15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

15 in 2015

In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

Flight 3, code red #pinotnoir redux. Right proper #NWAC15 picks & pours @FortessaCanada stems @winealign staff rock!

In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth leads to 15 in 2015.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

The Legend, the Sommelier and the Godello #geddy #yyz #gmp2015 #goldmedalplates #rush

Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

And I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.”

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery - March 7, 2015

Riesling at the Carriage House, Vineland Estates Winery – March 7, 2015

So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The pioneer for #vqa #wineontap feel good recognition from @winecountryont Thank you from @barquebbq #ontariowineweek #ontwine #drinkontario #pourontario

The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Smiles with hops. Beer fridge @Niagara_College @mkaiserwine @chefmolson @drjamiegoode #niagarateachingbrewery #notwine #greatbeer

Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

Comity in the County godello.ca #PECwine #princeedwardcounty #cherryvalley #clossonridge #danforthridge #greerroad #laceyestates #hubbscreekvineyard #hinterlandwine #lighthallvineyards #clossonchase #adamoestatewinery #northshoreproject

In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.

As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.

Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.

The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.

Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.

Hubbs Creek

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010

The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.

Bergstrom and Hillebrand

Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vidal Orange Wine 2014

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

In bottle @Tawse_Winery #quarryroad 2014 #natural soon to tap @barquebbq #chardonnay #naturalwine #unfiltered #paulpender #vinemountridge #niagarapeninsula #vqa #ontwine

Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “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?”

The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.

Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

Filtering Nova Scotia #peggyscove #eastcoastswing15

I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2014, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $27.00, WineAlign)

From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @cbriesling

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

Swan Song- @ClossonChase Chardonnay CCV 2013 #clossonchasewinery #deborahpaskus #pecwine #pec #winecountryontario

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

"There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk." @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

“There’s no work in walking in to fuel the talk.” @MalivoireWine Melon & @PearlMorissette Gamay #NWAC15 Parting of the Sensory #CuvéeMonUnique #shirazmottiar #treadwells #winealign #winecountryontario

Pearl Morissette Gamay Cuvée Mon Unique 2014, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate  centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015  @PearlMorissette

Cave Spring Csv Riesling 2013, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @CaveSpring

Malivoire Mottiar Chardonnay 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024.  Tasted November 2015  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Riesling Masterclass

Riesling Masterclass at Terroir 2015

Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted May 2015  @ThirtyBench

C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015  @CCJentschCellar

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Three Pinot Noirs of Leaning Post

Leaning Post Wines Pinot Noir McNally Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @LeaningPostWine

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

Potatoes, not wine #pei @normhardie

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  and September 2015  @normhardie

Culmina Hypothesis 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (Winery, $39, WineAlign)

In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015  @CulminaWinery

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Sparkling wines by Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015  @hinterlandwine

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Ancienne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2013 with a glass of soon to be released Rose

Lightfoot & Wolfville Pinot Noir Ancienne 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $40, WineAlign)

If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted July 2015  @lwwines  @rachel_hope

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus assemblage and varietals

Stratus Tannat 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, '08's, '04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

asting across the @Benjamin_Bridge Vero, ’08’s, ’04, Sparkling & Cab Franc Rosé. Thanks JB, Scott & Mike

Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)

The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted July 2015  @Benjamin_Bridge  @jbdeslauriers

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Twelve stars align

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Star shrouded downtown Toronto

Only on the rarest of occasions do I consider the Zodiac. Same goes for the constellations though if you slump my tired body into the comfort fitting contours of a Thermarest on a Killarney campsite I’ll happily, dreamily stare up into a near-northern sky. Or on a dock in cottage country if the Aurora Borealis happens to make a magical appearance.

In September I spent some time scanning a South African, southern hemisphere sky with Ken Forrester. Ever the romantic, Ken offered up a short dissertation on one of the special treats afforded a stay in Stellenbosch. I have seen the Southern Cross several times before and yet standing there at 10:30 pm with the South African vigneron-poet, taking in the twinkling balls of time travel, something struck me anew.

I like to line things up. Wine tasting notes with music; a lyric or an artist. You may have noticed. I also find ways to forge bonds, synaesthetic perceptions and Chaldean correlations, regardless of whether they are there for the connecting. Sometimes you just need to fulfill the urge to divide the ecliptic into 12 equal, 30 degree pieces of a pie. Perhaps it’s just the M.O.T. in me.

This coming weekend VINTAGES rolls out the first major release in preparation for the looming holiday addiction. The headlines of “stars of the season,” and “star-studded” can mean only one thing. Expensive and iconic wines will dominate LCBO shelves from now through Christmas. And most of these high ticket items will sell through. Why is that you ask? Mainly because many of them are really good wines. Mostly because desperate people will buy anything when faced with holiday gift-giving deadlines.

My job is to separate the exciting from the boring, the exceptional from the drab. I’ve chosen 12 bottles, each with their own horoscopic identity, wines that illustrate their own idiosyncratic hook-up with a sign of the zodiac. It’s a stretch to be sure but it’s my stretch, so deal with it. If you connect and agree with just one, it may change your perception too.

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

From left to right: J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Closson Chase Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011 and Stratus White 2012

Capricorn (The Goat)

Sure-footed, hard worker, self-disciplined, over-achiever

J. Fritsch Riesling 2014, Ac Alsace, France (430520, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kientzheim Riesling, full, fleshy, opulent but not tropical in style, aromatically fleshy and full of orange rind, lemon zest and tonic. Has that necessary mineral bleed and rock tang. Schlossberg like but not as tannic and certainly ready for prime time at a much younger age. Hints at sweetness but acidity by way of early picked fruit is key. Granite feel. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinsAlsace  @Alsace_info  @AlsaceWines  @drinkAlsace

Virgo (The Virgin)

Gentle, creative, generous and sympathetic

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

Cancer (The Crab)

Sideways, subtle, sensitive and protective

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, Méthode Traditionnelle, Do, Spain (558825, $29.95, WineAlign)

An intricate and elaborate Reserva elevation of Cava, even a bit skunky in the most endearing of ways, like a 55 day dry-aged steak cooked rare. A waft of yet blown sulphur is managed and tempered by smartly sweet yeast. At once clunky and disjointed, then heavy in citrus and the shells of molluscs. Citrus climbs all over the finish, from lime to lemon and into pomello. Complex Cava with the taste of acquired affection in requiem of a very open mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @hseguraviudas  @imbibersreport  @cavaswine

Aquarius (The Water Carrier)

Friendly, generous, thoughtful and humanitarian

La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Ac Burgundy, France (265090, $32.95, WineAlign)

In a word, yes. Beautiful girl this Montmains, layered of delicate aromas, from flowers through kimmeridgian soil and into fresh forest glade. A child of the cooler, Butteaux sub-climat in which the citrus melds into the soft wooden (228L barriques) notes and all is elevated by such pinpoint-posted acidity. The oak lends cream, the lees fine spun silky texture and the talc a grape tannic ingrained sense of fullness. Terrific wine. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @VinexxCanada  @chablisienne  @BourgogneWines  @BIVBChablis

Aries (The Ram)

Energy, life, vitality and courage

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (505610, $38.20, WineAlign)

There is so much floral presence in 2011, a showy perfume that parades the relative elegance of Niagara’s Bordeaux reds in the vintage. Structure is comparable to 2010, not in beast mode but rather with a delicacy derived from less burning, high-toned fruit. Still here lays a wine so young, of social encumbrance that might be passed off as a mark of impertinence. This faintly embarrassing condition can be suppressed in a dark cellar, in which the foundation can be laid for the beginning of a cure. The Terroir Caché 2011 will show its best between 2017 and 2020, then develop, slow down, suspend animation and age further, effortlessly and exceptionally. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron  @LeSommelierWine

Taurus (The Bull)

Plodding, peaceful and deliberate

Stratus White 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign)

In magnified aromatic persistence, on and over top of even two months earlier, in such a hyper-grapey way with terrific dry extract chained to tannin and humid minerality. The many months of leave in gentle oak is stating its technically procured, quote unquote de-classified case.

