For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.
Yet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols.
2008 was problematic for other reasons, namely high disease pressure from mildews, which has resulted in early maturing, browning, volatile wines, many of which are redolent of kitchen compost and slipping past prime already.
Then along comes 2009: cooler than 2007, drier and sunnier than 2008 yet with sufficient rainfall, and the results are nothing short of very good, and in some cases, excellent. The perfect storm of maturing vines, more experienced winemaking, good vintage conditions and a critical mass of serious and dedicated producers have finally converted potential into reality. Ontario is on the map for pinot lovers. The specific sub-regions best suited to quality pinot are also coming clearly into focus. In my view, the Niagara Escarpment (including the St. David’s, Twenty Mile, Short Hills and Beamsville Bench sub-appellations) is the most consistent and concentrated source of high quality in the Niagara Peninsula, while in a relatively short time Prince Edwards County has established itself as perhaps the pre-eminent source of delicate, minerally pinot. I suspect we’ll soon be discussing sub-regions in PEC, too.
Below are some of my top picks from recent tastings, not a comprehensive report, but enough to cause rejoicing among fanatic pinot lovers. (Prices listed where available; check WineAlign.com for additional details on availability)
Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County
Closson’s 2009 pinot is a light, herbal, mineral and vibrantly zesty example with terrific persistence and delicate fruit flavours. This highlights the County’s terroir nicely, emphasizing fruit freshness and limestone and oyster shell-like stoniness; tannins are light, firm and grippy, acid is saliva-inducing, and length impressive. Wood is barely detectable. Lovely wine in a refined mould. Tasted September 2011. 91 Drink 2011-2015
Hardie Wines Limited County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2009 Prince Edward County, $35
Hardie’s 2009 County pinot is his best yet in my view. It spent 11 months in small barrels, of which 40% were new, though the wood is barely detectable here. The texture is pure silk and elegance, with lovely fresh and delicate tart red fruit, vibrant and pure, with energetic acidity, very fine-grained tannins, and a wonderfully refreshing 11.5% alcohol. Flavours run to the wild strawberry and morello cherry spectrum. Very compelling, inviting constant sips. Tasted February 2011. 92 Drink 2011-2015
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Black Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake
This is more closed and tightly wound than the Red Paw Vineyard pinot from Coyote’s Run, with considerably more structure and grippy tannins. Fruit spans the red and black berry spectrum, and flavour intensity and depth are impressive. Solidly structured and age worthy all in all. Best after 2012. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2018
Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2009 Beamsville Bench
Very open, perfumed, fresh and fragrant, with wood noted alongside highly concentrated, vibrant red and even black berry fruit. Tannins and wood are indeed still marked, and this needs time to integrated, another 1-3 years I’d speculate. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2017
Rosewood Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley
Here’s a clean, bright, high-toned, juicy red fruit-flavoured pinot from Rosewood Estates, crafted as with most of Natalie Spytkowski’s wines in an elegant and refined style. The palate is suave and silky, with light tannins and bright acid. Fine, lingering finish; very pretty. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2011-2014
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake
The 2009 Red Paw Vineyard pinot is firmly in the lighter red berry fruit spectrum of flavours, with notable high-toned cherry and a touch of earthy-funk that’s well within normally acceptable bounds. Tannins are firm and grippy, bolstered by crisp acids, though the wine is well-balanced all around. Impressive length. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2014
Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake $24.95
This is evidently a serious and ambitious example of pinot noir, with generous oak influence – abundant baking spice, chocolate and fresh coffee grounds. The palate is juicy and savoury, with substantial intensity and long, warm finish. A meaty and savoury wine all in all, one of the finest estate pinots yet from Coyote’s Run. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2015
Tawse Winery Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley $30
The Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot is currently closed on the nose but reveals a good deal of depth and flavour intensity on the palate. There’s generous density and weight for the vintage, while acidity is balanced and crisp, and tannins are grippy and dusty. All in all, a fine, well made wine that should improve over the next 2-3 years in the cellar. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2016
Casa Dea Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County
Here’s a light, tight, juicy and mineral example of County pinot in the style that excels in the region. The palate is light and flavour intensity modest, but this displays a good dose of limestone minerality and delicate freshness that should be allowed to characterize the wines of the area. For current consumption or short term hold. Tasted September 2011. 88 Drink 2011-2013
Closson Chase Church Side Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County
The Churchside pinot is the burliest and most evidently woody of Closson’s 09 Pinots (if such a thing can be said). Flavours are in the darker fruit spectrum, and chocolate-coffee flavours linger on the finish. I think in time this will integrate nicely; try in 1-2 years. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2015
Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, VQA St. David’s Bench $30
Made from 10 year old vines in the Queenston Road vineyard, one of the warmest in Niagara, Panagapka’s 2009 pinot is a delightfully pale ruby colour with modest intensity aromas in the subdued red berry spectrum. Additional compost, wet earth and sweet baking spice from 14 months in oak (30% new, French) provide complexity. The palate is deceptively powerful, with light, ripe tannins, balanced acidity, quite serious depth and weight, and a forceful, lingering finish. Quite a fine example here, dinking well now but even better in 1-2 years I suspect. Tasted August 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2015
2009 Flat Rock Cellars The Rogue Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench
The Rogue, made in honour of owner Ed Madronich’s father, is a pinot noir made white, or at least a little “gris”. This looks like a well oxidized, old white wine. The nose offers high quality barrel notes up front (30% new) alongside lees; this smells like fine chardonnay. The palate is quite ripe, creamy, with crisp-balancing acidity, and long finish. Well done, a new paradigm for the variety in Ontario. 89+ Drink 2011-2013
2009 Rosehall Run Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County
100% estate-grown fruit from Hillier in PEC, this has a really lovely and pure red fruit/berry character, red currant, red cherry, with a fine measure of florality. This was aged 50% in new barrels, and wood spice is certainly a feature if not exaggerated, though a measure less wood influence would have made this even more enticing and allowed the minerality and delicate fruit to shine through. The palate is light and lean in the good way, with brisk but not excessive acidity, moderate alcohol and light, fine-grained tannins. Solid length. 89 Drink 2011-2014.
John Szabo, MS