Love year-end lists? Stick around. Hate ’em? See ya. It is always a matter of great difficulty to contain the retrospective excitement in thinking about what happened over the previous 12 months with respect to Canadian wine. This while enjoying holiday down time, with December winding down. The exercise began on Godello in 2013 and this seventh instalment naturally not only includes six more than the first, it also happens to act as segue, transition and salvo to usher in a new decade.
Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018
Unity opinions aside this nineteen as a number is but a fraction of what could, should or would be celebrated in this coast to coast entity we call Canadian wine. Allow a quote to be used again, in unabashed redundancy of repetition. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”
Fearless #ontariowineawards leaders @tony.aspler and Deborah Benoit running a tight #owa2919 ship @gbcchca ~ best quality work coming out of Ontario folks
Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017
In 2019 the opportunities for tasting Canadian wine upped the ante and increased the possibilities hundreds fold. This despite doubling international travel over a year further afield and abroad which made it twice as difficult to keep up the Canadian pace of assessment. That said there were more than 1000 tasted once again. The WineAlign team never wavers in the relentless pursuit, often at the WineAlign headquarters and in 2019 in convene at the June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Ontario wines were judged as well thanks to Tony Aspler and also with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.
Aldé blending session day @ravinevineyard ~ Rosé 2018 looking stellar
Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016
Over the past 12 months the little négoce project known as Interloper Wines with Scott Zebarth, Marty Werner and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery continued the pursuit of Niagara Lakeshore and Niagara-on-the-Lake excellence with Aldé Rosé 2018, a 100 per cent cabernet franc. The third vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc appeared with the 2018 release, as did the second incarnation of the As Is Field Blend 2018.
Oh hey @nicholaspearce_ thanks for making us look so good!
In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016 there were 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13 as the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 18. Roll out the 2019 red carpet. Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art? Here are the 19 most exciting Canadian wines of 2019.
Avondale Sky Sparkling Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2017, Nova Scotia ($27.82)
Leon Millet like you’ve never experienced with red currants folded into tomatillo salsa from a traditional method upbringing and a recent disgorgement. Energy, excitement and then boom, black currants and a whoosh tidal wave of Fundy exhilaration. An entirely new look at bubbles and from a Nova Scotia class where the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019
The 2014 vintage, labelled as Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut, marks the Teaching Winery’s first venture into the style of Sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It also marks the first product made 100 per cent from grapes grown on the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus vineyards. “It celebrates the balance of knowledge, passion and creativity of the winemakers, professors and students who all pursue excellence in the field of winemaking.”
Niagara College Balance Blanc De Blanc Brut 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario ($26.95)
Gingered entry for blanc de blanc of stoic beauty, marbled bust focus. Lemon and a dustiness indicative first of low yields, but then, the obviousness of do not disturb winemaking. Toasty and preserved lemon richesse, elegant and cumulative. So good. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
From a crown cap versus cork closure tasting with Flat Rock’s owner Ed Madronich and current winemaker David Sheppard. The two wines count as one for the purpose of this list.
Flat Rock Sparkling (Crown Cap Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)
Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, Six cases were sealed under cork but otherwise both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Less hue in this number two (crown), same but different, less oxidation, less caramelization and yet on par or near in terms of that ginger-miso tone. Lemon adds to the milder orange crème brûlee and the energy, spirit and lift is more pronounced. Greater vision in acidity and even some lingering reduction. Like the first it is in fact full of sensibility, reason, plenty of seasoning. Likewise and differently so much fun to behold and to drink. Certainly more heightened sensation created by mousse and carbonation that actually affect the mouthfeel and texture. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2019
Flat Rock Sparkling (Cork Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)
Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, “However,” explains Ed Madronich and the big raison d’etre for this tasting is that six cases were sealed under cork, complicit with or perhaps explicitly for Ed’s Mom. Both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Just the seal on 72 bottles changes the nature of the game. The colour is deeper in this number one (cork), more oxidation, more caramelization and more deep ginger-miso tone. Quite orange crème brûlee as well. Acidity persists, wealthy, rising, more than intact. In fact it’s well-reasoned, seasoned and in tact. So much fun to behold and to drink. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019
Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (241182, $37.20)
Baker’s ’16 is the child of a great vintage’s phenolics and so without needing to concern oneself in wondering about ripeness or fruit quality it allows for a beeline straight to the tannic structure. That’s the crux of 2016, built upon a core that may as well be centred in the very heart of Colmar. Sugar may as well be nowhere and nothing because balance induces dreams utterly grounded in aridity. So reminded of Bernard Schoffit and The Rangen, austere yet entangled, lean, direct, sure, focused and precise. In the zone and will be for 12 blessedly slow developing years. Drink 2021-2030. Tasted October 2019
Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $28.00)
Looking at this 2011 Chardonnay now and with learned imagination back through time this screams the vintage. Great Scott, cracker jack Chablis dressing up into Premier Cru status cloaked candidly in Ravine clothing. This eight year-old chardonnay shows off as one of then winemaker Shauna White’s great early moments, an achievement of planning through execution and clearly a success from a cool, austere and so very varietal vintage. Maybe even a legacy defining moment for what was and can continue to be. A purveyor of land, a youthful precociousness and all the local possibilities on offer. This is so pure and purposeful for the grape and for Ravine. Just great right now. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted September 2019
Le Clos Jordanne Winemaker Thomas Bachelder
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184549, $44.95)
Welcome back, to that grand vineyard place that we’ve talked about. Down on the farm near the water where chardonnay was purposed grown and put in the hands of a young Thomas Bachelder. The results were dramatic and now that unparalleled fruit is back in the monk’s world, he wiser and more experienced than ever. The transition is spooky seamless and the awe in hand providing breathtaking posits in moments more than fleeting. Behold the presence of orchards and their just ripened glow of fruit with sheen so fine. Let your glass allow the ease of the aromas and flavours to fall in and emit with conscious movement, without conscience or effort. That’s the 2017 Grand Clos. Chardonnay that is. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted November 2019
Closson Chase Churchside Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($44.95)
Platinum hue and reserved aromatics indicate a reductive tendency so give it some air. Comes out and away clean and more expressive, with periodic mineral notes, not exactly saline but certainly from the table. Lovely fruit in the melon to orchard way and elevated by acidity plus fine grape tannin. Lovely and composed wine right here. Last tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Truth be submitted, discussed and told the 2017 Closson Chase Vineyard is a lovely, accessible, County for all chardonnay but this, this is something other. This Churchside ’17 from a block of vines at the prettiest little chapel around delivers the fullest fruit compliment of the times, in headline, lede and body of work. It does so with a posit tug of tension and spot on, pinpointed and precise attention to balance. States a case with best butter, better toast and even greater purpose. The ’17 Churchside undulates and circles, coming to rest in the moment where it all melts down, like a ball in place on the roulette wheel, always having known what number it would be. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted June 2019
Meyer Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Rd Vineyard 2017, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($65.00)
The Old Main Road is a Naramata Bench growing site of silt over clay loams at 350m. The northerly aspect links fruit to indirect sun for higher acid-driven chardonnay. This specialized plot-block-pick-separation of origin intensifies the citrus and the savoury strike of scintillant. It’s reductive and not redacted in that it’s protected by a shell of tannin but bursts with rumbles and shakes. This is singular and unique in ways most Okanagan chardonnay does not begin to touch. Great potential and possibility exist so expect so much from this wine now and for a half decade minimum more. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted April 2019
Stratus White 2015, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20)
The latest incarnation of Stratus White is a gem-like one, part reductive and part honeyed. The dual attack is duly noted and doubly paid great attention. Warmth and this remarkable phenolic multiplicity add up to the most strikingly reserved White in quite some time. It will develop more secondary personality and less fade into lean, smoky, shadowy and unfruitful feelings than many that have come before. By many stretches of imagination this is a deeply curious blend and ultimately a beautiful one. So bloody didactic and interesting. A ten years forward retrospective will regard White 2015 as a benchmark for the locomotive Ontario appellative white locution. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted February 2019
Congrats to Cliff and Colin @stannerswines for their The Narrow Rows Pinot Noir 2017 Gold Medal performance @judgement.of.kingston 2019. We the judges deliberated long and with great care to come to this well-deserved conclusion.
Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($45.00)
A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. Reality from limestone bled into fruit wavering on a spectrum where berry fruit sits on one end and earthy beetroot all the way over on the other. Touches both and then properly meets in the middle. Cherries are red, herbs are green and tension stretches a wire between two poles. Tomato water and tomato leaf with fresh basil. That’s just matter of fact and a good struck balance in combination. You almost feel it’s at once too ripe and then a bit green but those moments are fleeting and so the summation in accumulation is the thing; must, seeds, stems and the work of kind, nurturing and gentle hands add up to great delicacy. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted blind at the Judgement of Kingston, November 2019
Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Locust Lane Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00)
Locust Lane is the one of greater tension and posit tug, holding court and keeping fruit on a short leash. The aromatics are not as sweetly floral but what you will note, if you wait for the fleshing is this glycerin texture and seamless weave of structure. This is the savoury, almost minty and surely cantilevering pinot noir, from the field and out over the length of the wine’s attention. Will linger, prosper and live long. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted March 2019
Howling Bluff Pinot Noir Century Block 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($35.00)
Wow. Now we’ve come into pinot of some curious, unusual and stand up to be noticed excitement. The aromatics are circling, rising, elemental, exaggerated and complex. There’s umami here that few others seem to find or are capable of seeking out. Fine if slightly tonic tannins and structure, texture, architecture and blessed complexity. This will morph into many things by way of many stages. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Thirty Bench Winemaker Emma Garner
Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)
In many respects this is the flagship of all the Thirty Bench wines, a varietal exploration like no other, of direction, microcosm and intention. It’s an extracted and concentrated cabernet franc but stays free of encumbrance, hinderance or adulteration. It’s dramatically plush and yet shows nary a note of green or gritty, nor astringency neither. It’s a showpiece to be sure and even of an ambition not typical of its maker but as for structure, well that’s as impressive as the concentration. We’ll be tasting this at an Expert’s Tasting in the mid 20s. Drink 2021-2028. Tasted August 2019
Desert Hills Estate Winery Ursa Major Syrah Eagle’s Nest Vineyard 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.00)
Inky, ferric, serious, structured, regaling and ripping syrah. Full throttle, absolute ripeness, carefully extracted and utterly purposed. The acidity, tannin and overall structure seal all the deals and put this in a category of its own. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Big Head Raw Syrah 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($65.00)
Never before have we encountered syrah this way in Ontario. A wild ferment and use of concrete vats is one thing but the Brettanomyces off the charts is intonate of something wholly other. The exclamation is emotion both Andrzej and Jakub Lipiniski acknowledge and embrace. The thought and the recognition lights up their faces. It expresses itself in peppery jolts, with sultry, hematic, ferric and magical notation. It’s like liquorice on steroids, melting into a feral liqueur. “Wow that syrah is crazy,” tasters are heard to exclaim and yet you can see how much they relish the experience. As I do, without knowing why, except for the fact that in its big headedness this is a very balanced wine. Some way, somehow. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted March and April 2019
Lawrason and Gismondi
Nk’mip Cellars, 51 percent owner by the Osoyoos Indian Band Cellars, part of the Arterra Wine Group, as per Anthony Gismondi is “ably guided by winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall. Nk’Mip Cellars took home one platinum, two gold, three silver and five bronze medals, adding to its legacy of consistent performances at the nationals. The unique, First Nations winery is well worth a visit, as is lunch on the patio.”
Nk’mip Cellars Winemakers Talon 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($23.99)
Really juicy shiraz based blend (44 per cent with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and pinot noir) with rich, ropey, red berry and savoury tones. Big fruit and if oaked with generosity it’s a construct that seems more than capable of the handling. Big effort, personality and acidity to carry it high. Boozy to a degree and again capable of finding balance. Isn’t this what cool climate blends should strive to achieve? Forget the formulas. Look to great agriculture and a master blender to realize goals. This reaches a milestone and likely at a ridiculously affordable price. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
Tawse winemaker Paul Pender
Tawse Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (581165, $67.95)
That aromatic combination of dark plummy fruit and tangy blood orange is a straight give away for many more impending complexities to come. A three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot (45 percent), cabernet sauvignon (28) and cabernet franc (27) with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say. It’s like Glossolalia, a “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning,” a.k.a. in tongues. Never mind the distractions and the madness but instead head straight to the intersection of structure and balance because that’s what matters. The fruit is bold, the woodwork finely chiseled and precise and the end result is the work of masters; agriculturalists, oenologists and winemaking hands. This will live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy. Drink 2021-2031. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019
With Phantom Creek’s Anne Vawter
Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($100.00)
Some of the estate’s finest cabernet sauvignon makes its way into the flagship red, also made up of the other four Bordeaux red grapes. There is a sweetness that comes through from layering so much quality fruit in a way that neither the Becker blend nor the varietal cabernet sauvignon seem capable to manage. There’s also a deep sense of tannin and an almost dark brooding character, but also a smoky, savouriness that adds to the mystery and the dimension. So stylish and composed, amalgamated of the finest fruit bred from great attention to agricultural detail. Incredible length too. One of the most professional wines in Canada. Drink 2021-2030. Tasted February 2019
Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling
Southbrook Organic Vidal Icewine 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (581165, 375ml, $49.95)
The most unusually brick red-orange hue makes this vidal Icewine a one-of-a-kind wonder and the best news of all is how complex the wine is to follow suit. Yes the curiosity factor runs high but so do the gamut of aromatics and flavours. Coffee, toffee, crème brûlée, apricot, guava and strangely enough the spongey filling of a Crunchie Bar. What a childhood memory that digs up. Acids are strong, relevant and still humming so the sugars are carried along with great companionship. Benchmark vidal usage and to no surprise. Ann Sperling’s work with varietal orange wine combined with her knowledge of Icewine make for a union divine. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted December 2019
Good to go!