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Parent, Secret Power, Unsung Hero

December 10, 2017 5 comments

You just read the title of this post. What do you think we will be talking about? Of course, it can be a story about a person who had all those great qualities – but this is the wine blog, right? Can all those qualities belong to a grape?

Let’s see. Parent – this is simple. When two grapes are crossed, they will give birth to the new grapes, and, of course, we can call both of the original grapes parents. Unsung hero? This is typically someone who can quietly come to the help of others and solve the big problem or save a life. Apart from saving a life, a grape can be very instrumental in assisting others to do their best, bringing out their best qualities while remaining literally unknown. For example, helping to make delicious wine as part of the blend. Now, the secret power? Every once in a while a person can be on a secret mission and save the world, all alone, “solo” – James Bond meets Wonder Woman, anyone? Okay, okay, I’m only talking about making delicious wines, all by itself, solo.

Now, as we are talking about the grape, can you think of one which would fit this description? There are thousands of grapes used in winemaking, so theoretically, there is more than one grape which will fit this profile, but I would dare to say that one grape might stand above others in all these roles. Know what I’m about to say? There is a good chance you do – you probably guessed it already – I’m talking about Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc grapes, as shown in Wikipedia

It is hard to tell when Cabernet Franc became known as a grape variety. It is definitely old, probably not as old as Chardonnay, which can trace its history all the way to the 11th century, but still older than most other grapes. While Cabernet Franc is typically associated with Bordeaux and Loire, it appears that it originated from the Basque Country in Spain, from where it spread through the south of France and reached Bordeaux.

How Cabernet Franc is a Parent? Based on DNA research, Cabernet Franc was a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère – a good group of kids, isn’t it?

How is it an unsung hero? Cabernet Franc ripens at least one week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It can reach phenolic ripeness in the years when Cabernet Sauvignon will not, and thus in the blend, it will be a savior – this is why it was always so loved in Bordeaux, an insurance policy of sorts. While the tasting profile of Cabernet Franc is somewhat similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is typically softer and less tannic than its more famous offspring, so it makes the blend more approachable.

The Secret Power? When used in European wines, it is often unknown that the wine is made out of Cabernet Franc. For instance, Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of the most famous Bordeaux wines, is made predominantly out of the Cabernet Franc – but this is not widely known outside of the circle of wine aficionados. How about Olga Raffault Chinon? Chinon, a region in the Loire, is one of the best sources of delicious Cabernet Franc wines, but you have to simply know that. Coming to the new world, Cabernet Franc is not so secret anymore, as you can see it on the label, but I still can let you in on one little secret – this is one of the most versatile red grapes you can find. Talking about the United States, for instance, it is practically the only red grape which can consistently deliver delicious red wines both in California and in New York – and we don’t need to be so confined – Washington and Oregon are doing quite well with the Cabernet Franc, and so do Massachusets, New Jersey and even Rhode Island. And let’s not forget Canada, where the grape goes beyond dry reds and offers some of the most stunning dessert wines – Cabernet Franc Ice Wine.

Cabernet Franc AutoCollage

December 4th is when we celebrate this unique variety with the #CabFrancDay. The whole Cabernet Franc extravaganza is a product of obsession of one person – Lori Budd, who singlehandedly started this grape holiday in 2016. Lori expresses the love for the grape not just by talking about it – she also makes her own Cabernet Franc wine in Paso Robles under the Dracaena Wines label. This year I was able to try the Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc at the wine bloggers conference, and I can tell you that while I’m very particular about Cabernet Franc wines (prefer more old world style than new), I really enjoyed Lori’s rendition.

Grape holidays are always fun – you have a good reason to open a special bottle which was stashed in the corner, and share your love for the grape with the world. Cabernet Franc’s celebration is important beyond that simple joy. Take a look at Wikipedia article – it says that Cabernet Franc is “principally grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style, but can also be vinified alone”. The Vins de Bordeaux website says that Cabernet Franc “is the ultimate complementary grape variety”. While this is true, Cabernet Franc is great for blending, this is also the grape which is excellent by itself, and we should recognize and acknowledge that, and change that perception of a “blending grape”.