From my earlier note of April 2015:

In 2012 the blend is Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Viognier was left out because according to winemaker J-L Groux “it did not work in blending trials.” The vintage has laid the foundation for the most density and unctuous fruit for the Stratus White in what must be, ever. At the high aromatic end there is peppery beeswax, reverberating and echoing in scales and arpeggios. Like an open string singing warmly, the vintage, extraction and residuum combine for texture in mottled unction. Sapid lemon, more beeswax and lanolin mark the palate and then the White drifts into spaces occupied by smoky back beats and bites. This has great pitch with a knowledge of the path to pleasure. Drink 2017-2025

Last tasted June 2015  @StratusWines

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca'marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

From left to right: Stratus Red 2012, Bachelder wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013 and J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Libra (The Scales)

Indecisive, solicitous, harmonious and balanced

Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (131037, $44.20, WineAlign)

The Stratus Red 2012 resides both in a virtuoso’s hollow and in a pantheon inhabited by some of Niagara’s great reds. The fact that such ripe phenology can anticipate and foretell to balance and freedom in the byplace of the blending process is nothing short of amazing. Sinuous and exact, of berries so indefatigable, layering raspberry over blackberry atop strawberry. Cedar and red citrus compound, without jamming the fluidity, but certainly accentuating the Fragaria vesca. Confident and fluid in movement, the ’12 neither shakes nor stirs and its acidity is flat out terrific. At this early point in its evolution it is showing as well as could be expected, or hoped for. Its core of fraises du bois will always be there. Time will be kind, gentle and patient. Drink 2015-2024.   Tasted April and June 2015

Gemeni (The Twins)

Curious, generous and communicative

Bachelder Wines Niagara Chardonnay Saunders Vineyard 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (324103, $44.95, WineAlign)

From a site 2.5 km’s from the lake, right on the highway at 30 Bench. Derives its plushness from mere proximity so “serve it first,” pleads Thomas. So much lush, more richesse and yet today, Saunders is a bit closed, primary even. Will yet need some time to find its way. Drink 2015-2021.

From my earlier note of May 2014:

Though presently showing a bit inferential, no amount of Bachelder reduction can keep good fruit down nor can it dismantle the mastery of mineral impart. An arras of texture conceals the portal to both vineyard and barrel with streaks of salinity, charcoal and chalk. The 2012 rendition is a canvas laden with pure golden paint, concealing “hidden forms and shifting states.” Thomas has found a rhythm in Saunders through thick brush strokes, full and advancing. This warm vintage is not a receding one, its flavours and its texture do the opposite. They jump out at you in waves. For Thomas, the sublime is now.

Last tasted December 2014  @Bachelder_wines

Leo (The Lion)

Leader, lover, dignified, relaxed and proud

Ca’marcanda Promis 2013, Igt Toscana, Italy (745638, $55.95, WineAlign)

In the only vintage for which such a trial was performed (2003), the chance was had to taste this 2013 under cork side by side with that vintage under screw cap. The difference was vividly palpable, for good or bad, better or worse. Under cork the young wine is like a perfectly shone lump of cool, refulgent coal with so much spice and accent in permeate of an aromatic fruitcake wheel. Under Stelvin the 12 year-old Promis’s freshness is amplified, of early immortality, with the ripest of tannins. The acidity is markedly formidable and yet both wines display a cured nature in undercurrent. Two 10 years separated Promis of spine, spirit and grounded in earth. Leave this 2013 be for two more years, screw cap or not. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted October 2015  @StemWineGroup

Sagittarius (The Centaur)

Adventurous traveller, mythological and experiential

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014 and October 2015  @VersadoWine  @winesofarg

Pisces (The Fishes)

Graceful, passionate, religious, daydreamer

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (215210, $64.95, WineAlign)

If 2013 is turning out to be the first truly great Chardonnay vintage of the century out of Sonoma, the Flowers SC is categorically up front and centre in that discussion. The epic’s lead paragraph initializes here in a wine that is severely accurate, a blinding and gorgeous expression that brings the flowers in its game. A wield of pulchritude and balance by acidity spot on. Pure flavour extract expands and the components zing on the finish. Could there lurk a Meursault notion in its lace? You know what, forget that. Strike comparisons from the record. The Flowers is extraordinary of Chardonnay, by Chardonnay and for Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted July 2015  @FlowersWinery  @rogcowines  @sonomavintners

Scorpio (The Scorpion)

Secretive, perceptive, intense, insightful, with a strength of will

J. Christopher Bella Vida Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon  (432823, $64.95, WineAlign)

Lithe and extremely pretty Pinot Noir, reeking of that ancient underground, saline Willamette stream and above ground, Dundee Hills fresh summer berries. Has the best tense intentions, readily available sultry, soluble tannins and just pitch perfect, happy helping acidity. This has the svelte cure and the natural tug of positivity. Sanguine, hematic, volcanic. Great stuff. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted October 2015  @BellaVidaWine  @Oregon_Wine  @Select_Wines

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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The Old Third and older County wines

First press from first pick of 2015 Cabernet Franc

First press from first pick of 2015 Cabernet Franc

“You have to have a fear of God and a fear of mother nature.” These are the words of winemaker Bruno Francois of The Old Third Vineyard on the Closson Road in Prince Edward County. His compact yet profound stretch of The Ridge has the most slope, perhaps more than any vineyard in PEC, situated around a bend in the road at the 3rd Concession. The Old Third.

Bruno Francois in the Cabernet Franc

Bruno Francois in the Cabernet Franc

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Bruno takes me for a walk through the vineyard. He points out the south, southeast slope unique to this part of the ridge. He talks about soil, the Hillier Clay Loam and its 450 million year old friable Ordovician limestone bed. He picks up and kicks around fragments of limestone gravel and fossils, glacial till, granite, sandstone, quartz and marble. The vineyard is a veritable ice age mineral playground. Mostly he plucks and tastes berries. Cabernet Franc. He crushes a cluster as a test. No skin contact but its hue is penetrating, ardent, vivid. The acidity rages. It will be picked in one week’s time.

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

Tasting The Old Third at White Oaks

We get down to business in the restored 1860’s cathedral barn over Sparkling wine and a Pinot Noir vertical. This is my second tasting with Bruno. In July he drove like a madman out to Niagara to pour his wines for Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, Sommelier Xavier Rousset, Master Sommelier John Szabo, Wine Country Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser and I. We were at White Oaks Resort in St. Catharines in Old Third anticipation during the i4C Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration.

The Old Third Vineyard, Prince Edward County, Ontario

The Old Third Vineyard, Prince Edward County, Ontario

In Ontario, Chardonnay may be the go to for most Sparkling makers, but Blanc de Blancs be cursed, Bruno’s à la Volée, along with Jonas Newman’s (mixed varietal) Les Étoiles, tell us that Pinot Noir and the County are made for each other. After tasting à la Volée 2011, Matt Kramer said it was the best Sparkling wine ever made in North America. I have not tasted enough North American bubbles to go into heavy hyperbole but I can say this. Bruno Francois takes nothing for granted, has great skill as a winemaker and his best work is yet to come. Here are my thoughts on his wines.

Pinot Noir vertical, The Old Third

Pinot Noir vertical, The Old Third

The Old Third Sparkling Pinot Noir à la Volée 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $59, WineAlign)

“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023.  Tasted twice, July and October 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $42, WineAlign)

Rarely do the bitters of high density Pinot Noir plantings infiltrate with such courage layered by the richness of heavy clay and fractured, querulous limestone. Depending on how frequent your Pinot Noir tasting opportunities are you may be swayed with prejudice in one direction or the other because the astringency is a very real, authentic, hyperbole of Pinosity. Could this be more intoxicating? From four of five acres of Old Third Pinot Noir, billowing out liquorice, garrigue, tar, roses and the neverland yield of tonic. Though 100 per cent de-stemmed, adding them to “purify” colour would be a mistake. Others could do wonders with this type of correction leading to intensity. Grows chalky with time though adolescence is a hard nut to crack. Picking began on September 8th and the ripe, primary tannins suggest four years minimum to resolution. The nails in its heart will carry it across the girth of middle age. The seven-year mark will demarcate high water, as per the Old Third valour. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted July and October 2015

Cathedral barn of The Old Third

Cathedral barn of The Old Third

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $42, WineAlign)

In exhibition of its post-punk, nearly new wave, boyish fruit charm. Identifies as Pinot Noir from vines planted in 2005, fruit that saw oak worked in the same way it would do, forward to 2013. Tannins are utterly, wholly resolved in present elegance from a summer swelter in matchable cohorts to young fruit. Ten bears sweetness to a light richness and a lithe energy. Also a vin nature respect, with respect to ’13 that hides its very nature. In ’10 a yeast meets fruit barefaced parity is at this critical mass juncture, five-year stage, an aged picture of parent-child appurtenant appearance. Just a minor missive of hash lumbers on the mid-palate. Finally there is aridity and faux salinity without citrus acidity. Not so much Cabaret Voltaire as much as Woodhead Monroe. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted July 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35, WineAlign)

A taste and quickly it feels like an I’m not worthy moment, of respect, in thanks from the wise scribe David Lawrason and with admiration for the winemaker (Bruno Francois) who one and then four months later the other, pull this out of the magic hat. At seven it draws from and commits to memory for him, creates an epiphany for me and suggests the vines, on that slope, were always special. Memories like vampire weekends, epiphanies on County Pinot Noir and vines that were meant to be right from the start. The 2008 has barely moved. Unbelievers? “The world is a cold, cold place to be. Want a little warmth but who’s going to save a little warmth for me?”

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

Bruno Francois, Jens Korberg and their Old Third Pinot Noir, that’s who. From 4th leaf fruit, so yes, very young but of vines precociously grown to be of age. Single (not so very big) vineyard still supplying today’s Pinot Noir. This taste offers proof of inherent structure and ability to age. It reinforces the notion of the seven-year Prince Edward County Pinot Noir itch. The wood on this wine has threaded silk into leather, now comfortably worn in like bucket seats in a Thunderbird Convertible ’63. A puff of mushroom and little to no appointed astringency indicates the four or five year window that yet remains. A wine to justify staying up late and catching up during the day. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June and October 2015

The Old Third Pinot Noir 2015 (Barrel Sample)

Bruno remits a dreamy, murky decant into full sized stems on the tasting bar, a hazy demure from the year’s first September pick. Like all the Old Third wines (save for the odd Sparkler which uses a biodynamic Champagne yeast), the stage is set for the  freshest aspects of Pinot Noir ripeness. Presently carbonic, fresh, natural, funky and primary. From a 23 brix count, sans Mr. Chapital and with some lingering sugar from a cap yet to drop. This to tell you its cloudy. Wild yeast gives texture ahead of the imminent gate passage with zero risk of a warm vintage stuck ferment. Around the bend is a finish with a specific gravity and colour not yet seen. The sugar and yeast compound currently confuses the soothsaying but look past and see a deepening and utter balance. Southeast aspect, Hillier Clay loam, fractured limestone, brought up by tilling. The 11th leaf. All tolled, to 2015, a new charge.

Pizza by Geoff Heinricks at The Old Third Vineyard

Pizza by Geoff Heinricks at The Old Third Vineyard

Related – Meeting of the wines at Treadwell Cuisine

Older County Wines

In June of 2015 the crew at WineAlign convened in Niagara Falls to judge the best Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. Each night during the week of NWAC15 we broke bread with Ontario winemakers and tasted their wines.

Bill Zacharkiw, Brad Royale and John Szabo at The Good Earth

Bill Zacharkiw, Brad Royale and John Szabo at The Good Earth

Related – To Trius, by air

During that week we were hosted by Nicolette NovakMike Boland and winemaker Ross Wise and treated to an extraordinary meal by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Wine Company. Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run and Norman Hardie joined us and poured their wines.

Sablefish by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

Sablefish by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

During the preamble before dinner we gathered in the plenary idyllic evening Beamsville light, munched on olives and sundry bites while David Lawrason uncorked something like 20 older Prince Edward County bottles from his personal stash. Thank you David, if I did not already say it properly and with enough grateful inflection. The delve into history was mind-bending and if you know Godello, the significance waxes with each passing moon.

Pakora and Salad Roll Appetizer by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

Pakora and Salad Roll Appetizer by Therese De Grace at The Good Earth Winery

It was primarily Pinot Noir that graced the Good Earth table, set in front of the pizza oven in the halcyon vineyard environs. A stray varietal here and there interrupted the Pinot flow with contrasting recreation and to watch a gaggle of geeks contort faces with significant gazes was as much fun as tasting the whereabouts of the wines in relation to PEC and Ontario history. I made notes on 15 wines.

Prince Edward County Retrospective

Prince Edward County Retrospective

Exultet “The Beloved” Pinot Noir 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

An important look back at not so past tense County Pinot Noir. A rich crush of red fruit, piercing in its limestone veneer and stretched, across large slabs of stone, reaching fissure harbouring mineral. This Beloved is “full of incidents and schemes… and sympathetic pharmacies.” Rooted, rustic, running so deep and lingering in flavour. The fruit sweet, the roots bitter, the memory luscious. Red electric honey. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015  @ExultetEstates

Exultet Pinot Noir 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

A combination of vintage and one extra year’s time conspire to elevate the ’08 to a realm habituated by the callasthetic. Perception dreams up the magnetic, le beau ideal, from red fruit and energy, to defeat the volatile and the hungry. A tart, juicy, highly expressive Pinot Noir bred from a limestone ooze more scintillant than polish. Yet another 2008 County Pinot Noir to hit the seven year mark with an exactitude of response. In the County, well made Pinot planted in the right location will travel a septenary path. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir Otto and Top Dog 2009

Long Dog Pinot Noir Otto and Top Dog 2009

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘ Top Dog ‘ 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Unfiltered Pinot Noir chosen from the best barrels. This ’09 is such a pretty dog, drinking through unseasonably warm temperatures with the top down. All about the pulchritude, prepossessing and with blanketing comfort by barrel. Though persistent in its sylvan, inelastic, smoky constitution, the Top Dog is a sight, smell and sweet suggestion to behold. Will drink and drive this way for a few more years. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted June 2015  @longdogwine

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘ Top Dog ‘ 2008, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Despite the tougher, cooler vintage, this ’08 is so much prettier than its ’09 successor, in part due to the extra year of settling. There is a sweetness about it and the limestone bleed is less hematic, decreasing in medicinal-honey, silky soft in texture and exfoliating that aforementioned seven-year PEC Pinot Noir wisdom. That in itself is the leading candidate for yet another 2008 to show best in 2015. It’s uncanny really, all these seven-year wines acting in synch as a partisan, best in show troop. Though volatile (aren’t they all) the Top Dog shines well within reason and exudes such enervating, renewable and reusable energy. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘The Otto’ Reserve 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

A lithe County 12.1 per cent alcohol, clear as a gaze across Wellington Bay on a clear day and like the Top Dog, a cold-soaked and cool fermented Pinot Noir. Also repeats the LD stratagem of 28 months spent in French bilion oak barrels. The Otto shows its wood like a placard with censored fruit, funky etchings and the same terse firmness that expresses the eastern PEC limestone ester of its grounding. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Long Dog Pinot Noir ‘The Otto’ Reserve 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.00, WineAlign)

Mercurial to quite a vivid degree with a silky palate. Another entertaining and intriguing window from which to peer into the variable Pinot Noir attempts of Prince Edward County past. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015

The Dunes, Sandbanks, Prince Edward County

The Dunes, Sandbanks, Prince Edward County

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (225748, $21.95, WineAlign)

