Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

"Sun come up it was blue and gold." #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

“Sun come up it was blue and gold.” #cuvee2016 #pictureinaframe #niagarafalls

The Ontario wine industry has powered through many big weeks during the tenure of its young but wise, short howbeit concentrated  history. None seemed larger than the first week of March, beginning with Taste Ontario at the Royal Ontario Museum and ending with the 28th edition of Cuvée at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

And now #cuvee2016 @CCOVIBrockU #vqa @winecountryont #scotiabankconventioncentre

In between and as a preamble to Ontario’s annual gala celebration there was the presentation of the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, presented by Mr. Aspler to viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt, for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.

Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence winner for 2016 viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt and Tony Aslper (c) Brock University

Father and son grape growers Howard and Wes Lowrey from St. David’s were honoured with the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award sponsored by BASF Canada Inc. The 2016 category was best red vinifera and the Lowrey’s were recognized for their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. The winner is chosen by an expert panel that makes field visits throughout the growing season to monitor quality.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc.

Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award winners Wes and Howard Lowery are flanked by grower Matthias Oppenlaender and Julia Harnal, BASF Canada Inc. (c) Brock University

The VQA Promoter’s Awards are designed to recognize exceptional contributors to Ontario’s wine industry. The honours were endowed as follows. For Education, Peter Blakeman of The Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The Promoter-at-Large, Norm Hardie of Norman Hardie Wines. In the LCBO category, Nina Hofer, Product Consultant.  In Hospitality, Peter Elmhirst of Elmhirst Resort. For Lifetime Achievement, Peter Gamble, formerly of Hillebrand, VQA, Stratus and Ravine, now consulting winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Versado Wines.

Cuvee desserts

Proceeds from the Cuvée Grand Tasting go to support the Cuvée Legacy Fund established after the 2015 event. The fund has already awarded $15,000 in academic scholarships and contributed $13,000 toward industry-driven research projects. At the awards ceremony, the 2015 scholarships were also handed out.

Cuvée 2016 was orchestrated by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute who will also play host to the Expert’s Tasting of Ontario wines in April. At this year’s reception 52 VQA wineries each poured one carefully selected wine for the Grand Tasting and were joined by 13 culinary partners. Earlier that week, Taste Ontario was hosted by VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario. Upwards of thirty producers contributed more than 125 wines to the media and trade event.

Taste Ontario reds

Taste Ontario reds

The food establishments on hand were granted the space and signage to show off and showcase their talents. Having their names projected onto the walls around the perimeter of the room made it very easy to locate who was placed where. The wineries received no such similar sort of spotlight signage so happenstance played a significant role on what got tasted. Still it was nice to see a Toronto neighbourhood friendly face in Ossington joint Actinolite Restaurant with chef Justin Cournoyer acting out his special brand of an Ontario forest passion play.

Forest flavours of Actinolite

Forest flavours of Actinolite

The pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche by Chef Chris Smythe, Korean fried chicken by Garrison House Chef David Watt and Duck Mu-shu from Golden Lotus Restaurant’s Chef Sing How were exceptional. Also on hand was omnipresent Niagara events food contributor Artisan Ontario presented by Chef Mark Hand and Mario Pingue. I somehow missed out on Backhouse Chef Ryan Crawford’s burrata and braised beef short rib ravioli tasting plates. No chef had a longer line-up all night long.

pork belly 'Lollipops' from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris SmythP

Pork belly ‘Lollipops’ from Vintage Inn – Escabeche Chef Chris Smythe

Insofar as an assessment of Ontario wines is concerned, from a varietal point of view, Riesling and Chardonnay have not relinquished any stronghold on their domination, nor should they any time soon. I can’t help but feel and notice that winemakers continue to reach for the big red machine and wish upon an intangible Bordeaux star when they should be concentrating on fresh, gulpable Cabernet Franc and Gamay. They should also take some chances with these necessary, best Ontario option red varieties. Press less, reveal freshness and let natural ferments find low-alcohol impressions of impossible, ethereal beauty.

Pingue Prosciutto

Pingue Prosciutto

At Cuvée there was no shortage of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and big red blends. Where was the Cabernet Franc? Kudos to Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates for his varietal choice, albeit in a perfect little tidy $15 package. It was the only one. That is a travesty. Kacaba’s 2013 Cabernet Franc was a Platinum Award winner at the 2015 WineAlign Awards of Canada. They can’t be blasted for pouring their 2012 Syrah and you can only pick on but others should have seized the opportunity.  J-L Groux of Stratus Vineyards offered up his 2013 Gamay from magnum. Brilliant! Where was the rest of Ontario’s Go Gamay Go arsenal? Varietal lampoonery I tell ya.

