You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

Cloudy with showers, more wine expected

Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

This one’s for the floodwaters ravaged and oppressed in cottage country and to a much lesser extent, the city dwellers, this morning’s sunshine respite notwithstanding, faced with a few more days of wet April doom and gloom. There is always wine to cheer you up. County in the City presented by Wine Align  is a must not miss event tonight at the Berkeley Church.

For the rest of you keeping score at home, here are five sure bet $20 wines guaranteed to get you through the last week of April showers.

From left: Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011, Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011, Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011, and Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From one of the oldest Loire wine-making estates (Pierre Chainier) in the Vouvray A.O.C.

The lowdown: Loire Chenin Blanc ranges from dry to sweet and creamy sparkling. This is designated semi-dry but it tends dry because of a strong limestone mineral component

The food match: Basque Pintxos

Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011 (322669, $19.95) has already begun to stun in citrine and a petrol whiff plays the stage while the other aromas wait in the wings. Earthy for a white wine, a vin tuffeau-jaune if you will, no doubt imparted by the creamy, calcareous-argillaceous limestone soil. Sweet pear and the stuff of almonds lurk in the shadows. To taste there is little cloying danger and even a touch of cheese rind. It’s really quite dry, like Großes Gewächs German Riesling, but its balance is impeccable.  91  @imbibersreport

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Prince Edward County born and bred proprietor Lanny Huff teams with Burgundy born winemaker Frédéric Picard

The lowdown: Really a white and sparkling specialist (though they do grow Merlot), Huff’s Pinot Gris is a character study unlike any other PEC peer

The food match: Agedashi Tofu

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011 (134221, $19.95) initiates contact in a fusty, gamy way, not unlike some of my favourite reds in Montalcino and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But this is Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris we’re talking about here. Fortunately a huff and a puff blows the dank aside and it gets peachy in West Indies pepper sauce after that. Lots of piquant character in this Prince Edward County charmer.  90  @HuffEstatesWine

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From the eponymous body of water at the eastern entrance of the Cook Strait and the Tasman Sea, separated by the White Cliffs from the more famous Cloudy Bay

The lowdown: From grapes grown in the Awatere Valley, this is essentially cool climate Pinot Noir and it shows

The food match: Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib

Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010 (309500, $19.95) with its bright lights, big acids is spanking, aromatically clean. Raspberry fruit driven, big barking red dog, tart balanced (13.5 per cent abv) and full of pluck and punch. Would go nicely with the Barque of smoked meats.  89  @cliffordbaywine

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat

The history: The Wildass line of wine from Stratus Vineyards seems to say “always look on the bright side of life.”

The lowdown: Laid back brand in appearance from J.L. Groux and team but this assemblage is no couch potato

The food match: Whole-Wheat Penne, spring greens, sausage

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011 (86363, $19.95) is a trailing vine of sweet ever-bearing, toffee coated candy strawberry. A wolf steppin‘ out of its Niagara comfort zone, reminding me of a red wine made by The Foreign Affair, in dried fruit (not jam) as if it were made in the appassimento method. It’s simply J.L. coaxing maximum concentration from vines in a balanced vintage and frankly this is better than most Veneto Valpolicella at the same price. This Wildass is “like a true nature’s child,” born to be wild.  89  @Stratuswines

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Also known as Durif, a black-skinned variety developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the south of France in the late 1800’s

The lowdown: California has embraced the grape and although it remains much maligned, when acidity and balance play their part, it can be so much more interesting than Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in Paso Robles

The food match:  Beef Shanks braised in red wine

Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011 (317677, $19.95) is certainly Cabernet-like with its rich berry fruit forward first step but it never goes over the top. The alcohol (13.9 per cent) remains in check, it’s minty and eucalyptus cool and white pepper gives it good bite. Exotic, smokey edge.  90  @EOSwinery

Good to go!

Come together, over wine

Stratus Vineyard
Photo: Stratus Wines

as seen on canada.com

Intensity is in the air. The artists are at work, blessed with a geographical, geological and climatic canvas unique to the planet. They share arts and letters, compare and contrast methods, style and results. The sense of community is palpable, obvious and quite frankly awesome. They are Ontario winemakers and they are coming together. Right now.

