Ontario wine is busting out all over.. and our critic’s pick their fave’s
Ontario Wine Report – 2014 VintageSept. 11, 2014
by David Lawrason with notes Sara d’Amato
It’s that time of year to zero in on the fruits of labours past, and Ontario winemakers and wine lovers should be pretty pleased at the moment. On to vintage 2014 in a moment, but we are now enjoying some cracker cooler clime 2013 whites and richer 2012 reds (the best balanced hot vintage wines to date).
But first to tasting and buying opportunities. On Saturday VINTAGES releases a chunk of notable Ontario wines, which John Szabo covered right here. Meanwhile the folks across the hall on the General List side of the soon-to-be-sold LCBO HQ launched an Ontario TasteLocal promotion of their own, with a youth-oriented tasting on Queen Street West before Labour Day, and a release of new wines as well, although many are marketing driven commercial blends or less expensive varietals of little real interest.
Looking ahead, The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival launches Sept 13 with three full weekends of tastings and events at www.niagarawinefestivals.com. And Wine Country Ontario is gearing up for its big annual downtown Toronto VINTAGES-sponsored tasting of over 100 wines at the Royal Ontario Museum on October 2. See Taste Ontario at www.vintages.com. So no excuses not to find wine to taste.
On a political level, things are also perking along for wider distribution of Canadian wine. At the recent premiers conference in Charlottetown PEI, B.C. Premier Christy Clark managed to squeeze a commitment out of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne that within a year Ontario would do something about opening its borders to the direct import of B.C. wine for personal consumption. (B.C. already allows Ont wine to be direct shipped). We await the details and timelines, but as I have said all along – go ahead and order it anyway. The feds made it legal in June 2012.
Just before that announcement, the C.D. Howe Institute endorsed greater competition and privatization of wine sales in the province http://www.cdhowe.org/uncorking-a-strange-brew-the-need-for-more-competition-in-ontarios-alcoholic-beverage-retailing-system/27217, which would suit The Wine Council of Ontario just fine. It has rightly and bravely been promoting the sale of both domestic and imported wines in private wine shops in Ontario at www.pairsperfectly.com.
And finally, in the vineyard, where it all counts for quality, Ontario winemakers are also breathing a bit easier for the 2014 vintage. The frigid winter played havoc with exposed (un-buried) vines, reducing crop levels, and severely damaging winter sensitive varieties like merlot, sauvignon blanc and syrah. Some Lake Erie vineyards will have only 10% of their normal crop! A late spring and coolish summer had ripening set back by a couple of weeks, with enough rain and humidity to make it a typically challenging Ontario season. But the last ten days of above average temperatures have helped. Harvesting of earliest varieties could be underway momentarily. C’mon September, play nice!
As you contemplate all this, and decide to enjoy Ontario wines along with Ontario corn, tomatos, peaches and plums, Sara and I offer our thoughts on some of the more interesting Ontario wines encountered this season – no matter where and how encountered – although we draw heavily from the platinum and gold medal ranks of the WineAlign National Wine Awards judged in June (full results here). Some may be on the shelf under your nose, others might require some web-surfing or a weekend in wine country. Some are ground-breaking, some are controversial, some are excellent quality – but none are boring.
David Lawrason’s Picks
Hidden Bench 2011 Tete De Cuvee Chardonnay,
Beamsville Bench, $45.20
Tasting blind, I didn’t know what had hit me during the preliminary round of the National Wine Awards but this brilliant, profound and concentrated chardonnay almost knocked me out of my chair – as it did panel mate Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal. So how it missed a platinum in the second round – and settled for gold – is beyond me. Maybe however it won’t sell out as quickly. Don’t you miss it if you get a chance.
Peller Estates 2012 Gamay Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, $18.90
With an Ontario Lieutenant-Governor’s Award and a gold at the National Wine Awards of Canada, Peller’s Reserve Gamay by winemaker Katie Dickenson (who took over in 2012) leaps to the head of a genre in Ontario that many are yet to embrace. During the LG Awards a panelist asked if one could really take this out into the world as an example of excellence in Ontario wine. To which I replied – yes, and I would take it straight to Beaujolais.
Hubbs Creek 2011 Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, $28.90
I put this National Wine Awards silver medalist on my list not so much for what it is now (a solid 90 point, beautifully integrated county pinot) but for what it represents and will be. The 2012 awaiting release in the months ahead is clearly a 90+, and it stems from committed high density viticulture by owner John Battista Calvieri. Although the 1000 case winery has only produced three vintages, some of the vines, planted in some of the County’s stoniest soils on Danforth Road, date back to 2002. The ring of County authenticity is loud and clear.
Exultet 2013 Pinot Grigio, Prince Edward County, $30.00
I had three head turning experiences with mineral driven County pinot gris this summer – a finely tuned 2013 by Hubbs Creek above, an excellent Alsatian styled, mineral-driven Grange of Prince Edward 2012 and this amazing and delicious and profound yet light on its feet “Grigio” by Exultet. It is the best pinot gris I have yet had from Ontario and yes, worth the brave price of $30.
Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block Riesling, Beamsville Bench, $31.95
With a second consecutive Lt Governors Award and a Platinum at the National Wine Awards there can be little doubt that Carly’s Block – named for Moray Tawse’s daughter – planted in 1978 and now farmed biodynamically, is one of the greatest riesling sites in the province. This is scintillating riesling, and particularly notable for 9.8%, a direction more Niagara riesling producers need to go.
Sara D’Amato’s Picks
Tawse 2011 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, ($45.95)
This is a serious cool climate endeavor; one that has helped put Ontario on the map as a world-class chardonnay producer. With locally trained winemaker Paul Pender at the helm, the wines of Tawse are afforded a real sense of place and benefit from a superb collection of carefully chosen sites. The Robyn’s block is the oldest of the winery’s estate plantings and is home to 30 year-old chardonnay vines. The quality of the fruit is immediately evident on the nose alone as is the quality of the French oak in which it spends a full year. Rich and with enviable depth and complexity, this top local chardonnay is one of those wines I like to bring abroad to showcase what we do best.
Eastdell Estates 2011 Black Label Shiraz By Diamond Estates, Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
Cool climate syrahs certainly turned heads at the National Wine Awards this year and the category was one of my favourite to judge. Syrah’s pepper, musky loveliness can be muted in warmer years or climates. It takes a very sensitive understanding of the varietal to find just the right location where it will thrive and a deft hand to know when it is ready to harvest. This lip-smacking, sensually inviting example from a longer growing season, delivers exotic spice, freshly ground pepper, black fruit and succulent sour cherries to the palate. Finish of great length is pleasantly earthy and musky.
Flat Rock Cellars 2012 Gravity Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench, ($30.15)
There are so many astounding, utterly compelling pinot noirs to be found now as the ages of vines increases in Niagara and as we focus more fine-tuning and small batch production. Flat Rock Cellars Gravity pinot noir is one of those iconic examples, which offers terrific complexity, lovely dimension, and, in this warmer vintage, a beautifully lifted nose of wildflowers and cherry. Locally trained Winemaker Jay Johnston has made his rounds of Ontario wineries and has now settled into this well-suited role at Flat Rock producing expressive wines with grace and poise.
Chateau Des Charmes 2012 Cabernet Franc, St. David’s Bench Vineyard, Niagara, ($25.95)
The Bosc family has been producing wine in their well-established locale in St. David’s Bench, just outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, for over 35 years. One of the founding families of quality wine production in Ontario, and developers of new and unique clones, appealing wines with “charm” have become a hallmark of their portfolio. This lovely cabernet franc exhibits grace, balance and elegance along with the pepper and perfume typical to perfectly ripened cool climate styles.
Hidden Bench 2012 Roman’s Block Rosomel Vineyard Riesling, Beamsville Bench, ($32.00)
Such a small amount of this site specific riesling was produced and we should all be glad this project came to fruition. This impressive result features a palate which is zesty and pure with an abundance of mineral and delicate layers of floral and tender fruit. Ethereal, nervy and distinctively Niagara.
Niagara College Teaching Winery 2012 Dean’s List Prodigy Icewine, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($43.00)
Niagara College Teaching Winery has graduated many of Ontario’s most talented winemakers and has a fully operational winery teaming with students anxious to learn the ropes. Birthed from such a dynamic and experimental setting comes this exquisite Icewine. So much complexity has been coaxed out of this vidal, a grape known more for its hardiness than its intricacy, delivering concentrated notes of honey, dried herbs, soy sauce and balsamic. A distinctive and truly memorable feat exhibiting terrific balance which makes you feel like you can have more than just a sip or two.
And that’s it for now. In the days ahead John Szabo will be publishing a special report on Niagara riesling, which many claim is the single best wine that Ontario makes.
VP of Wine
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