Why taste Ontario?

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

Beet, padano, sunflower sprout, balsamic, lemon, terrabianca olive oil

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 RobinsonAnthony Hamilton RussellRajat ParrTim 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 KempDr. Gary PickeringDr. Andrew G. ReynoldsDr. 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 DrummondZoltan Szabo, City BitesMichael Pinkus, Michael Di Caro, Evan Saviolidis, Tim Appelt, Gord Stimmell, Alan McGinty, Carolyn HammondEric 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, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman's Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, 13th Street Merlot 2013, Burning Kiln Chardonnay Cureman’s Chard 2011, Fielding Cabernet/Syrah 2012, Flat Rock Chardonnay The Rusty Shed 2012, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2012, Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013

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

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014

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

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Feb. 21 wine and song salute

Godello's Tamales

Godello’s Tamales

Fear not good reader, this is only a list of seven, a set lucky wines and songs to play as you sip. On February 21st VINTAGES will roll a mid-winter classic release and though my recommendations will think globally next week, here the choices come out of Ontario, from parts Niagara and Lake Erie North Shore.

My picks are varied and the wines of a coagulated character best described as sui generis. Grapes come from old vines, are dried in kilns, fashioned in the Venetian Ripasso method and left on the vine to be stricken by the noble rot known as botrytis.

The brilliant leap of modern winemaking science allows the ancient to be realized in the present. Wines that pour themselves. Just as the earth has invisibly predisposed the vines, from cataclysms and through its evolution, so history is the unhurried intent. Winemakers are the messenger.

All this from Wine Country Ontario. Get to know it.

Speaking of WCO, if you happen to be heading to Ottawa for Winterlude this coming weekend, the VQA Wine Truck will be there, in Confederation Park.

Meanwhile back in Toronto, my seven wine and song salute begins here.

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer's Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

From left to right: Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign)

Showy and yet so balanced and pristine. The cleanest fruit representing classic Niagara Peninsula Riesling from the ’12 vintage yet with an open mind to be walking far from home. Though void of agitation, there is plenty of verve and life. It comes by way of a mineral meets saline intensity, of iron and life, in wine. Like “sour building high as heaven,” and the components all kiss each other clean. Full of fine pastry layering, glycerine textured but not oily fruit, full and yet somehow so lacy. A really special Riesling from down by the lake.  Tasted January 2015  @MBosc

Ridgepoint Merlot 2010, Ripasso Style, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (270488, $19.95, WineAlign)

Ridgepoint’s Ripasso style Merlot takes the varietal, stands it on its head and shakes the rust from out of its bones. It wears “a coat of feelings and they are loud,” with drying and painted flavours over top porcine, cocoa, wild and tight aromas. Merlot in a purple bottle, an animal collective, peppery, interesting, very Niagara, very Ripasso. Good length.  Tasted January 2015  @Ridgepointwines

Bricklayer’s Reward Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario (406124, $19.95, WineAlign)

In Colio’s Cabernet Sauvignon there is dark chocolate everywhere, at every turn, in every crevice. Black pepper, fleur de del, currants and tobacco accent that chocolate ubiquity, with warmth and oak spice. Cherries seeped in astringent tannin offer a silky sweet sadness and “under this skin, there lies a heart of stone.” Counting for value, the Bricklayer’s reward is mercy, by way of character, texture and that wholesome chocolate. It may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa but it will age as long as the crow flies, into the next decade.  Tasted January 2015  @ColioWinery

Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

Burning Kiln’s latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) is that much more exceptional than what came before. The peaceful, heavy yet easy feeling continues, in alcohol weight and aromatic lift, ’cause it’s “already standin’ on the ground.” Like an eagle soaring, the Savagnin is a wild creature and yet solid, of a gamey, textural density. Imagine dried grasses and fruits, baked bricks, steamed crabs and honey. A wine so unique, mouth filling, viscous and tangy, from a wine region (province) with a maximum 10 planted acres. A white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.  Tasted January 2015  @BurningKilnWine

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (203703, $30.00, WineAlign)

