Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 17th, 2018

Putting Ontario’s Best Foot Forward
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato & Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES has assembled a rather handsome crew of ten Ontario wines in this February 17 release – with a little help from the WineAlign National Wine Awards. Four of the selections took platinum or gold medals at our 2017 competition held in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, last summer. Others came close with silver and bronze.

What I like about this collection is how well it represents the strengths of Niagara and Prince Edward County, capped at $25 (except for two icewines). They are solid, affordable wines from good producers who have found a passion for and/or a viticultural niche with the varieties in question. And this is the message Ontario needs to send in the bottle.

As one who has tasted Ontario wine for a generation, I – along with many consumers of my generation – am very aware of the mediocrity of the past, that can still exist, if less frequently, today. Some of my peers refuse to change their opinion of Ontario, and that will only happen if they taste good Ontario wine at an affordable price. So the wines have to be available to them. Or this group of refusniks can simply be ignored, with wineries focusing on the next generation instead. But in either case the good wines need to be out there, consistently.

The LCBO/Ontario government – that regulates, approves and retails Ontario wine – has a huge role to play in promoting Ontario quality by making sure the good wines are front and centre. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but the LCBO is actually hamstrung by political correctness and the need to be fair to all wineries, whether the wines are good are not. At the LCBO everyone gets a turn, and every Ontario wine is wrapped in the flag, whether quality is there or not. And when it’s not there, the brand suffers.

Which is why I am making the point in this release that VINTAGES has been able to get outside of itself, and borrow the quality determinations made by others. And the result is the best selection of Ontario wine we have seen in a while.

Setting the Gold Standard - VINTAGES Magazine

Of course, there are other ways for Ontario wine enthusiasts to access the good wines that our province can offer. One might be to check out the Ontario selection in a growing number of supermarkets. The selections tend of mirror the LCBO general list but they do have an ability to select for themselves, and are in the process of hiring buyers and educators. And in many of the supermarket wine kiosks dominated by the large companies you can find some of their better wines (along with good wines from competitor wineries).

The best way however is to visit wine country and taste for yourself – which is so easy given the three-hour proximity of the wineries to the vast majority of Ontario’s population. And the wineries also want you to make the journey because they make more money per bottle selling out of the winery than at the LCBO.

If visiting winery by winery takes too much time or expense there are upcoming showcase tastings just around the corner. Spring is the time of year that Ontario wineries really turn up the promotions, specifically timed to get consumers thinking about visiting wine country in the fair weather days ahead.

First up is Taste Ontario on February 26th. This is an afternoon 1 to 4pm trade event involving dozens of wineries at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, organized by Wine Marketing Association of Ontario. It is geared to the hospitality industry and it is free, but there is a registration and screening process to ensure a trade audience.

On March 23rd there is the annual Cuvée Grand Tasting and Gala at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. Again dozens of wineries are pouring, and showcasing their best at this top drawer event. It is presented by the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and VQA Ontario. Register at

And on April 6 to 8 the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are getting together for Dig Our Roots, with a variety of tastings events. Watch for upcoming information at:

Of course, as usual, Ontario wines make up only about 10% of the wines offered on the February 17 release. Last week John Szabo led an exploration of value wines under $15. This week the WineAlign gang present some of their international picks as well.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES February 17th

Ontario Whites

Redstone 2013 Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.70)
David Lawrason – This platinum winner at the National Wine Awards is super-bright, squeaky clean and vibrant, with a lovely collage of green apple, toast/smoke, citrus and mineral aromas and flavours. It is mid-weight, edged with some sense of Chablis-like stoniness. Creamy yet juicy, with excellent length.…

Michael Godel – With an extra year or so of time in bottle the Redstone chardonnay has entered the zone. With its snappy orchard fruit and sizzling acidity working in cohorts it’s a most pleasing and instructive chardonnay with lake effect attitude.
Sara d’Amato – A surprisingly serious find at $25, this chardonnay turned heads at the National Wine Awards of Canada with judges awarding it a platinum medal status in 2017. It has aged remarkably well due to some initial reductive character, its screw cap closure and top quality raw materials.

Tawse 2015 Sketches of Niagara Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95)
Michael Godel – Sketches is incredibly consistent essential Niagara riesling and this ’15 takes a bit of a risk-reward departure into that flinty, piercing netherland. As always it’s the push-pull of juice-zest lemon into lime marking the dominant flavours. This is the one to age and watch the development, alongside and in contrast to singular expressions Quarry Road, Limestone and Carly’s Block.

Redstone Chardonnay Select Vineyard 2013Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2015Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2014Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 2015

Keint-He 2014 Portage Chardonnay, VQA Prince Edward County ($25.00)
Sara d’Amato – A great deal of effort was made to give this well-priced Prince Edward County chardonnay such complexity including: sourcing from three distinct vineyards, whole bunch pressing, fermenting with both wild and cultured yeasts, lees stirring, both old and new French oak use and a decision to bottle unfiltered and unfined. Such care and keen decision making undoubtedly shows in the final product. If sharing, make sure to have a second bottle on hand.

