Tasting Ontario Part Six: Pinot Noir

Gather your thoughts about pinot noir. Begin with Bourgogne and it’s really quite easy to articulate an opinion. Smells like cherries, shows earth and mineral notes of/from clay and limestone. Texture is specific to the village where it is grown. New Zealand? There’s a recognition regardless, save for a special and singular red fruit that is specific to Central Otago. What about California and Oregon? Any wine geek who knows who they think they are could surely pick them out of a blind tasting with great certainty? Now what about Canadian pinot noir? That’s a totally different story.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Pinot NoirNational Wine Awards of Canada 2018

If it were just a simple matter of Ontario versus British Columbia that would be one thing but there is Nova Scotia to consider and within the provinces so many sites of origin and stylistic variegation making it really difficult to identify the source. It may be a challenging and oft-times heartbreaking grape but in Canada it increasingly finds a way to ripen from coast to coast. Even if that were less true just five years ago the tenets of experience, acumen and passion have taken pinot noir to heights few believed it was capable of going. That winemakers can now produce so many varied examples tells us it’s here to stay.

Bourgogne uses the word Climat to define vineyards or rather the DNA of the vineyards and the official term is specific to wine while the reference lieux-dits is an administrative one. Many would argue that while dirt makes an impact it is climate that inflicts the most drama on a wine but even more important than climate and soil, it’s the people who give the terroir its cultural identity. In Canada these notions of accumulate knowledge that can be transmuted from generation to generation are developing so that each appellation or sub-appellation is managing to produce a specific style of wine from vintage to vintage.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

In Ontario there are pinot noir crus few would ague against the probability that in most vintages quality will be a guarantee. Crus like Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench, top blocks in Prince Edward County, several vineyards up on the Beamsville Bench, Wismer-Foxcroft and many plots on the Twenty Mile Bench. In the Okanagan Valley there are many premier growing sites; East Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Lake Country, the Similkameen Valley and increasingly on Vancouver Island.

Producers in British Columbia may have more merlot planted than they can or want to have to deal with but in red grape terms, pinot noir is it. There are more single-vineyard, name-assigned, block-designate, terroir collection, (x) series and (Y) cuvées attributed to the grape than any other. Granted some passion projects are giving some love to gamay and cabernet franc but the attention doted upon pinot noir is unequaled and unprecedented. Proof is in the tabulated pudding, so to speak, with the final results at NWAC2018 showing what’s what.

There were 73 medals awarded to pinot noir, a staggering number that represents just less than half of the wines submitted and four per cent of all wines entered into the competition. Only red blends (93) and chardonnay (79) received more total medals but most impressive were the 28 Gold Medals in this category, plus 18 Silver and 27 Bronze. The naysayers who continue to doubt whether pinot noir is a viable signature grape in this country are not paying close enough attention to the signs, portents and in conclusion, results. Here are 30 tasting notes for pinot noir made in Ontario.

Vieni Estates Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (550608, $16.95, WineAlign)

Vieni’s pinot noir shows off some pretty impressive fruit, certainly veering towards the sweet and dried fruit spectrum but hanging around with some good acidity, firm grip and proper 2015 structure. It’s more than a pleasant surprise and it’s only $16.95. Good fruit meets equally good acumen in a must try Vinemount Ridge buy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  vieniestates  @VieniEstatesInc  Vieni Estates Wine and Spirits

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

The warm sites can’t help but develop dark fruit and vintage variation seems to be in a current state of suspension. The string is alive with the ’16 pinot noir, always a matter of value for Ontario. Still just as ripe as 2015, perhaps not quite as charming but certainly generous. It holds back from cooking at a level of stovetop heat unnecessary to the execution of the dish. Gentle, resilient and restrained, far from a pressed or pressing matter and just ideal for weekdays and weekends alike. Pair this wine with everything but I recently discovered that long pasta noodles with prawns in a spicy garlic, chile and tomato sauce worked quite well, thank you very much. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

This remains one of the better values for pinot noir out of Ontario with generous thanks to some of the warmest growing sites in the province. It’s also worthy for what it does not try to do, which is too much. The Château des Charmes pinot noir is just what it needs to be from 2015; ripe, charming and generous. It shows lovely restraint and balance, finishing with some gentle spice after the reign of fruit. It’s also really easy to crush so cook up at least three courses to make it last. It will pair with just about everything. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted November 2017 and February 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