Somewhereness

Somewhereness is not just a buzz word, it’s the operative word. The notion is attributed to Wine Spectator Magazine editor Matt Kramer and the application has been conceived, depending on your take, by osmosis, by derivative extension or through extrapolation, by the original six founding member wineries of Stratus, Charles Baker, Tawse Winery, Norman Hardie Winery, Flat Rock Cellars and the Malivorie Wine Company. The group has now grown to 12 Ontario winemakers, embracing Cave Spring Cellars, Hidden Bench Winery, Southbrook Vineyards, 13th Street Winery, Thomas Bachelder and Hinterland Wine Company. That this forward and fast thinking gang, collectively conspicuous like another famous gathering of Canadian artists, has embraced Somewhereness, mandated, habituated and held it dear in unequivocal belief, speaks of their collective consciousness. Terroir feeds their raison d’être,” imprinted with a vineyard’s sense of place, its soil, climate, seasons, vintage variations — and its maker’s methods.”

Mr. Kramer said “Somewhereness is more than just an event. It allows us to recognize the particular beauty of a place. Since Ontario’s wines have just such a particular beauty, the Somewhereness celebration makes sense in a single sip.” It was also Mr. Kramer who said that Somewhereness is something you can’t take, nor is it something that you can really define, or figure out its source. Somewhereness is not something undefined, like umami, nor is it akin to karma, or zeitgeist. It’s very real. In the soil, the vines, the fruit and in the wine. The sparkling, white and red wines of Ontario are obvious and recognizable. They should never be mistaken as having been made anywhere else.

Recognition

A concept like Cool Chardonnay takes it to the road to spread the prophecy and also plays host to events that attract dignitaries from around the world. More organizations like i4C are needed to spread the Ontario gospel. The next summit of #i4C2013 (third annual) will take place this coming July 19-21. Still, something is missing. Industry folk share an understanding, celebrate internally and not unlike any well-organized clique, pat one another on the back. But what about the local consumer? Do they realize they’re missing out on the illustrious muckle right under their noses? There’s the rub. It’s not just Americans and Europeans who are ignorant to the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. Abeyance be gone, these next few years have the potential to cement an industry’s power. Only a minority has even the slightest clue that liquid gold is mined out of the peninsula’s glacial clay and limestone. The time is ripe to tell the world the story of Somewhereness. The embryo is about to grow in a major way. Financial reward is within reach. So how to alert the world?

Education

When Canadian agencies send wine abroad, its best foot must be put forward. West coast wine writer Anthony Gismondi made this point to Canada’s quintessential wine ambassador, Janet Dorozynski:

More than anything, retail stores that specialize in cool climate wines are necessary to force feed confidence to the buying public. Shops devoid of cloying Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Shiraz that cloud the wine IQ of young minds. I’m guessing you don’t see Gamay as a great hope for the future of sales out of this province. You are not the only one. If Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are considered essential varieties for success, how can Gamay be excluded from hanging out at the top of the list? Only three were poured at Somewhereness, two of which were from Malivoire. Tawse, Stratus and Cave Spring should all have been pouring theirs. Consider this statement. “Wines produced between 41˚ and 44˚ north are more aromatic, lighter in body and higher in acidity than their warm-climate cousins.” If that does not shout Gamay, please tell me what does. The #GoGamayGo troupe is in full tweeting mode:

Simply put, more Gamay (Noir) needs to be planted in Ontario’s vineyards. OK, so the name isn’t the sexiest. Could you call it Niagara Noir? I don’t think so. Gamay and its small berries (especially from new clonal plantings) are ideally suited to the climate and the wines are drop dead delicious. The bandwagon is growing, with zealots like @thespitter, @winetrackmind, @BillZacharkiw@mkaisersmit@TheGrapeGuy@zoltanszabo and @johnszabo leading the charge.

