Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 10th Ontario Release – Sparkling Success, 2009 Pinots, Fine Unoaked Chardonnay, 2010 Rieslings, Baffling Red Blends and Ontario Wine Events
Ontario wines take over the LCBO’s promotional cycle this month under the Go Local banner, so Vintages has prepared a special mini-release of 20 wines on September 10. Actually, many stores have released the wines already so you may not need to wait until Saturday. Check availability at your local store via WineAlign.
This release is taking place amid a provincial election campaign at a time of growing public and political pressure for Ontario to expand the distribution network for Ontario’s increasingly numerous and improving wines. PC leader Tim Hudak, MPP Niagara West-Glanbrook, is a vocal proponent. It says right there on page 10 of the Conservative’s platform called ChangeBook that “we will increase market access for Ontario VQA wines”.
I’m all for that, but at the very least Ontario needs private stores that sell only Ontario wine – just as has successfully been done in British Columbia for years. And while we’re at it, how about an equal number of private stores for international wines, again as in B.C. I want complete price and selection freedom for all wines, and Ontario VQA stores are a first step in the right direction, a toe in the door. Government should not be in the business of selecting which brands we can buy, where we can buy them, or at what price. Its only roles should be licensing, taxation, product safety and label integrity. But until that fine day…
Vintages mini-release takes a good run at presenting very good (two excellent) Ontario wines that snuggle in Vintages comfort zone of $15 to $30. Ontario’s very best cost more than that. The selection is however an accurate snapshot of where Niagara stands (no PEC or LENS wines this time) in terms of price/quality ratio, styles and important grape varieties. It is also a good reflection of what might be considered a typical span of Ontario vintages, with a difficult rainy year (2008), a high acid, cool year (2009) and a hot, dry year (2010). Each vintage favours some varieties and styles, and makes others less appealing. It’s complicated out there, so stayed tuned.
At the end of August I judged the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards in Halifax. The results are weeks away but I can tell you that there was true excitement among the judges over the evolving quality of Canadian sparkling wine. And my excitement is reflected by all three wines on this release. Ontario has the right climate (cool), soils (limestone) and grape varieties (chardonnay and pinot noir) to make fine sparklers – just like Champagne in France. Ontario bubblies are finding true energy, vitality and finesse, with increasing flavour depth and complexity as vines and winemaking mature. 13TH STREET PREMIER CUVÉE ($29.95) is the excellent work of one of the industry leaders. Although now guided by the hand of J.P. Colas, this winery first started making serious, traditional method sparkling wine over a decade ago. I was also impressed by the quality attained in VINELAND RESERVE BRUT ($19.95) by using the cheaper charmat method, wherein the second fermentation occurs in a capped, pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. And the delicate ANGELS GATE ARCHANGEL PINOT NOIR BRUT ROSÉ ($25.00) demonstrates that our field of sparkling expertise is widening, with veteran winemaker Philip Dowell now in the arena as well.
Impressive 2009 Pinot Noirs
The long, cool 2009 growing season proved difficult for later-ripening red grape varieties, but earlier ripening pinot noir fared well. I have tasted most of Ontario’s 2009 pinots by now and I am quite impressed. Not by their weight or ripeness, but by their tension, elegance and what I call their classic cool climate cran-cherry fruit profiles. They are highly strung to be sure thanks to 2009’s acid levels, but I suspect that they will live long. There are four 2009 pinots in this release and all are worth exploring. LE CLOS JORDANNE 2009 VILLAGE RESERVE PINOT NOIR ($30.00) is the one to consider for the cellar; about as ripe and well stuffed as you will find in 2009 although edgy and a tad green indeed on the finish. This is the first glimpse of the long awaited 2009 Le Clos Jordanne pinots, with at least five more to come this fall from specific vineyard sites. With the Village Reserve is a barometer, I expect they will all crack the 90 point level. Other very good pinots on the release in include the intense COYOTE’S RUN 2009 RED PAW VINEYARD PINOT NOIR ($24.95) and cellar worthy LAILEY 2009 PINOT NOIR ($25.00)
Fine Unoaked Chardonnay
Given the prominence of chardonnay in Ontario I would have expected more chardonnay on this release. But perhaps it was felt chardonnay already had its turn during the special International Cool Climate Chardonnay event and sale in July. Anyway, it was a chardonnay that got me most excited, and I was even more impressed that it was an unoaked edition selling for only $16 – LAILEY 2010 UNOAKED CHARDONNAY. Generally unoaked chardonnay is boring in Ontario, due to a selection – I think – of less good fruit and less ripe fruit with the better material going into the top dog barrel fermented chardonnays. Winemaker Derek Barnett’s take is exactly what I am looking for in the genre – balance and richness combined with ripe, distinctive and distinguished chardonnay fruit character. It could be that 2010 vintage is also responsible, but after years of tasting Derek’s wines I also know that few winemakers have a better sense of harmony. Often this talent is masked by liberal use of oak, but here it stands in plain sight.