Two blocks, two soil types and two proximate meets apposite pieces of the Niagara Peninsula raise a pinot noir in get together fashion for a consistent estate style. The tonality is elevated like few other and the fruit on the nether side of fresh. It’s energy and vitality is a combination of acidity and dried or even scorched earth-derived savour. Tang and sapidity are not the result but smoulder and spice surely are. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March 2018  coyotes run  @coyotesrun  Coyote’s Run Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.95, WineAlign)

In true essential Flat Rock style this 2016 pinot noir deals in rusty, ropey, ripe and flattering red fruit with its always balancing note of tension. The vintage is certainly prettier, easier and friendlier than most so the fans should pile up and add to the overall success of Flat Rock representing Ontario pinot noir on the map. This is nothing but fine and enjoyable work from a true varietal leader. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $23.95, WineAlign)

More high tines, dialled back a touch, lithe, again some effusive character, tart, so very tart, a whack of wound tight intent, dry tannins, so much tea. Cranberry, earthy, lots of tone and structure. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Edgerock Vineyard 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Edgerock is Twenty Mile Bench fruit with expected 2016 ripeness and just an edgy twitch like quick lightning strikes on that fruit. There is some chewiness to the fruit laced by acidity and some drying tannin that is a bit deferential for the vintage and for Peninsula pinot noir. Not sure that pinot noir can get much riper than this in Ontario and so the perfect storm of vineyard, vintage and execution is met. The nose is so very ripe to almost advanced, with strawberries macerating and flavours so well to far developed. Not as fleshy as some as a result but will soon begin to develop some nice secondary character. Good summer wine, for this summer and hopefully an indigenous one for the fall. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Meldville Wines Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s is a sweetly perfumed pinot noir, fully expressive of ripe 2016 fruit and with a tannic drying edge. It’s a bit lactic to be sure, seemingly argilo-calcareous in nature and really reminds me of some far away sangiovese or corvina grown on white limestone soils. Really unique, lithe and elegant for Barnett if also tangy, sweet and sour. Not sugar sweet but aromatically so. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Bright and effusive, eye and olfactory opening, citrus, steeped herbal tea, with fruity accents. “All around the blooming heather,” purple fruit flavours, fiddle background and thoughts of rolling thyme hills. Good bass line, baritone underneath, full of structure, real structure. Time has had an effect. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  thirtybench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  @ThirtyBench  Andrew Peller(Andrew Peller Import)  Emma Garner

Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $28.95, WineAlign)

Ilya Senchuk’s small lot (220 case) 2015 pinot noir is actually a new wine set to be released this spring. It’s a blend of fruit drawn from both McNally and Lowrey vineyards, two exceptional cru that have been the focus of previous Leaning Post single-vineyard pinot noir. The most notable difference here is how all the tension and vaporous tones melt away to create this fluid, fleecy and ductile wine. The fruit selection seems clearly developed to gain easier access with downsized structure or perhaps it just happened this way. It is here that the house style reads as a lithe Peninsula pinot noir manifesto with clarity and transparency to set up and introduce the estate’s next vintage, recently planted young vine pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Redstone Pinot Noir Limestone Vineyard 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard pinot noir comes off of the ridge that is all Redstone estate fruit expect for the 40 acres riesling block (of 60 in total). There is a ferric gaminess to this pinot with its tension and dusty, tart rusticity. Intense in its litheness, like light and bright strawberry on steroids. Really lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

From 2015 comes a fully ripened, full advantage press taken and fleshy warm pinot noir on the dark cherry end of the fruit spectrum. The wood is fully supportive of that wealth of fruit and tension is really nowhere to be found. The tannins are sweet and also do little to distract from the fruit. What it manages to elevate in terms of energy and vitality is this lovely elegant tang from both soil and wood, short of spicy and in gentle drift. The pleasure is all now do enjoy this before the decade strikes midnight. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  queylus  @Queylus  Domaine Queylus Winery

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Pork Tenderloin and Flat-Iron Steak marinated in black raspberry lees grilled with black raspberry sauce.

