Rich and red are two words that fit the holiday season beautifully. Full, bottom weight, red wines pamper the palette, soothe the soul and calm the psyche; pure holiday magic.
In Ontario, there is a new way of making full-bodied red wines that includes a pinch of Italian wisdom and a sprinkle of tobacco technique.
Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski first started this technique called appassimento, when he was winemaker at Foreign Affair Winery in Vineland. Appassimento, translated loosely means “˜withering'. To wither, or dry the grapes, they're carefully laid on racks and left for weeks before being made into wine. Foreign Affair owner Len Crispino and Lipinski traveled to the Veneto region of Italy to learn first hand what the appassimento style of winemaking was all about.
Wines produced by the appassimento process can be sweet wines but more and more the process is being used to produce full-bodied dry wines, the most famous being Amarone.
In appassimento, the focus is on bringing tannins, colour and intensity of flavour from the grape skins. Drying the grapes not only concentrates the juices within the grape but also increases the skin contact of the grapes, bringing out all those elements that add richness to a fine red wine.
The challenge with this technique was where to dry the grapes. Ontario doesn't provide ideal temperatures and humidity that would allow for this process to happen naturally. That's when Lipinski discovered hundreds of abandoned tobacco kilns in Norfolk County.
Lipinski purchased three large tobacco kilns and had special racks fitted for them. During the harvest, grapes are carefully laid out on the racks in a single layer. When the kiln is full, the door is locked and a giant fan circulates the air and regulates humidity. These grapes are essentially drying and simultaneously concentrating their flavours, enriching the final product.
Lipinski, now winemaker at Colaneri Winery in St. Davids, produces a delicious '09 Syrah from 50 per cent dried fruit. It has lots of dark chocolate blackberry and licorice on the nose. Full-bodied with heaps of raspberry caressing the big, bold black pepper flavours with a core of fruit and silky tannins. It lingers long and racy. The wine is priced well at $30 a bottle.
Italian appassimento wines are very bold and raisiny, a characteristic Lipinski has managed to tame into velvety elegance that luxuriates across the palate. Lipinski is a natural born winemaker whose talents have influenced the wines at Vineland Estate, Organized Crime, Fielding Estate, Legends, Meglomaniac and Foreign Affair.
His latest achievement is a white appassimento dessert wine called Profondo. Made solely from pinot grigio grapes harvested from the Colaneri Estate, they're first dried, then barrel fermented and barrel aged, its colour is a beautiful copper pink. The body is pure and delicate sporting rich vanilla, tangerine and honey flavours. The mouthful is lush, retaining a sense of harmony from start to finish. The wine is so spectacular Lipinski is considering replacing icewine with Profondo in the Colaneri dessert wine portfolio.
Lipinski has worked hard to perfect the appassimento method, and so has Cave Spring Cellars in Jordan. They produce a rich red wine made from the appassimento method. It's called La Penna and contrary to its name (which means feather in Italian), is anything but light. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are laid on racks in a naturally ventilated barn high up on the Beamsville Bench at the Cave Spring Vineyard. They lay there, gradually withering to concentrate their flavours for about eight to nine weeks.
The resulting wine is velvety and full with flavours that dance from carmelized red fruit to herbal tones, creamy vanilla to salami. Reasonably priced at $34.95, it's a beautiful rich wine that fits snuggly into holiday giving and fireside sipping.
Your holiday selections for rich reds are endless this year. Henry of Pelham's Baco Reserve is a benchmark wine, Kacaba Vineyards' Syrah Reserve is a lush monster that wins consistently at wine competitions, Foreign Affair Winery's Temptress doesn't disappoint with seductive notes and Meglomaniac Big Mouth Merlot makes a statement even before the bottle is opened.
This season look for the new seductive rich and red wines for your holiday needs. They're all available at the winery retail locations so give yourself enough time to visit, taste, confirm and select. Happy sipping.
““ Lynn Ogryzlo is a food and wine writer and author of The Ontario Table, an international award-winning cookbook. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments at ontariotable.com