Influential exhibition for the ’09 double R Pinot Noir, in a sea of peers ranging from 2007 to 2009. Examples displaying more density, power, heavy petting and hue may hover and solicit love, but it is this Rosehall Vineyard that steals the drink me and enjoy show. It is simply less rigid and though some strikes have gone against it in a “tough on you kid” way, it has persevered to hit one out of the park. This is right where it needs to be. Pure, fluid, effortless and smooth. “Such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution.” Great swing. A splendid splinter. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard 2009

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Tight, bracing, cured by its own development and topped with a grating of fine chocolate. Crack acidity adds an estimable, ornate layer. The surcease is held at bay in a 10 year old Cabernet Franc made at a time when it was by no means in varietal fashion. Not just spinning remarkably well but standing on a podium to receive its varietal emeritus professorship. The cool, savoury middle and relevant woody notes carry this through. Wonderful historical gaze, luck or not Dan Sullivan. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005

Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cold Creek 2005

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Cuvee “L” Unfiltered 2009, VQA Ontario (Winery, $49.00, WineAlign)

A blend of 60 per cent Niagara and 40 per cent County fruit. Separate ferments were treated to vinifications for 12 months in French oak barrels, blended and put back to oak for a further six months. The L from nine is in beautiful tender demand. Though a firmness persists the future is viewed through this short window of the past. Lucent and lustrous County submits to matted and shadowy Niagara. The play is a one way ticket in 2009 so enjoy this soon and sooner. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted June 2015  @normhardie

Pizza by Norman Hardie Winery

Pizza by Norman Hardie Winery

Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir 2008, Estate Bottled, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (230227, $16.95, WineAlign)

From the artist formerly known as, here a peer into the past of The Grange of Prince Edward, a Pinot Noir that ingratiates not because it resembles, imitates or intimates anything, or any derived character from some endemic tradition, but because it has developed. Evolved from light and astringent into something other; something that resembles earthy, vegetal tar spread like confiture on a limestone slab of toast. Pleasure is not the operative but learning is. At $16.95 that would have been a small price to pay to wait seven years and see what’s up. I can promise that the 2022 Trumpour’s Mill Pinot Noir will be better for the education. Drink now.  Tasted June 2015  @grangewinery

Closson Chase Vineyard Pinot Noir CCV 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Most of the 2007 County Pinot Noir I’ve tasted have fallen by the longevity wayside by the age of eight and many of those even before that mark. There was considerable heat in ’07 and the young PEC Pinot industry was not yet equipped to make proper élevage plans for the future. This CCV has lost its lustre, run amok of fruit and is now relegated to the acidity heap of methane exhalation. A current score is kind of meaningless and keep in mind this must be imagined having breathed out bright cherry fruit earlier in life. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015  @ClossonChase

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)

Firm, tannic and drying. Early in life there would have been sun on fruit but now, of a yawning, a void come into being, as chaos. Drink 2015.  Tasted June 2015

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007

Huff Estates Pinot Noir 2007

Keint He St. Laurent 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery)

Very pretty. Think about the prearrangement, talk about the passion. St. Laurent planted in PEC, forwarded eight years in pro tempore for Pinot Noir or whatever other varieties have already left the building. Are you kidding me? Like adult candy. Firm but soft and sweet to the touch. Like tart raspberries and demystified currants. Amazing. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted June 2015  @KeintheWinery

Keint He Pinot Noir Little Creek 2007, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

A wine made by Geoff Heinricks from a time when everyone wanted and expected to make great Pinot Noir. A retrospective in 2015 shows that few actually succeeded but this, this is something other. A sweet, lithe and focused piece of history. The smoky hue and character rouses in vaporous waves. Getting high off this Pinot Noir seems not entirely out of the question. From stone roses to fully solarized, the browning is but a natural evolution, amazing, with dillling to dialled in raspberry moments. Little Creek sings “I could astound you if I wanted, I wouldn’t even have to try.” A moment of County found by the viticulture founder of the County. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted June 2015.

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The ridges of Prince Edward County

Anagogic #pec morning begins here #carryingplace #princedwardcounty

Anagogic #pec morning begins here #carryingplace #princedwardcounty

The mission is to gain a yet ascertained understanding. The intendments of geology and geography in Prince Edward County are already laid clear and discussed globally, at least by the wine interested, but what of a deeper, more detailed look? What about the moraines? What I really need to know is how a scant fraction of producers are able to produce so much promise? It must be the ridges.

On the Niagara Peninsula The Vinemount Ridge lies just above and south of the brow of the Niagara Escarpment. Its unique aspects play a vital role in determining some of the most complex Riesling and Cabernet Franc in the world. While not visually as dramatic in PEC, the ridges are no less important to viticulture. Driving the corrugations of Prince Edward County, along the Greer, Danforth, Closson and Lighthall roads, I follow the sight lines. With subtle aspects emanating from the northwest or northeast, the ridges along these roads angle east and west, each with their own gentle but effective slope falling ever so gracefully down to Lake Ontario. The significance is not lost on my mission.

Glenn Symons of Lighthall Vineyards tells me that certain parts of his vineyards can reach temperatures that are eight degrees higher than others. The shallow soils are a result of the stratified ice-contact deposits of sand and gravel that occur in this, one of three Prince Edward County esker ridges, trending northeast to southwest in the Cherry Valley area. Battista Calvieri of Hubbs Creek Vineyard notes that his (Lindsay formation from the middle Ordovician period) Danforth Ridge property provides 20 of 40 plantable acres ideally suited to Burgundian grape varieties. Plant at high density and the ridge takes care of the rest. At the Old Third, Bruno Francois walks me through his Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc vineyards on the Closson Road. Here the ridge falls more dramatically down towards a forest below.

The quaternary geology of the County accounts for glacial, till, glaciofluvial, glaciolacustrine and eolian deposits. The soils are “composed mainly of fine-to medium-crystalline limestone with shaly partings and sublithographic to finely crystalline no dular and shaly limestone. These bedrock formations are the main topographic control, being at, or very near (within 1 m), the surface throughout most of the map-area.” It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.

Related – I’m a little bit County

To habituate a time and be privy to the transformation of a people and a place into something special is a rare form of curious, mysterious and spiritual entertainment. How neat it truly is to be witness to a generation awash in tempo collective, in watershed historical. There are many reasons why folks are making the move to Prince Edward County, why grapes are being cultivated, nurtured and paid conspicuous attention. The rise of the County is happening.

My friends and neighbours John and Amy moved out five years ago. They left the big smoke behind, settled  in a beautiful house with acreage to die for on the water. They walk and they breath. Long ago an old Montreal family friend opened one of the first wineries in the County. Thanks to David Lawrason I was able to taste through some old vintages of Long Dog last summer. What a peek back to better understand today. A long time friend of my wife recently moved out and opened a restaurant in Bloomfield. Kin Cafe makes a terrific sandwich. Two more friends have put their house up for sale in Toronto and are heading to the County. Is there room?

A #wellington Saturday night @DrakeDevinn quickie #drakedevonshireinn #pec

A #wellington Saturday night @DrakeDevinn quickie #drakedevonshireinn #pec

The answer is yes. Drive in from points north, from Brighton and down the Loyalist Parkway or from Belleville down Highway 62 and the wide open space will hypnotize you. Suddenly you find yourself in Hillier, Wellington, Bloomfield, or Milford. Then, moments later, once again farmland and the gaping sprawl of agrarian living. Truth be told, elevated levels of civilization, hipster happenings, fine gastronomy and modish behaviour have infiltrated the County. That said, the real story is in the ground.

Related – Take them home, County wines

Artists discovered PEC long ago. Ontario’s most thriving community dots the towns, barns and houses on the hills all over the County. Winemakers have followed. A Burgundian climate and geology were the original draw, and still are. The winter of 2015 and a devastating May frost conspire to be the kill of many hopes, but all is not lost and to persevere is to believe in the dream. Climate change and an undiscovered global truth about the County’s greatness are not just stuffing in a piped future. Bests are happening now. Great men and women are putting passion and acumen to work. Prince Edward County’s time is upon us.

Texaco

Can it be such a coincidence why visiting foreign journalists of humanistic luminosity and their hyperboles of rumination have anointed Prince Edward County with what are effectively statements and essays of religious zeal? No, it is not. The soil, ridges, choice of plantings, winemaking and finally, the 21st century climate are the storm towards which perfection is aimed and eventually heading.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Comity in the County is no joke. A harmonious thread weaves through and ties an inherent commonality together. Stylistically diverse yet magically aligned, up on the slopes of ridges or down in the valleys. This is how I would describe the wines of Prince Edward County. Walk along the Closson, Greer and Danforth roads or down in the Cherry Valley and see what the fuss is about. On an early October weekend I visited eight properties and while that was certainly 10 less than what I would have liked, the cross-section provided ample understanding, plenty of fodder and more than a tease for the next visit.

It's decorative gourd season mother... #cherryvalley #pec #colinnissan

It’s decorative gourd season mother… #cherryvalley #pec #clinician

This first part report on the County focuses on six properties. Part two will cover the wines of The Old Third tasted with winemaker Bruno Francois at the Cool Climate Chardonnay conference in July and at the winery on this trip. I will also offer notes on the various older vintages I tasted back in June.

Lacey Estates

Lacey Estates Line-Up

Lacey Estates Line-Up

Lacey Estates Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

With fruit culled from Bench lands on the Niagara Peninsula, the Lacey take on Twenty Mile Bench Riesling is on the light, piercing and linear track of typical. Like a younger, more naive and slightly jittery version of Flat Rock’s Estate take, this is a very tightly wound white, citrus-shaken from head to toe and full-on arid. As direct an example of pick, transport, crush and let sleeping dogs lie as is ever witnessed. A mess of butter chicken would help batten down its hatches. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Lacey Estates Gewürztraminer 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Lacey has prepared a dry Gewürztraminer with classic varietal tendencies, from rose to lychee by way of nuts and bitter pith. The sapidity is derived from the Closson Road Hillier clay-loam, blanketing the texture and the aromatics with a fuzz, like tiny hairs on a peach. Though still languishing in a proleptic state, the length on this wine indicates a good five years of pleasure ahead. Drink 20160-2020.  Tasted October 2015

One more prime #pec Pinot site. Lithe @LaceyEstates804 '11 with the seven-year itch. '13 from barrel progessing and professing further #PECwine #clossonridge

One more prime #pec Pinot site. Lithe @LaceyEstates804 ’11 with the seven-year itch. ’13 from barrel progessing and professing further #PECwine #clossonridge

Lacey Estates Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

From a County Pinot Noir block on a plateau of the ridge set aloft the Closson Road, Kimball Lacey’s fruit is a prized commodity, albeit still very young. This vintage is not a weight-bearing one but it offers incite and prognostication. A lovely litheness is embattled by a talkative bitterness and a spectrum of red fruit whorls in circumfuse; cranberry, raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate. All are dispersed and interspersed by citrus. A primary Pinot Noir, with silken dreams and a softening when it may come together. Two to three years should bequeath good behaviour on the 1200 some odd bottles. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted October 2015

Lacey Estates Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

It may strike as a derivative Greer-Closson County Chardonnay with Closson Chase and Norman Hardie as precursors but if Lacey’s 2013 is Fairport Convention to Chuck Berry, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, so be it. Older (4th, French) seasoned barrels bring pique, texture and balance. This is Chardonnay of spine and a touch of limestone funk. Very much a wine positioned on the stony tang of Prince Edward County and possessive of solid, three minute pop-song length. Kimball Lacey is on to something and the ’13 vintage coupled with the Closson Ridge is the right studio to make his music. Before too long the cries will say “why Mr Lacey, why d’you do the things you do? It’s true no one here understands now, but maybe someday they’ll catch up with you.” Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Grange Of Prince Edward

Grange Pinot Gris Select 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Where there’s smoke there’s hue and with impart by 15 hours skin contact prior to pressing, that colour and those aromatics are the result. Four weeks on the lees followed by four months in neutral oak bring distinct Caroline Granger character, in Pinot Gris unction and a mineral mile. Also on the naturally oxidative side of the Closson Road and Hillier clay-loam. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted at Agrarian Restaurant, October 2015

Grange Pinot Gris

Grange Of Prince Edward Lot 3 Traditional Method Brut, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Lot 2 Traditional Method Brut was aged 18 months sur lie and here in the third trimester the complexities are taken months further, to a moment in largely uncharted Prince Edward County territory. This tempo-lapse methodology is highly intriguing, especially in consideration of the occurring happenstance breach of the autolytic-oxidative continuum. In three there is liquorice and scraped orange skin breaths inhaling and exhaling through sensations of tart and in tin. The yet young oxygenation seems to disregard the yeast at this stage, leaving behind a vapour trail of Closson exhaust. It’s both exhilarating and wearying. Absorbed to say the least, still, “I’m wonderin’, I’m wonderin’,” where this will go. Were it a blush Brut it would surely be a shocking pink. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Grange Of Prince Edward Sparkling Riesling 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The reasons for re-tasting wines are multi-fold but none are more important than learning what you did not know. The batch may be different and any additional lees-affected time would certainly bring about a new wave of complexity. Though assiduously more Riesling than Sparkling, the age has amplified the Mosel temper and yet as bubbles it seems so very primary, with terpene and flint in mid-strike fashion. Stones, stone fruit, lemon pith and peach subdue the sugar and the commonality with the Lot 3 Brut narrates a house style story. “Like leaves, when autumn falls, turn gold, then they hit the ground.” The thrill of it all, in the county, of country life. Sparkling Riesling playing roxy music. Just a bit more balance to the bitters would eventuate bucolic living. Drink 2015-2020.

From my earlier note of December 2012:

Seems more late harvest, Spätlese over Sparkling. Nectarous juice with a squeeze of suspended honey and a light citrus spritz. Waited for the sear but it didn’t arrive. Good Riesling though.

Last tasted October 2015

Grange Of Prince Edward Pinot Noir Diana Block, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Ripe and bright to a major degree with tannin at the controls. Still in two meanings, unmoving and perpetual. Acidity circulates, percolates, invigorates. Pinot Noir with a slight fever and an even bigger temper, stuck in primary, yet ready to relent. Remarkable and confidently not yet entered stage two of life but the silky texture is caressing and the forbidden fruit is ripe for the picking. So close to approachability, with just the liquorice and the volatility needing to step aside. The methodology of a 28-day primary fermentation, followed by 30 months in neutral French oak is the culprit. Structure can be a bitch. Diana will be worth the wait. Few Ontario Pinot Noir have ever shown such rural planning, architecture and potential. Count them on two hands. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2015

My kingdom for her majestic lees @grangewinery #carolinegranger #pecwine

My kingdom for her majestic lees @grangewinery #carolinegranger #pecwine

Grange Of Prince Edward Cabernet Franc Northfield, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Caroline Granger’s approach to Cabernet Franc is a natural ferment, earthy cure, holistically organic and eco-rich consanguinity. No other varietal hook-up happens like it does with the expatriate Loire currant clipper. Granger’s affinity with the grape is on intensate display with Northfield, especially in the cured, soil funky heat of 2010. Like the Diana Pinot Noir, primary fermentation occurred in stainless steel for 28-days and it was then aged 24 (as opposed to 30) months in neutral French barriques. The extreme unction, steroidal liquorice and streaky garrigue talk about the past and open up windows to the future of this wine. They are one in the same, spoken on behalf of longevity. This is essential for great Cabernet Franc, even in the midst of hyper tones and acquired tastes. Well done. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Lighthall Vineyards