Caretakers of the Earth

Indeed, Ontario is a special place to grow grapes. Our 12 winemakers feel this way about their wines, noting they offer “deeper refreshment, exquisite harmony with food, and great ageing potential. Welcome to the coolest fine wine region on earth. Our wineries sit on a fortuitous composition of earthly constituents: some 12 meters of glacial clay and silt capped by a few feet of clay and limestone-laced topsoil. Clay limits a vine’s ability to produce large crops. Instead we get tiny berries in small yields, giving us high concentrations of sugars, acids, minerals and wantonly exotic flavour compounds.”

On Tuesday, April 16th the group of 12 poured their best at the MaRSDiscovery District. A warm thank you goes to Cool Chardonnay, i4C VIP Concierge Trisha Molokach for helping to set the Somewhereness table. Here are eight shining examples of the coolest wine made on earth.

From left: 13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV, Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009, Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009, Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional, and Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010

13th Street Cuvée Rosé NV ($24.95, winery only) is autolytic, Brut-finished, traditional method sparkling that has that something in her style. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay emitting so much strawberry energy you might find yourself lost in the fields forever. But there is more than that, “something in the way she woos me,” maybe the rhubarb replay, or the tarragon, or the faint tang of cheese. You gotta like the Jean Pierre Colas style and to like her, you need to like her style.  89  @13thStreetWines

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling ‘CSV’ Estate Bottled 2009 ($29.95, winery only) comes from the oldest, lowest-yielding vines at the estate grown on the limestone, Beamsville Bench terrace. A three month rest on its lees imparts honey on the nose though the palate is dryer than off-dry. Mineral, pop-driven even. A hoovering, wizened Riesling, puckering, turning inward, yet to hydrate. Unique for Escarpment ’09 and will realize a quenching later than most. I for one will put this aside and revisit at the end of the decade, when “golden slumbers fill your eyes.” 89  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Wine Company Gamay ‘Courtney’ 2011 ($29.95, winery only) spent 14 edifying months in French oak and will live adroitly for another five years as a result. So much plum inherent in all its faculties, berries and currants too. The winemaker star of  Shiraz Mottiar is rising higher into the cool climate stratosphere with each passing vintage. His wines walk a haute couture runway of class and style.  91  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2009 ($32.95, winery only) occupies hallowed Beamsville Bench middle ground between the beastly corpulence of 2008 and the rich, voluptuous 2010. Puzzling blend. Approachable and formidable. I sip and sip and sip her majesty in spite of her necessary acidity and tenacious tannin. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot but I gotta get a bellyful of wine.”  92  @HiddenBench

Charles Baker Riesling ‘Picone’ 2011 ($35, winery only) trembles with nervous energy and will need some bottle time to shed its shocking, A16 soda popping feeling. Right now “he got joo joo eyeballs.” Give it a year, or even two for the Vinemount Ridge clint (citrus and flint) to come together in a fit of focused, piercing acidity. This is Baker’s sharpest, knife-edge Riesling in the block and while I never thought it possible, this one is sure to outshine 2009. For Charles Baker “one and one and one is three.”  93  @cbriesling

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hinterland Wine Company Rosé 2010 Method Traditional ($37, winery only) is imbued faintly and sweetly in pink hue and lithe bubble. The grace and ease of Prince Edward County is forgotten when the wine hits the tongue and attacks with force. A peppery anesthetization ensues, followed by a soma-like, numbing sensation. She’s no cheap date, gives you no money, “but oh, that magic feeling.” Like a two-side playing of Abbey Road, she reels you in slowly, works to a feverish pitch and drifts off slowly into dream. A bit exhausting but worth the trip.  90  @hinterlandwine

Tawse Pinot Noir ‘Lauritzen Vineyard’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) from the Vinemount Ridge is dry and cut with spice, a favourite for winemaker Paul Pender. The sour acidity from fruit such as cranberry and pomegranate are here in deep, concentrated and naturally sweet tones. Niagara limestone casts a Burgundy mineral shadow and the wine is iron tough yet silky due to the warmth of the vintage.  91  @Tawse_Winery

Good to go!

Time to buy these great wines

PHOTO: DRAMARGAR/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Smaller investments lead to bigger fortunes. This is the credo that works for me when it comes to wine. I practice what I preach and taste as many wines as possible, to determine the personality of my palate, to make informed, diagnostic and visceral decisions when it comes to purchasing for my cellar.

