone and the Old Third were closed and a number of the others had a very limited wine supply.   For example, at the Grange, in order to purchase the only red they had in stock, I had to buy two 375 ml bottles of their Merrill House 2016 Pinot Noir as they had no 750 ml bottles left.  However, having now drank one of the bottles, my wife and I agree it was a good purchase at the equivalent price of $37 for a 750 ml. bottle.

However, as it happened, our last stop made the day worthwhile.  At the very end of Greer Rd. lies Rosehall Run, one of the original wineries established in the County.   Among our finds there was their 2018 JCR Pinot Noir, which in August was awarded the ‘Red Wine of the Year’ at the Ontario Wine Awards.  This wine has the potential of being one of the greatest and longest-lived Pinot Noir they have produced. Even though the wine may be enjoyed now it can be laid down for the next 5 to 7 years to reveal the purity that will evolve with time.  With a price point of $42, it is good value.

Our second find was a 2016 Merlot which was the result of them being able to secure a couple of tonnes of Merlot planted at Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates which resulted in Rosehall Run creating their first and only County Merlot.  The wine was barreled down in their underground cellar for 18 months. New French oak was utilized in preparing this small lot.  There is only a small quantity left and with its price of $35 a bottle, it will be gone soon.

Overall I have always found the offerings of Prince Edward County to be on the expensive side compared to similar offerings in Niagara and especially at the LCBO.  For a big part it is a factor of demand and supply.  The County VQA region is much smaller than Niagara and thus the quantity of grapes available is less and this is reflected in the prices.  There are some good value wines to be found for sure but you just need to be prepared to make the effort to search them out.   There are a couple of wineries, such as Sandbanks, where you can always count on finding a good selection and good value.

Given the climate of the region it is important to keep in mind that the mainstay varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Baco Noir.  To expect to find a lot of other locally grown varietals, such as Cabernet, is not realistic. 

Given that the County has so much more to offer besides wine, a trip there is well worth the time.         

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Organic Wine

Even though organic food seems to be trending and very popular these days, it makes up only 5% of total vineyard space worldwide.  Spain, France and Italy represent 73% of all organic vineyards in the world.

Some common organic symbols

What Determines if a Wine is Organic?

Simply stated, organic wines are produced with organically grown grapes. In order to have organically grown grapes, a vineyard manager must implement an entirely different set of practices to maintain their vines. They generally must exclude the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic wine grapes are said to be much healthier and therefore produce heartier skins and higher concentrations of anthocyanins and antioxidants, including polyphenols and cardio-friendly resveratrol.  Also, organic wines are free of residual traces of vineyard additives such as chemical laced pesticides and herbicides.

Certified organic wines also have less sugar on average and don’t contain potentially harmful cellar additives such as flavoring agents or caramel coloring. These additives, plus higher sugar levels are what can cause wine-related headaches.

It is important to keep in mind that being organic doesn’t mean that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is a list of ingredients, such as  yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes that are permitted in organic wines. Being organic doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is vegan.

The Organic Wine Dilemma

The challenge with organic wine is that the definition of organic can vary from one country to another.  The dilemma with organic wines is the importance of sulphur-dioxide (SO2), often referred to as sulfites, in the winemaking process.  Sulfites are used as a preservative.  Without them wine has a very short shelf life.

In both Australia and the United States, by definition organic wine cannot include sulfites.  However, in Europe and Canada, sulfites are permitted on organic wine.  This puts Australia and the US at a disadvantage not just because of the wines reduced shelf life but it can also substantially change the flavour of the wine.  Such wineries find themselves in a quandary because the effort made in growing organic grapes is nullified by the use of sulfites in the bottling process.

This raises the next question; are sulfites bad?

Sulfites have no effect on the majority of wine drinkers.  They are generally not the cause of red wine headaches.  However, there are some exceptions.  5% to 10% of asthma sufferers are sensitive to sulfites.

Sulfites in wine are surprisingly lower than in a lot of processed foods.  Wine ranges from about 5 mg per litre (5 parts per million) to about 200 mg per litre. The maximum legal limit is 350 mg per litre. In comparison, a decent dry red wine typically contains about 50 mg per litre of sulfites.

Wines with lower acidity need more sulfites than higher acidity wines. Also red wines tend to need less sulfites than white wines. A typical dry white wine will often contain around 100 mg per litre of sulfites whereas a typical dry red wine will have 50 to 75 mg per litre.