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Westcotts have to be so very pleased with the result of their 2015 estate pinot noir, a wine of great farming in loyal custodial work across an exceptional rolling terroir. This Vinemount Ridge locale is the perfect love-hate relationship builder but when sacrifices are met and zero corners are cut it will produce some very fine, albeit fortune abetting fruit. This ’15 interprets ripeness with an edge of tension by way of a gentle rusticity and mild barrel spice. A second taste weeks later also gives salumi, natural funk, cèpes, dusty balsamic earth and the angled torture or the ridge. It’s all there, wonderfully integrated and already hinting at a truffled secondary stage. Not yet mind you, but not so far away. Would it perhaps benefit from one less day or two of phenolic ripeness in exchange for half a point higher acidity? Perhaps but ultimately the vintage decides, as do the handlers who listen to the wind. A greater pinot noir vintage likely lies ahead and for this wine, further understanding. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February and March 2018  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Really high-toned in which volatility may be in charge if checked by ballads of bright, currant-berry fruit. Cranberry, pomegranate, has got it all, but also a lovely earthy grounding. Rays of light on the mountain, “such a simple thing.” Has to be an example of a concentrated house style by a great pinot noir maker from great pinot noir terroir. Like a bench somewhere special where pinot can get through chains, “some how, some how.” Really tannic so all should be good and structure laid out cool. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Big and verging into oxidative, a raisin and fig note, almost appassimento. Could very well be or at least made in a ripe, concentrated and mimicking style. Glycerin, strawberry, leafy savour, jammy and quick to reveal itself. Immediate gratification in a really big pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  cornerstonewine  @cornerstonevino  @cornerstonewinery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gravity is the focus of Flat Rock’s pinot noir exploration and with a whole bunch addendum it changes gears in 2014. This is a very important vintage for Gravity, to leave behind and move forward into a new world. That it does with more ripeness, structure and less intimidating consternation than past vintages have shown and with a freshness also not before seen or tasted. The balance between ripe black cherry, linear and focused acidity, neo-classical structure, followed by an intense drive to please delivers the whole package. Well done on the first of two Gravity swan songs from outgoing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

From Kevin Watson’s Niagara River vineyard, a place that warms quickly and leads to very early harvests, in this case September 15th. Deals a pinot noir of whole clusters that when they come in smell like blueberry and clove but take little time to move out of that realm and into one occupied by cedar, mushroom and artificial strawberry candy. It’s a complex situation that requires opening several bottles over a few year period to really gain an evolutionary understanding of regional pinot noir, this particular Niagara fruit and Closson Chase winemaking in the hands of Keith Tyers. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  clossonchasevineyardsClosson Chase  @ClossonChase  Closson Chase Vineyards

Tawse Pinot Noir Unfiltered Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Unfiltered elevates and lifts Quarry Road fruit up to a forthright plateau where it generously gifts at its purest and most impulsive best. This is seriously juicy, sexy, fleshy and ripe pinot noir from the Vinemount Ridge, a windswept variegated set of rolling hills that plays hosts to the larger Quarry Road set of blocks. It is this gathering of fruit from here and there that allows winemaker Paul Pender to have a better representation of the appellation and ultimately a better balance. And so this ’16 is a wonderful example of the beautiful relationship between producer, appellation and vineyard. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted December 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From County fruit, again in 2016 not so much a great quantity thing but for the median kind of vintage, not bad either. The fruit is exceptional, bright cherry effulgent and County radiant. Just a hint of meaty cure, salmagundi and analogously speaking, quite layered. Such a wine is poignant, with energy and drive, holding on to the past, but with a deeper understanding and thinking about the future. “When you talk about the past, what are we talking of?” In a family Stanners pinot noir we’re talking about moving from strength to strength and really the sky is the limit for what this wine can become. It’s a more complete and better structured song than before. If I feed Colin Stanners a War on Drugs lyric he’d sing “and I’m moving on a cast, shadows on my seam, I keep moving to changes, yeah, ooh.” His ’16 pinot noir is just a child right now and like the song, it will gain flesh in a year’s time, be timeless, then last a very long time. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Thirty Bench Pinot Noir Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (461566, $35.20, WineAlign)