Inniskillin 2015 Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($49.95/375ml)
David Lawrason – This is Ontario’s most famous icewine –  a descendant of Ontario’s first commercial icewine made in 1984 by the late Karl Kaiser. And it remains a quality leader, capturing a gold medal at the National Wine Awards in 2017. I tasted it very recently while teaching a WSET class, where it showed beautiful expression of almost tropical mango, peach and honey presented on a fine beam of well integrated acidity.

Ontario Reds

Henry of Pelham 2016 Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir, VQA Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The Speck Family Reserve tier of baco noir features very low yielding vines planted in 1982 in a section of south-facing, clay-limestone vineyard adjacent to Short Hills Provincial Park. (The label doesn’t say Short Hills Bench by the way, because VQA rules dictate that hybrids are not worthy of having their origin pinpointed). I serve this big, bold and complex red the Canadian Wine Scholar course, and it brings the house down. The newly arriving 2016 is quite energized yet elegant and very well made.

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco NoirMalivoire Gamay 201613th Street Gamay Noir 2016

Malivoire 2016 Gamay, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – No matter how many times tasted, this gamay is a winner, taking gold in 2017 and once again rising to the occasion in this latest VINTAGES release. Here is a tangy, enticing and vibrant expression of this grape variety that is the talk of those in the know. Malivoire’s ability to consistently excel with gamay makes it particularly attractive international onlookers have begun to clamour for Ontario’s unique take on Beaujolais’ grape. So, drink up while the price is still right.

13th Street 2016 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
Michael Godel – The essence of Peninsula gamay is captured, the fruit is ripe, dark and tangy, amalgamating blueberry, mulberry and black purple currants in just the right amount of sapid ways. This is the clean and clear gamay from 13th Street and winemaker J.P. Colas.

International Whites

D’Arenberg 2016 The Money Spider Roussanne, McLaren Vale, Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – The Spider is so bloody stony, rocky, craggy, mineral McLaren Vale roussanne on par with some similarly crafted Hunter Valley sémillon in terms of that flinty strike and smoky bite. Admittedly there is more fruit up front and even a note of creamy apple custard in the middle but in the end it returns to its elemental ways. Just money from Chester Osborn.

D'arenberg The Money Spider Roussanne 2016Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016Kruger Rumpf Münsterer Im Pitterberg Riesling Kabinett 2016

Villa Maria 2016 Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Marlbrough sauvignon is firmly established on Vintages shelves, and I always seem to be drawn more to the leaner editions. This is nicely restrained, bright almost crystalline with cool spearmint, grassy/fresh dill, grapefruit, passion fruit aromas and flavours. No shortage of flavour but I like the leaner, drier style, and almost stony finish.

Kruger-Rumpf 2016 Münsterer Im Pitterberg Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany ($26.95)
David Lawrason – We don’t see much Nahe riesling, which I’ve always like Nahe rieslings for its genteel yet northern nature. This has a very ripe creamy nose with some wet stone and peach. It is light bodied, low alcohol (9.5%), just off-dry yet very juicy, with excellent flavour depth and focus. Grab a bottle or three for a spring fling.

International Reds

Cerbaia 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($43.95)
David Lawrason – Here is a very fine, fragrant, firm mature Brunello for current enjoyment. The nose has great herbal, spicy lift, and all kinds of energy on the palate – which is surprising at ten years. Certainly enjoyable now but Brunello fans might consider a handful of bottles in the cellar for drinking over the next two or three years. It was an excellent vintage and there is life remaining.

Cerbaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2007Lornano Chianti Classico 2013

Lornano 2013 Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Bright red fruit from this vintage brings next level richness and purity. Should you be looking for the how, what and why of Chianti Classico today, simply open the sangiovese manual and there you’ll find Lornano, front and centre. This may not turn out to be the longest-lived of Lornano’s most recent CC’s but it is its most likeable.

Château Paradis 2012 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, Provence, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Excellent value here in a deeply coloured blend of cabernet, syrah and grenache. I have tended to be impressed by Provence reds that have some cabernet in the mix. It has a very attractive nose of currants, dark cherry, root beer, fresh herbs and spice. It is medium-full bodied, creamy yet nicely lively and edgy with warmth and some meatiness.

Château Paradis 2012Gabriel Meffre Laurus Crozes Hermitage 2014Astrolabe Voyage Pinot Noir 2014

Gabriel Meffre Laurus Crozes Hermitage 2014, Rhône Valley, France ($32.95)
Michael Godel – Every amount of swirl reveals a picture and a set of insights into a long and pleasurable future. The level of fortitude leads to dreams of great structure that will surely be realized in a decade or more of freshness, fruit demure and a fineness of acidity only a few appellative equals can manage. This is a wondrous effort that will realize great success.

Astrolabe 2014 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Simply delicious pinot! It shows lovely, ripe pinot aromatics with pure, deep sour red cherry fruit, etched with fine herbs, oak resin and vanillin. It is smooth, warming, almost creamy yet buoyed by just right acidity and framed by fine tannin. Very complete.

And that is a wrap for this edition.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take

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