Tasting Ontario Part One: Riesling

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Riesling is again on the rise and the reasons why are as varied as the artistry it’s equipped to display. It has been 40 years since the Pennachetti family of Cave Spring Vineyard and German vintner Herman Weis planted riesling in St. Urban Vineyard on what is now Vineland Estates. My how things have changed. The trending line ascends as the general public comes around and warms to the versatile grape so popularity is not just in the hands of geeks, oenophiles and connoisseurs. Ask your favourite sommelier, product consultant or wine writer. Riesling’s neighbourhood is beginning to gentrify in a big way but it’s also expanding experimental and ancestral horizons. It will always be just riesling but today’s varietal vernacular goes beyond dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, Süssreserve, late harvest and Icewine to now include skin-contact, barrel fermented, unfiltered, wild ferment, Blackball and The Geek.

A few weeks back I attended my 7th Cuvée in Niagara Falls to celebrate the next chapter with and for our wine industry, fresh on the heels of the 2018 Tasted Untamed edition of Taste Ontario in Toronto. Just a month before I rambled through the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan and the Icewine Gala in Niagara Falls. It was at the Icewine Gala where we watched and listened in on a great tribute to Ontario’s iconic pioneer, Karl Kaiser. We owe so much to Mr. Kaiser with respect to everything Icewine but also to how far we have come in terms of riesling.

A lovely tribute to #karlkaiser tonight at #icewinefestival gala

Just two weeks ago in Toronto we tasted the current offering of Prince Edward County wines at Taste of the County. Today we will immerse ourselves into the culture of global food and local wine at the Terroir Symposium and on Tuesday the Wine Council of Ontario will hold its first annual Ontario Craft Wine Conference. It has been a very saturated and intensive start to 2018, something that must be attributed to the maturity, confidence, preparedness and excitement of and towards Ontario wine.

My personal opportunities to taste wines from the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Lake Erie North Shore and Ontario’s South Coast have been many. Before too long there will be greater access to the wines of emerging regions like the Oak Ridges Moraine, Georgian Bay the Northumberland Hills. Prior to 2017 I used this wine processing platform of godello.ca as a vehicle to review and discuss Ontario wines with much greater frequency but circumstances have changed. My work with Italian and French wine regions, most notably Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Bourgogne have occupied a great deal of my time. So has tasting and reviewing many potential submissions for the WineAlign exchange and acting as a consistent contributor to the WineAlign Buyers’ Guides to the VINTAGES releases.  I 2017 I ceased publishing my bi-weekly tasting notes because it’s important that readers check them out on WineAlign. All this as added up to less constant coverage of Ontario wines on the site.

And a few of my favourite wine writers. Thx for coming to #cuvee2018 #vqawinesofontario

That is why I’ve decided to post a series of articles over the next few weeks solely dedicated to Ontario wine and I’m going to split them up by grape varieties, beginning today with Ontario’s great white hope, riesling. I’ve written about the grape many times before and my belief in its varietal power, finesse and omniscient existentialism for a signature and singular Ontario purpose is perpetual and unwavering. This work is possible because of the organizations and the people behind them who make it all possible. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, The Wine Council of Ontario and VQA Ontario are a triple-edged force that keep our wines flowing. Thank you to Richard Linley, President of WCO, Magdalena Kaiser, Head of Marketing and Public Relations for WMAO, Brian Schmidt and Laurie Macdonald, President and Executive Director respectively of VQA. The Icewine Festival Gala and Cuvée are not possible without the work of Fallsview Casino, Scotiabank Convention Centre and of course Brock University. Gala and Experts’ Tasting coordination is possible because of The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute’s Barb Tatarnic, Manager, Wine and Sprit Education Trust and Kaitlyn Little, Marketing and Communications Officer.

Inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner and riesling maker extraordinaire, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars, with Donald Ziraldo

At Cuvée, the inaugural Winemaker of Excellence Award winner was Angelo Pavanchosen in a unanimous decision for his major contributions to the industry, his commitment to excellence and his mentorship to winemakers across Canada. Pavan, Vice-President, Winemaker and Founding Partner at Cave Spring Cellars, is known for his encyclopedic understanding of viticulture in Niagara. He was among the first in the province to work with numerous grape varieties and was a pioneer in the quest to improve wine quality and sustainability in vinifera varieties.

“It is humbling to be the first recipient of this great award,” said Pavan. “It validates the passion, time, effort and commitment of over 30 years dedicated to this great wine growing region and having participated in its evolution to international recognition.”

Pavan is also a founding member and Chair of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) Standards Development Committee and has played a key role in determining the most suitable winemaking practices applicable in Ontario. As the founding Chair of the International Riesling Experience, held in conjunction with CCOVI, Pavan has also been instrumental in solidifying Niagara’s place as one of the world’s pre-eminent Riesling producing regions.

Related – Three Rieslings to believe

One of my first bold statements about Ontario riesling was this. “There are many reasons to believe in riesling, that versatile and brutally honest grape. Riesling holds no punches, speaks its mind, tells it like it is. Grown worldwide and vinified in so many varying styles, riesling is not so much a chameleon but rather a mutant. It takes root in every vineyard, marking its terroir, expressing itself singularly and without apology. Over the past two-four months I have exonerated and upheld with the highest riesling belief that (Ontario) does the variety justice above and beyond the pale, in the vineyard and in the glass. More reviews have been written, designed and pushed down your throats on (local) riesling than on any other grape. What’s up with that? Quality, that’s what.”

Related – 100 kilometre wine for spring

And this. “Riesling. Can there be a more versatile white grape? From natural, mineral spring, bone-dry to concentrated, candied sweet, this grape runs the diversity gamut like no other. ‘The Bench’ is home to a mineral wealth of local riesling, singular in composition not only by way of a global comparison, but also from plot to plot, soil to soil and vineyard to vineyard.”

Riesling Vine

Related – Are you wine experienced?

We held a symposium at Brock University a few years back and the technical, chemical side was addressed by Cornell University Sensory Researcher Terry Acree. For riesling, Acree focuses on chemicals that correspond to the strongest identified smells, the most important and prevalent of which is TDN (Trimethyldihydronaphthalene). TDN the chemical or diesel/petrol the sensation as an “odour strength (Damascenone) as related to by human subjects.” In order for the wine taster to “experience” these sensations, two things have to be there. “Memories of different kinds of features and features themselves.” That said, Acree believes you can only smell three things at once, a notion he borrows from M.F.K. Fisher.

Acree sees odour as “an evolutionary human response to history.” If you have never come into contact with a banana, you will never smell banana in Chardonnay. TDN is the dominant aroma and where riesling grows, more sunlight means more fruit and more TDN. TDN is a precursor but its prevalence does not necessarily increase as a wine ages. A very common theme when nosing an aged Riesling is to comment on the secondary aromatic emergence of a gas or petrol note. Acree believes that identifying increased petrol notes in aged Riesling is a bit of a misnomer. It had to already be there. “I’m just inventing a new, confusing way to discuss minerality,” he concludes.

At that time Toronto wine writer Mike Di Caro and I talked about Ontario riesling and we agreed that sugar levels are both arbitrary and unpredictable so Niagara’s best is and should be of the dry variety. I don’t think that way anymore. My friend and colleague Bill Zacharkiw of the Montreal Gazette wrote this last year.”Rieslings, especially from cool climates like the Mosel in Germany and Niagara tend to have residual sugar. Don’t be scared. You know what? I love them. The sugar makes the aromatics go “boom,” while the acidity keeps the wine tasting dry.” Bill is correct and it is also those sugars that allow the wine to stay alive, age and develop those aforementioned petrol notes.

Related – I shall be Riesling

Here is how VQA chooses to define typical Ontario riesling. “Classically exhibits refreshing citrus, peach or floral aromas with a light “petrol” element and racy acidity on the palate. Made in a range of dry, off-dry and sweet styles, including Icewine. Typically not oaked but good examples will age well with the petrol nose evolving.” Many would agree but there is so much more to think about. You don’t know anything about riesling and aging until you begin tasting them at five years only know then can you begin to understand. Some examples will stay the course of pure lemon, so taut and tight, perhaps shouldn’t even be released until they are ready. The acidity might be the most unwound, with pent-up aggression, a fighter in search of balance. Not typical perhaps but very much a part of the Ontario mix.

The curious thing about Ontario riesling is how it has pushed me to wax with unlimited hyperbole, as in “to purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling” and “one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes.” For Treve Ring’s take on the great grape, head over to WineAlign for what she had to say after the 2017 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals). Treve writes,  “as our palates progress, we often shy away from these simpler, fruity styles for more structured, savoury and minerally wines, which again, brings us full circle (close the ring) back to serious and ageworthy riesling.”

