Wine is made from grapes, but if it tasted merely of fruit juice, think how much poorer the world would be. No amusing wine-critic adjectives to snicker at. No snooty sommeliers to satirize after the meal. No trophy cellars to envy.
I think it's safe to say most flavours that send connoisseurs into rapture seem about as far from fruit juice as road tar (which, incidentally, happens to be one of the nuances widely detected in expensive Barolos from northern Italy). The non-fruit adjective list is long and includes, uproariously to novice tasters, roast beef, bacon, kerosene, diesel, gun metal and "barnyard."
Perhaps the most widely prized of the inedible sensory figments in wine is "minerality." A cherished nuance in great whites from Burgundy and the Loire Valley, it is most notably a hallmark of good riesling. German rieslings can have it in spades, as can those from Alsace in France. Think of running your tongue over a piece of slate, chalk or stone. It's an ineffable tingle. Once you recognize and begin to like it, there's almost no going back.
In the New World, where sunny weather tends to amplify fruit at the expense of more abstract nuances, producers strive to craft rieslings with even just a hint of minerality.
One of the great Canadian wines that almost always delivers on that score is CSV Riesling from Niagara estate Cave Spring Cellars. The latest release of that wine comes up for sale today through Vintages stores in Ontario along with a selection of other premium Ontario offerings.
Cave Spring CSV Estate Bottled Riesling 2008 ($29.95, product No. 566026). Light medium-bodied, this is a great example from a Niagara vintage that delivered many excellent whites. Slightly sweet, it shows tropical-fruit and citrus flavours and a quarry-full of minerals. Produced from the concentrated fruit of relatively old vines, it should age nicely for up to 15 years. A good match for smoked fish or Thanksgiving turkey with trimmings.
Off-dry and slightly sappy in texture, Vineland Estates St. Urban Riesling 2008 ($19.95, No. 38117) is reminiscent of ripe peach, with balancing acidity and a subtle, mineral-like tingle.
Featherstone Old Vines Riesling 2008 ($19.95, No. 64584) brings to mind lime soda. Light medium-bodied with underlying sweetness that's nicely balanced by fresh, citrus-like acidity. A nice aperitif.
Flat Rock Riddled 2007 ($24.95, No. 187377) is a sparkling white wine sealed with, yes, a beer-bottle cap, though it's neither a gimmick nor a sop to plebeian aesthetics. Fine champagnes are aged in bottles sealed with beer caps (seriously), only to have the cap replaced before sale with a mushroom-shaped cork. Niagara's Flat Rock reasoned that shipping the wine all the way to the consumer with a crown cap would ensure freshness and a tighter seal - and therefore more bubbles - than one capped with porous cork.
They lobbied the Canadian wine standards council to change the rules to permit the new closure. Yes, you'll get an anticlimactic beer-bottle pssst rather than a regal pop, but think of the other advantages - you'll avoid eye injury and crockery damage from ballistic cork. The wine is very good, a touch sweet but with good orchard-fruit and berry notes and hints of toasted bread and minerals and lively acidity.
Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2005 ($19.95, No. 587691). Faintly coppery in colour, this bone-dry bubbly from Niagara delivers a cherry-liqueur-like core and notes of bread and citrus, finishing with zippy acidity. Great value.
Le Clos Jordanne Talon Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 ($37, No. 143974) is a full-bodied Niagara white with enough acid to keep things lively. Try this toasty, creamy and buttery wine with lobster or a fall squash soup.
And now to some imports:
Ricossa Barbera d'Asti Superiore 2007 ($16.95, No. 70839) is a monster-truck barbera from Italy with 14.5-per-cent alcohol and an almost fortified, Port-like quality. Full-bodied and concentrated, it's slightly hot from all that alcohol, but there's plenty of plum-like fruit and herbs to carry the day plus a classic barbera spine of firm acidity. Try it with braised meats such as osso bucco.
Ever smelled the back end of a pig while eating cherry jam out of the jar? Me neither, but drinking Montepeloso Eneo 2006 ($44.95, No. 114660) is what I imagine the experience might be like. A Tuscan red blend of montepulciano, sangiovese, marselan and alicante, it's oh-so earthy and a little funky, with a mouth-coating density, ripe berries and sandy tannins. It would not be out of place next to rare beef or, yes, a pork roast.
Springbank 10 Years Old Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($79.95, No. 708362) is a well-rounded whisky with multidimensional flavours to please most Scotch fans. Lots of grain flavour in this relatively young premium single malt, including plenty of barley, sweet notes of molasses and lemon curd, plus spice, smoke and sea breeze. Excellent balance.