Red, white and orange at Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Whimsy! Reds, Whites and Orange

She says she’s making a similar wine in British Columbia, but Ann Sperling will tip no varietal hat, will offer up no hints, will not reveal the make-up in her new, all-natural Orange wine. That’s right. Orange wine.

To arrive at this (nothing rhymes with orange) juncture, a bit of background on the winemaker and her Ontario employer, Southbrook Vineyards. Sperling is from B.C., where she makes Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and piercing Sparkling Wines at Pioneer Ranch, the family heritage farm under her eponymous Sperling Vineyards label.

Related – A cultivated tale of two Okanagan wineries

Southbrook as a winery and a vineyard is a leader in Ontario’s increasingly developing biodynamic and organic direction. Ann Sperling introduced proprietors Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier to the sprawling property in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it is there that their commitment to farming organically and biodynamically is managed in the vineyard by Scott Jones and in the winery by Brian Hamilton and Regan Kapach.

The Redelmeiers are no strangers to the concepts and the agrarian way. Who does not remember making necessary stops at their farmstead and pumpkin patch on Major Mackenzie Rd. between Dufferin and Bathurst in Richmond Hill. Southbrook defined that concept in the 80’s and 90’s, by bringing a distinctly rural Ontario feel to the edge of Toronto civilization. People came from all four directions for their farm fresh produce. Chappell Farms, Chudleighs and Whittamore’s all owe a major level of their success to Southbrook’s pioneering concept.

The Redelmeier cattle farm on the 19th century property in Richmond Hill morphed into that roadside vegetable stand in the 1980s. Winemaking came next and then in 2005, Bill and Marilyn relocated to Niagara. Having chosen to pursue certifications for both the vineyard and the winery – including LEED, biodynamic and organic certification, the Redelmeiers have been instrumental in the revolution.

Ann Sperling is a natural fit for their manifesto, to produce high quality wine from estate fruit under the strict O & B directive. The upper echelon Southbrook wines are bottled under the labels of Triomphe, Whimsy! and Poetica. That she has now decided to make an orange wine is, well, natural. I think a great deal of Ontario wine drinkers, along with those beyond these borders don’t quite get Southbrook. Gaining insight as to why the Orange wine should be made is no less difficult than acquiring an understanding as to what the Southbrook portfolio is all about. You need to spend time with the wine and the winemaker. This point is essential.

Winemakers are intensely focused individuals. Their wines live and breath. As a parent to their children, winemakers feel their every step. Their hopes and dreams rise and fall with every breath they take. Sperling had thought about it for years but the 2014 vintage allowed her to take the experimental, all natural plunge.

She is not the first to do the orange wine thing. In his May, 2014 Macleans article, Orange is the new white (wine), John Szabo reported on his involvement with making such a beast in Ontario. Together with Norman Hardie and François Morissette, they have fashioned one from Riesling in Prince Edward County. Szabo wrote, “Ontario vintners are experimenting with an ancient Georgian technique and a 500-litre qvevri. “With an imported clay vessel their wine currently rests in a 500-litre qvevri in Hardie’s cellar. Szabo had also discovered that Richie Roberts of Fielding Estate was the first orangista in Canada. Roberts made 400 bottles of skin-fermented Viognier in 2012, though not in clay. Szabo had previously referred to Stanners Vineyard Pinot Gris Cuivré 2010 as “the first orange wine made in Ontario.”

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

Ann Sperling in the Oak Room at Southbrook Winery

The natural/orange wine debate is hot right now and not because of the reasons you might think. The smoke and mirrors of discussing the merits of making such wines or to question whether it’s rubbish is clouding the discussion. Or as Alexandra Gill reports in her most recent Globe and Mail article, “fault-indulgent hippie juice as a major scam,” or the smell of “stale, mouth-puckering morning breath.” 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?”

Then along comes the Hosemaster of Wine, Ron Washam who insists “don’t publish anything about natural wine on your blog in 2015.” Washam is right when he comments on the hypocrisy of “natural wine shipped in an ocean-polluting tanker…loaded on an exhaust-belching truck…and you feel good about it because the guy who made it didn’t spray Roundup?” This N-word wine story, however, is allowed. Here we are discussing an Orange wine made with attention to ancient detail, in our Niagara backyard, the one I travelled to the source to taste and you know something, it’s pretty fucking good? You’re a funny man and a really good writer but let me ask you something. You got a problem with that Ron?

I sat down with Ann, Wines In Niagara writer Rick VanSickle and Paul DeCampo, Southbrook’s Director of Marketing & Sales on Sunday, December 28th to taste the new or yet released Triomphe ’13’s, Whimsy! ’12’s and Poetica ’12’s. A ’13 Cabernet Franc Icewine and the mysterious, ubiquitous and enigmatic Orange wine rounded out the tasting card. The experience went a long way towards adding Southbrook Vineyards to the loftier queue’s cerebral vinous database. Going forward, I’ll surely never look at these wines in the same light.

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! Orange wine 2014

Whimsy! Orange Wine 2014, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

“We’ve been waiting to do small batch, stem fermentation,” Ann Sperling tells us as we have a good look at the lustrous, foggy glass of orange-yellow colour more micro-described as either croceate or gamboge. “Now we have the infrastructure to do so.” Stems add architecture (and a preservative effect), something that is otherwise compromised in a sulphite-free wine. This nameless natural wine was biodynamically-raised, indigenously-yeasted and freed from the constraints of temperature control. No wood was used, only stainless steel and glass carboys. The orange and natural classification comes by way of the complex ebullition (closest in style to the Collio hills wines of Josko Gravner), in colour, weight, elegance and the dichotomy of skin fermentation. Sperling used acumen derived from the concept at Argentina’s Versado, where skins are employed in a similar way when making Malbec with husband Peter Gamble. This young wine is filled with terpenes and is highly, desperately aromatic. Lemon curd is up front and centre. It’s got a tart tang and at (approximately) 11.8 per cent alcohol, the gravity is impossibly beautiful. Sperling’s take is “a fair reflection on the vintage” and it’s the mouthfeel that sets it apart. What’s the varietal make up, single or a blend? If the latter, was it co-fermented? Ann will only tell us that it was harvested over a two week period in October. The big question is will it receive VQA approval. Viognier and Pinot Gris should certainly be options but I’m not aware of Southbrook ever having employed their use. Sperling’s Whimsy! Winemaker’s White uses Muscat so perhaps we could go that direction but the aromatics don’t jive. Riesling is the simplest road to take and if the Southbrook Connect Organic White 2013 is any indication, the combined effect with Vidal could certainly steer this Orange ship. But If I were made to guess, to have some fun with concept, I would suggest that it’s a blend of white and red grapes, but Southbrook does not grow Pinot Noir so that should rule out Chardonnay as well. So I conjure up a song. “Well I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” With a union of grape varieties standing by. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc feed my Spidey senses, so under the auspices of that marriage, what we might have here is an offspring, a Cabernet Sauvignon. A very natural one. An orange one.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

