Wine Wednesday - The Importance of Being Cool

Photos by Cheri-Lynn Buchanan

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You may have heard the term “cool climate” when referring to certain wine regions. Ontario is one of those regions, along with Northern France and Italy, Germany, New Zealand and Oregon to name a few. I’m thrilled to belong to this cool crowd, and let me tell you why, with the help of the VQA:

“While grapes grown in the world’s warm regions ripen quickly and make for sweet, big wines that are low in acid and high in alcohol, the grapes grown in cooler regions (such as Ontario,
Germany or northern France) ripen and accumulate their flavour slowly. The wines tend to be complex and balanced, with higher acidity and more mineral flavours – making them the most food-friendly wines in the world."
 (Source: www.winecountryontario.ca)

What makes cool climate wines food friendly is that magic combination of complexity of flavours that develop in a longer growing season along with elevated acidity. Complex flavours – not only fruit but vegetal, herbal and earthy – allow for greater variety in food and wine pairing as you can complement or contrast different elements of a dish with different characteristics in the wine. On the other side of the wine spectrum, over-ripe, juicy, high alcohol wines can act like an elephant to an ant when trying to pair with food – they don’t play well with many culinary friends.

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Acidity, that lip-smacking goodness in cool climate wines, is arguably the most important structural element of a wine. Not only does it balance sugar and tannin, but on the food side it also prepares your palate as it increases the saliva in your mouth (which makes you want to eat and also helps you digest your food). Furthermore, it acts like a vacuum cleaner on your tongue when you eat rich or fatty foods, allowing you to indulge just a little bit more. Without adequate acid, wines can seem flabby and flat. With the right amount of acid, wines are vibrant, alive, and perfect dinner party guests. If you love the marriage of wine and food the way I do, you will agree that acid is not actually a four-letter word when it comes to wine.

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The safekeeping of natural acidity is in the hands of a few environmental factors: importantly, diurnal shifts (the drop in temperature from day to night) and maritime influence (in Ontario the great lakes that border our wine regions), both elements of cool climate viticulture. A number of wine grapes find their happiest homes in cool climates, notably Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Riesling. It is no surprise that these have become superstars in Ontario. They of course need a warm hug from the sun during the growing season, but what makes these wines sing is their balance of acidity, which is the result of our cool climate.

Of course there are many factors influencing the production of great wine and climate is only one of them. It is, however, an important one, and it’s about time we recognized that Ontario wine is cool.

Anjana Viswanatha [Sommelier CAPS, CMS] is the founder and principal of Wednesday Night Wine (www.wednesdaynightwine.ca), a wine instructor at George Brown College and is the Marketing Manager for Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.winieriesofniagaraonthelake.com, @niagarawine on Twitter and Instagram, @wineriesofniagaraonthelake on Facebook). Get in touch with Anjana: anjana@wednesdaynightwine.ca and follow her on Instagram @wednesdaynightwine.