Aren’t we all? In the wake of recent frosts, a compounding ass-kicking at the hands of Mother Nature in the wake of two harsh winters, the farmers of Prince Edward County now have to work that much harder to make viable an already arduous road to growing Vinifera. I’m not so much the type to report on bad news so I leave it to my revered colleague Rick VanSickle to hand you the news. Rick does it with empathy, grace, subtlety and truth. Here is what he is telling us about vine damage in PEC.
UPDATED: Prince Edward County vineyards hit hard by brutal frost, Niagara assessing damage, Lake Erie North Shore spared wide-spread damage
If I was not before, with thoughts constantly streaming east to the north shores of Lake Ontario, where precarious soils sit like Buddha astride one very massive and far-stretching bed of limestone rock, at present I am a little bit County. Therefore today is the day to put some notes out on the Prince Edward County wines I tasted last month at Airship 37 in the Distillery district. The County came to town for their annual fair.
WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website last week. David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc. The story mentions new wineries and untrodden varietal production yet when all is said and done, the best wines on his recommended list are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those Burgundian soils don’t really lie, do they?
Related – Take them home, County wines
What strikes me most in this retrospective look at the 40 or so wines that I tasted last month is how varieties perform once the vines have matured and their profiles becoming increasingly County in character. Maturity, wisdom and acumen are developing a condensing of Prince Edward County hyperbole. The wines are serially developing a house style and regional disposition. With each successive vintage the wines of Norman Hardie, Dan Sullivan, Jonas Newman, Frédéric Picard, Glen Symons, Bryan Rogers, Paul Battilana, Gerry Spinosa, Colin Stanners, Caroline Granger, Bruno Francois, Bill Turnbull, Dan Tweyman, Deborah Paskus (to Keith Tyers) and the late Richard Karlo (with torch passed to Milan Vujnic) leave the Burgundy comparison behind to speak a strictly PEC vernacular.
The voice and the news is a very good thing. The clarity of the County is glaring and vivid, leading to what David Lawrason calls “great highs to significant lows,” but yes, Lawrason is correct in saying “overall the playing field is evening out.” Prince Edward County is coming into its own, growing comfortably into its cool skin and if mother nature has any balancing to offer, the future will be bright.
Related – You can lead a county to the city
Keint He Chardonnay Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)
A quiet, somewhat demurred aromatic hone succeeds in drawing rather than distancing curiosity. Deeper inhalation gets to the toasty, nutty crux of the cool fruit and the conclusion is valour, chivalry and generosity. Picks right up where ’12 left off if just a bit more gelid by nature. Niagara fruit (Foxcroft, Queenston and Malivoire) provide ample combined cream and lactic limestone tack with palate driving citrus bent. Takes up several lanes of breadth on the texture trek to become a distinct PEC composed Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted April 2015
Keint He Chardonnay Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
The PEC derived Portage Chardonnay goes deeper than the Niagara Voyageur, no doubt in part to roots from maturing vines that work and dig for limestone. That raison d’être is the constant yet in ’13 the expression is rounder, fleshier, enigmatic, akin or at least prompts the idea of June’s Vineyard in Niagara. Shows its oak with increased weight, fuller favour and more beneficial bitters. The minor decrease in acidity stalls the Prince Edward County mechanism and solicits earlier term consumption. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted April 2015
Keint He Chardonnay Foxcroft 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
A year on the wilder times have settled for the early aromatics. The progression pauses at the juste milieu and gracefully glides across the palate to a similar nimble finish. Has reached the optimum condition of cool climate Chardonnay to remain in that state of pliancy for another year or two. Drink 2015-2017.