Perhaps I can be accused of filtering my view of the evening through the oculus of an infundibuliforms installation. Just maybe I’m a wee bit harsh in my assessment of choices made but there were several wines poured at Cuvée that we’ve seen many times before. While the inevitable will influence choices because of inventories and the bottom line, the event is not about finding buyers. The purpose and long-term vision should focus on teaching, on educating and ultimately on celebrating what Ontario does best. Not just what, but where. Choosing what to pour must come out of a disseminated varietal necessity so that sub-appellations can be further defined and understood.

My top ten wines tasted at the two bookending events were these.

Cattail Creek

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

A Cattail Creek joint starring Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield, from a block of Clone 21 (Weiss) Riesling planted in 1976, one of the oldest in Ontario. This OV loitered in subdued maturation because of a brutal winter, a cold spring and a cool summer. A beautiful fall abrogated what came before and brightened the possibilities. Dyck and Byfield took full advantage, channeled their inner Mosel science of the mind, dialled back the sugar and submitted to the vintage’s desires. The result is a scintillant of Riesling with texture and acidity getting together to”grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last,” reelin’ in the year and shining like new. Steely Riesling at its Niagara flats finest, short of bracing and far from cloying. Though a long ways from the Bench, put this ’14 in the vineyard cru discussion with Picone, St. Urbain, Carly’s Block, Triangle, Steelpost and CSV. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @CattailWinery  @TerroirLover

Fielding Estate Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (142323, $25.95, WineAlign)

If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why of Peninsula Viognier, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium. Sourced from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation, a locale fast becoming the consensus ground zero for the option, this single-vineyard is farmed by grower Rick Smith. Low-cropped and hand-picked, this is the cleanest Viognier in town.The spice kick starts au fait late, sneaks up the backside and boom. Gotcha! Winemaker Richie Roberts has a vested investigated interest in this white variety amongst Niagara choices deeply pondered and painstakingly explained. Some off-roading chances taken going forward will elevate this wine into territory occupied by the excellent and the outstanding. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted March 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2014, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Vintage in and out this is the manifestation of an unequivocal Niagara icon for Chardonnay. An unwavering, stylistically consistent, best fruit first cuvée from Pelham’s oldest (1988) estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench. Quite reductive and dramatic Chardonnay in 2014 with multi-macerated flavours. Needs some time for the barrel and the malo to get together with tangy, soil-driven fruit. A bit clunky at the present time. Should be fascinating to watch it develop, oscillate, flip-flop and ultimately settle into something fine over five years time. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Tenacity

16 Mile Cellar ‘Tenacity’ Chardonnay Unfiltered 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

Call this an experiment if you will and while winemaker Regan Kapach was blessed with a perfect ferment (and one that would not, could not be repeated in 2014 and 2015), don’t believe for a moment that divine skill was not integral to making this wine happen. Like an early 1990’s MTV production of Neil Young, David Bowie and Nirvana all wrapped up into one unplugged special, here is what happens when unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured jam as one. One major “un” omission, or inclusion in this case is French oak, the catalyst and the glue to keeping this freak of Chardonnay nature together. True, this is the one grape that can handle such a hands off winemaking process, but in Ontario? Not so simple. From the Little Vineyard up on The Bench, the Tenacity is not so much. It’s dreamy, creamy, lightly toasty and full of gelato texture and flavour. It glides and slides, lifts and cleanses. It’s a beautiful impossibility. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted March 2016  @16milecellar

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

A little ceremonial joy in the division here with Dan Sullivan taking some fizz chances to create a new PEC sparkling order. A multiple vintage cuvée from estate grown fruit of weight, substance, tang, drive, a shot put of citrus, servitude to PEC Chardonnay, certitude to B de B style and structure. Just enough pierce to go through and come out clean, even in the face of oxidative time, on the other side. Dips into the well of Champagne to recover its fearless tactility. These are bubbles that “travel first and lean towards this time.” Timing is everything. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

Oh, the accessibility of Quarry Road in 2012. Still totes the emerald shine, the gemstone tannic scrape and yet the flesh is rendered rich, ripe, ratcheted and riled up. This has tonality like never before, layered and strudel buttery. At this point the vines for Quarry are 17 years of age, sophic and erudite, compounded by the organic, biodynamic and prudent pruning practices that have cemented its vigour. The clay-limestone, fresh-mineral, push-pull is a veritable careening of expression. Though its longevity may not pile towards a compressed future like that of ’09 or ’11, the earlier and often response will act both as Chardonnay charming and Quarry Road magnetizing. For the next five years it will be very hard to turn away. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @Tawse_Winery  @DanielatTawse

Cave Spring CSV Blanc De Blancs Brut 2008, Beamsville Bench, Ontario (237198, $39.95, WineAlign)