Related – Moved by Riesling

I have been moved by riesling many times. In Alsace it happens every day and it has happened in Ontario, most notably after having comes across (any one of four or five) Charles Baker Picones and Emma Garner Thirty Bench Small Lots. Or in particular, Jay Johnston’s Nadja’s from Flat Rock and most notably Brian Schmidt’s Vineland Estates St. Urban. With Cave Spring it happened after tastes of Cave Spring CSV. It has happened again and again. It will continue this way.

As I mentioned, this is merely the first part in a long series of articles to come, including exposées on sparkling wines, chardonnay, other white varieties and appellative blends, gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, plus other reds and red blends. To begin this Ontario varietal march through spring here are 26 recently tasted riesling, plus a handful visited in 2017 yet to make it to godello print, all to give a glimpse into the portal of how far Ontario has come and to where it may be heading.

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

Redstone Riesling 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $14.95, WineAlign)

So much lime, in flesh and zest, all over the lime map. Really juicy riesling for the cost of a song. Cool climate stamp right here; glade, citrus, wax and air up above. The palate follows, albeit thin and tinny. Ideal for current consumption though not likely made with the stuffing to evolve. Regardless it’s good value. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted blind at NWAC July 2017 and October 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Featherstone Riesling Black Sheep 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

The Black Sheep strikes again, same price, same typicity and balance. This is the riesling we’ve come to expect and relish, with elevated sugar and acidity levels walking hand in hand. Plenty of lime spirit is more Bench styled than ubiquitous Niagara Peninsula so you can guess what fruit lurks to lead such a suspicion. Always high quality and quick to market, sip, rinse and repeat. You’ll see this wine in release cycles four or five times over, available at all times. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  #featherstonewinery  @featherstonewne  Featherstone Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (43281, $17.95, WineAlign)

There are two types of traditional riesling made up on the Escarpment’s benches, both equally accessible and correct but so very different. There is the other way; dry, stoic and intense. And there is the Flat Rock way, slightly further adrift off-dry, weightier and to be honest, less serious and happier. Not that one style is more important than the other but if I’m a consumer expecting sweet riesling but hoping to learn how the other half lives and breathes it would be this Flat Rock that would help educate and ultimately help me grow into the new riesling lover I’d want to be. The sugar (while nothing extraordinary here) is balanced by equal acidity and athletic chic. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

2027 Cellars Riesling Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (225490, $18.75, WineAlign)

The wind is so tight and the expressive fruit bound up in a ball of fire and acidity but aching to break free. The pent up energy here is palpably felt, like a needle in the side, leaving you seized up, protective and tense. There is so much juicy citrus and fineness of acidity it’s hard not to see this riesling taking five years to unwind and five more towards developing characterful secondary personality. This is perhaps Kevin Panagapka’s best. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted July 2017 and March 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Konzelmann Estate Winery Riesling Reserve Old Vines 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

The by now classic house style of using late harvest fruit off of old vines on the estate’s lakefront property and barrel fermentation are the things that delve into the Konzelmann glück, density and complexity. Preserved lemon, grapefruit sorbet and mineral-mandarin cream define this riesling of zero trepidation, utmost confidence and old world charm. Who’s to say you aren’t sipping this in some Rhineland-Palatinate village instead of Niagara on the Lake. There will always be a place in hearts for riesling made this way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted March 2018  konzelmannwines  @Konzelmann  @konzelmannwines

Megalomaniac Riesling Narcissist 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (67587, $18.95, WineAlign)

Narcissist takes a turn to the flint with great citrus intent in 2017, simulating great German riesling that have been coming for generations and eons before. There is a youthful funky reductive yeastiness that tests the aromatics but in looking for balance we find tart fruit, fine acidity and a leanness that strikes like a laser through the microbial fog. Wow is this interesting and in a show of great potential. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted March 2018  megalomaniacjhc  sobmegalo  @MegalomaniacJHC  @seb_jacquey  Megalomaniac Wine

Fielding Estate Bottled Riesling 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (251439, $19.95, WineAlign)

Though neither single-vineyard nor block specific make no mistake. This estate riesling from Fielding is a carefully selected and curated one with not a single wasted note in the varietal tune it plays. The chords are pure citrus, the arpeggio rising from stone fruit skin meets flesh and the overall score ambient in its keyboard hold. It’s so bloody juicy, mouth watering and intense, riesling in which there’s a torrent that rises gently. There’s a wind, like a drug, in new material from a great year to make a new record. Worth listening to and drinking in, on repeat, with a deeper understanding. Should develop a layered feel, of honey and petrol, with time. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  fielding winery  richiewine  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine  Fielding Estate Winery  

Vineland Estates Riesling Elevation St. Urban Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign)

By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. There is a certain kind of interest here, first from track record and then because of the deferential vintage for the flagship variety. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. There is even a bit of Niagara Gold cheese mixed with fresh florals, of white roses and then persimmon. So now the mind travels to the tropics, for flavours imagined of mango, marquesa and mangosteen. Warm days and nights will do that to riesling and while this may not live into its twenties it will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted December 2017  vinelandestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  Vineland Estates Winery  Brian Schmidt

Hidden Bench Riesling Bistro 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

If Ontario riesling can be referred to as classic it would be something as traditional and acumen-factored as this ’16 by Hidden Bench. This is due to the middle road meets the fine, direct and essential line taken, where along the way balance is struck with notable fruit, just shy of off-dry styling and a fashion of natural acidity. Correct is, as correct does. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  hiddenbench  @HiddenBench  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  

Creekside Estates Riesling Marianne Hill 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign)

The next Marianne is a conundrum, low in alcohol and yet quite lean, avoiding both high strains of citrus and flesh. The nose is both inviting and very mineral but the palate is a bit staid, understated and seemingly dry. The skins of pears and peaches are touched but it’s just a bit too quiet right now. We’ll see what the future holds. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018  creeksidewine  @CreeksideWine  Creekside Estate Winery

Southbrook Vineyards Riesling Triomphe 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

With all of her other varietal talents I wouldn’t normally pontificate winemaker Ann Sperling as exemplifying the riesling whisperer (at least in Niagara) though a pass at this warm and inviting 2016 may change that and with haste. At the risk of sounding a bit too establishment this is classic and typical Niagara but it accedes into such a category with impeccable sugar, acid and texture balance. Treating the fruit with respect, avoiding any unhinged decisions and delivering the three-pronged effects of sweet, tart and bitter with seamless intertwine is the work of a total pro. Gotta have the lime and the essential possibility of honey. Triomphe 2016 does just that. It’s what you want and need. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted January and March 2018  southbrookvineyards  @SouthbrookWine  Southbrook Vineyards

Mulled riesling anyone? Hidden Bench at Icewine Fest

Hidden Bench Riesling Estate 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (183491, $23.95, WineAlign)

Just a lovely bit of spring sun and dew picks up the stimulus, pace and attitude right from go in the Hidden Bench ’16. This is not only definitive for riesling by house, for estate and to regional necessity but also to all varietal wines done up right in this pinpointed place. The orbiting acidity is twisted like ties around wires along a circle drawn to lock in freshness, by fruit more lemon and lime citrus than stone or up the stairs. It’s a near perfect vintage for the omniscient one and sets the table for Roman and Felseck Vineyard rieslings to come. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2014, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Felseck delivers a concentrated, compact and direct riesling, very focused along linear Locust Lane lines, truly Beamsville stony, precise and even a bit demanding. Few Ontario rieslings can distill lemon, lime, green apple and stone like this without jumping around. That Felseck can stand firm in one place with such stoic and unwavering calm is a testament to a winemaker’s attention to detail. It begins in the storied vineyard and finishes with the same fineness of finesse. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted October 2017  hidden bench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Perfect match to riesling? Some might say

Cave Spring Riesling Adam’s Steps 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (901211, $24.95, WineAlign)

Adam’s Steps is Cave Spring’s riesling with a bit more of everything, more depth, body, sweetness and texture. It really is the outlier in their varietal bunching, closer to the Estate than the CSV in style and yet firmly positioned in its own category. There is a true sense of spirit and energy, especially on the lively palate, with a waxy, almost peach coulis and lemon-lime pastille note that lingers like sucking on a riesling candy. Clearly dolomite in origin but fleshy and full. Holds the age ability card for a five-plus year run. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted October 2017 and March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Lundy Manor Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

The fruit source is Wismer Vineyard for winemaker and Niagara College graduate Adam Kern’s ’16 riesling. Kern also makes the wines with Chris Fornasier and Bench Trial Wines. His straightforward varietal wine for Lundy’s Manor speaks of peach and tart citrus with a surprisingly tannic thrush. The equanimity between fruit and acidity keeps it in the airy space above the pull by extracted weight and will serve it well for two or three years time. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted March 2018  lundymanorwinecellars  @LundyManorWine  @lundymanorwinecellars

