One of the questions, our Hospitality Team is frequently asked is “is this going to be a great vintage”? In Niagara, when we say it is a great vintage, we normally mean the red grape varieties are fully ripe at harvest, creating intensity of flavour and tannin. Mother Nature needs to give us lots of hot, dry, sunny weather right through October. Being a cool climate wine region, this doesn’t happen every year!
The best vintages for producing the high-quality Bordeaux red grapes that Strewn grows (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) happen on average every couple of years. We produced top-tier Terroir red wines in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016. We are now in the longest gap between Terroir vintages in more than 20 years.
Fortunately, the growing conditions in Niagara allow us to craft good to outstanding white wines virtually every year. Many of the white varieties benefit from slightly cooler weather, which can create refreshing acidity and crisp flavours.
What Type of Year was 2019
April and May were generally cooler and wetter than normal, which meant bud burst and blossom were about 10 days behind. Then on June 21, the first official day of summer, it turned warm and sunny, and the growing season was under way!
Warm, sunny weather continued through July and August. September, a key month for red grapes to ripen, started cool with some rain then finished with cool, sunny weather to begin the harvest season.
The cool fall weather, combined with low humidity and sunshine, provided a boost for grapes in terms of phenolic ripeness and prevented breakdown of fruit. This allowed an extended period for grapes to fully ripen, followed by an unusually early cold snap in mid-November (the earliest start for picking Icewine grapes on record!).
Most white varieties were harvested early and of excellent quality. To help reach optimal ripeness, many growers reduced the crop for the red varieties, particularly for later maturing varieties. Harvest extended into early December, sometimes taking place in the snow.
According to VQA Ontario, expect a full range of exceptional white wines defined by crispness, acid and fruit. Early reports suggest some red grapes benefited from the concentrating effect of freeze-thaw that comes with being harvested late in the season – Strewn harvested our red grapes at the Home Farm the third week of November.
A Sommelier’s perspective.
In my mind, a good year is when Mother Nature puts everything together that allows winemakers to make different styles of wines from light, crisp and refreshing white wines, creamy Chardonnays, light and medium bodied red wines to full-bodied red wines.
Every wine region in the world has “optimal growing conditions” for its wine style, the varietals grown there, geographic location and weather. For example:
The Champagne region of France produces the best sparkling wine in the world. Due to Champagne’s northern location, the growing season is short, producing under-ripe grapes with high acidity and low sugar, perfect for making sparkling wines
Napa Valley, on the other hand, is known for powerful Cabernet Sauvignons because its location and hot, dry weather conditions are perfect for growing very ripe grapes
The Niagara Peninsula region is about wine more than style or one specific grape variety. We grow many varietals, and make wine using many wine styles. Then there can be very unpredictable weather patterns s- some years are cool and wet while others are hot and dry with a long growing season.
Regardless of location, varietal or wine style, winemakers always want perfect grapes to make their best wines.
Juan Nunez-Sanchez, Strewn Estate Sommelier
As the saying goes: the best time to drink a wine is when the bottle is open! All kidding aside, at least 99% of wines are ready to drink by the time they are available for sale. However some wines do benefit from cellaring and will be more enjoyable to drink when they are mature in five, eight, 10 years or more. Aging allows flavours to mellow and the wine becomes more harmonious, balanced and complex.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint exactly when a wine will be at its peak. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when you are trying to decide whether to drink now or save for later.
Red grapes traditionally associated with the Bordeaux region such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and even Merlot are often made with concentration of flavour, more structure and higher levels of tannins. When they are young, these wines can be described as tight, closed, astringent or harsh.
Over time as tannins combine and soften, the wines will develop a pleasant silken texture. We fondly remember the Terroir Cabernet Franc from the 1998 vintage which was so tannic and assertive when it was bottled that it was nicknamed the Cellar Monster (but drinking well 15 years later).
Acidity keeps a wine tasting fresh but becomes gentler over time. White wines with high acidity have greater potential to age gracefully because the acidity helps protect against oxidation.
Of all the white varieties, Riesling continues to evolve and mature over time in the bottle with its fresh, fruity flavours replaced with more minerality and classic bottle-aged characteristics. Strewn’s soon to-be-sold out Riesling from 2014 is a gorgeous example of this.
As the fruit drops away in a lower-acid Chardonnay, it will show more toasty oak and earthy notes which some love and others don’t.
Icewines made from Vidal or Riesling grapes are noted for their sweetness (residual sugar) which when balanced by acidity allows them to evolve from fresh fruit flavours to dried fruits, caramel and butterscotch.