Related – More Current Release Wines

Admittedly, I am offered many opportunities to taste wine. They are out there for you too, whether you live in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia or British Columbia. Wine events are happening almost daily, in event venues, in restaurants, in wine shops and at your local monopoly. Get out there and taste Canada. Put a little money and time into your wine future. Take a course. Taste often and always. Training and immersion is key. Taste!

In the meantime, one of my many jobs is to help with buying strategies. Some recent releases are out there for the taking. I have also discovered a remarkable (soon to arrive in Canada) New Zealand producer, thanks to the generosity of the Speck Family (Henry of Pelham, Ontario) and Family Wine Merchants.  Their Icons of Wine, The Inaugural Family Wine Merchants Portfolio Tasting in Toronto was held on April 15, 2013 at Arcadian Lofts. The Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from the Marlborough winery called Te Pā are a revelation. In anticipation of a spring concert of Prince Edward County wine events and new tastings, here is a terrific Pinot from the man himself, Norman Hardie. All in all, here are five new wines to look for, right now and in the near future.

From left: Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011, Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009, and Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012

The grapes: Garganega and Trebbiano

The history: Produced in the Veneto region of northern Italy and owned by Lamberti S.P.A., an Italian chemical company

The lowdown: Really remarkable Soave at an entry-level price speaks for itself, despite the odd marriage between winery and massive chemical overlord

The food match: Cauliflower Soup with Coconut, Turmeric and Lime

Santi Vigneti Di Monteforte Soave Classico 2011 (316067, $14.95) is spangled of a mineral green and gold like lichen and moss on rocks long dripped on by a spraying waterfall. Fettered elegance, waxy like aged Semillon and positively exclusive of balm, oil, cloy or bitter peat. Smooth, direct, agreeable white.  88 @pmacanada

The grape: Sangiovese

The history: Property in Panzano (Greve) in Chianti that dates back hundreds of years, when it was called “Cahago”, which means “enclosed, cultivated field”

The lowdown: Open the dictionary and search “Chianti Classico.” CC defined

The food match: Spaghetti, 2012 harvest Roma tomato, basil sprouts, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2009 (176776, $19.95, SAQ, 571539, $24.60) whispers come-hither, pour a glass of me. You will not be disappointed. Straddles the Chianti meridian, offering up the best of both worlds; a tough, tannic and gritty stalking wolf and an alluring, silky modern fox. Iron and saltpeter meets dark chocolate filled with raspberry liqueur. Blessed with a piacevole retrogusto. “There’s still time for the midnight wine. Life just as it happens going down the line.”  90  @VillaCafaggio  @VinexxCanada

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Long established Marlborough, New Zealand property with vineyards right by the waters of Cloudy Bay at the Wairau Bar, though they’ve only recently begun to bottle under their own label

The lowdown: If Te Pā can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, they could be priced as low as $18.95. If that happens I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats

The food match: Za’atar Spiced Rabbit Gözleme

Te Pā Winery Pinot Gris 2012 (coming soon, $31.95) from a single vineyard made up of three plots and only the best fruit is chosen for the final blend. Hurtles like a ballistic missile fueled by bombarding and bombastic pear fumes, not to mention pungent capsicum. Was “headed for the overload” when suddenly it spun around by way of a dramatic yet finessed, flinty mineral chord change, like a “D” dropped into a Keith Richards’ open “G”. Gets your rocks off. The Sauvignon Blanc popped my eyeballs straight from their sockets. This Pinot Gris is even finer.  92  @nzwine  @winemarlborough

The Splurges

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage

The lowdown: The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up

The food match: Capercaillie and coniferous forest from Fäviken

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 (125310, $35.00) paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.  92  @normhardie  @TastetheCounty

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Established in 1988, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery is run by the late Paul Speck Sr.’s three sons, Matthew, Daniel and Paul. H of P amalgamates iconic Niagara pedigree with forward thinking and familial kinship

The lowdown: While there is little doubt that winemaker Ron Giesbrecht’s greatest success is and has been cemented in his Cabernet-Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling, his soft spot has got to be for this Speck Family Reserve Pinot

The food match: Tomato Dijon Tart

Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir ‘Speck Family Reserve’ 2009 (657874, $40) has arrived in its happy place. The escarpment abutting, protected position and sheltered warmth away from the lake makes the Short Hills Bench a valued Pinot site. Crushed red berries, exaggerated florals and less earth/funk than many peers lead to the SFR’s singular sagacity. Fine-grained chalky tannins befitting the vintage will see this linger with pleasure for another five years. Yet another fine example of ’09 Niagara Pinot clarity forged by skilled and experienced hands.  91  @SpeckBros

Good to go!