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  thirty bench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  Thirty Bench Wine Makers  Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

It would not be a Paul Pender raised pinot noir without the triple threat of dustiness, meatiness and tension all working in a circle of Niagara Bench lands love. In Quarry Road’s case it is a very specific Vinemount Ridge condition, from a place of wind, rolling hills and variegated clay and limestone soils that deal directly with and into these vines. They are at seven years of age by this point, just long enough to speak the truth and turn this pinot noir into a wiser and more experienced wine. The fruit is remarkably delicate when you consider the grip and purpose exercised by the tannin and yet it’s all coming together nicely. I for one am really looking forward to what eight and nine years of age will mean for 2015 and 2016. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

Though statements of monadical hyperbole should very much be avoided, a taste of Dan Sullivan’s ’16 JCR makes one think it has all come to this. The glycerin fruit endowed with so much natural sweetness and magnificently low alcohol feels like an impossibility. In a way it is but it’s also a County reality. This may just be the least astringent PEC pinot noir ever produced and at the same time seems entirely void of tension. Yet there is structure and cohesion, two functors so very necessary to see it drink well for 10 years, with great charm and further curiosity for five more after that. Drink 2018-2028.  Last tasted July 2018

Bright, red raspberry, light and effusive with a simple, liquid chalky feel. Really drinkable. The tart is part of a delight in composition. A good chew.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   Rosehall_run profilewinegroup  @Rosehall_Run  @ProfileWineGrp  Rosehall Run Vineyards  Profile Wine Group

Meritorious match alert @leaningpostwine #lowreyvineyard pinot noir with #goulash and #spaetzle

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)

It was a very good pinot noir vintage across the peninsula board and so not necessarily one to separate with megaphone announcement the Grand-ish Cru St. David’s Bench Lowrey Vineyard from the lower flats and the upper benches. Even though many a winemaker were opting for some percentage of whole cluster fermentation the vintage combined with this block was not such an animal. What Lowrey, Leaning Post and the vintage were meant for was a module that included grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted, de-stemmed, partially crushed and soaked on skins prior to fermentation. Three days later a spontaneous fermentation in small open-top fermenters would be followed by a transfer to French oak barrels (35 percent new, 30 one-year-old and 35 older) for 15 months. The result is another exemplar of pinot noir lithe excellence in this, the final chapter ahead of Ilya Senchuk’s newly planted pinot noir story ready to unfold out of the home (Winona) vineyard. The 2014 Lowrey is a wine that elevates a goulash game (which I can attest to because of an out of mind and body experience), but it’s also magically understated and subtly complex. It’s almost unmovable, resistant to early development all the while a joy to drink. Open it, store it, age it, wait on it. It’s all good. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Tawse Pinot Noir Laidlaw Vineyard 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Juicy straight up, red cherries in their ripest state, a bit dusty and lifted. Tart, dry, herbal, savoury, so interesting. Really tannic and remains to be seen if this structure will deem that fruit to drift into some elegance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018 tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

The Farm White Label (Mason Vineyard) Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

A high-toned, effusively bright and perhaps edging into volatile pinot noir. Flavours are rusty deep, quite orange-zest scraped and scented, like Irancy. If it’s really that simple then there may not be much tension later on, so think about pairing its coolness now. Lean and verdant with shading into crimson is a very specific beneath bench Niagara speciality, replete with firm if tender emotions. This example is for the here and now. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  thefarmwines

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse Cherry Avenue ’13 is hotter than July, classic soul Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir that has hit its stride because of solid winemaking, varietal-musicianship and über professional production. Five years forward is the right time to take in the firm and founded cherry fruit, aged in oak for 18 months in 40 per cent new French oak. Filled with feeling and wonder, Cherry avoids the temptations of disco and new wave to stay focused on the old world prize and can’t help but “put me in the right direction, with tender love and affection.” It’s a wine from an estate holding the Midas touch and from a time when it could be argued it was pausing at the crossroads of an illustrious career, looking in all four directions. The pinot noir exploration has fortunately continued, justified and vindicated by such a retrospective look. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Karlo Estates Pinot Noir Estate Grown Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $65.00, WineAlign)

As with the Estate chardonnay the elévage from winemaker Derek Barnett for the second Karlo home-front pinot noir is wild ferment, barrel ferment and barrel aging. Oh if this isn’t so Prince Edward County; wild, wooly, bright and engaging, reeking of red cherry and plum. It’s also quite cedar savoury but also salumi-cured, naturally and necessarily so. The accrual is complex and driven by a devoted purpose to make something small really effin’ matters. This is fine-grained pinot noir with a sense of condiment, a relish that supports the fruit to make it tangy, juicy and real. And it’s been done without any excessive intervention or wasted notes played. Terrific origins, sense of place and quality. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  karloestateswinery  @KarloEstates  Karlo Estates

Good to Go!

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WineAlign

Eleven on five in sixteen

Barque Butcher Bar Fried Chicken, 'Bama Baby Back Ribs and 12-Hour Beef Brisket

Barque Butcher Bar Fried Chicken, ‘Bama Baby Back Ribs and 12-Hour Beef Brisket

The VINTAGES release program certainly lends structure and a targeted faculty of morphology to the selling and buying of courtly wine in Ontario. It’s a part of the LCBO juggernaut that deserves to be celebrated, particularly when it offers glimpses of hope and excitement. Optimism does exist and persist within the confines of an otherwise habitually oppressive system. A system that tends to function with coordinate construction, of paratactic verse that heavily promotes wines of narrative brunt.

On the other hand, VINTAGES is a mimetic project, which is a few projects too many. We wine trackers and writers are akin to Cricetinae, perpetually running in a wheel or like Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. We read the bi-weekly catalogue, pre-taste the newest offerings, make our lists and check them twice. In every batch there are 10-15 wines that stand out, as much about bell curve positioning as absence of singularity.

We don’t want to waste time drinking shite. There can be no good reason to swill sugar, contrived acidity or fast drink laboratory concoctions. Bring us wine of humility and humanity. Pour us truth and honesty. Separate the wheat from the chaff and don’t waste our time or insult our character. Give us wine from people, with roots and a sense of place. VINTAGES abides with a class of red shirt freshmen each and every release. That much I can concede.

Related – California stars in VINTAGES March 5th

From what I have tasted in advance of the VINTAGES March 5th release, what has excited me most is perhaps more a reaction to the unseasonably warm weather or maybe it’s just that I am presently satiated by tannic and acidity-molifiying white wines during winter. Last week I reported on the California stars as a follow-up to my recent Napa/Sonoma trip and in advance of April’s California wine fair. Brunello di Montalcino is in the spotlight what with Benvenuto Brunello coming next week. The Sangiovese Grosso line-up for March 5th is solid if underwhelming. My consensus pick of one is potentially polarizing. It will seem tired to some palates and precociously wise and cultured to others. The difference of critical opinion keeps the VINTAGES wheel turning and I am of sound mind to believe that’s a good thing.

Wine Country Ontario comes to the Royal Ontario Museum today for Taste Ontario in Toronto, the annual gathering of winemakers from The Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. On Saturday four peninsula whites will be released, three of which are typicity poster children for VQA good sportsmanship awards. Felicitous and regionally befitting Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer that succeed as they should even while they bypass the idea that creative voices should be heard. Are we witnessing the dearth crumbling of stylistic freedom or is change coming, necessary and inevitable? The fourth white on offer is a shining example of the Ontario appellative blend, a category ever elusive, uncapitalized upon and necessary to the industry’s future success.

Superior South Africa, Vinho Verde Portugal not allowed to be labeled as such and Spanish Garnacha, white and red, grace this list. I also recommend an Ann Sperling Okanagan from the B.C. homestead and one freaking, awesome Sancerre. Here are 11 picks on March 5th in the year 2016. Enjoy.

