The Safe Word is Wine

It’s a whirlwind day. From getting ready in the morning to the ceremony that follows, endless photographs and many well-wishers, a glass of wine is a welcoming invitation for all to celebrate. But choosing wine for a wedding can be a daunting task. How will you please everyone? What goes best with the food? How much will this cost? Fear not. Niagara has plenty to offer and will certainly be able to satisfy your wedding wine whims. At the core of it, just remember; wine, like weddings, brings people together. It’s that simple.

We have the benefit of proximity. If you’re looking for wine you don’t have to go further than your own backyard – go to the wineries yourself and taste through the options. What better research can there be? Winery staff will be able to help you find something that is in your budget, can supply the amount of thirsty guests that you’re inviting, and most importantly, suits your taste. You may even go as far as finding a label that suits the theme of your wedding.

Let’s start with the obvious. It’s a celebration – that calls for sparkling. Personally I’ve always felt that Niagara has the potential to compete with the world’s best sparkling producers. Why? It helps to have a cool climate. Grapes for sparkling wines are the first ones picked at harvest time; they’re picked just ripe.  Winemakers are looking for enough acidity to give the wine structure and balance. There are different ways one can make a sparkling wine, but Niagara really excels at the traditional method, a.k.a. the Champagne method. Here the wine is fermented a second time in the bottle and spends time sleeping on the spent yeast cells, thereby infusing with biscuity, bread-like characteristics. All of this adds incredible complexity and delicate tiny bubbles that is deserving of a wedding celebration.

There are many producers to choose from here. However I’ve been truly impressed with the sparkling production happening at KEW Vineyards. A small family run winery, KEW sits on one of the escarpment benches in Beamsville. They offer four different sparklings, all traditional method, and even use the same three grapes that are used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Production sizes are relatively even for all four options, and each are $29.95 a bottle so you can simply go with your favourite. Depending on your budget, this wine could be saved for toasting, or even for the head table exclusively.

For a wedding, I lean towards their “Rosalie” – a rosé sparkling made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. Not only does sparkling wine bring a smile to anyone who receives a glass, but that beautiful rose gold colour also further amplifies the romance that’s in the air. Even the persistent little bubbles dance around in the glass as if they’re excited to share in the festivities. It also doesn’t hurt that their wine labels are classy and relatively neutral in colour tones – they’re sure to complement almost any theme you’ve chosen for your special day.

Moving forward with the evening, you certainly want to have an option of red or white for your guests. Some are loyal to one colour for the entire evening, and others like to dabble between the two. Either way you’ll need something that is food friendly enough for your feast.

Lucky for us in Niagara there are an array of options for good quality white wines. One thing to look for is a wine that has enough acidity. Here’s why: acidity has the ability to cut through heavy dishes, balance out sour vinaigrettes and neutralize salt that is surely sprinkled on almost every item on the plate. Thanks again to Niagara’s cooler climate, most of our whites will have a nice underlying acidity to them. The spokesperson for acidity is always Riesling, and what is wonderful about this grape is that the flavours are also very palate friendly.  Orchard fruit, lemon and if you’re lucky, an expression of Niagara’s minerality.

One wine I go to again and again is Vineland Estates Semi-Dry Riesling. It’s at a price point you can’t argue with ($14.95) and the quality is consistently high year after year. Apart from a good value, what’s nice about this wine is that it has a bit of sweetness to keep the sharpness of the acidity at bay. However you would never think of the wine as sweet, because the acidity in return keeps the sweetness in check. Together they really work in harmony, and this wine is able to pair with a wide array of dishes.

Now for the reds. You need a wine big enough to satisfy the tannin lovers but light enough for those who, like my mother-in-law, will begin and end the night with red. Meaning it’s got to be a sipping wine, a wine for white meats, dark meats and everything in between. There’s a range of quality reds in Niagara and it takes time to discover the best ones.  What’s one way to find good value in this region? Know the good vintages. 2012 for example was a sun-kissed summer with just the perfect conditions for red grapes to thrive in. Ask any grape grower or winemaker and they will agree – the better the grapes, the better the wine. 

Inniskillin is one of Niagara’s oldest wineries. Like a good marriage, all of this time has brought finer understanding and expertise in the subject matter.  Their 2012 Niagara Estate Series Merlot ($15.95) is a wine that mediates nicely in the middle for weight, tannin and intensity. The flavours are crowd-pleasing too. Who isn’t a fan of raspberries, mocha and damson plums? 

However if you want to really knock the red out of the park you simply can’t go wrong with the ever-consistent Trius Red ($22.95). Here, regardless of vintage, this wine to me is the quintessential red for Niagara. With another long history in winemaking, Trius winery (formerly Hillebrand) was recently rebranded in honour of its most iconic wine. A Bordeaux-inspired blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), each year gives a slightly different tasting experience while always finding just the right harmony on the palate. The sleek, unique bottle design is sure to impress anyone around the table and if you want to really wow your guests, they sell this wine in magnums (1.5 L) as well.

No matter what your selection will be, just keep in mind that wine is meant to be enjoyed. Find something that you like and that means something to you. You could even consider looking for a vintage from the year you started dating, for example. Keep it simple, and consider wine as just another guest at your table that’s there to celebrate, toast and share in your very happy day with you. Cheers!

Tips on creating your own signature drink at your wedding:

One thing that always brings a fluttering joy to me is when I read the words ‘cocktail hour’ on a wedding invitation. I think it reminds me of a time when people would come together, put away their busy lives, and enjoy a well crafted drink with one another. It’s these little joys in life that you can certainly integrate into your wedding.

Here are some tips on perfecting it:

Seasonality: what time of year will your wedding be? Play with local ingredients that are in season and integrate them into a cocktail. In the warm months you can play with fresh herbs and fruits, in the cold months you can dive into the spices and preserved/canned goodies (perhaps some that you’ve preserved yourself – and if not, here’s a good excuse to learn!).

Brand it well: give it a catchy name that’s symbolic of your union. Channel your inner-marketing mind and have fun with it.

Colour tone: this is where you can really tie in your wedding theme to the drink. Depending on your colours, you’re sure to find syrups, fresh fruit or liqueurs that can match.

Glassware: this doesn’t have to break the bank. If mason jars are still trending, you’re bound to find something around that is a worthy vessel of your drink. Go to antique stores and thrift stores, or if the season is right, garage sales. And remember that it’s okay to mis-match; just try to find the same style of glass.

Research: the fun part. Spend a night in and try different recipes out together. You may discover there’s an inner-mixologist in you!

DIY: infusing your own spirits/liqueurs is easier than you think and it really adds that personal touch to a cocktail. For example, get a bottle of vodka and put in a couple split vanilla beans. Seal the bottle back up and let it infuse somewhere cool and dark for around a week (or longer if you want a stronger flavour). Shake every few days. Voilà! You’ve made vanilla vodka. Design your own label for the bottle to tie everything together nicely.

Written By: Kristina Inman 

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