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The Stanners Riesling evolution is upon us, happening and ready to blow. In replay of 2014 this is Niagara meets PEC fruit, two days of skin contact, six months on the lees, dry is as dry does and yeasty funky. In my mind it’s pretty much a repeat of that just about leesy enough and pear textured 2014 without anything new added or realized. But, for Colin Stanners it must be the vintage that wakes him up to what he needs to do next so this ’15 is therefore the first next step towards and set up man for what’s to come in 2016. This is a must step to taste on that ladder of evolutionary understanding so make sure to take it. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Keint-He Riesling 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

It’s quite amazing how the texture, sugars and acidities all rise up as one, together for the common good, layered and in-synch. Labeled Niagara Peninsula but really noses and tastes like Twenty Mile Bench riesling. Lime sherbet and mandarin orange gelée. Nothing but pleasure from winemaker Lee Baker’s first start to finish wine at Keint-He. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  keinthewinery  @KeintheWinery  Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

@mackbrisbois brought the past, the present and the future @trailestatewine to taste. Thanks Mack! Indeed, to my pleasure and my education. Delete Comment

Trail Estate Wild Ferment Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the WFR is a blend of Foxcroft and BTL fruit, respectfully and respectively farmed by Craig Wismer and Greg Wertsch. This is tannic and textural, the sweetest of all the Trail rieslings, through some skin (or stem) whole cluster contact. The notes are not mind-blowing or expanding ones, of apple, pear and peach skin, again very textural and from a ferment stopped on taste. It’s loaded with 28 g/L of RS but good winemaking makes it seem drier than it is. “Everything else is dry so I guess when I go sweet, I go big” admits Mack Brisbois. So yes this is light, lean, not as fleshy and seemingly drier than it obviously is. Carries forward with a nice candied flower, citrus finish. It’s pretty middle of the road, perfectly correct and enjoyable, especially for a winemaker with an off the beaten track sensibility, antithetical modus vivendi and go beyond the pale ability. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Stanners Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario (Winery, $28.00, WineAlign)

I find it curious that this Stanners Riesling is 95 per cent Lincoln Lakeshore fruit but now labeled as VQA Ontario, whereas previous vintages called VQA LL had less Niagara and more PEC fruit. No matter really because again this is Niagara meeting PEC with two days of skin contact, but elevated by 12 months on the lees. That time spent can’t be discounted, nor can the dry as a bone, mad as a hatter summer, not tom mention another year of understanding for Colin Stanners. In the end the acidity out of a chart topping pH and fruit accumulation (not in quantity but in phenolic brilliance) leads this riesling to great heights. Malolactic fermentation was allowed to occur naturally, helping to bring the acidity (and everything else) into balance. Lime, toast, flint and energy, boundless and invigorating. What a riesling, what a story. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Cave Spring Riesling CSV 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2016, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Times changes, as do winemakers, their hunches, hopes and dreams. Mackenzie Brisbois takes a sidestepping approach to this trailblazing riesling from the vineyard tended by Ed Hughes. It’s now all wild ferment elongated to 19 days on skins. Takes its time this little big one, moving no less than 25 per cent slower than ’15, in part because of the vintage but also because its wild pressed. More a dry matter of when over how or why, still in its aromatic infancy, suffocated by its nature. Also a case of a young wine caught in the 9 g/L total acidity crossfire of a sci-fi battle scene. Will most certainly take another 18 months to change. It does exhale this curious note of garrigue, like Peloponnese mountain tea and Alto Adige sweet fennel frond in broth, with apple and onion skin doused by shots of lime juice. There is even a chewy feel in the leafy texture, quite herbal with a mild pique in a green tea finish. Trust me, this will become something both fascinating and delicious at some point in 2020. There are approximately 76 cases made. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Leaning Post Riesling The Geek 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The second instalment of the Geek takes Ontario riesling experimentation not just to another level but to a specific methodology that no one else has really attempted thus far. The geeking out goes further and edgier into territory both new and misunderstood. If it seems unconvincing it’s a case of both searcher and searched not yet on the same page but that’s what research and development are all about. All the 2015 lees from Leaning Post’s classic riesling and chardonnay were added to the Geek. As if that wasn’t enough solid, texture-variegating matter, the 2014 riesling lees were also employed. Two years later the Solera ideal was put to bottle. The complex equation comes out to the most autolytic riesling ever made in Ontario, distinctive in that it’s like drinking traditional-method sparkling wine, 36 months on the lees but without any fizz. It’s unusual and fascinating, full of baking apples, biscuits and citrus. It does not meet the expected and the normal, not just because it’s dry as the desert but because it’s enzymatic behaviour is self-cannabalistic. It writes a riesling idiom, having a meaning not deducible from the individual parts. It’s a neo-impressionist idiosyncrasy, a reaction to the empirical realism of “typical,” VQA-cornered and pigeon-holed riesling, accomplished by relying on scientific theory to achieve predetermined textural effects. While The Geek undergoes an oxidative process it’s not exactly Solera-styled because young wine does not replace a percentage of removed older wine. It’s a positive accumulation of solids and therefore a strict and formalized composition. The argot R & D will go on and winemaker Ilya Senchuk asks, “how much lees is too much lees? Only The Geek knows.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Trail Estate Skin Contact Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

At the time of making this wine and then putting a label on a bottle there was no Ontario defined category and in fact this pioneering effort is one of the unheralded forerunners. From fruit sourced out of Ed Hughes’ vineyard it’s a shaggy yet ambitious riesling made mellifluent by 14 days skin contact, inoculated to keep the lees strain constant with with other 15s, meaning the Lakeview and Foxcroft brethren. Now smells just like riesling, unlike in its early “orange” wine days. No longer demanding and tannic, the high acidity too has mellowed and a petrol note has emerged, plus a pepper flake meets peach skin aromatic sedge. Still with the liquid salve texture, coming into its destined balance, dry and persistent in pulse by acidity but calm enough and settled. A great flesh of lime and raining complexity, with a final note of orange skin too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Trail Estate Barrel Ferment Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (241182, $35.20, WineAlign)

Can it be helped if the first 30 seconds with Charles Baker’s 2014 riesling seem like the opening of a film noir classic. Hushed tones, chiaroscuro shadows, off-screen characters and dramatic foreshadowing all solicit the need or the necessity to make use of a wild imagination. There have been older Baker vintages that acted with similar, almost hard to crack quietude. Perhaps it’s with ’13 etched in persistent memory but as a vintage it was (moderately) cooler and in the end, quite average. This ’14 works the benefits and the notes here are quite omnisciently lemon; curd, preserve, citrus tablet and then smeared by a bees-waxy salve. It’s really quite atypical for Baker and for the windswept Vinemount Ridge but misunderstood youth is a bitch. I’d like to revisit in 2019 and beyond to unearth and relish in the hidden meanings. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted November 2017 and March 2018  cbriesling  stratuswines  cruwinemerchants  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  @CRUOntario  Stratus Vineyards  

Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Black Ball 2015, Ontario (416073, $36.20, WineAlign)

The new age 2015 was tasted as part of a retrospective that included 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of what might be construed as idiosyncratic or antithetical riesling should be so fortunate to be involved in such a demonstration. The Pearl Morissette riesling endeavour was pretty much bone dry from day one. The Mosel style really never spoke to François Morissette. “We have 220 hang time days so we started fermenting riesling chardonnay style, then in 2012 and 2013 in foudres, which tightened them too much. So in ’14 we moved into concrete egg for aromatics but it was too intense.” So here in ’15 the joint between foudres and cement marks the new beginning. The juice is then transferred to become clear while the lees are kept and recycled for future vintages. This had just been bottled days before with almost no free sulphur “because they can take it.” Such low pH (2.97ish) and the up front skin contact brings tannin and then this silk road texture is followed by more tannin on the back palate. It’s a vintage Blackball and a vintage-driven riesling. A phenolically ripe one. The exercise proves that we really don’t know a thing about riesling, Cuvée Blackball and aging until we begin tasting at five years on. In order, 2011 is “a confirmation that we are on the right road,” ’12 may never be ready, ’13 messes with the riesling paradigm and ’14 is more like riesling of expectation. So what does that make 2015? Nothing yet, really. Have you not been paying attention? Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Riesling at Vineland Estates, 161 days on skins

Good to Go!

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No County for old wines

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

Humility only exceeded by impossibility @normhardie #pec #countyinthecity Pinot Noir 2014

To me, Prince Edward County is the most enigmatic wine region in the world. Why is that? The coterminous climate and geology comparison to Burgundy never wanes and the vintners who painstakingly cultivate and produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir never quite abandon the methodology. The Burgundian model of viticulture is almost universally applied to the County microclimate. Think about it further and note that latitude and soil composition aside, PEC is not Burgundy, never will be and the parallels drawn ad nauseum should begin to cease and desist.