From 100 per cent estate fruit (so it’s organic and biodynamic), the accesibility here is immediate and gratifying. So ever-very raspberry, like berries and savoury flower dust rehydrated into a sweet yet tart and viscous tisane baked into a pie. That does not articulate a cooked component, but rather a concentrated vehemence. As far as Peninsula Merlot goes, this really finds both its varietal and vintage capitalized way. It’s both cool and critical, exemplary and snappy. Early thought leads towards a five to seven-year run.  Tasted December 2014

Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

Still organic through and through, despite only a small portion of estate fruit contributing to the overall design of the Triomphe Cabernet Franc ’13. Contracted growers fuel and fulfill the Southbrook ideology, to seek purity in healthy berries. The red fruit here shines on with Daliesque impunity. Its agglomeration makes a juicy, gregarious offer to sip. The vanilla-lavender streak brings elegance, more so than in ’12, along with an elevated sense of savour and really compounded red, red fruit. A natural sweetness and long finish are easy on the gustatory senses. Will be available at VINTAGES in February 2015, when the ’12 runs dry.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Triomphe '13's

Southbrook Triomphe ’13’s

Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $22.95, WineAlign)

The VINTAGES Essential is fashioned from mostly estate fruit (making it mostly biodynamic) save for a tonne or two grower’s supplementation. The 13’s are just beginning to hit shelves as ’12 stock depletes and in many ways the new vintage excels and exceeds the success of the split decision ’12. Where the ’13 lags is in showy complexity, though I’m not sure that is the Triomphe Cab Sauv’s most distinguishing or valuable asset. The new year brings a darker, pitchier, heavier brooder and as a second thought, a slower build to complexity. If ’12 was the rare marble, this is the braising cut. The triumph is now an impression as a sum of parts, not outwardly obvious and live. Not so easy to disseminate, the ’13 could likely have benefited from a less urgent rush to market. The drive to appease the sellers may inhibit a quick response understanding of its fruit intent so consumers should be aware of the need to exercise just a half-year or so of patience.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Sémillon 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95)

A getable Sémillon of plenary indulgence, of deep-seated intent, already blessed and blissful of honey. From a two-barrel lot, fermented in stainless steel with lees contact. This is an Ann Sperling special, both biodynamic and unfined, so it serves public notice as a Southbrook affiche in promotion of naturalism. And then it really begins to rock. Sulphites are present and perceptible but so are the more panegyrizing notes of salinity, mineral and rocks with ideas. Single-varietal Sémillon is an amazing thing, possessive of a clarity few can match. It ages with ease and it knows it. “When you know that your time is close at hand, maybe then you’ll begin to understand.” The ’13 Whimsy! Sémillon is an iron maiden, luminescent metal intense with even more honey on the back-end. Sémillon, hallowed be thy name.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Chardonnay ‘Minerality’ 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for release in January or February 2015, “Minerality” as sister to “Richness” is the wilder of the two, less weighty (though up there at 14 per cent alcohol), possessing nothing in any discernible or palpable, tropical void. This little sister is “shakin’ like a tree. rollin’ like a log, shakin’ and a rollin’ now, that ain’t all.” Minerality occupied (40 per cent new, 12 per cent one-year and 48 per cent older) French oak barrels for 12 months, then sat in bottle for 12 more. Until now. Ray of power here unleashed, like a rock ‘n roll genie, finger-picking god ranging all over the map of scales. Though her sulphur edges to watering eyes, the aqueous emulsion from barrel selections leading to tight, reductive early life tendency will one day be forgiven. In fact, Minerality was rejected by the VQA panel on her first go round, bad girl as she was, but she’s now settling into her band-aid skin. She’s now a release away from being almost famous. The rigidity in redux has stirred through, having trod beyond pyridine freshness, though you can still feel the ghosts. Acts seemingly evolved but it manifests as an aromatic nougat. “Reduction is an indication of aging potential, or verve,” says Sperling. A comparison might be made to a 2000 Mosel, which was untouchable early on, but is now a classic. Could Minerality stand the weather? It has a very particular profile, a tactile mouthfeel and great, sweet length, from soul to soul. So yes, this is 2012 Chardonnay on the Peninsula.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

Slated for a January/February 2015 release, the 100 per cent estate (organic and biodynamic) ’12 Whimsy Cabernet Franc spent time in (41 per cent) new wood. The significance of the barrel imprint is not lost on territorial influence as related to texture, more than anything else. A warming trend is balanced by a layering of savoury savoir faire and citrus (or the thought of). A repetitive drumming tang drives this tome with trepidation in reserved activity and acidity. Lacking any discernible tobacco, currant or notes of piquancy, this will request consumer patience before it comes into its own and out to the party. Though quite elegant and possessive of better than good length, I prefer the freshness and personality of the (’12 and ’13) Triomphe, for the money. Here I am reminded of some Tuscan CCR’s. Like a time-clocked, sui generis oaked and stately Chianti, this Whimsy will offer more charm when it reaches middle age, at least five years down the road and it will display plenty of caramel, wood polish and charcuterie cure at that time.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($34.95, WineAlign)

