Showing posts with label Niagara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Niagara. Show all posts

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rich, Robust Red Wine From Canada's Niagara Peninsula

The wines of California are what I am usually awash in, so the opportunity to taste wine from Canada doesn’t happen very often for me.  I have my good friend Kevin Johnson to thank for this one.  In a previous life for both of us, Kevin was the best damn music director a radio station ever had, and I don’t say that simply because he sends me wine from his travels in the northern realm.  It is nice to be thought of kindly, and I think of Kevin that way very often.

When I think of Canadian wine, I think of icewine - even though I know there is more to it than that.  This is a table wine from Niagara-on-the-Lake, a beautiful place I visited once and would love to see again.  The wine is the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Reserve Rich and Robust Red VQA Niagara Peninsula 2012.

Even in that lengthy monicker, the term "VQA" does rather jump out.  What does “VQA” mean?  It stands for “Vintners Quality Alliance,” and is a regulatory and appellation system similar to France’s AOC or Italy’s DOC.  Further sub-appellations allow for the different terroirs of Canada to be more specifically identified.  Jackson-Triggs Winery is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, within the Niagara Peninsula - Canada’s largest wine appellation.

The Jackson-Triggs name is a blend of the winery founders’ names, Allan Jackson and Don Triggs.  They established the winery in 1993.  Winemaker Marco Piccoli has worked in Italy, Germany and Argentina, and claims to infuse a bit of himself in each of his wines.

The Jackson-Triggs Rich and Robust Red is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  On the Jackson-Triggs website, an explanation is given that the winery makes both Syrah and Shiraz.  The distinction comes down to New World vs Old World, with Shiraz being the version with the bigger, bolder fruit-forward experience.

The fruit for this wine is from the Delaine Vineyard, in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula.  Oak aging is carried out over six months in French and American oak barrels.  Alcohol is restrained, at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $14.

The dark wine has a medium feel in the mouth, with prickly tannins.  A nose of blackberry and cassis jumps from the glass, while on the palate the fruit is forward as well.  Notes of dark berries and black pepper are graced with a touch of vanilla oak.  The finish is rather tart, with a peppery flavor lingering.  Ultimately, this red blend does not taste like world class wine, but it does deliver enough to keep afloat the expectations of a Cab/Syrah blend for under $15.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Wine Country Pennsylvania - Lakeview Wine Cellars

We have visited Pennsylvania before in the Now And Zin Wine Country series.  At O'Donnell Winery, Norbert O’Donnell makes due in a cold climate quite nicely with grapes taken from slightly off the usual wine grape path.  Awhile back, O'Donnell wrote to suggest I get in touch with Sam Best of Lakeview Wine Cellars in northwestern Pennsylvania.  The pair met while taking some wine classes together and they hit it off famously.

Lakeview Wine Cellars is located in the town of North East, PA, even though the community is actually in the far northwestern corner of the Keystone State.  The name refers to its position within Erie County.

Best tells me that northwestern Pennsylvania is the largest grape growing area east of the Rockies, with some 30,000 acres under vine.  The Lake Erie appellation stretches over three states, from Buffalo, New York to Toledo, Ohio.  Best proudly notes that the Lake Erie Wine Trail is the fastest-growing wine country in the northeastern US.

Best estimates there are anywhere from 150-200 grape growers within 15 miles of his winery.  A lot are growing Concord grapes, while some grow Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay,  Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.  Best says there are three major growers in his area who sell their juice to winemakers.

Becky and Sam Best
The 5,000 cases of wine produced by Lakeview each year are currently produced with juice from these growers, but Best has plans for grapes of his own.  He actually has six acres of Concord, but he is in the process of removing those vines and replanting different varieties like Noiret.  That grape was developed by the wine department at Cornell University, an institution as indispensable to winemakers in the northeastern US as Cal Davis is to California vintners.

"Noiret is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon," says Best, "with the same type of color and tannins but a little higher in acid.  It has a peppery taste and is not as fussy as, say, Pinot Noir."  The one-acre plot could take five years to start producing, and Best is looking forward to planting more varieties, too.

Best says he specializes in dry reds and dry whites, although he sells about the same amount of sweet wine as dry.  His biggest seller at Lakeview Wine Cellars is Red Sky, a blend of Concord and Niagara grapes with a 5% mark on the residual sugar scale.  He uses only neutral Pennsylvania oak for fermentation and aging.  He also makes a wine using Steuben grapes.

Only four of Best’s 13 wines are sweet, clocking in between 3.5% and 5% residual sugar.  He makes a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and a Cab Franc ice wine infused with chocolate.  The grapes for his ice wine don’t come from the freezer.  They are picked frozen right off the vine.

Lakeview's Shipwreck Series of wines tips the captain's hat to the seafarers of Lake Erie.  Best claims there are more shipwrecks on Lake Erie than in the Bermuda Triangle.  He says that's due, in part, to an average depth in the Great Lake of only 58 feet.  It's the climatic effect of that relatively shallow water that keeps things temperate in the fall and spring.