From my earlier note of February 2014:
Fruit sourced from a single Niagara block. Despite having made the yeomans voyageur trek out to the County for vinification, integrity of the Foxcroft vibe has been maintained. Freshly cored Kenyan pineapple juice poured atop oat grain in a limestone molcajete. Bottled on Sept. 15th, like all the ‘12’s. Fullish, bullish extraction and at 13.5 percent abv, this Foxcroft has been handled with Wise acumen, with more rich texture than the others. A chew of nutty, non-acidic hard pineapple comes later and this finishes with a mild-mannered, even keel feel to it, like the winemaker and the estate’s keeper.
Last tasted April 2015
Keint He Gamay Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
From fruit sourced at Malivoire on the Beamsville Bench and from a vineyard that was lost to the ice storm of 2014. Really too bad considering the outright fresh and bright Gamay that has come forth out of this ’13. Black raspberry, at just the optimum brix fills in this shining though simple example. It has just the correct balance of tart and twinge of carbonic meets late spice. Its simplicity lies in the structure where one component concedes to the next, as opposed to layering upon one another. Very linear and immediate Gamay. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted April 2015
Keint He Pinot Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)
Quite a pretty vintage for the PEC Pinot traveller by way of Malivoire and Queenston Road in Niagara. With a spray of cola and an inside edge of liquorice root in its gait, the Peninsula Pinot has already ignited its development. The 18 months in bottle have finished designing the invitation to solicit partake in reward for prompt gratification. The world is a charming one, replete with interchangeable aromatics and flavours, replayed, rewound and woven within the fabrics. Very efficient and studious Pinot Noir. Very Pinot Noir. Drink 2015-20178. Tasted April 2015
Keint He Pinot Noir Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)
Depth of character despite the light hue and frame, a dichotomy expressed in Pinot Noir, in this vintage most akin to entry-level Bourgogne and less like its County self. Goes directly subterranean, away from fruit, if only for a spell, to a bound and binding rock cavern. Returns later, is showered by peppers and bitters, ground by tannin and grinds back down to earth. Missing are the cherries and the chocolate, replaced by wacke and substrata. Perhaps give it a year or two to settle, refine and make another call for that hermetical fruit. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted April 2015
Keint He Pinot Noir Queenston Road 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)
Keint He’s take on a single-structured Pinot Noir from the Queenston Road is highly aromatic, warmer than (by comparison, Creekside Estate’s) and yet not obscured or veiled by any discernible layer of veneer. The cool, savoury centre is the oasis offering respite from the full environmental gamut on display at the hands of sweet, sour, salty and lardy. Quite characterful, bold and cool-climate kitschy with a kinesthetic, corporeal feel. When Bryan Rogers and Ross Wise gain another level of Queenston understanding, it will not be hard to imagine a churning of something special in 2013. I’d put my money on it. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2015
The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)
Daughter (Maggie) convinced mother (Caroline) to let her hold back 15 cases of this County Gamay, a variety that has some difficulty sharing the sandbox with limestone. The additional five years in bottle has brought the downy fruit back from acidity’s precarious cliff edge, from the brink of piercing danger and disaster. The current state is one of conciliation and quiescence. There remains a major key of funk mind you, parliamentary even, but sniff past and the plot thickens, as does the texture. Chalky, gritty and persistently grainy, this ’09 Gamay is very much alive, like a scaling bass line supported by a rising horn section. A real fun look at the past with an eye to drive the future. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted April 2015
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)
Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April 2015
Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)
The anxiety of the vintage has not left the bottle while the raging fruit and acidity battle for supremacy. The space-time-chaos continuum will perdure in this Pinot Noir of unpaired anatomical structure. Wait a further three years minimum for the azygous to drain. The heft will subside. Drink 2018-2022.
From my earlier note of March 2013:
Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage. The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up. Paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.
Last tasted April 2015
Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)
The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.
From my earlier more of May 2014:
Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.