In a warm year like 2012, the perfect Southbrook synoptic storm for Cabernet Sauvignon gives cause for thought. Awash in agriculture (organic and biodynamic), of fruit (100 per cent estate) and from barrels (nearly half new and just Four Mile Creek shy of two years), this winemaker’s vagary palavers on verve, torpid integration and inevitable aging. The rich berry and earth weave is a veritable, variegated loaf of aggie layering. But it’s more than that. The centre is filled with cool runnings; mint, eucalyptus and chains of pyromorphite. All tolled you can feel the showiness of the vintage in this Whimsy’s emphatic overall statement.  Tasted December 2014

Whimsy! Petit Verdot 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $34.95)

Welcome to the new world of single-varietal junkets and Four Mile Creek Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3 per cent) and Merlot (1.3) offer up contiguous Bordeaux support for this Southbrook first (under the full varietal name – this used to be called “Who You Calling Petit”), slated for an April or May 2015 release. Culled from the estate’s biodynamic and organic vineyard. Musty, dusty and undomesticated, Sperling’s take is a swirling mistral of wild berries, sauvage, herbs, garrigue and even mushroom. It has yet to recede from its barrel play, showing nary a sign of evolution. Big tannins, high concentration and abrupt ministrations are the crux of its personality. It seems that it will stride out in two years, score early and often, then retire to the bench. The late candied flavours indicate a successful, if short career. Less than 70 cases were produced.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Southbrook Whimsy! and Poetica decanted

Poetica Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($54.95, WineAlign)

The Poetica Red ’12, slated for a Spring 2015 release, is amazing and intriguing on many levels. But for the fact that Petit Verdot (26.5 per cent) plays such a major varietal role, what must first be declared is the disseminated learning applied to this application. The dos and don’ts of previous (only produced in) warm vintage Poetica Reds will see a shedding of those don’ts in this 2012. Ann Sperling ushers in a new era for Niagara Bordeaux assemblage and if this wine is any harbinger, others will follow suit. Here celebrates a love for the land (environment), poetry and more specifically, Canadian poets. Chief Dan George, he of North Vancouver and the Hollywood screen, penned “Words to a Grandchild.” In it he wrote, “in the midst of a land without silence, you have to make a place for yourself.” Poetica Red ’12 will have done that when viewed retrospectively, 10-15 years from now. It will have grown old, but also wise. As for now it’s brooding, melancholy even. It’s all of that and this; endemic, entrenched, crenellated, ensconced and indoctrinated with Niagara knowledge. Has a dusty, earthy, even funky poetry. More depth than many, much realized acumen and will live long. Given 30 minutes of air it showed the ribbons of classic Niagara reds. All these concepts combine to see Poetica Red ’12 not so much as huge, but with depth and complexity.  Tasted December 2014.

Poetica Chardonnay 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($49.95, WineAlign)

Whole cluster pressed, all estate fruit spent 18 months in only 15 per cent new (100 per cent French, mainly 300L) barrels. Indigenous yeasts saw more rotation than stirring and classic Chardonnay fermentation, which is code for “they always stick.” As a result, there was no need to impress a finish on fermentation. As per the Poetica practicum, poetry sidles up to the Estate’s flagship white, joined in ’12 by Chief Dan George, the Burrard Inlet, B.C. Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief. The Little Big Man (Old Lodge Skins) academy-award winning actor and poet penned “Keep a Few Embers From the Fire.” The final line “for a new life in a changed world” alludes to the Poetica’s destiny, affirmed by the success of this vintage. When it is released in the Spring of 2015, it will strike an immediate accord with tasters and consumers alike because it is markedly more accessible than previous vintages. Rich and unctuous, it is neither as tropical nor as misunderstood as Poeticas that have come before. Focus is laser sharp, balance is key and integration realized. The level of osmosis in its parts is just awesome. Though reductive, power will propel this Poetica to parts native and familiar, with élan in evolution. Tannins are great but certainly yet spun by sunburst. In 20 years time, words will describe this Poetica as best ever. That much is certain.  Tasted December 2014

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Southbrook Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($69.95, WineAlign)

An all estate, indigenous and inoculated Icewine, even if it were not thought possible to do so. Spoons out pure raspberry and apricot distillate, this Cabernet Franc is a product of happily fermented yeast because of a clean, natural and healthy vineyard. Bacteria neither takes a prominent seat nor dominates in the fermentation. Plenty of nutrition (or just enough, depending on the angle) is available in the fermentative state and then again in barrel. No trouble will come running. No Brettanomyces nor acetic negativity can survive. There is orange, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon stick in here. Goes straight to the cavity, with sugars and acidity set on high, along with structure and length. Really as good as Cabernet Franc gets in the idiom and finishes alternatively, distinctly dry. Will not turn Bretty like some older vintages. A thinker of clean, clean Icewine thoughts, from a desert of fermentation to realize a dessert garden of eden. I took a sip and “I got taken away, by a heavenly host, to a heavenly place.”  Tasted December 2014

Good to go!

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A few wine questions for Kathleen Wynne

In September of 2008, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government and the LCBO decided to allow wine to be sold in farmers’ markets, albeit with some restrictions. Their guidelines demanded a strict adherence to outdoor structure dimensions, latitudinal/longitudinal positioning and ethnic-appropriate choices. No, really. In 2008.

The move was heralded with great thanks, not just for the bone thrown to the wine industry, but for the significance such change might have upon the system of selling Ontario wine.

Fast forward to December 2013.

Kathleen Wynne called a news conference. On the coattails of a 2009 initiative, the Liberals boast that “the strategy has supported significant growth in the sector, including doubling the number of VQA wineries, creating 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production, and the development of prime tourist destinations, from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.”

All true and impressive stuff. VQA wines, which are made only with Ontario grapes, will be available along with seasonal vegetables and fruits at farmers’ markets, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.

For the uninitiated, VQA Ontario is Ontario’s Wine Authority, a regulatory agency responsible for maintaining the integrity of local wine appellations and enforcing winemaking and labelling standards.  VQA Ontario does not represent the wine industry in Ontario and is not a marketing agency.