I can’t wait to taste the wines made from Best’s own vineyard, although I’m sure he’s even more anxious.  Until those vines are ready, he will continue to use grapes grown by others - the best he can find - to fulfill his passion for winemaking.  If his Lakeview Wine Cellars customers can wait, so can he.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012


Now And Zin Wine Country

The Iowa wine industry has seen dramatic growth in the 21st century.  The Hawkeye State now features somewhere around 92 licensed wineries and over 300 vineyards in Iowa, according to Iowa State University's Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute.  That organization cites 13 wineries and 15 vineyards in Iowa back in 1999, so the growth of Iowa's wine indistry has been on the fast track.  Iowa produced nearly 223,000 gallons of wine in 2009, which puts the state about in the middle of the pack for wine production by state.

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center notes that the growth of the Iowa wine industry since 1999 has actually been a rebirth:

"During the early 20th century, Iowa was the sixth-largest grape producer in the nation. The industry declined as a result of Prohibition, the growing market for corn and soybeans, damage to grapevines caused by the drift of herbicides and the Armistice Day blizzard in 1940."

Iowa's hot summers and cold winters make grape growing a challenge.  Iowa winegrowers rely heavily on French hybrids and grapes native to America.  There aren't a lot of vineyards doing much with vitis vinifera grapes due to those extreme conditions.

Just five minutes west of Des Moines - in Waukee, Iowa - a Tuscan-inspired structure is home to Schade Creek Winery and their tasting room.  It also serves as a beautiful wedding location, an event with which they have a lot of experience.  For wine lovers, it's hard to beat getting married on a spot that overlooks a vineyard.

Kurt and Jana Schade run the winery, which is no small feat considering it's not the main occupation of the household.  From what I could gather in a flurry of hurried emails while I was sampling their wines, they both wear more hats than many of us would care to.  That's the glamour of the wine business, eh?

All the grapes used by Schade Creek are estate grown.  Since Iowa has no appellations, however, they can’t claim the status of an “estate wine” on the label.  The Schades were kind enough to provide samples of their wines for this edition of the Wine Country series.

Schade Creek Winery Soul MatesSoul Mates White Table Wine 
This is a blend of half Steuben and half Golden Muscat, a red and a white grape.  The skins were removed before the red color could escape, leaving a wine tinted with only a golden straw hue.  It offers "a touch of sweetness,” according to the Schades, and is dedicated to loved ones the Schades have lost.

The nose shows an intense earthiness and a strong herbal note, too.  The herbaceous quality isn't really grassy, but it shows a sense of earth with a layer of sweetness.  It's a semi-sweet wine, characterized by flavors of apples mixed with cherries.   Razor sharp acidity is a lip-smacking delight at room temperature.  Served chilled, that herbal aroma is just as forceful, while the acidity is diminished in the lower temperature, but still zippy.  Not at all cloying, Soul Mates' sweetness is kept in check by the earthy minerals.

Schade Creek Winery Creme de la Creme Blanc White Table Wine   
This is another white wine.  The grapes used here are 100% Niagara variety.  Niagara is the leading white grape variety grown in America.  You usually see them as table grapes, or made into jelly or grape juice.  In Iowa, they make a pretty good wine with them.  Creme de la Creme Blanc has a lighter tint than Soul Mates. The nose shows a bit more sweetness, and the herbal scent is there, too, but there is not so much earthiness. The palate also has more sweetness to offer, with golden apple flavors and a slight hint of butterscotch. The acidity is just as brilliant as in Soul Mates. There's no flabbiness here.  It’s a delicious drink.

Schade Creek Winery Laguna Aftanoona & SunsetsLaguna Aftanoona & Sunsets Red Table Wine   
This wine is my first experience with the Foch grape, a French hybrid.  It’s an early-ripening, cold-hardy grape, which makes it ideal for growing in Iowa.  The wine is medium dark and ruby red, and the mouthfeel is light and easy with red fruit - raspberry and sour cherry.  The 
acidity is very good.  An earthy mineral note on the nose comes through on the palate, too, and brambly cherry notes highlight the finish.  I am really taken with this one - it reminds me quite a lot of a Beaujolais wine - the fresh fruit and nice acidity imitating that French region’s Gamay quite well.

Schade Creek Winery Harlan HenryHarlan Henry Red Table Wine 
Harlan Henry was named for the winemaker’s father.  It’s a product of 100% Noiret grapes.  Noiret is a hybrid of vitis labrusca and vitis vinifera.   The folks at Schade Creek say it’s Iowa’s version of Pinot Noir, and they may well be right. The nose is just gorgeous, full of ripe cherry and raspberry with a touch of red licorice.  On the palate, the fruit is bright and playful, but a dark undercurrent cuts through and brings complexity.  The acidity is marvelous, and there's an outstanding tannic structure to this wine.  Lambrusco meets Pinot Noir meets Cabernet Franc is how it strikes me, and that strikes me just fine.  I would imagine every wine lover in Iowa is drinking Harlan Henry.  If they're not, it's their loss. 

Kurt Schade has acheived something winemakers in all 50 states strive for: he has identified the grapes that work well in his growing region, and he makes good wine from them.

Further interesting reading about Iowa wine can be found at these links:

The Iowa Winegrowers Association has links to Iowa wineries and information about the four wine trails in the state.

The excellent web publication Drink Local Wine has covered Iowa wine a few times, and you can see their articles here.