Wine Country came to town last week betwixt what has seemed like the most expansive sectarian LCBO campaign in recent memory, or possibly ever. Hashed out, tagged and promoted by such catch slogans as #LCBOtastelocal, #LCBOGoLocal and #LoveLocal, Ontario’s wine superstars have been dancing on the monopoly’s main stage and in stores, since September 15th and through to October 11th. As part of the phrontifugic campaign, the LCBO has quaintly persisted in matching local wine with pie.
It has not just been a talking affair, this love for the wine regions of Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. VINTAGES walked the walk by welcoming 55 Ontario wineries last Thursday, October 2, 2014 to Toronto’s Bronfman Hall at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Taste Ontario is a curated and correlated gathering and the sixth annual did something the first five failed to accomplish. The agglomeration left no book of wines behind on the varietal bus. This year the offering sought a cogent cross-section of everything Ontario works its vinicultural tail off at, from stalwart signatures Chardonnay and Riesling through to the global gamut of expatriate Vinifera. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc continued their most righteous and requisite climb to prominence. The increasingly genuflected niches occupied by Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Red Meritage Blends upped the ante and their game. Finally and with much market grab ado, Sparkling, Gamay and Syrah crossed the bridge to be more than gratuitously represented.
This is what happens when Wine Country Ontario, the LCBO and the winemakers do whatever it takes to get on the same page. The miserable and disenfranchised put their gripes aside. There was no talk of private wine stores, organics, biodynamics and wishes to reformulate the VQA certification process. No, all of the important issues facing the Ontario wine industry were swept under the rug to focus on one thing. Current and recent releases.
Ontario’s expansion in diversity and prosperity has not climbed aboard the gravy train without challenges. Growing, nurturing and manufacturing (despicable term, I know) the varieties of the European shtetl is a labour of New World love. The results have polarized the region, dividing its critics into glass half full or empty rural planners, into partisans and dissidents. The wines themselves can be brutally honest takes, but also classic, arguably heroic examples of despair refusing to take itself seriously.
The critic will tell the Ontario winemaker who strays from the comfortable cool home confines for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Franc that all else is a complete waste of viticultural time. They will insist that you can’t have doppeltes Glück, that your bread cannot be buttered on both sides. Cake is not to have and eat it too. The winemaker will respectfully disagree.
Never before, in the presence of so many Ontario wines at a single tasting, have the poles been blurred, bent and bemused. Martin Werner’s 2013 Riesling challenges the laws of typicity, even while it expands on the boundaries of what can be achieved. VQA found no fault. Francois Morissette did the same (and more) and yet his Cuvée met with the ball’s black curtain. Ravine’s Riesling barely caused a batting of the VQA lash. Gordon Robert’s Gamay 2013 has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Others found it thin and volatile, yet it breaks new ground and carries a #GoGamayGo torch. Marynissen Estates has re-invented itself (with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in tow) and still the paradigmatic radar gun is silent, its registry empty and reading zero in the wrist slap department. Is everyone paying attention?
Taste Ontario has bore the ancient marvelous into the modern everyday. The gathering has developed as a show of VQA magic realism, a look at the mundane through a hyper-realistic lens. While there are many consumers who would still not drink these wines at a Leamington tomato auction, the number of converts increases exponentially with each passing congress. With yet another Taste Ontario in the books, the conversation has been furthered, the level of fitness elevated and the report card in. Ontario wine is worthy of cerebral ramparts. Discussion to ensue.
I tasted more than 50 wines through the course of the provincial day and with time, space and brevity as my leader, I have thus far reviewed but a lagniappe, beginning with those that spoke with the clearest voice and tender personality. Polarized or not, here are 10 new releases assessed, in a wide range of categories, tasted at Ontario’s signature event.