Wines with higher sugar content tend to need more sulfites to prevent secondary fermentation of the remaining sugar.

Sulfites help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions which cause wine to spoil. The process of using sulfites in wine has been around as far back as ancient Rome.

Very sensitive tasters have been noted to smell sulfur compounds in wine, although sulfur compounds are somewhat unrelated to sulfites. Sulfur compounds in wine range in flavour from citrus-like smells to cooked egg-like smells.  The warmer the temperature of the wine, the more molecular sulfur it releases. This is why some wines may have a cooked-egg aroma when they are opened. This can be resolved by decanting the wine and chilling for about 15 to 30 minutes.

For individuals who have sensitivity to sulfites in foods such as french fries, cured meats, cheese, and canned soup, they should probably opt for sulfite-free wines. Fortunately, several natural wines do not use sulfites in their processing. These wines can taste a lot different than normal wine but some are very good.  It is good to note as well that organic wines are similarly priced to non-organic wines.

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Choosing a Wine Decanter

While recently cleaning out one of our kitchen cupboards, my wife and I discovered that our wine decanter was cracked and thus needed to be replaced.  The one we had was at least 15 years old and had been nothing special.  It was just the typical flute design and made of simple glass.  However, since it needs to be replaced anyway, now is a good time to investigate and see what options are out there.

However, before striking off on my shopping expedition I reaffirmed what I need the decanter for.   My main purpose is aeration, so the wide neck flute design is still best for me. They allow more oxygen in so the wine aerates faster and more effectively. They’re also easier to clean than thin neck versions. Wide neck decanters are the most popular type and will work well for most wine drinkers.

The size of the decanter bowl, which is the bottom part where the wine sits, determines the amount of available surface area. The more surface area, the more contact between wine and oxygen and the less time you’ll need to decant.

Some wines need longer to decant than others. For full-bodied red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Monastrell and Tempranillo, a decanter with a wide base generally works best.  They will need to be decanted for 1 to 2 hours.

Medium-bodied red wines such as Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera or Dolcetto will benefit from a medium-sized decanter. Light-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais decant well in a small to medium-sized decanter that in this case has been chilled.

White and Rosé wines don’t require decanting but serving them in a small chilled decanter is a nice touch.

For myself, being a fan of full-bodied red wines, a wide based decanter is best suited for me.

When it comes down to choosing, it is recommended to get a decanter that we love the look of, but at the same time is practical. The main emphasis should be to find one that’s easy to fill, pour and clean. There are lots of beautiful decanters that are a pain to use and thus spend their life on a shelf or in a cupboard.

There are different types of glass used to make decanters. Crystal is more durable and thus it’s often used to create large artistic decanters, whereas glass decanters tend to be made with thicker walls and simpler shapes. Either is a good choice but if you plan to put your decanter in the dishwasher, then standard glass is probably a better idea.

Some decanters can be very expensive.  However, the increase in cost has nothing to do with functionality. Decanter prices go up either with special design or material.  Some decanters are entirely about design, in which the shape only matters for the shape.

There are also wine aerators which introduce a superabundance of oxygen to wine as it is poured from the bottle into the glass.  The wine is decanted by the time the wine reaches your glass.  I have always considered these to be a gimmick for the wine enthusiast who has everything.  However, apparently these things actually work, though some better than others.

You can even successfully decant your wine by simply pouring it into mason jars, coffee mugs or even a blender.  However, if you select one of these methods I recommend returning the wine to the original bottle before serving in a wine glass, unless you had a very bad day and would benefit from the vast quantity of wine.

Personally I have always used a standard glass decanter for a few reasons. They are easy to use and clean and they are inexpensive.  I do also have 2 crystal decanters, a wine decanter that was a hand-me-down from my parents, and a whisky decanter that I received as a gift.  The wine decanter is hidden away in a cupboard and the whisky decanter has a place of honour on my bar.  Neither gets used.

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Alcohol-Free Wine

An ad for alcohol-free wines caught my I eye while reading a recent publication from the liquor store.  The ad promoted the wine as a great alternative for designated drivers, moms-to-be, or those just looking to abstain from alcohol. 

Not having seen alcohol-free wine before (I either don’t get out enough or don’t pay enough attention) I decided to investigate further.

