We have just finished harvest season and that got me thinking about the harvest and farming. Then I was struck with the thought that wine is really all about farming as well. Growing grapes is certainly farm work and this was driven home on a visit to 13th Street Winery in Niagara a few weeks ago for the “Vines to Wine” tour. The tour leader was President and owner, Doug Whitty. Doug oversees the vineyards and is a 3rd generation Niagara farmer as well as serving as the 2017 Niagara Grape King.
He started the walking tour around the vineyards by saying “Wine is made in the vineyard”, which is a statement you would believe after his tour. Most winemakers would agree that without the best grapes, you cannot hope to make great wines. The amount of work to make certain that the grapes are of the highest quality is staggering. It includes weekly walking tours of the entire vineyard to make sure there are no insect pests or diseases taking hold, managing the health of the soil with everything from cover crops to carefully controlled tillage, pruning existing vines, planting new vines, monitoring the grapes closely for optimal ripeness at harvest, and too many other things to list. Since it is farming, all this effort is still at the mercy of Mother Nature because animals, drought, wind, hail, and too much rainfall can ruin the grape crop in the blink of an eye.
So, let’s give thanks to all the farmers who take care of us, including the grape farmers!
Now let’s look at some great wines for your holiday season. As customary, my ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by the British wine critic, Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay Unplugged 2016 ★★★★ $17.95 (Vintages) I love this unoaked, cool climate Chard. It has lots of cream from resting on the lees here, as well as lemon and green apples and good energizing acidity as well. Try it with your turkey if white meat is your favourite or pour it with apps at your party.
Redstone Chardonnay Niagara Peninsula 2013 ★★★★½ $25.70 (Vintages) Here’s an excellent white from Niagara. It’s full bodied with French oak and all the trimmings: cream, lemon, pineapple, vanilla, yellow apple, and nutmeg spiciness. You should match this with your turkey if you like a rich herbed, buttery dressing or it would work well with rich, creamy cheeses.
Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis 2016 ★★★★ $24.95 (Vintages) Petit Chablis is from the plateau above the main Chablis vineyards in Northern France. Stony, with Granny Smith apple, leesy biscuit, lemon peel, great acidity, and relatively long finish. It would work very well with white turkey meat and stuffing or equally well with grilled salmon.
Keint-He Voyageur Riesling 2015 ★★★ ½ $16.75 (Vintages) A well balanced, lighter bodied wine made in Prince Edward County. It has bracing acidity, citrus leaning towards lime, great minerality, and is starting to show some petrol notes (it’s a good thing). It would work very well as a foil for a sausage meat based stuffing. Also, versatile with small plate appetizers.
Cave Spring Gamay 2016 ★★★½ $16.95 (LCBO) This fruity, very good Niagara red is a gem for food pairing. The full on cherry and strawberry fruit in this medium bodied wine will stand up if you like sausage meat in your stuffing or if you’re tired of turkey, try it with tomato pasta. If you want a versatile red to serve at your party, this is the one.
Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir 2015 ★★★½+ $24.95 (Vintages) One of their upper tier wines, it showcases Niagara Pinot fruit. Expect sour red cherries, berries, allspice, earth, and just a hint of leather. It should mesh wonderfully with your dark turkey meat and cranberries or serve it with a cheese course.
Momi Maremma Toscana Rosso 2014 ★★★½ $14.75 (Vintages) A lesser known, but very good, red from near the coast in Tuscany. It’s deep purple and medium to full bodied with pronounced blackberry, dark plum, and oak spice. Match it with pizza for a delicious evening.
13th Street Cabernet Merlot 2016 ★★★½+ $19.95 (Vintages) I had to include one of Doug’s wines so that you can taste the result of his labours in the vineyard. A dry wine with a deep purple colour, it has pronounced blackberry, raspberry, black cherry, plum, oak, and an attractive leafy note. If you still have your BBQ out, it would be very good with sausage or steak.
Masi Campofiorin 2014 ★★★ $21.95, but on sale for $18.95 until Oct. 14 (LCBO) The original appasimento and still good, and a good value, over 50 years after that innovation. The fermentation of Valpolicella on the lees of Amarone gives it a more full bodied character with spicy plum in addition to the usual red cherry notes. Try it with some charcuterie and cheese.
Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve Rose 2017 ★★★½ $15.95 (Vintages) This is a very good French Rose in the Provencal style. Very pale, it has hints of rose petals, watermelon, light cherry, and some herbal spiciness. If you have people sitting on the fence, pour them some of this with their turkey. Equally good with appetizers before dinner.