Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013

Mary Catherine Wasilik, (Merry Bee) the Assistant Winemaker of Rosewood Estates Winery checking out the Pinot Noir pick at Wismer Vineyard in Balls Falls, Ontario
PHOTO: KRYSTINA ROMAN, QUEEN SOCIAL BEE/ROSEWOOD ESTATES WINERY

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Taste Ontario is a special event. The VINTAGES prescribed gathering of Ontario wine, the makers and the marketers should never be missed. The Royal Ontario Museum is a terrific setting for such a palooza and the Bronfman Hall a cozy, comfortable and airy room to showcase the wines.

That this gathering is conspicuous as much for its omissions as it is for the unparalleled quality and consistency of the wines does not need to be overly debated. The figure of “80 wines from over 30 of Ontario’s most passionate and talented winemakers” is certainly a drawing card despite VQA Ontario‘s contention “there are over 125 Ontario wineries producing VQA wines of various appellations – all backed up by VQA Ontario’s assurance of origin and quality.”

The VINTAGES say in what specific bottles should be poured was certainly in evidence last Thursday and succeeded for the purposes of presenting the licensee and the consumer with a cross section of Ontario’s signature grapes. Chardonnay was not high in representation but considering the recent run from and following #i4C2013 (Cool Chardonnay) that was to be expected. What the general public does not know for certain is the quality potential in and necessity of Ontario’s production of Sparkling wine, Gamay and Syrah. Three categories virtually ignored at Taste Ontario 2013.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Red wines at Taste Ontario 2013

Taste Ontario was held in Ottawa (The Westin Hotel) on Monday, October 7th and in Toronto (ROM) on Thursday, October 10th with essential support from Wine Country Ontario. Thanks must go out to Hilary Dawson and Magdalena KaiserSmit for their pampering and generosity. The grand tastings were partnered with the LCBO “SHINE {ON}” campaign that ran from September 15 through October 12.

My reviews of wines that shone is specific to the event and let it be known there are dozens more to form best of lists, from producers represented and those who were not involved. Here are 16 top wines from Taste Ontario 2013.

From left: Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009, 2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012, Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006, and Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011

Sparkling

Tawse ‘Spark’ Riesling 2009 (winery only, $18.95) may just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Méthode Classique Brut 2009 (234161, $22.95) in just under a year has evolved to a grandiloquent level of sophistication.  Fino arid bubbles, with an elevated level of aromatic sweetness, ginger spice, lime and charcoal. Quite complex, jumpy, with pepper on the finish.  90  From my earlier note: “is a sweet-smelling misty mousse waterfall where white grapefruit replays from vapor to flavour. Driest fizz yet playing the Angostura angle. Good length.”  88  @Jackson_Triggs

Riesling

Cattail Creek Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (241547, $14.95) from Four-Mile Creek suggests peaches in every way; juice, flesh and pit. A battle cry bottle for the adage and generational anthem, “when in Niagara I drink Riesling for peace.” Really fine evolutionary Creek example for the price, located somewhere on the dry to off-dry line.  Palate cleansing, with solid rhythm and length, like Les Brers in A Minor. Makes me want to eat a peach.  88  @CTCWinery

2027 Cellars Riesling ‘Falls Vineyard’ 2012 (294041, $18.95) in contrast to brother Foxcroft, is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rathergarrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  @2027Cellars

Thirty Bench Small Lot Woodpost Vineyard 2006 (winery only) has achieved green patina and diesel in D minor as the wine is just beginning to act its age. A crisp, crunchy green apple bent persists and the fruit remains confidently perched on top of the wood pile. A smoulder of wood seems ghostly present, or at least as rusty ties keeping it upright. A self-supporting slice of Beamsville Bench recent history here. Really quite fantastic.  92  @ThirtyBench

Charles Baker Wines Riesling ‘Picone Vineyard’ 2011 (241182, $35.20) does not so much pick up where cracking ’09 left off (with no offence meant to the soothing and tuneful ’10) but rather re-writes the Baker book. From the almost famous windswept vineyard atop the Vinemount Ridge, this Picone, from older Riesling plantings is crazy lively. That ’10 is now imbued with rich, oily glück. The ’11 will realize such a future, but much further along and in combination with its inborn tension. Right up there with Baker’s “perfect vintage” 2006.  93  @cbriesling

