Wines for the Holidays and Some Wine History

This month we’ll take a journey back in time to see who we should thank for the wine we’ll be enjoying this Christmas season.

This idea came from a book by wine writer Oz Clarke that proposes the ancient civilization responsible for the “discovery” of wine.  The usual suspects are the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.  There is certainly evidence that wine was sealed in Egyptian tombs to make the afterlife more enjoyable.  The Greeks deserve a place in history for the first civilization to export wine grapes and wine making to its colonies.  However, the Romans did an even better job and spread vineyards to the far reaches of their empire in France and Germany.  But did they “discover” wine?

Modern scholarship indicates the answer is no.  It would seem that honour goes to the Georgians (from Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, straddling Europe and Asia).  In 6000 BCE, they were making wine by sealing entire crushed bunches of grapes (pips, stems, skins, and juice) in clay jars and burying them for 6-12 months to ferment.  What is even more remarkable is wine is still made this way in Georgia today.  They call the product “gvino”, which is amazingly similar to the Italian “vino” and French “vin”.

Was this anything like what we drink?  Not really according to Clarke, who has tried it. It is a unique experience to say the least.  Bright orange in colour, extremely earthy, tannic and bitter, but also has flavours of peach, citrus peel, and dried figs. Not a wine for most Canadian palates.

Nevertheless, this Holiday season, raise your glass to the Georgians.  They may well be the ones that started it all.

My ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by 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.

Henry of Pelham Chardonnay Estate 2017 ★★★½+ $21.95 (Vintages) The Speck Brothers at Henry of Pelham have been showcasing quality Ontario Chardonnay for decades. Generous new oak treatment gives this big, but dry, white plenty of vanilla and spice to support its pineapple, rich yellow apple, lemon curd, and creamy character.  If you like your turkey with richly buttered bread stuffing, this is your wine.

 Cave de Lugny Macon-Lugny Grand Reserve 2018 ★★★½+ $19.95 (Vintages) Pure, ripe tropical fruits and lemon with some toast and cream plus a backbone of minerals from this dry Chardonnay from Southern Burgundy. Wonderful to pair with grilled chicken in a lemon marinade or serve it up with your turkey dinner if you like white meat.

 Eidosela Albarino 2018★★★½ $18.95 (Vintages) Native to Spain, this grape produces elegant, dry, intensely aromatic white wines and this is no exception.  Expect orange, peach, apricot, lemon and grapefruit peel with predominant minerals and longish finish.  It would be very good matched with shrimp and a squeeze of lemon.

The Ultimate Longshot Pinot Grigio 2018 ★★★ $16.00 (LCBO) Labelled as California, which means the grapes can be from anywhere in the state, most likely the Central Valley. This light, crisp white has simple flavours of pear, lemon, lime, and green apple with a little residual sugar and more than a little alcoholic heat in the finish.  Sip it alone or serve it with light seafood.

 Villa Annaberta Amarone della Valpolicella 2013 ★★★½+ $38.95 (LCBO)  The grapes are dried to yield a richer, more full bodied wine than regular Valpolicella, while still maintaining fresh acidity. This has developed with dried cherry, dark plum, black cherry, prune, raisin, vanilla, and forest floor mingled with herbs like sage and oregano. The tannic structure is still there, the finish lingers, and it’s drinking nicely now. Enjoy with robust foods; it will even stand up to chili.

Monte Zovo Sa’Solin Valpolicella Ripasso  2017 ★★★½ $19.95 (Vintages) Ripasso is made by re-fermenting Valpolicella on the lees of Amarone; think of it as a baby Amarone.  This is leaner style emphasizing the aromatic herbal character. Red and black cherries, red currant, and black plum fruit are all there, but the oregano and sage make it interesting in your glass. Grippy tannins and high acidity make it a good pairing with grilled meats, especially if herb rubs are involved.

 Toro Centenario Malbec 2019 ★★★½ $9.60 (LCBO) A Malbec that’s medium bodied, dry, unoaked, and good value for your early autumn BBQs. Expect aromas and flavours of blackberry, black cherry, black currant, and spice with quite high acidity and moderate tannins. It finishes with a bit of herbaceous note. Pair it up with hearty fare like grilled sausage with sweet pepper, mushrooms, and onions.

 Calamus Balls Falls Red 2017 ★★★½ $16.95 (Vintages) Do you need a versatile Niagara red for everyday drinking? Here’s one that’s a juicy, dry, well balanced Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with a medium body matched with smooth tannins.  Add to that nice black fruit flavours with a little smoke.  At its best with mushroom dishes, pork, or beef, but it could easily pair with other weekday fare.

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Defiant 2018 ★★★½+ $19.95 (LCBO) This Pinot that combines Niagara and Prince Edward County fruit is very good. It hits all the right notes: it’s dry with red cherry, raspberry, cranberry, beet root, clove spice, vanilla, earth, and just a touch of barrel toast. It also shows trademark high acidity and medium tannins. Pair it up with something just a little smoky/spicy like Carne Asada or it would be a great for your Christmas turkey if you prefer dark meat and cranberries.