In 2013 the number chosen to highlight excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Symmetry and permutations with repetition are one thing, quality in winemaking is yet another. The expectation is fully understood that next year there will be 15 wines on the list. And so on and so forth.
Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013
What force has thus far driven and will continue to drive the wines of Canada? By sifting through leads in geography, in the orientation of escarpments, mountains, rivers and valleys, in the gestalt of the archaeology of tomorrow, in the vineyard landscape of today, we can perchance unlock the riddle of the what and the why for varietal planting. The end game is to unlock the mystery within the puzzle of terroir, to figure out what grapes will thrive and where they can be given the best shot at success. It is not just about what happens beneath the soil, but also what happens above, around, beyond and in the minds of women and men.
Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.
Winery visits were numerous in 2014. Thanks must be dispatched to all who opened their doors, to those with established roots and to risk takers who through their new planting, began burrowing their own. Like Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario. Like Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Tastings that go beyond the pale shed new élevage and barrel light. The light shed by such practices was no more in evidence than at Tawse with Paul Pender and Norman Hardie, but also at Flat Rock Cellars with Jay Johnston and Ed Madronich.
Memories of 2014 lead to thoughts of Cuvée, the Expert’s Tasting and the Sparkling Wine Symposium at Brock University. Taste Ontario, Somewhereness, County in the City. July visits to Niagara and Nova Scotia gave up 10,000 words of free-flowing wine-speak about the Cool Chardonnay conference and with Peter Gamble in the Gaspereau Valley.
There were a few wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there time, space and a better headline to write. Gray Monk Riesling 2012, Okanagan Valley at ($15.00, WineAlign) is the best value for the niche in B.C. This is old-school, west coast Riesling with attributes to reflect and look back on generations of acumen. Tawse Carly’s Block Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95, WineAlign) forms a bridge and meets the twain, from atomic to tropic and was a NWAC14 Platinum Medal Winner.
La Face Cachée de la Pomme 2011 Neige Première Ice Pink Cider, Quebec ($22.95, WineAlign) speaks to me in waves of demonstrative, Floydian verse. There is Icewine on the bright side and then there is Iced Cider on la face cachée. Leaning Post Lowrey Pinot Noir 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench ($38.00, WineAlign) though just recently re-tasted, was actually first assessed in November of 2013.
This list certainly concentrates on new releases, save for a few exceptions where older wines left a modern impression. Wines that found a way to break new ground also factored into the decisions. Here are the 14 Canadian wines tasted in 2014 that simply did it for me. Wines that are extensions of their maker’s personality, philosophy and temperament. Wines that are indicative of their terroir.
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014
Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling. Tasted November 2014 @VinelandEstates @benchwineguy
Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (578625, $19.95, WineAlign) From The Group of twelve, April 28, 2014
Just add three months and witness a new evolution, a density, from a honeyed thing. Entering a pre-adolescence with a new bounce in its step. From my earlier, January 2014 note: “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.” Tasted April 2014 @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd @brightlighter1
Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, B.C. $20.90, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014
The purity of fruit in Blue Mountain’s Gamay is without question in a distinct class of the few and far between. Older barrels (four year-old, fifth fill) were used and the impart should not be dismissed. While quintessentially Okanagan Gamay, the fruit is elevated, lifted, ripe like warmer Cabernet (dare it be said) with more berry and Cassis-like aromas. The palate tension and round acidity bring Morgon to mind. Just a bit gamy on the back end, which is nice. Planning to drink this through the end of the decade would not be a mistake. Tasted October 2014 @BlueMtnWinery
Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red. Tasted April 2014 @normhardie
Sperling Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (winery, $26.00, WineAlign) From A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries, October 14, 2014
High altitude expression from a vineyard perched atop a gravel bed, a rocky pool of stone that seems to toss-up pebbles at Sperling’s window to see if she would like to sneak away for a midnight drive. A crisp, clean and linear style, full of night-air freshness, white flowers and white fruit. This is undeniably picked early and ahead of any possible oxidative or overripe window, yet there is a rich quality about it that rages against the machine, calm like a bomb, “its narrative fearless.” Very mineral in its direct back and to the side of the mouth attack, full of salinity and lemon-lime acidity. Long, long Okanagan that will flesh with five years time. The slate bass line will soften, allowing the white fruit to further shine. Tasted twice, May and July 2014 @SperlingVyds
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.00, WineAlign) From Got two Chardonnays, June, Ivan and Picone, July 15, 2014