As expected the Cave Spring 2008 Chardonnay Sparkling solicits thoughts and ideas centred around age. It elicits a complexity response and one taste means a succumbing to the contagion of its vitality. With its autolytic character shining bright, Cave Spring’s BdeB acts out a fantasy up on a silver screen. Another seven year itch is realized in guaranteed Ontario age ability. Has acted way past simple citrus and yet remains a little closed, just now entering the window of showmanship. Another year or two and this will vie for an Oscar. The bubble program production is unparalleled at Cave Spring, perhaps more than any studio in Ontario.  Tasted February 2016  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Queenston Road Vineyard 2012, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (202127, $42.95, WineAlign)

Creekside’s website waxes about the vintage, noting “the 2012 growing season felt like it had been imported up from California.” This is a type of pragmatic truth (as opposed to correspondent or coherent) because it is useful in applying winemaker Rob Powers’ gathering of phenolic ripeness in lieu of extraneous matter to make this Broken Press. When perfect provisos give you perfect fruit you listen to the winds of the vintage and just go with it. Viognier conditions the mess of richness with more pragmatism in 2012, lifting the aromatics and hooking the rug, up and away from drought conditioning. This BP dips into the earth of the northern Rhône to recover its fearless tactility. And so you feel the autumn’s moderate, crucial rainfall in this wine, its warm days and cool nights. The harvest on October 2nd from the St. David’s Bench Queenston Road Vineyard amounted to nine barrels, eight older French and one new Hungarian, leading to 210 cases. This is the best Syrah from QRV made to date. It will live long because of that aforementioned pragmatic truth. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted March 2016   @CreeksideWine  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

Domaine Queylus Réserve Du Domaine Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Oh yes the vineyard speaks, like previous vintages but with clenched teeth and a hyperbole of natural yeast and soil funk. The most charcuterie salts and dehydrates from the middle sibling in 2013, with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. Then you will return, to this time that will be its past, when things were so different and the assessment a figment of later imagination. At least three years (and possibly five) will pass before things are set straight for this past to be revealed. The level of smarts and savvy riches are amplified in the Réserve 2013. It is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted June 2015  @QueylusVin

Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (361816, $44.95, WineAlign)

Beautifully floral Lowrey from Thomas Bachelder, squeezed with restraint and pressed for pitch perfect Niagara Pinot fashion. Lowrey at its elegant best, ripe red though on the edge of anxious, eyes rolling and persuasions lolling though just shy of any sentimentality. Another layer of lovely infiltrates a taster’s psyche, grabbing hold of the heartstrings and then relents, lets go, stays on the righteous path of peurility. The ’13 Lowrey Vineyard gifts such texture and tannins that flirt with danger. It is a wine of life-affirming footnotes. I ask of it, “oh ye teasing beautiful Pinot Noir. When can I drink of thee?” Soon, but not yet. There is no greed from this vineyard and in these hands. As always, Thomas does the right thing. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2016  @Bachelder_wines  @LiffordON

Good to go!

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Passover that big glass of red

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

Barque Smokehouse Miami Ribs
PHOTO: Kevin Hewitt and Jill Chen (http://www.freestylefarm.ca/)

The Torah says, “Guard the month of the spring, and make [then] the Passover offering.” Meaning, Jews need to ensure that Passover is celebrated in the spring. In Canada that proclamation was in danger. Had Passover fallen in March, 2014 may just have seen the coming of the apocalypse.

An understanding of the rules and laws that govern wine on Passover is on a need to know basis. There are really just three key variants of information essential to purchasing and consuming on Pesach. This applies to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Number one. Passover wine is specific to a Jew’s level of Kosher. From Reform, to Conservative, to Orthodox, all Jews have different variances of belief. A Reform Jew will likely drink any wine on Passover and then again, may not. But, he or she will almost certainly not require the bottle to be Mevushal. A Conservative may only drink Mevushal but in more cases than not, Kosher is good enough. An Orthodox Jew goes it only one way, or the highway. Strictly Mevushal KFP, do not pass go, do not collect Afikoman (the broken Matzah) money.

I covered the gory and bitter (herb) details in last year’s Passover wine column. “All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover.”

Related – New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

In 2012 I spent some time on the limiting, frustrating and constipating food component of the ancient Jewish holiday. “Try cooking with and having to eat nothing but Matzo, eggs and oil for eight days.”

Related – KP Duty – Kosher For Passover Wines

Kosher wines migrate bigger and bigger with each passing Lunisolar calendar year and their not so arbitrary inclusion or not of an intercalary month (shanah meuberet – Adar I) added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the 19 year lunar cycle. Israel continues to race towards big, lush, often high alcohol reds. This trend could be seen as a masking or a compensating/mitigating strategy to oppose the rigors and past failings of making Kosher wine. It can also be viewed as a stylistic choice, to mirror what has taken place in Bordeaux, in California and in Australia for the past 20 years.