A most pleasant symbiosis of Pinots in this rhyming wine. Juicy equal parts align and run together in fresh time. Extraction is bang on, with gentle lime pressings layered in line. Scents of orange rind and lemon thyme. Reminiscent of another land and another time, gathering up old knowledge and I me mine. “No one’s frightened of playing it, everyone’s saying it” and this white blend is “flowing more freely than wine.” Very functional, with just enough Loire meets Alsace, which is fine, working in unison to keep a welcoming consumer feel the sun shine. Tasted October 2014 @
After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call. Tasted October 2014 @
Di Profio Wines Limited Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery, $18.00)
From estate fruit out of the Mia Cara Vineyard in Jordan Station. Not sure any Ontario SB has ever hit the nail on the proverbial head like Fred Di Prfio’s ’13. Subtle touches of wet hay, mowed grass, capsicum, juiced berries, goose feathers and passing through the rising steam of just about to be blanched green vegetables. Acidity brings the party to another level but it’s not an all night affair. The verve is quick, dancing on tongues, layered on the floor, spread on a raft of herbs, ready for smoking beneath the fish just out of the river. Great, late balm, like after the rain in an equatorial zone. Yes to this beauty. Tasted October 2014 @
The immediate impression is the increased richness as compared to 2012, as if the “Richness” fruit were here in the Triomphe. What this will mean in terms of the Whimsy’s potential should be cause for anticipation. This is the most triumphant essential Southbrook Chardonnay to date and much thanks must be awarded the Saunders Vineyard for helping to bolster the mix. The gentle Beamsville Bench of old-vine Chardonnay impart is ephemeral, in mineral and lushness. The layered result atop Niagara flatland fruit in Triomphe ’13 is texture. This is the key and the king component. In that sense what you have here is a wine of social heredity. It is drinking well now and will do so for five plus years. Tasted October 2014 @
Really clean Gamay, ripe but entangled nowhere in the vicinity of over extraction. Ambrosial entry, nectarous middle and sweet finish. Has a sense of Cru with a tension that belies Beaujolais. Cherries in fleshy drupe simulating veraison to black cherries, anise in legume gumming to licorice. What’s not to like? Its vapours, tranquilized and centred by meditation are the furthest thing from volatile. A new genesis of anesthetizing Gamay, like a “Freudian slumber empty of sound.” This does the #GoGamyGo train proud. Tasted October 2014 @
The Trad ’11 has a classic toast and yeast aromatic waft and so it goes that everything that follows is embraced with curiosity and an open mind. Ginger, citrus, bronze and the sweet scents of the inside of a candy machine, its candy long gone. Creekside’s winemaker Rob Power will never be accused of dialing this sparkler in. Tasting trials help determine the necessary, final blend. The single, Queenston Road Vineyard puts 56 per cent Pinot Noir and (44) Chardonnay, aged 2 years in bottle, together for a highly effective, expansive but not explosive fizz. At 8.7 g/L of residual its dry but not quite falling off the bone. The sweetness is tempered by elevated (9.98 g/L) acidity and tension. Spent 24 months on the lees and was bottled back in February. There is balance and pleasure and a good, stretchy finish. No band-aid. Clean, precise, fizz of the day. Tasted October 2014
Having tasted through single-varietal Bordeaux barrels with Paul Pender last January, I was amazed to be informed at Taste Ontario that much of that juice was declassified into this inaugural Grower’s Blend. At that time the richness and poise of the varieties seemed destined for the winemaker’s top of the heap Meritage. That loss is this blend’s gain. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (42 per cent), Merlot (40) and Cabernet Franc (18), the GB brings together the hallways of always high quality David’s Block Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Redstone Cabernet Franc. So very juicy, the fruit is mastered by a tannic anxiety so in its current state, the wine is haunted by its own house. This Tawse 2011 is a haunting idle, “an instrumental that serves as a breath-catcher,” If the finish of minutes riding the quark is any indication, sometime between five and 10 years from now this union will speak with wonderful clarity. Tasted October 2014 @
Martin Werner’s botrytis-affected 2013 accesses virgin territory, embraces a unique if puzzling style and challenges Niagara Riesling scholarship. Something in this St. David’s Bench yield reminds me of Rolly Gassman’s (Alsace) Pflaenzerreben but also the eccentric and magnetic Benjamin Bridge (Gaspereau Valley) Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker lineage from Werner, through Peter Gamble to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers is cause for fellowship-fraternity thought. The methodology here makes use of 40 per cent noble rot impaired (organically and biodynamically raised) grapes that were arrested in fermentation at a residual sugar number in the 35-40 g/L range. The intent may have been Germanic (or more specifically, a Mosel one) but the vernacular spoken in yogurty tones and the abrupt dry finish confound thoughts at seeking direct comparisons. Its hydrated puffballs of bacterial fuzz give intensity and yet this is a Riesling that defies known laws of atomic weight. So interesting, so unique. Requires a re-visit in five years time. Tasted October 2014
Only Creekside Syrah smells like this, like bending down to smell black raspberries on the shores of a briny capsicum lake in the middle of a pine forest. The 2011 Syrah has fruit residing on the edge of impossibly ripe, factored inside a pipeline, while piping lavender and plum pastry cream float atop rare duck breasts. If Syrah were to ooze or drip without sticking to surfaces along the way, this would be it. If Syrah came forth from the maw of the beast it would speak in these demanding tones. Creekside’s BP talks the tense, nervous and twitching talk. It’s smeared with a coat of epoxy spread over fine grain in wood. It sweats an air of metallic cordiality. If given five years to come together it will vape and realize togetherness. Tasted October 2014 @
To those who wonder aloud about the annual love affair with this vineyard, suck it and see. This connectivity and this wine renew again. Same time, this year. Bursts of all that have come from it before, are here now and in temptation of what will be for years to come. Has “the type of kisses where teeth collide,” a Sam Cooke ages to Arctic Monkeys kind of reckless serenade. It’s also a balladeer, this scaled back Bachelder, if that can be said to be done. Here now soft, elegant, perfumed, demurred, sweet, downy, pretty, not yet fleshed, surprisingly void in tannin, anxiety and tension. Work with it for 10 minutes and it will then begin to bite back, show its teeth, pearly white as they are, grind it out. There will be 10 years of development in this Lowrey, if not less, but in ’12, that is more. Tasted October 2014 @
Good to go!