Chardonnay

Lailey Chardonnay 2011 (193482, $19.95, Alberta, 739220, $35.67) butters toast with delectable lemon curd and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Well-articulated, bundled Chardonnay fruit, in spice cadence, big but never brawny. A measure of Niagara balance.  90   From my earlier note: “is right on brother Derek. This not only joins the right excellent Chardonnay club; it’s the incumbent President. Lifted honeysuckle, honey and bright lemon aromas, the deftest kiss of oak and just a punch of spice. Tingles and lingers.  If ’10 was “almost great,” ’11 is. Mikey likes this very much.  90  @laileywinemakr

Tawse ‘Quarry Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (111989, $34.95) carries that classic Paul Pender perfume; rocks and stones, flaxen, refulgent toast and the verdure Vinemount terroir. A free flying, linear, atmospheric smear of thermal fortitude and backbone. A polemic Bowie Chardonnay to make you believe “the strangest things, loving the alien.”  92  From my earlier (barrel tasting) note: “resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terroir makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit.”  91-93

From left: Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012, Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011, Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011, Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012, and Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012

Sémillon

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2012 (winery only, $18.00) drifts along, like a city swan, a white Beamsville white cut from a different cloth, wholly unique. Rosewood’s Sem is the case and the point for others to follow, to plant, cultivate, embrace and perfect this grape in Ontario. The ’12 is immense, articulate, hungry. It makes cause to say, ”I’m starving in your gravity. You’re made from something different than I know.”  90  From my earlier note: “is their most intense ever. An exceptional growing season amps the honey sounds to 11, speeds up the sugars to 33 and while there is obviously no sign of chapitalization, added acid stabilizes the high tropical nuance. Huge style for Sémillon, mulched in miele, fruit flavours amplified and lengthened by 14.6 per cent alcohol. Une cousine to J.L. Groux’s Stratus SV, if less grapefruit and increased value.”  90  @Rosewoodwine

Pinot Noir

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir ‘Red Paw Vineyard’ 2011 (79228, $22.95) gets the best value nod because it’s just oh so pretty, in hue, bouquet, essence and mouth feel. Four-Mile Creek dusty wind, dried leaf grain and a unique sense of soil imparts earthly elegance and poise. Excellent stuff.  90  @coyotesrun

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2011 (1560, $29.95) may at first strangely seem that it had ”stepped out of the wilderness all squint-eyed and confused” but my how a swirl elicits gorgeous red berries and an emphatic oomph, even without a sip. Impressively ripe, blooming red rose and cinnamon from the heart of a winemaker’s boots. A mineral streak brings to mind Volnay, in spirit and tragically hip Pinot essence.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2012 (125310, $35.00) cuts a rug with immense, stepping out juicy behaviour. It’s both turntable old-school, astatic in smooth groove rotation, but also digitally forward thinking towards a perdurable future. The nose is Norm’s most intense floral burst to date, with incredible brightness and sparkling acidity in the key of fresh plum. This brings to mind indelible Burgundy, enveloped in PEC’s warm ’12 blanket. Hardie’s measure of consistency abides in a Pinot of parity and undemanding polish.  93  @normhardie

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bachelder Pinot Noir ‘Lowrey Vineyard’ 2011

Bachelder Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2011 (361816, $44.95) springs eternal from an ocean of cranberry and an island of spice. The somewhereness of this St. David’s vineyard can’t be denied, and in the hands of Thomas Bachelder the extraordinary happens. I am simply blinded by the light, by the weight and the weightless gravity. By a sweetness that just isn’t sweet, like exotic red fruit that knocks you sideways upside the cerebral cortex. Not to mention an iron madness that “plays that song with the funky break.”  94  @Bachelder_wines

Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc

Lailey Vineyard Wines Cabernet Merlot 2011 (winery only, $15) speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  @Laileywinemakr