This year, I had a great experience with beautiful Cabernet Franc wines from all over the world – 1982 Olga Raffault Chinon, Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc from Argentina, Lieb Cabernet Franc from Long Island, New York, Dracaena Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles and many others. But to celebrate Cabernet Franc Day in style, I had an opportunity to open 3 more wines especially for the holiday – for one, representing both coasts of the USA – and, surprisingly enough, representing both styles of Cabernet Franc, the old world and the new world.

2014 ACORN Alegría Vineyards Cabernet Franc Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $38, 93% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, 18 months in barrel) was uniquely Californian in style – in many ways. Alegría Vineyards are Certified Sustainable, which is really the way now for many vineyards in California, with a lot of manual labor-intensive effort going into helping grapes to achieve their best potential. All the wines ACORN produces are made as field blends, where different grapes are co-fermented together, according to the century-old field-blend vineyard traditions. The result was beautifully balanced, fruit forward wine, boasting pure cassis flavors, supported by the medley of the red fruit and perfect acidity. The wine was clean and delicious.

Two more wines were a total surprise for me. These two Cabernet Franc wines were both made in New Jersey. I have very little experience with New Jersey wines, and that experience was not necessarily all positive, so yes, I didn’t have much expectation as I was pulling the corks, just a hope that the wines would be at least palatable.

While Unionville Vineyards were planted only in 1987 and the winery opened its doors to the public in 1993, the land where the vineyards a located was a farmland even before the 1850s. As a farmland, it went through many different plantings and such – peach orchard, apple orchard, dairy farm, grains, and horses – but returned to the fruits with the first grapevine plantings in 1987 – this is when the story of Unionville Vineyards started.

2014 Unionville Vineyards Amwell Ridge Cabernet Franc New Jersey (13.6% ABV) had dark garnet color in the glass. Intense nose, a touch of sweet tobacco, black currant. On the palate, interesting salinity first, following by clean acidity and then herbal notes. Mint, anise, a touch of blackcurrant – excellent Cab Franc rendition.

Beneduce Vineyards is located in the same Hunterdon County as Unionville Vineyards. Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are the main white grape varieties at Beneduce Vineyards, and the list of reds includes Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch and, of course, Cabernet Franc.

2014 Beneduce Vineyards Cabernet Franc Hunterdon County (12.5% ABV) had dark garnet color in the glass. Fresh and crispy on the nose, with a touch of green bell pepper, dark chocolate, black currant – very impressive, Chinon-Style. Beautiful palate, with a touch of tannins, black currant, layers, well integrated, refreshing.
If there is anything I want you to remember from this post, it is that Cabernet Franc power goes well beyond blends, and Cabernet Franc wines are well worth seeking from anywhere in the world.
What is your view of the Cabernet Franc? Do you have any favorite Cab Franc wines? Do you prefer old world or a new world style? What is the best Cab Franc wine you ever had? Cheers!

What To Drink On Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2015 18 comments

BollingerI generally avoid holiday-related wine posts, and I do it for a number of reasons. First of all, every information source on the planet considers it to be their duty to produce some piece of writing with wine recommendations. And then for someone who drinks wine all the time, the holidays are not so much of a special occasion to have a reason to open a bottle of wine. Oh well – somehow I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the wines for the Valentine’s Day, hence this post…

Pink. Red. Extreme. Commercialized beyond belief, still increasingly so year after year. Heart-shaped to the point of insanity. There are many things which turn people away from the Valentine’s Day, and I can understand that. However, I take this holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate love and life. All you need to do is to find your way – ignore pink paraphernalia, ignore meaningless cards, ignore conveyer belt – style experience at the restaurants – and celebrate love and romance as a pure meaning of this holiday.

Let’s agree that we will celebrate love and romance in our oenophile’s way, and let’s talk about wine – without wine on the table, celebration is … just another boring dinner, right? By the way, when I said “felt compelled” in the opening of this post, this was not entirely true. I also had a pleasure to be a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show, talking with Benita and Latisha about … you guessed it – Valentine’s Day wines – thus as you can imagine, I gave some thought to the subject (and then yes, “felt compelled”). In case you have a bit of time, you can listen to that episode here.