Thirty Bench’s vintage-affected Chardonnay is rounded, full of warm, ripe fruit and noticeable oak. No darts are tossed, neither by woodsmoke nor spice and it ventures quite outward bound. This adventurous, appealing wine takes some chances, looks beyond its borders, reaching for notes both gravelly and scented; like cumin, coriander and a beautifully bittersweet Tom Collins. The rocks are certainly in, as are the sticks and stones, though they do not break bones. The price is another matter, affordable to some, prohibitive to “the little boys who never comb their hair.” For a Chardonnay such as this, of layers and riches, “they’re lined up all around the block, on the nickel over there.” It time waits for this, value will increase and it will become a wine for tomorrow.  Tasted January 2015  @ThirtyBench

Andrew Peller Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (405043, $30.20, WineAlign)

Here Sauvignon Blanc is wild and free, bares then sells its soul and is runnin’ with the devil. The expression is a free dance of varietal character, flinty and extremely juicy in simultaneous movements. Though the SO2 level is high (it cleans the passages), the compote is peachy, at times canned and soaking in syrup, but the accents are laden with capsicum, lactic white plums and wet grasses. Slightly bruised and/or oxidative, the mineral tang is pushy and formative. This is serious Niagara-on-the-Lake SB, crazy and compressed stuff. It lives its “life like there’s no tomorrow, finding “the simple life ain’t so simple.” Like vintage Van Halen.  Tasted January 2015  @PellerVQA

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign)

Inscribed into the Inniskillin ‘Discovery Series” for good reason, the BA Viognier is a product of luck and circumstance, a small parcel of grapes blessed with the not oft success of climate leading to ripening and noble rot. Grapes left to hang into late harvest (as opposed to freezing on the vine for the production of Icewine) is not a common Viognier practice. While the frank and masculine aromatic presence may be compromised here (the nose is quite reserved), the overall ubiquity is omnipresent and enveloping. Such a clean and young botrytis offers soft chords and a lifting voice. You can smell the fruits east and west; green and yellow plantain, peaches and plums. Flavours of lemon curd and pineapple arrive at a point where the tannin finds a way to “fuse it in the sun.” It can be imagined this Vendanges Tardives simulation will go long so “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup, with the promise of a man.”  Tasted January 2015  @InniskillinWine

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The South Coast is clear

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

It would be a stretch to expect anyone living more than 100-km away from Port Dover to know much about Ontario’s newest and next viticulture hot spot, Ontario South Coast Wines. The same concession might apply to most journalists working with regular intensity and immersion within the Ontario wine industry. OSCW should not be confused with its brethren further west, the wineries that make up the Lake Erie North Shore appellation. Ontario’s southwest? Wine route? You may ask yourself, how did I not know about this place? How can this be?

This is the area most likely to be Ontario’s next VQA-qualified appellation. Cool-climate remains the most apt descriptor, no different from LENS to the left and Niagara to the right, but this pocket of the lake is blessed of a specifically warm-ish micro-climate. The name itself presents as a bit of a misnomer, “Ontario South Coast Wines,” its geographical location set upon a ridge overlooking the north-east shore of Lake Erie running east from just west of Long Point, through Port Rowan, St. Williams, Turkey Point, Normandale, Port Ryerse and to Port Dover.

To agree with the emerging region’s calling card, simply draw a bunch of parallel and converging lines south from Lake Huron, through the Highway 401 straddling communities of London, Kitchener and Cambridge. Continue southeast past the Highway 403 delta of the Brantford area and through the Highway Three corridor towns of  Waterford, Courtland, Delhi and Simcoe. Spread out along the Eco-nature park-beach community-rugged coast and now you’ve got your bearings. This is the wine country of Norfolk County.

All aboard the Kayloe PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

All aboard the Kayloe
PHOTO: http://www.ontariosouthcoastwine.com/

Better still, follow the lead of Magdalena Kaiser-Smit of Wine Country Ontario and climb aboard the Kayloe, a 65-foot boat run by Nomada Charters and take a three-hour Lake Erie tour from the water, with a dozen or so local wineries on board and get to know the people and the place. Listen to Mike McArthur, President of the Grape Growers Association speak about 1996, the transition year for the area. Realize how an agricultural community that once housed tobacco farms make a communal decision to transform with the times and switch to grape growing. Hear him talk about the great history of viniculture in the least known of Ontario wine landscapes, a place where grapevines were spotted as early as the late 1600’s.

The boat trip and the wine speak mean nothing here without the idea of hospitality to accompany the local ferments, wines made not just from grapes, but from a wide variety of fruits. There are approximately 130 acres under vine in Grey and Norfolk counties. Nine wineries are located in Norfolk, with seven currently open for business. Liz Campbell and Trevor Taylor of F.W. Knechtel Food Catering make use of local asparagus, mushrooms and Lake Erie Perch to bring matching and meaning to the wines.