Low and no-alcohol wines are something of an enigma since legally they don’t exist.  In order for a beverage to be called ‘wine’ it is required to contain a minimum of 8% alcohol by volume unless specifically exempted.

The subject of low and no alcohol wine tends to generate heated opinion. Traditionalists say it is a needless atrocity while others see it as an exciting part of wine’s future. Many criticize the lacklustre quality of these beverages from examples to date.

There’s also a lack of clarity about what ‘low and no alcohol’ actually means. Much has been written about ‘lower-alcohol’ wines (those containing between 6% to 11% alcohol by volume) but less on wines of 0.5% alcohol by volume or less. There are indications that this category is gaining increased focus from producers, retailers and wine drinkers.

As with the introduction of selling wine in cans for summertime consumption, the Europeans are leading the way with the development of alcohol-free wine.

Low and no-alcohol wines have not kept pace with low alcohol beers but sales have been steadily increasing. Market figures, scarce as they are, indicate 0%-0.5% wine to be a small but growing category. There are indications that 0% to 0.5% wine is the fastest- growing sector.  Consumers are identified as being regular wine drinkers over age 45 who want to reduce their alcohol intake without sacrificing on ceremony or taste.  These products allow abstainers to join in the fun or have the benefit of a drink at the end of a hard day without the guilt.

There is a general consensus that low and no-alcohol wine is a trend for the future. Britain’s Marks & Spencer has doubled its low and no-alcohol range wine over the last year as its wine sales in this category have risen 89%.

There is now a ‘scramble’ among wine producers to make low and no-alcohol products. Some of these are own-label wines, with Germany’s Reh Kendermann and Spain’s Félix Solís being two major suppliers. Big brands such as Freixenet, Hardys, Martini and McGuigan have all recently launched products in this market and more are said to be in development.

Bodegas Torres identified the movement of mature age markets toward less alcohol consumption about 15 years ago so they began development of a 0.5% white wine in 2007.  It received some positive feedback from markets in Sweden and Britain, as well as Canada.  Torres responded by adding a no-alcohol red and a rosé to its inventory.

German producer Johannes Leitz began development of no-alcohol wine after a Norwegian restaurateur asked him for an alternative to Coca-Cola or fruit juice for drivers.  Leitz was committed to making a good product so used good base materials in his Eins Zwei Zero Riesling.

Leitz then went on to produce a sparkling Riesling and is now planning to develop a more premium cru.

No-alcohol wine does not compete with traditional wine and that is not its purpose.  What it does do is provide an alternative to water, juice and soft drinks, which aren’t always a good match with food.

What should a no or low-alcohol wine cost in relation to traditional wine?  Some argue that such wines should be cheaper, since they avoid alcohol taxes.  However, producers using good quality grapes and ingredients say that the cost of producing their no or low-alcohol wine is similar to that of traditional wine.  The bottom line is quality matches price; the more you are willing to pay, the better the product and the more enjoyable your taste experience.

Whether these low and no-alcohol wines are as good as true fine wine is another matter. Many experts and consumers perceive it as nothing more than a hopeless aspiration while others are very enthused by the potential. If they are to truly succeed it will require time, patience, creativity and money. However, as the research suggests, there could be great rewards for those who accept the challenge.

Whatever you opinion it seems that low and no-alcohol wine are here to stay. More and more products will be appearing to tempt this growing market. My only stipulation would be that it has to taste like decent wine and not like Cold Turkey, Baby Duck, or heaven forbid, Welches Grape Juice.

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French Versus Italian Wine

Italy and France are two of the world’s finest wine producing countries, for both quality and quantity.  Italy has made wines longer and is a larger producer of wine, but France is more renowned for its creation of premium wines.  So does one rein superior to the other?  I really don’t believe so but here are some of the facts to help you to decide for yourself.

Traditional Sparkling Wine

To begin the France Italy showdown are sparkling wines that are produced using the traditional method – Champagne versus Franciacorta.  Both wines utilize a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle.  It is the most labour intensive process that creates the most complex textured wines.

Champagne is considered the home of traditionally prepared sparkling wine and has the most stringent regulations for production.  These rules dictate both blending practices and aging requirements.