What can I tell you about wines for the Valentine’s Day? First of all, if you have a plan already, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. If you have some specific celebratory dish in mind, and have a pairing ready – it doesn’t matter what I have to say. But if you are still thinking how to make this holiday special, then let me share my thoughts with you. But remember – drink what you like. The wine for the Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be pink, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. It has to be something which will give you pleasure – as simple as that.

The wine for the Valentine’s Day should have balance and it should have finesse. While thought provoking is good for the wine, on Valentine’s Day you should focus on romance and not on deciphering the complex flavors. Go after balance, finesse and simplicity. This is why I would never suggest, for instance, the natural wines of Frank Cornelissen or Jean-Pierre Robinot, or the dark magic of Randy Dunn with his Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – those wines will drain you emotionally, and it is a wrong angle for the Valentine’s day. Thus let’s talk about balance and finesse.

First wine I want you to consider is Champagne. As the very least, it can be an Italian Sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Trento, or some of the California sparklers. Prosecco, Cava and many other sparklers are simply not consistent enough, so for the Valentine’s Day, go with classic – remember – balance and finesse. For the Champagne, my choice would be Bollinger, as I think it is one of the finest non-vintage Champagnes, with lots of finesse. Ferrari from Trento and Bellavista from Franciacorta in Italy would definitely my next choice. But – I don’t want to forget California – Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Schramsberg Rosé, J Cuvée 20 or any of the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines would live you with a happy smile.

Moving on, let’s talk white wines. As we are looking for the balance and finesse, I have a few recommendations for you – and you might be surprised with these. For this holiday, I want you to step outside of your “usual circle”. My first recommendation is for the white wines of the Rhône valley in France. Yes, Rhône is mostly known for their reds, but the white wines there are equally stunning. For instance, try to find Domaine Saint Préfert Cuvée Speciale – I called this wine once “a symphony in the glass”. But in general, look for the Clairette or Grenache Blanc wines from Southern Rhône, or Marsanne/Roussanne from the North – those wines are often not easy to find, but they will deliver lots of balance, finesse and pleasure. 

Let me give you a few more suggestions – equally difficult to find, but worth looking for. Viognier from Washington is a white wine worthy of celebrating love and romance with. Look for Mark Ryan or Willis Hall – their Viognier is nothing short of stunning. To close on the whites, here are 3 more rare beauties. First, 2 Sauvignon Blanc from … Italy: Gaja Alteni di Brassica and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia – stunning balance and finesse. And the last one – Ken Forrester The FMC. You can’t go wrong with either one of these wines – go, start looking, you don’t have lots of time.

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Now, we arrived at the red wine junction. Looking for the balance and finesse will dramatically reduce our choices. I would say, let’s go for Pinot Noir. I will limit my recommendations to this one grape only – and here is why. We are looking for the balance and finesse, right? Think about Cabernet Sauvignon from California – what would be the first word or words you would use to describe those wines – probably “big and powerful” – and this is not what I’m looking for suggesting the wines for the Valentine’s Day. Same goes for many Merlot, Syrah and Grenache wines – never mind the Petite Sirah. Even with my beloved Rioja – there are few wines, which will deliver that exact balance and finesse – La Rioja Alta Reserva Especiale would be definitely the one – and I highly recommend it. But for the Rioja – and then for Barolo, Brunello and even Super-Tuscan –  as a general class, the probability of running into “big and powerful” is a lot higher than finding “balance and finesse”.

Talking about Pinot Noir, I wish I would recommend some of the classics to you – yes, the Burgundy – but unfortunately, my exposure to the Burgundy is way too limited, so you will need to ask your trusted wine merchant for the advice. Next up – California and Oregon. For the most of the time, California Pinot Noir will deliver exactly that – balance and finesse. To give you a few names, go look for Siduri, Loring Wine Company, Calera, Drew, Copain, Laetitia – but there are many others and it is hard to go wrong with California Pinot Noir. Oregon would be also a perfect choice – look for Adelsheim, Chehalem, Antica Terra, Evening Land – finesse is a middle name for the Oregon Pinot, so you will not be disappointed. And last but not least – don’t forget the New Zealand! Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough are typically well balanced and round, perfectly fitting our quest for finesse. Look for the wines from Craggy Range, Mt. Difficulty and Amisfield among the others.