Riesling in 2010
Riesling and other aromatic, unoaked whites are usually the first wines released in any given vintage. In what is being hailed as another excellent, warm, dry and ripe year, I am not ecstatic with the rieslings so far. They are plenty powerful, complex and ripe, but they are also a bit thick, soft, sweet and sometimes lazy. Riesling should be like a marathoner, not a couch potato, so to me 2009 was a better riesling year. That said FIELDING 2010 RIESLING ($18.95) is a very good example, having a sense of tenderness, polish and purity I have come to expect from winemaker Richie Roberts. Actually the style has been evident through three winemakers at Fielding, but Roberts has honed it best. It is the kind of riesling that will sip on the patio (not the couch) then carry to the table.
Baffling Red Blends
Two things baffle me about the avalanche of new lower-priced, concept and lifestyle blends now breeding like bunnies in Ontario wine country. (It’s like Australia’s critter phase). The first is why people buy them when the price/quality ratio is average. In reality most are leftover stews not works of dazzling creativity. I know, I know – the younger generation to whom they are pitched can’t afford more expensive wines, and they are more likely to buy a label concept than a grape variety. Which leads me to bafflement number two. What in the name of common sense are some of this labels saying? Take VINTAGE INK MARK OF PASSION 2009 MERLOT/CABERNET ($17.95), which is a new concept blend by Vincor Canada. I don’t get the ink to wine connection at all – both liquids maybe? Or is that very lack of connection actually the selling feature – like naming a rock band? So maybe I should just stick to what’s in the bottle. In this case, this is a well made 2009 Ontario red, but a sour-edged 2009 red nonetheless, despite efforts to mollify the acidity with gentle oak and fairly well polished tannin. A decent value at $13.95 wine, not $17.95. And it’s the same story with Henry of Pelham’s new Family Tree 2009 Red, also priced at $17.95.
Wine Country Ontario Comes to the Ritz September 19
Looking for a chance to sift through these wines, and hundreds more, for yourself? The annual Taste Ontario event comes to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Monday, September 19 with an afternoon trade event (registration required) and a public evening event (tickets required). Over 150 wines will be poured by over 50 wineries from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. Go to www.vintages.com/tasteontario
A Pinot Affair October 15-16
Wherein eight Niagara pinot noir producers present eight different winery-based events focused entirely on pinot noir. A $40 Passport ticket gets you into a variety of pinot experiences from the vineyard and winemaking, to barrel blending, to horizontal single vineyard tastings to vertical tastings. Wineries involved are Coyote’s Run, Hidden Bench, Inniskillin, Lailey, Le Clos Jordanne, Malivoire, Rosewood and Tawse. For programs and tickets go to www.thepinotaffair.com.
Sip and Savour Ontario at Steam Whistle October 19
If you can’t make the Taste Ontario event in Sept you get another chance to dip into the Ontario wine pool at Sip and Savour Ontario, being held Wednesday, October 19 at the Steam Whistle Brewing Company at the foot of the CN Tower. This is the annual showcase of the Ontario Wine Awards that has usually been held in June. For tickets and info go to www.sipandsavourontario.ca . This year it is also a fundraiser forwww.houselink.on.ca .
That’s it for now. Watch again next week for my take on Vintages, Sept 17th release with a focus on 2008 Bordeaux.
VP of Wine
See all my reviews from September 10th here.
Cheers and enjoy, David
– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign