In the past 12 months I have tasted Canadian wines. Somewhere between hundreds and a thousand of them. Aside from day-to-day assessments at home, in the LCBO sensory lab, at the WineAlign office and at events in Ontario, I’ve also been a part of judging panels. In 2015 I sat in at the Ontario Wine Awards, WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada and Gold Medal Plates.
In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. And so forth leads to 15 in 2015.
Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014
Canadian wine is growing with exponential force, gaining ground in markets at home and abroad. Brits dig us. I know, they told me. British Columbia is a desert oasis of variable climates to fascinating degrees. Oh the Syrah, Riesling and Gamay that rocks forth. Ontario stood up to two straight brutal winters and screamed, “we still made great fucking wine.” Take that mother nature.
Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013
And I quote. “Picking a top anything list is both a chore and a labour of loyalty. The opportunities to learn more about Canadian-made wine, especially the processes and the efforts, were numerous in 2014. Canadian winemakers opened their doors and when people came, they taught. They walked the vineyards, showed off their prized barrels and walked through the processes of making wine. Tasting and barrel rooms make for the greatest classrooms. Get out there in 2015. The experience is priceless.”
So I did. In 2015 I visited Niagara for Icewine Fest, discovered exceptional cider (with percentages of Pinot Noir and Riesling) made by Angela Kasimos at Small Talk Vineyards and have been pouring it on tap at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar ever since.
The taps at the two restaurants poured a record number of wines in 2015, from Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus and Leaning Post. In March we travelled with CAPS Ontario for an eight-hour intense immersion into Niagara Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
Another visit with Ilya and Nadia Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines in Winona, Ontario shed new lights, especially for Syrah from the Lincoln Lakeshore. In June I toured the facilities at Niagara College with Dr. Jamie Goode, Magdalena Kaiser and our host Chef Michael Olson. Jamie and I tasted through an impossible number to count Domaine Queylus wines with Thomas Bachelder. On that I will report really soon. Really soon…
The Cool Chardonnay conference in July was in fact, the coolest yet. I spent three more glorious Annapolis-Gaspereau Valley days with Mike and Jocelyn Lightfoot in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Visits to Domaine de Grand Pre, L’Acadie Vineyards and Benjamin Bridge filled out the east coast foray.
In the fall I made pilgrimage to Prince Edward County to get a grip on the eskers, ridges and aspects of what makes wine so special in that part of Ontario.
As always there are wines that should have, would have and could have made the cut were there more time, space and yet another, better headline to write. Some were knocked off the shortlist because they may not have been quite as exciting though were this list one of “most important,” then perhaps they would have stayed put. These four are perfect examples of that condition.
Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2008, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (277228, $16.95, WineAlign) Perhaps the assessment seven years later creates an unfair advantage but come now, a great wine is a great wine from its humble beginnings. At $16.95, in 2008 or 2015, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Peninsula, this type of emerging propensity is more than gold or platinum, it’s money.
The Good Wine Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (350751, $20.95, WineAlign) from winemaker Ross Wise and The Good Earth Wine Company’s Nicolette Novak is a necessary example of $20 Lincoln Lakeshore Cabernet Franc offering up every reason to drink it and demand that more me made.
Creekside Estate Winery Pinot Noir Queenston Road Vineyard 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign) is what winemaker Rob Power refers to as a lay lady lay style. Still the Kama Sutra Pinot Noir of inviting behaviour.
Hubbs Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2010, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign). The HCV Danforth Ridge is clearly a top Pinot site in the County (along with slopes on the Greer and Closson roads). Planted to high density the results are proven in wines like this 2010
The year that was 2015 seemed to bring out the adventurous winemaker, the risk-taker and the progressive thinker. While these five wines were not so much exciting as much as they were cerebral, they need to be mentioned. Whenever the envelope is pushed and the emotions of geeks are sequestered, well then a wine has achieved something special. These five really opened some doors.
Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (199273, $36.20, WineAlign) speaks the treble language of the vintage, predicated on bold ideas looking forward towards a bright future. Ultimately it is yeast and vintage, non partisan to site, that elaborate the Wild Ferment.
Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign). The technique and the practice is ancient and has been kept alive. The only questions need asking are “is it good, is it well-made and would I like to drink it?”
Tawse Chardonnay Quarry Road Natural 2014, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign). It’s one thing to make a natural wine in Ontario and a world away to do so with Chardonnay. “The law was never passed, but somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last. Have we really gone this far through space and time?”
The latest rendition of Vin de Curé, the “Parish Priest’s,” and the Jura’s Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) of Burning Kiln Stick Shaker Savagnin 2013, VQA Ontario (367144, $24.95, WineAlign) is a white elixir in search of roast pork, braised belly and cured bacon. Not to be missed.
Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Affected Viognier 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula (375ml), Ontario (405027, $39.95, WineAlign) though not a common Viognier practice can be imagined with Vendanges Tardives simulation.
I try to concentrate on new releases, unless something old (read: Riesling) jumps out and bites me in the ass. The 15 Canadian wines tasted in 2015 that wooed, wowed and whetted the appetite are the fingers, toes and tongues of their creator’s ideals, hopes and dreams. They are also quintessentially representative of their time and place.
From the rich limestone and sandstone beneath the clay, 1.1 acre Misek vineyard, a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. A very linear Ivan combs the catacombs of the Escarpment’s underpinning. A retaining wall of vintage attenuated rocks and stones, a vineyard’s low yields and the voices in Charles’ head have produced a striking Riesling. In 2014 adolescence has entered adulthood. Now before us is a grown up Ivan, mature Ivan, maybe even wise Ivan. Texture is in manifest control in this loyal, stay at home Baker, not yet running wild like free-spirited Picone. Ivan has presence, sometimes a great notion and is Baker’s longest bit of prose to date. The next great Riesling vintage will make it iconic. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted April 2015 @
This CCV Chardonnay is one of departed winemaker Deborah Paskus’ final acts at Closson Chase. It will forever be noted as a legacy-cementing, swan song of career excellence. Crafted by Paskus and bottled by the next one, current winemaker Keith Tyers, the 2013 CCV is simply a tour de force. No such combination of richness, tropicality and pure grape tannin has ever infiltrated this Chardonnay, from this vineyard. I’m not sure there is a comparison in Ontario, at this level of excellence and at this price. A wine of pure impression, with Montrachet-like structure and Folatières-like precision. Seemingly capacious, its facile legerity is hypnotizing, quantitatively escalating in assembly of aromas, flavours, through texture and finally to longevity. The wine spent 16 months in a mere (17.25 per cent new) oak. That it notes 12.5 per cent alcohol on the label is next to impossible. The substance is just too buttressed to be so tender and effete. Impeccable balance, refinement and mineral finish. This is Chardonnay to confuse the world’s fine white collectors, to wreak havoc at international tastings for five to 10 years. Only 712 cases are available and at $27.95, is down $2 in price from the 2012. Best ever, hands down. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted March 2015 @
In December of 2014 I counted the ’13 CMU Gamay as one of my mind-blowing wines of the year. Once again we are witness to the authentic, raw and natural impossibility of the wine, from 100 per cent whole clusters sent to cement fermenters. The hue is just impossible, the wine sulphur-free. That ’13 Gamay did not last. I tasted again this winter and it failed me. It may return. This ’14 will never leave. It is natural to the 14th degree and yet its rich, smokey chocolate centre and structure of pure physical stature will not let it slide, into a dumb phase or oblivion. This Gamay will strut. It already does. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted June 2015 @
That flesh, that Kabinett flesh, fills the CSV in every crevice. In 2013 the residual sugar number lies between 15 and 16 g/L, and though the crop was bigger, it was still picked later than in 2012. The result is formidable corporeal concentration, consistency of house style and perhaps the only ’13 Niagara Riesling to imitate, perpetuate and extrapolate on the vintage that came before. This Cave Spring concentrates fruit and Escarpment into a powerful Riesling, streaming like charged particles through changing expressions. A lingering ascension hovers as it rises, until it slowly fades into the welkin, like a balloon that languidly gets lost into the blinding blue of a midday sky. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted April 2015 @
Any Chardonnay from a vineyard discovered on a bicycle just has to be the bomb. Winemaker Shiraz Mottiar has had many an adventure on his bicycle and it all began here in a plot of perfectly planted Chardonnay. A block that became his home vineyard. The fodder for this most balanced Chardonnay and its abilities transcend all that has come before. You would never know a barrel was ever involved and yet the silken sheaths of texture are well compressed and expertly ingrained. Nothing falls out of place. Everything remains in its right place. The radio is dialled in, from the top and outward in waves. “There are two colors in my head,” Everything in its right place. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted November 2015 @ @
Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Riesling 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)
Balance is and therefore always was struck. The match percusses flint for a mere nano-second, with just a brush on cymbal, the rock bleeds but is quickly clotted because the fruit shines still, like around the clock light. The steely aspect is a posterior one, antithetical and yet purposed, from this vineyard. Youth tells common sense to think 2011. The Riesling behaviour seems to play that part, of a chalky, piercing acidity, so typical of that vintage and so distinctly Thirty Bench. That the wine is older is not a big surprise because 2009 is the bomb. It may just be the best Riesling vintage, from on that Bench, in the last 10. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted May 2015 @
Oh so beautifully nasty Syrah, spicy, saucy and wicked. Resin, somewhere between myrrh and mastic, redacts reductively and tension stretches the savoury aspects in all directions. Blood orange and anise blend into the aromatic grain, repeating again through flavour mettle. Fruit, acidity and tannin are interwoven, circulating and on edge, in pitch perfect darkness. Syrah in the big time with the stuffing to age. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted blind at WWAC15, August 2015 @
“I want you to see the difference between vineyards. That’s terroir.” This the crux and the impetus to abide and acquiesce fruit from McNally, a cooler, higher site of younger vines. For Ilya, this is “truffle hunting, eating roasted pig, at the base of an oak tree.” The forest floor and the catalytic funk come across more in flavour than smell, following cherries in the dead of an aromatic night. Modernity be damned, this strikes ripe, layered and nearly indelicate. The wine’s got some real chew to it, along with crispy flowers, like nasturtium and lavender. “I think this is the best Pinot that I’ve made,” boasts Senchuk, from 15 year-old vines at Peninsula Ridge. Ilya’s muse came from the 2010 made by winemaker Jamie Evans, along with the Voyageur ’10 made by Ross Wise at Keint-He. Wines that spoke in a vernacular that Senchuk could understand and relate to on a deeper level. Prime ripeness defines 2012. Though it teases of grandiose terroir, its complexities reign in the power with each sip, every time. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015 @
Procuring depth in County Pinot Noir is a tough task within the constraints of resisting a temptation to reach for sugars, alcohol and dark berry fruit. Norm Hardie’s 2013 unfiltered (at 10.9 per cent) and lambent exegesis succeeds because it offers the best of all available worlds. Roots for vines that burrow to limestone develop a structure that while may have at one time been inconsistent, have crossed the threshold in ’13 to establish a guarantee. A Hardie PEC Pinot Noir can be bright and accessible. It can also be tough, tart and tannic, as it is here, again, but not without its foil. The work is now innate, the transitions seamless, the crossroads left in the dust. This wine will please two camps; those who can afford and demand immediate gratification and those who are willing to wait for secondary (two to three years) and tertiary (four to seven) character development. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April and September 2015 @
In 2013 the blend is not listed on the label though it strikes as a return to Cabernet Franc, albeit with a layer of lush not yet perceived. The 2013 combines the best of worlds put forth by the two previous vintages; ripe fruit, earthy-mineral tang, proper acidity and ripe, tonic tannin. The composition here is the most, accomplished, distinguished and relished. In 2013 the enjoyment can be right now or up to 10 years on. All this with thanks to exceptional balance. Drink 2015-2023. This wine has not yet been released. Tasted November 2015 @