Cave Spring Cellars Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2011 (72751, $24.95) attains a level of varietal purity near categorically Niagara Escarpment perfect. A mess of sweet and tangy red fruit, namely berries, currants and cherries cut fine to licorice and the evolutionary effects of magnesium-rich limestone. Imagine cutting a cross-section of rock to project a swirl of this multifarious Cabernet Franc. An example to examine at an Expert’s Tasting 10 years on.  91  @CaveSpring

Gamay

Fielding Estate Winery Gamay 2012 (winery only, $17.95) is, without question, Richie’s best to date. A gleaming, ebullient, shining glass of rich Gamay fruit with an undercurrent of currant and gleaning vineyard floor. A Buddy and Gene snare drum attack. Takes the baton and parades about the province. Will lead the #GoGamayGo charge for the rest of 2012 and well into 2013.  89  @Fieldingwines  @RichieWine

Good to go!

The best wines at Taste Ontario 2012

Photograph Courtesy of the Wine Council Of Ontario

as seen on canada.com

On Friday, September 28th 46 Ontario wineries poured more than 100 wines at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto to showcase Ontario’s singular and diverse terroir. Producers from Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore shared the spotlight with a Burning Kiln from Turkey Point and a Frisky Beaver from Port Dover. “I can’t deny” there was even some Bad Company.

Character and quality has never been better. Riesling continues to impress and let us not ignore the high level of ever-evolving Chardonnay vines. Reds have made great strides, especially Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc.

The best premium wines (over $30) present were Bachelder Saunders Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($44.95, 90), Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2009 ($35, 92), Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2010 ($39.75, 91), Rosehall Run JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2010 ($38.80, 90) and Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010 ($39, 91).

The future looks very bright for Ontario. A special shout out goes to Magdalena Kaiser-Smit from the Wine Council of Ontario for a flawless execution. Here are my top picks under $30 from Taste Ontario (Toronto) 2012.

The grape: Riesling

The history: Paul Bosc of Chateau Des Charmes is the Ontario Riesling pioneer and along with the St. Urban Vineyard of Vineland Estates, they set the stage for its ascendance to signature grape status

The lowdown: Clearly entrenched as the most important Ontario white varietal, this is winemaker Kevin Panagapka’s value entry into LCBO channels

The food match: Tofu and Bassa Fish Hot Pot with Sichuan spices

2027 Cellars Fall’s Vineyard Riesling 2011 (294041, $18.95) is consistent with my earlier note. Saleratus, flint and tropical scents with a kiss of racy, citrus acidity and goes to great length on the palate. There were only 200 cases of this screaming value. “There ain’t a reason on earth to waste it,” so I feel compelled to lick it up89

The grape: Sémillon

The history: Partner to Sauvignon Blanc in dry white Bordeaux and single varietal star in the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac

The lowdown: Not planted on a wide global scale. Has found great success in Australia’s Hunter Valley and to a degree in South Africa. Niagara Escarpment should be next

The food match: Autumn Squash, Sweet Potato and Candy Beet Ratatouille

Rosewood Estates Winery Sémillon 2010 ($18 at the winery) shows little procrastination with a superfluity of lemon, lime and paraffin but like all great Sémillon, the wine needs time. A block of wax keeps the honey down but look for a mellifluous ooze three years on. Glittering sheen, diamond-like focus and crusted by an accent of lemon zest. Krystina Roman will lead this grape to stardom. “Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” Top white. Shine on you crazy Sémillon.  90

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Growing on the “hillside” section of Ravine’s farm on the warm St. David’s Bench

The lowdown: Few Ontario winemakers achieve a Burgundian mythic. Here the soil is thin, sparse and heavy in minerals. Not quite Burgundy, but the comparison is worth the discourse

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (173377, $24.00) of partisan, buttered toast may lean more Kistler than Jadot but she’s still wearing blue jeans. Blessed with a St. David’s mineral smile and a Scotch barrel smell, like a long knife with a blade double-edged at the point. Hued golden and tan, “she got a camouflaged face.” Thrifty Chardonnay, worth every penny.  89

The grape: Gamay

The history: Best known for its work in Beaujolais and has shed its “Nouveau” moniker

The lowdown: Others have surely helped but Malivoire has championed and transformed the varietal’s status to prince among kings and queens

The food match: Thanksgiving Turkey!!