There are many reasons for saying this. The most obvious has to do with winter and the painful condition of a once or twice every 10-15 year pain in the arse deep freeze that necessitates the hilling up of vines. Farmers select canes chosen for the following growing season and tie them to a wire very close to the ground. Upwards of two feet of soil is plowed onto the tied-down canes. The labour required is extensive and the subsequent yields are lower than most grape growing places on the planet.

Related – I’m a little bit County

At the 2015 spring County in the City event I noted that WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website. “David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc.” At the time I hung on to Burgundy with no immediate plans to recognize an imminent diurnal varietal shift.

Related – The ridges of Prince Edward County

Last fall I wrote a mini-dissertation on the ridges of PEC. “It all adds up to minerality in the wines and nowhere does the geology matter more than on the ridges.” Which brings me to the third bit of logic and one that is varietal based. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay share the stage with a wide range of planted grape varieties and it is the emergence of Pinot Gris that shakes the foundations of PEC-Burgundy thought. If this year’s grand tasting of County wines at the Berkeley Church showed one thing it’s that Pinot Gris is a must. From Hillier clay-loam to omnipresent limestone, the group begs for Pinot Gris, a mineral-loving, dry extract extricating and tertiary tannin absorbing grape. The makers know it.

Related – The Old Third and older County wines

A fourth dialectic concerns rules and regulations. A wine growing community may talk a big game of homage and publicly declare with politically correct language their allegiance to, a following of and the emulation of a wine-producing deity that has proven its success with hundreds of years of tradition behind it. But the fact of the matter is Prince Edward County does not yet know exactly what it means to be a community of wine producers. The grand cru, premier cru and lieu-dit blocks are only beginning to be understood and working with the climate is still an unmitigated, trial and error disaster.

So in steps a governing body to determine what winemakers are supposed to and even allowed to produce and what exactly they can call it. Absolute authority is exercised against a brilliant vintner who owns land, lives and produces wines in the County, but can’t label it as such. Forget about the economics of an acronym that saves on taxes. They are not allowed to write Prince Edward County on their label.

I hear you. Regulatory boards are needed to make sure a region is putting its best foot forward out to the country and to the world. You can’t have a golfer wearing cut-off jeans, a fishnet tank and a mesh visor shanking nine-irons on the perfectly groomed country club 18. But what if one guy’s wines are off the charts, gorgeous representations of terroir? So what if her skin-contact whites are not what we are used to? Who cares what either of them are wearing. Who should complain that they make new tracks in their own special way? Exactly how is it they bring shame, detriment or housing market decline to the neighbourhood?

Related – Take them home, County wines

Rant aside, the last piece of the Prince Edward County puzzle stretches from the idea of freedom and into a polemical discussion in which no two County wines are the same. Dynamism has never known such hyperbole as it does in the County. Yet another Sparkling epiphany was had after tasting Lighthall Vineyard’s first (not yet labeled) traditional method fizz. It should be called “Au Courant” because it takes everything we have assimilated from Champenoise bubbles, filters it through Cherry Valley soil and rewrites the book. The collective needs to embrace the Sparkling example set by Jonas Newman, Bruno Francois and Glen Symons.

The endearment “The County” is a term meant to bestow a sense of down to earth affection on a place you have to detour through to pay it a visit. “The County” is in fact Ontario’s most diverse and magnetic wine region. To borrow from the American literary critic James Wood, PEC is “one of those rare occasions where the absence of evidence is evidence.” Everything is changing all the time and everything is new. No County for old wines.

I recently reviewed 20 County wines. Here they are.

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

First @lighthallvyard strike #methodetraditionelle #2011 #fortytwomonths

Casa Dea Dea’s Cuvee 2015, VQA Ontario (261263, $18.95, WineAlign)

Distinctly August cling stone peach, ripe, lightly crushed and fenocchio glacier. Really pollinated fizz, with a bright pink grapefruit granita personality and cool chardonnay exemption. Pretty, pretty stuff. Lingers precisely and there is nothing remotely precious about it. Well made. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @casadeawinery  @PECWinemaker

Huff Estates Cuvee Janine 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Comes from a place and will return again to the junction where rusticity and elegant oxidative character live. Erstwhile fresh, alive, prescient and yet must have been a challenge to tame. Quite the gustatory, culinary, mis en place of torched vegetables and acidity de-glazed game seared off into caramelization. Intensely real, characterful and attention grabbing Janine but not funky. Slow braise ahead. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @HuffEstatesWine

Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive and reeling from the pushy barrel, young, tight, angular and closed. Green apple, tart white berries and barrel spice. Emerald gem Chardonnay leaving little to no wonder Niagara Bench winemaker Paul Pender is so interested in the fruit. South Bay is the Quarry Road of the County. Wait for the richness and the platinum peaches and cream to emerge commensurate to ostensibly consummate cool climate Chardonnay. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Karlo Estates Pinot Gris 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Welcome winemaker Derek Barnett to the County and to Pinot Gris with a Gorrilaz style, “the essence, the basics,” gone ripe beyond the pale, round and full. Sweet green apple and basil relish, veritable tang, baked tart shell filled with apple-citrus curd but so far from sour. Wish it hung around for longer. I suppose I have only myself to blame. “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag.” Clint Eastwood and Pinot Gris in the County. “The future is coming on.” Drink 2016-2018. Tasted April 2016  @KarloEstates

Karlo Estates Lake On The Mountain Riesling 2015, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Very Mosel Germanic Riesling Kabinett in style, with some residual and low alcohol. Juicy, round acidity, ripe sapidity and almost tersely spoken from the edge of the late harvest forest. Good length and will live a half decade or more with severity tempered by herbal countenance. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Keint He Portage Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Tart and tight, rich and tangy, as expected and with some density. What needs from reduction lays low and melds into wood. The handling was necessary from out of a challenging and demanding 2014 vintage. The Portage is fully entrenched as a true County stalwart. This is what defines what Keint He is, has come from and to where it will go. Ground zero for the range, from what others will feed from. Sister Chardonnays Greer and Frost embark from this Portage starting point. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016  @KeintheWinery  @Nicholaspearce_

Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The specificity of the label conjures up territorial Hillier thoughts for Chardonnay made by Norm Hardie, Dan Sullivan and Paul Battilana. While the Greer thread runs through and keeps it in the family this is all in Keint-He issue. Possessive of a richness shown by few other PEC Chardonnay, there counteracts and stabilizes a cool climate snap, crackle and green apple pop. Tang folds into lovely tart, citrus bitter curd with a wisely executed tumult. And there is no relent. A Chardonnay ripper. Beware the power. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Glenn Symons’ 2014 from the southern flank in the Cherry Valley is perhaps the most regionally intense, lights out Chardonnay in Prince Edward County. ‘Twas a good growing season in the Lighthall Road ward so say hello to phenolic ripeness and an old school, reductive and layered striker of flint and wood. The yields being as low as they are and exponentially were, there grunges much tonic reverb stirred into leesy, sweet extract in its rather ripped sonic youth. Such a mineral wine, sword-wielding, axe-grinding and tannin mining. Will find its unctuous way with time. ‘Cause it’s lights out right now. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016  @lighthallvyard

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The paradigm shift that began with Lighthall’s 2013 Pinot Noir continues with this stay the course 2014 and then some. The vintage offered up a slower developed phenolic yawning so the stygian runs deeper than the vermillion. That is to say the cherry fruit turns to black even while such a pretty Pinot pours with tension beneath the rich and glorious surface. Tension yes, but also soil infiltration and cooling breezes to temper the Cherry Valley conflagration. Tautness de-armed by a necessary streak of humus conditioning pomace, for grounding. Voluminous palate notes are repeated in demonstrative refrain. Another step forward for Prince Edward County Pinot excellence. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

Made in the Lighthall style mixed with location, location, location. Vines of healthy fruit in the Cherry Valley, making for wines that are stark, sturdy, demanding, self-fortified and of limited quantities. Like its siblings, this Pinot Gris is also exempt from weakness. Here PG reminds of lieu-dit Alsace, of attitude, with tannin, extract, salinity and and of course, mineral. Singular County Pinot Gris. Could age for a decade. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Norman Hardie Riesling 2015, VQA Ontario (131169, $21.00, WineAlign)

More reductive for a Norman Hardie Riesling than even it ordinarily shows and also pervasive of penetratingly concentrated stone fruit. While the acids may be received as hard and potentially malic that perception is calibrated by this wine’s typical aggregate. The walls need breaking down and the road is purposely graded high knowing full well it will eventually finish even with the shoulder. I like the sweet tannins and the difficult way in which it uses extract to a futuristic advantage. Wait a year and imagine the possibilities of balance. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

In Prince Edward County and for Pinot Noir there is no substitute and no comparison. Quixotically sweet Pinot Noir fruit, from the lowest of the low yields, scrupulously heeded and handled with care and yet also, somehow without a care to the world. As self-effacingly pretty and impossible as ever though in 2014 the tensity is lower, the anxiety bereft and not so crucially or dearly developed. There is almost no crisis from out of this first of the near-crisis vintages. This is an early to love Norm Pinot Noir, brought to life and with red citrus that only a Hardie low alcohol Pinot can bring. Humility only exceeded by impossibility. Ready to enjoy younger than most. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir J C R Rosehall Vineyard 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

The vintage steps out of a particular shadow and into bright light, exposing the JCR Pinot Noir with a particularly beautiful level of freshness and vitality. What has come before is not forgotten; the County tartness, the limestone preparation and the earthy red ochre fruit. But here is something other, something new, exciting and structured. The balance begins and ends on a seamless circle with no obvious demarcation point. The most elegant Rosehall Run Pinot Noir comes out of this 2013 and its level of poise should see it enjoyed now and for 10 more years easy. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted April 2016  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine

Rosehall Run J C R Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

A tenderly and beautifully rich, stone roses reductive and buttery Chardonnay, fully malo-activated, in adherence to the consistently classic Dan Sullivan righteous style. Makes me think of 1990’s Manchester post-punk, 60’s retro guitar pop, with a sweet softness as foil to an angst-riddled, contemporary acid house rhythmic sensibility. Sullivan’s JCR draws from influence, playing both time-tested Burgundy and new world Chablis pop hooks. “Where there’s life there’s gotta be hope and where there’s a will there’s a way.” Just sip along with the Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay. It’s hard not to become enamoured after experiencing such great, coherent length. So young. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Stanners Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Quite remarkable and reductive Chardonnay, from fermentation of a certain halting, the yeast not quite having finished munching and malo just short of finding fulfillment. Low in alcohol after posting pH similarly reserved. This has real gumption, a stalwart of phantasmagorical Chablis allegory in the guise of salty, mineral PEC with minor residual sugar and a dip into the funky well. Just lettin’ it all hang out. This is a very promising wine. Just wait until the weather holds out and the yields go up just enough for Colin Stanners to make a really proper Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016 @StannersWines  @GroupeSoleilTO

It's not what you think but it's just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

It’s not what you think but it’s just what you imagine @Stannerswines @GroupeSoleilTO @therealbenhardy #PinotGris #cuivre #skincontact #pecwine #princeedwardcounty

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

The coppery-hued Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2014 is like a member of the cup of coffee club, its skin contact time limited but forever significant. The PEC conceptualization may seem as strange as surfing Wellington waters but this Pinot Gris is a boy who trapped the sun, having sealed in brightness and freshness beneath the surface, cauterized during fermentation. This is not an orange wine but rather a a Pinot Gris with poise and a balladeering sense of calm. The Cuivré comes from pure sourced County fruit, spent time in stainless steel, is more than a curiosity, is a little funky and offers a feeling of rosé as a gateway drug to orange wine. Saline, nicely savoury, with a tinge of wild sauvage, all within reason. Such a skin contact white in self-proclamation “when you go into your skin, I’ll be the hope joining the walls.” The missing piece is tension, dynamic tempo changes, rises, falls and a crescendo. Though it lacks such structure it is still a beautiful mistake by the lake. Copper down. Only 230 cases were produced and it was released in February, 2016. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

 

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

One of three Skin Contact Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, from Lincoln Lakeshore fruit out of Ed Hughes’ farm. For whatever reason this vineyard is far less reductive then the (Wismer) counterparts. It may be attributed to site, of decreased nitrogen (or not) and/or when sulphur is applied. “Ed Hughes is a very calculated grower,” notes Brisbois, which may account for what stylistic deference is syllogistically accrued. “They’re very dry and they will be very tart,” she warns, “and aromatic.” Pressed when fully dry and 14 days on the skins. Arid is the understatement, this shining and whispering Riesling, of tartness not on top slides beneath the surface of acidity. So much length. Youth is not on its side while it wiles away in withheld revelations though longevity is not necessarily its greatest ally. This is Riesling of stark realities, arid with no Niagara frame of reference and fruit so crisp it cracks into perfectly linear fissures. Laser focus without pierce or citrus. Spellbound skin contact stuff. Needs six months to seek a wave beyond the shock. Only 32 cases made. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Skin contact #Riesling from @MackBrisbois @TrailEstateWine Invisibly stitched and tart-pan curl. #burgunder less than 50 cases #hughes #lakeview #foxcroft

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Lakeview Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The second of three skin contact, Niagara borrowed Rieslings from winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. This time from Craig Wismer’s Lakeview, a Twenty Mile Bench block with 18 years-ish old vines. Spent 21 days on the skins and comes through in or around 10 per cent alcohol (like the others). More herbology balms the nose and while it may not waft with equanimity or gregarious aromatics, it’s bleeding delicacy and savoury sapidity breathes freshness. If it just came with an added juicing of lime it would help to bring out structure and balance the anterior acids. As it is the acidity runs through the middle, streaks and halts the fruit from gaining on time. Adheres to acting typical of a 20 Mile Bench Alsatian Clone 49 example. Only 15 cases made. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The third and most effectually ingenious of Mackenzie Brisbois’ skin contact series Rieslings, with far more texture on the palate and overall Riesling acumen. Endowed with a gram less acidity than the Lakeview and burgeoning with veritable Twenty Mile Bench viscosity. Can it be such a coincidence that so many winemakers choose Foxcroft for their Riesling fruit? A real burgunder sensation is to be annexed out of the crafted brim of an invisibly stitched, tart-pan curl. This is irrefutably the most accomplished of the three (that includes Hughes and Lakeview), of length increased, laser focus and thirst quenching pleasure. Such a pity that only 12 cases were made. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Trail Estates Sauv Blanc

Trail Estate Skin Contact Series Sauvignon Blanc Hughes Vineyard 2015, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The concept is in line with what winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois set out to do with Riesling but the result couldn’t be further from the truth or the ideal. Sauvignon Blanc is nothing like Riesling. It’s malleable, amenable and submissive. The process took de-stemmed fruit, saw it ferment on its own (dry, in nine days), needing no inoculation and then handled with hand-punched, TLC. In the end it was sterile filtered, leaving it to shine with latent lucidity, of brilliant clarity and with skin-deep grace. The whole is a snapshot of nothing less than supple integration. I would like to taste this side by side in 2020 with Jean-Benoit Deslauriers’ similarly struck Benjamin Bridge (sweeter and cloudier) 2014. The divergence should be fascinating and confounding. Only eight cases made. A drop in the skin contact bucket. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

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I’m a little bit County

Keint-He Vineyards

Keint-He Vineyards

Aren’t we all? In the wake of recent frosts, a compounding ass-kicking at the hands of Mother Nature in the wake of two harsh winters, the farmers of Prince Edward County now have to work that much harder to make viable an already arduous road to growing Vinifera. I’m not so much the type to report on bad news so I leave it to my revered colleague Rick VanSickle to hand you the news. Rick does it with empathy, grace, subtlety and truth. Here is what he is telling us about vine damage in PEC.

UPDATED: Prince Edward County vineyards hit hard by brutal frost, Niagara assessing damage, Lake Erie North Shore spared wide-spread damage

If I was not before, with thoughts constantly streaming east to the north shores of Lake Ontario, where precarious soils sit like Buddha astride one very massive and far-stretching bed of limestone rock, at present I am a little bit County. Therefore today is the day to put some notes out on the Prince Edward County wines I tasted last month at Airship 37 in the Distillery district. The County came to town for their annual fair.

County in the City at Airship 37

County in the City at Airship 37

WineAlign primo scrittore David Lawrason presented his PEC state of the union address via the company website last week. David touched on some integral points for growers and winemakers in the County, including the rise of Riesling and a case for increasing plantings of varieties like Chenin Blanc. The story mentions new wineries and untrodden varietal production yet when all is said and done, the best wines on his recommended list are almost exclusively produced from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those Burgundian soils don’t really lie, do they?