March 5 #2

Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Wo Robertson, South Africa (382085, $13.95, WineAlign)

Warm climate conditions, a thunderstorm-inflicted harvest and prudent, hasty picking are what winemaker Johan Stemmet had to contend with in 2014. Kudos as a little something for the effort. Quiet and subdued aromatics are levied and bolstered by extreme fruit sensations exhibited on the palate. Crunchy green apple and green mango spritzed by lime forge a tight, angular and nearly tense relationship with linear and direct acidity. Sauvignon Blanc of meaning, unencumbered by the tenets of global style. A certain kind to be sure. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @Excelsior_Wines  @WOSACanada  @WOSA_ZA

Casa Do Arrabalde Avesso/Alvarinho/Arinto 2014, Vinho Regional Minho, Portugal (429324, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here $15 of pure Minho beauty, ripe and rich, regionally representative, if generalized in name because Alvarinho alights in the varietal mix. Smells and tastes just like a tart Mutsu apple picked post fully completed phenolics. The minor spritz on the tongue screams Vinho Verde, as does the stony eligibility. Well-chilled, warm day, grilled fish. Yes, please. Drink 2016-20218.  Tasted February 2016

Flat Rock Riesling 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (43281, $16.95, WineAlign)

Talk about bottled up compression. Twist the screwcap and thwop! The cap nearly popped like a Champagne cork. This baby has energy and drive. The vintage is compressed and pile-driven as nosed by the density opposed by reticulated 9.5 per cent alcohol. This has Mosel tattooed on its being, from neck to bottom. A dead ringer for fine Kabinett, the tropical fruit in apricot and dragon reaching back to join Ontario, in apple and pear. A good flinty stone and raging acidity combine forces to exaggerate a Riesling reticulum in what is not the missive’s greatest ever vintage. Will live five to seven easy and just go for soda. Go ahead and quaff the hell out of this one, from 2015-2020, from bottles one through twelve.  Tasted March 2015 and February 2016  @Winemakersboots  @brightlighter1  @UnfilteredEd

Henry Of Pelham Family Tree White 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (251116, $17.95, WineAlign)

Very accessible and balanced white rabbet with tree fruit aromas and flavours, from yellow plum to white peach and back again. Straight up juicy circulation with a limestone tang amidst the weight of clay. Good value from the Peninsula to drink in the short term. An appellative blend to feed the category concept and perfect for sipping high in the skies. Pour this on your airplanes Air Canada. “Feed your head, feed your head.” Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @HenryofPelham  @SpeckBros

Fielding Gewürztraminer 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (146753, $18.95, WineAlign)

Residing on the correct side of off-dry with a waxy, lemon-honey drop secession from smell to taste. Brings proverbial lychee and rosewater into play, stirring the lees and pressing upon the palate in a faint, yeasty way. Ostensibly Fielding in conception to work with Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai. Food that is. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

Kew Vineyard Old Vines Chardonnay 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (438374, $18.95, WineAlign)

Time has befriended Philip Dowell’s organic and creamery fresh-churned Chardonnay. The Kew is Bench defined and not shy in embrace of its wood. Abiding Chardonnay denuded in a healthy symbiotic relationship with ripe and recessive fruit. More mineral than before from Beamsville soil lands this somewhere along the pantheistic line featuring such stalwarts as Fielding and Hidden Bench. Will follow a casual down-to-earth grounding over the next five years. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted February 2016  @kewvineyards

Jaspi Blanc 2014, Do Terra Alta, Spain (439570, $23.95, WineAlign)

Such a culturally gregarious, aromatically generous and varietally gracious white blend from Terra Alta should be received with the most open of arms. This rare sighting in Ontario is mostly Garnatxa Blanca, with a minor (kept alive) amount of Macabeo, a grape of sweet realization and rainbow veraison. This is a classic indication of the subtlety that is derived from the soft, cuddly and rock-free panal soils in Terra Alta. A terraced white wine, cascading like lemon and bubbles, as if it were an ethereal, tart, savoury sabayon. Will be a pleasure to drink for the the next two to three years. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @cocaifito  @doterraalta

Jardín De Lúculo 2012, Do Navarra, Spain (438655, $23.95, WineAlign)

Lovely, tidy Navarra with perfectly ripe cherries and an underlay of tension to give it real vitality. Oak (if any) bothers with nary an intrusive beat. Though there is a dried herb and drying savoury-minty ending it lingers, long after the paint has dried. Really necessary Navarra, a region portrayed in such a wine on the qui vive for exotic adventure. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @louisgeirnaerdt  @vinosnavarra  @navarrawines  @navarrawine  @hobbsandco  @AMH_hobbsandco

Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (382283, $27.95, WineAlign)