Malivoire Wine Company M2 Small Lot Gamy 2011 ($19.95) made use of a slumber for six months in French and American oak barrels to raise the purple bar. This is Francofied Gamay, as much Tours as Morgon. Peppered with smatterings of tar, smoke and caper. A note of Bouille, braising meat is noted. Complex for the grape and versatile.  88

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: The Loire comes to the Niagara Escarpment

The lowdown: Winemaker Richie Roberts has this grape in his hip pocket. He can see the future and he knows when it comes to reds, cool-climate varietals are key

The food match: Boneless Beef Rib-Eye Steak Sandwich, crispy onions, horseradish mayo

Fielding Estates Cabernet Franc 2010 (36194, $21.95) is deeply cast, loaded with raspberry and pepper aromas, both white and red. A whiff of beet garish smoke and savoury herbs adds sinuosity.  89

Good to go!

The 2012 harvest and six current Ontario releases

Backyard Tomato, Basil and Nasturtium

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Ontario wine lives well, but the playing field is rapidly changing. Greatness, albeit in fits and spurts, can comfortably be adduced from vineyards going back to at least 1998. I’ve no intention of raining on recent parades but 2012 is shaping up to be something extraordinary. A collective level of confidence and consciousness, meted by a hot, dry summer will surely translate to a banner year for Ontario wines. Niagara’s Man Friday suggests we’re  “heading for a concentrated and ripe (but small) grape Harvest for 2012.” That said, if the tweets and comments coming from the winemakers out of Niagara and Prince Edward County are any indication, some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon…

Some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon:

Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run:

“Fast, furious and fantastic- if the weather holds a little longer this year’s harvest will be a grand-slam in quality!”

Paul Pender, Tawse:

“Harvest has begun in earnest. 16 tonne of premium organic Chardonnay picked and processed.”

Richie Roberts, Fielding Estate:

“Picking Beamsville bench old vine Sauv Blanc today. Coming off with beautiful acid and flavour. Giddy up.”

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates:

“We have had an incredibly HOT and dry year.. Weights are quite low but quality is very high.”

Marlize Beyers, Hidden Bench:

“Sparking cuvée pick done and pressed, looking good by the numbers but tasting even better.”

Kevin Panagapka, 2027:

“Crazy early year.. Sparkling in the bag, Pinot next on the radar.”

In the meantime…

While we wait patiently for 21st-century master strokes of vinous genius, here are six current releases to fill your stems.

2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 (294041, $18.95) from the racy Vinemount Ridge finds Mr. Panagapka in Single-Vineyard heaven. May not be a Genesis ode to a Pat & Lyle ambient masterpiece but the VINTAGES release happens to be on the 32nd anniversary of  Bill Evans’ passing. Flint, lemon yellow sintered micro crystal, bone-dry, brisk acidity. One for the vine. I thought I recognized the 2027 “by the way he fell, and by the way he stood up, and vanished into air.”  89

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (193482, $19.95) looks buttercup yellow and casts a pungent spice note, a trompe d’ail. Resolves quickly into ubiquitous balance and elegance, subtle beauty, body then melting to a creamy, slightly bitter finish. Almost great and one of the best to date.  88

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2011 (38117, $19.95) reserves the right to live off the land with local knowledge and extreme confidence. Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.  88

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 (64618, $16.95) of rooted mahogany and well-deep, depth of fruit is solid as a rock. Lends credence to naming 2010 as Ontario’s best Cab Franc vintage ever, as previously noted. Excellent value here.  88

Henry of Pelham Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 (268391, $24.95) is the bomb. Effectively Cali-candified, it floats in the rarefied air of upper echelon Canadian Pinot. All is resolved at this juncture; fruit, acidity, tannins. A note of rare, roasted game bird keeps it real. Impressive.  89

Norm Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 (125310, $35.00) may just be the most beautiful purple meets ruby-red Canadian Pinot I have ever laid my eyes on. Vibrant red berries, wildflower blooms and scraped vanilla beans. Warm cereal cooking on a campfire. Then the fruit is turned upside down by carbonate limestone. Wait five years for the mineral to meld into magic.  91

Good to go!