Related – Take them home, County wines

What strikes me most in this retrospective look at the 40 or so wines that I tasted last month is how varieties perform once the vines have matured and their profiles becoming increasingly County in character. Maturity, wisdom and acumen are developing a condensing of Prince Edward County hyperbole. The wines are serially developing a house style and regional disposition. With each successive vintage the wines of Norman Hardie, Dan Sullivan, Jonas Newman, Frédéric Picard, Glen Symons, Bryan Rogers, Paul Battilana, Gerry Spinosa, Colin Stanners, Caroline Granger, Bruno Francois, Bill Turnbull, Dan Tweyman, Deborah Paskus (to Keith Tyers) and the late Richard Karlo (with torch passed to Milan Vujnic) leave the Burgundy comparison behind to speak a strictly PEC vernacular.

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

Maggie Granger with The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009

The voice and the news is a very good thing. The clarity of the County is glaring and vivid, leading to what David Lawrason calls “great highs to significant lows,” but yes, Lawrason is correct in saying “overall the playing field is evening out.” Prince Edward County is coming into its own, growing comfortably into its cool skin and if mother nature has any balancing to offer, the future will be bright.

Related – You can lead a county to the city

Keint He Chardonnay Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (389544, $16.00, WineAlign)

A quiet, somewhat demurred aromatic hone succeeds in drawing rather than distancing curiosity. Deeper inhalation gets to the toasty, nutty crux of the cool fruit and the conclusion is valour, chivalry and generosity. Picks right up where ’12 left off if just a bit more gelid by nature. Niagara fruit (Foxcroft, Queenston and Malivoire) provide ample combined cream and lactic limestone tack with palate driving citrus bent. Takes up several lanes of breadth on the texture trek to become a distinct PEC composed Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The PEC derived Portage Chardonnay goes deeper than the Niagara Voyageur, no doubt in part to roots from maturing vines that work and dig for limestone. That raison d’être is the constant yet in ’13 the expression is rounder, fleshier, enigmatic, akin or at least prompts the idea of June’s Vineyard in Niagara. Shows its oak with increased weight, fuller favour and more beneficial bitters. The minor decrease in acidity stalls the Prince Edward County mechanism and solicits earlier term consumption. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Chardonnay Foxcroft 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

A year on the wilder times have settled for the early aromatics. The progression pauses at the juste milieu and gracefully glides across the palate to a similar nimble finish. Has reached the optimum condition of cool climate Chardonnay to remain in that state of pliancy for another year or two. Drink 2015-2017.

From my earlier note of February 2014:

Fruit sourced from a single Niagara block. Despite having made the yeomans voyageur trek out to the County for vinification, integrity of the Foxcroft vibe has been maintained. Freshly cored Kenyan pineapple juice poured atop oat grain in a limestone molcajete. Bottled on Sept. 15th, like all the ‘12’s. Fullish, bullish extraction and at 13.5 percent abv, this Foxcroft has been handled with Wise acumen, with more rich texture than the others. A chew of nutty, non-acidic hard pineapple comes later and this finishes with a mild-mannered, even keel feel to it, like the winemaker and the estate’s keeper.

Last tasted April 2015

Keint He Gamay Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)
From fruit sourced at Malivoire on the Beamsville Bench and from a vineyard that was lost to the ice storm of 2014. Really too bad considering the outright fresh and bright Gamay that has come forth out of this ’13. Black raspberry, at just the optimum brix fills in this shining though simple example. It has just the correct balance of tart and twinge of carbonic meets late spice. Its simplicity lies in the structure where one component concedes to the next, as opposed to layering upon one another. Very linear and immediate Gamay. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Voyageur 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.00, WineAlign)

Quite a pretty vintage for the PEC Pinot traveller by way of Malivoire and Queenston Road in Niagara. With a spray of cola and an inside edge of liquorice root in its gait, the Peninsula Pinot has already ignited its development. The 18 months in bottle have finished designing the invitation to solicit partake in reward for prompt gratification. The world is a charming one, replete with interchangeable aromatics and flavours, replayed, rewound and woven within the fabrics. Very efficient and studious Pinot Noir. Very Pinot Noir. Drink 2015-20178.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Portage 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign)

Depth of character despite the light hue and frame, a dichotomy expressed in Pinot Noir, in this vintage most akin to entry-level Bourgogne and less like its County self. Goes directly subterranean, away from fruit, if only for a spell, to a bound and binding rock cavern. Returns later, is showered by peppers and bitters, ground by tannin and grinds back down to earth. Missing are the cherries and the chocolate, replaced by wacke and substrata. Perhaps give it a year or two to settle, refine and make another call for that hermetical fruit. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Keint He Pinot Noir Queenston Road 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Keint He’s take on a single-structured Pinot Noir from the Queenston Road is highly aromatic, warmer than (by comparison, Creekside Estate’s) and yet not obscured or veiled by any discernible layer of veneer. The cool, savoury centre is the oasis offering respite from the full environmental gamut on display at the hands of sweet, sour, salty and lardy. Quite characterful, bold and cool-climate kitschy with a kinesthetic, corporeal feel. When Bryan Rogers and Ross Wise gain another level of Queenston understanding, it will not be hard to imagine a churning of something special in 2013. I’d put my money on it. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015

The Grange of Prince Edward County Gamay Select 2009, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Daughter (Maggie) convinced mother (Caroline) to let her hold back 15 cases of this County Gamay, a variety that has some difficulty sharing the sandbox with limestone. The additional five years in bottle has brought the downy fruit back from acidity’s precarious cliff edge, from the brink of piercing danger and disaster. The current state is one of conciliation and quiescence. There remains a major key of funk mind you, parliamentary even, but sniff past and the plot thickens, as does the texture. Chalky, gritty and persistently grainy, this ’09 Gamay is very much alive, like a scaling bass line supported by a rising horn section. A real fun look at the past with an eye to drive the future. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015

The wines of Norman Hardie

The wines of Norman Hardie

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 2015

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (125310, $39.00, WineAlign)

The anxiety of the vintage has not left the bottle while the raging fruit and acidity battle for supremacy. The space-time-chaos continuum will perdure in this Pinot Noir of unpaired anatomical structure. Wait a further three years minimum for the azygous to drain. The heft will subside. Drink 2018-2022.

From my earlier note of March 2013:

Norman Hardie needs little introduction. He is the reason Prince Edward County Pinot will secure a place on that grape’s world stage. The 2011 vintage will go down as a classic for PEC. The tens have mass appeal, the nines turned out to be stellar but it is the elevens that gather the best of both worlds; ripeness and acidity. Stock up. Paints the County red in layered and structured brushstrokes. Ripe, bright cherry tonality in super-heightened, mesmeric sensuality. Accented by weeping rock, black earth and that cherry. Would not figure this to be Norm’s most rugged or gregarious and yet it holds more heft than it looks. Currently in a great place and will live longer than any other.

Last tasted April 2015

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

The ’12 Niagara has swapped spontaneity for coherence, licentiousness for logic. Has entered the stage of non-reductive peel, where skin is discarded, flesh is exposed and juices run free. If you like your Chardonnay settled and yet vitally fresh, now is the time to enjoy the Hardie 2012 Niagara Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2022.

From my earlier more of May 2014:

Norm’s Niagara is such a different animal to the County 2012. The warm summer and dry fall means more humidity and even more reduction. Currently cothurnal so less like Burgundy but only because there elevates the high-tones and percipience from Niagara. Texture is key but this Hardie needs time. It’s not angular but it is steroidal, injected, like a wild thing, as if the yeast were still in control, munching away even though there is no more sugar to be had. Undomesticated ’12, at heart, in spirit, out of mind. Hard to imagine there could be this much anxiety from the even-tempered vintage, but when you pick real early and keep the oak to a bare minimum, Hardie happens. Norm picked ripe fruit between September 7 and 10, six weeks ahead as compared to some years. He said the fruit had a “golden tan, ready to go.” The use of smallish 500L barrels works wonders for texture and though 40 per cent was new wood, you would never know it. Malolactic fermentation didn’t happen until late August, nearly a full year on so no sulphuring was required until that time. This is Hardie’s freshest Niagara fruit ever, from Duarte Oliveira’s farm between Victoria and Ontario Street, the same spot as Hillebrand’s Chardonnay Reserve. Terrific Beamsville Bench Chardonnay.

