Twenty-two Canadian wines that rocked in 2022

Godello taking in the spirit of Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

I am a forager. I forage in the natural world, for plants in their season, pulled from the soil, from earth to pan, for medicinal teas, to preserve by drying or pickling, whatever the most appropriate case may be. Wild herbs, allium and beneficial greens are prized but mostly I use my mycological senses by looking for signs beneath my feet as to where the mycelium below will choose to fruit as fungi above. I look for the saprobic and the decomposer but also the mushroom that works through symbiosis, to aid and abet other species while receiving something beneficial in return.

Laetiporus Sulphureus, aka Chicken of the Woods

I am a forager of wines as well, perhaps not in the same spiritual or personal way, but as I do with the forest I try my best to listen and become one with the vine, to imagine what it will beget, that being quality grapes and eventually honest wine. Vinifera success in Canadian vineyards is a recent phenomenon and there are plants more suited and native to our land but we should and will continue to pursue both realities.  This is not a manifesto about natural wine, no far from it, but it is a confession. I love great wine, well made wine, wine in balance. I am open to all wines and like the fungi I choose to eat or to ignore, I can’t be sickened by something I choose not to taste. I taste what I trust and drink what I must. Most often it take years of research and seeing the same fruiting body appear in the same location with consistent markings to make the decision to eat that mushroom. That is why wines of history, pedigree and consistency are the greatest and most exciting. They have earned the recognition. Others gain reputation much quicker and they too deserve the kudos but the choice comes down to the individual. I just want the wines I choose to rock. Canadian wines, yeah they rock.

Hypomyces Lactifluorum, the Lobster Mushroom

Nova Scotia wines at Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax

Related – Twenty-one Canadian wines that rocked in 2021

The full scale return to not only tasting but rallying around Canadian wine began in earnest back in June of 2022. In a span of less than 30 days there were judges’ panel assessments and events during the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, To July and 10 days spent in Nova Scotia wine country followed by a glorious weekend in Niagara for the i4c Canadian Cool Climate Celebration. Get back to Cool Chardonnay was the impetus and the reminder how much we Canadian wine folk respect one another and truly enjoy each other’s company. How great was it to interact once again, to taste with and experience the verities of vignerons and winemakers? To gather Insights, illuminations and incidentals from illustrious voices. To enter discourse with thought provocateurs who question sense of place, who consider vines and their relationship with the land. To reconnect with old friends forging new directions, seek flights of fancy and return to places always familiar, like coming home. The road ahead may still be uncertain but onward we will go.

Godello and Pender

Related – Twenty Canadian wines that rocked in 2020

Devastating news and especially the loss of a friend takes time to process. At the time I did not know what to do but suddenly the words poured forth, in one take and so in February I penned The Walrus is Paul. I miss Paul Pender. He was not my closest bud nor was I his but there will always be a hole in our lives without him. The thing about sadness is that it never goes away, but the trick is to remember the people we loved in a way that helps us through another day. “Paul Pender humanized everything in his life and all that he touched. He never expressed any dismay at comments I may have made about wines not being perfect, nor did he exalt in high scores or praise for wines about which I may have gushed or waxed rhapsodic. He was always zen, even-keeled, grounded and humble. Paul was the personification of gravitational constant, THE universal gravitational constant, a constant of gravitation. His presence and being related force to mass and distance, and he lived his life within the law of gravitation. I hope he taught everyone to be this way and that we can all go forward with his wise, sage and calm demeanour, safely tucked into our own lives. Thank you Paul. I love you, man. You are the walrus.”

Seafood by Godello, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia

Related – Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

This might just be the 10th annual list and another spot is in fact added each year but the process just keeps getting tougher to complete. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. The number of Canadian wines is likely one third, say 1,500 examples tasted this past year, in great part because at least one-third of that number is tasted at the Nationals. The process of nailing down this summary comes out of a shortlist of 100-plus that were what would be considered exciting. The exercise must be one that filters, fines and refines again and again so that every wine is reviewed and re-considered on repeat. I find it near impossible to make final decisions these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the discipline.  Thank you to all; associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. Especially to the WineAlign Crü; David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow, Megha Jandhyala, Bryan McCaw, Sarah Goddard, Miho Yamamoto, Carol-Ann Jessiman and Heather Riley. Godello gives you 22 Canadian wines that rocked in 2022.