Here are the Liberal government program’s quick facts:

  • The province is investing $75 million over five years through the Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy.
  • Located inside selected full-sized LCBO stores, Our Wine Country boutiques offer an expanded selection of VQA wines, helping elevate the profile of products from smaller local wineries, with more than 500 wines from across the province available.
  • VQA wines are crafted entirely from Ontario grown grapes and must adhere to rigorous winemaking standards.
  • Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed an estimated $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011.
  • VQA wine sales in Ontario have increased by $100 million since 2008 — from $168 million in 2008 to $268 million in 2013.
  • The Wine Secretariat will be led by Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne and Jim Bradley, MPP, St. Catharines.

To see Niagara wine writer Rick VanSickle’s thoughts and to read the full text of the press release, along with another from the Grape Grower’s of Ontario,  please visit Rick’s site here.

I just have a few questions for Premier Kathleen Wynne, if she wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer them. Great ideas come out of necessity, and we certainly need this program, just as we need some level of privatization for the wine industry in Ontario. But I still have concerns:

1. Does the wine commerce plan involve issuing licences to third-party vendors wishing to sell wine at said markets or will it be restricted to wineries? Either way, what will be the cost of the licences? Will the farm market endorsement simply be an extension of a winery’s tasting room retail license? Will sales be restricted to two bottles per customer and will the license allow vendors to pour and sell by the glass or open bottle? Many markets take place in the early morning so will vendors be allowed to pour samples and sell before 11:00 am and before LCBO stores open? Will the licenses be transferable from one market to another, i.e. from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Orillia, so long as the vendor has secured and paid for spots in both markets? My apologies, that really was more like six questions.

2. You are quoted as saying “it means we can be a lot more competitive in the LCBO against import wines.” Will VQA wines be available in markets in close proximity to LCBO stores, like just down the block? I wonder what your thoughts are on points of sale simply moving from one location to another so I’d also like to know what percentage of people who frequent farmers’ markets are the same folks who make visits to Ontario wineries?

3. Will there be a restriction on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine? Are there plans to allow markets in Toronto and Ottawa to join in the fun, like St. Lawrence, Byward, Weston, Sorauren or Trinity Bellwoods? Will buyers be able to sample, taste and buy? The folks who attend those markets tend to shop at the LCBO so I’m wondering if the possible bite into LCBO sales has been considered? Can you say yay or nay? Oh, one more thing. Can you confirm that fruit wines, non-VQA wine, mead, craft beer and craft cider are to be excluded from the plan?

4.  The initiative also creates a “Wine Secretariat” to help the province and industry find ways to make the industry more competitive. Can you tell me what that job description is and what amount from the $75 million will be allocated to that work?

5. Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, was quoted as saying the “devil is in the details.” Is there anything else we should know about the plan? You noted that “discussions with wine stakeholders about adding VQA to farmers’ markets in the province will likely begin in the new year.” Who are the stakeholders and what does likely mean? Will the enterprise go into effect in 2014, sometime in 2015 or 2016 and if your Liberal government were to lose the next provincial election, what would happen to the plan?

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider my queries. Good luck with the initiative and happy holidays.

Best Regards,

Michael Godel

A long and “wine-ding” tasting road

Wine tasting PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES

as seen on canada.com

It was right in my wheelhouse and on so many levels. Thirty-three wines, all but two from the Niagara region, spanning vintages from 2001-2010. Poured blind, each of five flights introduced analogous to pop music culture; Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa, The Sister Sledge, The Who and Simply Red. It could only be zeitgeist for my virgin Experts Tasting experience at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

It happened at Pond Inlet, a cozy, light-filled space, surrounded by a wine local’s who’s who. Vignerons, proprietors, journalists, sommeliers, marketing gurus and Brock U. luminaries. Seated next to Niagara’s über taster and 2013 VQA Promoters Award winner Rick VanSickle, but also in the ameliorated company of Mr. Wine DiscoveryThe Grape Guy and the Wine Sisters.

CCOVI Experts Tasting 2013 (Photo: Michael Godel/canada.com)

More than 140 samples were submitted by wineries to this year’s tasting panel, assessed blind and chosen for excellence, complexity but also adjunct in relative merit to their peers. The 2013 Experts tasting was akin to a structured wine in itself, seamless in flow thanks to Barbara Tatarnic of Brock University. The mostly in vain attempt at assessing vintage, origin and producer was a humbling and submissive gesture. This Storify board captures the social media buzz around the event.

A panel of four winemakers each gave their own unique in flight preamble perspective, followed by a tutored tasting and a reveal of the flight’s wines. The final coterie was a group test, in teams table by table, led in cheeky and mischievous form by a soon to be head-shaven sommelier.

The VQA Promoters Awards were presented at intervals during the event by wine educator Dr. Linda Bramble. Here were this year’s four recipients:

LCBO: Waterloo’s Charley Ronzio of Store 115.

Hospitality: CN Tower’s James Muir, the proprietor of Toronto’s highest cellar.

Promoter-at-Large: Harald Thiel, Vigneron and Proprietor, Hidden Bench Winery.

Media: Rick VanSickle, Wine Journalist, Wines in Niagara.

The wine tasting was then introduced by April Kilpatrick, Sommelier at Windows by Jamie Kennedy.

From left to right: Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010; Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010; Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010; The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; and Stratus Malbec 2010.

Flight #1: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Presented by Rob Power, Winemaker, Creekside Estate, employing Aretha Franklin’s signature because Miles dissed the grape when he said, “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” This assemblage brought Merlot some respect, difficult as they were to pin down and Power later summed it up best. “Mission accomplished. We’ve messed with all your heads.”