An axial split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay balances this traditional method Sparkling wine, specific to and what can only, obviously be from Prince Edward County. Acidity defines its existence in every facet of its being. A rich star to be sure, from a warm vintage, free from frost and more importantly, immune to mould. Jonas Newman talks of the methodology, in growing low to the ground. As the sun goes down, the canopy shades the fruit, slowing down the ripening, extending the season, developing the sugars, the complexities and preserving the acidity. At 6 g/L RS, with limestone communication and that sassy acidity, Les Etoiles in ’12 is pure County Sparkling. It exudes untamed apple and unnamed acidity. The Hinterland acidity. It strikes early and often. Just add warmth, stir and voila. Terrific year. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted October 2015 @
If de novo for Pinot Noir is to be found in Nova Scotia then count me in because the inaugural release from Lightfoot & Wolfville is the trailblazer for and from the extrinsic frontier. Tasting the painstakingly measured yet barely handled 2013 for the first time (from bottle) is like falling into a glass of Nova Scotia cherries. Somehow there is this simultaneous and virtual voyage abroad to imagine a comparison with Nuits-Saint-Georges, in its earth crusted, sanguine, welled up tension that begs questions and belies answers. A year yonder the taste from barrel and what can be said? Pinot Noir adjudicated, into a cortex of recognizable consciousness and thus into the natural Nova Scotia mystic. Ignore and forgive the dope of first returns, for no one could have imagined such ripeness and immediate gratification. Future releases will dial back in the name of structure. That said, in 2013 there is a red citrus, ferric debate that will send this to an exordium seven years down the road. Impossible inaugural release. Approximately 50 cases made. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted July 2015 @ @
“To me this is one of the most successful new varieties we are planting,” exclaims J-L Groux. In similar ways with Stratus varietal cousin Petit Verdot, acidity rules the roost. Smells like a just sliced open bag of organic earth, freshly neutral, funkless and emptying into a (first use) terra cotta pot. A rich, looking straight ahead expression. What it hides in fruit is lost to the brilliance of balance though plum is the operative hidden flesh and it will make a clearer impression when it steps clear of the tar and the tannin. This is pitchy sagacity, with poise and length. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted June 2015 @
“On the fly” is not exactly what comes to mind from this 100 per cent Pinot Noir, first Sparkling wine made by Bruno Francois. Calculated, attention to detail and intensity of ideation more like it. Three years on the lees, no dosage and from a vintage to speak in more than whispered voices, of acidity that announces its arrival with immediacy and a summons to contest. The nose does yeast, toast, citrus and ginger. A first release revelation as ever graced Ontario’s waves, as dry as the desert and lingering with switch back traces of its yeasty, toasty self. A single vineyard can be this way, equally and in opposition of natural and oxidative, with a hue less than Pinot Noir, though unrequited as a triumph when you get a ripe white from such Pinot. The production of 1200 bottles is relatively house high in a stunner that needs no sugar to draw up its flavours. Drink 2015-2023. Tasted twice, July and October 2015
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2004, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia (275396, $95.00, WineAlign)
The ’04 is hanging in beautifully, on a wire of impossible balance, at 11 years old not yet really transitioning. There is simply too much brightness for it to give up its youth. You have to strain your ears, nose and throat to assuage just a hint at oxygen, life affirming breaths and then a keener sense of toast and yeast. Still behold the grapefruit, a sign of remarkable adolescence, the hang time amplified and in mass hyperbole here, in this current appraisal, address and time. How can richness act and display with such alpha freshness? How can an aging body not shed baby weight, turn lanky, lean and awkward? How is it neither the bitter pill of juvenility or senility has been swallowed? That is not the case here in a Blanc de Blancs which still has five to seven years of very active life ahead. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted July 2015 @ @
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel