We get this sort of query all the time. “Why does Ontario wine cost so much?” Actually, it’s often more a complaint then a question. We get upset. Granted, many international wines are cheaper….but do you know why? My colleague and Man Friday Gerardo Diaz has this to say “Don’t complain. Do some research and come back.”
As many of you know, I play every day in the fortuitous role of Wine Director at Barque Smokehouse. As we speak I am in the throes of an auspicious new plan, setting the wine program with Diaz for Barque’s next venture. Coming soon. Two years ago, just after Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates was able to initiate the keg wine revolution by overhauling VQA regulations, we convinced Jonas Newman of Hinterland Wine Company in Prince Edward County to partner with us. Wine on Tap at Barque was born. Since then we have worked with a dozen Ontario wineries.
It’s more than accessibility that drives our decision to work with and pour exclusively of Ontario wines. We had always been supporters of the local industry but the keg program allowed us to expand the portfolio and the sales. Ontario wines account for nearly 50 per cent of all wine sold at Barque.
So when guests (and I get the same questions and complaints from family and friends) wonder aloud about the necessity for Ontario to be so present, I have much to say. The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. In November I wrote, “Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.”
Related – Niagara delivers everbearing quality in November releases
I also wrote this, quite some time ago. “That is producing unique, cutting edge and brilliant takes on cool climate grapes. They also match beautifully with the songs referenced in their tasting notes. When the wines are assessed and considered in part or as a whole, who would dare to say there are no great wines being produced?”
Related – The group of twelve
As a cool-climate viticultural entity, there are few rivals around the world. The geology and micro-climate are ideal for growing specifically chosen vinifera. The winemakers in Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are highly educated, state-of-the-art savvy and maniacally progressive professionals. In the categories of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Sparkling wine, Ontario crafts excellence at all price points. After the two brutal winters of 2014 and 2015, no other set of vintners could have succeeded with unfailing ability more than the women and men of Ontario’s industry.
World-renowned authorities are in the know. Find yourself face-to-face with any of these international writers, winemakers, buyers, sommeliers or masters of wine and you will be schooled; Ian D’Agata, Jamie Goode, Steven Spurrier, Matt Kramer, Jancis Robinson, Anthony Hamilton Russell, Rajat Parr, Tim Atkin M.W., Christy Canterbury M.W., Geoff Kruth M.S., Geoff Labitzke M.W. and Igor Ryjenkov M.W. You will.
Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is the most underrated and least known super power in global oenology education studies. Have you met Dr. Debbie Inglis, Barb Tatarnic, Dr. Belinda Kemp, Dr. Gary Pickering, Dr. Andrew G. Reynolds, Dr. Jim Willwerth, Chris Waters, Rob Power or Peter Bodnar-Rod? You should.
Ontario wine writers know their shit. They would not have no much praise for Ontario wine if it were not world-class. Have you read any reviews or articles by Tony Aspler, David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Konrad Ejbich, Michael Vaughan, Beppi Crosariol, Rick VanSickle, Shawn McCormick, Jamie Drummond, Zoltan Szabo, City Bites, Michael Pinkus, Michael Di Caro, Evan Saviolidis, Tim Appelt, Gord Stimmell, Alan McGinty, Carolyn Hammond, Eric Vellend, Erin Henderson or André Proulx? You need to.
Proof of Ontario’s acumen and price-worthiness need not be found any further away than at your local LCBO. Private VQA wine shops and independent retailers would only advance the cause. Spend a few hours at an Ontario gathering and you will be changed forever. Shawn’s Ontario Wine Chat discusses and promotes the ideal every Wednesday night. The Ontario Wine Society holds tastings and events year ’round. The Ontario Wine Awards asks many of those top scribes to sniff, taste, sip and pick the best of the best. Wine Country Ontario is out there all the time, spreading the gospel. This is one religion you need to get behind.
The Ontario wine tasting season is now in full swing. Taste Ontario just recently passed through Montreal and Ottawa. WineAlign is bringing Prince Edward County to Toronto on April 16th with County in the City. Somewhereness also arrives in Toronto on April 20th. In July the 5th annual Chardonnay i4C conference will descend upon Niagara. The best way to experience Ontario wine is to get out and visit. I can recommend plenty.
Why do I taste Ontario wine every day? I do it in the LCBO lab, in Ontario’s tasting rooms and cellars, at Barque, when I order wine in other restaurants and at home. I do not need convincing but I do have decades more learning to do. Here are the recent Ontario wines that have passed my desk and my lips. Five are coming to VINTAGES next week as part of the April 18th release. Others are available at the winery. Seek them out. You will then count yourself among the converted. I guarantee it.
Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)
Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve. Tasted March 2015 @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd @brightlighter1
13th Street Merlot 2013, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (270504, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release
Yet another Niagara red that could only have been crafted at the hands of winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas, a wild and dubiously natural Creek Shores Merlot. In 2013 the vineyard funk reeks of an instinctive, undomesticated slur in seldom seen Merlot speak. The variety normally avoids, scatters and runs away to the hills, but not this time. The flow is a movement of dried, caked, saline silt and pine needle paint. There is woodsmoke too but the suffusive Creek Shores cespitose encompasses all and runs wild. A settling will happen, so then it’s really a matter of fruit, a thing which in ’13 is not observed as overtly generous. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted March 2015 @13thStreetWines
Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, VQA Ontario (310243, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release
In this BK variant, Chardonnay is procured by fruit not put through any drying and so very fresh it remains. The barrel helps and yet also distracts but not in any unusual or detrimental way. Just another solid Chardonnay with nothing to set it apart from the sea. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted March 2015 @BurningKilnWine
Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (258657, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release
I have always been skeptical of the Peninsula take on the OZ-styled blending of a Bordeaux and a Rhône but if there is one Niagara winemaker to trust, Richie Roberts gets the nod. High-toned, crikey warm and struth oozing. Still, the balance is struck by Mediterranean-like savoury aromatics (black olive and brine), along with beautifully integrated wood. The VA is less than minimal, the fruit rosy, plum-filled and strawberry flavoured. Either variety can play second or short and both can make the turn. Will have a long life. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted March 2015 @FieldingWinery @RichieWine
Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)
Accumulated cognizance exudes from the laid back Shed, here as relaxed and user-friendly as it has ever been. If the texture is not vintage induced and made of low yield than I’ll sell my LP’s and switch outright to Songza and Neil’s PonoMusic. The herbs are basil and chervil sweet, the verbena and lemon balm redolent, the flavours beaming, bolstered by preserved lemon and candied ginger. The stuffing must be questioned, but not the elegance. This Chardonnay is porous, blessed, void of rust and of an interior with plenty of space in the shed. Let it fill.
From my earlier note of February 2014: “There will be 660 cases of this barrel cherry-picked, now iconic Bench Chardonnay. The warm vintage called for a combo-malo approach, part batch all in, part arrested development. Gravity influenced top down blending also work to seek a svelte elegance and this ’12 really straddles the humid line. Thinks to be ribald but remains chaste, only allowing a kiss from the barrel and a caress from the rocks beneath the soil. Accept immediate but know that deferred gratification is the hallmark of this bottling.
Last tasted March 2015
Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)
This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted March 2015 @ClossonChase
Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release
In the pantheon of 2012 Bench-Ridge-Escarpment Riesling, the CSV is bound for glory. As expected it unfailingly draws innate wisdom from vines that understand their soil with deep intent. It can be said that every vintage rocks a Cave Spring Riesling but this one brings fruit out of a willingness to give and give. Winemaking connects with this vineyard and this specific Riesling, like mother and child. The depth of fruit lies under a shale of uncompromising, petrous funk and acidity. All tolled, this is a top CSV that begins on edge and then walks along, pointed towards a fruitful direction. It stays the furcate course, captivates and lingers, with no immediate end in sight. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted March 2015 @CaveSpring
Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)
Tasted from a sample, in bottle, not yet labeled. It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. The concept is simply off the charts with respect to fruit sourced out of arguably Tawse’s most important mineral site, the Quarry Road Vineyard. So, with that plot and winemaker Paul Pender’s inner vision, the progression to this point in Ontario winemaking is fascinating. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?” Pender must have shut his eyes tight, imagined the wonder and whiffed his ways through those barrels. Based on a taste through all the Quarry barrels with Pender in April 2014 (carrying 2013 fruit) I would think the Mercurey (Large barrel, CLL toast) would best suit the natural, oxidative bent of this Quarry. This plays the hallmark bass note in natural odour; funk, wondrous gentility, wood and rhythm and blues stone, as opposed to wood and rock. Something other, preposterous and gorgeous permeates the mess. Something melodic. The wine is perfectly in tact, piercing and exact. Direct, vibrant, positively wistful and wishful. Filled in by a strings mid-palate, with acidulated apple slices from a potent cocktail. The finish goes deeper, so the sum of the parts gains on the intricacies, teeing it up for much success. That said, don’t wait for it to fall apart. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted March 2015 @Tawse_Winery @Paul_Pender
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Unfiltered 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES April 18th release
Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay will not be recessed into the Peninsula’s everyday lexicon, nor does it draw any direct comparisons. How can this be? I will say that the 2013 exhibits less reduction, less elemental fever and a dramatic decrease in tension, so in that sense it has comes back to the norm. Yet it dances dramatically, like a blind bee in a ripe melon, in free spirited, holistic and counter-cultured ways. A wine of gold wiring, wrung out in splashes and swaths of lamé sheets. Shows a commitment to soil, full malolactic conditioning and punched down musts in its every breath. What is obvious is that 2013 is no putty in the hand. It’s moulded clay, shaped by the mitts of its maker, immortalized by the barrel’s oven and just about ready to begin being beautified by ornamentation. Time will effect its tribal markings and ultimate finish. Give it three to five so that it may add surge to its restrained power. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted March 2015 @normhardie
Good to go!