In Canada, Kosher wine selections are extremely limited. There are smaller, garagiste producers in Israel, especially in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, that are making fresher, less oaked reds, but good luck seeing them on shelves on this side of the ponds. It was refreshing, however, to find the Kosher contingent on the VINTAGES March 1st release to be Israel-focused. In past years the group was dominated by Australia, Italy, France and California. Israel is making the best Kosher wines on the planet. Go figure.

Barque Events offers a full Passover catering menu. View the selections. Here are six big reds and a token white tasted and recommended for the Passover table.

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Galilee

From left to right: Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Galilee, Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee

Recanati Chardonnay 2012, Kosher For Passover, Non Mevushal, Upper Galilee, Israel (128322, $19.95, WineAlign)

Rich, unctuous and viscous. Soft and discreet, more like a modern, New World sketch of a Grenache Rhône-blend than a warm climate Chardonnay. There is little or no affront to this clement and polite Israeli of scant tension or acidity.   Tasted February 2014

Golan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Kosher For Passover, Galilee, Israel (Vintage Wines – 611152, $26.95, WineAlign)

From winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, the stylish “G” will answer the pecuniary call for just about any Passover feast. Well-rounded, worldly, soft-spoken and generous of fruit. A 100 per cent Cabernet that knows its way around a blackberry, a ripe plum, a bouquet of violets and a chamber of faint tobacco smoke. Lush but not heavy, the only detractor is a slight caramel, oxidative note that indicates near-term consumption, which is basically a given anyway. The finish hints at a lava flow in the direction of the fourth cup, but because this G is so easy to drink, it should be enjoyed while still at the table.  Tasted April 2014

Galil Mountain Alon 2010, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354522, $20.95, WineAlign)

Alon makes use of Syrah to create its party mix, to work with 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 Petit Verdot and 6 Cabernet Franc. Another monster red blend, coming in hot and huge at 15.5 per cent alcohol. For the price, what more can you ask for? Passover may be a four glass exercise but two through four are top ups so it’s really a two glass night. This wine will not ruin your 2nd Seder morning wake-up after consuming a maximum two glasses at the 1st Seder. Rich, mocha berry driven shake, spicy and with non-invasive meaty aromas. Hot, sweet and bothered.  Tasted February 2014  @azureau 

Teperberg Family Estate Meritage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Elah Valley, Israel (157016, $23.95, WineAlign)

Proper Bordeaux aromatics, of tobacco, tea, black currant and grilled meat. Nothing gritty going on here, all four varieties playing a role and hanging together. With good tannins, sweet sinuous and slinky, this is a very versatile Passover red that will also benefit from a year or two in bottle. Better than average value.  Tasted February 2014

Tabor Earth Series Shiraz 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (356709, $23.95, WineAlign)

In an unusual turn of the earth, this smells like someone dropped a piece of Emmental to melt in the heat upon the must of this Shiraz. It does swirl away and a solid core of red berry remains, though for just a spell. Simple, semi-structured and proper, without hard edges or tannins, but falls quickly. Will work well with many Passover flavours but drink it up in 2014.  Tasted February 2014

Saslove Aviv Marriage 2011, Kosher For Passover, Upper Galilee, Israel (354514, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Aviv consolidates Bordeaux, Piedmont and the Rhône into one complex and perplexing blend within the confines of a single bottle. The Northern Rhône meatiness of the Shiraz stands out firm and at attention, essentially suppressing the Meritage marriage intent and thus renders the wine monochromatic. Still its lively and spicy, ready for the bigger and more pungent foods on the Passover table. The Shiraz might say, “this is a crisis I knew had to come, destroying the balance I’d kept.” The other varieties, meaning Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo are the silent partners in this polygamy of a wine marriage. They play their parts despite the joy division.  Tasted February 2014

Galil Mountain Yiron Kp 2009, Upper Galilee, Israel (95075, $34.95, WineAlign)

The Yiron is a beast but because I am so pleased to see the Kosher feature composed of all Israeli wines (as opposed to Australia, France, Italy, Argentina and Chile) I am focused and ready to work with anything on this table. Despite the 15.5 per cent alcohol and plethora of oak treatment, this blend shines in rich, meaty and anise-spiked flavours. The mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (60 per cent), Merlot (35) and Petit Verdot (5) may seem monstrous but it is not stupidly expensive now and in relation to what it cost in previous vintages ($50). Though certainly not a wine of elegance, grace and restraint, the Yiron pulls no punches and remains true to its warm climate conditions. It is what it is.  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

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