Who knew the land in Canada would be so great for growing wine grapes? Surely no one gave it a bit of thought for some time, because the wine business in Niagara has only been thriving for 60-some odd years. But now with the rising popularity of Icewine and vintages such as many 2007 varieties gaining worldwide popularity, the wine industry in the Niagara peninsula and further has put Canada on the map for wine making.
On both Sunday and Monday, I participated in two 4-vineyard wine tours throughout the Niagara area, put on by Crush on Niagara wine tours. For five hours each day, Nick and I were led from vineyard to vineyard on a company bus, learning more and more about the wine tasting, varieties and the industry and how far it has come today.
Our first tour guide was a retired man named Paul who simply does the tours because he likes to. Informative and candid, he picked us up right on time at 12:45 and we headed to downtown Niagara on the lake to pick up one other couple, from California, and take us to our first winery.
The first winery we went to was a fairly small 12-year-old winery called Strewn, which produces around 25,000 cases per year. Our guide brought us downstairs into the wine cellar where we were among the barrels as she taught us the basics of wine tasting. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “rules” of wine tasting, a brief overview:
- Look at the wine for color and clarity, or any sediment (aged wines can collect sediment over time)
- Sniff the wine first without swirling it to get a pure sense of the wine straight out of the bottle. THEN swirl it around, and smell again. Notice what smells you pick up. Remember: wine is purely made of grapes. Essences of other smells may come through, but really, anything you smell is possible.
- Take one sip to clear the palate of whatever else you had in your mouth last
- Take another sip, and then another. Now what do you think of the wine?
· Is it dry (not sweet)?
· Or if it is sweet, how sweet? Wineries tend to use a sweetness scale, from 1- semi dry, to 20 or above being very sweet (as a dessert wine usually is)
· Does your mouth tingle and dry when the wine hits your tongue? Those are the tannins in the wine causing these sensations.
· Do you pick up certain flavors or spices, fruits or maybe an oaky taste from the barrel it was in?
All of these will help you develop a sense of the true taste of the wine- to you, that is. Good wine is good wine, but everyone has their taste preferences and that will never change.
I loved doing the tour because I felt as though I heightened my taste for certain wines, and have more of a general idea as to what I prefer. But the perfect wine can always change that! More on that later.
In the cellar at Strewn, we were presented 3 wines; a white, a red and a late-harvest dessert wine.
The white- a 2006 Riesling Gewürztraminer. This was a scale 1 semi dry white wine. I could instantly smell the fruit- very peachy. With a little bit of spice. I liked this a lot, it was great for a white because I usually prefer red. Hmm. Maybe I just haven’t been trying the right white wines for my taste?
The Red- a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try the red from both the barrel, and from the bottle. The straight-from-the-barrel wine was as expected; bitter and lacking depth of flavor. The tour guide also explained to us that the wine in the barrel came from all of the same vineyard, whereas bottled wines contain many different barrels and many different vineyards. The bottled version was much more mature, and much heavier. It was good, but not my favorite- a bit too spicy for my taste.
The Late Harvest- Late harvest wines are harvested in Novemeber versus September, so the grapes are much sweeter, and the wine serves as more of a dessert wine or an aperitif with cheeses. This late harvest Riesling wine had a Level 4 sweetness- I liked it a lot. Definitely for dessert, not the table, but I would have a glass for dessert any night of the week! It is similar to Icewine, just not as sweet.
All of the Strewn wines are VQA labeled, which stands for "Vitners Quality Alliance," which means all of the grapes in every bottle come from Ontario vineyards.
The second winery we went to was Caroline Cellars, a smaller family-owned winery that produces approximately 10,000 cases per year.For only ten thousand cases, that is quite a selection!
The only difference between white and red wine (aside from the taste)?? White and red grapes both give off clear juice- red wine has the peel added for color!
Iniskillin has the most history of the wineries we went to. It is a large winery, producing over 120,000 cases per year! It is famous for it's Icewine, a special sweet dessert wine only available in Canada.
- Icewine is produced from grapes that have been left on the vine and are FROZEN
- The sugars in the grape are condensed, so the wine ends up being extra sweet.
- It is incredibly expensive to buy white wine, because you need far more grapes than you do for regular wine
- A 12-pound puck is used to crush the frozen grapes, and only a few droplets of wine are produced in each large batch
- The word "icewine" is patented, and can only be used for wines that are naturally frozen in Canada!
- There is evidence Icewine was produced in earlier times by the ancient Romans, and proof it was produced by the Germans (called "Eiswein") but the climate is not cold enough in either regions to produce a sellable quantity of icewine!