Outboard BBQ

Outboard BBQ

Fruit wines are an integral part of the South Coast experience so I decided to begin and end on high glucose notes. Berries have half the natural sugar content as grapes so cane sugar is added to give the yeasts enough convertible material to raise the alcohol to stable levels for longer preservation. Blueberry Hill was my first stop, a St. Williams winery that ferments with the hybrid Vidal, along with cranberries, raspberries and of course, blueberries. The wines are pure, distilled fruit expressions, with tart notes and flavours of the heart. Their straight-up blueberry is the best of the lot.

The uncontested Norfolk leader is Burning Kiln Winery and not just from a quality standpoint. Burning Kiln has positioned itself as a marketing and appellative promotional leader with Doug Beatty (formerly of Colio Estate Wines) as its spokesman, front and centre. Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski (formerly of Vineland Estates, Legends Estates, DeSousa, Fielding Estate, Megalomaniac, Foreign Affair and Organized Crime, now of Colaneri Estate and his own label, Big Head Wines) is an established Ontario master. His experience with the appassimento method is perfect for BK’s old tobacco kiln employment for drying grapes. Assistant winemaker Patti Fixter authored a feasibility study on Norfolk County’s Sand Plain and its ability to host a viable, sustainable viticultural industry. The winery is progressive, adventurous and ostensibly single-handedly responsible for putting South Coast on the current Ontario wine road map.

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Burning Kiln Tank Samples

Doug Beatty brought some tank samples aboard. The springy and herbal 2013 Horse & Boat Riesling carries 20 g/L of residual sugar “to punch back the acids.” This is part of BK’s Green Kiln Series. A 2013 Savagnin tank sample carries similar texture but in elevated glycerin. The metal on top of that mouth feel really come forward to balance the residual and the alcohol (which is dramatically indiscernible). Grassy Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas and a very Jura palate are the hallmarks of a South Coast take in a wine that is such a baby.

The Harvest Party White tank sample gathers Chardonnay (59 per cent), Gewurztraminer (21), Riesling (18) and Pinot Gris (2). A chewy, textured, kitchen sink blend that stings of limestone, an herbal balm and a late edgy metallic bite. The Chardonnay 2013 tank sample spent 18 months in foudres. Reminds of a Lenko treatment, from fruit 50 per cent estate and 50 Niagara. Thin but linear and focused, with very good length, a crunch of green apple and round herbiage.

The 2011 Kiln Hanger from tank follows the same process at the ’10 from a less than scorching vintage but will arrive in bottle at 15.8 per cent alcohol. Only 400 cases will be produced from a cat-like specimen, still chewy, a chunk of major Cabernet Franc change. Higher in acidity and cool plums than in 2010, this is no shrinking Norfolk violet. Will show more style and less humidity than that ’10.

Burning Kiln Savagnin ‘Stick Shaker’ 2012, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign)

What BK refers to as dry white Vin de Curé, or the “Parish Priest’s,” this is their take on the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine). The South Coast may have a wine tradition that dates back to the 1600’s but Savagnin does not go back by the Ontario centuries.  At 14.9 per cent a heavy feeling would be expected but to the contrary, the SS is light as a feather, like a CSN ballad. Aromatically muted, the warmth of the vintage comes through in the textural density of the palate. Expressive and chewy like all of the Burning Kiln portfolio. A wine from two of only 10 total acres planted in the province. Though we may be “gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit,” here’s to helplessly hoping Savagnin takes root and flourishes in Ontario.

Burning Kiln Harvest Party Red 2013, VQA Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

From an overall 50/50, Estate/Niagara blend. The composition is Syrah (49 percent, all Niagara), Cabernet Franc (42 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (9). Reminds of Fielding’s Fireside Red in approachability and blending acumen. Though an understudy, the softness of the Cabernet Sauvignon is duly noted as a foil to the clay/kiln effect from the piquant Cabernet Franc. Some chalk and even more chew, in the beginning this is just mostly fresh and wild with low, obtuse angles.

Burning Kiln Cab Frank 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Named for the vineyard manager at Burning Kiln, Frank DeLeebeck was a tobacco farmer for more than 20 years. From 50/50 Estate/Niagara, 100 per cent kiln dried grapes for 10-14 days. This is CF all about concentration and a bridge from old tobacco to New World winemaking. Here kilns are the vehicle to transport the winery’s wines to the New World. Though this rich, cakey Cabernet Franc turns sweet on the finish, there is terrific acidity and admirable length. Holds its 14.3 per cent alcohol well. A unique appassimento.

Burning Kiln Strip Room Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 50/50 Estate and Niagara fruit split, classic Right Bank-styled blend of Merlot (55 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (45), kiln dried for 8-14 days. There is strength in alcohol (14.3 per cent) yet calm, dry reserve in (4.5 g/L) residual sugar. The aromatic profile is the most flirtatious of the BK stable, with the bruising and crushing of so many berries. There is a plum softness given by the Merlot, along with chalk, grain, vanilla and coconut from the generous six-month, three (French, Eastern European and American) oak layering. Like quality satellite St. Emilion, with so much noticeable tobacco.

Burning Kiln Kiln Hanger 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent Cabernet Franc, 100 per cent Kiln dried red made in two batches. Ages 32 months in Eastern European and American oak, half held back for this, The Sequel. Altogether there are 335 cases made of this huge, 15.9 per cent alcohol behemoth. The second coming furthers the already wealthy concentration with Alice anxiety and anaesthetizing mouth filling richesse. Here layers anything but a simple matter of loaded, dusty cocoa, decadent chocolate and creamy mocha. “I couldn’t tell if the bells were getting louder,” the entire cooperage preaching of “fanatical exposers on corners prophecy.”  Huge wine. Love it to death.

At Quai du Vin there are vineyards planted in 1970 by Redi and Roberto Quai. Today Jamie Quai makes the wine at the St. Thomas winery with the wisdom of those vines and the respectful touch of a winemaker with a minimal interventionist approach. Jamie Quai is concerned with the unearthing of micro-plot nuances in the Norfolk terroir. Quai du Vin farms 20 acres and has been open for business since 1990.

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin

Quai du Vin Chardonnay 2012, Ontario (winery, $13.50)

From 15 year-old vines on the Sparta Moraine and what Jamie Quai calls “a field blend.” Though the soils are all heavy clay, there is a clay meets stone textural balance, surely thanks to five or six months lees contact. Like well-made southern Burgundy, the chosen yeast heightens the autolytic chain, allowing the flavours to veer tropical but not overly so. A Chardonnay that fell in love with a well-judged barrel while conceptualizing “good botrytis,” resulting in exceptional complexity for a song. Will drink beautifully through 2016.

Quai du Vin Red, Signature Series 2012, Ontario (winery, $12.50)

A blend of Marechal Foch (40 per cent), Baco Noir (30) and Merlot (30) from a host of appellations; Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Sparta Moraine Acres and Elgin County-North Shore Lake Erie. This has a thick brushstroke brought on by a predominance within the conglomerate of heavy clay. Unexpectedly tannic, chewy, with a sweet chocolate brownie finish. Not to mention tomato and the plant’s savoury leaf. The first vintage that Merlot made the cut in lieu of usually employed Cabernet Franc.

Quai du Vin Merlot 2012, Ontario (winery, $16.00)

Made from the same Merlot fruit in the Signature Red. Spent just over a year in barrel, the wine is still very primary and aromatically speaking, highly dusty. A painted note, green tea and rusty dry fruit are wrapped in an early reductive, nearly volatile note. Chewy, splintered, with grit, conceit and solid work. Note: Only 25 per cent of the vines will likely have survived the winter of 2014.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Mystery of Hrio 2013, Ontario (winery, $11.95)

A dry white made from three (numbered) hybrid grapes developed at Vineland Research Station.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Trout Fly Riesling 2012, Ontario  (winery, $12.50)

From 100 per cent Estate vines planted in 1996, this has that roots gathered mineral salinity from sandy loams so reminiscent of the Burgenland’s dry Rieslings. That Austrian run-off minerality is uncanny and when foiled by the old vines glycerin texture, the end result is quite a study in Simcoe complexity. A small amount of Traminer lifts the Riesling, along with some lees usage. Amazing discovery.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Ontario  (winery, $15.95)

From Estate grapes planted around the year 2000. Lithe, pretty and certainly very Pinot. Like Kiwi Pinot in that the flesh is permeated by varnish. Wraps together cherry, pomegranate, cranberry and wet earth. If an Old World comparison might be made it would be to Mercurey, as it’s light, highly floral, with a break in the mid-palate and a stretched finish. “We’ve always ended up with light Pinot,” says winemaker and mad scientist Phil Ryan. That’s a good thing.

