Anthony Gismondi: Get ready for the 2019 B.C. crush

Credit to Author: agismondi| Date: Fri, 06 Sep 2019 18:18:33 +0000

If you are planning a trip to B.C. wine country this month or next, be prepared to experience the 2019 harvest, now more popularly known as the crush, in action.

This year’s crop is said to be showing exceptional early promise, having dodged massive heat spikes, prolonged droughts, heavy rains, hail and wildfires — so far. The harvest is already underway at some wineries for specific grape varieties, almost exclusively those used in sparkling wine.

The two-step fermentation employed making traditional sparkling — one inside the winery and the other inside the bottle — demands a high-acid base and that means early-picked grapes that have yet to reach full-sugar maturity. By the time you read this, most of those grapes will have been picked across the province, and wineries will be preparing for the main event.

First up in a long line of grapes to be picked are the white varieties from the warmest sites led by blocks of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The timing of the pick is a fascinating study in terroir, with the interaction of humans and wine styles likely ending in late October or early November with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Riesling from the coolest sites.

The dance begins with winemakers and viticulturists walking the vineyards tasting grapes and assessing the fruit, acidity and tannin levels in each mouthful. The grapes are analyzed in a laboratory, too, but only to confirm what the winemaker is tasting. After that, it is all about the wine the grapes are headed for in the bottle. Often some white vineyards are picked two or three times to deliver different levels of acidity to the winemaker to help put together the final blend.

There is no substitute for experience when masticating grapes to decide a pick date. One can only imagine how scary it is to be a young winemaker searching for perfection among the rows on a cool day. I can only say it appears to this writer to be a somewhat easier task with age.

Over the next 10 weeks the grapes will slowly disappear from vineyards, primarily during very early morning picks when the bunches are cold and the acidity is freshest.

With so many kilometres to cover from the Similkameen to Vernon, Vancouver Island, Lillooet, Kamloops and more, there is no easy way to know when the Merlot or the Cabernet Sauvignon will show up at the winery. The best winemakers can hope for is an orderly procession of grapes allowing enough time to flip tanks and vats between varieties. It all depends on Mother Nature and what she has planned for the fall.

There is a great deal of superstition regarding the harvest. It ranges from winemakers who will not wash their cars until the last grapes are picked to owners who will not comment on the quality of the vintage until everything is fermented. The thinking is that if anyone says anything about a great year, the skies will open up — and with rain comes disaster.

You’ll know if the harvest is on by the smell of fermenting grapes in the air. If you are up early enough, you could witness both people and machines picking grapes in vineyards.

Most wineries are not equipped to accept large numbers of visitors during the harvest, but some will invite you to experience the crush up close. Crush pad activities can be a lot of fun, make sure to be on your best behaviour and stay out of the way of the crew.

You can play along, too, if you find yourself in a vineyard over the next month. Select some berries to taste, and don’t forget to pick fruit from both the sunny side and the shady side of the row. Next taste the sugar and the acidity, chew the skins, assess the tannins, inspect the pips for colour to see how ripe or brown they are. Now make your decision to pick. Is it yes or no?

Remember there’s no pressure, just an entire year’s work and the livelihood of your fellow employees and owner. Then there are those pesky wine critics who will assess your decision via the wines in the bottle next year. Oh, and don’t wash your car until November.

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma County, California, United States

$15.99 | 89/100

UPC: 089819055098

Always a safe choice, we think CSJ upped the ante a bit in 2015 by going a little more juicy and fresh. Still attractive, with a ripe, lemon, honey, spicy lees nose. On the palate, the attack is fresh with more citrus, red apple pear fruit with just enough well-managed oak to let you know it’s there but without interfering in the finish. Perfect for crab or scallops or seafood pasta dishes. Marked down $4, grab the value.

Spearhead Riesling 2018, Okanagan Valley

$21 | 88/100

UPC: 626990367833

Nicely shaped by winemaker Grant Stanley, this Riesling has an Okanagan Valley ID, mixing fruit from Seven Mountain Vineyard on Mount Boucherie, and Gentleman Farmer Vineyard in southeast Kelowna. The fresh, gentle style comes with a dusting of sweetness, squeaky lime, a touch of white flowers and a stony mineral undercurrent. Mouth-wateringly delicious and ready to drink. Drink now or hold — no rush.

Domaine Saint-Nabor Gris de Nabor 2018, Le Gard, Languedoc, France

$14.99 | 88/100

UPC: 3452790003551

Light coral/pink colour invites, along with a fresh stony red apple nose. The attack is soft and round with perfectly ripe, red apple fruit flecked with honeysuckle and tangerines. The finish is similar, with a touch of bitter rind to keep it all balanced. This IGP Gard is a mix of Tempranillo, Grenache and Cinsault that makes for a perfect patio pink that works with a wide array of appetizers. Super value.

Paux-Rosset Gros La Condamine Paulignan 2015, Minervois, Languedoc, France

$20.99 | 90/100

UPC: 3760102322918

The mix is Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault, all grown on the clay-limestone terroir of Siran and La Livinière, and it over-delivers immediately in the glass. The nose has an amazingly fragrant floral note previewing red and black fruits with a peppery undertone. There is a bit of tannin yet to be dispersed, but it will be well worth the wait. Real wine and substantial value by B.C. pricing standards.

Torres Celeste Crianza 2014, Ribera del Duero, Castilla-Leon, Spain

$25.99 | 92/100

UPC: 8410113003508

Celeste is made with fruit grown at about 950m above sea level, and in 2014 the Torres family say it’s the best Celeste. We concur. Black fruit, black cherry jam and fragrant dark florals that dovetail into a warm, round finish. Roast lamb and or turkey would be an excellent match. Indeed, a more moderate look at Ribero del Duero and Tempranillo, and it looks good on everyone. Drink or hold.

Spaghetti carbonara is chef Robert Belcham’s favourite pasta dish. “It is often mistreated and bastardized, but this is as true as a recipe can be without being in Rome,” said the chef-owner of Campagnolo and Monarch Burger.

1/2 cup (125 mL) guanciale, diced

2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil

2 generous tsp (10+ mL) freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup (60 mL) red onion, very thinly sliced

1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine

1 whole large egg

1/2 cup (125 mL) pecorino romano, grated very fine

14 oz (400 g) fresh spaghetti

Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil and season heavily with salt. In a small bowl, mix the egg and grated pecorino and reserve. In large sauté pan, over medium high heat, add in the extra virgin olive oil. Add in the diced guanciale and slowly cook until it renders some of its fat and starts to crisp. Add in the red onion and cook until translucent, add in the black pepper and sauté briefly. Add in the white wine and deglaze. Remove the pan from the heat.

Start cooking your pasta, it should take 2 to 4 minutes maximum depending on where you got it from. If you want to use dried spaghetti, cook it to your desired doneness. To the pan, add hot cooked spaghetti, and the pecorino-egg mixture. Mix the pasta off heat until the sauce is thick and uniform. You can use a bit of pasta water to adjust the consistency of your sauce. It should just nicely coat the pasta.

Divide amongst four warm pasta bowls and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Spaghetti carbonara works well with fresh dry whites like Pinto Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Gavi di Gavi, Soave, or even a Picpoul de Pinet.

Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Grigio 2017, Trentino- Alto-Adige, Italy, $30.99

A bight and tight mineral style, with mouth-watering lemony freshness from front to back shouts bring on the carbonara.

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris 2018, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, $20

Electric, crunchy, juicy grapefruit, pear and quince that will energize every bite of this dish.

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