Here a vintage cementing a Sperling Pinot Noir into altruistic west coast territory occupied by the ripe and famous. Were I able to recall so much warmth, elevated tones and ripping aromatics while the wheels are spinning, still the memories remain in neutral. The gravelly grit and fine lined elucidation is in, but here things turn tropical, with far eastern spice and melted, oozing liquorice. Flavour coaxing is at an all time high but the question begs. Can you handle this hyperbole of efficiently convenient Okanagan truth? Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @SperlingVyds  @AnnSperling  @CRUOntario  @StratusWines

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2014, Ac Loire, France (65573, $27.95, WineAlign)

Were all Sancerre this floral we might be forced to re-learn the typicity and the vernacular. Les Caillottes stands alone, if only for a few whiffs, before retreating back to the Sauvignon Blanc norm of mineral and white berry. Here Sancerre seems to take chances, steps out of the box and ventures into wild sage and thyme territory. Ends with lemon and lime, echoing the florally of tiny flowers on the tips of that thyme. I can imagine honey flowing in five years time, still gaining on the oxidative effects of time. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @oenophilia1  @LoireValleyWine

Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, Italy (1065, $72.95, WineAlign)

More than a classic vintage for this seminal bottle of Sangiovese. The liqueur is so comfortably and rigorously distilled, the floral aspects fresh in their potpourri disguise. The aromatics, like eclipses, arrive early, but tend to exact themselves profoundly. Balance is everything with wine and transparently so for Brunello because if the tannins are overdone than pleasure can’t ever be truly discerned. Here they are like rhythmic, venting spasms at the end of a sentence. This offers early accessibility in spite of its ferocity. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted February 2016  @TrialtoON  @ConsBrunello

Good to go!

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What’s in a wine vintage?

What\'s in a wine vintage?

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage?
Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

There was a time when Ontario wine held no candle to my thoughts, filled no glass in my tasting regimen and occupied no place in my cellar. My how time and five years of enlightenment have changed me. Rarely does a day go by when that holy trinity of wine attention does not focus on something from Ontario.

My current obsession lies in the white wines from the 2012 vintage. The two previous years were so different, 2010 at first seemingly hot and bothered, then having emerged from its shell it has since clearly spoken in a language of elegance. The 2011 that followed gave wines of piercing acidity, verve and even austerity. Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon all grabbed my acidulated attention.

First encounters with 2012 provided great skepticism. I continue the journey of ’12 discovery and the doors of perception are beginning to open. As a white wine vintage in Ontario, 2012 is shaping up to be a classic. Candour and acidity are there, but it is the rich, fullness of the wines that have taken the industry’s prowess to a whole new level. Riesling is brilliant. Pinot Gris the best ever. Though conditions may have not produced the coolest Chardonnay, winemakers who exercised restraint made beautiful wines. White blends that made use of highly aromatic varieties made their best wines to date. Reach out and touch Ontario’s 2012 whites.

The question is always being asked, what’s in a wine vintage? Not long ago I was emphatic to state there are no longer bad vintages in Ontario. The wisdom, experience and winemaking acumen has rendered that notion obsolete. There are challenging years for sure and this harshest of 2014 winters will certainly test the mettle of winemakers. Vintage variation is real and yes, there are no bad vintages, only different ones.

The new Kew Vineyards in Beamsville is on to something and 2011 was a terrific vintage to sidle up to their unique production of red wines. While appassimento remains an Ontario enigma, not quite like growing and producing a southern Italian grape like Aglianico, but the method is still a bit of a side-show. Kew reigns in the practice and matches it to the parameters of the Ontario vineyard and the climate. Kew the new red in Ontario.

Here are six new releases, a new Kew, a Prince Edward County classic Sparkling and four definitive whites from the 2012 vintage in Niagara.