Leave the @lighthallvyard on for 2014's Chard & Pinot. Rooms of their own #vintageofthedecade #aheadbyacentury

Leave the @lighthallvyard on for 2014’s Chard & Pinot. Rooms of their own #vintageofthedecade #aheadbyacentury

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Progression is 100 per cent Sparkling Vidal by Glenn Symons, a.k.a. “Ward 5 Brut.” It brings stonk and soul together. Re-fermented in April and tasted in October, Progression marches forward and retreats, in re-emerging aromatics and of a deconstructed narrative. Singular in its fretting, of nervous energy and in keys altered by capo restrictions, Vidal has never played a tune like this before. Better growing periods and PEC areas are the sheet music, wi nemaking with atmosphere the arrangement. Progression is progressive, it celebrates musicality and it sells records. It also sells out, literally, not figuratively. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Lighthall Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

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 and October 2015

Lighthall Chardonnay 2014 (tank sample)

The child of a fortuitous vintage and magical ferment. The wine hit 25 degrees and finished malolactic fermentation in two weeks. One third barrel, one third tank and one third a combination thereof. A perfect trilogy, same limestone pierce as always but with a new order texture and aromatics filling the room. Like 1987, of substance, in transitions, from ceremony to everything gone green. A storm of amalgamation. Really a new benchmark for Glenn, Lighthall, Cherry Valley and Prince Edward County.  Tasted October 2015

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014 (barrel sample)

Best fruit ever. Malo done, only one year in (20 per cent new) oak and yet to feel the preservation effect of sulphur. Living a rich aromatic lifestyle with pollen in the air. Has the tannin to support its excesses (it spent one week plus three on the skins). Should lead to 400 cases and should retail for $35, though Glenn will probably charge $30.

Lighthall Pinot Gris South Bay 2014 (tank sample)

From Huff vineyard fruit, a rich, unguent emanation that shows slightly oxidative (pre-sulphuring). Has a chèvre-Chenin Blanc attitude that will turn to mellifluous honey with time.

Lighthall Muté 2011

Lighthall Muté 2011

Lighthall Muté 2014 (tank sample)

Here is unfermented Vidal, a vin liquoreux that wants to draw comparisons to sherry, straw wine, Rancio, Vin de Paille, you name it but with apologies back and forth, this is in a league of its own. A fortified wine with a distillate added to bring it up to 17-18 per cent alcohol. Distinctly orange in flavour, oxidative and yet religiously addicted to site. There will be 100 cases produced at $30 for a 500 mL bottle.

Hubbs Creek Vineyard

A library browse with Battista @HubbsCreek #sevenyears #PECwine

A library browse with Battista @HubbsCreek #sevenyears #PECwine

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $27.95, WineAlign)

This is Battista Calvieri’s first County Chardonnay from his estate’s seven year-old vines. A minor barrel ferment (15-20 per cent) in French oak and the remainder in stainless steel seeks and finds Chablis. The wood needs two more years to dissipate, find inner-vision and expand in the mouth. The length is already outstanding, before which burst forth exploding pockets of spiced, warm drawn butter with nary an oleaginous feel. The HCV inaugural release is emulsified Chardonnay of silken protein, with pretty drops of vanilla and purity out of a Danforth Ridge vineyard ear-marked for quality varietal pleasure. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted October 2015

Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Now in bottle four years, this sophmore Pinot Noir shines bright as the day it first passed into glass. From fruit really carefully nurtured off nine to ten year old vines, there is no sign of oxidation or advancing maturity. That is nothing short of incredible. Goes from fresh strength to strength in and by tannin. There is great spice (white pepper and dried red peppercorn) and two additional years should bring this to fruition. A minor note of late fall boletus mushroom talks up Burgundy. The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Closson Chase

Quick crush of Le Clos '13 @ClossonChase Purple barn but Pinot all gone #chardonnay #pinotnoir #ccv #clossonchasewinery #clossonchasevineyard

Quick crush of Le Clos ’13 @ClossonChase Purple barn but Pinot all gone #chardonnay #pinotnoir #ccv #clossonchasewinery #clossonchasevineyard

Though I did not taste this in the County, I have been pouring it at Barque Smokehouse since early summer. I am including my March review of the CCV Chardonnay 2103 for perspective.

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay Closson Chase Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (148866, $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

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.95, WineAlign)

The South Clos is a richer wine in so many ways, detains the barrel with utmost retention and exaggerates the notion of peaches and their stones. Fully opulent, fleshy to the nth degree and marked by a peppy, peppery bite. This flagshig Chardonnay in the CCV stratum should, by all accounts be the unparalleled success story from the 2013 vintage. The specific southern most portion of the vineyard and barrel select accumulation provide it with the tools and the ammunition. So, as good a Chardonnay as it is, why does it recoil from a winemaker’s legacy defining moment? It is because a final act succeeds as the sum of great parts. The CCV Chardonnay is that summation. Le Clos, without team support, howls alone. If the expertly reasoned and balanced CCV was the last great work of Deborah Paskus, the South Clos is her last stand. It is loaded with and weighted down by excess, in orchard fruit, by blanched nuts and in kernel skin. It is very much a Chardonnay of heavy contact. It is a night scene filmed in daylight, a clichéd melodrama, day for night. It should best be enjoyed while the sun still shines. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Hinterland Wine Company

Hinterland

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015

Hinterland Les Etoiles 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

The effect of three additional years on the lees (this bottle was disgorged on July 7, 2015) can’t be overestimated. In fact, tasting this ’09 Etoiles is like coming upon a new wine altogether. Its assessment is approached with only a present state in mind. The level of fine accumulation after (five years) is like stumbling upon a most convenient truth. Aromatic intricacy is the product of settling ramification. Think baking biscuits, early morning roses, cake yeast, oxidative orchard fruit skins, anise Taralli, ginger and preserved lemon. The ’09 remains opulent and yet nothing means nothing without first knowing that acidity persists as everything. This is Sparkling with an expansive mouthfeel and a burst of helium. Though in the autumn of its life it falls under the category of wow. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Hinterland Blanc de Blancs 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

If Les Etoiles is Hinterland’s Message in a Bottle and the easy drinking, baby maker Ancestral is alright for you, then the Blanc de Blancs could rightfully be the band’s instrumental Reggatta de Blanc. As a Sparkling antithesis to Les Etoiles it exudes much more limestone, in its lactic bleed, its piercing ooze and through the outright white lightning strike that pops in the mouth. Take away the Pinot Noir and a certain level of earthy tension seems to disappear, replaced by a different set of nervy parameters that County Chardonnay protracts in Sparkling wine. Picked on September 18th and 19th, i.e., a normal year, the B de B helps to transition the epistle spoken by the star towards the accessibility of the softer ballads and hits. It’s a bit of a middle child bottle of bubbles and though it sings without words, its meaning is clearly heard. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted October 2015

Notes on #Gamay in shape like Will, shaped by Jonas @northshoreproj #sandstonevineyard #wilms

Notes on #Gamay in shape like Will, shaped by Jonas @northshoreproj #sandstonevineyard #wilms

Jonas Newman is crafting wines for Hockley Valley’s Mario Adamo under the Adamo Estates Winery label. The first releases are borne of fruit out of some of Niagara’s great vineyards; Wismer-Foxcroft, Château des Charmes-St. David’s Bench and 13th Street-Sandstone.

