From Niagara to out east, Adam Waxman takes a sensory wine journey…
What is your favourite wine? Why do you like it? Is it enough to say, “I don’t know, I just like it?” Maybe, but wineries are investing a great deal of energy toward hospitality and education, because as our local food movement grows, so too must our understanding of our local wines that are being recognized around the world.
We cannot taste what we cannot smell. The link between smell and taste is no truer than in wine. Seated around a table we open a Wine Awakenings kit, a box set of little aroma bottles of the most common scents found in wine, along with descriptive notes that help us to identify aromatics. Wine Awakenings makes specific kits for a host of varietals, including an icewine kit, and even a kit to identify wine faults, for wine enthusiasts of all levels of experience—be they private consumers or in the hospitality industry. We begin with a red wine kit and a bottle of Inniskillin Cabernet Franc. We pass each bottle around and try to guess what we smell. Violets, raspberry, plum, cassis and after each sniff we sip the wine to taste what we’ve just identified with our noses. Do we really taste those notes or are we influenced by what we just smelled? We open a bottle of 2011 Jackson-Triggs Meritage. Will we taste the same notes? Yes, but there’s something more that we can’t quite describe; it reminds me of something. We continue with the Wine Awakenings kit, and parse the complex aroma into individual scents: tobacco, coffee, pepper. We taste again—and there they are. The same notes that we smelled in the kit are right there in the glass for us to identify. This is the only kit of its kind in the world, a lot of fun, and a great education.
Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs are two pillars of Niagara. A visit to Jackson Triggs means a romantic evening sipping Grand Reserve sparkling Merlot and snacking on popcorn while enjoying a concert at their amphitheatre in the vineyard; or five courses of dinner and wine prepared at picturesque locations throughout the winery; or even outdoor yoga followed by a wine country lunch. Inniskillin demystifies wine by creating inclusive culinary experiences at their Market Grill and Smokehouse in the Piazza with poutine, burgers and oysters, all matched to wine. Additionally, Inniskillin offers an Icewine Tasting Bar where, not only can we taste these wines, but we can also compare different glassware. As we learn from Wine Awakenings, our sense of smell is integral to tasting wine. The shape of a glass is also important. If we drink a specific varietal in a glass that does not accentuate its aromatic properties, we lose the potential of what that wine can do. In collaboration with Riedel, Inniskillin’s unique icewine glass is designed with a wide centre and narrow opening to maximize fruit aroma, balance acidity and move the wine further back in the mouth for a more complete sensation and experience.
“There shouldn’t be one person left in this country who hasn’t tried ice wine,” says Rosanna Magnotta. We agree. At Magnotta, there is a new line of G. Marquis. Their Silver Line Chardonnay is full-bodied and clean with balanced minerality and notes of pear and melon. We really enjoyed sampling this wine—slightly creamy with a touch of spice—with warm poached trout, fried calamari and pasta with shrimp and grilled vegetables.
If you could funnel a basket of tropical fruits and flowers into a juice extractor, what would come out would be the 2012 Riesling from Cornerstone Estate Winery. Bright citric aromas followed by zesty fruit for an exceptional wine. It reminds me that Niagara is indeed Ontario’s fruit belt. The Cornerstone Chardonnay Musque, naturally fermented in stainless steel, is an elegant patio wine of creamy vanilla, pineapple and orange blossom. At renowned Casa Mia Ristorante we indulge in a Chenin Blanc from Big Head Wines. Tropical with a kiss of vanilla and oak, it is a platinum award winner.
We love its crisp, refreshing, well-balanced acidity. A bouquet of citrus, peaches and roses, with ripe grapefruit and floral notes on the palate, make this a perfect summer wine with cheese and charcuterie, or with hearty chowder in the winter. From organically farmed Muscat grapes in the Gaspereau valley, comes this lovely celebratory wine.
Niagara Wine Country has long been known for its white wines, but the days of taking Niagara red wines for granted, and thinking that it’s not the right climate for, say, a Cabernet Sauvignon, are gone. Take another sip. As vines have matured, possibilities have expanded and what is now taking centre stage and redefining, once again, how we view Niagara, are Niagara’s red wines. A wave of soft-onthe- palate Cab Franc has been impressing wine enthusiasts for the last few years. Merlot has rebounded from Sideways to upwards. And Cabernet Sauvignon is becoming a quiet achiever.
Everyone is trying to get as much potential and the most extraction out of their grapes as possible. Darker than most Ontario pinots, and easily matched against any from Washington or Oregon, is the G. Marquis 2010 Pinot Noir. It’s just the right amount of oak, very soft tannins, very drinkable. Elegantly structured, this is our go-to wine for pairing with herbed-game like Ontario lamb. A personal favourite of mine for its full body and approachability, is Magnotta’s Enotrium: a rich blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc with a plum-y depth bursting with blackberries, cassis and cloves.
Patience is indeed a virtue. After 26 months aging in French and European oak, Cornerstone’s 2010 Merlot has serious wow factor. An essence of sweet oak reminiscent of autumn leaves adds the right touch of complexity to a bright, full-bodied, jam-y fruit with a soft caramel finish. The quality of the fruit, the soil and the skill revealed in these wines typify the new wave of lush reds. The man behind the curtain, who has been pivotal in the elevation of many Niagara wines, is Andrzej Lipinski. Like an alchemist he blends big, full-bodied wines in back of Cornerstone, at his aptly named Big Head Wines.
Big Head 2012 Syrah has an unmistakable chocolate aroma, with floral notes, a little pepper and a deep bowl of plum and dark cassis on the palate. The Bigger Red blend of 35% Petite Verdot, 35% Cab Franc and 30% Merlot is a wonderful mélange of sweet, juicy berries, floral notes, a hint of cocoa and soft, lush and chewy textures. Petite Verdot is uncommon in Niagara, but is a perfect example of what has become possible here.
Reif Estate Winery’s First Growth cabernet sauvignon, aged 27 months in French and Hungarian oak, is rich and voluptuous, like a ripe berry draped in melted chocolate. This is big and bold, and pairs well with red meats, sharp cheeses and dark chocolate. In addition to pairings, Reif encourages us to consider an herbal perspective. A bottle of wine can be viewed as a garden of components.
We smell an herbal basket while tasting at the wine counter, and stroll through the Sensory Garden of plantings corresponding to different grape varietals. The perennials represent the colours of the wines. The annuals represent their flavours and aromas. When pairing our wines with food we should consider the corresponding herbs from the notes in the wine to the ingredients in the dish.
The Magician, for example, is a velvety blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Shiraz, with hand-harvested grapes dried in a tobacco-kiln. In addition to the lush texture and ripe berries, we taste pepper and a hint of thyme, so we choose to pair it with pasta and salmon herbed with pepper and thyme.
Our sense of smell triggers our memories, informs our sense of taste, and invites us to expand what we know and how we taste for a much richer, more inclusive wine tasting experience.