A wine pentathlon

Casa Loma in Toronto PHOTO: ALISONHANCOCK/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Wake up and smell the grapes. Put those lame excuses on the shelf and get over yourself. Time to cease and desist the dissing and dismissing of Ontario wine. I used to be like you but now I participate any chance I get, by invitation or by uncorking at dinner, to sample, savour and immerse myself in Canadian and more specifically, Ontario wine.

“5-Star” at Casa Loma (Photos: Michael Godel)

I was there when thirty wineries from The Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore regions were assembled on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 in Toronto’s Casa Loma by The Ontario Wine Society. No fewer than 127 wines (plus a few under the table ringers here and there) were poured at the “5-star” event that focused on the signature, cool-climate varieties produced in Ontario. Sparkling wines shared company with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. I loved the pentalpha conceptualization, realized by a narrowing of the field to a focus of five. Working endurance wine tastings tugs on the olfactory and taste bud strings, demanding maximum mettle, so this was a welcome format.

The Ontario Wine Society is a necessary and viable provincial institution. The not-for-profit society was formed in 1991 and continues its mandate to discover, appreciate and support local wines. The industry knows to thank and give back to the OWS and other organizations who likewise set out complimentary mandates to champion local greatness. Like the VQA leader with respect to growth and sustainability Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) and the oenological education leader Cool Climate, Viticulture and Oenology Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University, the OWS is all about championing greatness stemming from our vineyards.

Shout out goes to OWS President Ken Burford and Vice-President Sadie Darby for orchestrating the oeno-pentathlon. The feat was neither small, nor insignificant. The local tastings ramp up in a big way in April and May with events like County in the City,  County CharacterCounty Terroir, The Niagara Food and Wine Expo and culminating in June with the inaugural National Wine Awards of Canada (formerly the Canadian Wine Awards) presented by Wine Align.

From left: Flat Rock Cellars 2008, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Stanners Pinot Noir 2010, Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008, and Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009

Many of the wines presented had been previously reviewed so with such a big line-up to get through I did not always re-taste, including the following:

Rosewood Estates Natalie’s Süssreserve Riesling 2010 (258806, $14.95) 88

Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Riddled ($24.95) 87

Green Lane Old Vines Riesling 2010 (283432, $29.95) 91

Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (324103, $44.95) 91

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Rare Vintage Pinot Noir 2010 ($44.95) 91

Here are eight highlights from the OWS Casa Loma tasting, to the tune of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2012 ($23.95, winery only) picks up where the piercing ’11 left off and should be enjoyed in near time while that prototypical QRV fleshes out. This vintage is all about the here and now, citrus bright, immediately inviting, a slice of limstone pie with clay icing. While some age on Riesling is certainly and always welcome, this one begs to be looked at in the present. 90 @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Lighthall Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($25, winery only) has that crazed look in its eye, as does vintner Glenn Symons when he talks about it, knowing full well this Prince Edward County juice is a bursting and rising, rocket launching supernova. Steely like Chablis, sharp and shimmering in defiance to the heat of the vintage, the LVC is a dartle to the collective consciousness of the County. Startling revelation. It’s all about the rocks. 91  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Vineyard wines

Stanners Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, winery only) combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners. 89  @StannersWines

