Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 22nd, 2020

Prince Edward County’s Quixotic Wines, Top Ontario, & Miscellaneous Smart Buys

By John Szabo MS with reviews by David Lawrason, Michael Godel, and Sara d’Amato

In 2017, my wife and I bought a derelict 1870s farmhouse in the hamlet of Rosehall in Prince Edward County. Another fool and his four acres. But what “good bones”! What potential! A raw structure with old charisma and new potential, at least for anyone blinded by a vision and in complete disregard of fiscal prudence. But as we settled in to rebuild, living the nightmares we had been forewarned of by countless wise people, I realized I was not the only fool in town. The house is in the heart of PEC wine country – one of the reasons I chose it, naturally – and all around me were equally foolish people, blinded by a quixotic quest to make wine against all logic and financial odds.

PEC tasting at the Rosehall Farmhouse

Indeed, winegrowing in PEC seems as ill-advised as renovating an old house. The smart thing to do is bulldoze and start anew. In the case of making wine, it’s not to start in the first place, or rather move somewhere else like Chile or California or even Niagara. What made the PEC wine pioneers even more questionably sane than I was the absence of any grand winemaking past to fuel dreams of a renaissance. At least we knew the house had once been the swankiest in Rosehall, built by George Raynor , owner of one of the County’s first gristmills. But PEC had no wine history, no track record, no roadmap to follow, just some sketchy climate data, promising rocks, and a plausibly charming rural landscape.


Two and a half years later and my acute pain is nearly ended; the house completely re-done and comfortably livable. And a quarter of a century since vines were first planted, the County has proved its potential to make fine wines, comfortable on the table with the finest in the land. And there’s so much more to come. I’m awfully glad both I, and the visionaries with their vines, persisted; the results are worth it.

And what better way to warm up the house than with a comprehensive survey of the state of PEC wine. A tasting in late January of over 70 wines provided insight and opportunity to put together a special PEC report, A Quarter Century In, along with a Buyer’s Guide To County Wine. And if you want to experience PEC wine country first-hand, I’ve got a home base for you. Literally! Check out the Rosehall Farmhouse.

The main report this week covers the best of Ontario featured in the February 22nd Vintages release, themed “Red Carpet Ontario Awards”, including a handful of fine wines from Niagara, as well as a miscellany of too-good-not-to-mention wines from around the globe.

Buyers’ Guide February 22nd: Top Ontario

Megalomaniac Bubblehead Sparkling Rosé, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($34.95)
John Szabo – The best bubbly, and indeed the best wine period to have emerged thus far from Megalomaniac, this salmon coloured sparkler shows substantial autolysis character (smoky-leesy-toasty notes) alongside ripe red fruit flavours. The finish is long. Clean, classy wine.

Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2017, Niagara Peninsula ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This combination of grapes aged in barrel is modelled on higher end white Bordeaux from the Pessac Leognan region. This offers a very good value facsimile at such a good price. You can’t afford not to explore.
Michael Godel – Vintage turns on its axis and its head to ripen sauvignon blanc in late expedite so there is this late concentration, extract and juiciness that results. If a hint of varietal character is compromised a magnification of aromas and flavours are the upside.

Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($29.95)
John Szabo – Year after year, since the inaugural release of the 2006 vintage, Hidden Bench’s blend of the three estate vineyards is among the most reliably impressive Canadian chardonnays, at an attractive price in the premium chardonnay universe. There’s genuine depth of flavour here, the kind that only comes from low yields and careful farming. Drink now-2025.
David Lawrason – This is delicious! With this quality of chardonnay now becoming more commonplace in Ontario one wonders why you would buy chardonnay from any other New World region. It is mid-weight, so well balanced in terms of both fruit and oak, and alcohol and acidity.
Michael Godel – You may consider this 2017 (estate) chardonnay from Hidden Bench the transition, meaning it demarcates the passing of the varietal torch, from Marelize Beyers to Jay Johnston. And indeed there is a little bit of each winemaker’s finesse, grace and cumulative style.
Sara d’Amato – Sourced from three organic estate vineyards, Hidden Bench’s chardonnay offers an abundance of character, none of which has been stripped away with fining or filtering. Juicy and full-bodied with very refined oak treatment that includes various sizes and ages of French oak barrels. Classy yet substantial with well-poised acidity.

Creekside Laura’s Red 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
John Szabo – A blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, petit verdot and malbec, Creekside’s Laura’s Red has been the winery’s calling card since 1999. The 2016 is a particularly successful vintage, ripe to be sure per the warm vintage, well structured. I’d suggest cellaring another year or so for more textural development, or hold into the mid-late ’20s.

Buyers’ Guide February 22nd: Miscellaneous Smart Buys White

Clemens Busch Nonnengarten Pündericher Ortswein Riesling 2016, VDP Germany, Mosel ($37.95)
John Szabo – Celebrated organic/biodynamic producer Clemens Busch’s wines always push the limits of the open/oxidative style, and I have to say I love the smell of this, its lovely ripe yellow-fleshed orchard fruit harvested at the peak of ripeness and put on display in the sun for several days, with wild flower honey, apple blossom and chamomile joining in. It’s a top-notch example – the Nonnengarten vineyard is within the Marienburg Grosses Gewächs (grand cru) after all, despite the Orstwein (village) designation, even if it’s not textbook Mosel. It comes across as a more heavyweight, dry style, and brilliant at that. Drink 2020-2030.
Michael Godel – From Clemens and Rita Busch, along with their son Johannes, biodynamic pioneers in the Marienburg vineyards of the Pünderich. A top producer and a Nonnengarten not to be missed.
Sara d’Amato – From a pioneer in biodynamic viticulture, this finely crafted riesling from a challenging vintage shows the impact of perseverance. This low-yielding single vineyard incarnation is an absolute pleasure to drink. There is no thought of sweetness here, just balance, energy and purity. Petrol, wet stone, apricot and honey playfully linger on the finish of excellent length.