Malivoire Wine Company Merlot ‘Stouck Vineyard’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) of high-toned raspberry fruit is the Dr. Feelgood track. From mendicant, heavy red clay soil on the Lincoln Lakeshore making for concentrated small berries and dense, richly textured Merlot. Tarry, warming, accented by late baking spice and anise. Merlot is a serious business and “taking care of business is really this man’s gain.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Trius Winery at Hillebrand Merlot ‘RHS’ Clark Farm Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) is a rock steady, Four-Mile Creek, single vineyard effort full of mulberry fruit and dusty, chalky tannin. Let’s call this Merlot what it is, “a funky and lowdown feeling.”  89-90  @TriusWines

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve, Queenston Road Vineyard 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) spent 32 months in oak and now bricks its age in weathered, splintering cedar with a note of funky prune.  Illustrates the importance of site to Bordeaux varietals in Niagara. A Merlot to make you think, consider the past, “let your mind go, let yourself be free.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Creekside Estates Winery Merlot Reserve 2008  ($34.95, winery only) on the St. David’s Bench is “the smoked meat sandwich” says Power, and “a bit of a funkmeister.” Perhaps the flight’s chain of fools, like a blender looking for a Cabernet or two to join the party. Its slumber was 29 months in barrel. “For five long years I thought you were my man.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Twomey Merlot 2007 ($61.95, 14043) is the ringer out of Silver Oak in Napa Valley. Whiffs the most funky fromage but also a woman’s perfume. Racy, roaming, with umami, earth and a sweet/savoury line. Goes both ways, a Do Right Woman, Do Right Man kind of Merlot.  “And as long as we’re together, baby.”  89-90  @Twomey

Pillitteri Estates Winery Merlot Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($25, winery only) tends Right Bank to me, certainly not Niagara. Big berry, citrus, bright fruit perfume. Heavy tannin, guns a’ blazing and an obvious strong use of American Oak. This one demands respect. “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me.”  90-91  @PillitteriWines

Cornerstone Estates Winery Merlot 2010 ($23, winery only) appears to show some age though it’s really just a pup. Displays aggressive high-toned tannin with a patience towards potential. I say a little prayer for this Wismer Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench on the Niagara Peninsula Merlot because if it falls apart, it “would only be heartbreak.”  87-88

Flight #2: The Mothers of Invention

Presented by Emma Garner, Winemaker, Thirty Bench, using Frank Zappa’s band as analogy to denote Cabernet Franc as the matriarch to all Bordeaux varietals. Could have sworn #4 was a ringer but no! There were none in the group.

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2008 ($38, 665034) from fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  89-90  @Stratuswines

Stoney Ridge Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18.95, winery only) is a Niagara Peninsula, red pepper jelly and citrus-spiked currant concoction made from Fox and Edwards Vineyards, 100% Bench fruit. Thought it was ’08 but wrong! Coffee and herbal balm make the water turn black and this Franc screams for food. 87-88  @stoneyridgewine

Riverview Cellars Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Salvatore’s’ 2010 ($49.95, winery only) leans a lighter, elegant Loire style. Built upon clay/loam soils out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, aged in both French and American oak. Cool, cherry fruit, mint, herbaceous and full of personality. A fine girl this Riverview, “she do yer laundry, she change a tire, chop a little wood for de fire.”  89-90  @RiverviewWinery

Pillitteri Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve ‘Exclamation’ 2010 ($35, winery only) from family vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake ventures into voluptuous, black forest, fruitcake territory. A 24-month soak in French oak imparts espresso and leather and it’s as if this CF was raised in Napa or designated IGT. But this is NOTL were talking here. Improbable and believable. Modified Note: Big Leg Emma. “Sock it to me!” Tasted twice.  91  @Pillitteriwines

Peller Estates Cabernet Franc ‘Signature Series’ 2010 ($40.20, winery only) has got the funk in dark and dank waves. Top-tier barrel selection out of Four Mile Creek, this one is tight, tense and ready to jam with “a Stratocaster with a whammy bar” in Joe’s garage. Saw through to 100% Malolactic fermentation after 20 months in barrel. If you are jonesing for Cab Franc, don’t miss this player.  91-92 @PellerVQA

Trius at Hillebrand Cabernet Franc ‘Red Shale’ Clark Vineyard 2010 ($40, winery only) at 25.6 Brix is a huge wine from Four Mile Creek. Black beauty, with lots of chocolatey oak and dark fruit. Chalky, grainy thread indicates time is needed to settle it down. No valley girl, this one, nor shrinking violet. “It’s like so BITCHEN!”  89-90  @TriusWines

Pondview Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2010 ($29.95, winery only) again out of Four Mile Creek has the red pepper, currant jelly notes but it’s less ripe and not nearly as big as some siblings in this flight. May have “no cars no diamond rings,” but it shows passion in a Zappacosta, spandex kind of way.  87-88  @pondviewwinery

CCOVI Tasting

Flight #3: We Are Family

Presented by Ron Giesbrecht, Winemaker, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, discussing “vinified” incest, i.e. Bordeaux grapes which have essentially married their kin. His dissertation, impossibly deadpan, was a cross between Stuart McLean and Ron MacLean. His take on attending to wines of Bordeaux genealogy? “How do you know which side of the church to sit on when you’re related to so many on both sides?”

Fielding Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($34.95, winery only) alights in lithe tendrils before adding coffee, meritage mid-weight. Currants, nasturtium and red fruit compote buoy this cooler Niagara blend that combines fruit from the the Lincoln Lakeshore, St. David’s and Beamsville Benches. A good dancer with “the kind of body that would shame Adonis.” Expertly balanced with the spine to age.  88-89  @FieldingWinery

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Merlot ‘Stouck’ ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a pitchy rendition with a pronounced roasted espresso note. Seems to me the motherly, Cabernet Franc’s genes have imparted their wisdom into this (63%) Cabernet Sauvignon dominant beauty with big Cassis fruit. Chic, juicy, with a filled in mid-palate and stiff structure. Grab a glass, “leave your cares behind, these are the good times.”  90-91  @MalivoireWine

Stratus Red 2010 ($44, winery only) seemed older but that just might be the 617 days it spent in barrel. Cab Franc dominant with the help of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the late bloomer, Petit Verdot. Got to love somebody so it may as well be this red, because “I won’t let my life pass me by.” The four grapes help to explain Giesbrecht’s “relative merits of relative meritage.”  89-90  @Stratuswines

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2010 ($35, winery only) has rich, voluptuous Napa Valley written all over it. Sister Merlot dominant, Beamsville Bench sledge monster. Plumbago, mineral, blackberry and coffee in a wine that will be the ringer in a blind tasting 10 years on. Harald may be saying “this is our family jewel.” Mr. Thiel, you make good wine.  91-92  @HiddenBench