Adamo Estate

Adamo Estate Riesling Wismer-Foxcroft Vineyard 2014 , VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Part of the Adamo Grower’s Series wines, of big, juicy fruit and deliberately sweet at 27 g/L RS. A Kabinett Mosel styled Riesling not just for show but because “this is where the ferment wanted to stop,” says Newman. Fruit is culled from the part of the vineyard that determines such a style and direction. This is classic Twenty Mile Bench Riesling (one step removed from the W-F made by Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post) that acts neither dry nor sweet but rather feigns aridity in toothsome clothing. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Adamo Estate Gamay Noir 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Jonas Newman’s first kick at the St. David’s Bench Gamay gutbucket is just that, raw and spirited in style. The clay and inherent ferric, metal sear resonates from the Château des Charmes vineyard. Considering CdC’s Gamay is as good as it gets for the money and from such farming in Ontario, what a fortuitous and gracious place to start for the Adamo family. Early energy, funky fruit and punchy acidity trill up the amplification. This is punch drunk fun Gamay, very Cru is style and pump per up in volume. It’s no Gamay Muzak, “pump it up, until you can feel it.” Gotta believe Elvis would have liked this Gamay. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015

Adamo Estate Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Jonas Newman walks out onto hallowed Ontario Pinot Noir ground and offers his two Lowrey Vineyard cents. From the Grand Cru site where Thomas Bachelder, Ilya Senchuk and Wes Lowrey make three of the province’s most important Pinot Noirs, a fourth camarade has entered as the new kid on the block. This is no ordinary plot and the direction of the rows, the angle of the slopes and the venn diagram of overlapping St. David’s Bench and Niagara Peninsula appellative lines may be blurred. Make no mistake. Lowrey fruit is Lowrey fruit and in the hands of a winemaker like Newman, expect more excellence. The fruit is very young in here (three years in this 2013) so the level of inherent virtue is tempered as if by grains of salt. Jonas made this in a “deliberately big, unctuous style,” barrel aged for 10 months in 50 per cent new French Oak, “not built to last.” Big it is and yet pretty, with heaps of Bing cherry equally opposed by till, gravel and heavy clay. A two to three year structure is appropriate considering the age of the fruit. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Adamo Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2013

Adamo Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2013

North Shore Project

North Shore Project Gamay Willms Vineyard 2014 (Winery, $24, WineAlign)

This is Will Predhomme’s extended foray into crafting cool climate Ontario wines with Jonas Newman, a project that began with Syrah and Rosé from Lake Erie North Shore vineyards. The fruit for this Gamay is sourced from the Sandstone Vineyard in the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Planted in 1983, it is owned and farmed by friends of 13th Street winery, Erv, Esther and Eric Willms. This Gamay is so Will, bright, energetic, positive, right there with you, all the way. Jonas gave it a bit of debunging for a hint of oxidation, a good move on his part to counteract the high level of excitement and anxiety it currently displays. Should be released in time for Christmas. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @northshoreproj  @WillPredhomme

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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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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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

Wihr au Val, Alsace (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val, Alsace
(c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

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Take them home, County wines

County in the City PHOTO: Michael Godel

County in the City at the Berkeley Church

Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Can you think of an island (leaving Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand out of the discussion) of greater interest anywhere for growing grapes and making world-class wine? Prince Edward County’s just a shade more than 1000 square kilometers, 800 kilometers of shoreline and tiny 22,000 population is that place. It’s geology and climate eerily mimics that of Burgundy. A superficial layer of limestone peppered clay loam hovers above penetrable layers of larger limestone. Fissures in that bedrock allow vines to reach deep into its crevices. It’s a veritable mineral wonderland.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Huff Estates Photo: Michael Godel

Huff Estates

More than 30 wineries dot the land and water interspersed honeycomb of a wine trail. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious cornerstone varieties but unique Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris have joined the attention gaining fray. Ontario’s finest Sparkling wine is being made at Hinterland. Vintners like Rosehall Run and Keint-He Winery exemplify top to bottom consistency. They and others like Lacey Estates are involved in the yeoman’s ambassador work, in the field, at tastings or through social media. Smaller production houses like The Old Third Vineyard, Hubbs Creek and Exultet Estates are sought after by those who know.

Stanners

Stanners

The County returned to the city on April 3, 2014 to showcase a cross-section of their wares at Toronto’s Berkeley Church. The usual suspects continued to impress, yet the collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman and Vicky Samaras at Hinterland. If White Cap and Ancestral are any beacon to be drawn towards, plantings of Vidal, Riesling and Gamay should be employed in earnest in the turning towards pressure in the bottle. Lighthall’s Glen Symons gets it, as does Frédéric Picard, with his Cuvées, not to mention Bill Turnbull and his 3630 Bubbles. True, Casa Dea has the shy Dea’s Cuvée and the Grange makes a Sparkling Brut and a Riesling (346726, $24.95). But the questions begs, is fizz just another word for everything to lose in the County?

Here are notes on 23 wines tasted. The soundtrack to these PEC Wines includes Foo Fighters, Cracker, Nine Inch Nails, Modest Mouse, REM, Sufjan Stevens, The Beatles and Dire Straits.

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

From left to right: Casa Dea Riesling 2011, Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012

Casa Dea Riesling 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario  (winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

Pours and perches in the glass dry and stoic, as if bled from concrete or amphora. Swirled or not this fighter begins to rumble in a growing momentum of tang and acidity, as if it were being fed by sugar and feeding on yeast. So primary, like a sample in thief, yet already circling in complexity. A spike of spicy sweetness, a delicate dressing of aglio e olio, a chiffonade of basil on top. The County does this style of dry Riesling at this price in ways no one in Niagara can. This is no foo but rather a “blessing in disguise. Believe it or not, hands on a miracle.”   @casadeawinery

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (155606, $17.95, WineAlign)

Note the VQA Ontario designation, meaning the fruit is a combination of PEC and Niagara. The former brings limestone to the table while the latter weight and substance. Typically soda-driven and spatially atomic in maximum thrust. Turns towards the lake with sweet emotion and sails off into the sunset. Multi-purposed, works to great summer afternoon effect, especially with the waves of the bay lapping at the shore.  @HuffEstatesWine 

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $18.00, WineAlign)

Light, airy, delicate and nearly ethereal Pinot Gris that takes few chances, instead choosing an acquiescence with life’s simple pleasures. The vanilla of Gris, malleable, agreeable and ready to pair with whatever comes its way. A minor spike of Hillier minerality gives accent to pears and its blossoms.

Lighthall Progression Sparkling Vidal 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

A most non-pretentious sparkler that holds a pertinacious attitude towards anything but serious fun. From estate Vidal grapes that has seen a second fermentation using the Charmat Method, Lighthall’s ’12 picks up right where its solid ’11 left off. Picked early to preserve freshness and acidity, the Progression is big on tart green apple preserved by a squeeze of lemon. Chill it, refresh with it, serve it up and bring the house down.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2012, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara borrows 30 per cent County fruit to complete Hardie’s cracker Riesling. Low in alcohol (9.1 per cent) and residual, bound by jacked up acidity and tension. Pale platinum with an old-school aromatic sentiment that “fruit is rusting on the vine,” and flavours recalling that “the fruit is calling from the trees.” A masonic force of winemaking, “like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.”  @normhardie

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort.  @HuffEstatesWine

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Karlo’s take is Riesling in torsion, barrel fermented & aged in older (six-year) French Oak. The program adds wax and herbal mucilage to what otherwise would have been a frenetic study in bone chilling acidity. This unique and neo-progressive intuit invites a global Riesling symposium to the County to learn something old and something new within this single bottling. Riesling with attitude that’s got glycerin and a medicinal meets floral, pear extract meets candied lilac viscidity. Though so young, it seems wise, with an anamnesis for old Mosel, a coolant aroma and a taste that recalls white sangria. Yes, it’s different and eclectic. Anti-bracing stuff, not for everyone, but everyone should be for it.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Unfiltered 2011, Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2011, Vinemount Ridge, VQA Ontario  (winery, $23, WineAlign)

This is the inaugural Riesling release for Stanners, from a single Vinemount Ridge plot. If it were not so winged-footed it might gain more positive repute from the appellation’s quarry effect, but in time and with experience, Colin Stanners will settle the grassy aromas into the limestone demand. For now it remains effortless and balanced with a dismounting of acidity and well provided apple and lemon flavours.  @StannersWines

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2011, Niagara River, VQA Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2011 Brock has settled into its Niagara River appellative skin, having now been in bottle 18 months. Working with fruit from 300 kilometres away increases the unknown quotient, magnifying the adage that you have “one chance to get everything right,” Closson’s ’11 is neither modest nor is it a mouse but it is less frenetic than it acted when tasted repeatedly last year. The hard deposits have oozed into liquid metal gold and the ripe orchard fruit has mellowed into a creamy pudding with a hint of spice. I don’t see the Brock as a very public wine, but more from a maker, for friends, from habit, for family. A wine that you need to get to know, to patronize with repeated listening’s, to accept.   @ClossonChase

Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay, Unfiltered 2012, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Brock was only sulphured and bottled a month ago so it’s quite shocky and shaky. Still in the REM sleep stage, the ’12 is not quite ready to reveal the warmth so generously granted by the Niagara River appellation’s extending growing season. The ripe tropical fruit notes are there, if subdued and the omnipresent minerality will rear its rocky head before too long. This Brock will see a lifting “but gravity is holding” it down for now. Look to see the weights fall away late in 2014 “and in review,” you will have noted “the air was singing,” all the way to 2020.

Huff Estates Gamay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25, WineAlign)

If $25 seems a premium to pay for Ontario Gamay, consider all that is on offer in winemaker Frédéric Picard’s take on the friendly French grape. Picard caddies for 13th Street (Niagara) fruit, vinifies it bone-dry with the minimalist edge of 14 months in 15 per cent new French oak.  The fruit is so very ripe, in raspberry and gritless, creamy blueberry. Like savoury adult ice cream, silky smooth and with nary a hint of chalky grain. Well-designed and consumer-friendly as any Gamay has ever graced the Ontario consciousness. So you’ve “got that going for you, which is nice.” Shack up with Huff’s Gamay treat.

Lighthall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2012, VQA Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Proprietor Glen Symons sources his fruit for this unctuous Gewürztraminer from Vineland at the base of the Escarpment’s steps. Highly tropical and exaggerated by the warm summer of 2012 to the point of candied, but with an edge. Just restless enough to divine temptation for further sips which when multiplied, relax the palate rather than excite it. The flavours turn nutty, waxy, even and calm. A mistral wind blows through in a breezy finish.

Karlo Estates Chardonnay C.H.O.A. 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It should be assumed that the four types of wood used to house this warm and inferential Choa (cherry, hickory, oak and ash) would smother and smoulder other aromatic suitors but those woods are actually quite subtle. The other woods, as in forest, backyard and compost are the acute players. The Choa goes from fromage to funky, from an enzymatic leesy feeling to inner, inward innards. It barks of a dogged persistence, I will give it that. Most definitely singular of style to be sure and will need a few years to settle down.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 Cabernet Franc comes of age out of a preternatural and ontological perfect storm. Casts odds into the river of ideal weather, procures phenolic grape ripeness out of the vineyard, avoids the green and embraces the brown stems. Ferments under the natural eye of indigenous yeasts and settles into its silky skin at a low, low 10.8 per cent (give or take a lab sample) alcohol. Cabernet Franc of impossible soul, its “burden is the weight of a feather.” Pepper and currants are noted, tobacco and tomato are not. Comes “bearing a sword” but seduces with primal proclamations. Radical County red.

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The oak repeal in decreased new barrel impact allows the County to speak in the clearest of voice. As it should, from a South Bay landscape and terroir as rugged and dramatic that can be found anywhere Chardonnay is made in Ontario. There is a honeyed unctuous and viscous feel to the South Bay ’10, no doubt a result of its middle filled in by a meritorious and pure lees. Limestone wraps up the fruit in a clean, crisp and pure package.

Closson Chase Vineyard The Loyalist Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The licensee only Loyalist is the micro-embodiment of the Deborah Paskus style. Rich, compact and built to satisfy a need for lush, nearly tropical Chardonnay. From a vintage that saw bud reducing spring frosts and resulting yields of only one tonne per acre. The oak influence comes to it with a scaled back embracing, allowing the County’s rock bent to connect and form a bond with the acidity’s bracing intent. Perhaps the profits will suffer from the year’s miniscule crop, but the level of quality will making it all right.

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

From left to right: Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Ontario (winery, $30, WineAlign)

A year later has softened considerable and thinking of laying down in softer pastures.  From my earlier, April 2014 note: “Combines 60% (horizontal) County fruit with 40 per cent (vertical) Niagara (Lincoln Lakeshore) grapes in balance and with finesse. Simply apply the distance formula to figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Bridging the kilometres that lie between, though inadmissible to some, comes by way of a deft winemaker’s vision and touch. Plum good, mineral rich and perceptibly tannic without breaching a threshold of varnish. Cherry toffee speaks of the sunshine and indicates time is of the essence. Will look forward to full-on County issue for 2013 in the hands of Cliff and Colin Stanners.”  Last tasted April 2014

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County (winery, $30, WineAlign)

After wetting their Pinot Noir feet with a few vintages that coalesced Niagara and County fruit, this is the first go it alone release for Stanners. It’s yet another effortless and quiet handed response to impressionist County fruit. A noticeable step up from what came before, this has primary balance, secondary (floral) aromatics and tertiary brightness. Like Hillier lavender, drying on the rocks in the waning afternoon sun.

Karlo Estates The Fifth Element Petit Verdot 2010, VQA Ontario (Winery, $33.00, WineAlign)

Mounds of respect are due any Ontario winemaker that decides to tackle single-varietal Petit Verdot, especially in a climate-forsaken locale like the County. Richard Karlo tackles such a struggle between good and evil, looking to elevate this fifth most important Bordeaux grape (not Malbec?) to great PEC heights. His dark, brooding wine of massive extraction starts off into the toffee, the after dinner mints and a suck of coffee cream through a wood straw. Twiggy, angular, resinous and wired, the wine then turns incredibly floral, in violets, from boron to aether and then returns to its roots. The rebound is to acidity, freshness and tang. An intriguing wine that “used to be angry young man” but the evolution it shows in glass bodes well for its future. Give it three to five years to achieve quintessence. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2011, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Only 165 cases were produced of this Niagara born Pinot Noir. Discreet and unpretentious in every facet of its being. Like the colour of beautiful Rosé, the Watson causes such small-scale tannic pain. Though elegant and lithe, don’t be fooled. It’s not Burgundy. It’s Deborah Paskus. It’s Closson Chase. Profoundly appointed, in mind of those who mind. A signal to the understanding and knowledge of what the variety is and from this place. Clarity comes from an intensity in flowers, quality from a high sense of purpose.  Really fine.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $35.00, WineAlign)

Hardie’s 2012 County Pinot Noir is a beacon, a flashing light on the shore, an invitation to copycats because this is what making red wine from limestone foundations is all about. To taste this ’12 is to experience Hardie’s purest berry maceration and distillation to date. It’s as if there was no alcohol present and in fact, at 11.5 per cent it is a modest and transparent pronouncement. Longevity may not bless the ’12 as in other vintages but this is certainly the most groomed and coiffed County Pinot Noir.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (208702, $39.00, WineAlign)

The calcareous clay, the edgy stone, the molt of the earth. Dense, cluttered and clamorous fruit. A different animal then what walks the County. Magnanimous Pinot Noir full of fruity flesh and medieval attitude. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious example with only one coat of primer. Impressive.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered County Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

Norman Hardie’s uncanny ability to coax hyperbole at the lowest alcohol levels is again blatantly apparent in this climatically epochal, yet restlessly cool County Chardonnay. Recalling and expanding on the exceptional ’08, the tonality, texture and motion are achieved by way of a) early picking, b) indigenous yeasts, c) arrested fermentation, d) lees and e) moxie. The dire straits of the vintage wants to exaggerate the fricassee, the roasted nuts and the chemical flow but who might argue against the gape at Burgundian reduction? She’s a roller girl this ’10, taking chances. She skates away, “making movies on location,” all in the name of learning ahead of the curve.

Good to go!

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