Happy New Vintage Year! 2012 has begun beautifully, with clear blue skies, lots of sunshine and no sign of snow. After the gustatory extremes of the holiday season (standing rib roast, quiche, croquettes, ham and countless cheeses), I’m cooking less and eating light, making Vidal Blanc the perfect go-to wine because it pairs beautifully with sushi and salads. Dry and light bodied with a shiny, light gold color, the Vidal Blanc is fruity with overtones of lemon and pineapple. Very tart when it was first bottled, almost a year later, it has now developed a slightly smoky character with a touch of basil and fresh herbs on the finish.
There isn’t a lot of information out there about Vidal Blanc. According to a combination of sources—in particular, Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Guide to Wine and Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, Vidal Blanc is a hybrid of Seibel and Ugni Blanc, the grape used most prevalently to make Cognac. It has high acid levels, floral & fruit aromas and thick skins that are quite resistant to rot. For this reason, Vidal Blanc grapes can stay on the vine longer than many others, especially in colder climates. When fully ripened, it has a balance of sugar and acidity that contributes to its popularity as the grape used to make icewine in Canada and sweet wines in Michigan, Erie, the Finger Lakes and other parts of upstate New York.
Icewine, or eiswein as it is called in Germany, is a sweet and fragrant, richly-honeyed, delicate, dessert wine. Vidal Blanc is the grape of choice for Canadian icewine while the Germans make their version out of Riesling grapes. The method, however, is the same. The grapes are allowed to ripen and hang on the vine into winter. Once they’ve frozen, they are hand-harvested while still covered in ice. When they are brought into the winery the doors are kept open to keep temperatures as low as possible so that the grapes do not begin to defrost before being pressed for their very sweet, highly concentrated juice. That juice is then vinified and bottled. As the process depends on the right climatic mix, icewine is only made in years when the grapes are ripe enough and the freeze sets in the right way. This unpredictability tends to make it rather expensive. Many tasting room guests have asked why we don’t make an icewine. Thankfully for the cold adverse, our winters just aren’t cold enough for that kind of deep freeze. Icewines made in climates like ours are typically cryogenically or artificially frozen. I asked Larry Jr. why they decided not to make a sweet Vidal when that is the most predominant style in the region and he replied that they preferred a dry style and it seems that their initial approach turned out to be a good one for the Sharrott portfolio.
According to legend, when the Larrys (Larry Sharrott Jr and Larry Sharrott III) were in the vineyard planting stages, they tried to procure Vidal Blanc for planting. When the nursery they were working with lost their Vidal to a very bad winter, the Sharrotts were encouraged, instead, to buy another French hybrid called Vignoles (to which Arden, also present in the tasting room during this discussion, let out a hearty, “Whoo hoo!”). It was planted to great success and has now become one of our most popular, signature wines. The only dry whites in the portfolio at the time were a Sauvignon Blanc and the Unoaked and Barrel Reserve Chardonnays. Searching for a replacement for the Sauvignon Blanc a year later, they came across a reliable, local source of Vidal Blanc, decided to vinify it dry, and never looked back.
As I mentioned before, its freshness and crisp acidity make Sharrott Winery Vidal Blanc a great pairing for sushi, salads and any other dishes that incorporate fresh ingredients, especially milder leafy greens. The bright citrus notes in the wine are enhanced when those salads include fruit elements like mandarin oranges or green apples. Now, after a year in the bottle, it is also balancing well with nuts and herb sauces—light pasta dishes with pesto or spinach dip. Of course, just because I’m going light, those who mark their winters with soups, stews and cheesy comfort food will find that Vidal Blanc is also a lovely pairing for richer dishes and sauces as long as there are no tomatoes or overly savory elements and the dish is not significantly heavier than the wine. Try the Vidal this weekend during our wine and comfort food pairing weekend coming up this Saturday and Sunday January 7th and 8th. Vidal will be one of the wines paired with Garden Dill Potato Leek Soup and other cold weather dishes. In honor of its exalted position as wine of the month, all purchases of Vidal Blanc will receive a 10% discount in January. Enjoy!