Mother Nature definitely has a say in whether a wine will be suitable for cellaring. Niagara is considered a cool climate wine region and not every year has enough hot, dry, sunny days to produce grapes with concentrated flavours and higher levels of tannins. On average, Strewn makes its top-tier Terroir reds every second year. The last vintage was 2016 and these wines are benefiting from still more mellowing time before being released. It pays to know weather patterns by year!
4. Viticultural Practices and Wine-Making Style
What happens in the vineyard can play a significant role in producing grapes with bigger flavour and tannins. These include shoot thinning, leaf removal and canopy management to open grapes to the sun, and crop thinning to ensure maximum flavour and ripeness.
Wine-making style is also something that impacts whether a wine is a suitable candidate for cellaring. With the demand for ready-to-drink wines, particularly reds, winemakers can craft wines that are more fruit-forward, softer and lower in tannins. They may be delicious to drink while young but won’t improve with cellaring.
5. Proper Storage
Wines keep best in consistent temperature rather than ones that fluctuate. Ideally, temperatures should be around 13°C / 55°F. The warmer the temperature and the more temperature variations your wine undergoes, the sooner it will mature.
6. Personal Preference
Tastes differ and yours is the one that counts! Do you prefer wines with a fresh, fruity quality or those with heavy tannins? Vibrant and fruity or soft and mellow? Rich and velvety? Know the wine styles you enjoy and don’t be swayed by someone else’s. Of course, you can always put aside a bottle that will benefit from aging to celebrate a special occasion in the future.
How to Track Wine Aging in the Cellar
- Taste! Open a bottle periodically (perhaps once a year); part of the pleasure is seeing how it is developing
- Keep a wine journal or diary and record the date you taste a bottle along with your comments. Once you don’t notice changes from one bottle to the next, it probably won’t benefit from additional cellaring.
- Use cellar labels to help you remember a wine that may be near its prime (mark the date by which the bottle is to be opened).
Holidays and entertaining go hand-in-hand and wine can play a starring role in a get-together. Here are some wine tips to consider when you are hosting a small or large gathering.
Pick Your Own “House Wine”
Unless you know guests are wine connoisseurs, a party is usually not the best time to pull out special bottles you have been saving. Instead look for wines that will be crowd-pleasers and choose a white and a red to offer as your house wine which will appeal to a wide range of tastes. These tend to be easy drinking/food friendly/lower in tannin, with 12% or less alcohol content. They are often less expensive and may have a little sweetness.
To determine the mix of red and white wine, go with an even split if you are not sure which your guests prefer. This is a change from the traditional two-thirds white and reflects changing wine tastes.
White wines vary from full-bodied buttery, toasty Chardonnays to crisp, refreshing whites with lots of fruit such as Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc. Both these styles can pair well with holiday meals. Red wines can be medium or full-bodied but consider choosing reds with softer tannins (big tannin reds cry out for high protein meats such as lamb and steak rather than appetizers or snacks).
The “Wine Bar”
Be a responsible host and pour wine instead of setting out bottles and allowing guests to serve themselves. Plan to serve two drinks per person in the first hour of your event then one drink during each following hour.
Start by pouring less wine than the usual 5-ounces. Stay away from using oversized wine glasses or you may discover the wine doesn’t go nearly as far as you expected. For a larger group, you may want to rent glasses (no washing required afterwards!) rather than risk breakage of your own delicate or costly stemware.
If you are offering a selection of wines (e.g. more than one white and red or a sparkling or dessert wine), serve 2 or 3-ounce pours so guests can taste and compare wines throughout your get together.
To help guests pace themselves offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, such as sparkling or still water, juice, soft drinks, non-alcoholic punch or cider. And don’t automatically offer to refill an empty glass with wine.
Food slows down the speed at which the body absorbs alcohol. Offer veggies, cheeses and light dips during the gathering. Avoid salty, sweet or greasy foods, which tend to make people thirstier. Check out this easy recipe for Emerald Edamame Spread >> courtesy of the Wine Country Cooking School.
How Much Wine to Allow
Wine Math: a 750 mL bottle = 5 (5-ounce) glasses or 6 (4-ounce) glasses. We normally allow one-third of a bottle per person. A 750 mL bottle of sparkling wine (poured into flutes) = 8 servings.
Stand up parties – allow one 4-ounce glass of wine per guest per hour and expect one or two refills. Fill wine glasses no more half full to minimize the risk of wine being spilled while guests are talking and circulating. And have some Wine Away or other red wine stain remover on hand just in case you need it.
