News reports of an imminent big chill due to polar-vortex activity in the atmosphere helped shape this week’s wine recommendations. Forecasts suggesting cold air from the Arctic is set to descend into parts of Canada further south than normal inspired a search for wines that could wake up one’s taste buds.
The projections also raised concerns about potential damage to vineyards in the affected areas as a result of extremely low temperatures. Some grapevines can weather prolonged cold snaps better than others. Merlot and sauvignon blanc vines, for instance, aren’t as winter-hardy as riesling, vidal or baco noir.
Vine Alert is a program conducted by the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University that monitors the cold hardiness of vineyards throughout Ontario during the dormant period. Recent reports suggest the crop for the 2021 harvest could be significantly affected by sustained temperatures of -23.1 C. Following previous polar-vortex incidents in 2014, 2015 and 2018, growers in Niagara witnessed lower-than-anticipated yields across affected varieties due to bud damage. In some instances, they needed to replace damaged or dead vines as a result of damage to the roots or trunk of the vine.
A vine’s ability to handle cold weather changes throughout its dormant cycle. The good news for wineries and growers is the predicted cold snap would occur during the maximum cold-hardiness period.
When temperatures begin to increase, vines start to break out of dormancy. A deep freeze in March, for instance, typically has more dire consequences for grape growers in affected areas than sub-zero temperatures right now.
It’s worth noting that growers have different ways to protect their vineyards from winter injury, ranging from large wind machines designed to create an inversion by pulling warmer air down to crop levels or employing smudge-pot heaters throughout the vineyard to protect against frost.
To my taste, red wines are more suited to warding off winter’s chill, so the recommendations feature a mix of mostly full-bodied merlots with some blends and a richly concentrated shiraz added for good measure. There’s also a couple of whites that made an impression during recent tastings.
Château Fongaban 2018 (France)
Located in Castillon, near Saint-Emilion, Fongaban is an organic estate that produces this expressive blend of merlot and cabernet franc. There’s a nice mix of fruity and savoury notes, with polished tannins and texture that makes for a nicely integrated and enjoyable red wine. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario.
Corcelettes Merlot 2018 (Canada)
Corcelettes is in expansion mode, having purchased a neighbouring property in the Similkameen Valley to plant more vineyards and open a guest house for visitors. This estate-grown merlot is a great introduction to the complex and enjoyable wines on offer. Made with grapes grown on 20-year-old vines, this offers a mix of ripe fruit with herbal and earthy notes that add layers of flavour to wine that is nicely structured and age-worthy. Drink now to 2028. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through corceletteswine.ca, various prices in Alberta.
Lacour Tourny 2018 (France)
Here’s a simple yet supple red from Bordeaux produced with merlot and cabernet grown in various locations in the region. The mix of juicy fruit and cedary notes make this easy to appreciate, while youthful tannins adds structure and some grip to the finish. Drink now to 2022. Available in Ontario.
Hillside Gjoa’s Vineyard Merlot 2013 (Canada)
This single-vineyard merlot from 2013 is a new release from Hillside that is developing nicely. A flavourful and complex red, this offers ripe plum and cherry notes with savoury and mocha accents. The fruity character is still fresh and inviting. Drink now to 2023. Available at the above price, direct through hillsidewinery.ca.
Malivoire Farmstead Gamay 2019 (Canada)
I’ve long been a fan of Malivoire’s popular gamay, which enjoys year-round availability at LCBO Vintages outlets as well as the winery’s tasting room in Beamsville, Ont. Labelled as Farmstead Gamay as of the recently released 2019 vintage, this continues to offer classic ripe red-fruit and pepper flavours that make it a terrific pizza, pasta or burger wine. It’s dry, refreshing and quintessentially gamay. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price or direct through malivoire.com, various prices in Alberta.
Mitolo Jester Shiraz 2017 (Australia)
Always made in a smooth and crowd-pleasing style, Jester blends shiraz grown throughout the McLaren Vale region of South Australia to produce a juicy and enjoyable red. The 2017 vintage offers a mix of tart and ripe fruit flavours that are nicely concentrated. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $31.98 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $22.57 in Manitoba.
Sperling Vineyards Organic Market White 2018 (Canada)
This fruity and aromatic white features a blend of pinot blanc and bacchus, a German variety that is one of the earliest grapes to ripen in Sperling’s vineyard in Kelowna, with a small addition of riesling. Vibrant, juicy and balanced, this is a refreshing and flavourful white that’s enjoyable on its own or with a meal. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19 in British Columbia and direct through sperlingvineyards.com.
Tom Gore Chardonnay 2018 (United States)
A classic example of California chardonnay, this offers a mix of tropical, tree-fruit and citrus-fruit flavours that are rounded out by butter and spice notes. Consistently rich and flavourful, this is full-bodied wine that fans of bold whites should appreciate. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia and Manitoba, various prices in Alberta, $19.65 in Quebec, $24.99 in New Brunswick.
Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Italy)
This ripe and enjoyable red is a blend of sangiovese and cabernet that takes its name from the village in Emilia-Romagna where the vineyards are located. There’s a core of cherry and berry fruit with herbal accents that add complexity. Bright acidity and youthful tannins provide structure to balance the juicy character. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, $27 in Quebec, $34.99 in New Brunswick.
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