Cuvée Joseph Talmard Mâcon Chardonnay 2018, Burgundy, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason-  This chardonnay is nicely ripe yet firm yet genteel and elegant – and huge value at $17. The length is excellent. Macon continues to offer such lovely, understated chardonnays at such fair prices.

Xanadu DJL Chardonnay 2018, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The DJL is named after Xanadu founder Dr. John Lagan, an Irishman who established the site in 1977. Made in a minimalist fashion, this chardonnay is whole-bunch pressed, wild fermented and then subject to 9 months of lees incorporation. An exemplary Margaret River chardonnay is showcasing a fresh, sea breezy nose along with a palate that is delicately laced with oak and finishes on almond and lemon.

Fontevecchia Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2017, Marche, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo – This is a beautifully understated white, beguiling for its delicacy rather than its power, impressive for its class at the price. For fans of lively, floral, unoaked whites, ready to drink now.
Michael Godel – This is 100 per cent verdicchio from the Marche region of central Italy and in a $15 package it delivers all the stone, rock, decomposed soil, sapidity and salinity you could possible want, ask or wish. Fruit is basic pear in memory but the mineral tone is all in. Long crunchy finish.

Buyers’ Guide February 22nd: Miscellaneous Smart Buys Red

Il Poggione Brunello Di Montalcino 2013, Tuscany, Italy ($69.95)
John Szabo – The 2013 Brunellos are maturing nicely now, and I love the range of aromatics on offer in Il Poggione’s stellar example. It’s top notch sangiovese, for current enjoyment or continue to hold into the mid-’20s.
Sara d’Amato – A highly textured Brunello issued from a cool and wet vintage, this 2013 is still quite youthful and grippy. Tense and nervy with sinewy tannic feel. Pulsating and powerful yet still with elegance and notable length. Hold at least another year.

Tolaini Al Passo 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
John Szabo – An impressive wine here from Tolaini, one of the best vintages for his sangiovese-merlot blend I’ve encountered. I like the dusty-savoury Tuscan character, the integrated wood, the fine, firm tannins and acids, and the very good length. Classic, food friendly Tuscan red, representative and complex. Drink 2020-2025.

Noble Hill Syrah 2016, WO Simonsberg, Paarl, South Africa ($18.95)
Michael Godel – On the Paarl side of the Simonsberg (mountain) the decomposed granite gifts soil measure to vines of syrah in a certain way, not necessarily definable but this is what it is. Reductive, meaty and of a creamy texture that is the crux of the wine.


Zuccardi Apelación Vista Flores Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From a sub-region of the Uco valley, and from a next generation producer striving for both finesse and honesty in this genre, this is quite suave and elegant malbec. Very fetching aromatics and texture. Fruit is very much the centrepiece.
John Szabo – Despite its considerable size, the Zuccardi winery is proving to be quite nimble, shifting and expanding the portfolio to keep up with changing markets. As such, it’s moving from strength to strength and taking a leadership role in innovation in the Argentine wine industry. This “Apelación” wine is a fine example of the shift, bright and vibrant on the palate, much fresher and lighter than the mean and all the more contemporary for it. Try with rustic fare off the grill.

Garzón Estate Cabernet Franc/Tannat 2017, Uruguay, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A curio find in these parts, Bodega Garzón focuses on sustainably produced wines with a gentle winemaking hand. Tannat is a Uruguayan standard and this fleshy and concentrated example cut with aromatic cabernet franc is most definitely worthy of its small price.

Teusner The Gentleman Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Barossa, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Teusner is a small Barossa estate making impressive organic wines. Love the lifted fruit and herbs and the wild edgy, salty ambiance. A “gentleman” maybe not, but focused, lively and intense. Bring on winter fare – braised roasts and stews.


Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, Amador County, California ($22.95)
David Lawrason – From a pioneering Sierra Foothills wineries comes an old vine zinfandel boasting that lovely, classic zin brambleberry, floral scent nicely etched in my brain ever since tasting in the region for a week so many years ago.  Easy going, well priced and thankfully unmochafied! 

Torbreck Old Vines Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2017, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($23.95)
Michael Godel – No mistaking the old vines concentration and the meatiness of this GSM from Barossa. Can’t say that any of the three dominate or are the controlling variety so you could say that the ties that bind are the connections that will survive.
Sara d’Amato – Old bush vine grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are deliciously intertwined in this spicy blend. Lightly meaty with a smoky undercurrent. Very southern Rhône in style, quite pure wonderfully integrated, feathery tannins and an abundance of sweet red fruit. Authentic and memorable.

Château Saint Roch Chimères 2017, Côtes-du-Roussillon-Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($19.95) (119354)
Sara d’Amato – A compelling blend showcasing the intriguing, topographically challenged and multifaceted Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages appellations. Pepper, black currant, violets and licorice are offered in abundance on the palate. Located a mere 20 km from the Mediterranean, this terroir of decomposed schists and marls are planted to grenache with carignan and syrah in the mix. The high degree of alcohol seems perfectly balanced with a surprisingly refreshing finish.


That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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