John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 14th 2013

Canadian Wine In the Headlines

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s a big month for Ontario, and Canadian wine. WineAlign has announced the full results of the National Wine Awards of Canada, an essential resource for current and future fans of local wines. The LCBO, and Wine Country Ontario present SHINE {ON}, the largest annual promotion of Ontario wines, and the September 14 VINTAGES release features Ontario wines. New retailing opportunities have led to small lot Canadian wine going on sale online thanks to And perhaps most importantly, the LCBO has been called next week to the Supreme Court of Ontario to answer a serious Constitutional Question, as well as explain its data-collecting protocols to the Ontario Privacy Commissioner. The landscape of wine retailing in Canada could well change. Read on.

National Wine Awards of Canada

In case you missed it yesterday, the complete results of the National Wine Awards of Canada are now posted on WineAlign. The results include all the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in several style and grape variety categories, plus a “performance report” on the Top 20 wineries in the country.

SHINE {ON} & VINTAGES September 14th 2013 Ontario Feature

SHINE {ON}The LCBO, in partnership with Wine Country Ontario, presents SHINE {ON}, its largest annual promotion of Ontario wines running from September 15-October 15. The month-long promotion will feature more than 1,200 opportunities to taste Ontario wines in 200+ LCBO locations. Over 130 Ontario restaurants are also participating in their own SHINE {ON} programs, offering local wine by-the-glass to pair with special local menus. Visit for all of the details.

The September 14 VINTAGES release features 23 Ontario wines, and I’ve highlighted some new and notable as well as established wineries and their wines below. See also a dozen of my personal ‘gold medals’ in the latest issue of CityBites Magazine hitting shelves this week, as well as tips on touring Niagara and Prince Edward County wine country and how to act like a pro at the tasting bar.

Boutique Canadian Wines Go Online

Canadian wine consumers can look forward to another option for sourcing and purchasing top local wines., a Toronto-based e-commerce site that connects Canadian food and drink makers with consumers, is launching an online Canadian wine boutique in September. The virtual shop will enable Canadians coast to coast to purchase small lot Canadian wines from any province, expanding access well beyond the often limited selection found on liquor board shelves (you’ll find some of my wine recommendations on the site).

“Interprovincial barriers and stringent requirements make it difficult for small Canadian wineries to achieve the exposure that comes with having their product listed in government liquor stores,” says Shirley-Ann George, president of John Skinner, owner of Painted Rock Winery in the Okanagan Valley, welcomes the opportunity to connect directly with consumers, believing that “Selling direct is the most effective distribution for those of us producing small lots, and is extending awareness and distribution for the highest quality Canadian estate produced wines”. Visit the site for a list of participating wineries and wines, and expect that list to grow significantly as the word gets out.

LCBO Under Fire

In an indirectly related story, the future landscape of Canadian wine retailing is slated for debate this month. On September 12th, the LCBO will have their day in the Supreme Court of Ontario to answer questions from the Ontario Privacy Commissioner regarding their deemed unnecessary collection of customers’ personal information. But that’s not all. The Board and its team of lawyers will also be facing a Notice of Constitutional Question filed by Warren Porter of the Vin de Garde wine club and his legal counsel, challenging the very constitutionality of the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that could lead to the demise of the government monopoly.

The challenge hinges on Section 121 of the Constitution Act of 1867, which states, rather unambiguously, that “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” Wine falls squarely under the definition of “growth, produce and manufacture”, and Porter’s counsel will argue that according to our constitution, you should be able to order wine from any province into any other province with no additional provincial monopoly brokering fees (taxes, of course, still apply, but in the province of manufacture only).

It’s thanks to this section, as well as to the July 2012 federal ruling allowing inter-provincial shipping of wine, that and others propose to operate. The Ontario Provincial government has yet to rule on how much wine, if any, can be shipped from out of province for personal use, even if the federal government has made it legal to do so. The BC government has already opened the borders. This challenge could pry all of the doors open to admit wine freely from one province to another, which could eventually spill over into imported wines as well if Canada is to maintain its GATT treaties.

So you see, the stakes are high, and these are interesting times indeed. Tune in regularly to WineAlign for updates. In the interim, there are plenty of available local wines to recommend, either directly from wineries or through the LCBO.

New and Notable Ontario: Kew Vineyards

I’ll start off by highlighting a few new and notable Ontario wineries. Several weeks ago I tasted the first releases from Kew Vineyards, a new label named after Richard Kew, a soldier in the war of 1812 who was granted the land on which the vineyard sits today. Yet although the label is new to the local wine scene, the Young family who now own the property is anything but; the Youngs also own Angels’ Gate Winery, established in 2002. The vines, too, are well seasoned. Kew vineyards is comprised of some sixty acres of vines on the Beamsville Bench, some parcels of which were planted back in 1975. A separate Young family vineyard adjacent to Peninsula Ridge Winery, farmed organically, also supplies grapes to Kew. Angel’s Gate winemaker Philip Dowell is making the Kew wines for the time being at his facility. Production is set to be capped at 5000 cases across several small lot wines, including three sparkling wines yet to be released. A retail shop will open this fall. It’s one of the most consistently impressive, and best value ranges, I’ve tried in some time.