Hidden Bench Vineyard and Winery ‘Terroir Caché’ Meritage 2007 ($45, winery only) emits the varnish of the ’07 Niagara vintage. Soy, meat protein and caramel give way to a sweeter, plum accented palate. This ’07 is Le Freak, with more Cabernet Sauvignon, indicative of what we did not know then. So much to learn from wines like this, “like the days of stopping at the Savoy.”  87-88  @HiddenBench

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002 ($50, not available) from the Niagara Peninsula shows toffee and concentrated, oxidized fruit. That said, it has aged well and still offers intellectual spirit in dried fruit and potpourri. Great old tune to Dance, Dance, Dance along to. 88-89  @SpeckBros

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($50, 616433) from the sunnier and warmer sponge that is the Short Hills Bench is built of a learned structure that only a select few Niagara wines can boast. Fresh, juicy fruit and blitzing acidity for a 38/35/29 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc family sledge blend. “I’d like to see you reach your peak” SFR but I’ll have to heed Giesbrecht’s warning of oeno-infanticide and wait five to ten years. Tasted twice over the weekend.  92  @SpeckBros

Flight #4: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

Presented by Ilya Senchuk, Winemaker, Foreign Affair Winery, relating (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon wines to the idiomatic album by The Who. “We want wines with bounciness,” says Senchuk, “with a knife edge balance of weight and complexity.”

Creekside Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 ($34.95, limited availability) shows age, wood finish, plums and berries. I had this pegged as an ’06 (scouts honour). Not a classic Bordeaux vintage in the Queenston Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench but well-structured and really, there is no substitute. “I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.”  88-89  @CreeksideWine

Malivoire Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Stouck’ 2010 ($29.95, winery only) from down on the Lincoln Lakeshore is a big, blowy, brawny wine of massive concentration. Designed for my generation, with jammy flavours from clay soils on good slopes. “People try to put us d-down, just because we get around.”  89-90  @MalivoireWine

Southbrook Vineyards Whimsy Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Lot I’ 2010 ($34.95, winery only) from the Niagara Peninsula is a chameleon, ever evolving in the glass, perplexing, fascinating to study. Possessed of dried fruit and decidedly earthy flavours, complexity and balance. Can “go anywhere, for something new,” anyway, anyhow.  89-90  @SouthbrookWine

Thirty Bench Winemakers Cabernet Franc ‘Small Lot’ 2010 ($40, winery only) lopes out in lacquer than lifts towards sweet red pepper, dusty mulberry and cracked black pepper. All the while a current of Beamsville Bench, black currant acidity runs through it. This one’s a seeker, “its got values but I don’t know how or why.” At least not yet. Give it time.  87-88  @ThirtyBench

Stratus Petit Verdot 2010 ($38, winery only) with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Fielding Estate ‘Option C’ Red 2010 ($34.95, winery only) begins with an off-putting, scorched earth funk and I wonder if it will blow off. Makes me “dizzy in the head and I’m feeling blue” so I can’t explain but it does indeed dissipate. Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way out of the Lowry Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench with 15% each Merlot and Cabernet Franc rounding out this strong, rhythmic and beaty Bordeaux blend.  89-90  @FieldingWinery

The Foreign Affair Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($37.95, winery only) is very pretty, forward and inviting. Juicy fruit from south facing vines on top of the Niagara Escarpment. Made in the Appassimento style, with 25% of the fruit dried then added back to the wine and 23 months spent in barrel. Puts this Cab in a seat on the Magic Bus. Rogue process, tame result. “I want it.”  91-92  @wineaffair

Flight #5: If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Presented by Peter Bodnar Rod, 13th Street Winery, like a comic book villain, leading the crowd into the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of guessing wines blind. This was a thrilling flight, crushing wine libidos and crowning champions of the game. Notes here are a bit more brief.

Stratus Malbec 2010 ($48, winery only) is made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91  @Stratuswines

Southbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc ‘Watson Vineyard’ 2002 ($30, not available) shows amazing longevity and freshness. Proof of the Peninsula’s magic to state “you will never never never know me.” Simply solid red.  90-91  @SouthbrookWine

Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien 2001 ($109, 9852) is the first red herring and stupefies in origin and vintage. I actually found it drying and disappointing. Bordeaux? Whatever.  88-89

Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery Merlot Unfiltered 2002 ($29.95, winery only) was harvested in October on the Niagara Peninsula. Showing the soy sauce, umami and oxidation of its sistren. Yet another anything but simply red wine from H of P to show us “all the things that we’ve been through.”  87-88  @SpeckBros

The Foreign Affair Winery ‘Temptress’ 2010 ($44.95, winery only) is shepherded by Merlot with bits of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot thrown in for good 15.3% abv measure. Sugary, concentrated and full-bodied. Not for the simply red faint of heart. Embrace this big appassimento style  or “what good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”  90-91  @wineaffair

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Hockey and tasting notes

PHOTO: KYBELE/FOTOLIA.COM

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I’ve been for a walk. On a winter’s day.

Just in case you were not privy to the wisdom, I’m here to put you in the know. Some phenomenal wine is made here in Ontario. A rather large and excited group at #ONWineChat talks about this very fact every Wednesday night. You can chime in or just eavesdrop. We also have some dedicated, propitious traffickers of the red, white and sparkling stuff, including Wines in Niagara, the Wine Council of Ontario, the Ontario Wine SocietySpotlight Toronto and Wine Align Cru.

If you are looking for an event that brings Ontario’s greatest wines, wineries and winemakers together, don’t miss CUVÉE WEEKEND 2013, taking place March 1 to March 3, 2013 in Niagara Falls and throughout the Niagara region.

Attending a wine festival is one way to spend three days away from the dolor and calamity of the city. Another way is to head north and leave the noisome and constant freezing/unfreezing behind. The freedom to seek peace and quiet is in itself a gift of something very special. It’s called time. Time to spend with family. Time to transcribe thoughts and notes, to watch a movie. Time to enjoy a glass of wine.

Three wines, hockey stick and puck

The kids clamber down through parapets of snow to the natural boathouse rink, a glassine envelope, like a reef’s teeming tide pool left behind by retreating waters. Inside is a sheltered 12′ x 40′ basin frozen in time with the lake laid out beyond the gate as far as the eye can see. Others bring the wine. Here are three calming selections to enjoy on such a winter’s day.

