March 22, 2012
A freakish heat wave smothers Ontario with record temperatures and that does not sit well with Paul Pender. Budding vines followed by frost could spell disaster. “I’ll be looking for a new job” says Pender. Let’s hope not. His first four vintages at Tawse Winery are the stuff of local hero. The wines yet to be bottled from 2010 and 2011 will introduce Mr. Pender to the world.
Paul Pender is a pragmatist. He’s also the most passionate winemaker this side of the 49th. This deadly combination is the proviso towards ensconcing Tawse as the preeminent winery in Ontario. That and the meticulous farming of optimum ripened grapes coddled from top vineyard sites. The land, the fruit and the barrels. Mr. Pender’s Burgundy, Northern Rhône and Bordeaux Right Bank rolled into one dramatic package. He considers himself a farmer above all else and Tawse is on the road to achieving full organic and biodynamic status. Others may fill out forms that declare their outfits “sustainable” but very few practice what they preach.
I spend 90 minutes in the Tawse caves with Moray’s man, tasting through the 2010 and 2011 casks. I emerge energized, head buzzing, like walking out of a Yorkdale movie theatre as a child in 1980 having just watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. To a batch, the reds show concentration, deep colour, balance and structure. Not a weak or merely acceptable one in the lot. No “iffs” here. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah for the long haul. White grapes are mined with Burgundy in mind. When I look into the eyes of the Chardonnays, the cut, clarity and brilliance shine of Dresden green. Single Vineyard wines, each its own unique organism, testaments to power and finesse.
Chardonnay David’s 2011 coruscates like the glare of a Koon sculpture, lambient and luminous. Searing tang of citrus and green apple. A crime to show so well, Zen in its persistence and long finish. This vintage and this vineyard may unseat Robyn. 93-95
Chardonnay Quarry Road 2011 resides on the mineral, slate and lime side of the tracks. The calcareous quality imparted by its eponymous SV terrior makes it the antithesis of David. Creamy, 24-karat fruit. 91-93
Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2011 will put another gold record on the wall. Combines the best of both David’s and Quarry’s world. Smacking sapor of melons and pears. Seriously folks, life’s been good to Robyn. 92-94
Cabernet Franc Van Bers 2010 will show that 2010 is the new 1998 for Ontario reds. “Our climate is always workable for early ripening Cab Franc” says Pender, “and when the vintage is right, it’s ideal.” Layers of rich fruit here packed like sardines within a protective bubble of tannin. Should go to 2020 and beyond. 91-93
Merlot David’s 2011 fresh to barrel noses reductive and requires ferocious swirling to aerate and be counted. The wine rebounds so Bob’s your peduncle for this round mound of Merlot. For regular days when you’ve “got some money and a case of wine.” Will drink well in the boat’s cuddy and with grilled ground chuck up on deck. 87-89
Merlot David’s 2010 suffers no stenosis and instead flows as a sanguine and savoury riverine expression. Olives and the smokey whiff of yeasty bread on the grill. Not surprising considering the quality of Pender’s lees so often collected and added back to the next generation’s barrels. 89-91
Syrah Redstone 2011 airs reductive fallacy ad absurdum and so beats it out as a funky drummer. It takes a major swirl to disambiguate the fetor from the fruit but patience is virtuous. A walled Syrah for sure, and mysterious. Opaque, pepper studded trove of treasure peeks out. 88-90
Syrah Redstone 2010 lays bare visually that rarely, if ever, have I seen this kind of colour intensity from Ontario Syrah. Pulp and skin impart an easily identifiable dark sheen of complexion. A mess of lush fruit, meed of the maker. Drink this and “the flutes of the chi will sound again, my friend.” Dangerous. May someday have to be weaned off this one. 91-93
Good to go!