Last tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012 and Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013

Karlo Estates Pinot Grigio 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.00, WineAlign)

The adage is so very true; a good Pinot Grigio is hard to find, just like a man. The take here is decidedly and strikingly Pinot Grigio, a flash of Friuli and a Bessie to be reckoned with. This just has that positive, smithy oxidative side, the kind that rocks and stones mixed with winemaking cause an exchange of electrons between reactants. The fruit is big, lucidly piqued by pear, but also leaning mango and jack. Quite fleshy, with schematic, scenic, natural acidity and panoramic minerality. This is about as mnemonic as it gets for Gris, or in this case Grigio, in Prince Edward County, especially considering who the buyers will be. One can only hope they intuit the condition and here’s to planning for that consumer base to expand. “Lord, a good (Pinot Grigio) is hard to find, you always get another kind.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 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 2015

Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

This may not be the first Pinot Noir made by Glen Symons but it marks a categorical paradigm shift for the Lighthall oeuvre. Elicits a “well, well, what have we here” response. Unfiltered, reflexive and flexing, not so much in weight as in protein. This is an entirely different sort of Prince Edward County Pinot Noir, neither dark as black cherry nor bright as sour cherry. It’s aromas and flavours recall both. I can’t say for sure that any Ontario Pinot has crossed into such territory. Offers a shade of calignosity for those who believe that genuine Pinot Noir only thrives in the dark. Yet the clarity is conversely illuminating. It’s pure, crisp and forking over real gastronomic delicacy. Intimates aspects of Sonoma and Otago with PEC intimacy. Really well-defined and culminating with a positive bitter finish. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé 'The Fence' 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, Lighthall Pinot Noir 2013 and Sparkling Rosé ‘The Fence’ 2014

Huff Estates Chardonnay South Bay Vineyards 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Reductive but not to excess. If you can appreciate a Norm Hardie Chardonnay then Huff’s style is a walk in the park. A few swirls brings the rest of the players to the fore stage and the party. This is big band Chardonnay, with a feminine and demonstrative lead vocalist. Richly textured, from PEC plots at South Bay that are the Niagara equivalent of Wismer Vineyards, lending warmth, soil fixation and unconscious aid. There is a level of supposition that leads to breeding a sensation of succulence that is not found anywhere else in the County. Barrel is important, mostly unobtrusive and so this gathers up layers, separates, divides and then meshes. The wood is employed towards a west coast groove but it works with the best, best fruit. The corpulence is not built on butter but rather demi-glace, or perhaps perfect beurre-blanc. A very long and driven Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014

Rosehall Run Riesling The Righteous Dude 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $19.95, WineAlign)

Thank you Dan Sullivan for the fodder, to go on more tangents than should be allowed in a tasting note. And thank you for fixing a righteous Riesling, exemplary to Twenty Mile Bench and in a vein that represents the Double R. Has Mosel meets 20 Mile in verse. Feigned sweetness is managed by thriving acidity, much as others have similarly done in the area; Jay Johnston with Nadja and Paul Pender with Limestone Vineyard. Here lies Niagara Riesling you can really sink your teeth into, made by PEC-minded folk, really tying the Ontario room together. A hooked rug of Niagara and PEC in the hands of Sullivan, with really fine lines and good length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Casa Dea Gamay 2013, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $15.95, WineAlign)

Fine work in 2013, for Gamay, by winemaker Paul Batillana. Gamay is so very welcome when the fruity matter matters most, as witnessed by this Casa Dea. Some depth from soil and an ever so slight scorch of earth add complexity to hang a #GoGamayGo hat upon. Has the bends in a way, going just a bit too deep but rescues itself with a fresh radio frequency and a changeling face to red orchard fruit. This has real cru class, good funky bass and a driving sound to regeneration. Will evolve nicely for five years. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015

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Why it matters to taste wines again

Dumplings

Dumplings

It would be foolish to think that a single taste or a brief assessment can ascertain everything that a wine will bring to the table. So many factors play into that moment in time; how that bottle came to arrive at this place, how long it had been open, its current temperature and certainly the temperament and mood of the taster.

The only true and valid important bits of information that we can cull from a fleeting meeting with a bottle of wine is whether or not it is marred by a fault, or faults. Is the wine tainted with TCA (trichloroanisole)? Does it contain high levels of Brettanomyces? Is it raging with volatile acidity? It is oxidized or reductive? Has lady bug taint found its way into the bottle? And so on and so forth. Quality can be guessed at with high probability but time is so essential to knowledge. This is why tasting for a second and third time matters.

Wines should always be afforded the opportunity to be reconsidered, especially after some bottle settling time. The fascination with seeing evolution from organic ferments is real. Wine changes, often for the better, that much we know. Wines deserve second chances, re-dos and re-tastes.

Writing updated notes is the essential by-product of re-tasting and the catalyst that acts as the chaperone to get to know a particular bottle and by extension, a winemaker’s portfolio. Here are seven new releases, coming into VINTAGES on March 7th. They are actually re-releases, having been previously made public by the winery or through the LCBO. I tried them all once again and can say with confidence, by way of the tasting note, that all seven have confirmed their quality and improved with time. These are the seven new notes for seven March 7th VINTAGES re-releases.

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

From left to right: Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, 13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011 and Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru Creux De La Net 2011

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign)

Juicy, spirited and eminently approachable. Citrus and peach fruit beg to be gulped by the key keg load.

From my earlier, June 2014 note: “The gateway of the Tawse Riesling portfolio and first to be released is an omnipresent beacon for what is to come from the single-vineyard sistren. Built fruit forward from an orange zest, stone rose and lemon glade guide, this is the Sketches most juicy sensation yet. Incredible vacuum of citrus acidity waterfalling into a great white hole. Though surrounded by so many a Riesling with site specific personality, “she’ll carry on through it all.” Intensity in dry Riesling.”

Last tasted March 2015  @Tawse_Winery

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (373407, $18.00, WineAlign)

Carries the weight of the Peninsula within the bright frame of clarity that is the PEC oeuvre. In ’12 the warmth and the weight can’t help but break down to burrow into earth. Fine, grainy tannins and an increased structure will give this three more years of development but do not hesitate to enjoy it now.

From my earlier April 2014 note: “Tasted a second time, the floral lift is clearer than before, as is the understated earthiness. Also showing more body and verve so it appears the Voyageur is starting to come into its own. From my earlier February 2014 note: “Fruit here comes from two Niagara vineyards, Queenston and Malivoire. An earthy Pinot that positions itself in isolation away from its suave and handsome Portage and Benway brethren with a waft of merde. Taste brightens as a sweet cranberry, chalky, root beer float. Kudos deserved as it’s clearly recognizable as Pinot with a medium finish and a pinch of horseradish salt on a lithe 12.5 per cent frame.”

Last tasted March 2015  @KeintheWinery

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (118638, $19.95, WineAlign)

Brilliant hue, like a ceiling fresco of gold-scrolled tiers. Has that feel of lemon peel shrivelling to scent. Was a Category Champion at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada.

From my earlier September 2014 note: “Pinot Gris with pears and more pears. A no hold barred, straight up, bring it with orchard fruit example. A spoonful of sweet lemon curd indicates a just post ripe picking and now oxidation, if not necessarily the intention. Off-dry with acidity that joins but does not round the shining fruit into absolute form.”

Last Tasted March 2015  @GrayMonkWinery

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is spot on, both as 13th Street and as Niagara Peninsula Gamay. Very ripe, to the edge of extracted distraction and less funky than previous vintages. Really defines the genre, acts the act, walks the walk, executes the execution. Drives the point, carves the cliché, go Gamay go.

From my earlier note when tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014: “Spice and rich fruit head straight to Gamay welkin derived direct from the soil’s core, of Sandstone, Schwenker and the winery’s home vineyard at Fourth Avenue. Swirl away the gathered must and moss to reveal more Cru fruit than you can shake a stirring rod at. Such verve, said grit, such persistence. The thing about Gamay is, “if you want inside of her, well boy you better make her a raspberry swirl.” 13th Street has certainly made the raspberry sing in the ’12 Gamay so “raspberry swirl, mmm let’s go.”

Last tasted March 2015  @13thStreetWines

Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Napa Valley, California (396150, $29.95, WineAlign)

There are so many reasons not to find a thrill in this regional blend of Pinot Noir fruit but none of them stick. Sweetness, simple syrup silky fruit, brown sugar, every red and purple berry in all varieties of fields (plus ripe plums) and warm to temperate alcohol (14.5 per cent declared) all combine for full California sunshine effect. All this and I just can’t turn away. With all the excess fruit, texture and multiplicity in good times, how can I? I ask this Pinot, “how come you, how come you dance so good?” The answer lies in the feel and the ability to turn a Noir trick or two. Not to mention a rolling of barrels and Napa Valley stones through its very core. Well done.  Tasted January 2015  @sterlingwines  @Diageo_News

Bachelder Wismer Vineyard-Wingfield Block Chardonnay 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (345819, $44.95, WineAlign)

A new release, mindful of micro-plot. From out of a Bachelder barrel, the great mystery of wood is not that it smoulders, but that it rests on water, or in this case, on grape juice. To label this Wismer as Wingfield is to give this Chardonnay a scientific specificity, a concentration of fruit so capable of inducing the ethereal, to hover as if in suspension. This is Wismer-Wingfield. The Chardonnay that floats, like hope.