With The Thinker, Jean-Benoit Déslauriers, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé 2021, Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is first a wine. A lithe, 10 percent alcohol and bone-dry vision in pale pink hue, described by thinker Jean-Benoit Déslauriers as blessed “with a softness from within.” My family and I taste along and become privy to why this project means so much more. The Rosé marks a turning point for Benjamin Bridge and is crafted neither for reconciliation nor to undue the past. Instead the path leads forward, for mutualism, cooperation and respect. A harbinger towards a more balanced future. Meaning is gleaned for the team after a decade-plus of grape growing now widened to include 13,000 years of sustainable and synergetic preservation of an ecosystem. Twenty years ago the BB understanding was of vineyards producing grapes exclusively focused on the sensory profile of wines, how they reflected the terroir and stacked up against Europe. Yet the Mi’kmaq have lived in balance within this unique ecosystem for millennium and the goal is to return to this symbiosis. It may take another 13,000 years and while subsequent generations will not be obligated to complete the work, neither are they free to desist from it. This Rosé establishes a “Ni’tap,” a relationship as ally-ship and friendship between Benjamin Bridge’s McConnell-Gordon family and Glooscap First Nation; Elder Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Advocate for the rights of Indigenous women, girls & gender-diverse people; her daughter Zabrina Whitman and Chief Sidney Peters. Glooscap First Nation X Rosé is a direct product of climate change with no need to soften the sear of acidity by backsliding into residual sugar. Do not forget the effect created by the air pump that is the Bay of Fundy that allows the vines to always take their time and manage a slowly gained phenolic development. The Bay means Rosé can indeed be forged this way. Dry and bright, aligning ortega, gamay and riesling in such a pointed and profound aromatic Sikunme’katik (Gaspereau) Valley way. The connection to Nova Scotia is real but very much a singular notion. The fact that modern agriculture has erased what really happened in this valley, as it pertains to vines and this terroir it is the kind of commentary that is “by definition profoundly inaccurate.” This is the charge of Déslauriers and all who take this path forward. Indigenous plants were in fact replaced with European plants so BB makes a clear point. How can it be said that these wines capture the essence of this terroir? The argument is compelling and will eventually change again, after 13 or 13,000 more years, or perhaps somewhere in between. In any case the wine is grand and the prospects even greater. Bravo all around. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate ‘Oh Julius’ Skin Fermented White 2021, VQA Ontario

A plus or minus 10 days skin contact for 59 per cent riesling, (35) gewürztraminer and (5) muscat that drinks with full submission, symbiotically speaking. The wine gives and our palates lay down, receive this effortless elixir and allow it to pass on through, no questions asked, no wondering why. Something like 550 cases are made of this wild-fermented, Benchlands (Wismer) fruit-sourced quencher, aka refreshing drink. Easy enough in the tart citrus vein, no lacking for energy and in turn, our interest. Weird? No not really. Cool? Ticks all the boxes for what the kids are all making these days, but this is more a case of being made by and for kids at heart who are adults with kids of their own. At 10.4 per cent alcohol, no acetic meanderings nor cider-y complications neither. Well that just about wraps it up in a big natural bow and guarantees a good time. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted June 2022

Canoe Trip cooking

Blue Mountain Blanc De Blancs R.D. 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The research tells us chardonnay and time conspire for beauty while development reminds how years upon years upon lees directs a Blue Mountain R.D. into sublimity and profundity. A vintage to recall, reflect upon and surely celebrate, to mull over its integrated and subtle spices, controlled energy and slow time release of responsibility. A sparkling wine of nature that has become one of nurture, now a perfectly posit tug between edginess and oxidation, tension and generosity. They call this the sweet spot. Raise a glass to recently disgorged. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

WineAlign judges at Stratus Vineyards

Stratus X Trials Blanc De Blancs 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Looking back two years the bar was set so very high as noted when we first began tasting the culmination of years put in towards this Sparkling program. Far be it for Stratus to regress or work in reverse but they are now grooving further back in lees cumulative time and out there comes a chardonnay spent what must be nearly 10 years on those lovely yeasts. Trials they were and fruition they have become. It’s not so much the toasty and beautifully oxidative-fino nutty character. The impression digs deeper than green olives in brine and sweet pear compote, it grabs us by the emotive heartstrings and holds us close. In fact it’s not unusual for B de Bs ’12 X Trials to be loved by anyone. There’s just something about the subtleties and the open invitation, to love and be loved. “Whoa oh, oh whoa, oh oh, oh oh!” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2022

Sunset over The Twenty Mile and Beamsville Bench

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Distinct mineral and petrol aromatic riesling rising, up into the stratosphere. in no hurry to come back down. Cracker citrus and acidity, tart and fuelled by intensity with no boundaries nor atmospheric pressures or deadlines neither. Sugars and structure are one in the same, seamlessness is the result and everything falls into its right place. The poster child, educator and pioneer. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Felseck Vineyard

Hidden Bench Riesling Felseck Vineyard 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench

Not quite but just about 20 year-old vines as of this stellar 2017 vintage and a benchmark Bench riesling of all that has been developed, given, remains and jazz. A stoic propellant and scintillant of fineness, fruit in ample preserve, acids convergent and power releasing ever so slowly in perfect pace. Pitch is spot on, balance ideal and direction effortlessly forward. The Mario Lemieux of riesling. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2022

The family with Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Chardonnay Small Lots Oak Knoll Vineyard Stainless Steel 2020, Nova Scotia, Canada

“People have always said we need to make a stainless steel version,” says winemaker Josh Horton, to lighten the room and the mood. This being the first go at it, protocol kept very similar to the oaked (Ancienne), by wild ferment, aka “brown” maceration. Gone to bottle quicker (eight months after pick) and this will be slowed down in the future. Absolute tightness and freshness, purity of chardonnay as expressed in a juiced lemon and almost no reduction. A chardonnay of isolated terroir, specificity and one helluva beautiful experiment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Small Lot Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk, Leaning Post Wines

Leaning Post Chardonnay Grimsby Hillside Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Delicate, bright and efficacious wine from a north facing nook of the Escarpment vineyard in the narrowest spit of land between the rock face and the lake. Once the viticultural labrusca home of Parkdale Wines and now owned by the Franciosa family. A special wine occupying a place in my family’s history and heart. Apposite to Wismer in that there are more piques and peaks in and out, up and down, hither and thither in this singularly focused chardonnay. Pay attention to nuance, to barrel as well as it speaks in extra density because the terroir encourages the ambition. Remarkable structure despite how short a relationship there has been between maker and farm. The instant brilliance creates an effective and then profound buzz, a desired effect and the future is WIDE open. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli, winemaker Adam Pearce and Angela Marotta

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

With part in part thanks and a nod to the experimental minds and vineyard management acumen at (then) Parkdale Wines, back in 1959 Bill Lenko took a flyer on vinifera in the form of chardonnay. Today Two Sisters is the primary beneficiary of Niagara’s oldest chardonnay vines and this primo vintage extolls the virtues of those wise plants and their concentrated fruit. Still showing balance and tenderness, never mind the barrel beauty, bullocks or beast, in fact it all comes together in seamless fashion because the fruit is indefatigably remarkable. Winemaker Adam Pearce heeds the directive, does nothing to get in the way and what is delivered comes away with such a sheen and energetic burst it just may blow your mind. This is the finest result to date, a lightly reductive, subtly lees inflected, full fruit captured chardonnay. All of its lines run parallel, incline up the same slope, coextend in collateral company and with time will eventually relent for the great transversal. The fruit will cross over both acidity and backbone, resulting in the ultimate complex equation. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted August 2022

The fishy work of Ryan Crawford (Ruffino’s and Bar Bea), Raoul Duke of Chefs

 

Bachelder Hill Of Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hill of Wingfield, as opposed to the flatter portions of the large chardonnay expanse and one can’t help but conjure up vineyard monikers like “Hill of” Corton, or even Grace. Ancient and modern tracts can be descried by farmers and writers so with Thomas Bachelder as the guide we too can play this game, by extension and in a most semi-serious way. Everything is derivative and by association anyway so Hill of Wingfield it is. Same lush, luxe and top of the pops richness as Wismer-Wingfield yet here with some reduction and an almost candied shell of protection. Nearly impossible and yet every reason to believe that vintage, grape, block and maker can combine to execute such a phenomenon of chardonnay. No understatement or restraint here, nor were any grapes harmed in the due process. My goodness what gumption, ambition and monkified execution. You gotta believe in the truth! Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted December 2022

With Shiraz Mottiar and the uni, I mean photo bomber Anthony Gismondi

Malivoire Gamay Courtney 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Youthful is the understatement when coming at this 2020 Courtney but my how juicy, meaty and pinpointed a gamay it truly is. There have been serious and fully formed Courtneys before but never have the assets in fruit, mouthfeel and acid-tannin structural interplay grabbed attention like this young and in charge ’20. Adds up to big, boisterous, ripe to the hilt, of zero austerity and so much possibility. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Meyer Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard Old Block 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Falls, British Columbia

Plenty of substance fills the aromatic glass in this immortality jam of substance, acid and textural intensity. Good red fruit if turning to act youthfully grainy in its unresolved structural demand, especially as it lands on and then scrapes over the palate. Dutifully solid wine, nothing to some and to others a pearl needing time. High arcing, a factor of indefinite continuation for pinot noir existence and “he who forgets will be destined to remember.” For such a delicate (aromatic) and working (palate) pinot noir it carries more than ample finishing strength, energy and power. “And I wish to hold on, too, but saw the trapdoor in the sun.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Closson Chase Pinot Noir South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

As a reminder the South Clos Vineyard is six hectares of Prince Edward County Hillier clay loam and shallow crumbled limestone overlying fractured limestone. A top site (within the limit of vinifera capability) where chardonnay and pinot noir present as viable as any combo in Canada. Bring on a warm gift of a vintage like 2020 and the possibilities suddenly become endless. The site is always a place of high pH and allowable root penetration but 2020 just tops the show. The intensities are boundless in a most youthful and exuberant South Clos pinot noir that clearly act as the embodiment of one for the ages. Never before have acids tasted so sweet and tannins wept such tears of joy. South Clos is the culmination of decades put in, torches passed, hard work and experimentation. A victory for the 2020 season and perhaps the beginning of a Keith Tyers’ led dynasty. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted November 2022

With Chef Michael Olson

Bachelder Pinot Noir Wismer Parke “Wild West End” 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Wismer-Parke’s western section on Victoria Avenue just up from Highway 8 is planted to what Thomas Bachelder refers to as a mystery clone of pinot noir “whose identity is lost to the mists of time.” Twenty-one years to be exact at the meter of this vintage yet in nostalgic ways that kind of statement feels like something dating back to the 1950s or ’60s. Either way it’s long enough to make one wonder and wonder why. There’s a whole lot of “duh duh dun dun dun dah,” and “bah ah bah ah dun dun dun bah” then “beh do beh do,” followed by “bah doo doo bah,” and finally “wop, wop, wop, wop, wop” in this pinot noir. Why? Because this beast of the east is so strong-willed, immoveable and timeless with unparalleled layering and nuance. Doo Wop tannins in total control, winning out over dark fruit in black olive, fennel and tarry tones playing second fiddle. Why is there more oomph and grip to this savoury flavoured pinot noir of scrub and scorrevole across the palate?” The answer my friend is blowing in those mists and in the time you must give to see this wine come to its fruition. Wismer-Parke Wild West End may not necessarily save your soul, but it will make your soul worth saving! Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted December 2022

PEC wines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir St. Cindy Unfiltered 2020, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario

In 2004 and 2005 the first County Rosehall Run vineyards pinot noir fruit were given the name Cindy but between ’06 and ’19 the name JCR defined the estate’s best fruit. With a vintage as great as 2020 in vessel Cindy was anointed once again as saint of the top pinot noir. The ripeness and extract here are in fact the finest ever from these PEC lands so the choice was and remains perfectly clear. What the JCR misses in terms of tension is here fully trenchant and oblique, angles run in slants, musculature neither parallel nor perpendicular to the long axis of structure or bones. This is fascinating wine geometry and anatomy, clearly regimented yet offset and in the end, simply wondrous. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Five years after first tasting Cuvée Violette blind the opportunity arises for an up front and centre moment with bottle, label and glass. Though this syrah would have been more than satisfying before it must be said that its peak performance is in fact NOW. Takes an aromatic leap of faith and suspends at that Black Sage Bench/Dead Man Lake syrah apex where violets and pepper drip their eau de parfum down upon dark varietal fruit. There are many a more expensive Okanagan syrah but there are none as benchmark to combine age-worthiness with price as this Severine Pinte stunner. I for one am thankful to taste this vintage again and at its best.  Last tasted December 2022

Let’s put up our hands so we know who we are, we who expect three P’s in syrah; perfume, pepper and pulchritude. This syrah is possessive of all three. It’s quite the dark purple beauty but also savoury, reeking of black olive and brushy garrigue. The wood is exercised with admirable restraint and then there is this fineness of tannin. A very pretty, seamless and structured syrah of great length. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Creekside Broken Press Syrah Reserve Queenston Road Vineyard 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Good years have got behind this syrah with a touch of viognier so that five-plus in there’s an open window through which to find the heart of this wine. A democratic vintage, fruit at peak, elongated and built to last, last longer than anyone who knows not what capability is in store for this wine. The tannins are just beginning to wane and with great acumen they have melted into the karst of what is truly a special BP vintage. A minimum five years remains and quite possibly 10. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted April 2022

CedarCreek Winemaker Taylor Whelan

CedarCreek Syrah Platinum Jagged Rock 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Inky and cimmerian, full syrah extraction, maceration, skin contact fermentation and finally, thankfully and for the win, concentration. All adds up to as big as it gets, with iodine, soy and yet this amazing floral indemnity that tells the whole story, but also one that celebrates a truly special site. Yes the tannins are omnipresent but they are reasonable, metered, mattering and real. So very polished. Drink 2025-2029.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Talus 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley, British Columbia

Talus makes balanced work of all fine main Bordeaux varieties, led by merlot (40 per cent) and cabernet franc (35), with (20) cabernet sauvignon, (3) malbec and (2) petit verdot. The names refers to the Talus “slides” that accentuate each mountainous side of the Similkameen Valley and the wine slides across the palate in equal, opposing and proportionate waves. Mostly a precise ripeness of fruit but also some passionate acids and truly purposed tannins. The merlot does seem to stand out with its verdant, creamy and downy character as it pertains to soaking up some barrel. There is a notable amount of quality dark chocolate here and still all parts just seem to synch up. Proper Meritage indeed. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted September 2022

Black Hills Nota Bene 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The blend for the Black Hills flagship red in 2020 is 42 percent cabernet franc, (33) cabernet sauvignon, 24 (merlot) and (1) petit verdot. Merlot fared very well in 2020 and yet the team chose franc as the anchor, why, well it seems for structure over beauty and longevity over immediacy. This vintage is quite a remarkable example because all of these aspects show up, repeat, shuffle, reorganize and collectively speak a Black Sage Bench truth. Hard to imagine a more seamless set of red blend circumstances or astrological linearity. The stars do in fact align for this bright constellation of an Okanagan wine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted November 2022

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée #24 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

At the top of the heap and pops for Phantom Creek is the red blend cuvée from the homestead vineyard and a wine denied absolutely nothing. The finest of the best is grown, nurtured and gathered with equally prized vessels providing the nurturing environment. There are some silky, suave and stylish red wines in this portfolio but nothing compares to the desire in Cuvée #24. These are the richest fruit sets, sweetest acids and silkiest tannins, none more important than the other and all working towards a common goal. That being beauty and longevity which the wine surely boasts. The only question is cost and a decision to be made to decide if the extra $60-100 dollars buys more wine and age-ability. The answer is yes, it surely does but is this “perfect” style the kind you like, want, need or deserve. Only you can be the judge of these things. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted November 2022

Good to go!

godello

Godello surveys Grimsby Hillside Vineyard

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Where does the taste of Ontario go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuvee desserts

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

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

Taste Ontario reds

Taste Ontario reds

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

Forest flavours of Actinolite

Forest flavours of Actinolite

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

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

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

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

Pingue Prosciutto

Pingue Prosciutto

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

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

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

Cattail Creek

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenacity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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