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2008 ($30, winery only) poured as a youthful and “hello” pleasant surprise though it’s just beginning to display secondary character. Has shed its CO2 ferment skin without compromising the inherent citrus zest. Nectar lit by just emerging perky propellant and the ubiquitous, underlying of St. Urban’s stones all combine forces to a life of amarita. All this to make believe 2028 will be just another year in its evolution. 92  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, 1560winery) reels in Twenty Mile Bench fruit in a warm vintage as well if not better than any of its peers. Founder Ed Madronich is clearly slope and soil obsessed and this Pinot Noir is a study in topography and geology. To paraphrase Madronich, it’s  “more Pommard than Volnay, in a deeper and more masculine way than the Estate bottling.” Pinot barrels most representative of the Gravity style were chosen for the final blend, in this case noted by woodsy black cherry and spiced root vegetable. “Get a little savagery in your life.” 90   @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2010 ($38, winery only) takes my previous impressions to a higher plane. Standing correct by calling it a “a vintage relative release” but it’s so much more than “a quaffable, generous fruit sui generis.” Beets turn into plums. Opaque hue reminds of graceful Nebbiolo with a dancer’s legs in aperture. Wins in judicious use of French wood. Tannins persist in the rear-view mirror. Big ’10 that speaks of another level in Beamsville Pinot Noir. “Think about it, there must be higher love.” 91  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron 

Tawse Cabernet Franc Van Bers Vineyard 2009 ($49.95, winery only) from the Creek Shores Appellation is proof that a well rounded grape has no point. The Van Bers is winemaker Paul Pender’s purlieu, edgy, outlying, unconcerned with the norm or the banal. Makes full use of a cool vintage with heart-stopping acidity and eye-popping verve but not without delivering Soul, in the form of flowers and a fruit basket to your doorstep. “It’s like thunder and lightning.” Capers, camphor and a knock on wood add R & B complexity. 91  @Paul_Pender

Good to go!

A Stanley Cup for house league hockey

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Wendel Clark and a happy George Bell Titan

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Wendel Clark and a happy George Bell Titan

This is what hockey is supposed to be about

as seen on canada.com

They do give back. If your son or daughter was born in 2000 or 2001 and loves playing minor hockey, the 2012-2013 season would more than likely have been a good one.  Regardless of ability or what level they played, kids in the Toronto-area had a chance to experience the competitive thrill of playoff atmosphere, tournament hockey, just like the prodigies and the professionals.

It’s not the way house league players normally get treated.

The 2013 Canadian Tire Cup was held from April 5-7, 2013 at Iceland Arena and The Hershey Centre in Mississauga, ON. The free, three-day tournament was an end-of-season gift resulting out of a partnership between Canadian Tire and the GTHL. Together they provided 103 Peewee-level house league hockey teams in the GTHL with $500 in funding over the course of the 2012/2013 season to help pay for the costs associated with playing hockey.

Canadian Tire Cup Photo: Connie Riga

Canadian Tire Cup
Photo: Connie Riga

The GTHL is the largest minor hockey organization in the world and predates the NHL. Parents invest tens and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in their child’s minor hockey career to chase the NHL dream. Only a select few get there. Injuries and especially concussions are rampant and are today the centre of endless controversy. Don Gilmor asked, “is minor hockey worth it?”

On a weekend like this, absolutely. Yes, there were some spirited games, a few mismatched teams and some bruises, but when all is said and done, so many kids benefited from the experience.

Jeff Stewart, GTHL’s manager of membership services and events said 85 of a possible 103 eligible teams participated in the tournament. Those that did not enter did so because of conflicts with their league playoffs.

Candian Tire Cup Photo: Nana Wall

Candian Tire Cup
Photo: Nana Wall

Canadian Tire is the exclusive sweater sponsor of the GTHL but their support goes well beyond the elite levels of AAA, AA, A and Select minor hockey.

“This is really the culmination of their season for these teams,” said Kevin Kloostra, Canadian Tire’s sponsorship and events advisor. “Many of these players have never been to a full tournament before.”

Each participant was given a loot bag with a Canadian Tire baseball cap and toque, NHL hockeycards and mini sticks.

Some NHL alumni – dressed in vintage-style, Canadian Tire hockey jerseys – spent quality time with the kids. They signed autographs, posed for photos and held court inside dressing rooms. The ambassadors (primarily former Toronto Maple Leafs players) included Lanny McDonald, Wendel Clark, Tiger Williams, Curtis Joseph, Brad May, Tom Fergus, Jeff O’Neill, Kris King, Todd Warriner and Bob McGill.

