This tasting at the Terroir symposium in Toronto was led by Elsa Macdonald, and it focused on the topic of her MW dissertation: appassimento-style wines from Canada’s Niagara peninsula.
These are wines that have been made from grapes that have been dried pre-fermentation. The drying process, made famous in the Veneto region of Italy for its use in making Amarone and Ripasso, removes moisture from grapes, concentrating many of the flavours. There are also some physiological changes in the grapes which affect the flavour of the resulting wines. One of these is an increase in glycerol. It seems that while sugar and flavours are concentrated, acidity isn’t, and nor are green characters in the grapes.
Of course, drying grapes isn’t without risk. Some botrytis development is actually desirable, but not too much. For this reason, the grapes need to be harvested carefully, and only bunches that are unblemished are suitable for the drying process. Apart from rot, the big threat is that volatile acidity can increase.
There has been a lot of interest in appassimento in Niagara. This is because it is a cool climate region with a short season, and so red wines here can often benefit from a little post-harvest extended ripening. Also, what was previously an affordable wine can suddenly become a more expensive one, which makes this a potentially lucrative opportunity for wineries.
These wines were all tasted blind, and notes and scores are as written blind, without further modification other than to add technical details. I was quite impressed: I wasn’t expecting to like these wines as much as I did. We began by looking at a solitary white wine, and then five partial appassimento wines, before tucking into to some full appassimento examples.
Burning Kiln Stick Shaker 2016 Niagara, Canada
This is 100% Savagnin (dried from 22.7-28.2 Brix), 16.2% alcohol. 31 g/l residual sugar. Rich and sweet with broad texture and grapey richness. It’s an unusual wine with some sweetness, but also some warmth from the alcohol. 87/100
Foreign Affair Winery Dream 2016 Niagara, Canada
Bordeaux style blend. 17% dried grapes (for 100 days in a barn). 14.2% alcohol. Rich and quite intense with good freshness. Has some grippy structure and some creamy, spicy complexity. Lovely depth with nice intensity, showing some vanilla on the finish from the oak. Pretty stylishly done. 92/100
Arterra Wines Epoca 2016 Niagara, Canada
100% Merlot, 20% dried (in crates in a controlled room, 6 weeks, 10 C). 14.5% alcohol, 11 g/l residual sugar. Concentrated and rich with nice freshness, as well as some oak character (vanilla and cedar). Nice weight and structure with some grippy tannins, and finishing with lots of cedar notes. 90/100
Big Head Big Red 2017 Niagara, Canada
20% dried: Dornfelder (dried in a kiln), Petit Verdot (dried at Vineland Research Tech) together with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Grippy, grainy and structured with nice savoury notes as well as clean, ripe berry fruits. Good savoury grip and with nice weight. Very stylish. 93/100
Foreign Affair Winery Apologetic Red 2016 Niagara, Canada
50% dried grapes (100 days in a barn). 100% Cabernet Franc, 14.9% alcohol. Rich, ripe and sweetly fruited with lush berries and a bit of spiciness. Rich and ripe with a nice juicy edge. Has some lushness and it’s very approachable and tasty. 91/100
Cave Spring La Penna 2017 Niagara, Canada
100% Cabernet Franc, 30% dried (37 days on racks). 14.9% alcohol. Lovely clean fruit here: ripe and balanced with some structure and appealing purity to the fruit. Nice weight and balance. 93/100
Big Head Wines RAW Malbec 2017 Niagara, Canada
Dried for 2 weeks in ambient conditions. 15.6% alcohol. Highly aromatic with a bit of lift. Carbonic maceration of whole clusters in concrete. Floral berry fruits. Has a sweet, ripe, lush jammy palate with notes of tea and raisin sitting under the sleek, pure fruit. Quite more-ish in a very lush style. 93/100
Reif Estate Winery The Magician 2016 Niagara, Canada
80% Shiraz, 20% Pinot Noir. Dried for three weeks in refurbished tobacco kilns. Cedar and spice on the nose with sweet black fruits. The palate is quite dense and concentrated but has a lovely sleek character to it. Very rich with nice spicy, herbal complexity. Has nice concentration. 93/100
Magnotta Winery Enotrium Gran Riserva 2015 Niagara, Canada
Bordeaux style blend, dried for 6 weeks on shelves. 15% alcohol. Dense, tannic, cedary and firm with lots of structure. Has a very grippy mouthfeel and a spicy edge to the dense red and black fruits. 90/100
Piliterri Estates Winery Riserva Famiglia Trivalente 2015 Niagara, Canada
Bordeaux-style blend, 16% alcohol, 30 days drying on racks. Aromatic nose with lifted berry fruits. Ginger, spice and black tea notes add an extra layer to the sweet berry fruits. Distinctive stuff with a savoury side to the dense berry fruits. 90/100
Burning Kiln Winery Kiln Hanger 2016 Niagara, Canada
Cabernet Franc dried for 25 days in a kiln. 15.7% alcohol. Sweet and concentrated with a herby edge to the rich, lush, chocolatey black fruits. Has some warmth and depth with nice spicy depth. Lots of complexity and interest here with a slightly salty edge to the lush black fruits. Rich and intense with real power and weight, and a dark autumnal quality. Satisfying stuff in a rich style. 94/100
Rennie Estates G Assemblage 2015 Niagara, Canada
Bordeaux-style blend, dried in a chamber for 66-99 days. 16% alcohol. Very rich and intense with lush, sweet fruit. Shows ripe blackberries and raspberry with some lushness. Concentrated with firm structure under the very ripe, pure, lush fruit. Finishes quite grippy, but has lovely concentration and fruit purity. 94/100