John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for June 8, 2013
Picks of Prince Edward County, What your father really wants; Top Ten Smart Buys; Upcoming events.
This week’s report highlights the wineries to seek out from Prince Edward County, a region that is rapidly becoming one of the top winegrowing regions in North America for lean, elegant, mineral-suffused wines. And with Father’s Day around the corner, I’ve applied my experience as both a father and a wine critic to narrow down gift choices to a trio of the best bottles. Fans of Italian wines won’t want to miss the highly anticipated first visit of Gambero Rosso’s “Tre Bicchieri” tour, while believers in local should sign up for the annual Sip & Savour event featuring Ontario’s Best. Smart, thirsty shoppers can jump to this week’s Top Ten.
Terroir and the Picks of Prince Edward County
Over 900 people passed through the doors of the Crystal Palace in Picton between noon and six last Saturday May 25th for Terroir, the annual showcase of new releases from members of the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. All but a handful of PEC wineries were present, while local purveyors and chefs provided food samples. Seminars and tastings went on throughout the afternoon, including a comparative tasting of County pinot noir and chardonnay with reference examples from Burgundy – the region to which PEC is most readily compared – led by this wine lover.
Three of the WineAlign team – Bryan McCaw, Carol Ann Jessiman and I – also took part in the 11.5km Terroir Run on the following slightly hazy Sunday morning, starting at the Old Third Winery and finishing at Norm Hardie’s for wood oven pizzas, salads and lots of Pluck Lavender iced tea, Waupoos Cider, Barley Days beer, and of course a large range of county wines (in that order). I’ve already got the last weekend of May locked down in my calendar for next year’s event, if only to give Bryan another chance to take me down in the run.
All in all it was a fine opportunity to get a global impression of how the region is evolving and maturing, and it solidified my belief that within the next decade or so, PEC will be counted among the top winegrowing regions in North America for lean, elegant, mineral-suffused wines, especially chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines. Following is a short list of the wineries to track down online, in restaurants or (more rarely) in the LCBO. Or better yet, plan a visit this summer to the bucolic charm, quaint towns and miles of coastline in the County.
Norm Hardie. Former sommelier-turned-winegrower and tireless ambassador for PEC, Hardie’s range is in the top echelon. His ’11 County pinot and chardonnay are beautiful wines, and the 2012s from barrel are nothing short of astonishing. Quantities were down sharply in 2012, however, so supply will be limited. Try also Hardie’s excellent cabernet franc, riesling and a rare melon de Bourgogne.
The Old Third. Among the very top County pinot noirs from a tiny, five-acre vineyard on Closson Road. The ’11 pinot noir is fine and delicate. Barely 100 cases of a lovely traditional method ’11 pinot sparkling are still sitting on the lees in the cellar, and if proprietors Jens Korberg and Bruno François can resist opening all of the bottles for guests in the meantime, we may just be able to find some in 18 months or so. The 2012 harvest was sadly all but decimated by frost.
Hinterland. Vicky Samaras and Jonas Newman decided to focus on sparkling wine from the start in 2007, and today make an excellent range of traditional (Les Etoiles; Rosé), charmat (Whitecap; Riesling) and ancestral (Gamay Ancestral) method bubbly. Quantities are always limited and wines sell out quickly (the popular Gamay Ancestral sold out with a couple of weeks of release), so it’s imperative to move fast – I’ve already picked up my case. You’ll also find their Whitecap on tap at Barque and Café-Bar-Pasta in Toronto, and the Wellington Gastro pub in Ottawa, the first local wine producer to offer bubbly on tap.
Exultet Estates. An impressive selection from vineyards planted in the southern most part of PEC in 2004. Chardonnay “The Blessed” has garnered three consecutive golds at the Ontario Wine Awards, along with a white wine of the year award in 2013 for the 2011 edition. While I may personally regret the decision to use 100% new wood, the density, concentration and class of The Blessed are undeniable. The 2012 cruX White Light is among the best dry vidals I have tasted (it has 11% chardonnay), while the cruX pinot is also excellent.