Dessert time! People often underestimate how bad the dessert wines can be – one sip of the cloying, single-sugar-note wine would ruin the experience of an amazing dinner. You really have to put a lot of care in selecting the dessert wine which will have balance and finesse. Of course I would like to recommend Sauternes and Barsac wines for you, but again, my personal experience is very limited. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with Château d’Yquem – if you can afford it, go for it! What would be a bit easier to find (and afford) is a Port. Not just any Port – balance and finesse, remember – so go for a nicely aged Tawny, 20-, 30- or 40-years old. As Port ages, it loses power, and becomes fragrant and sublime, guaranteed to deliver lots of pleasure. Look for Rozes, Graham, Quinta do Noval – lot’s of excellent choices. Then of course, the king of the dessert wines – Riesling. For the special experience, I would only recommend to go to the BA and TBA levels – you know, the stuff which always comes in the small bottles. You see, it is very hard to mass-produce BA or TBA level Rieslings – you can’t harvest enough grapes at those sugar levels – thus it is hard to go wrong with BA or TBA Riesling from any producer. And the last recommendation for today – an Icewine. Not any Icewine, but I want to recommend my personal favorite – Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. This wine is vibrant, perfectly balanced and has lots of finesse – I guarantee you will finish your Valentine’s Day dinner on a high note with this wine.

Here you go, my friends – in the quest for the balance and finesse, these are some of my personal recommendations to enhance you Valentine’s Day experience. Let me know what do you think about my suggestions and feel free to provide your own. Happy Valentine’s Day and cheers!

 

 

Wine, Pick Me Up, Please!

May 23, 2012 8 comments

So you had a bad day at work. During the meeting boss kept giving you the look, you know, that one. Engineering just informed you that project delivery will be delayed [yet again]  by 4 weeks, and you are the one to come up with the third(!) apology/excuse to the customer. And actually, this Sunday you will have to be on the plane, and it will be 3rd week in a row you have to travel over the weekend and cancel all your plans. Is that bad enough, or do we need to throw in a flat tire and a speeding ticket on the way to work?

Okay, you arrive home in sufficiently bad mood. Sit down, relax, may be put on some nice music (I don’t know about you, but Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett will fit the bill for me). Will glass of wine help to cheer you up? Most probably. But what bottle should you open? If your answer is “the only one I already have”, this post might not help you much…

My wine teacher Kevin Zraly always said that “the wine should give you pleasure“. So another short answer would be “the one which will give you pleasure” – and what we need to keep in mind is that the wine I would enjoy immensely might be completely not your thing. Let’s put this aside, and let’s assume that I actually had a bad day at work. Well, it would be the easiest then to write this blog post empirically and emphatically, but I’m not sure than if I actually had a bad day at work, I would be able to write a good blog post, so … did I lose you yet? Let’s get back to the subject.

Here are three important criteria for selecting the “pick me up” wine. First, it should be an “instantly on” wine. What I mean is that the wine should be ready to drink as soon as the bottle is open. This will effectively exclude lots of big Italian wines, such as Barolo and Brunello, as well as many California Cabs (unless you have something aged to perfection in your cellar and it is actually ready to drink now) – anything which needs decanting or prolonged breathing time should be avoided here.

Then I would suggest that the wine should be familiar. It should be the wine you had before and you know how it will taste like. There is nothing wrong with opening a totally unknown bottle of wine, but – you are in a bad mood already, are you sure it is worth taking chances?

The last factor I want to throw in here – I want this wine to have a great smell. I think the “pick me up” process should start from the very first whiff from your glass, way before you take a first sip. Smell has a great power to transform your mood right away – and the great bonus or a great smell is that you can smell the wine indefinitely as it opposed to drinking it.

Oh, wait, there is one more desired feature here – the wine should be good. In other words, it should give you pleasure. In my personal book it means that the wine should be balanced and as an added bonus, have sense of place.

Let me give you some examples of the wines which should be able to improve one’s mood (I’m sure they will work for me).

2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings. I talked about this magnificent wine a number of times already in this blog, so let me just quote myself:First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t lets you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.”

Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2009. “One of the very best California Sauvignon Blanc I ever had. Beautiful combination of traditional grassiness with fruit forward and finesse. Outstanding!”

 

 

Rozes Over 40 Years Old Port. “My best port ever. I can close eyes and imagine the smell and taste of this wine – multiple layers, tremendous complexity and great opportunity to reflect on life when the finish lasts for 15 minutes or longer.”

 

 

2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine “This was definitely the best Icewine I ever tried. Light and effervescent (not your usual descriptors for the icewine), with perfect acidity complementing beautiful fruit. True masterpiece.

 

There you have it – I’m sure either one of this wines will greatly improve your mood. However, there is an extremely good chance that any [your personal good] bottle of wine will help too. Besides, having a bad day at work is not at all mandatory to enjoy a glass of wine (or two). Tell me, what will be in your glass today? Cheers!

Top Dozen Wines of 2011

December 27, 2011 10 comments

I’m not sure I fully believe it, but time has come to sum up another year. Same as last year, I’m going to present you with a dozen of most exciting wines of 2011. I keep mentioning that quality of the wines available from all over the world is getting better and better, and it was very hard to decide on only 12 wines out of many hundreds of great wines I had an opportunity to experience throughout the year. This list is unequivocally subjective, and to make it even more subjective my criteria was the “wow” moment experienced when I tasted the wines – this is always dangerous, as depending on the circumstances of the “wow” tasting, the same wine might not be as exciting the next time. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are my twelve  best wines of 2011.

12. 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani ($NA) – power and more power. This wine is a monster powerhouse, and you are hypnotized by that power and don’t want to put your glass aside. Tremendous tannins, complemented by acidity and good fruit. Very big wine. Will be very interesting to lay it down for 10-15 years. Transformation should be remarkable, if you can wait, of course.

11. Bodegas Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo Triana ($24) – first, there is an element of awe when you drink this wine, as it is 250 years old ( at least in the trace amount, thanks to the Solera method when the new wine is added to the barrel which was never emptied completely for the last 250 years). Then the taste is spectacular – liquified fig jam, but very light and balanced with nice acidity.

10. 2009 Montalbera Laccento Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato ($30) – the wine opened up with a nice earthy smell, with fresh unadulterated grapey taste on the palate, somewhat similar to Beaujolais Noveau, but then quickly evolved to deliver the  power punch of big voluptuous wine. This wine needs lots of time, but in the end, it will be glorious, multi-layered beauty. If you can find it, put a few bottles to rest and experience later for yourself (ability to wait is required).

9. 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Rueda DO ($28) – this wine is made out of old vines Verdejo (100+ years old vines). This is one of the most unanticipated wines I ever had, as while you are expecting Verdejo wines to be somewhat simple and easy, this wine delivers complexity of a top-class Chardonnay, with toasted apple, vanilla and hint of butter on the palate, all with the great balance.

8. 1982 Chateau Prieure-Lichine Margaux ($130) – This was a 1982 Bordeaux! Do I need to say anything else? A Bordeaux from Grand Cru producer from legendary year – it doesn’t get much better than that. The wine was beautiful,  fresh, with great fruit and great balance of tannins and acidity. I rest my case.

7. 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja Blanco  ($33) – it is rather expected that 1976 Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva would be good, but 18 years old white Rioja? Hmmm, I couldn’t imagine that – but then came 1993 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco, and it was beautiful, fresh and acidic, coming through as a very youthful wine, with lots of fresh fruit. You can still get it at PJ Wine, and I believe it’s worth every penny.

6. 2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Grenache Livermore Valley ($35) – opens up with a nose of ripe plums, continuing into plush, soft, round wine with velvety mouthfeel, very balanced. Very similar to great Spanish Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo Aquilon, only coming from California. This wine is available only at the winery, but definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.

5. 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County – ($25) – this was a gorgeous wine, great structure, ripe fruit, balance and finesse – without showing any sign of age. The only problem was that I got only one bottle from the Benchmark Wine Company…

4. 2009 Peter Michael “Belle Cote” Estate Chardonnay – ($80) – this Chardonnay was a beautiful song, or may be rather a dance of impeccable synchronicity. Absolutely stunning in its balance of fruit, acidity and minerality, with the hint of white peaches and golden delicious apples on the palate, but just a hint – not a single element taking over and pushing others aside. From the moment I tasted this wine, it became my golden standard for what Chardonnay should be – you can even see it throughout my posts.

