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.
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 Character, County 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.
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
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, 1560, winery) 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!