Franciacorta, though less famous than Champagne, uses the same type of grapes and may even have a longer aging process.  Given the warmer climate, the grapes are riper but do not have the same vibrancy as the French wine.  However, it is worth considering that a Franciacorta sparkler will have a more favourable price point than a similar one from Champagne.

Great-Value Sparkling Wine

Both France’s Crémant and Italy’s Prosecco share the versatility provided by the more expensive traditional sparkling wines but at a much gentler price. 

Crémant wines are produced using the traditional method but with less restrictions than Champagne.

Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method which conducts the second fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle.  Some of the finer Proseccos are aged several years to create a more complex flavorful wine.

The price of both the French and Italian versions is comparable.

Notable Styles

France’s Châteauneuf-Du-Pape and Italy’s Amarone are premium wines from their respective regions and are considered to be among the finest wines in the world.  They are both full-bodied and smooth.

The wines from Châteauneuf-Du-Pape are a blend which has the Grenache grape as the principal grape.  The balance of the wine often consists of a combination of Mourvèdre, Counoise, Vaccarèse, and Muscardine. 

The region produces intense, powerful wines with great body.  Many of these offerings may be drunk when released or retained for quite a few years.

Italy’s Amarone wines are made from grapes from the most mature vines which are harvested late to ensure ripeness.  The grapes are then dried on racks or hooks for about 120 days in order to obtain a higher concentration of sugar and flavour.  During this process 30% to 40% of the grapes’ weight is lost which is part of the reason for this wine selling at a higher price.

Though the cost of both of these wines can run over $100, the average price is in the $50 range.  Whether one wine is preferred over the other will depend on your personal taste.

Challenging Grapes

France’s gentle flavoured Pinot Noir and Italy’s bold Nebbiolo grape share two things in common; they are both very difficult grapes to grow; and they are among the most sought after grapes in the world.

The majority of France’s Pinot Noir grapes are grown in Burgundy.

The Italian Nebbiolo grape is grown exclusively in Piedmont and is used in the creation of Barolo wine.

The two types of wine, apart from both being red, are vastly different in intensity, richness, and flavour.  It would not be fair to try and compare or rate one against the other.  They each stand on their own merits.

Notable Regions

The most recognized wine region within each country is France’s Bordeaux and Italy’s Tuscany.  These regions are home to some of the world’s most expensive sought after wines.  However, they also offer an enticing array of wines at a wide range of price points.

The wines of Bordeaux consist of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The region is divided into 2 sectors – the left bank and the right bank – by the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers.  The left bank wines will contain a higher concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon while the right bank wines contain a greater proportion of Merlot.

The wines of Bordeaux have extraordinary consistency of balance and structure, irrelevant of the price point.

The signature grape of Tuscany is the Sangiovese, which is the basis of 3 of Italy’s most famous wines, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello.  There are also other wines consisting of a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

There are a great variety of styles , flavours, techniques and price points, all containing the definitive Tuscan identity.

There is no winner or loser in this comparison.  It comes down to a matter of personal taste.

The White Pinot

France’s Pinot Gris and Italy’s Pinot Grigio are the same grape but are produced in different styles.  The Pinot Gris is produced in the Alsace region of France whereas Pinot Grigio is associated with northern Italy.

Pinot Gris is produced in a range of styles ranging from dry to sweet.  They contain a distinct richness, weight, spiciness, and complexity that is said not to exist in the Italian version.  The French version of the grape has more potential for aging as well.

The Italian Pinot Grigio is light and zesty and makes a great sipping wine.  It is said to have subtle floral and fruit aromas and flavours.

Aromatic Whites

Aromatic whites are typically those wines producing the aroma of flowers and herbs.  Such wines are normally not aged in oak barrels.

France’s Sauvignon Blanc is the noted white wine grape of Bordeaux and the Loire.  It is renowned for the hint of lime, green apple, peach and tropical fruit, as well as its herb and grassy notes.

Italy’s Vermentino wine is light and refreshing.  It is also complex and layered displaying fruit tones, mineral and herbal notes.

As I stated earlier, I don’t believe there is a winner or a loser.  Both countries provide their own uniqueness and distinct flavours through their wine offerings.  There are no comparisons for a French Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-Du-Pape but the same can be said for an Italian Borolo or Chianti.  Whether a French wine is preferred over an Italian wine or vice versa is a matter of personal taste.

