There was a time when Ontario wine held no candle to my thoughts, filled no glass in my tasting regimen and occupied no place in my cellar. My how time and five years of enlightenment have changed me. Rarely does a day go by when that holy trinity of wine attention does not focus on something from Ontario.
My current obsession lies in the white wines from the 2012 vintage. The two previous years were so different, 2010 at first seemingly hot and bothered, then having emerged from its shell it has since clearly spoken in a language of elegance. The 2011 that followed gave wines of piercing acidity, verve and even austerity. Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon all grabbed my acidulated attention.
First encounters with 2012 provided great skepticism. I continue the journey of ’12 discovery and the doors of perception are beginning to open. As a white wine vintage in Ontario, 2012 is shaping up to be a classic. Candour and acidity are there, but it is the rich, fullness of the wines that have taken the industry’s prowess to a whole new level. Riesling is brilliant. Pinot Gris the best ever. Though conditions may have not produced the coolest Chardonnay, winemakers who exercised restraint made beautiful wines. White blends that made use of highly aromatic varieties made their best wines to date. Reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites.
The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage? Not long ago I was emphatic to state there are no longer bad vintages in Ontario. The wisdom, experience and winemaking acumen has rendered that notion obsolete. There are challenging years for sure and this harshest of 2014 winters will certainly test the mettle of winemakers. Vintage variation is real and yes, there are no bad vintages, only different ones.
The new Kew Vineyards in Beamsville is on to something and 2011 was a terrific vintage to sidle up to their unique production of red wines. While appassimento remains an Ontario enigma, not quite like growing and producing a southern Italian grape like Aglianico, but the method is still a bit of a side-show. Kew reigns in the practice and matches it to the parameters of the Ontario vineyard and the climate. Kew the new red in Ontario.
Here are six new releases, a new Kew, a Prince Edward County classic Sparkling and four definitive whites from the 2012 vintage in Niagara.
FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1578, $16.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES ESSENTIAL
Though the warmth of the 2012 vintage could have suffocated a blend such as this Twisted, to the contrary, this harmonious white unfolds as a cold play. Cool, crisp, wonderfully tart and full of citrus zest. Plenty of sunshine but no burn. Waxy and rich like excellent Moscato along with the creamy confection of mango and the tang of what pale, trenchant pineapple used to be, before it went golden. The blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay magnetizes the opposing forces of residual sugar and modest alcohol. “And you are not wrong to ask who does this belong to? It belongs to all of us.” Best Twisted to date. 89 @brightlighter1 Tasted January 2014
TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release
Frothing at the glass, full on soda aromatic entry, verging to off-dry white peach and yellow plum flavours. Full of tang and zest, enriching flavours that render the soda irrelevant. All in, vigorous ’12, most ever perhaps. From my earlier note: “s’got quite the tropical warmth for Bench Riesling. When considered in terms of the vintage, this is nearly a Riesling in the service of a Pinot Gris. Very juicy fruit, dry but bursting in fricative verve. Extreme quality, low-cost. Now on tap at Barque Smokehouse. 89 Tasted August 2013 and January 2014 @Tawse_Winery @Paul_Pender
KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula (367318, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release
Winemaker Philip Dowell draws upon his Aussie roots, delves into a northern Italian technique (appassimento) and along with Beamsville grower Graham Rennie, does the practice proud. Vineland Research Institute has been working towards developing a Niagara appassimento thing, already embraced by the likes of Foreign Affair, Pillitteri and Colaneri. Now Kew takes the torch but with an altered finesse and restraint. Raspberry and the wet warmth of spring sun, saturated earth give way to dusty, sour cherry with an accent of peppery, herbaceous Loire-style Cabernet Franc. The dust ultimately trumps the sharp and then submits towards a metallurgical length. Would work with eclectic flavours, like Buffalo Chicken Nachos. It’s true. 88 @kewvineyards Tasted November 2013 and January 2014
FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release
A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages. 92 @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd Tasted January 2014
SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (172338, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release
A sachet of fiendish raising agent and scotch kindled toast seem initially atypical for the vintage but are kept in check and work alongside one another to great effect. Halfway in there are notes of lemon butter, saltwater-marked wooden ship, pine forest on a warm morning and organic smells of the world outside. The glow and ardor of what Chardonnay can rightfully be in 2012 take the lead at the mid-point and carry Triomphe through to an eco-rich, full-bodied good glass. “On the water, very free, and easy.” 89 Tasted February 2014 @SouthbrookWine
HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007, Traditional Method, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (198754, $39.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release
This is a glorious vintage for the classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flagship Huff bubbles. Lees affected in waves of chewy, fernetty, lime sherbet, ginger, coriander seed and apical almond butter. The humidity of the vintage plunges this complex sparkler into the brewing smells of a late fall apple orchard. Bronzing in attitude to middle age, a kind of medieval bubbles, hard on you, not letting go of its barbaric hold. The colour speaks of age but there is a huge amount of verve and life left yet. Your full attention is required to gather Huff’s traditional thoughts and this is quite possibly the most rambunctious PEC fizz I’ve ever encountered. So different from the 2008 ”austere, dry, flinty wine of slate.” 92 Tasted February 2014 @HuffEstatesWine
Good to go!