Villa Nova Estate Winery Norfolk Red 2013, Ontario  (winery, $11.95)

From Niagara and Norfolk (Marechal Foch, Baco Noir and Chambourcin) grapes. A hybrid party.

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Villa Nova Estate Winery

Frisky Beaver White 2012, VQA Ontario (345629, $13.95, WineAlign)

The all Niagara fruit blend is Vidal (75 per cent), Riesling (15) and Gewurztraminer (10). It’s considered VQA “Ontario” because Dover Vineyards awaits a viticultural designation. The irony here is that it may as well be labeled Niagara. This is clean and easy stuff, low in alcohol (11.2 per cent), elevated in sugar (18.4 g/L) but balancing in total acidity (5.6 g/L). Overall it has texture and tannic ability. Not a stressful blend by any stretch, it’s Pinot Gris like in Alsatian attitude with a juicy, peppery pear fruit tendency.

Smoke & Gamble Gewurztraminer Süssreserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Unfermented (11.8 per cent) appassimento juice is added back in for aromatic and textural effect. Semi-tropical and semi-dry, in pineapple and green apple but not lychee. This is Musqué in scent, clean, pure and true. From 100 per cent Norfolk fruit.

Smoke & Gamble Merlot Reserve 2011, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A wild at heart Merlot, brooding, serious, deep and full. Caramel and chocolate, ginger spice and ripe plum. Coat, paint, coat, repeat. Alcohol is big (14.4 per cent) but well-integrated and whatever perceived sweetness there may be (4 g/L) is mitigated by a leafy, savoury edge.

Smoke & Gamble Cabernet Franc Appassimento 2010, Ontario (winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

Here is the deepest, post-modern wine made anywhere in the province. Reeking of rich, candied violets smothered in dark chocolate. Chalk and talc in licks and a dense, chewy mid-palate. A massive (14.5 per cent) wine with so much chocolate dust and thick glycerin. A stable of so many big attributes and in only winemaker Robert Gill ‘s second year dealing with the Amarone-style methodology. “The first year I was scared, I’ll admit.”

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Vidal 2012, Ontario (winery, $14.25)

From estate vines. Juicy, white peach and nectarine aromas, metal angles, straight up distillation of pure grapes.  Low brix and solid PH give it tannic thrust.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Ontario (winery, $15.95)

Estate fruit (100 per cent). Sweet and with aromatic energy. Off-dry all the way. Leans Mosel in kindred spirit. Orchard fruit and excellent acidity. Slightly bitter-tinged finish, but in a noble way.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Baco Noir 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

A cheese in lees inflected BN, not the brooding and pitchy type. Some elegance, in as much as Baco Noir can show. Yet unusual because of that yogurt drip. Good acids, floral tones and citrus.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Chambourcin 2011, Ontario (winery, $18.20)

Once again, all the lees, cheese and citrus , but also sweet and sour with some soy and caramel. Tight and racy Chambourcin, certainly as complex and accomplished as any this side of Michigan.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2012 (Tank Sample)

High cranberry and dry earth bring this right back to Burgundy basics. Rosehip and sandalwood from old oak wrapped in sweet tannins. A bit of sinew and braised bouille. The coat is on.

Golden Leaf Estate Winery Merlot 2012 (Tank Sample)

From Niagara (De Moura Vineyards) fruit. Chalk in limestone, chocolate and a medium wood toast. Some green tannin, tea for sure but also some sweet tannin. Also roasted, charred red meat.

We wrapped up with some of the most righteous fruit wines one could ever hope to taste by way of Wooden Bear L Winery Inc.  Kim Ludwig’s wines are full of wildflowers, citrus expression and great balance. Her Gay-La Apple wine from 100 per cent Gala apples is like savoury Sauvignon Blanc, with angles in metal, low acidity but it’s dry and crisp. Her Sangria in a bottle has a liqueur-like taste, a slightly reductive, good bitterness and so much spirit. Not to mention tons of grapefruit.

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

Planting palm trees in Port Dover

All is good out on the water and we made it safely back to Port Dover, just in time to watch the annual planting of the palm trees. You can’t make this stuff up.

Good to go!

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