To simply say that one country is superior to the other and ignore the offerings of the other would be a travesty.  Such a person would be denying her/himself the opportunity to indulge in some great tasting wines.

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Enjoying the Wines You Love

This week I am going to examine how best to showcase your favourite wines.  To do this I will look at the various types of wine and identify when they are best served and which foods are best paired with them.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine can be dry or sweet, light or full-bodied.  Any high quality dry sparkling wine makes an excellent aperitif.  However, if appetizers are not being served along with the wine then it is best to serve one containing a lower level of acidity in order to prevent guests from having stomach irritation.

The most renowned sparkling wine is Champagne.  The amount of sweetness and acidity determine whether Champagne is well suited to be served with food.  Dry (Brut) Champagne can contain a significant amount of sugar which does not bode well with an appetizer such as caviar.  When accompanying foods such as this, extra dry (extra brut) Champagne is recommended.

Sparkling wines are seen as a good fit for festivities and celebrations though their use need not be limited to such occasions.  The only word of caution is that when opting to serve a sparkling wine as part of an event, ensure any appetizers and subsequent menu are appropriately matched.

Acidic sparkling wines can be a good choice to serve along with the main course when serving fish or seafood.  Moderately spiced Asian cuisine can also be paired well with an acidic sparkling wine.

A medium dry sparkling wine can be a good choice to serve with a dessert such as a fruit tart. 

Light Acidic White Wines

Light acidic white wines include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Alsace, Mosel, Muscadet and Grüner Veltliner.

Wines in this category have a sharpness that is fresh and fruity but a light taste and aroma.  The alcohol level is generally 12% or less.

Since these wines have a relatively high level of acidity, they go very well with fish, both heavy and oily fish, such as salmon, as well as light delicate fish such as sole.  Any white meat and poultry, and creamy soups and most salads pair well with these wines.

Sauvignon Blanc goes well with sushi and fresh herbs such as mint, basil, tarragon, and cilantro.  Riesling, on the other hand is best suited with fruity side dishes. 

Full-Bodied, Wood-Aged Whites

Typical full-bodied, wood-aged whites include Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Grenache Blanc.

These white wines that have been aged in oak barrels will generally have an alcohol content of 13% or more, and a complex flavour.  These wines will have a high tannin content generated from being aged in the oak.

The acidity levels in these wines will be at a moderate level.  The wine will be full-bodied, even at a young age and many will have good potential for bottle aging.

Because of the high level of alcohol these wines don’t pair well with fish.  They tend to make fish taste oily.  Salty and spicy foods should be avoided as well.   Shellfish on the other hand can be complimented by these wines.

Dishes containing cream and butter are good choices to serve with a full-bodied, wood-aged white.

Highly Aromatic Whites

Highly aromatic white wines including Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Viognier  have luxurious, exotic and fragrant aromas.  These wines generally have high alcohol content and low acidity.

The aromatic characteristics of these wines limit the type of food they should accompany.  The delicate flavours of oysters, white fish, veal and subtle sauces should be avoided.  Distinctively sour foods should also be avoided.

To be paired with one of these wines, food needs to have richness and either be a little sweet or have a fairly high fat content.   Foods that are mildly spicy, a little salty, or have a smoky taste, would also pair well.  Ethnic, fusion, Thai, or even Tex-Mex cooking will go well with these wines.  Also strong flavoured cheeses are a good match.  Exotic fruits such as mango, papaya or guava will go particularly well with a Gewürztraminer. 

Young, Light, Fruity Reds

Examples of young, light, fruity reds are Gamay, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Bardolino, and Valpolicella.  Such wines are ideal to serve alongside simple dishes.  Particularly well suited are foods with a relatively high fat content, such as braised meats, sausages, ragouts, stews, and dishes accompanied by butter or cream sauces.  They also pair well with pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.  Fried or grilled seafood is also well complimented with one of these wines.

Rosé wine can be substituted in place of any of the reds in this group.

Spicy, Silky Reds

Wines that are considered as spicy, silky reds include Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, Pinotage, and Chianti.  The tannin content in these wines will be lower than those found in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

Foods that include sauces made with cream, butter or egg yolks should be avoided.  Foods to be paired with these wines include young fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, as well as lean meats.  Pizza can also pair well, especially with Chianti.

A fruity Pinot Noir is well suited to serve with Asian inspired foods.