Last tasted April 2015
The adage is so very true; a good Pinot Grigio is hard to find, just like a man. The take here is decidedly and strikingly Pinot Grigio, a flash of Friuli and a Bessie to be reckoned with. This just has that positive, smithy oxidative side, the kind that rocks and stones mixed with winemaking cause an exchange of electrons between reactants. The fruit is big, lucidly piqued by pear, but also leaning mango and jack. Quite fleshy, with schematic, scenic, natural acidity and panoramic minerality. This is about as mnemonic as it gets for Gris, or in this case Grigio, in Prince Edward County, especially considering who the buyers will be. One can only hope they intuit the condition and here’s to planning for that consumer base to expand. “Lord, a good (Pinot Grigio) is hard to find, you always get another kind.” Drink 2015-2020. Tasted April 2015
This is Glen Symon’s first Sparkling Rosé, a 100 per cent Pinot Noir from estate vineyards, refermented using the Charmat method. Intensely fizzy, in toto fruity and actually gives off a Pinot Noir vibe. Something racy, spicy and wild runs rampant, rendering this blush bubble in an Ontario class of its own. It’s like 1980’s alt-dance fizz, with a New Order or B-52 thing going on. It just seems to do the “she-ga-loo, shy tuna, camel walk, hip-o-crit, coo-ca-choo, aqua velva, dirty dog and escalator.” Has the direct beat, retro and futuristic at the same time. Dance this mess around, in sweet and savoury tones, warm, day-glo, slow and gyrating. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted April 2015
This may not be the first Pinot Noir made by Glen Symons but it marks a categorical paradigm shift for the Lighthall oeuvre. Elicits a “well, well, what have we here” response. Unfiltered, reflexive and flexing, not so much in weight as in protein. This is an entirely different sort of Prince Edward County Pinot Noir, neither dark as black cherry nor bright as sour cherry. It’s aromas and flavours recall both. I can’t say for sure that any Ontario Pinot has crossed into such territory. Offers a shade of calignosity for those who believe that genuine Pinot Noir only thrives in the dark. Yet the clarity is conversely illuminating. It’s pure, crisp and forking over real gastronomic delicacy. Intimates aspects of Sonoma and Otago with PEC intimacy. Really well-defined and culminating with a positive bitter finish. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted April 2015
Reductive but not to excess. If you can appreciate a Norm Hardie Chardonnay then Huff’s style is a walk in the park. A few swirls brings the rest of the players to the fore stage and the party. This is big band Chardonnay, with a feminine and demonstrative lead vocalist. Richly textured, from PEC plots at South Bay that are the Niagara equivalent of Wismer Vineyards, lending warmth, soil fixation and unconscious aid. There is a level of supposition that leads to breeding a sensation of succulence that is not found anywhere else in the County. Barrel is important, mostly unobtrusive and so this gathers up layers, separates, divides and then meshes. The wood is employed towards a west coast groove but it works with the best, best fruit. The corpulence is not built on butter but rather demi-glace, or perhaps perfect beurre-blanc. A very long and driven Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted April 2015
Thank you Dan Sullivan for the fodder, to go on more tangents than should be allowed in a tasting note. And thank you for fixing a righteous Riesling, exemplary to Twenty Mile Bench and in a vein that represents the Double R. Has Mosel meets 20 Mile in verse. Feigned sweetness is managed by thriving acidity, much as others have similarly done in the area; Jay Johnston with Nadja and Paul Pender with Limestone Vineyard. Here lies Niagara Riesling you can really sink your teeth into, made by PEC-minded folk, really tying the Ontario room together. A hooked rug of Niagara and PEC in the hands of Sullivan, with really fine lines and good length. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted April 2015
Fine work in 2013, for Gamay, by winemaker Paul Batillana. Gamay is so very welcome when the fruity matter matters most, as witnessed by this Casa Dea. Some depth from soil and an ever so slight scorch of earth add complexity to hang a #GoGamayGo hat upon. Has the bends in a way, going just a bit too deep but rescues itself with a fresh radio frequency and a changeling face to red orchard fruit. This has real cru class, good funky bass and a driving sound to regeneration. Will evolve nicely for five years. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted April 2015
Good to go!