One of the things I love about going home to Niagara for the holidays; apart from seeing family and friends, is picking a new winery to try. Since I left almost 5 years ago, there has been an explosion of great wineries with something to please every palate.
When HubbyDoug and I were walking the main street we slipped into a little bar for a glass to take away the chill. We were treated to a Colaneri Estate Winery ’09 Cabernet Corposo. I noticed a distinctive richness and old world vibe from the very first sip. To be honest, my experience with many Niagara reds has been somewhat disappointing. They have a tendency towards a lightness and a green, vegetal quality that I don’t always care for. While they eventually settle into a pleasant flavor, it’s generally when you get to the bottom of the glass. I like a red to look me in the eye as it gently takes me by the collar and eases me back into my chair. This wine winked as it looked me in the eye.
I had to find out what made it so unique. A trip to the winery became my top priority.
Colaneri wines are made using an appassimento process that dates back to ancient Roman times. Harvested grapes are hung to dry before winemaking, to remove any excess water, thus shriveling the grapes. And why would you want this kind of shrinkage? All the better to concentrate the sugars and flavors in the resulting wine.
- Recioto ~ also an ancient style of winemaking and also incorpporating the drying of grapes to concentrate the sugar content. Recioto may be red or white, dry or sweet. The dryer wines in this style are Amarone which can be intense at 16% alcohol.
- Ripasso is a style that means to revisit or go over. It involves a double fermentation process in which additional dried grape skins are added. The sugar content has been heightened by drying and this increases the final alcohol and phenolic content in the wine which is known as passito.
Our winery guide, Pam, explained that Colaneri was one of only three Niagara region wineries to use this process. Their wines are kiln-dried, using both greenhouses with industrial fans and tobacco kilns. ”Since the kilns were no longer being used to dry tobacco, they have been put to use in winemaking”, she said. In the tobacco kilns, the fans push air up through the floor; where the greenhouse fans circulate the air around the fruit. The drying process can take up to two months with skin contact completed within 7-10 days.
After harvest, the grapes for Amarone and Recioto are set aside to dry in trays in kilns, or are hung in lofts ~ the hanging and careful placement in trays allows for complete air circulation so no mold develops. There they stay for approximately four months after which the semidried grapes are crushed and fermented with the grape skins. The grapes not used for Amarone or Recioto are crushed and fermented to be used later.
Once prolonged skin contact has finished, the wine is stored for aging. The additional wine (that had been fermented seperately) is introduced by being pumped over the Amarone | Recioto skins, thus starting the second fermentation. The saturated skins are still quite full of unfermented sugars, making them high in aromatics and tannins.
It was time to began our tasting with a spectrum of lighter fare: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Chenin Blanc. The Chenin Blanc was my favorite; it had a taste of pear, pineapple and cotton candy (yum) with lots of citrus on the nose. Pam then took us into the reds starting the Red Blend ~ a combination of Cab Sav, Syrah, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. She mentioned that it was their everyday wine that pairs well with everything from pizza to red meats to chocolate.
We then turned our attention to the Cabernet that we had enjoyed the day before. The scent of rich molasses was prominent on the nose with sweet tobacco, blackberry and raspberry resonating on the palate. Awesome.
The Cabernet Franc was rich and flavorful, with an distinct essence of plum. Pam mentioned that some who tried it but don’t enjoy prunes/plums weren’t always fans. She recommended pairing with tomato-y dishes to counterbalance the prune essence.
We spend a good part of the afternoon sipping and learning a lot about some very special wines. Pam was friendly, knowledgeable and made the field trip to Colaneri so much fun.
I came away from the trip feeling happy to have discovered a jewel of a Niagara wine. I’ll make a point to look for more wines created using this time-honored method.