No other grape causes more of a stir, is responsible for more hair to fall and breaks more hearts. It doesn’t play well with others. It refuses to share, to be blended, to give anything less than 100 per cent. For many, there is no other variety. How often does a conversation begin with “what is your favourite wine” and end invidiously with “Burgundy?” End of argument. Nothing more to discuss. While Burgundy certainly persists as the historic locale possessive of the title “when it’s great, it’s the best,” Pinot Noir has flown the coop. The expatriate extraordinaire has migrated about the globe and is no longer always a wannabe facsimile where it’s now grown and bottled.
A bold statement to be sure is coming, now. Save for the Oregonian version, Ontario has become the place to produce Pinot Noir out of soils not called Côte de Nuits or Côte de Beaune. The argument finds root in the climate (cool) and the terroir (ideally suited). The anomaly that is this season’s Polar Vortex notwithstanding, Ontario’s weather is Pinot weather. The thin-skinned variety thrives in Ontario’s typical autumn conditions, maturing evenly and with a phenolic ripeness necessary to fulfill complex tendencies. Soil could not compose itself any better. The huge rock beneath the surface in Prince Edward County screams Pinot Noir, if by way of Burgundy. The Niagara Escarpment and its foothills beg to support Pinot vines. No, really. Go stand in the Lowrey Vineyard on the peninsula. The land beneath your feet will whisper sweet Pinot nothings into your ear.
Arguing the meritorious benefits of grapes and specific sites is an exhausting though compulsory one. I have been a staunch supporter of the need for planting Riesling and Gamay everywhere. Ontario can and will do no wrong with these varieties, whether it be PEC, LENS or any Niagara Peninsula terroir. Chardonnay too, though it produces the greatest wines in the appellations of the Beamsville Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge. The benches likewise work wonders for Cabernet Franc, though many producers make terrific renditions down by the lake.
Pinot Noir requires more site-specific consternation. The learning curve inhabited by our top Pinot producing stars has pinpointed certain neighborhoods that support their clairvoyance and expensive habits. Norman Hardie knows the Pinot innuendo of both Prince Edward County and the Niagara Peninsula. Hardie’s Unfiltered 2012 ”brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket.” Thomas Bachelder makes Pinot in Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara, but it is his Lowrey Vineyard 2011 that blows my mind. “The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens.” The micro-terroir studies of Ed Madronich and Jay Johnston is the stuff of quantum eonology. The Summit Block 2011 does “impossible Burgundy,” between a Flat Rock and an escarpment.
So where is the best site for making Pinot Noir in Ontario? Prince Edward County? Twenty Mile Bench? Beamsville Bench? Vinemount Ridge? St. David’s? Has the industry matured to such a level that a Cru system should now be defined? The answer may not be forthcoming today but it’s just around the corner. Pinot needs to be cultivated and fostered so that plots can continue to be identified and qualified. The future of the industry depends on it.
I have recently tasted more than 30 Ontario Pinot Noir. Many are worthy of a second look and more than a dozen a place in my cellar. Here are notes on five more, all deserving of their place in the Pinot sun.
Part Beamsville Bench (70 per cent) and part Twenty Mile Bench (30), this best of both worlds Pinot is full of calcium magnesium carbonate, Jurassic bark. Playful as opposed to angry, this is not so much Snoop Dogg’s Dolomite but more like an animated Futurama. Seduces with a sweet red berry entry and bound by a really fine acid/tannin/fruit balance. Admittedly not overly complex but for the price it shows good structure. As far as Pinot goes, this one is a made for beef or rack of veal. 89 Tasted October 2013 @CaveSpring
Montague is a single-vineyard child of rain and heat. The flux of the growing season translates to a troubled and disjointed youth; musty, earthy and unforgiving. Still this Inniskillin is thick, unctuous, sharp, chewy and while currently situated on the darker side of Pinot, all this will change. Not yet showing what he is, the ’11 will “keep on keepin’ on, like a bird that flew,” and eventually be tangled up in blue. 89 Tasted October 2013 @InniskillinWine
The univocal Pender perfume permeates the Tawse stable of Pinot Noir and seems only magnified in the multiple site Grower‘s Blend. Vintage related warmth and inferable incrassation of fruit. Delves into a deep connection to disparate lands possessive of a common goal. As if making wine is “your taste combined with all the years of wasting time.” Graceful Pinot Noir with moments touched by hot rocks, toasted red rice, a gentle smoulder and delicate grains of sand. 90 Tasted October 2013 @Tawse_Winery
Clean, pure and crisp. As if raspberries covered in Beamsville dirt with an underlying lurk of grain and tannin. Crackling Pinot studded by caper berry and a sheer Mediterranean point of view. From an earlier note: “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
Only the second coming of The Essence. Lucid, willing and able Pinot Noir from an assemblage of fruit sourced across the region. Atypical in that sense, speaking to a broader range of terroir and to a wider audience. Breadth and depth much like a Côte de Beaune, earthy of serious dirt layered over top a cherry core. Attention now and for five plus years is needed because though to taste it’s currently confounding, time will see more complexity, development and emerging emotion. It will then solicit a cry of ”baby, sweet baby, you’re my drug. Come on and let me taste your stuff.” 91 Tasted October 2013 @13thStreetWines
Good to go!