Luxurious Velvety Reds

Merlot, Zinfandel and St. Laurent wines are included in this category.  These wines are fairly universal and are appropriate for most occasions and time of the year.  The acidity level of these wines tends to be low.  The sweet fruitiness of these wines goes well with similarly structured dishes that are not overly heavy.

Zinfandel wines are often reminiscent of jam and match well to seasoned foods.

Tannic Rich Reds

Tannic rich red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, many Bordeauxs, Northern Rhône wines, Rioja, Australian Shiraz, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  These wines have a high tannin and alcohol content (generally 13% or more).  When pairing with food it is important to avoid those containing milk fats such as butter or cream.  These foods will make the alcohol taste particularly strong.

Salty foods should also be avoided as the high alcohol level will create a bitter taste in the wine.

Tannic rich reds are well suited with burgers, beef burritos, ribs and other red meat dishes.

Mature Wines

Mature wines are generally those wines that have aged beyond what is considered to be the typical age for consumption.  Mature wines will be those that have both a high tannin content and a high alcohol level.

Wines well suited for aging include whites such as oaked Chardonnay and some German Rieslings, as well as reds such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Syrah.

Generally speaking, aged wines, red or white, are best served on their own without food accompaniment.  Both the bouquet and flavour are too subtle to be lost serving them with food.  The texture, taste, and aroma of the wine become more delicate with each year it is aged.  If you do serve these wines with food be sure to avoid fatty, strong smelling, acidic, sweet, or spicy dishes.

Order is Important

Whenever serving wine there are some general principles that will help ensure you have an enjoyable experience. 

Be sure to serve light, fresh ones ahead of luxurious alcohol-rich ones.  Wines aged in wood barrels are best served after those that have matured in a stainless steel container.  The sweeter the wine the closer it should be served toward the end of the meal.  Finally, bottle-matured wine should be served before an equally good younger wine.

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Dessert Wines

While many dessert wines exist, there are a few that define the category, ranging from less sweet to more sweet, light to alcohol-laden, and best for youthful drinking to better when aged for decades.

In addition to fortified wines, which were discussed on February 22, 2020, there are a variety of offerings that are considered to be great dessert wines.

Late-Harvested / Noble Rot Wines

Late-harvested wines are exactly that, wines that are made from grapes that are left on the vine until late in the harvest season.  They are then extremely ripe and contain an abundance of sugar.

Included in this group are ice wines.  Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers of ice wines, and about 75% of Canadian ice wine comes from Ontario.  As it’s unaffected by noble rot and fermented slowly, ice wines retain many primary characteristics which set them apart from their botrytized counterparts. It is luscious, intensely flavoured, with aromas and flavours of ripe tropical fruits like lychee and pineapple when made with white grapes, although wines made with red varieties can give more concentrated strawberry flavours.

Much like Sauternes, icewine is a perfect match for strong cheeses such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Parmesan. Milder cheeses aren’t strong enough to stand up to the drink’s lusciousness, but cheese-based desserts such as cheesecake are.

Salty hors d’oeuvres like tapenade or salted nuts enhance the fruity acidity of the wine, while balancing out the high sugar levels.

The high acidity also means you can opt for richer foods like pâtés.

Finally, similar to Riesling, ice wines go well with spicy foods, which are often hard to match with wine. This is because of its higher sugar content. Curries and aromatic Thai dishes which are usually difficult to match would go well with an icewine with pronounced tropical flavours.

Red ice wines, made with Cabernet Franc, shine when paired with richer desserts made with chocolate, which bring out their red fruit flavours.

Noble rot, or botrytized wines are a type of late-harvest wine, but the healthy grapes are actually attacked by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, which punctures grape skins to dehydrate them and concentrate flavors, sugar and acidity. Botrytis adds its own unique flavors as well, such as hints of ginger, orange and honey.

Riesling

Riesling is one of the most versatile grapes in the world, making not only bone-dry wines, but lusciously sweet, high-quality ones as well. While Riesling is grown all over the world, the sweet versions of the wine come from Germany.

Sweet wines range from off-dry Kabinett and Spatlese with a small distinguishable amount of sugar and fresh, delicate fruit flavors, to late-harvested Auslese with a higher concentration, richer fruit flavors, and a broader mouthfeel, to fully botrytized Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines with lusciously-sweet, orange blossom-like, honeyed richness.  It is an excellent pairing with apple pie, caramelized desserts, tropical fruit, peaches and cream and sweet desserts.