A vintage that begged to be protected in the vineyard, meaning no leaf plucking and no thinning. A most excellent goal of (0.691895068 kg / m2), or 2.8 tons an acre was realized, as opposed to one in 2010. Heavy vigor slowed down the ripening (leaving that kind of tonnage on the vine), to an elongated balance. Comes from terroir Baker nods to as “a barren tundra,” which you don’t get down the hill. In 2012 there was no waste, no rot, no problems. Its residual climbs to 15 g/L but you’d never know it. There is a confit of citrus, a mellifluous sensation of preserved lemon. Total count is 600 cases. From my earlier, March 2014 note: “Baker’s iconic child yet breathes in unsettled, spumous emission from out of a warm vintage. So primary and such a hard act to follow. Vanguard Vinemount Ridge, arid as the desert and citrus, carbonic tight. Treated with cool, cooler and colder methods to seek result and strike balance in an opulent, lees-appertained, tangy finish. A Picone that says I don’t live today, so it is told and canvassed, “uh, get experienced, are you experienced?” Last tasted June 2014 @cbriesling
Pilliteri Estates Merlot Family Reserve 2002, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (71753, $39.95, WineAlign) From Deep freeze: Controversies, polar vortex and icewine, January 17, 2014
Served from Jeroboam, one of 23 produced and a testament to the precocious, facile touch of then winemaker Sue-Ann Staff. The extreme five litre format has certainly been kind to the hermetic 11-year slumber of this Merlot, as has the above average red Niagara growing season. Charlie pulled out this rare behemoth “for the special occasion” and despite and with thanks to the perfect vintage meets size storm, it has held up with dramatic fortitude. Unmistakably predicated Pillitteri chocolate perfume, brushed violet, mulberry and oven-warmed baking spice. Holding in sustained concentration, the toffee, caramel and umami of wizened, oxidized fruit not yet a twinkle in its soapy sandalwood eye. How could Sun-Ann have known what time-cheating lengths her Merlot would see to? Tasted January 2014 @Pillitteriwines
Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign) From Chardonnay is cool, July 9, 2014
Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now. Tasted May 2014 @Bachelder_wines
Hidden Bench Tête De Cuvée Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (20906, $45.00, WineAlign) From A hip of wine at Hidden Bench
Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025. Tasted twice, September and October 2014 @HiddenBench @BenchVigneron
Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2003, VQA Beamsville Bench (winery, $50, WineAlign) From When experts break wine together, March 4, 2014
Mind bending to taste a piece of recent history, a Riesling rooted in the rocks, blues and pop of the limestone, sandstone and shale Bench, but a wine also futuristic, distorted and soulful. From 25 plus year-old vines, this foxy lady has entered into true, secondary territory. She’s softened and her perfume is cast in vanilla butterscotch so much so she might mess with tasters’ minds in a flight of oaked Chardonnay. She’s “a cute little heartbreaker.” Tasted March 2014 @CaveSpring
Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign) From The Stratus-Momofuku continuum, May 30, 2014
The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend. @StratusWines
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (34561, $65.00, WineAlign) From Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases November 4, 2014
Certainly plays the most hard to get of the ’11 Chardonnays of fruit so fine and pure. Layered like Phyllo or Puff pastry, gathered and set back upon itself. Gains traction and intensity through developed flavours and overlays of texture, both solid like shale and lacy like organza. From my earlier, July 2014 note: “From sandy loam and limestone soils, here is a Chardonnay that winemaker Sébastien Jacquey is looking to fashion with low PH and elevated tannin. A most commendable effort in the enigmatic ’11 vintage, clean, anything but lean and un-gassed by a jet engine’s aerified stream. Chardonnay running instead on the vineyard’s biofuel, a chalky lees and lime texture that turns green in a savoury way towards the back end. Full, rich, gaining in stature as it breathes, thinks and feels. Atop the green there is an ambrosial aroma and a honeyed sense of flesh. A wine of great respect and biodynamic energy.” Last tasted October 2014 @LeClosJordanne
Creekside Estates Lost Barrel Red 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (46470, $65.00, WineAlign) From Up on Creekside Estates, April 14, 2014
Just 60-80 cases are made from the tips of the best barrels through a process that takes 56 months to complete. The secret ingredient is Sangiovese and bless the band‘s soul if the ferric, iron and animal musk is not attributed to the addition. This is a different kind of wine, with lees in the bottle, not unlike some big, bad Spanish wines. It’s ’07 and still reductive which makes it seem peculiarly modern (note, Spanish) but it’s really not. Despite the monster tannins, it “just gave my heart a throb to the bottom of my feet and I swore as I took another pull,” the Lost Barrel can’t be beat. Up on Creekside Estates. Tasted March 2014 @CreeksideWine
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2008, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $74.95, WineAlign) From Consider the Gaspereau Valley, October 1, 2014
The 2008 Brut Reserve is composed of 61 per cent Chardonnay and 39 Pinot Noir. If any wine in the Benjamin Bridge continuum defines the legacy left behind by Raphaël Brisebois and passes the sparkling torch to Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, this ’08 is it. Here is the vintage that begins to emulate the grower’s Champagne of the motherland, in deeper learning, understanding and connection to the estate’s vineyards. At present this is such an infant, reductive and with a blowzy palate that suggests a fidgety, elemental state. The attack is in burgeoning mousse. After spitting, the wine persists, as if there remains a mouthful, causing the cheeks to expand. The citrus is weighty in texture and this ’08 goes deeper than the previous Brut reserves. Three years will be required to allow for a settling and 20 years lay further ahead for secondary, tertiary and quaternary development. Tasted at the winery, July 2014 @Benjamin_Bridge
Good to go!