Ontario’s Cuvée 2012 Winning Wines and Pinot Noir Expert’s Tasting – By Janet Dorozynski and Sara d’Amato

Team WineAlign was in Niagara last weekend for the 24th edition of Cuvée, where we attended the Cuvee Gala and the Annual Expert’s Tasting held at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). This year’s Experts Tasting theme focused on Ontario Pinot Noir.

Cuvée 2012 Winning Wines

Cuvée 2012

Cuvée 2012

The Cuvée Weekend is a fund raiser for the Niagara Community Foundation with proceeds benefitting community groups across the Niagara region.  The Gala event on Friday evening and En Route tastings at wineries throughout the weekend, were open to the public, allowing consumers to try and buy winning wines from the Cuvée Wine Awards.

One of the highlights of the Gala evening is the announcing the winners of the Cuvée Wine Awards, with this year’s competition seeing 264 wines from 64 wineries entered. The wines were judged by a panel of 51 Ontario winemakers. The complete list of winners and information on Cuvée 2012 found on www.cuvee.ca

WineAlign critics David Lawrason, John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow attended a pre-Cuvée media tasting to taste all the winning wines and you can check out their reviews on WineAlign to see how our tasters palates compared with those of the winemakers.

Meanwhile, here are some of Sara d’Amato’s top Cuvee picks. Most are only available directly through the winery. Traditionally many Cuvée wines sell out quickly – perhaps even over the Cuvée weekend itself –  so one must be quick on the draw.

Tawse Spark Rosé 2009, Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada, $39.95
1st Place Winner Sparkling Wine Category
Vibrant and elegant, this is the first incarnation of the Spark Rosé by Tawse Winery.

Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula Ontario, Canada, 89011, $19.95
2nd Place Winner Sauvignon Blanc Category
Upbeat, flavourful and oozing with charm, Featherstone’s recently bottled Sauvignon Blanc is a head-turner.

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, 566026, $29.95
3rd Place Winner Riesling Category
A serious, focused and polished effort from Riesling veteran Cave Spring, built to withstand the test of time.

Creekside Estate Winery Viognier Reserve 2010, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Ontario, Canada, $29.95
2nd Place Winner Viognier Category
Lush, aromatic, exotic and flavour-packed sums up this memorable, mouth-filling Viognier from Niagara’s Rhone varietal experts.

Palatine Hills Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot 2007, Niagara Lakeshore
Ontario, Canada, $24.95
1st Place Winner Merlot Category and Best Red Wine
A ripe, substantial, fruitcake Merlot with bold, integrated oak and the structure to age gracefully.

Colaneri Estate Winery Insieme 2009, Niagara Peninsula VQA Ontario, Canada, $34.95
1st Place Red Blend Category
Produced from lightly dried grapes, this concentrated blend is a brazen showstopper.

Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery Riesling Icewine 2007, Niagara Peninsula (375ml) Ontario, Canada, $50.00
1st Place Limited Edition Dessert Wine
An exceptionally complex array of flavours and unctuous nature perfectly balanced by searing acidity and produced a leading Niagara icewinemaker.

Ontario Experts Tackle Pinot Noir

The 23rd annual Expert’s Tasting at Brock University Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is a tasting for trade only, designed to examine a specific grape variety or wine style.  Winemakers, sommeliers, buyers, educators and media taste blind (without knowing the wine) to see how these grapes or wines are doing in Ontario. The wines were submitted by wineries and selected by a panel of winemakers, writers, sommeliers and educators. Past topics have included Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, red blends and Riesling with this year’s theme being “Pinot Noir and its siblings in Ontario”.

Thomas Bachelder, an accomplished Canadian-born winemaker whose had made pinot noir in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy, France, made the very important point that “tastings of this kind are very necessary in young regions like Ontario, so that we are asking questions and seeking the answers about what our regions, appellations and sub-appellations have in common and what makes our wines different and unique”.

While vine age varied and winemaking styles were not identical in the wines we tasted, the Expert’s Tasting demonstrated that Pinot Noir in Ontario is beginning to show some common and identifiable traits within the sub-appellations. A few years ago VQA divided the Niagara Peninsula into sub-regions or appellations based on varying climate and soil conditions.

The first flight of wines set before the crowd of over 150 trade and industry professionals included other members of the Pinot family – Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc along with the always delicious Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Sparkling Rose made from Pinot Noir.

Another flight had us looking at Pinot Noir from the warm 2010 vintage. Interesting examples by G. Marquis (Niagara-on-the Lake)  and Hinterbrook (Lincoln Lakeshore) . both showed a more juicy and fruit forward style, thanks to the warmth of the year.

We also tasted a group from older vintages – 2002, 2007 and 2008.  The Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve 2002 (Niagara Peninsula) still had plenty of life and was evolving nicely. The Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard 2008 (Beamsville Bench) showed rich cherry fruit and tea characteristics, which the group thought might be characteristic of Pinots from the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation.

Another flight featured the 2009 vintage, considered the year of the Perfect Storm, and the most highly rated vintage for Ontario Pinot Noir to date. This flight included standout examples from Malivoire (Niagara Peninsula), the Lailey Lot 48  (Niagara Peninsula) and the Foreign Affair Pinot Noir (Niagara Peninsula), which contains 40% dried (appassimento-style) grapes in the wine.

The final “Wine Options” flight tried to work out and identify specific characteristics of Pinot Noir from Ontario’s sub-appellations. The Niagara College Teaching Winery Dean’s List (VQA St. David’s Bench) showed spicy and floral notes, while the trio of wines from the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation (Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2009; Flatrock Cellars Reserve; Rosewood Estates Natural Ferment) were showing a thread of commonality in terms of dark berry flavours, higher but balanced acidity, dried herbs and minerality, which appear to be linked more to texture than an actual flavour attribute.

The Experts Tasting also announces winners of the “Promote the Promoters Awards” that recognize exemplary promoters of Ontario VQA wines. This year’s recipients included John Maxwell of Allen’s on the Danforth for Hospitality, Astrid Brummer in the LCBO Category, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars for Promoter-at-Large and Ken Douglas, VQA Chair and founder of 13th Street Winery for Lifetime achievement.