Austria also makes Riesling using its version of the Pradikat system, and Canada is actually producing some delicious ice wine Riesling as well. All these Rieslings tend to be fairly low in alcohol, with the sweetest wines being in the single-digits of alcohol percentage and the double-digits of years to age.

Sauternes

There are those who would argue that Sauternes is the world’s greatest sweet wine.  Sauternes is one of history’s most coveted and expensive sweet wines. It is the gold standard when it comes to botrytis-affected wines, made from the Sémillon grape, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Producers selectively pick only noble rot-affected grapes as the fungus develops. These revolting looking grapes transform into a lusciously sweet dessert wine that is typically aged in oak before release. Dried fruit, saffron, honey, orange, golden apple, crème brulee and much more unfold over time in the bottle and the glass, aging for years and years after the vintage.

Tokaji

Originating in Hungary, made from the local Furmint grape, which is high in acidity and very susceptible to botrytis, Tokaji is best known for its aszú version, made from late-harvested, shriveled, botrytis-affected grapes gathered in containers called puttony. These super-sweet, barrel-aged Tokaji Aszú wines are low in alcohol, have a viscous mouthfeel, and are often quite honeyed. There is also a little amount of Tokaji Esszencia produced, which is made only from the syrupy free-run juice that comes from the aszú grapes. It is possibly the sweetest wine in the world, is extremely rare, can age for over a century and is typically sold by the teaspoonful.

If you happen to find yourself in a position to purchase some Tokaji, dessert pairings include roasted pineapple, caramelized apple, dark chocolate and Christmas pudding. 

Late-Harvest Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc, grown in its many Loire Valley appellations, is another one of those very common grapes, but whether dry or sweet, light or full, still or sparkling, it is always very characteristically Chenin.

Vouvray, perhaps the most famous Loire Valley appellation in France for Chenin, can range from dry to sweet even in this one region; the indications of demi-sec, moelleux, and liquereux will indicate the presence of residual sugar.

Sweet Chenin Blanc reaches its pinnacle in the region of Coteaux du Layon, where grapes are late-harvested in many passes through the vineyard. While producers hope for botrytis, it all depends on vintage, and some years will have more botrytis than others. The sub-regions of Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume are even more highly sought-after, and the wines develop golden apple, honey, and orange blossom characteristics. Because of the amount of sugar in these wines, they will continue to develop with age, getting smokier and more interesting over time.

Desserts that pair well with late-harvest Chenin Blanc include fresh strawberries tumbling over shortcake or lemon-meringue pie.

Dried Grape Wines

A technique traditionally used in Italy, Greece, and sometimes Austria, dried grape, or passito, wines are made by purposefully drying healthy grapes after harvest, typically on straw mats or by hanging grape bunches from rafters. This dehydrates the grapes, concentrating the remaining sugar and flavors and creating a sweet wine with clean and often-raisined flavors. The passito process yields less wine than typical vinification does, since the juice is essentially being extracted from raisins, making these wines more expensive than their still-wine counterparts.

Red wines pair well with most desserts or blue cheeses.  The whites are best suited with exotic or candied fruits.

Vin Santo Del Chianti

While “holy wine” can be found in several regions of Italy (as well as a version from Greece), this version from the heart of Tuscany is the most famed. Made from Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia grapes that are hung in whole bunches from rafters, Vin Santo del Chianti is barrel-aged between three and eight years in either small oak or traditional chestnut barrels, allowing some of the wine to evaporate and concentrate flavors in the remaining amber-colored wine. The wine is rich and sweet, with golden raisin and dried fruit flavors.

Dessert pairings include Crostata di Frutta, blackberry mini tartlettes, ginger desserts, pumpkin pie, dark chocolate, and nutty desserts like pecan pie.

Recioto Della Valpolicella

In keeping with the famed red wines of this region in the Veneto of Italy, Recioto della Valpolicella is a sweet red wine made from dried Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. Traditionally, grapes are dried on straw mats or in lofts called fruttai, which ensure that air circulates through the grapes during the drying process so that mold does not form. Recioto winemakers will typically allow the wine to ferment until the alcohol content is around 14% and will then chill the wine to stop fermentation and leave residual sugar. Dried berry and raisin notes characterize the dense Recioto della Valpolicella, along with chocolate and vanilla.

