Grape Ripeness – it’s actually more complicated than you might think
It’s late autumn, which means that grape picking and winemaking are in full swing. Without a doubt, the biggest question for winemakers is “are our grapes ripe?” In fact, they use 2 measures of grape ripeness to make their decision to pick or not to pick.
The first is physiological ripeness. As grapes mature, the amount of sugar in the berries increases while the acidity decreases. The process accelerates after “veraison” (when the grapes change colour) and needs careful monitoring so that the amount of sugar, and acid to balance that sugar, is ideal. A handheld instrument called a refractometer quantifies the sugar. The acid balance determination is a little trickier. Laboratory instruments measure acidity, but, in addition to that, a tasting of the grapes makes sure the proper sugar/acid balance is there.
The second measure of grape ripeness concerns only red grapes: phenolic ripeness. Phenolic ripeness concerns the tannins in the skin and seeds that is determined by colour and taste. If they are green (unripe), the resulting wine has rough and herbaceous tannins. On the other hand, if ripe, they yield smoother textures that are more pleasant on your palate. You probably have experienced both if you’re a wine lover.
So, it takes a coordinated effort to meet all the grape ripeness criteria for a wonderful wine. Happy harvest from Wine Journeys!
Many of the wines reviewed this month would be good with your Holiday Feast, if you can hold off drinking them for that long.
Speck Bros. Family Tree The Goat Lady Chardonnay 2021 ★★★½ $16.95 (LCBO)
This Chardonnay is full bodied, generously oaked, and extremely ripe for Ontario. In fact, the creamy butterscotch, pineapple, mango, lemon meringue, and coconut vanilla with a little residual sweet yellow apple in the finish gives a nod to the warmer climes of California. It’s very good and would accompany your Christmas turkey with a buttery dressing quite nicely.
13th Street June’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ★★★½+ $21.95 (Vintages)
The joy of unoaked Chardonnay is the celebration of the pure, unadorned fruit that this grape has to offer. The cool climate fruit’s fermentations in stainless steel, followed by aging on the fine lees (spent yeast cells) for 6 months, gives it complexity. The wine is beautifully minerally and crisp with lemon pulp, green apple, pear, and cream wrapped in a medium bodied frame. This lovely Niagara wine would be a fine partner for your Christmas turkey, grilled shrimp, or orzo salad with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Château la Tour de l’Évêque Rosé 2021 ★★★½ $18.95 (Vintages)
This pale pink wine wins over the people who have been misled that all Rosés are sweet. The wine is bone dry with nuances of strawberry, watermelon, lemon, rhubarb, and wild herbs in the typical Provencal style. It’s a wine that’s perfectly suited to enhance seafood, pizza, and even the white meat from your turkey if you want a different pairing.
Gran Feudo Rose 2021 ★★★½ $13.05 (LCBO)
This Spanish wine has been a perennial favourite for those who love a Rose with more intense flavours and a bigger body. This stylistic difference is due to its production method that uses a process called saignée. This involves “bleeding” off a portion of red wine juice after it’s been in contact with the skins and seeds to make the Rose. Enjoy its intense berry fruitiness with grilled chicken or a plate of nachos.
Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni 2019 ★★★½+ $22.95 (Vintages)
The term “Super Tuscan” applies here. The local Sangiovese has been blended with noble non-native grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The other vinefera grapes add in blackberry jam, black and red currant. These are not found in typical Chianti, which usually leans more towards red cherry fruit. It makes for a different, but very good, wine. Match it with beef, lamb, and wild boar than for tomato pastas.
La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ★★★★+ $16.95 (Vintages)
Thanks to the exemplary wine writer Christopher Waters for the alert to this excellent Argentine red. Not only is it an astonishingly good value, the wine is textbook Cabernet. It’s dry, full bodied, and simply exudes cassis, blackberry jam, black cherry, cedar, eucalyptus, smoke, and pepper with a dash of vanilla for good measure. Serve it with big flavoured red meats like steak, lamb, and venison to make your late season BBQ extraordinary.
Balbás 24 Reserva Tempranillo 2014 ★★★★½ $25.95 (Vintages)
The Spanish Ribera del Duero wine region does not have the same cachet as Rioja. Nevertheless, it deserves to be on any wine lover’s radar. It exhibits deep colour, with a full bodied expression from 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and aging in French oak. It produces an intense, complex wine with dried black fruits, sage leaf, tobacco, cedar, smoke, burnt sugar, and vanilla along with a long, lingering finish. Try this exceptional wine with grilled lamb chops.
Firesteed Pinot Noir 2019 ★★★½ $22.95 (Vintages)
This smoothly textured, easy to drink Pinot Noir originates from Oregon’s well known Willamette Valley. It’s packed with potent strawberry, raspberry, and red cherry permeated with smoke and vanilla. The fruitiness of this red would likely make it a crowd pleaser at your table. Save some to pair with dark meat from your Christmas turkey or it would be wonderful with duck breast.