2010 Kew Vineyards Estate Vineyard Old Vine RieslingKew Vineyard Estate Marsanne Viognier 2012Highlights out now include the 2010 Kew Vineyards Estate Vineyard Old Vine Riesling ($18.95). Made from some of the oldest Riesling in Ontario, including some of the original Weiss clone plantings in 1975, the nose has extraordinary intensity: ripe and very mineral, with wet hay and flower blossom honey flavours mixing with apples and green peach/apricot in a classic riesling register. The palate offers a fine balance between acidity and an imperceptible nine grams of residual sugar, finishing dry. Old vine intensity for under $20? Score.

Also well worth a look is the 2012 Kew Vineyards Marsanne-Viognier ($18.95) – the first blend of its kind in Ontario. I question whether the success of this wine can be consistently repeated, but 2012 was clearly a favorable year for these Mediterranean varieties. The nose is amazingly floral and peachy, but also spicy and herbal, with whiffs of basil and sage, apricot skin, honey and pears in syrup, with a full, thick palate, verging on unctuous, further softened by lowish acid and a generous 14.5% alcohol. This also won a gold medal at the NWAC, so the other judges were also clearly aligned behind its quality.

New and Notable Ontario: Domaine Queylus

David Lawrason has already heralded the arrival of Domaine Queylus in his August 3 report, but I’ll second the mention as a welcome addition to the Ontario wine scene. As he points out, Queylus is a new venture owned by Gilles Chevalier of Montreal, but again there is plenty of history and experience behind the project making its debut success less surprising. Wines are made by Thomas Bachelder, ex of Le Clos Jordanne and the man behind the ambitious, eponymous, Bachelder Wines, for which he produces chardonnay and pinot noir from Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.

Domaine Queylus will be launching with pinot noirs from both 2010 and 2011 in two price tiers – Tradition ($29) and Reserve ($39). Both tiers are blends from a vineyard in Beamsville planted in 2007, and one in Jordan – Le Clos Jordanne’s “La Petite Colline” vineyard, planted in 2002. The Reserve is assembled from specific parcels and barrels. My preference leans towards the 2011s overall, which I found to have greater freshness and vibrancy relative to the more baked flavours of the 2010s, even if both are worth a look. 2011 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Tradition’ and 2011 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Reserve’.

New and Notable Ontario: Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010Tom O’Brien of Cooper’s Hawk planted his first vines in 2008 on the north shore of Lake Erie. And though I’ve never visited the winery, and can’t speak about the full range of wines on offer, I have to say I was struck by the first reserve release, the 2010 Cooper’s Hawk Cabernet Franc Reserve ($39.95) hitting the shelves on September 14. For a first crop it’s certainly remarkable, although it’s known in the grape growing world that if yields are kept very low, as in this case, and the weather is favorable, as it was in 2010, quality can be striking. (The subsequent harvests often reveal the shortcomings of young vines until maturity is reached, usually after at least 7-8 years or more).

Here it was the intriguing mix of dried herbs and flowers, tart, dried red fruit, licorice and delicate wood spice that did it for me – a wine that would be much more at home in a lineup of old world wines, despite winemaker Rory McCaw’s stated aim for a fruit forward new world style. Canada’s longest sunshine hours and the warming waters of Lake Erie, coupled with sandy soils, appear to favour softer wines that reach maturity relatively early on – like this example. In any case, this is a quite classy, if premium-priced, wine; I look forward to tasting the other offerings from Cooper’s hawk, and following their goals for environmental sustainability.

Established Ontario

Among releases from some of the more established names in Ontario wine, it’s worth seeking out a trio of chardonnays: 2011 Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay, Prince Edward County ($39.95), 2011 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95), and 2010 Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($16.95).

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos Vineyard 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2010

Three pinot noirs are likewise noteworthy: 2010 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($39.95), 2011 Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($22.95), and 2010 Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($26.95).

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2010

Click on the links or bottle images for full reviews and availability.

Top Ten Smart Buys

This week’s top ten is fully dominated by Spain – like the last European and World Cup Soccer Championships – with five highly recommended values representing Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Costers del Segre. You’ll also find an excellent pair of $20 traditional method sparklers, sumptuous Alsatian style pinot gris from New Zealand, classic Mâcon Blanc, and a lovely Dolcetto d’Alba from one of my favorite Piemontese producers. Click on the Top Smart Buys link below for details.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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From the Sept 14, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Ontario Highlights
All Reviews


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