Good to go!

Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

Photo: Melinda Nagy/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

White and red. These are the two descriptors that separate and define wine. But the pigmentation in wine runs a colour spectrum way beyond the black and the white. Whites wines can appear pale or silvering, in platinum and argentate. They can be yellow and gold, in marigold and saffron. They can also be green, in jade, malachite and patina. Red wines are so often purple, in magenta, amethyst and amaranthine. They are also black, in slate and in charcoal. I employ this word salad rubric all the time, because that is what I see.

Have you ever really taken the time to look closely at the actual colour of your wine? To do so, the first order of necessity is a proper wine glass with a good-sized bowl and certainly not smaller than 16 ounces. Increasing the viewing area allows you to not only see hues but also nuance and variegation, especially when a wine has some age on it. The visual aspect of wine is huge. Don’t let it pass you by.

There will be many colours and golf attire styles on display this coming weekend at The Masters. You’ll see the Luke Donald Ralph Lauren GQ. The Ian Poulter English plaid, retro-kitsch. The Sean O’Hair Ashworth Nantucket. The Freddie Couples Masters green. The Ben Crane Hugo Boss, Mad Men yellow, green and orange. The Ricky Fowler Puma, day-glow yellows and greens. The Masters offers a sensory experience focused on colour unlike any other made for television sporting event. So many shades of green and so many moments of reflection. Reminds me of wine.

I’m certainly not suggesting to revolve your purchasing decisions around fashion and colour, but the next time you pour a glass, take note of its sheen. I guarantee it will add to the experience. Whether or not you care at all about the golf, here are six masterfully made drops to look for this coming weekend.

Clockwise from left: Hinterland Whitecap 2012, Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007, Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011, Resta Salice Salentino 2009, Viewpointe Estate Auxerrois 2011, Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010

The Silver

Hinterland Whitecap 2012 (332809, $22) looks like lustrous sterling and that visual promotes a feeling of confidence. Tender spindrift and a Vidal, honeyed sweetness to smell. Waxy Muscat balm and a hint of draff. Riesling ties it all together in a well-structured sparkler crafted by Prince Edward County winemaker Jonas Newman. Like top quality Prosecco. Please do not mock the Charmat. Versatility be thy name!  89  @hinterlandwine

The Patina

Viewpointe Estate Auxerrois 2011 (327239, $14.95) is something completely different, unique and intriguingly surprising from the Lake Erie North Shore Appellation. Nice nose, despite a wet, though not a record rainfall season. Notes of stone fruit, flowers, equatorial like Gewürztraminer but not in lychee, candied but not cloying. Downy glycerin texture with nutty overtones and even key lime pie. Indicates a decemberist, classic, off-dry style. You can “rake your thumbnail across the stretch of the patina” but what you will find is balance and restoration.   88  @viewpointewines

The Marigold

Bachelder Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 (272005, $29.95) oozes gossamer oak at the outset. Golden like an organic egg yolk, flocculent, thick and rich. Bests the ’09 with more smokey verve and struck stone guts. This one is very neurological, in colour, texture and feel.  90  @Bachelder_wines

The Jade

Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007  (313528, $16.95) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90

The Charcoal

Resta Salice Salentino 2009 (324731, $14.95) is a modest Negroamaro mouse of currant, coal, olive and terrene. Powdery, cretaceous limestone and leather make this Puglian painfully arid and yet it is remarkably juicy. Funk monster too. “My brain’s the burger and my heart’s the charcoal.”  For lounging at closing time.  88  @DavidBowlerWine

The Magenta

Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2011  (36194, $21.95) sets the pepper mill on speed dial and certainly knows the inside of a barrel but what more could you possibly ask for? Unabashed, unbridled purple goodness. From my earlier note: “…has to be the best yet from Richie Roberts.  From a 35-acre Grand Cru (Five Rows) vineyard in the making in the heart of the warmest Niagara locale (St. David’s Bench). Zanthoxylum, capsicum and pencil shaving. Ropy grain, chewy, sylvan charm. On the card at Barque 90  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Good to go!