Rosehall Run. Former amateur winemaker Dan Sullivan turned pro in 2000 and opened Rosehall Run on Greer Road in the western end of the County. I find Sullivan’s mid-range “Cuvée County” chardonnay and pinot noir to strike a fine quality/pleasure/price ratio in particular, but there is a wide selection of wines that are all worth a look.
Closson Chase Vineyards. Always among the most powerful, concentrated and occasionally idiosyncratic chardonnays from the County, made from ultra-low-yielding vines. Winegrower Deborah Paskus has been a seminal figure in the short history of the County, among the first to identify the potential of PEC in the late 1990s, and then exploit it with 30 acres of high-density plantings of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Huff Estates. PEC native Lanny Huff returned to the County in 2001 to launch Huff Estates, just as buzz about the region started to spread. Wines are made by talented Burgundian Frederic Picard; his sparkling Cuvée Peter F. Huff is in Canada’s top tier, and the South Bay chardonnay always among the province’s best. 2013 will see Huff’s first 100% County pinot gris, which I’m very much looking forward too sampling.
Karlo Estates. The booming laugh of Richard Karlo can be heard across a crowded noisy room, and the perennial smile is a dead giveaway that he loves what he’s doing. Another amateur-turned-pro winemaker, Karlo makes a creative range of wines from an eclectic mix of vinifera and hybrid grapes, including the County’s only port-style red and white wines “Van Alstine”. Try the 2010 CHOA chardonnay, fermented and aged in barrels made from mixed woods of Cherry, Hickory, Oak and Ash, all grown in Prince Edward County, for a sense of his creativeness and appetite for experimentation.
Also worth tracking down or visiting: Casa Dea, Lacey Estates, Keint-He, Lighthall Winery, Stanners, The Grange of Prince Edward, Hubbs Creek.
What Your Father Really Wants
Being both a father of two and a professional wine critic, I find myself eminently well-suited to report on what fathers would like to find wrapped up on June 16th. Of the options hitting LCBO shelves on June 8, three stand out. At the top of my list is the 2009 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvginon Merlot ($52.95). Like most sensible people, I am a fan of just about everything Paul Draper puts into a bottle, and this is another classy, complete and beautifully balanced cabernet blend, walking the fine line between new world fruity richness and old world savoury elegance and finesse. And considering the amazing overall depth, length and complexity, I’d have to say that this is a cracking value for premium California cabernet, worthy of your dad.
But since we’ll be starting off with boiled lobster, you’ll want to pick up some of the 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($54.95). Grgich is another perennial favorite of this papa, and the 2010 is an absolute stunner of a wine, one of the finest chardonnays I’ve had from the winery. It’s in the usual tight, compact, firmly structured house style, with significant mineral saltiness, while wood is used as a vessel not a flavour component. If for whatever reason you don’t get around to drinking it this father’s day, fear not. It’ll be even better next year, or even at the end of the decade.
If your papa has a penchant for the old world, the 2008 Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco ($32.95) is a classic at an attractive price. The Paitin estate’s first bottling of Barbaresco in 1893 pre-dates father’s day by almost a couple of decades (Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, according to Wikipedia), so it won’t come as a surprise that this is a traditional style nebbiolo, with lots of lovely wild strawberry and faded violet aromatics. Tannins are light and gritty and acids fresh and lively, giving this a tart-firm texture that invites salty protein to the table. Remind dad to drink this over the next 3-5 years, as 2008 was a delicate vintage for mid-term cellaring, no more.
Now, if only my kids were old enough to shop at the LCBO.
Top Ten Smart Buys
Among the smart buy white wines this week I’d like to signal the 2011 Giuseppe Campagnola Le Bine Monte Foscarino Soave Classico ($13.95). I’m tempted to believe that there has been a pricing error on this wine, as it has all that one could expect and so much more for under $14: regional typicity, concentration, minerality, depth and length. It’s a wine to buy by the case, from the heart of the Soave Classico region.
