Holiday wine weathers the ice storm

Ice tree after the storm

Ice tree after the storm
Photo: Michael Godel

as seen on canada.com

What a strange, trying and beautiful holiday season it has been. If you are still without power and heat, here’s hoping you can climb out of the darkness as soon as possible.

Ice storm 2013 tree Down

Ice storm 2013: Tree down in the middle of my street

Go figure that wine helped add warmth to a cold week. These past few nights I’ve been fortunate to share some memorable bottles with family and friends. I held in self-possession some ready to pop and pour Boxing week wines, but you may not have been so fortunate. Was the LCBO open to find them? No. Could you walk into a private wine shop to seek them out? Not so much. Is there a VQA wine store with its doors wide open to offer up these local beauties? Not a chance. Though the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s can seem like a purgatorial void where nothing seems to happen, it does offer the opportunity to take a trip down the QEW or across the 401 and find perfectly beautiful wines for sale at the source. My advice? Stay away from the malls and go in search of local wine. Niagara, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore are waiting for you. Just be sure to check winery hours first!

From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David's Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 'Exclamation Series' 2010.

PHOTO: Handout/Michael Godel
From left: Chateau des Charmes Aligote VQA St. David’s Bench 2011; Rosehall Run Pinot Gris Cuvée County 2012; Rosewood Estates Merlot 2011; Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Exclamation Series’ 2010.

CHATEAU DES CHARMES ALIGOTE VQA ST. DAVID’S BENCH 2011, St. David’s Bench, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (296848, $13.95, WineAlign)

A product of wise vines with a nose so tropically-scorched, in pear and banana bubble gum. Glycerin saturate texture, indelible, edible white, immersed and immeasurable for food connectivity. Amenable, personable, diplomatic daughter of aromatic proportions, doting and full of flavour. A Mayer Aligoté, in joule raised heat capacity and major Meyer lemon. “She puts the color inside of my world but, she’s just like a maze.”  88  Tasted twice, March and December 2013  @MBosc

A solar tobaggan walk

A solar tobaggan walk

ROSEHALL RUN PINOT GRIS CUVÉE COUNTY 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($21.95, winery)

Puts the exclamatory headline previously written for other 2012 County PG’s back on top of the front page. The band’s ’12 members include Norman Hardie and Hubbs Creek and now Winemaker Dan Sullivan’s effort joins the already raging party, “with ripples and the rhymes,” climbs the stage and dances on the tongue and in the mouth. Like a refreshing glass of water, with so much orchard fruit goodness, in cold play pear and citrus, with more crazy acidity than before. This despite the equatorial balm of the vintage. A Grise Fiord of Pinot goodness, a cool drink of Gris that never thaws.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosehall_Run

Ice Tree

Ice Tree

ROSEWOOD ESTATES MERLOT 2011, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (211896, $22.00, winery)

From Renacaeu and Wismer Vineyards fruit on the upper reaches of the promontory, plots of land vital and calculated to produce exceptional Niagara Merlot. The granular and green nature that can sometimes mar byland Merlot dissolves away into an elastic coulee of berry coulis and savoury syrup. Carob, star anise and the intoxicating effects of chewed myrrh and betel nut round out the eastern philosophy. Attains a new level of pansophy in 2011, building a bridge from the naïve ’10 towards a perspicacious future.  90  Tasted December 2013  @Rosewoodwine

Ice storm forms

Ice storm forms

PILLITTERI ESTATES CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘EXCLAMATION SERIES’ 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($38.00, winery only, WineAlign)

While exercising an option for plenitude wood use finds its way for the vine to make the savour of the earth intelligible to the imbibers. The poverty of the soil is this Cabernet’s prose and a taste brings out its poetry. Runs a fruity line from blue to black and digs deep, for the rocks beneath the clay. Drinking in expert evolution now and will do so for another few years, then angle towards a graceful decline. Offers shelter from the storm, “in a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm.” Really fine by the fire, surrounded by an icy, unforgiving winter’s tale.  90  Tasted December 2013  @PillitteriWines

Good to go!

Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs

People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band.
PHOTO: JARP/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.

To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.

Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.

Related – Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour

The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.

Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.

What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?

Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.

Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?

So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.

From left: Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011, Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010, Journey’s End Shiraz 2007, and Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost.  Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling.  89  @FieldingWines  @RichieWine

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled.  Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package.  Do not look for anything serious here.  88  @featherstonewne

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy.  90

Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  @JourneysEndWine

Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula.  93  @YabbyLake

Good to go!

Power shift: Wine in Ontario

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

as seen on canada.com

It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”

…A climate for change hovers in the frigid late November air. Sam says, “don’t fight it, feel it.” An unprecedented level of lobbying, legislative tabling and transparent discourse looks to reshape the landscape for the future of Ontario’s wine industry. The Ontario Wine Council just initiated a bold venture called MyWineShop aimed at revolutionizing the retail industry in Ontario. Their manifesto?

“What if you could build your dream wine shop in your neighbourhood?” Now’s your chance to envision an Ontario with greater consumer choice.
mywineshop.ca

In June the federal government passed Bill C-311, opening the door for the provinces to overturn restrictions on shipping wine across their Canadian borders.

Just last week, Nova Scotia followed BC’s lead by introducing the Free My Grapes bill, a set of provincial legislative amendments which will permit direct to consumer wine shipping into that province. Ontario’s laws remain staid silent on the inter-provincial importation of wine and according to lawyer Mark Hicken, that silence indicates a soon to be opening door.

Wine sales continue to grow, the LCBO has many fans and I included have lauded their efforts. Still, the crowd is growing thicker, speaking out, demanding change. Private wine stores exist in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Critics want to know this. Why not Ontario?

With billions of wine dollars on the table and the window of opportunity seemingly imminent, it is with great interest that we follow the players, their agendas and their alliances. Here are twelve influential leaders who will help to define and decide the future of wine sales in Ontario.

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Ontario Conservative Party

Despite a less than impressive showing in the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty’s departure and a leader-less Liberal government paves a new road to Mr. Hudak’s future. Adding beer and wine to corner stores in Ontario was a misguided and misdirected attempt at liquor reform but Hudak “didn’t reject the idea outright.” This indicates more than a potential partnership for a plan to introduce private wine retail in Ontario. Sure, the Conservatives first need to steal a majority, but a dwindling economy and renewed fear of long-lasting recession might just be the impetus for a Thatcherian foray and a partial crumbling of the LCBO wall.

Kathleen Wynne, leadership candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party

A discussion that involves Hudak would not be complete without mentioning Wynne. According to Scott Stinson, a front-runner to succeed Dalton McGuinty as leader of the party looks to be the long-time Cabinet minister and MPP for Don Valley West  (along with former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello). Good luck to either, as they will first be faced with the difficult task of leading the faltering Liberals and following what would be a miracle win, trying to withstand the wine storm brewing in Ontario.

Phillip Olson, Chair, LCBO

Olson has been Chair since March 2007 and his position was recently renewed in March 2012 for another two-year term. As head of one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol, Olson has seen the LCBO through its golden era. In fiscal 2011-12, LCBO sales topped $4.7 billion and it delivered a $1.63 billion dividend to the Ontario government, not including taxes. The LCBO now faces a tsunami of developing support to privatize the industry. Olson and team can look forward to a heavyweight battle for market share.

Hillary Dawson, President, Wine Council of Ontario

While the WCO’s mission is to promote the growth and sustainability of Ontario’s VQA wines, it is Dawson at the helm brandishing the brand new initiative. MyWineShop is turning heads and unequivocally is the boldest move yet by an Ontario coalition with aspirations to overhaul the wine world in Ontario as we know it.