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER'S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA'S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

From left: FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, and HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007

FLAT ROCK TWISTED 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula (1578, $16.95, WineAlign) VINTAGES ESSENTIAL

Though the warmth of the 2012 vintage could have suffocated a blend such as this Twisted, to the contrary, this harmonious white unfolds as a cold play. Cool, crisp, wonderfully tart and full of citrus zest. Plenty of sunshine but no burn. Waxy and rich like excellent Moscato along with the creamy confection of mango and the tang of what pale, trenchant pineapple used to be, before it went golden. The blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay magnetizes the opposing forces of residual sugar and modest alcohol. “And you are not wrong to ask who does this belong to? It belongs to all of us.” Best Twisted to date.  89  @brightlighter1  Tasted January 2014

TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA RIESLING 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (89029, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

Frothing at the glass, full on soda aromatic entry, verging to off-dry white peach and yellow plum flavours. Full of tang and zest, enriching flavours that render the soda irrelevant. All in, vigorous ’12, most ever perhaps. From my earlier note: “s’got quite the tropical warmth for Bench Riesling. When considered in terms of the vintage, this is nearly a Riesling in the service of a Pinot Gris. Very juicy fruit, dry but bursting in fricative verve. Extreme quality, low-cost. Now on tap at Barque Smokehouse.  89  Tasted August 2013 and January 2014  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

KEW VINEYARDS SOLDIER’S GRANT 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula  (367318, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

Winemaker Philip Dowell draws upon his Aussie roots, delves into a northern Italian technique (appassimento) and along with Beamsville grower Graham Rennie, does the practice proud. Vineland Research Institute has been working towards developing a Niagara appassimento thing, already embraced by the likes of Foreign Affair, Pillitteri and Colaneri. Now Kew takes the torch but with an altered finesse and restraint. Raspberry and the wet warmth of spring sun, saturated earth give way to dusty, sour cherry with an accent of peppery, herbaceous Loire-style Cabernet Franc. The dust ultimately trumps the sharp and then submits towards a metallurgical length. Would work with eclectic flavours, like Buffalo Chicken Nachos. It’s true.  88  @kewvineyards  Tasted November 2013 and January 2014

FLAT ROCK NADJA’S VINEYARD RIESLING 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula (578625, $19.95, WineAlign)  From the VINTAGES, February 1st, 2014 Release

A champion cyclone of forces combined to elevate the already incumbent position of this Twenty Mile Bench Riesling. An ideal growing season magnified transmission upon a paradigmatic two and a half-acre block. This southern-most and highest altitude section of Flat Rock’s vineyard rests aboard a solid bed of limestone and wake me up if that rock was not drawn up into the vines in this stellar Riesling vintage. Sure its warm and nearly off-dry but such an effortless squeeze of lemon hydrates and elevates orchard fruit and honey out of the year of the lemon. After each sip its “every time you kiss me, lemon crush.” Love this prince of a Twenty Mile white in 2012, the dynamism smiling on the tart, succulent fruit. The length is one of outright bravado. This will develop for 20 years, of that I am convinced. There is just so much fruit. A Nadja for the ages.  92  @Winemakersboots  @UnfilteredEd  Tasted January 2014

SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS TRIOMPHE CHARDONNAY 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake (172338, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

A sachet of fiendish raising agent and scotch kindled toast seem initially atypical for the vintage but are kept in check and work alongside one another to great effect. Halfway in there are notes of lemon butter, saltwater-marked wooden ship, pine forest on a warm morning and organic smells of the world outside. The glow and ardor of what Chardonnay can rightfully be in 2012 take the lead at the mid-point and carry Triomphe through to an eco-rich, full-bodied good glass. “On the water, very free, and easy.”  89  Tasted February 2014  @SouthbrookWine

HUFF ESTATES CUVÉE PETER F. HUFF 2007, Traditional Method, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (198754, $39.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES, February 15th, 2014 Release

This is a glorious vintage for the classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir flagship Huff bubbles. Lees affected in waves of chewy, fernetty, lime sherbet, ginger, coriander seed and apical almond butter. The humidity of the vintage plunges this complex sparkler into the brewing smells of a late fall apple orchard. Bronzing in attitude to middle age, a kind of medieval bubbles, hard on you, not letting go of its barbaric hold. The colour speaks of age but there is a huge amount of verve and life left yet. Your full attention is required to gather Huff’s traditional thoughts and this is quite possibly the most rambunctious PEC fizz I’ve ever encountered.  So different from the 2008 ”austere, dry, flinty wine of slate.”  92  Tasted February 2014  @HuffEstatesWine

Good to go!