By: Angela Aiello
W ell, it’s Winter in Canada – and it sure has been a cold one. Other than the abundance of Icewine and partaking in a few winter activities, for me, Winter is all about sipping red wine from the comfort of my own couch. Many of us escape somewhere warmer for some vitamin D and sunshine – but wine can certainly suffice if you prefer hibernation.
In the world of wine, there are warm and cool climates. With so many grapes varieties in the world (and trust me, there are thousands of types) there are different grapes that grow better in warmer versus cooler regions. Here in Ontario, as I’m sure you can guess, we are a cool climate region. We fit into the Northern Hemisphere wine belt, which includes regions such as Germany and the Northern part of France (mostly cooler climates). The Southern Hemisphere also has a wine belt (with mostly warmer regions), and in that belt are wine regions like Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Chile.
A grapevine needs at least 100 days of full sun to fully mature. Most red wines need more days of sun to increase the sugar inside, which increases the body in red wines (hence warmer climates produce such full-bodied red wines). In Ontario, we only get warm enough three years out of every ten to produce really full-bodied red wines that compare to other warmer climates. That being said, Ontario (and Niagara specifically) produce fantastic medium to full-bodied reds, and one of my favourites is Merlot. It is a grape that is not very popular these days, in some part from the reputation it was given in the movie Sideways, but Niagara produces some amazing bottles you need to try. If you’re looking for really full-bodied reds from warmer vintages in Niagara, look for the years 2007, 2010 and 2012. If you remember, we had really warm summers those years, which makes our red wines bigger and bolder.
The other grape that thrives well in our cooler climate is Riesling (remember we’re on the same belt as Germany, which is place where Riesling is standard). I’m pretty sure that every single winery in Niagara makes a bottle of Riesling, and each one is unique and special. It is one of my favourite grapes because it is so affordable, delicious and has the ability to age for years and years. It is a wine that pairs well with almost everything, and people always love it. In my opinion, it is the perfect go to wine, and Niagara makes some of the best Riesling in the world.
Another amazing cool climate wine is Sparkling wine. Most traditionally made Sparkling wine is produced with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes, but you can really add bubbles to any wine and use any grape. In Niagara, they mostly use Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are classic cool climate grape varieties. The grapes in Sparkling wine are not typically listed on the bottle. However, if a Sparkling wine is made 100% from Chardonnay it can be called a “Blanc de Blanc” (translating to white of white), and if made from 100% Pinot Noir it is called “Blanc de Noir” (meaning white of red). There is a fantastic Sparkling wine from Peller Estates Winery that is called Ice Cuvee and it is made with a dash of Icewine to add a bit of sweetness. If there is a year noted on the bottle of wine, then all of the grapes were harvested from that year and used in the bottle (very rare for Sparkling wine). Otherwise, grapes from several years are blended together to create a certain taste profile.
Today, there is a trend back to the art of the blend. While many wineries start with single varietals, you’ll notice more producers going back to that classic style of winemaking. The world of wine is much more complex than single varietals and has been built on the art of blending wines. Like any great relationship, when multiple ‘personalities’ come together, they can bring out the best in the other and complement strengths. A famous “blend trend” is Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The combination of aromas from the Gewurztraminer and the backbone of acidity of the Riesling make for the perfect combination to enjoy. Also quite common, the Chardonnay grape is typically used in many white blends around Niagara, and these wines taste great because they bring out the best in each grape. Whether red or white – they please a crowd and are priced right.
Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape that is grown all over the world but thrives in cooler climate regions. Many warm climate regions grow Pinot as well and it can be a fuller-bodied red, but it mostly is a light to medium-bodied red wine that is grown in cool areas. It is a challenging grape to grow, which is exactly why so many winemakers love it. Niagara’s Pinot Noir is really wonderful and is done really well. While you’re sipping Pinot Noir, be sure to try our Chardonnay (it is really quite unbelievable as well). Many regions all over the world make Chardonnay but some of my favourites come from right here in Ontario.
If you’re a Sauvignon Blanc fan, Niagara is the place you’ll find something right up your alley. This racy grape is the perfect wine for the Spring and Summer months. It is crisp and fresh and a great pairing for your green vegetables and summer barbecues. It is a wine that many people really enjoy and is quite lovely when it has had some time with lees or even in oak barrels (my personal favourite).
Cabernet Franc is another one of our treasured cool climate varieties and so is Baco Noir. They are both medium-bodied reds and definitely worth trying and sharing with friends. When you’re looking for a certain style of wine, make sure you know which ones grow better in warm versus cool climates so you know what to shop and look for. The local Niagara wineries have some amazing wines that might not even be listed here, so stay cool and support our Niagara producers by trying out what they’ve been experimenting and creating!