Also amazingly complex and complete is the 2006 Château De La Gravelle Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Gorges ($15.95). Yes you’ve read that correctly: 2006 Muscadet. It’s one of the worst kept secrets in the wine world that Muscadet can age magnificently, especially those from any one of the three relatively new cru designations in the Sèvre et Main appellation. Since 2011, Clisson, Le Pallet and Gorges have been recognized as sub-zones, requiring lower yields and at least 2 years ageing sur lie to qualify for the cru mention. Gorges is defined by a volcanic-derived soil type called gabbro, and produces wines of sturdy structure and pronounced minerality. This is seriously textured and layered wine, with depth and concentration well above the mean, and at six years of age, this is still fresh, though not built on fruit – it’s all about the mineral notes and delicately creamy texture. It would show favourably next to many village level white Burgundies, all for $16.
Other impressive value whites include the 2011 Istituto Agrario San Michele All’adige Pinot Grigio, Trentino ($17.95) with its Alsatian like richness on the palate, and the marvelously fragrant and floral 2012 Crios Torrontés, Mendoza ($13.95), livelier and better balanced than most torrontés.
Among reds worth a spotlight, June 8th sees the release of a couple of terrific Spanish bottles. El Bierzo has quickly become one my favorite little corners of Spain, where an unusual proportion of old vines contributes to exceptional depth and complexity at fair prices. The 2007 Gancedo Mencía ($24.95) delivers typical regional character of wild violet and roses, fresh blackberry, and freshly sharpened pencil, if anyone can remember what that smells like, while the palate shows the fine mix of suave tannins, balanced acids and mid-range alcohol that makes mencía from this part of the world so infinitely drinkable.
2011 Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra ($15.95) is another fine Spanish value from the Terra Alta DO in Catalonia. It offers a fine-grained, rich, succulent and balanced, if generously proportioned, example of garnacha (garnatxa in Catalan, or Grenache in French). Serve at 16ºC for maximum pleasure.
One of my top values from the roster of Argentine wines in the release is the 2008 Algodon Bonarda, San Rafael, Mendoza ($19.95). Bonarda is a grape of northern Italian origin, once the most widely planted red in Argentina until it was overtaken by malbec. And like examples from Italy, this is a lovely, zesty, savoury, well-balanced red, with measurable oak influence yet well integrated into the ensemble, freshened up by crisp acids. It’s decidedly lighter and more bracing than malbec, you might say more old world style, but certainly an intriguing addition to Argentina’s line up of heavy reds and an excellent option for grilled meats and sausages eaten al fresco.
See the full top ten.
Upcoming Events: Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri; Sip & Savour Ontario
Gambero Rosso’s highly anticipated “Tre Bicchieri” (“three glasses”) tasting comes to Toronto for the first time on June 5. The event highlights winners of the tre bicchieri, the highest award given for wines in the Vini d’Italia guide, now celebrating its 27th edition. In 2013, The Vini d’Italia Guide assigned 399 Tre Bicchieri out of a total of 40,000 wines tasted from over 2,350 producers. Piedmont led the way with 75 tre bicchieri awards, followed by Tuscany with 68 and Veneto with 36. 80 Italian wineries will be on the scene, as will I, so stay tuned for an upcoming report on the best of the three glass winners.
Event Details: June 5, 6pm: presentation by Gambero Rosso Senior Editor Marco Sabellico to explain the guide’s rating system and offer an analysis of present and future trends. General walk-around tasting runs from 6.30 p.m. to 9.30 pm. Place: Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex; Tickets: $95 per person. Visit vintages.com/gamberorosso for full event details and list of wines to be poured. Order tickets at 416-365-5767 or 1-800-266-4764.
Sip & Savour Ontario
Sip & Savour Ontario takes place on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at Toronto’s Distillery Historic District in the Fermenting Cellar. The event features top Ontario wineries and chefs, with proceeds going to support Houselink. Doors open at 7:30 pm. Visit www.sipandsavourontario.ca for all the event details and to buy tickets.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
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From the June 8, 2013 Vintages release: