Tasting Ontario Part Six: Pinot Noir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to Go!

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WineAlign

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014

Gold Medal Plate, Toronto 2014: Canoe's Chef John Horne Grandview Short Ribs Glazd with Tree Syrups (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal winning plate, Gold Medal Plates, Toronto 2014: Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

When head judge David Lawrason asked me to join him and fellow WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato to preside over the wines at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, I paused for a brief moment. I knew right away the answer was an emphatic yes but I had to breathe in the possibilities. One: Sample 10 wondrous culinary creations by 10 sacrosanct chefs. Two: Spend an evening with Canadian Olympic medallists and recording artists. Three: Taste and judge the sagacious efforts by some of Ontario’s most venerated winemakers.

Gold Medal Plates was founded in 2003 and is so much more than an organization. It is a Canadian institution. The primary goal of the coast to coast galas are to “celebrate Canadian excellence in food, wine, athletic achievement and entertainment.” The tour makes stops in 11 Canadian cities and raises funds for the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Olympic athletes. Net proceeds are donated to support high performance programs such as Own The Podium. To date over $8.2 million has been raised. (Update: Gold Medal Plates tweeted on December 10th that the number is now $9.5 million).

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter<br />  (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 bronze, gold and silver medal winning chefs Damon Campbell, John Horne and Jason Bangerter
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In each city the invited chefs prepare a regional dish and in Toronto, more than 700 people tasted through a complex variety of creations. The gold medal chef in each city goes on to compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale at the Canadian Culinary Championships. In 2015 the host will be Kelowna, British Columbia on February 6 and 7. The term “career changer” is used to describe the chef who is crowned tops in Canada.

With unprecedented support from the event’s title sponsor Deloitte, the Toronto event was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, November 12, 2014. The culinary judging was headed up by former Toronto Life Magazine food critic James Chatto. Joining Mr. Chatto were chef/author Sasha Chapman, chef/TV personality Christine Cushing, author/CBC radio host Anita Stewart, George Brown chef school’s John Higgins and the 2013 Canadian Culinary Champion Lorenzo Loseto of George Restaurant.

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Candian musicians and atheletes sing O Canada at Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

At the Toronto event, emcee skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were joined by dozens of Olympic medallists and future hopefuls. The entertainment on stage was an all-star Canadian band led by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. Cuddy was joined by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Roberstson, Barney Bentall, 5440’s Neil OsborneDanny Michel, Anne Lindsay and the astoundingly soulful guitarist Colin Cripps.

Slient auction signed guitar

Slient auction signed guitar

The plates in Toronto were really quite incredible. Canoe’s Chef John Horne was the gold medal winner. His Grandview Farms Short Ribs glazed with tree syrups was a ground breaker, an original composition of intrigue, a wild sequestered spot of gastronomy. The other plates were exceptional, each in their own right, but chef Horne travelled to a zone alone. Congratulations Chef.

Gold Medal Plates wines (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Gold Medal Plates wines
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

In David Lawrason’s recap to the audience, he noted how close the wine judging really was. “It was the highest quality level from bottle to bottle I have seen in the country this year, making the judging of the Best of Show Award rather tough. But when each judged ranked their top five, the same five wines showed up. It was then the ordering that became difficult, and only two points separated first and second place.” In the end we chose Norman Hardie‘s Niagara Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011 as the Gold Medal winning wine. Hardie’s take on Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir is pure, complex and made with a deft, hands-off approach.

The wines ware all impressive, each and every one. The Hidden Bench approach on a Bordeaux-styled white is as impressive as any that have come before it, which is why the Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012 finished a very close second, taking home the Silver Medal. Syrah in the hands of winemaker Rob Power is a beautiful thing indeed. Creekside Estate‘s Iconoclast Syrah 2012 was the Bronze Medal winner. Pinot Noir by Leaning Post and Cabernet Franc by Rosewood Estates were fractional points behind.

David, Sara and I tasted and judged 12 wines, 10 of which were paired to the 10 chef’s plates. Here are the tasting notes and pairings.

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Gold Medal Plates Toronto 2014 dishes and paired wines

Peller Estates Baco Noir Private Reserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $17.95)

High acidity, negligible tannin and no surprise, the black burn of charcoal crushed, tarry fruit. A wallop of pepper for accented measure stings as per the effect of a Rhône, so like Syrah this is a good example of Baco. An airplane taxiing down a tobacco road. “But it’s home, the only life (its) ever known.” Definitely Baco.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Peller Estates Chardonnay Private Reserve  2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like bottled pastry, sweet, soft apples baking. Warm wafting aromatics, mild toast and caramelizing butter, effectively creamy and palate coating. Evolved to the point of full integration and absolute oak resolution. Drink now.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @PellerVQA

Creekside Estates Syrah Iconoclast 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (Winery, $18.05) Paired with Canoe’s Chef John Horne’s Grandview Farms Short Ribs Glazed with Tree Syrups

Winemaker Rob Power is on the fast track (if he is not there already) at becoming the King of Syrah in Ontario. The Queenston Road vineyard helps. Years of acumen development is key. Passion for the Rhône and Niagara’s climatic and stylistic kinship wraps the package. A ton of effort goes into the production of this $19 wine. The methodology here differs greatly from the co-fermented two-clone meets Viognier (and twice the price) Brokenpress Syrah. Here the fruit from three vineyards (including the Queenston Road) were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks and 1 tonne fruit bins. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wine aged for 12 months. The (30 percent new) barrel mix is (53 per cent) American, (42) French and (five) Hungarian. The result? In Rob Power’s hands, you can take Syrah out of the Rhône and Australia but you can’t take the cool climate out of the Syrah. Meat, pepper and smoke pique, pinch and pop. Pow! A totem in proclivity for the variety. The water is at times dishy but the fruit swells and fills in every gap.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @CreeksideWine

13th Street Gamay Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign) Paired with Bestellen’s Chef Rob Rossi’s 60 Day Dry-Aged Beef Crudo, B.C. Pine Mushrooms, Concord Grape Mustard and Truffle Sauce

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

Hidden Bench Nuit Blanche Rosomel Vineyard 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $20.00, WineAlign) Paired with Splendido’s Chef Victor Barry’s Smoked Rocky Point Oyster, Yukon Gold Potato and Chive

Less than six weeks after my first introduction to the NB ’12 complexity shines anew. Such a delicate and elegant take on the Bordeaux white axiom. Void of all the gangly G’s; grasses, gooseberry and green vegetable. Leans to custards and curds with a savoury accent and a limestone tang. Willing to be paired with a multitude of gastronomy. Long finish. From my earlier, September 2014 note: “Taking what the vintage gives, Rosomel’s Sauvignon Blanc was king in 2012, dominating at a 95 per cent share of the Bordeaux-styled blend with Sémillon. Barrels were stirred weekly during fermentation and the creamy texture thanks that regimen, as does the tannic fullness of the round back-end. It rocks out bracing, formidable and nobly bitter, in pear and its pith, in lemon, of rind and in curd. The SB lounges in tall grasses but avoids goose feathers and blanching veg. So very savoury, in gorse tension, thistle and nettle. These notes all cut through the roundness and are finally tied together by the flinty rock of Rosomel.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto November 2014  @HiddenBench

Marben Restaurant's Chef Rob Bragagnolo's Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond (c) Michael Godel

Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond
(c) Michael Godel

Rosewood Estates Cabernet Franc Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $26.20, WineAlign) Paired with Marben Restaurant’s Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s Canadian Paella, Crab, Lobster & Mussel Suquet, Crispy Wild Rice, Red Pepper-Saffron Aioli and Almond

From fruit grown on the Estate’s Beamsville Bench (Renaceau) vineyard. As per the house directive, this is not oak shy. So as the house finds collective varietal success from inside a barrel, the Origin Cabernet Franc 2012 falls into line. Fruit is bright and sour-edged, softened, filled in and tempered by wood. Lush berries and plums, herbs and did I mention oak? A roasted kind of sweetness comes wafting and pan-dripping in, with currants, mint and eucalyptus with a far away look. Intensely modish CF, with a swath of chocolate, springy and extensible length.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

Rosewood Estates Chardonnay Origin Series 2012, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.20) Paired with Buca’s Chef Rob Gentile’s Ravioli alla Tonnara, Tuna Blood Pasta, Tuna N’duja and Stracciatella Cheese

The Chardonnay formerly known as Renaceau Estate Vineyard, followed by Reserve and now Origin continues to hail from the Beamsville locale and persists as one of the most viscous and rich of its ilk. The glaring mismatch in sugar (20.8 g/L) and acidity (1.8 g/L) could spell disaster but to the contrary, this finds its tongue. Quite drawn, in a southern sort of lobster dipped in butter drawl. Unrequited malo fermentative linguistics suppress any tension that might distract from the bounty of warm vintage, perfectly ripe fruit smothered in a creamy lather of French oak (nine months in 50% new and 50% seasoned).  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @Rosewoodwine

The Farm Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery) Paired with Café Boulud’s Chef Tyler Shedden’s Haida Gwaii Pink Salmon, Preserved Porcini Mushroom, Nasturtium and Smoked Sabayon