From my earlier July 2014 note: ‘Has Wismer found a cruising altitude? Has this Grand Cru vineyard from a most perplexing 2011 vintage entered the telephone booth in civilian clothes, only to soon emerge as a super hero? Will it sing, “I am, I am Superman and I can do anything?” Wismer has rounded out a bit, at present in a grounded form, but we know it will fly to greater heights and at faster speeds. From my earlier, February 2014 note: “Got game tonight, in auxiliary moxie, magisterial atmosphere and long strides up and down the ice.” Earlier notes: “Increased richesse and oomph and though I continue to hesitate to admit it, Saunders is the (Jackson Browne) elegant bottling in ’11. Wismer the (Warren Zevon) gregarious, mineral character werewolf of Niagara, what with it’s touch of anxiety, fuller texture and “bite down…draw blood!” From my earlier November 2013 note: “From the Wingfield Block within the 20 Mile Bench grand cru vineyard, ’11 Wismer is greener, in apple and sapid behaviour. The tension is palpable, quarryful, querulous, more calciferous. Fruit here is picked at an altitude as high as the lowest part of Flat Rock’s vineyard. Can a spot be pinpointed, anywhere on the peninsula that produces more piercing Chardonnay in 2011 as this Wismer micro-block?”

Last Tasted March 2015  @Bachelder_wines

Bachelder Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘La Creux De La Net’ 2011, Burgundy, France (LCBO 403485, $47.95, SAQ 12089524, $38.50, WineAlign)

Purity abounds, florals leap and the heart fills with an arrow of red fruit. So linear, so direct. Wears the crux of Bachelder integrity on its sleeve. The pinpoint accuracy of plot, the ubiquity of gypsy soul, the bandwidth of frequency. Yet another Bachelder “ere the bonnie boat was won, as we sailed into the mystic.” Acidity rears and rails right through. Tannin trails like a burning star. Ten more years will see this to a moondance of quietude.

From my earlier February 2014 note: A metallurgical slant this time around and iodine, though sweet, like a geologist’s preferred cocktail. The palette is Rothko maroon and in cohorts with what is ascertained by the palate, scheme fruits and hearts both red and black.

From my earlier note of November 2013: Has the sense to be subtle, effortless and akin to Chambolle. Not so much openly ripe fruit but more the flowers that come before. Cherries dabbed by a citrus fragrance, or the spritz of squeezed zest and an unusually smoky musk. Insinuates new world (think Oregon) though it tells a rubble tale of its limestone slope climat.

Last tasted March 2015

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You can lead a county to the city

South Bay Winery vineyard in Prince Edward County PHOTO: POSTMEDIA NEWS

as seen on canada.com

It’s time to discover the wines of bucolic Prince Edward County in south-central Ontario, a place possessed and structured of a learned and cultured essence. If you were born in PEC you likely never left and if you did, probably returned. Then there are those who migrated in search of an anti-metropolitan lifestyle. The landscape is encompassed by water, dotted with folkloric towns, farms and cottages. Wine destination comparisons might be made; to Niagara, to Muskoka, the Finger Lakes, the North Fork of Long Island, to parts of California. No definitive connection is obvious. After tasting through the formidable pours at County in the City last Thursday at the Berkeley Church in Toronto, it became abundantly clear that the wines are unique in and amongst themselves and also bound together as one. The refrain holds true. It must be the rocks.

The grape growers, winemakers and 30 some odd wineries in PEC are no longer a gaggle of obscure, off the beaten path, parochial folk. Their serious VQA wines are establishing footholds in our metropolitan markets. The County’s adage may well be, “you can lead a farmer to grapevines,” a sure statement of the obvious. This event proved you can also lead them to the city.

Photo: Wine Align

Photo: Wine Align

“The County” as it is affectionately known is Ontario’s newest and suddenly dynamic wine appellation. It’s climate and geological make-up has been compared to Burgundy, the world’s benchmark region for growing and producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is clearly the County’s signature variety, its staff of life, but the excitement extends well beyond that comfort zone. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Vidal and especially sparkling wines are making inroads along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what about Gamay? Casa Dea’s Paul Battilana crafts a Sparkling Rosé from estate grapes. Chadsey’s Cairns and Troumpour’s Mill both make solid Gamay Noir. Battilana makes a still Gamay, as does Hillier Creek Estates. Time for others to join the #GoGamayGo party.

Prince Edward County wineries are increasing their collective engagement in many ways. The PEC chapter of the Ontario Wine Society held their inaugural event April 27th, 2013, County Character at Hillier Town Hall. PEC winemakers have joined the progressive wine on tap program too, like Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and sparkling wine specialist Hinterland Wine Company, who is kegging Charmat, Prosecco-style bubbles for Barque Smokehouse.  The coming months offer many opportunities to taste the County. The Terroir festival in late May is an annual showcase of the area’s rocks, soil and new release wines, put on by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. Wassail takes place in late fall/early winter, celebrates the harvest and the laying of the vines to rest. The summer of 2013 will be a great time to visit PEC and follow its wine trail.

Here are nine wines of note tasted at Wine Align‘s County in the City at The Berkeley Church.

From left: Sandbanks Rosé 2012, Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009, Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011, Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010, Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011, and Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010

Sandbanks Rosé 2012 (244616, $12.95) whispers summer by the lake in the face of a fading pastel, pink sunset. A magical and inexpensive combination of subtle strawberry, cream and bright acidity. Who would ask for more?  87  @SandbanksWinery

Keint-He Vineyards Voyageur Vidal 2012 ($17, winery only) is a warm and aromatic expression having taken full advantage of the vintage. Yellow and orange flesh melon abounds in sweetness tempered by just enough limestone influenced acidity. Incredibly easy to drink. Breathes new life into white wine.  88  @KeintheWinery

Casa Dea Estates Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 (241612, $18.95, winery) coaxed maximum density from the vintage in fleshy, black cherry and yet is anhydrous from chocolate dust. Chalk up another redacted red from Casa Dea, in the same vein as the plush, ruby ’09 Pinot Noir. All of Paul Battilana’s wines are priced and offered like an open door. Mi Casa Dea et su Casa Dea.  88  @PECWinemaker

Norman Hardie Pinot Gris 2012 ($25, winery only) bottled one week ago, is not as you might think, in shock. A cleanse of pure pear purée with an open invitation for immediate gratification. Mellifluous and with no discernible A16 whatsoever. This one’s good to go. Who comes by chance will be the more easily let go. “Lay down my darling,” this PG ain’t for keeping.  91  @normhardie

Lighthall Gewürztraminer 2011 ($25, winery only) succeeds because less is more. Less lychee, more lightness of being. This is Glenn Symons’ 2nd vintage from the famed Wismer Vineyards in Niagara (Jordan). Refuses to club you over the head with “correctness.” Despite the lack of oily, nutty and tropical girth it’s suffused with crisp pleasure.  90  @lighthallvyard

Huff Estates Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from 100% Pinot Noir grapes is a phenomenal, inaugural genesis effort. More sanguine in colour than one would imagine, this sparkler is wonderfully sweet but also “turns sweat, turns sour.” Pinot Noir is always potentially so dramatic but who knew it could be like this, like blood swirling in the glass. “Bottled in a strong compression,” with black raspberry, noticeable yeast and impressive finesse.  Out of the cage.  91  @HuffEstatesWine

Rosehall Run Wines Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run Wines
Photo: Michael Godel

Rosehall Run ‘The Swinger’ Syrah 2011 ($34.95, winery only) gets my attention not just because it’s the only commercially planted and bottled Syrah in PEC but because it stands in front of the orchestra. I gotta believe winemaker Dan Sullivan cares deeply about this wine from fruit sourced on Dick Singer’s Fieldstone Vineyard. Nothing fatuous about its smoky, tart cranberry, Sangioveseness kissed by the salty waves of an unseen ocean. The Swinger “ain’t no cherry bomb,” waits for no one, with its tobacco voice, gravel, rocks and sand. Like a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun.  90  @Rosehall_Run

Exultet Chardonnay ‘The Blessed’ 2011 ($35, winery only) is exemplary even if it may not be proprietor Gerard Spinosa’s favourite vintage. Commands an ineffable presence in gold sheen and parses meaning through balance and poise. The new oak is very noticeable but the ’11 acidity is grand. Their integration is seamless, the wine shines and a few years time will only increase its lustre.  92  @ExultetEstates

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2010 (310474, $39.95, winery) has improved dramatically over the course of a year, now red verging to black fruit, if only for a fleeting moment of temporary insanity, in a Sonoma state of mind. Silky smooth, “the textures coat my skin.” Though I have seen “the best (Pinot Noir) minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” this CCV uses a cured bresaola flavour and a vivid flower scent to invigorate, ground the humidity and the “earthy beet.” Musical, earthy beat, as in All Cats are Grey meets Howl.  92  @ClossonChase

Good to go!