Sit down dinners – allow two 4-ounce glasses of wine per hour as people tend to drink more at dinner. Serve water with the meal and keep water glasses full.
Most people drink less at afternoon gatherings than they do in the evening (think about serving lighter-style and sparkling wines).
The right "coolness" for serving
Here is a general guidelineto help you serve wine at the best temperatures.
Whites and rosés: refrigerate for a few hours before serving
Reds: refrigerate for 15 minutes before serving
Sparkling: refrigerate then keep on ice between pours
Remember the cooler the wine, the more refreshing it will taste but the aromas will be subdued.
Last But Not Least – Be a Responsible Guest
In Canada the maximum blood alcohol content (BAC) for fully licensed drivers is 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (0.05). More than that and you may have your license suspended. Driving with a BAC over 0.08 is a criminal offence.
The enzyme in the liver that eliminates alcohol works at different rates depending on genetic background, gender, weight, and food intake before drinking. As a rule of thumb to stay within the 0.05 blood alcohol concentration limit, consume no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine if you're a man or one glass if you're a woman.
Back in early days of wine drinking, wines came straight from the barrel to the table in an earthenware pitcher. While the ancient Romans introduced glass decanters, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that glass bottles became common and the art of decanting became more widespread.
Reason #1: To Remove Sediment
When: Decanting to remove sediment is most appropriate for older red wines and unfiltered wines.
When wine, especially red wine, is stored in bottles for a length of time visible particles, called sediment, can develop. Until more recent days wines were not filtered or only roughly filtered and as a result contained more sediment. Even today some wines are not filtered on purpose. Sediment can also occur in filtered wines when colour pigments and tannins (the astringent compound) combine. Potassium bitartrate (Cream of Tartar) occurs naturally in all wines, and after bottling can form crystals in the wine sometimes called “wine diamonds”. Although sediment is safe to drink it generally has a gritty texture and is not appealing.
When decanting to remove sediment, use a gentle touch and try not to disturb it! Your goal is to leave the sediment intact and in the bottle, not to spread it throughout the wine.
Reason #2: To Enhance Aromatics and Flavour
When: Decanting to increase the surface area and letting a wine ‘breathe’ is most applicable to younger wines..
Once a wine is bottled it is basically ‘closed up.' When you pour wine into a decanter, the agitation allows oxygen to mix with the wine. The result is three-fold: it helps release any dissolved gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide, opens up the aromas and flavours; and softens the harsh texture of tight, young tannins. Be vigourous when decanting to open up wine and let the wine splash around as it goes into the decanter.
Should You Decant White Wines?
Yes and no. Opinions within the wine industry are mixed about whether there is a benefit from decanting. Those who support decanting say it encourages wines to open up. However most everyday young whites do not need decanting and you do not need to worry about sediment or wine diamonds in white wine.
Is there a perfect (optimal) temperature for wine? Maybe not, but serving temperatures are often overlooked in the plans for a meal or an event where wine will be enjoyed. As a general rule of thumb, cooling wines makes them more refreshing but also dulls the aroma. In hot weather, particularly if you are sipping wine outdoors on the patio, you may want to sacrifice maximum flavour for the refreshing quality of a fully chilled white wine and a lightly chilled red.
White wines are often served too cold, which can make them seem less aromatic and more acidic.
Typically, more complex white wines such as barrel aged or fermented Chardonnay should be served slightly warmer at 10-13ºC. Lighter bodied and neutral white wines such as Riesling and Pinot Blanc benefit from more of a chill are are best served between 7 - 10ºC.
Refrigerators are commonly set at 4 to 5ºC so it a good practice to take white wines out of the fridge around 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
With the advent of state-of-the-art home heating systems, room temperatures have increase. In turn, red wines are often served slightly too warm which can make them seem flabby and less fresh.
Lighter reds are refreshing when served between 10-13°C and medium-bodied red wines are appropriately served between 13 and 16ºC. Serving bigger, bolder and more tannic red wines too chilled will make them more astringent and bitter. We recommend serving slightly below room temperature at 16-18ºC.
Placing most red wines in the fridge 15 to 20 minutes before serving will benefit both the wine and the drinker! Of course if you like your wine warmer or colder, don't forsake what you enjoy - after all you paid for it and you are consuming it!
All wine is stored at the same temperature, regardless of its color. But reds and whites are consumed at quite different temperatures. Too often people drink white wines too cold and red wines too warm, limiting how much you can enjoy the wine. A white that’s too cold will be flavorless and a red that’s too warm is often flabby and alcoholic.