Matching with Malivoire

Matching with Malivoire

On a cold, snowy winter day (what else is new?) recently, I attended a wine tasting designed to be enjoyed as most of us actually drink wine—that is, with food. In the end, this meal was hardly average; it was served in the back of a tiny, fragrant bistro called Gamelle, where the tasters met with Niagara winemaker Martin Malivoire. We worked and played through 10 recent releases that were uncorked with a non-stop selection of small plates, sipping and nibbling in no particular order, unless a certain match made choirs sing and seduced us into tasting again.

Actually, this is not how most people eat and enjoy wine, but it is an exercise that Martin also likes to replicate at the winery every month or so, the next public occasion being a library tasting and lunch March 29 and 30. Five different vintages will be uncorked going back to 1999, each poured alongside a specifically matched dish: for example, Malivoire’s quite rare Old Vine Foch with cassoulet and Estate Pinot Noir with beef bourguignon. (The Sunday event is sold out; for Saturday, March 29, call 1-866-644-2244.)

Martin Malivoire, also a successful SFX engineer for feature films, has always played left field and leadoff hitter in the Ontario wine business: he was one of the first small boutique operators dedicated to the terroir of the Beamsville Bench; the first gravity-fed winery for gentle handling of the juice; and the first in his neighbourhood to certify an organic vineyard, named after his partner, Moira Saganski. I have always enjoyed tasting with Martin, his imagination firing, his manner professing innocence as he coaxes and leads.

We opened with his 2007 Melon (88 points, $20, available at the winery), a brisk, light white from the melon de bourgogne grape also grown in the Muscadet appellation at the mouth of France’s Loire River. This lovely, fruiter-than-muscadet but nifty mineral white worked splendidly with a New Brunswick mollusc called La Mallett. You will only find this small production wine—and small production oyster—at Toronto oyster shops like Rodney’s, Starfish and Oyster Boy.

I liked the 2006 Pinot Gris (86 points, $19.95, Vintages March 29) but want less lemon-like acidity in this usually richer white. The soft, creamy 2006 Chardonnay (87 points, $22, Vintages Essential) is amiable, but I didn’t sit up straight until I tasted the charming, layered and profound Moira Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay (91 points, $36, available at the winery) bless smoked salmon served on pumpernickel with a dab of honey mustard.

On to the reds, and Malivoire’s 2005 Gamay (89 points, $16, available at the winery), which is one of the great little undiscovered gems of Niagara—undiscovered because few drink gamay. It is a revelation, with pepper and strawberry flavours and a slim, refreshing texture that waltzed into the pâté with rhubarb compote. Next, the 2005 Estate Pinot Noir (89 points, $32, available at the winery), which had classic Niagara pinot cherry-cranberry and acidity that carved nicely into a cheese plate.

Then came the accidental epiphany: the 2005 Moira Vineyard Pinot Noir (92 points, $42, available at the winery), with perfectly ripened cherry pinot fruit set in light toast, brûlée barrel notes and a sweet, savoury, elegant palate. How such a subtle gem ever matched the fat and spice of chorizo is a miracle. But it did, and was a tribute to the importance of texture and flavour concentration.

Martin prefers not to pair icewine with dessert (it can overload the senses and actually diminish the wine), so we enjoyed the 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine (93 points, $49.95/200 mL, available at the winery) on its own. It is excellent indeed, a wine kissed with raspberry, redcurrant, tea and herbs. A wonderful purity of expression.