Those familiar with the Neudorf farm fruit know it well because of the single vineyard Pinot Noir “La Petite Colline” made by then Le Clos Jordanne winemaker Thomas Bachelder and carried forth by Sébastien Jacquey. Most of the harvest was then scooped up by Bachelder’s newest Niagara venture with some Quebec buddies at Domaine Queylus. In 2012 the Neudorf family decided to allocate a small commercial gifting of their own minuscule production of Estate Pinot Noir. Eleven restaurants in Southern Ontario carry this luxurious and humid red. The aromatics are pure Neudorf; a blackberry-rapt silt and clay-earth mingle with a sideshow of coated limestone primer. Just a smidgen past ripe, this blood pedigree redaction has plenty of charm if less earnest finesse than the Bachelder siphoned bottles.  Tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

Langdon Hall's Chef Jason Bangerter's Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root (c) Ronald Ng Photography

Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2010, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.20, WineAlign) Paired with Langdon Hall’s Chef Jason Bangerter’s Wild Flower & Herb Smoked Game Fowl, Fermented Berry & Celery Root

One year later and in conjunction with stopping to think about them (other vintages and other reds at #GMP2014), the most terroir and aromatic focus comes from Ilya Senchuk’s ’10. Cherry, pomegranate and earth. Only Lowrey goes deep like this. Such a palate refresher. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “Can’t say I’m all that surprised but this is so much more approachable, pretty and glamorous. From an unrelenting hot vintage (picked Sept. 11th), a full six weeks earlier than ’09 and from the same vineyard. This was necessary as a means to preserve freshness. More sunshine, less earth but still there’s a cure and metal tendency that really defines Lowrey. Could of course be considered more of a crowd pleaser but it’s not as simple as that. That I can taste these two mano a mano, in my life is a rubber soul stamp. “All these places have their moments.” 125 cases.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @LeaningPostWine

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (208702, $39.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Drake Hotel’s Chef Alexandra Feswick’s Beef Tongue, Plums and Almonds

The tension in the ’11 Niagara Pinot is palpable, ongoing and yet, as noted previously, not like it used to be. Expertly judged in a major key of complexity. Like candied nuts strung along a chain of tannin. Layers of depth and active ingredients. From my earlier, August 2014 note: “Hardie’s 2011 Pinot Noir comes out of deep clay, 20 Mile Bench soil, an impart not lost in the rich though dusty character of the wine. The flesh is both corporeal and marbled and a chalky grain runs through, with thanks to what feels like smithereens of limestone blasted through. “It was long ago, seems like yesterday,” that Norm’s Niagara Pinot carried an unwieldy level of anxiety but here the tannins have settled, the volatility has relented and there is a curious combination now, of blood and roses. Though meaty, the ’11 Pinot’s juices are concentrated, contained, not running out. The aromas are floral, heightened and intoxicating. Once again, classic comes by way of low alcohol and minimalist intervention. Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @normhardie

The Chase's Chef Michael Steh's Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce (c) Michael Godel

The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce
(c) Michael Godel

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (660704, $44.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Chase’s Chef Michael Steh’s Tuna Toro, Foie Gras, Ginger Pork Dumpling and Damsum Plum Sauce

Tropical notes are currently blanketing the radar on the long flight to future decades. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “Quite possibly the most textured yet. A casted mass, like ingot or sélection de grains nobles, where viscosity meets candied fruit, apricot, quince and acacia flowers. A white moon with a medicinal and peaty tang that shows so much verve, earth floor even. This cracker jack ’10 will continue to add heft and flesh to earn its white stripes. Could be a classic for 20 years plus.” From my earlier, September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.” Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014

The Shangri-La Hotel's Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion (c) Ronald Ng Photography

The Shangri-La Hotel’s Damon Campbell Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion
(c) Ronald Ng Photography

Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (366500, $50.20, WineAlign) Paired with The Shangri-La Hotel’s Chef Damon Campbell’s Nova Scotia Lobster, Potato Gnocchi, Forest Mushroom, Black Truffle and Lobster Emulsion

There is still a tough outer layer to crack. A poem of many stanzas has only just begun. Mute yet delicate, the stratified vineyard is the Poetica’s poetry; tight, yet forwardly futuristic towards the ephemeral and the aerified. From my earlier July 2014 note: “Has integrated nicely though certainly persists as a big, lush Chardonnay. If there were splinters or sinewy bits they have melted away.” From my earlier, May 2014 note: “The Poetica underwhelms at the present time, or perhaps hides in her youth. She’s a calm, buttery, mildly toasted, supportive softie and more accessible than her Sperling west coast sistren. Like a cool Chardonnay soffit hiding beneath a warm bench, the Poetica speaks not for the vintage but more for the current vineyard, a warm and hip spot in the Four Mile Creek appellation. The site remains (at least to me) understood but the unctuous aspect in texture and gathering sweetness with time in the glass will realize a richesse yet unseen. Poetica’s refrain is like “wind on the weathervane,” her tragically subdued fruit quiet, but able to travel long. Time will be the reveal, so be patient.”  Last tasted at Gold Medal Plates Toronto, November 2014  @SouthbrookWine  @thesirengroup