From left to right: Trius Pinot Grigio 2011, Kunde Zinfandel 2007, Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010

Trius Pinot Grigio 2011 (316414, $15.95) continues to throw smoke and amaze with its hue, this time reminiscent of crocus sativus linnaeus meets malachite green with an added fogging of rime. Herbal and balmy sweet, like pistachio halvah. Consistent with my previous note. “Out of the shell Ontario white.”  88  @TriusWines

Kunde Zinfandel 2007 (965921, $16.95) remains faithful in quiescence while we await the next incredibly valued vintage. The ’07’s bramble and brier are now more subtle, the sanguine notes now stanched. A Zinfandel in its later years, comfortable, content, grandfatherly. Enter retirement zin-city.  89  @KundeEstate  @imbibersreport

Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2010 ($37.95) like its half-sister Quarry Road, stands firm and smacks stubbornly up to the heat of the vintage. Opaque green of agate stone. Combines the apples and citrus from Quarry with Robyn’s musk and pear, but also the searing, mineral tang of Hillside. The assemblage is the most fleshy and forthcoming Chardonnay of the lot. Promises the best of all Tawse’s worlds, without stealing the spotlight from its single vineyard sistren.  90  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Boathouse wines

Winter tasting notes:

Related – VINTAGES February 16th, 2013 Release

Boutari Grande Reserve 2007 (140111, $16.95) from the family @boutari is rusty and evinced of a slight, smokey corrosion though not yet nearly ancient, especially by Macedonian standards. Tough red, granting notes of smoked gyros, Kalamata olive and acetic, Bebecou apricot. Unique and worth a try.  88  @KolonakiGroup

Fielding Estate Cabernet/Syrah 2010 (258657, $24.95) from @RichieWine is a veritable smoked porcine charcuterie board sprinkled with potpourri. Black currant and fig, expertly extracted fruit in a ripe and round package.  88  @FieldingWinery

Creekside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (662247, $34.95) from @CreeksideWine offers up 31 months of sweet oak scents and flavours yet resists over-mochafication. Rarely does a Niagara Cab bask in such a rich and full-bodied bath like this robin red, Queenston Road Vineyard beauty. Currants, citrus and herbs make appearances.  89 

Mocali Vigna Raunate Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (162552, $46.95) is a pin-up babe indicative of the vintage, of crimson visage, flaunting a tanned and curvy figure. Brunello as a sexy twitter pic. Red cherry, smoky tobacco, mouth-puckering dried fruit. Spicy, sassy, ready to party.  90  @liffordwine

Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95) is not, contrary to the LCBO information page, a VQA wine. Offers instant permeate gratification with a stunning translucence studded by a faint, rustic and sweet cherry resonance. Fine, downy texture and corporeal substance for near wild heaven indulgence, followed by R.E.M. sleep. “My heart thrown open wide.”  91  @rogcowines

Château de Pez 2009 (202697, $58.95) is no kidding Johnny, this pirate in Saint-Estèphe clothing. Firm, cedar, mocha saveur and shakin’ all over. “Sends quivers down my backbone” and while it may be unapproachable today, this will aim to please when it settles down in ten years time.  90

And the fort still stands.

Winter Fort

Good to go!

Power shift: Wine in Ontario

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

Photograph by Aaron Lynett, National Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Ontario Conservative Party

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

Kathleen Wynne, leadership candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party

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

Phillip Olson, Chair, LCBO

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

Hillary Dawson, President, Wine Council of Ontario

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

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

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

Bill George Jr., Chair, Grape Growers on Ontario

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

Moray Tawse, Owner, Tawse Vineyards and Marchand/Tawse

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

Bryan McCaw, President, Wine Align

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

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

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

Beppi Crosariol, The Globe and Mail

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

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

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

Rick VanSickle, WinesInNiagara

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

Good to go!

Ontario wine. Can you feel the love?

File Photograph, National Post

as seen on canada.com

There’s a whole lot of tweeting going on. The polarizing effect of social media certainly builds hyperbole on the buzz and though you were doubtful and dare I say it, in denial, you need to know this. Ontario wine is feeling the love.

Everyone is talking about Ontario wine these days, in restaurants, around the office coolers, in the hot tubs. And yes, especially on Twitter. Here are a few to follow:

@DavidLawrason

@rickwine

@spotlightcity

@RichieWine

Then there are the festivals and tastings. Savour Stratford just wrapped up and the Niagara Wine Festival is in full swing. On Friday, September 28th the huge tasting event, Taste Ontario will present more than 100 wines from 33 producers.

When it comes to Ontario wine, the  state of the union looks as promising as it ever has. In 2011/12 (fiscal year ending March 31, 2012) the sales volume in litres of all Ontario wine grew by 2.6 per cent. In absolute terms, the 2.6 per cent increase of sales volume represented an increase of 1.5 million litres sold of Ontario wine last year.  This compares to an increase of 1.9 million litres of imported wine sold last year in Ontario (2.3 per cent growth) through these reported channels.

The 2012 wine harvest will unleash the lion. The overall quality of the wines will surpass all that has come before. This may not translate to an immediate takeover of market share, but the trickle down effect will see a pendulum switch of those consumption numbers in two to three years time. Ontario wine will be king. Mark it on your 2014 calendar.

In the meantime, here are three more Ontario wines to look for.

The grape: A unique clone of Chardonnay, native to southern Burgundy, known for its spicy, Muscat-like flavours

The history: A single block of 13-year-old vines on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: The most mineral Chardonnay Musqué to date, owing to the limestone, shale and sandstone in the soil

The food match: Fried Zucchini Blossoms with sea salt and a squirt of lemon

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Cave Spring Vineyard Chardonnay Musqué 2009 (246579, $15.95) flaunts its unique, ersatz Chardonnay visage but also erupts volcanic and metallic. Flinty to nose, sweet to taste, with juicy acidity of peach/apple/almond flesh and pit. Relents to an ursine finish.  87

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: The vineyards are farmed organically and moving towards biodynamics

The lowdown: Winemaker Deborah Paskus writes the book on Prince Edward County Chardonnay

The food match: BBQ Chicken on the Grill with a sweet glaze

Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (148866, $29.95) acts as though centuries of aggregated skill have had a hand in its success. Twelve years actually and this CCC is of a colour the golden-yellow of a yolk laid by a chicken with time and space. Smack of lemon and apple, oak in balance, cut of a skilled lapidary. Where goodness resides.  90

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: From the Lake Erie North Shore Appellation, in Essex/Pelee Island Coast Wine Country

The lowdown: Where has this beauty been hiding for the past five years?

