Which wines pair best with the holidays? I am a firm believer that for quality and value for money, Niagara wines are second to none–and in particular, its wave of appassimento wines makes for beautiful stocking-stuffers.
Foreign Affair Winery has been at the vanguard of Niagara’s appassimento wines from the beginning. In love with the Amarone style from Veneto, matched with what they can grow in Ontario, I imagine winemakers Len Crispino and Barclay Robinson said, “okay Wine Gods, you’re pretty good, but watch this.”
Appassimento is an ancient Roman method of drying grapes off-vine to optimize their phenolic ripeness for more complexity and depth from the aromatics through to the finish. This labour-intensive desiccation—extreme drying—concentrates the juices and polyphenols for an elegant richness on the palate.
DINE recommends these three wines from Foreign Affair Winery to pair with your holiday gatherings: Sangiovese, Conspiracy and Chardonnay. “All of our wines—both whites and reds—are appassimento,” shares Crispino. “We dry naturally from two months to half a year with ambient temperature. From vine to bottle, the continuum of care starts in the vineyard. There has to be legitimacy and passion; the grapes have to be in perfect condition; and the end goal is to produce full-bodied reds and elegant whites. That’s the quality you can taste in the final product.”
Sangiovese 85%, Merlot 11%, Cab Sauv 4%
Aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, this medium-bodied wine has luscious character that is plush and aromatic. Bursting with cherries, currants and cranberries, with hints of smoke and spice, it lingers with a silky luxurious finish. What pairs with pizza? THIS! We found it paired delightfully with an aged Manchego cheese, and following our first course, this Sangiovese seems to have been made for succulent grilled lamb chops with a medley of charred mushrooms and pan-fried vegetables.
62% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sauv, 13% Merlot
This is a Ripasso-style wine (grape skins are kept after pressing; the wine is re-passed over them, and left to absorb more flavour.) Each varietal is fermented separately and then oak-aged for 9 months. This is artwork in a bottle. It’s like fruit under a magnifying glass that focuses on the good qualities. Strong aromatics of blackberries and currants, blueberries and smoke compose such an impressive balance of voluptuous tannins, fruit and acidity. We paired this with baked eggplant with Parmesan and mozzarella and found the textures were somehow in sync and the touch of spice and smoke from the wine matched with the eggplant well. It goes without saying that our grilled steak was conspiratorially elevated with each velvety sip of this wine.
I am one who tires of Chardonnay, but this is one of the only examples that excite me, because it is so balanced, fruit-forward and elegant. Barrel-fermented, aged on light lees for 15 months, and with a kiss of French Oak, this is gentle and refreshing with more pronounced notes of what we’re supposed to enjoy from a really good Chardonnay—the lemon-y vanilla, the sweet pineapple and touch of toast, and with a creamy texture and smooth finish. We paired this with chowder. It was perfecto! Seafood loves this Chardonnay as do creamy soups. We also chose to pair with a d’Affinois, a French double-cream soft cheese that was another lovely pairing. We had intended to pair with crisp roasted chicken and a creamy risotto, but that will have to wait for the next bottle. This is also lovely to sip on it’s own.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.