3. 2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine ($130) – This was definitely the best Icewine I ever tried. Light and effervescent (not your usual descriptors for the icewine), with perfect acidity complementing beautiful fruit. True masterpiece.

2. 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($130) – this was an Amarone I’m constantly looking for and can’t find. Stunning nose of the raisined fruit, a dried fruit extravaganza – with powerful, structured and balanced body – not a glimpse of overripe fruit which is so common in the nowadays Amarone. Truly beautiful wine for the special moments.

1. 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t lets you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.

For what it worth, these are my favorite wines of 2011. I’m sure 2012 will bring many more exciting discoveries – it is great to be an oenophile today! What were your favorites of 2011? Please share it here! Cheers!

Experiencing Wines of Canada

August 28, 2011 10 comments

Coming back to the memories of “ahh-so-distant-by-now” our Canada vacation (it’s being almost a month!), I need to share my wine experiences with you. You might remember two earlier posts (you can find them here and here), which I prefer to refer to as “picture reports”, which gave you the visual expression of the food and some of the wines in Canada. However, we had an opportunity to spend some time in one of the Canadian wine countries, surrounding small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake – and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Until this trip, my idea of Canadian wines was very simple – Icewine. I knew for a while that Canada makes some really famous Icewines, which compete with German and Austrian Icewines. Outside of Icewine, my only reference were wines of Finger Lakes region in upstate New York (general direction of Canada). While I wouldn’t claim that I visited mass amount of wineries in Finger Lakes, in a few places we visited the only drinkable wines were Rieslings, and all the red wines were plain bad. Therefore, these were my expectations for the Canadian wines.

I decided to start from the winery with the name at least I heard of – Inniskillin, and of course the only wine I knew “of fame” there was an Icewine. As a side note, I want to mention that the winery had a playroom for kids – which is a very important factor in letting adults enjoy a wine tasting, even during family vacation. The first wine we tried was 2010 Two Vineyard Riesling – very clean, good tropical fruit expression, all paired with beautiful acidity, nice finish. This was a great start of the tasting. The next wine completely blew me away – 2009 Legacy Series Pinot Gris. First, I didn’t expect Pinot Gris to be produced in Canada. But is not the main factor. Very complex, with explicit minerality and spicy bouquet on the palate, this wine still puts a smile on my face when I think about it.

After having a great start with the whites, my level of expectations increased for the reds – and rightfully so. 2009 Montague Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir was very nice, varietally correct with a precise expression of smokiness and red fruit. Again, I would never expect to find a Pinot Noir of such clarity at a winery located so high up North – but I did. 2009 Shiraz Cabernet had perfect acidity, good minerality, just a right balance of dark fruit. 2009 Cabernet Franc was simply my favorite red wine – perfect, very balanced, with clearly expressed green peppers and explicit minerality (you might think that I’m abusing the term – but minerality was one of the key characteristics of all the Inniskillin wines we tasted, so I can’t help myself but to call it out).

As you might expect, sweet wines were next. We are not talking about some arbitrary late harvest wines – we are talking about Icewines, which have the highest sugar concentration out of all sweet wines, as the grapes are ripening on the vines until the frost reaches –8°C (about 17F) – then the grapes are harvested while being frozen and pressed right away – which yields tiny amount of super-concentrated grape juice – this is why the wines are called Icewine (also such a low yield explains high price of the Icewines). First, we tried 2010 Sparkling Vidal Icewine, which was very light and delicate. 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine was a real star though. I have to mention that Inniskillin was the first winery to produce Icewine from the red grape. Also, Inniskillin worked together with Riedel, leading wine glass maker in the world, to produce a specially shaped Icewine glass which enhances aromatics of the Icewine.

Going back to Cabernet France Icewine, it was incredible, one of the best ever dessert wines I ever tried. Why am I saying that? Balance. Ultimate Balance was first and foremost characteristic of this wine. Beautiful balance, perfect lingering acidity, and literally unnoticeable sweetness – great wine. All in all, it was an outstanding line up of wines at Inniskillin, I can’t recommend highly enough each and every wine I tried.