Desserts containing chocolate, coffee, or dried fruit such as Black Forest cake or tiramisu pair well with the Valpolicella. But where Recioto truly stands out is with ripened cow’s milk cheeses, becoming unexpectedly delicious with blue-veined cheese served with macerated fruit.

I must admit that prior to researching dessert wines there are a number of them that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.  The wines that are most easily found in local liquor stores will include late harvest wines, fortified wines, and Canadian ice wines.  However, if I ever get the opportunity to travel to France and Italy, there are a few selections that I will be on the hunt for.

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Enjoy Easter with Wine

Easter is traditionally a time for family celebrations that end with a scrumptious dinner.   I will look at traditional menu options but given the current climate where traditional family gatherings may not be possible, I will look at adding some glam to an everyday meal.

Also, given the strains being experienced by the local economy, all of my wine suggestions will be Canadian.

Lamb

Starting with the traditional Easter menu, the first option is lamb.  Lamb has a long tradition of being part of Easter celebrations.  It is available in many forms, suitable for any budget, ranging from a leg of lamb, to a loin, to chops, or even burgers. 

Lamb in any form is well complimented with a Cabernet such as Lakeview Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) or Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95).

Ham

Ham is another classic Easter dish that can be prepared in a multitude of ways.  It can be baked using cloves and or a number of different glazes, ranging from savory to sweet.  Ham is also available in a variety of cuts ranging from the traditional ham on the bone, to small packaged hams to ham steaks.

Pinot Noir is a good option for serving with ham.  Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir ($34.95) or Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ($16.95) are a couple of options.

Turkey

Turkey is a classic choice for Easter.  Not only is it suitable for large family gatherings but provides options for smaller dinners.  Alternatives to purchasing a full-size bird include, prepackaged turkey thighs or turkey breasts, or you can substitute chicken for turkey.

There are both red, as well as white wine alternatives to have with your turkey or chicken.  White wine suggestions include, Flat Rock Chardonnay ($19.95) or Inniskillen Montague Vineyard Chardonnay ($25.95).  Red wine options include Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir ($23.95) or Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir ($25.95).

Roast Beef

Over the years roast beef has been the choice of many for Sunday family dinners and Easter is no exception.  Featherstone Cabernet Franc ($19.95) or The Foreign Affair Dream ($29.95), which is a Merlo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend , are two good choices.

Salmon

Salmon, though less traditional, is a good healthy option for your Easter dinner.  It can be baked, poached, or my favourite, tossed on the grill, wrapped in lemons, onions, and capers.  It can be a great alternative if you are forced to a smaller than usual family gathering.

Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé pairs well with salmon.  Options include Wildass Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) or Malivoire Vivant Rosé ($19.95).

Vegetarian Alternatives

Vegetarian alternatives to the traditional meat dishes are very popular.  These dishes are obviously a good alternative to meat any time, not just on special occasions.  Wine pairings  for vegetable mains are the same as those for salmon; Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. 

Non-Traditional Options

No matter what your mood or what you are serving, wine can make the simplest of meals more elegant.   Here are some general options:

White Wine

  • Chicken based soup – Angels Gate Chardonnay VQA ($14.95)
  • White fish  – Sandbanks Summer White VQA ($14.95)
  • Mac and cheese – Peninsula Ridge Pinot Grigio VQA ($15.95)
  • Pasta with a white sauce – Mission Hill Five Vineyard Pinot Blanc VQA ($16.95)
  • Poultry – Tawse Sketches of Niagara Chardonnay VQA ($19.95)
  • Sea food – Cave Spring Riesling Dry VQA ($15.95)

Red Wine

  • Beef ribs – Strewn Rogue’s Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc VQA ($14.95)
  • Beef based soups – Peninsula Ridge Merlot VQA ($15.95)
  • Hamburgers – 13th Street Burger Blend Gamay Pinot Noir VQA ($14.95)
  • Pasta in a red sauce –  Pelee Island Baco Noir VQA ($21.95)
  • Pork ribs – Pelee Island Pinot Noir Reserve VQA ($17.95)
  • Tomato based soups – Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir VQA ($16.95)

No matter what your Easter has in store, whether it be a family dinner with all the fixings, or a simple affair for only one or two people, make it more elegant with wine.

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