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates Winery, President & Chair, VQA Ontario

As the head of VQA, winemaker Brian Schmidt is instrumental in maintaining and ensuring the exceptional quality of Ontario wine. VQA Ontario exercises delegated authority to administer and enforce the VQA Act and its associated regulations. Along with brother Allan, Schmidt is the candidate most likely to press for a change to rules regarding VQA wine format designations. VQA wines that use the appellation of origin “Ontario” may now be packaged in containers other than glass bottles but not wine bearing more specific claims of origin regulated by VQA. Securing that approval from VQA Ontario, the LCBO and the AGCO would have huge ramifications, including allowing for wine served from kegs in Ontario restaurants.

Bill George Jr., Chair, Grape Growers on Ontario

The GGO represents Ontario’s over 500 growers of 15,000 acres of processing grapes, including 176 wineries in the Province’s four viticulture areas: Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.  Bill George Jr. leads an organization that connects growers to the public, the media and the wineries on matters of viticulture, in particular the growing demand for high quality grapes. As an industry partner, the GGO has participated in the creation of over 1,300 additional jobs in the last four years through programs implemented by the Wine Council of Ontario and other industry partners. VQA wine sales at the LCBO have more than doubled over the past five years to over $110 million annually and now make up about 40 per cent of total Ontario wine sales. Good quality grapes, grassroots work and connectivity. This is the work of the GGO.

Moray Tawse, Owner, Tawse Vineyards and Marchand/Tawse

Though his day job as Co-Founder and Vice President of Mortgage Investments at First National Financial Corp. is his bread and butter, Moray Tawse is most passionate about his role as owner of Ontario’s most progressive vineyard. Tawse was the 2012 Winery of the Year award winner for an unprecedented third year in a row at the Canadian Wine Awards. So Tawse goes, so goes the Ontario wine industry.

Bryan McCaw, President, Wine Align

Wine Align is an online service that makes it easier to make smart and informed buying decisions at the LCBO. It boasts the most comprehensive database linked to the LCBO. Many of Ontario’s top critics are on board. Wine Align has entrenched itself in the heart of wine purchasing in Ontario. Yesterday McCaw tweeted “we had a record number of visitors to @WineAlign yesterday (7,900). We’re now getting more in a day than we use to get in an entire month.”

David Lawrason, Toronto Life, The National Post and Wine Align

Lawrason is the most affable guy you would ever want to sit in a room with and taste wine. It is hard to imagine another Canadian wine scribe that covers as much ground, from coast to coast, as David Lawrason does. He is tireless, relentless, opinionated, diplomatic, accurate and concise. His conclusion about privatization? “Alcohol is legal, and so the citizens have every right to sell it themselves, and certainly to select which brands are available, and to shop for it when and where they chose.” Peerless authority on all things wine.

Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail

Certainly less political than his peers, Crosariol concentrates on the wines. As the critic for the largest national audience, his focus stays the course of wine recommendations and where to find them. No other  Canadian writer can reach as many people or influence sales (particularly in Ontario) like the Globe and Mail’s man.

John Szabo, M.S., The National Post and Wine Align

John Szabo has the torch in his grasp and is running with it. His influence is on the verge of omnipotence in Ontario’s world of wine. It is hard to think of anyone who will have more to say and be heard by a larger audience, when the levee of Ontario wine restrictions break. Szabo wrote a lengthy, informative and remarkably diplomatic dissertation on the subject of the LCBO monopoly and what it would mean to introduce private wine stores in Ontario. Though he walked a fine line and succeeded in stressing a need for privatization, he managed the piece with an ambassador’s precision. Still, he finished off by saying, “I hope I don’t get put on an interdiction list for writing this.”

Rick VanSickle, WinesInNiagara

Nobody and I mean nobody works more tirelessly to champion Ontario wines, at field level and in print. Though he has been advocating for the overhaul of the system longer than most, save for Lawrason, Margaret Swaine and Michael Vaughan, VanSickle has recently increased his tone and his voice to push for change. It would be hard to imagine elevated discourse and debate without VanSickle in the fray.

Good to go!