Next stop we made at the Cattail Creek Family Estate winery. One of the reasons to pick that particular winery was the fact that they have a few wines with the grapes I didn’t have before, like Chardonnay Musque, or different Riesling clones. I’m glad we stopped by, as we found more great tasting wines, plus most of the wines are made in very small quantities, so many are available only at the winery itself. First, we tried 2008 Catastrophe White, which was perfectly refreshing, with good acidity and a good amount of the white fruit. Then we tried 2009 Catastrophe Red, which had very good balance, nice red and black fruit expression, soft and pleasant. It is interesting to note that Catastrophe wine series labels depict real cats who lived at the winery. Last but not least was 2009 Chardonnay Musque – very nice, with good acidity, good reflection of what Chardonnay is, good subtle tropical fruit expression, more as a hint. This was yet another great experience.

Our last stop was Chateau des Charmes. This winery had the most impressive building of all:

The wines here were also very impressive. We started with 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Riesling (I wanted to experience “old vines” Riesling) – and to my complete surprise, this Riesling had a Petrol nose! I was always under impression that Petrol nose is a property of only German Rieslings – and here we go, Riesling from Canada with full classic German Riesling expression. In addition to Petrol nose, it also had very good fruit, medium body and perfect balancing acidity. Next were more of the very impressive Pinot Noirs. 2007 Pinot Noir had a beautiful nose, and lots of tannins on the palate – it was unusually muscular for the Pinot Noir, probably in need of a few years to open up, but still, it was very good. 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Pinot Noir was also very big and powerful, with clean smoky nose, but also needing time as the previous wine.

Last but not least was 2008 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, which happened to be a clone of Gamay and therefore it accounted for an additional grape for my “counting grapes” project. This wine had very unusual herbaceous nose, and was nice and light on the palate – definitely a food friendly wine.

That concludes the Canadian wine story, as we didn’t have time to visit more places. But even based on this experience, if before I knew of only Icewines from Canada, now all the Canadian wines are squarely on the “to find and drink” list for me – and I highly recommend that you will make an effort to find them and try them as well. The challenge is – I didn’t see that many Canadian wines on the shelves of the wine stores here in Connecticut. Oh well, hopefully, we can change that. Cheers!

Canada Food and Wine Experiences, In Pictures

July 27, 2011 2 comments

It appears to be very difficult to write blog posts while on the family vacation, despite all the desire to do so. Therefore, here is a quick report from Canada – all in pictures. I can tell you that so far I had being very happy with food, including restaurants in Niagara Falls (which was not expected considering that this is very popular tourist destination). I was also blown away by the quality of Canadian wine. Before the trip, I honestly thought that outside of the Icewine, Canadian wine would be on the level of Finger Lakes wines in NY, where whites can be drinkable, but reds are simply mediocre. Boy, was I wrong! We visited three wineries, and didn’t have a single bad wine! Well, this will be a subject of a separate blog post, so for now, here is quick report in pictures (warning – don’t look while hungry).

Nachos at Spicy Olive restaurant, Niagara Falls:

Beef Baron restaurant, Niagara Falls:

French Onion Soup:

Escargot:

Spare Ribs:

Wineries experience:

Inniskillin (from whites to reds to Icewines – outstanding, will discuss later):

Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah and Cabernet Franc – WOW:

Inniskillin for those  who can’t even drink wine:

Cattail Creek Winery, very interesting whites and reds:

Catastrophe series (note that labels depict real cats):

Chateau des Charmes – you should see that building:

Back to the restaurants:

Cora’s (Niagara Falls) – Breakfast done right!

Breakfast cocktail:

Crepes Egg and Cheese Panini:

Crepe with Raspberries and cream cheese:

Blueberry Pancakes:

Will definitely talk more about wines in the future posts. If you are interested in reading more about restaurants, you can take a look at my page on Yelp (click here). Until the next time – cheers!

Cora
7555 Montrose Road
Niagara Falls, ON L2H3A4
(905) 358-1555
http://www.chezcora.com/home

Cora Breakfast and Lunch on Urbanspoon

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