So now the rich, velvety darkness of the Yukon winter has descended and the temperatures at my cabin have dropped below minus 20, several evenings. And yet, it is probably my favourite time of year here.
The blue lights are strung in the trees along Main Street and are alight by 4 p.m., as the winter sun sets, lighting just the tops of the mountains as it goes down.
Each weekend of December, the number of friendly gatherings, gallery openings and cultural events multiplies. Just like the long summer evening when we sit up with friends until two in the morning, talking and enjoying the endless light, now we await the evening and the rise of the moon and head off into the dark and cold evening to gather with people who make us feel happy and cared for.
It is a magical time of year when we arrive in the dark and leave in the dark; and between, we are able to enjoy a long evening of good food, a fire in the stove and, perhaps, candles lighting the room.
Maybe there is good music being played and, if we’re open to sharing or have a generous host, he or she might open a special wine that is just right for that unhurried and unmeasured winter evening.
There are wines that are as dark and as rich and mysterious to the senses as the winter nights that are upon us now. Those wines are the Amarone and Ripasso wines of Italy … and there is something about them that just calls out for them to be served on a cold winter’s night, sitting by a fire, sharing a meal with a special friend or two.
This past Sunday evening I had some new friends, recently arrived in the Yukon from Ontario, up for a dinner of homemade pizza. They brought a bottle of one of my favourite Italian reds available in the Yukon: Masi Campofiorin Ripasso ($20.55).
This is a dark, rich, full-bodied red with some spicy notes and a fair amount of tannin, which gives it a little pucker-of-the-mouth feel. It’s strong by itself, but served with food – anything from roast meats to the rich, cheesy pizza, which I was serving that night – it is terrific.
Ripasso wines are interesting, intensely flavoured and were first created by Masi Winery, in 1964. This is one of the more famous wines of the Valpolicella region in the province of Verona, in north central Italy.
The Valpolicella reds are well known and seem to be very popular with Yukoners. Valpolicella red wine is typically a blend of juices from three regional grapes: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara.
Masi takes the basic approach to making Valpolicella wines and has improved on it to create a wine of significant intensity. They make this wine using a process of double fermentation.
First, they make a traditional Valpolicella red wine. Then they take this young wine and, in December of the winemaking year, add additional grapes that have been partially air dried on rush mats.
The air drying of these grapes concentrates the flavour in the grapes and, when added to young wine, kicks off a second round of fermentation, yielding a wine with a rich concentration of flavours with some tannins and intense purple-red colour. This makes for both a great food wine that can stand up to the strong food flavours and bathe the tongue with each swallow, preparing our mouths for the next bite of food.
Perhaps the ultimate wine for a dark Yukon night is Amarone wine. They’re not cheap. The Yukon Liquor Corporation carries two: the 2005 Negrar Amarone Classico DOC ($39.65) and the Masi Amarone Della Valpolicella ($50.25).
These are the big brothers of the Campofiorin. Instead of being young wines, jazzed up with a second fermentation of air-dried grapes, these are the “full meal deal”.
Amarones are made exclusively of a blend of the aforementioned Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, all of which have been air dried for about 120 days on those rush mats, after harvesting. This concentrates the flavours, and the remaining, richly concentrated juice is pressed out of the grapes and then fermented and aged.
The end result is a hugely concentrated, intense red with spice and tannin as well as hints of leather and smoke tastes. Of the two that the Yukon Liquor Corporation offers, if you’re going to break the bank and buy a wine in this price range, spend the extra $10 and go for the Masi. The Negrar is good, but seemed to taste a little thinner than the Masi Amarone Della Valpolicella, which gives you the whole Amarone experience.
So, a couple of wine ideas to consider for the dark nights leading up to Christmas.