The food match: Smoked and Grilled Barque Baby Back Ribs

Colio Estate CEV Reserve Cabernet Franc 2007 (432096, $20.95) receives a rare Erie North Shore endorsement. Sound body and soul, garden smells and strong tobacco note keep the CEV from breaking out of its rusty cage. “Hits like a Phillips head” right now but don’t hesitate because the cage will soon open. Admirable effort from a strong vintage.  88

Good to go!

The 2012 harvest and six current Ontario releases

Backyard Tomato, Basil and Nasturtium

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Ontario wine lives well, but the playing field is rapidly changing. Greatness, albeit in fits and spurts, can comfortably be adduced from vineyards going back to at least 1998. I’ve no intention of raining on recent parades but 2012 is shaping up to be something extraordinary. A collective level of confidence and consciousness, meted by a hot, dry summer will surely translate to a banner year for Ontario wines. Niagara’s Man Friday suggests we’re  “heading for a concentrated and ripe (but small) grape Harvest for 2012.” That said, if the tweets and comments coming from the winemakers out of Niagara and Prince Edward County are any indication, some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon…

Some “best ever” bottlings are on the horizon:

Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run:

“Fast, furious and fantastic- if the weather holds a little longer this year’s harvest will be a grand-slam in quality!”

Paul Pender, Tawse:

“Harvest has begun in earnest. 16 tonne of premium organic Chardonnay picked and processed.”

Richie Roberts, Fielding Estate:

“Picking Beamsville bench old vine Sauv Blanc today. Coming off with beautiful acid and flavour. Giddy up.”

Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates:

“We have had an incredibly HOT and dry year.. Weights are quite low but quality is very high.”

Marlize Beyers, Hidden Bench:

“Sparking cuvée pick done and pressed, looking good by the numbers but tasting even better.”

Kevin Panagapka, 2027:

“Crazy early year.. Sparkling in the bag, Pinot next on the radar.”

In the meantime…

While we wait patiently for 21st-century master strokes of vinous genius, here are six current releases to fill your stems.

2027 Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011 (294041, $18.95) from the racy Vinemount Ridge finds Mr. Panagapka in Single-Vineyard heaven. May not be a Genesis ode to a Pat & Lyle ambient masterpiece but the VINTAGES release happens to be on the 32nd anniversary of  Bill Evans’ passing. Flint, lemon yellow sintered micro crystal, bone-dry, brisk acidity. One for the vine. I thought I recognized the 2027 “by the way he fell, and by the way he stood up, and vanished into air.”  89

Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (193482, $19.95) looks buttercup yellow and casts a pungent spice note, a trompe d’ail. Resolves quickly into ubiquitous balance and elegance, subtle beauty, body then melting to a creamy, slightly bitter finish. Almost great and one of the best to date.  88

Vineland Estates Elevation Riesling 2011 (38117, $19.95) reserves the right to live off the land with local knowledge and extreme confidence. Riesling made in the vineyard like no other. Off-dry, lingering lemon/lime and utopian acidity. Who knows what minerality lurks in the vineyard of St. Urban? The Escarpment knows.  88

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010 (64618, $16.95) of rooted mahogany and well-deep, depth of fruit is solid as a rock. Lends credence to naming 2010 as Ontario’s best Cab Franc vintage ever, as previously noted. Excellent value here.  88

Henry of Pelham Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 (268391, $24.95) is the bomb. Effectively Cali-candified, it floats in the rarefied air of upper echelon Canadian Pinot. All is resolved at this juncture; fruit, acidity, tannins. A note of rare, roasted game bird keeps it real. Impressive.  89

Norm Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010 (125310, $35.00) may just be the most beautiful purple meets ruby-red Canadian Pinot I have ever laid my eyes on. Vibrant red berries, wildflower blooms and scraped vanilla beans. Warm cereal cooking on a campfire. Then the fruit is turned upside down by carbonate limestone. Wait five years for the mineral to meld into magic.  91

Good to go!

Simpsons Inspired Wine? Not So Fast

March 16, 2012

 

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/03/16/simpsons-inspi…ne-not-so-fast/

 

VINTAGES ordinarily provides the fermented silage for my rambling raison d’être but to the LCBO’s General List a switch, on a dare. I have been summoned to post a tasting note by canada.com blog colleague Rachel Sa. Her pop culture penchant and Bard’s tongue reel me in to play the game. It may not be Global Thermonuclear War, but I’m on the bus anyway.

Cantina Clavesana D’Oh Dolcetto di Dogliani 2010 (268037, $12.95) of closed nose and real cork is the only one of its General List kind. Bottle’s slogan is “you d’oh something to me.” A Homerian “mmm,” yet no mystic or Rhetorician here. I’m quite certain the Clavesana clan from Piedmont have never heard of Homer, Zohar or even L’ag Ba Omer for that matter. I concur with the pithy plums and cherries noted by local pros Rick VanSickle, “…fun little Italian Dolcetto all dressed up in a clever package” and Tony Aspler (87), “…nicely balanced with a cherry pit finish.” Post Media and Wine Chat colleague Rod Phillips chimes in with, “…very attractive and well-priced dry red.” For my experience, a double-cut, frenched Veal Chop (garlic, lemon, olive oil, Dijon, Worcestershire and light soy) helped soften the edges. Here like Chianti without the Classico, DOC without the necessary “G”. Perhaps pair with Jelly Donuts, Snickers and Gummy Bears. Fizzling finish, as if D’OH wears short shorts. It’s inoffensive, not necessarily plonk but lacks badonk. Wish I could say “where have you been all my life” but must drink less Dolcetto to save family…zzzzzzz.  84

 

 

 

 

Good to go!